Friday, September 29, 2006

Clubs Get the Spotlight

Yesterday's Nightlife Summit couldn't have gone better for the city's nightlife industry. NYNA was recognized and praised as the sole legitimate voice of the business sector and its recommendations were give top billing in today's press coverage of the event. The NY Post deserves the most credit in this regard and in particular the report of Stephanie Gaskell.

Gaskell's story, accompanied by what could have been a NYNA chart, led with the Association's concerns and continued to reference these issues throughout the piece. The key proposals outlined are the request for paid detail, and the call for the establishment of an office of nightlife affairs.

NYNA's David Rabin was placed front and center in the story and NYNA founder, Andrew Raseij, was also quoted on the considerable contribution made by the industry to the city's economy. When the issue of underage drinking was mentioned the Post discussed the NYNA call for a crackdown on fake IDs.

Smaller, but no less sympathetic pieces, were done in the NY Daily News and the NY Sun. The News trumpeted the NYNA demand for paid detail while the Sun reported on the Association's proposal for an age restriction on club entrance. This last issue, a radical departure for the industry and evidence of its concern about a serious social problem, was the central feature of a WINS 1010 report interviewing Richard Lipsky. In addition, an Associated press story that ran in Newsday featured the comments of Rabin on the need to nurture one of New York's most important industries.

All in all this was a good start on establishing the kind of dialogue that can only help the industry and the city in any joint effort to enhance public safety while also preserving a vital city asset. NYNA now needs to insure that this good start continues and results in the forwarding of some positive proposal that will help the nightlife industry in these difficult times.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Club Summit" Whither NYPD?

In anticipation of today's City Council Safety Summit, Speaker Quinn held a press briefing to announce some of the key legislative initiatives that the council will seek to enact in the next few months. As the Alliance's Richard Lipsky told Newsday, however, "...the legislation addresses security issues with a 'broad brush.' Cameras won't deter crime, Lipsky said, arguing that the council should take action against specific establishments rather than all of them."

Unfortunately a number of initiatives that could actually make a difference are not getting the kind of legislative attention that they should. The first, paid detail, is on the Summit agenda for discussion today but, at least according to a story in the NY Post, is already being second guessed because of a concern that the police commissioner won't support it; "Lawmakers said...that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is so opposed to the idea that they are now considering abandoning it..."

Well, way to go! A measure that could engender a safer nightlife environment might not be considered because one mayoral appointee thinks that it's not a good idea. What is a good idea according to this perspective is to focus all of the public's attention on the city's nightlife businesses and make their ability to grow and prosper more difficult.

We can only hope that the Council exhibits greater courage in this matter. This would also mean a willingness to target underage drinkers themselves and the firms that peddle false IDs. Otherwise, as we said in an earlier Op-ed piece, the welcome wagon for nightlife in this city will continue to be staffed by "hostile prohibitionists."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kingsbridge Victory

For the past six years we have been working closely with the Northwest Bronx Concerned Community and Clergy Coalition on crafting a neighborhood friendly plan for the development of the Kingsbridge Armory. For a good part of this time NWBCCC was led by the indefatigable Mary Daily and she was succeeded by the very capable James Mumm. Now, finally, as the NY Daily News reports this morning, an RFP has been issued, and it looks like the community's voice has been heard.

As the News points out, "The request addressed many of the concerns cited by community stakeholders, such as the need for schools and the impact on existing neighborhood businesses." When did you ever hear a statement like that coming from an EDC RFP? The RFP goes on to say that "Negative economic effects will be mitigated by ensuring the developer's proposed tenants 'endeavor to not duplicate or directly compete with existing retail.'"

It has been made clear all along by all members of the community coalition that a food selling box store was simply unacceptable. Much of this sentiment emerged because of the community's respect for Morty Sloan and his MortonWilliams Associated Supermarket. The Sloan's store was the first real supermarket built in the Bronx and Morty hires all of the employees for his other markets (many of which are in Manhattan) from this Kingsbridge neighborhood.

This is a pathbreaking event in the city's development history but we would caution everyone who has a stake in the development to not take any long vacations, confident that the potential problems surrounding the Armory have all disappeared. The key word in the above quote is "endeavor."

It is now up to all of us who have worked to protect the existing retail base to remain vigilant so that "endeavor" has the appropriate teeth. One developer has already pitched the Task Force but all bids will have to be reviewed by EDC and than go through the ULURP process.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Clubs are Trump

In today's NY Post Councilman David Yassky writes an Op-ed piece that for some reason is not posted on the paper's web site. Yassky, who chairs the Council's Small Business Committee, comes out with a four square defense of New York's Nightlife industry. While he agrees that safety needs to be improved, he observes that, "Some ideas on the table-such as freezing the number of liquor licenses-seem aimed more at shutting down bars and nightclubs than at making them safer."

