The City Council voted Tuesday to craft an ordinance decriminalizing street vending, bringing Los Angeles closer to no longer being the only major American city that prohibits it.
The proposal, which was put forward by council members Joe Buscaino and Curren Price, would replace criminal penalties with a permit system enforced through fines and property confiscation.
The 11-2 vote authorizes the city attorney to craft an ordinance, but there will likely be more debate and possible changes to the proposal before it comes back to the council for final approval.
The general idea for an ordinance decriminalizing street vending has the support of the Coalition to Save Small Business and the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign, but there has been significant opposition to key parts of the proposal as it stands, including the requirement that vendors get permission
from existing brick and mortar businesses on the block and restricting the number of vendors in many areas to two per block.
Mike Dennis with the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign voiced support for decriminalization but requested changes to the proposed ordinance.
“We also want to make sure that two vendors per block is something that is reconsidered. It just doesn’t work when you are looking at the city’s blocks. It is a very diverse city and many blocks can accommodate more vendors per space,” Dennis said.
During a public hearing on the proposal at the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee on Dec. 12, Buscaino told the crowd that what was being advanced to the full council is a “framework” for a policy, and that if the council voted to direct staff to craft an ordinance, it would come back to the committee for a “full dissection” before going to back to the council again.
“Los Angeles is the only major city in this country that prohibits vending, every type of vending, 24 hours a day throughout the entire city over approximately 11,000 miles of sidewalks,” Buscaino said during the council debate Tuesday.
“The important question the council must answer is whether vending poses a threat so grave to public safety and welfare that is it worth continuing to expend limited police resources enforcing a citywide ban on all sidewalks at all times.”
Some form of street vending legalization has been under consideration for years, but those efforts have languished as both brick and mortar businesses and residents in some communities have complained they have or will be harmed if street vending is legalized.
It’s clear that President Donald Trump’s stated goal of deporting immigrants with criminal records who are in the country illegally has added new sense of urgency to getting an ordinance in place that removes criminal penalties from any effort to enforce street vending regulations.
The committee included in its proposal language supporting that position: “Continuing to impose criminal misdemeanor penalties for vending disproportionately affects, and unfairly punishes, undocumented immigrants, and could potentially put them at risk for deportation.”
The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday tentatively banned the sale of wares and food without a permit in city parks.
Street vending is already prohibited on sidewalks, but the prohibition in parks was “suspended by court action,” city attorneys said Tuesday.
Deputy City Attorney Valerie Flores said that the city is still “exploring the possibility of allowing vending” through a permitting program.
Advocates pushing a plan to legalize street vending decried the action, saying nothing should be done while the city is in the process of developing a citywide street vending policy.
The council voted 13-2 to instruct city attorneys to draft the ordinance. The draft ordinance will be returned to the council for a final vote.
Council members Gil Cedillo and Curren Price cast the dissenting votes.
Street vendors and their supporters staged protest outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters Tuesday, alleging a rise in harassment by police even as city leaders weigh a possible street-vendor permitting program.
Two street vendors and attorneys from the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign also delivered a “citizen’s citation” issued to police Chief Charlie Beck that lists violations such as verbal harassment, intimidation and confiscation of street vendor property.
“Our work is innocent. None of us are criminals,” Pacoima-area vendor Alfonso Garcia told LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
“And our work — our families totally depend on what we’re doing,” Garcia, who sells Jalisco-style food, said through a translator.
Garcia added that street vendors “want legalization so that we can go to work with peace and tranquility, and so that we can also contribute to the city, with the corresponding … payments, like taxes.”
The group asked that the citation be delivered to Beck, who they hope will enact a citywide ban on issuing citations to street vendors, similar to an agreement made with a Rampart Division captain for the MacArthur Park area.
Under the agreement, MacArthur Park vendors are allowed to operate without being cited, as long as they do not block access on sidewalks and business entrances, and do not sell pirated or illegal goods, the vendors said.
“We’d like this (agreement) all over the city of L.A.,” National Lawyers Guild attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker said on behalf of the vendors.
The Rampart Division agreement was reached about three weeks ago, according to Juan Rodriguez, an organizer who worked with the MacArthur Park vendors.
Smith responded that he “echoes” the Rampart Division captain in requiring that sidewalks and entrances be kept clear and no pirated goods be sold, but “beyond that, we’ve met several times” with National Lawyers Guild members and other groups to come to “some type of resolution, so that we can all work together, you can make money and make a fair living in Los Angeles.”
Beck, responding to a question about whether he would support the citywide moratorium requested by the group, told reporters that the department is awaiting instruction from City Council on the issue of street vending.
