Will going to small claims court stop the Echo Park Lake swap meet?

Last night’s meeting of the Echo Park Improvement Assn. featured city officials reviewing their efforts  to prevent vendors –  hawking everything from toilet paper to TVs – from surrounding much of  Echo Park Lake on Sundays. The city has ticketed cars, ordered vendors off the sidewalk and even kicked out peddlers who camped out in the park overnight to claim prized spaces. None of that has worked as officers have been left powerless to stop vendors from taking over public space as the city seeks to resolve a five-year-old lawsuit brought by vendors and exhibitors at the Venice Boardwalk. But if a lawsuit can stop the city from enforcing its laws, maybe another lawsuit can force it into action. That’s the strategy revealed at last night’s meeting when residents began passing out  small claims court forms to be filed against the City of Los Angeles.  The claims for $7,500 in damages allege the city has failed to enforce state public nuisance laws.

“If 100 people signed up to file claims … that’s a $750,000  potential liability” for the city, said Andrew Garsten.

City Attorney Andre Quintero, who was at the meeting, did not say if that strategy would work but it might attract attention. “You know what, if that starts coming our way, our office would have to respond.”

Quintero said the litigation that has suspended the city’s prohibition on vending on public property may soon be resolved.  Until then, however, the city may seek enforcement of laws that require the vendors to collect sales tax and hold city business licenses, said Alejandra Marroquin with Council District 13.

Related post:
Flea market discussion turns to strategy. Chicken Corner


  1. Good luck on proving your $7,500 in damages due to the swap meet.

    Small claims awards are based on ACTUAL damages, not punitive ones.

  2. Send a representative from the State FRANCHISE TAX BOARD there to check business licenses and compliance with state tax code. They’ve sent agents to the Rose Bowl to monitor and audit taxes of the flea market sellers.
    Send a CA sales tax agent to interview Echo Park vendors and I gaurantee that will be the end of this unsightly mess.

    Sorry but it’s fugly mess on beautiful scarce green space!!!

  3. Agree with Slaker totally. It’s an eyesore and illegal, make them get insurance and pay rent for the space.
    The city’s broke, and anyone who wants to hold a festival in the park has to pay, so why not these sellers?

  4. Can the Eastsider please write about WHY the swap meet needs to go away? I consistently see posts on the issue and how people are trying to solve it, but i have yet to see anything addressing why this is such an issue that people are talking about going into litigation over it. I’m honestly not trying to be argumentative here, but I think the reasoning needs to be explained.

  5. Violating the CAL. CIV. CODE § 3479 you do not need to collect punitive damages. Safe Streets Now in Pasadena has collected large judgments in the past of hundreds of thousands of dollars by “group neighborhood” small claims suits. Let’s leave it up to the judge to decide.

  6. All it takes is one call form Eric Garcetti’s office to get the State FRANCHISE TAX BOARD out there, unless they don’t have the political will to do so.

  7. @ Erin. It is a park. Green lawns meant to be used by families walking, looking, picnicking – not as selling areas. When its turned into a selling area that deprives the people of that clear park space – and the place is there to provide exactly that. Many people can’t come except on weekends and this deprives them of that. Try taking a peaceful early morning walk surrounded by nature when the hawkers have invaded all the space. That is why.

  8. Hi, Erin. I think the city is concerned that at this point there is nothing to stop you or I or anyone else from turning parkland into a retail space any where in the city as long as you are abiding by all other laws.

  9. DON’T CLOSE IT DOWN, PERIOD! Don’t micromanaging fascists have anything better to do?

  10. If the city doesn’t get a handle on this unauthorized vending, Echo Park Lake will end up looking just like 6th Street and Alvarado. Another trash pit.

  11. Changed My Mind

    I was really indifferent to the swap meet at Echo Park until very recently. When it first sprung up, I reasoned that it was part of the “culture” of Echo Park. I’ve been here 20 years off and on, and there has always been people selling elotes, ice cream, tacos, whatever. It didn’t bother me. I’ve patronized them all and found it enjoyable. To the extent the swap meet was just a small, localized little kitschy thing at the Northern edge of the Park, it wasn’t a big deal. I came on this message board and defended the sellers.
    But during the last two months, it has completely gotten out of control. The entire park is surrounded by improvised stalls. Its like a festival every single weekend, except there is no music or merriment, just a bunch of dumb kitsch. Last weekend, there were some hipster girls selling hipster clothes on the southern edge of the Park. Really, it is gotten to the point where everybody who has something to sell in Echo Park or thereabouts is bringing it down to the lake for hawking. Its run its course. And, I’m sorry, it needs to end.

  12. Please show me how the swap meet has cost you $7,500, safestreets.

    While you are at it, please explain how a flea market makes the streets unsafe.

