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Women arrested during street vendor protest

LOS ANGELES — Seven women from the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign were arrested outside City Hall March 9 during a protest against a proposal that would give brick-and-mortar business owners veto power over street vendors receiving licenses to work on their block.

The Los Angeles City Council voted in February 2017 to stop making street vending a misdemeanor criminal charge, although it is being penalized through citations as the council works on a legalized permit system for the industry that may include the veto proposal.

According to the L.A. Street Vendor Campaign, about 80 percent of all street vendors are women.

“This business veto puts them at risk,” said Isela Gracian, president of the East L.A. Community Corporation. “They are already suffering from businesses extorting them, charging them to use public right-of-ways on the sidewalks, and if this business veto stays in the policy, it will hurt our street vendors and it will hurt the women who go out on streets the day to day to provide for their family.”

About 100 activists participated in the demonstration, then some of them entered City Hall to visit the offices of City Council members. Upon exiting the building, seven of them entered Main Street between City Hall and City Hall East, blocked traffic and were arrested for unlawful assembly, according to Sgt. Barry Montgomery with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations office.

“They extort us for money to use public property and City Council cannot continue to allow that. Our elected officials have to come up with better policy,” said Debbie Hyman, a street vendor from the Leimert Park neighborhood. “These women getting arrested are making sure our voices are heard because it’s a matter of justice for women.”

Two Los Angeles City Council committees approved a comprehensive plan in November for a regulated permit system for street vending, which is also referred to as sidewalk vending. The plan would end the city’s distinction as the nation’s only major municipality that bans the practice.

But the proposal is still working its way through the City Council and would bring significant regulation to the industry, including a permitting process that could generally only allow two vendors per block.

“It’s alarming to know that we are the largest city without a vending policy,” Councilman Joe Buscaino said in November. “If you look, cities around the world have vending policies that work for everyone. This is exactly our end goal, and today the system is a failure, it’s an embarrassment.”

In February, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced a bill that would prevent cities from regulating or banning vending unless they develop a permitting system. The system would not allow cities to “unreasonably restrict” vendors to operate only in certain areas and also would prevent municipalities from requiring a vendor to get the consent or approval of any non-governmental entity or individual.

“I’m here today representing 800,000 union workers in the county of Los Angeles to stand in solidarity with street vendors, and I’m proud to carry on the legacy of the labor movement honoring women and especially women of color in the informal economy as drivers of social change,” said Rosemary Molina, a field director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“We are in a critical moment as a city,” she said. “We have begun to decriminalize and legalize street vending, but we have not gone far enough and it is time to be bold. We must stand against a business veto which would give private business owners governing power over public space.

Pressure to give businesses veto power over street vending on their block has been coming from some business groups, and also raises a number of legal issues. Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso, in a report to the council, recommended that the city attorney be consulted before letting businesses have a say in street vending in their area.

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