Downtown Santa Monica’s ubiquitous fruit and churro vendors will be required to get business licenses and health permits starting in May.
City Council will vote Tuesday on regulations for sidewalk vending to comply with a new state law that requires cities to establish rules for vendors without prohibiting or criminalizing them. In addition to creating a permitting system for vendors, City Hall is looking to ban them from the beach, Santa Monica Pier, part of Palisades Park and the Third Street Promenade and direct them to other downtown areas like the Colorado Esplanade.
The Pier and Palisades Park are of immediate concern, City of Santa Monica staff said. The deck and stairs on the north side of the Pier have become overcrowded with vendors in recent months, blocking access to the Pier and leading to fights among vendors battling over turf that have resulted in multiple arrests. Staff is presenting the new rules as an emergency ordinance so they can go into effect before the summer tourist season.
“The recommended approach places public safety as the highest priority — including protecting public health, mitigating risks of fire and protecting emergency evacuation routes, minimizing obstruction of access in the public right-of-way and managing crowds at the city’s most iconic and high-traffic public spaces,” staff said.
The Safe Sidewalk Vending Act went into effect Jan. 1 following several years of efforts by sidewalk vendors and advocates to decriminalize and legalize vending, which escalated when President Donald Trump was elected and indicated he would crack down on undocumented immigrants, putting many vendors at risk. Cities across California are now moving to regulate vendors, but the law includes restrictions on what rules they can enact.
Unless there are health, safety or welfare concerns, local authorities can’t require vendors to operate in specific areas or prohibit them from doing business in parks. They can, however, limit their hours of operation and require them to obtain a permit for sidewalk vending, a business license and a seller’s permit. Stationary vendors may also be prohibited in residential areas.
City Hall is proposing banning vendors from the beach, Pier, part of Palisades Park and the Promenade, asserting that they create unsafe congestion in those areas and block views. The state already prevents stationary vending on public beaches, and Santa Monica will maintain the ban and extend it to Palisades Park within 500 feet of the entrance of the Pier.
“Prohibiting stationary vending in this limited portion of Palisades Park would protect public safety, allow emergency personnel to manage the existing congestion at this bottleneck and preserve the park’s scenic and natural character,” staff said.
The City is looking to redirect vendors to areas downtown less prone to bottlenecks, particularly the Esplanade, which runs from the Expo Line station to the Pier. The heavily trafficked south side of the Esplanade offers an opportunity for safe, profitable street vending, staff said.
Two Code Enforcement officers will be stationed by the Pier to enforce the new rules. If Council approves the ordinance, staff will set administrative fines for vendors who violate it. In the meantime, they will be subject to the citywide default fine of $75 for a first offense, $93.75 for a second offense, and $112.5 for a third offense.
Victor Narro, a researcher at the UCLA Labor Center, helped the City put its ordinance into context with the regulations Los Angeles enacted last November. Narro worked for several years with Los Angeles vendors to advance legislation that would protect them from police harassment, high fines and immigration enforcement.
“Vendors were struggling to survive economically,” he said. “They would get numerous tickets they couldn’t pay and would end up with arrest warrants or a criminal record of misdemeanors.”
Narro said he thinks Santa Monica is creating a humane policy that addresses health and congestion issues but doesn’t unduly restrict vendors. Outreach to vendors will be key in seeing it through, however, as vendors who have stayed in one area for a long time typically don’t want to leave, he said.
The City held a town hall last month that drew more than 100 vendors, whom Narro said were willing to work with the new system but were concerned about a ban on vending on the Pier because business is particularly profitable there. Similar meetings will follow Tuesday’s Council vote, he said.
“If you want to move them to another area, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It can’t just be city telling vendors ‘this is the new law and this is where you’re going to have to be.’ That approach doesn’t work well. You have to bring vendors into the process, engage them and work out solutions together.”