What does Dana Point think of sidewalk vendors?
California Senate Bill (SB) 946 legalized sidewalk vendors to encourage “entrepreneurship,” promote “culturally significant food and merchandise” and “dynamic public space.” Newport Beach and Laguna Beach quickly came up with many restrictions to protect “the health, safety and welfare of its residents, businesses and visitors.”
Travelers know street vendors bring life to the street, which is desperately needed on Del Prado— a charming street with quiet stores and vacant units. So I went to Del Prado to ask people if they thought sidewalk vending could help the business. I got more than what I asked for.
Some were very upset about what has been going on in the Town Center in the recent years: the constructions, the empty lots, the parking issue, the lack of governmental support for local businesses, etc. Generally, people thought sidewalk vendors could help foot traffic, but questioned which vendor would come to an empty street such as Del Prado. The overall concern about food vendors was trash or plastic litter. Indeed, sidewalk vendors are exempt from the plastic bag and plastic straw regulations, and sometimes the Styrofoam ban, too.
But is having food vendors fair to those businesses who pay rent? SB 946 prohibits local authorities from regulating sidewalk vendors on where they can conduct business, unless it is a concern for health, safety or welfare. Can the city and Chamber of Commerce lead us to address fairness as welfare of the community?
Essentially, sidewalk vendors provided us a reason to work on the changes that have been delayed or simply avoided.
On environment, my first thought was that sidewalk vendors should not provide single-use plastics, such as utensils and bags. We cannot afford another layer of plastics on our streets and in our ocean. But is it fair to regulate only the sidewalk vendors? Much of the plastic litter is from brick-n-mortars. (Shwack even serves dine-in customers with single-use plastic utensils.) While there are many environmental things Dana Point should do, plastic is the lower hanging fruit when it comes to food-service businesses.
On economics, the internet fundamentally brought struggles to local retailers. During Laguna Beach City Council’s public hearing on sidewalk vending, former planning commissioner Bob Chapman suggested re-evaluating what kind of businesses we should have here. Chapman: “It’s now really the time to look at this, take it apart, and understand. What we are getting are those uses that are approvable, not necessarily the best uses for the downtown. Just look at the competition; do we want to have retailers in our downtown? I just wonder how many households come to downtown, spend a minimum of $250 a quarter on something other than food, other than drink.”
These are not comfortable thoughts. But we don’t have a comfortable reality. One thing clear from my conversations on Del Prado was that people didn’t want to lose the unique Dana Point identity to chain or online stores and the drive-through culture, which is also the spirit of SB 946. It’s time to really think outside the box. As Jodi Picoult said, “Extraordinary things are always hiding in places people never think to look.”
Hoiyin Ip is often recognized on the street as the plastic lady for her cleanup work. But she likes to think of herself as a guardian of the ocean. She is often reminded of a quote by former California Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas: “The coast is never saved. It’s always being saved.”