PICO-UNION : Street Vendors Claim Police Harassment

Street vendors in Pico-Union, Westlake and East Los Angeles say police are harassing them and violating the spirit of the city ordinance that will make street vending legal in specific areas.

The City Council approved a pilot program Jan. 4 to permit vending in eight districts. The districts are to be established through a permit procedure that will require approval from residents and merchants in the commercial areas where the vendors want to work.

It will be months before the first vending districts win approval. The ordinance states that in the interim the council "shall adopt a humane and comprehensive enforcement policy."

But Javier Rodriguez, administrator for the Street Vendors Assn., last week told members of the Police Commission that vendors have been subjected to "a constant campaign of harassment that we have seen escalate since Jan. 4."

Rodriguez said police have arrested or ticketed vendors on 6th Street and Pico Boulevard and, in some cases, confiscated their merchandise. He said that police arrested 10 vendors at Pico Boulevard and Mariposa Avenue on April 17, levying more than $1,000 in fines and confiscating more than $4,000 worth of equipment and merchandise.

Many vendors in Pico-Union and Westlake have seen their weekly earnings drop by more than half since January because of police actions, he said.

But Capt. Nick Salicos of the Police Department's Rampart Division denied that his officers' actions have been excessive.

"We have cut (the vendors) slack," he said in an interview. "In fact, we're not being as tough as the ordinance allows us to be. Vending is still illegal, but it is a very low priority in Rampart."

Nevertheless, Salicos said that until the special zones are established officers will continue to take enforcement action "if vendors are not complying with the rules." He said vendors must have a license and a pushcart, cannot impede pedestrian traffic on sidewalks and must move if a merchant complains about a vendor's proximity to his or her business.

Police Commission President Rabbi Greenebaum said the commission staff will look into the complaints and the enforcement actions of the police.

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