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Los Angeles City Council votes to regulate, legalize street vendors

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“Our street vendors, our immigrants from throughout the world, come here and want to share their culture, their cuisines”

A street vendor sells hot dogs at the 2018 women’s march.

City leaders voted unanimously today in favor of new rules that finally make it legal for vendors to sell food and trinkets on the sidewalks of Los Angeles, a centuries-old tradition that creates vibrant streetscapes and powers the region’s economy.

The historic vote from the Los Angeles City Council sets up regulations and a permitting system for vendors. The new policy has huge implications: An estimated 50,000 vendors operate citywide, selling everything from used electronics to roasted peanuts to stuffed animals to quesadillas.

Until now, vendors, many of whom are women, have operated illegally and faced harassment and fines. Their merchandise is often confiscated, putting their livelihoods at stake.

Today’s vote “will lift this shroud of fear in our street vending communities surrounding enforcement,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

“I will no longer have to arrive at 2 a.m. to ensure my spot is saved,” Santa Huerta, street vendor in the Fashion District, said in a statement released by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. “A permit system allows me to get there many hours later and doesn’t put me in a potentially dangerous situation.”

Under the new rules, vendors will be required to obtain business licenses and health food permits.

The rules are designed to keep merchants from “impeding with the flow of pedestrian activity” and will require them to maintain “a clean area around their carts,” said Councilmember Curren Price.

The rules also prohibit street vending on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and at Universal Studios, El Pueblo de Los Angeles, and the Staples Center, as well as Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, the Coliseum and Banc of California Stadium on event days.

“With today’s vote, we’re going to help thousands of micro-entrepreneurs come out of the shadows and become part of LA’s formal economy,” said Price.

The legalization of street vending protects “low-income immigrants and workers and unlocks new opportunity for entrepreneurship throughout Los Angeles,” said Doug Smith, an attorney at Public Counsel.

He said it puts the city in a position to become a model for other California cities that will have to come into compliance with Senate Bill 946, a law that decriminalizes street vending statewide.

The city of Los Angeles had already decriminalized street vending in early 2017, so that vendors would no longer face the misdemeanor criminal charges that would put some at risk of deportation. But the city continued to leave vendors vulnerable to civil citations and fines.

That changes with the new regulations adopted today.

“I think of many of the great cities of our country... where street vending is a reality and a characteristic of the greatness of that city,” said councilmember Gil Cedillo. “Our street vendors, our immigrants from throughout the world, come here and want to share their culture, their cuisines... this ordinance is our first great leap to embody that.”

It took local lawmakers five years to get here, but might have taken longer if not for the push from street vendors themselves, who organized to advocate for the permitting system and met today’s vote with hearty applause.

LAist reports, however, that it might take the city “another year to flesh out the planned permit system.”