Weighing the Impact of Street Vending Legislation on Los Angeles
State Bill Favoring Street Vendors Across California Draws Concern Among Parts of Commercial Real Estate Industry.
A recent law decriminalizing sidewalk vending in California is sending shock waves through some parts of the commercial real estate industry, especially in Los Angeles, which has been one of the only major cities in the country where the practice has been largely illegal.
Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed Senate Bill 946, or the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, introduced by California State Senator Ricardo Lara earlier this year. Among the law's provisions, California cities and counties cannot regulate vendors without establishing a local licensing system. It also outlines that those licensing systems cannot prohibit vendors from selling in parks or elsewhere without citing health, safety, welfare or other limited concerns, and that vendors must not be required to seek permission from businesses near where they want to set up.
Los Angeles does not have an existing licensing system set up to regulate it, so the new legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, essentially means street vendors could operate free and clear until a licensing program is set up. The concern is that vendors, who push carts and wagons or set up temporary sidewalk shops, can take sales away from established retailers and restaurant owners, reducing their income and the amount of rent that commercial building owners can charge for retail space.
The issue of street vending has been a hot topic across Los Angeles among residents, property owners and officials, who have grappled with legislation on the issue for years. Many have complained about those who sell food and merchandise on sidewalks as being detrimental to brick and mortar shops and restaurants, while others argue it fosters entrepreneurship and provides economic development opportunities to the vendors as well as culturally significant and desirable goods for shoppers.
Sidewalk vendors, largely from low-income and immigrant communities, range from grandmothers pushing small carts full of fresh fruit to young men unloading t-shirts and goods out of boxes onto folding tables or racks on pedestrian paths. The decision was considered a victory for street vendor legalization advocates who argue that the thousands of vendors are critical components of the social and economic landscape of the vast and diverse city.
Among the most high-profile proponents of the vendor's legalization was the late Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold, who passed away earlier this year. He championed the rights of street vendors selling food on Los Angeles sidewalks in his column as well as various other efforts in the city. Not everyone on the local level is pleased with Brown’s decision, however.
"It is unfortunate that the governor signed a bill that was rushed through the legislature and not adequately vetted," Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said in an email. "It does not include any protection for historic landmarks such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, museums and public facilities."
This summer, officials conducted a high-profile crackdown on vendors in Hollywood after complaints that vendors were crowding sidewalks, including the Walk of Fame.
Brad Luster, president of downtown Los Angeles commercial real estate firm Major Properties, has his own conflicted reservations about the law.
"I admire hard-working people that are standing on the street that sell fruit or flowers and sit in the sun all day," said Luster, who is also on the board of directors of the downtown Los Angeles Fashion District Business Improvement District (BID). "It’s better than them doing crime. They’re trying to make a living. Nothing wrong with that, but it should be regulated where you can be."
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