Although establishing legal street vending zones--approved by the City Council in January--offers hope for a settlement on the contentious issue, proponents and opponents are finding the road to compromise strewn with problems.
Some vendors say they are caught in a Catch-22: Street vending is still a misdemeanor, but it is their only source of income and the only way they can save money for the permits and licenses that will be required.
Almost 850 police citations were issued to vendors in the first five months of this year--compared with 952 for all of last year--meaning that fines, arrests and confiscated merchandise remain possibilities, according to testimony last week before the Police Commission.
"We have families. We have bills. We want to be allowed to work," said Leobardo Cabral, president of the Street Vendors Assn. Cabral appealed for an easing of enforcement actions during the interim before vending zones are established.
Cmdr. Scott LaChasse, who oversees the Police Department's interaction with street vendors, said enforcement occurs only when officers receive complaints from businesses or residents and only after requests for voluntary compliance fail.
That response was disputed by Javier Rodriguez, administrator for the vendors association, who said he has heard of few merchant complaints.
But Police Commissioner Art Maddox said he knows of many businesses that are "very concerned" about street vending.
Daniel Oh, a restaurateur and a representative for the 8th Street Korean American Merchants Assn., said his colleagues complain about what they consider to be unfair competition posed by street vendors.
"Merchants on 8th Street say the vendors are hurting their business because they sell many of the same items for less," Oh said. "They can do that because (vendors) don't have to pay rent or employees."
Father Dennis O'Neil of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, said in a telephone interview that most neighbors around his parish near Pico Boulevard and Mariposa Avenue accept the vendors as entrepreneurs.
Pedro Hernandez is not among them. A member of a Neighborhood Watch group around Mariposa Avenue, Hernandez supports increased police enforcement. He worries that vendors lower the value of property in his neighborhood. "The vendors who sell food are the big problem," he said. "Sometimes you can't pass on the sidewalk or there are cars double-parked on the street. Sometimes they leave trash around and yell at you if you say anything."
George Richter, a member of the Beverly-Kingsley Neighborhood Assn. and the Wilshire Community Police Advisory Board, has similar concerns. "We have vendors in our neighborhood who sell replica pistols, cap guns and slingshots," Richter said. "I don't want that in front of my house."
Said Rodriguez: "That's why we are fighting for the establishment of regularization and special zones. Some of the streets aren't the nicest, and if we do it right, vendors can attract business and liven up an area."
St. Thomas recently received a $5,000 grant from World Vision to prepare vendors for participation in the legal vending zones.
But many of the vendors "feel betrayed" because the city has not done more to help them establish the zones, O'Neil said.