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In-Depth: Street vendors becoming a nuisance along San Diego boardwalks

Business owners ask city to implement long-awaited guidelines
Posted at 6:26 AM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 10:54:12-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The coronavirus pandemic, combined with a recently enacted state law, has created a new problem along San Diego's streets and boardwalks.

Business owners say they're being overrun by vendors who set up makeshift stores and crowd sidewalks and walkways, while also luring customers out of long-established businesses.

"It's pretty much a free-for-all," says David McDaniel, the owner of Paradise Cove near Crystal Pier. "Anybody can sell anything, anywhere."

He's partially correct. A new state law, Senate Bill 946, went into effect in 2018. Passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it decriminalizes street vending, telling cities that they can create their own guidelines and can only enforce them with tickets for vendors who violate the rules, instead of criminal charges.

Several cities in San Diego County, including Carlsbad and Vista, were quick to establish their regulations. San Diego still hasn't.

As more vendors set up shop, the Pacific Beach Town Council is asking city leaders to move the process along.

"We're calling on city leaders to end the swap meet on our boardwalks now," says Brian White, the President of the Pacific Beach Town Council. "We have lots of pedestrian traffic, bicycles, skateboards. There really is no room for this type of vending activity."

Earlier this month, the Town Council sent a letter to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council asking for specific rules.

The San Diego City Council started to establish new rules for vendors in 2019. Faulconer sent a draft ordinance to the Economic Development Committee.

It would have prohibited vendors on the boardwalk and other high traffic areas. It also would require business permits, set hours for vending, establish distances from public facilities, require vendors to follow health and safety rules, and several other rules.

That ordinance passed the committee unanimously on July 25, 2019.

The city then held three public forums about it in October. But it never went to the full council for approval.

"It is an issue that's becoming a real problem. We definitely need to get some regulations going with this," says City Councilmember Jennifer Campbell, who represents Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

"It's really up to the mayor's office to bring us these recommendations to City Council," says Campbell.

ABC 10News reached out to Faulconer to see why there has been a delay in moving the draft ordinance forward. In a statement, Ashley Bailey, the mayor's Deputy Director of Communications, says,

"The Mayor's Office was working on a comprehensive ordinance to establish rules of the road for street vending earlier this year. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, other more pressing issues were pushed to the forefront. We continue to explore options to have a new street vending policy considered by the City Council."

At this point, Campbell believes nothing will happen until the new mayor and council are elected and sworn in. The new terms begin on Dec. 10 for whoever wins office.

With that in mind, ABC 10News reached out to both candidates in the mayoral race.

Barbara Bry, who was on the committee that voted to approve the ordinance, told ABC 10News it's one of the first things she'll do if she's elected.

"This is an issue that can be addressed," she says. "There is a draft ordinance that's been written, it may need some minor tweaks, but it's something that we can demonstrate to the community that we can actually move forward with something we promised that we would do."

Todd Gloria sent a statement saying,

"Unfortunately, this is yet another issue underscoring a lack of leadership at City Hall. SB 946 became law more than two years ago, and the City still has not put regulations on the books. As Mayor, I'm committed to reviewing the ordinance submitted to the City Council by the current administration and launch a participatory planning process that will gather input from various stakeholders, including sidewalk vendors, local businesses, and other key stakeholders to assess what adjustments need to be made. The wild-wild-west for sidewalk vending should not stand."

For business owners like McDaniels, the political promises are nice. But he'd like to see the rules put in place and enforced.

"We're the ones that pay the taxes, and we're the ones the pay the employees and insurance and rent and support the economy. And now you've got people that come up, pull up a truck, jump out with a table and sell what they sell," he says.

"I certainly think they should pay every kind of tax and insurance and rent that we pay because it's just a level playing field."