Monday, October 17, 2005

Stooping So Low

The more we think about the implications of Intro 699, the bill that would add an additional layer of oversight to the regulation of fruit stands, the more we see the measure as at best irrelevant and at worst another example of how the city's neighborhood retailers get regulated to death. Apparently enough councilmembers are beginning to get the message since the bill's original sponsor, John Liu of Flushing, withdrew the bill last week just before the Council would have voted to sustain the mayor's veto of the measure.

In response Liu has introduced another bill (Intro 731) that is designed to not only soften the new regulatory scheme but allay the concerns of his colleagues that the city's predominately Korean green grocers will be unfairly targeted by Intro 699. The Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on this new bill today at 1:00. This measure would, among other things set up an advisory committee to catalogue the fruit stand sector and weigh the impact of 699.

This is not a bad idea but it really only makes sense if enacted before 699 is voted into law. It is important to inventory the fruit stand resources and the industry's concerns prior to the implementation of a new regulatory structure. The haste with which 699 was introduced and voted on only underscores the Council's failure in this regard.

The larger issue in all this is that 699 takes its place in a pantheon of seemingly well-meaning regulatory measures that all end up, not in benefiting the public, but in harassing neighborhood shopkeepers and raising revenues for the city at the retailer's expense. This is made plain in the testimony of the Korean-American Small Business Service Center.

The Center, led by Sung Soo Kim, has been fighting for small shopkeepers for the past two decades. In particular, KASBSC has highlighted the deleterious impact of out-of-control city enforcement and regulatory policy and the negative effects of the proliferation of big box stores. In the current fight over Intro 699 Mr. Kim points out that crowded city streets are caused more by street vendors and public facilities and structures. He rather kindly neglects to mention that John Liu is a sponsor of a bill to increase the number of peddlers on the street.

The most salient point made, however, addresses the cost of the proposed regulation. In the first place the bill's sponsors estimate that it will cost $ 1 million a year to enforce. Where do you suppose this money is going to come from? Exactly. It will be the struggling retailers who, through increased licensing fees, will bear this regulatory burden.

In addition, once legislation of this kind is passed it only encourages a more aggressive enforcement posture. Now many folks will say that this is only as it should be. According to this view, if you are breaking the law you should have to pay the price. This ignores, however, the totally subjective nature of enforcement and the arbitrary character of the adjudicatory process.

As KASBC points out, "A subjective analysis yields a mathematically determined one-dimensional rating that categorically disregards the ecology of specific neighborhoods."

Make no mistake about this: this Intro puts small store owners at peril. “A disapproval revocation of the license would directly mean a death sentence to the store. [Since 30% of its income derives from the stoop stand,] a green grocer absolutely cannot survive with this loss of 30% sales volume."

Given the potential nature of this catastrophe shouldn't the Council proceed with greater caution? We at the Alliance certainly think so. Let's mandate a fair and thorough review prior to enacting this kind of legislation. And while the Council is at it, the review should be expanded to include an examination of the proliferation of illegal street vendors whose presence, often directly in front of legitimate store owners, is robbing retailers of the sales needed to survive.