New by-law for street vendors and patios

It's hard out here for a taco truck. New City by-law may make it a bit easier. The vote brought out some spirited voices from the business community and public alike.

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Council then heard from an old-school hot dog guy. Mike Ramanauskas runs a hot dog stand by the stadium on game nights. He said, "The permit system was a lottery system," so relying solely on first-hand permits doesn't necessarily give would-be vendors a fair shake. After all, taxi drivers can buy multiple permits, so why can't vendors? What about if you get sick or injured, he wondered, and you're a one-person operation?

 Mike Ramanauskas
Mike Ramanauskas

Ramanauskas accused the City of "micromanaging" the vendors who built this system, by which he meant the hot dog vendors who have been on the streets for 40 years: "What I'm looking at is the human factor."

Council also heard from someone who hated food trucks with the heat of a thousand suns.

There goes the neighbourhood

Eleanor Hedley a 92-year-old, had watched the development of English Bay Beach over the years. Back in the day, "There was nothing fancy there except the bath house." All that changed, though, she continued: "Last summer, to my horror, when I went down to the beach... I was shocked to see this huge vending truck right in front of the bath house. You couldn't see the bath house, you couldn't see the lifeguard station. [...] And the racket, the noise that they call music today, and the refrigeration noise. ... It was no longer a peaceful place to go and enjoy yourself." Hedley continued, "These permits have become a nuisance. [...] they've been issuing permits helter-skelter. [...] It's an insult to all the residents."

Her loathing of food trucks extended well beyond the five-minute limit; she denounced food carts as "disgusting, disgraceful, and shameful".

Eleanor HedleyEleanor Hedley

Councillor Andrea Reimer stopped fighting the clock, telling Hedley, "I've turned the timer off. Just keep talking and let us know when you're done." Hedley didn't take more than a few minutes after that, concluding, "Please do not put street vendors on the beach, please, I beg of you!"

Annette O'Shea from the Yaletown BIA struck a different tone, saying that she was happy to see this by-law "moving into 21st Century": "Thank goodness for by-laws that are interested in streamlining." O'Shea added, "We specifically agree with the increase to the 100m buffer zone, [which] gives the bricks-and-mortar businesses and street vendors some breathing room."

Annette O'Shea
Annette O'Shea

Permit enforcement is an issue, noted O'Shea, especially pop-up vending on game or concert night. There was, however, a lack of clarity in the new rules: the by-law itself does not require recyclable containers, yet the City demands vendors use them for special events. Also, the definition of "handicrafts" needs to be addressed. They should be locally-made handicrafts, not imports or ugly sweaters (remember those during the week before Christmas?). O'Shea wonders, why not give these permits to local artists or musicians?

Clayton Watson, a non-food vendor permit holder, was the last to speak. Also in favour of the new by-law, he said that some owners are holding permits just to keep competitors from opening. He adds that some who rent out permits don't even live in BC. Watson showed up to support the new by-law, but also had a comeback for Hedley: "I feel that young people do enjoy affordable, on-the-go food at beaches."

Once the speakers had spoken, the meeting moved on to questions for staff. Councilor Adrianne Carr asked Karyn Magnusson, Director for Street Use, Vancouver Engineering Services, about Hedley's complaint regarding noise. Magnusson replied that the English Bay Beach location is under Parks Board jurisdiction, so today's notes would be handed off. 

She added that "We look to increase the opportunity for hard infrastructure" to facilitate food carts as well as film crews who need electricity. None of the 110 permitted stationary locations have fixed access to electricity, says Magnusson.

The motion was then carried unanimously by Council. So now we have a 2014 street vendor by-law.

Next steps

For street vendors currently operating under rented permits, the road is about to get rough. They will be transitioned into new permits, but there's no guarantee that they'll get to keep their current locations. That's a make-or-break proposition for some... that is, should they even get to hold on to that permit.

According to the by-law, the right of first refusal will be granted to the current permit holder, over the existing renter; should the permit holder choose to activate the location for their use.

However, if the original permit holder chooses not to activate (like Watson's example of an out-of-province permit-holder), the renter can apply for the location attached to the permit they're currently renting.

(The report surrounding the new by-law showed strong support for ending the rental arrangement; except, of course, from those renting the permits out.)

If you are selling your cart-based business, the permit will not be passed along in the sale. The City will have to approve the transfer, though the new permit-holder might not get the same patch of sidewalk that you've been using.

Following the continuation of the patio pilot program this summer, maybe Vancouver will get more detached patios, besides the one at Rainier Provisions. This depends on our ability to play nice, though Magnusson noted that they haven't received any complaints linked to the late-night patio scheme.

With a little luck and perseverance, Vancouver's street life may soon be something to write home about.

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