'Pop-Up' Businesses and Influencers: It's Time to Stand With Low-Income Street Vendors and Support SB 972 – L.A. TACO


Historic street vending legislation passed both houses of California’s legislature this past week and is on its way to the Governor’s desk for review. After years of advocacy, street food vendors are on the precipice of a victory that can transform their and their families’ lives. But this bill will not only impact paleteros, eloteros, and other street food vendors synonymous with L.A. street culture. Its provisions facilitate opportunities for other entrepreneurs in the “open air economy” who you may find at your local brewery, food festival, or a gentrifying neighborhood. 
But as low-income street food vendors make their case to the Governor, some street food businesses who can benefit from this law have been noticeably quiet in their support. We need their help too.
Senate Bill 972 (Gonzalez) was introduced this year after years of advocacy by street food vendors throughout California. It comes on the heels of Senate Bill 946 (Lara), which in 2019 decriminalized street vending throughout the state, set guidelines for local street vending regulations, and expunged misdemeanors for street vendors. SB 946 was transformative for tens of thousands of low-income entrepreneurs who no longer face criminal misdemeanor charges from local police. And for merchandise vendors, the path to a permit and formal business is relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, street food vendors have continued to be shut out of new legal vending opportunities.
This is because a different law stands in the way. A comprehensive report from our Public Counsel and UCLA partners lays out the challenges in great detail. In short, any vendor selling food must obtain at least two permits: one from the city that imposes location restrictions and one from the Department of Public Health. The process for getting this public health permit is dictated by the California Retail Food Code (Cal Code)—a law that was simply never designed with low-income sidewalk vendors in mind. Inapt requirements, designed for restaurants and large food trucks, resulting in an overwhelming number of barriers that are impossible for food vendors to overcome and unnecessary to ensure food safety.
Senate Bill 972 addresses this issue by modernizing the Cal Code. If the Governor signs this legislation, it will create a new definition in the Code for street food vendors, streamline permitting processes, “right size” the design requirements for cart manufacturers who build for street food vendors, and open up opportunities for safe cart storage and food preparation in specific homes and other permitted locations. 
This movement has been led by thousands of primarily low-income street food vendors, some of which speak English as a second language. The legislation was designed by a panel of street food vendors who have met weekly for the last year to inform advocates, proposed legislative amendments, and approve advocacy tactics. Dozens of vendors have made trips to Sacramento by bus to meet with elected leaders to discuss the bill’s importance and how it will impact their lives. After red-eye bus rides, they walked the halls of the Capitol to tell stories of terrifying encounters with law enforcement, traumatic arrests, and the shame of seeing their business trampled in front of their families and customers. Street food vendors have laid their experiences bare before lawmakers and the public in hopes of having their rallying cries heard.
The CA Street Vendor Campaign has been a movement led by the working class, Black, and Latino workers, but the legislation it advocates will not only benefit them, but it will also help all micro-entrepreneurs who sell food in an open-air economy. 
As vendor leaders in the SB 972 movement have been appealing to legislators for acceptance into the formal economy, street food’s prominence in mainstream media is growing. Every weekend, friends search out the latest and wait in line for new “pop-ups” all over California, led by award-winning chefs and well-known entrepreneurs. It’s not uncommon for breweries to host food from newcomers to the street vending “scene,” and food festivals feature the latest in street food. Major media companies like Netflix are capitalizing on the public’s love for street food, showcasing the work and products of old and new entrepreneurs who use public spaces to serve the public. Yet, much of this glorification does so without using this opportunity to educate consumers about the politics behind this open-air economy. The more people who understand how many of the issues that street vendors are up again are systemic challenges, the more people will advocate for change. 
But when I saw Pilar, Cesar, Miri, and 50 other street vendors in Sacramento, they were not joined by the “street vendor” entrepreneurs with large Instagram followings. The creators of popular food documentaries were not there to advocate for legalizing the very food they film in slow motion. The traditional street vendors who have paved the way for a thriving open-air economy were on their own to do the heavy lifting of changing the political system.
The CA Street Vendor Campaign has been a movement led by the working class, Black, and Latino workers, but the legislation it advocates will not only benefit them, but it will also help all micro-entrepreneurs who sell food in an open-air economy. 

If this law passes, it will help brick-and-mortar businesses that benefit from dynamic commercial corridors that draw food-loving customers. The privileged entrepreneurs, who may have the resources to navigate permit processes and are protected by massive social media followers or Netflix features, have not yet joined this critical cause.
When one of our neighbors is vulnerable, we all are. If law enforcement has the power to confiscate low-income street food vendors’ equipment, they can come and get theirs too. If law enforcement can arrest a street vendor on Mother’s Day (a story we heard from one of our vendor leaders), they can certainly come and shut down a Netflix filming with “illegal” food being prepared in the camera frame.
This is a crucial moment for businesses of all types to stand together. The powerful street food platforms that more privileged entrepreneurs have gained can be wielded to benefit everyone, especially the largely poor street vendors. The latter has set the culinary foundation in cities across the world.
Not all brick-and-mortar businesses and social media  “pop-ups” have been absent in this historic campaign to support street food vendors. The Campaign has earned meaningful partnerships with business groups that see the value of protecting street food vendors. For example, the LA Chamber of Commerce was an early endorser of this bill and has stood with street food vendors in Sacramento during Senate and Assembly proceedings. Golden Road Brewing, whose popular Mango Cart beer showcases a fruit vendor currently considered illegal, has reached out to the campaign to work together and donated to support communications work. Brewjeria, an independent brewery in Pico Rivera, has not only created their own beer—“Los Vendors”—to raise money for the campaign, they’ve opened their doors to local street vendors to sell. Other entrepreneurs have reached out to offer their support, including Corissa Hernandez, an entrepreneur from Boyle Heights who offered to speak to Senators directly about how legalizing street food would only help her brick-and-mortar restaurants and bars. Members of the campaign are grateful for this solidarity and the affirmation of a vision of cooperation and an economy that works for everyone.

As a broader community, we must begin to see our interconnectedness. 
After the California Assembly voted unanimously to support SB 972 this past month, over 50 street vendors gathered in the Capitol’s rotunda to celebrate, debrief, and share how they felt. Many of them were crying tears of joy and relief. All were physically tired from the eight-hour journey by bus to advocate before the vote, and the win reinvigorated them with jubilance and righteous fervor. Santa Huerta, a long-time street vendor leader, said, “I’m a street vendor that doesn’t sell food. I was here in 2018, and I’m here again because I realize that my friends and neighbors need help so they can legally sell too. I have my permit now, but they need theirs too. They were here for me, and I am here for them.”
As this bill heads to Governor Newsom’s desk, the Campaign is mobilizing to educate the Governor about the importance of creating a pathway for street food vendors to get permits. Thousands of low-income street vendors are writing letters to send to the Governor over the coming days, encouraging him to sign this transformative law. The campaign’s advocates, Community Power Collective, CHIRLA, Public Counsel, Western Center for Law & Poverty, and my organization, Inclusive Action, are working hard to build a broad tent of support. 
This is a crucial moment for businesses of all types to stand together. The powerful street food platforms that more privileged entrepreneurs have gained can be wielded to benefit everyone, especially the largely poor street vendors. The latter has set the culinary foundation in cities across the world. We need your help. We need the collective support of all entrepreneurs who understand the labor and vision it takes to build a business to care for a family.
To learn how you can submit a letter to Governor Newsom to support street food vendors, click here.

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