Sidewalk vendors sue City of LA for access to busiest areas


Sidewalk vendors rally in front of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles ahead of a hearing on their lawsuit against the City of LA. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW.

A judge allowed a lawsuit by street vendors, who sell food such as tacos, fruit, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs from sidewalk carts all over Los Angeles, to move forward in court Thursday. In December, two vendors and three community groups sued the City of Los Angeles to allow sidewalk sales in eight no-vending zones that include some of the city’s busiest pedestrian areas, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

LA’s city attorney says the no-vending zones are necessary to keep pedestrians and vendors safe.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied the City of LA’s request that the lawsuit be thrown out, saying that the city did not provide enough data to back up its argument. Both sides will now begin preparing their cases ahead of the next hearing on June 22.

Why is this important enough for the sidewalk vendors to file a lawsuit about it?

More foot traffic means more business for food vendors. These no-vending zones include some of the busiest spots in the city like Dodgers’ Stadium after a baseball game, LA Live after a concert, or the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

This lawsuit is just the latest part of an organized push by immigrant entrepreneurs to make sidewalk vending legal. In 2018 they fought a winning battle to legalize street vending statewide. Then vendors successfully lobbied Sacramento in 2022 to make licensing more streamlined and accessible. And now this lawsuit asks to end bans in these eight zones within the City of LA.

What is the City of LA’s position on this? 

The city attorney’s office declined KCRW’s request for comment on this case because the litigation is ongoing, but in court filings they argue that the original decision to prohibit vending in these areas was not done “carelessly or without evidence.” The city ordinance states that sidewalk vending within 500 feet of popular tourist areas or around sport and concert venues after events “impacts pedestrian, vendor and tourist safety” because, it says, pedestrians end up walking in the street to keep moving.

Katie McKeon, an attorney with Public Counsel who is on the legal team for the street vendors, says the city’s claim about public safety wasn’t backed up by traffic data or pedestrian counts. 

“We really don't have that real data that you would hope the city would have in any situation where they were to pass an ordinance, especially when it detrimentally affects local businesses in our city,” says McKeon. 

And what are the sidewalk vendors doing?

Many have continued to work in these no-vending zones even after they were put in place because business there is often so good. Some say it's worth the risk of fines that can range $50 to $500.

For the past five years, Ruth Monroy has often set up a cart to sell street dogs and fruit near the TLC Chinese Theatre at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. She’s one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and has been involved in the LA Street Vendor Campaign.

She started the business to have the flexibility to care for her daughter, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 5 and needed a bone marrow transplant. Monroy’s job at the time at Carl’s Jr. didn’t allow enough time off. Her daughter is now in recovery, but Monroy’s family has come to depend on her business income and flexible schedule.

Monroy says the no-vending zones make vendors like her “feel very discriminated against. Especially since we are very hardworking people and we're just trying to save up and make ends meet for our families.”

Since the lawsuit was filed in December, Monroy says she’s started receiving tickets in the mail for selling food in the no-vending zone. These are her first since she started her business, and she says she cannot afford to pay them. 

Vendors say the lawsuit is a last resort after talks with the city failed to end the no-vending zones.

“We have high hopes that we will win because we're not asking for something that's un-just,” says Merlin Alvarado, another plaintiff in the case who sells food in Hollywood. “We're saying sit down with us [and] make plans.”