Aiming to strike a balance between street vendors trying to make a living, public health concerns and bricks-and-mortar retailers who feel disadvantaged, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to spend months gathering feedback about how to regulate sidewalk sales.

Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended the review, prompted by a new state law, Senate Bill 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act.

“Sidewalk vendors and brick-and-mortar businesses are all entrepreneurs that contribute to our local economy,” Solis said. “I am confident that we will identify a path forward that safeguards public health while encouraging all businesses to grow and thrive.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion, said she had been dealing with the issue since her days on the Los Angeles City Council, where her last term ended in 2011.

“For years, we have been trying to find a balance between street vendors who are really just trying to make a living, and the brick-and-mortar businesses that have had to deal with unregulated, unpermitted competition,” Hahn said.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said her office had received calls from various city officials wondering just what leeway they have under the new state law to restrict vending. SB 946, which takes effect Jan. 1, seeks to de-criminalize street sellers and prohibits local jurisdictions from regulating where vendors may operate or forcing them to ask permission from nearby brick-and-mortar businesses.

Municipalities need to have a licensing system in place in order to impose their own regulations to ensure health and safety. Restrictions could include limiting hours and setting sanitary standards. L.A. County currently requires licenses for all carts, including those that sell prepackaged goods rather than preparing food.

Barbara Ferrer, who runs the county’s public health agency, said her teams are committed to help vendors comply with current licensing laws.

“We’re not really code enforcement,” Ferrer told the board, though many vendors misunderstand the distinction. Public health wants to “support these entrepreneurs so that what they’re doing is legal and safe,” she said.

When going out to talk to vendors, public health staffers are accompanied by deputies or police officers, which Ferrer said was necessary given some dangerous incidents with unlicensed vendors upset about enforcement.

Several vendors emphasized to the board that they are taxpayers just trying to make a living and are tired of worrying about confrontations with the law.

One woman, speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter, said most of the other vendors in her area were also women proud to support their families.

“We do not want to live in fear,” she said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger raised concerns about wage theft, saying some vendors in the Antelope Valley were being exploited by operators who provide equipment and mislead vendors about the status of licenses to sell.

Staffers from various departments, including public health, immigrant affairs and workforce development, will gather feedback from vendors, retailers and residents and reach out to other jurisdictions in an effort to identify best practices and policies. A set of recommendations is expected back in May.

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