LA street vendors describe challenges to acquiring permits after their food is thrown out

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Street vendors watched and recorded as Los Angeles County Public Health employees threw away their food merchandise Saturday afternoon because they did not have the correct permits.

"They should have at least said, 'Excuse me, you can't sell your products here,' but no, they grabbed things and tossed them, and what can we do?" said street vendor Dina.

The single mother sells empanadas at the Guatemalan food market in Westlake and says they were just starting a day's work when this happened.

"We're not stealing the product we sell. We go to the market, buy it and bring the product to sell it," she said.

Dina pointed out most of the workers are women providing for their families. Julio, another street vendor, said the employees did not want to identify themselves.

They left in an L.A. County Public Health Department vehicle.

While street vending is legal in the city of Los Angeles, the reality is more complicated.

"If you're a food vendor, you still have to go through this very rigorous process of getting a county health permit, which is really hard and actually nearly impossible for food street vendors," said Carla De Paz with the Community Power Collective.

De Paz said start-up costs can be up to $40,000.

"And we're talking about people who are making maybe $10,000 a year, you know, 10 to $20,000 a year," she said, adding the cart that's required is expensive and simply doesn't work.

"A cart that's 700 pounds and that's 10 feet wide, it's not going to work and the city actually restricts the amount of space you can use," she said.

De Paz said L.A. County is working with a coalition of organizations - including Community Power Collective - on finding solutions to make the process more feasible while adhering to state requirements. In the interim, they're asking city and county leaders to issue a moratorium on enforcement.

"Many of them who are undocumented, many of them who feel a lot of fear when they are approached by law enforcement in this way. There is no need for LAPD or the sheriff's to be involved," De Paz said.

The L.A. County Public Health Department told Eyewitness News the department received a complaint from a caller related to unpermitted food sales. The statement reads in part:

"If an inspector determines that a mobile food vendor's vehicle or cart does not have the necessary equipment, such as appropriate refrigeration, a hand washing and dual compartment sink or a valid public health permit. Inspectors are authorized by the California Retail Food Code to confiscate the vendor's food as it is presumed to be unsanitary and not safe for public consumption. Many times health inspectors have been threatened or intimidated while inspecting unpermitted food vendors. Accordingly, from an employee safety perspective it is necessary for law enforcement officer to accompany them on pre-planned sweeps of areas known for unpermitted food vending.

Public Health is currently working with the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA) and a non-profit organization on a pilot program in response to a Los Angeles County Board motion. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors directed DCBA to collaborate with relevant departments to identify options and recommendations for a sidewalk vending regulatory program applicable to the unincorporated County areas. Public Health is collaborating with cart designers and manufacturers as they develop plans and construct model food carts that meet the requirements of the California Retail Food Code with the goal of designing low-cost food vending carts."



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