UPDATE: San Jose lawmakers add new safety restrictions for mobile food vendors
Eastside Grown, launched in 2018 by the East San Jose community farm Veggielution, is a program that provides job training and business skills to mobile food vendors. Photo courtesy of Veggielution.

San Jose lawmakers unanimously approved new restrictions on mobile food vendors at crowded public events on Tuesday in light of a new state law, but many expressed concern about proper enforcement mechanisms over non-permitted vendors.

All vendors must now stay 500 feet away from popular public events in San Jose.

For years, sidewalk peddlers weren’t allowed to operate in San Jose.

But in 2018, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 946, which allows street vendors to operate as long as they display a valid permit from the county and comply with all food preparation, fire and health codes. The new law, which will go into effect Jan. 2020, defines sidewalk vending  as “a person who sells food or merchandise from a pushcart, stand, display, pedal-driven cart, wagon, showcase, rack, or other non-motorized conveyance, or from one’s person, upon a public sidewalk or other pedestrian path.”

An East San Jose nonprofit, Veggielution, utilized the changes to launch a new training program that helps local street vendors learn new skills and grow their business.

But some local advocates and city leaders on Tuesday expressed worry over safety at public events and called for stronger enforcement strategies for “aggressive peddlers” who do not hold permits or abide by code and safety rules.

“They should be permitted and if they aren’t there should be a consequence,” said Scott Knies, executive director at the San Jose Downtown Association.

“I will continue to support Veggielution,” added Councilmember Raul Peralez. “But to do so in a way that is safe where they (street vendors) have the proper permits– and we’re providing them with the opportunity to do that.” 

Previously, the San Jose police department enforced street vendors’ permits, but with the application of the new state law, citations will no longer be considered a criminal offense and transition to an administrative one. As a result, the city will be enforcing permits with code enforcement inspectors, according to Kim Walesh, the city’s director of Economic Development.

To enforce stronger safety regulations, councilmembers on Tuesday adopted a 500-foot restriction to keep all mobile food vendors from any “city-permitted event, such as street fairs, festivals, parades, schools, certified farmers’ markets or swap meets.” As a result, vendors at locations such as the SAP Center, Avaya stadium, the Municipal Stadium and the Convention Center must abide by those restrictions during public events.

“These venues also experience a high amount of traffic on event days, affecting the safety of pedestrians and motorists, due to a high concentration of visitors at one time,” City Manager Dave Sykes and City Attorney Rick Doyle wrote in a memo.

Leaders said they’re concerned that having too many mobile food vendors at crowded public places could pose a safety threat, and that overcrowding on sidewalks could force pedestrians to “walk in the street and along the sidewalk to keep moving forward.”

“We do not want to limit economic opportunities for peddlers nor repeal any of the protections that the City Council has already put in place,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Maya Esparza in a joint memo. “500 feet is approximately two football fields.”

Under the new law, cities cannot restrict street vendors from operating unless a there is a restriction directly related to health, safety or welfare. The law decriminalizes the act of peddling, as many low-income families with limited employment options rely on food carts as a source of income. Some council members expressed support of the law, saying that it provides a much-needed opportunity to many low-income residents.

“I ve been very supportive of our street vendors. I think Veggielution has done such a fantastic job,” said Carrasco. “This is a perfect example of how well partnerships work and the kind of opportunities that blossom from it. Many of our folks find themselves in situations where these opportunities are the only opportunities available to them. This creates a viable livelihood for them.”

According to Sykes and Doyle, mobile food vendors can operate from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but are restricted from residential zones. City officials can issue a citation to a vendor if these rules are broken, ranging from a maximum of $100 for a first violation, a maximum of $200 for a second violation within one year of the first violation, and a maximum of $500 for each additional violation within one year of the first violation.

If a vendor does not operate with a permit, these fines can be racked up to a maximum of $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of first violation. The city has contacted 35 to 45 community-based organizations about the new regulations.

More opportunities for small businesses

Also Tuesday, city councilmembers extended a program that helps disadvantaged businesses land public contracts, a longtime priority for lawmakers.

The program, called the Public Works Contracting Program, is part of San Jose’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program — one of the city’s six policy priorities for this year. The initiative allows small businesses with 35 employees or under that are considered “economically disadvantaged” to apply for capital improvement projects.

The city deems any business owner that has a personal net-worth of less than $1.32 million as “economically disadvantaged,” and hopes to employ these businesses first, giving them the opportunity to win contracts for large city-funded public works projects.

“There are many definitions for local, small and disadvantaged businesses,” wrote Public Works director Matt Cano in a memo. “The majority of the recommendations in the implementation… focus(es) on creating more opportunity for local and small businesses to compete for public works construction contracts through enhancing opportunity, awareness, education and tools.”

Many of the region’s large business organizations expressed support for the plan.

“The program would be a critical component of the city of San Jose’s commitment of supporting small and local businesses. Supporting local and small businesses is integral to the economic wellbeing of San José,” said Matt Mahood, president of the silicon valley organization (SVO). “To meet the needs of the community and the goals of increased participation within our small, local, and disadvantaged communities, a program requires flexibility and adaptability.”

City officials will conduct outreach with eligible businesses and the public works department will continue to provide annual updates on the city’s program and its results.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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