Coun­cil drags feet on vend­ing

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

The video was shock­ing. A bearded man ar­gues with an elotero, or street-corn ven­dor, ac­cus­ing him of block­ing the side­walk in a Hol­ly­wood neigh­bor­hood. The dis­pute es­ca­lates and the bearded man pushes over the ven­dor’s cart, spilling the corn as well as condi­ments and sup­plies. The elotero de­fends him­self with a blast of chili pow­der flung at the as­sailant — and with a far more pow­er­ful weapon, his phone, on which he cap­tured the at­tack on video.

The ven­dor’s mom posted the video on­line and within days it went vi­ral, spark­ing con­dem­na­tion of the at­tacker and a fundrais­ing cam­paign for the 24-year-old ven­dor to re­place his mer­chan­dise.

The in­ci­dent was a re­minder that street ven­dors in Los An­ge­les have a kind of duel iden­tity. The elotero and other ped­dlers are of­ten fixtures of the com­mu­nity, and street food — from ba­con-wrapped hot dogs to chili-sprin­kled mango — is part of L.A.’s cul­tural iden­tity. Yet street vend­ing is still il­le­gal in the city, and these side­walk en­trepreneurs op­er­ate with­out the le­git­i­macy, reg­u­la­tions and pro­tec­tions of a per­mit­ted busi­ness.

In Fe­bru­ary, the City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to de­crim­i­nal­ize street vend­ing. The de­ci­sion means city in­spec­tors or po­lice can is­sue ci­ta­tions and levy fines for ped­dling goods on the side­walk, but sell­ers won’t face crim­i­nal charges that could lead to de­por­ta­tion for ven­dors in the coun­try il­le­gally — a long­stand­ing con­cern that be­came ur­gent with the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump. That was an im­por­tant change be­cause prob­lems associated with street vend­ing, such as clut­tered side­walks or trash, are qual­ity of life is­sues, not crimes. No­body should be de­ported sim­ply for sell­ing tacos or fruit on the side­walk.

Yet nearly six months later, we’re still wait­ing for an or­di­nance to le­gal­ize street vend­ing and set prac­ti­cal, en­force­able rules to guide the in­dus­try. Coun­cil­men Cur­ren Price and Joe Bus­caino out­lined a pro­posal last year to al­low up to four sta­tion­ary ven­dors per block in com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial zones. But the pro­posal raised is­sues that Price, Bus­caino and their coun­cil col­leagues have not re­solved, par­tic­u­larly over how much power coun­cil mem­bers and brickand-mor­tar busi­ness own­ers should have to bar ven­dors seek­ing to op­er­ate on their streets or out­side their shops.

Cer­tainly it’s not easy to de­velop a street vend­ing pol­icy that will please ev­ery­one, but city lead­ers don’t need to rein­vent the wheel here. Los An­ge­les is one of the few big cities in the na­tion that does not al­low some form of side­walk vend­ing. The longer city lead­ers let this street vend­ing le­gal limbo drag on, the longer self-ap­pointed side­walk en­forcers, like the bearded man in Hol­ly­wood, will feel em­pow­ered to tar­get and ha­rass ven­dors.

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