Highlights from LAFPC February Network Meeting on: “LA Street Vending: A Pathway to Food Justice”


On February 19th, the LA Food Policy Council (LAFPC) partnered with East LA Community Corporation and other organizations in the LA Street Vendor Campaign to host our first “Network” gathering of 2015. Read on for event highlights.

“LA Street Vendor Campaign Overview”

DSC00331Rudy Espinoza, LURN Executive Director and LA Food Policy Council Leadership Board Member, kicked off the panel discussion with statistics on our local street vending economy and a brief overview of the LA Street Vendor Campaign:

  • Los Angeles has approximately 50,000 street vendors, of that 20% of street vendors sell food.
  • The sector as a whole provides $504 million towards the local economy. (Source: Bureau of Street Services, Economic Roundtable)
  • Los Angeles is the only city out of the 10 largest cities in the United States where street vending is illegal
    • Currently, vendors are subject to harassment, their goods are regularly confiscated by law enforcement and in some extreme cases, vendors are arrested or targeted for deportation proceedings.
    • Without a policy, street vendors stay vulnerable and are prevented from selling healthy food in communities with limited access to healthy food options
  • The LA Street Vendor Campaign was launched in 2012 with the central goal of legalizing street vending in the city and has now grown to a robust cross-sector coalition of over fifty organizations including affordable housing developers, healthcare centers, legal aid foundations, restaurants and other brick and mortar businesses across Los Angeles.
    • The campaign has facilitated hundreds of community meetings across the city to incorporate vendor and stakeholder feedback.
    • Coalition member East LA Community Corporation has taken the lead in organizing vendors and keeping them deeply engaged in the campaign and development of the ordinance.
    • Campaign leaders have worked with City officials to advance a citywide permit system for street vendors that would include healthy food incentives and safer streets for communities.
  • In 2013, Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Curren Price introduced a motion to legalize street vending.
    • In May 2014, the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst published a report with recommendations on what a comprehensive vending policy would include.
    • In December 2014, a City Council committee approved a general framework for a legal street vending policy.

“LA Street Vendors as Policymakers”

DSC00349Clare Fox, LA Food Policy Council Director of Policy and Innovation and event moderator, was joined onstage by Janet Favela, East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) community organizer and vendor leaders Caridad Vasquez and Alfonso Garcia to discuss their participation in the campaign and the evolution of their journey in advocacy and policymaking:

  • Vendors are routinely mistreated because they lack the necessary permits to vend on sidewalks.
    • Permits would allow vendors to sustain their livelihoods and not have to worry about being arrested or having their merchandise confiscated by the City, setting individuals back $800-$1000 on average.
  • Vendors want to sell affordable, healthy food and see themselves as entrepreneurs
    • In most cases, the only source of income for low-income households. Many vendors want to formalize their work, pay taxes and contribute to the local economy. Vendors also want to comply with local health and food safety regulations and are willing to pay permit fees.
  • Vendors offered thoughts on what a legal framework for street vending would look like:
    • Vendors recommend that permit should be affordable, streamlined and language accessible. Vendors also feel strongly that the permit application should not require information about citizenship status.
    • Vendors want to maintain the freedom to choose locations and would also like access to financial educational resources to grow their business and comply with local regulations.
  • Janet, Caridad and Alfonso reflected on the campaign process, noting that the success of the coalition’s work is centered on the vendors themselves who are leading the movement towards policy change.
    • Dozens of town halls were held to meet with vendors and community stakeholders to establish priorities and educate on attendees on the policymaking process.
    • Alfonso noted that thanks to the work of the campaign, progress is being made at City Hall and elected officials and City staff are tuned in to the work.

