Rising number, volume of street performers spark debate in Burbank

Jerry McQueen lives in Sherman Oaks, but he was in downtown Burbank enjoying a bite to eat Monday while watching Carla Buffa sing and play guitar at the corner of San Fernando Boulevard and Palm Court — the pedestrian area that was formerly part of Palm Avenue.

McQueen said he's made trips to Burbank with friends to see performances, including one by a performer who uses the social media app Meerkat to broadcast his performances live, and he thinks "most of the time it seems like a good thing and people enjoy it while they're waiting for a movie or dinner."


"I know it draws a lot of people down here," McQueen told Times Community News.

However, as the area has become more popular for street performers, it's created some problems. The city is looking at ways to implement some guidelines that respect the free speech rights of performers while creating some order.

City Manager Mark Scott said city staff has received complaints about noise. For example, Jerry Koren went to the City Council last week to complain about the noise and a lack of regulation to prevent amplified music from disturbing others.

Koren is general manager of Market City Caffe and said sometimes the music bothers diners on the patio area along Palm Court. But, he said, there's no clear way to resolve issues such as performers being too loud or having too many performers in the same vicinity creating a cacophony of competing sounds.

Simply asking a performer to lower the volume doesn't always work.

"One gentleman, I don't want to say his name, but he actually turns it up when I ask him to turn it down," Koren said.

Scott said he's seen performers argue over their turf and other behavior that he doesn't think is "conducive" to the type of downtown Burbank wants.

Emphasizing that he was speaking for himself, not his employer, Koren said he thought downtown businesses benefit from the street performers, who make the area "festive." But he said he wants some help from the city to create guidelines and resolve conflicts.

Scott said city staffers were working on an ordinance that would, as a first step, ban amplified sound.

He's also directed staffers to consult with Santa Monica officials to learn how it regulates the Third Street Promenade, which includes requiring performers to get a permit. Regulation is tricky, he said, because "we have to be very careful how we restrict speech in public places."

Buffa, who said she made a living performing in bars and restaurants on the East Coast, had been seeking a place to perform for an audience. She said she got a permit to perform on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, too, but when she was there earlier this month, "there was nobody there."

Monday afternoon was her first time in Burbank and she was the only performer on the street, but her performances of songs like KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” seemed to appeal to passersby, a few of whom dropped a few dollars in her guitar case or stopped to ask about the music.

"It's great," she said between songs.

McQueen said he thinks the street performers create an atmosphere that keeps people in the area longer and creates a destination, "as long as it doesn't get over-saturated."


Garland writes for Times Community News.