street food vendor

Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs residents may have been seeing an uptick in street vendors selling hot dogs, sausages, fruit, and other food items this year. That’s because of a new law that went into effect on January 1st 2023 called Senate Bill 972. This controversial bill was authored by Long Beach California State Senator Lena Gonzalez, in an update to the California Retail Food Code.

Senate Bill 972 is a new law designed to make it easier for micro businesses like mobile food facilities or a sidewalk vendor to sell food with “limited food preparation” on public sidewalks throughout the state. The law however doesn’t pertain to food trucks.

The law has caught many by surprise and has lead to both yeas and nays from many residents and business stakeholders across California who either enjoy food from mobile micro businesses or who oppose this type of business for a variety of reasons. Many in the restaurant and hospitality industry for example, fear these micro businesses may setup shop right in front of their own brick and mortar location, deterring business.

Recently in California State Senator Gonzalez’s own senate district in Long Beach, whether by coincidence, or perhaps a warning to other cities like Palm Springs who may be looking to revamp their food truck ordinance, tension boiled over between a popular Downtown restaurant and a food truck. Long beach currently has no ordinance on how close a food truck can be to a brick and mortar restaurant.

Palm Springs City Council in the beginning of March delicately took up the issue of both a sidewalk vending ordinance and food trucks in one large conversation. The goal of the conversation was to put Palm Springs’ own “state allowed” footprint on Senate Bill 972. The presentation and discussion often at times was heavily nuanced due to the complexity of the issue combined with the current set of laws already in place in Palm Springs, a city that encompasses 94 square miles.

The discussion at City Council centered around a number of issues including what times street vendors can operate, the permit process, what size parks they can operate in, sidewalk vending zones, potential issues of sidewalk encroachment, and whether street vendors are allowed to operate within the “the vicinity of,” potentially within 50 feet or more than 500 feet, of places like a farmers market or a special event. The answer to the last question according to the state ordinance is, yes they can.

Mayor Grace Garner after hearing staff presentation said, “I’m supportive of the sunrise to sunset” sidewalk vendor operation hours “in residential neighborhoods and open until 3am in commercial.” She also noted most restaurants are closed after midnight and that giving local residents and visitors additional food street vendor choices is a good thing.

New Councilmember Ron deHarte gave support to sidewalk vendors pursuing micro business opportunities. He went on to note entrepreneurial individuals trying to make ends meat selling food however, he shared concerns about vendors selling merchandise like counterfeit or porn.

New Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Bernstein said he wished more stakeholder outreach happened before this item came to Council. He noted that there were a lot letters from the business hospitality industry and it would be helpful to talk about the concerns stemming from the state law before it came to council.

Middleton later on echoed Bernstein’s statements saying, “I would hope that we are engaging with our restaurant and business community when it comes to food trucks. Unfortunately when it comes to sidewalk vending, the state of California gave us no option to engage with our local business community.”

Councilmember Christy Holstege, hopeful on a positive outcome to Palm Spring’s own implementation of Senate Bill 972 said, “In Palm Springs, we always like to get it right, we always like to do our own thing, we always like to be a model for the community and the nation, and I love the idea, you know so many cities are taking this to be a negative, but I really like the idea, of like I said this is the pipeline for entrepreneurs and for businesses and so supporting that pipeline with business support and city support is such an amazing opportunity.”

Both Middleton and Bernstein made it clear that when it comes to food trucks which aren’t allowed in Downtown except at events, that the City of Palm Springs is not obligated by Senate Bill 972 or any state law to make changes to the current ordinance. They both want to engage the restaurant community with Bernstein saying “they are an important part of our economy.”

The council ultimately decided not to put a motion forward in regards to sidewalk vending at the current time. Staff will come back with a revised version of a future ordinance, taking into consideration the council’s comments to be voted on.

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