    “Anything which is injurious to health, including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use, in the customary manner, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway, is a nuisance.”

    Health? – let’s see some data.

    Offensive to the senses? – well clearly some are offended, but de gustibus non est disputandem. also, go back to burbs, wankers.

    Obstruction? – they have to keep the sidewalks and walkways clear.

    Also, filing harrasment suits is obstructing their right to use the public park.

    And you still need to show damages.

  13. @Barbara – “surrounded by nature”?
    You mean the 101 and Glendale Blvd?

  14. I live on Park Ave right in front of the swap meet. It has become a huge problem on the weekends as vendors start camping out as early as Friday night to set up their areas. I wouldnt mind if it were sanctioned by the city and the vendors were licensed but it is just A ZOO. Vendors sell everything from half full bottles of shampoo to kitchen sinks. There is no time frame of when it starts and ends so vendors usually set up from sun up to sun down canonizing our beautiful park for the entire day leaving no time for the public to enjoy the peace and solitude without having someone trying to sell the car chargers or 2nd hand clothing.

    I’m really growing tired of the intrusion. I have 4 campers parked directly in front of my apt 3 days a week now with people camping out in them. I now ride my bike on the weekends to do my errands because my car is usually blocked in. The vendors block driveways, block sidewalks, leave trash, and my car has been vandalized TWICE on Sundays. the grass around Echo Park lake is littered with trash every Monday turning our beautiful park into a dump and the city is slow to clean it up leaving a gross mess usually until Wednesday or so. I’m sick of it.

    At the end of the days its illegal. they should pay city tax and they should have permits.

  15. “…It didn’t bother me. I’ve patronized them all and found it enjoyable. To the extent the swap meet was just a small, localized little kitschy thing at the Northern edge of the Park, it wasn’t a big deal. I came on this message board and defended the sellers.
    But during the last two months, it has completely gotten out of control. The entire park is surrounded by improvised stalls. Its like a festival every single weekend, except there is no music or merriment, just a bunch of dumb kitsch. Last weekend, there were some hipster girls selling hipster clothes on the southern edge of the Park. Really, it is gotten to the point where everybody who has something to sell in Echo Park or thereabouts is bringing it down to the lake for hawking. Its run its course. And, I’m sorry, it needs to end.”

    Changed nails it for me, I am in full agreement — no, don’t toss fascist at me, please. I’m one of the few born and raised in good ol’ LA and went to Commonwealth Elementary, Virgil Junior High and Belmont High. I fished Echo Park as a boy, still do a a man. What’s going on now has nothing to do with the pleasures of an urban park.

    It should stop. Sorry, if you need to hear that word. It is simply and purely out of control.

  16. Adding, pay a visit if you haven’t been. I went last week and walked a good deal, shot some pics which I later erased, useless. It’s truly out of control.

    The park and ambiance is completely dominated — and destroyed — by this market. Glad I don’t live nearby. You can’t imagine the mess, hassle and thefts and puke till you’ve lived near a venue like EP Lake, Short Stop, Tommy’s, in Hollywood.

  17. i don’t think that the point of the lawsuits is to win money; it’s to draw attention to this problem. seriously out of control. if i lived across the street from that I would be furious.

    i’m glad you changed your mind “changed,” but i find it a little disconcerting that for you the tipping point was a couple of white hipster girls getting in on the action.

  18. There was trash in the park on monday? OMG! Seriously there is going to be trash in the park on Monday. Which is never going to be as gross as all those bird feathers… and I don’t hear anybody wanting to get rid of the birds.

  19. There’s no use getting bent out of shape over this. The park is closing later this year for 2 years time for repairs and renovation. So to quote Officespace, the problem will “just work itself out.”

  20. Changed My Mind

    haha —

    I changed my mind about the topic once the problem encompassed the whole Park. In the past few months, it became the *only* thing that happens on Sundays, not just one of the many activities that takes place in the Park. That was my point. Vendors have *always* been part of the mix in Echo Park and to some extent, will always be. But when the “swap meet” took over the whole Park, there is no room for anyone or anything else.

    From my perspective all the activities (and their attendant groups) need to be in harmony in Echo Park — the actual Park and the neighborhood. Nobody should be pushed out, and the swap meet, unfortunately, has pushed everybody and everything else out. Not to mention the parking and trash issues mentioned above. Parking is worse than ever.

    By the way, I *never* said the hipster girls were white, and in fact, at least one of them was definitely not white. But your post brings up an excellent point. The reason I felt compelled to stand up for the vendors earlier this year is that the discussion had become racialized. People weren’t focusing on specific issues (parking, trash, etc), they were focusing on the “who” the vendors were. And, yes, that bothered me. When people make racially charged accusations about an entire group of people, I’m turned off and feel the need to stand up for the group accused. Sorry.

