Caridad Vazquez was among the dozens of street vendors who appeared before a Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday in support of legalizing street vending in the city.
Accompanied by a translator, the Boyle Heights resident told the committee the city must allow vendors like her to obtain permits to sell their products on city sidewalks. “I’m asking for your support council members, I’m supporting this fight so we can help our families” financially, she said in Spanish.
In November of last year, Councilmen Curren Price and Jose Huizar introduced a motion directing city officials to in 90 days report back on a possible system to allow vendors that sell food and non-food merchandise on city sidewalks to do so legally. The motion was referred to the Economic Development and Public Works and Gang Reduction committees for review. On Tuesday, the Economic Development Committee held its first hearing and took public testimony on the issue.
Vendors and their allies from across the city testified that the current ban on sidewalk vending does not work. Despite it being illegal, street vendors selling hot dogs, tacos and other foods are commonly seen around the city. They do it out of financial necessity, speakers said, but since 2012 about 2,000 street vendors have been arrested for engaging in those activities the committee was told.
Vazquez told EGP she has been making a living as a street vendor for about 10 years. She said she is tired of police harassing and threatening vendors like her all the time.Vasquez said the majority of street vendors are willing to pay for a permit if it allows them to work legally. “I pay taxes, even though I don’t have a permit,” she added.
Lea este artículo en Español: Comité del Concilio de L.A. Trabaja en un Plan para Legalizar las Ventas Ambulantes 
Public Counsel Attorney Dough Smith’s organization works with communities hit hard by the economic recession that are facing disinvestment and a lack financial opportunities.
“Street vending represents a really good opportunity to build up small businesses and provide for their families and participate in the economy,” he told EGP.
While the majority of speakers spoke in favor of the city adopting a permitting process for street vendors, a few speakers said they are concerned approval will hurt the city’s brick-and-mortar businesses that already pay taxes and were also hurt in the economic downturn. They said street vendors take away business and in the case of Hollywood, drives tourists away from the city’s iconic tourist area.
No decision on a policy was made at the meeting but the committee did vote to create a working group to design a way for vendors to apply for permits and demonstrate that they are following health laws and other city regulations. The group was asked to deliver a report in 90 days.
Huizar told EGP the current system is broken and that the lack of regulations has created “chaos.”
“Vendors who just want to make a living are being chased by police officers,” he said. “Restaurants and business owners do not appreciate cheap competition from people that don’t pay taxes in front of their doors,” Huizar said. “We are trying to find that balance to allow street vending but at the same time protect businesses.”
Councilman Gil Cedillo said the committee needs to sit down with the authors of a report on a possible policy given to the committee that same day and discuss what can and can’t be done. He said he is concerned that the majority of street vendors are undocumented immigrants and if police detain them, they can be taken to jail and deported. It’s a “crisis,” he said, adding he does not want to see more families separated through deportation.
“We cannot criminalize people that are working,” Cedillo said. “But at the same time, we cannot put businesses that have made a financial investment at a disadvantage,” he told EGP, adding he is open to finding a resolution that works for everyone.
“To see this [many people] is very powerful,” Cedillo said.
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