Should shops be able to veto side­walk ven­dors?

Sunday Star - - BUSINESS -

LOS AN­GE­LES (TNS) — When push­cart ven­dors try to set up shop in front of his East Hol­ly­wood gas sta­tion, Jacques Mas­sachi tells them to leave.

“I don’t al­low them. I just don’t al­low them,” Mas­sachi said.

The side­walk sell­ers can end up ob­struct­ing traf­fic in and out of the gas sta­tion, he com­plained. And if they hawk hot dogs, ice cream or any­thing else sold at his Ampm store, he sees them as ri­vals.

If some­one can walk up and buy a hot dog out front, Mas­sachi said, “why would he buy a hot dog from me?”

Los An­ge­les is plan­ning to le­gal­ize and reg­u­late side­walk vend­ing, hand­ing out city per­mits to the push­carts and stands that are an ev­ery­day sight in the city.

De­spite a long­stand­ing ban, about 50,000 ven­dors ply their trade on its side­walks, sell­ing ice cream, tamales and other food and goods, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials.

But brick-and-mor­tar shops, which have com­plained about blocked walk­ways, left­over trash and what they see as un­fair com­pe­ti­tion from un­reg­u­lated side­walk ven­dors, could stand in their way. Un­der a pro­posal be­ing vet­ted at City Hall, prop­erty own­ers like Mas­sachi could pro­hibit vend­ing on the ad­ja­cent side­walks.

Busi­ness groups have lob­bied for prop­erty own­ers to be able to de­cide whether vend­ing can op­er­ate out­side their doors.

They point to Port­land, Ore., and San Fran­cisco, which give neigh­bor­ing busi­nesses a say over when ven­dors can set up shop. Some law­mak­ers have backed the idea as a way to curb con­flicts with brick-and-mor­tar shops.

“It’s im­por­tant to have a kum­baya re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ven­dors and the busi­ness,” Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil­man Joe Bus­caino said. “It needs to be mu­tual and beneficial.”

Side­walk ven­dors and their ad­vo­cates counter that it is un­fair to give busi­nesses the power to block them. The L.A. Street Ven­dor Cam­paign called it “an im­proper reg­u­la­tory re­straint” that could leave ven­dors more vul­ner­a­ble to ex­tor­tion.

Among the wor­ried ven­dors is Ale­jan­dra Ro­driguez, who said that in the past, Pi­nata District shops have de­manded that she pay as much as $800 a month to do busi­ness on the side­walk.

“As soon as they saw that I was mak­ing money, they started to charge me,” said Ro­driguez, who said she had stopped sell­ing toys in the area months ago.

On a Fri­day morn­ing the Fash­ion District was abuzz with push­carts and stands sell­ing sliced mango and water­melon dusted with chile, squeak­ing toys, fid­get spin­ners, makeup pal­ettes and other trin­kets out­side store­fronts dis­play­ing quincean­era gowns, snug jeans and glit­ter­ing high heels.

Some ven­dors said that busi­nesses charged them for a bit of space — a wall or the perime­ter of a shop — but not to use the side­walk it­self.

“But if the city passes this law, they will have the power,” said Aure­liano San­ti­ago, who sells frozen treats in the sum­mer, tacos when the weather turns cold. “That is our fear.”

Along Maple Av­enue, San­ti­ago pointed out many stores that had sta­tioned racks of their cloth­ing or other mer­chan­dise on the side­walk — a tac­tic used to block ven­dors from set­ting up, he said.

Be­hind a cart loaded with sliced mango, Wendy Pu­luc said she wor­ried that many lo­cal busi­nesses would sim­ply re­ject vend­ing.

“We won’t be able to sell if they say no,” Pu­luc said. “Where are we go­ing to go?”

The ques­tion of where side­walk vend­ing should be al­lowed has been the most de­bated and di­vi­sive part of the elab­o­rate rules, more than four years af­ter City Coun­cil­men Jose Huizar and Cur­ren Price first pro­posed that Los An­ge­les le­gal­ize and reg­u­late the in­dus­try.

