Councilman wants to prevent the return of Echo Park Lake swap meet

Aug 16, 2013

Echo Park Lake swap meet vendors in 2010. Photo by Echo Park resident.

The fate of a sprawling weekend swap meet at Echo Park Lake seemed resolved a few years ago when police began enforcing a state law  against the pedlars while former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was working on a citywide law that would stand up to legal challenges.  But apparently the city’s Recreation and Parks Department still lacks the legal authority to deal with illegal vendors, according to the office of newly elected 13th District Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

The vendors attracted large crowds of shoppers but also complaints from residents and park goers as the lawns surrounding Echo Park Lake were covered with a wide variety of merchandise ranging from clothes and books to kitchen appliances and tools.  O’Farrell’s predecessor and now Mayor Eric Garcetti said he wanted the vendors cleared from the park but most of the city’s efforts failed.

Now, only a few weeks after Echo Park Lake reopened after a two-year clean up, O’Farrell has introduced a motion asking current city Attorney Mike Feuer to prepare the necessary ordinances giving the city the authority to control vending at Echo Park Lake and other public parks.

After spending $45 million on cleaning up the park, “we need the ordinance in place to regulate vending,” said O’Farrell. “We cant got back to the Wild West days. We are not regulating something that we should be.”

Echo Park Lake swap meet vendors in 2010/Photo by Echo Park resident

An earlier ordinance that restricted selling in parks was suspended after a lawsuit was filed by vendors and exhibitors in Venice. Some of those vendors claimed that city law infringed on their first amendment rights by prohibiting sales of buttons, artwork and other items espousing political or ideological messages.

“Although the litigation is not currently resolved, it is imperative that the city obtain the necessary tools to address the issue of illegal street vending in Echo Park,” according to O’Farrell’s motion. Illegal vending “continues to be a serious issue in Echo Park” and the Department of Recreation and Parks “does not currently have the authority to address illegal vending due to the litigation.”

While the motion, which was introduced last week, has yet to be reviewed or voted upon by the City Council, it has already caught the attention of advocates for street and sidewalk vendors.

The East Los Angeles Community Corporation, a nonprofit housing developer and advocacy group in Boyle Heights, has been working to create a city wide policy that would legalize and regulate street and sidewalk vendors through its Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign.

Today, the vendor campaign in a statement said that it has been “closely monitoring” the O’Farrell  motion. While “supportive of Echo Park Lake’s revitalization,”  the statement said “we should create ways for entrepreneurs like street vendors to legally earn a living. For years, street vendors have  not only  been a part of the Echo Park community, but a critical stakeholder in neighborhoods all across the City.”

O’Farrell said his motion is focused on parkland, which in this case would apply to the sidewalks and parkway surrounding parks,  and is the first step in a public process that will establish guidelines for those who wish to sell goods or services.

“We want to create a more positive environment and equitable playing field for those who want to play by the rules,” he said.  “We need a system in place that will regulate uses, as well as encourage more people to visit Echo Park Lake.”

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