SLO council approves a slightly altered mobile vendor ordinance



Mobile vendors will have new limits on their hours of operation on public streets in San Luis Obispo city’s residential areas, but other than that, few new rules will apply to any business that operates out of a truck.

That’s according to a new ordinance narrowly approved by the City Council on Nov. 19 to regulate mobile vendors, updating an antiquated ordinance the city needed to redraft to protect itself from litigation from an out-of-county attorney representing the industry.

Whether the ordinance was ever needed in the first place was a matter of debate between council members.

According to city staff members, case law dictates that mobile vendors can’t be banned within city limits, but can be regulated as to when and where they can operate.

Approved on the usual 3-2 vote—with council members Kathy Smith and Dan Carpenter dissenting—the new ordinance will keep most of the rules in place.

Mayor Jan Marx pushed for a reduced window of operations on public streets in residential areas, from the former 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to the new 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The city ordinance won’t affect vendors operating on private property or during special events, such as Farmers Market and Concerts in the Plaza, which is where Assistant Community Development Dept. Director Doug Davidson said most vendors currently operate. Vendors will still be required to acquire a license and pay applicable taxes—and, in the case of food, meet all health and safety codes.

News of the ordinance caused a stir among the few vendors who do operate in the city, namely operators of ice cream trucks, such as Cindy Tucker, who drives the Surfer Dan the Ice Cream Man truck in the neighborhoods near Laguna Middle School.

She said she typically parks in a location away from driveways for up to about 25 minutes at a time and has been hassled by a small group of residents who have complained to the city; she worried that the new ordinance would prohibit her from serving ice cream to the kids.

“I enjoy my job. This is the best job I’ve had,” Tucker tearfully told the council. “It is to me so overwhelming. I’ve done nothing but accommodate [the neighborhood] left and right.”

Others, such as Carolyn Smith, speaking on behalf of Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, asked the council to limit neighborhood operations to lunch hours only, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

SLO resident and Santa Maria code enforcement officer Michelle Tassif warned the council to be careful about permitting mobile vendors, as she’s had to deal with some in Santa Maria that peddle pirated DVDs.

But what was lacking at the meeting was any explanation of how mobile venders were causing any problems.

“We don’t really know what problem we’re trying to solve,” Councilmember Kathy Smith said. “It almost seems like the ordinance in itself will create enough talk to create a problem that didn’t exist before, like the short-term rental situation.”

“This is a solution to something we don’t have a problem with,” Carpenter said.

While Councilman John Ashbaugh said that vendors are good for the city and wanted to “try some of them out,” Mayor Marx said she wanted to limit how late they operate in neighborhoods to prevent “massive street parties late at night.”

The ordinance will go before the council once more in December for final approval, and the ordinance will be revisited a year from now to evaluate how it’s working.

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