Brownsville targeting unauthorized vending

A view of a residential garage sale sign in Brownsville Monday afternoon.

The City of Brownsville Health Department is cracking down on people selling stuff in places where the city says they can’t — busy thoroughfares, mainly.

In public notices appearing in English and Spanish on Dec. 8 and Dec. 15, the city warned residents that inspectors from the health department ordinance enforcement division will be patrolling the streets looking for “garage sale events” that involve people selling “fruits, vegetables or other perishable farm products; candy, soda-pop, and other like refreshments; new or used vehicles; or goods, wares and merchandise or anything of value” at prohibited locations.

Those locations are spelled out at length in the Brownsville Code of Ordinances Sec. 86-7, viewable on the city’s website, though it basically affects high-traffic roads as opposed to small residential streets, plus zones near hospitals, schools and other places where impeding traffic can cause problems.

“We’re looking at the major roads and the connectors in between more than anything,” Public Health Director Art Rodriguez said.

Within prohibited areas, the ordinance bars selling “along the street and outside of a permanent building used as a store or in a tent or other temporary covering that does not meet the requirements of the city building, electrical, plumbing or sanitation code or on any vacant lot located within the city limits.”

The city does this every year, with public notices timed to appear before graduation, when traffic is high and illicit vendors hit the sidewalks, and around the holidays, when vendors are out in force and the roads are more chaotic than usual, Rodriguez said.

He insisted his department isn’t being a grinch by cracking down before Christmas but that it’s really just concerned with public safety.

“We don’t take the product away,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t fine people. We essentially just give them a notice to comply. At the end of the day, we’re not sending anyone to court. We’re just reminding them that there’s an ordinance out there.”

When issuing notices, department inspectors also explain alternatives, such as local bazaars and flea markets, where the vendors can sell, he said.

Garage sales are still fine, meanwhile, provided they take place on the resident’s property, don’t last more than five consecutive days and are held no more than once in three months, according to the ordinance, which has been on the books since 1973 and last updated in the late 1990s.

“I think the point is we don’t want to disrupt traffic and we don’t want people to put themselves in danger,” Rodriguez said. “That’s really why this ordinance exists. … We’re after compliance. That’s really our true goal.”

Any member of the public who has questions shouldn’t hesitate to contact the health department, he said. The number is (956) 542-3437.

“We’re here to serve the public. … We would like them to reach out to us and feel comfortable reaching out to the health department,” Rodriguez said.