Three months after the Los Angeles City Council approved a pilot program allowing street vending in specific areas, a group of northeast San Fernando Valley vendors has launched a campaign to establish one of the city's first street-vending districts.
Although many of the details for operating vending districts have yet to be finalized, the group, known as Street Vendors Assn. of the San Fernando Valley, began months ago to teach potential vendors food preparation, business skills and English.
If successful, it would be the first, and probably only, such district in the Valley. Another district proposed for East Los Angeles is also in the works. Both are expected to submit formal applications by June.
Valley vending advocates say they will ask that street peddling be allowed on Van Nuys, Glenoaks and Laurel Canyon boulevards in areas of Pacoima and Panorama City where illegal street selling is practiced. City officials will decide the specific boundaries, they said.
"This isn't a Mexican thing, or a Latino thing; it's a money thing," said Jorge Sanchez, a volunteer working with the vendors' association. "The vendors are going to start participating and they are going to pay their sales tax, city tax, state taxes. They are going to take part in the system."
But Sanchez said vendors understand that it won't be easy to overcome negative stereotypes about street peddlers. And they know that it will be difficult to meet the slew of requirements needed before the city approves the district, he said.
But the vendors are gearing up to work on the most difficult requirement--persuading area business owners and residents to support a vending district. Under the rules, the vendors must get approval of 20% of the property owners in a proposed zone.
"If we can get all the signatures, then the City Council can't deny me a district," Sanchez said.
Robert Valdez, the city's street vending administrator, said that half a dozen groups throughout the city already have begun generating interest in the program by distributing about 25,000 informational brochures to business owners, residents and vendors.
In addition to the signatures, each group proposing a district must pay a fee of about $1,000 for enforcement, education and other program costs, Valdez said.
In January, the City Council gave final approval to a two-year trial program to permit vending in eight special districts. But the council has yet to finalize the details on how the program will operate.
On Wednesday, the council approved a fee structure for vendors interested in participating. Later in the day, a committee of the council reviewed a proposal for using Public Works and Building and Safety inspectors to enforce the rules for the program.
City officials said they expect all elements of the program to be approved and finalized by July.
Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents Pacoima and Panorama City and who sponsored the street-vending legislation, said he was surprised to learn this week how fast the Valley group was moving to establish the district. But he said he would work with the group to achieve its goal, as long as area business owners approve of the idea.
"This is a community-driven process," he said. "If we have a vending district in my district, it would have to be driven by the community."
Since November, street vendors have taken advantage of a state grant through Mission College in Sylmar to educate vendors. The classes, held each day at classrooms owned by Catholic nuns on Blythe Street in Panorama City, have an enrollment of about 80 vendors, each of whom pays a $5 monthly fee.
The classes began with about 20 vendors, but have increased so fast since the vending program was approved in January that evening classes are now planned.
Although the vending program has been harshly criticized by business owners who fear vendors will take away their business, the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. supports the establishment of a vending district in the Valley.
"VICA definitely supports it," said David Fleming, a VICA representative and city fire commissioner. "I don't see that a little additional competition will hurt anyone."
But Fleming concedes that there may be individual business owners near the proposed district who oppose the program.