Jen Campbell Walking Fine Line in Crafting Street Vendor Regulations

by on August 31, 2021 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

At the August 4 meeting of the OB Planning Board, Councilwoman Jen Campbell’s representative was asked for an update on the vendor ordinance “that has taken a very long time to gestate,” as OB Rag reporter Geoff Page described it.

The rep, Teddy Martinez, replied that it may very well come to the San Diego city council in September – maybe. Martinez explained that it is difficult putting together an ordinance that satisfies state and federal law. The first version of the ordinance was tabled because of flaws in the information gathering effort. That has since been corrected and a new draft is ready. Page commented in his report that:

The lack of a vendor ordinance is why there has been such a proliferation of vendors down at the end of Newport. … If they don’t come up with something soon, things may get ugly. This writer has never seen anything like this after 40 years in OB and people are getting very impatient for a solution.

Page was expressing a frustration many in the beach areas have. And certainly a frustration many local OB businesses feel. In today’s U-T article about San Diego putting together regulations for push-cart and other types of street vendors, Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, was quoted.

Knox told the U-T she is confident that whatever the city council and its president, Campbell, propose for regulations this fall will make things better for the businesspeople and merchants she represents. Knox stated:

“I have to be optimistic that she gets it — they realize how outrageous it is. The vendors glom onto any event we have. The city is giving away our park space to entrepreneurs, with no money coming in return.”

Knox described that the street vendors, as reported by U-T writer David Garrick, were “destroying public parks, which weren’t designed to be flooded with pushcarts and so much related activity. She said the vendors also take up prime parking spaces in Ocean Beach.” Knox also told Garrick the vendors are treated differently than ordinary storefront businesses who have to pay a bunch of city and county fees which are not charged the vendors.

“It’s so unfair,” Knox said. “If we want to develop entrepreneurs, we need to have some rules and then teach them to follow those rules.”

It was then fitting for Teddy Martinez to give an update on the status of the vendor ordinance as his boss is taking the lead on crafting regulations that would be city-wide. Campbell says the new citywide street vending ordinance will provide clear enforcement guidelines the city has lacked for nearly three years.

Which is why San Diego police have taken an “hands-off” approach to dealing with vendors over the last few years. Michael Trimble, executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, was critical of the city for this lack. “It’s a major oversight for the city to have no ordinance in place, because that prevents the police from doing anything about it.”

Quoted in the U-T, he said, “This is a huge health and safety problem.” The vendors produce grease and trash that critics claim they dump in surrounding neighborhoods. These are problems that police have no power to curb. “It’s not about criminalizing vendors; it’s about making sure public safety is a priority,” Trimble said.

The city hasn’t had regulations that fit state laws. In 2018, a state law passed that meant to encourage street vending as a new class of small business. SB 946 stated any vendor regulations created by cities must focus on solving health and safety’ problems, not limiting economic competition. It was meant to encourage a new class of small entrepreneurs among California’s low-income residents, many of them immigrants with families.

Since 2018, many cities across the state have passed local ordinances that regulate street vendors in the narrow ways that SB 946 allows. But not San Diego.

In 2019, former Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed city legislation that would have banned street vendors in high-traffic neighborhoods and parks. But under withering fire by critics who claimed it was an unfair crackdown with racist overtones, Faulconer never brought it forward for a council vote.

Todd Gloria has pledged he is committed to supporting regulations that would please both advocates and critics of vendors. He supported SB 946 while a member of the state Assembly.

Work on those regulations for the city, however, passed to Campbell, whose district of course, has the beach communities hardest hit by the “wild west” of the current vendor situation.

Campbell stated to the U-T:

“I am currently working with the mayor and our city departments to enforce existing law and reign-in street vending. For vending that falls under grey areas of the law, my office is now taking the lead on a city-wide street-vending ordinance to provide clear enforcement guidelines.”

Campbell must then walk a fine line; she’s got to satisfy the merchants but also civil rights and other advocates for street vendors. Vendor proponents say critics exaggerate the problems and issues created by the vendors, that complaints come many from merchants frustrated with the competition from street vendors. These vendor advocates say any new regulations need to be based on data and analysis and may need to be adjusted to different neighborhoods. They do concede there are gray areas in the state law but worry about public over-reactions.

“What’s happening at the beach and some other areas isn’t happening everywhere,” said Natasha Salgado, community’ engagement coordinator with the Logan Heights Community’ Development Corp. “This should be data driven. They need to know what the state of vending is in the city’.”

U-T writer Garrick wrote about “Denezel Bynum, a street vendor who sells hamburgers in various parts of the city, said merchant groups are exaggerating the size and scope of the problem. “I understand that they are pissed off when their restaurant is empty and there is a guy selling hot dogs out front,” he said.

Bynum, who has been a street vendor for about two years, said he is open to some local regulations as long as they are reasonable. “I feel like they should at least allot a certain area for us to operate every’ day,” he said. “How else are we supposed to survive?” Bynum said it typically costs $300 or more to become an official vendor at a farmers market, stressing that it also requires up-front cash that some vendors don’t always have.

Salgado, the Logan Heights official, said many street vendors deal with harassment and other problems. The last thing they need are strict regulations that aren’t based on any analysis of what’s actually going on. “We can’t vilify an individual who is trying to create some kind of income for themselves,” she said.

Campbell’s proposal would likely be presented to the City’ Council’s economic development committee this fall before possible approval by the full council.

Other San Diego County cities that have approved pushcart regulations include Carlsbad, Vista, El Cajon and National City.



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam August 31, 2021 at 12:19 pm

I’ve only ever seen 2 food vendors by the beach, one guy was selling juice out of the back of his van and the other is the kettle corn guy. The nuisance isn’t really with the food vendors, its with all those other yahoos that are selling garbage from those folding tables. Between them and the 2 x 4 “streateries” OB is starting to look a little too much like Tijuana.


Greg August 31, 2021 at 2:41 pm

Private business operating on public space harms the entirety of the public.


Chris August 31, 2021 at 6:52 pm

As much as I loathed Faulkner, there were no racist overtones in the regulations he was proposing. I will be so bold as to say the critics who were claiming racist overtones didn’t really believe that themselves. It was more a matter of helping low income people become financially independent which was noble but making false claims of racism was no ok and now look at the mess we have. This is happening in other beach neighborhoods and also parts of the Gaslamp.


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