Crowds: People are flocking to the Pier on weekends. Clara Harter

The proliferation of unlicensed vendors on and around the Pier causes a slew of problems — harassment of licensed vendors, health code violations, trash and liquid dumping by the ocean and violations of fire safety regulations around the historic wooden structure.

The problem has been ongoing since 2019 and the City is trying to tackle it with an array of strategies including fire, police and code enforcement personnel; new regulations banning specific vendor bad practices; educational outreach and even private security officers.

Councilmembers would like to see more; not of hard work from City staff, which they say is commensurate with the problem, but of information on the nature of the issues being faced and the efficacy of the solutions in place.

In a Dec. 7 meeting, Councilmembers Lana Negrete, Kristin McCowan and Christine Parra submitted a motion for a City report on the continued challenges with unpermitted vending activity on and around the Pier, which received unanimous approval from the rest of Council.

“Tonight me and my colleagues are addressing public safety, environmental advocacy and human rights. This issue isn’t about illegal vending, it’s about our community values, putting our foot down when enough is enough and now is that time,” said Negrete.

City staff have been tasked with returning a report and study session on Pier efforts to Council by Feb. 22, 2022, so that Councilmembers may analyze it in time to inform adjustments to the FY 2022-23 exception-based budget.

Some of the information being requested includes a history of the issues; and a list of measures taken, including educational outreach, collaborative enforcement, legislative advocacy and physical infrastructure changes.

While Councilmembers were keen to emphasize the urgency of tackling this issue, they also wanted to make clear that they were not criticizing the current efforts of staff members.

“I think it’s a misleading trope going around that somehow we are not intervening as best we can because of fear of this, that or the other thing,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis. “We need to make sure that staff understands that we support their efforts in this regard and that we don’t have to wait until February 22 to start to make changes.”

The issues around unlicensed Pier vendors stem from the 2018 adoption of S.B. 946, which decriminalized street vending across the state. While many cities have not dealt with fallout from this bill passage, Santa Monica saw a spike in unlicensed vendors at the Pier both due to its popularity as a tourist destination and the fact that it was one of the few attractions open during the pandemic.

Santa Monica has a licensing program that trains vendors in proper fire, health, right of way, and trash disposal protocols, but many vendors decide to forgo this process given that the punishment for unlicensed vending is merely an administrative citation. To create more enforcement tools, City Council enacted a new ordinance in August, which prohibits the unpermitted use of combustible fuels on and around the Pier, the dumping of commercial trash in public receptacles and the dumping of liquid waste in public areas.

Even with these new rules in place, problems on and around the Pier persist. In the Dec. 7 meeting, 33 permitted Pier businesses including 13 mobile vending carts shared a joint statement in support of the Councilmembers’ motion.

“The businesses and their employees have been increasingly concerned about their general safety and the safety of customers who are likely unaware that they are purchasing food that has been stored and prepared in unsafe conditions, such as being dropped on the ground, carts being stored in public bathrooms and illegal and unsafe open fires,” said business owner Chris Valencia, while reading a portion of the statement.

“Both the mobile vendors and family owned businesses are struggling as revenues dip due to the growing wall of non permitted vendors blocking entrances making it difficult for customers,” said business owner Ashley Taylor, while reading an additional portion of the statement.