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Trial Update: City of Los Angeles Faces Final Trial Postponement in Street Vendor Lawsuit

Amid Ongoing Negotiations, City Council Introduces Motion to Address Harassment by Street Vending Enforcement Agency

LOS ANGELES, CA, MAY 15, 2024 – The non-profit legal team and plaintiffs in Community Power Collective v. City of Los Angeles released the following joint statement today:

“In December 2022, vendor plaintiffs Merlín Alvarado and Ruth Monroy, along with three community empowerment organizations—Community Power Collective, East LA Community Corporation & Inclusive Action for the City—filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging a number of regulations in their Sidewalk Vending Ordinance. Our lawsuit alleges that these regulations violate a 2018 state law—SB 946—that legalized sidewalk vending statewide.

“The goal of this lawsuit is to ensure that the City of Los Angeles follows state law, repeals illegal policies that it previously enacted, and makes vendors whole who have been harassed with citations pursuant to clearly illegal policies. We have already successfully forced the City to repeal its most harmful policies so that vendors will not be cited for operating their businesses in lucrative pedestrian areas. However, to ensure that the City fully addresses its obligation to make those harmed by its actions whole, we have agreed to continue negotiations and will postpone our trial date until July 16, 2024. The Judge overseeing this case stated that this is the last continuance he will grant.

“The lawsuit also includes several references to harassment by Bureau of Street Services (BSS) officers, which have not only continued but tragically increased since filing our lawsuit over 18 months ago.  We are pleased to see that the City introduced a motion last Friday to consider several measures to ensure that BSS does not continue to violate its own regulations and that it treats street vendors with respect.

However, the City has still not addressed the past harm it has caused hundreds of low-income vendors. While we have reached high-level agreement with the City of Los Angeles on changing certain sidewalk vending regulations and addressing certain citations issued to sidewalk vendors, the City has yet to agree to a comprehensive plan that will enact these changes and remedies effectively. Reaching a potential settlement agreement is an urgent issue—for one because all parties involved continue to invest time and resources in this process, but more importantly because street vendors will continue to experience state-sanctioned harm and harassment until these issues are resolved.

“If a satisfactory resolution between the parties cannot be reached by July 16, the sidewalk vendors, vendor advocates, and their counsel are fully prepared to take our case to trial and ask a judge to order the City to fully comply with state law and to make vendors whole.

“Whether through settlement or in court, we are confident that this lawsuit will result in the restoration of vendor rights in the City of Los Angeles and will serve as a signal to other jurisdictions that they cannot arbitrarily exclude vendors from their local economy.

“We appreciate your understanding and support as we proceed with these negotiations for the rights and fair treatment of our street vendor community. Due to the confidential nature of these discussions, we are unable to share further details at this time.

The plaintiffs are represented by Arnold and Porter, a private, worldwide law firm, providing pro bono co-counsel support, and the nonprofit law firms, Public Counsel and Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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For media inquiries, email Josh here.

Public Counsel: Public Counsel is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing civil rights and racial and economic justice, as well as to amplifying the power of our clients through comprehensive legal advocacy. Founded on and strengthened by a pro bono legal service model, our staff and volunteers

seek justice through direct legal services, promote healthy and resilient communities through education and outreach, and support community-led efforts to transform unjust systems through litigation and policy advocacy in and beyond Los Angeles.

Arnold & Porter: Arnold & Porter combines sophisticated regulatory, litigation, and transactional capabilities to resolve clients’ most complex issues. With over 1,000 lawyers practicing in 15 offices worldwide, we offer deep industry experience and an integrated approach that spans more than 40 practice areas. Through multidisciplinary collaboration and focused industry experience, we provide innovative and effective solutions to mitigate risks, address challenges, and achieve successful outcomes.

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.

Western Center Roundup – September 2023


Celebrating Latino Heritage Month

Western Center celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th, and recognizes the achievements, culture, history, and more contributions of people of Hispanic and Latinx descent. California is home to 15 million Latinos, with a large population of younger folks who are shaping the future of our state and are overwhelmingly optimistic about the opportunities available. In recognition of this powerful and growing diverse group, our latest Meet the Advocates webinar was in partnership with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California , a statewide policy and advocacy organization protecting and advancing Latinx health equity. Our event was focused on Medi-Cal renewals and how to ensure Latinx communities, communities with low-incomes, and communities of color are enrolled in or able to maintain life saving coverage. We hosted the webinar in both English and Spanish, featuring Western Center senior attorneys David Kane and Helen Tran,and Ana Tutila a promotora from Orange County. Recordings of the webinar are available in English and Spanish.



