Sidewalk Sales Debate Exposes Sharp Divide On Where — Or If — Vendors Can Operate

By David Zahniser
Los Angeles Times.

For months, Boyle Heights community activist Fanny Ortiz has put her heart into the effort to repeal L.A.’s law against vending on sidewalks.

Ortiz, 41, has repeatedly shown up at meetings and rallies to support the vendors who sell bracelets, flavored ices and other items. Racism, she argues, is behind the effort to keep those mobile entrepreneurs, most of them people of color, from setting up in other parts of town.

“There should be no exceptions,” said Ortiz, who is treasurer of her local neighborhood council. “Legalizing street vendors should be throughout the city of L.A.”

At the opposite end of the city, neighborhood advocate Mark Ryavec has a different take. Vending, he says, is already out of control on the Venice boardwalk, creating noise and blight. If the city’s law is changed, sidewalk sales should only be allowed in places where a majority of property owners have signed off on the idea, said Ryavec, president of the nonprofit Venice Stakeholders Assn.

“I think there should be a very high hurdle before you give public property” over to commercial operations, he said. “It’s a public burden. You have cleanup, you have food waste, you have blockage of pedestrian right-of-way.”

L.A.’s political leaders are slowly moving to craft rules that would govern the outdoor sale of merchandise and foods well-known to many Angelenos — slices of mango spiked with lime juice, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, corn slathered with condiments. But they are being confronted with sharply diverging messages on where, if any place, the vendors should be allowed to operate.

City Councilman Curren Price, looking to reconcile those opposing views, began pushing last week for a system that would legalize vending citywide while allowing some spots to be designated as “no vending zones.” But how those zones would work, how large they might be and whether such a move would undermine the entire system are far from clear.

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