Street vendors will eventually have a pathway to legally operate in Long Beach, but vendors will have to wait at least until next month before they know what the rules will be after the City Council asked Tuesday for more changes to the proposed local ordinance.
The rules are being crafted because of a new state law, Senate Bill 946, which went into effect in 2019 and decriminalized street vending but also allowed cities to set health and safety rules. The rules can’t be crafted to protect brick-and-mortar businesses, restaurants or other interests.
Council members were scheduled to vote Tuesday on the ordinance, but they asked for more changes to the proposed rules including how much money the city would provide to subsidize permits and insurance for vendors, and where flashing signs would be allowed to be used by vendors.
“The barriers to get compliant, we need to limit, and lower them so we get more folks in on the pathway to compliance,” said Mayor Rex Richardson.
The proposed fees to get started vary with city staff estimating that required business licenses could cost about $300 annually and a health permit could range from $250 to $300 for tricycles or food service carts without plumbing to $730 for carts with plumbing.
An additional one-time plan check fee would range from $250 to $1,165 based on the level of risk associated with the types of food the vendors are selling, according to the city. Vendors would also have to obtain liability insurance, which the city estimates could cost another $300 per year for vendors.
Advocates and vendors who showed up to Tuesday’s meeting said that the fees could be too high for people who are already not making much money by selling food and goods on city streets. They asked for the requirement for insurance to be eliminated and other bans on selling in certain parts of the city to be lifted.
“Street vendors are a crucial part of our communities and should be allowed to sell their products to the community,” said Maribel Cruz, associate director of Organizing Rooted in Abolition, Liberation and Empowerment (Órale). “The proposed restrictions are creating barriers and not opportunities.”
They pointed to the city of Los Angeles, which has proposed lowering its city permits from $541 to $27 to get more vendors to actually register with the city.
While council members discussed the possibility of letting vendors operate without insurance as long as they indemnified the city from any accidents, they ultimately decided to require it after city management told the council that the city could still be held liable.
“In actuality, these are vendors who don’t have a lot of assets and aren’t going to be able to pay for a several hundred thousand dollar lawsuit for a major injury,” City Manager Tom Modica said, adding that the city could have to pay for damages.
Tyler Bonanno-Curley, acting deputy city manager, said that the city is looking at using $250,000 in recovery act funds to help vendors pay for permits and purchase approved sidewalk vending carts.
The original proposal was for vendors to qualify for up to $1,100 in reimbursements in their first year of operation but Richardson asked that it be increased to $1,500, which would pay for permits and insurance over the first year.
Other changes to the proposed law could ban the use of flashing signs in areas with lots of traffic or a large volume of accidents, something that will be determined by the city’s traffic engineer over the next few weeks.
This is part of a long road for the new ordinance. The City Council postponed a vote on it in May after members requested a number of revisions in hopes of expanding where vendors could operate. Some of those recommendations were part of the new version of the ordinance presented Tuesday, but others, like a request that vendors be able to sell goods around the Pike shopping outlets, were not.
Areas around businesses with contracts with the city, like the beach concession stands and the Long Beach Convention Center, are off-limits for vendors in the future. The Pike and the sidewalk space around it would also be off-limits because it’s under a city lease and the property is maintained by a private company.
The council asked Tuesday if the city could ask the leaseholder to allow vendors to operate on the sidewalks around the Pike, but any answer was unclear.
“I seriously doubt they’re going to let any vendors down there if this is the case,” Councilmember Cindy Allen said. “What options do we have if they say no?”
The city’s lease with the Pike runs through 2040. However, areas in the coastal zone won’t be subject to the new ordinance until the California Coastal Commission approves the city’s law, which likely won’t happen until 2024.
That means bans from operating at the Pike or other buffers that would be put in place by this law wouldn’t be enforceable. Those include vendors having to be 20 feet away from other vendors, 25 feet away from beach access points, 5 feet away from bus stops, Metro stops and above-ground structures like electrical boxes and 15 feet away from fire hydrants, public restrooms and dining parklets.
Long Beach’s new rules will also set administrative penalties that can cost hundreds of dollars for vendors who violate the ordinance. Those would escalate with continued violations and be doubled for vendors violating the city’s ordinance without acquiring necessary permits first.
The city is looking to add a complaint portal to the Go Long Beach app where people can report vendors who are out of compliance, but the city says that it will lead with an education approach first.
Tara Mortensen, the city’s business services bureau manager, said that the city is looking at education being the main focus for the first three to six months of the new law.
“We’re going to have boots on the ground at sites and locations where vendors are making sure they’re aware of what the rules are and let them know we want to help them,” Mortensen said.
The City Council’s next scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 5, but it’s unclear if the street vendor ordinance will be ready for a vote by that meeting.