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Fit to Be Tied, Council May Ban Silly String in City Parks, Streets

Times Staff Writers

Silly string has become a serious issue in the city of Los Angeles.

Declaring it a threat to public safety, a City Council committee voted Friday to ban the use or possession of silly string on city property, including streets and parks.

The impetus for the proposed law, which now faces a vote by the full council, came from Hollywood residents and business groups who complain that each Halloween their streets are inundated with people wildly spraying one another with colorful streams of the compressed foam. The stuff is sold under such brand names as Crazy String.

Police say the annual explosion of silliness can lead to violence among warring bands of silly stringers, and puts police officers, particularly those on horses, at risk.

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“I thought it might have been a little silly,” Police Capt. Michael Downing, commanding officer of the Hollywood station, said of the proposed ban on the string. “But more and more, it becomes a flashpoint where disorder occurs.”

Two members of the council’s Public Works Committee agreed Friday. Instead of merely voting to ban the sale in Hollywood during special events, as called for under Councilman Eric Garcetti’s original proposal, Councilmen Greig Smith and Tom LaBonge decided that Los Angeles should ban possession on all city property.

If the full council agrees, Los Angeles will join other cities, including New Orleans and Santa Clarita, that have restricted the toy.

Garcetti’s office said Friday that it was not his intention to push for a citywide ban and that he has not reviewed the new proposed ordinance.

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The idea didn’t go over too well along Hollywood Boulevard on Friday afternoon. “I can’t believe they spent five minutes even debating that,” said Jason Palmer, 31, who lives in West Los Angeles. “That’s like saying you can’t have confetti or rice at a wedding.”

Eldy Miguel 15, a student at Hollywood High, agreed. “Really, who is going to get mad at silly string? You just take it off.”

The proposal drew a raised eyebrow from one student of politics.

Larry Berg, retired director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, suggested that maybe some council members have “too much time on their hands.”

“They ought to be able to find something better to do, like how to get a budget in Sacramento,” he said. “Financing the city of Los Angeles is as important to the quality of life as silly string.”

But Downing, the Hollywood police officer, said string battles can spark fights, leading to not just violent clashes, but increased financial liability for the city.

Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Entertainment District, which pushed to outlaw silly string in Hollywood, said: “We’re trying to avoid a disaster waiting to happen.”

County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Parker, who is responsible for policing the Red Line station in Hollywood, added that people spraying silly string go into the subways, dropping cans as they go, and putting travelers at risk of slipping and falling onto the electrified rail.

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Council members said it also creates an environmental disaster after the annual Halloween revelry, as tangles of the string stick to buildings and trees and wash into storm drains.

If the law is approved, stores would still be able to sell silly string, but vendors who sell it from backpacks and strollers would no longer be able to ply city streets. People would still be able to spray it during parties -- just not in public parks or on city streets.

That would presumably include Richard Riordan, who on his last day as mayor three years ago gleefully sprayed silly string on two television news anchors, who returned fire with their own canisters.

LaBonge cited environmental concerns for extending the ban to public property citywide, saying that the string washes out to sea, harming marine life. “My son Charles likes silly string a lot, but he likes the dolphins better. He’ll learn to live without it,” he said.

Some merchants who sell silly string said they were not opposed.

“I kind of like the idea,” said Jeff Thomas, who manages Hollywood Magic, a store on Hollywood Boulevard. Thomas said the store often sells out of the string on Halloween, but the day after the holiday “our street is destroyed.”


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