A street vendor works the busy intersection of Tulare and Cedar avenues, March 31, 2021. Local advocates are fanning out across Fresno to do outreach to street vendors, offering them pepper spray and other forms of protection, in the aftermath of the the shooting death of street vendor Lorenzo Perez. Credit: JOHN WALKER / Fresno Bee

What's at stake:

One year after the tragic death of Lorenzo Perez, the Fresno City Council allocated money to ensure safety of a street food vendors.

More security cameras are on the way to Fresno’s mobile street vendors as part of the city’s finalized 2022-2023 fiscal year budget, which the City Council approved Thursday.

The spending plan includes $500,000 to expand mobile food vendor safety efforts.

“We recognize they’re the most vulnerable in the city when it comes to their safety,” Councilmember Miguel Arias said during Thursday’s meeting.

The decision to fund street vendors was proposed by Arias and seconded by Councilmember Tyler Maxwell during the June 15 budget hearing. The funding will come from the carryover of the $2.5 million Small Business Facade Improvement Program of the city’s Planning and Development department.

“Our mobile food vendors never stopped working during the pandemic,” Arias said. “They didn’t qualify for a lot of the relief during the pandemic, but yet, they kept on working, trying to figure out how to pay their bills.”

The expanded funding for street vendors comes three months after Arias and Councilmember Luis Chavez announced a $20,000 pilot project to improve street vendor safety.

The pilot program, funded by Chavez’s and Arias’ offices, provided individual security cameras directly onto 20 street vendors’ carts. Nonprofit Cultiva La Salud and ironworkers from Fresno’s Local 155 designed, fabricated, and installed the cameras on the mobile vendor carts and provided technical support.

“At the same time that we made our police officers and firefighters the highest paid in the Central Valley, that we gave salary increases to every labor group in the city, where we’re investing in older neighborhoods, we are also investing in the smallest business owners that we have in our city,” Arias said.

City leaders say they hope the $500,000 would be used to expand the pilot to approximately 60 street vendors and eventually provide cameras to all of the estimated 200 street vendors.

Increased safety for street vendors

The city’s vendor security investment comes more than a year after the tragic death of Lorenzo Perez, a 45-year-old husband and father of four young children who sold elote and other goods 12 hours a day on southeast Fresno streets. He was shot and killed in March last year.

Led by Chavez, city leaders also formed the Fresno Food Vendor Association to create a direct channel of communication and trust between city officials and street vendors.

Cultiva La Salud is leading street vendor outreach through the pilot project, providing technical support and education to the vendors.

In an interview with The Bee on Thursday, Veva Islas, founder and director of Cultiva La Salud, and a Fresno Unified school trustee, said there’s “definitely a lot of interest” in the cameras among vendors and that “there was a lot of disappointment” from vendors that were not selected in the first round of the pilot project.

“Some of them were actually distraught,” Islas said. “They see this as an invaluable asset to protect them(selves).”

Islas said she hopes the new funding will provide up to 60 vendors with security cameras and up to five years of internet service to operate the cameras.

She said she’s also trying to understand and address the “root causes” of street vendors’ vulnerability – such as their cash operations – and will continue to help vendors explore banking and cash alternatives, such as Cash App, Venmo, and PayPal.

“There’s a lot for us to continue to learn and understand about how we create a system, “ she said, “that is understanding about their concerns and needs.”

Support our nonprofit journalism.


Your contribution is appreciated.

Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.