L.A. Street Vendors Want a Break from City and County Code Enforcement

Curbside food purveyors say the health department has ramped up enforcement, and the timing couldn’t be worse

With restrictions lifting and pandemic safeguards like the county moratorium on evictions being extended to help Los Angeles ease back into normal life, area street vendors say code enforcers are coming down on them harder than ever, and they want the government to cut them some slack.

As ABC 7 reports, dozens of curbside food purveyors descended on Los Angeles City Hall this week to call on the city and county to issue a moratorium on code enforcement, saying a recent increase in sweeps by inspectors from the L.A. County Department of Public Health is eating away at their livelihood when they can least afford it.

“We have seen an uptick in enforcement in the last few weeks that we haven’t seen in a very long time,” Lyric Kelkar, policy director at Inclusive Action for the City, told the station.

While DPH says the crackdown is necessary to ensure vendors are legally operating with the proper permits, the sellers counter that it’s nearly impossible for some vendors to get those permits.

“That food permit is really hard to get for certain vendors,” Kelkar said, explaining that carts typically used for selling tacos and pupusas are too big to meet stringent code requirements.

L.A. County is currently working on a pilot program to design low-cost carts that meet DPH specifications, but in the meantime vendors are asking that the city reinstate a moratorium on ticketing street food vendors that was in effect earlier in the pandemic. They also want to stop a scheduled permit fee increase from $291 to $541 from going into effect.

Vendor Julio Monterroso tells L.A. Taco that a June 11 raid on the Guatemalan Night Market on 6th Street and Bonnie Brae—which was recorded by the Community Power Collective—was particularly aggressive.

“They didn’t say anything to us. They didn’t identify themselves,” he said. “It feels like an attack on us, more than that they don’t think about how it hurts our pockets.”

In that sweep, witnesses say, DPH enforcers escorted by Los Angeles Police Department officers threw away the inventory of nine vendors in an hour.

Natalie Pineda, a single mother who’s been working at the market for six years, says she lost $800 in trashed inventory alone, not to mention lost sales.

“I’m left wondering where I’m going to get the money I just lost. I’m barely recovering from the pandemic, and then this happens,” she told L.A. Taco. “I plead [to] the city to try and work with us, come talk to us and make the right changes. We don’t want to be scared anymore.”

In statement last week, DPH said, in part, “If an inspector determines that a mobile food vendor’s vehicle or cart does not have the necessary equipment, such as appropriate refrigeration, a hand washing and dual compartment sink or a valid public health permit. Inspectors are authorized by the California Retail Food Code to confiscate the vendor’s food as it is presumed to be unsanitary and not safe for public consumption.”

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