A Perfectly Legal Free-For-All at the Foot of Newport in OB

by on October 21, 2021 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach

A free-for-all at foot of Newport. Photo by John Williams

By John Williams

In 2018’s Senate Bill 946 the state of California eliminated penalties for unlicensed street vendors offering products to the public while on public property.

It’s nice, I guess, if you’ve got responsibilities and this is how you earn.

OB has for many years been known for its Wednesday Farmers Market which started as something much closer to a market with fruits and vegetables, coffee, honey, etc., than the repetitive hand-crafted variety of jewelry and other sideways stuff available now.

And, it has spawned OBWFM Part 2: new vendors who aren’t buying “official” space in the OBTC designated area. These renegade vendors have appropriated space along the sidewalk at the end of Newport Avenue, and are offering for sale such rare items as rocks, ponchos, jewelry, sandals, pipes and some other even less well known things.

One vendor who had but a single small display on a small table and sat next to it on a small chair. He sold what appeared to be earrings dangling from a rectangle of cardboard. He said he’d had sales and that they were “good enough to bring me back.”  He seemed to have been thrown off a bit when I initially asked whether he’d sold anything because he launched into a description of the quality products he offered.

“No,” I said, “not that, have you sold anything this morning?” It was 11:45 a.m., and he had. He said he‘d stay until about 9 p.m.

Did you need a shiny rock? Come on down!

Did you need a rock in a glass tube that has a shiny silver-looking band at the bottom? Come on down!

Earrings made of whatever is handy. Come on down!

Homemade smoked mole jerky? Come on down!

Guaranteed COVID-19 cures made from Play-doh. Come on down!

Lessons on finding your inner self? (I know I’m here somewhere!) [Says you.] Come on down!

Bathtub gin? Come on down!

The main things I got out of this experience of passing tables and looking at displayed items were questions I didn’t ask.

One thought went down the “Are you kidding? How could you possibly make enough money selling this shit to pay rent and eat? I can’t see gas money here.”

The second question has to do with the city.  Isn’t it supposed to be collecting fees for licenses and isn’t someone supposed to be keeping track of sales tax.

The third question is how will OBTC make money if vendors don’t need licenses or authorized spaces?

Well, the cops say it isn’t up to them because of 946, and I guess they should know. Mayor Gloria says he endorses a plan being generated by some one. The city council rep, Dr. Jen, also endorses that same someone’s plan and also seems to be trying to deflect criticism onto the Health department which would have jurisdiction only if vendors sold edibles; she wants them to “tighten enforcement” in an area where that department has no authority.

I can’t see how her idea is of any value. Not quite sure what legislators were thinking with this.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam October 21, 2021 at 1:04 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is a direct outcome of having a super majority in the state legislature. Without a balance of power you end up with extreme laws being passed. In this case, the super far left has done away with regulations that would keep our neighborhoods from being over run by drug dealers and vendors, such as these, as a way to prove their progressive bona fides. It is an absolute shame that selling drugs on the street, as happens every week at the make shift market, has been decriminalized to the point that the police don’t even bother trying to stop it. Between this and the abolition of single family neighborhoods, our great state will turn into upper Tijuana, shanty towns and all, in no time flat. It breaks my heart to say this, but I’m seriously considering moving away as soon as my kids are out of school.


JMW October 22, 2021 at 10:13 am

Sam, while I can’t join with you in characterizing “the super far left” as a personal anathema or agree that the State of California has such an entity in power, I do get not liking this top down change to long standing norms, i.e. open season on public space for vendor sales. I’d like, as a citizen to at least get back from these vendors the same money any other legitimate business enterprise must pay. Still, that probably does not amount to a great deal of cash.
But, while Big D in his heyday, grouped drug dealers with murders and rapists, two despicable entities, you’ve come down on people selling earrings and rocks and sandals; might as well accuse them of being dog owners. And, drug dealing is now a corporate activity. So, we don’t share views on this.
With your second point however, dissatisfaction with State’s having mandated increased housing density, I wholly concur. Though homeowners are not required to add units, the opportunity to make money by doing so will cause many to do so. And, these top down zoning changes also signal lots of money spent on acquisitions and flips, and foretell all the negatives that go with high density. Only wealthy neighborhoods will be protected, and even these will not be exempt from changes. I doubt the future will quiet or restful. But, more people will have housing than do now.


Jerry October 22, 2021 at 3:42 pm

Hearing conservatives complain about deregulation is hysterical. Confusing, but hysterical.

Also confusing/hysterical: people tucked away in their own homes complaining about the “abolition of single family neighborhoods.” That’s not quite the right way to classify the very real affordable housing crisis.


JMW October 22, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Jerry, hi. That we need more housing seems undeniable. People are living everywhere. How would you correctly classify this situation?


Tessa October 21, 2021 at 4:11 pm

I used to love to ride my bike down to the seawall and ride along the sidewalk there. Now I seldom go down – some of it is a sense of slight fear, weariness from being pan handled, sad seeing people lying out on sleeping bags. It seems like a downhill slope for downtown OB. It seems like the city is always late to the party – as it was during the awful hepatitis A epidemic of a few years ago.


JMW October 22, 2021 at 10:23 am

Tessa, it is sad to lose something you enjoy. OB has changed a great deal since I first it, but the vibe remains, though it seems to me to moving in a PB direction i.e. more bars. The city is almost always late to the party.


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