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East Hollywood

LACC Swap Meet Owner Installs Unauthorized Fence and Fake ‘No Vending’ Signs, Blocking Off Street Vendors From Sidewalk

3:04 PM PDT on October 13, 2022

Photo: Sandra Escalante

Street vendors outside Los Angeles Community College Swap Meet were shocked Wednesday morning when they showed up to their usual vending spot on Vermont Avenue and Monroe Street only to find fencing going up with green signs that read: “Street and Sidewalk Sale of Goods Prohibited.”

“We were confused,” said Sandra Escalante, a merchandise vendor who sells outside the swapmeet. “There was no mention of fences going up, and usually, the city does give a notice. The signs also didn’t look right to us.”

Escalante is one of a handful of street vendors who sell twice a week outside the swap meet. In the past, she and other vendors have accused LACC’s new owner Phillip Dane of harassment and discrimination against street vendors. Some of the actions vendors have recorded in the past include the owner setting up random no-parking signs, turning sprinklers on while vendors set up their stands, and verbal harassment towards vendors outside. 

This is why they weren't surprised to find out that it was not the city that requested the fencing to go up but something that Dane himself decided to do. The fencing that went up extended from Vermont Avenue through Monroe and Marathon Street. “Nos bloquearon todo,” “they blocked everything,” said Escalante, who says that in the past has been verbally harassed by Dane. 

After noticing the fencing, vendors quickly organized it on Wednesday and called the offices of District 13 to figure out the reasoning behind the fencing. They also reached out to the school to which they were told they had no idea who authorized the fencing to go up. A representative from councilmember Mitch O’Farrel was also present with vendors yesterday and told vendors that the fencing was not put up by their office.

“George Hakopiants from District 13 told us that the fencing was put up by Phillip Dane and that the signs were illegal or not real city signs,” said Escalante.

Elena Stern, a Department of Public Works spokesperson, agreed, "At first glance, the signs do not appear to be official." Stern also confirmed that the fence is not permitted."We sent staff last night and contacted the individual who installed it without authorization. They were in the process of removing it, and we are following up today."

Normally no-vending signs that are seen in different parts of the city are white and red with the words "No Vending Zone" written across the street sign and are usually accompanied by the silhouette of a street vendor crossed out, unlike the signs put up outside the swapmeet.

Erecting fencing around city sidewalks has been increasingly used to displace street vendors and unhoused residents from public spaces. In the last year, L.A. TACO readers have made us aware of at least ten fences blocking the public right of way, nine of which were installed without permits, according to the city.

"Private improvements" such as planter boxes or fences typically require a permit from the Bureau of Engineering, but enforcement is relatively lax. "[The department] strives to achieve compliance without the need for citations or court actions," Gary Harris, the Chief of Operations for the Bureau of Street Services, previously told L.A. TACO. On top of that, the agency is understaffed. There are only 14 enforcement investigators to cover the entire city. And in any given month, they receive more than 5,000 service requests and building permit applications.

"If voluntary compliance cannot be obtained, the non-compliant property owner may receive a citation, a misdemeanor citation, or have a misdemeanor criminal case filed by the City Attorney," Harris explained. Fines range from $250 to $1,000. "These options are based on the significance of the alleged code issue, impact on public safety, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and previous violations for the same code issue."

Yesterday evening fencing began to go down near the entrance of the LACC Swapmeet, but this morning, vendors noticed part of the fencing was still up. According to Escalante, Dane was given until 12 P.M Thursday to fully remove all fencing. L.A. TACO did reach out to Mitch O’Farrel’s office for a statement, but they have not responded as of publishing.  

For vendors outside the swapmeet, the fencing feels like a threat and a potential sign that problems between the owner and vendors will begin again. 

“Him doing this makes us feel like he is going to start harassing us again, he had stopped for a bit, and then this happens,” Escalante said. “We’re worried because we depend on these sales to maintain our families.”

A vendor who used to sell inside the swapmeet named Javier Sanchez said issues with the owner are not just about fencing and verbal harassment. He claims that vendors inside have been told not to defend street vendors selling outside the swapmeet. L.A. TACO did reach out to the swapmeets owner on two separate occasions and a statement is still pending. 

“I don’t know if the fences will go down or if this is the beginning of another bad experience with him,” said Sanchez feeling a bit disillusioned. “There’s a lot happening outside and inside this swapmeet, and Phillip is in the middle of it all.”

As of 11:30 A.M., fencing near Monroe street was seen taken down and a few hours after the rest of the fencing came down. The only thing standing was the poles on the ground. For now, vendors are preparing for their weekend sales and are keeping a close eye on the situation. 

“There’s nothing else to do but organize and wait and see if they all come down, but if they don’t, we aren’t going to give up, and we will follow up with officials,” said Escalante.

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