Seattle tries to restrict vending near schools
Hoping to discourage back-of-the-van pizza peddlers from luring school kids with their greasy but delicious wares, the Seattle City Council...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Hoping to discourage back-of-the-van pizza peddlers from luring school kids with their greasy but delicious wares, the Seattle City Council yesterday voted to ban mobile vendors within 1,000 feet of public schools.
Though council members cited concerns about childhood obesity, the action came at the request of the union representing school-cafeteria workers, whose pay and benefits are linked to the number of meals served each day.
The ordinance, approved 7-0, and supported by five School Board members, expands the no-vending zone around schools from the current 200 feet.
"At a minimum, they'll have to walk some of the calories off," said Councilman Richard Conlin.
The prohibition is largely symbolic since vendors who operate around schools often don't have the required city permits and could be cited under current ordinances, said David Westberg, business manager for Operating Engineers Local 609, which represents 300 school-cafeteria workers.
But Westberg said city officials have failed to cite some of the vendors despite repeated complaints. "If one of them ever actually got fined, I believe this activity would stop," he said.
Vendors selling pizza and other meals out of vans or trucks have been most prevalent around schools in South Seattle, including Franklin and Cleveland high schools, Westberg said. A pizza vendor who has been the subject of numerous complaints was spotted again yesterday near Cleveland High School, he said.
To adhere to new health-conscious guidelines, Seattle schools now serve leaner foods and have eliminated sugary and caffeinated drinks. The change has led some kids to leave campus in pursuit of the fat and sugar they crave.
It's not clear the council action against a few mobile vendors will have much effect on urban schools within easy walking distance of minimarts and fast-food restaurants, which will not be affected by the restrictions approved yesterday.
At Franklin High School, none of the street vendors appeared to be operating yesterday. But knots of students walked to nearby stores to buy meals of burritos, sodas and chips.
"Really nobody eats in the lunchroom," said Aiko Taylor, a sophomore whose lunch consisted of a bag of cheese-flavored popcorn and a Sunny Delight orange-flavored drink.
Taylor and other students said the school had chased away some vendors who used to operate nearby, including a man who sold pizza and breadsticks out of the back of his truck. The pizza man had been a big draw.
"The school lunch is cold. It's not that good," said Julie Mandefero, a junior munching on a bag of Doritos.
Westberg admitted the city may not be able to do much to undo kids' disdain for cafeteria food. Still, he said, it was important for officials to take any actions they could.
"We're not trying to stifle free enterprise, we're just trying to stop illegal activity," Westberg said.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com