By Miriam Raftery
October 10, 2021 (El Cajon) – On Tuesday, October 12, the El Cajon City Council will consider a city staff proposal to ask County Supervisors to opt out of the state’s Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO) program. The proposal before the City Council, item 12 on the agenda, comes after Supervisors Joel Anderson and Nora Vargas introduced a MEHKO measure in September that was approved in concept by Supervisors, as ECM reported.
The county measure asked staff to draft an ordinance by January 12 to legalize home kitchen operations to prepare, sell and serve up to 30 meals per day, or 60 meals per week and earn a maximum annual revenue of $50,000. Meals would be limited to foods that are consumed the same day that they are prepared.
Starting in January 2019, the California Homemade Food Act (AB 626) took effect, giving county legislators authority to adopt ordinances to implement the new state law to give home-based cooks an entry into limited catering or restaurant-type operations. A followup bill, AB 377, prohibited third party delivery services.
A MEHKO business would be subject to an annual registration and inspection by the County Department of Environmental Health, and is eligible for an alcohol license from the Alcoholic Beverage Control board. But except for requiring a business license, no other permits or approvals could be required by the city of El Cajon.
Arguments in favor
Those in favor of allowing MEHKO businesses say it would provide more opportunities to new business owners including immigrants and others without significant resources to invest yet in opening a restaurant. Supervisor Anderson has said that seven other California counties or cities have authorized MEHKOs and had “tremendous success” though the models vary slightly.
Anthony Shute, director of community development for El Cajon, objects to cities not having an ability to regulate use. He raises concerns over potential impacts on neighbors such as parking and traffic, disposal of cooking fats and oils, and providing an “unfair business advantage” over businesses that obtained permits and invested into “properly commercially zoned areas.”
Shute said the county’s Department of Environmental Health told city staff that enforcement of the ordinance’s limitations would be “challenging if not completely impractical, due to a lack of staffing.”
El Cajon’s staff proposes that the City Council vote Tuesday to direct staff to write a letter to county officials urging that the county opt out of the state’s MEHKO program.
If the County does move forward to allow MEHKO businesses, Shute suggests that the city may still allow enforcement of nuisance laws through El Cajon’s municipal code, such as if a home-based cooking business attracts rodents, generates smoke or creates traffic problems.