Food street vendors in the Inland Empire say they're struggling to acquire the permits they need to be able to operate. Now a nonprofit is using a $600,000 grant to help.
Rafaela prepares food in her home and then sells it or caters at events.
"People liked my food," said Rafaela, who loves to cook and provides for her three daughters.
Rafaela could be one of roughly 200 food street vendors or home cooks who will receive $2,000 to $7,000 to invest in their businesses.
Lyzzeth Mendoza, policy manager at the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice -- also known as IC4IJ -- said the money, which was awarded through the state, will be like a scholarship.
"You won't owe anything back to us. This is an opportunity for you to use it as a deposit for your food cart, as a deposit for the commissary that will be required, for a QuickBooks system to track the records of all the transactions you make," said Mendoza.
Each county health department is tasked with processing permits. Food like tacos, empanadas, and pupusas require more elaborate carts that many vendors say are not practical, and in some cases may interfere with city sidewalk restrictions due to their size.
"I think that now is the time for policymakers to see how they can lessen the cost of permits, how they can copy models of like of Los Angeles who are looking into creating a real food cart that's accessible and that can be modified for the different forms of street vending that exits," said Mendoza.
San Bernardino County's health department tells Eyewitness News it is focused on an education approach and does not conduct enforcement. Riverside County's Health Department says education and safety are their priority, adding that after issuing warnings, they will confiscate food merchandise and can issue citations.
"Our number one priority is going to be food safety and to make sure that the public that you're selling the food to does not get sick," said Dotti Merki, deputy director of the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health. "When we go out and address the unpermitted food vendors, every single time it involves education. Our number one goal is to help these vendors get into business and doing it correctly."
Within each county there are dozens of cities that may enforce their own city codes. Mendoza said street vendors have encountered those enforcement actions in cities across both counties in the Inland Empire.
Organizers and counties across California are urging elected officials to issue a moratorium as possible solutions are explored.
In the meantime, IC4IJ encourages entrepreneurs to apply for the available grants to support them through the process that is currently in place.
"We only hope to grow the the immigrant businesses of tomorrow," Mendoza said.
Requirements to apply include living in the Inland Empire and attending educational workshops.