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City fosters outreach to cycling food vendors for safety, regulation concerns
bicycle vendor
Despite City of Turlock regulations, many bicycle vendors frequent parks and intersections around schools. - photo by Photo Contributed

Students used to walking to the park after school and purchasing an ice cream from vendors on bikes — affectionately referred to as the “palatero men” in Latin culture — may have to either walk further or find a new place to buy their sweet treat as the City of Turlock is taking steps to enforce its municipal code as it relates to vendors.

Precipitated by locals’ complaints to the City of Turlock that vendors were being a “nuisance” by ringing the bells on their bikes and disrupting neighboring residents, City officials initially aimed to remedy the situation by interfacing with the vendors but found it “an ongoing challenge to enforce” the City’s rules due to language barriers. In turn the Turlock Police Department created a flyer outlining the city code in the three most common languages of vendors — English, Spanish, and Punjabi— which was then distributed to the traveling food salesmen throughout the summer.

According to the City of Turlock’s municipal code that was established in May 2004, street vendors are not permitted to remain at a location for more than 30 minutes and cannot return to sell their product at that location, or within 1,000 feet of it, for a period of 24 hours. Also, vendors cannot sell within 1,000 feet of any park, playground, public recreation facility, or school property and they cannot sell within 50 feet of any intersection.

Despite the City's regulations, many bicycle vendors frequent parks and intersections around schools.

At this point, the police department is aiming to educate rather than penalize the vendors. Turlock Police Sergeant Neil Cervenka has approached vendors violating the code, such as those lingering in city parks, but instead of citing them he distributes the flyer and takes down their names. Should he encounter that particular vendor violating the code again — which has yet to happen— then penalties could be introduced.

“At this point the warnings are not anything formal, rather it is us giving the main points of the municipal code to the vendors in a language they can understand,” said Cervenka. “Many vendors get their carts but they don’t always know the rules.”

According to the City, the Administrative Citation Process includes a warning citation for the first offense in volition of the city code with subsequent offenses generating $100 and $200 fines respectively.

The capacity with which Cervenka mainly deals with vendors is when their services begin to interfere with traffic and safety conditions. Vendors can often be found blocking the sidewalks near parks with their bikes and carts and, according to Cervenka, when students cluster around the vendor to purchase food they often step into the street which is not only perilous for the students but dangerous for drivers.

“There is a particular concern around schools due to traffic safety concerns, which is my main thrust with this program. It is an actual safety hazard not because of the vendors’ operations, but because of the traffic concerns it can cause,” said Cervenka.

While the true test of the City’s mission to educate the vendors will be seen in upcoming weeks as classes resume and students flock to the vendors for their afterschool snack, one student is setting time aside during her weekend to further the mission of the City by translating for the vendors to ensure they understand the rules. Noting that the “palatero men” are a large part of the local culture, especially on the Westside of Turlock near Columbia Park, 17-year-old Stanislaus Military Academy student Itzel Villalobos aims to help foster an amicable relationship between the City and the vendors so that the vendors can continue to sell their product as they have done for years.

“I just want to make sure that the vendors know their rights. I like to do things like this to help my community and everyone loves ice cream, so as a Latina myself, translating for them is what I can do to help,” said Villalobos.

According to Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Superintendent Erik Schulze, so far the outreach to the vendors seems to be effective on all fronts as the City has yet to receive any complaints regarding the cycling vendors, but just in case “park staff do keep the pamphlets in their truck so that they can hand them out if necessary.”