Rossane Marcy began selling hot dogs on Downtown streets in the 1980s. During that time, she said, she has filled the bellies of local luminaries including late Mayor Tom Bradley and former Police Chief Daryl Gates.
The Hot Dog Vendors Association organized a Jan. 17 protest at City Hall over what it says is excessive enforcement by the LAPD and the city. Fashion District officials say vendors are blocking public spaces. Photo by Gary Leonard.
But recently, Marcy said, she and her fellow vendors have had less pleasant dealings with the politicians and law enforcement figures. Marcy, who now owns four vending carts, said that police and city health officials routinely ask to see her permits, something that rarely happened in the past.
The situation climaxed during the holiday season, when, Marcy said, police arrested two of her employees for blocking sidewalks with an ice chest. The case was dismissed last week.
Police and city officials, however, say they are responding to a growing problem, one exacerbated by increasingly crowded streets and sidewalks, a surfeit of vendors and a lack of parking spaces.
The veritable hot dog war is actually an age-old problem in Downtown and has ignited conflict throughout the years over vending laws and practices. Some Downtown areas, like the Fashion District, have become known for the wafting smell of sizzling hot dogs, bacon and onions.
The current battle, which escalated in the last few months, has allegedly resulted in bloodshed and violence. Police and district leaders contend that illegal vending is out of control and a crackdown is necessary.
"Since I arrived eight years ago, we have been voicing our concerns about the level of illegal vending in our district," said Kent Smith, executive director of the Fashion District Business Improvement District. "In the last couple years, it reached epidemic proportions."
Police Capt. Andrew Smith, who oversees the 401 officers who patrol downtown, said the department's enforcement policies had not changed but that there had been an increase in patrols. In September, 50 additional officers were assigned to downtown, which includes the city's fashion district, where many hot dog vendors cater to hungry shoppers.
"For a long time, a lot of people thought that anything goes in this part of town," he said. "Now, we have a sufficient police force in this area to catch all of the crimes going on here."
As part of that campaign, officials issued a notice that advocates call the "Jan. 18 ultimatum." Starting today, police will strictly enforce a state code that allows officers to remove vehicles without a motor.But vendors said police have been harassing them for months.
In a press release, advocates complained of discrimination, alleging that police "have taken it upon themselves to act as federal immigration cops, consistently asking vendors about their documentation status and sometimes accusing legal permanent residents of using fake IDs."
But Smith said that a misunderstanding probably arose from officers asking for identification when they wrote citations. "We can't issue a ticket without identifying who they are," he said.
Although Smith rejected a request from vendors for a reprieve on enforcement during the Christmas holidays, he described a Wednesday afternoon meeting with organizers as cordial.
"We agreed to work together to make sure that everybody knows what the rules are," he said, adding that police would work with the city attorney to draft a bilingual statement that would be understandable to everyone.
"I'm pretty sure they know what the rules are," he said, "but the rules haven't been enforced that strictly in the past."