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Economic Justice

Street Vending Regulation Tracking Project

Street Vending Regulation Tracking Project

Regulations on street vending differ from city to city and frequently change due to political decision-making, posing a significant a risk to street vendors of fines and seizures.

The Harbor Institute for Immigrant and Economic Justice acknowledges the inaccessibility and complexity of this information, in addition to the struggle of actively following these regulation changes. Our team developed a project in collaboration with law students at the UC Irvine Law Pro Bono Clinic to collect information on 2022 street vending regulations, restrictions, permit requirements and processes, and other information on the Orange County cities most affected by the strict enforcement of street vending regulations. The Harbor Institute plans to keep track of any new regulations and will continue updating the Street Vending Regulation Tracking Project with new regulations.

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Blog Economic Justice

Street Vending and the Debate Over What “Community” Looks Like

Street Vending and the Debate Over What "Community" Looks Like

Taco Stand in Santa Ana, Orange County. Credit: Carlos Perea, Harbor Institute for Immigrant & Economic Justice

LA’s bustling night markets. Long Beach’s lively Black street vendor row. The iconic snack-filled carts and tamale vendors working on Santa Ana’s streets. Vietnamese vegetable vendors selling produce on sidewalks in Westminster. For many, the smells of food and sounds of conversation on sidewalks invoke nostalgia and are at the heart of their communities. Across Southern California, people of diverse backgrounds work as street vendors who are all trying to make a living and preserve culture through food.

Street vending has garnered significant attention in the last few years within local politics and on social media, with some people defending vendors against hostile attacks and others demanding stricter regulation of sidewalk vending. While many see the vendors as a reminder of their community, others see them as an invasion of public space. In this blog, I examine different perspectives of street vending as testaments to grassroots struggle, truly public space, and working-class strategies of sustaining community health.

Recently, exclusionary rhetoric against street vending and sweeps of street vendors have become increasingly visible in Orange County. In December of 2022, the City of Santa Ana announced its collaboration with the OC Health Agency that led to the shut down of over 100 sidewalk food vending locations in the city [1]. In March of 2023, the same city voted to adopt a resolution urging state legislators to amend state laws to give local jurisdictions more power to enact their own regulations to ensure, as some council members claimed, that they could maintain sanitary conditions [1]. Council members in Santa Ana framed their resolution in response to SB 972 and 946, California bills that decriminalized street vending and made violations subject to administrative citations rather than misdemeanors or infraction offenses.

Many other local governments like Santa Ana have taken alternative approaches to limit street vending. In Orange, city council members voted unanimously to expand legal authority to impound street vending carts and food as well as placing a penalty of 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both [2]. In addition to impoundment, those wishing to regain their property are subject to a $710 impoundment fee and required to show proof of license.

Orange Councilmembers like Kathy Tavoularis showed an intent to push towards even more punitive legislation as she described street vending as “not entrepreneurial. This is another attempt to get into our neighborhoods” [2]. While it’s unclear what the councilwoman believes entrepreneurialism is defined as, the rhetoric that aims to exclude existing members of the community from economic opportunity is hurtful and insulting. Even worse, it alienates those who have been participating in the local economy for years.

The Street Vendor Movement

Although the exact origin of street vending in California remains unclear, Mexican and Chinese street food vendors can date back to the 1870s in Los Angeles [3]. Many street vendors moved to the outskirts of Los Angeles to avoid segregation laws in the early 1910s, and street vending continued to be a risky activity for decades – and still can be. It wasn’t until over a century later that the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act of 2018, SB 946, was signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown. This law decriminalized sidewalk vending in California and was meant to ensure local authorities would seek alternative forms of public safety regulation without criminalizing street vendors.

This landmark legislation was groundbreaking for the hundreds of people who were labeled as criminals for decades for their entrepreneurship. However, the bill’s passage did not come easy. The decriminalization of street vendors was largely a result of advocacy by the Los Angeles Street Vending Campaign (LASVC), a campaign composed of many women, disabled people, and seniors, along with community-based and advocacy organizations [4]. Meeting in accessible spaces like public buses, crowding city buildings, and structuring cross-racial discourse were all essential in building a grassroots movement that encompassed what it means to be black and brown in America and that had the people power to push for the decriminalization of street vending.

Street Vending in Public Spaces

Credit: KilmerMedia - stock.adobe.com.

“Dirty,” “third world,” and “invasive” are common terms used to describe street vendors by many who seek to criminalize them. As much as it is offensive, it is also often a reflection of an underlying resentment for low-income people, working-class aesthetics, and people or things that otherwise don’t align with an ideal urban landscape that caters to affluent sensibilities.

