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City approves stricter limits on sidewalk vending

visitors walk by sidewalk vending in La Jolla where a table is set up with merchandise for sale and blue pop up tent over the table

The San Diego City Council has unanimously voted in amendments calling for stricter limits on sidewalk vending, commercial activity and expressive activities in public spaces.

The amendments have been in the works for months, after a March 2022 update to the Municipal Code restricting vending led to the city needing “to provide stronger enforcement,” said Councilmember Jennifer Campbell at the Feb 13 City Council meeting.

Campbell’s office led the original charge to tighten up vending permits.

The 2022 ordinance resulted in a reduction of some vendors but the proliferation of others claiming protection under the First Amendment. 

Protected free speech activities include speaking in public about political, ideological or religious topics; distributing brochures; and art creation and sales.

Examples of activities that are not protected “include sales of hand crafts, like jewelry and pottery, sales of personal care products, including makeup, lotion, perfume, incense and incense burners, sale of mass-produced items including clothing and hats, food sales, teaching exercise, yoga or dog training classes,” said Campbell’s Chief of Staff Venus Molina.

The amendments also address the use of amplification, umbrellas, shade structures and other equipment, she said, noting there will be limits on noise to 40 decibels between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“The proposed regulations would also allow the city to identify certain speech locations in designated areas within parks and plazas,” Molina said.

Specific locations are not outlined, as that “would really tie our hands for any kind of changes” in the future, she said.

Previously, vending in La Jolla has been prohibited at Scripps Park, The Children’s Pool, The Shores boardwalk and other locations.

“These amendments aim to create an environment where permitted vendors can continue to thrive and provide valuable services to our residents,” Campbell said, creating “a balance between protecting constitutional rights like free speech, and maintaining public order in our communities on the basis of public health and safety.”

Those claiming First Amendment rights without cause or not complying with the ordinance will be subject to “progressive enforcement,” Molina said, starting with administrative warnings for the first offense and climbing to heavy fines and impounding of equipment.

Sidewalk vending enforcement will be conducted primarily by the San Diego Police Department and supplemented by the Park Rangers “on a proactive and responsive basis in areas of high concern or public health,” Molina added. 

While many in public comment voiced support for the new regulations, several were opposed, saying the amendments did not do enough to curtail vending in coastal areas.

The original sidewalk vending ordinance “had major flaws creating … chaos [and] damage to the infrastructure of our shoreline parks,” La Jolla resident and member of the Coastal Coalition Catharine Douglass said in public comment.

She urged City Councilmembers to close the remaining “loopholes” in the amendments, namely identifying the specific number of expressive activity spots selected in coastal areas to “prevent negative impact on visitors, restaurants, hotel guests and businesses.”

La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Bob Evans also spoke against the amendments, saying they provide “actual little support for our shoreline parks and beaches. … The city needs to prohibit all types of commercial activity in the beach and park areas, including this expressive vending” to preserve their character as a place of leisure.

Council President Pro Tem Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, praised the amendments for “taking into account the things that weren’t working, the ambiguities, walking that fine line between competing interests and crafting amendments that really can set us in the stage for success and give us our police and our park rangers the tools they need” for enforcement.

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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