In an attempt to curb the wave of out-of-town street-food vendors setting up in Santa Barbara, the City’s Attorney’s Office has announced at a public community meeting late last month that the city had filed two criminal charges against vendors for operating in Santa Barbara without a permit and violating a number of city fire and safety codes.
Initial misdemeanor charges were filed on May 11 and 18 against two vendors — Francisco Hernandez and Maria Genez, both believed to be from the Los Angeles area — followed by additional charges filed on June 16, which specifically cited fire code violations. In a separate case, also on May 11, vendor Apolinar Reyes-Rosas was charged with the same misdemeanor violations. The charges against the vendors alleged they had violated fire-safety conditions by cooking with propane tanks and open flames.
A bench warrant was later issued for Hernandez after he and Genez failed to appear in court for their scheduled arraignment on June 28.
According to municipal code, vendors operating on the streets of Santa Barbara must abide by the city’s sidewalk vending rules and regulations and apply for a legal license from the city. Additionally, street vendors must take proper fire prevention and safety measures, same as any brick-and-mortar restaurant in Santa Barbara.
Assistant City Attorney Denny Wei told the Independent that the two street-vending operations that were charged criminally had created unsafe conditions. According to Wei, the vendors had created “issues of public safety,” prompting the city to file criminal charges in an effort to maintain public welfare.
In May, the city hosted a community meeting where staff addressed concerns from small business owners and the general public about unsafe and unauthorized street vendors operating on sidewalks. During the meeting, several community members spoke out against the larger out-of-town operations that had started to pop up in recent months. One small business owner argued it was “unfair for the city to let the street vendors remain in operation without the proper licenses and permits when he — and countless others — went through the rigorous, slow process of becoming a legit business in the city.”
The two criminal charges filed by the city stem from a months-long process of seeking public safety violations and addressing community concerns, including the creation of a task force specifically to find the city’s “most egregious and dangerous vendors.” Wei said that these actions were necessary to “educate other street vendors on proper fire and health safety measures,” and that the city was taking a more diplomatic approach “that considers both the interests of local businesses, public health, and the aspirations of street vendors.”