March 7, 2023 | Update

Remarks on the Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act of 2023

Before the Committee of the Whole

Maps showing street vending zones proposed for Columbia Heights.

This has been a long road! This is the third introduction of this legislation; I’m glad have been joined by some fellow travelers including -- and I say this with great appreciation -- Chairman Mendelson. I also want to thank CMs Gray and Allen for co-sponsoring.   

I’m thrilled to have in the chamber today street vendors and advocates with Vendadores Unidos and Beloved Community Incubator, who have guided this process from the time when we first began working together to create access to grants, food handling certification, commercial cooking space and eventually the effort to change District law.   

Street vendors contribute to the vibrant atmosphere of Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and diverse neighborhoods throughout the District. Their presence reflects and enriches the diverse culture of our city. I often say that for me, it is an essential part of what makes Ward 1 so energetic and beautiful.   

Street vendors contribute to the local economy, and their vending supports themselves and their families.   

In 2019, after the well-known incident in which police confronted a 15-year-old who was selling goods while her mother ran errands. It resulted in injury and trauma for this girl and emphasized the point that street vending violations should not be criminal matters.   

If a business owner with a store has an expired license, police don’t come and arrest them.   

Now, that spot, outside the Panam grocery store on 14th Street, is lifted up in the committee report for this bill, included in the map of legally permitted vending locations in the new Columbia Heights-Mount Pleasant vending zone. That’s a symbolic victory alongside all of the more tangible victories contained in this bill.  

So what does the legislation do?  

First, it stops the criminalization of street vending. Enforcement should be a licensing issue, as it is with other businesses.   

We had a robust discussion of this at the Council breakfast, and I appreciate colleagues’ ideas to make sure we craft a new enforcement system that is both fair and effective.   

This bill also creates a vending zone manager for a new pilot zone in Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant – with potential for other managers elsewhere.   

That manager contract is also important for compliance and enforcement as much as it is for support and empowerment of vendors.   

A vending zone manager will be responsible for site planning, resolving conflicts between vendors, ensuring licensing is up to date, keeping track of all vendors within the zone, and communicating with the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection.   

This bill, critically, makes it easier for a vendor to get the licenses and approvals they need to start and run their businesses.   

As Chairman Mendelson has said previously, “regulations should not be so onerous that ordinary people – many of whom are immigrants and people of color – cannot enter this line of work and make a living,”  

There is a philosophy underlying these licensing changes: we are changing street vending from something just tolerated – and sometimes, barely tolerated – to recognizing it as a fundamental part of our economy, a pathway to economic empowerment for residents, and indeed, an economic development engine itself.   

As our experience in Columbia Heights has shown, formalizing this economy provides opportunities for creating more active and lively spaces, and even helps with public safety, providing more consistent eyes on the street.   

Last, but not least, the legislation creates an amnesty program for unpaid licensing-related civil citations for vendors who properly obtain the necessary licenses.  

I want to acknowledge again the people who are here – you have raised your voices, shared your experiences, and kept me and my fellow council members accountable for moving this forward. Government works best when it’s a partnership with residents and you have made this very much a partnership.  

I also want to thank the Chairman and his staff, especially Blaine Stum, who has done a masterful job not only on the committee print but on the report itself, which encompasses the full arc of the history of vending laws in DC dating all the way back to the 1800s.   

Through this legislation, we can move all vendors into full compliance, allow them to successfully run their businesses and provide for their families, and to operate without unnecessary barriers and without fear. And support and lift up the vibrancy of our community and community members.  

As the Chair of the Public Works & Operations Committee with oversight of DLCP, I am excited to begin the work of oversight as the executive implements this legislation.   

And as the Ward 1 Councilmember, I am very excited to see the establishment of the new Columbia Heights-Mount Pleasant vending zone, as well as the additional study of how to best support vendors with new physical infrastructure such as storage space, public restrooms, and public spaces built with vending in mind. I’m happy to work with colleagues to see how the experience of this pilot zone can be helpful throughout the District.   

Thank you, Chairman, and I ask my colleagues to join me in voting for the committee print as circulated.