West Coast
Wikipedia

Imperial Beach sets rules for sidewalk vendors

What happens with the food truck revolution comes to a beach town near you? New rules and regulations.

Summer means sidewalk sales. And now, starting this summer, even more sidewalk sales. In January, a state law took effect that makes it easier for street vendors, whether stationary or roaming, to hawk everything from cool hats to hot tamales.

The Safe Sidewalk Vending Act opens the door for entrepreneurs, and prohibits criminal penalties for sidewalk vending. Cities can set rules related to health and safety if they aren't too restrictive. But they can no longer force vendors to operate within specific parts of the public right-of-way.

Some La Jollans tried hard to upend the carts; El Cajon and Vista have already passed regulations. Now, in time for summer events, the Imperial Beach City Council adopted an ordinance on May 15 to regulate sidewalk vending.

The purpose of the amendments is not to prohibit it, but just to address issues around life safety, city staff said. Such as leaving enough room on the sidewalk for police, fire and marine safety personnel, as well as special events and disability access.

One business owner warned the council of a "carnival atmosphere" that could erupt on busy weekends, and stressed the need to make it clear to all where vendors can operate.

But cities can't determine where vendors can work "unless there is a health, safety, or welfare concern." Imperial Beach has a few of those: areas with skinny sidewalks and heavy pedestrian traffic, and throngs of tourists keeping lifeguards busy, which also means beaches are off limits. Vendors can't set up on south Seacoast, for example, because the sidewalk doesn't meet the minimum eight-foot width. Only roaming carts – no stationary ones – will be allowed on the narrow sidewalks.

And cities can't ban vending in parks, but they can use the wiggle room in the law. The city's new ordinance says "No stationary sidewalk vendors may vend in any park subject to a signed exclusive concessionaire's agreement." The city can, after posting notice, adopt more requirements for its parks to protect recreation.

Then there's the estuary, which the city has identified as an environmentally sensitive area.

"I think one of the prohibited areas for vending explicitly should be the sidewalks and walkways around the estuary," said Councilmember Spriggs, citing litter. "More importantly, the new project will have a boardwalk on the estuary frontage on I.B. Boulevard between 3rd and Seacoast Drive. And that's going to be an open invitation for sidewalk vending. Unless we restrict it."

"On the bay side, are we also going to limit the wildlife refuge?" asked Councilmember Paloma Aguirre.

The chamber of commerce wanted to know if the ordinance would affect the farmers market. In fact, sidewalk vendors won't be allowed to compete with permitted events like farmers markets: the state law calls for a 300-foot separation.

Some other requirements vendors will face are obtaining a permit, which must be displayed, and for food sellers, a health permit. No sales of alcohol, tobacco, pot, or products used in vaping. No distracting noises or flashing signs. And no working within 100 feet of another sidewalk vendor, the intersection of a street or sidewalk, schools, churches, or large daycares.

Mayor Dedina said he was fine with the ordinance as it is, and the city will take up the topic of enforcement at the next meeting. The estuary is listed in the ordinance as one of the city's unique features where "restrictions on sidewalk vending are necessary to protect the natural habitat and scenic character, as well as the health, safety and welfare of persons visiting the reserve."

But it doesn't prohibit vendors from operating on the adjacent sidewalks.