By Steven Tavares
The owner of a Japanese restaurant near Hayward’s Portuguese Park says homeless people visiting the block stone-floored monument near ‘C’ Street for small-scale food-sharing handouts spit on his windows, rummage through his garbage dumpster and defecate in his parking lot.
But, a controversial plan to regulate the practice of small vendors serving the city’s homeless at city parks will not do anything to shore up the problem of unruly behavior and litter at the events, opponents say, only make it more difficult for the poor to be feed and private groups to afford the additional costs of their charity.
“The city’s proposed ordinance seems to be misdirected overkill aimed at charitable meal providers and not fairly related to the problem of street waste,” says Dr. Sherman Lewis, a well-known planning advocate in Hayward and professor at Cal State East Bay. “Giving food to poor people is not a behavior that needs to be so heavily regulated."
Instead, Lewis believes the city should enact rules and specific consequences for free food-sharing providers who do not clean up garbage following their events. However, Lewis says the city’s plan to require free food-sharing providers to purchase liability insurance of $1 million at an annual cost of between $500 and $1,500 does nothing to solve the problem. “Insurance does not bear on cleaning up messes,” he says.
In addition, the proposed pilot ordinance also requires vendors to obtain county permits for food-handling, preparation and distribution. However, there has never been a documented case of people getting sick from free food-sharing events in Hayward. According to the city’s staff report, county officials indicated they may amendable to waiving permit fees for some charitable organizations and discounts for county certification of food managers. A $500 refundable deposit for clean-up purposes is also included in the proposed pilot ordinance, along with limits holding groups to one food-sharing event per month.
The issue of free food-sharing in Hayward was first discussed last March during a City Council work session and the proposed pilot ordinance and companion proposal to enact sunset-to-dawn hours for city parks was heard during an Oct. 1 meeting. Although either proposal was kept intact following public comments earlier this month, the council is seeking to further expand the plan to cover regulations on food-sharing activity spilling on to adjacent sidewalks.
In its last fiscal-year budget, Hayward allocated $78,000 to aid city food pantries and indoor meal providers who feed the poor. Despite that, there still appears to be strong demand for additional vendors aiming to nourish the poor and hungry in Hayward
The curious disconnect between the aims of the proposed ordinances and the root complaint of poor behavior and litter in the city’s downtown parks may be connected to the Hayward Chamber of Commerce’s involvement on the issue. In a public letter to the council, Kim Huggett, the president of the chamber, described the group’s strong support for the ordinance, but without mention of the poor’s plight. “After reviewing the positions of different sides in the matter, the chamber’s Government Relations Council comes down solidly on behalf of downtown residents who suffer from harassment as well as businesses who on a near-daily basis deal with those drive away customers by aggressive panhandling, intimidating confrontations, and loitering,” Huggett wrote.
Some council members, notably, those running for mayor in 2014, have routinely sidestepped the current issue of free food-sharing events by suggesting the city study the construction of a dedicated kitchen-ready building to feed the poor. However, all sides agree the cost may be prohibitive for a cash-strapped city like Hayward. Besides, if the idea were ever seriously contemplated, it would take several years to accomplish, say advocates for the homeless in Hayward, due to planning, funding and construction to bear any chance of alleviating the current problem.