Vending: Individuals from several departments are working together on a newly coordinated effort. Clara Harter

A new multi-department task force to patrol unlicensed vending on the Pier has already shown results with a pair of arrests targeting public safety but officials hope that escalating their existing enforcement efforts will make a long-term dent in the Pier’s unlicensed vending problems.

The City of Santa Monica has launched a new interdepartmental task force focused on criminal activity associated with unlicensed vending at the Santa Monica Pier. The group includes representatives from SMPD, SMFD, Public Works, Code Enforcement and the City Attorney’s Office. While the task force is composed of Santa Monica employees it works in partnership with county offices including the County Department of Public Health.

Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta said the team hit the Pier for the first time this week.

“So, this past weekend was the beginning of the city’s further enhanced efforts with regards to public health, public safety, and the environment at the Pier as it relates to the impacts of unpermitted venting, and it really builds on the work we’ve been doing over the last several months,” he said. “It’s a collaboration with the Police Department, Code Enforcement, Fire Department, as well as Public Works and the City Attorney’s Office. So it’s a very interdepartmental effort focused on protecting public safety and public health and the environment.”

Lt. Rudy Flores said the task force model differs from recent efforts by establishing a cohort of individuals who will consistently enforce rules on the Pier.

Many of the individuals working on the task force have worked on Pier enforcement over the past few months however under the new system participants, including police officers, are being reassigned to work Pier task force shifts on peak days each week for the duration of the task force.

“The problem that we saw in the past was that you have a group of officers working on the weekend, they deal with it one way or they communicate with the vendors one way. And then you have a different group of officers working the following weekend, and then another group of officers the following weekend, and so now it’s like, you lose a whole lot of consistency,” he said. “Now that we have this in place, I think it’s going to help and obviously it showed this weekend. During the hours that they were out there, the illegal vendors did not come on to the Pier.”

With assigned members and a larger team, the group will be better equipped to handle ongoing issues as they will develop institutional memory regarding past contacts and compliance. Consistent staff also allow vendors to understand how rules will be enforced and officials said the relationships built through that process will hopefully generate more compliance over time.

The group will be working the Pier and surrounding area throughout the day to maximize their coverage and SMPD’s focus is on the criminal activity associated with the vending, not the act of vending itself. While SMPD isn’t focused on enforcing administrative vending violations, its presence gives support to other departments that may pursue non-criminal violations and/or health ordinances.

Councilwoman Lana Negrete said the approach would help tackle the real danger of flammable material on the Pier while also working to dismantle criminal behavior associated with the unlicensed vendors and enforce existing rules regarding unlicensed sales.

“So I want to send the message that we’re doing it for all these safety reasons, but please do not be mistaken, there’s criminal turf war activity,” she said.

Negrete said she’s been meeting with task force participants, community members and the Pier tenants’ association with everyone pushing for the same resolution.

“The city, businesses, and the community at large have asked us to take back our Pier. We see what’s going on. It’s beyond the vending. There’s fights, stabbings, shootings, all these other activities happening. So by being there and addressing this issue, they’re addressing a bigger issue.”

editor@smdp.com