Local leaders looking to existing regulations to limit vending in parks

Visitors to Ocean Beach's Veterans Plaza walk among sidewalk vendors' displays.
(Milan Kovacevic)

While the city of San Diego waits for the California Coastal Commission to weigh in on its new sidewalk vending ordinance before it can take effect in coastal areas like Ocean Beach, some area leaders are trying to curtail vendors by calling for enforcement of existing laws that limit commercial activity in public parks.

A section of the San Diego municipal code that regulates and prohibits certain activities in public parks in the city lists “sales of merchandise” as a prohibited activity.

“Except for those sales that are protected by the First Amendment, it is unlawful to sell or offer for sale any goods, wares, merchandise, article or thing whatsoever without the written consent of the city manager,” the code reads. Sales protected by the First Amendment “must conform to the city manager’s regulations,” it adds.

Further, a complaint filed with the Coastal Commission on June 27 by Mission Beach’s Town Council and Precise Planning Board argues that the city violated Proposition G, approved by 67 percent of city voters in 1987, by allowing vendors to operate for as long as they have.

According to Proposition G, “the Mission Beach Park property owned by the city shall be restricted to public park and recreation use such as grass, picnic areas, public open space, public parking, public recreation and meeting facilities. Expressly excluded are retail and commercial uses,” with specific, limited exceptions.

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, told the La Jolla Parks & Beaches group during its June 27 meeting that LaCava “continues to ask the mayor to enforce the [laws] that prohibit vendors from being on grassy areas in parks.”

However, part of the issue is having sufficient staff to enforce the existing regulations.

Additional enforcement officers were budgeted as part of the fiscal 2022-23 budget, which took effect July 1. Hadley said June 27 that those officers “are being onboarded in the coming weeks.”

Coupling prohibition of vending on the grass with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations that prioritize keeping four feet of clearance on the sidewalk would limit vending in parks, Hadley said.

“If you can’t be on the grass and there is not four feet of available sidewalk, [you can’t be there],” Hadley said.

Streetside vendors offer their wares in Ocean Beach in 2019.

At the La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting, there was concern about whether limiting vending on grassy areas would simply cause the vendors to move to the sidewalk.

LJP&B trustee John Leek said vendors he has spoken with reported being told they cannot be on the sidewalk and were moved to the grass. Better communication is needed from the city to its enforcement agents, he said.

Beach-goer Kurt Hoffman said “the grass is already dead in most of these areas” and that having vendors on the sidewalk “is a less positive situation for people to get around.”

San Diego’s new regulations on sidewalk vending went into effect in most of the city June 22. But many points in the 34-page ordinance cannot be enforced in the coastal zone until after the Coastal Commission approves them.

The commission had not put the item on the agenda for its July 13-15 meeting as of June 30.


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