Street vendors inside a food tent with lights

      vendors in Altadena (Photo – ColoradoBlvd.net)

      How many “visioning” sessions have you participated in, in Altadena?

      By Michele Zack

      I’ve gone to at least six over the past 25 years, and the drill is familiar… the County, (or perhaps the library) earnestly asks what we want to see in our hometown? We compose individual wish lists, complete surveys, break out in groups to brainstorm — and if it is an in-person meeting — our brilliant ideas are collected/combined by a highly-paid facilitator on a gigantic pad of paper that reminds us of kindergarten. We come together as a community… and we all seem to agree!

      I promise that in those years, topping our “want” list consistently is more public life including local, mom and pop businesses, a pedestrian and bike-friendly town, arts and culture, and opportunities to meet neighbors in public spaces, preferably outdoors.

      Yet with equal consistency, count on a great pearl-clutching and hyperventilating in protest of just about every opportunity to begin the smallest of incremental steps toward actually implementing that wish list — anything, really, that might result in a more lively street scene. Loud, officious objectors (not that they represent the majority) come out of the woodwork.

      The latest is the panic about keeping our sidewalks clear, in the interest of safety, (our local equivalent of national security!) Small vendors selling fruit, snacks, or tacos, present a threat — they could cause accidents! Someone could trip! They are low class! They must be against the law!

      But wait! They are small businesses, run by mom and pop entrepreneurs, offering things people seem to want. Outdoors, in public spaces.

      I am a regular walker around Altadena, where empty sidewalks predominate along with very quiet streets — most of which lack sidewalks. Pedestrian activity is minimal, but when we few humans not vehicularly encased do meet, we usually say “hi”! That is a nice thing. What danger do a few vendors pose on mostly empty sidewalks in busier corridors? Might a few pedestrians congregate there? Start talking?

      Why do we send such mixed messages, saying we want something, but then if it isn’t exactly what we mean, we reject it and immediately search for a law or restriction that must prohibit ____ (you fill in the blank).

      Why not embrace the idea that bringing life to pedestrian and life-starved streets takes many forms? If we really don’t like living in Deadsville, we could start by embracing little changes, even those that don’t strictly adhere to our personal wish lists.

      Michele Zack is a writer and historian who lives in Altadena.

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      1. Milissa Marona says:

        The one thing is op-ed doesn’t mention is the actual laws regarding these vendors. I know that some people are opposed to them in Altadena. Yet, the real issue is a few years ago the state didn’t give vendors of this size a way forward to obtain permits. So most of these stands are unregulated and against the health department regulations. Also the Sheriffs do not have any authority over these vendors to stop them because the state took away their ability to keep them off of the streets.
        I used to think “no big deal” too and agree with what the author is writing here. However, upon further investigation, I learned that most of these stands are run by one group that drops off people on the street and have threatened the health department with guns and when the health department throws out their food as a recourse the stand is restocked within a few minutes.
        I believe the review by LA County is a means towards allowing these vendors access to have a permitting path that allows for safe handwashing and food service outdoors if possible.
        It is more than just a few people complaining. There are businesses that lose money to these vendors and the vendors do not pay half the costs to operate than the business does that has to pay their fair share.
        I hope this sheds some light on this matter.

        • Sue says:

          Yes these are not mom and pop stands that are just trying to make a “go of it.” And they should be required to comply with health code standards.

      2. Jim Maughen says:


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