Tattoo Artists, Home Cooks Hit With New Fees in Berkeley


Looking for new ways to raise revenue, the California city of Berkeley is raising fees on local tattoo artists and chefs.

In a uniquely Berkeley twist, the entrepreneurs paying the price include tattoo shops and cooks producing raw vegan food bars in their home kitchens. The fee increases will help cover the cost of environmental health inspections for both tattoo artists and cottage food companies – small businesses producing food for sale out of home kitchens – which were legalized in 2012.

“You can read the entire city budget book and not be able to tell the cost of programs,” says City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “How much does program A, B and C cost? Well, we don’t know … the budget process in Berkeley is very dysfunctional.”

Worthington says the city is forced to raise the fees because of costly inspections. A budget report available on the city’s website says the city faces “a serious deficit in the FY 2012 & 2013 budget.”

The Cost of the Fees to Small Businesses For tattoo artists, annual registration fees will jump from $44 to $85. And home chefs will incur new yearly fees ranging from $170 to $425.

The owner of Berkeley Tattoo says this was the first year tattoo artists in the city had to pay licensing fees at all. “Does [100%] seem like a big increase? Yeah, it sounds like a bit much,” says Shawn, who requested his last name be withheld.

But he doesn’t think the new overall fee is too high.

“The regulations are new, so the increase is new. I would have a serious problem if it went up again after this … I’d want to know, where’s the oversight?” he says.

At Sacred Rose Tattoo, tattoo artist Shotsie Gorman says the fee increase is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the costs of working in Berkeley.

“I find it ironic that Berkeley was the birthplace of the radical, anti-establishment movement. It is the most bloated, inefficient bureaucracy I’ve ever seen,” says Gorman.

He says on top of the fees, tattoo artists are required to pay the city 1.5% of their gross incomes.

“On top of that, the business owner has to pay the same percentage on the gross, which is patently unfair ... 50% of the gross income of the store isn’t even her money, because we work on a commission basis, taking home half of whatever we bring in,” adds Gorman.

Will Fees Discourage Home Chefs? Worthington, who was the only council member to vote no on the environmental health fee increase, says the city should not be raising fees on the growing industry of home chefs.

“This is a newly emerging industry trying to address healthy food … we should not charge them fees at least for the short term,” says Worthington.

Gwen von Klan, the manager of the Berkeley Student Food Collective, which sells food from many home chefs, says many of her vendors are students or recent grads.

“Money is an issue … an increase in a couple of hundred dollars or even less might deter people from getting something started,” says von Klan.

At the same time, von Klan says she understands the need to have home inspections, which require resources.

One vendor, Michael Assayag of Alide raw vegan food bars, says he’s already paid over $650 to the city for environmental health costs.

The home inspection was pathetic … three people came, looked around and approved it,” says Assayag. “Fees should go down to encourage people.”