Los Angeles outlines 3 possible approaches to legal street vending program

Produce on ice inside a street vendor's fruit cart. Los Angeles officials are debating whether to legalize sidewalk vending, which is prohibited in the city.
Produce on ice inside a street vendor's fruit cart. Los Angeles officials are debating whether to legalize sidewalk vending, which is prohibited in the city.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A new city report that looks at possibilities for legalized street vending in Los Angeles outlines three different scenarios.

The choices: a citywide street vending program, specific street vending districts, or a combination of the two that lets different communities decide how they want to manage street vending. One other choice? To maintain the status quo, which prohibits sidewalk vending in L.A.

Since last year, city officials have been debating an ordinance to would legalize street vending. Over the past several months, city officials held public forums to gather input from residents. That's  included in the report, filed Wednesday by the city's Chief Legislative Analyst.

On Tuesday, the city's Economic Development Committee is expected to hear the report and make recommendations, which would eventually go before the full City Council.

According to the report, a citywide street vending program "could potentially allow sidewalk vending on all city sidewalks with the exception of sidewalks that do not meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines or could present public safety issues."

However, the city could still establish "no vending zones" in high-traffic areas or near venues where safety might be an issue.

The district-based model would allow sidewalk vending only in defined areas. It's one the city has tried before: In 1994, city officials adopted an ordinance allowing the creation of up to eight sidewalk vending districts in commercial zones.

One of these districts came to fruition in MacArthur Park, but it wasn't a success. From the report:

The process for establishing a district under the ordinance has been described as cumbersome by members of the community inasmuch as the process called for several approval levels and many vendors found it easier to vend outside the districts than within the district.

A third option would be a hybrid model, which "would allow for general vending on sidewalks citywide and allow for specialized restrictions within certain districts."

For example, "a district may choose to allow a higher or lower number of vendors per block depending on the needs...An area such as the flower district may want to prohibit flower
vendors but encourage more fruit or food vendors..."

Supporters of legalized street vending say they'd prefer a blanket citywide ordinance. Rudy Espinoza of the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network said the MacArthur Park experience proved that street vending districts are hard to set up and manage; he said legitimate vendors in MacArthur Park were being undercut by unpermitted ones nearby.

"What happens is they put so many restrictions on the entrepreneurs that there is no way to sell," Espinoza said. "Vendors who were literally across the line, across from the district, were selling, and there was no process to mitigate that."

Opponents of legalized street vending say it will be difficult to stamp out unpermitted vendors. A merchants' group that calls itself the Coalition to Save Small Business put out a statement on Thursday saying if there is to be any legal street vending, it should be tightly controlled:

Street vending should only be allowed in commercial areas where there’s community support and fully funded, effective enforcement. With more than 50,000 unlicensed street vendors in Los Angeles, the Council should regulate the number of permits, locations and hours of operation for vending as other cities have done.

A spokeswoman for council member and Economic Development Committee chair Curren Price said there could be some action taken Tuesday, but that the proposal isn't expected to go to the full City Council any time soon.

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This story has been updated.