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L.A. City Council votes unanimously to decriminalize street vending

L.A. City Council votes unanimously to decriminalize street vending
A street vendor pushes a cart past a mural of Frida Kahlo in Los Angeles. (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to decriminalize street vending — a move long sought by immigrant advocates who argued that sidewalk sellers should not face criminal charges that could place them at risk of being deported. 

Fearing a coming crackdown on immigrants under President Trump, Los Angeles City Council members Joe Buscaino and Curren Price vowed to stop punishing vending as a crime and to begin setting up a regulated system. In January, the council voted to draft an ordinance decriminalizing vending.

Previously, selling food or goods on the sidewalk could lead to misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles.

City staffers say it could take months for Los Angeles to work out all of the details and begin handing out permits to vendors. In the meantime, vendors who ply their trade on city sidewalks still could be cited and fined for violating the municipal code, but they would not face criminal convictions.

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Dave Michaelson, a chief assistant city attorney, said Wednesday that a first-offense citation would result in a $250 fee, and a second offense would have a $500 fee. Future violations would result in $1,000 fees.

It is unlikely that more than one citation could be issued within the same day, Michaelson said.

Though lesser citations have been more common, city prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges for sidewalk vending in more than two dozen cases between October 2015 and October 2016, according to the city attorney's office.

Such charges could jeopardize immigrants in the country illegally. Trump recently signed an order that emphasized deporting not only people convicted of crimes but also people who were charged with crimes not yet adjudicated, and even those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed "acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense."

Those "disturbing developments" helped spur the city to take action, said Mike Dennis, who sits on the steering committee of the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign. "It took something horrible at the national level for them to see the urgency that we've been seeing for a long time."

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

Twitter: @haileybranson

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