New law sets up city for sidewalk vendors

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Visalians will be seeing a lot more ice cream carts, rose peddlers, corn on the cob street corners, and hot dog dealers after the Visalia City Council was forced to approve new laws regulating sidewalk vendors after banning them for several years.

At its June 3 meeting, the city council unanimously yet reluctantly approved an ordinance restricting but not banning sidewalk vendors from working near events, neighborhoods and parks. In his presentation to the city council, Assistant City Attorney Jim Kootz said Senate Bill 946 supersedes any prior local laws approved by cities regarding sidewalk vendors, defined as pushcarts, pedicarts, or other non-motorized vehicles on sidewalks and in parks.

Known as the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, SB 946 was intended to protect sidewalk vendors from harassment and shakedowns by local gangs and government. A study in Los Angeles found that 80% of vendors are women and seniors. Harassment or arrests of vendors strikes at families and at those on fixed incomes. There was also a growing concern of Immigration and Customs Enforcement threatening to deport any undocumented immigrant, making sidewalk vendors extremely vulnerable. Last year ICE agents detained a sidewalk vendor and mother of four in Rancho Cucamonga after she was arrested for selling corn. Those in survey also said their carts and property were confiscated if they were working without a permit, which is prohibited under SB 946

“State law specifically prohibits perceived community animosity against sidewalk vendors or economic competition as the basis of regulating sidewalk vendors,” Kootz said.

“Is there a way we could sue the state under the unfunded mandate clause?” Councilmember Phil Cox asked.

Koontz said as with most mandates, the state generally build protections into the laws to prevent cities from suing.

While the law does not allow for banning sidewalk vendors in general it does allow cities to prohibit them near farmers markets, special events, and forbidding stationary, and residential areas. It also allows cities to impose time, place, and manner restrictions for concerns specifically related to health, safety, and the public welfare. The city’s ordinance would not affect food trucks and trailers, solicitors, micro enterprises, or yard sales.

Under the city’s draft ordinance, sidewalk vendors must allow five feet of space in the public right of way for pedestrian access, around bus stops, drinking fountains, curb ramps, travel paths for disabled parking access, and other pedestrian features such as buttons for crosswalk indicators.

Sidewalk vendors must also allow five feet of space in front of diagonally marked parking spaces to allow for pedestrian access coming from the street onto the sidewalk.

The ordinance also requires roaming vendors to relocate if lines of customers get long enough to impede pedestrians or block access to curb ramps, crosswalks, or other pedestrian features.

To allow for line of sight from traveling vehicles, stationary sidewalk vendors are prohibited from operating within 10 feet of intersections, driveways and entryways, as well as 1,000 feet of a school unless by invitation or special events unless the event organizer designated them as vendors for the event and the vendor went through the city’s special event permitting process. Vendors are not allowed to make sales in medians, the street, or damage landscape areas located within the public right of way.

Roaming vendors are prohibited from using cooktops due to health and safety concerns. Stationary vendors with cooktops would be permitted, if they meet applicable food safety requirements. The ordinance does allow the city to ban vendors in parks where it already has exclusive concession agreements, on pedestrian/bike trails, or within 1,000 feet of nonprofits operating concessions from recreational opportunities, such as youth sports team fundraisers.

As part of the permitting process, sidewalk vendors will have to provide proof of insurance, submit a general description of planned operating areas, submit a site plan showing what they intend to place in the public right of way, keep the area clear of junk and trash, and comply with noise restrictions. In residential neighborhoods, sidewalk vendors are limited to operating from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., or one hour after sunset, whichever comes first.

Koontz emphasized that allowing sidewalk vendors in the public right of way does not allow any on private property without the owner’s permission.

Cox said most sidewalk vendors don’t meet the health code requirements of food being covered by canopies and netting.

Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen said he personally sees many sidewalk vendors during the Candy Cane Lane Parade who were not invited and in violation of the city’s current rules. He said the problem with relying on health codes is that the Health Department doesn’t work at night during the parade.

“And then if they are unable to pay a fine, it’s waived,” Nelsen said. “The ordinance looks good on paper but enforcement is the issue.”

By educating code enforcement officers on health codes, Cox said the city could eliminate most of the unwanted vendors.

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