Ordinances spark fear in vendors

Local food vendors cuts up al pastor trompo. Elijah Hickman

From taco to churro stands, there has been a recent boom in the appearance of local street vendors. Beyond the sweet smells and hospitality of street stands come stories of the dangers and complexities of selling food on sidewalks.

Recently the number of sidewalk vendors and trucks has increased in several Southern California counties. For many vendors, this is the result of competition and the need to expand to different places and confront the many fears of street vending, such as penalties from the city, attacks and competition from fellow vendors.

The popularity of street vendors grew exponentially in Los Angeles last summer as the popularity of street food surfaced on TikTok. Lincoln Heights featured a food vending paradise that city officials shut down in August. This is nothing new to street vendors throughout California.

In Riverside, vendors show up almost every night with the fear of being put out of work. Valente, a street vendor who specializes in tacos, said he wants to avoid any type of conflict with city officials, as business has already been impacted by the pandemic. He and his colleagues drive out of South Central Los Angeles to Riverside every Tuesday through Sunday. Due to the growth of taco stands in L.A., they had to spread out to neighboring counties to make ends meet.

“With the pandemic, the truth is that it’s getting more difficult every day,” Valente said. “There is more competition and less work for us but we’re still here trying to continue to sell. It’s the necessity of the day-to-day. If we don’t go out of there, then also there’s nothing there. There’s a lot of competition out there and (we) try to stand out.”

For many, street vending is their main source of income, but the anxiety of being penalized by the city looms over vendors every day. 

Valente said he was approached by police officers in Anaheim for not having a permit. They threw out all the food to be sold that day.

“(The city) will take your things,” Valente said. “That’s the fear more than anything. In Anaheim it happened. We lose everything. We lose our day of earnings.”

These issues for vendors are a recurring theme. In Fontana, just a few cities away from Riverside, street vendors have been confronted with a new ordinance, an update to Municipal Code Amendment No. 22-001, last month in a 4-1 city council vote.

The ordinance update will grant all city employees the authority to enforce the Department of Environmental Health regulations on street vendors in Fontana. 

Many street vendors said obtaining a permit is nearly impossible, as most vendors do not qualify to apply for assistance or permits.

Some have criticized the ordinance as a way to further target street vendors without finding a way for them to obtain permits to set up shop legally. In a city council meeting on Jan. 25, various street vendors, community members and organizations such as the ACLU and CCAEJ spoke in opposition of the ordinance.

“It blows my mind that we don’t include the most important stakeholders when ordinances like these come up to this city council,” said Ana Gonzalez at the city council meeting. “I urge the city council to either table this item or just get rid of it completely because like our colleagues have said, ACLU is looking at this and other attorneys, and they agree with us that this is a very discriminatory ordinance.” 

As of 2022, California allows street vending under a selling permit. On Feb. 10, California Senator Lena Gonzalez introduced Senate Bill 972 supporting California’s street food vendors and removing barriers, making food vending permits more accessible to the community.

“These workers, however, lack access to the permitting they need to be able to work and provide for their families,” Gonzalez said. “This is due to policies in the California Retail Food Code that make it difficult for them to enter local permitting systems.”

Senate Bill 972 will likely make permits more available to street vendors and ensure that vendors prepare the food safely for customers.

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