Council Passes Vending Reform, Including Authorization of Sidewalk Vending Zones

The end of two-year Council Periods (such as the recent end of Council Period 24 in December) tends to be a busy time for final passage of legislation, because nothing succeeds like a deadline. The beginning of Council Periods (such as the debut of Council Period 25 in January) is logically a busy time for the introduction of new legislation. But March and April can be quieter times for legislation, given that the Council is primarily focused on two of its core responsibilities, performance and budget oversight, during those times.

An exception to that tendency was the Council’s passage, on the first of two necessary votes, of vending reform legislation at its most recent meeting. This bill combined and expanded two related measures carried over from the prior Council Period. In its new form, the bill includes several elements that would be effective citywide, and one specific to a single community.

One element of the measure would be a decriminalization of street vending, meaning that violations of the vending code would no longer be subject to criminal penalties. Additionally, those applying for a vending permit or related license could not be subject to a criminal background check. An amnesty program would also be created to provide potential relief of delinquent vending fines for those applicants becoming regularized under the new vending rules.

The bill would set hours when vending can legally occur, as well as setting greatly reduced fees for vending licenses.

Since many vendors sell what is known as “cottage food,” meaning foods prepared in a home or similar setting, the bill broadens the definition of that term (though continuing to exclude raw meat and dairy products). The bill expands notification requirements for the sale of cottage goods, mandating clear labeling at the point of sale and of the items themselves, with notices indicating that cottage foods are not subject to the District’s food safety regulations.

The measure would also allow the mayor to create future designated sidewalk vending zones. Such vending zones would have set boundaries, designated numbers and placements of vending spaces, and requirements both for participating vendors and for the mandated sidewalk vending zone manager who would be responsible for the zone.

One element of the bill is community specific—it would establish the District’s first sidewalk vending zone in Columbia Heights. It would also require the mayor to conduct a study of the Columbia Heights vending zone, focusing on identifying potential locations where vending carts could be stored, public restrooms could be located, and where a possible future indoor market could be sited.

The bill must be approved by the Council a second time, and discussions among councilmembers are likely to continue until then, especially in relation to cottage food health standards and the specific procedure to be followed in dealing with vendors who do not provide information requested of them by enforcement officials. Additionally, the bill as written is subject to appropriations, meaning that even if and when it becomes law, funds must be budgeted for its application prior to it truly being in effect.

In other action at the meeting, as part of its consent agenda, the Council took the first of two necessary votes to rename Good Hope Road as Marion Barry Avenue. The bill includes a fee waiver for residents and businesses who will have to update official documents to reflect the new street name in their home and businesses addresses.

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting is scheduled for April 4.