South L.A. Swap Meet Ordered to Close : Commerce: The city says that it has operated for years in violation of building and safety codes. Angry vendors condemn the decision and vow to fight to stay in business.
After a boisterous, often contentious public hearing attended by hundreds of people, the city’s Building and Safety Commission on Tuesday ordered the El Faro swap meet in South-Central Los Angeles closed, concluding that it has operated for years in violation of building and safety codes.
About 150 swap meet supporters, wearing white visors festooned with signs that read “Keep Our Jobs,” booed--and then condemned--the decision as one that will put hundreds of families in the heart of the riot-scarred inner city out of work.
“The problem is we’ve got more than 300 people looking at being unemployed in the riot area for no other reason than a sheer technicality,” said swap meet attorney Arthur K. Snyder, a former Los Angeles city councilman. “It is a triumph of bureaucracy over common sense.”
Snyder presented the commissioners with petitions signed by 5,000 South-Central residents who he said support the business.
Much of the swap meet’s opposition came from vendors at the rival Alameda Swap Meet, which is adjacent to El Faro at Alameda and Vernon avenues.
The Alameda crowd--about 150 strong and wearing red shirts--whooped and cheered when vendor Daniel Golita told the commissioners: “Since El Faro opened their doors, our sales have gone down and crime has gone up. . . . That is why I’m sincerely asking you to deny this request.”
The El Faro swap meet opened about three years ago but never obtained the proper building and use permits.
Nevertheless, the owners petitioned the commission to allow about 170 vendors to continue doing business while attempts were made to comply with building and safety codes and obtain the necessary permits.
Owner Jerry Schwarzblatt said hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been spent to install a new sprinkler system, redesign exits and obtain additional parking spaces. Schwarzblatt argued that none of the remaining code violations were life threatening.
But opponents argued that continued operation of the swap meet would further burden a community already reeling from overcrowding and high crime.
“Ever since that swap meet opened, there has been more crime and sanitation problems, and we have had to lock our yards,” homeowner Victor Ortiz told the commissioners. “On weekends my brothers and sisters can’t even visit because there is no parking. I’m very angry that the city has done nothing about this.”
Steve Freed, an attorney for the nearby Alameda Industrial Center, accused El Faro’s owners of trying to avoid a hearing for a conditional use permit, which the swap meet was twice denied in the past.
Since then, Freed noted, swap meets have become controversial, with many inner-city residents complaining that they sell shoddy goods and are a cause of urban blight. After the riots, the City Council imposed stringent new permit requirements on new swap meets and those seeking to reopen.
Building and Safety Department officials said they would now seek a court injunction to close El Faro down, a process that could take several weeks. But angry El Faro vendors said they would continue to fight.
“I doubt if we would be able to find anywhere else to go with comparable rents, especially in this economic climate” said Sylvia Mendoza, who sells baby clothing from two booths in El Faro.
“We pay taxes like everyone else, we employ kids from the area and keep them off the streets,” she said. “Why don’t they just let us work? We can help the city.”
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