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City Council votes to legalize street vendors

LOS ANGELES — The city is one step closer to decriminalizing streets vendors after the City Council voted to authorize city attorneys to create an ordinance allowing street vendors to operate with a permit.

That proposal by City Councilmen Curren Price, Jose Huizar and Joe Buscaino was approved on an 11-2 vote Jan. 31.

The ordinance will provide a permit-based system to replace criminal penalties for sidewalk vending that would be enforced through fines and property confiscation.

“For the past several years, I have worked arduously to create a sidewalk vending policy that is mindful and considerate to all Angelenos,” Price said. “We are proposing a fair and balanced approach that provides a pathway for vendors to come out of the shadows and abide by rules and regulations, while properly addressing the concerns of consumers, micro-entrepreneurs and brick-and-mortar businesses.

“I am encouraged that after many years, Los Angeles will finally have a policy in place that will be good for Los Angeles and benefitting everyone.”

Los Angeles is the last remaining major American city that charges street vendors with misdemeanors.

Though the overall proposal has garnered support from the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and the Coalition to Save Small Businesses, some critical components of the plan are under objection.

For one, the proposal as it stands seeks to limit the number of vendors per block to two in industrial and commercial areas, which opponents say is too stringent a restriction.

Mike Dennis of the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign said the two-per-block restriction should be reconsidered, because many of the city’s sidewalks can accommodate significantly more vendors per block.

The current plan also requires street vendors to obtain permission from brick-and-mortar establishments on the block where they set up shop, a response to business-owner concerns about unfair competition and sidewalk clutter.

Street vendors line the sell a variety of wares on the sidewalk near the intersection of Seventh and Alvarado streets in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. An ordinance is being drafted that would legalize street vending in Los Angeles. (Photo by Tyrone Cole)

Street vendors line the sell a variety of wares on the sidewalk near the intersection of Seventh and Alvarado streets in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. An ordinance is being drafted that would legalize street vending in Los Angeles. (Photo by Tyrone Cole)

Following the Jan. 31 vote, Jessica Lall, president and CEO of the Central City Association of Los Angeles, issued a statement in support of decriminalizing sidewalk vending, adding “the framework includes some really smart provisions, including the requirement that stationary sidewalk vendors have the consent of adjacent business or property owners.”

However, Carlos M. Gonzalez, the owner of Principio Markets in South L.A., said the consent is unnecessary.

“I don’t think our business will be affected if there’s proper order and common sense [in the final draft],” Gonzalez said. “We’re glad to see vendors get some peace of mind. The street vendors are members of our community and there’s money in the community for everybody.”

Gonzalez added that allowing vendors to work legally on the streets will lead to a decrease in crime “because people will have alternative ways to make money.”

According to the Bureau of Street Services, an estimated 50,000 vendors — mostly immigrants — set-up shop on city sidewalks throughout Los Angeles to sell a variety of products, from fresh fruit and bacon-wrapped hotdogs, to toiletries and balloons.

An immigrant vendor from South L.A. who asked to remain anonymous, has sold tamales on the sidewalks of Los Angeles for 16 years.

Speaking in Spanish, she said: “This is our business, we live from the sales of this work. This is how I feed my children and support their schooling. This is how we put bread on the table.

“It’s a good thing that our work is being legalized.”

“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,” Buscaino said.

 

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