Friday, August 21, 2009

Gone (sort of), but not forgotten

The vendor who has been selling ice cream and pop from a tent near the bathhouse this summer is no longer a fixture of the Madison Park beach scene thanks to the efforts of some area residents. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that it’s his tent that is no longer a fixture, since the vendor himself has been turning up this week in an ice cream truck and selling his products on the street next to where his tent had been located. He reportedly does not have the City’s permission to do so, however.

Beginning on Monday this week, the City effectively revoked the concession. As I reported last week (“Private profit using public resources?”), a petition drive was underway here to oust the concessionaire due to concerns over safety and the competition he provided to area merchants. The City, while claiming that the vendor has not been “evicted” from the Park, did confirm to me that “he was asked to leave early.” But we’re not really sure why.

Seattle Parks & Recreation Department spokesperson Dewey Potter told me that the Parks official who made the “leave early” decision was not in town this week, so she was unable to say what led to the result. She acknowledged that the City did receive the petition from area residents this week, but the petition actually arrived after the vendor had already been asked to leave the Park. I've been told that a Park resident unconnected with the petition campaign went directly to a Parks manager with her complaints and got action. The lower-level employee who originally approved the concession declined to be interviewed for this story.

According to Potter, until last week the City had never been notified that residents had concerns about the concessionaire’s activities in the Park. However, according to a Madison Park Community Council member to whom I spoke, an email from the MPCC was sent to the City on June 12 and was responded to by the City on June 23, essentially rejecting the concerns outlined. It was for this reason, she said, that the petition was started jointly by the Council and the Madison Park Business Association. Approximately 100 residents added their signatures to the petition, which was hand delivered to the City this week.

Potter told me that she was surprised by the reaction to the vendor this year, since the City had granted a Madison Park concession in each of the last two years. This is news to many of us who live near the Park; but if true, the concessionaire was certainly not a very visible presence. And he also didn’t snake an electrical cord from the women’s bathroom across public walkways.

Potter also denied that when it comes to city-park concessions there is any difference between a park like ours, located within easy walking distance of area merchants, and a park—like Magnuson or Matthews Beach—which is remote from ice cream and pop vendors. She told me that from the Parks Department perspective the needs of park users are paramount. Interestingly, I understand the formal response from the City to the MPCC’s email earlier this summer noted that park users might be endangered by having to walk across a street in order to get sundries from area merchants. This was apparently cited as a justification for having a Park concession here.

Now that the petition has been delivered, Potter assured me that the Parks Department will be taking the concerns of area residents very seriously. “We will investigate each of the issues raised in the petition,” she said. But Madison Park residents still shouldn’t expect to be notified next year if her department grants another concession. That’s just not part of the process, she told me.

[Above photo, courtesy of Seattlest, shows the concession tent earlier this summer at its location near the intersection of E. Howe Street and 43rd Avenue E.]

3 comments:

  1. Personally, I think it's a sad day when Americans go after fellow businessmen because they are competing with them. This country became great based on the foundation of free market economics. Anyone attempting to use political power to constrain competition implicitly admits to price gouging.

    That said, stealing from the commons (electricity from the bathroom) is taking unfair advantage (unless that was a condition of the lease). That said, it's probably preferable to the stink and noise of a generator and negligible in terms of actual cost to the taxpayer.

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  2. It's unfrotunate that the neighborhood reacted the way it did. The vendor added a real old school comfort to the beach. The same folks who complain about the lack of community feel to things are the one's who helped run a person trying to make a living off. Good human habitat demands small businesses like this...

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  3. Three cheers to the petition-signers! I found the vendor's operations: (#1.) an added distraction for drivers (that quasi intersection is confusing enough with only one stop sign for two one-way streets); (#2.) risky for pedestrians of all ages, already crossing every which way near/around the immediate area; and (#3.) a heckuva white elephant eyesore. And on top of it all, at least one other frozen treats vendor in a white van routinely trolled and/or stopped just south of the tent, effectively doubling the preceding problems. If the permitting process turns out to be legally sufficient (was there public notice? competitive bidding? terms & conditions? inspections?), siting all vendor(s) X distance away from the street should be a key consideration. (Ditto their not stealing taxpayer-funded electricity, let alone in an unsafe manner. Good grief.) Thanks for the soapbox.

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