After Protests, San Fernando Swap Meet Institutes New Space Rental Process

F. Castro / SFVS

After vociferous protests at the reopening of the San Fernando Swap Meet on Tuesday July 14, the administration  who runs  the open air flea market gave in to some of the concerns and demands from vendors who said they were unfairly shut out of the process and refused space.  Now, there are new rules for making space reservations.

While the change may placate some main complaints, vendors said there is still much confusion and too much that still isn’t known about going forward with an agreement.

August Will Be Re-booked

A main complaint voiced by long-time vendors was the allegation they weren’t notified when the space rental process began, which left them out.  They complained their longevity as swap meet vendors wasn’t honored while others were allowed to rent several spaces.

In response, the swap meet administration recently posted “Interim Reopening Processes” on their website,  July 18, announcing  that all vendors who had made online reservations for August would receive a credit or refund and all vendors will be required to “re-book.”

As written on the website, “The reason for this change is to allow longtime vendors the ability to potentially regain their historical spaces in August.”

August reservations will be conducted in three phases: July 21-24 for longtime vendors whose spaces are available to rent, July 25-28 for longtime vendors whose spaces have been blocked off and therefore unavailable for rental.

And to accommodate more vendors, they will only be allowed to reserve one space each.

The third phase, from July 29-July 31, is open to all vendors, including those who’ve already reserved a space in previous phases.

Still, the Swap Meet notes that to comply with safe distancing rules, they have randomly selected every other space to be blocked off.

Albina Bravo, Swap Meet Manager, told the San Fernando Valley Sun previously that they had reduced the number of spaces available from 856 to about half, 426.

The Swap Meet also promises to credit monthly vendors for the half month of March when it was first forced to shut due to the pandemic.

Vendors Remain Concerned

Angie Villagrana, whose parents Martha and Francisco Villagrana have been selling at the Swap Meet for several decades, was part of the negotiations with the Swap Meet administration following protests last week.

While she admits some gains were made, she is concerned about some of the rules including the process for August which is described in the information as “interim.”

One of the issues is that the Swap Meet allows vendors to put their space on “vacation” for a month each year without risk of losing it.

Many vendors who are worried about returning to sell amid the pandemic were hoping to put their spaces on “vacation” for August, but now they are worried about losing their spaces if they do.

“My mom has diabetes and hypertension, my dad is 82, I don’t want them to go back this month,” Villagrana said.

But at the same time, “we shouldn’t be paying for something we’re not going to be using. They should honor us trying to be safe,” she added.

Villagrana notes that safety measures imposed at the Swap Meet—including limiting the number of customers to a maximum of 200 and only allowing three customers per stand— are not being followed, she said.

“There’s been spaces that have had 15-20 people next to each other,” Villagrana said.

She also contends that while the Swap Meet administration is taking the temperatures of every vendor, they are not doing this with customers.

“To me, that defeats the purpose,” Villagrana said, adding that she recommends that safety requirements for social distancing and wearing of masks be reinforced and announcements are made on speakers at the Swap Meet.  People she said, should be reminded of safety measures often throughout the day.

Another longtime vendor (who asked not to be identified) and who was left without a space in the reopening, is also worried and still debating what to do. She said she would wait until the last day to reserve the August space.

On the one hand she fears the risk of COVID-19 as people are in close contact, but on the other, she needs to sell.

“I am afraid of returning, but this is my only source of income,” she said.

“We were protesting because we were afraid of losing our spaces, but I don’t think they solved all our grievances,” the vendor said.

It worries her that the Swap Meet is making them sign a contract that would only last a month before changing it again for September.

And they do not know what those changes could be.

“I think they’re just giving us a month to shut us up,” she said. 

A Second “Stay at Home” Order Is Possible 

In the meantime, there may be a much bigger problem looming -- during the San Fernando City Council meeting on Monday, July 20, Vice Mayor Hector Pacheco was strong in his suggestion that the swap meet should be shut down altogether.  However, other council members asked for more information from Robertson Properties about safety measures in place and asked city staff to report back to them at their next meeting.  

However, that may all be moot.

If conditions don’t improve with rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the decision could be made for a second stay-at-home order that could put the Swap Meet and other businesses back to square one. Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to make an announcement within the next week or two if the rates of infection don’t slow down.

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