Sunday, October 21

Emily Merz: Westwood needs to protect the rights of the Village’s street vendors


While walking around Westwood Village, many UCLA students will pass a couple street vendors selling fruit. Little do students realize that these vendors could face deportation if charged with a misdemeanor for street vending.

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s new executive order, immigrants with minor criminal charges or “perceived charges” can face deportation. In response to the order, the Los Angeles City Council voted to decriminalize street vending, which includes fruit stands and other food stands on the side of the road, thereby protecting LA’s street vendors, many of whom are undocumented, from unjust deportation. While LACC made a step in the right direction, the Westwood Neighborhood Council has hinted that it won’t give permits to street vendors, forcing street vendors out of the Village.

Although the WWNC has not officially decided yet, it must avoid opting out of giving street vendors permits. Not only would doing so shield vendors from deportation, but the extra business makes Westwood’s economy more lively.

[Related: Westwood leaders respond to LA’s plan to decriminalize street vending]

Without permits, street vendors could face fines or citations of up to $1,000 for street vending in areas that have opted out of LACC’s plan. Additionally, the vague language of Trump’s executive order makes perceived crime, like street vending,a justification for deportation.

With recent Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids, charges for street vendors only increase the likelihood they will show up on ICE’s radar, heightening the risk of deportation. Granting permits is necessary to protect street vendors from deportation, a human rights issue. Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said that while he supports decriminalizing street vending in Los Angeles, he does not think it should be permitted in Westwood.

This is hypocritical, however. Westwood cannot say it does not want street vendors to face criminal charges and deportation and then turn them away, hoping that other parts of LA will grant them permits. As a well-off part of LA, Westwood can set a precedent for other parts of the city to protect street vendors from deportation.

There’s a precedent of fighting street vending in Westwood. In 2015, the WWNC voted to opt out of it, according to treasurer Laura Winikow. Since then, Winikow said the council and the Westwood Village Improvement Associationhave decided they do not want street vendors in Westwood and have sought to remove them.

Their main argument is that street vendors in Westwood take business away from brick-and-mortar stores that have to pay taxes on the space.While it is true that street vendors do not have to pay as much for their facilities, they also are notable to serve as many customers as typical businesses and thus do not take away much revenue brick-and-mortar stores. Additionally, there are only a few street vendors in Westwood currently, which are not enough to take revenue away from businesses to the extent that WWNC fears they could.

[Column: Legalizing street vendors would serve community]

Not only do street vendors not detract business from brick-and-mortar stores, they could actually increase sales for these businesses. It is important to keep in mind that businesses in Westwood don’t get very much traffic as is, which is something that the WWNC and Westwood Village Improvement Association want to change. But the solution has been right in front of them: effective permitting for street vendors.

The WWNC should implement a permitting system where it would allow street vendors to operate most days of the week in exchange for a small fee. The council would choose which days of the week it wants street vendors, and allow for more street vendors on those days. The fee would give the city revenue to cover the cost of city inspectors and maintenance of the areas where street vendors operate.

More street vendors selling items for affordable prices would draw even more traffic because they offer something unique that brick-and-mortar businesses cannot: quick service right on the side of the road.

Thomas said only communities with little retail would benefit from street vending while communities with lots of retail would lose revenue to street vendors. However, there are many parts of LA, such as North Hollywood, where street vendors operating on designated days bring in lots of foot traffic to brick-and-mortar businesses that are usually desolate. Similarly, granting permits to street vendors could actually increase business for many stores in Westwood by drawing more people to the area.

When Westwood wants to become a more vibrant community, turning away street vendors, which differ from the typical businesses in the village, is the wrong solution. Embracing street vendors would provide students and tourists with more options when shopping in Westwood. Protecting large chain businesses from street vendor competition will not promote a diverse and vibrant economy in the village. That’s what the WWNC and the Westwood Village Improvement Association have been doing for years, and Westwood still has many vacancies and is not the lively community they want it to be.

If WWNC and Westwood Village Improvement Association want to make Westwood great again, they should first protect the rights of street vendors from alternative views of greatness.

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Opinion staff columnist

Merz is a staff columnist for the Opinion section and a staff representative on the Daily Bruin Editorial Board.

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  • CathodeGlow

    Foreign nationals in our country illegally need to be identified, arrested and deported. No exceptions!

  • Victor Wong

    Street vendors need to be licensed and vetted just like restaurant owners.