Hooray for Yassky! Finally we have someone who's willing to come out strongly and publicly in defense of a vital city asset. Yassky goes on to advocate that if it's safety that concerns you than the city should be permitting the clubs to hire off-duty cops to make the streets in the neighborhood less chaotic.

Here's the money quote on this: "Fortunately, there is a simple way to address the safety concerns without driving well-run clubs out of business or underground: Let the clubs and bars hire off-duty police officers to maintain public safety outside of their establishments."

Yassky goes on to discuss the fiscal benefits of the paid detail initiative and outlines ways to prevent corruption from seeping into the program. If this approach is adopted, along with a more aggressive effort against ID fraud, there is a good chance that the city's safety worries will be addressed without any concomitant crippling of an important New York industry.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Recycling Policy Cliches

In today's NY Sun the paper reports on the admission by the Bloomberg administration that declining newspaper readership has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the alarming 20% drop in municipal recycling. This was obvious to us from the first time the idea was floated after the Mayor's Management Report was released.

Trying to recover from this gaffe, the mayor's folks are now saying the drop has something to do with the decline of "bulk recycled materials" that are used in construction projects. Of course, even if true, these are not recyclables that the public is separating for collection by DSNY.

All of which brings us to the fact that the newly minted SWMP was ushered in with lofty rhetoric about how increased recycling was going to reduce the city's dependency on exporting garbage. This is particularly crucial because of escalating export costs that have largely been downplayed by both sides of City Hall. The key factor in this misplaced optimism was the creation of a robustly staffed, six person Office of Recycling.

As recycling disciple Eric Goldstein of the NRDC told the Sun, "There is a widespread feeling those numbers will turn around in the next year or so." Widespread where? In the NRDC offices perhaps, where each new recycling plan ushers in the kind of optimism that must have animated the Soviet appartchiks when the new Five Year Plan was announced.

The stark reality is that the city is facing astronomical export costs that will not be reduced unless it figures out how to reduce waste. Of course we've been saying this for the past three years in our advocacy of food waste disposers. The City Council needs to come to grips with this soon. The use of disposers, on both the residential as well as commercial sectors, is the only methodology that can reduce the contaminants that make large scale recycling possible.

For those like Goldstein, however, who oppose the use of disposers, there still remains the romantic and quasi-religious conception of recycling that requires that all citizens ritualistically observe the religious rites by placing their recyclables in holy bins (altars?) in front of their residences.

What would happen if the city mandated disposer use in the Housing Authority apartments? With the removal of organic contaminants the remaining waste could be source separated for high volume recycling. This kind of a pilot program, along with the passage of Intro 133, would dramatically begin the kind of cost-effective waste reduction program that the city desperately needs to initiate

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Post Continues to Club Nightlife Industry

In what amounts to their own version of jihad, the NY Post continues today to relentlessly target the city's bars and clubs. This time it is a focus on promoters who are allegedly using underage "hotties" to lure customers into nightlife venues.

Once again, however, the focus of the article is on the alleged laxity of club owners and completely ignores some of the very facts that are brought out in the story. Foremost among these is the following observation of a promoter: "I have thousands of 18-20 year olds looking for parties. It's a market that's not being served."

Which is precisely the point. Number one, it is a huge market of young folks for whom the legal drinking age holds little meaning; and secondly it is, as the promoter says, a market that is largely unserved. Doesn't this mean that the great majority of club owners are doing the right thing?

That would be a proper conclusion and it's too bad, albeit not surprising, that the Post fails to pursue this to a logical conclusion: something needs to be done about the impunity with which young adults treat the drinking age limits. Oh yes, the Post also reports that club owners, owing to all of the hysterical scrutiny, are "scared s...less." So where is the balanced piece about the efforts by the huge majority of responsible club owners?

Rivera's Obesity Zoning Gets Respect

In today's NY Times the paper reports on the proposal by City Council Health chairman, Joel Rivera, to consider the use of zoning to restrict the number of fast food restaurants in the city. The article does a good job at examining some of the pro and cons of the issue, and more helpful than most of the pieces that have been done about the problem since reporter Manny Fernandez actually goes with Rivera into his Bronx neighborhood to report on the area's saturation with fast food joints.

