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Friday, March 21, 2014

Reed: Street vendors are receiving fairer treatment under city's new program

In this week's paper, I wrote an editorial about how City Hall had given preferential treatment to food truck vendors over traditional street vendors. Mayor Kasim Reed didn't quite agree with my opinion. So he wrote the following op-ed responding to the column.

An editorial in today's edition of Creative Loafing by Max Blau paints an unfair and inaccurate picture of the extensive process the City went through to craft effective programs for both the traditional vendors and for food trucks. The conclusions that Mr. Blau draws in the editorial stand in stark conflict with the facts.

First, Mr. Blau gives the impression that we did not work with the traditional vendors, but instead pushed a program through without their input. This is completely false. In fact, we spent a year crafting the traditional vendor program precisely because we had learned from prior efforts at resolving these issues. We extensively researched best practices from over 15 major metro areas across the country. And then, over multiple meetings and nearly ten hours of direct vendor input, we painstakingly translated those best practices into a program tailored specifically for Atlanta. The program was based almost entirely on input from the vendors themselves. We have always wanted a vibrant vending program in the City, and we continue to work diligently to make this a reality. We could have chosen to overhaul the traditional vendor system as quickly as possible. But we felt it was far more important to get it right rather than rush ahead and risk failure. We now have permitted over a dozen traditional vendors who can sell their wares on the streets and get back to work, and we are committed to expansion. The program is affordable, customized for Atlanta, and it addresses concerns regarding access and disability. It is a program that is fairer and represents a significant improvement over previous ordinances.

Second, the article implies we gave preferential treatment to food trucks over traditional vendors based on race. This harmful assertion comes from the inaccurate belief that it took us a year to craft a traditional program, but only five months to design the food truck program. The truth is it took us a year to build out the traditional program, and a year and five months to complete one for food trucks. We focused on traditional vendors first because we genuinely wanted to get them back to work as soon as possible. We minimized our engagement on food trucks - despite significant pressure otherwise - until we had total confidence that the traditional vendors were sorted out and had a clear path to success. The author could have found all this out from any number of independent sources, including the vendors themselves, but apparently he chose not to gather all the facts before sitting down to write.

There are a tiny number of vendors who want the old program back, along with the complete lack of regulation and enforcement against illegal activity. This will not happen on my watch. Unfortunately, Mr. Blau chose to cherry-pick quotes for his editorial from people who seem to prefer the counterfeit chaos of the previous program. I sincerely hope that the author and Creative Loafing will think twice in the future about speculating wildly on the motivations behind the thoughtful crafting of best-in-class initiatives that are important to keeping our city moving forward.

-Mayor Kasim Reed

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