“LA Street Vending: A Pathway to Food Justice”

IMG_7935LA Street Vendor Steering Committee members Xiomara Corpeño (CHIRLA), Doug Smith (Public Counsel), Mark Vallianatos (UEPI), and Mike Dennis (ELACC) were invited onstage to reflect on strategies critical to the campaign’s continued success:

Xiomara Corpeño on developing vendor leadership through participatory policymaking:

  • The element of self-determination of street vending is crucial.
    • Supported vendors in building their political knowledge and capacity as community activists.
  • Forums and town halls allowed vendors and stakeholders to generate a list of priorities around an ideal legal framework and also provided a space for all parties to understand what goes into creating laws and updating existing laws.
    • Developing the policy platform was iterative and incorporated vendor and stakeholder feedback throughout the process.

Doug Smith on crafting a vendor-driven model street vending ordinance:

  • Vendor stakeholders established priorities and principles and with the coalition and attorneys began to envision a street vending program in LA and opportunities for economic development.
    • Coalition had to reconcile the tensions between the inherent mobility of street vending with the requirements and need for stability of the City and County regulators.
    • A model ordinance was developed that reflected the needs of vendors and public agencies.
    • Through the policy development experience, vendor leaders and coalition members are positioned as a resource for the city in codifying the policy.

Mark Vallianatos on locating the street vending movement in both the history of LA and the food justice movement:

  • Street vending has a long history and has been a part of the local culture in Los Angeles for the last 150 years.
    • Even in the early days, there was public backlash about vending in public spaces based on resentment against economic progress of minority groups. The City required Latinos and Asians vendors to pay fees and taxes.
    • The rise of automotive traffic in the early 1920s and 1930s restricted street space and led to an official ban of sidewalk vending in Los Angeles by the late 1930s.
    • This policy touches on many different social issues, including the desire to recapture public space and walking culture in the City.

Mike Dennis on building consensus to strengthen the coalition:

  • This citywide coalition started with five members and has grown to include 55 organizations.
    • Both the grassroots and ‘grasstops’ play a critical role in the space.
  • Transparency of the process is key: Coalition members are flexible and honest when working with partner and allies.
  • Governance structure and process of the coalition is also important in creating ownership for those involved with the coalition.
  • One of the biggest challenges is keeping the vendors, communities, and businesses connected and motivated.
    • As facilitators, it is our responsibility to promote a clear strategic narrative, build momentum, and keep those who care connected and engaged.
  • The urgency of now: another major challenge is reconciling the real stakes for vendors and the slow legislative process of the city
    • Vendors have very little safety nets, criminalized, harassed, potentially arrested by different departments in the City.
    • One work around to speed up the process was to write our own ordinance.

 “Collective Harvest: Questions and Thoughts from the Room”

DSC00368Discussion leaders responded to audience questions and offered their final thoughts:

Q: What incentives make permitting easier for vendors?

  • Alfonso: We want the process to be simple and not require too many documents and fees. This allows us to spend more hours per day working instead of tied up in the permitting process.

Q: How can we ensure an even playing field with brick and mortar businesses?

  • Xiomara: Street vendors make a conscious economic decision not to sell the same food as restaurants.
    • Street vendors should have every right to vend on a public right of way.
    • Not all street vendors are stationed in one place, mobility is a part of their business.
    • Mike: tensions between brick and mortar businesses and vendors exist but it can be worked out with innovative partnerships
      • For example, bars partner with food vendor to increase foot traffic and business.
      • Restaurants and street vendors don’t necessarily share the same clientele.

Q: How have you worked with the Department of Public Health and Environmental Health?

  • Mark: State and County agencies regulate public health, vendors will need a County-issued permit to demonstrate that they are up to code.
    • We’re working with public health and food safety regulators to avoid contamination and incentivize healthy foods.
  • Doug: A legal, formal system of food vending in the City of LA will only improve food safety because vendors seeking a permit by the City must first obtain a permit from LA County Department of Public Health, which means they need to have food handling training, a certified cart and store their carts in County certified commissaries.

If you would like to learn more about how you can support street vendors to create a legal permit system, please do not hesitate to contact the LA Street Vendor Campaign. We need Good Food allies to show up to community meetings and City Council to support this policy.