The crackdown on vendors selling tacos, tamales, fruits, and paletas or ice pops on the streets of Orange County continued this week as City of Orange officials look to impound carts.
They’re also looking to punish people for following or harassing code enforcement officers.
For some, these vendors are an embodiment of the American Dream – immigrants who work hard to be able to support their families and achieve success.
State legislators have also recently passed legislation to decriminalize street vending and ease the permitting process.
But for others, the vendors are a public nuisance that could pose health risks.
Orange City Councilmember Kathy Tavoularis said at Tuesday’s council meeting that sidewalk vendors are “the number one problem” in the city.
“We are being attacked and we need to continue to protect our citizens and our environment and our sidewalks and everything,” she said.
“We’re dealing with burnt oil being down our sewers, we’re dealing with unhealthy food being served because these people don’t want to be legal vendors.”
Tavoularis and other officials say these street vendors hold an unfair advantage over brick and mortar business owners – entrepreneurs who are also working hard to achieve that very same dream.
Now officials in Orange are looking to crack down harder on street vendors as code enforcement staff report vendors not complying with a newly passed city law.
They also say code enforcement staff are being followed and watched by street vendors.
Councilman Jon Dumitru said sidewalk vendors are extremely organized and communicate to evade code enforcement.
“Saying it’s just loosely organized folks out there trying to make a living – it’s not true. It is very organized,” he said. “While I have sympathy for folks trying to make a buck, they got to do it within the parameters that are set.”
Now, officials are also turning their eyes to regulating mobile street vendors who operate out of ice cream and food trucks.
On Tuesday, Orange City Council Members voted 6-0 on a regular and urgency ordinance to make it a misdemeanor to follow, threaten or interfere with code enforcement and public safety officers while on the job.
They also voted 6-0 on a resolution expanding legal authority to impound street vendor carts and food.
Councilwoman Ana Gutierrez was absent from the meeting.
The vote comes after the implementation of Senate Bill 946, which is aimed at decriminalizing street vending in California and limiting regulations that cities could impose on such vendors.
It also comes on the heels of Senate Bill 972, intended to remove barriers in the permitting process for street vendors.
“They placed this on us, they voted for this. So I need people here at home to understand this is from your state legislators who you have voted for,” Tavoularis said. “They have said ‘not only do we approve this, we encourage it.’”
It also comes after Orange officials started to tighten regulations on street vendors earlier this year.
In March, council members unanimously voted to introduce an ordinance that would regulate and permit sidewalk vending in their city as well as adopt a resolution setting fines for anyone who violates the rules.
While the March vote – and some council comments – created an online uproar, nobody defended street vending at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
The debate on regulating street vendors has surfaced in other OC cities in recent years.
Orange Mayor Dan Slater said the new regulations will help code enforcement officers do their jobs.
“The public needs to know that the council and I are determined that we’re going to beat this thing,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”
According to city staff, there have been people who have threatened, followed and interfered with code enforcement officers while they work. They also say some people called “spotters” watch city hall parking lots to see when code enforcement goes on patrol.
“When staff leave City vehicles in the City Hall parking lot, it is our understanding that a majority of the illegal sidewalk vendors begin illegal vending activities,” reads a staff report.
“Conversely, when spotters see staff driving City vehicles out of the City parking lot, invariably fewer vendors are found to be operating that evening.”
Anyone who does impede or intimidate a code enforcement officer could face a six month jail sentence or a $1,000 fine or both, according to a city staff report.
So far, nobody has applied for a permit since the new permitting law was implemented in April, according to Rafael Perez, the city’s code enforcement supervisor.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Perez said street vendors in Orange are currently operating illegally and code enforcement staff have reached out to 60 street vendors across the city to inform them of the new law and the permit system.
“We’ve done approximately 16 impoundments of sidewalk vending carts, including foods,” he said. “For some of these operators, we’ve taken their items three times over a course of several weeks, and they continuously return.”
He added no one has come back for the confiscated items.
Currently, the city can only impound the food and carts under the authority of the Orange County Health Care Agency – the county’s health department.
Under the new ordinance, city code enforcement officers could impound the merchandise on their own for certain reasons, according to Perez.
This includes: selling food without the necessary permits, when a vendor refuses to show ID, dumping grease and oil, loud music and blocking sidewalks and passage for people with disabilities.
Vendors will have to pay a $710 impound fee and must be licensed with the city to get their stuff back.
They will also be able to appeal the impoundment but will have to pay an $85 fee – refundable if they win.
Councilmembers also voted 6-0 to create regulations and a permit process for mobile street vendors.
Violation of the law could result in up to $500 in fines.
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.
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