New county program begins next month after final unanimous vote

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — In a unanimous vote Wednesday, San Diego County supervisors officially gave the go-ahead to micro-business home kitchens, part of a two-year program.

Supervisors have approved a second reading of the order authorizing the operation of home kitchens, or “MEHKO”, which will take effect in 30 days.

On January 12, supervisors unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, which includes operational requirements or provisions for categories such as food safety certificate, permitted food storage areas, number of MEHKO authorized by residence, drinking water and ongoing tests.

Supervisor Nora Vargas first proposed allowing MEHKOs last September with her colleague Joel Anderson. According to Anderson and Vargas, the benefits of MEHKO include:

  • significant economic opportunities for small home cooking businesses, which are operated primarily by women, immigrants and people of color;
  • encourage existing “informal” home food operations to become safer and more legal;
  • enable family members to continue to provide care at home to relatives with developmental disabilities and/or the elderly while continuing to earn much-needed income;
  • creating an alternative pathway to supplement the family income of those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • allow aspiring restaurateurs to try out a menu while learning the basics of what it takes to run a small food retail business;
  • provide additional dining options in remote locations; and
  • kitchen operators pay state taxes and acquire business licenses.

According to Anderson’s office, the model for home kitchen operations was introduced in the state legislature in 2018 and allows counties to authorize home kitchens authorized by ordinance. There are limits, including that the food must be sold the same day it is prepared and an annual income cap of $50,000.

Several callers welcomed the decision. One woman said MEHKOs would not only help operators recover financially, “but also heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

“This order will be a game-changer for the community,” she added.

While another caller was concerned that MEHKOs have proper insurance coverage, Karen Melvin of the San Diego Microenterprise Home Kitchen Coalition said there are companies that will cover them.

“I look forward to reporting good data and success story after success story,” Melvin said of the program.

Supervisors joined Wednesday’s meeting via teleconference, as a precautionary measure during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.

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