Proposal to legalize street vending in Los Angeles moves step forward

- Los Angeles is the only major city in America that prohibits street vending, but that may be changing after a City Council committee on Monday advanced a proposal to decriminalize it.

The proposal put forward today by council members Joe Buscaino and Curren Price would replace criminal penalties with a permit system enforced through fines and property confiscation.

"Ladies and gentleman, we are here today because the status quo is not working as it relates to sidewalk vending,'' said Buscaino to open the meeting of the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee. "Los Angeles is the only major city that prohibits vending of every type, 24 hours a day, throughout the entire city on approximately 11,000 miles of sidewalks, and it is no surprise that is clearly is not working.''

The issue had been stalled in the committee for more than a year, and the move now sends the proposal to the full City Council, which will have to vote to ask city staff to craft an ordinance based on the proposal.

The committee heard from many members of the public both in favor of the proposal and opposed to it, as well as plenty who wanted changes. One common concern was that the proposal would require vendors to seek permission from adjacent businesses to sell in front of their establishments.

"This is fraught with legal and political problems, and practical problems. The proposed policy would clearly exceed the city's police powers,'' said Cynthia Anderson-Barker, a civil rights attorney. "There is no public purpose giving brick-and-mortar businesses veto power over whether a vendor can sell.''

Other concerns included a limit of two vendors per block unless special permission was granted, and the ability of the city and police to enforce the policy.

Buscaino told the crowd that what was being advanced to the full council is a "framework'' for a policy, and that if the council voted to direct staff to craft an ordinance, it would come back to the committee for a "full dissection'' before going to back to the council again.

Before the vote, activists gathered at City Hall to call on the city to change its policy and decriminalize street vending.

"Street vending is criminalized in Los Angeles. Our city has a longstanding and shameful practice of targeting and arresting hard working Angelenos like me, trapping vulnerable people in the criminal justice system,'' said Deborah Hyman, a vendor from Leimert Park and a member of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign, which organized the news conference. "The Los Angeles Street vending campaign has worked hard to wake up City Hall and demand respect by organizing thousands of vendors and allies across the city to legalize street vending.''

The proposal adds, "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.''

The proposal also notes President-elect Donald Trump's stated goal of deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal records, and says, "Continuing to impose criminal misdemeanor penalties for vending disproportionately affects, and unfairly punishes, undocumented immigrants, and could potentially put them at risk for deportation.''

The proposal calls for permitting stationary vending, such as taco stands, in commercial and industrial areas around the city, as long as the walkway is not obstructed, and only two vendors per block would be allowed. Vending in most residential areas would be prohibited, though an exception could be made for smaller, mobile push-cart vendors.

Vendors would be limited to operating from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. except for special cases like sporting and entertainment events. The proposal would also allow for the creation of special districts where more permissive or restrictive rules could be allowed.

The proposal has received split support from the city's neighborhood councils, with eight offering community impact statements of support and eight submitting statements opposed to the plan as it currently stands.

The Northridge East Neighborhood Council wrote that it "is concerned about the inadequate enforcement of the current law and about the negative impact on existing 'brick and mortar' businesses, as well as on residential neighborhoods, that legalization would bring.''

The Coalition to Save Small Business, which is made up of more than 1,300 small businesses, said in a statement the plan "is an improvement over earlier efforts to allow unregulated, citywide street vending and we support many of its provisions.''

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