Street vendor in Ocean Beach
Mylor Davis, owner of Pots & Pans clothing, prepares his sewing machine on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Ocean Beach. The street vendor sets up a booth almost ever week to sell his custom designs. / Photo by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

San Diego’s long-awaited sidewalk vending rules are finally moving forward. 

The city's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee approved proposed regulations to street vending on Wednesday. The draft rules are expected to go before the full council next month.  

The committee's more than three-hour public discussion, however, exemplified how divisive the subject has become.  

Dozens of business owners and beach area community members who spoke during the meeting said the proposal didn’t do enough to rein in street vendors. Some pointed to public safety concerns and others spoke about the trash produced by vendors. A handful argued that vendors pose unfair competition to tax-paying businesses. 

Street vending advocates celebrated two key points in the draft: the creation of “entrepreneurship zones” — designated areas for vending – and shifting enforcement of vending regulations to the city's Code Enforcement Division and Park Rangers from police. 

Still, some advocates and vendors said the policy did not do enough to ensure economic equity and that some rules were too restrictive. They encouraged the commission to make changes to its permitting process and ensure that restrictions around operation hours and distance requirements are supported by evidence.  

“Local street vendors are not the enemies and they're being unfairly treated, targeted and marginalized,” said North Park resident Patricia Mondragon, who spoke in favor of vendors. “We should be encouraging entrepreneurs and protecting their right to sell in the public square like everyone else in business does and not placing unnecessary and unlawful restrictions.” 

The state's Sidewalk Safe Vending Act, SB 946, set out to decriminalize street vending by prohibiting cities from cracking down on vendors for reasons unrelated to public health, safety and public space access. As a result, cities across the state were forced to establish rules, or update existing rules, to align with the state law. 

San Diego set out to do that in 2019, but pushback from vendors and eventually the coronavirus pandemic delayed efforts kicked off by former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration. The proposal debated Wednesday would bring the city into compliance with state law. 

Despite having different needs, businesses, community members and street vendors have anxiously waited for the city to adopt an ordinance that regulates and clarifies how the micro-businesses operate on San Diego's sidewalks 

Businesses in popular tourist areas, as well as beach communities, have raised concerns about safety and loss of public space. Merchants' organizations argue that brick-and-mortar stores are dealing with unregulated unfair competition from the vendors, especially restaurants. Under SB 946, cities cannot impose rules because of competition concerns. 

The vendors themselves would like to see the city adopt some rules to clarify where and how they can operate legally in the city, but want the freedom to run their small businesses in high traffic areas. 

Jen Cardona, the owner of Thirty Flirty shop in Barrio Logan, told Planetcob in November that street vending helped her promote her merchandise and test the market before transitioning to running a shop. 

“Without getting that exposure, it wouldn't have been possible,” she said last year. 

Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell's office released a draft of the sidewalk vending ordinance earlier this month. Campbell's office took over drafting the rules because she represents many of the beach communities impacted by street vending. 

Corey Bruins, president of the Ocean Beach Town Council, said during public comment that spaces intended to be enjoyed by all have been overcome with pop-up tents that benefit only a few. 

“We need to protect the public's right to entrepreneurship equally as much as the right to use public spaces for their primarily intended purposed,” Bruins said. 

The proposed ordinance lays out a permitting process and establishes an enforcement avenue. It also bans vendors from operating in certain parts of the city. 

Areas not open to vendors: 

  • 4th, 5th and 6th streets between Broadway Avenue and Harbor Drive in downtown 
  • India Street between Ash Street and West Kalmia Street in Little Italy 
  • San Diego Avenue between Twiggs Street and Conde Street in Old Town 
  • Several blocks in East Village 

Areas with restrictions related to events, games, times and summer months: 

  • Streets near the Convention Center during a convention or event 
  • 6th Avenue through 14th Street between Market Street, Harbor Drive and Commercial Street during events and game days 
  • Sports Arena Boulevard between Hancock Street and East Drive during events and game days 
  • Within 500 feet of special events, swap meets and farmer's markets 
  • Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, Presidio Park, Belmont Park and Shoreline Parks in the communities of Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla during the Summer Moratorium 

Campbell said she understands the need for clarity around street vending.  

“This ordinance will help provide the appropriate support to vendors while promoting equitable access to our public spaces, protecting the public health and safety of our communities,” Campbell said.  

The committee included incorporating an annual review of the ordinance.  

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Planetcob. She welcomes conversations...

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