An organization of street vendors filed suit last week against the Los Angeles Police Department and a business improvement district for illegally seizing and destroying vendors’ carts, dollies, and other personal belongings.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the law firm of Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, says LAPD’s practice is unconstitutional, and violates the vendors’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and 14th Amendment right to due process.
“Every day in Los Angeles street vendors have their hard earned property illegally confiscated and destroyed,” said Cynthia Anderson Barker, attorney with the NLG. “They are penalized as they struggle to support their families. This lawsuit targets unjust law enforcement practices that push these productive members of our community further into poverty.”
The plaintiffs include a street vendor and an association, Unión Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes, that organizes street vendors in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs allege that they are repeatedly stopped by LAPD, sometimes cited and threatened with arrest, and have their property confiscated and destroyed without notice. The plaintiffs also allege that the LAPD is directing and authorizing employees of the Fashion District Business Improvement District (BID) to seize the property and destroy it.
The Fashion District BID, which is created and funded by the City of Los Angeles, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The BID provides maintenance and safety officers who perform public functions that would otherwise be carried out by the City Bureau of Sanitation and the LAPD.
Plaintiff Aureliano Santiago had his belongings taken by the BID employees. When he attempted to recover his property from the BID office, Santiago was told that the BID’s employees are working with LAPD and have been authorized to seize vendors’ property, according to the lawsuit.
Santiago was not given notice to remove his property before it was seized, was not provided a receipt for his property, and was given no opportunity to reclaim his property after it was seized.
“LAPD cannot disregard the well-established rights of low-income people in our community by teaming up with Business Improvement Districts to seize people’s belongings,” said Shayla Myers, staff attorney with LAFLA. “These actions, whether by the police or by the BID, are unconstitutional and should be stopped immediately.”
In December 2014, the National Lawyers Guild issued a report on the unlawful confiscation of the property of street vendors. The report is available at nlg-la.org.
The lawsuit comes as the Los Angeles City Council considers a plan to legalize street vending. In June, the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group in Los Angeles, released a report that found street vendors contribute more than half a billion dollars to the city’s economy.
As part of the campaign to legalize street vendors, attorneys for the vendors are also asking the city to place a moratorium on fines until a vote is taken.
[dc]“I[/dc]t’s long past time for the city to stop these unconstitutional practices and end the criminalization of street vending,” said Michael Kaufman, staff attorney with ACLU SoCal. “Rather than wasting resources punishing street vendors, the city should be working to legalize vending and ensure that vendors can earn a living without threat of prosecution or having their property destroyed.”
Sandra Hernandez, Carol Sobel, and Franke Santos
ACLU of Southern California