City Street Food Merchants Sue L.A. Over Rampant ‘No Vending Zones’

Two vendors and three community empowerment groups have filed a lawsuit taking on L.A.’s draconian street meat rules

Street vendors may be the familiar face of Angeleno food culture, but the city doesn’t take to them as kindly as the public that happily devours their tasty wares.

Vendors took to Hollywood Boulevard Friday to protest a Los Angeles law that excludes eight areas—including spots near the Hollywood Walk of Fame, LA Live, and Universal Studios—as “no vending zones.”

This city ordinance followed on the heels of a 2018 California rule that legalized sidewalk vending across the entire state. The state law prohibits local authorities from regulating sidewalk vendors “except in accordance with the provisions of the bill,” making the city legislation highly inconsistent with it.

Matthew Heartney, an attorney for the vendors, tells LAMag that there has been a significant effort to resolve this legal vaguery without an actual lawsuit.

“In the city council records there are multiple statements and comments that were made before the ordinance was enacted here in the city of L.A. that has continued afterward, attempting to find a way to bring the vendors… to work into these areas,” Heartney said.

The Public Counsel, an organization representing the merchants in partnership with the group California Street Vendors, released a statement on Thursday regarding the action filed by three community empowerment groups along with two sidewalk vendors.

The groups, Community Power Collective, East LA Community Corporation, and Inclusive Action for the City, are all also part of the aforementioned coalition.

“The lawsuit identifies that the city’s no-vending zones have harmed vendors by making them the target of increased and aggressive enforcement by StreetsLA, the agency in charge of enforcing the city’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, the lawsuit revolved around “harassing conduct” that vendors face, such as “issuing citations…without observing any actual vending conduct”

The suit also included claims that the city was “threatening future actions, such as impoundment of vending equipment” towards vendors and “adding to vending citations late fees or other additional charges not authorized by SB-946.”

However, perhaps the most telling part of the statement comes from Merlin Alvarado, a sidewalk vendor who has worked along Hollywood Boulevard for just short of seven years.

Alvardo says that vendors’ dedication to “hungry visitors” and the “unique tourist destination” of Hollywood has seen the sidewalk gourmets “consistently chased, harassed, and ticketed by the City.”

As far as what vendors like Alvardo can do in the six months to a year that the case is estimated to take, Heartney says that hopefully the plaintiffs and city can come to a band-aid type solution.

“I think that there may be an opportunity that the city and the plaintiffs can work out a temporary truce that may help the vendors, but that’s speculation on my part,” Heartney said. “We want to get the parts of the law that are not correct, corrected, and that will take time.”

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