The St. Petersburg proposal would have made it illegal to conduct business, demonstrate or distribute leaflets from a median.
By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published September 18, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - After a lively public hearing that stretched into the early morning hours of Friday, the City Council rejected a proposed ban on street vending.
The proposal would have made it illegal to conduct business, demonstrate or distribute leaflets from a median. The 5-2 vote was applauded by the free speech advocates and St. Petersburg Times representatives still in the council chamber at 1:30 a.m.
"Rarely do I agree with the groups that were demonstrating here tonight," said council chairman Bill Foster. "But God bless their right to do it. It's all about the First Amendment."
The council considered three options. The first would have made it illegal for a pedestrian to conduct business with a motorist on a city street. The second would have prohibited anyone from standing on a median for purposes other than crossing the street. The third would have allowed the council to decide whether to adopt the county's street vending ordinance.
For more than five hours, a parade of citizens offered their opinions. Almost 50 people spoke, from members of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement to St. Pete for Peace activists to neighborhood association leaders.
The first option was thrown out almost immediately for lack of support. The second option, prohibiting activity in medians, received more careful consideration.
Council member Richard Kriseman, one of the strongest supporters of the ban, argued it was too dangerous to allow people to stand in the medians.
"I believe a line has been crossed," he said. "This has become a public safety issue."
Kriseman and council member James Bennett were the only two members who voted in favor of the ban. Council member Rene Flowers wasn't present.
Bennett said children had been spotted selling doughnuts along the highway in his district.
"I don't think the median is a place we need to do business," he said. "I don't think it's a place for us to be waving our political signs."
Others argued there were already state laws prohibiting pedestrians from obstructing traffic. Council member Jay Lasita warned his colleagues that passing the ordinance would be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
Mayor Rick Baker expressed concern about the St. Petersburg Times hawkers who sell the newspaper from city medians on Sundays and who would be put out of business.
"If somebody is spending 10 hours in the sun to make $100," Baker said, "they probably need the money."
After the motion was defeated, Baker urged the council not to adopt the county ordinance, which prohibits anyone from conducting business within 4 feet of a roadway. He expressed concern thatthe law was not narrowly tailored enough to withstand legal scrutiny.
Council members agreed, voting 6-1 to reject it. Kriseman voted in favor.
Tom Killian, president of the Jungle Terrace Civic Association, said he was disappointed by the council's actions. He said he has observed many potentially dangerous encounters between newspaper hawkers and motorists.
"We were just looking out for the safety of the citizens of St. Petersburg," Killian said. "That's all we wanted to do. But we were outnumbered."