A local video went viral when a 16-year-old got a citation for selling flowers without a business license.
Zoraide Santos was selling flowers at Wilderness Park near Gosford and Harris in Southwest Bakersfield. She started doing this once the pandemic hit, working four days a week for the past six months. Her hopes were to save up money for her education.
“I want to be the first in my family to go to college,” she said.
Thursdays through Sundays, she’d leave her home in LA at five in the morning to drive two hours to Bakersfield. She’d be dropped off on different street corners in Kern County, either with a fruit cart or 50 mixed flower bouquets. Then she’d sell from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. She’d do it all over again the next day.
For 12 hours of selling fruit, she said she’d make $70 a day. That’s $5.83 an hour. Selling flowers, she could make up to $200 a day.
Money aside, this was to help out her aunt, who works at Santos Flower Shop, which has locations on 18th and 19th Streets in East Bakersfield.
Last Thursday, while Zoraide was selling, Code Enforcement gave her a warning.
“They said that they had to come because someone was complaining that I was there without a permit,” she recalled.
When she told her aunt about the incident, the issue was brushed off.
“She told me, ‘they’re not going to do nothing.’ And I told her, ‘well, I don’t know, I’m scared,’” Zoraide said.
Zoraide was sent back to the same spot the next day. True to their word, Code Enforcement gave her a citation.
“There were four officers there. There was a Code Enforcement officer and three BPD officers,” explained Richard Middlebrook of Middlebrook & Associates. He now represents Zoraide.
“Especially as a 16-year-old, she was afraid. She didn’t know if she was going to jail. She didn’t know if she was going to be detained,” Middlebrook said. “They confiscated all of her flowers, so she lost not only any profit she could’ve made, but she also lost the cost of the flowers, which was a few hundred dollars.”
He added, “she realizes that there are laws and that she has to have a business license. To her it was nothing more than a lemonade stand on the side of the road.”
The City of Bakersfield allows sidewalk vendors if they have a permit. In Zoraide’s case, Code Enforcement said her stand also was causing traffic and safety issues since drivers were stopping to buy flowers.
“Did she break the letter of the law? Absolutely. There’s no question she didn’t have a business permit,” Middlebrook said. “My concern is, is she really breaking the spirit of the law? Is this really where we want to be spending our police resources targeting a 16-year-old girl selling flowers?”
When we reached out to Santos flower shop, the owner, Hector Santos, said he was not related in any way to Zoraide or her aunt. He said he knew nothing about the situation. Her aunt did not respond when we tried to contact her.
“If she was working for someone else, my understanding is they would have to pay her minimum wage and overtime if she was working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours during the week,” Middlebrook said.
According to California’s child labor laws, businesses are allowed to employ minors only if the business gets permission from the kids’ school district. That’s to make sure they don’t miss class. Zoraide said she worked 12 hours on Thursdays and Fridays this past semester.
“The problem is, if she was working for someone else, those are the people who should be cited,” Middlebrook said.
Business owners are also responsible for getting necessary permits before sending anyone out to sell their merchandise, according to California Industrial Relations.
Zoraide has since filled out the paperwork for her own business license. She’s hoping to continue selling flowers after school once the semester starts again.
“I hope this isn’t who we are in Kern County, taking a young girl who is 16 years old and saddle her with a $2,000 fine,” Middlebrook said.
If Zoraide’s case goes to trial, it could take four months. Instead, Middlebrook hopes to take this situation directly to Kern District Attorney, Cynthia Zimmer.
He added, “my hope is that she’ll see this situation as a learning lesson. She has the authority to dismiss the charges.”