A feud between owner of L.A. swap meet and street vendors escalates after chain-link fence installed

A vendor organizes his products at an outdoor swap meet.
Carlos Benavides organizes his products for sale at his booth at the Los Angeles City College swap meet in July 2021.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

An ongoing feud between street vendors and the owner of the Los Angeles City College Swap Meet escalated this week when vendors showed up to set up shop outside the popular swap meet, but instead found a chain-link fencing blocking their usual spots.

Official-looking signs citing city code warned sidewalk sales were prohibited, but the green signs in English and Spanish were clearly not from the city.

The chain-link fencing is the latest incident in an ongoing battle between the new owner of the swap meet and vendors who set up shop along the street outside. Vendors have accused the new owner, Phillip Dane, of harassing them, trying to remove them from critical locations established during the pandemic, even turning on water sprinklers to keep them away.

“They blocked everything,” one street vendor, Sandra Escalante, told L.A. Taco, which first reported about the appearance of the new fence.


Dane argues that street vendors are undercutting those sellers who set up booths inside, and avoid paying rental fees and stretch resources meant for the swap meet, such as restrooms and security personnel.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Public Works said they became aware of the fence Wednesday, and investigators with the department told the “responsible individual” to remove the fence, which had not been permitted.

“The fencing is down, but our investigators will continue to follow up to ensure they remain down,” said Elena Stern, spokesperson for the agency.

Fines could be levied if there are “repeat violations,” she said.

Dane declined to answer questions about who may have put up the fence but said he welcomed the attempt to curb what he called “illegal street vending.”

“I’m not going to discuss the fence, how it got up or who put it up,” Dane said in an interview with The Times. “But if you find out who put up the fence, let me know and I’ll write them a thank you note.”

Dane bought the ailing swap meet in 2021 after the pandemic forced the previous owner to sell. The swap meet has been a steady source of income for vendors and a staple event for cheap goods for the community for more than two decades. The swap meet also has over the years forwarded part of its proceeds to the L.A. City College Foundation.

The previous owners weren’t the only ones affected by the pandemic. Some regular vendors set up shop on the street when the pandemic forced the swap meet to close, and many have continued to sell their goods there, luring visitors to the swap meet just outside the gates.


Since taking over, Dane said he’s faced accusations of trying to “gentrify” the swap meet, harassing street vendors, turning on water sprinklers on them and trying to remove people whose income relies on the foot traffic in and out of the swap meet.

Dane denied harassing vendors and said the allegations of the sprinklers are false, and said street vendors removed the sprinklers before he took over. But he said street vendors continue to be an issue for the swap meet, undercutting its vendors’ prices, and taking up resources meant for customers and vendors that pay rental fees.

“They are all vendors, the difference is the guys inside that are trying to feed their families are contending with the guys outside,” he said. “It’s literally street vendors hurting street vendors and I’m the guy in the middle.”

To try to address the issue, he said he offered some of the street vendors a spot inside for one weekend, waving the $70 Saturday and $75 Sunday fee, but only a handful took up his offer.

He said 90% of vendors there today are the same vendors that were there before he took over.

“My commitment was to keep it the way it was,” he said.

Dane said he’s reached out to the street vendors and to the offices of Councilmember Mitch O’Farrel to find a resolution, pointing out that a city ordinance prevents street vendors in the area, but has not received help.

O’Farrel’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Dane said he’s had to use security personnel to settle disputes with vendors outside the swap meet, and his own crews to clean up the area outside.

“They leave their trash, they’ve left cases of beer they’re trying to sell on school property,” he said. “There’s nothing OK about this. If they want to paint me as a bad guy, I can’t stop you from doing that.”

Still, he repeatedly declined to say whether he was responsible for the fence that went up this week.

“I’m not allowed to talk about the fence,” he said, but did not elaborate. “I’m not opposed to having a fence going up if it gets the job done, but it’s ugly.”

Stern, with the Department of Public Works, said she could not identify the person who had the fence installed because of an ongoing investigation.