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Street vendor plan moving forward despite concerns over enforcement

A Los Angeles City Council's committee moved ahead Monday on a plan that aims to decriminalize illegal street vending and allow sidewalk vendors to operate under strict limits.

A proposed ordinance carrying out the plan likely won't go before the full council for a final vote until late spring.

Advocates for street vendors and business interests both raised objections to parts of the plan sponsored by council members Curren Price and Joe Buscaino, but it represents the first detailed effort to resolve the long-standing issue of street vendors, many of whom are undocumented immigrants.

One of the plan's key provisions would legalize street vending. Administrative officers could issue citations to illegal vendors that would make them subject to civil penalties, but not misdemeanors as is sometimes imposed now.

An amendment proposed by City Council member David Ryu would take it a step further, giving amnesty to street vendors who are facing misdemeanor charges.

The city's regulation of street vending has taken on some urgency because of the election of Donald Trump, who advocates for deportation of immigrants with criminal records.

The plan would allow street vendors to apply for permits to operate. They would be limited to two per side of a city block. The plan would also let neighborhoods petition for special rules such as tighter limits.

Businesses adjacent to the carts would decide whether to approve their presence under provisions of the plan. Advocates say the approval process could subject the vendors to exploitation by brick-and-mortar businesses.

Before the meeting, street vendors and their advocates rallied outside City Hall. Adolfo Olivera, a East L.A. fruit vendor, said he’s eager to have a legal permit.

"We’re always working in fear. The city comes, and we have to run, or they take everything,” he said in Spanish.

The largest unresolved questions deal with how the street vending plan would be enforced. Business representatives remain skeptical that the city will have the resources to police an estimated 50,000 street vendors.

“Regulation is only as good as its enforcement. And we are asking that the city fully fund enforcement of the rules that it adopts,” said Veronica Perez, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Save Small Business, a group of business owners that has been critical of legal street vending.

City Council member Jose Huizar, a proponent of legalizing vending, said the permit fees paid by vendors once they're allowed to apply would go toward funding enforcement. 

Three members of the council's Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee voted to approve a "framework" for regulation of street vendors, moving it to the full council.

If the City Council gives it the green light, the plan would go back for further committee review before returning to the full council as a final ordinance.