Permitted street vending is an integral part of California culture, but it must be managed properly to ensure health and safety of vendors, business owners and visitors.
By Randall Scott, Special to CalMatters
Randall Scott is the executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District in San Francisco.
Tourism is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels at popular tourist destinations such as Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, the Santa Monica Pier, San Diego’s Balboa Park and the countless other gems the Golden State has to offer. While we are thrilled to see more visitors coming to experience our famous sights, we must address the increasingly concerning behavior of street vendors whose practices endanger Californians, visitors and other vendors.
We are actively working toward a solution at the state level and believe we can strike a balance that will work for everyone. We do not agree, however, that Senate Bill 972, the proposed legislative fix, will accomplish this unless revised.
This is not a matter of city government vs. vendors. Nor is concerning street-vendor behavior a problem of any one city; it is a widespread problem. For example:
- A vending cart exploded on a crowded day in June last year on Fisherman’s Wharf, creating chaos.
- Vendors have sold unrefrigerated meat products without the appropriate health permits or following sanitation guidelines in Santa Monica.
- Numerous instances of alcohol and cannabis being sold illegally to minors are reported in San Diego.
- Officials closed a BART station plaza in San Francisco a few weeks ago to deter an “untenable” illegal vending situation.
- Individuals are operating unpermitted carts in restricted areas, where they sell food without public health department oversight, creating an experience some have described as the “Wild West.” This behavior is an unintended consequence of legislation signed into law in 2018 to decriminalize street vending. Unfortunately, it has led to more vendors operating without regard for health and safety laws.
In this legislative session, SB 972, introduced by state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat, aims to address some of these challenges by amending the California Retail Food Code to make it easier to secure permits. The bill, however, unwisely strips municipalities of tools needed to enforce public safety rules. We are fully on board with efforts to make the permitting process more efficient and simpler. But any new legislation must retain the current level of local control, not reduce it.
We propose a solution that maintains the vending culture throughout the state, and protects the public from unsafe foods, dangerous and unsanitary cooking practices, and other harmful ways of running a business. Sen. Gonzalez’s bill will be up for discussion this week by the Legislature. The time is now: I implore you to call your state legislator to educate them on the state of the vending environment in our communities and ask that they work with Sen. Gonzalez to amend her bill to find a solution that works for everyone.