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Street Vendor Advocates Are Demanding the Implementation of a Bill That Will Legally Allow Them to Cook From home

Street vendors and vendor advocates gathered Tuesday morning outside of the Board of Supervisors office to demand two things: better protection for street vendors and the implementation of the Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation. The California bill, which passed in 2019, amends the California Health and Safety Code to establish a “microenterprise home kitchen operation” (referred to as a MEHKO) as a new type of retail food facility that will allow an individual to operate a restaurant in their private residence

The group, along with vendor advocate Edin Alex Enamorado, who organized the protest, was set to attend a board meeting at 9 A.M., but it was canceled last minute without any explanation. However, the crowd decided to continue with their protest, setting up speakers at the steps of the building to allow advocates and a few vendors to speak about their experiences. 

“We’re sick and tired of being terrorized in a city which we built… now the whole city is coming to our work and arresting, beating, and harassing our people, and performing sweeps and more, all because our people are out here trying to make an honest living,” one activist said to the crowd. 

Advocates like Enamorado, who has met with the Department of Public Health in the past, believe that establishing a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) will allow street vendors to thrive, putting an end to the sweeps that are often captured on camera. In 2018, Assembly Bill 626 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown and started to be implemented in 2019. The bill amends the California Health and Safety Code to establish MEHKO as a new type of retail food facility that will essentially allow a person to operate a restaurant in their private residence.

This means street vendors could use their own home kitchens to prep the food they are going to sell without the need of having to rent out a commissary. All while following the health department guidelines.

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
The Puppet Master, along with El Triste and La Smiley, also joined the protest, holding up signs that read "protect street vendors" and "Love your vendors."
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO. The Puppet Master, along with El Triste and La Smiley also joined the protest holding up signs that read "protect street vendors" and "Love your vendors."

Currently, food vendors in Los Angeles need to pay rent for a space in a commissary where they can store their equipment and prepare the food they will sell. Rent for commissaries changes depending on where a vendor goes. For example, last year, an ice cream truck owner named Jose Ayala said he was paying $350 monthly to store his truck at La Palma Commissary. There are also currently a little over 10,000 street vendors that operate in Los Angeles, meaning the number of commissaries in the city are not enough. They are also often a long distance away from where a vendor operates.

“As long as they get inspected and keep things clean, they are good, it'll really help them out, and it will eliminate many of the hurdles street vendors currently have,” said Enamorado. “And other counties have this already, so why not us?”

Riverside County is one of the cities that has successfully implemented MEHKO and has had more than a handful of businesses legally operating from their home without a problem. Like Cali Tardka, one of Riverside's first licensed at-home restaurants, which has been selling fusion style-Indian food out of their home for over three years. The family-run business was created out of necessity during a time when the family was on the verge of becoming homeless. Their current success has shown the possibilities for growth that a food business can enjoy when operating under MEHKO. 

However, MEHKO does have requirements. Any approved business is not allowed to make more than $50,000 annually, and they are not allowed to sell more than 30 meals a day. Still, it is being looked at as a possible stepping stone for vendors who have longed for a legal path to operating their business. 

Although the protest was focused on the implementation of this bill in the county, Enamorado did address the accusations he made in a video he recently posted on Instagram. In the video and in his storieshe briefly mentions the tensions rising between himself, vendors, and a local organization called Community Power Collective, which has organized street vendors for years, in addition to organizing vendor communities in the Guatemalan Night Market, the Piñata District, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and more. 

In the videos, he shows screenshots of text messages that told street vendors not to participate in the protest, describing it as "violent." Other allegations have also been made by former vendors who worked with the organization. 

“I've had problems with not just this organization but others who help vendors, but I’ve kept my mouth shut," Enamorado says. "The reason why I didn't say anything was because, at the end of the day, I felt that they were helping vendors too. I didn't want to basically stoop to their level, but it came to a point where the bad outweighed the good."

However, CPC has denied the accusations while confirming that their disagreements with Enamorado are true. CPC did not respond to continued follow-up emails for comment on the allegations. They posted a formal statement on their platform.

“As an organization, we support vending communities by facilitating political education, leadership development, engagement with local policy-makers and organizations, and by connecting vendors with other vending communities to help build collective power. Our goal is for vendors to be organized so that they do not need to depend on any individual or organization (PC included) to protect themselves and advocate for their needs and those of their communities… We believe that the disagreements we have had with this individual are about the tactics and strategies to best support street vendors. These kinds of differences will always exist within this work, and we accept that. We have never said anything about or against him to our community.”

After the initial publishing of the story CPC did reach out to clarify the text regarding the protest and said it was actually referring to a separate situation that they thought had to do with Tuesday’s gathering. 

"There were videos making their rounds on social media showing vendors being violent towards each other. It was our understanding that this march that was being planned by Edin was related to this incident…That is why we did not want to be involved. At no point did we tell people not to go to the action or refer to Edin as violent."

Enamorado, who normally organizes large protests with bandas, posters, and large crowds, said he couldn't help but think that the reason why there weren't a lot of street vendors at the protest on Tuesday had to do with the screenshots he showed, where some vendors alleged they were being told not to attend. 

“I feel like it's two reasons: one, it wasn't their (CPC's) idea, so they won't be able to benefit from this, and second they are falling for the rhetoric that protests are violent,” he said. “None of the protests I've organized have ever been violent. Saying this protest is violent is destructive.”

At the protest, Enamorado addressed the crowd of about 20 people. He told them not to be discouraged by the number of people present. 

“The last time we were here, they had closed down Whittier Boulevard, and they painted the curb red, kicking out all the food trucks and vendors. We came here, and we demanded they re-open it, and soon after, they repainted the curb grey, and people were able to return, so this is possible,” he said to the crowd, who was cheering his efforts on. 

Also present at the protest were Matt Geller and Richard Gomez of Revolution Carts, both created L.A.’s first legal tamal cart. Both have worked closely with Enamorado to help street vendors who have been victims of hate crimes, harassment, and more. One of the first vendors Enamorado connected them to was Juan Aguilar, the tamalero in San Pedro who was verbally attacked by a man while he was out selling last year. 

Since then, Revolution Carts has been able to provide Aguilar with a tamal cart, and he has become a permitted vendor, operating his business called Tamales El Primo

“His energy and his on-the-ground advocacy are impressive, and since meeting Edin, we’ve been able to help two other vendors aside from Juan who have had issues, and they will probably be permitted vendors with their carts next week,” said Geller. “To us, the biggest thing is to get vendors permitted so they don't have to worry about getting their food thrown out.”

Last week the three of them met with the Department of Public Health, in which Enamorado brought up MEHKO and the potential of allowing vendors to get community event permits. 

“The goal should be, how many vendors have we gotten permitted this week, as opposed to how many vendors did we shut down and throw away their food, added Geller. "That should be the county's goal, to educate and empower street vendors."

“With the carts, we were able to solve the issue with people selling tamales and elotes, and now we’re looking at a solution for the taqueros,” said Gomez. “And we think the micro-enterprise kitchen is one of the tools that can work.”

The protest ended close to 11 A.M., and plans to return next Tuesday are currently underway. According to Geller, all that needs to happen for this to take place in L.A. County would be for the board to vote on it, and then the Health Department can begin issuing permits for those who qualify.

“Street vending is a stepping stone towards a legitimate business," said Gomez. "A lot of the big enterprises today started out as street vendors: Teddys Red Tacos, King Taco, even Carls Jr. So let's give street vendors that stepping stone, too."

This article was updated Thursday to include a statement from CPC.

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