Two Los Angeles City Council members on Wednesday called for the city to legalize street food sales and no longer penalize those who sell fried pupusas, fresh-cut fruit and bacon-wrapped hot dogs on sidewalks.
The current city code prohibits selling things on sidewalks, exposing vendors to hefty fines, confiscated equipment and even incarceration. That needs to change, said Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the Eastside of Los Angeles, and Councilman Curren Price, whose district takes in much of South L.A.
"Los Angeles has a world-class street food culture," Huizar said at a news conference at City Hall. "But we sometimes want to pretend it doesn't exist."
The council members asked for a study of how the city can legalize street vending. Legalization would bring Los Angeles in line with other major cities, including New York, San Francisco, Portland and Chicago, that allow people to sell things on sidewalks.
"That tells me that street food and brick-and-mortar businesses can coexist," Huizar said.
A spokesman for Huizar said any legislation would involve regulation, such as requiring vendors to register with the city. In the case of food vendors, regular checks by L.A. County health inspectors would probably be required.
Storefront business owners have long complained that sidewalk vendors -- as well as food trucks -- are unfair competition because they don't pay rent or taxes. To address those concerns, the city could write rules keeping vendors away from established eateries, Huizar said, and invite restaurants to set up their own sidewalk sales.
"In the beginning there might be some fear about what this means," he said. "But once people see what it is and understand that they benefit as well. ... I think it's going to be good for everyone."
Even with the threat of citations and arrests, street vending has flourished. One city official estimates there are 10,000 sellers operating in the shadows.
Janet Favela, 31, of South Los Angeles said she knows a 60-year-old single woman who recently had her coolers and $260 of tamales confiscated in a bust.
"That was money that she needed to pay her rent," said Favela, an organizer with East L.A. Community Corp. Her own father raised three children by selling cut watermelon when welding jobs dried up, she said.
East L.A. Community Corp. is among number of groups working to change the rules on street vending, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and the L.A. Food Policy Council.
Huizar said the report would examine all types of sidewalk sales in the city, including CD vending on Hollywood Boulevard and the Venice boardwalk. The city would consider adopting different rules for food and non-food vending, he said.