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San Diego extends street vendor crackdown to beaches, coastal zone with new council vote

A row of vendor tents in Mission Beach Park
Vendors’ tents have been popping up in city parks, such as these in Mission Beach Park on Oct. 13, 2021.
(Andrew Kleske/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Enforcement of the long-awaited law has thus far been limited to inland areas because of state Coastal Commission concerns.

San Diego expanded its recent street vendor crackdown to beaches and other coastal areas Monday by declaring that the new law doesn’t need state Coastal Commission approval.

The city has been limiting enforcement of the crackdown to inland neighborhoods since the City Council approved it last spring, but enforcement will become citywide early next year thanks to Monday’s action.

City officials call the long-awaited street vending ordinance a balance between supporting vendors as a class of entrepreneurs and preserving the character of local business districts, parks and beaches.

Critics say a 2018 state law forcing cities to loosen regulations on vendors has dramatically changed the look and feel of many popular city locations, including Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, Ocean Beach, La Jolla and other beach areas.

While those critics welcome the new law, some have expressed frustration that delayed enforcement of the law in coastal areas has flooded those areas with even more vendors fleeing enforcement in inland areas.

“This issue has such a heavy impact on our beach communities that it’s a good thing we’re going to take care of this now and bring some much-needed relief,” said Councilmember Jennifer Campbell, who district includes Ocean Beach and Mission Beach. “I think this coming tourist season will be much happier at the beaches.”

Advocates for vendors say the new law is too punitive and aggressive, stressing that it bans vendors from most high-traffic and profitable areas. They also say it has racist overtones because most vendors are immigrants of color.

The law partially bans street vendors in parks and such pedestrian-heavy areas as Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter. It also requires vendors to obtain city permits and institutes fines and possible impoundment for rules violations.

The new law bans vendors only during the busy summer months in Balboa Park and many of the city’s beach areas. But some beach areas got year-round vendor bans.

Outside of parks, vendors are banned mostly from main thoroughfares in business districts. They are allowed to keep operating on the cross streets and side streets in those areas.

The delay of coastal enforcement was the result of San Diego officials believing Coastal Commission approval was necessary to enforce the law in the city’s coastal zone, which includes most neighborhoods west of Interstate 5.

A deal reached with the commission in August allowed the city to move forward with expanding enforcement provided it agreed to add a regulation prohibiting vendors from blocking public shoreline access.

Supporters call measure the right balance; critics say it’s racist because most vendors are immigrants of color

The agreement also forced the city to rewrite the law to clarify that approval by the commission was not required and then reapprove the amended version of the law, which it did Monday.

The council must approve the amended version of the law a second time, possibly next month. The law would take effect 30 days after the second approval, so sometime early next year.

In addition to restricting where vendors can operate, the new law restricts what they can sell. Prohibited items include alcoholic beverages, tobacco, vaping products, cannabis, pharmaceuticals, live animals and weapons, including knives, guns and explosive devices.

The city has been enforcing the permit requirements and other elements of the law, such as where vending is allowed, with a team of code enforcement officers, not police officers. In parks, city rangers have been handling enforcement.

Councilmember Joe LaCava, whose district includes La Jolla, said it will be crucial for enforcement to be coordinated between rangers and code officers.

The 2018 law, SB 946, decriminalized sidewalk vending but allowed cities to impose limited regulations if they focus only on health and safety — not keeping vendors out of business districts for competitive reasons.

The city law also creates “entrepreneurship zones” — places where vendors would get chances to flourish together with possible financial help from the city. Locations for those zones have not been chosen.


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