Economic Liberty
Matt Powers · December 22, 2016

Last week, sidewalk vendors held a rally outside Los Angeles City Hall to demand their profession be legalized. Los Angeles is one of the last major cities in the country that outlaws sidewalk vending, criminalizing the simple act of selling a hot dog on a sidewalk. However, following the recent election, council members are moving to legalize the industry, and even the Los Angeles Times supported the proposal.

The legalization of sidewalk vending in Los Angeles is a step in the right direction; but the city’s proposed ordinance needs some improvements. The biggest obstacle created by the ordinance is a requirement that vendors obtain permission from adjacent businesses to set up shop for the day. While a bar might not like the competition from a new restaurant opening up next door but it wouldn’t have the right to shut the restaurant down. Similarly, that bar may not like a food cart parking in front of it, but it should not be able to banish that food cart from the neighborhood. Plus, while brick-and-mortar businesses might fear the competition of mobile vendors, IJ’s report Seven Myths and Realities About Food Trucks found some evidence that mobile vendors can actually attract new customers and increase revenue for brick-and-mortar businesses.

Another impediment in the ordinance for sidewalk vendors would only allow two vendors per block. This rule would limit opportunities for vendors to serve their customers, and food options in the community.

Jeri Wingo is one of thousands of vendors across the city that risk getting in trouble and would benefit from legalizing sidewalk vending. She designs and sells custom buttons designed to make political or cultural statements like her various Martin Luther King Jr. buttons. Then she sets up a table and canopy at Leimert Plaza Park. As Wingo said, “I would vend more often, but it’s so much trouble. I set up somewhere and police come and shut me down. Business owners run me off because they don’t want me in front of their building.” Legalizing sidewalk vending would greatly improve the situation for hard-working entrepreneurs like Wingo.

Not only would entrepreneurs like Wingo benefit from legalizing sidewalk vending, but the city would benefit as well. According to Sidewalk Stimulus, a report on vending released by the Economic Roundtable, Los Angeles is home to an estimated 50,000 sidewalk vendors that help power a $504 million vending industry. In addition to giving these vendors gainful employment, the vendors’ sales sustain an additional 5,200 jobs in Los Angeles in secondary effects to spending by these vendors and their households. Legalizing sidewalk vending would certainly increase these numbers, and it would generate tens of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue.

The legalization of street vending in LA would be a major step in the right direction, but the rules being imposed on vendors would only continue to hinder their industry. Rather than putting burdensome requirements on vendors, Los Angeles should welcome these small businesses that contribute to the city’s economy and create jobs.

To learn more about Jeri Wingo and the impact of mobile vendors like her, check out IJ’s report Upwardly Mobile.