The Star Lite Swap Meet and city of Lakewood are back in court.
This time the battle is over the city’s attempt to check vendors for business licenses and require them to record transactions made at the swap meet in the 8300 block of South Tacoma Way.
An attorney for Star Lite owner Hank Bardon called the city’s actions unconstitutional and an attempt to shut down the business.
The latest legal run-in started Sept. 20, when a city code enforcement officer notified Bardon that an official would return Sept. 24 to check that vendors had valid temporary business licenses issued by the city.
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Bardon also was told a police officer would be there to talk to people about a city and state requirement that all vendor transactions be recorded.
On Sept. 23, Bardon’s attorney, Steve Burnham, was granted a temporary restraining order in Pierce County Superior Court to stop the city.
Lakewood officials called off the visit before the court documents were filed.
“The initial plan was to check at the gate for those business licenses,” assistant city attorney Matthew Kaser said. “The Star Lite raised concerns about that. The inspection was called off to look at their concerns.”
Court documents filed to hold off the city outline some of the concerns, which include requiring vendors to show the license on their way into the swap meet.
“The city of Lakewood business regulations require business owners to post their license at their place of business, which in this case is their numbered sales space at the Star Lite,” Burnham wrote.
No other business owners in the city are “stopped on their way to work and required to show a business license,” he said.
“(T)his appears to be directed at minorities who own many of these businesses and an attempt to intimidate them into ceasing their lawful business operations at the Star Lite,” Burnham wrote.
The city enacted new rules governing temporary business licenses in 2015, limiting the amount of time vendors can sell in the city to 180 days. After that, they must take a three-month break. Previously, they could sell year-round.
The inspection was to make sure people were adhering to the new rules, Kaser said. Allegations that the city is targeting minorities “just simply is not true,” he said.
The second part of Bardon’s legal complaint addressed the requirement that vendors report all sales by taking a photo and then uploading information to an online program used by Lakewood police.
All purchases, whether $2 for a child’s toy or $100 for a lawn mower, must be recorded, according to city regulations, which are based on state law, Kaser said.
The intent is to reduce the likelihood stolen property will be sold at the largely unregulated swap meet, said police Sgt. Peter Johnson, who works with the department’s property crimes unit.
“This is all to protect the consumer,” he said.
Johnson planned to be at the Star Lite Sept. 24 to explain the requirement that “secondhand dealers” — someone who sells secondhand items at a swap meet more than three times a year — report all sales.
“I was going to be in jeans and a shirt,” Johnson said. “There was no enforcement behind it.”
Burnham called the city’s attempt an “unlawful exercise” of police power and a violation of Bardon’s and the vendors’ state and federal constitutional rights.
Tacoma attorney John Ladenburg, Sr. is working on a separate lawsuit against the city on behalf of 11 Star Lite vendors and customers.
He believes the city has misinterpreted state law, which he said is meant to govern transactions at pawn shops and secondhand stores where stolen items are more likely to be exchanged for quick cash.
Ladenburg said a judge has agreed to allow Ladenburg to present his claims in Bardon’s most recent legal battle because the cases overlap. He said he plans to file his lawsuit soon.
An administrative hearing was held to determine how to proceed with the suspension. Ultimately, the city lifted the suspension after requiring Bardon meet a series of conditions.
He initially challenged the conditions but later reached an agreement with the city.