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Lawyers Guild Accuses City of Discriminating Against Street Vendors

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

August 23, 2021 -- The National Lawyers Guild is asking Santa Monica to ease enforcement and restrictions the group says discriminate against low-income street vendors.

In a report -- sent to City officials three days before the Council prepares to further crack down on Pier vendors Tuesday night -- the liberal public interest group accuses the City of violating State law.

Since the Council updated the Santa Monica's 30-year-old vending program in April 2019 to comply with California's Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, the City began cracking down on the vendors, according to the report.

"Almost immediately after the ordinance took effect, SMPD and Code Enforcement began a concerted effort to oust vendors from the Pier with practices that have effectively continued the criminalization of street vending," the report said.

The 13-page report -- which is based on monitoring by the Guild, Public Council and the ACLU -- accuses the City of using the following tactics to crack down on street vendors:

  • Charging vendors with multiple administrative violations for one offense,

  • Arresting vendors on or near the Pier and charging them with criminal violations for failing to maintain the beach access way,

  • Using "aggressive parking enforcement and ticketing practices" to prevent large vehicles used by vendors from entering the Pier lot to move their goods and equipment,

  • Illegally confiscating equipment and goods "resulting in considerable losses to the modest earnings of street vendors," and

  • Engaging in "excessive and punitive enforcement practices" that include chasing vendors to cite or arrest them.

The report -- which includes testimony from anonymous vendors -- also accuses the city of pitting street vendors against each other through "rigid municipal policies and enforcement practices."

"Intracommunity clashes between vendors have dramatically increased, due in large part to scarcity of space," according to the report.

"While territorial dynamics have always existed within the vendor community, tensions have escalated considerably in Santa Monica."

The report proposes recommendations to "finally bring Santa Monica street vendors into the fold of the prosperous community that they have indispensably helped to create but struggle to benefit from."

These include creating "a recurring farmers’ market event near the Pier on weekends" and implementing a pilot "special vending district" on the Pier.

Other recommendations call for the following:

  • An immediate moratorium" on confiscations by Code Enforcement officers,

  • Identifying locations approved by the Department of Public Health "for vendors to store their carts at no charge,"

  • Formalizing a system for filing complaints against Code Enforcement personnel,

  • Removing parking restrictions and enforcement practices that target vendors and designating vendor loading and unloading zones, and

  • Directing SMPD officers to "immediately cease issuing misdemeanors" for obstructing beach facility access.

In addition, the report calls for creating a helpline that provides "bilingual assistance with interpreting the reasons, obligations, and appeals process for citations and other literacy-contingent notices."

The Council on Tuesday will consider cracking down on vendors on the Pier who City officials say are "posing risks to public safety and the environment."

The three prohibitions proposed by staff would ban lighting cooking fires, spilling grease into storm drains and overflowing trash bins with waste ("Council to Consider Banning Risky Vendor Activities," August 18, 2021).

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