Silvio Membreno said he feels like a criminal every day he wakes up to sell flowers.
Membreno, 50, has worked as a street peddler in Hialeah for more than 15 years, but new city regulations that peddlers consider ambiguous have made his commercial activity difficult.
“They are not treating me like a citizen who lives and works in Hialeah, but like a criminal,” Membreno said last week about the city policy that forces peddlers to stow their merchandise and relocate multiple times in order to sell their products.
A group of peddlers, including Membreno, sued the city of Hialeah in 2011, claiming its regulations were anti-competitive and unconstitutional.
But on Friday a Miami-Dade civil court judge upheld the city’s regulations.
Judge Jorge Cueto’s ruling put an end, at least in circuit court, to the lawsuit filed by a nonprofit attorneys’ office. Now the Institute of Justice will take the case to an appellate court.
Officials have said the regulations seek to protect both the peddlers and the public from traffic accidents.
“Common sense dictates that when you have pedestrians and traffic, regulations are necessary,” Jennifer Glasser, Hialeah’s legal representative, said at last week’s hearing.
In response to the original lawsuit, the city approved changes to the statutes in January 2013, but lawyers and peddlers said the revisions did not give them enough flexibility.
The new regulations eliminated the requirement that the peddlers — who sell flowers, bottled water, fruits and vegetables, among other items, in the busiest corners in Hialeah — remain at least 900 feet away from stores selling similar merchandise.
Claudia Edenfield, a lawyer who represents the peddlers, said the issue is not a problem of traffic or road safety.
“[The city] requires the peddlers to move and to hide, which makes it practically impossible for them to create a steady clientele and do business,” Edenfield said. “This is not about traffic, it’s about preventing the peddlers to do what they have done for a decade.”
The city attorney did not answer a call from el Nuevo Herald on Friday. The legal representatives of the city declined to comment as they left the court.
To sell on the streets, vendors need to obtain one license from the city and another from the county for a total of about $150 a year.
Membreno said the license does not protect the peddlers when police officers approach them to enforce a law they consider unfair.
“They handed me a license that is a blank piece of paper that does not protect me against anything,” said Membreno, who carries buckets of flowers in a family vehicle that he parks at a private clinic in west Hialeah.
“I know the police officers come with the law in their hands, so I can’t refuse their orders. That’s why I believe it’s important to change the law affecting us,” added the Nicaraguan man who gives temporary employment to a small group of peddlers.
Under the new regulations, peddlers may store merchandise on private property as long as they have a written permission from the property owner.
Several Hialeah peddlers said Friday that on several occasions police officers have asked them to relocateor to hide their buckets of flowers or fruit.
They said they understand the authorities are enforcing the city regulations, but they would like the rules to be more flexible.
Osmany Herrera said he began selling flowers on the streets in May 2013 after becoming homeless due to a legal situation. Herrera, who has a suspended driver’s license, said he is slowly saving money from his sales and expects to be able to rent a place to live soon.
Herrera said that on at least one occasion — Mother’s Day, one of the most profitable days for flower vendors — police officers did not allow him to sell on the street because he did not have a county license. But Herrera said he believes the regulations are not enforced consistently.
“I think that if they ask me for my license they should likewise ask the guy in the next corner, but it’s not always like that,” he said. “The law should be equal for all.”