Inclusive Action for the City is a nonprofit, community development organization with a mission to build strong local economies that also uplift low-income business owners through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. It is among the groups that took the lead in supporting and promoting the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign. The organization also sponsors a bill regulating street vendors throughout California.

LASVC is part of the city’s efforts to create a permit system for street vendors. Inclusive Action for the City leads the campaign by helping low-income entrepreneurs succeed and continues its role as the leader of the campaign. The organization focuses on advocating for the equitable implementation of new vending rules in LA and throughout California. 

LASVC resulted in the legalization of street vending in 2018, and a statewide policy that decriminalized street vending throughout California. Senate Bill 946 intends to promote entrepreneurship and support immigrant and low-income communities. It also increases access to culturally significant food and merchandise.

At Inclusive Action for the City, Rudy Espinoza serves as the Executive Director and advocates for neighborhoods, entrepreneurship, and financial empowerment. The majority of Espinoza’s work involves identifying profitable investment opportunities within low-income communities, building private/nonprofit partnerships, and training working-class communities to participate in neighborhood revitalization. 

Espinoza, who holds a master’s degree in Urban Planning as well as a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from UCLA, said that a key goal of their organization is to advocate on behalf of low-income urban communities. The group currently works with other coalition organizations that support small businesses. One of these organizations is Community Power Collective, which helps with housing in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, and the greater Los Angeles area. Another organization is Public Counsel, which offers legal services to low-income communities of color in LA.

The movement to decriminalize street vending in LA is important because “these are hard-working people that have been here for a very long time and they are a great matter in our communities; they create their jobs,” Espinoza said.

On September 17, 2018, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 946, also known as the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act. This law ended the criminalization of sidewalk vending in California and allows local authorities to adopt non-criminal laws to protect public health, safety, and welfare, according to the Los Angeles County Consumer and Business Affairs agency. Additionally, street vendors are protected against exposure to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Vendors must comply with a city’s laws when vending in that city and the County’s laws when vending in unincorporated areas. Vendors must also comply with state laws. For example, food vendors must comply with the California Retail Food Code, which requires food vendors to obtain permits from the Department of Public Health. Learn more about Los Angeles County’s Mobile Food Vending Investigation and Compliance Program here

“Not having the right paperwork for street vending is illegal and can lead to a fine,” Espinoza said. “Police officers don’t usually regulate the health department.”  As a result of the sidewalk vending law, only administrative fines for violations are allowed.

Section 51038 penalizes local authorities that violate their sidewalk vending programs only with a fine not exceeding $100 for a first violation; $200 for a second violation within one year of the first violation and $500 for each additional violation within one year of the first violation. Vendors who fail to obtain a sidewalk vending permit from a local authority may be sentenced to the following penalties an administrative fine not exceeding $200 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation within one year of the first violation and $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of the first violation, according to the California Legislative Information.

The health department is responsible for enforcing street vending programs. When it comes to health issues, the Public Health Department has the authority to give permits and also monitor compliance. Most of the time, police officers are called to support the health department and the people who monitor these compliances.

“Without permits, it’s illegal to sell anything on the streets. The folks that designed the systems have not centered the needs of street vendors,” Espinoza said.

From 2010 to 2019, reported crimes against street vendors in the city of Los Angeles rose nearly 337%, going from 38 to 166 incidents. Nearly 45% of all crimes against street vendors from 2010 to 2019 were robberies, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Approximately 28% of the crimes during that period involved some type of assault. 

“I believe that street vendors are being attacked because there is a lack of public programs and policies that integrate them into our formal economy. If we create new initiatives and pass policies that support them as entrepreneurs, I believe attacks will go down,” Espinoza said.

Private citizens aren’t the only ones attacking street vendors. As a result of outdated laws, armed enforcement, and exclusion from business support, street vendors are also experiencing violence. By continuing to perceive street vendors as “informal” or operating “illegally,” passersby will continue to target them. Last year, LAist reported that many street vendors struggled with the complicated and expensive permit process. Although the legalization of street vendors has passed, it has also created additional barriers for vendors who are low-income or want to establish a business.

“I don’t think [street vendors getting robbed from locals] is a hate crime. I think a hate crime means there is a motive that they hate that particular person. In my opinion, a hate crime in this country is like a level of law enforcement. You’re basically seeing that the black person that constables to black or brown hate Mexicans or Latinos and that’s why they are attacking street vendors.” said Espinoza. “I haven’t seen any evidence of that. I worry about calling it a hate crime because that means we’re going to police black and Latinos more. So I don’t know if it’s a hate crime because I haven’t seen someone saying I’m robbing vendors because I hate them.”

CALÓ NEWS considers any attack, physical, written, or otherwise a possible hate crime.

Street vendor Juan Torres has worked as a vendor in Los Angeles for 15 years and has never experienced an attack. “I have been working as a street vendor for a very long time and sometimes it can get scary at night,” Torres said. “I do carry pepper spray for protection because you never know, it’s better to be prepared.”

The first challenge that many vendors face is the need for a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This is required to initiate the permit process for both street food vendors and merchandise vendors. Less than half of the vendors have either an SSN or an ITIN, as found through the survey, according to the Inclusive Action for the City report. The ITIN application process is long and can last up to seven weeks to 11 weeks.

The second challenge street vendors face is obtaining a Los Angeles County health permit. To obtain a county health permit, food vendors must possess and pay the following according to IC, cart blueprints and proposed menu $796 fee, food manager’s certification around $150 for the course and exam, commissary lease cost varies, can be hundreds of dollars per month, the final inspection of cart and application $393 – $772 fee. 

“I currently don’t have a permit. I would like to get one, but they are too expensive and I also don’t have time to wait around. I have to work,” Torres said.
The DPH will not issue a permit to street vendors unless vendors can certify the cart meets food-safety guidelines. A health department-compliant cart can cost about $15,000 in total costs. Most street vendors rely solely on their income to pay bills and feed their families. Although these requirements are necessary, these are hidden systematic barriers for street vendors. Espinoza said that a street vendor will usually spend about $30,000 on permits and to operate the mobile cart.

This Table shows the results of the survey conducted by IAC. The survey represents a total of 2,774 street vendors. 1,589 were food vendors, and 1,185 were merchandise vendors.

Courtesy, City of Los Angeles

SB-972 is one of the economic inclusion policies that can help to mitigate the unfair challenges faced by food entrepreneurs. “This bill, co-designed and led by street vendors, will modernize the retail food code by streamlining the permitting process and providing food vendors with accessible alternative facilities to traditional commissaries,” Espinoza said.

Even though street vendors have faced challenges, LASVC has worked hard with them to overcome some of those obstacles. 

Just last year LASVC succeeded in temporarily reducing the cost of street vending permits in the city of LA from over $541 to $291 per year. They designed a prototype hot food vending cart for street vendors, which is approved by the DPH. They also advocated for the creation of a state-wide $50 million small business emergency grant program exclusively for microentrepreneurs, and successfully advocated for changes to the California Retail Food Code. As part of Inclusive Action for the City partnerships, the organization will continue to ensure that street vendors have access to permits and certified equipment, especially during the global health pandemic.

Despite the obstacles and discrimination, street vendors will not stop walking the streets, brightening people’s faces, and contributing to the economy.

Amairani Hernandez

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...