Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Updated at 6:12 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2014

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee on Tuesday withheld its support for a permitting program for mobile sidewalk vendors, with several members saying the proposal was not fully developed and calling for more study on how such a program would work.

The proposal to legalize the sale of food and wares on sidewalks and public parks is being championed by Councilmen Curren Price and Jose Huizar, who is up for re-election in March.

The committee meeting was preceded by a rally and news conference organized by the Los Angeles Street Vendors Campaign, in which vendors and speakers from the 55-member coalition prematurely called it an “historic” day in anticipation that the panel would greenlight the proposal and send it on to the full council.

Huizar and Price’s committee colleagues decided otherwise. Councilman Paul Koretz said near the end of the two-hour-plus meeting, “I wouldn’t want our vote to do anything to imply that I was moving a program forward.”

Koretz, along with Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Gil Cedillo, noted the thinness of a city report on the permitting  proposal and said they felt as though they were being asked to support a program before key questions were answered.

The council members said the report was short on details about the number of permits that would be available, the types of food or wares that could be sold, where vending could take place, permit fee amounts and whether there would be enough funding to enforce the regulation, among other issues.

“What I have before me is seven pages of a report that doesn’t really even weigh some of the fundamental policy decisions we’re going to have to make as a council,” Krekorian said.

Cedillo summed up the situation by saying, “This is not cooked yet.”

Huizar expressed bewilderment at the pushback from some business groups and fellow council members who criticized the lack of detail in the report, saying at least two meetings were held in recent months to obtain feedback from the public.

“This motion was introduced a year ago, and I thought we would be much further ahead in understanding what this means,” he said.

Some groups, representing businesses and neighborhood councils, urged the panel to consider allowing the permitting program in some areas, but not in others, depending on the individual needs and characteristics of each neighborhood.

But groups that have been pushing for legalization of street vending said they want the program applied citywide.

Maria Cabildo, director of the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, told the committee that vendors have been “waiting for this for a very long time.”

She said past attempts to permit street vending in MacArthur Park set up an uneven playing field for vendors, “so we really need a policy to be citywide, not just particular designated areas, for this policy to be effective.”

John Howland of the Central City Association, which represents downtown businesses, said “a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work in the city, and each neighborhood should have an opportunity to weigh in.”

There are an estimated 10,000 food vendors and 40,000 non-food vendors doing business in Los Angeles on sidewalks and in parks, according to city officials.

The report presented to the Economic Development Committee describes an organizational of chart of what agencies would take part in the permitting program. Food vendors would need to obtain permits from the Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles Police Department would play an enforcement role, city officials said.

The Economic and Workforce Development Department, the Recreation and Parks Department and the Bureau of Street Services would handle the permitting process under the current framework.

Supporters of legalizing street vending say it would open up entrepreneurial opportunities to low-income people and legitimize an already thriving street food culture in Los Angeles, while critics of the business model worry it would create a public nuisance and unsanitary conditions related to food sales.

The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from neighborhood groups. The Studio City Neighborhood Council officially opposes the idea, while the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council have come out in support of legalized, regulated street vending.

The Mar Vista Community Council expressed “deep concerns” about the proposed permitting system and asked that before street vending is legalized, issues such as liability, sanitation, noise, odors and trash be addressed.

The Central City East Association asked that street vending not be allowed in the Skid Row area in downtown Los Angeles. The group’s executive director, Raquel Beard, wrote in a letter to the City Council that “this area is already plagued with a mixed bag of public safety issues, (and) the last thing it needs to add to the equation is street vending.”

Some concerns were raised that street vendors would be more prone to extortion by gang members, but LAPD officials said brick-and-mortar shops could also be affected, noting the best way to combat that type of crime is to report it to authorities.

—City News Service

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