Los Angeles

Los Angeles Isn't Fighting Poverty—It's Criminalizing It

Vendors at parks and beaches targeted with new ordinance.


Los Angeles prepares to create a black market for bracelets.
Credit: majunznk / photo on flickr

The sidewalk along Venice Beach is lined with street vendors selling all sorts of knick-knacks, homemade jewelry, artwork, and what have you. It is an avenue for survival for those who are uninterested, unable, or lack the skills to participate in the more conventional job market.

But their ranks may be getting thinner. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban unpermitted vending at parks and beaches. From the Los Angeles Times:

The decision amplified the enduring debate over the virtues and problems of street vending in Los Angeles. This time around, the debate pitted those who see mobile vending as an economic lifeline vital to a diverse and thriving metropolis against others worried about the commercialization of green space and the legal risk for the city in allowing unlicensed enterprise.

As lawmakers revive the restrictions at parks and beaches, city leaders are still wrestling with the larger question of how to regulate what are estimated to be tens of thousands of vendors who make their living on L.A. sidewalks, routinely playing a cat-and-mouse game with local police. Local activists pushing to legalize the pushcarts that speckle L.A. sidewalks argued it made little sense to reinstate the ban in parks and beaches while city leaders pondered allowing sidewalk vending citywide.

"It's short-sighted," said Joseph Villela, director of policy and advocacy for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "It continues to do something that hasn't worked."

Only two City Council members voted against the proposal, which would call for escalating fines and even possibly misdemeanor charges. One of the opposing councilmembers, Gil Cedillo, worried that these charges could prevent immigrants who survive via park and beach vending from seeking citizenship.

And the city's massive minimum wage increase—eventually $15 an hour—is a done deal. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the ordinance into law over the weekend. Los Angeles County is now considering the same. Those who find themselves shoved out of possible avenues into the job market because of the higher barriers to entry are going to find it much harder to legally pursue alternative means of getting by. One park vendor told the Times she could end up homeless if this ordinance passes.

Oh, and if the vendor does end up homeless, the City Council is also moving forward with an ordinance to make it easier to seize and destroy her belongings. The city right now gives homeless people 72 hours' warning before seizing their belongings if they're taking up space on sidewalks or in parks. The new law gives them just 24 hours' notice and lets them seize big items like tables and couches without warning.

The law is actually an improvement over how things used to be. Los Angeles used to just seize and destroy homeless people's property with no notice at all until a federal appeals court put a stop to it in 2012. The homeless still get due process. Now they get 90 days to collect whatever the city has grabbed from them.