Illegally operating sidewalk vendors who have clashed with police and health department officials moved a step toward working within the law Tuesday after a first-of-its kind meeting among the groups in Panorama City.
Many of the 40 vendors who attended the meeting in a union hall on Blythe Street had questions about the legality of their actions--including proper preparation of food, police enforcement and buying approved pushcarts, which they use to sell cooked corn and other foods.
Several vendors had been cited in the past by Los Angeles police and had their equipment confiscated by the county Department of Health Services. But this time the two agencies listened and answered questions.
Street vending is illegal in the city of Los Angeles and preparing food at home for sale to the public violates health and safety codes.
Although the City Council is expected to vote soon on a proposed ordinance that would legalize vending in special districts within the city, officials said there are steps that can be taken now to alleviate problems.
Environmental health specialist Mary Giannini told vendors that food must be prepared within a restaurant-style setting with proper health permits. Police Officer Chuck Leber said that vendors should avoid activities that elicit complaints about trash, noise and competition with legal businesses.
Vendors' concerns also touched on cultural differences. For example, the vending ordinance as now written would not allow customers to put their own condiments--generally cheese and chiles--on corn, even though hot dogs are sold with mustard and ketchup available.
"This is a problem for everybody on the street," said Manuel Vasquez Luna, 35, a Pacoima corn vendor. He said that, as Americans do with hot dogs, it is a Mexican tradition for a customer to choose his own condiments to go with the corn, rather than have it prepackaged, as the law would require.
Giannini said it would require a change in state law to allow corn to be sold like hot dogs.