Anyone who’s been to an Oakland Athletics home game is probably familiar with the vendors outside the Coliseum who sell hats and other A’s merchandise, and, if you’re hungry, bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with sizzling onions and peppers.
Hot dog vending has become something of a tradition at Oakland A’s games and other events around the city, like concerts at the Fox Theater.
But despite the popularity of the bacon-wrapped hot dog, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, the public agency that manages the coliseum, is cracking down on unpermitted vending. The agency claims the food vendors pose a public health and fire-safety risk.
During a Coliseum authority board meeting in June, Henry Gardner, the executive director of the agency, said the number of vendors has increased substantially over the last year and that their mobile carts create a potential fire hazard.
“The vendors block the spaces in front of, behind, and besides the parked vehicles,” Gardner wrote in his report to the board, making it hard for people to evacuate if there was an emergency, and potentially difficult for first responders to get in. “We are very concerned that if a fire breaks out, we will have the potential for serious injuries.”
Gardner also said that none of the vendors are operating with permits, violating the state health standards. According to Senate Bill 972, which became effective on Jan. 1 and established new regulations in the food code for “compact mobile food operations,” which hot dog carts fall under, vendors must obtain a permit from the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health.
A permit to operate a hot dog cart in the county costs $500, according to the department.
Oakland resident and video blogger Zennie Abraham said the city, which has the power to appoint several of the Coliseum authority board members, should do more to help the vendors, who he believes are a valuable part of Coliseum culture.
“We have to be aware of not creating a negative life funnel for them [the vendors], where it’s hard to get government help,” Abraham said. “You dread going to the government because you don’t know how you’re going to feel or be regarded. You fear the police because you think they’re going to arrest you and they’re not going to protect you…that’s a negative life funnel that we build for them. That’s what Henry was building for these folks.”
Gardner did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.
Coliseum authority leaders said at a recent meeting that they are in touch with the Oakland Police Department, Oakland Fire Department, and the County Health and Environmental Division to enforce laws against food vending. The agency intends to increase police and security presence during events “where the safety issues are most concerning,” Gardner said during the meeting.
The Oakland Police Department stated in an email that no decisions have been made on how to address hot dog vending, but that the department’s Special Events Unit is working with the city and the county to determine a solution.
Street vending has grown in popularity in the Bay Area, especially in Oakland, where vendors, many from immigrant communities, sell food, drinks, clothing, and other goods.
Handmade items that tout Oakland pride are also commonly sold, such as the t-shirts sold at Lake Merritt by Oaklander James Copes, who is known for coining the city’s nickname “Oaktown.”
Instead of cracking down on vending, Abraham said the Coliseum should help vendors get permits and serve the community.
“What they should do is say, ‘Hey look, we’ll help you build your business and if you reach a certain level of revenue we will take a fee or a cut or a tax and use that for additional maintenance around the grounds,” he said.
“Everybody knows the hot dogs are fantastic, I’ve had them tons of times, and the people are great. There’s nothing wrong.”