Council should lead on vending issue

According to a July 16 AJC article, Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond has introduced legislation that at last will “put public street vendors back to work” by allowing them temporary permits to vend near Turner Field and to “sell goods out of city-owned kiosks.”

Well, not really. This July ordinance states that the only vendors able to sell from the kiosks will be those with previous permits to vend from them. Most vendors didn’t apply to vend at the expensive new booths, so they won’t be eligible for temporary permits.

Thus, this temporary vending ordinance really will benefit Turner Field vendors, but almost none of the previous downtown vendors. Moreover, the Five Points vending sites will be eliminated altogether.

This decision apparently comes from Mayor Kasim Reed.

In January 2013, council member Bond introduced legislation for a temporary vending ordinance that allowed all 2012 vendors to get temporary vending permits, but the Public Safety Committee he chaired held the measure in order “to hear from the administration.”

Why is the City Council allowing this to happen to downtown street vendors when the council is the legislative body, not the mayor’s office? Why haven’t the stringent vending laws already in place on allowed merchandise, site locations and littering been enforced at Five Points for years when there is a police precinct right in the Five Points station?

Why hasn’t the council done more to maintain street vending as a self-managed public business?

Let’s be clear about what the mayor is trying to erase. Since the 1940s, street vending has been run mostly by black men from Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods. It was supported by civil rights veterans Mayor Maynard Jackson and council member Carolyn Long Banks in the early 1980s as one of the few in-town businesses open to poor black people at that time.

The preference for disabled veterans and blind persons in public vending dates back even further, to the 1920s. In fact, Atlanta “peddling” was legally limited to disabled veterans and blind persons until the 1985 Atlanta Code on Public Peddling opened it to other citizens.

Five Points has more of these reserved sites than any other vending location. Seven of the 35 sites there are for disabled veterans, other disabled persons and blind individuals, ever since the 1985 Public Vending Ordinance. This preference was due to Five Points being the hub of Atlanta’s public transportation, which disabled people usually need to use.

Five Points has been one of the city’s most desirable locations for vendors because of its steady foot traffic. In turn, vendors increase the area’s security, since they all undergo criminal background checks to acquire permits and make reputable court witnesses. In these days of possible disguised terrorists, that can be valuable.

The mayor, though, apparently wishes to sweep away any street life that will concern outside visitors and tourists, no matter how historical or necessary to the continued employment of native Atlantans.

I call upon the Atlanta City Council to regain its proper governmental role in this debacle, and preserve Atlanta’s downtown street vending.

Christine Gallant was chairwoman of the Atlanta Vending Review Board in 1992-1993.