LA city committee wants more details before moving forward on legal street vending

Street vendor advocates rally outside City Hall before a city Economic Development Committee meeting on possible plans to legalize street vending in Los Angeles.
Street vendor advocates rally outside City Hall before a city Economic Development Committee meeting on possible plans to legalize street vending in Los Angeles.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Street vendor advocates rally outside City Hall before a city Economic Development Committee meeting on possible plans to legalize street vending in Los Angeles.
People line up in the City Council chambers to comment at a city Economic Development Committee meeting on possible plans to legalize street vending in Los Angeles.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


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Los Angeles city officials took a tiny step toward legalized street vending Tuesday afternoon, asking for more details on how a sidewalk vending program would work — but it's still going to be a long time before street vendors can sell their wares legally in the city, if they ever can.

Members of the city's Economic Development Committee heard a new city report that outlined three possible options for a street vending program: a citywide program, specific vending districts or a hybrid combination of the two that would let different communities decide how they want to manage street vending.

The report was presented by the Chief Legislative Analyst's Office on the heels of months' worth of community meetings held by the city to gather public input.

After more than an hour of additional public input Tuesday, committee members decided they'll need more details before they make a move.

"Let's see what the options are before we talk about changing the rules," said City Council member Curren Price, who chairs the Economic Development Committee.

It looks at least for now like the favored approach will be the hybrid model, which would essentially legalize street vending citywide, but would allow stakeholders in different parts of the city to have a say on how much or how little street vending they want.

The committee ordered the Chief Legislative Analyst's Office and several other city agencies to report back on details of how it would work: How much it would cost, how vendors would be permitted, where vendors would be placed, how police would enforce them and so forth.

While some committee members favored the hybrid model, other city officials pointed out that a citywide policy would likely be less expensive.

City Council member Paul Krekorian, who sits on the economic development committee, characterized the report and the meeting as "a step forward."

"We have already taken a number of steps forward," Krekorian said.

Street vendor advocates rallied outside City Hall before the meeting. They said afterward that they were frustrated with slow progress; city officials have been debating whether to legalize street vending since last year.

Janet Favela of the East Los Angeles Community Corporation looked on the bright side.

"At least they didn't say no," Favela said.

The last time the city came close to legalizing street vending was in the 1990s, when a street vending district was set up in MacArthur Park. It eventually flopped, in large part because the legal street vendors inside the park were being undercut by unpermitted vendors outside.

Street vendor advocates have pushed for a blanket citywide policy, without specific districts or customized rules in different areas.

"I want to caution around the opt-in, opt-out policy," said Rudy Espinoza, a street vendor advocate who directs a nonprofit called the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network. "We need leadership. We don't want a patchwork policy here." 

But there's strong opposition to a citywide plan, especially from merchants in some commercial zones like downtown L.A.

"There is not enough budget or manpower to enforce the problems that exist already," said Patti Berman of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council, who spoke at the meeting. "We want to make sure that nothing is made legal until the illegal can be taken care of. All that will do is add to the problem."

Street vendors also spoke. Some addressed the brick-and-mortar opposition.

"I would love to have my brick-and-mortar one day," said street vendor Deborah Hyman, who makes jewelry that she sells in Leimert Park. "I want to be there one day, too, but in the meantime, I'm a proud street vendor. Please support me."

No date was set for when city agencies — including the City Attorney's Office, the Bureau of Street Services, the police and fire departments — are to report back to the committee.

In the meantime, the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee is set to hear the Chief Legislative Analyst's street vending report next.

This story has been updated.

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