Donald Trump’s Election Inspires City of Los Angeles To Finally Move Forward With Long-Delayed Street Vending Legalization Despite BIDs’ Irrational Opposition. Street Vendors To Pay BIDs An Operations Fee. BIDs To Get Effective Veto Power Over Vending Within Their Boundaries.

Aren't you glad I didn't put a picture of freaking Donald Trump here?!  Not that Joe Buscaino is less ethically challenged, but at least his hair is prettier...
Aren’t you glad I didn’t put a picture of freaking Donald Trump here?! Not that Joe Buscaino is less ethically challenged, but at least his hair is prettier…
I know the headline sounds like a joke, but it’s not. The L.A. Times reported on it this morning, although their article, as is their wont, did not mention business improvement districts at all, and, at least briefly, I thought they were kidding. But this is the Los Angeles City Council we’re talking about, and they were not. Huizar and Price first made a motion to legalize street vending in November 2013, three years ago, and, over the last three years we have been subjected to an endless stream of hysterical, mendacious, probably illegal, lobbying by the BIDs and their ideological allies against the very idea. They even managed to get the Times itself to accept their misbegotten point of view as somehow legitimate. In response to this outpouring of unregistered lobbying behavior,1 the City Council essentially responded by ignoring the issue,2 as you can see from the council file, which has no official City action since October 2015, until yesterday, when Curren Price and Joe Buscaino slapped this little number on the table. It’s a letter, which does indeed refer, albeit obliquely, to Darth Cheeto himself:3
Despite the undeniable division and polarization that exists in our country right now, there is one common characteristic that is shared by Americans of every gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status and political party: our entrepreneurial spirit. We value the notion that everyone deserves the opportunity to start a small business, on a level playing field, with failure or success determined by our own talent, hard work, and perseverance. At an early age. we teach our children concepts like overhead, profit, and loss by encouraging them to sell Girl Scout Cookies, candy bars, and lemonade. Yet, if they sell any of those on a public sidewalk in Los Angeles, they are committing a crime of the same seriousness as drunk driving.

They go on to urge the Council to go ahead and legalize street vending because otherwise Trump has already won, and I can’t say that I disagree:

Recent talks about changes to our nation’s immigration policy, including threats to deport millions of undocumented immigrants – starting with those with criminal records – has created significant fear amongst our immigrant communities. Continuing to impose criminal misdemeanor penalties for vending disproportionately affects, and unfairly punishes, undocumented immigrants, and could potentially put them at risk for deportation.

Furthermore, Buscaino and Price claim that:

The core question the Council must answer is whether sidewalk vending poses a threat so grave to public health, safety, and welfare that it is worth continuing to expend limited police and prosecutorial resources enforcing a citywide ban.

Which is also reasonable, but read a little deeper in the letter and you can see the fingerprints of the BIDs all over the damned thing. And, as usual, their input makes a lie of the whole thing. The BIDs’ version, which is the version that will be passed, is going to require the same amount if not more of our “limited police and prosecutorial resources” to enforce.

First of all, Buscaino and Price tell their colleagues not to worry, when they talk about legalizing street vending, they’re not actually talking about legalizing it everywhere. After all, friends,

Los Angeles is a very diverse city, spread out across 469 square miles. While it is important to establish baseline rules and regulations, we recognize a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for every community, and some neighborhoods may need to establish a separate set of rules that govern hours of operation, number of vendors allowed per block, types of items allowed to be sold, or prohibition of all vending activity. The City should establish a process for creating special vending zones, and we propose this process be initiated by either the City Council, Board of Public Works, or Petition (with signatures from 20% of property owners or businesses in the proposed district).

Some of this language may look familiar. Well, note that they’re explicitly not asking the freaking residents in the neighborhood what they think. This is as decreed by jittery little psychopath Carol Massie, Hollywood McDonald’s queen and hater of all things democratic. Only, says Carol Massie, the property owners should decide. And she’s won that point here.

Furthermore, some of Buscaino’s and Price’s language is essentially identical to material written by Darth Becky herself, Ms. Kerry Morrison, last year at the height of the BID-induced hysteria against street vending:

We would ask that communities such as ours would be able to opt out for, um, or that there would be a way to opt in, but that this should not be something that applies to the entire city. It’s a very diverse city with many diverse neighborhoods and Hollywood simply cannot support this kind of activity on its sidewalks. Thank you.

And just in case the Council misses the point, Price and Buscaino continue channeling Ms. Morrison in their letter:

No-vending districts, and districts with more restrictive rules than the citywide standards, should be based on legitimate public health, safety, and welfare concerns that are unique to specific neighborhoods with special circumstances. For example, the combination of tourists taking photos of stars on the Hollywood Walk ot Fame, costumed performers in front of the Chinese Theater amid a high volume of pedestrian traffic may necessitate a no vending, or restricted vending zone on Hollywood Boulevard. Conversely, special districts that allow for expanded hours of operation or a greater number of vendors per block should only be established if it can be demonstrated that it will not negativeiy impact public health, safety, and welfare.

I will eat my “Make America Great Again” hat if Ms. Kerry Morrison herself didn’t write that passage.4 They actually put Kerry Morrison’s sidewalk in their letter. This is not just disproportionate, it’s disproportionately disproportionate. But not unexpected.

