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Fire department creating new rules for more modern food vendors

Current vendor permit law doesn't work for farmers market food vendors

SAN ANTONIO – It's a law that's been around for 30 years and local food vendors are asking to change it. Modern food vendors have outgrown the original permit rules the San Antonio Fire Department set in place long ago. Now, the fire department and the vendors are updating the rules together.

The farmers market is not just a place to find fresh food anymore. Now, it's an increasingly popular hang-out spot for entertainment and cooking.

"There's more food vendors with fire and actually cooking food at these temporary setups and so there was some confusion over whether these food vendors had to pay this fee," Woody Woodward, with the San Antonio Fire Department, said.

For decades, the fire department has charged food vendors a permit fee of $35 per day. However, that was mainly for vendors during one-time festivals or annual events like Fiesta.

For vendors that frequent farmers markets, that money adds up.

"If you do this five, six days a week, it could get pretty expensive and prohibitive. Many of these vendors may decide, ‘No, it's not worth it. I'm going out of business doing this.’" Food Policy Council President Len Trevino said.

Trevino's goal with the Food Policy Council is to break down barriers to having healthy, fresh, affordable food in San Antonio. He was at a meeting last week with vendors and Fire Chief Charles Hood.

The goal of the productive meeting was to update the permit rules.

"The San Antonio Fire Department has been wonderful," Trevino said.

Until new rules are established, the fire department has waived the fees completely and Trevino said the vendors are thrilled about.

The proposal that came out of the meeting was that vendors pay a $300 annual fee per location. Tevino said it's becoming more affordable, but there may still be room for improvement.

Determining how the fire department will inspect and keep track of these stands, is still a work in progress.

Food vendors at farmers markets are very different from food trucks. They may set up in one spot one weekend, and get that area approved by the fire department. However, the next weekend the venue could move the stand 20 feet over, closer to a building which could be a fire hazard.

"So these are all the issues we're working through but the good news is we're getting positive feedback from the stakeholders involved," Woodward said. "Number one for us is public safety but we also understand the small business concerns so we believe and we're very optimistic that we're all going to reach some agreement."

Additional meetings will be held in the future to work out specifics. Once there's a final proposal the fire department will approve both the new fee and inspection rules.


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