As Los Angeles officials continue to mull over plans that have been under study for years to legalize street vending in the city, a new state bill aims to move matters forward.
California Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced a measure seeking to decriminalize street vending last week, something the Los Angeles City Council took up early last year.
Lara's proposal would make street vending statewide subject only to an administrative penalty, "Which wouldn’t be a misdemeanor, and which would allow for these street vendors to be able to address that penalty without having the fear of being incarcerated, and God forbid deported," Lara told KPCC by phone on Monday.
When Los Angeles officials voted to decriminalize street vending, they also sought to keep street vendors -- many of them immigrants -- out of the criminal justice system and away from possible deportation. The vendors can still be cited for various infractions, however, and must pay penalties.
Lara's bill further pushes local governments to come up with a system for licensing and regulating street vendors -- something Los Angeles has struggled to do. If officials don't come up with a system, they wouldn't be able to penalize the vendors or confiscate their goods, Lara said.
The local permitting programs would operate under certain restrictions, according to the bill. For example, they could not "unreasonably restrict sidewalk vendors to operate only in a designated neighborhood or area." The bill would also bar local authorities from prohibiting licensed street vendors from selling food or merchandise in parks.
While some local cities have already adopted policies that allow street vendors to be permitted -- Pasadena is one -- street vendor advocates have long pushed Los Angeles to devise a licensing system.
A proposal to legalize street vending has been making its way through City Hall for more than four years.
While street vending remains illegal in L.A., misdemeanor charges have tapered off since the city voted to decriminalize the practice in early 2017. According to data provided by the city attorney's office, 10 street vendors were referred for misdemeanor prosecution in 2016, but none last year.
Meanwhile, the office has processed about 680 administrative citations for street vending since January 2015.
Rudy Espinoza with the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, which advocates for legal street vending, said some L.A. vendors are still vulnerable to misdemeanors because they can be cited under different codes. For example, he said, those who sell in parks may be subject to misdemeanor charges.
"The decriminalization process in the city of Los Angeles has begun, but it has not been completed yet," Espinoza said. "Today, if a vendor is caught vending in a park, they run the risk of getting a misdemeanor for selling ice cream, or whatever they are selling."
Last fall, members of two Los Angeles City Council committees backed a street vending proposal that would allow street vendors to obtain permits, with the proceeds from fees going toward enforcement.
But in response to concerns voiced by some business interests, it would also allow business owners to have a say in whether vendors can set up in front of their properties.
The city proposal also suggests banning street vending near certain high-traffic areas, such as Dodger Stadium, Staples Center and Hollywood Boulevard.
Merchants there and in other parts of the city have long complained that street vendors block sidewalks, impeding traffic and presenting unfair competition for smaller brick-and-mortar merchants.
City Council members are expected to hear the proposal later this month.