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Photos: First-Of-Its-Kind Street Vending Marketplace Launched At MacArthur Park Metro Station

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On Thursday morning, a first-of-its-kind street vending pilot program was launched at Metro's Westlake/MacArthur Park station. Metro partnered with city, county and neighborhood organizations to transform the station's plaza into a designated space where vendors can legally sell their goods. The street vending market is a one-year pilot program that could be replicated at other L.A. stations, if all goes well.

Despite its omnipresence, street vending has long been a contentious issue in L.A. Until very recently, Los Angeles was the only major American city to prohibit vending of every type on its 10,750 miles of sidewalks. Community groups had worked on legalization efforts for years, but they had consistently stalled out before coming to legislative fruition. It wasn't until this November, in the wake of President Trump's election victory, that council was finally spurred into action; many vendors are undocumented, and feared that misdemeanor street vending penalties could put them at further risk of deportation under a Trump administration. In late January, City Council voted to draft an ordinance decriminalizing street vending (the ordinance was unanimously approved the next month).

"Westlake/MacArthur park has become a haven for Latinos," County Supervisor Hilda Solis said on Thursday. "This is where the megalopolis is for Central Americans, and it's a thriving, working class, immigrant community. For many here, at the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro station plaza, you can see street vending on the ground and entrepreneurialism at its best."

The concentration of vendors in the area makes for vibrant street life and opportunities for entrepreneurship, but it has also been associated with long-term concerns regarding blight and disorder at the station. The Westlake/MacArthur Park station is the most active and congested station for street vending in the entire Metro system, according to Metro CEO Phil Washington. The sidewalk can often be so crowded that it's difficult to pass through, hindering accessibility to the station and making it more difficult for commuters to make bus connections on the adjoining streets. The chaotic congestion can also create issues for emergency services and law enforcement trying to access the area.

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According to Lieutenant Henry Saucedo of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the marketplace will also hopefully provide vendors with a reprieve from gang intimidation. "The challenge here has been the criminal element, and I'm talking more specifically gang activity," Saucedo told LAist. "You have a particular gang here, and I'm not going to give them the credit of mentioning their gang name, but they control this particular area, and they try to—and do—intimidate the folks here. You have a lot of immigrants who are setting up shop, and they tax them. In order to do business here, they would tax them to ask for money for protection and in order to be able to work here. They control what was going on here."

"I've seen them out here, going up to these vendors and just taking some of their product away, shirts, anything. These are street thugs, and they'll take anything they can get," Saucedo said. "What we're hoping is that [the vendors] will feel protected, because they are. They'll have a line of communications to get us involved."

The pilot program creates a designated space for a total of 68 vendors to operate daily in the plaza. Tarps and canopies, along with tables for individuals to display their goods in a secure manner, were provided through county funding. In addition, Metro is helping to provide security and extra restroom facilities. Local nonprofit Central Cities Neighborhood Partners has been coordinating the logistics in conjunction with the Union de Vendedores Ambulantes, an organized group of street vendors. Starting in three weeks, there will also be a number of food vendors at the marketplace.

City and county officials have been working with Metro and the Union de Vendedores Ambulantes on the community marketplace for over two years. Central Cities Neighborhood Partners Executive Director Veronica McDonnell told LAist that a vendor active in the organizing effort came to her organization when they decided they wanted to try and start a community market. "We met with Councilmember Gil Cedillo and Supervisor Hilda Solis, and we pitched this idea," McDonnell said, describing how the different groups have worked together over the past two years to develop an agreement, get community input, and make sure that the effort will be successful and sustainable. The 68 spaces will be made available through a rotating lottery system.

Margarita Xochitecatl, a vendor who has sold jewelry and hand-knitted clothing in the area for the past several years, described the frustrating uncertainty of vending in MacArthur Park. "We were out in the streets and the police would always come after us taking away our stuff," she said. "But, the moment finally came where we got tired and started protesting and organizing marches. We were able to come to an agreement with Metro and the Sheriff’s Department allowing us to have this space."

"I am very thankful that they gave me the opportunity to be here and to make a living because we are not criminals," Xochitecatl, who will now pay a $5 weekly fee for her space, told LAist.

With additional reporting by Yazmin Nunez