Over the past decade, the city of Los Angeles has grown tremendously. People from around the world, and from across the United States, have come here to fulfill the American dream.
From the force of this influx, the city has developed a rich ethnic and cultural diversity unprecedented anywhere else in the world. Within this reality lies our collective strength.
Street vendors represent one group trying to realize the dream. Travel throughout Los Angeles and you will see them, whether on Brooklyn Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard, Pico Boulevard or Broadway.
Whether they ply their wares in traditional East Los Angeles, the commercial downtown or touristy Hollywood, the concept is the same--make a living while providing a service. But tensions have developed between vendors, merchants and police.
The problem is not with the vendors themselves, but with the image that the city has allowed to proliferate about street vending. There is no other city in the world that can claim our diversity--none. Yet the image of street vending is tarnished at best.
Street vending is prohibited in Los Angeles, but the City Council today is scheduled to consider an ordinance that would legalize such vending in certain areas of the city. Until that happens, vendors are cast in the role of peasants and beggars, while at the same time they are susceptible to extortion. The vendors are not regulated, of course, since there is no law to that end.
Los Angeles is the only major city in the country that does not allow street vending. In a city rich in history and culture, and at a time when we seek to rebuild that American dream, this makes no sense.
A common misconception about legalization of street vending is that nothing will change other than that the vendors would then be legal; but that is far from the truth.
Street vending is the purest form of economic development. Denying people the opportunity to contribute to the fabric that is Los Angeles also makes no sense. We deny them the opportunity for advancement in an economy based on the free market.
I believe that Los Angeles should legalize street vending. Under controlled and well-regulated conditions, this historic form of entrepreneurship can thrive and provide opportunities necessary to improve the quality of life for all of us.
By regulating vendors, we create zones where, working together with the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, we can design booths and develop common carts aesthetically consistent with the city’s history. If you’ve ever noticed the carts that sell flowers in shopping malls, then you can only begin to imagine what street vending can add to the city.
Once we understand that by legalizing street vending we take the first step in developing a local business enterprise, then one can understand and appreciate the importance of this ordinance.
For the health of Los Angeles, it is crucial that we do not look at these small-business operators as outcasts. The street vendors epitomize today’s Los Angeles and the riches it holds. The flavors of the city, the flavors of the world, contribute to the image that we seek to reflect.