New developments in the saga of the Atlanta street vendors – court asked to grant immediate action

On August 19th the Atlanta City Council voted 12-2 to indefinitely table a modest temporary vending bill that would have let the city’s street vendors get back to work through at least the end of the year.  In response, the Atlanta Vendors Association protested the kickoff of Mayor Kasim Reed’s reelection campaign to ask why he and other city leaders will do nothing to let them vend.  Simultaneously, the Institute for Justice has sued Mayor Reed and asked that the court issue an order forcing the city to issue vending permits as required by Atlanta law and the court’s earlier orders.
Below is a timeline of the years-long battle between street vendors and the city of Atlanta:

2009: The city of Atlanta grants a private company a monopoly on street vending—the first of its kind in the United States.  Before the monopoly was established, these entrepreneurs only had to pay $250 a year for a vending location.  But with this monopoly, vendors were forced to rent out a kiosk, which cost between $500 to $1,600 a month.  So vendors faced annual rents of almost $20,000, crippling their livelihoods.  Soon after, 16 vendors lost their jobs.

July 2011: Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick, two vendors who’ve sold snacks and Braves apparel near the baseball stadium for more than 20 years, join forces with the Institute for Justice to sue the city.

According to Stanley, this lawsuit is about “fighting for my American Dream:”
“I’ve been able to put my kids through college working here and being successful.  I employ six people and they are depending on me, and I’m depending on them now.  I’m fighting for my American Dream.   And I’m fighting for the rights of other vendors and small businesses.”

December 21, 2012: With only days before their vending locations would disappear, Stanley, Larry, and the rest of Atlanta’s vendors score a huge win at the Fulton County Superior Court.  Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua strikes down the monopoly, ruling that Atlanta’s charter does not grant the city “the power to create an exclusive franchise.”  Therefore, “the City exceeded the powers granted to it in the Charter by creating an unauthorized exclusive franchise,” rendering the city’s monopolistic contract “void and without effect.”  (Click here to read the full decision.)

March 2013: Mayor Kasim Reed begins a crackdown on vendors and refuses to renew vending licenses.  For the first time in 25 years, Larry couldn’t sell on Opening Day in front of Turner Field.  Vendors were also forbidden to operate in front of the Georgia Dome during the Final Four—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  The Mayor argues the crackdown is justified by claiming that when the monopoly was struck down, all of Atlanta’s vending regulations were nullified as well.  But Judge LaGrua’s decision clearly states “the City may continue its other licensing and regulatory operations.”

Now president of the Atlanta Vendors Association, Larry rebuked the Mayor in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed:
“The city is perfectly free to let street vendors operate. Atlanta officials shouldn’t continue to claim otherwise. The city could stop its crackdown immediately if it wanted to…I am not a criminal. I am not asking for a handout. All I ask is that Atlanta let me run my business in peace.”

July 1, 2013: The Institute for Justice and over 75 vendors rally in front of City Hall to protest the crackdown and take back their economic freedom.

July 2, 2013: The same judge who struck down Atlanta’s “exclusive franchise” issues a clarification on that December 2012 ruling.    Judge LaGrua lambasts the “frequent mischaracterizations” of her decision, declaring, “It is the opinion of this Court that the original order is subject to only one reasonable interpretation:” the ordinance and contract that established the vending monopoly are “all declared void and without effect” and should be treated “as if it had never been passed,” meaning the city’s vending laws are restored to their pre-2009 status which allows honest, hard-working entrepreneurs like Larry and Stanley to return to their livelihoods.  (Click here to read the full clarification.)

August 19, 2013:  At the Mayor’s request, the City Council voted 12-2 to table a temporary vending ordinance.  If it had passed, that ordinance would have allowed dozens of entrepreneurs to continue to work and support their families.

Today: Mayor Reed is still sticking to his outlandish claims, even as the public grows increasingly skeptical.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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