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Photograph by Steve Hahn
Making A Stand: This Watsonville flower shop need not fear the freelancing hordes next Valentine's Day if a new law banning temporary vending permits is passed.

Budding Friendship

Watsonville looks out for its florists

By Steve Hahn

Usually tokens of peace, love or abject apology, in Watsonville flowers are transformed for two days every year into agents of anger, bitterness and fierce competition. During Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, out-of-town flower vendors rush into the city to peddle roses and carnations on street corners and in shopping mall parking lots. This doesn't sit well with year-round flower merchants, who rely on these two days to bring in a big chunk of their annual revenue. Nor does it thrill officials; the biannual flood of temporary vendors also results in lost sales tax revenue for the city, according to Marty Ackerman, director of Watsonville's Redevelopment Agency. Now the city is gearing up to do something about it. At its May 13 meeting, the City Council voted to form a subcommittee to look into the matter and consider banning the temporary flower hawkers during these holidays. Ackerman is quick to point out that her department isn't interested in targeting the everyday flower vendors that go into offices and restaurants. The reform is only meant to target out-of-town vendors that snatch up temporary use permits from the city for one day, sometimes for as many as three different locations, and then jet out of town the next day with a fistful of dollars.

"We're not interested in stomping out entrepreneurship. We're not talking about people who are trying to get a leg up," says Ackerman, who notes there are often as many as 20 temporary flower vendors on these holidays. "Most of the people that take out these temporary permits don't even live here. Who can blame them? It's a good way to make some bucks. But it takes a huge bite out of the revenue for our family-owned flower shops and they don't pay any sales tax. The only benefit really is to the temporary vendors."

Meanwhile, Ackerman notes that local flower shops have to pay rent, workers comp, sales tax and wages for year-round employees. "I want our local mom-and-pop businesses to get a fair shake on this," says Ackerman.

The controversy began back in 2003, when the council adopted an ordinance that would allow businesses to hold one-day sidewalk sales for special events such as grand openings or holidays. In order to do this, the city created a temporary use permit for which fixed businesses could apply. Trouble began brewing when the permits were extended to flower vendors that don't normally operate in the city. Now, city staffers want the council to clarify that these permits are only for permanent businesses.

"These family-owned flower shops are a real attribute to the community," says Ackerman. "We're concerned that some people come in just during special days and take thousands of dollars of business away from them."

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