Orange City Councilmembers and Stanton Mayor David Shawver have had it with people – many of whom are immigrants – trying to make a living on public streets by cooking and selling food like tacos al pastor for hungry residents.
It’s gotten to the point where Shawver wants to tighten an existing Stanton street vending ordinance – he also floated the idea of a moratorium.
Officials in Orange want to tighten regulations as much as they can under state street vending legislative protections – and penalize those who break their local rules.
Vendor crackdowns are taking shape not only in these two cities, but elsewhere in OC – fueled in part by complaints from brick and mortar restaurants and shops who say these operations have an unfair advantage.
In Orange this week, City Councilwoman Kathy Tavoularis described their current street vending scene as a “sideways” and “gang”-like business – and that, in cracking down on these often Spanish-speaking vendors, she was “sticking up” for her Greek ethnicity.
She called street vendors “another attempt to get into our neighborhoods.”
“Everybody here knows my dad owned restaurants, a lot of Greeks own restaurants. I’m sticking up for the Greeks. These guys can go out and do everything sideways, make more money and cheat these people out of business. That’s not cool,” she said.
At their meeting Tuesday, Tavoularis and other Orange City Council Members unanimously voted to introduce an ordinance that would regulate sidewalk vending in their city as well as adopt a resolution setting fines for anyone who violates the rules.
“I’m getting bombarded with citizens, particularly on weekends, complaining about these illegal vendors,” Mayor Dan Slater said at the meeting. “It’s like the Wild West.”
The ordinance in Orange comes following the implementation of Senate Bill 946 – which took effect in 2019 and was signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown – that decriminalized sidewalk vending across the state and limited the regulations that cities could impose on such operations.
[Read: Tustin and Other OC Cities Enact Sidewalk Vendor Regulations]
A later bill known as SB 972 took effect this year, intended to remove barriers in the permitting process for street vendors resulting from outdated requirements in the retail food code.
Tavoularis took issue with the state characterizing vendors as entrepreneurs.
“There’s some kind of don, if you will, that’s running a bunch of these, is that correct? So that’s not entrepreneurship, we’re creating a gang is basically what’s going on here. We’re allowing gangs of people to come and fry food on the street. Is that what we’re doing?” she asked.
“This is not entrepreneurial. This is another attempt to get into our neighborhoods,” Tavoularis said. “How can we be sure that any of these people working are not trafficked, sex offenders, whatever, convicts? ”
Orange’s ordinance would require vendors to fill out a permit application; pay a permit fee; get a business license as well as a sellers permit; obtain a county health permit for food vendors; get liability insurance; complete a background check and submit fingerprints.
It will take effect 30 days after the city council finalizes the ordinance with a second vote.
The ordinance in Orange, as described by city staff on Tuesday, would impact both stationary vendors as well as mobile food carts in the city.
Vendors looking to get a permit would also have to propose a location or route where they plan to sell their goods, which will then be reviewed by city code enforcement officials.
If they’re in compliance, they will receive a sidewalk vendor’s permit and an ID card for public display.
Anyone out of compliance with the rules would be subject to administrative fines and could potentially lose their permit.
There would also be size restrictions.
“Under the proposed ordinance, we are setting a size limit of five by five by five in height so essentially, it should keep it under the 25 square foot footprint,” said Rafael Perez, the city’s code enforcement supervisor, at the meeting.
“We’re going for the most restrictive as possible under the context of the law.”
OC’s Street Vendor Crackdown
Orange officials aren’t the only city leaders in Orange County expressing frustration with street vendors.
And some have concerns that the vendors are being exploited or trafficked.
Last year, Anaheim City Council Members voted to spend $375,000 to hire more code enforcement officers in part to crack down on street vendors.
Officials there expressed concern that some of the vendors are part of a network exploiting immigrant labor and involving human trafficking – one that includes alleged lookouts that watch and follow code enforcement trucks when they leave city hall.
[Read: Is Anaheim Poised to Crack Down on Street Vending?]
At their most recent regular meeting on Tuesday, Anaheim Councilman Jose Diaz – a street vending crackdown proponent – said he continues to get complaints and called for another discussion of the current street scene in Anaheim at a future meeting.
In Santa Ana, unpermitted sidewalk taco stands met a six-week crackdown operation late last year by city code enforcers and OC Health Care Agency officials.
It also led a majority of City Council members to formally urge amendments to those laws in a March 7 resolution addressed to state lawmakers.
City Council members there said they had no problem with permitted mom-and-pop eloteros and paleteros with rolling carts. Rather, their issue was with larger food operations that they tied to human trafficking and exploitation.
[Read: Will Santa Ana Ramp Up Its Battle Against Taco Stands?]
In Stanton, Shawver echoed that claim this week.
“I know there is concern of human trafficking where people that come into our state are actually paying off people that got them to get here,” said Shawver at the meeting, adding “this could become a major problem because we’re not a very big city … if we have five, that’s a lot in our town.”
Support for tightening street vending regulations is coming at the county level as well.
Darwin Chang, Orange County Healthcare Agency’s assistant director for Environmental Health, said at the Tuesday meeting in Orange that his department is working with county leaders to formalize their own sidewalk vending program.
“We’re working currently with several cities in Orange County on a limited basis to address the unlawful sidewalk vending issues. Some of those cities are bordering your city currently,” he said.
Chang also said vendors have to identify where they get their food and where they wash their wares.
Street vendors aren’t only spotted on the sidewalks and roads of Orange County, along with the Southern California region.
Elsewhere in the world, in places like Mexico, Egypt, India, Thailand and New York, vendors are a common feature of city streets and the economy. But even in Bangkok – the capital of Thailand – government officials are looking at greater regulations.
Will Stanton Issue a Street Vending Moratorium?
In Stanton on Tuesday, officials mulled over the possibility of a street vending “moratorium” at the request of Shawver, who complained about unfair street vending competition with brick and mortar shops that pay rent.
“How would you like to be a business that pays $8,000 to $9,000 a month in rent in the city and sells the same food and has workmans’ comp, insurance and overhead – and a guy on the sidewalk is selling the same thing you are for a mere fraction and no taxes or supervision,” Shawver said. “To me it’s something we can hopefully address with our city ordinance.”
City staff said a moratorium would be tricky under Senate Bill 946 – the statewide street vending decriminalization bill.
The discussion was mostly between Shawver and city staff, but council members voted unanimously to research ways on revising the ordinance for more stringent regulation.
Shawver also raised concerns about food safety.
“To me it’s important we look at the consideration of public health … I’m not saying the food is bad or they’re trying to poison anybody, but regulations are needed.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.
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