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City Council approves regulations for street vendors

LOS ANGELES — Ending years of debate over a practice that has become an indelible part of Los Angeles culture, the City Council finalized an ordinance Nov. 28 that legalizes and regulates sidewalk vending.

Although the practice is widespread, with an estimated 20,000 vendors operating in the city, sidewalk vending has been illegal in Los Angeles, the only major city in the nation to outlaw the practice.

The council’s 13-0 vote to legalize street vending came ahead of a state law which goes into effect Jan. 1 and will take much of the decision-making on the issue out of the hands of local municipalities.

The state law will only allow cities to impose vending restrictions based on health, welfare or safety concerns, and also prevents cities from enforcing vending regulations if they do not have a local system in place that conforms with the state law.

“I applaud my colleagues for giving street vendors in Los Angeles the dignity and respect that they deserve with the passage of a street vending ordinance,” Councilman Gil Cedillo said. “We started this conversation with concerns over an unregulated system in the city. We pushed for the decriminalization of street vendors, to no longer penalize individuals trying to make an honest living, and worked with advocacy groups to ensure a robust and fair permitting process.”

The council opted to implement a permit system, which will allow vendors to sell their wares on a certain block or in a certain zone, instead of a regulatory system that would have created a set of rules and standards but would not have granted site-specific permission to vendors.

The permit system will take another year to develop, so the unanimously approved ordinance gives the city until Jan. 1, 2020, to fully develop it. The city will impose a regulatory system until then.

The L.A. Street Vendor Campaign advocated for a permit program, arguing permits will provide an organized system that will protect vendors from extortion, reduce potential conflict among vendors and hold them accountable for their vending locations.

The council also established no-vending zones — based on health, welfare or safety concerns — at Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, Universal Studios, Staples Center, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other major tourist attractions.

It also approved a Bureau of Street Services recommendation that will require vendors be located at least three feet apart from each other, but will not restrict how many vendors can be on an individual block. The council earlier this year explored limiting vendors to two per block, but after the state bill was approved, it asked city staff to come up with a recommended distance between vendors.

Parks will be treated differently, giving the city the ability to adjust the allowed number of vendors on a park-by-park basis.

“In my role as chair of the Arts, Entertainment, Parks, and the LA River Committee, I met with local stakeholders, business owners and vendors over the last several months,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said. “Street vending is part of the culture of Los Angeles, and adds to the rich diversity as well as the cuisine that we relish in our city. The action today is a significant step that will lift the shroud of fear in terms of enforcement and provide greater certainty to all in our city. I applaud the vending community for opening up your heart and soul in helping us have a better understanding of the issue.”

The state law prohibits any rule requiring vendors to obtain the permission of nearby brick-and-mortar businesses — something that had been strongly opposed by industry advocates. The City Council considered such a restriction, but abandoned the idea in April.

Although street vending has been illegal in Los Angeles, the city decriminalized the practice last year, opting to only issue citations to vendors while the council developed a permitting process.

“This is a huge step forward for thousands of entrepreneurs across the city,” said Rudy Espinoza, executive director of Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, a nonprofit that worked to help organize sidewalk vendors. “The permit system will allow establishment of technical assistance and other needs for these small business owners.”

By CRAIG CLOUGH

City News Service