February 27, 2003
To David Keim
Los Angeles Dept of Building and Safety.
500 Shatto Place, Suite 500
Los Angeles, CA 90020
It was good to meet with you again at the block grant meeting last Monday, February 24, 2003.
As was the case the time before when we attended a block grant meeting, I complained to you about the inability of the DBS (Department of Building and Safety) to eliminate, let alone control, the illegal vending problem in Los Angeles, particularly where I live in Van Nuys. While your department gets a "C+" grade for the enforcement of building codes by harrying stable tax paying property owners, it gets an "F" in the enforcement of zoning codes as applied to illegal street (sidewalk) vendors, in particular, when it involves immigrants, most who cannot be cited because they do not carry IDs. Yes, I know you are supposed to fingerprint and take a photo of violators who do not carry IDs, supposedly, so that you can arrest them if caught again. But when I went on two ride-alongs to observe the sweeps that the LAPD and your department laud as the solution to this problem, no one took pictures or fingerprints -- it is just DBS talk (no pun intended).
While controlling illegal vending is a quality-of-life issue, it has now, since 9/11, also become a matter of life and death.
When I brought up the possibility that a terrorist could pose as an illegal vendor and disseminate anthrax through the sale of un-inspected food which could kill thousands of innocent people, this brought some chuckles from you and some of the listeners. While I generally have a good sense of humor and I appreciate your sense of humor, this is no laughing matter.
Since the enforcement of the law against illegal vending is primarily the responsibility of the LAPD, it seems illogical that the responsibility has been passed to the DBS. The LAPD says that since illegal sidewalk vendors are violating zoning laws, the DBS must do the enforcing. The DBS says they can't do effective enforcement because they don't have "arrest" power. Moreover, when the illegal vending involves the sale of food, both the LAPD and the DBS want to pass the buck to the County Health Dept. And if the vendor decided to operate alongside the sidewalk in the street, it now becomes a matter for Department of Transportation because the vender is now committing a parking violation. Sound crazy? It is!
As a result, enforcement of the laws against illegal sidewalk vending can only be carried out when all three departments (LAPD, DBS, & City Health) working together, conduct infrequent coordinated sweeps involving the DBS to handle the zoning violation, the health department which must bring along a trash truck to dispose of the un-inspected food, and the LAPD to protect the other two department's personell. The coordination and logistics involved in the sweeps are so complex, that it makes one think of the coordination and logistics of the three branches of the military before they launch an attack on a foreign enemy. But at least the military works every weekend. Not only are the sweeps totally ineffective in stemming illegal vending, they are very expensive. A far cry from yesteryear when an illegal sidewalk yo-yo vendor went scooting at the mere sight of a LAPD beat-cop several blocks away.
WHY THE DEPARTMENTS CAN'T ENFORCE ILLEGAL VENDING:
Anyone operating an illegal sidewalk vending operation can do so with impunity. No one is punished for illegally vending, albeit, the DBS thinks the confiscation of the vending carts and equipment is punishment. It's not, because most vendors operate with someone else's equipment which may include stolen supermarket shopping carts easily replaced. Of course, it's not a problem to whip up a new batch of un-inspected food. So the illegal vendor is back in business the next day.
NO ID AND WALK
All city and county departments have a de facto policy of allowing illegal vendors to "walk" when they cannot produce any domestic government issued identification such as a driver's license. Illegal vendors know this, so they intentionally carry no form of identification. However, anyone operating a business in Los Angeles, must be able to produce some form of identification showing the legitimacy of the business, but the DBS does not involve itself in business licensing -- only zone violations. In some cases, illegal vendors are issued a citation and then allowed to walk.
NO CITATION FOLLOW-UP
What the DBS considers to be enforcement, is the issuance of citations. In some cases, when a violator has some form of ID the DBS may issue a citation. But this is little more than an inconvenience for illegal vendors and a waste of time for the DBS because there is absolutely no follow-up -- the illegal vendor simply ignores the citation and continues to carry on illegal vending. No one at the DBS knows how many of those cited, ever showed up in court, and what the outcome was of those who did show up in court. Of course, the DBS cannot do any more than give out citations because it does not have arresting power.
HOW POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS IS UNCHECKED ILLEGAL SIDEWALK VENDING?
How about anthrax laced food sold to school children, to people in recreational places, and on city streets.
Couldn't happen you say? Just keep this in mind: To anyone smart enough to learn to fly an airliner into a high rise building, masquerading as an illegal vendor in Los Angeles to disseminate anthrax is a piece of cake.
We hear the mantra all the time from the DBS, the L.A. County Health Department, and the LAPD: "we haven't got the resources nor the manpower." Really? Why not ask the Burbank PD why they have virtually no illegal sidewalk vending. Could it be because they have a zero tolerance policy on this issue? Quite candidly, the community is getting fed up with the your excuses.
After ten years of pleading, writing letters, and taking former Police Chief Bernard Parks to small claims court (for devaluating my property), illegal vending is still alive and well. Thus, I do not hold out much hope that this letter will result in any meaningful action. But at least I will get the satisfaction of saying to you and the others, "I told you so" when in the future, some thousands of people die at the hands of a terrorist anthrax disseminator because you and the others didn't have the manpower nor the resources.
Many politicians and bureaucrats are quick to act when there is public outrage. To generate public outrage, I am asking anyone who reads this email to RESPECTFULLY send your email letter of outrage to the following persons (please copy me):
David Keim, Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Dept of Building and Safety <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Miller, LAPD Bureau of Homeland Security <email@example.com>
LA Police Chief William Bratton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jonathan E. Fielding M.D., Director of Public Health <email@example.com>
To the appropriate L.A. council member/s <http://www.lacity.org/council.htm>
To the appropriate L.A. county supervisor/s <http://bos.co.la.ca.us/>
CC: Chief Bratton; County Dir of Health, Jonathan Fielding; all of the L.A. City council members; all of the county supervisors, the L.A. Daily News, other unnamed recipients, and posted on website <www.LAwatchdog.com>
Just after sending the above email letter, I made the recipients aware that the FBI Warned: "...Among the [terrorist] group's methods are what is called "prolonged static surveillance," in which people are "disguised as panhandlers, demonstrators, shoe shiners, food or flower vendors, news agents or street sweepers..."