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Westlake’s Decriminalized Street Vendor Setup Isn’t Going as Smoothly as Planned

Inside a microcosm of the difficulties behind legalizing street food

Mercado Olympic
A Downtown street vendor
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.

A new quasi-legal market setup in front of the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro stop earned some early praise for its forward-thinking attitude towards street vending, but more recently the going has been tough for vendors, activists, and politicians alike. LA Weekly has all the details in a great new piece that dives deep into the issues, from competing legal and illegal vendor wars to troubles with ADA compliance and subway ridership.

To recap: More than a month ago, civic leaders in the Westlake area joined street vendor activists and city politicians in creating a working vendor setup next to the Red-Purple Line entrance to the Metro station. The whole thing now looks like a daily farmers market, with vendors selling just about whatever they want from tables underneath some fresh white pop-up tents. They’re on site daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and use an event permit to keep costs and red tape low in order to sell their non-food products. The issue of actually serving street food, though, has proven much trickier.

First, there’s the gray area that comes with vending for food without a proper handler’s permit, not to mention the competition from truly illegal vendors just steps away that continue to clog the sidewalks up and down Alvarado Street. In fact, the jockeying for position has gotten so fierce that some vendors who left the sidewalk in favor of the safety of the individual stalls have actually gone back to their previous location because they end up losing out to the more visible sellers out near the street.

Metro’s vendor setup in Westlake
Courtesy Metro Los Angeles

What’s more, the city of Los Angeles has still not moved to actually legalize street food vending — only to remove the potential for misdemeanor charges that could result in deportations. Without a larger pathway forward beyond the Westlake market, some vendors don’t see much reason to leave their usual corner in favor of moving in-house under the watchful eye of the city.

If all goes well, LA Weekly is told that food vendors could actually end up at the market selling delicious eats by this summer, but several hurdles remain in order to make that happen. Still there’s reason to be hopeful, as more and more the Westlake community — and the street food scene overall — is open to working together with city leaders to create an amicable, safe solution to one of the city’s oldest food problems.