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L.A. City Council reinstates ban on unpermitted park and beach vending

Park Vendor

A toy and candy vendor walks on the shore of Echo Park Lake.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to reinstate a ban on unpermitted vending at city parks and beaches, which could impose escalating fines and eventually misdemeanor charges against people who sell their wares or services there without getting city permission.

L.A. lawmakers had already voted to draft such rules in June, with backers arguing that the city needed to protect itself from being sued if someone were hurt by an unlicensed vendor. Wednesday’s 12-3 vote approved the final wording of the ban.

Without the ban, “it’s anything goes, essentially, in our parks,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, rattling off examples such as an unlicensed vendor offering up pony rides without insurance at Hansen Dam and a trainer working with pit bulls off-leash in South Los Angeles.

Activists pushing to legalize vending say it is senseless to reinstate the ban in parks and beaches, which had long been suspended, while lawmakers weigh a plan to legalize the same kinds of trade on sidewalks citywide. Immigrant advocates also complained that the penalties could jeopardize the chances of immigrants to become citizens.

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“The city is about to go forward and say that if you’re caught selling popsicles in the park, you can be denied citizenship for the rest of your life,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo, who voted against reinstating the ban. “To me that’s simply a cost too high for the crime.”

City lawyers have argued that reinstating the ban does not conflict with any broader plans to legalize vending, because the rules still allow a vendor to operate if they have city permission. That process could be hashed out as part of future regulations on legalized vending citywide.

If there is no ban on unpermitted vending in parks, Assistant City Atty. Valerie Flores added, there would be no reason for a vendor to get a permit.

As it stands, the parks department does permit some businesses to operate, such as the cafe and paddle boat rentals at Echo Park Lake, but it does not routinely issue permits to pushcart vendors selling ice cream, fruit or hot dogs.

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Councilman Jose Huizar objected that without such a process, such vendors were effectively prohibited under the new rules, since they had no way to seek a permit.

In reaction, parks department assistant general manager Kevin Regan said the goal of reinstating the ban was not to target such “mom-and-pop” vendors, but to give police a tool to stop dangerous and uninsured vendors.

If there’s no way of escalating the punishments for such hazardous vending, Regan said, some scofflaw vendors will simply pay the fees as “the cost of doing business” without stopping their trade.

The result is “a state of lawlessness in the park, which is what we have today,” Regan said.

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Cedillo countered that if the goal was to stop the dangerous vendors, the law should be narrowly focused on such hazards. “If you don’t want the pit bull training, then say that in this proposal,” he said.

Cedillo was joined by Huizar and Councilman Curren Price in opposing the reinstated ban.

Selling goods and services has already been prohibited on L.A. sidewalks, but a similar ban on vending at parks and beaches had been suspended as the city fought legal battles over vending and free speech on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

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Now that those battles have ended, city lawyers said officials need to reinstate the restrictions while tweaking the wording to clearly protect freedom of speech.

Under the reinstated rules, it would be legal for someone to sell books or paintings that he or she had authored or created, along with chiefly “expressive items” such as bumper stickers.

Council members also voted to direct city lawyers to prepare a report about how L.A. currently enforces its prohibition on vending in public spaces, including statistics on misdemeanor charges and other penalties. That report is expected in roughly two months.

Follow @latimesemily for what’s happening at Los Angeles City Hall.

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