Ryan McDonald

Rules for sidewalk vending in Hermosa Beach delayed, but not for long

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Hermosa Beach City Hall. File photo

By Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach’s City Council decided Tuesday night to delay a vote on an ordinance regulating sidewalk vending, but signalled that rules regulating the practice were imminent.

The decision to delay a vote on the rules conformed with a request from the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau, but is unlikely to assuage the group’s underlying concerns. Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, cities can no longer criminalize or prohibit sidewalk vending, meaning that existing law in Hermosa and many other cities is no longer valid.

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City Attorney Michael Jenkins told the council that they could regulate sidewalk vending based on “objective health, safety and welfare” concerns, but they may not rely on the practice’s effect on existing businesses in crafting regulations. This, however, is exactly what several business owners who addressed the council seemed to be seeking, fearing that the arrival of sidewalk vendors unburdened by the high rent paid by Hermosa’s brick-and-mortar businesses could create competition that would make an already challenging retail atmosphere unsustainable.

“I’ve worked really hard to establish regular cliente. I pay high rent. It seems pretty unfair that after all the work that I’ve done with marketing and gaining all these great customers, they can just kind of piggyback on what I’ve done,” Gina Rothwell, owner of kids’ clothing store Sol Baby on Pier Avenue, said of potential sidewalk vendors.

Legislators passed Senate Bill 946 last year out of concern that criminal enforcement of sidewalk vending rules could subject vendors, many of whom are immigrants, to the stepped up deportation efforts of the Trump Administration. But along with decriminalizing sidewalk vending, the law also required Hermosa and cities throughout California to either update their rules on sidewalk vending or accept default regulations from the state.

Until SB 946, cities had wide latitude to regulate sidewalk vendors and the local impacts they created. The default rules leave vendors largely unregulated, and Tuesday’s vote means that sidewalk vendors face fewer limits to operating in Hermosa than they would have under the draft ordinance presented Tuesday night.

As of now, vendors can theoretically set up shop on almost any sidewalk or park pathway in the city, Jenkins said, because Hermosa’s existing regulations conflict with state law and so cannot be enforced. This prompted the Downtown Hermosa Business Association to urge passage of an ordinance as soon as possible. Mayor Stacey Armato and Councilmember Jeff Duclos agreed, saying that although not perfect, it was preferable to the alternative.

Among other provisions, the ordinance required vendors to obtain permits from the city, restricted vending on Hermosa Avenue between 10th and 14th streets, and required vendors to be at least 200 feet apart.

But a 3-2 majority voted to have staff make several tweaks to the ordinance and return at a future meeting. Notably, the council sought to change the ordinance to prohibit vending along Pier Plaza, which the draft ordinance would have allowed. The plaza, according to the City Attorney’s office, fits within the places where sidewalk vending must be allowed, but Councilmember Justin Massey, raising the prospect of a skateboarder colliding with a hot dog cart, said the city could prohibit it and stay within the state law. Other questions still to be resolved by staff are whether there could be “blackout” dates coinciding with special events, such as the Fourth of July, and the amount of specificity needed regarding which items vendors could or could not legally sell.

It is unclear how big an effect loosening restrictions on sidewalk vending will actually have on Hermosa. Police and staff from the Community Development Department said that, despite the change in state law, there have been no calls about sidewalk vendors since the beginning of the year.

Some in the business community, though, clearly see the vendors as a threat.

On learning of the proposed ordinance last week, the Chamber sent an email to its members alerting them. The Chamber also submitted a letter to the council, and several board members spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Some of their recommendations were aimed at the “objective” criteria that cities are permitted to enact under the state law, including prohibiting vending on the Pierhead, where Pier Plaza meets The Strand, and increasing the minimum distance that vendors would have to put between themselves and outdoor dining patios.

But Chamber members also described sidewalk vendors as “one more nail in the coffin for brick and mortar businesses.” The chamber also inquired about police background checks for sidewalk vendors; police background checks are not required to obtain a traditional business license in Hermosa, and Councilmember Hany Fangary said he found the idea “offensive.”

These suggestions could potentially hurt the Chamber’s cause. Jenkins began the discussion of the proposed ordinance with a thorough overview of state law on the issue, emphasizing how the city’s hands were tied. He also said that the legislature had specifically identified the protection of existing businesses as an impermissible source of regulation. The chamber’s comments, which Jenkins characterized as “loaded with a desire for economic protectionism,” could leave a future Hermosa ordinance vulnerable to legal challenges.

“It’s not helpful to the public record for the Chamber to be asserting economic protectionism as a basis for regulation,” Jenkins said.

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