Yesterday, California moved forward with Senate Bill 972, a proposed law designed to ease the health permit process for street food vendors to modernize California’s outdated retail food code. In addition, it should help with public safety and potentially eliminate the fines and legal troubles that vendors experience throughout the state.
Even though former Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act/Senate Bill 946 in 2018 — a bill intended to decriminalize the practice — LA’s food vendors must still jump through hoops just to keep selling their wares. For food vendors to secure licenses, they must obtain them from county health departments and comply with the California retail food code rules for a “mobile food facility.” But these rules, which require operators to use a three-basin sink and exhaust ventilation, are designed for food trucks and catering operations instead of street vendors preparing bacon-wrapped hot dogs, elote, or tamales.
Los Angeles began granting street food permits in 2020. But according to Civil Eats, only 204 of the estimated 10,000 street vendors in the city have been able to obtain one. Without a permit, this creates opportunities for vendors to be fined and cited by city officials.
The core of SB 972 is to simplify the retail food code. The bill also proposes changes to requirements when purchasing a health department-approved food cart. SB 972 would also authorize state agencies to develop a uniform, lightweight food vending cart for sale. The bill would further assist California agencies to work with street food vendors, rather than relying on laws that are better suited for caterers and food trucks.
State senator Lena Gonzalez of Long Beach introduced SB 972 back in February 2022 and has since gathered a committee filled with street food vendors to provide guidance on the bill. That includes Cesar Benitez, a vendor who sells aguas frescas in the city of Commerce. Eager to move his business out of the shadows, Benitez commissioned a street cart from a health department recommended manufacturer. Over two years later, Benitez is still waiting for his cart to be delivered.
SB 972 now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval. If it passes, the bill will head to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into law.