Street vending in parks would be almost legal under a new proposal

FILE: On Alvarado Street across from MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, street vendors set up shop to sell clothing, technology, food and more.
FILE: On Alvarado Street across from MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, street vendors set up shop to sell clothing, technology, food and more.
Ken Scarboro/KPCC

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Street vendors would not receive criminal penalties for selling their wares in city parks under a Los Angeles City Council proposal this week that aims to keep violators off the radar of federal immigration enforcement agents.

The proposal follows the City Council's vote in February to remove criminal penalties for street vending on city sidewalks. 

City Council members Mitch O'Farrell and Jose Huizar introduced the parks proposal Tuesday. It would change the penalty for illegal street vending in city parks from a criminal infraction, and possibly a misdemeanor, to a civil citation similar to a parking ticket.

Street vendors who are cited would still need to pay fines, but they would not be criminally charged. Advocates for the street vendors have pushed for decriminalizing the violations since immigration officials have targeted immigrants with criminal offenses. 

"As long as there are criminal penalties as an option under the code, there is a risk that vendors are considered to be engaging in a criminal activity, even if they are not charged or convicted," said Doug Smith, an attorney with the pro-bono legal firm Public Counsel in Los Angeles.

A related proposal introduced last Friday by Huizar and Councilman Gil Cedillo would close loopholes that still allow criminal penalties for "peddling" on city sidewalks.

The parks proposal would benefit street vendors who sell in parks and became subject to penalties in 2015. That's when city officials voted to reinstate a ban on unlicensed businesses using city parks and beaches, ranging from paid yoga classes to street vending. 

It's not clear when council committees will hear the latest proposals.

Rick Coca, a spokesman for Huizar, described the proposals as a "stop-gap" to help immigrant street vendors as city officials continus to weigh a long-pending plan to legalize and regulate street vending. A proposal has been moving slowly through City Hall since 2013. 

"They did vote to create a framework, which the council had never done before," Coca said. "Now we need to move forward." 

Late last year, city officials reviewed a "hybrid" plan for legal street vending that would limit street vendors to two per each side of a city block. But in a nod to concerns raised by businesses and other community members, the plan would also allow the creation of special street-vending vending districts with customized rules.

Street vendors would be able to apply and pay for permits. The fees would help pay for enforcement.

Street vendor Julian, who sells snacks in Griffith Park, said he's spent years waiting for a permit. The Guatemalan immigrant asked his last name not be used because he's in the U.S. illegally.
"We want a permit, so they (the police) will leave us in peace," said Julian. He has not been ticketed lately, but has often been asked to leave. "The truth is, I'm afraid of even going to that park at this point."
The city's economic development and public works committees are expected to consider the street vending plan in a joint meeting later this fall.