L.A. to Enforce Street Food Laws in an Effort to Curb Coronavirus

Vendors had been given a grace period to get their permits; now, that grace period is ending early.

The coronavirus outbreak has changed the ways eateries do business across the country. Assuming they are even able to operate at all, many restaurants — from fast food to finer dining — have switched to takeout and delivery options only. Now, in a major policy swing, COVID-19 has come for Los Angeles street food vendors, too.

On Tuesday, in an attempt to curtail the spread the coronavirus, the L.A. City Council decided to effectively ban most street vendors in their jurisdiction; however, the method the council is taking to get there is a bit unorthodox. Plenty of street food vendors have operated illegally in Los Angeles for a long time. Recently, however, the city has been trying to address the problem by giving vendors more leeway. In 2017, street vending was decriminalized. And from there, the city took steps to get vendors officially permitted — which included a grace period during which these vendors could continue to operate without the required paperwork.

Los Angeles Street Food Coronavirus
Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo / Getty Images

However, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the council apparently determined that the simplest way to keep food vendors off the streets during the COVID-19 outbreak is to end the grace period and start enforcing the law immediately. Reportedly, only 29 street food vendors are properly permitted by the city, so cracking down on unpermitted vendors, it seems, would cover the bulk of the problem. (Consider it a bit of a loophole.)

But the whole thing has a clear quandary: If these street food vendors aren’t legally permitted to begin with, will they be willing to adhere to the government’s request for them to shut down — especially when they may not have other options? As the L.A. Times states, many vendors are in the U.S. illegally and won’t be able to receive any government benefits intended to lessen the virus’s financial impact. “I don’t want to suggest that vendors expect to operate business as usual — we’re all needing to take difficult steps,” Doug Smith, who works at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, told the paper. “But how do we also support them and create opportunities so that folks who are already the most vulnerable don’t slip through the cracks?”

Interestingly, as Eater New York reports, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City had no plans (as of today) to enact a similar street food ban in the Big Apple. And yet, that same story discusses how many NYC street food vendors are shutting down regardless because there’s not enough business to justify setting up shop. It points to an inevitable reality: We can debate over the details of banning street food for now, but as quarantining increases, vendors are unlikely to have many people to serve anyway.

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