“This issue is not about illegal sales, it is about our community values,” said Councilor Lana Negrete
By Dolores Quintana and Sam Catanzaro
The Santa Monica City Council is looking at ways to regulate unlicensed grocery vendors on and around the pier to avoid a number of problems including dumping litter on the beach, selling food that does not meet health regulations, the Blocking fire routes and using unregulated combustible fuels.
Since the passing of SB 946 in 2018, which decriminalized street vending altogether, Santa Monica City and LA Counties have worked to control the illicit sales and the dangers and environmental issues associated with them. SB 946 was passed to give street vendors a route to sell legally, but has proven problematic in practice as licensing procedures are prohibitively expensive in many cities and equipment standards, which are geared towards larger vendors, are increasing for most street vendors are expensive, as shown by a report from Public Counsel.org.
In Santa Monica, especially on the weekends, dozens of unauthorized vendors come to the pier to sell groceries and cause problems by using unregulated combustible fuels, selling non-health food, dumping trash on the beach, and blocking fire routes on the pier. In response to these issues, the Santa Monica City Council has issued new bylaws to further regulate street sales and additional staff to address the issues. During the city council meeting on December 7th, Councilor Lane Negrete said: “Myself and my colleagues speak about public safety, the environment and human rights. This topic is not about illegal vending machines, but about our community values to set our foot in if enough is enough and now the time has come. ”
At the December 7th meeting, the council, in a unanimous vote, instructed staff to “make a full assessment of the ongoing challenges with illicit sales activities on and around the Santa Monica Pier.” Legislators said the report should address ways to “protect public health and safety while promoting pier business and the visitor experience.” The city council will take further steps on the assessment by February 22nd at the latest.
“We have to stop,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “I think a couple of us were down and witnessing the chaos that ensued, and I think we understand that this created an emergency for us.”
The city currently has up to 45 city employees to handle street vendor traffic on the weekends, the busiest days. This includes three code enforcement officers who ensure local regulations are followed through training, 10-15 public works workers cleaning up improperly disposed of garbage from vendors, two SMPD fire inspectors inspecting and confiscating if necessary , Fuels that do not have permission to use and six to ten SMPD officials who are there to enforce regulations and resolve disputes. The city has hired additional security guards from Allied Security to keep vendors away from the wooden pier. Once or twice a month, LA County dispatches six to eight health inspectors to oversee vendors for possible health code violations.
The city council has made it clear that they intend to protect and enforce their city codes on all vendors who want to sell their food around the Santa Monica Pier, but they seem frustrated with the hassle they are making. Currently, only 13 available sales permits are allowed on the pier and all other vendors must remain 30m from the pier as per the city’s sales regulations.
Santa Monica City Council enacted new ordinances on Aug. 24 banning the dumping of commercial waste in public dumpsters and liquid waste in public areas, as well as the illicit use of fuel by street vendors. This gave the SMPD officers the opportunity to enforce the regulations under threat of subpoenas or arrest.
“The biggest change is the ability to legally get involved in these matters and support both code and fire, which we weren’t really able to do before. I think it was a frustration on their part that they had a mission to serve, but then PD was legally handcuffed to everything and so this was opened by regulation, “said SMPD Lt. Bobby Villegas of the Santa Monica Daily Press
Providers are given three options to adhere to the guidelines: first, staff can educate, then reach the recommended level and, as a last resort, use quotes or arrests as last steps. The focus of these efforts was on protecting the pier and keeping escape routes and escape routes clear for emergency services and visitors to the pier. This means that their efforts have pushed environmental issues such as landfilling of garbage and other types of waste into the background.
The public works department had to hire another employee specifically assigned to the 1550 lot, which many merchant carts do business on. According to the city, this employee can fill between 12 and 16 huge garbage bags every day on the weekends.
It is the responsibility of Public Works to take care of cleaning up the area, and they do it all the way down to picking the kernels of corn from the sand as their automated tools are incapable of removing items as small as this.
“Our people care deeply about the grain of the corn and we would support all efforts to improve the situation for the community and the planet. Without enforcement, we are unlikely to be able to solve these issues in an easy way, so I would support increased enforcement of regulations to curb some of the damage being done to our public spaces, “said Peter James, Chief Operations Officer of Public Works said the Daily Press.
But these efforts have done little to control the issues outlined in a letter delivered to the Sept.
“Every week they experience brazen actions, as the unauthorized sellers have only become more aggressive and their number continues to grow,” says the letter, describing a “growing wall of illegal sellers” who block access to their shops on the weekends.
More concrete steps to resolve the problem are likely to emerge from the staff report, but some action can be taken earlier.
“We’re not waiting for a report,” said Councilor Phil Brock, quoted by the Santa Monica Lookout. “We will work to take positive steps to resolve the problem.”