LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles city leaders Tuesday moved to decriminalize street vending, an issue that’s been pulled into sharp focus by President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration.
Street vending is a vital source of income for Los Angeles’ enormous population of immigrants, who sell ice cream, tamales, fruit, hot dogs, tacos, T-shirts, and other goods.
Yet it’s illegal for vendors to sell their goods on sidewalks in L.A. As many as 1 million undocumented immigrants are believed to live in Los Angeles; those who make a living from street vending could be charged with misdemeanors.
The City Council has moved slowly to create a permitting system to legalize street vending.
Fourteenth District Councilman Jose Huizar and Ninth District Councilman Curren Price presented a motion to the council in November 2013. Other major cities have regulated and legalized vending, but Los Angeles has grappled with the issue for two decades.
In contrast, Trump took swift and decisive action last week, issuing executive immigration orders seen by many as inimical to America’s immigrant communities.
Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order states that convicted undocumented immigrants or people in the country illegally who have been charged or have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” are subject to removal.
With that threat looming, the council moved to decriminalize violations of the City Code that target vendors.
The motion to decriminalize was passed by 12 to 1 vote. Now the city attorney will draft an ordinance that could reach the council floor within weeks.
Republican Councilman Mitch Englander was the only one to vote against the move. He told the Los Angeles Times it is too early to decriminalize vending without regulations in place.
It could be months before permitting regulations are passed and implemented. Until then, vendors are subject to citations, but not criminal charges.
After the vote, vendor Lucy Cuevas, 31, said she was grateful the city is taking action. She has worked as a vendor since she was a little girl. Her mother worked in the Fashion District selling glasses and clothes for more than 15 years.
“I'm a mother of two kids, a single mother, and from there, that's how we make our money. And we're real happy about it,” Cuevas said.
Councilman Huizar acknowledged that creation of a permitting system has been slow, but told reporters at City Hall, “Things of this nature do not happen overnight.”
“Vendors continue to live in fear and this is a reason why the decriminalization of the misdemeanor penalty will come forward first and foremost,” Huizar said.
Councilman Gilbert Cedillo who heads the council’s new Committee on Immigrant Affairs, said Trump’s orders made decriminalization a priority.
“There's still work to be done but this is a huge step forward. We have clarity now on the question of the city's disposition toward street vendors. We have no intention of criminalizing it," Cedillo said.
The council also asked the city attorney to report on a provision that would establish an amnesty for existing sidewalk and vendor misdemeanors.