The citation of street vendors by the city of Long Beach is doing nothing more than criminalizing a group of people trying to make a living.
Street vendors are at the forefront of a city’s local food scene. Often serving affordable and authentic food just on the side of the street, they’ve taken a large hit to their business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation and distancing.
The city of Long Beach have been issuing citations to street vendors for lacking permits. And Cafablanca, a donation-based food cart serving coffees and espressos is all too familiar with citations from the city.
“Long Beach has aggressively gone after street vendors for so long, there isn’t really a flourishing street vendor scene,” Cameron Kude, owner of the coffee cart Cafablanca, said. “In the beginning [of the pandemic], the city started cracking down hard on street vendors.”
City officials argue the permits are there to ensure street vendors follow health and safety regulations.
According to the Long Beach Municipal Code Chapter 9.65, the city of Long Beach “adopts this administrative citation and penalty program in order to…protect the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the City.”
For many street vendors however, getting a vendor or a permit is simply not possible or worth the obstacles because the municipal code is antiquated, Kude said.
“The city has a blanket policy for three compartments: sinks, and commercial refrigeration, which are requirements that are impossible,” Kude said. “Because of California retail food laws, all food and beverages are regulated as if they’re from restaurants. The laws have to change.”
With no pathway for vendors to get a permit, many of them are forced to run their businesses illegally out of necessity. Long Beach’s aggressive citations of street vendors have severely damaged the local food cart scene, and many have fled to do business in Los Angeles instead, Kude said.
Kude, who started his coffee cart up in January 2020, said that street vendors, more so than anyone else, have been bullied by the city of Long Beach during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a lot easier to get a street vendor to go away than a restaurant,” Kude said.
Although the state of California have taken steps to decriminalize street vending, such as Senate Bill 946, which prohibits prosecution and criminal penalties to street vendors, there are still other issues such as administrative fines. Those administrative fines come from lacking permits, which have been established as difficult to get.
Kude, who has talked to Long Beach city officials, said that a city manager admitted they don’t have the staff or budget to bring the municipal code up to date.
“That’s an unacceptable answer,” Kude said.
Without a strong movement to aid vendors, they’re left holding the short end of the stick as they get penalized unjustly for a city’s mismanagement and outdated codes.
“There’s not a lot of money in this industry, so there hasn’t been a huge incentive on the government to act, so that’s where grassroots movements have been crucial,” Kude said. “The crucial first step is to push for a similar moratorium that LA made law.”
The moratorium, which was voted by LA City Council, established that unlicensed street vendors could not be cited for lacking a valid license or permit during the COVID-19 State of Emergency and for six months after it ends.
Without the financial incentive for the city to act, it’s up to the community to push for the protection of street vendors.
Getting a citation is just the start of what street vendors have to endure. Officials have been documented throwing food away from unlicensed vendors in addition to citations.
This isn’t just throwing expired, rotten or potentially hazardous food away. This is throwing away otherwise affordable and nourishing food which would have been sold and enjoyed by many.
“To single out street vendors is unfair,” Kude said.
Citing street vendors is an unjust practice and has to stop. Criminalizing everyday vendors by selling food or drinks to the community serves no purpose other than ruining someone’s livelihood.
Make your voice heard and get out there, let the city know that what they’re doing is damaging Long Beach’s local food identity and bullying a community that’s already struggling.
“On top of the hard work for street vending, the fear of being prosecuted for doing your job makes everything so much harder,” Kude said. “Know your rights, and know that it is against state law to be criminalized for street vending.”