For the past five decades, street vendors could be found practically everywhere in Los Angeles. Here in Downtown, vendors hawking food or trinkets can be found throughout most of the various neighborhoods, with a particular foothold in places like the Fashion District and the Historic Core. 

For most of that period, despite their prevalence as a vital and vibrant part of Los Angeles culture, street vending has been prohibited by the city, with vendors — until it was decriminalized in 2016 — facing tickets and fines if caught. That was the norm until last week, when the city officially opened its brand new street vending program.

Under the new program, which went into effect on Jan. 2, street vendors are required to secure a $541 permit from the city of Los Angeles ($291 if purchased with the first six months of the program) and acquire a business tax registration certificate, a California seller’s permit and a L.A. County Public Health Permit. Vendors will also be required to follow a set of rules on where they can vend.

While many would argue that street food vendors should remain illegal, and that street food poses a health, and mobility hazard to the public, just as many people would argue the opposite, championing the economic entrepreneurial potential for street vendors, and the cultural significance for many immigrant communities.

However, the question has been raised whether or not legalization will be met with proper enforcement. It’s a fair skepticism to have.

We’ve already seen where a lack of staff can impact a program that was meant to legalize a previously illicit practice. Underground cannabis businesses continue to undercut legal markets in Los Angeles, with unlicensed dispensaries popping up to get a piece of the profit.

Raids have been conducted and shops shut down, but in previous talks, law enforcement officers and members of the regulated cannabis community have compared cannabis enforcement to a game of Whack-A-Mole, with illicit cannabis business jumping from location to location in between raids and prosecution.

There is a possible opportunity for the same thing to happen with street vending. How will compliance officers be expected to keep up with everyone? The short answer is: they aren’t, and shouldn’t.

Streets LA, the city department tasked with overseeing the program, hired 17 new employees to help administer the new program, but, it would be unrealistic to believe authorities would be able to inspect or enforce every vendor over the 500 square miles that make up Los Angeles. It’s a simple truth.

The more important take away from it all is that 50,000 people will have the opportunity to go legit with their businesses in Los Angeles, with potential tax benefits for the city, and piece of mind for the vendors.

More action should follow, and this page hopes that both the vendors and advocates and the city will be open to a flexible partnership, but right now, vendors who have been attached to Los Angeles for so long, in what was previously a one-sided relationship, now have a chance for equity.