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L.A. County may crack down on illegal street vendors

April 08, 2013|By Jason Song

Joey Bebolla spread his wares on the sidewalk of Beach Street in Watts: some plastic aquarium plants, a few used tape players, an ancient BlackBerry. A woman walks by and picks up an old toy cash register, which Bebolla had cleaned up after finding it in the trash. "Give me $2," he said. "Fine, give me $1."

The woman passed on the quick discount, and put the item down. "Selling used to be embarrassing, at first," Bebolla said. "But I had to do it to survive, and now I'm used to it."

Hawking fruit at freeway offramps or old clothing on driveways and lawns is a Los Angeles tradition.

PHOTOS: Unlicensed street vending

But a proliferation of unlicensed street vending, and people illegally selling used items out of their homes or at informal open-air markets such as the one on Beach Street, are becoming neighborhood nuisances -- and worse, according to some officials.

"Both activities are a blight on communities," according to a motion scheduled to be considered by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that could crack down on the activities.

Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the Watts area and wrote the motion, says illegal vending is hurting local businesses and driving down sales tax collections. He's calling for county planners and law enforcement officials to explore strengthening codes to control the unlicensed vendors and resellers, some of whom set up more or less continuous operations, he says.

The intent is to help out legitimate businesses and concerned residents, not to stop homeowners from having occasional weekend yard sales, said Nedra Jenkins, Ridley-Thomas' chief deputy.

"What's happening is people are setting up on the sidewalk in front of legal businesses, and people end up shopping there instead of going to the legal business," Jenkins said. "There has to be a balance."

Jenkins didn't know whether complaints had increased, and the county's zoning enforcement office was unable last week to provide a count of calls about illegal vending.

But some residents say that the problem has grown.

Craig McClendon has lived in the 900 block of Beach Street since the 1970s, just north of Bebolla's makeshift stall. Although people have always sold goods in the area, "it's never been this bad," the former truck driver said.

On weekends, shoppers take up all the street parking, McClendon said. Unemployed himself, he said he understands that people are struggling to make ends meet in a tough economy. But "this is a residential neighborhood," he added.


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