Vote on San Diego’s long-awaited street vendor crackdown scheduled for Dec. 14

Street vendors set up at Veterans Plaza in Ocean Beach in July.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Council president plans to unveil proposed legislation sought by merchants in downtown, beach areas


San Diego’s possible crackdown on sidewalk pushcart vendors could be coming in December, when City Council President Dr. Jennifer Campbell says she plans to unveil long-awaited legislation.

“After receiving critical input from everyone this issue touches, I believe this ordinance will balance the needs of residents, vendors and our public spaces,” Campbell said in a news release. “I look forward to addressing this crucial issue for San Diegans.”

The proposed law, which wouldn’t take effect until January at the earliest, will come later than many hoped. When Campbell began spearheading efforts to rein in vendors in May, her staff said she planned to propose legislation in October.

The proposed crackdown will come amid an uproar of complaints about unfair competition and illegal dumping of trash and grease in some neighborhoods.

Merchant groups in downtown and the city’s beach communities say vendors have flooded business districts and parks, with no restrictions, because of a 3-year-old state law encouraging street vending as a new class of small business.

Kohta Zaiser, Mayor Todd Gloria’s District 2 representative, spoke to the Pacific Beach Town Council about the issue in August.

Zaiser said opposition to the ordinance comes from advocates and councilmembers representing inland districts, where street vendors have worked the same street corner for 20 years. That contrasts sharply with many street vendors typically found in coastal locations.

“We aren’t seeing folks in your beach communities that have been here for decades, who are well liked and respected in the community,” Zaiser said. “They’re oftentimes folks from out of town who come in and set up overnight and block the public right-of-way.”

Town Council president Marcella Bothwell agreed.

“These are not people just trying to make a living from San Diego,” Bothwell said. “These are people coming from Arizona, etc. We’re not trying to criminalize our San Diegans’ behavior.”

Advocates for street vendors say critics have exaggerated the dangers and disruption created by the vendors, and that those complaining are mostly businesses frustrated they are facing new competition from street vendors.

While the advocates say they welcome new city legislation focused on clearing up gray areas in state law, they want any policy proposal to be based on data and analysis instead of knee-jerk reactions. They also say the rules should vary by neighborhood.

Campbell said her proposed legislation won’t be unveiled until a few days before the Dec. 14 City Council meeting. However, she expressed confidence it will be well-received.

“After many conversations with community members, stakeholders, vendors and enforcement agencies, our office is proud to announce that I will be bringing forward a street vending ordinance,” she said.

But she also conceded the legislation is still a work in progress, saying that “final specifics” must still get ironed out.

Campbell took over the street vendor issue from Mayor Todd Gloria last spring. Gloria said Campbell made sense as the lead legislator because her district includes the beach communities most affected by the surge in street vending.