HUNTINGTON PARK — Two advocates for local street vendors were arrested during Huntington Park’s city council meeting last night after calling out the harassment of those vendors by local police in recent weeks.
The city council chamber was packed at the beginning of the meeting, with about 50 people, and tension between street vendor advocates and police was palpable.
The meeting quickly took a turn during the public comment portion, when advocates Edin Alex Enamorado and Fernando “Wicked” Lopez, rose to plead with city councilmembers and Huntington Park Police Chief Cosme Lozano to protect street vendors. Things got heated, and Mayor Marilyn Sanabria accused the men of disrupting the meeting, ordering one of the police officers near them to escort them out. Members of the HPPD forcibly removed the men then arrested them on unknown charges.
Enamorado and Lopez were released from a holding cell at Huntington Park’s police station around midnight. We reached out to Huntington Park city councilmembers and police for comment, but they declined to comment at the meeting and have not yet responded.
The incident comes after several weeks where street vendors have complained of being harrassed and having their belongings confiscated by Huntington Park police. Videos — some of which were filmed by street vendor advocates and have gone viral on Tik Tok and are also on Instagram— show several HPPD officers surrounding vendors, asking them for their permits and writing up citations.
So in an effort to garner support for street vendors, local advocates responded with calls on social media to attend Tuesday night’s meeting in hopes of pressuring the city council — which controls the HPPD — to hold police accountable.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, street vendors, who sell fruit, churros and tacos in Huntington Park and are mostly Spanish speaking, came forward to describe the intimidating interactions they’ve had with police.
“Police came, gave me a citation and confiscated my cart even though I have a permit to work in LA County. I felt it was very unfair the way Huntington Park police came to me,” Xiomara Rodríguez of Divina Providencia Fruits told city council members as she tried to hold back tears. “Now it turns out I have a ticket. You’re doing this to a single mom, a widow, who is working and fighting to get her children ahead. Do you prefer to see people stealing? To see my children be criminals as adults because they don’t have anyone they can depend on?”
“Me llegan, me dan un ticket, me quitan mi carrito siendo que yo ya he sacado el permiso del condado para trabajar en Los Ángeles. Yo sentí muy injusto la forma en que los policías de Huntington Park vienen,” dijo Xiomara Rodríguez de Divina Providencia Fruits. “Ahora resulta que tengo un ticket. A una madre soltera, a una persona viuda le hacen esto. ¿Qué prefieren ver a la gente robando? ¿Ver a esos niños ser delincuentes de adultos porque no tienen a alguien que los mantenga?”
Rodriguez spoke in Spanish and no translation was provided at the council meeting, though it appeared that at least some councilmembers understood.
Rodríguez used to set up her cart on the corner of Florence Ave. and Mountain View Ave. before police confiscated it on Friday, July 7. She also received a citation that day for not having a valid permit.
“My cart is really important to me because I put all of my savings into it and it wasn’t cheap to get one, so when they took it from me I was left without a way to work,” Rodríguez said.
She added that a day prior to her cart being confiscated, police told her that her permits with the LA County Health Department weren’t valid and that she had to leave, but could return once she had them in order. So later that night, she called the county to check her permits and was told they were current.
Unfortunately, the harassment appears to be part of a larger trend, Community Power Collective organizer Sergio Jimenez says what’s happening to street vendors in Huntington Park is similar in nature to the interactions he’s seen between street vendors and police all across LA County.
“It’s a general strategy by cities to find a new arena for criminalization and it tends to disenfranchise vendors from the sidewalk,” Jimenez said. “At the end of the day it’s racism. Vending has always been around, but it wasn’t until 2018 that it was legalized. But it’s always been an uphill battle for vendors. They’re an easy target for the police.”
Rodríguez was able to get her cart back on July 10 after police escorted her to a yard in Salt Lake Park in Huntington Park. She didn’t have to pay her citation and says the police did in fact agree that she had her permits in order.
Now Rodriguez has moved out of her original location to California Blvd. and Pacific Blvd. and says business hasn’t been the same since.
“I was at my last location for a year, so people knew me and I was able to sell my fruit. But now I’m fighting to make ends meet. I’ve tried three different streets, and I’m not selling anything. I’m losing my fruit,” Rodríguez said.
Rocío Gascon, who’s the owner of the food truck Tacos la Güera, says police have also confiscated her truck, equipment and merchandise on multiple occasions. She had her truck at Florence and Mountain View as well.
“The police tell me they’re going to keep confiscating my truck because it’s an order they have from their superiors,” Gascon said in Spanish in an interview with LAPP. “Everytime I see the police, I start shaking because I think ‘Now what’s going to happen?’ I wish we felt like we could have a conversation with them.”
“Me dicen que lo van a seguir haciendo. Que es una orden que ellos tienen de una persona mayor a ellos,” dijo Gascon. “Cuando los veo ya empiezo a temblar y digo ‘y ahora que?’ Me gustaria sentir como que pudiéramos conversar con ellos.”
Gascon received a citation on June 29 which read “open flame not permitted” and two on July 6, which spell out violations of city codes and say “open flame” and “blocking sidewalk.” She has a court date scheduled for the first citation on October 6 and the other two on October 9.
Meanwhile Gascon says police still haven’t returned her equipment, which includes electric generators, toasters, pans, tables, chairs and carts. All she was left with was her truck.
“I have three children, so what I earn from my truck sustains my home. I also have people who work with me, so it helps sustain them and their families as well,” Gascon said.
Claudia Herrera runs a stand called Churros Don Beto with her husband on Florence Avenue and Miles avenue. She said police also confiscated her belongings on July 6.
“They treated us like criminals. They didn’t give us a chance to leave. They just took everything from us including our tent, chairs and generator,” Herrera said.
Los Angeles, of course, has a long history of street vendors and trucks. But technically much of that commerce was illegal until in 2018 when California passed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, which decriminalized street vending and legalized street vending under certain conditions.
That same year, the Huntington Park City Council also passed Ordinance No. 2018-970 which states that all food displayed, sold or offered for sale by sidewalk vendors must be in a manner approved for sale in accordance with the California Health and Safety Code. Sidewalk vendors need to display in plain view, the sidewalk vendor permit, and any permit required by state and county laws.
That said, the ordinance also has some vague language, for instance a prohibition of “obstruction to the normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian access,” which is not well defined in the law.
Each of the street vendors who had their equipment confiscated said both in public comment and in interviews that they had all of the permits required to work in LA County.
Amanda Del Cid Lugo contributed reporting to this story.
Marina Peña, the author, translated quotes from Spanish.