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Hundreds Descend on City Hall to Discuss Street Vending Legalization

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This was the third of four community meetings held by the Chief Legislative Analyst.

Lucas Peterson

Hundreds of people attended a meeting at Los Angeles City Hall yesterday evening to listen to and hear others voice their opinions regarding street vending in L.A. The gathering was the third of four community meetings ordered by the Los Angeles City Council to gather input on a possible plan to legalize sidewalk vending in the city.

City Analyst Felipe Chavez presided over the two hour meeting, and gave a presentation on three possible options, or models, for the City Council's approval. "Model 1" would keep the status quo, maintaining the current laws and regulations that outlaw street vending in L.A. "Model 3," which most of the vendors present at the meeting supported, would institute a community-driven sidewalk vending program, creating a series of regulations and permitting processes for public vending on city streets, as well as tailored regulations for special environments such as parks and high-traffic pedestrian areas. Chavez was careful to note that while proposals covered sidewalk vending, it did not provide for any vending carts that vended on the city streets.

Chavez' presentation, which was made in English, was nearly over by the time many had entered the meeting, as there were lengthy lines and security to enter the John Ferraro Council Chambers, a spacious hall on the third floor. Some vendors who attended wore shirts to affiliate themselves with a particular group: many wore black t-shirts with silkscreened white fist on the front, with the lettering "Union Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes" ("Vendedores Ambulantes" means "Mobile Vendors"). Chavez took time to scold the audience for applauding certain speakers, saying that it was eating into the meeting's minutes. Audience members, in response, adopted American Sign Language, or deaf, applause: they raised their arms and turned their open hands from side to side.

At the public speaking portion of the meeting, dozens of speakers were allotted a minute to voice their opinion on the proposals: most were street vendors or street vendor advocates who passionately spoke of a need to legalize the profession. One woman, Rosa Calderon, spoke of having received seven tickets from the city and her inability to pay them. Still more spoke of a desire to not be seen as criminals, and to be able to pursue their livelihood without fear.

One woman spoke of having received seven tickets from the city and her inability to pay them

Some speakers (I counted three or four) came to say they believed street vending should remain illegal. Largely, they represented business interests of certain districts in L.A., including Wilshire Center and Hollywood. One woman cited the existing chaos of Hollywood Boulevard, which already has sidewalks packed with tourists and grubby Spider-Man impersonators, and said she feared street vending legalization would make that situation worse.

Most troublesome about the proposed plans for possible legalization is that they focused largely on enforcement and punishment; not education and support. One sample budget that was circulated allotted $1,750,000 to the Public Works department for the purpose of creating a team to seek out and punish those who were not complying with new laws. Very little focus was paid to business development or education: one handout discussed a rudimentary business course that "could be made available online" at the cost of $200,000.

They focused largely on enforcement and punishment; not education and support

Much of the proposed new legislation focused on establishing regulations for street vendors. The sample proposition of placement requirements would severely limit where vendors could position themselves in the city. Requirements (there are many, but here are a few) would entail that vendors: stay more than 18 inches but fewer than 24 inches away from a curb; more than five feet from crosswalks, fire hydrants, driveways, lawns, or bus benches; stay 45 feet to the rear of any bus stop, and 10 feet from the rear of any parking meter or marked parking space.

The Los Angeles City Council snuck through a measure earlier this week reviving a long-standing ban on vending in parks and on beaches. The suddenness of that vote came from a concern that the city could be subject to lawsuit in the event of illness resulting from bad food from a street vendor. Doug Smith of Legal Aid said that it was "disappointing the City Council would push through a vote like that" given the open, public forum that was planned for Thursday.

The fourth, and final, community meeting will be held at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee at 10950 S. Central Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90059 on June 25th at 6 p.m. Those who wish to express an opinion about street vending in Los Angeles can attend the meeting or email sidewalk.vending@lacity.org.

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