San Juan Vending

Too often, government officials are more concerned about protecting special interests than they are the rights of entrepreneurs.  That was the case in San Juan County, Wash., where the County council passed a law designed to shut down hardworking entrepreneur Gary Franco, a longtime produce vendor.

The ordinance, passed at the behest of politically connected brick-and-mortar businesses, required vendors to obtain a government permit and pay $50 per day for the right to earn their living.  Were that not bad enough, to obtain the permit, vendors were required to receive the consent of competing brick-and-mortar businesses.  In other words, the ordinance gave business owners the right to veto their competition.

While the County maintained that requiring a permit to vend was necessary to protect the public health and safety, it didn’t force all vendors to obtain a permit.  Rather, it carved out exemptions for its own favored categories of vendors—for example, farmers who sold their own produce; ice cream trucks; and nonprofit and charitable groups, such as the Lions Club or Kiwanis.  Vendors like Gary posed no more of a problem than these favored, exempt vendors, yet they were still required to pay the government and obtain the blessing of their competitors in order to earn an honest living.

Assisted by the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), Gary challenged San Juan’s ordinance in order to vindicate the right of all Washingtonians to earn an honest living free of the kind of economic protectionism behind San Juan’s unconstitutional ordinance.  During the course of the litigation, however, the County adopted a new ordinance which, in some respects, was even worse than the original.  Frustrated by his inability to earn an honest living in his own country, Gary moved to Europe, where, ironically, he has found greater economic opportunity.  In light of the ordinance and Gary’s moving overseas, IJ-WA voluntarily dismissed the case in September 2010.

IJ is investigating this and other similar vending regulations in Washington and may file similar challenges in the future.

Learn more about this Institute for Justice case by clicking here.

Photo: Institute for Justice

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