Los Angeles

L.A. Is About to Screw Up Legal Street Vending the Same Way It Screwed Up Legal Pot Sales

High permit fees and unprepared bureaucrats get in the way of delicious street tacos and bacon dogs.


Los Angeles' ban on street vending officially ends tomorrow. But thanks to the way the city is handling the transition, there still will be lots of illegal vendors.

A year ago, Los Angeles (and the whole state of California) put an end to full bans on sidewalk vending, essentially decriminalizing those delicious bacon dogs available outside every club at two in the morning. But as with the state's mess of a system for legal sale of marijuana, regulations and bureaucracy are going to make it far too hard for vendors to operate legally.

When Erick Galindo at LAist checked in with some local street vendors, he found that many of them do not realize how the new system works. They don't understand that they have to buy a new permit with the City of Los Angeles on top of the expensive health permits and business licenses they may have already from Los Angeles County.

These new permits cost $541 a year. And no one has them yet.

The central problem should sound familiar to anybody trying to set up a pot dispensary in Los Angeles: The city itself wasn't prepared to roll out the new system. Galindo was told there will be a six-month roll-out for vendors to get licenses. They're even cutting the price to $291 for the first year to those who get them during the roll-out. People will be able to start applying for the licenses on Thursday.

Despite having an entire year to put this all together, Los Angeles is almost comically unprepared to hand out these licenses. Local activist Rudy Espinoza, who advocated for legalization of street vending, warned Galindo that "the street permit system is not ready":

"They haven't worked on it all year," Espinoza said. "And so now, because the deadline is approaching, they're working really hard to meet that deadline."

Espinoza likened the department's efforts to what he would do when procrastinating on a project.

"I mean, I've totally been there. But in this case, this project impacts thousands of people in L.A. We can't afford to procrastinate on things like this," he said.

At least the vendors will get a grace period, so it's not quite as bad as how the city mangled the rollout of pot dispensaries. The local government has been inundated with applications for permits to open recreational marijuana shops—more than 1,600 of them—but it has licensed less than 200. As a result, the black market still dominates.

The high price of the new vending permit may lead to continued noncompliance. One taco stand owner told Galindo he'd have to raise his prices to pay for the permit and that he might just shut down his carts if it all gets too expensive. He can probably afford the loss: He's a restaurateur who decided to branch out into food carts after street vending was legalized. But for smaller vendors, this is their livelihood. If they don't have hundreds of additional dollars to shell out every year, Los Angeles' new "legal" street vendor system will still be full of people operating under the threat of possible crackdowns.