Tuesday, April 03, 2007

LA Cracks Down on Downtown Food Street Vendors

This may be random, but the recent LA Times article on the LAPD's crackdown on downtown street vendors selling food really gave pause for concern.

First of all, it's not like there aren't other issues in the city worth addressing, namely a rise in gang violence and violent crimes in the city. But let's assume that, to be fair with regulations on non-portable restaurants (as well as to be accretive to city tax ordinance income streams, a key point which was strangely not mentioned in the LA Times story), "cracking down" on downtown food street vendors is a good use of resources.

At that point, though, shouldn't it be "caveat emptor"? I travel a lot, and throughout Asia and Europe there are a proliferation of street vendors selling food, ice cream, and drinks. And often times, the food is pretty good. In fact, one might argue that the street vendor markets are a integral part of the society and the eating culture.

Yes, you take your chances when you eat there (especially in Hong Kong's Snake Alley, for example)--just as you do with any other restaurant. But if you do choose to risk it, you can be exposed to some pretty good fare.

Heck, even in New York City, the corner hot dog vendor is a must-eat occasion.

But the gentrification plans for downtown LA don't include street vendors, so the police are on a mission:

The enforcement is part of the Safer City Initiative, designed to reduce crime in and around skid row.

"We are not the hot dog patrol," said Police Capt. Andrew Smith. "It is but a tiny slice of the enforcement we do. But part of changing the culture of lawlessness is enforcing the laws that are on the books."

Smith said the vendors can still sell food on the streets, as long as they follow the law. For Arias, that means having the required business and health permits, using precooked hot dogs and moving her cart every hour. The law also prohibits her from grilling hot dogs with bacon, a popular Mexican treat whose preparation county health officials consider unsanitary and unsafe.

For those of you in LA who have left the Staples Center after a Laker or Clipper game, it seems bizarre that the air would be filled with something other than the lingering scents of bacon-wrapped goodness.

But hey, if it keeps us from having to smell the drugstore-scent perfumes of the Spearmint Rhino employees handing out fliers, it such a bad thing?