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New push for sidewalk vendor ordinance in San Diego

It's been three years since the state passed a law decriminalizing street vendors but many cities have come up with their own permitting program but not San Diego.

The battle over sidewalk vendors in San Diego beach communities is heating up again.

This time locals are taking up sidewalk space of their own to urge the city to pass new regulations.

“What I would like to make clear is which has been misunderstood, we are not here for any kind of specific anti vendor situation,” said Michael Copley, Ocean Beach resident.

He spearheaded Respect OB, a grassroots effort to gather hundreds of signatures to urge the council to pass sustainable regulations. They’ve gained support from the OB Town Council and OB MainStreet Association.

“How does anyone who owns their own business be sustainable? And right now there is nothing to help these vendors as well as nothing to keep these communities safe from bad actors,” said Copley.

Wednesdays in Ocean Beach are the busiest as it brings a lot of foot traffic inside and outside especially around Veteran’s Plaza at the foot of the pier on Abbott Street and Newport Avenue.

“We get here about 3 a.m., 3:15 every morning, well every Wednesday morning,” said Gianni Connell, Nirvana Creations.

For three years, there have been complaints of parks and sidewalks taken over by street vendors, not just in Ocean Beach but all over San Diego.

“It just brings up a lot of riff raff,” said Patrick Lavelle, Ocean Beach resident. “We understand people are trying to make money and live but there is no control down here and it's a free for all.”

Vendors say they are just trying to survive.

“This is my family,” said Connell. “This is how we live, this how we eat and how we sleep in a bed and shelter over our heads.”

Chalk pastel artist Michael Heikkinen said it’s cheaper to be a street vendor than pay for a storefront.

“I would love to have a storefront anywhere and a gallery but I am not at that point but this is a lot of work,” said Heikkinen.

Others say it’s too expensive to sell inside the Farmer’s Market.

“Why would I pay $75 when you can have a booth here for free?” said Rocco Temsamani, silversmith.

The issue is local versus state law regarding sidewalk vendors.

In 2018, California legislatures approved Senate Bill 946 which decriminalizes sidewalk vendors. San Diego police say because of that they can’t enforce the local vendor law that prohibits the sale of goods on public property without a permit unless there is a health or safety concern.

“People are selling - blatantly selling - marijuana. [You can] buy some 'shrooms if you want. They are over there. That is not acceptable. That is not safe,” said Copley.

Mayor Gloria’s office told News 8 they are in support of an ordinance being worked on by San Diego City Council President Dr. Jennifer Campbell but deferred questions about the details to her office.

Campbell also represents OB and other beach communities frustrated with the lack of regulations. Her office e-mailed a statement:

My staff and I are working hard to create an ordinance to regulate street vendors. This ordinance will give clear guidelines and restrictions for vendors, Police and City employees to follow and enforce the law. Since my office began working on this in June, we have taken great care to be fair in creating new rules for people across the entire city. We expect to bring the ordinance to the City Council soon but as my staff and I continue our work on the ordinance I’m asking that other public agencies, including the County health inspectors, step up their enforcement as well.”

“If the community really wanted us out of here, we would not here. This is OB people would come and flip our tables over,” said Temsamani. “I am just keeping it real.”

However, Respect OB says something needs to be done to bring back their mantra.

“Peace and love OB,” said Copley.

Respect OB says they are planning to get a permit at Veteran’s Park on a Saturday to host a kid-centric event and signature drive.

City Attorney Mara Elliott sent a statement:

“The City Attorney’s Office is working with the Council President and City staff to draft an ordinance that is fair, easy to understand, and takes into account the feedback provided by impacted stakeholders.”

WATCH RELATED: Controversy over vendor sales along boardwalk in Pacific Beach - May 2021