Activists rallied outside Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday morning to protest the criminalization and ticketing of street vendors. They called on City Attorney Mike Feuer, who they say has the power to set a moratorium on street vendor punishments.
Street vending is currently considered a violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. It was formerly punishable by arrest or criminal citation, until 2013, when the City Council passed an ordinance enabling the Administrative Citation Enforcement Program. Rather than face the threat of jail time, violators can now pay fines ranging from roughly $300 to $1,000.
Los Angeles is the only one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. that does not have a form of legal vending, according to LA Street Vendor Campaign director Mike Dennis. As a result, he said, 50,000 "low-income entrepreneurs" in LA who lack traditional access to the workforce can't legally use street vending to provide for their families.
Cynthia Anderson-Barker, an attorney from the National Lawyers Guild, said at a press conference after the rally, "I know that Mike Feuer can do something about relieving their criminal justice debt, but also he can tell the judges if [the vendors are] poor and low income, drop the case, dismiss the charges."
Deborah Hyman, who sells handmade beaded jewelry and Jamaican jerk chicken, was the first to speak at the press conference. "This month marks the third anniversary of when our legislation to legalize street vending was introduced at City Hall," she said. "We are tired of waiting for legislation to move forward, while our brothers and sisters throughout the city are continuing to suffer through the negative effects of inaction at City Hall."
Anderson-Barker, referring to Feuer, said, "These [vendors] have no political power and they don't vote. He's running for reelection, and I believe that he's pandering to downtown businesses who want to keep vendors off the streets. They don't like to see them. They don't like the blight."
Street vendor Isabel Rodriguez spoke to the crowd in Spanish and was accompanied by an interpreter. She called for an amnesty on tickets and enforcement, saying, "We work honestly. We are trying to teach our families to do well and work hard. Our only crime is being street vendors. That is the only way we can support our families."
Immediately after the press conference, the protesters marched to the doors of City Hall East, with the intention of meeting with Feuer in person. However, the doors were locked, and they were denied entry to the public building.
A Los Angeles police sergeant came out of the building and explained that he had spoken to a representative from Feuer's office, who did not wish to come downstairs at the time. After some back and forth between the protesters and the city attorney's office (as facilitated by the sergeant), Feuer agreed to meet with advocates for the street vendors within the next two weeks.
"We came out with a commitment from them. That's something we wanted to get out of today," said Victor Narro of the National Lawyers Guild.
Rob Wilcox, director of community engagement and outreach for Feuer's office, encouraged Annenberg Media to search online for information about the Administrative Citation Enforcement Program, but did not comment further.
Street vendor Hyman had a final message at the event. "Everybody who is not a vendor … I want you to look at the street vendor standing on the corner in a different way. Look at them and wonder why they're there. You think they're there because they're saving up for a fancy vacation? They're not there to save up for no vacation. They're there because that's the way they have to survive."