By taking the initiative in proposing a remedy to problems associated with street vending, the Washington Association of Vendors Inc. has placed the ball squarely in the court of District officials.
Recognizing that abuses by some street vendors are causing increasing concern among residents as well as other businesses, the association has made clear it favors some long-overdue regulatory reforms for its industry.
Indeed, the association has stated flatly that its members ought to be charged higher license fees and that regulations ought to be amended to reduce congestion on the sidwalks by increasing the distance between vendors' stands. Steps to implement those recommendations alone would eliminate most of the problems associated with street vending.
But the sheer simplicity of the vendors' proposals probably makes them too difficult for the city to handle with the dispatch they deserve. This is, after all, a weighty matter that requires diligent review by another cumbersome advisory group.
Laws enacted nearly 10 years ago and subsequent amendments designed to regulate the vending business aren't being enforced and those responsible for enforcing them say they can't do the job.
Rather than give city employes the resources to enforce the regulations, the District has twice resorted to a familiar Washington institution for prolonging a problem and sustaining a controversy. It's known variously as the commission, advisory group or special committee.
It's possible that the current advisory group's recommendations will incorporate the basic solutions that the vendors' association succinctly stated last Sunday in The Post's editorial section. But we'll have to wait until Sept. 30, when the group's report is due. After that, it's anybody's guess how long it will be before new legislation is enacted.
Meanwhile, the Greater Washington Board of Trade argues with an old refrain that is intended to stifle competition. Vending has "deviated substantially from the original concept," contends Thomas J. Owen, president of the board.
"We believe handcrafted goods, food for immediate consumption and cut flowers are the types of merchandise originally intended for vendor marketing," Owen wrote in last Sunday's Post, repeating the board's position that street vendors should be permitted to sell only "unique goods and services."
The board's concept of vendor marketing is purely protectionist for some of its members, but it seems to care little about the competition vendors pose for certain segments of the business community. But then, florists and operators of small restaurants and lunch carryout shops in the downtown area may not be bothered by the competition on the streets.
To be sure, Owen was speaking for the Board of Trade when he suggested that manufactured items such as sunglasses, T-shirts and insectisides should be sold only by merchants with fixed locations. But as chairman of Perpetual American Federal Savings Bank, Owen is hardly in a position to suggest that another business stick to its "original concept."
Congress last year gave savings banks and savings and loan associations new powers, enabling them to compete directly with commercial banks. Until last year, Congress chartered savings associations to provide a unique service--making mortgage loans to home buyers.
As the biggest thrift institution in the region, Perpetual American is in a better position than most to take advantage of the new powers, and under Owens' leadership has moved aggressively to do so now that it is rid of regulatory restrictions.
In the meantime, the Board of Trade and the vendors' association apparently agree on a more critical factor:
"This city is harming itself by its meager effort to gather legitimate revenue from vendors," says Owen. "The Board of Trade believes vendors have an obligation, through rental fees, to pay for public space the use."
The board might have added: "Vendors are a source of revenue that the city's administration has not yet effectively tapped."
Those are not the words of the Board of Trade, but the statement of Bill Griffiths and Joel Goldberger, president and vice president, respectively, of the vendors' association. Raisefee to $250, they challenged city officials.
Nice try, Mssrs. Griffiths and Goldberger. But try this. Vendors' business license fees should begin at $500 a year and additional f should be charged for using public space for commercial purposes. Licenses should be displayed prominently to facilitate spot checks and stricter sales tax collection shenforced.
The next move belongs to the city.