After decades of trying, the city of Los Angeles is still attempting to figure out a way to legalize street vendors without pissing off the Not in My Back Yard crowd.
In this city, anyone with a late-model Hyundai and a smartphone can pick up strangers and give them a ride in exchange for money. But if your wheels are on a cart, and you sell fresh fruit, good luck. It doesn't seem to help that street vendors are largely Latino immigrants, either.
A battle is brewing over the movement to legalize the city's roughly 50,000 street vendors. And, as is the case with any good political battle, the economic impact report plays a key role.
This week the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign released a report from the Economic Roundtable that concludes that L.A.'s street vendors generate $517 million a year in local "economic stimulus."
"If taxed and regulated, street vending could generate $43 million per year in local revenue," a summary of the data says.
Researchers found that businesses located near the vendors were more likely to see job growth and higher levels of employment. The report is titled "Sidewalk Stimulus."
The campaign has been working with select L.A. City Council members to legalize and create a permit process for sidewalk vendors across the city. Last week, however, the council re-drew and affirmed a policy, previously blocked by legal challenges, to ban the vendors from public parks.
Downtown business interests oppose legalizing the vendors. One argument has been that they take profits away from storefront restaurant owners who abide by laws that require permits and health department approvals.
The Coalition to Save Small Business has waged a campaign against vendor legalization. This week the group issued a statement arguing that "street vending is already legal in Los Angeles but ... the city’s more than 50,000 unlicensed and unregulated street vendors have failed to follow the law."
The coalition is referring to a '90s-era ordinance that allowed communities to establish legit vending districts.
The Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign says only one district, around MacArthur Park, ever resulted from the legislation and that it was a failure: There were not enough permits to meet demand, the campaign's Nancy Meza told us.
Mark Vallianatos, policy director at Occidental College’s Urban Environmental Policy Institute, reiterated in a statement that "only one vending zone, in MacArthur Park, was ever created."
"According to those who participated in, regulated or observed this district, it failed due to the restrictions on participating vendors and from competition from unpermitted vendors operating literally across the street," he said.
Meza said the law is now essentially defunct.
In a 2013 proposal to study regulating street vending, councilmembers Jose Huizar and Curren Price said, unequivocally, "Street vending on the city right-of-way and sidewalk is illegal."
The Coalition to Save Small Business' statement, Meza said, was paradoxical. In recognizing "no such districts currently exist" for legit street vending, the organization is sort of arguing that street vendors are illegal because they're illegal.
Update at 6:03 p.m., Thursday, June 25, 2015: The coalition issued a rebuttal to the Economic Impact Report.
The group argues that the economic stimulus figure is inflated because it doesn't take into account the claim that some businesses near street vendors reported losing 20 to 30 percent of their business to the mobile entrepreneurs. Those losses, if true, would present negative economic impact.
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The organization also says any new regulation would change the economic impact of sidewalk vending.
The Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign's economic stimulus number doesn't take into account the costs of illegal street vending (such as trash clean-up), the coalition says,
And the group says that the report's claim that vendors don't set up shop in front of businesses is patently false.