Avocados on sale from a vendor off state Route 76 in San Diego's North County. / File photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Escondido’s City Council will soon consider regulating sidewalk vending, which will likely reignite an ongoing debate about how much regulation is too much. 

Escondido’s Economic Development Subcommittee heard feedback from the public about a potential sidewalk vendor ordinance at its March 9 meeting. After city staff analyzes the feedback, the ordinance will go in front of the City Council for consideration, a city staffer said. 

Over the past few years, several cities across the county, including San Diego, have implemented their own sidewalk vendor ordinances. 

Proponents and critics of these ordinances agree that street vending needs to be regulated at some level, but many argue that too much regulation disproportionately impacts immigrant and low-income vendors. 

What vendors are saying: Around this time last year, I wrote about how sidewalk vendors across North County have been adapting to the new rules. Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista, Solana Beach and Encinitas all have sidewalk vending ordinances in place. 

Vendors I talked to from these cities said they’ve had to constantly move or change their businesses, or sometimes, abandon it altogether because of strict regulations and burdensome permit processes

These vendor ordinances can require a long and complicated process for obtaining the right permits and licenses, which can be especially difficult for non-English speaking vendors. They also include a laundry list of guidelines detailing where vendors can and cannot operate. 

For example, sidewalk vendors in Oceanside can’t operate within 25 feet of a fire hydrant, an alley, a crosswalk or an outdoor dining area. They have to stay 100 feet away from the Oceanside beach, another sidewalk vendor and a farmer’s market or swap meet. And they can’t operate on the pier, at the harbor or at Civic Center Plaza.  

Some of these restrictions are so onerous that sidewalk vendors often struggle to find a place to set up shop – for fear that violating the regulations could result in a citation and a couple hundred dollars in fines. 

Adding to the stress is the tension vendors feel with nearby brick-and-mortar businesses that have sometimes driven away sidewalk vendors because they don’t want the competition. 

Ironically, these ordinances have been passed in response to a state law that was supposed to make it easier for sidewalk vendors to thrive in California.  

The law passed in 2018 protects sidewalk vending as an entrepreneurship opportunity, especially for low-income and immigrant communities who can’t afford a long-term lease. It says cities can’t place any bans on sidewalk vending, but can place some restrictions on vendors as long as the restrictions are addressing health and safety concerns.  

Many cities, like Carlsbad, developed their ordinances with heavy input from brick-and-mortar businesses, which some argue unfairly prioritizes the needs and wants of these businesses over sidewalk vendors’ businesses. 

And state law makes it clear that perceived competition is not a basis for restricting sidewalk vendors. 

What this means for Escondido vendors: Sidewalk vendors in Escondido have told me that, though there’s no ordinance yet, they still face some hostility from brick-and-mortar businesses – something they fear will get worse once an ordinance is in place. 

On the other hand, in other North County cities, many vendors have found opportunities to partner with brick-and-mortar businesses, like breweries, that let vendors operate out of their parking lots.  

Other vendors have had to scale back their businesses because of strict regulations and now sell their products once or twice a week at local farmer’s markets.  

It’s still unclear what Escondido’s vendor ordinance will look like, but as it continues through the drafting process, vendors, residents and advocacy groups will be keeping an eye on how the city goes about it. 

One of the biggest criticisms that a few North County cities faced while adopting their own ordinances was the lack of input gathered from actual sidewalk vendors.  

San Marcos, for example, almost approved a vendor ordinance in 2021, but the council decided to table the issue after advocacy groups and vendors in the community criticized the city’s lack of studies, coordination or discussion with any sidewalk vendors. 

 A date for the Escondido City Council to consider the vendor ordinance has not yet been set. 

In Other News 

  • Encinitas’ ban on smoking in public officially passed last week with unanimous City Council approval. The city already banned outdoor smoking at beaches, city parks, trails and restaurants’ outdoor dining areas. Now, the ban also includes places of employment, parked vehicles and anywhere that’s within 20 feet of a public place. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Carlsbad is thinking about building housing on part of the parking lot at The Shoppes at Carlsbad Mall. The parking lot has gone underutilized over the past few years as the number of in-person shoppers has decreased. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The Del Mar Union School District will appoint someone to fill the Board of Directors seat left empty by Scott Wooden, who was one of over 200 people arrested in Florida as part of a sting operation for soliciting a sex worker. (Coast News) 

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at tigist.layne@voiceofsandiego.org...

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  1. STOP using the “immigrant card” when doing stories regarding street vendors. These vendors have no health training or certifications, stands are usually filthy and their locations are usually disruptive like the one I have to deal with in West Escondido. I don’t see these stands in Rancho Santa Fe but I see them in front of my home on a daily basis. Using the “immigrant card” I could always say, we don’t want our neighborhoods to resemble Tijuana.

  2. The main concern is zoning and health Department Certification. Having vendors in our neighborhoods is becoming an issue because most are food vendors and have questionable sanitation. They also pollute the air with daily cooking. I’ve seen some now serving alcohol which is another violation. They rarely pay taxes because they operate with mostly cash. I see a very small benefit to Escondido and it needs tight regulation. Immigrants also turn to these types of business because they have trouble finding legal work which is another violation. Vendors should look to participate in the numerous events held throughout the County including Farmers Markets and Festivals.

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