City to Allow Sidewalk Vendors, Outdoor Restaurant Seating

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 1, 2020

Morro Bay changed its ordinance on temporary vendors to bring local laws in line with State law but regulations severely restrict the place where vendors can set up for business.

The Council voted to approve changes to Ordinance No. 634, Title 5 of the municipal code, adding Chapter 5.60 — sidewalk vendors, and amending Chs. 5.08.150(A)(1), 5.40.020 and 10.40.120 “to regulate sidewalk vendors within the City of Morro Bay.”

According to a report from Community Development Director, Scot Graham, in September 2018, Senate Bill 946, was approved and took effect Jan. 1, 2019. SB 946 “places limits on the ability of cities to regulate sidewalk vendors,” Graham said. “Local authorities may establish requirements regulating the time, place, and manner of sidewalk vending, as specified, if the requirements are directly related to objective health, safety, or welfare concerns.”

The City regulations bring City law into compliance and protect public health and safety, and are also intended to ensure that people can enjoy outdoor public spaces, “while also creating economic opportunities for vendors.”

The new ordinance regulates both “stationary” and “roaming” sidewalk vendors. “Roaming sidewalk vendors are defined as ‘a sidewalk vendor who moves from place to place and stops only to complete a transaction,’” Graham said. “A stationary sidewalk vendor is defined as ‘a sidewalk vendor who operates from a fixed location.’”

As examples, a roaming vendor might be something like an ice cream truck that drives around stopping to sell ice cream while a stationary vendor would be something like a serving table set up outside a restaurant, selling foodstuffs during street affairs like the Car Show, or Farmers’ Market.

Given the unique character of Morro Bay, Graham said, the Ordinance includes permit requirements that regulate time of operation, operational requirements for vending carts, signage, trash receptacles, limitations on the type of merchandise for sale, how vendors are to interact with the public, fire safety, limitations on location, penalties for violation, general liability insurance requirements, and City indemnification (insurance) requirement.

Sidewalk vendor regulations include prohibiting setting up in the street or on sidewalks less than 10 feet wide. It also prohibits setting up on beaches, scenic paths, State owned property (without State Parks’ authorization), within 100 feet of a police or fire station, within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, within 15 feet of a transit (bus) stop, adjacent to any loading zone, within 100 feet of a farmers market, or within 100 feet of a City permitted special event.

Before readers rush out and invest in a taco truck, the ordinance requires all sidewalk vendors to get a City permit, a City issued business tax certificate, California seller’s permit (for sales tax purposes), and if it’s a food business, a certificate from the County Health Dept.

As for locations, the ordinance makes most everywhere off limits to sidewalk vendors. Permitted vendors can set up on or adjacent to the Harborwalk, the Embarcadero, Coleman Drive and the Morro Rock parking lot.

It also includes restrictions “pertaining to proximity to entrances and exits to buildings, and emergency vehicle access ways, and establishes distances between vendors.”

Vendors on sidewalks must also maintain at least 4-feet of unobstructed sidewalk so people can walk pas and not have to go out into the street to get by.

And you’ll have to be self-sufficient. As the ordinances prohibits being connected to any public utilities, presumably including the electrical outlets along parts of Morro Bay Boulevard and Main Street that were installed by the City for the purpose of providing power during events like street fairs. There are also significant insurance requirements including naming the City as an “additional insured.”

Of course there’s a fee involved. The Council is expected to approve a change to the master fee schedule at the June 23 meeting adding a $325 a year fee for the sidewalk vendor permit. Penalties for violators are harsh, with a $100-=$500 fine for violations and a $250-$1,000 fine for operating without a permit.

The regulations will also help local restaurants to reopen successfully, given that restrictions are still in effect on occupancy of dinning rooms, by allowing them to create outdoor seating in public areas.

