No Street Vendor Protection for the Venice Boardwalk

Looking back at the active 2018 news cycle in Venice. Photo: Getty Images.

Los Angeles City Council passes law that limits regulation of street vendors, does not include Venice Beach Boardwalk.

By Tor Marom

The path to creating a permitting process for Los Angeles’ prolific street vendors is steadily pacing forward.

Recently, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to approve proposed new rules for street food vending. Los Angeles is one of the only major cities in the country where street vending is illegal, but since the push to decriminalize the practice earlier this year with SB-946 the City has been working towards standardizing regulations and enforcement for street vendors.

The bill text, which should go into effect in January, provides standards on how a local governance can, and more explicitly, cannot regulate street vendors. The main takeaway is that in most cases, local authorities are prohibited from interfering with street vendors with the exception that they pose a threat to public health, safety and welfare. SB-946 also explicitly protects street vendors from being held secondary to brick-and-mortar food vendors.

“[The bill] specifies that perceived community animus or economic competition does not constitute an objective health, safety, or welfare concern,” the text reads.

It goes on to specify that street vendors do not need approval from local brick-and-mortar vendors for permission to sell near their businesses, ensuring that nongovernmental entities cannot control public spaces.

Among the new Los Angeles regulations are the implementation of no-vending zones as well as requiring that there are no more than two vendors per block in most parts of the City. Individual cities may also require that vendors stay mobile in certain areas, and can prohibit vendors from selling in certain residential areas.

The list of proposed no-vending zones in Los Angeles is steadily growing to include some of the most heavily trafficked areas. The list includes locations such as Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood Boulevard and as of the adoption of motions 40A and 40B on October 31, the list now includes the Venice Beach Boardwalk.

According to Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office, this exemption for the Venice Beach Boardwalk is intended to maintain the area’s status quo.

“[This] will ensure that the vending on the Venice Beach Boardwalk remains status quo. Under the City’s current regulations that apply to vending on the Boardwalk, expressive speech, petitioning activities, and performances may take place in designated spaces subject to certain reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. Commercial vending, however, is prohibited. The motion approved by Council ensures that the existing regulations continue to apply on the Boardwalk, and the motion was limited specifically to the “Venice Beach Boardwalk” area,” said David Gahram Caso, Deputy Chief of Staff for Bonin. 

According to a report from the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst, SB-946 allows local jurisdictions to establish either a permit-based vending system or regulatory vending system. With a regulatory system, vendors would be able to work in their chosen locations on a first-come-first-serve basis. A permitted street-vending system, however, is more consistent with the council’s action in April, and has been vocally supported by the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC).

The LASVC has suggested that a permitting program would be beneficial to the City and would protect vendors from potential conflicts with brick-and-mortar businesses.

“Many vendors are fearful that without a mechanism to allocate certain prime locations to a single permit-holder,” the LASVC said in a letter to the Council in early October, “there may be greater risk of conflict between vendors, extortion, intentional obstruction of public space to exclude vendors, and unsafe over-concentration.”

The decision between regulatory or permitting system has been postponed while the City Council awaits a drafted ordinance for each system as well as a staff report with pros and cons for each.