Photo by John Schreiber
Photo by John Schreiber

Activists gathered at Los Angeles City Hall Wednesday to urge the city to hold off on fining and citing street vendors while council members consider legalizing the sale of food and wares on public sidewalks.

The activists, many of them street vendors, also demanded that City Council members speed up their pace on drawing up a vendor permitting program. The issue has languished in the Public Works Committee for more than a year.

“We are here because it has become urgent for us vendors and our allies to take action,” said Deborah Hyman, a vendor from Leimert Park. “We are tired of waiting for legislation to move forward while our brothers and sisters throughout the city are continuing to suffer through the negative effects of inactions at City Hall.”

Hyman said that in the past few months, there appeared to have been an increase in enforcement against street vendors.

While legislation appears to be stalled, “vendors are being criminalized … harassed … ticketed and having their stuff confiscated,” Hyman said. “Vendors are living in fear, and are being burdened with debt and a criminal background that they do not deserve.”

Attorneys from the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said that not only are vendors subject to criminal fines ranging from $300 to $1,000, but they may also be hit with court fees, late fees and other costs.

In a letter sent in May, the activists asked City Attorney Mike Feuer to stop pursuing misdemeanor charges and infractions against vendors. They also requested that he dismiss non-criminal citations that are imposed on “defendants who will suffer a significant financial hardship if required to pay the fines.”

Such fines, which are issued as part of the city’s Administrative Citation Enforcement program, range from $250 to $1,000, depending on the number of times the violations have been made, they said.

Since January, the City Attorney’s Office has filed 26 misdemeanor cases related to street vending, after rejecting 60 cases, and since last October, 169 of the administrative citations were issued, according to the office’s spokesman, Rob Wilcox.

Activists also said that when vendors who do not have proper immigration status are charged with a misdemeanor, they have the added worry of potentially being flagged for deportation or may be unable to qualify for programs that allow them to stay in the country.

Following the rally, city attorneys agreed to meet with activist later this month on the enforcement issues.

Activists also sent a new letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council urging that they act quickly to adopt a permitting program, and chastised city leaders for being unable to agree on the issue.

“It is unconscionable that Los Angeles, a city of immigrants, remains the only major metropolitan area that lacks a permitting scheme for legal street vending,” they wrote. “It is long past time for the council to move forward with an ordinance that ends the criminalization of vending and provides an accessible and inclusive process to vendors to lawfully practice their trade.”

The letter was signed by several supporters, including representatives of the UCLA Labor Center, Public Counsel, the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU of Southern California.

Discussion of a proposed street vending permitting program appeared to have hit a wall after being taken up in the Economic Development Committee, they said.

The issue was supposed to go next to the Public Works Committee, but a year later, the chair, Councilman Joe Buscaino, has yet to schedule a hearing.

A Buscaino aide did not immediately respond to an inquiry from City News Service on the status of the street vending proposal.

Councilman Curren Price acknowledged that the issue remains controversial among members of the City Council and their varied constituents.

Price said council members are “still trying to build a consensus and must properly address concerns brought up by my council colleagues, business leaders and the community at large.”

“As chair of the Economic Development Committee, I have done everything in my power to keep things moving along,” he said. “I share the frustration felt by advocates on what’s been a long and painful process.”

During last year’s committee hearing on the issue, a compromise was proposed by Price that calls for legalizing street vending citywide, but would allow neighborhoods to opt out.

He called the plan a “hybrid” of what opposing sides had been requesting. Some residents and business chambers had advocated for a permitting program that would keep vending illegal citywide and allow some neighborhoods to opt-in. Street vendor activists had been requesting citywide legalization of vending.

At the time, some council members did not appear to accept the hybrid plan and wanted more time to discuss all three of the proposals. Council members had planned to clarify the confusion in the Public Works Committee, but that hearing was never held.

Fredy Ceja, an aide to Councilman Gil Cedillo, said his boss has also been pushing for the issue to be considered in the Public Works Committee and is hoping that the issue would be scheduled before the end of the year.

There are plans to set up a meeting between street vendor advocates and council offices, according to Rick Coca, a spokesman for Councilman Jose Huizar, another supporter of legalizing street vending.

Staffers in Garcetti’s office also said the mayor wants to move forward.

“The mayor’s office remains committed to finding a workable policy for the city of Los Angeles that protects the needs and safety of our residents, vendors and businesses,” spokeswoman Connie Llanos said. “Our office has been meeting with stakeholders, and we look forward to council coming back with a framework soon.”

—City News Service

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