Sidewalk vendor regulations inch closer to final approval; City Council split on some issues

Advocates for street food vendors expressed support for the overall goal of the regulations but are concerned that limiting when and where in the city they can operate goes against state laws.
Food vendors who set up on private property and public sidewalks will face increased regulation after laws making their way through City Hall are enacted sometime in the next few months.

Seeking to strike a balance between state laws and the concerns of local business owners, city leaders moved forward this week on establishing final guidelines about when and where sidewalk food vendors can set up shop.

With councilmembers Ron deHarte and Lisa Middleton casting no votes, the Palm Springs City Council voted 3-2 Monday evening during its regular meeting on a broad set of regulations governing not only business licensing and health permits for the vendors, but also the precise location that vendors can place their carts. Also included were rules about specific times and places in the city they cannot operate.

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Included in the regulations that still need final approval before being enacted is what amounts to a ban on carts serving hot dogs, tacos, and other food between the hours of 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. on weekends, but only during the high season for visitors — October through April — and only along certain portions of Arenas Road and Palm Canyon Drive that have a high concentration of bars and restaurants.

That could set up a legal challenge from advocates for the vendors. Members of a local immigrant justice organization, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, and others turned out Monday evening to express support for the overall goal of the regulations but are concerned that limiting when and where in the city they can operate goes against state laws that allow cities to regulate the vendors but prohibits them from banning sidewalk food vending completely.

“A city that is pushing against microentrepreneurs, against small businesses that are creating economic vitality and supporting communities is doing wrong, and it is bad policy,” said Juan Espinoza, a civil rights lawyer at Public Counsel who has sued the city of Los Angeles on behalf of street vendors. “I would hope that we don’t create outright bans in areas like the downtown district … which could potentially violate state law.”

DeHarte, prior to casting his no vote, urged his fellow councilmembers not to fear legal action when crafting legislation, but to require food vendors abide by rules already in place for hundreds of downtown merchants. And while Middleton is in favor of small carts operated by independent vendors, she pointed to the larger picture of possible labor and wage violations by larger operations.

“I grew up with small carts, too, in my area of southeast Los Angeles,” she said during deliberation. “If all we were dealing with were small carts in parks and in residential neighborhoods … we would not be here tonight. We would not be having this discussion. This has elevated beyond small carts.”

While not directly tying sidewalk vending to issues faced by authorities in the two areas where vendors will be prohibited during certain times, Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills did inform the council that any effort to reduce crowding in the evenings near places that serve alcohol would be appreciated.

“This is a fairly new phenomena,” Mills told the council about the influx of street carts outside bars and restaurants. However, in the past five years, Mills said police have responded to 16,000 calls in the area between Alejo and Baristo roads and 2,500 between Arenas Road and Calle Encilia.

One aspect of the regulations all councilmembers could agree on was the need for vendors to have valid city business licenses and Riverside County health permits. Those regulations are not expected to be challenged and come after some residents expressed concern over conditions at some carts and booths set up in multiple areas of the city.

County health officials and city compliance officers recently visited several food stands, issuing warnings and providing educational materials. the regulations approved Monday call for funding continued educational efforts.


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