Viral Photo Highlights Human Cost of Bad Vending Policies

Update: On Tuesday, May 23, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office dropped a misdemeanor charge against the vendor that was arrested in the photo.

People on social media were outraged when a photo showing the arrest of a vendor selling vegetables on a street corner in Alameda County California went viral. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office tried to tamp down the controversy, explaining in a Facebook post the reason behind the arrest. According to the Sheriff,

Selling food on street corners violates county ordinances and public health codes. Persistent street vending harms local businesses, especially small, start-up food vendors and poses certain health risks such as Ecoli and other food borne illnesses. ACSO has received numerous calls from business and citizens asking for our assistance in curtailing these activities. In addition, illegal vending causes traffic safety issues and vendors are sometimes the target of street robberies.
[Read the full explanation here.]

But that explanation only served to fan the flames, with county residents leaving comments like the following:

“The guy is trying to live…nobody is being harmed by him selling his produce. Recognize your role in the perpetual poverty cycle of people.”

“It’s a victimless crime. So much for the land of the free. Can’t even sell the fruits of your labor.”

These commenters are right to be mad. The Sheriff’s justifications have no merit. All produce poses a risk of E. coli due to how they are irrigated at the farm. Therefore, selling such produce at a stand vs. a store is irrelevant. Furthermore, the Sheriff’s office should not be cracking down on these struggling vendors in order to protect the bottom lines of well-established local businesses.

Alameda County should follow the examples set by Chicago and Los Angeles , which both recently legalized and regulated street vending. In February, Chicago modified licensing requirements for food carts to make them less restrictive, by lowering fees for two year food cart licenses and eliminating charging fees for a license to use a shared kitchen. In the same month, in Los Angeles, the city council voted unanimously to decriminalize street vending for sidewalk vendors. These moves will help spur many of the benefits of street vending highlighted by the Institute for Justice study, Upwardly Mobile.

Everyone has the right to work hard and improve themselves and their community. By choosing to embrace the street vending industry, Alameda can embrace this sort of entrepreneurial, self-starting behavior and avoid this kind of controversy from happening ever again.

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