By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Street vendors must register with Laguna Beach before they can hawk their goods on sidewalks and pedestrian walkways after the City Council unanimously voted Tuesday for new regulations on where and how these merchants can set up their carts.
Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson said the new local laws for roving and stationary vending carts were prompted by the Jan. 1 deadline of Senate Bill 946, which prevents California cities from banning this business practice. However, cities are allowed to enact measures on street vendors that protect the well-being of residents and visitors.
“While it does allow for more sidewalk vending than is allowed now, which is very little or almost none, the city equally recognizes the importance of regulation and enforcement of that sidewalk vending activity to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public,” Johnson said.
The new city law prohibits sidewalk vending carts larger than 3 feet by 3 feet and can’t be set up on sidewalks narrower than 8 feet. While stationary vending carts are prohibited in residential neighborhoods, roving carts are allowed but restricted after 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and prohibited on Sundays and federal holidays. The roving carts won’t be allowed to walk neighborhood streets where the grade is too steep and could create a safety hazard.
To make sure firefighters, paramedics, and police officers have access in an emergency, stationary carts have to be at least 15 feet from the entrance and exit of any building. They also have to remain at least 25 feet from fire hydrants and public art.
In their application to the city, which comes with a $180 processing fee, sidewalk cart vendors must identify where they want to setup up their stationary display. City staffers will likely award permits on a first come first serve basis, considering there are only so many desirable locations in the city to set up a stationary cart, Johnson said.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman said she was concerned about music played from these sidewalk carts, particularly those that are able to roam residential neighborhoods. City Attorney Phil Kohn responded by saying sidewalk cart vendors must abide by the city’s noise ordinance. He added that it would be difficult for the city to defend restrictions on operating hours that aren’t applied to storefront businesses on the same street.
Johnson also explained that sidewalk vendors selling food will be required to get a permit from the Orange County Health Agency, which typically handles complaints about food poisoning. Iseman recommended that city staff work the Association of California Cities branch in Orange County to maintain a list of street vendors that are disciplined by other cities for failing to follow the rules.
Kavita Reddy, co-owner of Laguna Buy Hand, said she believes the street vendors are an extension of the experiential shopping environment, which typically includes coffee and food, that people are looking for today. She added that although Laguna Beach’s new law regulates the vendors, traditional store retailers are still at a disadvantage because their operations are tightly controlled by their conditional use permits.
“One of the things you have to remember is that starting Jan. 1 these street vendors don’t have restrictions on what they can sell baring a few illegal things,” Reddy said. “If you’re merchant especially in the downtown the [conditional use permit] regulates what you can sell. The process is long. The process is expensive.”
Kent Russell, a downtown property owner, said he agreed with Reddy that storefront businesses are forced to play against sidewalk vendors because they’re not permitted to set up their own displays outside their stores.
“I do hope this is a stepping stone to revisit the uses in our downtown and how we want to work on that,” Russell said. “I think we have an opportunity to get some better businesses downtown and not lose the charm and character that we really value there.”