Members of the Ceres City Council took flak Monday evening from some citizens after directing staff weeks ago to emulate a county policy for cracking down on sidewalk vendors who fail to get the required permits.
The council indicated on Aug. 10 that it was in favor of following the county policy, which calls for the seizing of products from vendors who fail repeated warnings to obtain a permit.
On Monday the council decided to take up the sidewalk vendor issue at its Sept. 28 meeting since the budget will dominate the Sept. 14 meeting.
During Monday’s council meeting on Zoom, Ceres resident Gene Yeakley expressed his support of the crackdown and said he hopes the council isn’t backing off due to the backlash of comments expressed on social media.
City Manager Tom Westbrook said since the Courier published its article on Aug. 19 a half-dozen people have called the city about getting permits, which he said is the city’s goal.
Street vendors selling food products must get a permit from the Stanislaus County Health Department before they get a city peddler’s license.
In response to the Courier article, Cassandra Tapia of Ceres created a GoFundMe page to help vendors pay for permit fees. She opined that “vendors don’t make much profit as it is, and now they have to worry about paying $250.”
The city charges an annual fee of $250. The renewal fee is $110.
“I, as well as many others in the community, thought making a GoFundMe would be a great way to start helping the local street vendors in Ceres,” said Tapia.
“Reading through all the comments on the controversial article/post being shared and opinionated about endlessly, it was clear the community was upset, and rightfully so for a handful of reasons. Our street vendors are being threatened with getting their products thrown in the dumpster if they don’t have a permit.”
A total of $4,857 had been donated as of Tuesday.
Tapia and others say they will help vendors fill out the necessary paperwork, noting many vendors can’t read or write in English. She said she had trouble connecting with street vendors last week after driving around town.
Ceres resident Yasmine Perez called in Monday to criticize the city’s plan to crackdown on vendors doing business without a permit, claiming the council’s direction is “victimizing vendors that are making a living.”
Mayor Chris Vierra interjected that the city is not out to take product from vendors.
“I’m not sure why you have an issue with someone getting a permit,” said Vierra. “All that we’re asking, just like all of our brick-and-mortar buildings, you have to go through the same process that they go through. Why should they be any different? I understand people are hurting. We’re not trying to harm anyone. We’re just saying in order for you to be like all the other businesses you have to go through that process – pandemic or no pandemic. That’s the reality.”
Perez back-peddled her remarks, saying: “I’m not opposing the permits. I didn’t say ‘let’s not do it.’ I just said the timing is horrible.”
The state recently passed legislation banning cities from outright banning sidewalk vending, but allows cities to require vendors to obtain a permit. The Ceres Municipal Code was recently changed to create a process for vendors to be permitted.
The city Code Enforcement team has been educating vendors on the permit requirement since May but nobody had bothered to obtain permits at City Hall prior to Aug. 12, said Westbrook.
At the Aug. 12 meeting Ceres Police Captain Pat Crane asked where the confiscated product would be stored and Westbrook said the county allowed it to go “in the dumpster.” At the same meeting Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said “The only way they’re going to stop is when their product gets taken away. I think we’re done with warnings.”
Those comments prompted caller Jesse to phone into the council meeting and take the council for empathy for people “who are possibly low-income or just trying to work to put food on their family’s table.” He suggested they were “not only working through a global pandemic which is a health crisis that severely affects black and brown people” but are working through unhealthy air quality because of smoke and summer heat.
“What it seems like is you’re terrorizing black and brown communities who are just trying to make a living for themselves. And that may not be what you’re doing but that’s exactly how it seems.”
He also chided the mayor for sounding defensive when speaking to Perez.