Common rhetoric that paints street vending in a negative light is often reflective of elites’ disdain for working-class people and others who are viewed as interrupting urban space [5]. Street vendors may be viewed by these elites as visual manifestations of poverty and disorder, which need to be regulated away from public view. Take a comparison between a white young boy selling lemonade to save for a new video game console and a Latino man selling cut fruit on the street to pay for daily necessities – while one is admirable and a form of entrepreneurialism, the other is considered “dirty” or to be “threatening the local economy.” In fact, this comparison was made by Westminster City Councilmember Amy Phan West, who directed city staff earlier this year to ensure the new street vending ordinance would not interfere with lemonade stands while still effectively curbing regular street vending activity.

The conflict between street vending and city officials can be reflective of the battle between a conceptually “modern” city and everyday working-class people like street vendors, in which “the removal of street vendors may also imply the removal of a locality’s character” [5]. In other words, attempts to remove street vendors can be interpreted as attempts to turn cities from vibrant spaces shared and enjoyed by working-class communities to indistinct and impersonal blocks of new development easily marketable to affluent professionals.

It’s important to see current political rhetoric as much more than pro-order or driven by just public health concerns. This kind of rhetoric can convey much more than attempts to try to keep a street clean or regulate the local economy. Even if unintended, rhetoric that frames street vendors as unsanitary or dirty often perpetuates the idea that working-class aesthetics and people should be excluded from public spaces.

Food Accessibility

It is widely accepted that street vending plays an active role in fruit and vegetable accessibility and food security. In fact, those who shop at mobile markets can consume 1.5 times more fruits and vegetables than those who don’t [6]. With increasing visibility and competition amongst them, street vendors have been found to provide lower-priced and more accessible healthy foods.

Creating accessible and affordable forms of buying fresh produce is of high importance for minorities that are more likely to suffer diet-related illnesses and health impacts [7]. Food deserts are the product of under-investment in communities of color that lead to less grocery stores and sources of healthy produce. Prepared foods that are more substantially nutritious than fast food items can also be hard to come by in these areas. Food markets and street vending have been shown to create holistic webs of local relationships with many vendor-customer relationships ending in better prices for fresh produce and better accessibility to them [8].

In a country where poor health is the leading cause of death, food environment and community health are of utmost importance to vulnerable communities. Despite the many challenges they face, through generations of street vending, many working-class communities have managed to develop ways to contribute to local economies while providing lower-cost and diverse healthy foods on the go and on every corner.

[1] Kopetman, Roxana. “After Santa Ana’s Crackdown on Taco Stands, Council Asks California to Amend Its Street Vendor Laws.” Orange County Register, 10 Mar. 2023, www.ocregister.com/2023/03/09/after-santa-anas-crackdown-on-taco-stands-council-asks-california-to-amend-its-street-vendor-laws/.

[2] Elattar, Hosam. “Orange Expands Street Vendor Crackdown, Moves to Impound Equipment.” Voice of OC, 12 July 2023, voiceofoc.org/2023/07/orange-expands-street-vendor-crackdown-moves-to-impound-equipment/.

[3] Farley Elliot, “The History and Politics of Street food Vendors,” Eater, 22 Jul 2015, https://www.eater.com/2015/7/22/9014483/history-and-politics-of-street-food-los-angeles

[4] Hidalgo, LA. “‘Show them how they treat us’: Legal violence in the everyday lives of street vendors.” Lat Stud 20, 194–218 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41276-022-00367-2

[5] Yatmo, Yandi Andri. “Street Vendors as ‘out of Place’ Urban Elements.” Journal of Urban Design, vol. 13, no. 3, 2008, pp. 387–402, https://doi.org/10.1080/13574800802320889.

[6] Peimani, Nastaran, and Hesam Kamalipour. “Informal Street Vending: A Systematic Review.” Land, vol. 11, no. 6, June 2022, p. 829. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/land11060829.

[7] Francis, Kaniyaa, and Catherine Brinkley. “Street Food Vending as a Public Health Intervention.” Californian Journal of Health Promotion, vol. 18, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1–16, https://doi.org/10.32398/cjhp.v18i1.2450.

[8] Alfonso Morales & Gregg Kettles, Healthy Food Outside: Farmers’ Markets, Taco Trucks, and Sidewalk Fruit Vendors, 26 J. Contemp. Health L. & Pol’y 20 (2010). Available at: https://scholarship.law.edu/jchlp/vol26/iss1/3.

Picture of Alejandro Martinez Santos

Alejandro Martinez Santos

Alejandro is a fourth-year Public Health Sciences major at UC Irvine with an interest in medicine and social justice. During his internship at the Harbor Institute through UC Irvine's 2023 Labor summer program, he actively researched immigrant policies and movements in Orange County.

