Richmond City Council moves to regulate sidewalk vending, create food hub

Richmond City Council moves to regulate sidewalk vending, create food hub
A mobile vendor grills food on 23rd Street and Macdonald Avenue. Photos/ Linda Hemmila

The Richmond City Council unanimously agreed to move forward with an ordinance to regulate sidewalk vendors and establish a food hub at a yet to be decided downtown location at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

City staff have received increasing complaints regarding vendors not having proper health permits and blocking streets and sidewalks, said Lina Velasco, Richmond’s Community Development Director.

“The ordinance was developed with a working group including many of the merchants on 23rd Street, which are impacted by an abundance of sidewalk vendors,” Velasco said at the June 25 meeting. 
Sidewalk vendors can be seen on major corridors such as Cutting, Harbor Way, and 23rd Street and near Richmond City Hall. With the absence of regulations, it has been difficult for city staff to do enforcement.

“We were seeing vendors block paths of travel, setting up operations in street parking and within the street that creates hardships for vehicles and passersby,” Velasco said.

State law SB 946 decriminalized street vending in California and limited municipalities’ ability to enforce laws against street vending. The law allows cities to require a special permit or license.

“All food preparation must comply with state and local licensing regulations. If you are selling food, you’re subject to getting a mobile facility permit from Contra Costa Health. That will be a requirement and we can verify it to be provided upfront when we issue the license,” Velasco said.

The city can also set reasonable and objective time, place, and manner restrictions and make sure vendors are located on sidewalks and not within parking strips.

“We can restrict them from having tents and other materials such as chairs and tables that may also create impediments within the path of travel,” Velasco said.

The city will require vendors to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations to ensure people can safely maneuver on sidewalks. Vendors will not be allowed in locations that don’t allow at least a four-foot clear path of travel.

SB 946 also says cities have to allow vending in city parks unless there’s a lease for concessions in that particular park.

Mobile vendor plaza

City staff is evaluating three downtown sites for a mobile vendor plaza to alleviate the hardship the new ordinance will create for vendors.

“We can have a city-based plaza program where participants that are existing vendors will come to vend using a special event permit similar to what is done for our farms market or different festivals,” Velasco said. “We hope this program will also help generate some activity downtown and support other businesses in the area.”

The three locations include empty lots at Marina Way and Macdonald Avenue, 16th Street and Macdonald and Nevin Avenue and 13th Street across from the Social Security building. The sites would accommodate between 12 and 25 mobile vendors.

The vendor plaza would have bathrooms, light, a water sanitizing station, adequate space for vendor equipment, covered tents or canopies for food safety, and seating for patrons.

The vendors would be given a special quarterly permit, similar to the ones held by farmers market vendors, allowing them to prepare their food on-site for sale.

Richmond resident Gloria Vicente Domingo, a vendor who sells Papas con Pollo, a typical food from Guatemala, spoke in favor of the ordinance with Vice Mayor Claudia Jimenez translating.

“I am a street vendor that sells chicken and potatoes,” she said. “I am here to support this initiative because it will help us to move from where we are right now to a legal path.”

Another vendor said she, her husband, and two children came from Colombia to improve their lives.

“We want to work and progress, and we don’t want to be a weight to society, and this is why we have been working really hard to create the means to sustain our family,” she said with Jimenez translating. “We had been fighting to get the permits. I have been asking about what I need, and it has been kind of impossible to get these permits.”

She said she was asked to obtain a small space or trailer and didn’t have the resources to get all of the things they were asking for.

“I am here to speak in front of you to support us so we can continue with this program. I don’t have any other work. I work selling Colombian food on this street with my husband. I want to continue to be a part of this program and be able to work selling good food,” she said.

Doria Robinson, the District 3 representative, expressed concern about the impact of a proposed vendor plaza on nearby restaurants. She emphasized that several restaurants in the area are already struggling, and losing them would negatively affect downtown’s health and vitality.

“I am definitely in favor of figuring this out. I love street food myself, and It would be great to figure out how we can have the cultural items that we love and not have a bad effect on brick-and-mortar businesses,” Robinson said. “I know that some of them are really trying to survive, and I would hate to be the death nail in their casket by bringing this over there,” Robinson said.

Oscar Garcia, President of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, said he looks forward to participating in discussions on the location of the food hubs. He said he was disappointed the  23rd Street Merchant Association was not given a chance to offer feedback on the proposed ordinance.

“We have been working in the city for over two years to get an ordinance to address this issue. We are honestly disappointed that we were not given an opportunity to provide input,” Garcia said.

The ordinance has good potential, according to Garcia, who said it is modeled after other similar cities. Garcia said the proposed five-foot buffer open businesses was inappropriate and not in line with other cities.

“Most vendors are not from Richmond, and it’s not fair that they could potentially operate small distances from restaurants subject to city permitting and health audits from the county,” Garcia said.

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