Tensions Rise Among the Street Vendors Outside LACC Swapmeet and the Open-Air Market’s New Owner

STreet vendors from Los Angeles took part in Tuesday morning’s action in front of the city hall to demand that the county, state and city end the criminalization of street vendors and their displacement. They included vendors from Avenue 26, Bonnie BraeHollywood, and sidewalk vendors that operate outside of the Los Angeles Community College Swapmeet (also known as LACC SwapPeople who are currently at risk of being displaced.

Vendors outside the swapmeet face a difficult battle to keep their current location on Vermont Avenue or Monroe Street. The sidewalk is lined with food and merchandise vendors twice a week outside LACC. This was the location many vendors went to during the pandemic. However, vendors have been most troubled by Phillip Dane (new owner of LACC Swap), his team and the LACC Foundation, who oversees swapmeet operations. 

“No trabajamos en paz,” “We don’t work in peace,” said street vendor Erika Ruiz. “He has done so many things to try and intimidate us, the sprinklers are turned on when they see us arrive, the portable bathrooms inside (the swapmeet) which before were emptied when the swapmeet would close are now being emptied during peak business hours and the smell alone drives customers away.”

Ruiz, who started selling her merchandise outside the swapmeet last summer after she lost her job due the pandemic, stated that Dane has not tried to speak to vendors. “There’s no communication between us, it’s either we move inside, or we move from the sidewalk,”She spoke.  

Most vendors can’t afford to pay the fees or get the permit required to vend inside the swapmeet. Each booth can cost as much as $2,500 $50 per day. Dane stated that competitive bidding for stalls, which often raises the price way beyond $50, is not currently being done. The Eastsider that he’s thinking of bringing back the bidding later. 

Even though the pandemic caused financial disruptions to many businesses, Newport Diversified and officials from the LACC Foundation are to blame. 75% to 80% Due to the increased vending outside of the swapmeet, revenue has dropped since the reopening. Many vendors who sell outside on the sidewalk have also suffered a significant loss.

“Estamos aquí por necesidad,” “We are here out of necessity,”Ruiz. “During the pandemic, we all lost money, and we are trying to recover. We have nothing against the vendors inside because they were out here with us when this place was closed. We just want to continue to work.”

Arely Tafolla Garcia, 28, a vendor who sells aguas fricas outside of the swapmeet said that she was also affected by the pandemic. After being tested positive for covid-19 in March, she lost her income and was admitted to hospital for around a month. She was also told that her heart had been damaged after she recovered from COVID.

Arely Tafolla Garcia, who sells aguas fiscas right outside the LACC Swapmeet to support her family, is one the vendors who rely solely on her weekend sales. She vends next to her mother and sister’s stand where they sell tacos, pozole, and guisados.

Arely Tafolla Garcia who sells aguas frescas right outside the LACC Swapmeet is one of the vendors who solely relies on her weekend sales to care for her and her family. She vends next to her mother and sister's stand where they sell tacos, pozole, and guisados.

Garcia, who had surgery 22 days ago to have a pacemaker in her heart, has been placed on a waiting list for a transplant. Garcia is concerned about the possibility of having to find a new home to sell. 

“This is my only job. I’m here working porque (because) healthy or not, a mi no me perdonan mi renta (no one is going to forgive my rent),” she said in Español. “The owner has every right to defend his swap meet, but we aren’t doing anything that harms him. I really wish he would just come and ask us why we’re here. Maybe then he would understand our need.” 

The 28-year-old sells alongside her mother and sister in a puesto. They sell steamy pozole, tacos and quesadillas. She said if it weren’t because of street vending, they would not have survived the pandemic. They both have to obtain a permit from the health department as food vendors. A permit has been difficult to get, as only 165 out 10,000Street vendors can currently operate with the permit. 

Garcia said that recent tactics taken by the owner have made it more difficult and have made it harder to work there. But, like many vendors she said that moving is not an option. 

Garcia and other vendors who arrive in the area as early as 5 AM often were greeted with signs that said “No Parking SAT-SUN 6 AM TO 6 PM,”These are open to the swapmeet as well as vendors outside, and are available for use during all hours of the day. The swapmeet has put up new parking signs that affect residents as well as sidewalk vendors who use the parking area to unload their equipment. Jonathan Arrebolo, a resident, recently moved across the street to LACC. 

“Parking in Los Angeles is hard enough as it is, but I’m not trying to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to move my car every day during the weekend just not to be ticketed or have my car towed away,”He said.
Cleaning porta-potties during vending hours. Cleaning porta-potties during vending hours.
Parking signs went up recently. Vendors and nearby neighbors allege creates more problems for them. Recent parking signs were installed. Vendors claim it creates more problems for them.

Tickets for parking during no parking hours can run up to $78 according to vendors who’ve been ticketed, almost $200 for two days, half of what a vendor makes a day. 

Lawrence, a former LACC professor who prefers to be known by his first name, witnessed the changes taking place since the reopening of the swapmeet. He helps his friends set up their stands every weekend and sometimes helps them sell. He is also one among many vendors who have helped Dane to communicate via email.

“In an email he sent, he expressed his intentions to drive the people away, I’ve known these people for about ten years, and they’re good people they live off of these sales, they aren’t all of sudden going to give up their own source of income because he says so,”Lawrance. 

“They are trying to push us out. We see it. It’s hard not to notice,”Sandra Escalante, who was one of three first vendors to sell inside the swapmeet in 20 years ago, is now selling outside. 

According to vendors they were also informed by swap meets security that if anyone was seen parking on the sides or inside the public parking structure, they would be called towing. L.A. TACO did reach out to LACC Swap and LACC Foundation for comment on the vendor’s claims, but they have yet to respond. 

There are approximately 50 street vendors that operate outside the swapmeet. A few of them reported that the LACC Foundation and Dane have made other attempts to get the sidewalk through. “beautification process”This will include the addition of 20 trees and two-foot shrubs around the perimeter. 

Sandra Escalante and Erika Ruiz both merchandise vendors outside of the LACC swapmeet pose in front of Escalante's stand.Sandra Escalante and Erika Ruiz both merchandise vendors outside of the LACC swapmeet pose in front of Escalante’s stand.

Sandra Escalante and Erika Ruiz both merchandise vendors outside of the LACC swapmeet pose in front of Escalante's stand.

The vendor’s concerns about this possible beautification are valid considering in many cases. Similar coded language was used before street vendors were removed from their communities, such as with Avenue 26 and Patata St.They were displaced because of sanitation concerns, non-permits, and in some cases, alleged beautification attempts. In some cases, like the Melrose corridor case, a report by StreetsLA and LAPD This puts the blame on the increase in crime in the area. Melrose is being made a no vending zone. 

“They are trying to push us out. We see it. It’s hard not to notice,”Sandra Escalante, who was one of three first vendors to sell inside the swapmeet in 20 years ago, is now selling outside. 

She said that’s why vendors from the swapmeet joined other L.A. street vendors on Tuesday to bring awareness to the many obstacles vendors have been facing not just in the past but recently. 

“This isn’t just about us we’re raising our voices for all street vendors, porque nosotros también valemos (because we matter too), we are out here selling to provide something better for our families, it isn’t a crime, we shouldn’t be targets,” said Escalante.

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