That part of it got some positive feedback from some local eatery owners.
Paul Van Beurden, owner of Dutchman’s Seafood House, wrote to the City Council and said, “I am respectfully asking that you give staff direction to implement policies for reimagining public spaces that will help our restaurant and my staff survive.”

Van Buerden said his restaurant lost 85% of its business after shutting down on March 29 for the lockdown. He said the outdoor dining idea before the Council was “nothing new.” He added that allowing use of outdoor public spaces for seating would help businesses recover “a percentage of the space lost due to COVID-19 safety precautions.”

He adds that opening up the outdoor spaces “would allow businesses to expand and encourage visitors easier access to our shops and restaurants and create a more welcoming experience for all.”

At Dutchman’s half the tables were removed from the dinning room and the rest spread out with portable walls placed between the tables. He’s also using an existing waterside patio for additional seating.

Ken MacMillan of Distassio’s at Shasta Avenue and the Boulevard in Downtown, said, “This will definitely help the recovery effort for those restaurants that have small indoor seating which has now been cut by at least 50%. Each available table will be critical for survival in the near term.

“In addition to the economic benefit to the restaurant and the city of more diners, I believe that this lends itself to a more welcoming vibrant visual for the city. Yes we will have the challenges of space on the sidewalk. Much of that can be accommodated by property owners agreeing to share space with neighbors. The visual of outside diners, for me anyway, says ‘Welcome.’” Distassio’s also has an existing outdoor patio area.

Local businessman, Don Maruska, who led the City’s 2015 Local Economic Action Plan or LEAP, agreed. “The tasteful use of outdoor tables and seating would not only support social distancing but also help the community and visitors see that some welcoming business activity is coming back to life.”

But Maruska’s been around long enough to know that such concessions by the City can get out of hand. “I do recall, however, the concerns some years back about the haphazard proliferation of sandwich board signs, so I hope the tables and seating will occur in a tasteful way.”

Under the City rules, sidewalk vendors are prohibited from setting up at any State Park property (without their permission) including the golf course; and from North Point Natural Area, Dog Beach, all public beaches including parking lots, Eagle Rock, the launch ramp, the estuary and State Park Marina boardwalk, or the trailhead at Black Hill.

There are limited opportunities at the Harborwalk south of Pacific Street; between Pacific and Harbor, and from Beach Street to the Rock and the Morro Creek pedestrian bridge. They will allow stationary and roaming vendors at City parks — Anchor Memorial, Bayshore Bluffs, Centennial Parkway, City Park, Closters, Coleman, Del Mar, Lila Keiser, Mariner Memorial, Monty Young, Tidelands, Franklin Riley (Morro Avenue Bluff), and the Morro Rock parking lot.

That last one is a huge change as the City has turned down many requests by vendors with food trucks or hot dog carts from setting up by Morro Rock, believing it led people to go up the Embarcadero to eat at one of the rent paying restaurants.

Also part of the Council’s approval was a blanket encroachment permit and temporary use permit to allow restaurants to put up outdoor seating areas. The Chamber of Commerce supported this aspect. In a letter to members from CEO Erica Crawford, she said the actions “allow businesses to replace lost indoor seating to the outdoors, with the former allowing for use of the sidewalk and the latter allowing private parking lots to designate parking spots for outdoor seating areas. Both are accessible to restaurants and retailers — and the fee for both programs is zero dollars.”

The City was to post a 2-page application on its website for potential business people to access (see: The Chamber said it would also post the application on its website (see: Crawford said business people could contact her at: to request an application when it becomes available and the Chamber is also offering to connect business owners with someone to help them design an outdoor space for their business.

But nothing’s ever easy in Morro Bay, especially when it comes to the waterfront, which isn’t under ultimate control of the City.

The whole outdoor dining space program has to be approved by the Coastal Commission or at least by the Commission staff. Comm-Dev Director Graham was in talks with Commission staff on a possible waiver for the outdoor eatery spaces on the Embarcadero where the Commission holds “original jurisdiction.”

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