Trump Deportation Fears Prompt Activists, L.A. Councilmen to Call for Legalization of Street Vending With New Urgency

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Sidewalk food sellers gathered Monday to call on Los Angeles City Council members to approve a stalled proposal to legalize and regulate street vending, citing President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric about deportations as reason for urgency.

Street vendors gather on the steps of L.A. City Hall on Dec. 12, 2016. (Credit: Elizabeth Espinosa / KTLA)

Street vendors gather on the steps of L.A. City Hall on Dec. 12, 2016. (Credit: Elizabeth Espinosa / KTLA)

Dozens of vendors held signs outside City Hall in advance of a committee vote on a framework for legalization that has been proposed by two council members. The framework was approved on a 4-0 vote, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported.

Sidewalk vending is currently illegal in Los Angeles, but is considered by many food-lovers an essential part of the city’s diverse culinary traditions. L.A. is the only major U.S. city that prohibits sidewalk vending.

The L.A. Street Vendor Campaign estimates there are some 20,000 street food vendors in the city. Most are believed to be undocumented.

Since the election, Trump has said he wants to deport 2 to 3 million “people that are criminal and have criminal records.” If undocumented vendors are charged and convicted in connection with their businesses, they could be deported, supporters say.

"Now with a Trump Administration promising to enact unprecedented mass deportations for 'criminals,' this type of legal record for an undocumented immigrant could have drastic consequences for them and their family," the campaign said in a news release promoting Monday's action and vote.

Gathered on the south lawn steps outside City Hall, dozens of people held signs reading “Legalize Street Vending” and “I Love Street Vendors.”

The vendors’ action came before a Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee vote on a plan from councilmen Joe Buscaino and Curren D. Price. Though street vending has been a hot topic in city politics for years, Monday’s vote marked the first time that a legalization proposal has been subject to a vote by council members.

Buscaino and Price turned to a dormant proposal in response to Trump’s election, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

“Swiftly moving forward to adopt this policy gives us as a city the opportunity to stand up to the overt racism that has plagued our national discourse of late,” the councilmen wrote last month in a letter to the fellow council members.

Outside City Hall, Councilman Jose Huizar spoke to the gathered vendors, saying how pleased he was that the permit program had emerged. He said he was hopeful it would pass, and that more council members are now on board with the proposal.

"The time is now," Huizar said. "This is something that we have been waiting for a very long time. At the end of the day, we all benefit."

The proposal would create a permit system for street vendors in commercial and industrial zones, with a maximum of two vendors per city block face. It would remove misdemeanor criminal penalties for vendors but create an escalating system of fines for violators. Vendors would need a county health permit for food vending.

Street vending would be allowed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. under the framework.

The city would be able to create special vending zones with different rules, as well as no-vending zones. Pushcart vendors would be able to make sales in residential areas as long as they don't stop in one place for more than five minutes.

An incentive, such as a discounted permit fee, may be offered to sellers of healthy food who do business in “food deserts.”

One sticking point is a suggestion that brick-and-mortar businesses would have to consent for permits to be issued to vendors who want to sell nearby.

Councilman David Ryu put forward an amendment that would give amnesty to street vendors who have previously been charged with misdemeanors related to their vending businesses. That passed, according to the campaign.

Councilmen Price and Buscaino, meanwhile, warn that the change won’t be easy after “decades and decades of dysfunctional vending policy that was impossible to adequately enforce.”

“Legalizing an entire underground economy will inevitably involve growing pains and unintended consequences,” they write.

The approval from the committee moves the framework onto the full council, which will need to ask the L.A. City Attorney’s Office to draft language for an ordinance that would return to the council for another vote.