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LA city officials revive long-stalled move to legalize street vending

FILE PHOTO: A street vendor sells fruit in Los Angeles' Highland Park neighborhood.
FILE PHOTO: A street vendor sells fruit in Los Angeles' Highland Park neighborhood.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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After three years spent languishing in City Hall, a proposal to legalize street vending in Los Angeles is once again on the move, although questions around issues that include enforcement remain unanswered.

On Tuesday, City Council backers of street vending released the most detailed proposal yet for legalizing the operations that have spurred opposition in some neighborhoods. In a letter to the full council, members Curren Price Jr. and Joe Buscaino outlined a plan that would cover vending throughout the city.

"We value the notion that everyone deserves the opportunity to start a small business, on a level playing field, with failure or success determined by our own talent, hard work, and perseverance," Price and Buscaino wrote in their letter.

The general plan would limit street vendors to two per side of a city block. But it would allow the creation of special vending districts with customized rules allowing more or fewer vendors in an area. The districts could be created at the request of city officials, business owners or residents.

Under the plan, street vendors who follow the rules would no longer face misdemeanor charges as they do now for operating illegally.

A council committee review and approval by the full council would be required before the plan could be implemented. The plan goes before the council's Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee on Dec. 12.

The Price and Buscaino plan for legalized street vending is referred to as a "hybrid" model. It is one of three different approaches that city officials have debated. Residents in several communities weighed in on ideas for a street vending program during a series of community meetings in 2015.

Key aspects of the council members' plan released Tuesday call for:

  • Stationary carts only in commercial and industrial zones with a maximum of two on each side of a city block allowed.
  • Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations and vendors cannot impede pedestrian traffic.
  • Limited roaming carts in residential zones. They must be moving at all times and complete transactions in a timely manner.

Street vendors would be required to have mandatory permits, liability insurance, lists of goods they sell and an established route or location. They would also need the consent of adjacent property or business owners to operate in a spot and would be required to provide a trash receptacle to prevent littering.

On Tuesday, proponents of legalized street vending familiar with the plan said they were pleased by and large.

"We're definitely optimistic that there seems to be a new second wind of enthusiasm from the council offices," said Mike Dennis, director of community organizing with the East L.A. Community Corp., a local development group that has backed legalizing street vending.

Dennis said proponents did find some aspects of the plan too restrictive, citing the proposed sidewalk rules that limit vendors to two operators per block.

But the plan is seen as a compromise that so far is sitting well with some opponents, like Blair Besten, executive director of Historic Core Business Improvement District. The downtown group has opposed the idea of legalizing street vending, in part because of the large concentration of carts downtown.

"I like that there is a restriction of how many vendors can operate by block, so you are not seeing too much density of vendors competing for space, which still allows the free movement of people on the sidewalk," Besten said.

However, she said there are many unanswered questions, among them: how will the program be enforced? Critics of legalized street vending have argued that there aren't enough police to enforce a program.

"It's all about enforcement, so how are you going to do that in order to reward the vendors that do go through the system?" Besten asked.

Price and Buscaino propose that the city Bureau of Street Services be responsible for handling complaints about unpermitted vending or other problems, although Los Angeles police would retain enforcement authority over those who violate the rules.

There are an estimated 50,000 street vendors in Los Angeles, 10,000 of whom sell food.