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San Diego council gives initial approval to revision extending sidewalk vendor law to coastal zone

Vendors offer their goods to visitors at Scripps Park near La Jolla Cove.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Enforcement of the ordinance has thus far been limited to inland areas but can be extended after an agreement in August allowed enforcement along the coast without a hearing by the California Coastal Commission.

The San Diego City Council voted Nov. 14 to expand its recent street vending ordinance to the city’s coastal areas in the wake of a deal this summer in which the new law doesn’t need approval from the California Coastal Commission to take effect along the coast.

Coastal residents upset by a growing presence of sidewalk vendors may be breathing a sigh of relief in coming months, as San Diego officials said Aug. 26 that an agreement has been reached to allow enforcement of new city vending regulations in the coastal zone without a hearing by the California Coastal Commission.

The council passed the ordinance earlier this year and it took effect in most of the city June 22. But many parts of the law, focusing largely on where vendors can operate, could not be enforced in the coastal zone — which includes most neighborhoods west of Interstate 5 — until the Coastal Commission gave its approval. The reason given was that the ordinance would require a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities. Other regulations for permitting and health and safety did go into effect.

The lack of enforcement in coastal areas seemed to lure more vendors to places like La Jolla, where many residents already were agitated by the tents and tables that they say are ruining the area’s appeal.

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.

But a deal reached with the Coastal Commission in August allowed the city to move forward with expanding enforcement, provided it agreed to add a regulation prohibiting vendors from blocking public shoreline access.

The agreement made it necessary for the city to rewrite the law to clarify that approval by the commission was not required, and then reapprove the amended version of the law, which it did Nov. 14.

The council must approve the amended version a second time, likely Dec. 6, with enforcement 30 days later in early January.

The ordinance would block vending year-round at La Jolla’s Scripps Park, 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.

In many other city beach areas and Balboa Park, the ordinance calls for banning vendors during the busy summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Rangers are tasked with enforcement at shoreline parks and beaches, with code enforcement officers managing the inland areas.

Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said it will be crucial for enforcement to be coordinated between rangers and code officers.

LaCava said the ordinance “returns boardwalks, bike paths, parks, coastal access and public parking spaces back to San Diegans and visitors, including Coast Boulevard and the Scripps Park boardwalk.”

In addition to restricting where vendors can operate, the new law restricts what they can sell. Prohibited items include alcoholic beverages, tobacco, vaping products, cannabis, pharmaceuticals, live animals and weapons, including knives, guns and explosive devices.

The ordinance also creates “entrepreneurship zones” — places where vendors would get chances to operate together with possible financial help from the city. Locations for those zones have not been chosen.

City officials call the vending ordinance a balance between supporting vendors as a class of entrepreneurs and preserving the character of local business districts, parks and beaches.

SB 946, a state law that took effect Jan. 1, 2019, decriminalized sidewalk vending but allowed cities to impose limited regulations if they focus only on health and safety and not on keeping vendors out of business districts for competitive reasons.

Critics say the state law has contributed to dramatic changes in the look and feel of many popular San Diego locations, including La Jolla, Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter and Ocean Beach.

“This issue has such a heavy impact on our beach communities that it’s a good thing we’re going to take care of this now and bring some much-needed relief,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who District 2 includes Ocean Beach and Mission Beach. “I think this coming tourist season will be much happier at the beaches.”

Advocates for vendors say the new law is too punitive and aggressive, noting that it bans vendors from most high-traffic and profitable areas. They also say it has racist overtones because most vendors are immigrants of color. ◆