Immigrant advocates had long pushed Los Angeles to legalize street vending, arguing that sidewalk sellers who hawk ice cream, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, or other food and goods should not face criminal charges that could put them at risk of being deported.
But the idea languished at City Hall as lawmakers sparred over where and how sidewalk vending should be allowed. Activists grew frustrated as the years passed with hearing after hearing — yet no clear plan for legalizing and regulating their trade.
Then Donald Trump was elected president, and local officials decided to hustle.
Fearing a coming crackdown on immigrants, Los Angeles City Council members Joe Buscaino and Curren Price vowed to stop punishing vending as a crime and begin setting up a regulated system. The council pushed forward with their plan Tuesday, voting to draft a law that would decriminalize sidewalk vending.
As it stands, selling food or goods on the sidewalk can lead to misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles. City attorneys will now draw up new rules that would strip those criminal penalties and authorize the city to eventually issue vending permits, a first step toward legalization.
Councilman Jose Huizar told reporters it was “a sign to this Trump administration that we will not abide by his fear, his vilification, his scapegoating of immigrants.”
Instead, Los Angeles is saying, “You do not have to work in the shadows,” Huizar said.
City staffers say it could take months, however, for Los Angeles to work out all of the details and begin handing out permits to vendors. In the meantime, vendors who ply their trade on city sidewalks could still be cited and fined for violating the municipal code, but they would not face criminal convictions.
Such charges could jeopardize immigrants in the country illegally. Last week, Trump signed an order that emphasized deporting not only people convicted of crimes but also people who were charged with crimes not yet adjudicated, and even those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
Eliminating criminal charges for sidewalk vending is one of a string of proposals that Los Angeles lawmakers have backed to counter the actions of the Trump administration, including opposing the proposed Environmental Protection Agency chief and approving the hiring of an immigrant advocate at City Hall.
If Los Angeles wants to stand up for immigrants, “we can’t simply talk about opposing Trump’s policies or nominees,” Buscaino said Tuesday. “We need to take serious actions like this one.”