What is also brought out nicely is the fact that zoning has already been used in other areas of the country to restrict fast food outlets and, while the restrictions have never been based on a health issue like obesity, there is ample rationale in the zoning laws for doing so. This rationale is underscored by Professor James Hodge from the Bloomberg School of Public Health who points out that the history and foundation of zoning laws in this country are based in large part on the need to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry.

The key rationale in all of this is the spiraling obesity epidemic, a health threat that is particularly acute in neighborhoods like the ones that Rivera represents. This fact is brought home by the report done by Dr. Hodge and his colleagues in conjunction with the Center for Law and the Public Health at John Hopkins and Georgetown. In addition, Rivera credits Dr. Mehmet Oz's pioneering work in this area as an inspiration for his public policy initiative.

Clearly, this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Rivera is exploring holding some kind of obesity summit later in the year and is not ruling out the possibility that it will result in a concrete proposal to restrict the fast food outlets. In the meantime the councilman continues to promote the Health Corps program, a "hearts and minds" alternative to zoning restrictions, that is expanding into more public schools this fall

Friday, September 22, 2006

SLA Confusion

The SLA tells Crains In$ider today that it doesn't know how many licenses are effected by the moratorium it imposed this month. What we are left with is the conclusion that the Authority was shooting from the hip when it announced its ban, with no real idea just how many folks might get hurt.

Hope, however, may be on the way. Representatives from NYNA are going up to Albany to meet with Chairman Boyle and will try to see if some kind of middle ground can be reached on this issue.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Keeping the Night Lights On

In today's NY Sun the Alliance's Richard Lipsky has an Op-ed piece that defends the city's nightlife industry and calls for the creation of an Office of Nightlife Affairs, whose job would be to promote the interests of the industry in a spirit of collaboration with the administration.
The editorial advocates for a public policy that would nurture the industry's growth while looking, at the same time, to insure that people have fun in as safe an environment as possible.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

East Side Skewered

In today's NY Sun the paper reports that the controversial transfer station planned for the East Side at 91st Street has beaten back a legal challenge mounted by the local community. In announcing his decision Judge Stallman said that the plan "would further the city's announced, rational goals of promoting equity among the boroughs for responsibility over waste disposal, and reducing truck traffic."

That it might, but we're wondering what this has to do with the legal issues and why does a judge issue public policy announcements to support a judicial decision? In any case, although the community will appeal, it all confirms what we said to Community Board #8 two years ago: The community and its elected officials (Miller first and now Lappin) needed to devise an aggressive waste reduction plan that would have become a compelling argument against the need for additional transfer stations.

It would have also been a good selling point for those oversaturated communities who, with little chance of getting rid of the bulk of their facilities, are reduced to seeking racial schadenfreude through foisting a facility on the tony East Side. As Charles Barron told the Sun: "It's time for them to do their fair share."

Which brings us back to the Mayor's management Report which admits that recycling in the city is down by 20%. The strength of the SWMP has always been its promotion of environmental justice not in its development of a coherent waste reduction strategy. Still, all the signatories huffed and puffed about recycling and reducing waste exports. What are they going to do now? Kvell about the fact that they threw some garbage on the East Side as well?

Press Needs To Investigate this Entire Issue

It should start with the bankruptcy of the city's recycling plan and the fraudulent Office of Recycling that the SWMP has created. Next it should examine the export climate and start to get some realistic projections on just how much the city's reliance on exporting garbage is going to cost over the next 20 years.

Following this up, reporters should start to look at the export climate and whether the sites that the city relies on today are going to continue to be available in the foreseeable future. In conjunction with this examination there should be an evaluation of what it means for the city to be dependent on one or two garbage conglomerates.

Finally, as we have been advocating ad nauseum, the press should examine the cost-benefit equation surrounding the use of food waste disposers-not only for the commercial sector but for residential garbage as well. It is only through the systematic elimination of organic contaminants that real large scale recycling can be made a reality.

It is time for a real study to be done, one that takes the issue out of the hands of bureaucrats who have a trained incapacity to honestly evaluate the question. As the philosopher McIntyre has said; "Bureaucratic wisdom is one of the great moral fictions of our time." Once we understand the real export costs, and only then, we will be able to evaluate the benefits of using disposers.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Alas, Poor Costco

Over the past ten years the Alliance has had its run-ins with Costco, and the box retailer has not enjoyed the results of those encounters. Efforts to build stores in Chelsea and Hells Kitchen ran aground because of the coalition of opposition that the Alliance had put together with elected officials such as Tom Duane, Chris Quinn and Dick Gottfried.

