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New LA Street Food Legislation Could Gravely Affect Your Favorite Taco

Details about a possible framework are starting to emerge

Mercado Olympic
Downtown’s Mercado Olympic
Paul Bartunek
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Los Angeles’ plan to move forward with a legislative framework for street food vending is already hitting some bumpy patches, despite widespread appeal from many in the city and an impetus to get the work done soon as a way to protect immigrants.

The most recent issue to come up revolves around a detail found inside the city council’s vending proposal, which would limit to two the number of vendors allowed to sell their wares “in commercial and industrial districts,” says NPR. That means longstanding vendor collectives like Downtown’s thriving (but unofficial and illegal) Mercado Olympic could be tossed away completely, or massively downsized to just two vendors from the dozens that currently occupy the sidewalk there.

The proposal to limit vendors is just part of the larger overhaul that city council members are currently undertaking regarding street food in Los Angeles. With such a sweeping agenda and large swaths of Los Angeles to cover, it’s going to be tough to find language that makes everyone happy. For example, Westwood doesn’t want any street food vendors, legal or otherwise, while others out in unincorporated parts of Los Angeles find themselves kept away from the bargaining table altogether.

In the meantime, says NPR, the city council has voted unanimously to decriminalize the act of street vending, which means vendors penalized with fines won’t be cited with misdemeanors if they fail to pay. The idea is that with recent ICE immigration raids taking place across Los Angeles, these vendors will no longer show up as criminals with misdemeanors on their police records.

Still there is much work to be done, and vendors are increasingly making their voices heard at packed city council meetings and public forums. A final framework for legalization is likely still a ways off, but until then expect more back and forth between the city, local businesses, and the vendors themselves.