Sidewalk Vendor Laws in North County are Forcing Vendors to Rethink Their Livelihoods

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for James Beauford to sell fragrances and incense sticks on Oceanside’s sidewalks.

Beauford’s once full-time street vendor operation has become a secondary source of income, he said, because it’s easier to pay for a spot at the farmers market than it is to grapple with the city’s permitting process and site restrictions.

The stringent regulations, lengthy permitting processes, and harsh penalties in some ordinances for sidewalk vendors in North County cities leave vendors with two choices: conform or fall behind.

Contrary to intuition, these regulations were enacted in response to a state law intended to make it easier for street vendors to thrive in California.

Cities throughout the county are still working on their own rulesbut a handful of North County cities have had these regulations in effect for as long as three years, and for some providers there’s no denying that their businesses have been affected.

Supporters and critics of these ordinances agree that street vending needs to be regulated at some level, but the experiences of vendors across North County show that many city ordinances are forcing vendors to completely change the way they work, to find other sources of income or to give up their businesses altogether.

And as vendors navigate the complicated language that’s sometimes inaccessible to non-English speakers, they have to worry about where to operate their business while dealing with the pressure of accommodating brick-and-mortar businesses nearby.

State law passed protects in 2018 Sidewalk selling as a business opportunity, particularly for low-income and immigrant communities. It states that cities cannot ban street vending, but can impose some restrictions on vendors as long as the restrictions address health and safety concerns.

Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista, Solana Beach and Encinitas all have street vending ordinances in place. Some of these cities even impose similar restrictions on food trucks, while state law does not.

The various regulations are similar in that they outline permit/licensing requirements and detail where street vendors can open shops.

For example, Sidewalk vendors in Karlovy Vary Selling “in or on any alley, beach, pier, square, street, end of road, parking lot or parking lot” is prohibited.

And like other cities, there is a long list of specific distance guidelines that detail where providers can’t operate. Therefore, finding a location where they can operate has become a challenge.

Vendors must not be within 18 inches of a curb, within 50 feet of another street vendor, within 10 feet of an outdoor dining area or patio, within 500 feet of any permitted special event, street festival or farmer’s market, etc.

Food trucks in Carlsbad have some of these restrictions, but also cannot stay parked in one location for more than 60 minutes, cannot park anywhere with a speed limit greater than 40 mph, and cannot park within 100 feet of another food truck vendor and may not park within 25 feet of any intersection, driveway, building entrance, fire hydrant/fire escape, or outdoor commercial dining/patio area.

Kristina Ray, communications and engagement director for Carlsbad, said the city passed the ordinance “to comply with state law,” adding that they considered brick-and-mortar businesses’ concerns when drafting the regulations.

“What we’ve heard from our business community… was some concern about whether this could potentially bring more competition to brick-and-mortar stores, but we’ve been working with our businesses and trade associations to try to make it what they wanted to make it more comfortable that.” there was a little bit more separation in the places,” Ray said. “We’ve worked hard to make it so that within the law we can address the concerns of our brick-and-mortar businesses and still comply with the law and provide opportunities for people who want that type of business.”

However, state law makes it clear that perceived competition is not a basis for restricting sidewalk vendors.

Heriberto Gonzalez is the owner of Habanero street tacos, a food truck he operates in Carlsbad. He said it was initially very difficult for him to understand all of the city’s rules and regulations since English is his second language.

“The thing is on the streets right now, there’s some trouble with the city, they’re requesting a lot of things. If you park somewhere, they kick you out,” he said. “In the beginning it was difficult for me because you have to figure out all the rules and if you don’t know a lot of English you don’t understand it.”

Born in Mexico, Gonzalez came to America with dreams of owning his own business, but encountered many obstacles along the way, including in Escondido, where he originally tried to open a business.

There he was told he could only operate the food truck if he obtained a permit to operate on private property and made a formal agreement with another company that he could park there. When he did, he was ousted by neighboring companies because they said he was stealing from their customers.

He decided to try his luck in Karlovy Vary but quickly discovered the restrictive parking regulations on the street. Luckily, he found opportunities at some stores that allowed him to park in their lots for free and sell his food. He now works in the parking lots of a Lowe’s store and a local brewery.

He said he’s grateful to have found those opportunities that allowed him to stay in business, but he knows others who couldn’t keep up with the changing laws and decided to give up and look elsewhere for income.

Other street vendors and food trucks have adopted a similar business model as Gonzalez, such as Copper Kings Burgers in Oceanside, which has partnered with various breweries in the area, allowing it to operate out of their parking lots. They’ve also leaned more into the catering side of their business.

Barry Dunham, one of the owners of a food truck called the Pizza Trolley, said he got a permit from the County of San Diego to operate in more locations, but getting that license is difficult and the county is strict about it Grant these licenses.

However, even with the license, it seems impossible to park anywhere on the street in Del Mar, Dunham said. He added that Oceanside is also very restrictive on street vendors and food trucks.

He said they now mainly work with other businesses and events to sell their groceries more easily. Right now they have an agreement with Carlsbad Flower Fields for a few months.

Other sidewalk vendors, who used to rely heavily on their businesses, have had to settle for selling their produce at local farmers’ markets once or twice a week.

Oceanside’s code enforcement manager Kirk Mundt said the city passed the ordinance to protect the health and safety of the community.

“The law allows it statewide, and if you don’t have time, place and species restrictions, it’s sort of free-for-all,” Mundt said. “We wanted to make sure there weren’t any health and safety concerns, that we didn’t have an unnecessary impact on local businesses… we wanted to be able to preserve the Oceanside character.”

“It’s a balance of allowing this activity, which is what we are required by law to do, but also making it reasonable for people to make this type of income while maintaining Oceanside’s recreational atmosphere,” he continued.

Escondido is in the process of drafting its own ordinance for sidewalk vendors, which will most likely impact the vendors now operating in the city. But even without strict regulations, vendors have felt the pressure to prove they pose no threat to brick-and-mortar businesses in the area.

Julio Garcia, who runs Reina’s shop in Escondido, said the permitting process in Escondido is not difficult, but it relies on proving your business will not have a negative impact on nearby businesses.

As more cities across the state consider introducing street vending ordinances, critics say they hurt people trying to take their first steps into entrepreneurship. And many argue that they disproportionately affect low-income and immigrant communities.

Opponents have also pointed out how punishable they can be with some cities, like Carlsbad and Solana Beach, faces a subpoena and a $100 fine for the first offense. There is no mention of a warning in any of these ordinances.

Patricia Mondragon, regional policy manager for Alliance San Diego, said they or even the providers themselves aren’t necessarily opposed to regulations on principle, but that most cities’ ordinances are too strict, too strict and too complicated.

“Something we’ve seen with a lot of these ordinances in the region and a similar situation in San Diego is this process of putting the cart before the horse,” Mondragon said. “We’re passing all of these regulations without really gathering meaningful data on what the economic impact will be for our region and what impact it will have on already marginalized communities who use this as a source of income.”

She cited San Marcos as an example, which nearly approved a vendor regulation last year, but the council decided to go ahead with the issue after receiving backlash from community stakeholders and vendors who said the regulations were too restrictive.

Many of the opponents raised the lack of study, coordination or discussion with actual street vendors. San Marcos has not revisited the regulation or shown any signs that it is in talks with providers.

It remains to be seen how the rollout of more of these regulations nationwide will affect the street vending and food truck businesses as we know them.

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