Not it appears that the site that held the most promise for the retailer, the East River Plaza development on 116th Street and the Harlem River Drive, will no longer be available since the developers have struck a better deal with Target. Que Lastima!

What's particularly interesting about this turn of events is the public pique exhibited by Costco chairman Jeff Broutman. As he tells the NY Times this morning, he took a call last month from Bruce Ratner and Edmund Blumenfeld, and was told that he was being replaced; "I was really angry," Mr. Broutman said. "From Bruce I didn't expect it."

One of the stumbling blocks for Costco was the fact that the city had asked the developers to strengthen the structures in order to support future housing. Another, not reported in the story, was the opposition of a number of unions in the food business who made their concerns known to the Ratner people. All things being equal, and they might not have been in this case, the developers had an extra incentive to look to another retailer.

Broutman appears undeterred, however, and expresses continued interest in finding another Manhattan location. We guess we'll meet again, who knows where, who knows when?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Recycling Down, Rats Up

As the NY Sun and NY Times are reporting today the Mayor's Management Report has some ominous findings when it comes to public health and solid waste. It appears that while the city's rat population has continued to grow and flourish the efforts at getting the rodent epidemic under control have floundered. As the Times points out, "The number of pest control complaints have nearly doubled since the 2002 fiscal year, yet the number of exterminations plummeted 39 percent..."

The administration's response to this glaring reversal sounds particularly lame- Jessica Leighton, the health department's deputy commissioner for environmental health, said officials had adopted a new strategy to 'focus on prevention rather than just dropping bait." Say what?

No mention here as to the prevention strategy the city has adopted. As we have been shrieking at the top of our lungs the one real effective strategy for eliminating rodent infestation is to restrict the food supply. That's why the Alliance has been promoting the use of commercial food waste disposers, precisely because they would get rid of the food source at the city's restaurants and supermarkets.

Instead, the city has implemented Operation Dumpster that, for public health reasons, prevents food outlets from storing food in outdoor containers. So the food is now forced back into the venues that store and prepare food for consumption, a great combination for what Templeton (remember Charlotte's Web?) would call a veritable smorgesbord.

At the same time the Mayor's report lets us know that recycling is down 20%. This is certainly an ominous figure. If you recall the mayor and the speaker of the council heralded the recently agreed to SWMP in spite of the fact that there is no real plan to reduce waste (unless you think the new recycling office will do the trick).

Which leaves the city very short in the waste reduction department. As we have been saying all along the use of food waste disposers, in both the residential as well as commercial sectors, is the one sure methodology that can reduce waste and enhance recycling at the same time. While addressing a major public health issue as well.

Underage, Under the Gun?

In today's NY Sun the paper reports on a new underage drinking initiative being sponsored by NYU. The program is looking to involve students, neighborhood residents and lawmakers in is pilot program. As the Sun says, the program is designed "to smooth relations between residents and students, and draws largely from safety concerns."

All of which drew the support of the nightlife folks who have been clamoring for a widening of the scope of stakeholders in the fight to control the underage drinking epidemic. Certainly the city's universities have a strong stake in insuring the safety of their students. As NYU's Alicia Hurley told the paper, "As a university, we feel particularly that we have to make sure our students are safe and they are acting in ways that will improve their safety."

Ah, But what if they don't heed the message? As student president Meredith Dolgin said, "People are still going to drink, and that's a fact of college." Which means that an exclusively hearts and minds approach may not be enough. AS NYNA's Rob Bookman points out, "It would be a great idea...but it needs to be more than wishful thinking."

This strongly suggests that an enforcement piece is definitely needed so that young people get the message that what they're doing is against the law and if they try to use fraudulent identification to get into a bar or club, and get caught, they will face serious legal consequences. The onus can't be solely on the business owner.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

DMI Forum

Next Monday the Drum Major Institute is holding a forum on the issue of accountable development. This is, as we have seen in the controversies over the BTM and Yankee Stadium (and Shea as well), an issue of the highest important to the economic well-being of the city. We have been asked to join with the DMI and offer our thoughts on the accountability issue from the standpoint of small business.

As we have commented before, the issue of accountable development strikes at the heart of politics and the role of major real estate firms in the political process. Now we don't go all Jack Newfield on this issue because we realize that industries that drive the economy and create jobs will always have the pole position when it comes to the old poli sci favorite question: "Who gets what, when. where and how?

What makes this particularly intriguing, however, is that fact that there are so many times when the largesse being given out comes at the direct expense of less well situated small businesses. This was especially true with the eviction of the BTM merchants. The Related Companies were given the whole enchilada in a sweetheart deal while EDC basically gave the merchants moving money to get out of town.

