Laguna Hills is the latest Orange County city to crack down on sidewalk vendors after approving new time restrictions and permit requirements.
Following a unanimous vote by the city council in September, Laguna Hills will impose regulations on vendors selling food, drink or other merchandise on public sidewalks. City officials hope new rules will mitigate public safety concerns in residential areas.
Some residents voiced support for these restrictions despite having mixed opinions on how intrusive vendors are in their daily lives. Representatives for vendors, however, argue that the use of aggressive language and extensive permit requirements falls out of line with state standards.
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Many city councils countywide — including Anaheim, Orange, and Fullerton — have raised concerns that sidewalk vendors hold unfair economic advantages over traditional businesses and endanger public health.
Concerns have also been raised that these crackdowns are influenced instead by racial biases against vendors, who are often Spanish speakers.
In 2018, California Senate Bill 946 decriminalized sidewalk vending, reducing penalties from a felony charge to a fine. The bill also states that cities can only impose additional regulations if they protect public health, safety or welfare.
The staff report from Laguna Hills states that vendors’ carts block the flow of traffic, sidewalk clearance and red zones, as well as engage in unsanitary conditions while handling food.
Yet city officials also note there aren’t that many of these types of vendors in town.
Community Development Director Larry Longenecker said the city does not have any documentation on the number of street vendors that frequent Laguna Hills. Longenecker himself said he only knows of “a handful” of these sellers.
The new regulations will limit the hours for roaming sidewalk vendors in residential areas from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and all sidewalk vendors in nonresidential zones from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Stationary vending in residential areas is prohibited.
Vendors also must stay clear of driveways or parking lots and keep at least five feet of sidewalk clear.
Additionally, all vendors must submit over 10 documents to the city — including a schedule of hours and locations, proof of insurance and criminal background checks — to receive a mandatory sidewalk vending permit. They also must maintain sanitary areas, take up an area of no more than six by six feet and refrain from “aggressive” sales.
The new Laguna Hills restrictions went into effect on Oct. 13.
Violations can result in a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for each following offense within one year, as long as the vendor has a permit. Without a permit, fines increase to $250, $500 and $1,000.
Mayor Janine Heft showed support for the regulations when the council gave initial approval to the ordinance in August, stating that multiple residents have testified that their “quiet enjoyment” in neighborhoods has been violated by vendors.
Sidewalk vendor representatives find that Laguna Hills’ regulations raise red flags.
One of these representatives is Estefanía López Pérez. She’s a senior policy associate at Inclusive Action for the City, an organization based in Los Angeles that provides financial assistance to small and sidewalk vendors in Southern California and campaigned for Senate Bill 946 in 2018.
Pérez said Laguna Hills’ extensive permitting process is not consistent with state legislation.
For example, the city requires encroachment and liability permits, documents that are not utilized even in cities with heavier vendor presence, such as Los Angeles, she said.
Pérez believes this is an anti-vending tactic, increasing the difficulty and cost to legally sell goods.
Pérez also points out that Senate Bill 946 aimed to discourage the inflammatory language used in Laguna Hills’ restrictions, such as phrases like “aggressive vending” and “risk to public safety.” She said vendors wish to sell legally, but hostile language discourages them from obtaining a permit. It also turns cities against vendors, encouraging harassment by both residents, Pérez contends.
“The rhetoric creates the conditions where a vendor is an ‘other,’” Pérez said, “not worthy of public protection or being called a legitimate business.”
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