Although many cities throughout the state have legalized street vendors, sidewalk food vendors continue to operate informally because the vast majority have not been able to obtain their health permits.
This week was approved in the Senate Public Health Committee, the bill SB 972 of the Democratic senator from Long Beach, Lena González, which proposes changes that resolve the complex web of requirements that hinder the ability of street vendors to access the permits and buy an accessible and light cart, of little weight.
It would basically incorporate the diverse variety of street vendors into the health permit system and local economies; and would create the category “compact food facilities,” which would authorize state agencies to develop standardized sidewalk food carts, making it easier for mobile vendors to work legally, and safely.
Long Beach Senator Lena González is the author of this measure that was approved with 9 votes in favor and 1 against in the Senate public health committee.
“For too long, street food vendors have been subjected to an endless cycle of criminalization and poverty due to outdated requirements that make food vendor permits unaffordable.”
It is time – he said – to create a more equitable food economy that includes street vendors.
He added that we must ensure that we create a clear, fair and equitable path for food permits that protects the public health and safety, as well as the livelihood of thousands of low-income individuals, people of color, and women in our state.
In 2018, a law was signed by then-Senator Ricardo Lara that decriminalized street sales in California so that they would no longer be repeatedly and heavily fined or arrested for selling on the street.
“What that law did was prevent street vendors from being criminalized, but what we are trying to do now with SB 972 is remove the barriers so that street vendors can obtain their health permits,” he said. the lawyer Juan Espinoza of the organization Public Counselwho has worked with the panel of expert sellers in the design of the law.
“Several years after the decriminalization of street sales, very few vendors have managed to obtain their health permits, and continue to operate informally.”
He explained that under the current food sales code, they cannot sell hot meals or cut fruit at the cart.
“They are also forced to prepare their food in police stations that are private and very expensive.”
On the other hand, he said that to obtain a health permit, they have to have a cart made that costs between $20,000 and $30,000. “And it has to be approved by the Ministry of Health and built by manufacturers that are on a list that they provide.”
As a consequence of all these requirements that were created for restaurants and hotels, very few vendors have obtained health permits.
“The result is that under Ricardo Lara’s law they can no longer be arrested, but their merchandise continues to be taken away and confiscated.”
Street vendors Merlin Alvarado and César Benítez went to the Capitol to testify about the many challenges they have experienced in obtaining permits to sell food.
“This has been a long battle. We have faced many obstacles over the years in an effort to navigate a disorienting bureaucratic process that was written without vendors in mind,” said Merlin Alvarado, who has been a fruit and hot dog vendor in Hollywood for 16 years. .
He added that the approval vote in the Senate means moving towards the next step to legitimize small businesses.
“It is a step forward to work and provide for my family in an environment of peace, without fear and with dignity, because behind every iconic umbrella you see with a street vendor underneath, there is a family that sustains itself through hard work.”
César Benítez, who also gave his testimony at the State Capitol, has been selling fresh water in the city of Commerce for 3 years, and has been stuck in the process of obtaining a permit; Y. He’s at an impasse with the manufacturer of his cart to whom he paid a $3,000 advance.
“Almost two years have passed and I have not received my cart. They made me a cart to sell ice cream and fruit. I told them that it did not correspond to the plans of the cart that I need; and from then on they have brought me round and round with the promise of delivering it to me in 15 days. That has been over a year now,” she said.
In total, her cart was going to cost her $14,000. For now, the manufacturer does not want to return the $3,000 advance.
“We did not realize when signing the contract, that in fine print it says that the advance money is no longer returned.”
The problem, he explained, is that street vendors can only have their carts manufactured by businesses provided by the Department of Health.
As a result, César says that he has continued to sell without a health permit, which has caused inspectors to come and seize his fresh waters. “They continue to harass us, no matter that it is not our fault that there is no capacity to build us the carts we need.”
He said that under the bill, they are also encouraging vendors to keep their carts at home, and to be able to cook and prepare their food in their own kitchens or in industrial kitchens that are not necessarily in the police stations. “These, apart from being very expensive, are not enough, and they are very far away.”
For months, a committee of street vendors throughout California has come together to provide guidance on SB 972, especially so that under this bill, their needs are met while protecting public health.
Vendors have emphasized the need to ensure that food laws reflect the diversity of the food economy.
“I am very grateful and excited about the prospect of a food law that encompasses people who were once punished and excluded from our food laws,” said Espinoza of the organization Public Counsel.
SB 972 will now go to the Senate Tax Appropriations Committee for approval.