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Vendors ask cops to limit who they issue citations to

A street vendor prepares bacon-wrapped hot dogs in downtown Los Angeles, May 2013.
A street vendor prepares bacon-wrapped hot dogs in downtown Los Angeles, May 2013.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

As they wait for City Hall to revisit a proposal to legalize their trade, some Los Angeles street vendors and their advocates are trying an alternate tack.

They're hoping to convince law enforcement to stop issuing tickets to vendors who aren't breaking the law beyond street vending - which isn't legal in Los Angeles - and ticket only those who are breaking other laws.

"We're asking one, LAPD, to stop ticketing vendors who are not blocking sidewalks or impeding the entrance to businesses, or selling illegal goods, like pirated goods," said Cynthia Anderson-Barker with the National Lawyers Guild, one of the groups backing the vendors. "And we are asking them to please forgive some of these little tickets."

Anderson-Baker said the tickets run from $300 to $500, too much for vendors who she called "the poorest of the poor." 

Vendors and groups supporting them rallied Tuesday at Los Angeles police headquarters, where they also pleaded their case to officials.

Today, they took their request to City Attorney Mike Feuer's office; a spokesman for Feuer confirmed a meeting took place, and that "there is a dialogue."

An LAPD spokesman said in an email that the vendors' group also met with a police commander Tuesday, but that "we are currently working with and waiting for the city attorney's decision on enforcement action."

In December, the city's Economic Development Committee weighed a proposal that would legalize street vending citywide, but kicked it back to staff for revisions. According to the proposal, spearheaded by City Council members Curren Price and Jose Huizar, vendors would pay a fee for a permit that would let them operate legally on the sidewalk.

Permit fees would help pay for enforcement of the program, but committee members raised concerns about how much enforcement would cost. There are an estimated 50,000-plus street vendors in the Los Angeles area.

Opponents of legalized street vending say street vendors have an unfair advantage over small brick-and-mortar businesses. Much of the opposition to the legalization effort has come from downtown Los Angeles, where new development and foot traffic has drawn vendors seeking business.

Blair Besten of the Historic Core Business Improvement District said she wasn't aware of vendors asking for ticket relief - but she doesn't like the idea.

"There are some pretty egregious offenders of health code issues," Besten said. "To ask our city to refrain from enforcement is pretty risky."

The push from vendors comes after what some say has been a rash of heavy ticketing. Mariposa Gonzalez, who sells fruit near Cal State Los Angeles, said several nearby vendors' items were confiscated last Sunday. She said she was lucky to be a couple of blocks away.

"Me personally, I'm just asking for the cops to stop bugging and harassing us," said Gonzalez, who grew up with street vendor parents. "As far as we see it, we're not doing anything illegal. We're providing for our families, we're providing for our kids, we are paying our bills."

Street vending has been illegal in Los Angeles for decades. A push to make it legal in the 1990s led to a small vending district in MacArthur Park, but it was short-lived.

City officials are planning a series of community meetings on the issue starting next week. The economic development committee will eventually review the reworked proposal before it goes to the City Council for a vote.