As the city of Long Beach prepares new regulations for sidewalk vendors that will correspond with new state laws, it has sought community input on what the new guidelines should look like—and a recent survey and community meetings have provided a preview of what the city may consider.

The survey, which Long Beach commissioned, showed that community members largely support sidewalk vending for the cultural value the vendors bring to the city, but there are still concerns related to food safety and where they operate.

Business owners, meanwhile, said that sidewalk vending has driven away customers and is unfair to those who operate legally. The voices of vendors who operate in Long Beach, however, were largely absent.

The survey, which ran for five weeks from Nov. 11 to Dec. 18, 2022, was aimed at anyone who “lives, works, studies or visits Long Beach.” Respondents were asked about their experiences with street vending in general, the main issues and concerns they have and the benefits the businesses provide to the city.

Overall, 2,312 people responded to the survey, and of those, only 17 were street vendors, 10 of which specified that they sell food. Another 21 people said they were related to a sidewalk vendor, and 225 specified that they were business owners. The majority of respondents were sidewalk vendor patrons and people who work in the city, with 773 and 744 respondents, respectively.

A total of 1,547 people (66%) said they support sidewalk vendors and of those, more than half said that although they support them, they still had some concerns. Some of the top benefits they cited with sidewalk vending are the cultural value they bring to the city as well as the entrepreneurial opportunities they provide.

Another 749 people (32%) said that they oppose sidewalk vending altogether. The top concerns were food safety, cleanliness and sidewalk vendors’ presence in residential areas or near businesses.

According to the survey, sidewalk vendors are often food vendors that are seen most frequently in front of brick-and-mortar businesses, in residential areas, by the beach, in shopping centers and in parks.

In addition to the survey, the city also sought out community input through a series of focus groups, a food vendor information session in December and two community feedback meetings held on Jan. 26 and Jan. 30.

At the meetings held this month, attendees were given a short presentation on the survey findings and told of the potential areas of regulation that are being considered by the departments in charge of developing the new guidelines, which include the Long Beach Health Department, the Office of Economic Development, Public Works, Development Services and others. They were then separated into small groups and asked to discuss anything that was missing in the survey or the city’s potential regulations.

Jennifer Cuevas owns Taco Shore on Second Street, and she said that she has seen her business decline as taco vendors began to set up in front of her restaurant over a year ago. When she moved to Long Beach from Mexico City in 1999, Cuevas got a job working at the restaurant and moved her way up before eventually buying the business in 2013. Since then, she said she has done everything right but is still struggling because sidewalk vendors drive away business when they set up from Friday through Sunday after 8 p.m., what should usually be the busiest nights.

“I’m gonna have to lay off people because it’s not busy enough … I sell my tacos for $5 because I need to pay rent, workers comp, liability insurance, payroll, payroll taxes, electricity, gas that was $3,000 this month,” she said. “I have to pay all the fees for the city. What do they pay?”

She added, “Why would I want to go to a Mexican restaurant to get tacos, sit down, get served, you know, they will have to actually pay sales taxes on top of maybe tipping … versus just going to get $2.50 tacos on the street?”

Cuevas said that she has spoken to state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, but still feels like the city is being too lenient on stationery sidewalk vending, adding that she is in favor of sidewalk vendors who operate carts as long as they obtain their health permit and go through the correct process.

Eddie Guizar, meanwhile, is a patron at sidewalk food stands, and though he is largely in favor of having them operate, he said the city should impose regulations like limiting the size of stationery stands to 10 feet by 10 feet and restrict them from operating in residential areas.

While the sentiment at the community feedback meetings was largely pro-regulation for a variety of reasons, “the focus groups represented a diverse group of viewpoints both in support and in opposition of sidewalk vending,” said Daniel Ramirez, capital projects coordinator for Public Works.

“Much of the discussion around concerns that we heard at the community meeting aligned with the concerns we’ve heard throughout this engagement process,” he said.

Though the city says it is taking community input into consideration when establishing the new guidelines, there are certain areas where they have limited control, according to Senate Bill 946 and Senate Bill 972.

Senate Bill 972, first introduced by Gonzalez in February 2022 and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last September, was supported by the City Council. It modernizes the California Retail Food Code and makes it easier for vendors to secure health permits by removing barriers that previously required them to have access to sinks, restrooms and water tanks by classifying them as compact mobile food operations. Violations of any of the codes under SB 972 were also changed from a misdemeanor to an administrative fine.

Senate Bill 946, which took effect in 2019, is what restricts the city’s enforcement on sidewalk vendors the most. SB 946 decriminalized sidewalk vending and now allows food and merchandise vendors to operate on public sidewalks and other pedestrian pathways. It removed the city’s ability to: establish designated sidewalk vending zones; require that vendors ask local businesses to operate; restrict the number of sidewalk vendors; and regulate the time or place they operate unless there is a health, safety or welfare issue.

Some potential areas of regulation, according to the city, could be requiring vendors to maintain ADA access and operate at a certain distance from schools, libraries, park and beach concession stands and permitted events like swap meets and farmer’s markets.

The city is considering restricting stationery sidewalk vendors like taco stands from operating in residential areas but will continue to allow mobile vendors with push carts that sell things like ice cream, elotes or fruit to walk through neighborhoods.

Additionally, the city could regulate sidewalk vendors’ hours of operation. Some considerations include allowing vendors to operate no later than 8:00 p.m. in residential areas, no later than 10:00 p.m. in commercial areas (or whatever time nearby businesses close) and no later than sunset at parks and beaches that don’t have a set closing time.

The city will also consider regulations like not allowing selling to people in moving cars, not allowing vendors to set up chairs and tables for customers, regulating the size of an operation, and requiring vendors to clean up their trash and comply with the city’s noise ordinance.

While the city develops the new regulations, sidewalk vendors must follow these requirements, according to a statement from November:

  • Vendors must not operate in the street.
  • Vendors with food operations must have a city health permit.
  • Vendors who are not selling food must have a special event vendor permit or business license and are typically not allowed on public property without special permission.
  • Vendors must comply with applicable local, state and federal laws, including the California Retail Food Code and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Now that the community input phase of the regulation development has ended, the city says it anticipates presenting a list of regulations to the City Council early this year.

“We are still targeting early 2023 to report back,” said Ramirez. “It will take a few weeks to compile the feedback, develop recommendations, and to prepare the item for the City Council’s consideration.”

Long Beach community budget meetings garner plenty of ideas—and skepticism they’ll be implemented