Which is the key point: the real estate machers move in the same circles and express the same values as the key economic development decision makers. From this perspective, the merchants at the Terminal Market were ghetto bottom feeders whose interest was of no account. The value of minority owned small businesses is egregiously overlooked in the process.

The same holds true when public bidding is being done. Larger firms are able to retain the best lobbyists and PR folks to advance their cause early on. Others may not even be aware of the opportunity until it's too late. Here's where the Bloombergistas have been most off the mark. The outreach effort to minority business has been a second fiddle operation at best. What we're saying is that transparency needs to be in place all throughout the development process and not just right after a deal is being negotiated.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Saturation and Zoning: When Will it End?

The issue of bar and club saturation has been focused on the Far West Side of Manhattan but the issue isn't limited to that one area by any means. As the NY Daily News reports today the question of saturation is roiling the CB#2 area (Hunters Point) in Queens as well.

Here once again we are faced with the impact of gentrification on the nightlife business. Here are the words of the district manager of the board: "This is about oversaturation of bars and restaurants in an emerging neighborhood, and of protecting the quality of life for people who live above and close to" the bars.

Perhaps the key issue in all this, as the DM points out, is noise. With the smoking ban it becomes impossible for the owner to control street noise, leading to community complaints and targeted enforcement that always leads to the bar being summoned. It's a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed by the Summit.

Wal-Mart Opponents Win in Rockland

As the Journal News reports today two big opponents of the Wal-Mart in Monsey emerged victorius. Legislator Ellen Jaffee defeated David Fried, who also ran on an anti Wal-Mart platform, and Spring Valley attorney Bruce Levine ousted incumbent legislator Alden Wolfe on a vigorous campaign to defeat the Walmonster.

In fact, as the JN reports, voters commenting on the race mentioned the fact that Levine was against the development as a reason for their vote. As one voter told the News, "'There are just so many projects upcoming, like Wal-Mart'...'so I'm kind of interested in people who are opposed to that.'"

It remains to be seen if Ramapo supervisor Chris St. Lawrence sees the handwriting on the wall on all of this. Count on our effort to clarify this issue for him as he approaches his own election cycle.

SLA Moratorium

As Crain's In$ider reports this morning the SLA has clarified its moratorium ruling, indicating that it is all-encompassing and even includes applicants whose licenses were already in the pipeline. This means that it is likely that a number of businesses poised to open will be sucking wind until the Authority decides that it is OK to move forward.

We're still puzzled as to how a putative problem with certain nightlife areas can apply to the entire borough of Manhattan. What this means, however, is that even those bars and clubs that have no problems with their local community boards will have to wait until the SLA's taskforce does its fact finding.

We also are wondering what the city is going to do if/or when the Authority tries to impose its own view of what constitutes "saturation" over the city's own zoning laws. All of which points to the knotty issue of trying to make sense of the 500 foot law (aka the "Bell Boulevard" law). If the Authority begins to seriously enforce a literal interpretation of this statute than NY's bars and clubs are in deep trouble.

Monday, September 11, 2006

SLA Scorched Earth Moratorium

In a press release today the State Liquor Authority clarifies then groundrules for its recently announced license moratorium. Its conclusion is that the restriction on the issuance of new licenses will be absolute! There will be no exceptions even for those whose licenses are pending.

The Authority makes this edict because, as it says in its press release, of "allegations of misconduct in, and around licensed premises." While taking pains to say that it isn't pre-judging the guilt or innocence of any parties (we're still not sure what wrongdoings it's referring to in this vague allusion to certain untoward events), it goes on to observe that these events "have called into question whether certain areas of New York County have become oversaturated with such establishments."

What breathtaking logic! If, in fact, there are certain areas that are problematic-although the Authority makes no direct logical correlation between the allegations in its release and the issue of saturation-how does this lead to a moratorium on licensure for the entire borough? In addition, since the Authority is certainly no expert on zoning, how is it going to evaluate the issue of ovesaturation in the context of the city's land use history and economic needs? And how will it, indeed, in four month period?

Which makes the entire moratorium an exercise in political grandstanding, designed more to demonstrate toughness than to address any specific problem (since no specific problem is mentioned other than saturation). In addition, what can any task force possibly come up with in four months that will inform the Authority enough so that it can refine its licensing process?

What this also means is that the Authority, whose chair has already amply exhibited his limited law enforcement worldviw, will now look to usurp the city's zoning and economic development functions. Will it instruct the city to issue new cabaret licenses in Soho and Tribeca in order to reverse the trend toward saturation? Without any zoning expertise how can it even comment on the creation of de facto nightlife districts?

