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On January 1st 2023, California Senate Bill 972 went into effect, legalizing street vendors throughout the state. If you are a street vendor, or if you see a street vendor being harassed by a city official, know that California state law protects street vendors and that Public Counsel is available to offer legal aid.
CAFABLANCA AND THE CALIFORNIA STREET VENDOR CAMPAIGN
For decades, California food laws have excluded almost every type of street vendor from operating legally. From the elote man who feeds families in the park, to the taco vendor outside the bars when everything else is closed, to the fruit vendor in a food desert who sometimes provides children with their only fresh option for an after school snack -- street vendors have been routinely subjected to citations, arrest, and seizure of assets — all things that Cafablanca has been threatened with.
In fact, during our first week of making #liberatedcoffee on the streets of Long Beach, the police showed up 3 times. The first time, the cop saw what we were doing and left. The second time, we got shut down. The third time, they threatened to impound our coffee cart if we were "caught" in the same place again. We reached out to our local Health Department to begin the permitting process as a sidewalk street vending business, but quickly learned that such a process does not exist. Was this fiction? A lethal, airborne virus was overwhelming our hospitals, vaccines weren’t yet available, and we had a way to help people stay safe by providing goods and services safely outdoors. Still, the health department refused to budge. Without the infrastructure of a restaurant, there was no way for a street vendor to obtain the health permit required for public service.
Then, we learned about SB-946, which had decrimalized street vendors throughout the state of California back in 2019. It wasn't Cafablanca who was out of compliance with the law -- it was the city, whose criminal penalization of street vendors violated our liberties.
So when we got hired to make coffee for a city sponsored event in 2021, we put LEGALIZE VENDORS LONG BEACH on our message board and served a cappuccino to then Mayor Robert Garcia. We told him how the city needed to establish a moratorium against citing street vendors, especially during the pandemic while everyone is clamoring for safe, outdoor dining. He set up a call with his chief of staff. Government works slow, we were told, and nothing got done.
Then, the Long Beach Health Department threatened to shut down Cafablanca. That week, we went to a city council meeting and made public comment in defense of Long Beach street vendors. That sparked an exchange between the Mayor and the City Manager, who conceded that Long Beach Street Vendor laws were indeed in need of reform, but they didn’t have the staff or money to do it.
Thanks to ample community support, and the guidance of local activists, Cafablanca kept fighting for change.
We reached out to every city council member in Long Beach, and District 1 Representative Mary Zendejas agreed to be our champion for this cause. Cafablanca acted as an intermediary between her office and a non-profit organization called Public Counsel, who not only helped us craft local street vendor reform legislation, but who also worked with Long Beach State Senator Lena Gonzalez to craft street vendor law reform on the state level.
In 2022, both the city of Long Beach and state of California passed new bills to legalize street vendors.
Although Long Beach city council passed street vendor law reform, they stopped short of issuing a moratorium against citing street vendors. This posed as a real problem one weekend before the new state law protecting street vendors from citations went into effect, when a mob of over a dozen health department officials and plain clothes police officers descended down onto Junipero Beach, a popular Long Beach street vending hub where you can sometimes find Cafablanca making coffee on a warm summer day. They threatened and harassed every single vendor, so we followed them around with our message board and made sure that every street vendor knew their rights.
When we went back to city council that week, other street vendors joined us.