Fresno’s mobile street vendors will soon benefit from increased security, thanks to a new pilot program that will install security cameras directly on their carts.

The $20,000 pilot program, funded by Councilmembers Luis Chavez and Miguel Arias’ offices, will install 20 cameras on Fresno street vendor carts. Street vendors will also receive free internet service for one year to livestream the cameras.

The pilot project is run in partnership with the nonprofit Cultiva La Salud and ironworkers from Fresno’s Local 155, who will design, fabricate, and install the fixtures that will hold the cameras on the mobile vendor carts.

“These cameras play a very important part in decreasing the crime and violence that is committed against them,” said Veva Islas, founder, and director of Cultiva La Salud, during Wednesday’s announcement. Islas is also a Fresno Unified school trustee.

The idea for the installed cameras came from the street vendors meeting with city leaders on how to improve working conditions after the tragic death of Lorenzo Perez, a street vendor who was murdered last year while working in southeast Fresno. The tragedy also spurred the creation of the newly formed Fresno Food Vendor Association, a project spearheaded by Chavez.

“Nos sentimos más seguros, más tranquilos,” said Miguel Lopez, president of the Fresno Food Vendor Association. “We feel more safe, more calm” doing our work thanks to the new cameras, said Lopez.

Chavez called the new safety measures “historic,” and the first of its kind in the country. “What we hope to do is really hone this model and then provide that as an option for other big cities,” he said.

After the initial pilot project is evaluated, city leaders say they hope to eventually offer this “small business incentive” to all of the city’s mobile street vendors.

Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias looks over a mobile food cart equipped with a security camera and solar panel, before a press conference, where the launching of a pilot program was announced for the safety of street food vendors who live and work in Fresno. JOHN WALKER [email protected]

Mobile street vending in Fresno

City leaders estimate that there are around 200 mobile street vendors that sell chopped fruit, elote, chips, and other snacks to Fresno communities. These vendors are a diverse group of Latinos, Asians, and Black Americans.

Street vending, which has been a longstanding tradition in California since its formation, was decriminalized by former California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018.

Mobile vendors have a very “important role to play” in increasing access to healthy foods, said Islas. “Their ability to sell foods and in particular things like…fresh corn is another way that we are promoting health or getting good food into food insecure neighborhoods.”

Street vending is also an important driver of economic activity and security for many Fresno families, said Arias.

But it’s not without its risks.

Last month, Fresno street vendors selling Valentine’s Day gifts in downtown Fresno were attacked and robbed. Incidents like this are unfortunately common, said members of the food vendor association on Wednesday.

Armando Franco Padilla is a mobile street vendor who has worked in east Fresno since 2010. He took up the occupation after the company that employed him as a gardener closed.

Padilla said he initially tried working in the agriculture fields as a farmworker, but it was too strenuous on his body. “Se me hinchaba la rodilla, ya no podía caminar,” said Padilla. “My knee would swell up; I couldn’t walk anymore.”

Instead, the 69-year-old decided to transition into selling treats around school communities using a bicycle-mounted cart.

Since then, the vendor has faced several dangerous situations, he said. In 2018, Padilla was attacked by a group of five high schoolers who robbed him of the $140 in cash he had in his wallet. During the attack, he was kicked and punched in the face. Now, he can longer see properly out of his right eye.

“Me dejaron ciego,” said Padilla, “they left me blind.”

While Padilla is one currently on the waitlist to receive a camera, he said he hopes the resource will keep him safe in future situations.

Fresno mobile street food vendor Miguel Lopez, with his 5-year-old daughter, Genesis, speaks during the press conference at the Mosqueda Center, Wednesday March 30, 2022, where the launching of a pilot program was announced for the safety of street food vendors who live and work in Fresno. JOHN WALKER [email protected]

Closing the ‘trust gap’ between Fresno PD and mobile street vendors

City leaders hope the cameras will increase trust and communication between the city, the police, and mobile street vendors.

“There was a lack of trust between mobile food vendors and the police department because of their past experience,” said Arias, especially vendors who worried about being ticketed for not having a business license.

Under the leadership of Deputy Chief Mark Salazar, the Fresno Police Department has been working to close the “trust gap” that exists between the city and street vendors.

Salazar wants vendors to know that they have the support of the police. “We’re here to protect our street vendors,” he said.

City leaders said they hope the cameras will prevent further attacks and, if an attack should occur, will help police identify the perpetrators more quickly.

“Irrespective of who you are, what business you run, and whether you have a license or not, if you’re a victim of crime and you need to call police, they will respond, and they will follow through,” said Arias.

Fresno City Council member Luis Chavez, right, talks with street food vendor Miguel Lopez before a press conference where he and council member Miguel Arias announced they have sponsored a security camera pilot program for the safety of street food vendors who live and work in Fresno. JOHN WALKER [email protected]

Latino leaders lead the charge to support street vendors

Arias said that the growing relationship between the city and its street vendors is, in part, a reflection on having a council that is “representative of the people that live in our city.”

Fresno City Council is composed of a majority Latino council members.

“The reason we’re having a different conversation is because there are more council members that know what it’s like to buy from a mobile food vendor and that can communicate directly with mobile food vendors and what their needs are,” said Arias.

In addition to the security camera pilot project, the city also plans to address taxes, licensing, and permitting for the street vendors, in addition to things like banking and alternative payment methods. For the first time, street vendors will also qualify for America Rescue Plan Act funds for small business owners through the city of Fresno, in a decision that was approved late February. The city is also building a $5 million commercial food kitchen in downtown Fresno, where food vendors can prepare the food they sell.

“Our primary role in the city is to engage in economic development,” said Arias.

Other changes might be on the way for California street vendors.

At the state level, the legislature is currently reviewing AB 972, a bill introduced by Senator Lena Gonzalez, a Democrat from Long Beach. The bill would modernize the California Retail Food Code to reduce barriers for street vendors to obtain local health permits.

Melissa Montalvo is a reporter with The Fresno Bee and a Report for America corps member. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

Pablo Villagrana, left, holding a security camera, and Joseph Vasquez, back left, demonstrate the use of the system designed to keep Fresno street vendors, such as Miguel Ruiz, center, safe as they work in Fresno, during a press conference at the Mosqueda Center, Wednesday March 30, 2022. The video feed, as shown on a mobile phone will be feed back to the Cloud system. JOHN WALKER [email protected]

Pablo Villagrana shows one of the security cameras that will be installed on a Fresno mobile street vendor’s cart, prior to the press conference at the Mosqueda Center, Wednesday March 30, 2022, where the launching of a pilot program was announced for the safety of street food vendors who live and work in Fresno. JOHN WALKER [email protected]

This story was originally published March 30, 2022 3:43 PM.

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