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16 S. Cal. Interdisc. L.J. 49 (2006-2007)
Formal versus Informal Allocation of Land in a Commons: The Case of the Macarthur Park Sidewalk Vendors

handle is hein.journals/scid16 and id is 55 raw text is: FORMAL VERSUS INFORMAL
Sidewalk vendors are becoming a more common presence in cities in
Latin America and the United States. Vendor demand for the best sidewalk
vending spots increasingly exceeds supply, making necessary a system to
allocate space in what is essentially an open access commons. This paper
presents an empirical study of two very different systems of allocation that
have been adopted in the City of Los Angeles, California, a formal one
imposed by the City on legal vendors when they were unable to come up
with one on their own, and a second that was embraced by illegal vendors
across the street on an informal basis. The fact that illegal vendors were
able to adopt any system at all, while a handful of legal vendors were
unable to when given the same opportunity, is not what would have been
predicted by social norms scholarship. Nor can it be attributed to the
activities of local street gangs. Instead the respective success and failure of
these two groups of vendors are best explained by Robert Sugden's game
theory of spontaneous order. Turning to their relative merit, the illegal
*Associate Professor, Mississippi College School of Law; B.A., Washington and Lee University; J.D.,
Yale Law School. I am indebted to a number of entities and individuals who supported this paper.
Bernie Black, Greg Bowman, Bob Ellickson, Mike McCann, Mark Modak-Truran, and an anonymous
reader at the First Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies at the University of Texas, 2006,
reviewed drafts and made helpful suggestions. Participants in workshops at Mississippi College School
of Law and the 2006 meeting of the Society for Latin American Studies at the University of
Nottingham, United Kingdom, helped me strengthen my arguments and otherwise improve the
narrative. The Mississippi College School of Law supported this paper through a summer research
grant. A number of individuals generously shared their time and knowledge about sidewalk vending
with me. They include Alexander Bautista, Carolyn Brownwell, Maggie Calderon, Joseph Colletti,
Grace Roberts Dymess, Sandra Mama Romero Plasencia, Samuel Portillo, Dina Serrano, and Angie
De La Trinidad. I am also grateful to twenty-one anonymous sidewalk vendors on the east side of
Alvarado Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets in Los Angeles, California. Despite their legal
vulnerability, they overcame their suspicion and shared their time and their knowledge of vending with
me. Paul Martin prepared the paper's map of the study area. James and Claudia Sports graciously let my
family and me stay at their Los Angeles area home to enable my wife and me to perform street-level
research there. While my wife and I pounded the pavement, Jim and Maxine Cain watched our children.
Most of all, I thank my wife, Lorena Manriquez, who helped conceive of, conduct, and interpret
interviews with Spanish speaking vendors. Errors in pulling all of this together in this paper are mine

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