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Increase in vendors vexes many La Jollans, but sellers say they plan to stay

The number of vendors at Scripps Park in La Jolla seems to have risen in recent weeks, locals say.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

With summer in full swing and vacationers continuing to flock to La Jolla’s parks and beaches, sidewalk vendors are establishing an increasing presence in places like Scripps Park at The Cove, locals say. And that increase has been accompanied by rising complaints from residents agitated by tents and tables that they say are ruining the coastal allure.

Vendors, on the other hand, say they need to make a living and that La Jolla is a good location.

The city of San Diego doesn’t keep a formal inventory of how many vendors are in the parks, but several La Jollans say there’s been a noticeable jump.

Kurt Hoffman, a bodysurfer and member of the group Ocean Access Advocates, attributes that to the fact that many components of the city’s recently passed ordinance establishing regulations for sidewalk vending have not yet taken effect in coastal areas like La Jolla.

As the city of San Diego waits for the California Coastal Commission to clear its sidewalk vending ordinance to take full effect in coastal areas, La Jolla residents likely will have another summer with vendors in area parks.

The entire ordinance went into effect in most of the city June 22, but restrictions focusing largely on where vendors can operate can’t be enforced in the coastal zone until the California Coastal Commission approves them. Other regulations for permitting and health and safety are in effect.

“They have come to the coast where the ordinance is not enforceable,” Hoffman said. “The number has definitely increased in the coastal zone because that’s where they can do it.”

The Coastal Commission did not review the sidewalk vending ordinance at its meeting this month. Its September agenda has not yet been created.

“There’s definitely been an increase in the overall amount of sidewalk vendors, and especially noticeable at the front entrance to The Cove and taking over the grass and sidewalk area at the new restrooms,” said La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Bob Evans. “And it’s also gotten more congested and packed with vendors lined up next to each other over … by the sea lions [at Point La Jolla].”

Earlier this year, when new rangers were assigned to the area, there was a “noticeable decrease” in the presence of vendors, Evans said. But since then, “there are more vendors than ever,” he said.

The Parks & Beaches board, La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Shores Association all voted recently to sign on to a letter accusing the city of violating the Local Coastal Program, La Jolla Community Plan and California Coastal Act by allowing “impermissible retail activity (e.g., sidewalk vending) to impede visual and physical access to ... La Jolla coastline parks and beaches” and asking the Coastal Commission to require more enforcement.

Some local leaders have pointed to a section of the San Diego municipal code that lists “sales of merchandise” as a prohibited activity in public parks in the city.

Meanwhile, the La Jolla Light in recent weeks has contained several letters to the editor lamenting the vending in coastal parks, saying it resembles a “swap meet” and “cheapens the atmosphere.”

Parks & Beaches member Tim Seery is one of few locals to speak in defense of sidewalk vending. “I can’t support the classist efforts of an affluent and privileged community attempting to limit the ways that entrepreneurial working people make ends meet,” Seery said after voting against sending the letter to the Coastal Commission.

Some vendors park their vehicles near where they set up shop, to the chagrin of regular beach-goers like Chris Cott.

He said the rising number of vendors reduces available parking spots “by dozens, and you can see the impact by the reduced number of families able to use Scripps Park.”

At the Children’s Pool to the south, “I have seen 15 of the 17 parking spots ... taken up by vendors, including the one disabled spot,” Cott said. “Not only do they stay all day, but the ice cream truck that reserves the southernmost spot there has been there so long they are on Google Maps.”

Tim Graham, supervising public information officer for San Diego, said the city “isn’t keeping specific counts on the number of vendors at this time” and is focusing instead on education and enforcement.

The sidewalk vending ordinance followed the passage of California Senate Bill 946, also known as the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, which took effect Jan. 1, 2019. The state law, aiming to “decriminalize” sidewalk vending and encourage entrepreneurship for vendors, changed the way cities can regulate them, putting the focus on public safety and health concerns. It does not allow an all-out vendor ban or criminal charges, though it does allow administrative fines for violations.

