A swap meet-free Echo Park Lake

The Eastsider LA
Aug 8, 2010

A swap meet-free Echo Park Lake today.

A swap meet-free Echo Park Lake today.

The LAPD returned to Echo Park Lake today for the second consecutive Sunday to keep swap meet vendors out of the park. But, unlike last weekend when police cleared the park of peddlers by issuing tickets for solicitation on public property, today they were enforcing a different law. It turns out that the municipal code officers were enforcing last Sunday was voided in the early 1970s, said Sgt. Joel Miller with the Rampart Division special problems unit. Miller and city legal experts spent Friday looking into the matter after The Eastsider reported that a deputy city attorney assigned to deal with the Echo Park swap meet raised questions about the last weekend’s police action. “The tickets won’t be prosecuted,” Miller said of the handful of citations issued last Sunday. Instead, after conferring with the City Attorney on Friday, police today showed up at Echo Park Lake prepared to write citations for violations of a state law requiring sellers permits.

However, when police arrived this morning to enforce the state law, the swap meet vendors – who at one point occupied most of the northern and eastern portions of the park – failed to set up. “It looked like word got out,” about last week’s police action, said officer Joseph Torrance this afternoon. No one had been cited as of 2 PM for violations of the state law, he said. Torrance said some people had expressed support for the police action. “They were enjoying having the park back.”

Miller, who was interviewed Friday, said that the Capt. Steve Ruiz of the Rampart Division had made clearing out the swap meet a priority. However, Miller concedes, he was the one who decided to enforce the municipal code dealing with solicitation, unaware that it was no longer in effect (the reasons why the law was voided could not be immediately determined). “That does not mean it won’t be challenged but, right now, it’s something I can use,” Miller said.

This month’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.

Juan Vargas, who was visiting the park this afternoon with his wife and son, said he had mixed feelings about police clearing out the vendors. Vargas, who had purchased tools at the swap meet, said he wonders why the city could not organize a swap meet or flea market on some nearby public parking lots instead of the park. He said that some cities in his native Mexico allocate and charge for space at such markets. “The park is not a place for selling things,” Vargas said. “It’s for the family to enjoy.”