Take a Sunday walk in Los Angeles’ Echo Park, and you’ll find the grass besides the walkways filled with vendors selling a wide variety of merchandise from tables and blankets. The atmosphere is lively, the food smells delicious, and the business is brisk. And there’s no market manager, no admission charge, no fee to put up a table, no vendor rules, and no oversight — because this spontaneous gathering of merchants is in a public Los Angeles park.
There was a local law prohibiting street selling in L.A. parks. But after a successful challenge to the law in 2005 (too broad, the judge said, and potentially infringing on First Amendment rights), it was suspended until a better law could be crafted. In the meantime, that opened a regulatory loophole making flea-market-style selling in city parks legal, or at least not illegal.
However, many people in the community are opposed to the informal and, but for that loophole, “illegal” swap meet. A local city councilman, Eric Garcetti, promised a crackdown last year that has not yet materialized. Somebody put up official looking signs prohibiting vending, but vendors ignored them and the city took them down when it was determined that the signs were themselves illegal.
The local Echo Park Improvement Association has been discussing the issue at its meetings, town-hall-style, with no resolution. There is word of a petition, and of suing in small claims court to hold the city responsible for lack of enforcement. There is also discussion of trying to enforce regulations requiring sellers to have business licenses and collect sales tax.
Meanwhile, local discussion boards and comments sections of area news stories are buzzing. Steve M says, “It’s an eyesore and illegal, make them get insurance and pay rent for the space. Barbara says, “It is a park. Green lawns meant to be used by families walking, looking, picnicking — not as selling areas.” Makaveli7hadon says, “Stop blaming the sellers … they are just taking advantage of the situation. Blame Eric Garcetti or whoever’s in charge for allowing this to happen.” Hundreds more are weighing in, many of the commenters are angry, and some of the comments are quite ugly. The topic is even being debated in academic circles at UCLA.
And on L.A. Observed blog, Jenny Burman printed an e-mail message from her neighbor, Angela Wood:
“I had a lovely time that day [July 4 at Echo Park Lake]. I snapped some photos, had some Spanish conversation, walked around the lake picking up very little trash, stopped and did yoga in my favorite lake-side spot. … I checked out what the people were selling. A lot of “junk” but some good, useful and eclectic things. I purchased 3 VHS tapes for 3 dollars, some old kids movies for my daughter. It was clearly the beginnings of what could become a nice little weekend market — it was well contained, neat, clean, colorful, and friendly.”
The situation remains in flux, but FleaMarketZone hopes some way will be found to allow everyone to enjoy the park — including swap meet vendors and their customers. Stay tuned for further developments.
Photos courtesy Eastsider LA, with thanks.