LA City Council considers rules to allow legal street vending

A City Council committee said today they need more details on how a potential street vending system would work in the city of Los Angeles, after hearing from stakeholders who were divided on whether to allow vending citywide or to permit the activity only in some parts of the city.

The Economic Development Committee appeared to support further reports on three different options -- one would set up a special vending district, a second would legalize vending citywide, and a third "hybrid" system would make the activity legal citywide, but allow some areas to opt out.

After the meeting concluded, however, aides for the committee's chair, Councilman Curren Price, said they were under the impression that the panel had only asked for a report on how to move forward with the hybrid system, while Councilwoman Nury Martinez and some city staffers had assumed that the panel agreed to request reports on all three models.

The confusion arose after Martinez suggested that she needed further detail on the citywide and special district systems.

Price spokeswoman Angelina Valencia said staff members were planning to review the tape of the meeting. The committee heard dozens of comments from business groups and street vendor advocates, with hundreds turning out for the meeting.

Similar crowds also attended half a dozen community meetings on the issue in recent months, and some speakers who have been pushing for about two years to legalize street vending in Los Angeles criticized committee members today for not yet reaching a policy decision.

Some business groups such as the downtown-based Central City Association advocated for an "opt-in" system that would involve a specific community or city officials applying to set up a zone where vending would be allowed, while keeping the activity illegal elsewhere.

This option was attractive to some representing brick-and-mortar businesses who view street vendors as having an unfair competitive advantage due to their lower operating expenses.

Another idea was to allow vending citywide, with rules regulating but allowing the businesses equally in all areas. This was supported by the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign, a coalition advocating to legalize street
vendors for the past two years.

The committee was also presented with a third idea to create a "hybrid" system in which vending would be allowed everywhere, but some areas could opt out.

Some groups discussed finer points of the policy, such as an idea of setting a cap on the number of vending permits, similar to New York's policy of allowing a maximum of 3,000 vendors. Another suggestion was to restrict vendors from operating near brick-and-mortar storefronts selling the same goods.

The Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a San Fernando Valley area business chamber, said this week it supports the idea of a cap on the number of permitted vendors.

VICA also wants vendors to get permission from the owners of the property or sidewalk where they plan to operate, which is similar to Portland's street vending system, the chamber's officials said.

Members of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign have pushed back against efforts to place restrictions on the proposal to legalize street vending, saying that a similar approach in the past resulted in failure.

Mike Dennis, the campaign's spokesman, said ideas such as the cap or setting up "opt-in" special districts create a "black market" of rogue vendors who compete with the legal vendors.

An opt-in system was set up about 20 years ago, which only resulted in one district in the MacArthur Park area, and that district now no longer exists, Dennis said.

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