City Council eliminates ‘no street vending zones’

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The City Council rescinded so-called “no street vending zones” Feb. 6 in place since 2018 that prohibited street vendors from selling goods at popular tourist areas.

The council voted unanimously to amend the city’s current street vending laws and eliminate seven zones where street vendors were prohibited from operating: the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Bowl, Dodger Stadium, LA Live/ Arena, Universal Studios/City Walk, El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historical Monument and Exposition Park.

“I think what we’re voting on is going to reflect the personal experiences of those street vendors and how they experience the city of Los Angeles,” Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez said prior to the vote.

The councilman noted the move was very personal to him, as he remembered coming to City Council meetings years ago with his parents who were street vendors and urging city leaders to support them.

“We see you. We value your hard work and what you bring to the city,” Soto-Martinez said. “And hopefully, we will continue to work with the folks that are most affected by this as we continue to evolve the ordinance.”

“Street vending often provides new immigrants an opportunity to become entrepreneurs,” Council President Paul Krekorian said. “I know this personally because by grandfather sold melons on Sunset Boulevard when he first came to this country.”

Councilwoman Nithya Raman added, “With the adoption of this legislation, we are giving street vendors the full protection of the law, preserving the livelihoods of the hardworking individuals and families that run these cherished businesses, and continuing to uplift their contributions to our shared experience of leaving a concert, Dodger game, or long day at work and finding a welcoming vendor.”

The ordinance will take effect in approximately one month, according to city officials.

While these “blanket bans” will be removed, street vendors will still be required to follow certain safety and health regulations, and could face tickets if they violate the rules.

According to Valerie Flores, chief assistant city attorney, in the future the City Council could enact vending restrictions in certain areas, but it would require an ordinance. Additionally, there must be specific findings that justify why the restrictions are needed.

“So in general this ordinance will ensure that vending is permitted to the greatest extent possible in the city, and only where health or safety findings can be made will vending be restricted,” Flores said.

Council members Soto-Martinez, Curren Price, Raman, John Lee and Krekorian introduced the motion that initiated the process to remove the “no street vending zones” last October.

The motion came in response to an ongoing lawsuit against the city for allegedly violating the rights of street vendors and not complying with state law. Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm, is representing Community Power Collective, East LA Community Corporation and Inclusive Action for the City in their lawsuit against the city.

During public comment, Community Power Collective member Sergio Jimenez said the group supported the ordinance, but emphasized that the lawsuit will continue. A trial date is set for Feb. 15. 

Vendors are seeking legal resolution for hundreds of citations the city issued to them in the no-vending zones.

“However, we have no assurances, and based on recent history, we have no trust,” Jimenez said. “We are also dismayed that the city has offered nothing to repair the deep harms caused by the hundreds of citations — hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines imposed on low-income immigrant families due to the unlawful no vending zones.”

He added that the city continues to issue citations to street vendors.

“Today, we’re here to tell you that this ordinance is important and necessary, but also to remind you that the job is not done.”

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 972, which makes it easier for vendors to sell food on streets throughout the state. The state law does not specifically define what would constitute health and safety concerns.

According to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the city’s Bureau of Street Services will be the lead agency to set regulations for street vending.

In 2018, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act that decriminalized street vending, but the bill required street vendors to have equipment, such as food trucks and catering businesses, rather than a stand or pushcart.

In addition, the City Council approved a motion in December that aimed to establish a “special vending zone” that would allow vendors to work on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Hollywood Bowl.

The vote Feb. 6 came on the same day the City Council drastically reduced the permit fees required of street vendors. The cost has been $291 per year and was initially set to increase to $541, but the council unanimously voted to establish a $27.51 per-year permit fee for the Sidewalk and Park Vending Program.

“I am so excited for this movement to support sidewalk vendors across Los Angeles,” Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez said prior to the vote.

She described street vendors as the “backbone” of local commerce.

“By lowering the fee to $27.51 from a staggering $291 annually, we can honor their work while also supporting their business acumen,” Hernandez said of vendors.

The county Board of Supervisors also gave final approval Feb. 6 to a pair of ordinances regulating sidewalk food vendors, while also adopting a subsidy program to offset much of the permit costs included in the new regulations.

The board gave preliminary approval to the vending ordinances last week, with Supervisor Hilda Solis saying there are roughly 10,000 sidewalk vendors selling food in the county, most of them coming from Latino and other communities of color.

“Sidewalk food vending is a critical part of the cultural and civic fabric of our county,” Solis said in a statement after the vote. “However, fostering and celebrating this microentrepreneurial spirit will not happen if the financial barriers to entry remain too high. 

“With the Department of Economic Opportunity waiving its associated fee for the first year, we will make it easier for vendors to come into compliance with today’s ordinances and follow the same health and safety rules that apply to our brick-and-mortar restaurants. I applaud this action and thank everyone, including advocates and residents, who provided their input during this process.”

The first ordinance approved by the board outlines health-permit requirements for “compact mobile food operations,” which are smaller operations run from carts or other non-motorized equipment. The ordinance will apply to all vendors in the county — except those in Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon, which all have their own health departments. The city of Long Beach recently approved its own sidewalk vending ordinance.

Under the county ordinance, obtaining a health permit will require the operator to pay an initial fee, ranging from $508 for a low-risk operation selling pre-packaged food to $1,186 for higher-risk vendors who prepare and sell hot food, such as a taco stand or hot dog cart. Vendors will then have to pay ongoing annual fees ranging from $226 to $1,000, depending on the type of vending.

The Board of Supervisors approved a subsidy program that will cover the vast majority of cost for the health permits. Vendors who meet several qualifications — including annual revenue of less than $50,000 — can apply for a subsidy that would cover 75% of the health permit costs, lowering the initial fee to between $127 and $297, according to the motion by Solis and Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

Vendors who receive the subsidy will have to take part in educational and technical-assistance workshops conducted by the county Department of Economic Opportunity. The county will set aside $500,000 for the program, with $300,000 coming from American Rescue Plan Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The other $200,000 would come through ARP Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund dollars.

The second county ordinance approved Tuesday sets regulations for vendors in unincorporated areas, including restrictions on where and when they can operate and requirements for distance between vendors. Vendors would also be barred from connecting to any public utilities such as water and power sources.

Under that ordinance, vendors would have to register with the county and pay a registration fee of $604. That fee, however, will be largely subsidized by the county Department of Economic Opportunity, which will cover the full cost of the permit in the first year, then reduce it to $100 in subsequent years.