The New California Bill That Majorly Benefits Street Food Vendors

Street food is an essential part of California culture, particularly in Los Angeles, where the best tacos are almost always the ones you find on sidewalk carts in the wee hours of the morning. By and large, people worldwide love street food (the whole street dining culture has even been celebrated with its own Netflix show), but despite the apparent public approval, street food vendors often find themselves in the crosshairs of the law.

Los Angeles' street food scene has historically been closely tied to its immigrant population — and at odds with local law enforcement. Eater reports that Mexican tamaleros, or tamale vendors, have been wheeling their carts through the downtown area since at least the 1870s. In the 1890s the city tried to ban the street food vendors from operating in certain places and at certain hours, but the efforts failed due to the tamales' popularity.

The bitter struggle between street vendors and California's regulations has persisted to this day — though that might be about to change.

Senate Bill 972 updates a 2018 law

Eater LA reports that Governor Gavin Newsom signed state Senate Bill 972 into law on Friday, September 23, updating the California Retail Food Code to further accommodate street food. The bill was introduced by State Senator Lena Gonzalez of Long Beach and coauthored by California Assembly Member Wendy Carrillo and State Senators Maria Elena Durazo and Susan Rubio. It updates the permit process that all street vendors must go through and downgrades the crime vendors can be charged with from a misdemeanor. Under the new bill, street food vendors would face an "administrative fine" if found to have violated the law.

In a key move, SB 972 also updates a previous law, Senate Bill 946, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2018, which limited what kinds of street food operations got the okay (via KTLA). SB 946 was, from a street vendor's point of view, generally a step in the right direction. However, Eater notes that it only opened up opportunities to certain types of business, specifically food trucks and caterers, while other operations, like taco stands, were excluded. Senate Bill 972 changes the law to encompass, "an individual or ... pushcart, stand, display, pedal-driven cart, wagon, showcase, rack, or other nonmotorized conveyance," giving more vendors the opportunity to sell their food in accordance with the law.