New Class Action Lawsuit: Over 40 Million Americans At Risk Of Hunger If Federal Government Fails To Act

Western Center on Law and Poverty and Impact Fund have filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prevent a delay in providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to over 40 million Americans. Congress must pass either appropriation bills or a “continuing resolution” to temporarily continue federal funding by September 30th, or else the federal government will shut down. Earlier this month, the Census Bureau reported a rise in the poverty rate, increasing to 12.4 percent in 2022 up from 7.8 percent in 2021, “the largest one-year jump on record.” The increase is largely due to the end of pandemic era programs like additional SNAP allotments to individuals and families. “It’s unconscionable that Congress would allow partisan fighting to get in the way of 42 million Americans putting food on their tables,” said Jodie Berger, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty.“The USDA must ensure SNAP recipients do not experience gaps in benefits regardless of any impending government shutdown. Children should not go to bed hungry, and people should not have to choose between paying rent and eating. The neediest people living in the richest country in the world deserve to have food on the table.” In a major victory, we secured guaranteed October SNAP benefits for over 40 million Americans for this October and years to come.

Learn More



How Grocery Mergers Harm Communities and Food Access

An impending grocery store merger between Albertson and Kroger spells trouble for millions. The merger would create less competition, harming workers, consumers, and diminishing access to strong wages, nutritious foods, and pharmaceutical needs. Corporate games drive and exacerbate poverty and we must stand strong against such harmful decisions.

“We must not forget the workers who kept us fed during difficult times, times they were experiencing and enduring too. Hundreds of thousands of people became unhoused and turned to SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh benefits in California, to get by because wages did not increase significantly. As communities with low incomes, communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and children continue to recover, this merger and others like it will only increase avoidable food insecurity,” writes Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, Outreach & Advocacy Associate.

READ THE BLOG



Welcome Brandon and Whitney to Western Center!

Brandon Greene joins our team as the Director of Policy Advocacy. Previously, he held roles as the Director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California, the Manager of the Civic Design Lab in Oakland and as an Attorney and Clinical Supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center. He brings a wealth of advocacy experience in racial, economic, and systemic justice. Brandon looks forward to driving policy change and incorporating learnings from California’s historic reparations report.

Whitney Francis is our 2023-2024 Peter Harbage Fellow. Every year, the Peter Harbage Fellowship provides one exceptional young person a year-long experience to deepen learning and capabilities in leadership and health care policy within California. We are excited to work with Whitney as she applies her experience in food justice, city planning, and systems change to Western Center’s health policy work.

MEET OUR TEAM


Trial Date Set For Street Vendors’ Lawsuit to End City of L.A.’s “Unlawful & Discriminatory” No-Vending Zones

TRIAL DATE SET FOR STREET VENDORS’ LAWSUIT TO END CITY OF L.A.’S “UNLAWFUL & DISCRIMINATORY” NO-VENDING ZONES

The vendors’ lawyers and three community empowerment organizations issued a statement after the trial-setting conference criticizing the City of LA’s leadership for its failure to take action.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 5, 2023 – Today, L.A. Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant scheduled a trial date for the lawsuit brought by sidewalk vendor advocates and two sidewalk vending business owners against the City of Los Angeles. The suit challenges the City of Los Angeles’ unlawful restrictions on sidewalk vending, which plaintiffs allege violate a 2018 state law, SB 946, that legalized sidewalk vending statewide. In particular, the lawsuit addresses the City’s no-vending zones, which ban vending businesses from some of the most pedestrian-friendly parts of the City. The trial is set for February 15, 2024. 

