Friday almost appeared like a normal San Francisco Christmas: The famed Union Square Christmas Tree glittered in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, and a group of ice skaters wound round the rink. Ahead, posted in front of the Macy’s and it’s “Believe”-decorated Christmas tree on Geary Street, four bundled-up Latinx hot dog vendors grilled onions and sausage and blasted music in Spanish. Then, a phalanx of around eight cops and Department of Public Health workers descended on them.
At about 1:42 p.m. a group of at least six police officers and two Department of Public Health employees wrote up the hot dog vendors at Macy’s after they could not produce the proper license, and then impounded at least one man’s cart.
For the past two weeks, the Health Department had been visiting vendors to check their licenses, and handing out brochures in English and Spanish about how to obtain one, a Health Department worker on-site said. He noted that even after these warnings the department has not received a single call, and that Mayor London Breed told the department to enforce against those without licenses. He added all other inquiries should be directed to the department’s spokesperson.
The Health Department statement was sent Friday evening, and is reproduced here in full:
"Beginning Friday, Dec. 17, the San Francisco Department of Public Health - in partnership with the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Police Department - is conducting enforcement operations in Union Square to address the increase in the number of mobile food facilities and pushcarts in the area. Since December 1, we have provided vendors in the Union Square area with information on how to keep food safe, obtain permits for approved food sales, and how to comply with current regulations. After providing educational resources, vendors found to still be operating without a permit have been issued citations and some have their food and carts impounded. The owner of carts without a permit are issued a citation and the cart and/or food is impounded and held on a city-owned lot until a hearing can be held within 30 days. If the owner shows that their business operation meets the current regulatory requirements, they can be granted a permit to operate and retrieve their cart. There are no fines or penalties for the vendor. Any equipment not claimed is properly disposed of. Consumers should be careful to only purchase food from a street vendor that has a permit decal sticker visible on the food cart or mobile vehicle. This decal ensures that the vendor had been inspected by the SFDPH and understands the requirements for safe food handling. "
As the group interviewed each vendor, one Health Department worker seemingly in charge wrote up reports and stuck white “impounded” stickers on the cart. He told them they could operate again once they obtain a license. It costs $168 to renew a permit for a mobile food facility, according to the Department of Public Works. A third person who appeared to be with the Health Department translated the information into Spanish.
The brochure read, “Sidewalk vendors that sell perishable food must have a Health Permit before lawfully and safely beginning their vending.” It listed that unclean food pictures could result in bacteria and sickness like diarrhea; a picture on the back titled “Unapproved Sidewalk Vending” showed a close-ups of hotdogs on grills. To compare, the brochure featured pictures of approved refrigeration and cooking units.
On the inside, numbers for the Department of Public Works, the Department of Public Health, the fire department and the Office of Small Business were included.
One by one, three vendors scurried off. When asked to comment, one told Mission Local in Spanish, “Sorry no. They told us to go, so we’re going.”
“There’s one more,” an officer said, referring to the fourth vendor across Geary and located closer to Neiman Marcus.
After interrogating the final vendor and realizing he had no permit, they handed over a flyer which he perused for a while. A Department of Public Works employee grabbed a clear trash bag and cleared a box of unused hot dog buns, throwing it in the back of a truck. Next, he wheeled up the man’s cart, with sausages still sizzling on the grill and an “impounded” sticker labeling the front now. Joining it were two coolers full of ice and soda that two other vendors used moments before.
In minutes, the crowd of city workers departed, leaving the final vendor laughing incredulously with some bottled waters. He too, denied to speak.
“Anyone want a water?” He called out to the Macy’s shoppers, chuckling weakly.
This story was updated Dec. 18, 10:30 a.m. to include a statement from the SFDPH.