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Santa Monica Cracks Down on Illegal Pier Vendors  

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By Jorge Casuso

January 11, 2022 -- A crackdown on illegal Pier vendors this weekend resulted in a juvenile arrested for carrying a loaded firearm and a female vendor for an assault that took place in November.

The arrests came as the City kicked off a Pier vending task force made up of Police, Fire, Code and Public Works personnel to crack down on out-of-control illegal vendors who swarm the Pier on weekends.

The task force was joined on Saturday and Sunday by the LA County Health Department to help stop renegade vendors from lighting cooking fires, spilling grease into storm drains and overflowing trash bins with waste.

"The task force’s work this weekend was a success," said Constance Farrell, the City's spokeswoman. "The Pier and adjacent areas remained free of unpermitted vendors during the hours the task force worked."

Councilmember Phil Brock, who visited the Pier at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, said he saw no illegal carts on a weekend evening when there are sometimes as many as 60.

"It worked," said Brock. "The difference was palpable. There were no illegal carts. It's a miracle. It hasn't happened in a year and a half."

Brock visited the Pier the evening before police made two arrests Saturday involving illegal vending.

At around 5::30 p.m., officers assigned to patrol the pier were driving through Parking Lot 1 when they spotted a group "standing near a pick-up truck loaded with vending carts," said Lt. Rudy Flores, the Police Department spokesman.

As the officers approached, "a male in the group lifted his arms and officers noticed the black handle of a handgun protruding from above the male’s waistband," Flores said.

The officers safely recovered the handgun from the suspect's waistband and found a high-capacity loaded magazine with 15 rounds in his front pocket, according to Flores.

"While SMPD officers were engaged in the high-risk action of taking an armed individual into custody, they encountered a large group of vendors that attempted to intervene on behalf of the armed subject," Flores said.

"Despite the vendors taunting and verbally abusive behaviors toward the officers," the suspect was successfully detained and disarmed.

"Officers on scene required the immediate assistance of additional officers to assist with the safe departure from the area with the arrested individual," Flores said.

At the station, officers learned that the male was a 14-year-old juvenile and booked the un-serialized semi-automatic handgun, commonly referred to as a “ghost-gun,” and the magazine with live rounds as evidence.

The minor was booked for carrying a loaded firearm and possession of a high-capacity magazine and transported to juvenile hall.

At around the same time Saturday, police officers spotted Michelle Antonia Murcia, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles wanted for attacking another female vendor the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Murcia, who was standing in front of Hot Dog on a Stick in the 1600 block of Ocean Front Walk, was detained and taken into custody without incident, Flores said.

The arrest stemmed from an assault that took place on November 21 at the base of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. stairs involving Murcia and another street vendors.

"When officers arrived, they contacted a female victim who told them that she was being challenged to fight by another female vendor, later identified as Murcia, so she took out her cellular phone to record the female’s actions," Flores said.

"Murcia became angry and pushed a hotdog cart at the victim, causing hot oil to spill onto the victim’s arms and hands," he said.

Santa Monica Fire personnel responded to treat the burns, but Murcia had left the area before officers arrived. Murcia was booked Saturday for assault with a deadly weapon.

The pier vending task force is one of several safety and maintenance initiatives launched by the City starting last month ("City Embarks on $1 Million in Safety and Maintenance Projects," December 17, 2021).

Of the total $1 million the City is spending, $275,000 is being used to beef up private security at the pier through June 30.

The additional security officers will help code enforcement "reduce the volume of unpermitted vending or other unlawful activity on the Pier, thus reducing the associated fire and environmental risks," City staff said.

The Council last month directed staff to assess "the continued challenges" posed by illegal vendors, who Pier merchants complain have grown more "aggressive" and "brazen" ("Council Revisits 'Out-Of-Control' Illegal Pier Vendors," December 10, 2021).

The item was placed on the agenda less than four months after the Council cracked down on illegal pier vendors taking advantage of a 2019 State law meant to boost economic opportunities for immigrant and low-income communities ("Council to Consider Banning Risky Vendor Activities," August 18, 2021).

"The City has had a collaborative approach to enforcing unpermitted vending since the August 2021 Council item," said Farrell, "but for the weeks ahead, and starting this past weekend, we have even more and consistent personnel dedicated to the issue."

Anyone with more information regarding the two incidents leading to Saturday's arrests should call Detective Spenser at 310-458-8420 or the Watch Commander (24 hours) at 310-458-8426.

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