“That’s up to the council,” Beck said. “We will abide by the council’s actions on this just as we do now.”
The City Council’s Economic Development Committee is debating the issue and a task force has been meeting regularly to craft the proposed street vendor permitting program.
In the meantime, protesters said they want a halt to harassment by police.
“We’re here today to demand that LAPD stop its continual harassment of street vendors in the city of Los Angeles,” said Xiomara Corpeno, a director of community education at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
“We are at the cusp of passing a resolution to finally legalize street vending, yet they continue to harass street vendors, giving them tickets that actually don’t have to do with vending sometimes, threatening them and making their ability to make a living almost impossible,” she said.
Police officers have been known to follow vendors home, fail to document items they confiscate and allow health officials to toss food items into the garbage, according to the activists.
Anderson-Barker, who accompanied the street vendors to deliver the citation, said she planned to meet with City Attorney Mike Feuer Wednesday to talk about cases their group documented of street vendor harassment by the LAPD.
She said “enforcement abuses” were documented during legal clinics held by the lawyers guild, adding that recent cases involving confiscation of property belonging to homeless people on Skid Row could also apply to street vendors.
“Our push-back on the LAPD is if you’re going take this property you have to document it, give people receipts and give them a way to give it back,” Anderson-Barker said.
“I think the LAPD … realize there’s no way they can enforce the street vending municipal code fairly and legally,” Anderson-Barker said.
“They don’t have the resources. I think today they will consider doing what the Rampart (captain) has told us he’ll do.
The City Council’s Economic Development Committee Tuesday withheld its support for a permitting program for mobile sidewalk vendors, with several members saying the proposal was not fully developed and calling for more study on how such a program would work.
The proposal to legalize the sale of food and wares on sidewalks and public parks is being championed by Councilmen Curren Price and Jose Huizar, who is up for re-election in March.
The committee meeting was preceded by a rally and news conference organized by the Los Angeles Street Vendors Campaign, in which vendors and speakers from the 55-member coalition prematurely called it an “historic” day in anticipation that the panel would greenlight the proposal and send it on to the full council.
Huizar and Price’s committee colleagues decided otherwise. Councilman Paul Koretz said near the end of the two-hour-plus meeting, “I wouldn’t want our vote to do anything to imply that I was moving a program forward.”
Koretz, along with Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Gil Cedillo, noted the thinness of a city report on the permitting proposal and said they felt as though they were being asked to support a program before key questions were answered.
The council members said the report was short on details about the number of permits that would be available, the types of food or wares that could be sold, where vending could take place, permit fee amounts and whether there would be enough funding to enforce the regulation, among other issues.
“What I have before me is seven pages of a report that doesn’t really even weigh some of the fundamental policy decisions we’re going to have to make as a council,” Krekorian said.
Cedillo summed up the situation by saying, “This is not cooked yet.”
Huizar expressed bewilderment at the pushback from some business groups and fellow council members who criticized the lack of detail in the report, saying at least two meetings were held in recent months to obtain feedback from the public.
“This motion was introduced a year ago, and I thought we would be much further ahead in understanding what this means,” he said.
Some groups, representing businesses and neighborhood councils, urged the panel to consider allowing the permitting program in some areas, but not in others, depending on the individual needs and characteristics of each neighborhood.
But groups that have been pushing for legalization of street vending said they want the program applied citywide.
Maria Cabildo, director of the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, told the committee that vendors have been “waiting for this for a very long time.”
She said past attempts to permit street vending in MacArthur Park set up an uneven playing field for vendors, “so we really need a policy to be citywide, not just particular designated areas, for this policy to be effective.”
John Howland of the Central City Association, which represents downtown businesses, said “a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work in the city, and each neighborhood should have an opportunity to weigh in.”
There are an estimated 10,000 food vendors and 40,000 non-food vendors doing business in Los Angeles on sidewalks and in parks, according to city officials.
The report presented to the Economic Development Committee describes an organizational chart of what agencies would take part in the permitting program. Food vendors would need to obtain permits from the Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles Police Department would play an enforcement role, city officials said.
The Economic and Workforce Development Department, the Recreation and Parks Department and the Bureau of Street Services would handle the permitting process under the current framework.
Supporters of legalizing street vending say it would open up entrepreneurial opportunities to low-income people and legitimize an already thriving street food culture in Los Angeles, while critics of the business model worry it would create a public nuisance and unsanitary conditions related to food sales.
The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from neighborhood groups. The Studio City Neighborhood Council officially opposes the idea, while the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council have come out in support of legalized, regulated street vending.
