LA City Council votes to decriminalize street vending

- The City Council on Wednesday approved two ordinances decriminalizing street vending in Los Angeles, although the act is still outlawed and will be enforced through citations as the council continues to work on a permitting system for the industry.

The ordinances, which were approved on a 13-0 vote, replace criminal misdemeanor charges with citations and remove criminal penalties against a person who fails to pay an administrative citation.

Police may no longer confiscate the property of street vendors under the newly approved ordinances and may only issue citations, which start at $250 for a first offense and then move up to $500 and $1,000.

Should Mayor Eric Garcetti sign the ordinances into law, they would take effect immediately.

"I think the city of L.A. and this council has come a long way in terms of our view of street vendors. A few years ago, I didn't think we would be having this conversation,'' Councilman Jose Huizar said.

"But the environment is correct -- whether it's the environment nationally or here locally -- acknowledging the benefits that street vendors bring to us and the acknowledgment that we should bring them out of the shadows to contribute to the economy,'' he said.

Part of the "national environment'' Huizar alluded to was President Donald Trump's stated intention to increase deportations of immigrants in the country illegally, with a priority on those with criminal records.

The proposal that gave rise to the ordinances, written by council members Joe Buscaino and Curren Price, said, "Continuing to impose criminal misdemeanor penalties for vending disproportionately affects, and unfairly punishes, undocumented immigrants and could potentially put them at risk for deportation.''

Los Angeles is the only major city in the country that outlaws all street vending on its streets. Buscaino and Price's proposal seeks to undo that by creating a permitting system.

The city attorney's office is currently working on options for a permitting system, which were forwarded by the council in January. The options are expected to be submitted to the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee for discussion.

The Coalition to Save Small Business and the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign support decriminalization. Some of the permitting proposals that were approved by the council for consideration -- such as limiting vendors to two per block in many locations and requiring street vendors to get permission from brick-and-mortar businesses on the block -- are controversial.

"We support the City Council's vote today for an ordinance that decriminalizes sidewalk vending and look forward to working with it to develop fair and reasonable regulations that will govern sidewalk vending in Los Angeles,'' the Coalition to Save Small Business said in a statement.

Buscaino has said the permitting system advanced to the city attorney by the council is a "framework'' for a policy and will come back to the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee for a "full dissection'' before going to back to the council again.

The council had also sought to create amnesty for anyone who was convicted of street vending violations in the past. But a report from City Attorney Mike Feuer said that he has no authority to grant amnesty because his office brings criminal charges on behalf of the state, not the city.

Feuer's report said 22 people were convicted in 2016 on street vending charges, and 13 currently have charges pending.

"As we pursue public health and safety, my office will continue to be sensitive to all the issues confronting our immigrant communities,'' Feuer said in a statement. "Mindful of these and other concerns, we've been handling these matters almost exclusively as citations since I took office."

David Michaelson, chief assistant city attorney, told the council that the best recourse for those convicted of street vending in the past is to seek to have the convictions expunged. He said prosecutors working the current cases will take the new ordinance under advisement, but that only prosecutors could drop charges.

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