Weekend vendors at La Jolla’s Scripps Park may be operating under First Amendment exception to regulations

 Vendors in Scripps Park
Though vendors in Scripps Park like those pictured were absent in the middle of last week as enforcement of San Diego’s sidewalk vending ordinance took effect in La Jolla, some vendors appeared over the weekend.

The city says the municipal code allows for ‘items constituting expressive activity’ and that park rangers work to determine whether a specific vendor falls within that category.


A few days after the city of San Diego began enforcing its sidewalk vending ordinance in coastal communities, vendors appeared again in La Jolla’s Scripps Park.

When regulations restricting where and when vendors can operate began to be enforced in La Jolla and other coastal areas Feb. 1, sellers were noticeably absent at places where vending is prohibited year-round, such as Scripps Park and the Children’s Pool.

San Diego’s regulations, which started being enforced in coastal communities Feb. 1, prohibit vending year-round at La Jolla’s Scripps Park, Children’s Pool and Coast Boulevard boardwalk.

But on Sunday, Feb. 5, a resident shared with the La Jolla Light a screenshot of an image from a webcam mounted at the La Jolla Cove Hotel & Suites on Coast Boulevard, showing a few vending tables and canopies set up near The Cove. She also said she had seen an artist displaying his paintings for sale in the park.

The vendors seen over the weekend apparently were operating under San Diego municipal code language that allows for activity protected under the First Amendment, according to a city representative.

The sidewalk vending ordinance, which focuses on the exchange of money for goods, also does not cover vendors who provide services.

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.

San Diego spokesman Benny Cartwright said the municipal code allows for “items constituting expressive activity by the First Amendment,” such as newspapers, bumper stickers and buttons.

He added that the code also allows “for a broad interpretation of what expressive activity is, including art, painting and handmade jewelry.”

He said the city is required to allow park space for First Amendment activity, provided it does not block walkways and emergency access.

Cartwright said the vendors present Feb. 5 were determined to be operating under the First Amendment exception, “at least during times when rangers visited.”

Park rangers, who are responsible for enforcing the vending ordinance at beaches and shoreline parks, “are engaging each vendor and/or individual along the coastline to determine if the specific activity falls within this ‘non-applicable’ category,” Cartwright said.

Rangers first will observe the activity to see if set-price sale transactions occur or if they are donation-based. The latter is allowed.

“Even when an individual states they are accepting donations, park rangers are assessing each item to determine if they are mass-produced and/or there is evidence that the items are not handmade,” Cartwright said.

Rangers patrol San Diego’s 13.7 miles of coastline between Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and Torrey Pines State Beach from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, he said. The team rotates up and down the coast throughout the day, making stops at various spots. ◆


11:35 a.m. Feb. 7, 2023: This article was updated with additional information and comments.