Editorial: Legalize Street Food in Los Angeles. It’s time

Street selling may be legal in California, but it’s nearly impossible for the vendors selling sliced ​​fruit, tacos, and other groceries to get a permit to operate without fear of penalties, especially in Los Angeles County.

Why? Because state and regional health regulations for selling groceries from a street cart are so complicated, impractical, and expensive that the vast majority of sellers will not be approved – and cannot be obtained. Of an estimated 10,000 sidewalk grocery sellers in the city of Los Angeles, fewer than 200 have received permits, according to a report released in August. Most providers continue to operate outside of the law.

To sell groceries legally, a seller must obtain approval from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the state’s food retailing law. In order to obtain a permit, the seller must have an approved vehicle. Good luck with approving a usable shopping cart. The district needs four sinks, several water tanks for washing cookware and hands, and mechanical suction devices for many food preparation trolleys. A code-compliant shopping cart would weigh more than 700 pounds and cost many thousands of dollars, which is simply not practical for vendors making an average of $ 15,000 a year. (The county signed designs for an affordable $ 7,500 cart this year, which will be a tipping point for Tamale sellers.)

The state code also prohibits cutting fruit or reheating previously prepared food on the vending cart, making it impossible for two of the most famous street vendors – the fruit cart and the taco stand – to become licensed, legal operators. And salespeople need to sign a contract with a commissary, a commercial facility where mobile salespeople prepare their food and store their equipment. But the commissioners in the area are designed to house food trucks, and they rarely have the kitchen space street vendors need.

And this is the problem. State food safety laws written for large mobile grocery sellers apply to street vendors without actually being practical to street vendors. So these mom-and-pop entrepreneurs stay in the air. Street vending is technically legal, but most cannot obtain permits to operate legally and therefore operate in the shadows as they are constantly afraid of being closed and their carts confiscated. And although state lawmakers have decriminalized street selling, selling groceries without a permit is still a criminal offense.

This certainly wasn’t what lawmakers intended when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act in 2018. The law was designed to move street vendors from the underground economy to a regulated market where they could get licensed and taxable legal businesses. The law prohibited local governments from enacting a blanket street sales ban and treating street sales as a crime. Cities could issue street sales regulations and quotes, but the rules must be based on health and safety reasons.

Now state and county officials must adapt health and safety regulations to the reality of street vending. Last month, the board of directors directed the county’s health department to find ways to streamline permits and help providers comply with health and safety regulations. The county interprets the state’s grocery retailing, and proponents say the Department of Health could adopt more practical interpretations for sellers and still be in the spirit of the law.

Ultimately, however, the state will need to update the retail food code to allow street sales. The Los Angeles County and City Council have passed resolutions calling on state lawmakers to propose bills to modernize state law next year, and they hope that changes will come into effect for providers by 2023.

There’s no reason why California street food vendors should be much stricter than New York City or Portland, Oregon. Street tacos, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, and elotes are already ubiquitous and popular in Los Angeles; It is time to make sure that your suppliers can work in peace and delicacy.

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