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Mayor Says LA Has Relaxed Enforcement Against Street Vendors, Despite City Council Motion

Garcetti’s office promises a second LA Alfresco program that will include vendors, but the City Council still calls for increased enforcement

Walter Soto from El Ruso making tacos from his trailer.
El Ruso
Farley Elliott
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 mayor Eric Garcetti says that he is looking forward to “street vendors being able to go back to business soon,” though when that would formally take place, and in what form, still remains to be seen.

In an interview with Politico, currently available on Twitter, mayor Garcetti said that his office is “moving forward” with plans to put vendors to work legally once again, though the process for obtaining the necessary permits remains costly and cumbersome for the reported ten thousand-plus street food vendors countywide. Very few vendors have been given all of the proper approvals to sell street throughout all of Los Angeles, though the mayor’s office notes in a follow-up call to Eater that as of June 4, some 46 vendors have been fully permitted.

“Many of them have been in business during this, and there’s been relaxed enforcement of that,” Garcetti said incorrectly during the Politico interview. In fact, the city council passed an ordinance back in March that specifically called for increased enforcement from the Bureau of Street Services and the LAPD, and that ordinance has yet to be rescinded.

Garcetti added:

It’s a critical piece. We finally became a city that had street vending laws, I think we were the last city in America to have them. And it is very important to me that they not only be able to get back to work, get a paycheck, get the dollars that are there on the street, but also to be health leaders. I don’t just want to say that you can go back and be open, I want to make sure that they have PPE, that they know what that is, that there’s masks, that they’re thinking about their customers and spacing them out on the street just as restaurants are.

Garcetti has come under fire for his announcement of LA Alfresco, a dining initiative that allows restaurants to obtain no-cost approval to serve food in public spaces like sidewalks and parking areas as part of the ongoing pandemic — all while the city at large continues to ask for increased enforcement against street vendors for doing the same.

Last week, a rep from Garcetti’s office named Harrison Wollman told Eater that “the City is currently preparing a second phase of the L.A. Al Fresco program that will provide new opportunities for sidewalk vendors to operate, and will continue to work with the City Council and County leadership to ease the burdens that vendors face.”

A timeline for that second phase has not been made public. Meanwhile, a motion to rescind the enforcement ordinance and reduce fees for vendors sits in a sub-committee of the city council, and has not yet come back up for a vote, though they have proposed a $5 million emergency fund to help vendors affected by the pandemic.

Garcetti also spoke about the speedy reopening of restaurants and other businesses in Los Angeles, saying that he was “very nervous” about how fast things are opening up. “The city doesn’t necessarily have the ability to hold that back,” he added in the Politico interview, saying that “the state permits what can open, the counties then decide what will open.”

Some have worried about a coming second wave of COVID-19 infections, particularly in the wake of reopenings, relaxed distancing, as well as ongoing Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests in Los Angeles and its vicinity. Just yesterday, Los Angeles County officials confirmed that they had investigated 2,000 restaurants and found that 50 percent where not in compliance with the reopening guidance provided. Garcetti said plainly that he believe that “there’s not a second spike coming,” before adding: “There’s really never been a falling down from the plateau. We went up and we plateaued, and we’ve stayed at that plateau.”