LOS ANGELES (AP) — Street vendors in the trendy Fashion District of downtown Los Angeles sued the city and the neighborhood's business improvement district, accusing them of harassment, illegally destroying their carts and other property, and threatening some with deportation.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court Wednesday by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and other civil rights groups.
Street vending is illegal in Los Angeles, though common. An effort is underway to legalize the practice.
Officers with the business improvement district work with the Los Angeles Police Department to seize and destroy street vendors' property "as a sort of extrajudicial street punishment, meted out against the vendors as the officers see fit," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the city of unreasonable seizure, violations of due process and interference by threat, intimidation or coercion. It seeks financial compensation and an order to stop the city from punishing street vendors.
Kent Smith, executive director of the Fashion District Business Improvement District, said street vending is inappropriate in the neighborhood and nearby downtown Los Angeles because the sidewalks are too narrow and busy, creating a safety hazard.
He also said the practice creates liabilities for property owners and has become a nuisance for the growing number of residents.
Smith said the business improvement district is open to discussing other protocols regarding street vending and that he was disappointed about the lawsuit.
"It's hard not to find this a little intimidating," he said. "They're kind of acting as a judge and jury rather than meeting with us openly."
The lawsuit claims that street vendors have been meeting with city leaders and police about their concerns but "have no choice but to bring this fight into the courtroom."
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