Tue, Jun

Round 2: Glassell Park NC and the Street Vendors … City Hall Not Ready for Prime Time

EASTSIDER-In a less rowdy but still very well attended GPNC meeting, it became increasingly clear that the City’s (and County Public Health) proposed rules regarding street vending are simply not ready for prime time.  

The Meeting 

There were presentations by both a City and  a County representative, as well as a representative for the LA Street Vendor Campaign. Clearly this was the main topic of the meeting. 

Frank Martinez from Public Works/Street Services, talked about permitting, investigation and enforcement of the upcoming regulations. His honesty at the meeting made it clear that at the end of the City’s so-called one-year education campaign before implementation, there is still no final agreement on what the fees and rules will be. 

The recommendations to the Council are for a Permit fee of $541, as verified by the Mayor’s representative, and it seemed clear that there is no contemplation of any waivers or reductions for the vast majority of vendors who wouldn’t be street vending in the first place if they actually had that kind of money. 

It also became clear that, while they will not demand documentation or carry firearms, the staff enforcing these regulations will be wearing gear which evidently includes stuff like pepper spray. Whether or not they will have specific badges, or some other type of identification was unclear, but the concept did nothing to counter legitimate fears of the undocumented community about government officials. 

James Dragan for the LA County Public Health/Mobile Food Vending Investigation and Compliance Program was straightforward. First, he stated that they only implement the State law regarding health/sanitation requirements. 

We also learned a couple of other things. First, the mobile health permits (their only area of jurisdiction) are anticipated to cost a minimum of $350, and up. Second, they have no jurisdiction over vendors with tables on a sidewalk, since they’re not mobile. 

The LA Street Vendor Campaign 

The best information came from a coalition of nonprofits, community groups, labor unions, and the thousands of street vendors themselves. The coalition calls itself the LA Street Vendor Campaign. 

They presented the GPNC with a five-page document concerning the City’s proposed Permit System (Council File 13-1493 and 13-493-S5). Key points in their document that made a lot of sense to me were: 

-  Provide permits at an affordable price to vendors. 

-  Stop trying to recover the full program cost recovery on the backs of vendors. 

-  Provide the ability for vendors to obtain a location-specific permit. 

-  Establish a permit system that protects and promotes low-income entrepreneurs. 

-  Request a report back on establishing healthy food vending incentives. 

-  Request a report back on establishing an inclusive process to create Special Vending Districts. 

-  Establish a timeline for developing cart innovations. 

-  Provide at least a six-month enforcement grace period for vendors. 

The Takeaway 

There is no rational reason for simply imposing a January date, which would only provide us with yet another “ready, shoot, aim” initiative by the City Council. Remember, this is the same City Council that has allowed Airbnb to operate illegally for years, with no hassles, and even memorialized the reality by entering into a fee agreement with them even as their operations continued illegally. Street vendors are small change in comparison. 

If the street vendor issue was of dire urgency, why do the Council Files date back to 2013? C’mon. If the real idea is to keep everyone safe from a health standpoint, what’s that got to do with exorbitant permit fees to be paid by people who already don’t have any money? 

As presented to us at the meeting, the minimum permit fees for just the City and County would be $531 City plus $350 for the County, which is $891 bucks. And that doesn’t include any other state or local fees which could get tacked on. There must be a way to make this affordable to the street vendor who well might be an elderly grandmother trying to pay for her rent increase. They are not affluent. 

I really think that a delay of six months or so for everyone to get their acts together and establish the people-to-people communications the Council should have had with their constituents is a good idea. There does not appear to be any big-time downside to this. 

These rules have been moving so fast that, believe it or not, technology has not caught up.  Specifically, given the recent changes in the law, there are no currently available carts suitable for vendors to use on our sidewalks. Further, the cost of such a cart could be between $5000 and $10,000. 

Truthfully, a lot of the effective date problems are caused by the City of Los Angeles being unable or unwilling to finalize their Ordinance and give everyone a breathing period to work out the kinks in the system before enforcement. 

One of the best and simplest things to come out of the GPNC meeting was a bilingual handout from the LA Street Vendor Campaign entitled, “Know Your Rights Under SB 946.” It’s a great resource, and for further information or to get a copy call Carla at 310-926-5018. 

Stay tuned, and congratulations to the Glassell Park NC for hanging in there and having an ongoing discussion on a very hot button issue. 

This one’s not going away.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.