SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a win for California street vendors, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 972 into law on Friday.
It modernizes the California Retail Food Code (CalCode), which often made it difficult for street food vendors to obtain valid permits. SB 972, specifically, revises unnecessary and expensive equipment requirements, such as three compartment sinks, for sidewalk food vendors.
SB 972 also increases the discretion of local health departments to approve innovative equipment design for all mobile food facilities, enhances safe on-site food preparation of non-potentially hazardous foods, including healthy food like sliced fruit and vegetable, catalyzes the manufacturing of safe and affordable sidewalk food vending equipment at scale, and replaces harsh criminal penalties with non-criminal administrative fines for code violations by sidewalk food vendors.
On Feb. 10, 2022, Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) introduced SB 972 to help support street food vendors statewide. Sen. Gonzalez encouraged the bill becoming law, saying it will "provide a more just, accessible pathway to economic stability for California street food vendors.”
“Street food vendors are woven into the culturally diverse and culinary fabric of California," Gonzalez said. "These workers, however, lack access to the permitting they need to be able to work and provide for their families. This is due to policies in the California Retail Food Code that make it difficult for them to enter local permitting systems. SB 972 will remove those barriers and at the same time uphold public health and safety standards to protect consumers."
Cecilia Gudino has been a food street vendor in South Sacramento for more than 15 years. She sells watermelon, cantaloupes, fruit cups and whole fruits. Gudino says one of the biggest challenges is obtaining a valid permit to sell food legally. Before getting a permit, she says city officials took her food away in the past.
"There's people that come by and end up destroying everything," Gudino said. "They take the fruit away from you. I'm really happy Senate Bill 972 got passed. It's one less worry for me. It's going to be much easier for street food vendors to get their permits. It's a blessing."
Senate Bill 946, also known as the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, made street vending legal in California in 2018. Once law, local sidewalk vending permitting programs required compliance with CalCode as a condition of obtaining a permit.
On May 15, 2006, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 144. It enacted the CalCode, which took effect July 1, 2007, replacing previous retail food regulations. But, when California adopted CalCode, small-scale sidewalk vending was still banned across the state.
A 2021 report by Public Counsel and UCLA School of Law Community Economic Development Clinic, shows vendors in Los Angeles County must navigate multiple offices, secure various documents and follow a "dizzying process" to apply for a permit.
The food street vending industry, primarily, includes low-income families and communities of color. California Street Vendors, a nonprofit, established a campaign aimed towards supporting SB 972 and raising awareness about how to better support street food vendors - including through racial justice initiatives.
The California Law Review published a report titled, "Racial Justice for Street Vendors," in June 2021. It highlights how street vending is "an immigrant-dominated industry that operates within urban spaces in California and across the United States." It also explains how "street vending presents immigrants with an economic opportunity within the informal economy" as a result of being historically excluded from other types of industries.
Senator Maria Elena Durazo co-authored SB 972 to help change outdated rules that excluded small operations, like fruit and taco stands. Sen. Durazo took to Twitter on Saturday, tweeting "SB 972 will help Stop the racism against street vendors."
"We're modernizing the code to include our small street food vendors," Durazo said. "The prior CalCode was designed for restaurants and for large food trucks. It made it practically impossible for our micro-business food vendors to be able to fit and comply. We do not want food vendors to be afraid of being criminalized or having their food seized from them. This is a great opportunity for small micro-businesses in our communities."