County gets earful from event organizers and food vendors

Rick Breland
Rick Breland, Mayor of Imperial, asked the county to reduce fees for event food vendors

EL CENTRO – The Board of Supervisors conducted a hearing on codifying ordinances that included the hotly contested fees and regulations vendors pay and conform to at community events, including farmers markets.

Many small business owners, non-profits, and community organizers stood up against purported fees and prohibitive regulations. All cities of the valley sent representatives to contest the increase they declared would kill their events.

Regulations mentioned included screening of pop-up tents and boxing cooks into areas with only a 12” window to communicate with the public.

Robin Hodgkins, Director of Imperial County Health Department, explained that the fees do not cover even half the cost of her department’s expenses in monitoring food vendors. “We can’t have people getting sick at these food fairs. What we charge does not come close to covering our costs in regulating food vendors.”

Sharon Ryan, executive director of Imperial Chamber of Commerce told the board, “ I am highly opposed to these fees. They are extremely high for little businesses, for our food vendors. This will shut down all the events, because if the food people can’t afford to come, people won’t either. You have to have food to make these events successful.”

Many argued that nobody was getting rich off their enterprises, just supplementing income to make ends meet.

Yuma charges $160 and San Diego charges$350 for rural certified farmers markets, and $435 for urban street fairs, Linsey Dale of Imperial County Farm Bureau reported. ‘For you to charge what San Diego charges is too much for us. Remember we still have the highest unemployment in the state.”

Hodgkins reminded the group that California regulations come from the state, and unlike Arizona, everything is more expensive here to conform to stricter regulations.

Hodgkins finally set the record straight that of all the fees, none have been raised. An extra option was added that gave vendors the choice of buying a year round permit-$435.00- which was twice the cost of the 6 month permit. She reminded everyone that it was still possible to buy a 1-4 day permit for $80.

Public health had always planned on returning to the board once the ordinances passed to ask for a reduction in prices.

Nevertheless, many thought that the $80 dollar fee for one day was excessive.

Ryan Kelley, Supervisor District 4, suggested letting the cost of a shorter time period permit be rolled over to an extended permit fee if they find they do well.  “This mitigates sticker shock vendors are bound to feel.”

Michael Kelley, District 3, said, “These events are exciting and fun. They give the community something to do. We need to find a way to work this out so we aren’t cutting out vendors because of excessive fees.”

Sharon Ryan reminded the board when they promised to cut fees for the non-profits like FFA, “Without the  for- profit vendors at an event, the non-profits won’t make any money either because nobody will show up.”