If the SLA looks at the saturation question as an exclusively law enforcement problem than its answer must be to restrict the number of licensees in any one given area. What about when the city itself generates the very saturation that the Authority finds so vexing? Clearly, we begin to tread on some very thin political ice.

Than we come to the philosophy that the SLA sees intrinsic to its 500 foot rule. It feels that the law, just as Senator Padavan has argued, presumes that any establishment in an area where there are already at least three licensees should not be licensed. Now the SLA may be right in its interpretation, although it admits that in the past it has ruled permissively on these applications, but if it is nightlife in this city of dense concentration of licensees is in deep trouble.

Community board genuflection is not a prescription for a vibrant nightlife but it is certainly a gameplan for greater safety, less noise, and a more staid environment-something that the SLA's new sheriff obviously feels are paramount public interests (as they very well might be in Schenectady). NYC's nightlife will not thrive if it must constantly play a game of giant steps with a bluenosed chaperone (You didn't say "May I.")

And then we come to the issue of the public interest that allows for the Authority to make exceptions to the presumptive 500 foot rule. Nowhere is there any questioning of whether this rule itself needs to be altered given the absurdity of its application in the city that never sleeps. One exemption prerequisite that the Authority mentions is "the number and character of other licensed premises in the area."

So, let's get this straight. One of the things that the Authority looks at in granting an exemption to the presumption of illegality is if there are other licenses around. Isn't this tautological? What if there are four? Or five? What's an Authority to do? Especially one with a law enforcement background that gives it a "trained incapacity" to answer these important questions.

All of this can only mean hard times for an industry that is already under siege from government officials and certain segments of the media. And the Summit has yet to take place!

Mayor Daily Boxes City Council

In a move that will lead to an override battle in the Chicago City Council, Mayor Daily has vetoed the box store minimum wage bill that was passed over his objection in July. This anti Wal-Mart bill tries to legislate the store into becoming a good corporate citizen. Our preference is to simply kick its butt in every single site fight and educate the grass roots about the company's perfidy.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sun Won't Set on Clubs: Post Toasts Them

In today's NY Sun reporter Russell Berman puts the nightlife industry's defense of its record front and center. In a headline that reads, "Nightlife Industry Defends Security at City's Clubs," the story allows the record to be set straight about the manufactured "crisis" in the city's club scene. by liberally quoting from the testimony of NYNA's Rob Bookman.

The key quote here: "The real crisis is the slow killing of this important industry, one that will have a major impact on jobs, taxes and tourism." The Sun goes on to cite Bookman's attack on the SLA's moratorium on licenses and NYNA's call for a crackdown on the fraudulent use of fake IDs. The paper also points out that the moratorium blindsided city officials who were not given any advance warning about the initiative.

In contrast, the NY Post once again stooped into the gutter by failing to even cite the industry's positions-or even its presence-at yesterday's hearing. In what had to be an editorial decision, since Stephanie Gaskell whose byline appears on the story and Angela Montefinisi, who was present for the paper at the hearing, are both good and decent reporters who wouldn't have left the important balance out of the story.

All of this points to the need to continue to push hard to cultivate friendly media and electeds toward a fair and balanced position on nightlife. The Sun will be using a Bookman/Rabin editorial on the week of the 21st and we're pushing for more editorial support from others as well.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Senate SLA Hearing: 500 Feet From the Truth

The awaited Spano liquor licensing hearing, the one that ostensibly was about underage drinking, was basically preempted by the SLA's moratorium announcement the day before. The prime focus today was on the testimony of SLA Chairman Boyle who made it crystal clear to all of us that his "thirty one years" in law enforcement was his only qualification to chair the agency. Certainly on the evidence of his testimony and demeanor he has absolutely no concern for the protection and growth of the businesses that he is charged to regulate

Boyle's entire focus was on his aggressive enforcement posture. However, he gave no compelling reasons, other than what he may have read in the NY Post, why any license moratorium was necessary. Nor did he seem to be aware or care about the real business hardships that his edict would create. Unfortunately, no one on the senate panel challenged his decision and it was left to Senator Carl Kruger and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (of Chelsea no less) to point out the silliness and danger in the moratorium initiative.

To be fair, Senator Marty Golden, who arrived a little late, came out with a strong defense of nightlife and chided his colleague-the prohibitionist Padavan-for trying to impose a 500 foot law on new licenses in Manhattan. He also took issue with Padavan's support for a 3 AM closing hour, again on the basis of the difference between Manhattan and the rest of the city.