Three community empowerment groups – Community Power Collective, East LA Community Corporation, and Inclusive Action for the City – which are organizational petitioners in the suit, and their public interest attorneys – Public Counsel and Western Center on Law & Poverty – issued a joint statement after today’s trial-setting conference:

“Every day that the City continues to enforce these unlawful vending restrictions, it contributes to the harm and persecution of sidewalk vendors. Because of these restrictions, vendors must choose between costly tickets and harassment from the Bureau of Street Services (Streets LA) investigators, or operating in isolated and unfamiliar areas where they struggle to make ends meet. Operating in isolated areas also makes vendors more vulnerable to acts of violence and crime. Sidewalk vendors are hard-working small business owners trying to earn an honest living and provide for their families, but these illegal no-vending zones and other restrictive regulations ostracize and bar them from equitable economic opportunity.

We are disappointed that the City has not stepped up to resolve this issue, and is instead allowing this case to go to trial. Many City leaders have been vocal in supporting street vendors, and some have even spoken out against these unlawful restrictions. Yet, in practice, the City continues enforcing draconian policies that discriminate against vendors in favor of brick-and-mortar businesses, which are allowed to set up sprawling outdoor dining operations on our public sidewalks in the exact areas where even a small vending cart is prohibited. As a result of this economic protectionism in favor of wealthier businesses, vendors are left alone to protect themselves and their fellow vendors. In response, vendors have organized themselves and built localized systems of power to challenge the City’s exclusionary policies and assert their legal right to vend within the City’s no-vending zones as active participants in these communities.

Vendor leaders have continuously offered clear and thoughtful solutions that promote equal economic opportunity in Los Angeles while addressing legitimate health and safety issues. The City has the power to end these unlawful and discriminatory policies, yet in the nine months since we filed this lawsuit, it has continued to enforce them, enabling the financial, physical, and psychological harm of its own residents. Instead of choosing to support economic development and working-class, immigrant communities, the City continues to engage in costly litigation. 

We are prepared to go to trial and are confident that the facts and law are on our side. Sidewalk vendors are part of the economic, social, and cultural fabric of Los Angeles, they have organized to protect themselves and each other against discriminatory policies, and we are proud to stand alongside them as they fight for dignity and respect under the law. Our movement will continue to support these efforts, whether that is in the streets, the halls of power, or in the courtroom.”

The lawsuit was filed in December 2022 by street vendors and the above coalition of community empowerment groups. In March 2023, Judge Chalfant rejected the City’s arguments to dismiss the case, allowing the suit to continue. Public Counsel, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP represent the petitioners.

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Public Counsel: Public Counsel is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing civil rights and racial and economic justice, as well as to amplifying the power of our clients through comprehensive legal advocacy. Founded on and strengthened by a pro bono legal service model, our staff and volunteers seek justice through direct legal services, promote healthy and resilient communities through education and outreach, and support community-led efforts to transform unjust systems through litigation and policy advocacy in and beyond Los Angeles.

Arnold & Porter: With nearly 1,000 lawyers and 14 offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Arnold & Porter’s lawyers practice in more than 40 practice groups across the litigation, regulatory and transactional spectrum to help clients with complex needs stay ahead of the challenges they face.

Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.

Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.​

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Hunger Relief Heroes Ensure Most Vulnerable Households Receive Critical Food Benefits

Three years out from the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, it easy to forget what it was like before vaccines when we worried about food shortages, long lines at the grocery store, washing the stuff you brought home from the store, or even if it was safe to leave our homes. In 2020, I worked at an online retailer and I was returning to that job but not until May. I needed a gig in the interim. Through my volunteer advocacy with the Food Bank, I got a contract job helping to organize an event called Hunger Action Day. I had just started when Covid hit and everything went into lockdown and shelter in place.

The event was canceled and without income, I applied for unemployment and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. I lived on my savings till those came through.

Congress passed relief measures to support people like me who were out of work due to the pandemic, increasing unemployment for example. Congress also authorized increased food benefits called Emergency Allotments for people on SNAP to help with the financial uncertainty and higher food prices. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture undermined this relief by saying that Emergency Allotments were only available to round people’s food benefits up to the maximum amount for their household size. That meant that people with little or no income, like me, who were already receiving the maximum would not get any additional help.

