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LA’s Development of Street Vending Framework Will Help Protect Immigrants

It’s a move to decriminalize street vending and protect immigrants from deportation

Quesadilla street vendor in Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA
Lucas Peterson
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Los Angeles still did not have a fully legal framework for selling food on the street, despite the fact that it’s one of the most prevalent forms of food service, with tens of thousands of vendors within city limits.

Today, the LA Times reports that the city council voted to draft a law that would decriminalize street vending, thereby protecting immigrants that could have been vulnerable to deportation. It’s a surprise move that would remove criminal action against such vendors, and eventually develop a system of issuing legal permits.

The City of LA has a long history of street vending, and an equally long fight against it, but recent actions by President Trump against immigrants sent a strong and urgent signal to city officials to protect the local immigrant population.

Last week an executive order signed by the president would not only deport convicted criminals, it would deport those charged with crimes, or even “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”

Street vending would’ve fallen into that realm. Vendors sell everything from freshly prepared tacos and burritos to pre-cut fruit, corn on a cob, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and even ice cream. The proposed system would allow for up to two sidewalk vendors per commercial or industrial block. The number of permits allowed in residential areas has not been determined, though it will also be limited.

The system still has a lot of crucial details that need to be hashed out, including permit costs, administration and enforcement, and even potential violation penalties. There are still forces that will have to balance out the street vending framework, including groups of brick and mortar businesses who argue that they’ll be adversely affected by the street vendors.

Late last year, an open air market in East LA was established in the Ramona Gardens housing project under a city-approved permit, which gave hope that the local government was finally ready to admit that the system of criminalizing street vendors wasn’t working. Still, even last week, White Boy Tacos, a Downtown street vendor, was cited for selling on the street, though the proprietor has since resurfaced in a brick and mortar location nearby. And notable Watts street cart All Flavor No Grease was shut down after a lengthy run on the sidewalk.