Which gets us to the spectacle that Padavan created in his defense of the 500 foot law (and his call for strengthening its application). Now we know that it was the senator who got this indefensible legislation passed in 1993 so he has a certain pride of ownership, but he just got withered by NYNA's own Rob Bookman who pointed out just how anti-business the rule is.

The problem with the 500 foot nonsense is that there is no real guideline to determine just what the "in the public interest" exemption means. Padavan felt that just because a bar will provide jobs and tax revenue doesn't mean that is in the public interest since "all the bars do this." But the public rationale for any business in a free market economy is that it does just that.

What's a bar to argue? That its beer is colder? At which point Bookman exposed the senator's hypocrisy when Padavan claimed the exemption was made for "a new hotel" or some other kind of unique development. As Bookman pointed out that logic puts the senator squarely on the side of the big guy and opposed to the small entrepreneur. In essence, however, the entire argument exposed the lameness of the "PUBLIC INTEREST" STANDARD.

Without criteria this is no standard at all and is subject to the capriciousness of any regulators subjective point-of-view. If Padavan believes that economic development is insufficient a rationale than what possibly could he put in its place? The whim of the local community board?

All in all, the panel of Bookman, Rabin and Hunt did the industry proud. They exposed the arbitrary nature of the moratorium and underscored the need to enforce the underage laws against the young people who willingly violate them.

The highlight of the hearing, though, just might have been the impassioned Kruger testimony that called for an aggressive enforcement effort against those websites that are peddling fake IDs. The senator received a well-deserved ovation from the industry folks at the hearing.

What is next for NYNA is to try to get the SLA to back off of its poorly thought through moratorium. Senators Golden and Kruger have promised to reach out to the governor's office since there are scores of pending licensees that are going to be devastated financially if the current moratorium isn't altered.

SLA Action Reaction

As expected all of the press picked up on the arbitrary and capricious moratorium action of the SLA. THe NY Sun has a front page story and the Post, the Daily News, and the NY Times also are following the outrageous usurpation of authority by the latter day Elmer Gantry in Albany. More to follow after today's Spano hearing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

SLA Bombshell

As if things weren't bad enough for the city's nightlife industry, in comes the State Liquor Authority to make things much worse. At today's Authority meeting the Authority, with absolutely no input from the industry or anyone else for that matter, announced that it was initiating moratorium on all licenses applications for any premise that is within the 500 foot radius of three other premises.

What this means is that businesses that have already applied, gotten community board approval and invested millions of dollars to renovate a venue, will have to eat their investments while these state bureaucrats (with no legislative authority) decide to place businesses in limbo. By what authority?

Clearly the SLA is totally out of control and is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Expect a slew of lawsuits from applicants who might be facing millions of dollars in losses from this ex post facto action. Also expect a heated Spano state senate hearing tomorrow.

Kudos to the NY Daily News

In today's NY Daily News the paper once again editorializes for the building of Atlantic Yards, and makes the point that we have emphasized time and again that there is no compromise that the destroyers would ever accept. They want, in the words of one elected official who opposes the development, to "go back to the drawing board."

There is no compromise with the these folks and any further concessions, as the News points out, will only serve to hurt the project's recognized benefits. Let's just move forward and forget the human shields.

NY's Garbage: Down and Out in the Dumps

In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter is reporting what we have been screaming about for the past four years-the landfill space is drying up and it's going to create a disposal crisis for a city that has not taken waste reduction seriously. We now are told by Crain's that Virginia, Pennsylvania and north Carolina are becoming more resistant to accepting New York City's trash.

As one analyst tells Crain's: "'If we lose access to Pennsylvania and Virginia, New York City will be in a crisis,' ...noting a paucity of in-state landfill capacity." Well, duh! That's what we have been saying all along about the charade that is known as a SWMP. The Council's six little gnomes operating in an office of recycling will begin to look like a cruel joke when we start to see tipping fees double and export costs follow suit.

As Crain's points out the Bloomberg folks are compounding the problem by looking to negotiate 20 year contracts with two large firms (Waste Management of course is one), insuring that the city will pay through the nose for its lack of leverage.

Meanwhile the one reliable and environmentally sound methodology for waste reduction and recycling-food waste disposers-is being stymied by a hidebound bureaucracy who's not looking out for all New Yorkers. We should realize by now that the costs to insure that the waste water treatment facilities can handle processed food waste (greatly exaggerated as they are by the DEP) are well worth the expense in the face of the export black hole. Wake up everyone (especially you Mike McMahon).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lights Out in Gotham

In the current issue of Crain'$ New York the magazine reports on an alarming trend at the State Liquor Authority. It seems that the agency has begun to just about rubber stamp community board objections to new liquor licenses when the application is in an area where three or more licensees are already in place. In the past the Authority has been relatively accommodating in these cases, ruling for the most part that the new application was in the "public interest."

