San Diego

Street Vending Regulations Delay Upsetting Boardwalk Store Owners

City Council was supposed to introduce new rules Tuesday, but now the measure is off the docket and back in committee

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The San Diego City Council was supposed to propose a law Tuesday that would regulate street and boardwalk vendors, but after a vote last week ousting the council president, the item is now off the agenda and headed back to committee – which won’t get to it until early next year.

Mike Soltan, owner of Kojack's Greek restaurant near the Mission Beach Boardwalk since 1986, says he's seen it all, except this level of competition.

“This time of year we’re paying out of pocket to survive,” Soltan said. “Then we got this competing with us on the boardwalk.”

For three years the city says it has not enforced any regulations on pop-up vendors. Many set up tents to sell food just feet from Soltan’s front door.

“We pay taxes,” Soltan said. “We pay everything down here. And they just come here, set up for the day, make some money, and then leave. Leave us the mess, everything here. It’s not fair.”

Soltan said you can see the consequences by just walking down the street –- three stores on the Mission Boulevard block have recently shuttered, largely due to the competition on the boardwalk.

“You’re just going to let anyone post up outside and sell the same stuff I sell?” said Skyler McManus, manager of the iconic Hamel’s castle shop. “You know how infuriating that is? Their margins are nothing. I pay crazy amounts of rent to be here.”

For McManus, that’s $40,000 a month, just to be able to sell from his location along the Boardwalk. It’s a price McManus is finding harder to stomach when he says pop-up vendors mimic his merchandise and undercut him on the price, all from just steps away. 

McManus and Soltan both were counting the days until the city passed new regulations on street vendors, so when they learned that wasn’t happening this week, the news didn’t sit too well with them.             

“It blows my mind,” exclaimed McManus. “How do you go from being right there where it’s going to come up for a vote? How is it going from being on the docket to being pushed to the back or completely off into nowhere? Now what happens? Now what goes on?”

Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell, whose district includes Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, was tasked with drafting new rules for street vendors.

“The vendor problem is very frustrating,” Campbell said. “I’ve been to all the beaches and parks and I’ve seen firsthand the chaos no regulation has caused.”

Campbell planned to introduce the new laws Tuesday, but she was recentlyvoted out as president. Now she says new president Sean Elo-Rivera wants to discuss the proposed laws in committee before bringing them before the council.

“It hasn’t been through committee since 2019 so it’s understandable that he would want the new version back in committee,” Campbell said.

She said she understands the frustration from store owners in her district, but believes the delay will be just one or two months.

“I think we will have it done by this coming tourist season,” Campbell said. “We want to ensure access for the public to the parks, beaches, boardwalks, as well as fairness to those who want to be entrepreneurs.”

But McManus isn’t holding his breath. Had Campbell put something together sooner, he says the city could have already been enforcing it by now.

“She just keeps pushing it off,” McManus said. “Nothing is basically getting done. She’s not doing her job.”

But other store owners like Soltan are still holding out hope through what appears to be a holding pattern.

“I still have faith in the city,” Soltan said. “I’m sure they’re going to figure something out hopefully and fix it back up the way we want.”

Campbell said the proposed ordinance includes enforcement of required business permits and licenses to vend, as well as health codes.

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