LA City Council Legalizes Street Vending After Years of Debate

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles made street vending legal Wednesday, after city officials approved a new licensing program to regulate the selling of food on sidewalks citywide.

Street vendors celebrate the Los Angeles City Council’s unanimous decision to legalize their trade Nov. 28, 2018. (Nathan Solis/CNS)

Nearly 20,000 vendors hawk their culinary wares on sidewalks, operating in a legal gray zone despite being part of the fabric of neighborhoods across Los Angeles and feeding hungry people at public events.

City officials say they were rushed to get a law on the books before the end of the year after the California Legislature approved a bill this past September that would have wrestled control from Los Angeles if the city didn’t have a system in place.

Vendors will be able to pay for a permit to operate their businesses legally when the citywide program takes effect in 2020.

But while the city of taco trucks and food carts will have rules on the books, details must be ironed out like who will oversee the street vending program and educate vendors on the new rules and restrictions they must follow.

Some of those restrictions bar vendors from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, put a cap on the number of vendors operating per city block and regulate sales at local parks.

Organizer Rudy Espinoza with Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, which has been calling for a regulatory program for 10 years, called some of the city’s new rules restrictive.

“We believe there must be some rules and regulations for vendors of course, but we want them to be equitable and give folks an opportunity to build their business and take care of their families,” said Espinoza.

Street vendors celebrate the Los Angeles City Council’s unanimous decision to legalize their trade Nov. 28, 2018. (Nathan Solis/CNS)

Other rules adopted will require vendors to pick up trash around their space and leave space for people to walk on the sidewalk.

Wednesday’s approval marks a long road from 2017, when city officials kicked the effort to decriminalize street vending into high gear amid fears the Trump administration would use the issue as an excuse to deport immigrants.

In the coming months, Los Angeles officials will hash out taxes, permit costs and other revenue streams. City staff have recommended revenue from violations ranging from $250 for the first violation up to $1,000 for those caught vending without a permit.

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price called the hundreds of vendors – predominantly Hispanic women – who attended Wednesday’s meeting “micro-entrepreneurs” who will be able to come out of the shadows to sell their wares legally.

Vendor Vincent Picon said he has received numerous citations for selling cookware and shampoo at a Metro stop in South Los Angeles.

“I had to come to the court but they were dismissed because it was not a major crime. They saw I was only selling these things,” said Picon. “I don’t want to have to live in a tent on the street. Being a street vendor allows me not to be homeless. I’m happy about this permit system.”

Patty Archuleta says she wakes up at 3 a.m. to get a good street-side spot to sell clothes in South Los Angeles. The new permitting framework would set up zones where vendors typically compete for space and guarantee them a spot.

“With the vending permit we’re going to have a space. They’re going to give us a little space and we’re going to feel secure,” said Archuleta. “It’s going to be like our own little business.”

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