Did You Get Your Competitor's Permission to Open that Business?


Last July, the County Council in San Juan County, Washington adopted a new ordinance [PDF] requiring both a permit and the payment of a daily $50 fee from vendors operating on public property. According to the ordinance's language, its objective is "to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the people of San Juan County," but read a little further and the real purpose of the ordinance becomes all too clear (emphasis added):

The applicant for a Public Place Use Permit shall provide the County Administrator or his designee with the following:
A. The applicant's name, home address, business address, state business license, and contact information;
B. A site plan showing the proposed location which shall not exceed 50 square feet;
C. A list of the goods or wares to be offered for sale;
D. The dates for which the applicant seeks permission to use the public place for sales, which period shall not exceed 6 months;
E. Written consent of all business owners within 25 feet of the application site; and
F. Payment of a fee of $ 50.00 per day

That's right, street vendors need to get written permission from their brick & mortar competitors before setting up shop. And—brace yourself—it just so happens that the brick & mortar businesses pushed for the ordinance in the first place.

Also, if you happen to sell newspapers, sell ice cream from a truck, or sell anything on behalf of "charitable, religious or fraternal, nonprofit organizations," you're exempted from the law (see Section 5). Apparently, those vendors miraculously pose zero "public health, safety or welfare" risks, unlike produce vendor Gary Franco (pictured above), who's been selling fruits and vegetables in and around San Juan county for three decades without incident.

In other words, the ordinance is an arbitrary and unnecessary regulation that violates the basic right to earn a living. Which is precisely why the libertarian public interest law firm the Institute for Justice filed suit on behalf of Franco today to have this ridiculous ordinance struck from the books. Here's hoping they succeed.