The Mar Vista Community Council expressed “deep concerns” about the proposed permitting system and asked that before street vending is legalized, issues such as liability, sanitation, noise, odors and trash be addressed.
The Central City East Association asked that street vending not be allowed in the Skid Row area in downtown Los Angeles. The group’s executive director, Raquel Beard, wrote in a letter to the City Council that “this area is already plagued with a mixed bag of public safety issues, (and) the last
thing it needs to add to the equation is street vending.”
Some concerns were raised that street vendors would be more prone to extortion by gang members, but LAPD officials said brick-and-mortar shops could also be affected, noting the best way to combat that type of crime is to report it to authorities.
Holding a stack of tickets for illegal street vending, Rosa Calderon stood with a group of about 100 street vendors inside Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday—confident a city council committee was about to move forward a measure to allow them to go about their business legally.
They said they are tired of being chased by the police when they are “just working to support their families and themselves.”
Their hopes were temporarily dashed when the City Council’s Economic Development Committee decided to delay action on a street vending permitting process championed by Councilmen Jose Huizar (CD-14) and Curren Price Jr. (CD-9).
There is an estimated 50,000 street vendors in the city, but according to Huizar spokesman Rick Coca, the exact number is hard to come by because the industry is unregulated. Because street vending is currently banned, sellers are unable to pay for a business license or get a health permit, and are subject to fines if caught.
Many street vendors are undocumented, elderly or unemployed and according to street vending advocates, they have no other options for making the money they need to live.
This is the case for 85-year old Calderon, who told EGP she has been selling sodas and bottled water in downtown Los Angeles ever since losing her housekeeping job six years ago. She says her undocumented status and advanced age have made it impossible for her to find another job.
Holding five tickets, some issued by the same police officer and each carrying a $300 or so fine, Calderon said she can’t afford to pay the tickets and has been doing community service to try to reduce the debt. She said street vending is her only option for paying her rent and her food. It’s a financial necessity, say street vending allies.
Huizar told EGP that people like Calderon are part of a $400 million underground economy, “that the city does not know about or see.”
“We want to be able to bring it into the light because it benefits everybody,” he said.
Sixty-five-year-old Jose Moreno sells raspados (shaved ice) and elotes (corn on the cob) in the San Fernando Valley. He said vendors like him aren’t hurting anyone. “What we sell is not illegal, we are not hiding our stuff,” he said. But “when [the police] confiscate our merchandise they leave us with nothing,” he said. He said he felt helpless when police took away his cart with about $400 of merchandise. “They don’t understand that we have bills and rent to pay,” said Moreno, who turned to street vending after losing his job.
Selling on the street is hard work and a tough way to make money and no one is getting rich doing it, say street vendors.
“Sometimes we make about $60-$70 [a day], but sometimes we go back home without a dollar in our pocket,” said Lina Rangel, who sells her food at MacArthur Park in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. “But we keep trying.”
According to Rangel, the police constantly take away the food and wares they are selling and just throw them away. “They throw liquids, like champurrado (a hot chocolate type drink) down the drain,” she said in frustration. “They hit our carts with their batons and we can’t say anything or we get arrested.”
“Unfortunately, it is a perception that street vendors take away businesses from store fronts,” Isela C. Gracian, Vice President of Operations with the East Los Angeles Community Corporation told EGP. “We have been working with different store front businesses and they see the value of working with street vendors to attract more clientele to their neighborhood,” said Gracian, hopeful the committee will get its answers and move forward soon on approving a permitting process.
According to a research study by the Economic Roundtable, street vendors create and support an estimated 5,234 full-time jobs. Food vendors alone “create 1,896 jobs,” the study found.
Caridad Vázquez fue una de las decenas de vendedores ambulantes que se presentaron ante un comité del Consejo de la Ciudad de Los Ángeles el martes en apoyo a la legalización de la venta ambulante en la ciudad.
Acompañada por una traductora, la residente de Boyle Heights, dijo al comité que la ciudad debe permitir a los vendedores como ella obtener permisos para vender sus productos en las aceras de la ciudad. “Estoy pidiendo a los miembros del consejo su apoyo, estoy apoyando esta lucha para que podamos ayudar a nuestras familias” financieramente, dijo en español.
En noviembre del año pasado, los Concejales Curren Price y José Huizar presentaron una moción dirigida a funcionarios de la ciudad para que en 90 días dieran un informe de un sistema posible para permitir que los vendedores que venden alimentos y mercancía en las aceras de la ciudad puedan hacerlo legalmente. La moción fue remitida a las comisiones de Desarrollo Económico y de Obras Públicas y Reducción de Pandillas para su revisión. El martes, el Comité de Desarrollo Económico llevó a cabo su primera audiencia y escucharon testimonios públicos sobre el tema.
