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By Shawn Raymundo

A new ordinance meant to regulate sidewalk and pushcart vending in San Juan Capistrano was proposed and presented to the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 15.

City officials drafted the ordinance in compliance with the new California state law that bans cities from prohibiting vending on public sidewalks or walkways. The new law, which former Gov. Jerry Brown signed last September, requires cities to create permit and licensing programs for vendors.

Under the city’s current Municipal Code, pushcart vendors are prohibited “from operating anywhere in the public right-of-way or on any public property.” However, pushcart vendors can operate “under special circumstances with approval of a special Activities Permit.”

Councilmembers voted 2-2 on whether to approve the first reading of the ordinance. With the council evenly divided—Mayor Pro Tem Troy Bourne was absent—the ordinance was sent back to city officials to be reworked.

According to the draft of the ordinance, vendors would still be banned from operating on public rights-of-way and city-owned properties, but they would be allowed “on public sidewalks or walkways within city parks or properties.”

Stationary and roaming sidewalk vendors would be required to obtain a city-issued vending permit under the proposed ordinance. Applicants would have to obtain a California seller’s permit and a County Health Department permit in addition to possessing a Social Security card number and a driver’s license. Applicants would also need to submit to a Live Scan background check.

Residential districts and a portion of the city’s historic downtown area, where there isn’t sufficient sidewalk space, would be off-limits to the vendors. The ordinance would also prohibit vending in parks that have city-licensed concession stands.

Vendors would also be prohibited from operating within 100 feet of “a fire hydrant, fire escape, bus stop, loading zone, fire or police station driveway, or handicapped parking space,” as well as a school entrance and city-approved event or a private event that’s city-approved.

Permitted vendors would need to display their vending and health department permits as well as keep their areas clean and litter-free. “Sound amplification, live music, bells, whistles, or horns” would also be prohibited under the draft of the ordinance.

Councilmember Sergio Farias listens to a presentation during the City Council’s Jan. 15 meeting.  Photo: Shawn Raymundo
Councilmember Sergio Farias listens to a presentation during the City Council’s Jan. 15 meeting. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

Councilmembers Derek Reeve and Sergio Farias, who both voted against moving the ordinance forward, voiced concerns with the current draft and its level of regulations. Reeve questioned the need to prohibit vendors from the historic downtown district.

“I’m reading some of the restrictions that are being recommended, and it just seems a little over the top,” Reeve said. “So I’m trying to understand why we are banning downtown because of sidewalks, for example … you can’t block sidewalks. So, isn’t that enough? Why do we have to ban the entire downtown?”

City Manager Ben Siegel agreed with Reeve, saying that even without the blanket prohibition of the downtown area, vendors would still find it difficult to operate in that district because of the lack of adequate sidewalks. But, he added, a vendor could get creative and find available space, which would, in turn, impact local businesses.

“I can’t say for certain that there wouldn’t be a location that a vendor could get creative and find in the downtown and at that point you could have a hot dog stand,” Siegel said, adding, “that (hot dog stand) goes up in the downtown and impacting local businesses who are paying rent and overhead.”

Though not always agreeing with everything that comes out of Sacramento, Reeve said he favors deregulation that allows for more business.

“Even though it may not be a brick and mortar business, I actually think it’s a good thing,” Reeve said. “How that might take away business from other restaurants—to me, that’s competition, that’s capitalism, that’s not a bad thing.”

Farias said that he generally doesn’t have an issue with street vendors, but he does take issue with over-enforcement and crackdowns on street vendors. Believing the current draft had a lot of restrictions, he stated that he wasn’t in favor of the proposed ordinance as is.

“I’d like to see less restrictions, although I think some restrictions are needed,” Farias said.

While Councilmember John Taylor recognized that there were several restrictions, he said he was okay with the draft and that they could always come back to revisit the ordinance later, addressing any issues that might arise.

“I understand the restrictions are ridiculous, but basically what we’re doing is just trying to keep as much restrictions on this as possible,” he said. “I’d be okay to revisit this later on, looking at it again.”

Taylor and Mayor Brian Maryott voted in favor of approving the ordinance, supporting the idea that they could make changes to it in the future.

After the council vote ended in a 2-2 tie, Maryott asked the city staff to take the councilmembers’ remarks into consideration and re-draft the ordinance, coming “back with something a little less aggressive.”

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