Bell Gardens Delays Start of State Homemade Food Act

City says it needs more time to rework zoning codes for at-home food businesses.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Small-scale food businesses that sell out of their home kitchens were deemed legal earlier this year by passage of a state law to recognize them as “cottage food operations.”

However, citing conflicts with the city’s zoning code the Bell Gardens City Council, last week passed an emergency ordinance to temporarily delay the law from going into affect for 45 days. Currently, small-scale businesses that sell food out of their homes are not permitted under the city’s land use regulations, which limit noise, traffic and odor in residential areas.

Assembly Bill 1616, “The California Homemade Food Act,” was passed by state legislators in September 2012 and took effect on Jan. 1 of this year. The law made it legal for individuals throughout the state to sell food out of their home, in what is called a Cottage Food Operations (CFO).

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Only “non-potentially hazardous” foods are permitted under the law. Permitted food include baked goods, candy, churros, tortillas, popcorn, fruit-tamales, dried fruits, chocolate-covered nonperishable food and coffee, to name a few. Foods that contain cream, custard or meat fillings that require refrigeration are considered potentially hazardous, and therefore are not allowed.

Bell Gardens Director of Community Development, Abel Avalos, told EGP that the emergency ordinance passed at the Feb. 25 council meeting only temporarily delays the Food Act going into affect in the city, and is in no way an attempt by the city to purposely circumvent the law.

Avalos said the city needs time to analyze the Food Act and to come up with an ordinance that can be incorporated into the city’s zoning code that would allow for small-scale businesses in residential areas.

The state law legally allows for the city to temporarily delay its adoption in order for the city to come up with reasonable restrictions that would protect public health and safety.

“[The Homemade Food Act] recognizes that cities have zoning and land use codes that aren’t conducive for these kind of businesses,” Avalos said.

He said the city is looking into what reasonable restrictions can be included in the ordinance and zoning codes, such as restrictions on the floor space of a residence, hours of operations and the number of businesses per lot, which he said could affect traffic congestion, density and create nuisance.

Avalos told EGP it is not an “uncommon practice” for cities to delay adopting a state law in order to analyze how to best incorporate it into the city’s regulations and be able to effectively police it.

Bell Gardens is looking at other cities and expects to create reasonable restrictions and guidelines, Avalos said.

The Food Act does restrict the number of non-family employees to one per business and gross annual sales to no more than $35,000 for the year 2013. New CFOs (cottage food operations) must register with the county and complete a food processor course within three months of obtaining their CFO status.

Before the 45-day moratorium expires, the city’s Community Development Department will present its findings to the council and determine if it needs more time to come up with needed regulations before it allow the Homemade Food Act to go forward in the city.

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March 7, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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