Under San Diego’s ordinance, sidewalk vendors must obtain a permit to sell their wares in the city. Food vendors also are required to have a San Diego County health permit and food handler card.

In La Jolla, the ordinance would block vending year-round at Scripps Park, the Children’s Pool, the Coast Boulevard boardwalk between Jenner and Cuvier streets, and on main thoroughfares in some business districts, such as the boardwalk at La Jolla Shores, according to local officials. Vendors would be allowed to continue operating on the cross streets and side streets in those areas.

“I have to come here to make money to live, so I’m going to keep coming and see what happens.”

— Jewelry vendor Yoshi Kostman

Leo Henry, owner of Esoteric Designs by Leo, said he saw “an influx” of vendors coming to Scripps Park when city regulations went into effect in areas outside the coastal zone in June. That has caused conflict with vendors who have been there longer, he said.

“We have to respect each other’s space and areas and seniority,” said Henry, who started selling his wire-wrapped and beaded jewelry at Scripps Park soon after the state law went into effect in 2019.

“I was born and raised in East County San Diego. I have been doing this most of my life, but outside of Scripps Park,” he said. “I was selling at underground festivals, farmers markets and online. When I first started selling here, there weren’t very many vendors, just me and a guy selling sunglasses. It was beautiful. Then it grew and became its own beast, and we have this whole new reality of vendor villages.”

One of the more recent vendors at Scripps Park is jeweler Yoshi Kostman, who used to peddle her wares at San Diego’s Balboa Park but migrated to La Jolla when the city’s ordinance “kicked us out.” The ordinance bans sidewalk vendors in Balboa Park between Memorial Day and Labor Day and prohibits vending year-round near many of the park’s plazas, gardens and other locations.

This was “pretty much the only choice I had,” Kostman said.

Business is “hit and miss” at Scripps Park, she said, but she appreciates the La Jolla weather.

Kostman said she likely will remain at Scripps Park for the foreseeable future. “I have to come here to make money to live, so I’m going to keep coming and see what happens,” she said. “I know there will be fewer people here when summer ends, so I might just come on weekends.”

Some Scripps Park vendors say they have received "heat" from some locals unhappy about their presence.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Marcay Tucker, owner of Pacific Mermaid, which sells crystals, jewelry and other items, has been vending at Scripps Park for a year and a half.

She said she chose to set up in La Jolla because it’s less crowded than other places like Mission Beach. Scripps is “a lot better environment,” she said. “Other vendors are more friendly [in La Jolla].”

Tucker said Pacific Mermaid is her full-time job and that she has a business permit and pays taxes to the city.

She said she’s read concerns that vendors like her might be competition for larger local businesses, but that “doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “We’re little; we have little inventory.”

“There’s enough [business] to go around for everybody,” she added.

Tucker said she gets positive feedback from tourists but that the response from locals is half supportive, half “a lot of heat,” with some shouting obscenities or making rude gestures at her.

Erin Zanelli, co-owner of Mother Erth, which sells woven bags made from unused, non-recyclable food and beverage packaging, said she hasn’t received any backlash since setting up shop in Scripps Park a few weeks ago.

She said this is her company’s first sidewalk vending location after appearing at street fairs and holiday events. The booth is set up a few days a week, avoiding weekends, when “there’s too many” other vendors, she said.

Zanelli said she chose Scripps Park for its “beautiful location.”

“We’re all about sustainability and keeping trash and pollution out of our oceans and landfills. We figured what better place [to sell] than close to the ocean?” she said.

Zanelli said she plans to stay at the park “as long as we’re allowed to do so legally and safely.”

Once the Coastal Commission reviews the sidewalk vending ordinance, the law would go back to the City Council for adoption of any amendments the commission recommends. Two council hearings would be required — one for discussion and one for a vote. The regulations would go into effect 30 days after the second hearing. ◆