LA moves closer to legalizing street vending

By Emily Goldberg

Vendors at the Los Angeles Street Vendors Campaign rally chant "Si se puede." | Emily Goldberg

Vendors at the Los Angeles Street Vendors Campaign rally chant “Si se puede” as councilmen Jose Huizar and Curren Price take to the lectern.| Emily Goldberg

Street-side bacon-wrapped hotdog carts arguably contribute to L.A.’s identity just as much as its traffic and celebrity sightings. Although the delicious service that street vendors provide has remained illegal throughout the city, that may soon change.

In its meeting Tuesday, the Economic Development Committee approved a framework for citywide street vending regulations, moving the long awaited policy goal one step closer to completion. The framework outlines the tasks and responsibilities of several city departments including the Bureau of Street Services and the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I agree with my colleagues that this plan, as we would say in Sacramento, is not cooked yet,” said councilman Gilbert Cedillo. “But …this is an idea whose time as come. This process of legalization is a process that cannot be stopped.”

See also: South LA street cooks could soon go legit

Prior to the meeting, councilman Jose Huizar spoke with councilman Curren Price, who represents South L.A.’s Ninth District, at the Los Angeles Street Vendors Campaign rally. More than 40 vendors and community activists had gathered to support street food’s legalization, speaking of the benefits that it would provide not only to the vendors, but also to the city as a whole.

“I’ve got a lot of illegal vendors in my district — entrepreneurs that would like to become legal and provide services in a lawful way, and we want to help facilitate that,” said Price. “It’s a real opportunity to encourage and support these micro-businesses.”

Jerri Wingo is one vendor who has been a long-time advocate of legalizing street vending. She has been selling buttons and crafts in Leimert Park since the 1990s, and is tired of navigating what she calls the “maze” of operating legally as an L.A. street vendor.

“If street vending became legal I would not always be in fear, or worry about police — worrying about how I’m going to make it if someone shuts me down,” Wingo said.

Throughout her years in Leimert Park, Wingo said she has only been issued one citation. The fee however, cost her upwards of $300, much more than she makes in one day of merchandise sales, she said.

Another benefit of legalizing street vending discussed by the committee is the opportunity to make healthy food available in Los Angeles neighborhoods considered “food deserts” or “food swamps” for the lack of such options.

“We want to work with City Council to incorporate incentives to vendors who can provide healthy food options,” said Isela Gracian, East L.A. Community Corporation Vice President of Operations.

Opponents to the legalization plan also made their voices heard. Some Los Angeles residents expressed concern about a negative economic impact on brick-and-mortar businesses, as well as various health and safety risks.

“I feel it’s a safety hazard. It creates opportunities for criminals and pick-pocketers. For example, a lady buys something and someone follows her after they see she had all the cash in her handbag,” said Peter Drivas, a business owner in Downtown L.A.

“We’re also losing revenue,” he continued. “The stores are paying high rents, insurances, and etcetera. This is all free money [for street vendors] they are not going to report it.”

Other residents expressed concern that street vending could introduce increased drug problems into communities if vendors use food or crafts as a front for selling illegal substances. Don Garza, a Downtown resident, spoke in favor of legalizing street vending, but asked for tight regulation to ensure that efforts to eliminate drug usage would still be successful.

One resident of Studio City asked for councilmembers to impose regulations on specific neighborhoods, rather than implementing a blanket policy across the city.

“One size does not fit all,” said Barry Johnson. “I’m all for street vending but it’s not a part of the culture in Studio City. I urge you to allow each neighborhood to decide its own future.”

City departments are expected to report back to the Economic Development Committee in the spring of 2015.

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