Santa Ana shuts down over 100 street vendors

On a chilly late December night, the scent of carne asada sizzling on a grill lured hungry shoppers along First Street in Santa Ana.

Under tents with fairy lights hanging around the edges, jalapeños slowly charred. A charcoal grill with chicken crackled nearby.

About a month earlier, city and county officials vandalized the booth’s groceries and confiscated about $2,000 worth of containers and utensils, the booth’s chef said as he operated the grill and served tacos to customers lined up on the sidewalk.

“All they were left with was the grill, the table and the water,” said the chef, who declined to give his name for fear of city or county retaliation. “I’m just trying to put food on the table.”

The man is one of more than 100 Santa Ana street vendors that have been shut down in recent weeks for allegedly selling food “unfit for human consumption” and lacking the appropriate permits, city officials wrote last week in a press release.

But his stand reopened a few days later, as did many others.

The California Retail Food Code requires food trucks and mobile food vendors to obtain a county health permit. However, many street vendors say they cannot afford the sinks and water tanks required for a permit. This equipment is also not suitable for their small, mobile operations, they say.

The city and the Orange County Health Care Agency launched the joint enforcement effort in November after members of the public and some businesses raised concerns about how vendors were storing and handling groceries, city officials said.

“While enjoying meals from street vendors has become popular, we cannot allow unsafe food conditions to jeopardize public health,” Mayor Valerie Amezcua said in a prepared statement.

Christine Lane, the county’s director of environmental health, said the agency had received reports of people getting sick after eating street food, but recent complaints were “mainly about operating without a health permit.”

A street vendor sells groceries at night.

A street vendor on the sidewalk of McFadden Avenue Tuesday in Santa Ana.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Customers say the vendors provide a dining experience befitting a city with a nearly 77% Latino population.

Thomas Mercado, a general contractor from San Diego, recently stopped at a taco pop-up on 1st Street before returning to a nearby motel where he’s staying while he does a job. He ordered two tacos, scooped up cilantro and onions, and squeezed fresh lime on top before taking a bite.

Mercado, 43, was born in San Diego but lived in Mexico for years. The vendors remind him of his time there, he said.

“I’d rather eat here than in a sit-down restaurant,” he said. “It’s more convenient. These are my people cooking my food.”

Street vendors, mostly Latinos, have been selling chili-dusted fruit, corn on the cob, tacos and easy-to-make treats about Santa Ana for decades.

Erualdo González recalls getting frozen treats from paleteros pushing three-wheel carts full of ice cream growing up in the city in the 1980s. But as vendors ventured into the city’s middle-class neighborhoods, people complained, said González, a professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Fullerton.

Food trucks faced a similar struggle in Santa Ana. In 2006, taco truck operators successfully sued the city for the right to park in the same spot all day. In 2017, they fought back proposed city regulations that would have forced trucks to keep a certain distance from street corners and provide restrooms for customers.

“It’s part of Santa Ana’s DNA, at least since the 1970s, to have these other food options that are outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar shops,” González said. “Part of it is cultural, part of it economic, and it’s the fabric of the city.”

In Santa Ana, outdoor grills serving tacos, tortas, quesadillas and burritos have been popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, being placed outside shops and restaurants or in the driveways and backyards of homes.

Other cities have also begun pushing back vendors, but a 2018 state law that largely decriminalizes street vending has left them with limited enforcement.

San Diego and Santa Monica banned vendors from selling in certain areas this year. Vendors have sued the City of Los Angeles over the right to sell in restricted zones, including Hollywood Boulevard.

In Anaheim, like Santa Ana, city officials recently teamed up with the county health department to seize equipment.

From January through October of this year, the Anaheim enforcement program resulted in more than 100 subpoenas for illegal street selling and 85 counts of equipment seizures, according to the city.

On average, the county health department receives about 40 complaints about Santa Ana street vendors each month. In Anaheim, the monthly average is closer to 100.

But in both cities, efforts to keep unlicensed vendors off the streets have been largely unsuccessful.

Juan, a chef who grills outside an auto repair shop on Main Street in Santa Ana, said he wasn’t sure how to get permits. He refused to give his last name for fear of retribution from county or city officials.

A new state law, SB 972, which takes effect in January, will make it easier for street vendors to obtain health permits. But taqueros have to prepare meat off-site in a licensed commissariat kitchen — an impractical option.

In mid-December, Juan said health officials shut down his grill and threw out the food. The disruption cost the owner, who also runs a food stand in Los Angeles, about $1,000 and Juan a day’s wages. The store was closed for three days before reopening, Juan said as he sliced ​​al pastor from a vertical rotisserie.

“It’s the work we know how to do,” he said. Santa Ana shuts down over 100 street vendors

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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