Sex Offenders to Sell Ice Cream in Laguna
Calling all grifters, scammers, minstrels, buskers, barkers, carnies, conjurers, shylocks, scalpers, rapscallions and confidence men. Its open season for street vending in Laguna, thanks to State Senate Bill 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act.
In one of Jerry Brown’s last heroic acts as governor, he protected the rights of thousands of small business owners who form an important part of local economies—street vendors. Turns out they are not such an unsavory bunch. Eighty percent are women and many are seniors on fixed incomes.
But you wouldn’t know that in Laguna, where at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting the city unveiled an Urgency Ordinance to override the will of the state and regulate street vendors out of existence. It was unanimously approved, and there will be no second hearing.
Here are the draconian restrictions placed on locations. No vendors on sidewalks of less than 8 feet; or less than 15 feet from an entrance or exit; or less than 100 feet from schools, places of worship, and day care facilities; or less than 200 feet from farmers markets and swap meets. And in the most mind-boggling restriction, no vendors less than 25 feet from public amenities, defined as benches, bike racks, bus stops, red or yellow curbs, ATM’s, fire hydrants, public art and trash receptacles.
That means the city can identify an “amenity” nearly anywhere to reject an application—or just move a trash receptacle. Also prohibited are emergency vehicle access ways (there goes Main Beach, Treasure Island and Heisler Park). And in a genius stroke of defiance and obfuscation (and to thoroughly gum up the works), it’s up to the vendor to propose a location, and draw up a schematic. That’s right up a tamale maker’s wheelhouse. The city will offer no guidance or maps. Just endless, exhaustive trips back to the drawing board.
Plus, vendors have to be 50 feet from each other. That means no vendor density, even when it makes total sense for us, and them (they help each other when one needs a break). Take our upcoming public space at Park Plaza, for instance. There’s no retail on that street, and no nearby place to grab a good cup of coffee. Imagine a small vendor court with hot, gourmet beverages, healthy snacks, and unique crafts. How fun. But with 50 feet required between them, that’s only one cart on each end of the plaza. Dumb. Oh wait: there’s doors, trash receptacles and fire hydrants nearby. Scratch that idea.
And finally, in a certain death knell, carts can be no larger than 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. Let that sink in. A 36-inch square box. About the only thing you could sell from that is Three Card Monte.
Who thinks these things up? A city staff that anticipates a council who will immediately equate new ideas with increased crime, density, and unsavory types. Who will cite public safety when neutering popular and needed innovations like short-term rentals, accessory dwelling units, and cannabis dispensaries. It’s a culture of fear, versus a culture of creativity, inclusion and freedom. It’s why downtown is moribund and the town is stale.
Toni Iseman presaged that street vendors would sell a mix of beach toys, umbrellas, sun tan lotion and towels. What a parochial point of view. Any vibrant, progressive city would take this ordinance and run with it, knowing it could stoke the economy and help small entrepreneurs bring products to market. Think Seattle with coffee carts, New York with gourmet food carts, and The Camp in Costa Mesa with their cute mini teardrop trailers selling handmade crafts. Instead of spending energy on a prohibitive, hopeless permit process, they’d spend it on curation, soliciting artisan goods, made by locals, with no middleman. Perhaps kombucha, cold-pressed juices, coffee and tea, raw cacao, crafts, natural products, art, and clothing. Imagine affordable, tasty street food. Oh wait, open flames are prohibited, too!
Street vending could open up a year-round economy for our seasonal Sawdust and Festival exhibitors, and provide the kind of downtown experience that would actually help (not hurt) our merchants by breathing life into the area.
And why wouldn’t downtown merchants want permits of their own? Great promotion. But wait, the display has to be 25 feet from their entrance. The sidewalk wider than 8 feet. And the merch only 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. Never mind.
Where were the pro-business voices on council? Sue Kempf asked if we could make it more restrictive by raising the permit fee, and limiting the number of vendors by category. Steve Dicterow focused on compliance and enforcement. And Peter Blake pondered why a street vendor doesn’t have to go before Design Review.
Finally, there was Toni, worried that vendors would be blasting music into our neighborhoods, making a mess on our streets by selling dairy products mixed with sugar, and perving on our kids because sex offenders gravitate towards ice cream sales. By that notion, we need to ban Catholic churches immediately.
We elected two new council people on a platform of deregulation and making downtown more vibrant. Street vending is a great first step and should be promoted, not prohibited; exalted, not extinguished. It’s perfect capitalism. The market will dictate what the public wants. Not a fear-based council.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected].