This isn’t Venice Beach or foot bridges in Prague and Naples.
It is, tho, as one resident told the Union-Tribune, “like a flea market.”
San Diego’s street vendors, always a part of the city, have gotten out of control. They are all over the place and there are so many of them one can barely navigate a sidewalk or find a place to even stand to look at the great views of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla, the bayfront and Balboa Park.
The problem is the fact that for decades, the vendors have been allowed to operate without permits. They can set up whenever and wherever they desire. This also applies to street musicians, who play drums, electric guitars of sing. This does fill the air with mostly-good music and actually adds to the nice atmosphere of Balboa Park (except for the one guy with a terrible voice who chases people away from the Botanical Building to a place where they can no longer hear him).
It is actually kind of nice to have inexpensive options for buying small things such as jewelry, sports-branded hats and San Diego-branded shirts and sweatshirts. I often do some of my Christmas shopping at the vendors by the Midway; I’ve gotten items at prices 1/3 of that of the retail stores.
But since the pandemic the situation has gotten out of hand. The number of vendors has at least tripled the past two years. I’m not sure of the reason but maybe it’s because a lot of those those line cooks and staff at restaurants realize they can make more than minimum wage by selling the same things as a hundred other vendors by setting up in busy areas around the city.
Still, it’s clogging up open space to the point there is no more open space. In PB it’s so bad you have to dodge them and there’s only a couple of spots you can find a place to actually look at the beach and ocean around the pier area. Not only is it annoying and tainting the San Diego beach experience, it’s nearly impossible to make your way through such a congested area.
In beautiful La Jolla, there are so many vendors set up in front of Children’s Pool and in Scripps Park you have to zig zag your way through them just to get a look at the spectacular views. Children’s Pool, a compact area to begin with, now feels claustrophobic. It’s supposed to be relaxing! Locals are complaining vendors are taking up the few – and quite valuable – parking spots and for the entire day. This is in an area in which parking is difficult to find in the first place. Tourists can’t be in a good frame of mind if they have to drive around 20-30 minutes just to find a spot.
And what is the city doing about it? Well it sounds good on paper and in news conferences. It is supposedly requiring vendors to apply for permits and set up in designated areas. I’ve seen little evidence of enforcement or a cutback on vendors – instead, they seem to be increasing – tho was happy to observe two sheriff’s officers issuing a warning citation to a vendor at Children’s Pool on a Saturday in August. They were being very polite and so, too, was the vendor.
The problem, according to the city anyway, is that the California Coastal Commission must approve the vendor rules along the coast. And there’s no telling when that might happen. I tell you what, tho, if they were to get one look at the situation along any of the beaches and bayfront, they would approve it in a heartbeat.
It is my opinion that vendors who have been operating in San Diego for several years should be given priority and if any space is available then the newcomers must go through an approval process. And a limit must be set on the number of vendors.
In the meantime, maybe putting a few more cops out there to issue warnings is the way to go; otherwise, San Diego will go from being a tourist destination to being a vendor’s destination.
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