There is a long tradition of food sharing in California. It’s been called by its practitioners an “unregulated gift of compassion” for the hungry.
For decades, however, this peaceful, voluntary act was illegal across the state unless participating groups registered for and received food-service permits, which, the East Bay Express reports, “can be costly and difficult to obtain.”
Assembly Bill 2178, passed and signed last year, was supposed to fix that. According to its author Democratic Assemblywoman Monique Limón of Santa Barbara, the legislation is intended “to give local charitable food donors and regulators flexibility in the law to allow for more food to be donated and served safely.”
Instead of lifting the burden, AB 2178 has increased its weight.
“Under the new law, organizations that want to charitably feed the public are not required to have permits,” says the East Bay Express. “Instead, they can register as limited service charitable feeding operations and pay a fee to the local enforcement agency, a process with fewer regulations than obtaining a permit. But the new law comes with strict limitations on the kind of food they can prepare.”
A charity in San Diego simply shut down its operations rather than wade through the new regulatory thicket. Herbert Matcke, president of Deliverance, a group from Murphy Canyon Chapel out of Naval Base San Diego, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that AB 2178 “was the nail in the coffin” of his organization’s efforts to feed the hungry.
Before the law went into effect, Deliverance was serving home-cooked meals to 300 homeless people in downtown every Friday night. Now, the Union-Tribune reports, it’s burned through the last of its resources to buy sleeping bags and blankets for the homeless. Deliverance Treasurer Adam Ross said the small group, with a budget of “less than $7,000,” couldn’t afford “things like restroom facilities, handwashing stations and some other things” the organization says are required by AB 2178.
Heather Buonomo, program coordinator with the food and housing division of the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health, who told the Union-Tribune that “we’re big believers in partnering with these organizations,” and “want to help them get to where they want to be,” said Deliverance might have misunderstood some of AB 2178’s requirements, and probably could have navigated its way through the rulebook to comply with other parts of the law.
That’s possible. But it misses the larger point, which is the trouble government has caused by stomping on private acts of kindness, first with the permitting regime, then with a legislative remedy that’s no remedy at all. It’s almost as if lawmakers and bureaucrats are determined to replace our civil society with a political society in which the state manages our affairs, and reserves to itself the personal and commercial activities that have traditionally been the province of private institutions and individuals. It’s not a reach to believe that laws such as AB 2178 are less about solving societal problems than they are about expanding government authority.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.