For seven years, Balbina Sanchez sold her quesadillas and tostadas in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. But it’s illegal for food vendors to set up shop on the city of L.A.’s streets and sidewalks. After police repeatedly seized her merchandise and equipment, she had enough.

Sanchez moved to a farmers market on Plaza de Mariachis in Boyle Heights three years ago. Since sales are allowed there, police aren’t a problem anymore. But her sales are. The market is only open two days a week for a few hours at a time. On the street, she sold every day. And vendors in the farmers market must pay rent, a cost she didn’t have on the sidewalk.

Sanchez would love to go back to selling on the street, but only if it’s legal. So she is one of scores of street food vendors that have joined an effort to legalize sidewalk food vending throughout Los Angeles. They hope a proposal goes to the City Council by the end of this year for a vote sometime early next year.

“If they legalize it, I will go back to the street because there are advantages,” Sanchez said. “It’s cheaper to operate on the street.”

While the legalization effort has so far been concentrated in Boyle Heights and other Eastside neighborhoods, it would affect hot dog carts on Hollywood Boulevard and food vendors in Venice, San Pedro and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

But legalizing street and sidewalk food vending won’t be easy. The move would require Los Angeles County health inspections and licensing. And previous efforts failed.

In recent years, the city has sponsored the creation of a handful of special vending districts. Also, a new wave of farmers markets has brought food vendors off the street. But that’s not enough, according to Mike Dennis, organizing director for the East Los Angeles Community Corp., a non-profit group that’s leading the current legalization effort.

Dennis said his group got involved three years ago after several sidewalk food vendors got pushed off of Breed Street in Boyle Heights after repeated police sweeps.

“It’s astonishing that with the melting pot culture here and the proliferation of street culture that Los Angeles is one of the only major cities in the nation that doesn’t have a citywide mobile vending policy,” Dennis said.

He added that vendors can’t survive on their farmers market income because they’re not open often enough.


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