After nearly a year of red tape and internal strife, two groups of street vendors have taken the first step toward establishing city-sanctioned zones in which they can legally sell their wares in Los Angeles.
This week the Pico-Union-based Street Vendors’ Assn. submitted a petition to the city requesting a district at Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood, a longtime vending hub.
Last month, the Street Vendors’ Assn. of the San Fernando Valley completed its application for a vending zone along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima. The vendors sell such things as fruit, tools, cassettes, greeting cards and toys from carts or tables.
Although the City Council passed an ordinance in January allowing vendor groups to organize districts, snags in implementing the new law and infighting in the city’s largest and most powerful vendors’ group caused months of delay.
The petition for the Pacoima vending district was originally submitted to the city’s street vending administration office in July. However, city officials decided that the signatures of the required 20% of merchants and residents in the proposed zone would have to be verified.
“Since this was the first district, no one knew what they were doing,” city vending administrator Robert Valdez said. “We were feeling our way through this blindly.”
Representatives from the vendors group and the city had to go back into the field and verify at least 100 signatures, said Jorge Sanchez, coordinator of the Valley vendors. Verification was completed in early October.
Later that month, city officials met with the vendors to renegotiate the boundaries of the proposed district, trimming it to a 32-block stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard between Glenoaks Boulevard and the Golden State Freeway.
The road toward establishing a vending district has been even rockier for the Pico-Union-based Street Vendors’ Assn., which helped lead the fight to legalize street vending in the city. Known by its Spanish acronym, AVA (Asociacion de Vendedores Ambulantes) is Los Angeles’ oldest organized vendors’ group.
In July, the group split into rival factions, with one side, based in Echo Park, embracing militant tactics such as protests in front of police stations over the alleged harassment of vendors. A Pico-Union contingent opposed to the protests--mostly longtime members--believed the demonstrations served only to alienate police and city officials with whom they had been attempting to ease relations since AVA was formed in 1988.
“They were only focusing on protesting against the police, while we were trying to work with them,” said Guillermo Lopez, a vendor who sides with the old guard. “We kept telling them that what we should really be doing is working on getting the districts legalized, so that no one could bother us. But they wouldn’t listen, so we stopped making progress.”
Complicated by a dispute over how the association’s money should be spent, the split prompted a legal battle, the freezing of $30,000 in assets and the delay of a petition for a vending zone in East Los Angeles.
The Echo Park-based faction filed a lawsuit in August seeking use of the association’s name and the frozen assets, arguing that because four of AVA’s six board members joined their side, they should be considered the true Street Vendors Assn.
“They are the majority of the last board of directors,” said B. Kwaku Duren, an attorney representing the Echo Park group. “They have a right to the name and assets.”
However, the Pico-Union group, which turned in the petition for the Hollywood zone, is the one recognized by several community organizations dealing with vendors, including the Central American Resource Center and the Sidewalk Vending Coalition of Los Angeles, an umbrella group representing most the city’s vendor groups.
But until a judge decides who the real AVA is, the organization’s assets will remain with the Community Services Organization Credit Union, which froze AVA’s funds when credit union employees realized two groups were claiming leadership, said Cruz Reynoso, the former state Supreme Court justice, who is acting as a legal representative of the credit union.