State makes cities permit street vendors

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The City Council this week approved an urgency ordinance establishing business license requirements for street vendors. The vote was 4-1, with District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton dissenting. Urgency ordinances require approval by four of the five council members to pass.

The new rules were necessary because the state legislature passed SB 946, which basically requires all California cities to set up a permitting process for street vendors. The law provides cities with little authority to regulate and limited power to enforce the few rules.

The council also introduced a regular ordinance that creates a program for street vendors.

Based on a request from Deaton, the ordinance will not allow street vendors to store their carts overnight.

The Seal Beach urgency ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, as does the state legislation.

Vendors won’t be allowed on the beach, according to the staff report by City Attorney Craig Steele. The definition of sidewalk vendors, according to Steele, includes food carts.

Steele told the council that vendors would be allowed on the pier. They would have to be against the railing, with a 3-foot setback, clean up their areas and have a trash can.

According to Steele’s presentation to the council, cities are allowed to require vendors to maintain sanitary conditions, regulate hours of operations, and require a business permit or license.

The state law prohibits cities from imposing criminal penalties on vendors who violate local regulation, according to Steele. Cities can only impose administrative fines, but can’t impose additional penalties for failing to pay fines. Community service must be accepted as an alternative to paying a fine.

Steele said after the start of 2019, the state law would not allow cities to impose fines for violations that took place before the new year.

“How are you going to get a wheelchair around a vendor?” Deaton asked. She wanted to know how the Americans with Disabilities Act would play into the street vendor regulations. She pointed out that Main Street sidewalks are narrow. She advocated banning vendors from Main Street.

However, Steele said he did not think the courts would support regulations that appeared to be a superficial way to circumvent the state law. Deaton asked what the city could do if vendors continue violating the rules.

According to Steele, the city could revoke a vendor’s permit after the fourth violation.

Deaton said then they would come back without a permit.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt said, “This is anarchy.” She predicted that there would be “chaos” during the summer. “Blame LA for all this,” she said.

Deaton said she would not make a motion to approve the ordinance, would not second a motion and would not vote for it.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore suggested requiring vendors to pay $5,000 for a license.

Steele said the city had to treat street vendors like all the others.

Steele said there was some discussion among charter cities (like Seal Beach) about filing a legal challenge to the state’s ability to impose regulations on charter cities.

Cities must allow “roaming” vendors in residential neighborhoods, according to Steele’s staff report. However, cities may ban stationary sidewalk vendors in residential neighborhoods, such as cart operators apparently qualify as “stationary” vendors.

According to the staff report, cities must allow stationary vendors in public parks, with exceptions for public safety and for areas with a city has granted a concession. Steele told the council this week that when the restaurant opens at the city-owned First Street site (future home of The Beach House), that would be considered a concession.

Cities can’t restrict the number of vendors in the city, restrict sidewalk vendors to specific areas of the city, or require the vendors to get permission to operate from a non-government entity, according to Steele’s report. The law allows cities to impose requirements on vendors “if directly related to objective health, safety, or welfare concerns.”

Cities will be allowed to require vendors to get business licenses, a sidewalk vending permit, maintain sanitary conditions and cities can limit the hours that sidewalk vendors operate.

“Local authorities may prohibit sidewalk vendors within the immediate vicinity of permitted certified farmers’ markets and permitted swap meets, during those events’ operating hours,” the report said.

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