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Street Vending in the Coachella Valley

The Push Against Anti-Street Vendor Legislation

By Alejandro Meza Aguilar, Coachella Valley Organizer

The Coachella Valley: an amalgamation of towns and cities isolated in the Inland Empire. It’s a place for reinventions and growth where immigrants build themselves up through various means. Some of which are local businesses, service industry work, and other avenues that create complex and beautiful communities. One of these industries is street vending: a cultural practice that helps provide employment and services crucial to working-class communities of color. However, in addition to the attacks by vigilantes, there are discriminatory ordinances and an increase in enforcement that only lead local governments to criminalize street vending. Cathedral City approved its ordinance, Palm Springs considered an ordinance at a hearing on March 9th to enable and regulate sidewalk vending. We will work with the city of Palm Springs to make a model ordinance for cities across the state.

Street vending is an accessible trade for recent immigrants because it does not limit people through immigration status, language barriers, age requirements, and funds. Since December 14th, Cathedral City has been targeting street vendors through arguments of health and safety. While it may sound simple and reasonable, there are a variety of hurdles and limiting factors that hinder the flow of an ancient cultural process. Sidewalk vendors need several permits from the city, county, and state and for many vendors, these are new processes difficult to navigate as they begin to formalize their businesses. The ordinances that Cathedral City and Palm Springs want to put in place also ask for state IDs which undocumented vendors may not have access to obtaining. Restrictions on equipment such as sizing of umbrellas and tents of a specified size which may not be commercially accessible. Restrictions in hours (proposed 8 a.m. to 12 a.m.) of operation being set that differ from brick and mortar hours (8 a.m. to 2 a.m. or even 24 hours). Also, the inability to operate within the vicinity of special events, swap meets and farmer’s markets limit their earning potential which is detrimental since the average take-home income for street vendors is $15,000. These are a few of the hurdles set by the proposed ordinance.

The focus on city business licenses, food handlers and manager cards, regulation of carts, regulation of the selling process, and vendor IDs is only a portion of the laundry list of requirements that complicate gaining access for those who lack the financial means and immigrant status to legalize their business. These regulations will have negative, adverse impacts on the street vending community which are usually Latinx community members.

However, the process in the City of Palm Springs is different from that in Cathedral City, which passed its ordinance after the amendments of the first draft on January 25th (took effect February 25th). Palm Springs considered including an exorbitant encroachment of $1,710.33. This unreasonably high fee would establish the funds to monitor street vending, but it could effectively kill the vulnerable industry altogether with the inclusion of other fees required. The fee does not factor in the Livescan, liability insurance, blueprints for the cart, tax payments, commissary, and the county food handler’s license. We are glad to learn the Palm Springs city council took recommendations for their draft ordinance and they are not requiring a Live Scan nor an encroachment permit. These regulations and ordinances not only go against the fiber of our country’s ‘free economy’ mantra, it poses a real threat to an economic and cultural staple to the state of California.
Rather than criminalization, the work should be focused on bringing street vending into the formal economy by educating the public and street vendors on safe strategies to uphold safe walkways, encourage pedestrian safety, and work towards sustainable solutions in food safety and tax revenue. The way this work can begin is to lean into the expertise of other organizations and sidewalk vendor expertise: such as working with information from organizations, street vendors, and local officials who have had experience in this work.

While it may seem unattainable, cities like New York and Los Angeles have realized the potential economic contributions of street vending and are working towards this goal. This is possible through the education of consumers, empowerment of community street vendor leaders, and smart local policies. It is imperative that local elected leaders incorporate the expertise of organizations and individuals who are on the front lines of street vendor justice and street vending work. Only those who have had the experience of such work can best guide towards better practices and solutions. This can be done through periodically timed meetings to ensure that everyone involved is on the same page, and can strategize on safety measures.
Cultivating a network of vendors in these cultural hubs and spaces will also ensure that those most impacted are part of the decision-making process. Only vendors themselves are most familiar with the struggle; it’s practical to ensure they work informing each other and mobilize together. It’s crucial to mobilize and use our networks to gather support and put the experience of individuals and organizations to use.

While we wait for the outcome of this ordinance, whether good or bad as time is to tell, there is still a need for community members, local officials, and local organizations to work towards fighting for a policy that protects street vendors. The work is not fully done until equity is achieved and the route to it is through policy advocacy, education, and inclusion of vendors in the policy-making process. Policy is where the voice of street vendors, mobilization, and experience from individuals and organizations culminates into lasting change. Amplify the voices of street vendors by keeping up with local legislation, making public comments on city council meetings, and supporting street vendors!