Three Los Angeles City Council committees Tuesday finalized recommended rules for sidewalk vending, which city officials hope to have in place before a state law takes effect on Jan. 1.
Although the practice is widespread, sidewalk vending is illegal in Los Angeles, and the City Council had appeared close to finalizing a system before Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 946, which takes much of the decision-making out of cities’ hands, in September.
“Today and tomorrow are the final steps toward legalizing vending in Los Angeles. Thousands of mico-entrepreneurs want to come out of the shadows and enjoy the formal L.A. economy,” Councilman Curren Price said.
The new state law only allows vending restrictions based on health, welfare or safety concerns, and also prevents cities from enforcing vending laws if they to not have a local system in place that conforms to the state law.
At the request of Councilman Bob Blumenfield, the council in October put off a decision on whether to create a regulatory system or permit system and directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance for both while awaiting a city staff report outlining the pros and cons of each. That report from the Bureau of Street Services has now been completed and actually recommends a hybrid of the two systems, but the committees opted to move forward with the ordinance outlining a permit system.
The Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee, the Economic Development Committee and the Arts, Entertainment, Parks and River Committee approved the permit-based ordinance ahead of a vote on the issue by the full City Council on Wednesday.
The L.A. Street Vendor Campaign has been advocating for a permit program, which would allow vendors the right to vend on a certain block or in a certain zone, over a regulatory system which would create a set of rules and standards but would not grant site-specific permission to a vendor. The group says permits would provide an organized system that would protect vendors from extortion, reduce potential conflict among vendors and hold them accountable for their vending locations.
Even if the City Council opts for a permit system, it still needs to be developed and would not become active until Jan. 1, 2020, leaving the city to operate on a regulatory system until then.
In a letter addressed to the City Council, L.A. Street Vendor Campaign organizers said “many vendors are fearful that without a mechanism to allocate certain prime locations to a single permit-holder, there may be greater risk of conflict between vendors, extortion, intentional obstruction of public space to exclude vendors and unsafe over-concentration.”
The committees also approved the creation of no-vending zones based on health, welfare or safety concerns at Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, Universal Studios, Staples Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Hollywood Boulevard and a few other major tourist attractions; and approved a report from the Bureau of Street Services, which would not put a distance restriction on how many vendors would be allowed on any block beyond requiring that their kiosks be at least three feet apart. The City Council earlier this year had explored limiting vendors to two per block, and after the state bill was approved, asked city staff to come up with a recommended distance.
The state law also prohibits any rule requiring vendors to obtain the permission of nearby brick-and-mortar businesses — something that had been strongly opposed by industry advocates. The City Council considered such a restriction, but abandoned the idea in April, when the panel originally instructed the city attorney to draft a vending ordinance.
Los Angeles is believed to be the only major city in America that outlaws all sidewalk vending, although the city decriminalized the practice last year in favor of issuing citations while the council develops a permitting process.