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Blog Economic Justice Immigrant Justice

One Key Way to Meet Community Data Needs: Building Up Orange County’s Own Data Portal

One Key Way to Meet Community Data Needs: Build Up Orange County's Own Data Portal

This blog post includes excerpts from the Harbor Institute for Immigrant & Economic Justice’s upcoming report on opportunities to advance immigrant justice.

When the first waves of COVID-19 swept across Orange County, local residents who were already facing health disparities and struggling to make ends meet had their living and working conditions made more severe by a global pandemic. Orange County’s working-class immigrant and refugee communities were hit particularly hard.

Although Latino residents comprised 35 percent of the county’s population at the time, they accounted for 47 percent of COVID-19 cases and 45 percent of COVID-19 deaths in late 2020 [1]. Transmission rates were also higher in cities such as Anaheim and Santa Ana, especially in neighborhoods with high shares of Latino residents who often were employed in occupations without work-from-home options or who lacked regular access to the internet – and therefore could not access regular COVID-19 updates [2]. Since early 2020, community organizations often had to fill these gaps in outreach to ensure residents received critical updates in languages other than English, including Spanish and Vietnamese, and that such information was delivered through trusted messengers and multiple platforms [3]. Such outreach gaps persisted as vaccine rollout began in 2021, with the county’s vaccine registration phone app initially rolling out only in English — despite the $1.2 million contract requesting the app also be made available in Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Korean [4].

A vaccine equity best practices checklist and memo including action items was sent to the County Health Care Agency in February of 2021 by local scholars, community leaders, and residents concerned about inequities in the County’s COVID-19 response [5]. These action steps included more equitable vaccine distribution, in contrast to the then-current distribution model of Super POD (Point of Delivery) locations operating in less accessible, more affluent areas; robust communication and collaboration between the Health Care Agency and community-based organizations; and significant financial investment in culturally and linguistically appropriate community outreach focused on those facing the heaviest burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Health Care Agency did make efforts to implement some aspects of the recommended action steps, equity concerns remained.

In February of 2021, the State of California announced it would prioritize a list of “equity ZIP codes” for vaccine distribution, identified using economic, health, and other data [6]. Four of these ZIP codes are in Orange County. In April, the Orange County Health Care Agency announced that residents in the four equity ZIP codes – 92701 (Santa Ana), 92703 (Santa Ana), 92805 (Anaheim), and 92844 (Garden Grove) – would be eligible to receive vaccines despite not yet having Super POD sites in those ZIP codes. In May, the Orange County Health Care Agency began to wind down its Super POD operations and increase its mobile POD operations. 

The four equity ZIP codes were not the only areas targeted for increased vaccine distribution, but they were among areas consistently noted in County public communications and documents as being priorities for COVID-19 response. For example, in its performance report submitted to the U.S. Department of the Treasury regarding use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the County included “four identified equity zip codes, areas with high test COVID-19 positivity rate, areas with low vaccination rates, as well as employer sites requesting access for their employees” as areas prioritized for more equitable distribution and outreach [7]. Large counties and cities that received ARPA funds were required to submit performance reports to the U.S. Department of the Treasury regarding their use of the funds, with particular attention to “provisions that prioritize equity, focus on economically distressed areas, support community empowerment, encourage strong labor practices, and spotlight evidence-based interventions.”

Several pages of its ARPA Recovery Plan Performance Report describe the County’s efforts to “promote equitable outcomes” in pandemic recovery programs. A large portion of the section highlights a data visualization tool called the Orange County Equity Map (OCEM) developed using hundreds of thousands of dollars of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding allocated through a County contract approved in 2020 [8]. Although the Health Care Agency claimed to use the OCEM to “inform its COVID-19 responses, including testing, vaccine allocation and distribution, and other mitigation strategies” by “[identifying] disproportionately impacted communities at the ZIP code level,” it remains unclear from available data whether increased vaccine distribution in equity ZIP codes was a direct result of the OCEM release in July of 2021. Vaccine delivery in equity ZIP codes was already following an upward trend due to previous identification of disproportionately-impacted ZIP codes, increases in mobile POD sides, and closure of Super POD sites. The equity ZIP codes were identified earlier in the year by the Office of the Governor using the Healthy Places Index, which incorporates many of the same indicators used in the OCEM’s Social Progress Index. Additionally, features of the OCEM that have been highlighted as useful to the revised vaccine distribution efforts, such as disaggregation of data by census tract, are far from exclusive to the OCEM [9]. Data analysts trained in R or Python should be more than able to accomplish the same tasks that the OCEM does at a fraction of the cost in staff time. Ultimately, it could have been less costly to the County to hire a team of data analysts to develop an in-house mapping tool.

