Newsom signs law to help legalize street vending by simplifying permit process

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed into law a bill intended to decriminalize street vending by making it easier for the micro-entrepreneurs to secure permits and operate legally within the formal food economy.

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) first introduced Senate Bill 972 back in February with the goal of removing barriers in state law that kept mobile food vendors from getting permits for their businesses.

While many places had already legalized street vending, including Los Angeles County in 2018, the hurdles to secure health permits still made it nearly impossible for many vendors to operate legally.

One such hurdle was the California Retail Food Code, which set strict uniform and sanitation standards for retail food facilities such as “cottage food operations,” “microenterprise home kitchen operations” and “mobile food facilities;” none of which met the needs of street vendors who usually operate outdoors and sell out of wagons, stands or pushcarts.

SB 972 updates the California Retail Food Code and gives vendors more attainable access to permits instead of forcing them to go through a dizzying process of multiple offices and complicated paperwork.

“This is a monumental win for thousands of micro-entrepreneurs and families in California,” Gonzalez said. “With the enactment of SB 972 into law, street food vendors can finally make a living in peace, and pursue their American dream, and we can all continue to enjoy the iconic street foods we love.”

Through the new bill, street vendors are now placed in a new category, called “compact mobile food facilities,” which offers more leeway from certain provisions, according to the bill.

A compact mobile food facility 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 transportation.

These compact mobile food facilities that have 25 square feet or less of display area and sell only prepackaged, non-potentially hazardous foods or whole uncooked produce will be exempt from other 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.

California codes would still require other mobile food facilities, such as food or ice cream trucks, to meet specified health and safety standards, including access to sinks, restrooms and handwashing facilities along with required quantities of potable water.

Violation of any of the codes under the new bill has also been changed from a misdemeanor to an administrative fine, according to the bill.

Long Beach has backed the bill since its introduction, and city officials in March started talking about how they can also make the local permitting process more understandable and possibly less expensive.

However, officials have expressed continued concerns over what they called “bad operators,” or vendors who have repeatedly made people sick with their products.

“We still have a requirement as a health jurisdiction to enforce state health law,” City Manager Tom Modica said during a council meeting in March. “We do still need to go out and make sure people are safe.”

Currently, Long Beach’s health department begins its enforcement procedure on street vendors after receiving a complaint. After the complaint, a health inspector is dispatched to investigate, Long Beach health department spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein said back in May.

“The first time we see a food vendor with no health permit, we provide education on how to obtain a health permit,” according to Epstein, who said the health department offers consultations and assistance in multiple languages. “We want our food vendors to succeed and help them with the process. We also issue a notice to discontinue operations without a health permit and instruct them to leave.”

The second time a street vendor is found without a health permit, the investigator will issue a final notice warning them that the next time will result in the impounding of equipment and food. No citations or monetary penalties are given, Epstein added.

SB 972 will be implemented through local health departments and is expected to be fully online by 2024.

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Fernando Haro is the Long Beach Post's breaking news and public safety reporter.
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