“Queremos trabajar, no queremos lotería,” vendors chanted as City Hall remained silent.
Three dozen street vendors and a handful of advocates rallied in front of and inside City Hall yesterday, April 24 to demand better treatment and access for vendors at the Santa Monica Pier and other public spaces. After a brief press conference, given almost entirely in Spanish, the vendors turned the speakers toward City Hall and asked for an audience with either Assistant City Manager Anuj Gupta or City Manager David White.
Neither man emerged from City Hall for an impromptu meeting, although a statement from the city noted that both have met with representatives for the vendors in recent months. When neither official appeared, the group marched inside City Hall, where they chanted together for another half hour before returning to work without having achieved a meeting.
“We gave them a chance to mend the broken relationship they have with vendors,” lamented Sergio Jimenez, the Senior Community Organizer with the Community Power Collective. “They didn’t take it. They didn’t come out. What a shame.”
The public comment period for proposed rules for access to the parks expired on Friday. Even though many of the vendors present were able to work with their lawyer, Cynthia Anderson-Baker, to submit comments, they worry that the majority of vendors were unaware of the rule changes or the deadline.
For their part, the city released a statement that said, “Consistent with direction from the City Council provided in March 2023, City staff have solicited and received input from the sidewalk vending community in recent weeks regarding planned updates to vending rules in the City, including an expansion of permitted vending in the most desirable portion of Palisades Park. Staff are reviewing feedback provided through multiple in-person meetings with dozens of vendors, along with feedback received via e-mail and in person in the field.”
At the rally outside City Hall, a half-dozen vendors spoke about their experiences working as vendors at the Pier, Palisades Park, and elsewhere, and about harassment they faced from enforcement and the Santa Monica Police Department. The format of the rally mimicked a public meeting. The city’s public process over the proposed rules did not include a public hearing.
The event hit an emotional high point when Dulce Mateos, a licensed vendor and one of the leaders of the street vendors, broke down while recounting what she says is targeted harassment from the city.
At the same time that the city released the proposed vending rules, the city installed planter barricades near where Mateos and her partner set up their carts, blocking access to the spaces where they have vended for years alongside Tongva Park. A city “information truck” is also now parked at the Southeast corner of the park further blocking access to what was their vending area. Mateos and her partner are the only two vendors who sell in that area. Gupta has said in email correspondence that he is investigating her claim.
In addition to the emotional testimony by Mateos and others, the vendors also laid out a list of concerns they have about the proposed rules: that a ban on electric carts on the beach would cost vendors thousands of dollars to replace their carts, which they changed to e-carts several years ago when the city recommended they do so, that the proposed required distance between vendors is a defacto limit on the number of vendors in places such as the pier, and that the proposed lottery system for spaces in Palisades Park is insufficient for the number of vendors that make their living selling in the park.