LA street vending legalization plan moves forward

FILE: A street vendor puts chili powder and lime juice on fruit for a customer on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014 on Figueroa Street in Highland Park.
FILE: A street vendor puts chili powder and lime juice on fruit for a customer on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014 on Figueroa Street in Highland Park.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Efforts to legalize street vending in Los Angeles advanced in City Hall after two committees voted Wednesday evening to send their recommendations to the full City Council for review.

Members of the council's economic development and public works committees backed a street vending proposal that would allow cart owners to operate with permits. The committee amended the plan to let owners have a say in whether vendors can set up in front of their properties. 

The plan would also prohibit street vending within 500 feet of venues and busy commercial areas, including Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Coliseum and Hollywood Boulevard.

While it's far from a done deal, the plan is the closest the city has come to a citywide street vending program. Selling food and other goods on city sidewalks remains illegal, with vendors subject to citations and fines. According to city officials, an estimated 50,000 street vendors operate in Los Angeles, with about a fifth of them selling food.

Under the plan, vendors would apply and pay for certificates of operation, with the fees helping to pay for enforcement. They could sell from a stationary push cart in commercial or industrial areas or, in residential areas, from mobile carts. The mobile carts could only stay in one spot for seven minutes per sale. 

The City Council would need to approve the recommendations for the plan to move on to the City Attorney's office, which would draft a legal street vending ordinance to send to the council for a vote.

Los Angeles officials have been wrangling over plans to legalize street vending for four years now. Council members Jose Huizar and Curren Price introduced a proposal in late 2013. Similar efforts to introduce a street vending program in the 1990s briefly led to a citywide street vending "district" in MacArthur Park, but it failed to move forward.

Last last year, city officials reviewed a "hybrid" plan for legal street vending that would limit street vendors to two per side of a city block. The plan was developed following a series of meetings and community forums in several city neighborhoods.

As a nod to concerns raised by businesses and residents, the plan would allow communities to customize the rules, such as prohibiting vending in front of some properties. “No­ vending” areas could also be set up to include city alleys or city-owned property. City officials would also take into account unsafe conditions like inadequate parking, high commercial activity and pedestrian traffic in prohibiting vending in certain areas.

Hollywood Boulevard, for example, could be restricted given safety concerns tied to its high commercial activity and visitor traffic.

Several representatives from the Hollywood business community raised concerns at Wednesday's committees' meeting about street vendors along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

"I received an email from a distressed tourist saying she was shocked to see two street vendors setting up tables atop a star at Hollywood and Highland," said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Others said they worried about how well the program would be enforced.

"It is very important that our sidewalk space remains unencumbered and clear for pedestrian safety," said Nicole Shahenian with the East Hollywood Business Improvement District. She said she wanted "as much enforcement in this area as possible."

Other speakers pushed city officials to let merchants or property owners have a say in whether street vendors can operate next to their businesses.

Street vendors also weighed in. Some opposed the idea of prohibiting vending in some areas and others were unhappy with the proposal to limit the number of vendors to two per side of a city block.

"We want for all vendors to be able to sell together," said Caridad Vasquez, a street vendor from Boyle Heights. 

The proposal presents how much vendors might need to pay for fees — anywhere from $125 to $1,000, depending on how much is needed to cover enforcement costs and how many vendors buy permits. Different proposals to enforce the rules are also presented in the plan.

The city has taken steps to remove criminal penalties for street vendors as a means to keep them off the radar of federal immigration agents. Earlier this fall, city officials voted to remove criminal penalties for those selling in city parks and, in February, the City Council voted to remove criminal penalties for selling on city sidewalks. 

City officials said they would look into expunging convictions for street vending from sellers' records. Street vendors are still subject to civil citations and fines.