San Diego

Unpermitted street vendors in San Diego could face tougher regulations

NBC Universal, Inc.

Rules and regulations for San Diego street vendors who set up shop along downtown streets, city shorelines and other public places could become more strict.

Some downtown business owners say without enforcement, all the laws on the books won’t solve the problem. Licensed food vendor Peter Soto and his family are literally fighting to keep their business alive.

“Between the homeless and the illegal vendors, it’s the Wild Wild West down here. It’s crazy," Soto said.

Soto leases space in front of the San Diego City Administration building to sell his Brooklyn Dogs.

He’s been in business 22 years, but in the last three to five he’s lost some 75% of his profit to what he identifies as unpermitted competitors.

“If they only knew what they are buying,” Soto said.

NBC7's Shandel Menezes spent the day in the east county where temperatures were well into the 90's.

Not to mention, territory disputes are getting downright nasty.

“They slapped the phone out of my wife’s hand then they hit my oldest son with a spatula. That was it. All the gloves come off then,” Soto said.

The fight isn’t just among vendors, but it includes the brick-and-mortar stores. At the beaches, store owners are upset by tent vendors who sell similar or identical products with nowhere near the overhead. In the Gaslamp Quarter, one fine-dining restaurant manager said it's optics, not the street food, they're competing against.

Sara Arj is the director of operations for Greystone Steakhouse at 5th Avenue and G Street.

“You can’t have vendors selling hotdogs in front of a restaurant where we are trying to sell $50 steaks,” Arj said.

She says 75% of Gaslamp Quarter visitors are from out of town and expect a more sophisticated experience.

“It just sets a tone. This is not the place to be. This is not a place to dine. It takes away from the class of the Gaslamp,“ Arj said.

On Thursday, District 2 Councilmember Jen Campbell will introduce the following changes to the current sidewalk vendor ordinance to the Community and Neighborhood Services Committee:

  • No more written warnings for those who violate health codes and permit requirements
  • Increased fines for violators with or without proper permits
  • Impounding of vending equipment after a fourth offense in a year.
  • Ordinance enforceable by San Diego Police and Park Rangers

“With the amendments, we aim to create an environment where permitted vendors can continue to flourish, providing valuable services and unique offerings to our residents,' Councilmember Campbell wrote, in part, in a statement sent to NBC 7.

Downtown dweller Amee Gilliatt shares the sidewalks with vendors and she admits it can get crowded, but says changes to the current ordinance seem heavy-handed.

“It might be an overreach. I do see them posing more of a pro than a con. Downtown people really like the vendors. They are always busy,” Gilliatt said.

Both Soto and Arj are in favor of Campbell’s amendments. The most important of which is empowering law enforcement.

“Police can get involved now, that’s important because without them nothing is going to get done,“ Soto said.

“We need the health department to come out. Enforcement to come out. Someone needs to give them citations,” Arj said.

The committee will consider the amendments to the current vendor ordinance and make its recommendation to the full council.

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