Vendors Protest Against LAPD : Regulation: Street peddlers accuse officers of harassing them. No vending licenses have been issued since ordinance legalizing the practice was passed in January.
Like hundreds of other Los Angeles street vendors, Maria Paz believed that her problems with the police had ended when the city legalized sidewalk vending more than six months ago. But now, caught between a need to survive and an ordinance that many vendors view as impractical, Paz still finds herself running from the law.
She and about 30 others protested outside the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart station Monday, alleging police harassment of street vendors in the Pico-Union and Westlake districts west of Downtown. “We just want to make an honest living,” said Paz, 27, as she cradled her 7-month-old son, Jose.
With their children in tow, the mostly female protesters marched in front of the station. Some shouted, “Police, we want to be your friends!” Others waved signs with Spanish slogans such as “Somos vendedores, no criminales,” or “We are vendors, not criminals.”
The scene was a far cry from the jubilation in January, when several hundred vendors packed City Hall to watch council members approve the vending ordinance. It was the culmination of a six-year battle to legalize street vending in Los Angeles.
Since then, the vendors have discovered the realities of a law that is cluttered with bureaucratic hurdles.
Not a single vending license has been issued, and the vendors are months away from establishing the eight districts that were approved by the council as part of a two-year pilot program. Any proposed district can be killed by the signatures of 10% of the business owners or residents in the area.
“We’re still a long way off from being legal,” said a frustrated Javier Bustillo, as he sold mangoes and Spanish-language comic books Monday afternoon near MacArthur Park.
In the Pico-Union and Westlake districts near the park, vendors and their supporters say eight women have been arrested and scores of others ticketed in the past several weeks. They allege that the police activity is the result of intolerance of Latino immigrants.
“There is definitely an attitude of intolerance of immigrants on the part of some of the (LAPD) rank and file,” said Javier Rodriquez, an organizer with the Street Vendors Assn., which represents more than 800 vendors.
Police deny any harassment and say they are just responding to complaints from business owners that the vendors block sidewalk traffic, discard rubbish on the street and undercut their business. “Vending is just as illegal now as it was five years ago,” said Capt. Nick Salicos, commander of the Rampart division.
City Councilman Mike Hernandez said Monday that he has not received many complaints of police harassing vendors. “There might be an officer or two who are harassing, but I would say the majority are not,” said Hernandez, who represents the area.
Rampart division police were unable to provide arrest figures Monday, but tickets issued to vendors citywide are up substantially compared to last year. Police issued 839 citations to vendors between Jan. 1 and May 23, compared to 952 such actions during all of 1993, according to data made public at a Police Commission hearing in May.