By July of 2021, efforts to redistribute more vaccine delivery sites to equity ZIP codes in OC had been well underway for several weeks. The year and a half leading up to the OCEM’s launch, during which months of community advocacy helped to resolve inequitable vaccine distribution practices and save lives, demonstrated a continued need for open, accessible data for community members to work with as public health and economic crises unfolded. This need is doubly highlighted by a lack of a clear strong link between the OCEM and improved vaccine distribution. In addition, the OCEM’s reliance on widely-used data sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, while standard practice among nonprofits, did not necessarily reveal new information about existing inequities that were not already known by many community-based organizations and residents. It did not include the ability to disaggregate various indicators and components by race, ethnicity, or immigration status – which is a crucial function for any large-scale data tool created for a county with a diverse non-white, immigrant population. The map is also housed in an application that does not load easily or quickly on many devices. Ideally, an “equity map” should be accessible and legible to a wide variety of people, not just those who work in the policy space.

The OC Equity Map. Source: https://www.equityinoc.com/map

Orange County should increase and expand routine publication of health, economic, education, social service, law enforcement, and other data across agencies onto the County’s existing Open Data platform. The County’s current Open Data site is only sparsely populated. Some categories of data sources on the County’s Open Data platform do not have any files listed whatsoever. With numerous colleges, universities, tech companies, K-12 schools, community centers, and other venues that foster development of data-related skills, Orange County undoubtedly has a plethora of community members capable of and willing to process data and create visualizations to meet community needs as they arise. Local leaders may be surprised at the innovative tools and visualizations community members and community-based organizations can develop when continuously given access to large quantities of relevant, quality data sources. Building the infrastructure needed to organize, digitize, and continuously collect many different agencies’ records to turn them into data sources for public access may be somewhat intimidating and costly, but the County should be willing to dedicate as many, if not more, resources to this task as it did one mapping tool, the impacts of which remain unclear over two years later. 

This is not to suggest that the County should not fund out-of-house data projects whatsoever – especially ones developed by under-resourced organizations and community members – but rather that approaches to investments in public-facing data projects need not be concentrated in singular large efforts with uncertain returns. A variety of data-focused projects can and should be developed alongside a robust open data portal that can empower Orange County community members to interpret data as issues and crises arise, instead of trying to navigate confusing webs of records requests or waiting for months for better-resourced entities to develop data tools for public use. 

[1] “Orange County COVID-19 Dashboard,” Orange County Health Care Agency. Accessed May 3, 2023. https://ochca.maps.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/cc4859c8c522496b9f21c451de2fedae

[2] Charlotte Scott, “‘Promotores’ help Latinos in OC with COVID-19 testing, education, and resources,” Spectrum 1 News, Aug 17, 2020. https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/orange-county/inside-the-issues/2020/08/17/-promotores–help-latinos-in-o-c–with-covid-testing–shelter–and-food-access-during-pandemic 

[3] Brandon Pho, “Gaps In Coronavirus Outreach to Non-English Speaking Families & Businesses,” Voice of OC, Mar 19, 2020. https://voiceofoc.org/2020/03/gaps-in-coronavirus-outreach-to-non-english-speaking-families-and-businesses/ 

[4] Spencer Custodio, “OC’s Latino Community Remains Behind on COVID-19 Vaccines One Year Later,” Voice of OC, Dec. 20, 2021. Accessed June 5, 2023. https://voiceofoc.org/2021/12/ocs-latino-community-remains-behind-on-covid-19-vaccines-one-year-later/

[5] Kameko J. Washburn, Alana M.W. LeBron, Abigail S. Reyes, Isabel Becerra, America Bracho, Ellen Ahn, Ana Siria Urzua, Mary Anne Foo, Salvador Zarate, Sora Park Tanjasiri, & Bernadette Boden-Albala, “Orange County, California COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Best Practices Checklist: A Community-Centered Call to Action for Equitable Vaccination Practices,” Health Equity 6 no. 1, 2022.

[6] Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, “Fact Sheet: Ending the Pandemic through Equitable Vaccine Distribution,” March 2, 2021. https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Equitable-Vaccine-Administration-Fact-Sheet.pdf

[7] “Interim Reports and Recovery Plan Performance Reports – 2022,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, 2022. https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/state-and-local-fiscal-recovery-funds/recovery-plan-performance-reports-2022

[8] Ben Brazil, “Orange County to use new equity map to help resolve community disparities,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/entertainment/story/2021-08-05/orange-county-equity-map-could-lead-to-positive-change-but-action-has-to-be-taken

[9] “How Was the Orange County Equity Map Used to Help Ensure Vaccine Equity During the Pandemic?” Advance OC, June 2021.

Picture of Mai Nguyen Do

Mai Nguyen Do

Mai is the Research and Policy Manager for the Harbor Institute for Immigrant and Economic Justice. They are an educator, writer, qualitative social scientist, and Ph.D. candidate in political science.