The City of Los Angeles has agreed to spend up to $150,000 in funds to settle a lawsuit initiated by pushcart vendors claiming their street carts and other belongings were improperly confiscated and destroyed by city officials. The vendors and those supporting them sued the city in 2015 after the Fashion District Business Improvement District and the Los Angeles Police Department had allegedly violated their rights.
Lawmakers have repeatedly vowed to legalize vending, but attempting to sell food or goods on a sidewalk is still currently a violation of the municipal code. Violating vendors are typically made to pay administrative fines, and until 2017, they were also sometimes slapped with criminal charges. But, the destruction of their personal items was over the top, according to supporters.
The National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU of Southern California went up to bat for the pushcart vendors two years ago, with National Lawyers Guild attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker stating at the time, “All of us as civil rights lawyers are appalled at this outrageous and illegal behavior. We want it to stop.”
Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel had also told reporters the seized goods were not being taken as evidence of a crime, but even if they were, the City would have to properly preserve them. She used the hypothetical of a dog defecating on a sidewalk and its owner failing to clean up after it. “You don’t get to seize their dog and destroy it,” Sobel said, adding, “This is the seventh time that the city of Los Angeles has been sued for taking the property of poor people and destroying it without notice…you’d think they’d get the message.”
Aureliano Santiago, a 62-year-old pushcart vendor selling ice cream who involved in the incident, said his belongings held a lot of value for himself and his family. It’s how they are able to pay their bills and get by. “They don’t have value for them. But for me, they have a lot of value,” Santiago said.
Los Angeles City Council voted 11 to 1 last week to approve the settlement terms. Councilman Mitch Englander was the only holdout. Cynthia Anderson-Barker, one of the attorneys representing the vendors, said the case “restores some dignity to a group that has been mistreated by law enforcement.” She added, “Law enforcement now recognizes that street vendors have legal rights to their property.”
Fashion District Business Improvement Interim Executive Director Rena Leddy said that once the agreement was completed, they would be dismissed from the case. Kent Smith, its former Executive Director, had originally reported the crews only dispose of items when county health officials and police enforce illegal vending and claimed the group played a “limited” role.
“We simply dispose of perishable, contaminated and abandoned property that would otherwise be left in our district,” Smith said. He added that he was disappointed that the attorneys were suing the business improvement district, rather than trying to work together. Leddy shared his sentiments. “We are pleased to have been dismissed from the case,” she said.