Street food is one of the signature pleasures of the great cosmopolitan cities of the world. Practically alone amongst its peers, though, Los Angeles forbids vending on its public rights of way. This is because there are really no bounds to the willingness of the economic elites of this city to prohibit anything that normal human beings enjoy if by doing so they can stick a dagger in the neck of the poor. They will certainly destroy the village in order to save it.
Case in point: the City Council recently began to discuss legalizing street vending in Los Angeles. Sane people everywhere rejoice at this attempt to allow civilization to flourish and also bring an estimated half-billion dollars worth of economic activity out of the shadows and onto the bottom line. There’s a hot dog in the public manger, though.
The BIDs and their minions have leapt into coordinated action! They are in a cyclonic tizzy, explaining fast and loud how the unintended consequences of the sane and harmless choice to legalize street vending will ruin everything. It will e.g. impoverish small businesses, encourage crime, cause the unauthorized commercial use of public trash cans, cause the unauthorized non-use of public trash cans, provide increased funding to criminal street gangs, encourage armed robbery, cause diseases, and even more stuff too weird to list here. Think we’re exaggerating? Read on!
According to Kerry Morrison, writing in the HED BID’s Winter 2014 newsletter, “Generally, the BID would prefer to see Hollywood exempt from any street vending law; these laws are difficult to enforce and there are many bricks and mortar businesses in Hollywood that pay taxes and contribute to the BID that deserve to capture the business.” Now, that’s a vague enough statement, although her use of the word “capture” is revealing, suggesting as it does the perfidious economic phenomenon of regulatory capture.
Non-street-vendors have legally maintained monopoly access to a fixed pool of customers. This monopoly access is enforced on the BID’s behalf by city agencies targeting street vendors, making it a form of regulatory capture. It is this that the BID is wheedling the city to maintain. Furthermore, Kerry’s argument that businesses which “contribute to the BID” somehow “deserve to capture the business” shows the antisocial and yet fundamentally socialist nature of this special pleading.
In this country, and a fortiori in this city, the businesses that actually deserve to get business are the ones who actually do get business, not the ones who use government power like a weapon to freeze out their competition. It’s not any kind of radical idea that competition among businesses for customers is the only possible way to allocate scarce resources, like public space, efficiently and that this benefits everyone. Even the owners of noncompetitive businesses rejected by the market benefit in the long run.1
This, at least, is the non-Commie-Pinko-Socialist take on the matter, even if the Hollywood BIDs don’t like it. The Los Angeles city government is certainly not meant to use its power and tax-supported resources to prop up failing, nonviable businesses, no matter how “deserving” they might be in the eyes of special interests like Kerry Morrison and the BIDs for which she flacks. This little newsletter piece is only one part of the story, though.
See, whenever the Council does anything, the Los Angeles City Clerk opens a file on it, and we all get to read everything related to the project, including public comments and so on. The file for the street vending thing is here, and the documents are fascinating, revealing, and horrifying, like sailing a glass-bottomed boat over the raging psychopathic id of the economic elite of Los Angeles.
In particular, see here for a spool of letters from various organizations and individuals regarding legalization. The first thing that one sees is that opponents of this policy are mass plagiarists. Their letters clearly stem from an unacknowledged common source2 that directs these whinging importunate advocates to plead for their domains to be allowed to opt out of any vendor legalization. They have so many reasons, just read them. Lack of bathrooms, too much trash, and so on. Especially notable is the repeated complaint about food trucks “pilfering” the clientele of restaurants. It’s absolutely, shamelessly communistic.
Kerry’s letter even asks “how will taxes and permits be enforced, especially given that this is a cash-only business?” This as a strike against street vendors is especially ironic coming from the HPOA Executive Directrix given that newly elected HPOA president Monica Yamada represents supervillain real estate company CIM Group, for some of whose properties LA County Assessor John Noguez was bribed to falsify assessments and subsequently arrested and jailed. How’s that for being hard to collect taxes from, eh?
If being hard to collect taxes from is a good reason to keep business out of Hollywood, by all means, let’s get rid of CIM Group along with the hot dog carts, shall we? Kerry, have you explained your position on this to President Monica? We’d like to have been a microphone in the crown molding for that conversation. And it’s going to be hard to “enforce permits” for hot dog carts? What about enforcing permits for CIM Group, who had to be hauled into court and told forcibly by a judge that it’s not OK to send wreckers out at midnight to violate permitted conditions on construction. As much as we support legalized street vending in Hollywood, we think on balance that the neighborhood would be better off without either vendors or CIM Group. We thus invite the HPOA to take a consistent position on this matter one way or the other.
And just for kicks, even though it’s off our beat, we’d like to recommend these hysterical little white-people-problem cris de cœur, one from Raquel K. Beard of one of the thuggish downtown BIDs and another from Raquel and finally one from self-proclaimed downtown resident Dawn Davis. In the first we have Raquel worrying that people won’t use the BID-bought trash cans since they already don’t. In the second, Raquel says that legalizing street vending is “likening to weighing sins,” and we have a prize for you if you can explain what in hell that’s supposed to mean.
Finally, the incomparable Dawn Davis, proud graduate of something called ” the 11-week LAPD Central Division Citizens Academy,” informs one and all, seemingly with a straight face, that “more often than not, money the vendors make is (1) supporting gang activities or (2) the vendors are working as indentured servants to pay their ‘coyotes’ – payment of which may never be made in full. These entities can surely afford to pay to ‘license’ their businesses but, legal or not, this is not about ‘business’ but is about exploiting human beings for profit.” Take her seriously, dear readers, even though she’s got a laughably heavy hand with the scare quotes. You thought this was all about being able to buy bacon dogs legally in the park, but it’s really about HUMAN TRAFFICKING!!! We’re surprised she didn’t tell us to think of the children, but probably she’s saving that one up for when an actual law is before the council.
- As much as we’d like to explain basic economic theory at great length here, we think it’s best to stick to the subject. If you’re not inclined to read a textbook, you might try Steven Landsburg’s lovely piece of popular economics The Armchair Economist.
- We know we’re hard on Kerry Morrison in this blog, but we will admit that of all these plagiarized opposing letters by corporate minions and lackeys, hers is by far the least plagiarized and most literate. We have a great deal of local pride, and we will admit that we felt a little twinge of it when we realized that, in the person of Kerry Morrison, Hollywood is blessed with by far the least stupid and most cultured of all these no-count shills and flacks.
Image of destructive public economic activity in Manhattan by Leonard J. DeFrancisci and licensed under the good old CC BY-SA 3.0. It came to us via Wikimedia. Image of Hollywood BID guy with the best of intentions is in the public domain as it is manifestly the work of an employee of the federal government in the course of what he perceived to be his duties at the time, although by the time of his court martial he may have changed his mind. We got it, as usual, from the Wikimedia Foundation. Images of Kerry Morrison and Monica Yamada are ©2014 MichaelKohlhaas.org. Image of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao has just got to be in the public domain and, if it’s not, we look forward to seeing who’s got the nerve to send a DMCA takedown for it. Come at us, tovarichii!