Ending the pushcart war

With new state law, Sacramento City Council tries to balance the rights of pushcart operators with concerns of traditional businesses

Sacramento street vendors are about to have more freedom thanks to a recent state law that compelled the city to change its rules. On Jan. 7, City Council members completely overhauled their regulatory framework for pushcarts and food wagons.

Up until this year, Sacramento code limited the operation and permitting of sidewalk vending to food sellers, who could only be stationed on certain corners within the central business district. But with the passage of state Senate Bill 946, those limits were void.

“State law dictates a city cannot restrict vending to a limited area, cannot place a limit on the number of vendors allowed, and community hostility and economic competition are not considered valid reasons to regulate,” Tessa St. John of the Sacramento Finance Department explained to council members.

But cities still have some leverage to regulate on health and safety, she said.

Council members reviewed new proposed codes, which include that a street vendor must be at least 100 feet from another vendor, 600 feet from an entertainment venue between midnight and 2:30 a.m., and 300 feet from a special event or regular outdoor event such as the farmer’s market.

Councilman Jeff Harris had concerns on the final point.

“Vendors actually give us remuneration to be able to sell at the events, and we use that money to do projects in the community,” he said. “They’re paying to play … How would you measure a 300-foot separation? I don’t want to create an undue or unfair competition situation when people are paying to vend at the events.”

St. John replied that code enforcement would have discretion on measuring the distances.

Pushcart peddlers also had concerns about the requirement to be at least 600 feet from an entertainment venue in late night and early morning hours, which was enacted to make sure there would be clear, safe exit routes on the sidewalks during emergencies. James Moore, owner of the hot dog cart Big City Bites, asked council members to reconsider.

“I understand it’s a big public safety issues,” Moore acknowledged. “But a lot of people are so intoxicated, they actually can’t take Uber home. They’ll take hot dogs from us, waters from us, then they sober up enough.”

But Councilman Steve Hansen, whose district includes most of the city’s entertainment venues, wanted to extend the time frame rather than curtail it. Citing a number of shootings that have happened inside clubs, Hansen proposed starting the rule at 10 p.m. instead of midnight.

“I’m not trying to be morbid, but we have had some incidents,” Hansen cautioned.

The council unanimously passed the new codes, with the stipulation that they would revisit time frames.

Johann van Ravenhorst, owner of the popular Dutchman’s Stroopwafles, was generally happy with the result.

“I am a rule follower,” van Ravenhorst told the council, “so it would be nice if resources were made available for proper enforcement for a level playing field.”