Many Echo Park Lake swap meet vendors packed up their wares and folded up their tarps this afternoon as police issued warnings and tickets to those who refused to leave. About a handful of vendors were cited for soliciting on city property in the first-such sweep by police against the Echo Park vendors, said Sgt. Joel Miller with the Rampart Division. Police were there to warn and educate the vendors about the law than to issue citations, Miller said.
“We understand they are trying to make a living,” Miller said. But the park “wasn’t meant to be a swap meet.”
An Echo Park resident posted a comment to this story describing the mass exodus of vendors:
“Immediately upon setting my feet on the park grounds, the sellers were packing up and running away. I have never witnessed such a mass exodus at the park. It was eerie, people grabbing their wares and running into the street … I continued to walk around the park to Glendale Blvd where I saw frantic people driving their vans into the park to expedite the collection of their items. You asked for money, money was everywhere. People were trying to sell items as they were packing them into their vans, bags, u-hauls and other means of transportation.”
Only a few vendors, who have sprawled along much of the northern and eastern edges of the park, were still present at about 4 PM.
Today’s police action comes about a month after representatives from Councilman Eric Garcetti’s office and the City Attorney said the city was powerless to enforce laws to stop the swap meet until a lawsuit brought by vendors and exhibitors in Venice is resolved. The Eastsider is seeking comment from the council officer on today’s enforcement.*
In the northeast corner of the park, one man who was assisting a vendor pack up said they had no choice but to move on. “If the police say we can’t be here, we can’t be here.”
Another man named Robert, who had purchased a table saw earlier in the day from one of the vendors, said the swap meet fills a need for affordable merchandise during a time when many are struggling financially. “That’s why a lot of people come here because they can afford to buy stuff. What else are they going to do?”
Miller said the officers were enforcing section 42.14.1 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, which reads in part:
“No person shall seek beg or solicit custom, patronage, sales, alms or donations for himself or on behalf of any person in any manner or for any purpose in any building or in or on any property or premises under the control of this City without the written permission of the head of the department having jurisdiction over the building or grounds where such solicitation is to be made.”
* Update: Councilman Eric Garcetti issued a statement on Monday regarding the police sweep:
“Turning Echo Park into a marketplace forces kids to play in the street. A city like Los Angeles cannot afford to lose what little public green space we have. In a dense, urban community like the one surrounding Echo Park, the need is even greater. This is a neighborhood where backyards are a luxury. Echo Park serves families who have few options where their kids can safely play. My office is working with city departments to protect the park despite litigation that has hampered enforcement. One solution is to step-up enforcement of laws not affected by the pending litigation. This weekend’s action sent a loud and clear signal that we’re going to protect Echo Park for families, not commercial activity. At the same time, in these difficult economic times, we have been working with local non-profits, community development groups, and others to provide technical and other support to help aspiring small business owners establish legitimate businesses, while at the same time protecting public safety, public health and our neighborhood parks.”
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