On Valentine’s Day, Assembly Member Monning submitted AB 1678 -Building Healthy School Environments -Curb Mobile Vending to Kids. Sponsored by the California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), a statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well being of low income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable food, the bill seeks to restrict mobile vending around K-12 schools between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. during school season, and prohibits vending within 1500 feet of school property lines.
CFPA requested that the legislature help create healthy school environments, support academic achievement, and promote student wellness by restricting mobile food vending near school campuses before, during, and after the school day.
On its surface, the proposal seems reasonable, however many mobile food vendors are concerned that a one-size fits all solution will eliminate mobile vending in entire cities throughout the state. The bill makes no mention of brick and mortar restaurants near schools, and mobile vendors feel that the mobile foods industry has been unfairly singled out. Further, the 1500 foot restriction in dense cities like San Francisco, could take mobile food vendors off the street entirely during business hours, due to the overlap in restricted fields.
Tia Shimada, Nutrition Policy Advocate at CFPA, focuses on issues of access, participation, and nutritional quality primarily in the school breakfast and summer nutrition programs. Tia co-coordinates the BreakfastFirst Campaign and contributes to CFPA’s data analyses that examine impacts of the federal nutrition programs, particularly CalFresh.
“We understand that many food trucks offer healthy choices, and we also acknowledge that the brick and mortar restaurants have the capacity to impact student nutrition, as well,” Shimada said. “Mobile food vendors have the ability to pick up their wares, and settle in any location. Many vend right outside the school gates, or in unsafe locations.”
According to Shimada, the bill came as a result of mobile food operators vending directly outside school grounds across the state. School officials in various cities have requested support from local authorities in, asking mobile foods operators to relocate, however in most cases, no laws are violated.
“The trucks park right near our school exit,” said Stephanie Wallace, Principal of San Marcos Elementary School. “Students crowd this area and block the sidewalk while they make purchases. All of this activity creates traffic jams and causes parents and students to walk in the street. This isn’t just about nutrition, but also about safety. I’ve asked our local sheriffs to help with this issue, but the vendors aren’t breaking any laws. I’ve asked the vendors to leave, but they’re still here every day.”
In other parts of the state, the situation has become a high risk. Miguel Villarreal, the nutrition services director for Novato Unified School District (NUSD), describes the conditions that prompted the new ordinance as dangerous. “Our high schools had up to six trucks parked right next to campus at one time,” he said. “More and more students were congregating nearby and schools were having difficulty providing adequate supervision. We heard concerns from principals about the aggressive competition between vendors. Principals were also troubled about so many kids spilling out into the streets, kids completely blocking the sidewalk, and kids encroaching on neighboring private property. Luckily we had no traffic accidents, but there were close calls.”
The CFPA AB1678 Fact Sheet claims that mobile food vending near schools:
- Draws participation away from school meal programs;
- Negatively impacts student health and safety;
- Reinforces the negative stigma associated with participating in the school meal programs; and
- Jeopardizes the fiscal viability of school nutrition services.
The organization believes that limiting mobile food vending near school campuses will help create environments that foster student wellness and, by extension, academic success.
“This bill is just one step of many,” said Shimada. “We’ve worked for years to create healthier school environments for our students. In some communities, these efforts are being undermined by mobile food vending that competes with the healthy meals and snacks offered by schools through federally funded nutrition programs. We are open to… we need to hear… feedback from the mobile foods community. Anyone is welcome to contact our office.”
Earlier this year, the organization sponsored AB 1560, introduced by Assembly Member Fuentes to modify the California Welfare and Institutions Code in order to make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more accessible to Medi-Cal benefit recipients. Only half of eligible Californians participate in CalFresh. At a time when working families are struggling to make ends meet, it is critical that they receive nutrition assistance. This bill ensures that people who receive public health coverage (Medi-Cal), can also receive CalFresh, and that children in their households will be certified for free school meals. Program alignment will make sure that in the future, low-income Californians have easy access to a package of benefits to support health.
Find the California Food Policy Advocates online at http://cfpa.net/
Comments? Suggestions? What’s your opinion? How can California curb our mobile street food vendors at K-12 schools without alienating an entire sector of small businesses?