By Julie BUTCHER
On Tuesday, the Glendale City Council acted to consider local regulations to control the activities of sidewalk vendors following the state’s adoption of statewide rules.
SB 946, introduced by Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens, now California’s insurance commissioner) in 2017 and signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in September 2018, effective at the beginning of this year, prohibits cities from treating street vending as a criminal offense. Instead a program of permitting and administrative enforcement would be implemented. The state’s legislative counsel stated the purpose of the legislation was to recognize that sidewalk vendors are fixtures in California’s communities but outdated local laws have been used to exclude vendors from the formal economy. It noted that many are immigrants and exposed to harassment, criminal prosecution and deportation. The purpose of SB 946 was to legalize and decriminalize sidewalk vending across the state. Specifically, the bill establishes parameters for local regulation of sidewalk vending and prohibits local authorities from imposing criminal penalties on sidewalk vendors.
City Attorney Michael Garcia explained more about the legislation and the bill’s intent through a series of slides. These included decriminalizing sidewalk vending; removing local regulatory barriers; creating economic opportunity for immigrant and low-income communities; increasing access to desired goods; and creating safe and dynamic public spaces.
As defined by SB 946, sidewalk vendors are “persons who sell food or merchandise from a pushcart, stand, display, pedal-driven cart, wagon, showcase, rack, or other non-motorized conveyance, or from one’s person, upon a public sidewalk or other pedestrian path.” The law bars California cities from prohibiting sidewalk vendors or from punishing them criminally. Further, the law stops cities from restricting both roaming or stationary vendors in commercial zones absent restrictions that are related to “objective health, safety, or welfare concerns” in public parks, unless a concession agreement is in effect and, specifically, from limits based on economic considerations or competition.
Cities are allowed to set up permitting programs and may require vendors to submit information about their operations. Hours of operations may be regulated provided the regulations are no more restrictive than those in effect for nearby businesses. Cities may require additional permits, such as health certificates issued by Los Angeles County, and compliance with federal laws such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and cities can mandate the possession of a valid seller’s permit from the California Dept. of Tax & Fee Administration.
The council debated the specifics of a local ordinance for immediate drafting, to be considered in early November and adopted “before the holidays.” Public speakers from the Downtown Glendale Association (DGA) emphasized the need for haste.
“Thank you, State of California,” said Mayor Ara Najarian who failed to disguise his sarcasm about the state’s actions. “I’m not sure Glendale would have gone this route, but we have no choice than to obey state law.”
Councilmember Paula Devine advocated to “ban them” in the arts district and referred to a city staff report detailing what other cities have done to limit sidewalk vending.
Marco Li Mandri addressed the council on behalf of the DGA.
“I think every city has been somewhat surprised – whether charter or general law [California cities either have a city charter adopted by the voters or are governed by more generalized municipal laws] – that the state has usurped so much authority and power,” Li Mandri said. He explained that the function of the DGA is to manage the city’s downtown district “to create demand.”
“We’re at a point in time where there is so much infringement on cities by the state of California that at some point you have to find the courage to protect our city,” DGA President Rick Lemmo added. “We’re expecting people who pay sales tax and property tax in Glendale to also cover the expenses incurred from a business that will never pay tax, a business that will never pay an assessment into the district, a business that doesn’t even join the local chamber of commerce.” Lemmo urged an immediate moratorium on sidewalk vending while the council deliberates and adopts a regulating measure.
The councilmembers all agreed on a provision exempting farmers’ markets and special events from sidewalk vending and supported a proposed 500-foot restriction to clarify what “in the vicinity” should mean in the bill.
“What happens when a vendor selling clothes sets up in front of a store that sells clothes?” Councilmember Vrej Agajanian asked. City Attorney Garcia again explained that the legislation specifically excludes considerations of competition with “brick and mortar” businesses.
Agajanian opined that the state’s charter cities would unite in opposition.
“Do not underestimate the power of the charter cities when they come together in organizations like SCAG [Southern California Association of Governments] and bring the sledgehammer down,” said Agajanian. “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in my life. They don’t pay any rent. I don’t know who the author of this is.”
Eventually the members of the council delineated strict restrictions for the city attorney to incorporate into the ordinance that returns for adoption, including prohibiting stationary vendors from residential neighborhoods, mandating a minimum width of unobstructed sidewalk space, and banning all vending operations on the busiest of the city’s streets.
Councilmember Frank Quintero countered the general opinions expressed by his colleagues.
“The vibe is, ‘Oh my God! This is going to be an invasion.’ There are vendors all over LA, Santa Monica, Culver City. You get one guy selling hotdogs late at night in front of a local nightclub. I actually saw it and was a bit startled,” Quintero said.
“We’re going to do this ordinance and I don’t think we’re going to be swamped by anyone. I don’t think Christmas is going to be ruined by a bunch of vendors descending on Glendale. These people aren’t criminals. They’re not out to steal anything; they’re just people trying to make a living. No one subsidizes them.”
In other council news and actions, next week the Glendale City Council and the Glendale Community College board of trustees will meet on Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. in the San Rafael Building of Kreider Hall on the GCC campus. The meeting is open to the public. Parking is available in the structure at the top of the hill.
Glendale Gives Thanks announced that the theme of this year’s prayer breakfast is One Glendale. The event will be held on Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, 1401 N. Verdugo Road, with breakfast at 7 a.m. and the program at 7:30 a.m. The featured speaker will be Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, and music will be provided by the Glendale High School jazz band with prayers offered by various Glendale religious leaders. All are welcome. Tickets may be purchased at https://www.glendaleprayerbreakfast.com/.
Finally, Councilmember Devine reported on communications from constituents seeking increased enforcement and police presence, particularly regarding traffic violations.
“I do understand that our neighbors in northwest Glendale made a compelling case for increased traffic enforcement, so don’t blame us if your neighbors or yourself are ticketed,” Mayor Najarian said. “We seek to serve our communities so when you ask for enforcement, we intend to provide that, whenever possible.”