Public Spaces, Parks, Streets & Sidewalks

Guide to Laws About Activities on Public Streets, Sidewalks, Parks, and other Public Spaces in Los Angeles

1. Being on the sidewalk or street

Can the police tell me to get off the sidewalk?

As long as you are not blocking the flow of traffic, you have the right to be on a public sidewalk or to peacefully gather with others on public sidewalks, and police may not unreasonably restrict this right.1U.S. Constitution, 1st AmendmentCox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 554 (1965); Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474, 480 (1988)

Is it illegal to block the sidewalk?

Yes. In California, it is illegal to intentionally block the free movement of another person on a street, sidewalk or other public place.2Cal Penal Code 647c

Also, in the city of Los Angeles, you can’t stand in or on any street, sidewalk or other public way open for pedestrian use or otherwise occupy any portion in such a manner as to “annoy or molest” any pedestrian or to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with the free passage of pedestrians.3LA Municipal Code 41.18; Where free-passage along sidewalks is obstructed by persons listening to what is said at a street-meeting, the persons conducting said meeting cannot be convicted of a violation of this section in the absence of other facts. People v. Yoneda, CR A 249.

Is it legal to just start marching or protesting in the street?

If you want to march, protest, or assemble on public roads, you will need to apply for a special permit with the city. For related issues within the city of Los Angeles, see the LAPD website here.

Also check out our Guide to Free Speech

Is it illegal to simply sit or lie in the street?

Yes. You can’t “sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way.”4LA Municipal Code 41.18(d) This is often referred to as a “sit/lie” ban.

But this law does NOT apply to sitting on on benches or other seating facilities provided for such purpose by the government, or while attending or viewing any permitted parade

Is it illegal to sit in other public places?

You can’t sit or stand on or at the entrance of any church, hall, theater or other place of public assemblage in any manner so as to obstruct such entrance.5LAMC 41.19

What is loitering? Is it illegal?

Loitering means hanging around with no apparent purpose, and is not by itself illegal unless prohibited in specific places. However, loitering or “lying in wait” with the intent to commit some crime is a crime in itself.6Cal Penal Code 647

In the city of Los Angeles, loitering is prohibited in any:

  • tunnel, pedestrian subway, bridge overpass, or at or near the entrance thereto or exit therefrom, or at or near any abutment or retaining wall adjacent to such entrance or exit, or any retaining wall or abutment adjacent to any freeway, street or highway open and used for vehicular traffic, or adjacent to that portion thereof used for vehicular traffic, or on any public property in the proximity of such bridge, overpass, or retaining wall or abutment.7LAMC 41.18;  Sec. 41.18 has not been preempted by State Legislation encompassing loitering offenses. Gleason v. Municipal Court (April 1964), 226 Cal. App. 2d-226 ACA 701.
  • hotel, where the manager has told you to leave8LAMC 42.11
  • airport, bus stop, or train station9LAMC 42.11.1
  • public bathroom with the intent to have sex with someone, even if consensual10CA Penal Code Sec 647(d)

Do I have to carry ID at all times?

In California you are not required to show your ID (identification) or drivers license or to carry it with you (unless you are driving of course). Even if a police officer asks for your ID, you do not need to show it. The officer cannot arrest you simply for refusing.11California’s prior “stop and identify” law, Penal Code §647(e) was construed by a court in People v. Solomon (1973) to require “credible and reliable” identification that carries a “reasonable assurance” of its authenticity. Using this construction, the U.S. Supreme Court held the law to be void for vagueness in Kolender v. Lawson461 U.S. 352 (1983)

But it’s generally a good idea to comply with reasonable police officer requests, which can avoid further problems.

Also, if you are being cited for a misdemeanor offense, you ARE required to show ID at that time, otherwise you could be taken into custody.

2. Stuff on the street or sidewalk

Is it illegal to leave things or tents in the street?

It is NOT legal to leave any personal items unattended, whether large or small, in a public area.12LAMC 56.11 You also may not leave any trash or waste in a public area, as this is considered littering or “illegal dumping.”13California Penal Code Sec 374.3LAMC 190.02 The city of LA will pick up bulky items for free.

You may keep things on the street or sidewalk or other public area that can fit into a 60 gallon container, and only if you are present with the items. But items cannot block any path of a sidewalk or street, or be a hazard to others.

See more at our Guide to Laws about Homelessness.

3. Disturbing the peace & “nuisance”

What is “disturbance of the peace” or “breach of the peace”?

The specific law of “disturbing the peace” includes any of the following:14Penal Code 415

  1. Unlawfully fighting, or challenging another person to fight, in a public place
  2. Disturbing another person by loud and unreasonable noise, if this is done willfully and maliciously, and
  3. Using offensive words in a public place, if the words are likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

Penalty: Up to 90 days in county jail and/or up to $400 fine.

But there are also the crimes of disturbing or breaking up a meeting,15Penal Code 403 participating in unlawful assembly,16Penal Code 406-408 and rioting.17Penal Code 404 & 405 The first two are punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1000 fine, and rioting carries a penalty of up to 1 year in jail and/or up to $1000 fine.

What is a nuisance?

Nuisance is any disturbance which can harm the health or comfort of others, or is “indecent or offensive to the senses,” or any interference with the use of property or public space.18Civil Code 3479

This can include

  • smoke, noise, odor, vibrations, etc. 19Oliver v. AT&T Wireless Services (1999) 76Cal.App.4th 521
  • the illegal sale of drugs20Civil Code 3479
  • obstructing the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property21Civil Code 3479
  • obstructing the free passage or use, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway.22Civil Code 3479

See more about noise at our Guide to Laws About Noise.

What is the penalty for nuisance?

