July 19, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Proposal for Improved Communication With Street Vendors Sparks Contentious Debate in City Council Meeting

Councilmembers divided over proposal calling for City Manager to engage in meaningful consultation with authorized vendors regarding sidewalk vending policies

By Sam Catanzaro

A proposal to improve communication with street vendors on and around the Santa Monica Pier sparked a contentious debate during a City Council meeting on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by Councilmembers Jesse Zwick, Caroline Torosis, and Oscar de la Torre, called for the City Manager to ensure staff engages in meaningful consultation with authorized vendors regarding sidewalk vending policies.

Under Santa Monica’s street vending ordinance, street vendors are required to obtain a permit from the City in order to operate and must comply with various regulations relating to hours of operation, equipment use, and waste management. The city has also designated specific vending zones for street vendors, in order to minimize conflicts with other businesses and pedestrians. The prohibited areas include any city-owned parking lots, beach parking lots, and parking structures, as well as the Palisades Beach Road and Pacific Coast Highway. Vending is also not allowed on the beach bike path, on the Pier, within 100 feet of the Pier or Pier Bridge, and within 25 feet of beach buildings, recreation centers, restrooms, and lifeguard towers. In addition, stationary vending is prohibited in the portion of Pal Park within 500 feet of the Pier Bridge entrance, on the beach pedestrian path, and on the beach itself.

During the meeting this week, while Zwick stressed that the proposal did not propose any changes to current vending rules, Councilmember Lana Negrete argued that it was unnecessary since staff had already been working hard on the vending program. Negrete also accused the proposal of being condescending by calling for staff to engage with vendors in a culturally competent and linguistically appropriate manner. 

“What is the point of this?” Negrete asked. “Is this, like, identity politics?”

Negrete also said that numerous vendors are violating the law, not paying fines, and using physical violence to threaten enforcement staff.

Councilmembers Christine Parra and Phil Brock also expressed offense at the proposal. However, de la Torre defended it, citing the $3.5 million spent annually to control the vending program and the need to create a culture where vendors become a part of that culture.

Zwick then took to defending his proposal, taking issue with his colleagues’ pushback on the item. 

“There are a lot of side issues that need discussing, and I wouldn’t make assumptions about anybody’s motivation about bringing an item,” Zwick said. “I took multiple tours with many vendors. I talked to a lot of different vendors who had different concerns.”

Mayor Gleam Davis grew frustrated with the heated discussion, calling for a vote at 12:56 a.m.

Ultimately, the Council directed staff to engage in ongoing dialogue with permitted sidewalk vending communities regarding vending cart compliance, enforcement practices, enhanced signage, expanded opportunities and zones for permissible vending, and methods of allocating designated spaces to vend. 

The vote passed 5 to 2, with Parra and Brock dissenting.

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