Sidewalk vendors in Los Angeles operate in legal limbo as they wait for lawmakers to legalize their trade, but a solution could soon come at the state level. A bill, SB 946, filed last week by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, would, if passed, legalize sidewalk vending statewide and prevent cities from passing anti-competitive regulations. Thankfully, California is not alone. In Arizona, state Rep. Kevin Payne filed HB 2371 which would legalize food trucks statewide.
In February 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted to decriminalize sidewalk vending but fell short of creating regulations to fully legalize the industry. The new bill, SB 946, would override existing Los Angeles laws and legalize sidewalk vending throughout the state. The bill is similar to a law passed nearly 25 years ago which legalized food trucks across California. Under that law municipalities could regulate, but not ban, food trucks and those regulations had to be tied to protecting the public’s health and safety. However, the law did nothing to legalize food trucks’ sister trade, food carts and sidewalk vending.
The new bill would prevent municipalities from banning sidewalk vending. If municipalities wanted to regulate sidewalk vending, they would have to adopt a licensing program first and would only be allowed to enact regulations that protect public health and safety. For instance, a city could not restrict vendors from operating in a park or from needing permission from an adjacent brick-and-mortar business to operate, which some Los Angeles businesses have been pushing as a way to keep out vending competition. Securing these protections into law would greatly empower sidewalk vendors to grow their businesses.
These protections wouldn’t just benefit vendors but cities and towns as well. According to Sidewalk Stimulus, a report on vending released by the Economic Roundtable, Los Angeles is home to an estimated 50,000 sidewalk vendors that help power a $504 million vending industry. In addition to giving these vendors gainful employment, the vendors’ sales sustain an additional 5,200 jobs in Los Angeles due to spending by these vendors and their households. These numbers are consistent with IJ’s study of vending in New York City, Upwardly Mobile. Legalizing sidewalk vending would certainly increase these numbers, and it would generate tens of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, not just in Los Angeles but across the state.
In Arizona, HB 2371 would legalize food trucks across the state while preventing municipalities from imposing anti-competitive regulations, much like California. One major restriction would prevent cities from prohibiting food trucks from operating within a certain distance of brick-and-mortar food establishments. IJ successfully challenged a similar law in San Antonio that banned food trucks from operating within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar business selling food unless they obtained notarized permission slips from those competitors. The Arizona bill would also prevent municipalities from restricting operating hours for food trucks unless they were the same as for restaurants.
If passed, both the California and Arizona bills would set a great standard for regulating sidewalk vendors and food trucks, respectively. This would help entrepreneurs like Wes Avila who is slated to soon open one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles. In 2012, Avila quit his job as a sous chef to strike out on his own with a food cart. Due to Los Angeles’s ban on food carts he would have to move around a lot to avoid being caught, which is why he named his business “Guerilla Tacos.” Eventually, after being shutdown twice, he scraped together enough money to lease a food truck. Now, his business is a huge success, with his own cookbook and a soon-to-open brick-and-mortar restaurant. California and Arizona should encourage more entrepreneurs like Avila by enacting these bills.