When I learned what the USDA did, I was angry and frustrated for a moment. Angry that it was unfair and frustrated knowing it’s just so typical of those who’ve made it their mission to attack safety net programs, especially SNAP. There’s so much dis-information about SNAP out there. Maybe the worst of myth is that SNAP covers a person’s food budget for the month for them or their family. It surely does not. People were receiving the maximum amount of SNAP because they needed it and qualified for it. And they needed the additional Emergency Allotments because of the pandemic—to deal with food shortages, higher prices, long lines, and living in lockdown—regardless of the amount of regular SNAP they were receiving. In those days, just being able to access food had a cost to it. But despite overwhelming bipartisan support for Emergency Allotments, the USDA and the Trump Administration were thwarting the intent of the COVID relief passed by Congress. They were playing politics with people’s hunger.

That is why I decided to take a stand and together with my co-plaintiff Robin Hall sue the USDA to make Emergency Allotments available for everyone. I first had to rely on CalFresh as a result of the Great Recession in 2008 and spending 2009 homeless. In my post-homeless life, for a number of years I was a volunteer at the Food Bank. I worked with a group of volunteers from the community all with some experience with food insecurity, who would advocate mostly on the policy side on hunger and poverty issues. That work was very gratifying and there were many successes. Things stayed shut down for months, when they came back, they came back slowly and different from what they were. I was thinking about how I could continue somehow as an anti-hunger advocate when the opportunity to participate in our lawsuit with the Western Center on Law & Poverty and The Impact Fund.

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EPIC News – November 2021

We’re headed into the last month of the year, which means this is the last EPIC Newsletter of 2021!
Keep your eyes peeled in December for our end-of-year message to round out 2021 and welcome 2022.


Latinx Families File Lawsuit Against Harbor Regional Center 

Western Center and Disability Rights California filed a lawsuit on behalf of a parent group in Torrance, CA to stop discrimination against Latinx families at Harbor Regional Center. The regional center is supposed to provide services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The parent group, Padres Buscando el Cambio, is comprised of families whose needs have been ignored, and who’ve faced explicitly discriminatory comments from Harbor Regional Center staff.

As a recipient of state funds, Harbor Regional Center’s actions are not only unfair, they are also illegal. Our lawsuit seeks to compel the regional center and state to deliver services that meet the needs of everyone the center serves.


L.A. County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Food Assistance

Western Center, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and The Public Interest Law Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh (aka food stamp) recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food, despite a state mandate requiring such benefits be distributed in three days.

The lawsuit demands that the county comply with its legal obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits for those most in need.


Giving Season is Here!   

Tomorrow, November 30th, is Giving Tuesday – a global movement to amplify the power of radical generosity. There are so many ways to participate in Giving Tuesday, from random acts of kindness, to telling a friend how much you appreciate them, to making a donation to Western Center – the goal is a day filled with giving and generosity. How do you plan to participate?

If you were unable to join us for this year’s virtual Garden Party event, or just want to re-watch the festivities, you can find the recording of the program here. It’s also not too late to make a donation to support the event! Click here to make a donation.


Native American Heritage Month  

November is Native American Heritage Month, which according to the National Congress of American Indians “is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum paid tribute to the traditions and ancestry of Native Americans with a collection of events and resources throughout November. PBS also offers a collection of film, documentaries, and programs to inform and celebrate the history, influence, and contributions of Native Americans.


Emprenden acciones legales por supuestos retrasos en los beneficios de CalFresh

“Estos son los datos autoinformados del condado, y son asombrosos”, dijo Alex Prieto, abogado del Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Cada vez que el condado no procesa una solicitud a tiempo, pone a las personas en peligro de pasar hambre y empuja a los padres a una lucha devastadora para satisfacer las necesidades más básicas de sus hijos”.

https://www.telemundo52.com/noticias/california/los-angeles-demanda-calfresh-supuesto-retrasos-beneficios/2239445/

PRESS RELEASE: LA County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Emergency Food Assistance to Eligible Households

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.

Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

The lawsuit—filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days.

“CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food,” said Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles. “When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.”

“Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic,” said Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN). “These county delays make it harder for people—especially houseless people—to access food and take care of their health.”

In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering,” said Western Center on Law & Poverty attorney Alex Prieto. “Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.”

“The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.”

Read the full complaint here.

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Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County.   Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.