Vendor in the Grass: City explains rules for selling merch in La Jolla parks

In August, La Jolla Light received this letter from resident Cheryl Hintzen-Gaines:

“I live on the 19th floor at 939 Coast Blvd. (front of the building), and see everything. For years now, people sell their wares from a stand they set up on the corner of Scripps Park along Coast Boulevard. If you look closely, you’ll see these vendors have ruined the park grass and it is now only dirt. These people need to get off the grass and on to concrete, so the grass can grow back!

They started some years ago, raising money for the seals with petitions for the seals to stay, which I signed, and we bought many shirts. They also set up a stand by the Children’s Pool.

Since they are taking in money, does La Jolla get a portion of their take? Do they have a permit to sell items? Do you know or can you find out and put me in contact with the person who has some answers? I’m tired of seeing this go on. If these people want a business, they should rent a store front, there are many available. Where is the (money) going?”

Light staff wondered the same things, so we looked into the situation and found policies in place that regulate such activity, but there are also certain vendors whose actions are covered by the First Amendment (Free Speech).

Under the San Diego Municipal Code section 63.0102: “Except for those sales that are protected by the First Amendment, it is unlawful to offer for sale any goods, wares, merchandise, articles, or anything whatsoever, without the written consent of the City Manager,” and further, “Those sales that are protected by the First Amendment, must conform to the City Manager’s regulations.”

In explaining the complex territory that is First Amendment protection, City spokesperson Tim Graham said: “As you might suspect, what is deemed ‘protected speech’ under the First Amendment is a very complicated issue that is determined on a case-by-case basis (by the City).”

But, as part of the rules state: “Any use of property in a public park or in a public right-of-way adjacent to any public park to exercise free speech rights and to sell merchandise of any nature ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the exercise of such free speech, shall obtain a Park Use Permit for that purpose.”

Graham explained: “All vendors selling in beach and park areas must have a permit from Parks & Recreation, and must also register with the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) and be issued an identification card demonstrating they have registered. Once they have fulfilled those two requirements, they are allowed to sell on park land.

“Vendors may be asked by parks staff or police officers to provide their permit and identification card, and if they are unable to do so, they will likely be asked to cease operations until they can present those items.”

A solicitors permit required by the SDPD tops $300.

The public is technically allowed to ask to see these permits, but the City recommends getting the assistance of a police officer or park ranger if it’s believed there are un-permitted vendors in City parks, since they have the enforcer roles with City rules and regulations.

The rules further state that permittees may conduct their activities between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 1-Oct. 31 and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year. Rules also outline the size of the tables that are allowed, required signage that shows these vendors are not associated with the City, and more.

While SDPD does not require a solicitor asking for donations for a non-profit organization apply for a solicitor’s permit, it recommends having a letter about the organization that authorizes the solicitor to collect donations on its behalf.

In late August and mid-September, there were two kiosks selling T-shirts and hoodies to benefit the Spirit of the Environment group. At both locations, notes indicating the kiosks were not associated with the City were present on the price list.

According to its website, Spirit of the Environment supports — through the sale of T-shirts and other garments — three spirituality-based communities that include yoga retreats and organic farming in Northern California, North Carolina and Costa Rica.

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