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Street Vendors Sue City: They're Illegally Destroying Our Street Carts

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Save the paletas (Photo by Steven Bevacqua via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Sidewalk vendors who sell food and goods are suing the city of Los Angeles, arguing that the seizure of their carts by the city is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Wednesday by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and other civil rights groups on behalf of vendors in downtown L.A.'s Fashion District, reports CBS LA. While sidewalk vending is illegal in L.A., the practice continues, as evidenced by the countless bacon-wrapped hot dog stands and other wares sold in many neighborhoods. The suit argues that the police and the Fashion District's Business Improvement District are harassing vendors, illegally destroying carts and property and threatening some with deportation.

When carts are cleared, officers are supposed to provide a receipt to vendors if their carts and wares are taken as evidence. But vendors represented in the suit—an alliance known as Union Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes—are claiming that the LAPD, working with the neighborhood's business improvement district, frequently trash or confiscate carts without providing receipts, even if no arrest has been made of the vendor, according to the Times. Violation of the current law can sometimes lead to jail time and fines up to $1000.

"Every day in Los Angeles, street vendors have their hard-earned property illegally confiscated and destroyed," Cynthia Anderson-Barker, National Lawyers Guild attorney, said in a statement Wednesday, according to the Times. "[Such] unjust law enforcement practices ... push these productive members of our community further into poverty."

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Vendors have been fighting to legalize street vending on sidewalks, as well as beaches and parks, and the city is even considering possible ways to legalize the practice. But the vendors involved in the suit contend that they've reached a point where they “have no choice but to bring this fight into the courtroom,” according to CBS LA.

“We’re not here to confiscate people’s property. We’re trying to keep the district clean,” Kent Smith, executive director of the Fashion District's Business Improvement District, tells the Times. Smith argues that the streets in the neighborhood are too narrow and busy for vendors' carts, which pose a safety hazard. He also contends that vendors often ditch their carts when police and county health officials show up to look for illegal vending.“That abandoned property needs to be dealt with. That’s what we do."

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Times that they don't comment on pending lawsuits against the city.

The lawsuit seeks financial compensation for the destroyed property and an order from the city to stop punishing vendors. Currently, vendors have no way to challenge the punishment or get their property back before it's trashed, according to the suit.