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LA street vending moves ahead. Here's what you need to know

Police patrolled the peaceful march on bikes and stood by on side streets on foot and in squad cars. Vendors selling cold drinks and hot dogs followed the march at the May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles on May 1, 2016.
Police patrolled the peaceful march on bikes and stood by on side streets on foot and in squad cars. Vendors selling cold drinks and hot dogs followed the march at the May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles on May 1, 2016.
Susanica Tam/For KPCC
Police patrolled the peaceful march on bikes and stood by on side streets on foot and in squad cars. Vendors selling cold drinks and hot dogs followed the march at the May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles on May 1, 2016.
Dozens of supporters of legal street vending came to the Los Angeles City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 17 to speak in support of a street vending plan, and against a so-called "property owner veto" that would have let businesses have a direct say on whether a vendor can set up nearby. The council moved ahead on a plan that will let businesses appeal a vendor's permit application, but won't give them veto power. The council is expected to vote on a street vending ordinance this summer.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


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If you live in Los Angeles, your local sidewalk vendor is a step closer to operating legally. 

On a 11-4 vote, the City Council on Tuesday directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance setting up a permitting system for street vendors. The permits will allow vendors to sell their items legally.

The goal is to have an ordinance in place by July and the program operating next year. 

Dozens of vendors showed up at the council meeting in support of a legal street vending plan. City officials have been debating the issue for years. 

Alejandra Rodriguez, a street vendor who sells toys in the downtown Piñata District, wants to operate with a permit. 

"I’m happy, yes. But once this passes, I’ll be much happier," she said in Spanish.

The council rejected a provision giving businesses a direct say over whether vendors can operate nearby.  The issue proved a sticking point, with vendor groups strongly opposing what they said would gave businesses veto power over the permits.

The city's economic development committee struck the idea from its recommended plan Monday and the council affirmed that decision.

Instead, there will be an appeals process, where property owners can appeal a vendor’s permit on health and safety grounds, said City Councilman Curren Price.

“They certainly can express their point of  view, in support or [opposition]," Price said. "But they don’t have veto power.”

Price, one of the street vending plan’s original sponsors, said an ordinance could be ready within 45 to 60 days. The council would then vote on it.

How it would work

The plan will legalize street vending citywide and allow vendors to apply for permits, with the fees they pay going toward enforcement costs.

Street vendors opposed to the idea of granting veto power to businesses lined up to speak at the Monday committee hearing. Downtown street vendor Merced Sanchez addressed the committee in Spanish.

"You don't really know what is going on out there," said Sanchez, who sells sunglasses, T-shirts and other items in the Piñata District near Alameda Street and Olympic Boulevard. 

"In the area where I work, they (businesses) extort us. They intimidate us. At any given moment, if we don't want to pay them, the rent they demand, they call the police."  

She said she worried that a provision to let businesses decide where street vendors can set up could make the situation worse.

Price, who chairs the committee, proposed the appeals process as an alternative. 

"I can’t support a provision that could potentially lead to the extortion of a vulnerable population," Price said.

Where do brick-and-mortar businesses stand?

Merchants also weighed in on Monday, urging strong enforcement. As plans to legalize street vending have moved through City Hall, business groups voiced concerns about street vendors crowding sidewalks, creating litter and competing with smaller brick-and-mortar merchants.

Hollywood has been an especially sore spot for merchants. Cory Dacy, who manages the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum on Hollywood Boulevard, complained of dangerously crowded sidewalks.

"Visitors can't get across the Walk of Fame at all any longer," Dacy said. "We have people walking out into the street to avoid the vendors." 

The proposal going forward is called a "hybrid" plan in that it would legalize street vending citywide, but would allow carve-outs to accommodate local property owners, as well as some no-vending zones.

The rules

The proposal will limit street vendors to two per each side of a city block. It also will ban street vending within 500 feet of certain venues and busy commercial areas, such as Hollywood Boulevard, Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, the Staples Center, and the Los Angeles Coliseum.

According to city officials, there are about 50,000 street vendors operating in Los Angeles, about one-fifth of them selling food.

While Los Angeles has taken steps to decriminalize street vending so that vendors aren't subject to criminal penalties — which can, in turn, get immigrant vendors on the radar of immigration officials — sidewalk vending remained illegal in L.A. Street vendors are still subject to citations and fines.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the new permitting system would allow street vendors to operate "illegally." The word should have been "legally." We've corrected the sentence.

This story has been updated.