It varies by the specific acts, but generally it is up to 6 months in jail and/or $1000 fine.23Penal Code 19

4. Street vendors

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is street vending legal in Los Angeles?

As of November 28, 2018, it is legal to sell food or goods on most sidewalks in the city of LA, with the following rules.

Vendors must:

  • pick up their trash
  • not block the flow of the sidewalks
  • do business at a minimum distance from fire hydrants, driveways, curbs, building entrances and other street features
  • leave at least 3 feet of space between any other vendors
  • NOT sell around the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, El Pueblo de Los Angeles monument, or Leimert Park. And on days when events are being held, vendors must not sell near Dodger Stadium and nearby Elysian Park, Hollywood Bowl, Staples Center and the L.A. Coliseum. (But even in prohibited places, vendors can still sell “expressive creations” that are protected under the 1st Amendment, such as art, books, music, audio, video or other recordings of performances, paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures or any other item that is inherently communicative.).
  • obtain any business and health permits required by the city, county or state (but the city is not yet issuing specific “street vending permits” so vendors can currently set up at any appropriate location)

Is it legal to sell food or goods in the park in Los Angeles?

As of November 28, 2018, it is now legal to sell food or merchandise in most parks, subject to the following rules (in addition to those above):

  • Only 2 vendors are allowed per park acre
  • Vendors cannot operate within 25 feet of each other, or within 100 feet of any park buildings or playgrounds
  • If a park has an exclusive concession agreement, vendors cannot set up stationary stands there to sell food or merchandise. (But again, this does not apply to “expressive creations” as discussed above)

Follow The Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign for updates.

Is street vending illegal in the rest of California?

As for the rest of California outside Los Angeles, starting Jan 1, 2019 it is NOT a crime to sell food or merchandise on the sidewalk, however those who do so can still be cited and fined as a civil violation or infraction (except in cities that pass laws to allow it).24Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, SB 946

Where can food trucks park?

See our Guide to Parking Laws.

5. Plants and trees on city streets

Who is responsible for maintaining the trees and other things on the sidewalk and parkway in front of a house? The city or the homeowner?

Generally this responsibility falls to the homeowner. See our Guide to Laws for Homeowners.

Can a homeowner plant or remove stuff on the “parkway” strip of greenery in front of the house?

Yes. See our Guide to Laws for Homeowners.

6. Parks and Recreation Areas

What can or can’t I do in the park in LA?

  • Sell things? As of November 28, 2018, you can generally sell any food or goods in a park, subject to the rules listed above.
  • Smoke? No smoking or vaping of any kind is allowed in LA parks.
  • Can I be there at any time of the day? Each park has different “open” and “closed” hours, but when it is closed you are not allowed to be at the park.

For more general rules and rules specific to certain parks, check out LA Municipal Code Sec 63.44.

7. Drinking in public

Is it illegal to drink alcohol in public?

Laws vary by city, but most cities do NOT allow you to drink alcohol in public, including the city of LA.25LAMC Ch IV Sec 41.27(c) But in most cities, including LA, if the drink has less than 0.5% alcohol (such as some kinds of Kombucha drinks), it is not legally considered alcohol and is OK to drink in public.26LAMC Ch IV §41.27(c)

Is it illegal to be drunk in public?

Yes, in California you may not be so drunk (or high on drugs) that you are unable to exercise care for your own or others’ safety. It is also illegal to be so drunk that you are blocking or preventing the use of the sidewalk or public street. This is called public intoxication.27Cal Penal Code Sec 647(f)

Is it illegal to simply carry alcohol in public?

It varies by city. In the city of LA, sealed alcohol is fine to carry around. Unsealed or “open containers” are NOT OK in or near a store that sells alcohol,28LA Municipal Code Sec 41.27(d) or on public transportation. Other than these or other specific areas, it’s not technically illegal in LA to carry open containers of alcohol in public.29LA Municipal Code 41.27(h) was declared unconstitutional and unenforceable However, it’s not advisable as it may garner the attention of law enforcement.

See more at our Guide to Laws About Alcohol

8. Peeing or pooping in public or on public property

Is it illegal to pee or poop in public or on public property in California?

Yes. In California it is generally considered “disorderly conduct” to urinate or defecate in public.30California Penal Code 647 However, there is no specific statewide “public pooping” or “pubic urination” law.

But many cities do have a law specifically prohibiting human waste in public:

More specifically, in Los Angeles it is illegal to urinate or defecate in or on any public street, sidewalk, alley, plaza, beach, park, public building or other publicly maintained facility or place, or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view, except when using a proper toilet or portapotty hidden from public view.31LAMC 41.47.2

9. Private streets

Can property owners in Los Angeles make a street private and prevent the public from entering on it?

Possibly, if they apply for it, following the procedure outlined in the LA Municipal Code Sec 18.03.

10. Graffiti and Vandalism

What is the penalty for graffiti or other vandalism?

Up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $50,000. See our Guide to Laws on Graffiti and Vandalism.

11. Posting Signs

Is it legal to post flyers, signs, posters, advertisements (ads) or other things on public property?

No. You may not “paint, mark or write on, or post or otherwise affix, any hand-bill or sign to or upon any sidewalk, crosswalk, curb, curbstone, street lamp post, hydrant, tree, shrub, tree stake or guard, railroad trestle, electric light or power or telephone or telegraph or trolley wire pole, or wire appurtenant thereof or upon any fixture of the fire alarm or police telegraph system or upon any lighting system, public bridge, drinking fountain, life buoy, life preserver, life boat, or other life saving equipment, street sign or traffic sign.”32LAMC 28.04

The Department of Public Works may hold you responsible for the costs of removing any of these things.

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