LA Street Vendors Fight To Stay In No-Go Zones Like Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame
It was business as usual on a recent Friday night on Hollywood Boulevard, as performers dressed as superheroes posed with tourists, people walked around displaying pet snakes, and buskers played for change along the Walk of Fame.
Every few yards or so, the aroma of sizzling bacon-wrapped hot dogs permeated the air. Ruth Monroy hawked her wares from her hot dog stand outside the historic Chinese Theater, where tourists gawked at old movie star footprints in the cement.
Monroy and her husband Yovani worked side by side, him selling sliced fruit from one cart, her selling hot dogs with all the fixings from the other.
“We have grilled onions, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, guacamole, pico de gallo and jalapeño,” she said in Spanish, as she browned a fresh batch of onions. “This is the traditional Hollywood hot dog.”
The classic Los Angeles hot dog that’s sold from carts all over town has become synonymous with local street food. On the Walk of Fame, you can’t go a few yards without encountering a hot dog vendor selling them.
The 500-Foot Rule
But under local law, these vendors are not supposed to be here. After L.A. — along with the state — decriminalized street vending in 2018, the city’s sidewalk vending ordinance established several “no-vending zones.”
Vendors are required to stay at least 500 feet from these zones, which include the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Dodger Stadium, and the Hollywood Bowl on event days. The same distance limit applies at swap meets, farmers’ markets and other temporary events.
The city has cited issues like pedestrian safety and overcrowded sidewalks as reasons for maintaining no-vending zones. Violators can be ticketed by roaming enforcers from the city public works department. Fines start at $100 and go up with subsequent violations.
But many vendors have hung on in Hollywood, preferring to face hefty fines than leave behind a lucrative spot.
“Here, there are more people,” said Edgar Suy, who sells hot dogs and fruit at Hollywood and Highland. “If I go somewhere else where there are not as many people, I won’t sell as much.”
Close To $5,000 In Fines
Suy says that in the past four years he’s racked up close to $5,000 in fines, which he has yet to pay off. But he’s reluctant to stay 500 feet away.
“Where am I going to sell, Sunset? What would I do on Sunset?” Suy said. “There are only cars there, no one is walking on the sidewalk, who can I sell to there?”
He said he’d also rather not be on one of the area’s side streets, where he’d worry about being robbed.
In December, several street vendors and their supporters sued the city, alleging the no-vending zones are illegal and unfair. Ruth Monroy is one of the plaintiffs.
Attorney Katie McKeon of Public Counsel is one of their lawyers. Last December, during a street vendors’ protests, she told LAist that if restaurants can set up al fresco dining in these busy areas, street vendors should be able to do the same. The lawsuit alleges the no-vending zones conflict with SB 946, the 2018 California law that decriminalized street vending.
“We want the city to do away with all of its no-vending zones,” McKeon told LAist. “The city has failed to provide any real justification or evidence justifying these bans.”
The city has until Feb. 8 to respond to the lawsuit.
Vendors Have A New Ally At City Hall
The battle over no-vending zones is one of a few issues that are still being hashed out after street vending was decriminalized. In January, a new law took effect that aims to update California’s retail food code to make it easier for street vendors who sell food — including hot dog vendors — to obtain county health permits. Until now, the retail food code has been geared toward larger mobile food sellers, like food trucks, not small carts.
Meanwhile, vendors have a new ally at City Hall in newly-elected Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez, who represents the Hollywood area and whose parents worked as street vendors. Soto-Martinez said his dad sold fruit and aguas frescas from a produce truck; his mom sold products from her hatchback.
“My dad would always give me the easy assignments,” he said. “You know, if somebody just wanted a pound of bananas, I would sell them a pound of bananas.”
Soto-Martínez recently introduced a city motion to let street food vendors get provisional permits so they can sell legally in the meantime, as they wait for the permitting process to be updated under the new state law.
Soto-Martínez also opposes the no-vending zones.
“I personally feel that we should not have this prohibition on folks,” he said. “These were done in the areas where there is the most tourism, the most tourist dollars are coming in. And if we are going to make our city equitable, then that sort of inflow of capital should be available to everybody.”
‘It Would Be Like There’s No Hollywood’
On Hollywood Boulevard, street vendors say business is slower than it used to be, before the pandemic and the economic downturn. Still, tourists come.
Outside the Chinese theater, Oriana and Eric Maradiaga of Houston stopped at Ruth Monroy’s hot dog cart. The couple was visiting L.A. with friends.
They forked over $8 for a hot dog and watched in anticipation while Monroy piled on onions and chilies, whooping and cheering as Monroy handed them a weiner with the works.
“Take a video, take a video!” said Oriana Maradiaga.
As his wife tried the first bite, Eric Maradiaga said it was their first time in L.A. — and their first L.A. hot dog.
“It smelled good as heck whenever I was passing by,” he said. “I smelled it and I was like, ‘Hey, we gotta stop and eat it, that’s how good it is.’”
At her portable grill, Monroy smiled as her customers made their way down the boulevard. She said she loves Hollywood, and not just because she can sell more hot dogs. She feels like she and her fellow street vendors are part of the ecosystem here, just like the buskers and the costumed superheroes.
“If there were no street vendors in this area,” she said, “it would be like there’s no Hollywood.”
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