What could be more California than buying fresh fruit on the street corner? And yet vending is criminalized across our state. The people who suffer as a result are the hard-working immigrants who are trying to earn an honest living by selling things that millions of people are eager to buy.
Arrest for even a misdemeanor can result in deportation, ripping families apart and thwarting economic opportunity. Decriminalizing sidewalk vending will empower more entrepreneurship and economic activity, while protecting the people and culture of California.
The good news is that the California Legislature just passed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act (SB 946) to decriminalize vending and create an administrative framework for local regulation of vending that is smart, fair and includes administrative, not criminal penalties for enforcement.
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Still have questions? We have answers!
Question: Is SB 946 really necessary? Don’t we already have rules for sidewalk vending?
SB 946 is vitally necessary to protect immigrants and low-income workers, and to ensure that the American promise of economic opportunity is available to all Californians. Local jurisdictions across the state either completely prohibit sidewalk vending, or impose such onerous restrictions that there is a de facto prohibition. And nearly all jurisdictions impose criminal penalties. This creates a dangerous catch-22: sidewalk vendors cannot get permits, but vending without a permit is a crime. As a result, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and their families face barriers to economic mobility and the devastating consequences of criminalization, including the heightened risk of deportation for some immigrant entrepreneurs. With new threats from the Trump administration every day, SB 946 is timely and necessary.
Question: How will SB 946 affect food safety?
SB 946 will improve food safety and consumer health. Food vending is currently regulated by the California Retail Food Code, and in most cases, food vendors are required to undergo inspections and obtain permits from local health departments. But as long as cities prohibit and criminalize sidewalk vending, vendors are forced to work in the shadows. By creating a legal pathway to formalization, SB 946 will better integrate food vendors into the state law requirements around food safety, thereby increasing compliance and improving consumer health.
Question: Will SB 946 help immigrant communities?
YES! Right now, sidewalk vending is criminalized in communities across California. This means that tens of thousands of immigrant entrepreneurs and their families are at heightened risk of deportation and other devastating immigration/citizenship consequences. For example, a Southern California vendor was recently picked up by ICE, separated and isolated from her four children for months, and held in an immigration detention facility — all stemming from a simple sidewalk vending citation. By decriminalizing sidewalk vending, SB 946 will prevent these occurrences and better protect California’s immigrant population in a time of dangerous rhetoric and discrimination under the Trump administration. SB 946 helps California take a strong stand in support of our immigrant community.
Question: Will SB 946 hurt local businesses?
NO! SB 946 promotes a healthy and vibrant small business economy by encouraging local jurisdictions to create a pathway to legal and regulated sidewalk vending. A study of vending in Los Angeles showed that businesses located near sidewalk vendors are actually more likely to experience job growth and maintain higher levels of employment than businesses not located near vending. Sidewalk vending that occurs within a fair regulatory framework can offer many benefits to existing brick and mortar businesses: vendors buy supplies from local shops, activate commercial corridors to bring more foot traffic to the area, and provide eyes on the street to enhance safety and create a vibrant and welcoming environment. Legalizing and regulating sidewalk vending is more likely to produce collaborative and mutually beneficial relationships between mobile vendors and brick and mortar shops.
Question: Will SB 946 help our economy?
Absolutely! Sidewalk Vendors already contribute so much to our local economies. Vendors buy supplies from local merchants, circulate money in neighborhoods that are ignored by mainstream capital, and generate tax revenue. One study from LA estimated that sidewalk vending amasses over $500 million in local economic stimulus annually in just that city. Unnecessary barriers to legal sidewalk vending prevent realization of the full economic benefits of the vending economy. By encouraging a fair and regulated sidewalk vending system in communities across California, SB 946 will better integrate the sector into our formal economy and enhance these benefits across the state.
Question: Does SB 946 take away local control?
SB 946 does not affect a local jurisdiction’s ability to regulate the time and manner of sidewalk vending to ensure the health and safety of the public. SB 946 strikes a careful balance between public safety and economic inclusion. The bill will empower local jurisdictions to impose rules that are necessary to ensure health and safety in response to unique local circumstances, while making sure that local regulations do not become unnecessary impediments to entrepreneurship and economic mobility. SB 946 does not take away a local jurisdiction’s ability to enforce local rules. SB 946 merely redirects enforcement practices to non-criminal methods, in order to better protect vulnerable immigrant and low- income communities.
Question: What does SB 946 mean for women’s safety and economic empowerment?
Women comprise a large proportion of sidewalk vendors across California. Sidewalk vending is a vitally important way for many women to earn a living and support their families. Sidewalk vending offers important flexibility and fewer barriers to entry for women with family care-giving responsibilities, and those who are undocumented, have limited education or English langue skills, have prior criminal records, or are entering the U.S. workforce for the first time. But when sidewalk vending is relegated to the informal economy and criminalized, women vendors face unique challenges, such as sexual harassment and physical threats, high incidents of extortion and theft, and general lack of security in public spaces. By creating a pathway for safe, regulated, legal sidewalk vending, SB 946 will legitimize women-owned sidewalk vending businesses, create legal avenues to better address threats and remain safe, and enhance female entrepreneurship opportunities.
Question: Violent attacks on sidewalk vendors have been in the news recently. Will SB 946 help improve safety?
In just the last year, violent attacks and harassment of sidewalk vendors have made headlines in places like the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Alameda County, Silicon Valley, the Central Valley, Orange County, San Bernardino County, and many others. These attacks are not just isolated incidents — they are part of a broader legal system that delegitimizes sidewalk vending. When vendors are forced into the informal economy and criminalized for their work, they are isolated from legal protections and more vulnerable to attack, harassment and exploitation. When laws dehumanize sidewalk vendors, then people may feel emboldened to do the same. SB 946 will create pathways to formalization that will legitimize existing businesses and better align sidewalk vendors with protections.