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Los Angeles Moves Closer To Decriminalizing Street Vending

(Photo courtesy of Councilman Jose Huizar via Twitter)
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Despite the ubiquity of vendors across town, Los Angeles has long been the only major city in America with no form of legalized street vending. On Tuesday, City Council voted 11-to-2 to draft a law that would decriminalize sidewalk food vending, moving the city one step closer to finally putting a legalization framework in place.

Community groups have fought for years to legalize food vending on the city's sidewalks, but efforts had stalled out until late November 2016, when fears over the coming Trump presidency spurred City Council back into action.

Under current policy, vendors—many of whom are undocumented—can be penalized with misdemeanor criminal charges, which could put them at risk for deportation under the Trump Administration. Trump has been a vocal proponent of deporting undocumented individuals who have criminal records.

City Councilmembers Joe Buscaino and Curren Price introduced a new proposal aimed at helping protect undocumented vendors in the weeks after the election. “Continuing to impose criminal misdemeanor penalties for vending disproportionately affects, and unfairly punishes, undocumented immigrants, and could potentially put them at risk for deportation," Buscaino and Price noted at the time. City Council’s Public Works & Gang Reduction Committee passed a critical framework for the proposal in December and it arrived in full council for a vote on Tuesday.

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“It is appalling that Los Angeles is the only major U.S. city that does not allow sidewalk vending,” Councilmember Huizar said in a statement on Tuesday. “We cannot continue to allow an unregulated system that penalizes hard-working, mostly immigrant, vendors with possible criminal misdemeanor charges, particularly in the current political environment. These people are not asking for a handout, they are asking for an opportunity to lift themselves up and provide for their families, and I encourage all my colleagues on the City Council to give them the chance they so desperately need and deserve.”

The motion approved on Tuesday—authored by Price, Buscaino and Councilmember José Huizar—does two separate things, in what Buscaino has called a "hurry up offense." The council has asked the City Attorney to immediately draft an ordinance decriminalizing street vending. Once drafted, that ordinance still needs to be voted on before it goes into effect, but Branimir Kvartuc, Buscaino's communications director, told LAist that the council expects to get it back within a week or two, meaning things will be moving fast. That ordinance, however, wouldn't yet put an official legalization framework in place—it would just remove criminal penalties for venders. In the interim, vendors can still potentially be cited and fined for vending, but the important thing is that those citations won't be criminal.

Getting a full legalization framework in place will take a little longer. With Tuesday's vote, City Council has also asked that a report be prepared on how to implement a legalization program, and an ordinance be written that would give the Board of Public Works the power to issue permits for vendors. According to Kvartuc, these are expected back in about 60 days, at which point more policy specifics will have to be debated. The L.A. Times reports that it could take months before the permitting details are worked out, and an official regulatory system is in place.

"Today, Los Angeles City Council made a big decision that says 'We embrace our immigrant community,'" Buscaino said at a press conference Tuesday. "We also acknowledge the contributions that immigrants make to this great city. We know that we have an amazing food culture that exists today, and that if you want to vend in the city of Los Angeles, yes, you will abide by rules and regulations, but at the same time, you won't be penalized by any misdemeanor crimes," he continued.