Trump Inspires Effort to Legalize L.A. Street Vendors

Breaking the law, allegedly, near MacArthur Park
Breaking the law, allegedly, near MacArthur Park
Nanette Gonzalez/L.A. Weekly

President-elect Donald Trump's promise to deport 3 million people who are in the United States illegally might (indirectly) end up doing some good here in Los Angeles. As a result of that promise, city leaders have put a languishing proposal to legalize street vendors back on the front burner.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino rescued the would-be policy from his own Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee, where it had been sitting for a year. In a letter to the council this week, Buscaino and Councilman Curren Price announced that the proposal would be heard in that committee on Dec. 12, at which time it could be sent to the full council for consideration.

Buscaino and Price, who opposed the city's revamped street vendor ban last year, argue that the ban is unfair. They say it could place the largely immigrant vendors in the crosshairs of a deportation-happy Trump administration if they're charged with "criminal misdemeanor penalties" for vending without a permit.

Their proposal would create permits for standing vendors in certain areas, "immediately decriminalize violations" with fines and other measures, establish hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and allow neighborhood leaders to create special vending districts as well as no-vending zones that could encompass, for example, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, according to the letter.

"The city of Los Angeles has a broken and dysfunctional policy as it relates to the vending of food and merchandise on public sidewalks," Buscaino and Price wrote. "We are the only major city in the United States that prohibits vending of every type, at all hours, on all of the 10,750 miles of sidewalks throughout Los Angeles. While vendors are being charged with misdemeanors for violating this ban, there are no penalties imposed on those that purchase from vendors, nor any regulations or ban on food trucks, even though they are utilizing the same sidewalks to sell their products, only from the other side of the curb."

Indeed, immigrant advocates and the East L.A. Community Corporation's Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign have been on a mission to legalize these purveyors of corn, fruit, tamales and ice cream for years. They argue that the city's estimated 50,000 street vendors are a part of the cultural fabric of a metropolis that gets so much of its flavor from other parts of the world.

"As the co-author of the street-vending motion, I am hopeful that at long last we can move forward with a plan to legalize street vending in the city of Los Angeles,” Councilman José Huizar said in a statement. "We have to acknowledge that street vending is already a part of Los Angeles’ culture and, for thousands of mostly immigrant families, their only source of income. We need to bring them out of the shadows, regulate this industry and create a system that is fair to all parties."

So what's taken so long? Some brick-and-mortar restaurants, small businesses and neighborhood enterprise organizations, such as the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, say the vendors can present unfair competition to that mom-and-pop shop that went through the trouble of getting proper permits. Fair enough.

But advocates say that, like the very immigrants who push their carts into their neighborhood parks every morning, street vending in L.A. is here to stay: We should figure out how to regulate it, organize it and decriminalize it.

"After years of discussion and multiple studies, we now have a chance to finally put an end to unjust criminalization and build opportunity in its place," according to a statement from the Street Vendor Campaign. "We believe that the city should work expeditiously to create an inclusive sidewalk vending program that helps these entrepreneurs build their businesses, contribute to their communities and take care of their families."


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