New Legislation Would Make It Easier to Sell Street Food in San Francisco

liba-potrero.jpeg
Thomas R./Yelp
The Liba Falafel truck parks on private property in Potrero Hill.
​San Francisco is poised to streamline its rules for mobile food vending, making it easier ― and cheaper ― for street food vendors to operate on both public and private property. A Planning Commission hearing today takes up changes to the city's laws regulating truck and pushcart vendors operating on private property (anything from parking lots to city parks). A hearing before the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee on Monday takes up the issue of vendors on the public right-of-way, which includes sidewalks and city streets.

District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty is sponsoring the rule changes, which eliminate the duplication of fees that would-be vendors face now. The new legislation also erases the distinction between truck and pushcart vendors. Monday's community meeting at La Cocina outlined the proposed changes.

Off the Grid organizer and mobile vending consultant Matt Cohen tells SFoodie that the new law would ease the burdens and expense of becoming a legal street-food vendor in San Francisco. As it is now, vendors have to pay the same onerous licensing fees for every location where they intend to sell. "What the legislation does is get rid of the duplication of fees that happen every time you want to get re-permitted for a different location," Cohen says. "Right now, you have to pay the same fees over and over again." With the proposed law a vendor would pay slightly more than the current fees for the initial permit, but then pay significantly less every additional year to renew.

Vendors on both public and private property would pay the Health Department a initial fee of $1,350 in the first year, and about $650 for subsequent years. For street-food operators on public streets ad sidewalks, the new legislation eliminates the infamous $10,000 initial fee to the Police Department (levied on every location the vendor applies for), and instead would transfer permit authority to the department of Public Works. A food truck vendor with up to five locations would pay $2,465 in the first year, and $125 for subsequent years (assuming no violations).

One of the most significant changes of the legislation, Cohen says, is that it opens up Neighborhood Commercial Districts to vendors, parts of the city currently closed to mobile vending. "The Richmond, the Sunset, any neighborhood with mixed commercial and residential space ― every main neighborhood in the city is now theoretically open for vendors," Cohen says. But, he warns, the threshold for approving street food in the neighborhoods would be high. "The big caveat is that if they are vending during the daytime, in the application they would have to give notice to all businesses within 300 feet," Cohen says. "All businesses would be able to raise concerns. If they wanted to sell at night, or after 6, they'd also have to give notice to all residents within 300 feet."

So would the new legislation turn San Francisco into Portland, the U.S. city most favorable to street food? Not exactly. "The key difference is this looming thing of the California health code minimum requirements for building carts," Cohen says. That means requiring both trucks and pushcarts to have things like hand-washing sinks, and fancy fire suppression systems for vendors with open flames. Cohen cites that law as the single biggest roadblock to street food in California.

The hearing before the Planning Commission is today at 1:30, Room 400, City Hall. The heairng before the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee is scheduled for Mon., Nov. 8, 10:30 a.m. in Room 250, City Hall.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com
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