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Los Angeles street vendor legalization proposal sent back to legislative analyst

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Update 4:58 p.m. Los Angeles street vending guidelines sent back to legislative analyst

Members of the Los Angeles City Economic Development Committee heard proposed guidelines for a legal street vending program Tuesday afternoon, but kicked them back to the chief legislative analyst's office for clarification. The committee will review the revised proposal at an unspecified date.

Approximately 200 people attended the meeting. Vendors and their supporters argued for the right to sell their wares legally; opponents, among them small business owners, argued that mobile street vendors present unfair competition and that a legal vending program would be hard to enforce.

Council member Paul Krekorian, who opposes the proposal, said the committee was "not even at a point of understanding what that framework is."

Krekorian expressed concern about how the city would regulate an estimated 50,000 vendors.

Council member Gil Cedillo, a supporter, said he was in favor of clearer guidelines but that "the process of legalization cannot be stopped."

Vendors, their supporters, and people opposed to the idea of legalized street vending lined up to comment during the hearing. One was downtown restaurant owner Norma Abdou, whose small Santee Alley eatery sells hot dogs and Mexican food.

"They offer plates for four dollars, five dollars, plates that we have to offer at the cheapest at 6.95 plus tax, for example," Abdou said. "We can't compete with that."

Several others questioned how well the plan could be enforced. But there were also many supporters, among them Stephen Kane, a lawyer and part of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.
"Paris has crepes, L.A. Has bacon wrapped hot dogs," Kane said. "It's something that people identify with L.A., and it's part of our culture. People don't want that taken away."

Street vendors who attended said they'd hoped the plan would move forward more easily, but said afterward that they still had hope. Jeri Wingo, a vendor who sells pin-on buttons at Leimert Park, said she understands why there would be questions about the program.

"It takes  a lot to put something like that together, so I understand," Wingo said. "And I think it is going to go forward. I really believe that."

Caridad Vazquez said she'd like to be able to sell the quesadillas and other Mexican snacks she sells in Boyle Heights legally, without fear.

"They should see that we're hardworking people," she said. "We're not criminals, we're workers."

6:38 a.m. A proposal to legalize street vending in Los Angeles is drawing controversy as the plan comes before a city council committee today.

In a special meeting set for Tuesday afternoon, the city's Economic Development Committee is scheduled to hear recommendations on the regulation of food and non-food street vendors. These sidewalk merchants selling everything from fruit, pupusas and bacon-wrapped hot dogs to cell phone accessories have long been a fixture in Los Angeles. But the practice remains illegal, in spite of various efforts to legalize it over the years.

Leading the legalization effort in City Hall are council members Jose Huizar and Curren Price. In a recent interview with KPCC, Huizar said attitudes about street food have changed in recent years, as food trucks and other independent vendors have become more popular. He said this could tip the balance in favor of a legal street vending program in a way that wasn't possible before.

"I think L.A. now has a lot more street vendors," Huizar said. "The public goes out to the street more often to find food. This critical mass is being created not only by the supply, but by the demand."

Huizar said idea would be to create a permit system for street vendors, who would pay to participate in the program.

But there's still stiff opposition. In downtown L.A., one of the city's most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, mobile street vendors have drawn the ire of merchant groups who say they crowd shoppers on sidewalks, and compete with some brick-and-mortar businesses.

"There are some older mom-and-pops that have been in the area for years...that do directly compete with some of the smaller food cart vendors," said Blair Besten of the Historic Core Business Improvement District. "It's really difficult to tell my business owners that have invested $30,000 to upgrade their hood systems to comply with the fire department, the health department, and building and safety to compete selling the same product that someone is grilling outside."

Proponents of the plan in City Hall have commissioned reports examining how street vending could work legally in L.A., but opponents say they've been allowed little input.

Provided the plan keeps moving forward, a City Council vote could take place early next year. The plan would regulate small mobile street vendors, as opposed to the city's ubiquitous food trucks.

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