California bill would support street food vendors and ease current restrictions

A state senator introduced a bill Thursday that would support California’s large population of street food vendors by removing barriers that currently prevent them from obtaining food safety permits.

Senate Bill 972, written by Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) would revise the California Retail Food Code to reduce illegal vending, protect public health and create a more equitable economy for street vendors.

“Street food vendors are woven into the culturally diverse and culinary fabric of California,” said Gonzalez in a news release.

Currently, under the California Retail Food Code, there are uniform health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities such as “cottage food operations,” “microenterprise home kitchen operations” and “mobile food facilities;” none of which meet the needs of street vendors who usually operate outdoors and sell out of wagons, stands or pushcarts.

California codes require mobile food facilities, such as food or ice cream trucks, to meet specified health and safety standards, including access to warewashing sinks, restrooms and handwashing facilities and required quantities of potable water. Under SB 972, street vendors would fall under a new category, a “compact mobile food facility,” which is defined as, “a nonpermanent food facility that operates from an individual or from a pushcart, stand, display, pedal-driven cart, wagon, showcase, rack, or other non motorized conveyance.”

The bill would exempt street vendors from certain provisions of the code like having access to sinks, restrooms and water tanks if their planned area of operation has access to public faucets or water bottles. It would also exempt vendors from only being able to sell pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous foods or whole raw fruits or vegetables and would allow them to display or sell sliced fruit and vegetables that were previously prepared at an approved facility and have been stored at approved temperatures, including elotes, tacos and hot dogs.

Existing law limits microenterprise home kitchen operations to serving no more than 30 individual meals per day and no more than 60 individual meals per week. They also can’t make more than $50,000 in verifiable gross annual sales. This bill would remove the meal and gross annual sales limitations for vendors and would also lower the cost of obtaining necessary permits and registrations.

California codes and food laws have made it increasingly more difficult for vendors to operate legally, despite street vending being decriminalized in 2018. In August 2021, a report by the UCLA School of Law Community Economic Development Clinic and the nonprofit law firm Public Counsel found that many sidewalk food vendors remain exposed to the daily threat of ticketing, harassment and fines.

The report also detailed how a food vendor seeking a permit from LA County “must navigate multiple offices, secure multiple prerequisite documents without adequate support, and follow a dizzying process only explained in English.”

In Long Beach, the bill comes at a time when street vendors have been targeted and harassed by police and the public. In recent years, the nonprofit Local Hearts Foundation has helped vendors like 65-year-old paletero Bernardo Nuñez, who had his cart stolen outside a grocery store. The group was able to raise over $10,000 for him through GoFundMe.

Since then, they have also helped vendors like Eliu Ramirez and Jose Euguenio Vivanco Bruno, who last May were harassed and had their carts vandalized. Local Hearts Foundation has since placed a spotlight on local city officials to put more protections in place for street vendors.

“I guess our voices are being heard,” said Tito Rodriguez, who is known as Hood Santa for his work with the Local Hearts Foundation. “Knowing that our officials are taking this seriously brings a lot of happiness to me. The city should let them operate, let them work and protect them.”

City Council directs staff to create safety program for Long Beach street vendors

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Laura Anaya-Morga is a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post.
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