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A group of street vendor advocates rallies outside the San Bernardino County Government Center on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in advance of the Board of Supervisors considering a $9.8 billion budget that includes funds for an illegal street vending enforcement program. (Photo by Beau Yarbrough / SCNG)
A group of street vendor advocates rallies outside the San Bernardino County Government Center on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in advance of the Board of Supervisors considering a $9.8 billion budget that includes funds for an illegal street vending enforcement program. (Photo by Beau Yarbrough / SCNG)
UPDATED:

On Tuesday, June 11, San Bernardino County supervisors approved a . But they got an earful about $484,657 of it.

Those funds were set aside for a Department of Public Health initiative, the Illegal Street Vending program.

The funds will be used to “add positions, vehicles, and (cover) ancillary costs necessary for the provision of Illegal Street Vending Enforcement,” the budget document reads in part. Four new employees will be hired — three environmental health specialists and a supervisor. Beyond that, the budget doesn’t include many details about the new program or what it will entail.

But activists who rallied outside the county government building Tuesday before speaking during a public hearing at the board meeting, were worried the county intends to ramp up its enforcement efforts against street vendors.

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“This would just open the floodgates for the county to start pursuing aggressive tactics against street vendors,” Bryan Sanchez, the lead organizer for the , said before the meeting. “They have done so in the past. We’ve advocated against it and fought against it. So we see the creation of this program as them trying to go back to it.”

Sanchez and others said the county has levied unreasonable fines against vendors, as well as seizing food and equipment from them.

A street vendor advocate prepares a sign for a rally outside the San Bernardino County Government Center on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in advance of the Board of Supervisors considering a $9.8 billion budget that includes funds for an illegal street vending enforcement program. (Photo by Beau Yarbrough / SCNG)
A street vendor advocate prepares a sign for a rally outside the San Bernardino County Government Center on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in advance of the Board of Supervisors considering a $9.8 billion budget that includes funds for an illegal street vending enforcement program. (Photo by Beau Yarbrough / SCNG)

“We’re urging them not to do that, but instead to recognize that street vending is a legitimate small business and is a way for low-income people and immigrant communities to earn a living and to support their families,” Sanchez said. “Rather than waste money creating just another enforcement team, more staff to just go out there and cite and impoverish vendors even more, they should integrate those vendors into San Bernardino County’s formal economy and benefit from the business that they conduct.”

The program comes at a time when county prosecutors announced six street vendor activists have pleaded guilty to felony assault charges. Prosecutors say the defendants crossed the line from advocacy for the marginalized and the aggrieved to intimidation and assault.

During public comments, however, vendors and their supporters told the board that more enforcement was the wrong approach with street vendors.

“It’s necessary to invest funds for education of the street vendors,” Claudia Quevas told the board, noting that information about the proposed budget was available only in English, shutting out the county’s Spanish-speaking residents who would be impacted by the street vendor enforcement program.

Others talked about how vendors are would-be restauranteurs trying to earn enough money to open brick-and-mortar locations and need the county’s help, rather than being the target of policing efforts.

“All we’re lacking is education and the support from you to guide us through (the regulatory) process,” Alma Lopez told supervisors.

The board did not comment on the speakers’ concerns prior to voting to unanimously to approve the 2024-25 budget.

The Illegal Street Vending program isn’t a new one, according to county spokesperson David Wert.

“It is simply the addition of three positions to an existing program – positions that will allow services on weekends rather than just weekdays only,” Wert wrote in an email. “And they are not purely enforcement positions.”

Instead, he wrote, “the newly funded positions are intended to work collaboratively with street vendors to ensure they are aware of all regulations and laws related to sidewalk vending. The intention is to prioritize education and outreach to vendors in obtaining legal permits and operating in accordance with state and county law. The team will work to educate prior to issuing citations.

“Enforcement is the last-resort option only for vendors who repeatedly resist seeking permits, which are necessary for public health and safety,” Wert said.

Public Health has never fined nor cited unlicensed street vendors, as it currently lacks legal authority to do so, he wrote. No county agency confiscates equipment, he added.

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