Put Atlanta vendors back to work

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Atlanta’s vendors need to get back to work, today’s columnists write. A former vending review board leader outlines the city’s vending history, saying the City Council should not let Mayor Kasim Reed dictate vendor rules. A city councilman remembers his own experiences while defending the council’s role and his temporary program that could return vendors to selling their wares outside Turner Field.

Commenting is open.

Council should lead on vending issue

By Christine Gallant

According to a July 16 AJC article, Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond has introduced legislation that at last will temporarily “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 sites will be eliminated altogether.

This decision apparently comes from Mayor Kasim Reed. Council member Bond had introduced legislation for a temporary vending ordinance in January 2013 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 these 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, these 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 how 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.

Temporary program gets vendors working

By Michael Julian Bond

As a child, I remember seeing the “broom man” make his way through the streets of Vine City peddling his wares. He was blind and peddling was his privilege.

As an older youth, I recall buying ice cold Cokes and M & M’S outside the Five Points MARTA station, not from a machine but from a decorated Vietnam Veteran known for his fiery oratory.

During the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta showcased the best and the worst concepts of public vending – for the world to see.

In 2009, General Growth Properties (GGP) – specializing in the management of shopping malls – was brought in to run vending on our public streets. Hailed as the solution to problems plaguing public vending, GGP’s contract was thrown out by a Fulton County Superior Court judge in late 2012 after vendors sued. And in March 2013 the program was abruptly and effectively shut down leaving some 40 hard-working Atlantans unemployed.

The temporary vending program which I have proposed is just that – temporary. Until we receive a final vending program proposal from Mayor Reed’s administration, this legislation will allow all vendors who had active permits in 2012, including those formerly located at Five Points, to continue to work, move to kiosk locations and return to Turner Field.

We frankly do not know what the administration will recommend in their new vending concept. But I believe it is important for vendors to be employed while the proposal, one which the city council has been waiting for since last fall, is finalized.

The legislation does not include the Five Points/Underground area because of protracted public safety and enforcement issues which created an atmosphere that negatively impacted residents, local businesses and visitors.

Couple this with the fall of Underground, and the Five Points area had evolved into a situation not unlike the street bazaar in the opening scene of the movie “Casablanca.”

Whether it was indifference by the police, the Mayor’s Office, the city council or the surrounding business organizations is debatable – for surely there is enough blame to go around.

But everyone agrees the situation was intolerable.

Yet there should be public vending in Atlanta and we need to move deliberately toward solutions.

The entrepreneurial spirit that has made Atlanta famous for being a city too busy to hate; that dared to build the Atlanta-Fulton County stadium without yet having a baseball or NFL franchise; and pursued and achieved an Olympic dream which solidified Atlanta as an international city is the same spirit that inspires these vendors to daily take to the streets and sell their wares.

It is incumbent upon the city to support those dreams regardless of their size. Opportunity is the oxygen that fuels the flame of Atlanta’s entrepreneurial legacy and it is our obligation to provide access to that opportunity.

Michael Julian Bond is a member of the Atlanta City Council.

22 comments Add your comment

Christine Gallant

July 27th, 2013
8:30 pm

@ Council Member Michael Julian Bond.

I’d like to suggest an easy way to accomplish what you say this ordinance intended to accomplish: “…allow all vendors who had active permits in 2012, including those formerly located at Five Points, to continue to work, move to kiosk locations and return to Turner Field.” Remove the present requirement that only vendors who already have kiosk permits can vend from those kiosks.

Simply done. Amend the third “Whereas” on p. 3 so that it reads: “Whereas it is the desire of the Atlanta City Council that all vendors issued 2012 permits have the opportunity to apply for temporary permits to vend at kiosks without charge and Turner Field vending locations.”

Christine Gallant

July 27th, 2013
6:33 pm

@ Carolyn Long Banks.

Hello, Carolyn! I am not really surprised to see you still speaking up on behalf of Atlanta’s downtown street vendors, for I remember you as their staunch advocate back in 1992-3 when you were a longtime City Council member (the first black female member of the Council, I may add).

And since I am still an academic pack-rat, I find in my files some notes from the days when you and then- Councilman Robb Pitts worked together to get that 1985 “Public Peddling” ordinance passed that you mention here. Before, “peddling” had only legally been allowed for disabled veterans selling fruit and widows selling flowers, and you wanted to open it up to all citizens in all parts of the city, arguing that it “added to the international flavor.” (Of course it also added to the employment possibilities for poor, black men.)

So, yes, the effort to realize the dream of maintaining the possibility of downtown street entrepreneurs goes on. We must somehow mesh the ambiance of this street vending with the basic city business of pleasing visitors passing through. I think we can start to “keep [your] dream alive” by enforcing the present vending laws. Vendors now know the alternative! But they give a unique life and vivacity now missing from sterile downtown Atlanta, that the city really does need.