Artists, homeless to protest Seaside rules

Walter Whitman and Dowell McLaughlin hope to raise awareness of what they say are restrictive rules for artists and entertainers.

SEASIDE — Artist Walter Whitman and his companion Dowell McLaughlin say they are being rousted from downtown tourist areas and plan to take their protest public.

Whitman, 58, and McLaughlin, 43, said they will be out on the beach Saturday in Seaside to stand up for the homeless and itinerant merchants.

Whitman makes jewelry, medicine bags and all-natural pipes of bone, stone and seashell. He doesn’t charge for the material, but accepts gifts or donations, which he said are freely given.

Whitman and McLaughlin occupied a spot along the Prom until Memorial Day, when they said they were rousted by Seaside Police.

They say the itinerant merchant rules are too restrictive for artists and performers, many of whom are homeless and may be able to profit from their skills.

City ordinances ban begging or soliciting on the streets or in any public place.

Adopted in 1984, the itinerant merchant ordinance regulates the buying and selling of merchandise by individuals who do not have a fixed location. Vendors who use a temporary fixed location to promote or sell merchandise are subject to penalties up to $500. Charitable and fraternal organizations are exempted.

“If somebody wants to set up a business and sell their hand-painted rocks, they would more than likely be turned down,” Seaside Police Chief Dave Ham said.

Most people are “pretty compliant,” the chief said, but occasionally may become boisterous or loud and may receive citations for disorderly conduct or unreasonable noise.

“Usually we handle it with an educational piece,” Ham said, with information about city ordinances and a warning.

Last year, the City Council considered a $50 a day licensing fee, or $1,000 a year, to regulate solicitors, entertainers and performers. The proposal would have raised fines to $750. During the public hearing, words such as “wrong,” “brutal,” “discriminatory” and “a street-sweeping technique” were used to describe the amendment, which would have expanded the definition of “itinerant merchant” to include anyone who “provides a service ... or solicits for any form of compensation or remuneration.”

The proposal was tabled.

On Wednesday, Whitman said the city’s statutes, written in the 1980s, are outdated.

“Times have changed since then,” he said. “Make a permit fee reasonable that we can afford.”

Artists, the homeless and supporters are invited to Seaside beach Saturday, Whitman said. “I’m inviting all the homeless, because I want to raise awareness,” he said. “They don’t have to stand in a parking lot with their raggedy-ass sign. If you have a gift, a craft, why are you standing there holding a sign?”

The gathering is planned from noon to sunset on the beach about 40 or 50 feet south of the Prom. “I’m going to set myself up, have my generator and I’m going to sit there and carve and make pipes like I always do up on the Prom,” Whitman said.

“I will be obedient,” Whitman added. “But they ain’t going to like how I’m going to do it. I’m going to stand up and holler at the top of my lungs, ‘Listen to this!’ and I’m going to shout it out for everybody to hear. We are American citizens and we have a right to live, to feed ourselves and to pay our bills.”

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