California Promised Street Vendors More Freedom. Instead They Got More Rules.

The following week: Los Angeles TimesPublished an outstanding editorial about Los Angeles County’s continuing and bizarre mistreatments of “iconic” street-food vendors.

The article focuses on California’s Safe Sidewalk Vending Act’s ineffective implementation by the county. This much-respected, statewide law was something I discussed after the departure of then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law in September 2018, was supposed to decriminalize and legalize street vending for the estimated 10,000 underground food vendors in Los Angeles County—and others across the state. The following is the TimesLos Angeles editors explain that this has not happened.

The lede states that while street vending is legal in California, it is nearly impossible for vendors to obtain a permit without being penalized, especially in Los Angeles County. The lede states that they blame the “state and county public safety regulations” for selling street food. [that] remain so complicated, impractical and expensive that the vast majority of vendors have not—and cannot—get permitted.”

L.A. County issued permits only to two percent of underground sellers years after the law passed. To obtain a permit for underground vendors, one of the most complicated requirements is to have the following: Times explains, is the rule that vendors must spend thousands of dollars to buy a needlessly fancy food cart that features “four sink compartments, multiple water tanks for washing cookware and hands, and mechanical exhaust ventilation… which is just not practical for vendors who earn $15,000 a year, on average.”

You think so?

Los Angeles doesn’t have to be the only one having problems with the implementation of this law. California’s state food code “bars slicing fruit or reheating previously prepared food at the vending cart, making it impossible for two of the most iconic sidewalk sellers—the fruit cart and the taco stand—from becoming licensed, legal operators,” the Times explains. The commissary is where vendors can store and prepare food. The commissaries are not equipped to handle food trucks, and do not have enough kitchen space for street vendors.

One vendor may spend thousands of dollars on a permit in order to sell their tacos made at an unaffordable commissary. Or, they can skip the permit process entirely and simply cook the meat themselves at home before selling them to the public. The Safe Sidewalk Vending Act has rightly decreased criminal penalties for food sellers who don’t have a permit. This makes it difficult for vendors not to get a permit.

It is a complete mess.

Steven Greenhut wrote that both street-food advocates and lovers of tacos, as well as people like me who reside in each camp, were thrilled about Safe Sidewalk Vending Act 2018.

I was shocked by the new stories about a police officer taking cash from a street vendor. Greenhut said that such behavior should be stopped. A mild warning was also given by Greenhut, noting that “the law allows the locals to inspect permit and limit vending cartes but street sellers and buyers should be content.”

The law was not in force in Los Angeles until 2019, when it became unpredicable.

Tomorrow is the official end of Los Angeles’ street vending ban. There are reasonsScott Shackford of’s wrote this 2019 article. “But, thanks to how the city handles the transition there will still be many illegal vendors,”

Shackford had it right. He compared high permit fees to Los Angeles’ ill-informed approach to allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries to the “almost comically inept” bureaucrats.

It’s an excellent analogy. However, there is a much better analogy. Indeed, the way the vending law has failed to work is remarkably similar to the fate of the state’s Microenterprise Home Kitchen ordinance (MEHKO) law, A.B. Governor Brown also signed into law 626. Brown was also a signer of this law in September 2018. This one was supposed to allow people to sell home-cooked meals to willing customers—either to take away from the cook’s home or as part of a sit-down supper club experience. However, the requirement for local governments to agree to the law has hampered its potential.

Last year, I wrote that “The absence of proper regulations still leaves many Californian experienced cooks unable to produce and sell food legally.” Only Berkeley and only a few California counties are currently enrolled.

Home cooks and taco-makers who would be able to take advantage of the MEHKO and Safe Sidewalk Vending Act were often immigrants. These were the people who should be able to reap the greatest benefits from these laws. These people are actually the most affected by the laws’ shortcomings.

A lengthy report that was published by Public Counsel in August 2021 on Los Angeles’s failures to apply the street-food law states, “We require equitable public health standards which promote economic and racial injustice.” This means prioritizing low-income entrepreneurs, and finally completing the legalization of sidewalk food vending.

2018. In 2018 I was disappointed that California’s goal of real food freedom is not yet achieved. It is possible that the goal has not been achieved by California three years after I wrote it.