Crime & Justice

LA City Council votes to decriminalize street vending

File: In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council moved to decriminalize street vending, changing the penalty for vending from a misdemeanor to a citation.
File: In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council moved to decriminalize street vending, changing the penalty for vending from a misdemeanor to a citation.
Blaine Ohigashi for KPCC

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In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council moved to decriminalize street vending, changing the penalty for vending from a misdemeanor to a citation.

The council took action amid concerns for the thousands of undocumented workers in Los Angeles who make their living selling food, drinks and goods from pushcarts on L.A. sidewalks and in parks. There are an estimated 50,000 vendors (both documented and undocumented) in Los Angeles.

The council acknowledged that if they didn't change the law, undocumented vendors could get caught by federal immigration agents when they went to court or jail on the misdemeanor charges.

“We do not want someone deported basically for selling a hot dog on the street,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield.

Now, police will issue only a citation with a fine of $250. A second citation carries a fine of $500 and a third $1,000. But the council said no vendor should be charged with a misdemeanor or otherwise be labeled a criminal if he or she fails to pay the fines.

Vendors took turns addressing the council before the vote.

"As street vendors, we are afraid,” Isabel Rodriquez told the council Wednesday. Rodriquez sells fruit in MacArthur Park. Through a translator, she called on the council to keep Los Angeles a sanctuary city and had a few choice words for Trump.”

“I want you to see that the president is very crazy,” she said.

It was not a tough sell for the overwhelmingly Democratic council.

“President Trump’s policy is a threat to the social fabric,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo. “People aren’t going to church. Parents aren’t sending their kids to school.”

For nearly five years, street vendor advocates have urged the council to end the practice of handing out misdemeanors to vendors and sometimes confiscating their push carts. The council had been reluctant to move forward on the issue amid concerns from some business owners who see vendors either as competition or a nuisance. There were also challenges in determining how to regulate the industry. 

In that time, the LAPD has issued a small number of misdemeanors.

In the past year, approximately 22 people were convicted or pled guilty to misdemeanor charges for engaging in illegal street vending, according to the City Attorney’s office. Approximately 13 cases are pending where a misdemeanor has been charged for illegal street vending. In addition, there are cases where misdemeanor charges were filed for illegal street vending where the defendant failed to appear in court.

Vendors already convicted of misdemeanors may seek expungement through the courts. People whose cases are pending may still be prosecuted because once the City Attorney files with a court, it's technically a state case against the defendant.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he intended to sign the decriminalization ordinance as soon as it hits his desk.

He called it a "critical first step toward protecting hard-working Angelenos who are trying to make an honest living.”