Tustin sidewalk vendors are dealing with stricter regulations on how and where they can operate following the City Council’s approval of an ordinance. 

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“The city’s hands are relatively tied based on the state law that was passed,” said Council member Austin Lumbard, referring to California’s Safe Sidewalk Vending Act that was passed in 2018. “We are doing as much as we can to regulate these sidewalk vendors, but we cannot ban them. And I know a lot of residents want us to ban them, but we’re a little limited in what we can do here.” 

In recent months and years, putting controls on pushcart operators has been controversial in some Orange County cities, some of which have tightened laws governing them, while others have loosened restrictions. Advocates for street vending say tighter restrictions target Latino vendors and suppress entrepreneurial efforts by those who are working to provide for their families.

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2018 the California Senate Bill 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, that decriminalized sidewalk vending across the state and limited the regulations that cities could impose. The bill recognizes the economic importance of sidewalk vendors and the culturally significant food and merchandise they offer to communities. 

Tustin’s new ordinance, which the City Council unanimously approved in September, says that vendors cannot leave their displays unattended, maintain minimum sidewalk clearance for pedestrians, and limit hours of operation within residential areas to specific daylight hours, among other restrictions, according to a staff report.

Street vending regulations have been a hot topic in several Orange County cities. 

Santa Ana faced backlash in 2017 after passing stricter street vendor regulations that controlled where and how vendors are permitted to operate, citing in a staff report that they “pose traffic hazards and/or special danger to the safety and welfare of children and residents.” 

Laguna Beach also tightened restrictions in 2018 by requiring vendors to obtain permits from the Orange County Health Care Agency and enforcing how and where they can operate. Merchants are prohibited from using carts larger than 3-by-3 feet and from operating on narrow sidewalks.

Other cities moved in the opposite direction by loosening restrictions.

Costa Mesa City Council, in a 4-2 vote in March, increased the hours and areas vendors are allowed to operate in the city.

Huntington Beach lifted a ban on sidewalk vendors in April 2019, with approval for a formal permit that would cost $268, according to the Los Angeles Times

Kris Fortin, the project director of the Santa Ana Active Streets coalition, worries that restrictions harm local street vendors, who provide fresh produce and nourishment to underserved communities. The group is a community-based coalition “with the mission of cultivating diverse community participation in creating a safe and accessible environment for active transportation in Santa Ana,” according to its website

“Doing these kinds of restrictions limit the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that street vendors provide,” said Fortin, referencing the job opportunities the enterprise provides. 

Fortin also noted that street vending regulations can be disparaging to both vendors and Latino groups who largely benefit from the enterprise. 

“The face of street vendors… is something that can be stigmatized,” said Fortin. “It’s one of those things that is usually the face of Latinos, so any kind of restrictions that are put on street vendors specifically is starting to become a racist act because… [it] is demonizing a type of commerce within the Latino community.” 

Fortin emphasized that any restrictions “need to have the vendors on the table… and we need to push back on any kind of these policies that really attack a single community and a way of life for people who are just trying to put food on the table.”

Tustin’s new regulations include:

  • Obtaining a Tustin business permit and license, and a health department permit before operating
  • Maintaining minimum sidewalk clearance for pedestrians and disabled persons
  • Prohibiting vending within 500 feet from a school during school hours, from freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, and near a permitted farmer’s market, swap meet, or other temporary special permit events
  • Prohibiting sidewalk vendors in residential neighborhoods and limit the amount of time a roaming vendor may stay in one location within such neighborhoods 
  • Requiring sidewalk vendors to obtain insurance to protect the health and safety of the public and employees
  • Prohibiting the use of sound amplifiers, flashing lights, or animated devices
  • Prohibiting vendors impeding public use of sidewalks or access to buildings 
  • Enforcing compliance with sanitation requirements
  • Prohibiting the use of city power sources or generators 

Administrative fines were also determined in the ordinance, ranging from $100 for the first violation to the potential revocation of a vendor’s permit for the fourth violation.

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