As complaints mount, Hayward reconsiders how selling works on its sidewalks

HAYWARD—A California state law meant to protect sidewalk vendors may be taking a bite out of brick-and-mortar businesses open around them.

Complaints began piling up last year about vendors selling tacos, tamales, fruit and bacon-wrapped hot dogs from pushcarts and make-shift stands, especially along Tennyson Road’s bustling corridor between Interstate 580 and Mission Boulevard.

Now city officials are responding with a series of community meetings intended to craft new restrictions on the times and places that vendors can operate — and to incorporate the input of both vendors and business owners, as well as residents and government officials.

Tensions over the issue were on display at a Hayward City Council meeting in November. Lesly Garcia from Xenias Gelato said it’s not fair that permitted vendors can take daily customers away without having to grapple with the costs of utilities, business licenses and property taxes.

Raul Martinez, owner of Don Gaspacho Paleteria & Snacks, said he used to tell his daughter to buy enough for everyone when he saw people selling fruit on the street. But now, he said the people hanging around outside have hurt his business — sometimes leaving him without enough money to afford his own food or bills.

In the 22 years Taqueria La Placita has been in business, Alfonzo Perez said that sales started declining once the number of vendors increased. He also criticized what he sees as lax attitudes about safety among sidewalk vendors.

“We have health inspectors come every year to our location and make sure everything’s clean and neat, but when it comes to street vendors, there’s nobody who checks them like that,” Perez said Nov. 1. “I don’t think that’s fair that for us.

“But if that’s the case, I’d rather have my business go on the street, sell tacos how we always do and that’s it — not pay bills, not pay rent.”

Jeremy Lochirco, Hayward’s planning manager, said that once pandemic-era regulations started to ease last year, inquiries began coming in from local businesses about regulating existing sidewalk vendors, as well as opening up new permits.

The city currently has no easy way to address these issues, however, unless the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health finds that vendors are failing to display necessary permits, comply with food safety health codes or keep public right-of-ways clear.

A sidewalk vendor sells tamales along Tennyson Road on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Hayward, Calif. The city of Hayward is updating its sidewalk vendor rules, after complaints have surfaced about food safety, blocked walkways and negative impacts to local restaurants and businesses. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Both roaming and stationary vendors were largely decriminalized in 2019, after SB 946 — also known as the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act — was championed by then-Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and signed into law by former California Gov. Jerry Brown.

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