County Moving Toward Allowing Residents To Operate Restaurants Out Of Their Homes

Despite opposition from eleven of its 24 municipalities, San Bernardino County is inching toward allowing county residents to essentially convert their homes into outdoor restaurants, and cook and sell food out of their premises.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to direct staff to put into form an authorization and guidelines by which so-called microenterprise home kitchen operations, or MEKHOs, would temporarily be permitted throughout the county.
The program is to be a temporary one that will not go into effect until the supervisors approve it at a future meeting, which is to take place at some point within the next three months. The pilot program is intended to give the supervisors and county officials an opportunity to gauge the impact home eateries will have in multiple respects, including that on public health and the restaurant industry.
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.
Under Assembly Bill 377, a homeowner can prepare and sell food from a place of residence if the operator obtains a permit, agrees to inspections, becomes certified in the safe preparation of food and adheres to state-mandated procedures on sanitizing utensils, and observes other health regulations. On Tuesday, April 6, the board of supervisors received a report from the Department of Public Health presented by Joshua Dugas, the department’s assistant director, regarding microenterprise home kitchen operations. Members of the public in support of allowing in-home kitchens addressed the board.
Operators of home-kitchens, while subject to some minimal oversight by the health department, are exempt from a whole host of regulations and requirements imposed on restaurants. From the standpoint of those operators, this is an advantage that will allow many of them, some of whom are not all that well fixed financially, to generate welcome and, in some cases, much needed income. For traditional restaurateurs, however, this constitutes an unfair advantage for the home kitchen operators that in some cases threatens their livelihoods and the viability of their operations.
Eleven of the county’s city or town councils have gone on record as opposing allowing microenterprise home kitchen operations in their jurisdictions. Among those are Chino Hills, Victorville, Hesperia and Apple Valley. Twelve have not expressed a preference either way. Needles has been the lone city in San Bernardino County to endorse the county giving a blanket permit for home-based kitchens being allowed to sell food to the general public.
Last year the Chino Hills City Council authorized and then-Mayor Art Bennett signed a letter prepared by city staff and addressed to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors opposing the operation of home-based restaurants.
That letter read, in part, “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 continued, “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. MEHKOs 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. 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 board members’ discussion of the issues this week extended to the experience of Riverside County, which was the first county in California to liberalize the regulation of home-based eateries. According to Dugas’s report, “The San Bernardino County Division of Environmental Health Services held four regional meetings with the cities and towns within San Bernardino County in late February/early March of 2020 to discuss what MEHKOs are and how their authorization in San Bernardino County may affect their city. The purpose of the meetings was not only to provide education on the new regulations on MEHKOs, but also to obtain their input. The Division of Environmental Health Services consulted with Riverside County’s Department of Environmental Health and city code enforcement agencies to evaluate the implementation of their MEHKO program. Of the 62 California Health Jurisdictions, six have ‘opted-in’ and two have ‘opted-out’. Upon presentation of this report, the Department of Public Health is requesting the board to discuss the authorization of MEHKOs and provide the department further direction on how to proceed in regard to MEHKOs. If the Board decides to ‘opt-in’, the Division of Environmental Health Services is ready for implementation.”
Supervisor Janice Janice Rutherford reflected the attitude of the board when she said, “We had speaker after speaker at that dais today explaining exactly how this law would help them take advantage of economic opportunities,” Rutherford said. “If this pandemic has made anything clear, it’s that people need more opportunities.”
The board voted to go ahead with the allowing the home-based operations, temporarily.
Once the county opts in to the microenterprise home kitchen operations program, all 22 incorporated cities and two incorporated towns along with the county’s remaining unincorporated communities would not have the authority to prevent the operations from setting ups shop and they would not be able to limit where they are located, as such operations are not subject to zoning restrictions.

Leave a Reply