Entrance to City Hall
The entrance to San Diego City Hall. Photo by Chris Stone

A proposed ordinance adding business regulations and restricting where and when sidewalk vendors and pushcarts can operate in an attempt to comply with a state law was approved Tuesday by the San Diego City Council.

The ordinance was adopted on a 8-1 vote with Councilwoman Vivian Moreno voting no. If would go into effect at the end of the month if signed by Mayor Todd Gloria, as expected.

The law will impose restrictions on vendors, including when they can sell wares in “high-traffic” areas like boardwalks, beach-facing sidewalks and parks between Memorial and Labor days.

It 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 proposed ordinance was developed by Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who represents District 2, which includes the street vendor-heavy neighborhoods of Ocean and Pacific beaches.

“With this, we can balance the needs of vendors, residents and our public spaces,” Campbell said.

The proposed ordinance also sets up a system of enforcement which varies for those with and without permits. For a first violation, a warning, followed by fines and ultimately confiscation of the stall and wares.

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

Senate Bill 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018, allows cities and counties to regulate sidewalk vending where the objective is directly related to public health, safety and welfare.

However, “perceived community animus or economic competition does not constitute an objective health, safety, or welfare concern,” a city document reads.

The law also allows cities and counties to establish regulations within parks to prevent an “undue concentration of commercial activity which would unreasonably interfere with the scenic and natural characteristics of the park.”

Dozens of callers made their opinions known at Tuesday’s meeting, some opposing the regulations on their face, saying they disproportionately target immigrants and people of color.

Multiple business owners said a vendor selling the same wares just feet away from their storefront was unfair. Others worried that beach communities needing to consult the California Coastal Commission before full implementation would lead to a staggered effect of the proposed ordinance.

Still others said vendors took away from San Diego’s natural beauty, with one man using the word “infesting” to describe the businesses. Councilman Raul Campillo took issue with this last group.

“Street vendors are people and we will treat them with the respect they deserve,” he said, before admitting some of the vendors were not following existing laws. “The current system incentivizes a race to the bottom.”

The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium said the ordinance did not live up to the good intentions of the state law, a pattern the group said is statewide.

“Over the last couple of years, we have seen cities pass various sidewalk vending ordinances that have actually gone against the intent of SB 946 and have made it harder for sidewalk vendors to operate their businesses,” a statement from the organization read.

“As currently drafted the sidewalk vending ordinance is restrictive and punitive, further targeting and marginalizing immigrants, low income community members, and community members of color.”