In Los Angeles, they have long been a familiar sight: the vendors who hawk ice cream from pushcarts in Echo Park, sell bottled water to sweaty tourists strolling in Hollywood, and show off their wares under rainbow-y umbrellas in the Fashion District.
Now, after years of protests and packed hearings at City Hall, Los Angeles leaders have passed a law to legalize and regulate sidewalk vending.
The decision Wednesday was the culmination of a long and persistent campaign by vendors, many of them immigrants and Spanish speakers, who erupted in cheers and applause after the unanimous vote at City Hall. Tens of thousands of vendors are estimated to sell food and goods on L.A. sidewalks, a practice that has been illegal yet all but ubiquitous.
“This means freedom,” said Aureliano Santiago, who sells ice cream and hot dogs in MacArthur Park. “The police won’t pester us anymore. They’ll go after delinquents instead.”
Los Angeles politicians first proposed legalizing and regulating sidewalk vending more than five years ago, but council members sparred over where and how it should be allowed. Brick-and-mortar shops had raised concerns about blocked sidewalks, trash and unfair competition.
After President Trump was elected, the council quickly moved to decriminalize vending, fearing that criminal charges could put some vendors at risk of deportation as the federal government cracked down on immigrants living in the country illegally. But sidewalk sellers still could be ticketed and fined for violating the municipal code.
L.A. leaders were still working out how to allow vending when a state law forced their hand. Under Senate Bill 946, local governments had to make sure that their rules lined up with new restrictions on how they could regulate vending — or lose their ability to enforce those rules beginning in January.
That law prohibited cities from limiting where or how vendors could do business or capping the number of vendors allowed unless such restrictions were tied to “objective health, safety, or welfare concerns.” It also barred cities from requiring sidewalk vendors to get approval from a neighboring business, an idea that L.A. had debated in the past.
For more information on sidewalk vending and getting help with your business, contact VEDC at 800-304-9977.