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High Desert city tries to rein in its sidewalk vendors

Add Victorville to the list of Inland Empire cities that are trying to get their sidewalk vendors under control.

An ordinance passed by the city council early this year by a 4-1 vote revises and updates regulations used by the High Desert city to control sidewalks vendors. It establishes sidewalk vending hours, spells out in what parts of the city those vendors may operate, how much insurance those vendors must carry and what they must do to get a license from the city.

Ordinance No. 2449 sets up fines, updates codes related to street vendors and solicitors, and establishes what items street vendors may and may not sell. It also establishes regulations for food trucks and prohibits any sidewalk vending.

Victorville is also requiring its street vendors to obtain a seller’s permit from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, and to follow all city and San Bernardino County health regulations.

Vendors can be fined up to $1,000 for repeat violations, but most of that will be returned once the violations are corrected. The objective is not to punish sidewalk vendors, but to get them operating more like brick-and-mortar businesses.

“Putting this program together has taken a lot of time, effort and energy,” said Joseph Slegers, Victorville building official, during the Feb. 20 city council meeting. “There are a lot of different emotions and opinions regarding street vending, but we’ve tried to balance the interests of the street vendors with the interests of the general public, particularly regarding health and safety.

“There a lot of ways to regulate street vending, but we feel like we’ve created a pathway for street vendors to conduct their activities in the right way.”

Like a lot of California cities, Victorville during the last few years has seen a rise in unlicensed sidewalk vendors, many of whom cook raw poultry, fish or meat that their customers eat on site.

As a result, a lot of California cities are revising – or rewriting entirely – their street vending laws so they comply with the California Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, which was signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018.

That law was passed to promote small businesses, and to help low-income immigrant communities increase their earning power. It permits fines, but it prohibits local agencies from banning sidewalk vendors or levying criminal charges against them.

It also requires cities to set up regulations that protect public health and safety before they issue someone a street vending permit.

The state law that started as SB 946 prohibits sidewalk vendors from operating in certain areas, and it requires them to get permission from nearby businesses before they go to work in a public right-of-way. It also sets a limit on the number sidewalk vendors a jurisdiction may have, and prohibits them from operating in most public parks.

In Victorville, city officials hope their new ordinance helps street vendors become legitimate businesses.

“We have seen an increase in street vending in Victorville over the years, but it has picked up the past 12 months,” wrote Sue Jones, Victorville’s public information officer in an email interview. “We have 12 licensed street/event vendors and a few dozen street vendor license applications in the pipeline.”

The new regulations address health and safety concerns associated with street vending, which grew in popularity during the pandemic, when many restaurants shut down or reduced their hours. The practice appears to have grown even more popular since.

All of the 12 “safe locations” are places where street vendors can operate. They have parking for anyone who wants to stop and make a purchase, and they can also be reached easily by pedestrians.

“Street vending can cause hazards to the public if precautions are not followed,” Jones wrote. “Most of the street vendors we see in Victorville choose locations on busy arterial streets like Bear Valley Road that lack a shoulder or an area for parking. Unfortunately, these locations can be dangerous for a variety of reasons: no shoulders or sidewalks, and vehicles travel at speeds of at least 45 or 50 miles per hours.

At first, food trucks were Victorville’s most common form of sidewalk/street vendor, but lately more vendors are selling flowers and homemade items, according to Jones.

Victorville officials believe they’re already seeing a change in how sidewalk vendors do business, even though the new ordinance is barely three months old.

“Many more vendors expressing an interest in obtaining their city business license and required permits.” Jones wrote. “Last week, we partnered with San Bernardino County and other High Desert cities to host an educational workshop for current and future street vendors.”

About 100 vendors attended, and most of them expressed interest in obtaining a business license and operating in Victorville, Jones added.

The new ordinance should protect sidewalk vendors and the public, Council Member Debra Jones said.

“This is an incredibly complex issue, and I think staff has done a lot to help give opportunities to some folks who might have had a hard time getting a business license,” Debra Jones said during the February. “I agree that we’re taking a balanced approach, and I think that’s the best way we can help people.”

Although he voted with the majority –  Council Member Blanca Gomez cast the only dissenting vote – Mayor Pro Tem Bob Harriman expressed some apprehension about getting the sidewalk vendors to abide by the new ordinance, which is very detailed.

“I think it’s put together well,” Harriman said. “I own a small business, and I’m all for people starting their own business. I just hope (the new ordinance) works out and that we’re able to get compliance.”

 

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One comment

  1. What about the homeless that are all over walking around Victorville? Nobody cares about that. What about the ones in the field I look dirty and nasty. Nobody cares about that but let people sell food. Try to make a living and people outrage for that but I don’t hear nobody saying That the Victorville should clean up their act about the homeless people that are peeing in the streets doesn’t sound right they are all about money licenses money for insurance. What about the homeless cleanup Victorville Victorville the only one city that is nasty and don’t care you don’t see that in Apple Valley. You don’t see that in Hisperia Victorville you do see homeless all over the place.

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