  21. Totally ridic.

    I’ve had little old ladies see me going to pull my car out of a primo space by the park on sundays and stand on either end of my car, blocking me in, daring me to run them over, or stay in the spot until their compatriot driving the van around the lake can get around to park in the spot.


    Otherwise, totally with Changed My Mind w/ everything esp. being uncomfortable w the racial quality that the debate had in the past vs the enormous carnival of crap that we have now.

    Chris L’s point speaks more to the real situation at hand which is the effect that the fencing off of the park for 2 years is going to have on the neighborhood and the community that relies on the park for their green space (as terribly polluted as it might be at the moment.)

  22. sorry “changed my mind”. i have become so sensitized to the racism in all of the posts on this blog (from all sides), and have become accustomed to “hipster” being defined as “white person who didn’t grow up in echo park.” i take offense to all of this, it just bums me out to witness the constant barrage of judgement and intolerance. i’ve lived in Echo Park a long time and I feel like this has only become an issue the last few years. anyways, sorry.

  23. Extortion of vendors to pay for parking spaces and selling spots at Echo Park is taking place now….This article troubles me.

    Gang-on-gang violence still occurs occasionally in and around the park. (MacArthur Park) On September 15, 2007, infant Luis Angel Garcia was hit by a stray bullet near the corner of 6th Street and Burlington Avenue. Authorities said the gunmen (part of the 18th Street Gang) were targeting a street vendor who had refused to pay $50 in “rent”. The vendor, Francisco Clemente, was also shot, as was the baby’s mother and the vendor’s girlfriend.

  24. what does McArthur Park have to do with the swap meet at Echo Park? do you actually have proof of this gang extortion, or is this “word on the street”? the majority of these vendors come from out of the area; i have my doubts that they would choose to continue selling their “wares” in Echo Park if they were being victimized by gang members.

  25. Why don’t you speak to the parents of the infant that was shot….maybe they can enlighten you..sorry,oh i forgot there’s no crime in echo park..

  26. huh? What does this have to do with MacArthur park vendors?

    BOYLE HEIGHTS, Calif. (KABC) — A suspect is under arrest after he allegedly impersonated an officer and city official, then robbed Boyle Heights street vendors.

    A Good Samaritan tipped off authorities in this case. That suspect is now facing a number of felony charges.

    The suspect’s victims were small-time street vendors, operating out of push-carts. Police say he would pose as a health inspector, or a Sheriff’s deputy, and then shake the vendors down for cash.

    “He was preying on probably the most vulnerable part of our population out here. The people that have very little money, and he knows are very, very unlikely to report the crime,” said Captain Blake Chow, Los Angeles Police Department.

    Related Content

    Story: Acupuncturist accused of rape
    Nicolas Zavala Morales, 49, is currently held on a $1 million bond. He is charged with impersonating an officer, robbery and grand theft. Authorities say he would use a fake badge or other props, as part of his scheme to extort money from street vendors.

    “He has a portfolio, he opens it up … and in this portfolio is a letterhead that has an L.A. County seal on it. So, he’s holding himself out as an L.A. County health inspector,” said Captain Chow.

    Officials made Zavala’s case public in Boyle Heights on Wednesday because they want others to be aware of imitators. Officials believe there are others targeting street vendors who are operating without a permit, or are in the United States illegally. Therefore, they may be more unlikely to report the crime.

    “Irrespective of whether these people are operating illegally or not, this person committed a crime upon them … that should not be tolerated,” said Jose Huizar, Los Angeles City Council.

    Some in the community say the arrest makes street vendors feel safer about their situation.

    Authorities say Zavala likely targeted more people, specifically in Orange County, and they would like victims to come forward and report those crimes.

  27. I guess that was just word of mouth..

    Sad price of gang ‘rent’
    A street vendor who owed was the target, but a baby died. The LAPD cracks down.
    October 07, 2007|Ari B. Bloomekatz, Times Staff Writer

    The shooting death of a 23-day-old baby has sparked what officials hope will be Los Angeles’ most vigorous crackdown yet on gang members charging “rent” to merchants and vendors, a practice authorities believe is thriving despite an overall drop in crime.

    Los Angeles police detectives and prosecutors say gangs have long charged “taxes” and “rent” to those working in underground economies: street vendors, prostitutes, drug dealers, some residents and immigrant business owners.

    But as gang violence has declined in recent years, authorities said this extortion is increasing because there is less fighting among gangs, who have vetted major boundary disputes and have more time to focus on clamping down on their territories.

    The Los Angeles Police Department has received 23 extortion complaints this year, compared with 10 for all of 2006. Although officials believe these numbers represent a tiny fraction of the larger problem, they said it suggests the problem is worsening.

