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Street Vending Is Now Decriminalized In All Of California, Easing Fears of Jail Time And Deportation

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Street vending is as much a part of California as the sunshine and palm trees. Yet, for decades it’s been illegal for sidewalk vendors to operate in the state. Taco carts and fruit stands are mainstays on street corners throughout California yet vendors, many being immigrants and undocumented, have faced fines and misdemeanor criminal charges. Increasingly in the Trump era many have also faced the threat of deportation. But all that has changed as California Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill SB946 to make it easier for sidewalk vendors to operate legally.

California street vendors and their advocates have scored a resounding victory legalizing their work.

Rudy Espinoza, an activist who has worked for years to legalize street vending in Los Angeles, says the newly signed bill opens up socioeconomic opportunities for thousands of vendors across the state. More importantly vendors will be able to sell without fears of misdemeanors or jail time which they previously faced.

“It was hard to find elected officials standing for undocumented people and it became a bigger deal under President Trump,” Espinoza says. “If you got a misdemeanor that would have been enough grounds to get deported if undocumented.”

Espinoza says vendors can still get citations and will still have to get permits and if the city doesn’t have a permit system they need to establish one. Under the act, cities can no longer ban vending in parks, determine where a vendor operates or require vendors to ask permission of nearby businesses — barring any health, safety or welfare issues. The bill is set to go into effect in all California cities beginning Jan. 1.

While there is no database to track how many street vendors there are in California, city officials estimate there are 50,000 vendors in Los Angeles county alone.

Earlier this year, The Los Angeles City Council voted to decriminalize street vending in the city which helped expedite the signing of the bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Espinoza, who worked with the The LA Street Vendor Campaign, applauded the governor’s move congratulating “the thousands of vendors leading this movement.” He says the bill gives people a fair opportunity to start their businesses and be part of the growing food economy in the state.

“It starts with getting a permit then a cart and then hopefully one day they open a brick and mortar store. This bill will go far in helping many vendors dreams come true.” Espinoza says.

What took so long to make street vending legal? Making people understand it’s more than just selling food on streets but a way to make an honest living.

Doug Smith, an attorney at the Public Counsel Law Center, helped craft the legislation and says that the biggest road block was getting people to understand what street vending is about.

“Some people that may not see vending in their own communities were a little skeptical at first but in reality these vendors are just small businesses,” Smith said. “One of the key strategies was to keep reminding people that these are entrepreneurs that have dreams of making their carts into a store one day.”

Smith has worked with The LA Street Vendor Campaign for six years, and says once LA legalized vending his team quickly realized these issues weren’t only central to LA. When working on the bill, he wanted state officials to see that for some people street vending is a full time job.

For undocumented street vendors, the bill legitimizes their business in the eye of the consumer and in written law.

The bill makes three key points that will greatly benefit street vendors that may be undocumented. First, with street vending decriminalized it means that misdemeanors will no longer be given out which prevented some immigrants from applying for certain citizenship programs. Second, it provides retroactive release which means the state shouldn’t have criminalized and charges from past should be dismissed. Lastly, it establishes standards creating a legal permit system that local communities can regulate vending but not off grounds of discrimination.

Many are celebrating this moment for vendors who have sought to legitimize their  business for decades.

Smith says he hopes that other states will look at California and begin legalizing street vending in their states. Street vending creates millions of dollars in revenue not only to local communities but helps create foot traffic in city streets and other small businesses. “Its the first rung for many to move into the economic ladder and this is a way to help keep a roof over their head.” Smith says. “It’s a way to make a living and help their local economy as well.”

More importantly Smith says, street vendors won’t be looked at as blights or conducting illegal work but as entrepreneurs in their own communities making a living.

“Street vendors offer culturally significant items in their community that no one else can provide.” Smith says. “They are part of the fabric of their local communities and with this bill their presence is validated.”


READ: Los Angeles Businesses Will No Longer Be Able To Veto Street Vendors From Setting Up Their Stands On The Sidewalks

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