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City Councilwoman Urges City to Postpone New Busker Policy

UPPER EAST SIDE —  City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito is calling on the city's Parks Department to delay implementing a new policy that would crack down on buskers, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

Mark-Viverito, chairwoman of the council's parks committee, wants the city to postpone the May 8 launch of new rules requiring the city's donation-seeking street performers to stay in "designated spots" in Union Square Park, Battery Park, the High Line and certain parts of Central Park — or face a $250 fine.

The regulations essentially treat performers like artist vendors, requiring both groups to abide by the same rules. Some vendors are already fighting the Parks Department's attempts to regulate them in federal court.

Mark-Viverito said she decided to examine the rules — which also mandate that performers be at least 50 feet away from monuments, fountains or public art installations and more than 5 feet away from park or street furniture — because of ongoing litigation on the issue, as well as confusion about the rule's application.

Activists supporting street artists are currently pursuing a federal case against the city, claiming that the Parks Department regulations make it impossible for them to display their wares — and present challenges to Constitutional protections.

Robert Lederman, president of advocacy group Artists' Response to Illegal State Tactics, disagreed with the busker policy, but said he expected the department to maintain its previous decision. If Parks wavered, he said, it might not be able to maintain regulations on artist vendors.

"The court will not allow totally disparate treatment of two similarly situation groups, artists and performers, both of whom are protected by the First Amendment and both of whom are exempted by NYC law from any license or permit," he said. "It would be a very clear violation of equal protection."

Meanwhile, if the department does not agree to hold off, Mark-Viverito said she would make a more formal request. 

"What's the rationale in trying to change the regulations? I would like to know, on the record, why Parks is taking that approach," she said. "Is it a principle overall or is it the higher-end parks — or the more destination parks — and trying to curtail what happens there?"

A spokesman for the Parks Department said officials would not reconsider the regulation.

"There are no plans to postpone the implementation of the rule amendment," a spokesman said in an email.