Parks & Beaches members question whether ‘donations’ will mean the return of park vendors

The vendors at the Children's Pool on Jan. 31 (top) were gone Feb. 1 (bottom).
The vendors at the Children’s Pool on Jan. 31 (top) were gone Feb. 1 (bottom), the first day of full enforcement of San Diego’s street vending ordinance in coastal areas.
(Ashley Mackin- Solomon (top) and Elisabeth Frausto)

La Jollans say sidewalk vendors are starting to re-emerge at shoreline parks using a possible loophole in San Diego’s regulations.


Members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board are voicing concern over a possible loophole in San Diego’s regulations on sidewalk vending, which has started to re-emerge recently in areas like Scripps Park after enforcement went into full effect in coastal areas Feb. 1.

Sidewalk vendors are regulated by an ordinance the City Council passed last year that 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 California 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 aims to 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 are allowed to continue operating on the cross streets and side streets in those areas.

LJP&B President Bob Evans said the enforcement has had “a lot of positive results” and caused “a significant decrease in what was out-of-control vending.” But he said he has seen vendors “creeping back in” to the public shoreline parks.

Some are operating under speech protected by the First Amendment and others are operating on a donation basis — neither of which are regulated in the sidewalk vending ordinance.

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.

Thus, some people at LJP&B’s Feb. 27 meeting expressed concern about the concept of “donations” and whether vendors who choose to accept donations will be allowed to operate.

Trustee John Shannon said that with the donation loophole, the number of vending stands could rival that of the La Jolla Open Aire Market.

Vendors offer their goods to visitors in 2022 at Scripps Park near La Jolla Cove.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Venus Molina, chief of staff for City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell — whose District 2 office helped broker the agreement with the Coastal Commission that allowed the ordinance to be enforced in the coastal zone — previously told the La Jolla Light that commercial activities that seek donations instead of a set charge are not considered vending.

At the LJP&B meeting, where Molina was not present, Evans said: “It’s clear vending is merchandise sales and money transactions. … And some of these vendors are transacting, so I’m trying to understand who is setting these definitions and policies at the city.”

He said there is confusion about how the city defines vending and asked for clarification from city representatives in attendance. They agreed to return with more information at a future meeting.

One person who attended the meeting told the Light that he offered an artist money for a piece that was listed as available by donation, but the artist said the donation wasn’t enough for the art and would not accept it.

Molina later told the Light that people who see someone using donations as a loophole should report the vendor and file a complaint to San Diego’s Code Enforcement Division or to park rangers with the vendor’s name, location and/or what the vendor is offering.

“The vending ordinance is for people selling goods,” she said. “Those that ask for donations [instead of a set price] are being sneaky and trying to game the system. They should accept a dollar, even if the suggested donation is $20.”

“This is going to be handled on a case-by-case basis, but it is going to be enforced,” Molina said. “Once word gets out that [using donations] is going to be addressed, it’s going to get squashed.”

The Code Enforcement Division can be reached at (619) 236-5500. ◆