Early last week, a Philadelphia building inspector was charged with helping the Department of Licenses and Inspections’ Nuisance Task Force live up to its name. Authorities say Kenneth Gassman waged a campaign of harassment against a Fishtown man who had the temerity to refuse to sell his auto-repair shop to him. After that embarrassment, L&I officials may have felt some pressure to exercise their enforcement muscle for good. They needed a real scofflaw threatening to disturb the city’s peace and do harm to its citizens.
They found just such a villain in the cupcake lady.
Cupcake lady may sound like a perfectly harmless occupation. That’s because it is. The cupcake lady, a.k.a. Kate Carrara, is a lady who sells cupcakes out of a converted mail truck, much to the delight of every Philadelphian who doesn’t hate cupcakes. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop L&I from coming down on her like a ton of rainbow sprinkles. Just after parking her truck in University City on Tuesday, Carrara was confronted by an L&I and police posse numbering no fewer than a half-dozen (coincidentally, a common unit of cupcake sale). She was informed that, having infringed on the city’s cupcake-free zone for the second time, her truck would be confiscated. It cost her $200 to liberate it and its delicious cargo.
Here’s the icing on the cupcake: Carrara’s was reportedly not the only cupcake truck confiscated in Philadelphia this month. David Dilks told The Inquirer that L&I had confiscated his cupcake truck in Center City. Both the cupcake gentleman and the cupcake lady reported making good-faith efforts to determine the arcane boundaries of Philadelphia’s little-known cupcake zones. Both said they were handed several pages of legalese and told to figure it out for themselves. And both — despite Carrara’s law degree — failed.
Nutter administration officials seem to sense that L&I shouldn’t be persecuting pastry chefs in a town with real problems, because they tried to blame the Parking Authority for the cupcake crackdown. But this is one instance of baroque bureaucratic oppression in which the Parking Authority played no role. Of course, L&I has a job to do, and it’s often difficult and unpopular. But there’s no reason to make it more difficult and unpopular with a draconian stance toward people who are trying to play by the rules. City Council, meanwhile, should revisit the whole notion of complicated cupcake laws.
It was a cruel aristocrat who said the commoners should eat cake. What does that say about a regime that won’t let them eat cupcakes?