What LA's proposed crackdown on unlicensed beach and park vendors means

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A broad proposal to crack down on the unlicensed sale of goods and services at Los Angeles parks and beaches would make it harder to do commerce in these public places.
 
City officials voted Tuesday to resume ticketing unlicensed park and beach vendors. The city had suspended that enforcement for several years due to a pending lawsuit. The proposal still needs a second and final vote by the council. But if passed, the main targets would be owners of private fitness boot camps that use public park space, or private swim instructors who use city pools.

"We have people that set up swap meets, people that sell food and food products right in front of legitimate concessionaires, dog trainers," said Kevin Regan, the city's assistant general manager for Recreation and Parks. "We have a person that runs an unregulated pony ride in one of our parks."

In one small city park, there's even an unlicensed operation that trains pit bulls, Regan said.

The proposal requires those vendors to apply for a city license. It would impose steeper penalties on all unlicensed merchants at parks and beaches, possibly even misdemeanor charges.

That comes at an awkward time for the city’s street vendors - those who operate push carts. Those operators are already not legally permitted to do business anywhere in the city, including parks and beaches. Street vending is illegal in Los Angeles, and those vendors are subject to citations, sometimes daily, by L.A. officials.

Street vendors have been trying to get the city to legalize their trade, and the city has more recently expressed interest in considering an ordinance. Public hearings are ongoing to gather testimony for stakeholders.

Street vendor advocates pointed out that since street vendors can't apply for licenses to sell their wares in parks, this new city crackdown means more eyes will be on them when they roll their carts into parks and onto beaches - which ultimately means they'll face even more tickets and penalties.

"As drafted, this would threaten the livelihood of thousands of people vending in parks," said Doug Smith with Public Counsel, a non-profit legal organization that backs the creation of a citywide legal street vending program.

Regan, with Los Angeles Recreation and Parks, said there is a current permitting process for merchants who want to do business in parks, but that it's geared toward larger operations, like food concessions or fitness camps.

“Our current permitting process is not really conducive to, say, an individual vendor that wants to push a cart or something like that," Regan said.

He said that if city officials eventually legalize street vending, then vendors could apply to work in parks. If not, "then we’d have to re-look at this idea, and see exactly how to approach it.”

The only notable exception to Los Angeles' ban on street vending is in Venice Beach, where a limited number of "performance" stalls are set up on the Boardwalk for individuals who are allowed to sell original art, but not food or resale items. The proposed crackdown on unlicensed beach and park vendors would not affect them, city officials said.

The next city-sponsored public meeting to gather community input on street vending is set for Thursday night at City Hall.

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