LA County to require street food stands to have health permits, require distance between vendors

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday tentatively approved a pair of ordinances regulating sidewalk food vendors, including the establishment of fees that the county hopes to largely subsidize.

The ordinances will both return to the board for final approval next week.

According to Supervisor Hilda Solis' office, there are roughly 10,000 sidewalk vendors selling food in the county, most of them coming from Latino and other communities of color.

"Sidewalk vending, including food vending, represents an integral part of the cultural and civic fabric of Los Angeles County," Solis said in a statement. "This is especially true in the First District, where communities like East Los Angeles have long been a hub for food vending. For many residents, especially those from low-income or immigrant communities, food vending represents one of the few economic pathways to attain financial independence and stability."

The board approved two ordinances, the first of which outlines health-permit requirements for "compact mobile food operations," which are smaller operations run from carts or other non-motorized equipment. The ordinance, which would apply to all vendors in the county -- except those in Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon, which all have their own health departments. The city of Long Beach last week approved its own sidewalk vending ordinance.

Under the county ordinance, obtaining a health permit would require the operator to pay an initial fee, ranging from $508 for a low-risk operation selling pre-packaged food to $1,186 for higher-risk vendors who prepare and sell hot food, such as a taco stand or hot dog cart. Vendors would then have to pay ongoing annual fees ranging from $226 to $1,000, depending on the type of vending.

Solis said she plans to introduce a motion next week aimed at largely subsidizing those fees for low-income vendors, who could have as much as 75% of the health-permit cost covered.

The second ordinance approved by the board sets regulations for vendors, including restrictions on where and when they can operate and requirements for distance between vendors. Vendors would also be barred from connecting to any public utilities such as water and power sources.

Under that ordinance, vendors would have to register with the county and pay a registration fee of $604. That fee, however, would also be largely subsidized by the county Department of Economic Opportunity, which would cover the full cost of the permit in the first year, then reduce it to $100 in subsequent years.

"We must do all we can to encourage vendors to register and enter the formal economy," Solis said in a statement. "That includes removing as many financial barriers as possible that could hinder participation. These vendors are microentrepreneurs in the truest sense, and their net revenues may be such that even a fee of a few hundred dollars represents a significant burden.

"I appreciate our Department of Economic Opportunity finding a way to waive the fees for the first year while greatly reducing them in the subsequent years. At the same time, it is critical that we also address the Department of Public Health fees."