Kids Can Buy Coca-Cola at the Park, But Selling Fresh Fruit Is Illegal

A summer day in the park isn't really a summer day in the park without the ringing bell of an ice cream cart.

The City Council today voted to ban the ice cream man and other vendors from city parks. The 13-2 vote requires permits for vending food and wares in parks. There is no permit for cart-based businesses, however.

The vote presents new language designed to work around a court ban on the council's previous park-vending prohibition, Rob Wilcox of the L.A. City Attorney's Office explained. "We believe the new ordinance is lawful," he said.

The dissenting votes came from Gil Cedillo and Curren Price, who've supported forthcoming legislation that would legalize and permit street vendors. Until then, those who hawk fresh fruit and corn in this most Latino of America mega-cities are outlaws.

East L.A. Community Corporation has been pushing to legalize the city's 50,000 or so vendors through its Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign. It says today's action, which requires a second vote before it can become law, is a minor hurdle.

"I think it's a step back," says the corporation's Janet Favela, "but in some ways it creates some urgency for us to push for parks to be incorporated into the legalization process."

The organization has been hosting regional meetings with vendors to determine how they'd like the legalization proposal to take shape. Ideas include requiring special city permits (county health clearances are standard for food handlers) and creating some off-limits zones.

Favela says she expects the legalization proposal to go before the council's Economic Development Committee in August. The East L.A. Community Corporation is holding a vendor meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

As it stands, vendors face fines of up to $1,000, she says, way too much for an immigrant making a few bucks here and there. Favela says she knows one vendor, an 85-year-old woman, who's grappling with a $300-plus fine and more than 30 days of community service.

The corporation says in a statement:

Since December 2014, thousands of street vendors in Los Angeles have seen an increase in criminalization. Despite street vendors and advocates making pleas to LAPD as well as City Attorney Mike Feuer, vendors continue to be marginalized and criminalized. Hardworking people continue to have their livelihood taken away and their dreams shattered.

There is opposition to legalization from brick-and-mortar restaurants and from some pro-gentrification forces, such as Carol Schatz's Central City Association, which apparently believes the vendors represent unfair competition for the area's upscale eateries.

Schatz's Downtown Center Business Improvement District joined forces with a group called the Coalition to Save Small Business in opposing the mostly immigrant vendors. The coalition flooded the City Council with petitions decrying attempts at legalization.

"This proposal is not fair to local business owners who pay taxes [and] utilities and abide by the many regulations that go along with running a business," the petition says.

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Favela of the East L.A. Community Corporation finds the opposition's stance — that street vendors don't belong in a revitalized downtown — ironic since it was the vendors, she said, that gave the area life and commerce long before the craft-beer drinkers arrived.

"They're the people who kept the area alive and kept economic vitality in the neighborhood," she says.

Despite gentrification, the Eastside, downtown, Westlake, Koreatown, South L.A. and other urban core neighborhoods are still holding on to a tradition of food vending that includes fresh fruit and corn.

This as the city has decried the inner-city's "food desert," comprised of fast food and few opportunities to purchase fresh produce. Street vendors have stepped in with sometimes healthier eats.

A proposed ban on soda vending machines at parks a few years ago was abandoned by the City Council. So you can still get 200-calorie Cokes for your kid. Fresh fruit, however, is technically illegal.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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