Street vendor in Ocean Beach
Mylor Davis, owner of Pots & Pans clothing, prepares his sewing machine on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Ocean Beach. The street vendor sets up a booth almost ever week to sell his custom designs. / Photo by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

Street food vendor Jairo Garcia said it might sound funny, but he has a passion for making hot dogs. He gave up a job to run a hot dog business from a small vending cart.

He told me this week that he spent a lot of money to make sure that his cooking and storing equipment is up to county health standards. But he hasn’t seen the payback.

That’s because his usual vending spot is no longer an option. Garcia showed up to a vendor gathering in Logan Heights to express his discontent with San Diego’s street vending laws. He wasn’t alone.

Vending rules: In 2018, California passed a law that prohibits cities from criminalizing street vending. Basically, cities can have street vending laws in place only if they are related to health and safety concerns. Also to protect public space.

Street vendors everywhere: During the pandemic, people who lost their jobs started pursuing small businesses to bring in income, and sometimes, to stay busy. Vendors I spoke to then told me the pandemic presented an opportunity to do something new.

But more vendors, and the idea that the state made vending legal everywhere, spread fast. Soon enough there were vendors taking up public spaces. I covered what that looked like in Ocean Beach when I was at the Union-Tribune. Balboa Park was also a hot spot. Merchant organizations and residents grew concerned about public health, safety and competition. (That last one is not a reason to regulate street vending, according to state law.)

And some neighborhoods were embracing street vending as a way to draw foot traffic back into business districts that resembled ghost towns during the pandemic.

Cities jumped into action: To address the concerns of business organizations and residents the city of San Diego updated its law last year. The Port of San Diego did it in February. North County cities also adopted new rules. Cities also created permit systems.

Garcia used to sell hot dogs in the Seaport Village area, until the Ports of San Diego put rules in place for street vendors. The port’s rules allow for only certain vendors to sell along the waterfront. It’s called an “opportunity drawing,” a sort of lottery system that vendors enter for an opportunity to get a six-month vending permit. 

He wasn’t selected. So, he can’t sell hot dogs in Seaport Village anymore.

Vendors at the meeting I attended last week were at their wits end. They spoke over one another at times, eager to share their own struggles with navigating vendor rules.

Mostly, they felt cities were making it impossible to vend.

I’ll keep following this story and speaking to more vendors. If you have any thoughts, send me an email

VOSD Podcast: I talked about the street vendor laws in San Diego and what vendors had to say about them in the latest podcast episode. Listen to that here.

More Chisme to Start Your Week

  • I told you last week that divorce is never easy. And especially, when other parties enter the argument. MacKenzie Elmer reports that the state has officially entered San Diego’s water divorce debate. A bill is aiming to make it harder for water districts to leave their regional partnerships if they are looking for cheaper water rates. Remember, that’s happenings now, as two water districts fight to leave. Read that story here.
  • Then read this one. Elmer explains what this means for your pocketbook. If the two districts leave, that means everyone else will have to pick up their part of the tab.
  • Little preview: In the next couple of days, we are publishing a lot of stories related to homelessness in San Diego. Make sure you subscribe to the Morning Report, so you don’t miss any of them. Here’s one from Tigist Layne about shelter offerings in North County. Layne writes that more shelters are opening. Read her story here.

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She welcomes conversations...

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  1. Good, hopefully there will be less of them occupying the sidewalks with junk. We all lose public space so that 100 people don’t have to work in an Amazon warehouse, that’s the value proposition. Not worth.

  2. Does VOSD see any need to provide balance in its stories on street vending? Or should all sympathies go to the vendors, leaving the concerns of brick and mortar merchants and the citizens who want their public spaces kept public unreported and unappreciated? Balanced journalism?

    1. Hey Mister, BIG Brewski, VOSD appears as a mouthpiece for none other than Gloria XV King of our peasant land where the meek follow in lock step. Dan Smiechowski is a diminished candidate for San Diego Mayor.

  3. The vendors are upset. But if we give them free rein to set up blankets and carts wherever they please on public spaces, we’ve lost those public spaces for everyone else. Just because the vendors have chosen that method for earning money doesn’t mean it’s okay.

  4. The street vendors have made public, open spaces like beach areas, parks, and sidewalks free-enterprise zones instead of public recreation areas. Why should the public-at-large suffer sidewalk and beach congestion, ruined landscaping, and obstructed views of nature so some folks can make a buck on land meant for everyone? Why should a street vendor’s needs come before everyone else’s?

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