It has pit­ted busi­ness groups against a coali­tion of ven­dor ad­vo­cates _ in­clud­ing non­prof­its, im­mi­grant rights groups and at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing side­walk sell­ers.

Un­der the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions, the city would ban ven­dors near pop­u­lar at­trac­tions such as Dodger Sta­dium, the Sta­ples Cen­ter and the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame, cap the num­ber of push­carts on each block and draw up rules that could limit vend­ing in ad­di­tional ar­eas based on safety con­cerns.

At a re­cent hear­ing, one Leimert Park ven­dor ac­cused law­mak­ers of “redlin­ing.”

Giv­ing busi­ness own­ers the power to veto vend­ing could also be legally sen­si­tive: In a re­port, Chief Leg­isla­tive An­a­lyst Sharon Tso rec­om­mended law­mak­ers con­sult the city at­tor­ney be­fore de­cid­ing whether to let busi­nesses ap­prove or re­ject side­walk sales.

Side­walks are the prop­erty of the ad­ja­cent prop­erty owner, but the city has an “ease­ment” that gives it the le­gal right to use them, ac­cord­ing to Rob Wil­cox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer.

In an in­ter­view, Coun­cil­man Bob Blu­men­field said if prop­erty own­ers can turn down vend­ing on their side­walks, that could help the city de­fend it­self against law­suits.

The city has some rights over the side­walks, Blu­men­field said, but “it is their prop­erty ... it’s a lit­tle murky how far we can push our rights.”

Wil­cox de­clined to dis­cuss the le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of al­low­ing prop­erty own­ers to re­ject vend­ing, say­ing that ad­vice from city at­tor­neys was con­fi­den­tial.

Brick-and-mor­tar busi­nesses say they have al­ready suf­fered from un­reg­u­lated vend­ing and are un­easy about how strictly the city will en­force its newly pro­posed rules.

Ear­lier this year, the city elim­i­nated crim­i­nal charges for vend­ing un­der the mu­nic­i­pal code, lim­it­ing the pos­si­ble penal­ties to ad­min­is­tra­tive fines, in an at­tempt to pro­tect im­mi­grant ven­dors from de­por­ta­tion.

In East Hol­ly­wood, block af­ter block of Ver­mont Av­enue turns into a walk­a­ble rum­mage sale on week­ends, when a swap meet is held nearby at Los An­ge­les City Col­lege.

Blan­kets, tarps and ta­bles line the side­walks loaded with an eclec­tic ar­ray of mis­cel­lanea: a cook­ing pot, a skate­board, leather boots, a car­ton of gleam­ing Christ­mas or­na­ments, dusty bot­tles of cologne. The blue fence ring­ing an auto re­pair shop be­comes a makeshift thrift store, bear­ing shirts on hang­ers. Faded pairs of pants lie over bushes out­side a mini mall.

Jeff Zar­rin­nam, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Hol­ly­wood Ho­tel down the street, com­plained that some ven­dors have dumped grease or strewn the side­walks with trash.

Even if the city en­forces the new reg­u­la­tions — which would re­quire ven­dors to keep side­walks clean, leave a min­i­mum amount of room for peo­ple pass­ing, and not block other busi­nesses — Zar­rin­nam ar­gued that side­walk sell­ers could hurt his ho­tel.

“If I have guest rooms that face the side­walk, and some­one is cook­ing and the smoke and smell goes into their room, is the guest go­ing to be happy?” Zar­rin­nam asked.

Mas­sachi, the gas sta­tion owner, peered down the side­walk on a balmy af­ter­noon. “It’s a free coun­try. Peo­ple make money how they can,” he said. “But it has to be in a proper place.”

PHOTO BY WALLY SKALIJ/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES/TNS

A street ven­dor sells food along Maple Av­enue in the Fash­ion District in Los An­ge­les.

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