Santa Barbara officials cracking down on roving food vendors during Fiesta

Aug 2, 2019

Santa Barbara’s 95th annual Old Spanish Days—or Fiesta—is underway. The festival, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, is a celebration of Santa Barbara’s history and cultural heritage. Sidewalk vending is common at Fiesta, and a new state law protects people who sell wares on the street without a permit. But it’s not a blanket protection for all sidewalk vendors, and local authorities say they will be looking for people selling food illegally at this year’s Fiesta.

At the 2018 Fiesta, cascarones—or confetti eggs—vendors were the target of a sweep by state tax authorities, who said the sellers needed permits and to pay taxes. Santa Barbara police rose to vendors’ defense.

“Some members of the community were alarmed because they weren’t aware of the type of enforcement that was happening,” said Anthoney Wagner with the Santa Barbara Police Department. “And they didn’t understand the distinction if they were state police officers or local police officers. Some people thought they could be connected to some federal operation.”

There were concerns the 2018 Fiesta tax enforcement was related to U.S. Immigration Enforcement. Following the sweep, and after speaking with Santa Barbara police, field officers from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) left, and no citations were issued.

“We apologize if the department's actions caused any misunderstanding or apprehension,” Paul Cambra with the CDTFA wrote KCBX News in 2018. “Our presence at this event was intended to be an educational outreach effort, and we appreciated meeting with the local community.”

Not long after Fiesta, SB946 was signed into state law. The bill, called the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, was authored by then-state senator Ricardo Lara, who is now California's state insurance commissioner. The law is intended to regulate sidewalk vending, protect vendors from getting citations and help educate sellers on how to get the right kind of permits.

“Go anywhere in the world and you will find sidewalk vendors,” Lara said. “Go anywhere in California and you will see them as well. It is part of our culture.”

According to the bill’s language, local authorities are instructed to come up with their own rules to regulate sidewalk vending without penalizing vendors. But there are stipulations that allow local authorities to determine time, place and manner of street vending during special events, and when there are issues of public health and safety. And Wagner said these rules may apply to unpermitted hot dog and fruit vendors at Fiesta.

“We work in conjunction with the public health department to determine that illegal food vendors don’t potentially hurt portions of the community with food-born illnesses,” Wagner said.

Santa Barbara police will be “strictly enforcing state codes pertaining to roving food vending during this year’s Fiesta," said Wagner, adding that what type of enforcement is done is left to an officer’s discretion.

“It’s quite possible we would accommodate telling someone to leave and if they didn’t leave, they would may be susceptible to some level of enforcement,” Wagner said.

The state law says violations are limited to an administrative fines. Those fines are $250 for a first violation, no more than $500 for a second violation within one year of the first violation, and $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of the first violation.

Wagner said he expects illegal food vending enforcement at Fiesta to be limited to areas with the heaviest foot traffic, which is primarily Santa Barbara’s State Street.