Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New plan could end vendor's lengthy struggle to sell goods on public property

Posted By on Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 10:40 AM

WORK NOT WELFARE: President of Atlanta Vendor Association Larry Miller (third from left) led a protest in the shadow of the Final Four festivities.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • 'WORK NOT WELFARE': President of Atlanta Vendor Association Larry Miller (third from left) led a protest in the shadow of the Final Four festivities.
Vendors might soon be able to once again sell t-shirts, souvenirs, and a variety of other goods on Atlanta's streets after being unable to do so throughout much of 2013.

The Atlanta City Council on Monday voted 11-2 to approve a new plan by Mayor Kasim Reed that would regulate the city's public vending industry. According to Deputy Chief Operating Officer Hans Utz, the new policy would better regulate vending on public property, streamline permit enforcement, and define specific locations where goods can be sold.

"I am pleased with the Council's vote today in support of a new vending program that will expand small business opportunities, while preventing our public spaces from being turned into 'swap meets,'" Reed said in a statement.

City Hall has largely prevented street retailers from hawking their wares since last December after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua ripped up the controversial contract that former Mayor Shirley Franklin signed with General Growth Properties. The 2009 deal effectively outsourced public vending to the private company. Since the late 2012 ruling, many vendors have been unable to legally sell items on the city's sidewalks. LaGrua last month ordered the city to start issuing permits under its prior ordinance, a move the city subsequently appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Under the new program approved by Council, vendors would be required to sell goods from official kiosks or carts and use a point-of-sale system. The new policy also restricts what items can be sold. Permissible items include weather-related apparel, published materials, toiletries, cell-phone accessories, souvenirs, and licensed sports merchandise. It would also permit some vendors to sell limited food and beverage items.

The program would be rolled out in different phases, starting with 19 Downtown kiosks and 12 sites near South Downtown and West End. Fifty additional vending locations would later be opened. There's a chance that food trucks would later also be allowed to operate in the public right-of-way. Five Points MARTA station, once the epicenter for Atlanta's Downtown vending scene, and Turner Field would initially be off-limits to vendors.

The city's Office of Revenue, which is now responsible for handling the entire permitting process, would charge vendors a $75 fee per application. Retailers who are approved would also pay a $2,500 annual maintenance charge for using the city's kiosks. Utz said those fees are significantly lower than previous charges that cost vendors upwards of $20,000 each year.

Atlanta Vendor Association President Larry Miller, who helped file the lawsuit that prompted the GGP contract being voided, wanted Council to delay the vote until his industry could vet the city's proposal.

"It's not addressing the whole issue of vending," Miller said. "We've already had one vending ordinance that was challenged. ... We've spent a lot the citizen's money challenging it. This particular ordinance would probably be challenged."

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who voted against the program with Felicia Moore, sided with Miller. He said the policy didn't do enough to help street retailers.

"It's so inconsiderate for us to leave these small business people without any source of income [for the past several months]," Hall told CL. "It's not solving their problems. I'm concerned we're not getting to the [heart of the issue]."

Robert Frommer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the libertarian nonprofit law firm that helped the vendors sue the city, called the city's new vending program "patently unconstitutional."

"One of the provisions in [the plan] says that a vendor cannot operate or sell an item if a fixed business within 1,500 feet sells that same item," Frommer said. "That is absolutely unconstitutional. We have sued cities across the nation about that and courts have repeatedly struck those provisions down as unconstitutional. The passage of this law will not fix the problem. It will only invite new problems. It will invite more lawsuits, more legal liability for this city, and more headaches."

Left unresolved is whether LaGrua will find Reed in contempt of court for not issuing permits, which the vendors have argued. On Monday she reviewed the city's new policy and said that a ruling would come forward in the "next week or so."

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