Citing lack of licenses, health permits, Cathedral City acts to tighten regulations on sidewalk vendors

In extreme cases, code enforcement officers will now have authority to seize or dispose of foods, goods and merchandise of an unlicensed vendor.
Fruit vendors such as this one on the city’s border with Palm Springs off Ramon Road will need a license following action by the Cathedral City Council last week.

Two months after first starting to explore the subject, Cathedral City leaders have finalized new regulations for the ever-increasing number of sidewalk vendors in the city.

During its regular meeting on Jan. 11, the City Council unanimously approved new rules aimed at both streamlining the permitting process for vendors and assuring greater oversight of their operation.

The issue came to the Council’s attention in November after it was noted that code compliance officers interacting with many vendors found they were not licensed, did not have a food handler permit, and did not carry identification.

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“(I)t has been difficult to address community and health concerns and has limited staff’s enforcement options in requesting the vendor leave the area, only to find the vendor has returned later in the day or the next day,” wrote Sandra Molina, the city’s code compliance and development manager.

Despite those community concerns, state laws prevents cities from outright banning sidewalk vendors. It does, however, allow for regulations that offer mechanisms for removing any deemed unsafe. The city has an existing peddler permit program regulating mobile vendors such as ice cream trucks and carts, but no such program existed for those who offer fruit, juices, or other goods from pop-up stands.

Under the ordinance passed last week, vendors must initially pay $192 for a permit, and $100 each year they wish to renew. Obtaining the permit requires successfully showing a city business license and Riverside County Health Department food handlers permit. The permit must be visible on any cart.

The ordinance does not apply to groups such as the Girl Scouts and other nonprofits when they set up on private property such as grocery stores. However, if those groups elect to sell on public property, the application fees will be waived.

Additionally, sidewalk vendors are not permitted to operate between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. However, if they are set up near other businesses that stay open later, they are allowed to operate. That brought concerns about lighting, which city staff said could be addressed as part of the safety aspect of the new regulations.

“If you look at some of the vendors in the Palm Springs area, it looks like a circus,” said Councilmember Raymond Gregory. “It looks like a full-on restaurant. And they don’t just have one string light, they have several throughout. It definitely could create some sort of safety issues.”

A rise in street vending has been occurring throughout the Coachella Valley since the start of the pandemic, as many residents lost service industry jobs and looked for other ways to earn a living. In Palm Springs, for example, residents began noticing an increase in fruit carts and taco stands, leading to that city’s elected leaders exploring regulations late last year.

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