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Street Vending Is Now Legal In Los Angeles After City Council Approves Regulations

By Elizabeth Chou Daily News, Los Angeles

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It took the Los Angeles City Council more than five years to study the idea, but the panel on Wednesday finally ushered in citywide regulations to legalize vending on sidewalks and within parks.

Los Angeles

Santa Huerta has been a street vendor in Los Angeles for the last 27 years. On Wednesday, Los Angeles city leaders finally gave her a way to operate her business legally.

"I feel like I'm in the clouds -- I'm very, very, very happy," an emotional Huerta said during a rally outside City Hall celebrating the council's approval of the regulations earlier in the morning.

The move by the City Council comes 10 years after Huerta and other vendors began leading an effort to get the city's ban on their livelihood overturned. Now that they have achieved their goal, the 63-year-old South Gate resident says she is overcome with relief.

"I can work in peace," said Huerta, who immigrated from Peru in 1989, and sells toys and clothing at the San Pedro fashion center. She said she began plying her trade in order to support her parents.

It took the Los Angeles City Council more than five years to study the idea, but the panel on Wednesday finally ushered in citywide regulations to legalize vending on sidewalks and within parks.

The council voted 13-0 to approve ordinance language that will allow sidewalk and park vending -- such as the sale of fruit and hot dogs from food carts, as well as other non-edible wares -- to take place legally in Los Angeles.

"Welcome to the official business community of the city of Los Angeles," Councilman Mitch O'Farrell declared to the street vendors in the council chamber, prior to their vote.

While a commonplace activity, street vending has been prohibited throughout the city, with many vendors living under the possibility of being cited, fined and their equipment confiscated.

"This will lift the ... shroud of fear for our street vending community in terms of enforcement," O'Farrell said. "And it's really wonderful that we're finally adding some regulations to this very, very important sector of the Los Angeles economy."

Over the next few months, city officials are expected to begin setting up a permitting program for vendors like Huerta. She is is one of an estimated 20,000 vendors already operating in Los Angeles, despite the city's prohibition on the activity.

City officials say it is expected to take about a year for a permitting system to be set up for vending. But the vote Wednesday was hailed as a decisive move following years of debate in which street vendor advocates and opponents of the business model clashed over the details of the proposed regulation.

Councilman Curren Price, one of the city lawmakers who carried the vending legislation, joined the rally following the vote. He said the approval was a "hard-fought victory" and a "win for the vending community."

Earlier this year, the City Council had been working out the details of a proposed permitting program to allow authorized vendors to operate, including the question of whether to limit the number of permits that can be issued.

But SB 946, signed into law in September, took some of the rule-making decisions out of the city's hands, including the ability to adopt regulations that would place an overall cap on the number of permits issued in Los Angeles. It also gave the city a deadline.

The state law, authored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, requires cities and other jurisdictions that want to enforce violations around vending to adopt regulations by Jan. 1. Los Angeles' existing bans on sidewalk and park vending could be out of step with state law if city leaders do not new regulations that adhere to statewide requirements by the start of the new year.

Under the state bill, cities get leeway to restrict vending near special event sites, farmers markets and swap meets, but are prevented from moving forward with other kinds of rules.

For example, regulations had been under consideration in Los Angeles to limit vendors to two carts per block in commercial and industrial areas. But city officials say they are not allowed to adopt such a rule under the state bill, which prohibits placing a cap on the overall number of vendors unless there are "health, safety, or welfare concerns."

The state law has also eliminated a debate over whether entire neighborhoods could be exempted from allowing any vending activity, as was suggested by northwest San Fernando Valley Councilman Mitchell Englander. He said many of his constituents oppose street vending, and he had been calling for vending to be barred throughout his council district.

City officials say they are still able to restrict vending around areas that attract a high number of people, and plan to move forward with no-vending zones near venues or attractions such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, Staples Center and Dodger Stadium.

The legislation has taken years to craft. But recently passed state legislation, which grew out result of lobbying efforts by street vendor advocates, hastened the process.

The state law "certainly forced us to move quickly, because if you don't have rules and (regulations) in place, you can do any kind of regulation," Price said. "Those cities that do not have rules and (regulations) have no control over what happens."

The decision also comes amid a unpredictable political climate for immigrants, as "[U.S. President] Donald Trump continues to vilify, physically attack immigrants who have the legal right to apply for asylum," Councilman Gil Cedillo said.

In recent years, the City Council has been spurred by intensified crackdowns on illegal immigration, and have acted to remove criminal penalties from the city's vending ban. Street vendors, many of whom are immigrants or in the country illegally, are thought to be vulnerable to deportation or enforcement if they have a criminal record.

As the city developed its new regulations, the limitations the state law places on the city have caused some City Council members to grumble, such as Englander, who voted in favor of the regulations but not before calling the state law an "overreach."

Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who supports the legalization of vending, has also lamented the inability to have more flexibility with creating the permitting program.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles street vending advocates, many of whom lobbied state Sen. Ricardo Lara to author SB 946, earlier this week were eagerly anticipating the legalization of street vending in Los Angeles.

Doug Smith, Public Counsel attorney, told a City Council committee Tuesday that approval of the regulations would "finally remove this enormous, unfair barrier to opportunity that has kept tens of thousands of entrepreneurs working in the shadows over many decades."

"Legalizing street vending is a complicated process, but it's necessary for a fair and inclusive economy," he said.

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