Service activities in parks are next to face regulations under San Diego vending law

A yoga class is held at Calumet Park in La Jolla's Bird Rock.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Though the city of San Diego will begin enforcement of its sidewalk vending ordinance in coastal parks on Wednesday, Feb. 1, it is already looking ahead to its next challenge — regulating vendors who provide services rather than goods in public parks.

Several trustees of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board had questions this week about whether things such as yoga classes, pop-up picnics and organized beach bonfires are being regulated under the ordinance, which recently went into effect in the coastal zone, including La Jolla.

However, the ordinance focuses on the exchange of money for goods and does not cover services, or activities protected by the First Amendment.

During La Jolla Parks & Beaches’ meeting Jan. 23, trustee John Shannon noted that some commercial activities provide a QR code so participants can donate, and he questioned whether that is considered vending. He wondered if vendors are entering a “gray zone.”

Fellow trustee Melinda Merryweather said some local companies provide services in the parks and wondered if that is covered by the ordinance.

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said “the city is working on that. … That is the next battle.”

Hadley said the city typically asks service providers to obtain a commercial vending license, “but with COVID, there has been a proliferation of outdoor classes and reservation of space on beaches and other services that are going to be addressed.”

Venus Molina, chief of staff for Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell — whose District 2 office helped broker an agreement with the California Coastal Commission that allowed the ordinance to be enforced in the coastal zone — told the La Jolla Light that the city is meeting with representatives of coastal communities and service providers to gather feedback on how those activities should be governed.

“Once they start charging for [goods], that’s vending,” Molina said. “And those that do so would have to apply for a vendor’s license and follow local laws.

“But when it comes to services, that is totally different. Those people are not regulated yet, and we have to make sure we regulate those businesses as well. These folks are going to need permits.”

She added that commercial activities that seek donations instead of a set charge are not considered vending.

The City Council passed the ordinance March 1 and it took effect in most of the city June 22. But its restrictions focusing largely on where vendors can operate could not be enforced in coastal communities while awaiting review by the Coastal Commission. The commission agreed in August to withdraw its review and allow enforcement in the coastal zone.

The ordinance includes regulations for permitting and health and safety and will 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 will be allowed to continue operating on the cross streets and side streets in those areas.

“When it comes to services ... those people are not regulated yet, and we have to make sure we regulate those businesses as well. These folks are going to need permits.”

— Venus Molina, chief of staff for San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell

Lauren Kimmons, owner of Pop Up Picnic Co., which provides picnic experiences in coastal parks in La Jolla, has been involved in the conversations with the city and hopes for guidance soon on how her business will be regulated.

“It’s terrible for me because I don’t have a lot of clarity for our employees or our clients,” she said. “We are trying to come up with a resolution that would benefit people, especially the millions of San Diegans that live in the area but not right on the beach, that want that experience.”

Kimmons said she is willing to get a permit should that be required, but she hopes there will be a vetting process and minimal regulations for responsible business operators.

“I would hope that if you can show that you’ve done all the steps and are a good actor, there shouldn’t be too much regulation,” she said. “It’s a handful of businesses operating on a handful of days in these huge spaces, so our footprint is not that big. But too much regulation would hurt businesses and hurt people’s ability to access the beach.”

She added that she would be happy to see businesses that don’t follow local laws cease operations.

“One of the unfortunate things was that people jumped into this creative vending space because it was a low barrier to entry, but they didn’t have licenses or insurance, so it’s a mixed bag,” Kimmons said.

Before adoption of the sidewalk vending ordinance, the city established a process for ocean-related classes and certain commercial activities on the beach itself. The process, known as request for proposals, is focused primarily on surfing and kayaking lessons. Concessionaires can apply for a permit if they meet certain terms, and once a permit is granted, they can conduct their commercial activities on city beaches. ◆