Atlanta street vending: No action on new program, but help for city’s legal defense against mounting lawsuits

By David Pendered

Atlanta continues to struggle to create a street vending program and on Tuesday again deferred action.

The appearance of vending on public street is one issue Atlanta is struggling to legislate, such as these vendors who once presented their wares at MARTA's Five Points station. File/Credit: atlsoma.com

The appearance of vending on public street is one issue Atlanta is struggling to legislate, such as this incense vendor who once presented wares at MARTA’s Five Points station. File/Credit: atlsoma.com

Meanwhile, lawsuits continue to mount over the vending issue, a city attorney on Tuesday told the Public Safety Committee of the Atlanta City Council. The committee did approve a measure intended to help the city defend itself from these lawsuits.

Five months have passed since the committee passed a motion calling on Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration to present by May 14 a solid recommendation for a vending ordinance. Reed’s deputy COO, Hans Utz, wants to address the committee before it passes an ordinance introduced by committee Chairperson Michael Julian Bond, Bond said Tuesday.

One resident stepped forward to say Atlanta has a long history of not addressing the issues of vending on public property. Vendors have been off the streets most of this year.

“For the last 16 years, they [the administration] have been going to bring something over,” said Atlanta resident Willie Brown. “They keep putting on the stall tactic. Jackson, Franklin, Campbell – and they still haven’t done anything about street vending.”

Street vending on public property is a hot button issue in some quadrants of the city. Advocates contend vending is a gateway to the middle class. Critics contend vending, as it had been conducted, presents an unsightly image due to the relative independence of the vendors from codes of behavior that govern other retailers.

In April, Bond expressed strong frustration with the lack of progress on getting vendors back to work:

  • “We are dealing with the actual human element of people losing their livelihood because of the inaction of the city. I don’t believe it is difficult to resolve this issue.”

On Tuesday, before Bond abtained from the vote to hold the proposal he drafted with councilmembers C.T. Martin and Kwanza Hall, Bond said:

  • “I’ve spoken with Mr. Utz. He’s promised me he’s going to come in and do a presentation on what the administration plans to do about vending in our city.”

The committee did comply with the administration’s request to pass an ordinance aimed at defending against the vending lawsuits. This proposal is slated to be approved by the council at its Oct. 7 meeting.

The ordinance addresses one of the issues that’s been problematic since a Fulton County Superior Court judge invalidated Atlanta’s vending ordinance in December 2012: The impact of the ruling on Atlanta’s vending ordinance.

Some vendors, including lead plaintiff Larry Miller, contend that the judge’s ruling reinstated the city’s vending ordinance that existed before the council enacted a revision in 2008. Miller said at the committee meeting that the court ruling, by invalidating the 2008 ordinance, had the effect of replacing the ordinance it revised.

Amber Robinson, a senior deputy city attorney, said the original ordinance is not in effect. An ordinance proposed by Councilmember Cleta Winslow would help the city’s position, Robinson said.

“This is actually just some clean up legislation that restates the previous position of the council, that the ordinance that existed before GGP (General Growth Properties) was, in fact, repealed,” Robinson said.

“The Law Department is experiencing an uptick in what we would consider to be frivolous lawsuits in this position,” Robinson said. “We’d just like the council to clarify it.”

According to Winslow’s ordinance speaks to the 2008 vending ordinance, and its location in Atlanta’s municipal code, and states:

  • “The version of Chapter 30, Article XXIII, existing prior to the approval of 08-0-1220, and which was lawfully repealed thereby, remains repealed and without any effect.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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