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Column: Lincoln Heights night market becomes nightmare for residents, who beg city for help

A car mixes with the crowd of customers and vendors at a recent Lincoln Heights night market.
(Respect Lincoln Heights)

Residents wake up to freshly dumped trash, puddles of urine and human feces.

Business owners complain of blocked driveways that prevent employees from driving home at the end of their shifts.

“On weekends, you’re a prisoner in your own home,” said a utility company technician who is kept awake until 2 or 3 a.m. by partying on his street, then has to get up at 4:30 a.m. for work.

Too much success can ruin a good thing, and that’s exactly what has happened in the neighborhood around a Lincoln Heights night market and food bazaar.

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Known as the Lincoln Heights, Avenue 26 or Artesian Night Market, because it runs along Artesian Street north of Avenue 26, the nightly festival became a social media sensation early this year, drawing thousands of visitors on busy days and creating a nightmare for people who live and work in the neighborhood.

What was once a handful of small retailers along Avenue 26 in Lincoln Heights has boomed into a full-fledged night market.

A group calling itself Respect Lincoln Heights sends out updates on gunshots, altercations and blocked streets.

“We have been making you, our civil servants, aware of these issues for many months,” said an email from the group just a few days ago, addressed to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilman Gil Cedillo and the entire City Council.

“This is intolerable. This has to stop,” said another email.

But City Hall has done next to nothing, which has only added to the exasperation of residents.

Last week, Jose Rodriguez, deputy district director for Cedillo, sent a group email that didn’t exactly boost spirits in Lincoln Heights. Rodriguez said “this market needs more resources beyond my ability to secure even though we have submitted budget requests in May for more resources.”

One of the problems, Rodriguez said, is that no one actually runs the market, “which makes coordinated communication difficult.”

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Corn cooked on a grill.
Corn is cooked on a barbecue grill at Avenue 26 in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

I didn’t get much more of a response from Cedillo than the angry residents have, and they tell me they have not seen him at the market, despite an invitation offering him a tour. My request to speak to the councilman drew this reply from his spokesman, which was nearly identical to one received by those who have complained:

“At this time, Councilmember Cedillo understands the value night markets can provide, particularly opportunities for vendors that have been impacted during the pandemic and options for residents that are enthusiastic about street food culinary experiences.”

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

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All the residents I spoke to said they fully support the right of vendors to earn a living, particularly in such hard times. And vendors I spoke to, including a hotel employee who was out of work for months, said the nightly operation has been a lifesaver.

But that doesn’t mean an entirely unregulated market ought to exist in a place where there’s such a slew of negative impacts on the community.

“Although this vending market … started and grew organically with good intentions, the market has evidently grown beyond anyone’s expectations and has presented new and difficult challenges,” said the email from Cedillo’s office. It added that Cedillo is reviewing information from various city departments and will take “decisive action after thoughtful and deliberate consideration of the facts.”

The return of 626 Night Market, inspired by outdoor food markets in cities like Taipei, Bangkok and Hong Kong, is a sign that normal life is resuming.

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Maybe I can be of assistance.

I visited the market last Wednesday and again Friday night, when it was mobbed, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.

No reasonable person can have a problem with tasty $1.50 tacos, and the scents of those and other sizzling offerings are heavenly. Families are out in force, toys and trinkets are sold by vendors, and there is not one, but two mechanical bull rides, along with a bouncy house.

But vendors told me they have to arrive early in the morning to stake a claim to a spot, and one vendor who no longer operates at the market said there was growing tension among vendors. Some vendors are selling liquor and running small bars without permits to do so, which makes for an edgier crowd roaming the neighborhood as the nights bleed into morning.

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The narrow passage between the rows of vendors is mobbed with pedestrians, and yet trucks and cars drive through because the street isn’t blocked off.

And with the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus on the loose and spiking the number of infections and hospitalizations, I had to wonder if I was at a superspreader event, because at least half the people I saw were not wearing masks.

Customers dine at Avenue 26.
Customers dine at Avenue 26 in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As I walked the area with two residents, we saw an entire block of illegally parked cars get towed away. One resident of that street told me he has to claim a parking spot in front of his own house before the throngs arrive, so he doesn’t have to park blocks away. He saw the towing as a sign of progress, but within minutes of the cars being towed, more cars pulled into the same spots.

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Is there anything more Cedillo or anyone else needs to know?

The market ought to be shut down immediately, at least temporarily, while he thinks things through. And if it can’t be regulated, monitored and managed in a way that doesn’t create a daily nightmare for residents and businesses in his own district, the whole thing should be moved somewhere else.

Residents have suggested nearby Plaza de la Raza, among other places. Why not consider the Civic Center mall at City Hall, or the Dodger Stadium parking lot, which is empty most nights of the year?

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This could be an asset to the city, done properly.

How hard is it to get it right?

President Biden meets with Latino leaders on the second anniversary of the El Paso shooting as Democrats try to shore up support among Latino voters.


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