Vendedores que llegaron de toda la ciudad y sus aliados dijeron que la actual prohibición de vendedores ambulantes en las aceras no funciona. A pesar de ser ilegal, vendedores ambulantes venden hot dogs, tacos y otros alimentos por toda la ciudad. Lo hacen por necesidad financiera, pero desde el año 2012 cerca de 2.000 vendedores ambulantes han sido arrestados por participar en estas actividades, se le dijo al comité.
Read this article in English: L.A. Council Committee to Work on Plan to Permit Street Vendors
Vázquez dijo a EGP que ella ha trabajado como vendedora ambulante por 10 años. Ella dijo que está cansada del constante acoso y amenazas de la policía. Agregó que la ciudad y la policía hacen “difícil” que los vendedores puedan ganarse la vida sólo porque no tienen permiso. Ella dijo que la mayoría de los vendedores ambulantes están dispuestos a pagar por un permiso que les permita practicar sus trabajos legalmente. “Yo pago impuestos, a pesar de que no tengo un permiso”, agregó.
Dolores Castro vive en South Gate, pero por los pasados 18 años se ha dedicado a la venta de accesorios de celulares en el Fashion District “los callejones” en el centro de Los Ángeles.
Ella dijo que la policía no les permite hacer su trabajo. “Ellos confiscan nuestra mercancía cuando todo lo que estamos tratando de hacer es mantener a nuestras familias”, dijo ante el comité en español.
“Todos los vendedores ambulantes contribuyen a la economía, aunque sea un poco”, agregó.
Varios oradores dijeron que los empleadores sólo les dan unas cuantas horas de trabajo cada semana y la venta ambulante es lo que les previene de convertirse en desamparados. Otros dijeron que son demasiado viejos y nadie los contrata.
El Fiscal Defensor Público Dough Smith de Public Counsel, dijo que su organización trabaja con las comunidades más afectadas por la recesión económica que se enfrentan a la desinversión y la falta de oportunidades financieras.
“La venta ambulante representa una muy buena oportunidad para construir pequeñas empresas y mantener a sus familias y participar en la economía”, Smith le dijo a EGP. “Creemos que es importante que la ciudad reconozca esto como una oportunidad para ganar un poco de movilidad económica”, agregó.
Mientras que la mayoría de los oradores se pronunciaron a favor de que la ciudad apruebe un proceso de permisos para vendedores ambulantes, pocos oradores dijeron que están preocupados que la aprobación hará daño a los negocios establecidos de la ciudad que ya pagan impuestos y que también fueron lastimados en la crisis económica. Dijeron que los vendedores ambulantes quitan los negocios y en el caso de Hollywood, aleja a turistas de la zona turística emblemática de la ciudad.
No hubo decisión relativa ante la norma en la reunión, pero el comité votó para crear un grupo de trabajo para diseñar una forma para que los vendedores puedan solicitar permisos y demostrar que están siguiendo las leyes de salud y otras regulaciones de la ciudad. Se le pidió al grupo entregar un informe en 90 días.
Huizar le dijo a EGP que el sistema actual no funciona y que la falta de regulación ha creado este “caos”.
“Los vendedores que sólo quieren ganarse la vida están siendo perseguidos por la policía. Restaurantes y dueños de negocios no les gusta la competencia frente a sus puertas de personas que no pagan impuestos”, dijo Huizar. “Estamos tratando de encontrar ese equilibrio para permitir la venta ambulante, pero al mismo tiempo proteger a las empresas”, agregó.
El concejal Gil Cedillo dijo que el comité tiene que sentarse con los autores del informe—el cual les fue dado al comité el mismo día— y hablar sobre una posible política de lo que se puede y no puede hacer. Dijo que le preocupa que la mayoría de los vendedores ambulantes son inmigrantes indocumentados y si la policía los detiene, corren el riesgo de ser llevados a la cárcel y eventualmente deportados. Es una “crisis”, dijo, y agregó que no quiere ver más familias separadas.
“No podemos criminalizar a las personas que están trabajando”, Cedillo le dijo a EGP. “Pero al mismo tiempo, no podemos poner los negocios que han hecho una inversión financiera en desventaja”, agregó. “Al ver esto [tanta gente presente] es muy poderoso”, enfatizó y dijo estar abierto a encontrar una solución que funcione para todos.