Costa Mesa has approved an ordinance loosening restrictions on sidewalk vending, becoming the latest Orange County city to regulate merchants in alignment with a state law that went into effect last year.

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The new law, to which the City Council gave its final approval in a 4-2 vote on March 3, regulates push-cart vendors by requiring them to obtain a business license and expanding their hours of operation and areas for vending. Mayor Katrina Foley was absent.

City officials first discussed a draft ordinance in October which prompted several revisions that give sidewalk merchants more freedom than what is outlined in the state law.

California Senate Bill 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, decriminalizes sidewalk vending and limits the authority of local governments to regulate push-cart merchants. According to its authors, it was intended to increase economic opportunities and access to culturally significant food and merchandise in local communities.

In residential areas, Costa Mesa’s new ordinance expands the operating hours of sidewalk vendors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. to sunset, and eliminates operating hour restrictions in all other areas of the city. Among other changes, the law also removes the prohibitions from vending within 100 feet of a city facility that is selling food or merchandise, within 200 feet of a farmers market or an area designated for a special event, and on sidewalks adjacent to the Orange County Fair and Event Center while the fair is in session, according to the agenda item.

Councilmembers Sandra Genis and Allan Mansoor cast dissenting votes, saying the quality of life in the city would be impacted.

Genis expressed concerns on the vulnerability of children and the lack of a live scan (fingerprint-based background check) requirement in the ordinance at a February meeting when it was preliminarily approved.  She also shared apprehensions, particularly from residents of 17th Street, about potential 24-hour noise pollution.

Mansoor also said at the February meeting that the ordinance is a threat to the well-being of Costa Mesa.

“It’s going to be the downgrading of communities. It’s not the quiet quality of life and enjoyment that we’ve had in the past,” Mansoor said.

Siding with the majority, Councilmember Manuel Chavez condemned the idea that vendors are more likely to be potential threats to the community, saying this ordinance would provide safeguards and grant merchants equal opportunity. He noted vendors are no less legitimate than the brick and mortar businesses in the city.

Mayor Foley said the law fairly regulates these merchants, who contribute to the city’s “eclectic charm.”

Several citizens delivered public comments during the February meeting. Some shared the reservations of Genis and Mansoor about noise pollution and lack of background checks.

Others voiced their support for push-cart vendors. One life-long resident of the city commended these merchants for trying to make an honest living and claimed she’s never heard the “bells and whistles” that raised concern.

At the March 3 meeting, no councilmembers made statements and there were no public comments.

Since SB 946 went into effect, some Orange County cities such as Laguna Beach set limits on cart sizes and concentration of merchants within a given proximity. Newport Beach expanded cart vendors’ hours of operation.

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