CA Street Vendors

Street Vending is Not a Crime

Street vendors contribute to a thriving local economy and are a crucial part of pandemic recovery efforts. In Los Angeles alone, an estimated 12,500 street food vendors generate millions of dollars in revenue every year. Removing the obstacles to street vendors at a time when outdoor dining is at its peak is a commonsense way to bring legitimacy and opportunity to these small businesses.

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The Approach
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The Challenge

Removing barriers to lift up people

The California Retail Food Code (CRFC) is outdated and holds street food vendors to the same permitting process as full-scale, brick-and-mortar restaurants. While vending is legal in many cities, the outdated state retail food rules do not account for street vending and thus prevents most vendors from obtaining the permits needed to sell their food legally. Without legal backing, local street vendors are being harassed, targeted, and marginalized. Street vendors are hard-working community members who contribute to the overall economy, and provide much-needed accessibility to affordable food options in communities that may otherwise face food scarcity. The need to modernize the retail food code resulted in legislation crafted by and for street vendors to ensure healthy and safe outcomes for vendors and consumers alike. Senate Bill (SB) 972 does just that.

Identity Development The campaign combined lively colors, street-inspired typography, and illustrations to highlight the people behind the foods you love.

The Brand

Community at the forefront

The best way to build a campaign rooted in the community? Have street vendors do the talking. Portrait photography of street vendors working, cooking, and interacting with customers brought intimacy and humanity to the campaign, while storytelling and direct quotes supported the narrative that SB 972 is legislation created by and for street vendors. Bright colors, street-inspired typography, and line illustrations of food evoked warmth and excitement, while also conveying urgency when presented alongside calls to action, information, and news.

Reaching Decision-Makers

Legislation that garners bipartisan support

To amass support for SB 972, particularly from elected officials, we prioritized shaping the earned media landscape to bring awareness and visibility to the bill. The message we delivered underscored that SB 972 protects the street vendors who make up the cultural and financial backbone of local communities throughout California. Social media, specifically Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, mobilized a grassroots base of supporters to deliver the campaign’s core messages and demands directly to the offices of elected officials.

Media Placement Leading up to a key vote in the California legislature, our communications strategy ensured editorial boards at media outlets like the LA Times supported our bill and put pressure on elected officials to protect street vendors.

Earned media with a purpose

Telling the story of street vendors through earned media

Op-eds and feature news articles across well-known news publications, including Los Angeles Times, L.A. Taco, Los Angeles Daily News, as well as food journalism such as Eater, were vital in garnering support from both community members and state policymakers who could advance the bill through the state legislature.

Mobilizing Action

Making an impact with a few clicks

We built nimble and flexible social media toolkits that provided people an opportunity to connect directly to legislatures and advocate for street vendors. Coalition members used these toolkits to mobilize supporters into action during crucial moments of SB 972’s advancement through the legislative process. Supporters were provided auto-populated, bilingual scripts with key talking points and links that easily lead to “one click” digital advocacy actions. Digital advocacy tools including click-to-email, click-to-call, and click-to-tweet actions offered a seamless engagement option equipped with tailored messaging that targeted specific legislators.

The Website

Leveraging digital organizing

Swell developed a website that served as an advocacy hub for the Coalition with quick links encouraging supporters to contact their legislator and donate to the campaign. The site also makes clear that vendors are at the forefront of the conversation. In order to meet each moment of opportunity, the adaptability and responsive nature of the website proved to be a critical component of the coalition’s mobilization strategy. By utilizing the website as a central hub, supporters were able to continuously engage with up-to-the-minute digital advocacy actions that were not only able to be quickly updated and integrated to the site as SB 972 moved through the state legislature, but also widened opportunities for engagement by allowing supporters to participate as their schedules permitted.


Narrative change brings policy change

The narrative direction of the campaign prioritized sharing personal stories from vendors and spotlighting their contributions to California’s vibrancy. The understanding that the vendor community drove the dialogue and community organizing efforts behind the legislation needed to be clear in order to grow support for the cause. By highlighting personal stories of culture, endurance, and opportunity, this narrative approach offered an intimate perspective of micro-entrepreneurship that debunked the “bad actor” trope, while stressing the need to expand permitting accessibility to allow for street vendors to be in compliance with the law.

Social Media To connect with the people and drive engagement, Swell created bespoke social posts and a series of templates that were used by the client for periodic announcements or to highlight vendor profiles.

The Impact

By the numbers

Together, Swell and California Street Vendors established a growing coalition of engaged partners, street vendors, and community, secured and amplified public endorsements from elected officials, and generated enough buzz for hundreds of Californians across the state to take action. Over 1,200 direct calls and emails to legislators. As a result, street vendors won. Senate Bill 972 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 23, 2022.