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City sets street vending fees in English. Where were the translators?

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Hearings presented a challenge for vendors because there were either no translation services, or not enough


LA city leaders approved new street vending permitting fees Wednesday at one of the first public meetings on the issue where many street vendors could actually understand what was being said.

The fee will be $291 for the first six months of 2020. After that, the amount will increase to $541.

The decision comes after three committee hearings where street vendors and community organizers fought for lower permitting fees that would range from $50 to $200, depending on a vendor’s age or ability to pay.

The meetings presented a challenge for vendors and organizers because there were either no translation services, or not enough translation devices.

“We’d like to hear what the councilmembers are saying at the moment because it’s a decision that will affect our lives,” says Mayra Hernandez, a street vendor who sells children’s clothes. “And we don’t know if it’s good or bad because we can’t understand.”

Street vendors holding signs that read “why is there never enough interpretation and translation equipment?” and “my voice is being taken away!” at Wednesday’s city council meeting.
Jessica Flores

The more than 100-year-old tradition of street vending in Los Angeles was legalized and decriminalized last year. It took six years to finalize the the new street vending law. In the past year, city officials have hammered out details on how to implement the legislation. The next step will be for City Council to decide what agency will issue the permits, and to hire outside contractors to educate vendors on the new rules and regulations.

At one meeting last month where there were no translation services available, community organizers had to translate to street vendors what was being said. After each meeting, they huddled outside of City Hall to go over what had happened.

At some meetings, vendors had to share one headset among two people, or wait until the meeting ended to convene with organizers from Inclusive Action for the City and the East Los Angeles Community Corporation.

“It’s an example of how our city is not really truly investing in engaging Angelenos,” says Rudy Espinoza, executive director of Inclusive Action, one of the groups that advocated for legalizing and decriminalizing sidewalk vending in LA.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the roughly 200 street vendors in attendance were provided with 150 headsets that transmitted translation of the hearing from English to Spanish.

Translation services must be requested 72 hours in advance, says Patrice Lattimore, a manager in the city clerk’s office. Accommodations have been made depending on the city contractor’s availability, she says.

Translation services are pre-arranged for committee meetings where “there is going to be individuals who might require certain translations or maybe there’s a particular issue that affects a certain community group,” she says.

Lattimore says translation services were provided at two of the three committee meetings. At the one without, she says the clerk’s office didn’t receive a request, “and it might have been an oversight.”

“It’s important for us to know ahead of time because we can get additional headsets if necessary from our contractor,” Lattimore says.

Katherine McKeon, a staff attorney with Public Counsel and a member of the steering committee of the LA Street Vending Campaign, says that isn’t reasonable because City Council doesn’t have to post an agenda until 72 hours in advance, which means people have to constantly check for the agenda and respond immediately. It’s what Inclusive Action had to do for Wednesday’s meeting.

“I highly doubt the average Angeleno is doing the same to monitor what’s going on in the city that may impact them or [are] thinking about requesting equipment so they can understand,” says Espinoza.

Street vendors huddled after the meeting with street vendor organizer Rosa Miranda to talk about the next steps for the street vending program.

According to American Community Survey data, 57 percent of LA County residents speak a language other than English at home. Of those, the majority are Spanish speakers.

In a survey of 164 street vendors conducted by Inclusive Action, 150 responses were submitted in Spanish, says Lyric Kelkar, a policy and research associate with Inclusive Action. (It’s possible some of those responders speak English, as vendors weren’t asked if they could speak English.)

The lack of translation services “is a problem statewide, not only limited to Los Angeles... not just with the street vending issue but at City Hall,” says Victor Narro, professor and project director of UCLA’s Labor Center.

“Our taxes pay for City Hall and pay for the services so we should all hold our officials accountable to provide those services,” he says.

Hernandez agrees.

“When we come prepared with what we want to say and ask of them, and there is no translation service provided, it’s maddening,” Hernandez says.