I get asked almost daily by would be Mobile Caters about the current status of expanded Street Food regulation in San Francisco. My answer? I have no idea. Its beginning to be a problem; Its a fact that possibly the only thing worse than overly burdensome regulation is the threat of unknown changes to regulation. Why would anyone make a significant capital investment when you don’t know the rules of the game? Entrepreneurs ask, “Is it going to be better? Worse?” I’m afraid to say, but I have no idea. And, because this is the middle of the peak earning season for mobile vendors, this uncertainty is fundamentally affecting whether new vendors will legally choose to start their businesses in SF this season at all. In short: San Francisco City Government, you’re making a decision about Street Food, by not making your decision about Street Food.
But, based purely on guesses, here’s what I feel pretty safe saying won’t change (and should) in the new legislation:
1) Grandfathered in hot dog carts will continue to serve from carts that aren’t anywhere close to the current standards for mobile vending of any other type of food. In fairness, this is a CA health code issue, but the fact is that if it is safe enough to continue serving then why can’t everyone use that standard? SF is progressive and smart enough to address this issue of basic fairness that hot dogs don’t deserve a double standard.
2) There likely won’t be a way for health code certified trucks to quickly, inexpensively and legally serve a location (where they park on the street) for one night (or once a week) for a short period of time. And by the way $190 to serve for one night under a special event permit with the health department, and 153 dollars to shut down a meter, is neither inexpensive nor quick.
3) There likely won’t be any change to late night food service permitting.
4) There likely won’t be any new mechanism for allowing push carts to move around legally.
5) There likely won’t be any method of lowering the entry costs for new mobile entrepreneurs. Carts will still be required to have three part sinks (even though they’re required to operate out of commissaries to prep their food where these sinks are available). Griddles will need to continue having mechanical ventilation and ansul fire suppression systems when the open air and fire extinguisher would logically seem to suffice.
Now, this isn’t meant to say there isn’t a possibility of good things coming out of this legislation. But here’s my list of what I (continue to) want included (and Street Food vendors should fight for regardless of the current legislation) that would really create an amazing Street Food scene (without compromising food safety).
1) Suggestion: Eliminate the need for 3 part ware-washing sinks for all carts that operate out of a legal commissary.
Result: This would significantly lower the entry cost of building food service carts without compromising public health at all. It would also allow carts to be build small enough so that they might actually be able to be pushed (or peddled) around. The fact is that the only thing ware-washing sinks do is increase the size and cost of mobile food carts to be impractical.
2) Suggestion: Eliminate the need for a ventilation hood for griddle carts that operate outside.
Result: Immediate decrease in cost and size of legal carts with absolutely no cost to public health or safety. Fire extinguishers work equally well, and are approved for farmer’s markets and special events. Can you say double standard?
3) Suggestion: Allow catering trucks that have health certificates to register to park in a location of their choosing (on the public street) with the permission of the brick and mortar business they are parked in front of, for 3 hours (per day) no more than 50 calendar days per year.
Result: This would allow mobile vendors to work happy hours, catering events, evening engagements, and late night service in a way that would ensure that they are not in the same place every night. Is this a nightmare to enforce? Nope: Require all vendors to maintain a log of where they’ve parked. If they can’t produce the log for a permit officer immediately, they loose the right to work that location until they bring the log (and pay a fine) at the police station. How does the Police Department know where they are? Before they start serving, they come down to the police station and submit a stop request with a schedule of when they will be at a location. Is there a limit to the amount of vendors that can work a spot? Yeah, one at a time. Mobile trucks would happily pay 30$ per location to have clarification on this issue.
4) Suggestion: Allow carts and trucks to maintain a temperature of 38 degrees refrigeration in any manner they like.
Result: Current standards require new carts and trucks to install expensive mechanical refrigeration units although there are grandfathered carts and trucks all over the city that maintain healthy food temperatures with ice and less expensive technologies. 38 degrees is 38 degrees. It shouldn’t matter the method of how you achieve the temperature as long as it doesn’t affect food safety.
5) Suggestion: Create a mobile food peddler permit.
Result: There is currently no way to sell food from a cart that moves around. Create a zone were this type of service is allowed and encourage vendors to sell there (with legal, cheaper, carts).
6) Suggestion: Cut the distance requirements in half.
Result: Reduce the minimum distances from other vendors or similar food types from 2 blocks or 300 feet(which ever is greater for trucks) to 1 block or 150 feet (whichever is greater) for both trucks and carts. This would exponentially and immediately increase the amount of spaces for available for legal service.
7) Suggestion: Explicitly state that street vending is allowed at night.
Result: Currently the SFPD doesn’t approve permits for night vending. This would force them to allow night vending under the same standard that they permit day vending.
Every single one of these suggestions follow a standard that exists for either special events, or farmer’s markets, and also is under the purview of San Francisco City government to change. These changes would substantially reduce both the size and entry costs of carts, without sacrificing food quality at all. And, best of all, they could all happen within the existing permit structure. Now, the question is, will we see any of them in the new legislation this summer? I’m waiting to see like everyone else….
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