The Petition to Save L.A.'s Street Food

Photo from jessicalea

When bacon-wrapped hot dogs found their way into the bracket for L.A.'s Iconic Dish, I let out the slightest of fist pumps in front of my computer. While they may not be my favorite dish in the field (that will be left to your imagination, as to not be accused of rigging results), they are the dish that I've no doubt eaten more than is appropriate. So, obviously, they hold a perfectly-grilled place in my heart.

But the problem with the ubiquitous street food is that they're hot! Not spicy or temperature hot, but "street" hot. Like a gun with the serial number filed off, the food's illegal.

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As is the case with most any food cart, grill or stand you see around L.A., bacon-wrapped hot dog carts are being operated in direct opposition to two laws of the land, making it an enterprise that would have Mickey Cohen beaming with pride. The first law states that if any food is to be sold to the public it must undergo a rigorous hoops-jumping-through to make sure it's not full of illness-causing grossness; since food carts are handled in off-the-record fashions, there's no reason or opportunity for them to have their cuisine tested. The second law that the carts fail to obey is a bit more direct: It's illegal to sell food on sidewalks.

But a petition over at Change.org is trying to get rid of these archaic and, frankly, little-enforced laws. Seeing as it's short, here's the petition in full:

Street vending in Los Angeles is part of the history, culture, and economy of our city. Estimates show that there are over 10,000 street vendors in our communities. Food vending offers employment and opportunities for business ownership for thousands of entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs have been struggling for decades as they experience discrimination, attacks on their livelihood, excessive fines, and even arrests. Our city currently criminalizes sidewalk vendors. We believe that these laws are negatively impacting vendors, community members, and the overall L.A. economy.
Legalizing the vending of food for Los Angeles entrepreneurs will advance small business growth, help create vibrant and safer neighborhoods, and expand access to fresh, healthier, and affordable foods.

Pretty straightforward, wouldn't you say? The petition is the work of a group that calls themselves "The Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign" -- again, pretty straightforward -- and their goal is to get local government to begin regulating street vendors through the same permit-based system that's used for brick-and-mortar establishments. While the specifics of the plan haven't been solidified, the broadly-sketched outline has the vendors undergoing inspections and being allowed to operate in return for the price of a permit and finally paying sales taxes. As of this writing, the petition has a mere 809 signatures on it, meaning it needs about 4,200 more in order to be sent to the L.A. City Council for them to take a gander at it.

Which all leads to the big questions: Should you sign? More pointedly: Since you can already get food from stands, why mess with a good situation? I'll answer the first by answering the second: Because it's not really that great of a situation.

Whenever something is run outside of the boundaries of the law, it's left open to being exorbitantly fined or, as we've seen somewhat recently, extorted by gun-toting gangs offering "protection." Like I said, it's a world that Mickey Cohen would be proud of.

On top of that is the reality that the street vendor scene can be run with better results if finally brought under the control of city government. One of the more innovative plans presented by the campaign is to offer lower-priced permits for vendors who carry nutritious items like fruits and vegetables, giving late-night eaters a quality option outside of the standard greasy fare. There's also an argument to be made that regulating the industry could help alleviate the food desert currently ravaging South L.A. Another possible idea to throw onto the pile is the building of open-air hawker centers out of which vendors could safely operate.

The main point to consider is that, as L.A.'s street vendor world is currently set up, none of these options are even on the table, because the entirety of the enterprise is illegal. The first step to making the scene a whole lot better, then, is making it officially legal.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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