CARMEL, CALIF. — There's a new set of villains in the town once ruled by Clint Eastwood.
They're harmless alone. But banded together, they clog the pine-shaded sidewalks. They traipse through elegant courtyards and leer over fences into manicured backyards.
They're tourists, the kind who pay for group walking tours. The same tours that Carmel has outlawed.
"We'd rather have a quiet town, and there's a quiet way to discover Carmel - on your own," says Mayor Ken White, defending the city council's recent 3-to-2 decision to ban guided walks.
The ban isn't the first or most unusual regulation in the town 100 miles south of San Francisco famed for its tiny English-style inns, pricey boutiques, ocean views, and Mr. Eastwood, the tough-guy actor who served as mayor a decade ago.
For years, Carmel has been a place where one can't buy alcohol and listen to a band at the same time, and where you won't find a neon light or a street address. One rarely enforced ordinance requires women wearing high-heel shoes to get a permit. And Mr. White, among others, once sought to ban ice-cream cones for fear of messy sidewalks.
But some cry overkill in response to the ban, including Councilman Marshall Hydorn, who called the walking ban "almost un-American."
Gale Wrausmann is perhaps the most upset. Her guided "Carmel Walks" is the only licensed walking tour in town and the target of the ban.
"[The city council] is trying to say it's based on principle. What it really is is back-room politics - a small group of people who want to keep Carmel available only to a select few."
Ms. Wrausmann has no plans to stop walking, and hopes the American Civil Liberties Union can help battle what she calls an illicit trampling of her free-speech rights.
Even in a town used to such oddities, the dispute seems to have opened a wider-than-usual chasm among some of the town's 4,700 residents. Many blame sheer numbers. In recent summers, the town's population has jumped dramatically as 20,000 tourists pour in each day.
But tourist dollars account for more than half of the city's $9 million budget, making it increasingly difficult for city leaders to abide by a 1929 credo, etched in City Hall, which declares "business and commerce ... [are] subordinated to [Carmel's] residential character."