    The issue rose in prominence last month after gang members allegedly shot a merchant on 6th Street near MacArthur Park who had refused to pay $50 in “rent.” A stray bullet hit the baby boy, who was with his mother and hundreds of others in the marketplace.

    In response, city officials and prosecutors are considering new efforts to combat gang extortion including:

    Placing surveillance cameras in the crowded shopping districts in the MacArthur Park and Pico-Union areas to better understand how the extortion schemes work and build better cases against gangs.

  28. yes, they do extort everyone in Pico Union (they always have). there is a real problem there. but echo park doesn’t have that organized gang infrastructure. maybe at one point in history, but right now it’s just a bunch of old booze hounds hanging out with thuggy 16 year old taggers in front of their apartments. it’s a low rent, dying gang. i disagree with you on this issue in regards to EP.

  29. to be brief, the problem with the illegal vending at the park is that lawlessness breeds lawlessness.

    to be lengthier, there is documented (photo and video) evidence of organized crime/gang activity. they are selling the spots and backing it up with violence. it’s called extortion, and it can be considered a felony. this activity led to some deaths and violence at 6th and union and gun violence in the fashion district downtown. why do you wish that on the people who live in this area? they did not sign up for a gang ridden neighborhood. there was a community improvement meeting last week addressing the issue, where the small claims forms were passed out. i highly recommend people attend these meetings. i live on the westside, but the city states it is powerless against this issue, and hence it could happen at any park around the city. this is because of a lack of political will. any multi-disciplinary task force could take care of this issue with a 1-2-3 punch citing extortion, no collection of sales tax, no sellers permits, no park permits to hold a swap meet, littering, loitering, lack of identification. the list goes on.

    the lawsuit is to garner attention, but as far as damages people do pay more property taxes usually, and just pay more to live near a park. if you look into real estate you can see that easily. it’s nice to live near a park, and to have open green space, but not if it is full of people selling worn out goods on blankets. there are also violations with the food vending. we have these laws for a reason. next thing you’re going to say is “don’t enforce immigration law.”


  30. I agree with “savesocal” . We are either a country of laws ….or not ! We are turning into [ if not already ] a country that has 3rd world influences and activities. These people who violate the law and our weak-kneed politicians and law enforcement agencies add to the destruction of our “values” . OBEY THE LAW or pay the consequences. Sorry that is what helped to make this country great and I for one do not want lawlessness to prevail. Fight on savesocal

  31. i agree with you that the swap meet needs to go. i also agree about the property taxes. we are totally in agreement on everything except the idea you have that gangs are charging people and causing death and violence. you keep bringing up events in other neighborhoods with far worse gang problems, where this sort of thing is common (say McArthur Park with 18th street charging rent for street spaces and taxing petty drug dealers). As I said before: we don’t have that gang infrastructure in Echo Park, just some small time hooligans. I feel like you’re trying to use scare tactics to get rid of the swap meet, and you can’t back up these claims with what happens in other neighborhoods (it’s not fair to our neighborhood to have people brand it as the wild west; especially coming from someone who doesn’t even live here.)

    That said, I agree: get rid of the swap meet. it’s a nuisance and it’s illegal.

  32. @ sigh

    thanks for responding. i think open dialogue is the best thing we have going these days. 🙂

    i totally agree with you that the gang infrastructure doesn’t seem to be as developed in echo park, but as i said there is video and photo evidence of this happening AT echo park. the death and violence that i referred to i stated was at 16th and union and in the fashion district downtown. what’s happening at echo park is the following:

    video evidence of the “charging” and even roping off 10X10 stalls on Saturday night was captured and so far all we’ve seen is someone with a machete. the person who video’d this was someone who was at the meeting last week, and he took the video this saturday.

    the photo evidence was from a woman at the meeting who lives across the street and she and her son took the photos, and i saw that evidence myself.

    i have no interest in using scare tactics, but i think that recognizing that without action this will only get worse, is a safe assumption.

  33. @ sigh

    i’m so sorry! you’re right. i meant to say “backing it up with the threat of violence” in my later paragraph. yes, so far i haven’t heard of any violence at echo park. but i should look into that, and see if anything has occurred. hard to get data on that, because undocumented people don’t like to divulge to the police. and there is data on that.

  34. EchoParkDweller

    The vendors set up along the edge of the sidewalk. There’s still plenty of grass to enjoy. The REAL PROBLEM is the contaminated lake. It smells horrible and pollutes the rest of the LA River and Ocean.

    A few weeks ago 100s of DEAD FISH starting floating to the surface :


  35. Yes, it’s ugly. I do not want them to be able to pay rent there–it’s a park, not a shopping mall.

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