Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 25th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Busted Buskers

news2The Great Morgani targeted by controversial 14-foot ordinance

Play an accordion, go to jail.

The recent controversy surrounding Frank Lima, aka The Great Morgani, appears to support Freud’s assertion that a grain of truth resides at the core of every joke. Fortunately, the irony is not lost on the iconic Santa Cruz street performer.

“I might have to develop a sacrificial lamb costume if this continues,” Lima, 71, says with a laugh. “But seriously, the key is to remain calm and respect all sides. There is no bad guy here.”

For the past 17 years, the stockbroker-turned-street busker has beguiled weekend visitors to Pacific Avenue with his virtuoso accordion playing and outrageously flamboyant costumes. When a Santa Cruz police officer approached Lima to issue him a citation last week, Lima simply refused to sign it.

“I asked him, ‘If I don’t sign your ticket, will you handcuff me, put me in a police cruiser and take me to jail?’ Fortunately, he didn’t have a response for that. Which was a relief. I didn’t want to spend the night in jail wearing that costume. Could you imagine what would happen to me in there?” Lima says. “Really though, it was a very civil conversation.”

The ordinance at the center of the controversy, enacted in October of last year, requires performers to be 14 feet from street features such as buildings, benches, sculptures, ATMs and garbage cans. (“Garbage cans hate accordion music,” Lima quips.) Yet this is not an altogether new development. In 2002, the city enacted a similar ordinance requiring performers to be 10 feet from street features. As a result, Lima obtained written permission from six separate business owners and carried the documentation on his person at all times.

Private business owners, however, have no legal purview over the public property in front of their business. As a result, regardless of written permission from local businesses, Lima and many other street performers have been in violation of city law for 12 years. Until recently, however, these infractions were largely overlooked.

Despite his central role in the current controversy, Lima is quick to point out that he does not represent downtown street performers. If that role belongs to anyone, it’s Tom Noddy, the founder of Bubble Magic and former organizer of the Santa Cruz Street Performers Guild, a currently dormant organization that wrote the original guidelines for Santa Cruz street performers back in 1981.

“We have First Amendment protection and we can fight for all our rights, but it’s more important that we all get along,” Noddy says. “Listen, I once spent 13 hours in jail for juggling three lemons. I grasp the absurdity of the situation.”

The key to resolution, according to Noddy, is rescinding the ordinance that requires performers to remain 14 feet away from buildings.

“After the 10-foot version was enacted in 2002, I pointed out that if you push a good act like Frank out on to the curb, then where does the crowd gather? Right in front of the businesses’ windows,” he says. “Do you really want a crowd of people leaning against your plate glass and obscuring your business? Probably not.”

So if the ordinance has largely been disregarded since 2002, what was the impetus for its enforcement last week? Noddy believes the answer is either one particularly astute police officer or a general conspiracy to “clear out” Downtown Santa Cruz.

“I think it’s a little suspicious that benches and statues have begun to appear downtown which seem to complicate the spacing issue,” Noddy says. “They say there are all these different places where Morgani and others can perform within these new limitations. I’d like to see that on a map.”

Santa Cruz officials such as Scott Collins, assistant to the city manager, have publicly adopted the same conciliatory tone as Lima and appear willing to find a solution beneficial to all. However, requests for comment on this story were not returned as of press time.

“Colorful characters are a big part of the Santa Cruz legacy,” Lima says. “These ordinances change the character of the Avenue to the color beige and turn this into Anytown, USA. If we lose that, why would people come here? That’s the bottom line.”

Legacy is not too strong of a word. Longtime residents of Santa Cruz may remember Tom Scribner. His derby hat and musical saw were fixtures on Pacific Avenue throughout the 1970s until his death in 1982. In 1978, a statue of the man was erected in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Scribner, a local logger and outspoken member of the “Wobblies,” a labor organization group prevalent from 1905 to World War I, was by all accounts “a character.”

“Here’s a street performer who didn’t take crap from anyone,” Lima says. “Now he’s immortalized by a statue. Go figure.”

Comments (4)Add Comment
Downtown ordinances meant to cleanse Downtown
written by Dr. John Colby, March 15, 2014
Reading the Downtown ordinances and advocating for two disabled homeless people who were harassed by the SCPD leads me to conclude these laws — outrageous and illegal on a number of bases — were passed to cleanse Downtown of those deemed "undesirable" by established merchants.

(Disabled) homeless people are cited with one infraction after another, each costing several hundred dollars. Eventually these are converted into misdemeanors, which can land them in jail. The end result is they leave Downtown, then Santa Cruz altogether. This is akin to ethnic cleansing, considered a crime against humanity.
Retired registered nurse and devoted mother and wife.
written by Ann Auer, March 02, 2014
The Great Morgani is a very talented and entertaining street performer who attracts hundreds of visitors to our city every year. He is indeed an asset to all of us, and a person we don't want to lose! Please amend the law to allow space for those who want to show their talents and can represent our city respectfully.
So you can't perform near a statue...?
written by Bruce Triggs, February 28, 2014
Wait, there's an ordinance that you can't perform near a statue, and they have a statue of a street performer? Do they ticket the statue?

Can no street-performers perform near the street-performance statue? That's fantastic.

I think the city needs to (at best) set up places where people can perform. Or, they need to drag that statue of Tom Scribner off to jail.
Scribner would be ticketed
written by Downtown Doll, February 26, 2014
Today, Tom Scribner would be ticketed. Even his statue is performing illegally according tom current laws.

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Simplicity Preparing for Thanksgiving

When we study and apply astrology in our daily lives, we are anchoring new Aquarian thinking. Study, application and use of astrology, understanding its language, builds the new world, the new culture and civilization. Astrologers are able to plan right timing and right action. Next week is Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov. 26). It’s good to understand the energies influencing us in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. When we know these things we are able to make Right Choices, have Right Action. We link heaven and Earth, our minds with the starry energies that influence us. Let us consider the following influences. The North Node (point in space where sun and moon meet, representing humanity’s present/future pathway) has just entered Virgo. Virgo is about food, purity, cleanliness, service, detail, order and organization. What can we learn from this? Because these energies are available to us we, too, can have intentions and a rhythm of order and organization, purity and cleanliness. Sunday, the sun enters Sag, joining Mercury (we have high ideals, many goals). Tuesday, Mercury/Saturn (structured disciplined thinking) squares Neptune (thoughts, ideas, goals dissolve away). Wednesday is 3 degree Sagittarius solar festival (full moon). Sag’s keynote is, “We see a goal, we achieve that goal, and then we see another.” We might have many plans and goals for Thanksgiving. However, on Thanksgiving those goals may be dashed. Saturn (structure) squares Neptune. All structures and plans dissolve and fall away. What is our response to this? We simplify all that we do. We plan on everything changing. We don’t fret. We adapt instead. Adaptation is the behavior of the Disciple. Sagittarius is the sign of the Disciple. 


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


If you could be someone else for one month, who would it be?

President Obama, so I could change a lot of laws that pertain to people in jail for drug possession and other minor crimes. Raouf Ben Farhat, Petaluma, Self-Employed


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location