Now, what else? Oh yeah, the BIDs are still whining about the fact that they’re spending their own money on stuff, even though no one asked them to and a lot of people wish they’d just go away. So they’re going to make these poverty-stricken sidewalk vendors pay BIDs for the privilege of selling ice cream in their territory. Think I’m kidding? I’m not:

The City’s 43 BIDs serve as invaluable partners that help bridge the gap when city services fail to ensure a safe, clean and enjoyable pedestrian experience by providing supplemental services such as pressure washing, trash & litter pickup, and security. This is paid for by an additional tax on the property or business owner, so it is reasonable that vendors who benefit from those services should be required to contribute to the cost of BID operations through an additional fee to be included as part of the annual vending permit fee.

So what’s going to happen? Well, they are evidently serious about decriminalizing street vending, as they acknowledge with yet another nod to Trump:

We believe the Council has a moral imperative to decriminalize vending by removing all misdemeanor penalties, and instead establish a graduated penalty structure that includes fines, confiscation of property, and permit suspension or revocation.

We propose the Bureau of Street Services, Investigation & Enforcement Division be the designated enforcement agency, and be responsible for responding to complaints of unpermitted vending or violations of placement rules or hours of operation. The LAPD will retain its enforcement authority, and is authorized to enforce when violations are observed.

And in Hollywood, I’m predicting, that will mean business as usual, except without the handcuffs. That is, the LAPD will respond to complaints, the BID Patrol will complain incessantly, and there will continue to be a huge strain on the agencies responsible for enforcement. Also, the HPOA has been working with the City Attorney to get the BID Patrol deputized or otherwise certified to do administrative code enforcement, which means that at some point they could well become able to write tickets as well as to handcuff people. There’s no question that the proposed system is way, way better than what we have now, but because of the weird incestuous relationship between the BID and the City it’s not actually possible to effectively foresee what’s going to happen.

And, in closing, our darling councildudes fail, yet again, to keep their stories straight. Say they:

Sidewalks comprise our most abundant and accessible public space, and providing sate, legal and regulated vending can help enhance the vibrancy and atmosphere of a neighborhood. It is no surprise that sidewalk vending exists in some form in almost every theme park and every shopping mall in the country, including Disneyland and the Grove, and that some of the most visited cities in the world are also home to the best street food in the world. Tokyo, New Orleans, istanbul, Hong Kong, Rome, New York, and Rio de Janeiro, are all synonymous with street food vendors and Los Angeles has joined that list.

The City of Angels is now a food destination recognized across the globe – a diverse home to Korean BBQ tacos, gourmet donuts, hipster cold brew, and fried chicken and waffles. The diversity of our food represents the diversity of our people. We are are Angelenos, proud, bold, unique and the embodiment of the American Dream. Supporting our fellow Angelenos in their pursuit of that dream is an ideal that we as a City should rally behind and unequivocally support. Swiftly moving forward to adopt this policy gives us as a City the opportunity to stand up to the overt racism that has plagued our national discourse as of late. It is our hope that this framework to legalize street vending in Los Angeles allows us to embrace the best Los Angeles culture has to offer in a safe, accessible, and productive manner.

Forget about the fact that they actually mentioned neither Mexican nor Chinese food in their list, the two cuisines in which Los Angeles, alone among world cities, actually matches the quality and inventiveness in the native countries of those cuisines. Forget about the fact that they mentioned freaking hipsters and their goddamned maple bacon cro-magno-ffins or whatever are called those sugary greasy belly bombsies they’re selling out of by 10 a.m. at the Grand Central Market anymore or lining up for in front of the Townhouse Bar on Windward Avenue for 25 minutes in odd-numbered weeks. Forget about all that, and just notice that, first, they prioritize street food in theme parks over street food on streets, never noting the irony that they used this City’s second most popular theme park, Hollywood Boulevard, as an example of where they don’t want street food. Of course, this is because they were quoting Kerry Morrison rather than what passes for their own perceptions, and it’s hard to keep all those competing voices straight.

And second, they frame the legalization of street food as a way to stand up to what they call “the overt racism that has plagued our national discourse as of late.” And perhaps it is, but it’s a singularly harmless, facile way to do it. It doesn’t hit them in their campaign coffers. Not like standing up to the covert racism that has plagued our municipal discourse not just as of late but for more than 150 years now. But standing up to that covert white supremacy isn’t easy. It isn’t facile. It will hit them right in their campaign funds, where they can least stand it. So yay legal bacon dogs and stuff! But there’s nothing new here, nothing brave, nothing that we need to set this City on a fresh course rather than just patching up yet another problem.5

Image of Joe “Seabreeze” Buscaino is via Wikimedia and is released under their usual generous terms.

  1. I have multiple complaints pending with the Ethics Commission on this, more news at some point, although probably not soon.
  2. Which is how they deal with issues that they’re divided on. God forbid they bring something up for a vote that they’re not unanimously in favor of, and this just turned out to be too divisive… until Trump!
  3. H/T El Maestro, Damon Young.
  4. This is a trick, friends. I do not have such a hat. Therefore it costs me nothing to promise to eat it.
  5. Which I don’t dismiss as useless. Of course it’s good. It’s just not the end of Donald Trump, as they’d have us believe.

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