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San Diego Considers Crackdown On Street Vendors

Street vendors line up on the pathway in front of Ocean Beach on September 4, 2019.
Andi Dukleth
Street vendors line up on the pathway in front of Ocean Beach on September 4, 2019.

The City of San Diego is considering cracking down on street vendors because of a new state law that went into effect January 1.

The new law decriminalized street vendors and requires cities across California to create local ordinances that only regulate street vending based on public health and safety, not stifling competition. Supporters of the new law hope it encourages grassroots entrepreneurs and immigrants, and protects the from criminal charges and deportation. Cities across California are now scrambling to create regulations that will conform to the new state law.

San Diego Considers Crackdown On Street Vendors
Listen to this story by Priya Sridhar.

Luis Sierra and his friends have been selling jewelry and artwork on the pathway in front of Ocean Beach for years. However, for the majority of the time that has been selling his natural stone necklaces, he has technically been committing a misdemeanor.

VIDEO: San Diego Considers Crackdown On Street Vendors

"It's a way of life so whether it's illegal or not. If I can do it within a means where I'm going to still be able to feed myself and those around me at night, it has to be done," he said.

Robert Vacchi, the Deputy Chief Operating Officer with the City of San Diego, said cities have to manage issues from vendors who may dump trash or block access to bathrooms or bus stops. Vacchi's office is coming up with new proposed regulations that will be heard by City Council in October.

"In high traffic areas, you're going to be limited as what you can do as far as vending. In the lower traffic areas, there are lesser restrictions," Vacchi said.

He said vendors will be more restricted on crowded sidewalks like in the Gaslamp District or the boardwalks in Mission Beach and La Jolla Shores. Vendors who break rules now will face tickets ranging from $100 to $500.

"You have to balance the health and safety of the whole versus the opportunity for the individuals," "Vacchi said. "It's all about a balance." For instance, instead of requiring aspiring business owners to pay for high insurance starting out, the city would be decreasing their liability by limiting where they can operate.

Sara Berns is the executive director of Discover Pacific Beach, the business improvement district for the area. She says her organization, along with most of the merchant associations across San Diego support the proposed regulations.

Bernard Lebel, the owner of the California Sock Company, started out as a street vendor in San Diego at farmers markets and has now moved on to own two stores in Pacific Beach and at the Fashion Valley Mall. While he has personally seen the business benefits of starting small, he also thinks that vendors should have the same rules as brick and mortar store owners.

"I would like everybody to...have to pay the same taxation as everybody else, same permits, same permitting process: brick and mortar versus street vendor. That's really what matters to me most. If we're in...a business improvement district and they charge a certain fee to do business here, everybody should have to pay that," he said.

The new regulations will require street vendors to get a $30 permit once a year. They will also have to remain within a certain distance of various intersections and loading zones and comply with hours of operation in parks. Food vendors would also have to get a county health permit.

Many street vendors like Rhian Gilmore say they haven't really been part of the discussion about new regulations and they're not even sure where to find the information on the rules they would have to follow.

"There’s really no current public information for street vendors, you know, the only way you're going to know is if they come up to you and tell you to take their stuff down. We're not sure where we can, it’s just a guessing game," Gilmore said.

The City Council will consider the new restrictions in October.

Street vendors are seemingly everywhere in San Diego because there are no local restrictions on them. But now, the city is considering a crackdown. Plus, the GI Film Festival is officially underway at the Museum of Photographic Arts, we’ll preview the film “The Whistleblower of My Lai.” Also ahead, starting next week, all branches of military medicine will be under one command; hear how Naval Hospital San Diego plans to handle the transition. And, SDG&E wants to do away with seasonal pricing but the proposal doesn’t actually reduce rates for consumers.