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Sidewalk vendors required to get permits under ordinance taking effect Wednesday

Sidewalk vending is now officially regulated in the city of San Diego, at least in some parts. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere looks at where street vending can still take place and why.

Sidewalk vendors and pushcart operators are now required to have permits for their micro-businesses following an ordinance regulating them which went into effect Wednesday.

Balboa Park looked like a very different place on Wednesday. Where there used to be dozens of vendors sprawled across the park, it was difficult to find a single one.

Park rangers were on hand to educate vendors about the new rules, but Chief Park Ranger Mike Ruiz said they are not fining anyone yet.


Nargess Cotton frequents the park with her family, and was disappointed by the change.

“I love their street vendors, their elote is always the best. Everytime we’re here we make sure to grab one. And the churros, the churros lady is always here. It sucks that they're not here any more, it's a lot cheaper honestly than buying the $10 Dippin Dots or something,” the mother of two said.

A man walks by a fountain in Balboa Park where street vendors used to set up, June 22, 2022.
Jacob Aere
A man walks by a fountain in Balboa Park where street vendors used to set up, June 22, 2022.

The San Diego City Council voted to approve the ordinance earlier this year, bringing San Diego into compliance with SB 946, a California law that decriminalized sidewalk vending statewide and set parameters on how cities could impose regulations.

"I am happy to see the Sidewalk Vendor Ordinance that I created with the support of my council colleagues go into effect," said Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who represents many of the city's beach communities in District 2. "San Diego has long awaited these regulations that will bring vendors into the formal economy and ensure access to San Diego's public spaces for all."

In March, Campbell led an effort to pass regulations restricting where and when sidewalk vendors can operate in an attempt to comply with the state law. The proposal was approved 8-1.


San Diego’s beach areas won’t see the same regulations just yet. Park rangers can't yet enforce in those areas due to the pending status of the ordinance in the California Coastal Commission.

Candy Hogan lives in Mission Beach and said enforcement is needed now.

“They're all nice people and I appreciate they're trying to make a living. Just don't do it at the expense of all the other families that live inland and want to come enjoy the park,” she said

Hogan said some vendors even block the pathways for first responders.

“Right where the vehicles were supposed to go out into the sand if somebody’s drowning down here, or if they need to get an ambulance down here to give them oxygen, they can’t. They've set up in the entrance to the ocean,” the Mission Beach resident said.

A man on a bicycle rides past a row of street vendors at Mission Beach, June 22, 2022.
Jacob Aere
A man on a bicycle rides past a row of street vendors at Mission Beach, June 22, 2022.

Eric Bell is a vendor in Mission Beach who sees the scene from a slightly different point of view. He used to own a brick and mortar store, but found he wasn’t making enough sales to stay afloat. He said that’s changed now thanks to street vending.

“I don't think I need to tell you inflation is out of control right now. If I was working my job and I hadn't retired to do this, I'd be broke,” Bell said. “We do need regulations here, because it's been kind of like the Wild Wild West at times. However, the fact that they'll kick us out of here, they don't want us here at all, I don’t agree with that.”

Back in Balboa Park, guitarist Chet Harrison said he feels mixed emotions about the new rules.

“It does cause me a little bit of cognitive dissonance because here I am, kind of doing the same thing. It's just that I'm providing a free service as well, because nobody has to tip me if they don't want to,” Harrison said.

Park rangers said they'll keep educating vendors, but eventually they plan to start issuing citations.

Street vendor Angela Herrera stands in her booth at Balboa Park where she sells jewelry, March 2, 2022.
Jacob Aere
Street vendor Angela Herrera stands in her booth at Balboa Park where she sells jewelry, March 2, 2022.

Sidewalk vendors and pushcart operators must pay $38 annually for a permit to sell their wares in San Diego. City staff initially recommended the new permit fee be as high as $230 per business, but negotiations in council chambers brought that number down to the same as a business tax certificate in the city. Following the first year of implementation, city staff will release an analysis to determine any fee modifications.

Food vendors are also required to obtain a San Diego County Health Permit and Food Handler Card.

The ordinance also sets up parameters for where vendors can physically set up — for example, 15 feet from another vendor, 50 feet from a major transit stop and 100 feet from any sidewalk or street closure.

The city's previous laws were adopted in 2000 with minor updates since.

The ordinance sets up a system of enforcement that varies for those with and without permits. A first violation can draw a warning, followed by fines and ultimately confiscation of the stall and wares.

To enforce the ordinance and educate vendors, a city document estimates 32 new jobs in San Diego's Development Services and Parks and Recreation departments are needed at a total cost of $5.1 million.

For more information regarding the ordinance's parameters and frequently-asked-questions, click here.

In the same document, city staff anticipated 1,000 vendors yearly applying for the permit for around $230,000 in total revenue. With the updated permit fee approved by the council, that predicted revenue drops to around $38,000.

The city has been working collaboratively with community-based organizations to provide outreach and education to vendors who are seeking to comply with the new ordinance. Over the past few weeks, in-person workshops have been hosted by the Logan Heights Community Development Corporation to present detailed information and guidance related to the new requirements in both English and Spanish.

The California State Coastal Commission is expected to review the Sidewalk Vending Ordinance in the coming months.