According to California’s Homemade Food Bill (also known as CA’s Cottage Food law, AB1616), local governments cannot outlaw or prohibit Cottage Food Operations (CFOs) through zoning laws. Municipalities can, however, regulate “…spacing and concentration, traffic control, parking, and noise control relating to those homes.” The law was written, in part, to encourage the startup of small businesses by people making nonpotentially hazardous foods. It specifically included provisions which would help in that goal such as classifying a CFO as a permitted use of residential property, allowing one employee (in addition to a family or household member), and allowing direct sales (as well as indirect sales) of the food product to consumers.
Danielle, an aspiring Cottage Food business owner, did some investigating and found that nearly every city in San Diego County had one or more restrictions in their business licenses or home occupation permits that conflicted with the state law. (Individual city ordinances relevant to CFO’s are summarized in Home Business Local Laws.) Most cities require a home occupation permit for home-based businesses and this is often where the conflicts are found. Imperial Beach was the only city deemed to be in agreement with AB1616 whereas cities such as Vista have multiple restrictions that seemingly contradict the state law.
The most common discrepancies forbid having an employee and restrict selling your goods from home. Understandably, local governments want to keep residential areas from becoming snarled with commercial traffic and noise that would negatively impact areas where we live. But those laws seem in direct opposition to the Homemade Food Law and its intent.
Some regulations even seem a bit extreme. One in Vista limits how much your business operation can increase your utility services. Escondido dictates that “Any vehicle bearing any advertisement related to the home occupation… shall be garaged or stored entirely within a building or structure.” El Cajon has a bizarre regulation that any “… equipment necessary to perform the home occupation on the premises must be kept in a pickup truck or van… or a trailer that can be towed by a truck or van.” Good sense would have to prevail here since you are obviously not going to keep your oven in a truck! Some cities even require you to get your landlord’s permission if you rent in order to obtain a business license.
It seems for now that most start-up CFOs can function within the local city guidelines. Initially, young businesses may not have enough customers to attract complaints, or enough demand to need an employee. But ultimately if they are successful, the question becomes, will the state law preempt the local restrictions? And, how can we as new business owners help city planners accommodate home-based Cottage Food Operations?
Are you having trouble getting a business license for your Cottage Food Operation? If so, please let us know. We may be able to find a recipe for success, yet!
(Much thanks to Danielle for her time researching and compiling this information!)