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Street Vending District Opens on MacArthur Park Sidewalks

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five years after the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance to control the proliferation of illegal street vending, the first legal “sidewalk vending district” was unveiled Sunday in MacArthur Park.

With live Spanish-language rock music playing on a nearby stage, about a dozen vendors opened for business at 11 a.m. along the sidewalks of 7th and Alvarado streets. They offered goods from peanuts and pistachios to ceramic vases and leather belts made in Mexico, silver and beaded jewelry and fresh-cut flowers.

Instead of selling their merchandise from supermarket grocery carts as they had in the past, however, these vendors displayed items on shiny wood-lacquered carts with red roofs and green and yellow umbrellas. The vendors also wore badges that designated them as participants in the city’s sidewalk vending program.

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Officials acknowledged that it has taken a long time for the first district to open, citing the need for cooperation from the neighborhood and nearby businesses. The City Council had approved the creation of sidewalk districts in 1994, and efforts to find the right mix had failed until now.

“Part of the reason it took so long is that it’s hard to get a community to agree on things,” said Grace Dyrness, associate director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC and a member of the coalition that helped set up the MacArthur Park district. “This [MacArthur Park] coalition has had merchants in it, vendors themselves, the faith community, the university, the city, so we’ve been able to break down those problems.”

Dyrness said coalition members had to agree on how much vendors should pay to set up their businesses, where they could station them and what they could sell. It was especially difficult getting the support of area merchants, who saw the vendors as competitors. Dyrness said the coalition had to convince these merchants that potential vendors would be properly screened and would not sell the same products as their businesses.

Not all merchants are sold on the policy yet, but Norm Langer, who runs Langer’s Deli, believes the program represents a step toward fairness. The sidewalk vendors now have to pay licensing fees and taxes like he does. Some also support the new district because police assured the community that they would crack down more on illegal vendors.

Langer added that he’s noticed a major turnaround in the area, long plagued by drug and prostitution activity at the park, in the last 18 months, with greater police presence and cleaner streets. He believes the legalized vendors will contribute to those improvements.

The district is starting small, with 14 vendors licensed so far. All are receiving loans from two credit unions to help with start-up costs. MacArthur Park hopes to have up to 50 vendors and sponsor monthly events to draw more visitors.

On Sunday, even with illegal vendors still selling taquitos and menudo from shopping carts nearby, the general sentiment among the newly licensed sidewalk vendors was one of relief.

“I don’t have to run anymore from the police and pay for tickets,” said Ofelia Ruiz, a jewelry vendor who has received about 15 tickets in five years for operating illegally. Those tickets cost her more than $100 per violation.

San Pedro will launch a sidewalk vending district next month, with city officials also eyeing Hollywood and the Crenshaw area as other potential sites.


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