Chino Hills Importuning County To Prevent Residential-Unit Based Restaurant Operations

The City of Chino Hills is leading the charge in seeking to convince county officials to institute a superseding ordinance that will prohibit the county’s homeowners from establishing restaurants on their premises.
The city council last week authorized Mayor Art Bennett to sign a letter prepared by city staff and addressed to Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman opposing the operation of home-based restaurants, which were legalized under Assembly Bill 626, which went into effect on January 1, 2019.
California Assembly Bill 626, authored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia and known as the Homemade Food Act, was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown on Sept 18, 2018. Under it, residents of single family homes can operate what are referred to as microenterprise home kitchens, which can earn up to $50,000 in revenue per year by cooking meals or items at their homes’ kitchens. Meal sales are capped at 30 meals per day, or 60 meals per week
So-called homecooks must obtain California food handler card certification, which can be obtained through completing online training and passing a test. Kitchens must pass an on-site inspection in order to be permitted. Under AB 626, prepared food can be picked up or sent out, as well as consumed at the home.
Chino Hills wants the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors, led by Hagman, to forbid the operation of home public kitchens everywhere in the county. Hagman is a former Chino Hills Mayor.
The county asked its public health department to look into the issues relating to home kitchens late last year. With the advent of the coronavirus crisis, that action was put on hold, as such operations were shuttered by a public health order.
If the county assents to the applicability of AB 626, or authorizes it and its provisions, all cities within the county will have to allow such operations.
The letter reads, “The City of Chino Hills is writing to oppose authorization of ‘microenterprise home kitchen operations’ within the county. MEHKOs [microenterprise home kitchen operations] would allow an individual to operate a restaurant in their [sic] private home. Although we strongly support our home based businesses, MEHKOs would present new and potential serious health risks to the public and create new enforcement challenges for our staff. MEHKOs would also compete with our many small existing restaurants and could impact those existing businesses as well as the vitality of the commercial centers in which they are located.”
The letter continues, “MEHKOs were authorized by by Assembly Bill AB 626 which was signed into law on September 18, 2018, and became effective January 1, 2019. The new law gives the local environmental health agencies ‘full discretion to authorize the MEHKOs in their jurisdictions. For Chino Hills, the SBCPHD [county public health department] is our environmental health agency. Consequently, if the county allows MEHKOs the City of Chino Hills Hills must also allow them. As a MEHKO, a home restaurant would be allowed one employee in addition to family and household members. Each MEHKO could serve up to 30 meals a day or 60 meals a week, and generate up to $50,000 in gross sales a year. Food could be consumed at a home, picked up or delivered. MEHKOs also would be exempt from several health and safety rules placed on traditional restaurants, including having a letter grade card in the window, as wells as a handwashing sink and other equipment and sanitation requirements. Home kitchens can only be inspected once a year and by appointment only, unlike the typical unannounced visits to restaurants from health inspectors.”
The letter further states, “The MEHKO law is broadly written and would allow home restaurants in multifamily and accessory dwelling units. With the latest state requirements allowing two accessory dwelling units on single family lots, there could be three MEHKOs with a single family property. The city’s ability to regulate or monitor MEHKOs would be limited code-enforcement violations if neighbors complain about odors, traffic, parking or noise. All the concerns noted are exacerbated by the current COVID-19 crisis. We now know more than ever the importance of good public health, and we know how devastating closures of existing small businesses and restaurants is to our economy.”
The letter concludes, “For these many reasons, the City of Chino Hills respectfully requests that the San Bernardino Board of Directors does not authorize MEHKOS within our county.”
David Torres, who this and last year operated a popular home-based business on Pacific Avenue in San Bernardino which did a booming business on Friday and Saturday nights until the issuance of the public health order in March, told the Sentinel he does not want the county to prevent him from serving his customers. “Especially right now during pandemic,” he said. “This is the only way we can make money.”
Now that health department order has been lifted, Torres is back in business. He has been in compliance with all regulations and uses common sense in maintaining a sanitary operation, he said.
Seated at a table set up in his front yard, Torres told the Sentinel, “I got my permit from the city.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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