PICO-UNION : Loan Plan Cheers Vending Coalition

Advocates of legal street vending are praising the city's proposal to use $1.5 million in riot recovery funds and other monies for loans to newly legalized street vendors.

The Sidewalk Vending Coalition helped develop a plan with the city's Sidewalk Vending Administration to use $1 million in riot funds and $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grants to assist vendors, whose activity currently is prohibited. The city has proposed allowing them to operate legally in designated zones, although fees, permits and city-approved carts can cost vendors more than $2,000.

The city would also provide entrepreneurial training and technical assistance to the vendors, administered by a management organization that would oversee the issuance of loans through designated lenders and serve as a liaison between the vendors and the city.

"We can't just throw money at them, because in the end we will wind up with people who are overburdened," said coalition coordinator Alison Becker. "What we want to do is empower the vendors."

The Community Development Department had begun looking for funding sources last fall but the search was hastened after general manager Parker Anderson attended a community improvement conference in January and heard more about the legal street vending proposal.

"After the conference, I had a better opportunity to get a tangible sense of what they had envisioned," said Anderson, who sees legal street vending as a tool for economic development. "I wanted to make sure this was on track, and on a fast track."

The money being targeted for vendor loans comes from a disaster loan fund established by the department following the 1992 riots. Early last month the department discovered a surplus of almost $3.5 million, which will be used to fund various city-sponsored entrepreneurial programs in addition to street vending.

The loan proposal is expected to go before the City Council within the next few weeks, Anderson said. A public hearing on the first proposed legal vending district at Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue is scheduled for March 24.

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