Well-intentioned state law wreaks havoc on pier – Santa Monica Daily Press

When Santa Monica State Senator Ben Allen voted in favor of a popular Democratic law decriminalizing street vending, he had no idea the chaos it would contribute to at the pier.

When SB 946 was passed in 2018, it was praised for preventing low-income workers and immigrants from falling into cycles of fines and criminal convictions. The bill followed a Trump administration executive order that prioritized illegal immigrants with a record for deportation and was deemed imperative to protect the state’s most vulnerable street vendors.

However, by removing all criminal enforcement related to street vending, the bill limited local governments’ ability to ensure that food is prepared safely, fuel is used safely, waste is disposed of safely and vending is practiced in safe locations.

In many places across the state, this has not been an issue, and the bill has been successful in supporting economic mobility for providers. However, chaos broke out on the Santa Monica Pier.

Shortly after the bill passed, vendors began to settle on and around the pier, but the number of vendors increased dramatically from summer 2020 and continued into 2021. The crowd of sellers has led to a series of health, safety and environmental protection problems.

These include the mass dumping of garbage and liquid waste on the beach and sea, unsanitary food preparation, the unregulated use of combustible fuels on the wooden pier deck, the blocking of emergency vehicle access to the pier, and fights and harassment between vendors.

“This legislation has removed the ability to hold people accountable for complying with existing laws related to safe and lawful selling,” said Councilwoman Lana Negrete. “(SB 946) has created a real threat to the health and safety of our citizens. It has also hit hard those who have legally started businesses and who are also minorities who are often completely ignored and not seen as victims.”

SB 946 allows cities to make their own ordinances to regulate street vending, so long as regulations exist for health and safety reasons.

In 2019, Santa Monica instituted a permitting program that requires street vendors to undergo health, sanitation, and fire safety training aimed at preventing the kind of problems that occur around the pier. In addition, Santa Monica’s merchandising ordinance restricts street vendors from opening stores within 100 feet of the pier.

The majority of vendors have chosen to ignore these regulations and circumvent the permitting program because SB 946 prevents any criminal enforcement of rules related to street vending.

“The city has what many people in the city would say, a generous program that allows people to comply with the law, but at the end of the day when they choose not to comply with the law, really has no consequences,” said interim prosecutor Joe Lawrence.

By virtue of SB 946, Santa Monica’s vending regulations can only be enforced by administrative subpoena, which is equivalent to a fine. Providers cannot be obliged to issue an ID card when summoned and may base their fine on a minimum amount with economic necessity.

To address the problems at the pier, the City Council in August passed criminally enforceable ordinances prohibiting certain bad practices: the unauthorized use of combustible fuels on the pier and the dumping of solid and liquid waste on the pier and beaches. This gives the city the authority to issue a misdemeanor subpoena for officials to use as a last resort and only after repeated investigative efforts and warnings. So far, the new regulations have helped contain, but not solve, the problems at the pier.

SB 946’s problems aren’t unique to the Santa Monica Pier, but it’s certainly an outlier compared to other tourist destinations across the state.

Some of the pier’s unique factors are its sheer popularity – it attracts several million visitors annually – and the fact that it was the only game in town for vendors during much of the pandemic, as most other tourist attractions were closed.

While a landfill problem or open flames in a venue’s parking lot can cause headaches, they pose more serious hazards on a 114-year-old wooden structure next to a sensitive marine habitat.

One agency interested in issues related to SB 946 is the California Travel Association, which represents the interests of the state’s travel and tourism industry.

“What we’re seeing with SB 946 is that there’s really no incentive on either side for people to get a permit or for law enforcement to take action against people without a permit,” said Emellia Zamani, Cal Travel director of government affairs & public policy. “They (unauthorized sellers) get fined, but that doesn’t stop anyone from some of the bad actions that we’re seeing in Santa Monica, in Santa Cruz, in San Francisco, where food waste is left behind, which attracts rats, and food isn’t properly refrigerated.” that you serve to your customers… open flames on wooden pillars that could cause fires and spill grease into the water.”

Cal Travel has convened a Destinations Task Force to discuss the issues they face and what they would need from the state to ensure the sale is practiced in a safe and respectful manner. The city of Santa Monica is also working on possible legislative solutions, as is Senator Ben Allen, who hopes to introduce new legislation to reform the state’s street vending laws at this session.

“The city is working with our state officials in Sacramento to advance legislative changes that could help address the public safety, public health and environmental impacts of unauthorized selling on and around the pier. These include potential minor changes to the restrictions imposed by SB 946 that would increase the effectiveness of our enforcement work,” said Constance Farrell, city public affairs officer.

Senator Ben Allen said he sees the problem with SB 946 as twofold – local governments have little enforcement power against repeated misconduct by unauthorized vendors, and at the same time existing laws make it extremely difficult for street vendors to obtain a permit.

Each local government can set up its own vendor permitting program, however all vendors must have a county health permit, which is subject to the California Retail Food Code and has regulations that are very difficult for vendors to meet.

These include a requirement for a three-compartment sink, a ban on slicing food on-site, a ban on heating previously cooked food, and a requirement that food be prepared in an approved restaurant or takeaway.

“The Retail Food Code was written before SB 946,” said Doug Smith, prosecutor. “The law never had to account for or account for street vendors because there were these other local regulations that prohibited street vending and effectively made it illegal.”

Smith believes retail food law reform will motivate more vendors to obtain permits and comply with local selling ordinances.

“It’s possible that there are some vendors who might prefer not to have the headache of an additional set of rules and regulations and procedures, but there are plenty of vendors who would want to get involved in something as long as it’s geared towards them.” help to be successful and not, as we currently have, a system designed for exclusion,” said Smith.

Santa Monica City Council members support amending the retail food code to make it more sensitive to the context of street vendors and voted to include it in the state’s 2022 legislative agenda in a Jan. 11 meeting.

Senator Ben Allen is attempting to draft a new law that would both remove legal obstacles to obtaining a license and create new enforcement actions against unauthorized sellers. New enforcement actions could potentially include penalties for repeat offenders or give cities the ability to temporarily confiscate carts if vendors refuse to identify themselves when issuing an administrative ruling.

“By making it difficult to get a permit, you’re actually opening up space for the big players in the vending world to be the ones who prefer to stay on the fringes of the law,” Allen said. “So what you need to do is make it easier for people to operate legally, and then also give local governments more tools to go after those who are not operating legally.”

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