ATLANTA- Power to the people! Troubled street vendors at the city council’s
Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee meeting on Tuesday voiced
concern over the current status of the regulation relating to public property
vending in Atlanta.
Many think the kiosks scattered downtown are complete eyesores, and wouldn’t mind seeing them disappear. Despite the stigma on their profession, a few downtown Atlanta street vendors spoke up on February 26, 2013, about the current vending legislation in review and lack of regulation within their valued places of business.
Above all the issues debated; one worry they had in common is the city’s power to potentially destroy their way of an honest living because of the hidden corruption that lies within the
“Believe me, we have vendors coming in here that are gangster and who have plenty of money that they can spend. Once they hear they can go out there and set up anywhere…all I can say is, prepare yourself for lawlessness,” said Larry Miller, President of the Atlanta Business Association and current Turner Field vendor.
The problems began with a lawsuit in 2011 filed as a result of proposed legislation, which would merge street vending licensing under one company, General Growth Properties. Although the legislation has since been repealed, the bickering continues.
Fulton County Superior Court ruled the vending legislation unconstitutional on December 21, 2012, but vendors are still arguing additional points against the business regulations considered unjust. An order effective on January 29, 2013, by Council member Cleta Winslow to modify a City of Atlanta Code of Ordinance related to public property vending sparked several inquiries by the vendors.
“I went down to Five Points and I felt afraid. I felt like I needed a weapon. I’m embarrassed for my city and my vending community,” said Miller.
Miller, born and raised in Atlanta, has 25 years of vending experience and shared his thoughts on what needs to be done with the lack of regulation in vending licenses and safety concerns in
vending areas such as Five Points.
“The help they need I’m not sure this city can provide. It’s going to take a lot of prep and planning. There’s so much loitering at Five Points that I can understand why the vendor people come here and complain about the vendors at Five Points. I was ashamed. I’m a vendor.
I love them. I’m reorganizing my own business to try and fix this blight that is going on down there,” said Miller.
Miller was involved with the 2011 against General Growth Properties. This mandate would have essentially legalized an unavoidable monopoly and thus, would violate Georgia’s constitution that protects the rights of everyone’s ability to earn a living. Miller was victorious.
According to an article obtained by the AJC, in 2009, the city of Atlanta granted a contract for the controlling of all public property vending to General Growth, a multi-billion dollar shopping mall industry. The contract would have allowed GGP to set up booths exclusively selected for street vending on public property. Therefore, it would give GGP the right to
occupy vendors’ kiosks on public property from those who are already licensed by the city.
Keisha Bottoms, Atlanta city councilmember, responded to Miller’s concerns.
She questioned why he was part of the lawsuit against an ordinance that would have dealt with his personal vending concerns. She believed Miller was implying that the city was responsible for the lack of regulation that exists in the vending community.
“I don’t want it both ways. My opinion is that I don’t want the city of Atlanta to ever be oppressed by themselves and think they can take something that belongs to me. Even though I have a right to be there. They can’t take something that I’ve spent over 20 building and I can’t support a program that charges me rent for advertising. It was illegal and it was wrong. I’m not for blight. I’m not for vendors being off the chain and lawless. I’m for the right thing. If they had a program that was right I would have been for it. But that was wrong,” responded Miller.
“I hope that people recognize that attempting to implement that law was for the General Growth. We spent two years acknowledging that a wrong had been committed and found ourselves at this place. At some point justice will prevail and at some point the wronged will be right,” said Councilman Ivory Lee Young.
William Brown, a vendor from Philips Arena, raised questions to the council about the increasing competition from vendors and lack of space that police ignore and refuse to enforce in areas like Five Points.
Councilmember Michael Julian Bond told Brown that there was nothing that could be done about it now. He encouraged him to go get a spot just like everyone else and to not risk losing potential money standing before him.
“People complain about it every single day. I get a complaint from a guy that owns a multi-million dollar hotel. I get a complaint from a guy that owns a shoe shop that he started up a long time ago. People that work at the Waffle House. But guess what? It’s okay.
If you don’t have a spot we can go pick you one. We’ll get a folding table and set up. Don’t worry about the past. Today go do as you please. Everyday they impede the public. Everyday they impede the businesses.”
Katrina Parks, Deputy Chief of Staff, said that her and her staff were committed to coming back to report to this committee within April. They have started this process of gathering information so they have a plan to present to the city council.
Bond was glad to hear the encouraging news but expressed his disappointment with the issue by saying that “something must, should, and has to be done.”