Ordinance enforcement on shoreline vendors still unclear

Vendors operate in La Jolla's Scripps Park on April 28.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Uncertainty — and dissatisfaction in La Jolla — continues over ‘what is and what is not considered vending protected by the First Amendment,’ though the city of San Diego says it is working ‘to help clarify.’


Three months after the city of San Diego officially began full enforcement in coastal areas of an ordinance restricting sidewalk vendors, they are still present along La Jolla’s shoreline, largely because of continuing uncertainty over whether they are operating under First Amendment rights.

When the ordinance took full effect in the coastal zone Feb. 1, it initially seemed to keep vendors away from areas where the law prohibits them year-round, such as the Children’s Pool, Scripps Park and the La Jolla Shores boardwalk. But vendors soon returned and have been setting up daily, to the chagrin of many residents.

Parks & Beaches members say sellers operating under a free-speech exception to San Diego’s ordinance are creating a ‘resurgence’ in vending at shoreline areas.

Keys Allan and Pete Ward said they have observed the same vendor selling snacks and fruit drinks at The Shores boardwalk virtually every day.

A vendor sets up on the La Jolla Shores boardwalk April 29.
(Pete Ward)

San Diego Parks & Recreation Department rangers, who are tasked with enforcing the ordinance at beaches and shoreline parks, are “continuing to enforce violations,” according to city spokesman Benny Cartwright.

The ordinance requires all vendors to obtain a permit and follow health and safety regulations, but its restrictions focusing on where vendors can operate have run into complications.

The ordinance exempts those “engaged solely in artistic performances, free speech, political or petitioning activities, or engaged solely in vending of items constituting expressive activity protected by the First Amendment, such as newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets, bumper stickers or buttons.”

Also, city officials have said commercial activities that seek donations instead of a set charge are not considered vending.

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

The vendors operating at Scripps Park and The Shores boardwalk are “currently exempt from the prohibition of vending,” said Cartwright, who added that rangers have contacted the vendors and determined they are conducting “expressive activity.”

He was unable to answer whether the food vendor photographed on the boardwalk claimed to be working under First Amendment rights or on donations.

“There is currently little guidance in the municipal code of what is and what is not considered vending protected by the First Amendment,” Cartwright said.

The Parks & Rec Department is “actively working to review the current municipal code in order to help clarify solicitation, performances and merchandise sales that are protected by the First Amendment on public property,” he added. “We are also in the process of conducting interviews for the remaining park ranger vacancies throughout the department.”

Eight of those positions will focus on vendors at the beaches, “bay and the rest of the city’s park system,” he said.

The new hires “will help to further reduce illegal sidewalk vending along the coastal parks,” Cartwright said. ◆