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Council Revisits 'Out-Of-Control' Illegal Pier Vendors

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By Jorge Casuso

December 10, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday used words like "chaos," "melee" and "out of control" to describe the renegade vendors who overrun the Santa Monica Pier on weekends.

In a unanimous vote, a clearly frustrated Council directed staff to "develop a comprehensive assessment regarding the continued challenges with unpermitted vending activity on and around the Santa Monica Pier."

The report -- which would be taken up at a study session no later than February 22 -- should address ways to "protect public health and safety while promoting Pier businesses and the visitor experience."

"This issue isn't about illegal vending," said Councilmember Lana Negrete, who along with Councilmembers Christine Parra and Kristin McCowan placed the item on the agenda.

"It's about community values and putting our foot down when enough is enough," Negrete said. "And now is that time."

Mayor Sue Himmelrich agreed, saying steps need to be taken "to prevent this melee that happens every weekend on the pier.

"I think a bunch of us have been down and witnessed the chaos that ensued, and I think we understand that this has created an emergency for us," Himmelrich said. "We need it to stop."

The item was placed on the agenda less than four months after the Council cracked down on illegal pier vendors taking advantage of a 2019 State law that boosts economic opportunities for immigrant and low-income communities ("Council to Consider Banning Risky Vendor Activities," August 18, 2021).

At its August 24 meeting, the Council approved a series of prohibitions meant to stop the vendors from lighting cooking fires, spilling grease into storm drains and overflowing trash bins with waste.

But the regulations -- and efforts by staff to enforce them -- have done little to control the runaway problem described in a letter read on behalf of 33 permitted pier businesses too intimidated by the vendors to reveal their names.

"Each week they experience more brazen action as the unpermitted vendors have only gotten more aggressive and continue to grow in numbers," the letter reads.

The letter on behalf of long-established family owned shops and restaurants, as well as vending cart owners who are first generation immigrants, describes a "growing wall of illegal vendors" blocking access to their businesses, which are increasingly losing customers.

The staff report that will be discussed at the study session will "summarize the history of the issue (and) the measures taken by staff and partners to date and those planned across all aspects of the issue."

These include "proactive education and outreach, collaborative enforcement, support for permitted vendors and merchants, legislative advocacy, and physical infrastructure changes," according to the approved motion.

"The study session would give the Council the opportunity to provide direction with regard to new resources, staffing, or other measures" that could be included in the upcoming City budget, the item said.

Council members said staff has been doing its best but stressed that immediate action needs to be taken.

"We are not waiting for a report," said Councilmember Phil Brock. "We are going to be working to take positive steps to solve the issue."

Said Negrete, "We have to get a grip on what's happening on the pier. It's just gotten out of control."

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