Park: Vendors will be able to apply for designated spaces in Palisades Park. Aaron Mikail

If you spend any time on the Santa Monica Pier, you’re probably familiar with the white painted spaces established for vendors to set up shop along the Pier deck. Soon, that concept will be making its way to nearby Palisades Park.

Current municipal code rules state that vendors in the southern part of Palisades Park, roughly between Broadway and Colorado Boulevard, must be mobile. But a new model for vending was just approved that will designate spaces — what Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta referred to as “vendor patios” — for carts to set up shop.

“And what we heard from any of our permitted vendors is that, you know, it is obviously a very desirable, very lucrative area for vending activity — probably second only to the Pier itself,” Gupta told City Council during the Tuesday, Aug. 23, regular meeting. “We have heard a consistent desire from our vendors to have the ability to station their carts [and] not have to engage in the roaming requirements of shifting their cart constantly in order to be able to actually benefit from that desirable location.”

Gupta and city staff believe such vendors will be willing to pay for the benefits afforded by a stationary vending location near the foot of the Pier.

In order to enact the new program, the City plans to spend an estimated $12-16,000 for leveling and paving (at a rate of $2,000 per space for six to eight spaces) but, because vendors will pay rent to claim use of the locations, the City will come out ahead on the investment. 

Gupta said he anticipated rent would be “variable monthly based on seasonality.” That likely means vendors who secure Palisades Park locations in February would be paying less than those who secure the same spots in July. There was no final determination as to what monthly rent would come out to, but Pier cart vending locations (the most lucrative and sought-after) yield about $20,000 per cart per year in revenue to the city.

Currently, the Santa Monica Municipal Code states that permitted vendors in “any portion of Palisades Park that is within five hundred feet of the Ocean Avenue entrance point to the Pier bridge” must be “roaming,” meaning “a sidewalk vendor who moves from place to place and stops only to complete a transaction.” Although some vendors do not follow these rules and already operate as essentially stationary vendors in these zones, the code change will allow for some vendors to claim a few spaces, likely making it easier for code enforcement through the DART team (Directed Action Response Team, formerly the Pier Task Force) to limit vending to permitted vendors.

At the Tuesday meeting, councilmembers voted unanimously, 7-0, to support enacting the new program, although there were still some details to work out. 

Mayor Sue Himmelrich asked whether the establishment of “vending patios” might conflict with protests, which often occur in the zone directly north of the Pier bridge.

“This is the area in which we’ve seen a lot of protests recently, right? A lot of protest activity. And have we thought about how we’re going to handle this area, when the protesters… come back? And what we’re going to do about any possible conflict between the vendors and the protesters?” Himmelrich asked.

In response, Santa Monica Police Department Sergeant Williams said he believed the answer would boil down to use of space and how much open space will remain with the addition of patios.

“The park could be used for anything, whether it’s protest, performance, walking or jogging — you know, so as long as whatever our permanent vendor spot plan [is] leaves enough park to be a park, I think there’s no collision at all,” Williams said.

“I can see that it’s going to be something that we’ll figure out as we go along, because it will depend on the nature of the people who show up and the nature of the carts … I am interested to see how that plays out generally,” Himmelrich replied before calling for the vote.

With the unanimous approval, staff are now working to draw up final language amending the municipal code to allow for the changes, which is set to go up for a second reading and final approval in 30 days.