The shutdown of the Lincoln Heights Night Market demonstrates what’s wrong with LA government

Today in a local coffee shop (With Love Market & Cafe, which is great) I saw a free magazine released by my district’s City Councilmember, Gil Cedillo.  The very first article in it was a letter in which Councilmember Cedillo explained why he had to shut down the popular Lincoln Heights Night Market.  I’d like to express how much this annoys me, and how it perfectly captures the problems with Gil Cedillo and Los Angeles local government in general.

Photo by Wonho Frank Lee

The Lincoln Heights Night Market was a hugely popular outdoor marketplace that emerged sometime last year.  What began as a group of street food vendors in an alleyway between West Avenue 33 and Humboldt Street went viral via tiktok and exploded in popularity.  On August 5th of this year, by order of Councilmember Cedillo, the night market was shut down.  Police fenced off the alleyway and told vendors and visitors to disperse.  My criticism of local leadership is that the problems with the night market were all things that the night market couldn’t fix itself, and which the city could and should have. Instead they blamed the community and shut the market down.

Photo by Wonho Frank Lee

Let’s talk about those problems.  According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, the massive crowds left behind trash, urine, and feces.  Additionally, visitors to the market would park illegally and block driveways.  Some local residents also complained about noise and violence.  The management of all these things are the responsibility of local government.  Of course crowds will relieve themselves on dumpsters if there are no bathroom facilities.  The vendors can’t do anything about this, but City Councilmembers like Gil Cedillo can.  They chose not to, just like they choose not to provide sanitation for homeless encampments, resulting in the very problems that they use to justify extremely punitive non-solutions.  Los Angeles city government was excoriated for this, (as well as other failures) in a report by a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“I saw sewage filled yards in states [California] where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility.”

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

In the case of parking problems, this too can’t be solved by the merchants in the night market, but it can and should be addressed by local government.  The Lincoln/Cypress station of the LA Metro Gold Line was a block away, with the last southbound train leaving at 1 am.  A bus stop for the 251 route was 350 ft away.  And for those who don’t know (which is most people), Metro buses are currently free.  By informing visitors that parking would be strictly enforced and directing them to underutilized public transit, parking problems could have been addressed by the city.  In addition to a lack of awareness, its also possible that people avoid public transit due to serious ongoing service problems on LA Metro buses and trains. This represents another failure of local government that urgently needs addressed.

As for noise and rowdy behavior, this could absolutely have been dealt with, most likely without police involvement.  In interviews with local news, vendors expressed optimism about working with the city to establish the market in a more legitimate way. And according to the Los Angeles Times, vendors allocated spots among themselves, demonstrating that they were able to coordinate effectively.  There’s every reason to believe the city could have established guidelines and enlisted the help of vendors to enforce them.  Instead the city promised it wouldn’t close the market and then abruptly did so without warning.

As I mentioned above, this demonstrates everything wrong with local Los Angeles government.  Decades of misguided policies have made the city exorbitant and unlivable, with sky high costs of housing, and scarce parking for the excess of cars that are necessary to traverse a vast sprawl created by terrible zoning laws.  Residents of a disadvantaged neighborhood created a hugely popular community space that brought in revenue from other parts of the city, but the failure of local government to enable proper sanitation and transportation created serious problems.  Local officials then blamed the residents themselves, and completely shutdown this market.  Where do those vendors go now?  Why isn’t Gil Cedillo working with members of the community to make somewhere for locals to sell food?  And how can we expect any community experiencing poverty to close the wealth gap with more affluent neighborhoods if basic needs are unmet and attempts at entrepreneurship are punished?  These failures reflect an overall lack of awareness of the serious problems affecting the city and the need to fix them.  As long as Councilmembers like Gil Cedillo believe their only responsibility is to show up to meetings and occasionally deploy the police to breakup marketplaces (and homeless encampments), it’s the responsibility of Los Angelinos to seek better leadership.

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