I was born and raised in Santa Monica, California. From the beach to the promenade, this city has been an integral part of my upbringing, and it has been an exhilarating experience to meet the many different people that make up the day-to-day of this beachside town.
Among those people that I find closest to my heart are the city’s street vendors – the ones that sell refreshing fruit, ice cream, bacon wrapped hotdogs and other goods – who have seen me, and my twin brother, grow up over the past 17 years as an extended part of their family.
And this is a family that gets to work. In Los Angeles County alone, street food vendors contribute more than half a billion dollars in economic output.
But at present moment, our city’s street vendors are under serious threat. While street vending may be legal in California, lack of permitting caused by outdated, unjust, and unreasonable state food codes have rendered street vending illegal.
If we are a city guided by the values of equity and inclusion, we must act and provide our street vendors a just opportunity to vend in our city. Our reputation as an innovative and welcoming city is at stake.
At present moment, there is a solution. The California Legislature is debating Senate Bill 972, which would update the California Food Retail Code, which sets the standards for how counties regulate food vending, resolve permit requirements, and modernize the law to support and protect these microbusiness owners.
If passed, this bill would reduce the cost of permits and make them more accessible for low-income vendors. The bill would also provide reduced fees for registrations or any related legal services, making it much easier to run a successful business.
This all matters greatly because sidewalk food vending provides entrepreneurial opportunities for immigrants and low-income workers, especially women of color, who lost their jobs at a 50% higher rate than anyone else during the pandemic.
Even with 11 million unfilled jobs in our country today, they have struggled the most to be rehired, forcing them to start their own microbusiness with no capital, many of them becoming street vendors.
While some people in this city may view street vendors as criminals, I see them as part of the solution in revitalizing our economy and strengthening public safety.
Rather than impose civil action, it is time to recognize that unreasonable mandates such as a three-basin sink and exhaust ventilation are completely unnecessary, inconsiderate, and fail to acknowledge the portable nature of street food.
Senate Bill 972, rather, pledges to support and decriminalize businesses with non-traditional structural conditions if they do not pose any health concerns. This allows for a wider variety of street vendors to be supported under the law, and not be marginalized for their equipment or lack thereof, but instead the quality and safety of their product.
Almost the entirety of the sidewalk food vendor population in Los Angeles have not been unable to secure permits, no matter how much time and money they’ve spent trying to obtain them.
The problem for our street vendors is not securing a permit, but on our current laws that are setting them up to fail. When street vendors do well, so too will the city of Santa Monica.
Isabela Grieiff is a high school senior and a resident of Santa Monica, California.