Newport Beach increases enforcement on sidewalk vendors

Citations are issued to sidewalk vendors by San Diego police.
Citations are issued to sidewalk vendors by San Diego police in Ocean Beach earlier this year.
(Tyler Faurot)

The Newport Beach City Council unanimously passed the second reading of a new ordinance that will crack down on street vendors doing business in unpermitted areas of the city.

The ordinance first came before the City Council on March 12 when members approved it. Mayor Pro Tem Joe Stapleton said at the time that the issue of vendors setting up where they are not allowed has had a direct impact on residents and business owners in his district, which includes the Balboa Peninsula and west Newport Beach.

The new ordinance enhances existing code enforcement to allow for the seizure of items and equipment used in violation of existing code, the adoption of an impounding fee, staffing changes and the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle and trailer.


“My primary concern is to help protect the interests of Peninsula businesses that are facing competition from unpermitted vendors,” Stapleton said in response to a reporter’s question Wednesday, noting that people have told him that vendors are setting up near the piers and up and down the city’s beaches.

“I want to support the lawful, permitted businesses in our community,” he said.

Sidewalk vending regulations were first adopted in November 2018 after changes in state law forced Newport Beach to lift its ban on vendors.

According to those regulations, sidewalk vendors are allowed to operate but must avoid specific locations, including the Balboa Island boardwalk, the Oceanfront boardwalk, East Balboa Boulevard between Adams Street and A Street, Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, East Coast Highway between Avocado Avenue and Hazel Drive, and the Civic Center. Vendors are also restricted from operating within 200 feet of most public-safety buildings, such as police and fire stations, or within 100 feet of other sidewalk vendors, schools, public picnic areas and community centers.

They’re also not allowed to operate on any public property that does not meet the definition of a sidewalk or walkway, which means alleys, beaches, piers, squares, streets, street ends or parking lots are off limits.

If found in violation of city code, vendors can be fined anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on how many times they’ve been cited within a given year. For being in violation and also lacking a permit, vendors can be fined between $250 to $1,000, again depending on how many times they’ve been cited within a given year.

In a report prepared for the City Council, staff said there has been an increase in unpermitted vending taking place that extends beyond the sidewalks and onto the piers and beaches.

Visits to the reportedly affected areas by the Daily Pilot on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons turned up no sight of any street vendors, though Assistant City Manager Seimone Jurjis noted they often set up for business on weekends, spring break and summertime, when there are more visitors from out of town.

The vendors have been required to get permits since 2019, but only two have been issued in the past, according to Jurjis, and there are currently no active permits.

City staff noted in a report for a previous council meeting that one of the challenges of dealing with street vendors has been that those who flout the restrictions often don’t carry or are not willing to provide identification to officers who are there to write citations. Further, the vendors might leave for a short time, then return to those locations after officers are gone. Staff also said beaches are difficult to patrol, given the terrain and their vast size.

Enforcement of the street vendor ordinance is handled by the city’s community development department. Jurjis confirmed Wednesday that code enforcement made contact with 40 vendors operating illegally in 2023. He said that because there is no existing outreach to advise vendors of the regulations, it will be up to the discretion of code enforcement officers as to whether they issue a warning, a citation or if equipment seizure is warranted.

Restaurateur Mario Marovic, who owns Malarky’s Irish Pub, Blackie’s By the Sea and other businesses in and around Newport, said he’s hopeful the beefed-up regulations on street vendors will be good for local businesses. He said not only do the vendors compete unfairly with restaurants, but there is also concern over their food-safety practices.

“We follow city code. We follow the health department’s codes. We pay payroll taxes. We meet the wage requirements. We’re regulated. We’re audited. We pay mortgages and rent, but these guys show up and contribute nothing to the city or its sales tax. There’s no regulations on food safety, its quality or storage. It hurts locally owned and managed businesses,” Marovic said, adding that he’s seen more street vendors pop up in the last two years and has seen them selling canned alcohol on beaches.

“We’re under heavy scrutiny to just get open ... but these guys show up and just have no rules,” he said.

“We need more enforcement, period. 100%. There’s no questions about that. We’ve got issues with the homeless in our area, but now with the food vendors and everything else, how are businesses that are operating the correct way going to survive when we have all these negative impacts? It blows me away.”

Micah Schiesel, a partner at Super Panga, a taquería nearby Newport Pier, agreed, saying that it seems street vendors have an unfair advantage with wage and hour laws compared to brick-and-mortar establishments.

“Not only does their business detract from local businesses who have paid a premium for build-outs, obtained proper permits, paying or exceeding mandated hourly [minimum wage] rates, but supporting street vendors impact the city’s ability to capture sales tax, which is the primary revenue generated for the city by local businesses,” Schiesel said. “I would like to think that additional enforcement would be a deterrent.

“Some concerns are the lack of proper health department adherence in regard to safety and sanitation,” he continued, “as well as selling alcohol in a public area, which can pose safety concerns for local businesses.”

Marovic and Schiesel are not the only Orange County business owners concerned about sidewalk vendors. Other cities are facing difficulties with them too, including Santa Ana and Anaheim, where officials are trying to figure out how to regulate vendors through permitting and enforcement, even as vendors say they can’t afford the application fees or meet the requirements to qualify for an application and instead are willing to risk losing their equipment.

It costs $183 to submit an application for a permit in Newport Beach, which can be denied. The California Retail Food Code requires vendors to have a county health permit. Orange County health officials confirmed it costs $151 for a prepackaged food cart and $696 for a full-service food truck permit, but that is without the additional cost of other things vendors may need — such as sinks and water tanks — in order to meet code requirements.

Despite some of the concerns raised by business owners and the city, not everyone is worried. A beachgoer who declined to give his name said Tuesday he often visits from Costa Mesa whre he sees more sidewalk vendors than he ever does in Newport. He remembered once seeing a hot dog cart nearby Newport Pier, but that it’s since disappeared — a sign, he thought, of code enforcement.

Gretchen Smith, who often visits town with her family, said she rarely sees any sidewalk vendors in Newport Beach, compared to the number she encounters in Riverside, where she lives. But more than that, she said she doesn’t really have an issue with them.

“I like [seeing street vendors], and my kids grew up on that,” Smith said. “I don’t really think that they bother people, but I do think they should be responsible for health and safety and have their food handler’s license on them.”