Now, however, a new chair of the agency has, in the words of Crain's, presided over a "dramatic shift" in attitude. As the magazine reports, "In the past, community boards have railed against the agency for approving new liquor licenses over their objections. Not anymore."

What this means is that community boards, never known for pro-business attitudes or an ability to see the larger picture, are being given virtual veto power over the growth of a vital city industry. The early returns are certainly not pretty. As NYNA's Rob Bookman tells Crain's, "We are concerned that the SLA is ceding its authority to a system that is designed to be anti-business..."

What is ominous here is that, "Even retaurateurs with stellar reputations and successful track records are caught in the crossfire of this conflict. Industry officials point to a decision by Community Board 2 to block Chef Daniel Boulud's application for a restaurant liquor license as evidence that neighborhood groups are overreacting."

This is exactly what the industry is afraid of. What is needed here is for the city to come to grips with the conflict between clubs, restaurants and communities. If community boards are allowed to act as zoning barriers to entry the city can kiss good by its city that never sleeps nickname.

Less Dense? Not Daniel

In a story in the NY Times this morning the paper reports on the efforts by FCRC to address some of the criticism of its Atlantic Yards project by downsizing the development by some 750,000 square feet. This news, first reported by the Sun's Dave Lombino last week, has predictably not changed the position of Dan the destroyer.

As the Times tells us Dan's position is that the entire project, including the arena that 60% of New Yorkers want to see built, needs to be scrapped and if anything is to go up in its place it will have to conform to the Goldstein footprint (the "not in my livingroom" footprint). What Goldstein has managed to do is to convert a latent sympathy that everyone has for folks who might lose their homes into a suspicion that he doesn't give a rat's ass about developing something that will benefit thousands of his fellow citizens. It's become all about Daniel.

Well Daniel, as we have found out over the past twenty five years, it's never just about you! (or even me). The all or nothing approach is never going to succeed unless you have the full support of an impacted community, and even then it won't be enough if a development has a larger public impact that will affect people well beyond the footprint of a project-which is exactly what AY does have.

The attack on the arena underscores the scorched earth nihilism of the DDD agenda. The arena and the Nets team will be the centerpiece of a resurgent Brooklyn that will link all of its diverse neighborhoods into one unified whole. This is what we have found in our organizing efforts on behalf of the Brooklyn Sports Alliance. It's not all about writers who live in Park Slope and pontificate endlessly about intellectual sterility and infidelity.

Let's Go Nets!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Spano Hearing Thursday

This Thursday at 10:00 am State Senator Nick Spano will be holding a hearing on a wide range of liquor license issues. Foremost among these is the question of whether bars and clubs should be forced to close earlier. From the industry standpoint any reduction of business hours is a dire threat to the profitability of the entire sector, including restaurants who rely on late seatings.

All of this stems, of course, from the series of isolated tragic instances this summer. As tragic as they were, when you have over 64 million customer transactions a year they amount to only a very small fraction of the overall business that is done in these venues (which is peaceful as well as profitable to both the city as well as to the industry).

Much of the trouble stems from the problems that arise from the societal issue of underage drinking. This is a challenge to a great many stakeholders, and not just to the people who own bars, clubs and liquor stores. Yet, it is only the club owner who has had the bullseye placed right on his/her chest.

Which is illustrated in an article that appeared in the NY Post on Sunday. The article focused on John Bakhshi, the owner of Guest House, the club that Jennifer Moore had frequented before she was killed on the night of July 24th. Bakhshi is looking to purchase Spirit, a club that has been under a great deal of regulatory scrutiny recently, so much so that its owner wants out of the business.

Well this news has led the Post to scurrilously question whether Bakhshi is "trustworthy" enough to purchase another business. So, with no real details about just what happened in Guest House that fateful evening people are looking to trash a club owner's reputation. Did Guest House act irresponsibly, or did Moore have a phony ID and knowingly look to use this to violate the law?

The Post goes on to salaciously accuse Bakhshi by interviewing the mother of Jennifer's friend who was with her on the night she was killed. Naomi Kenan tells the paper, "The owner hasn't proved he's trustworthy...Why should he be able to increase his business? It's outrageous."

No, what's outrageous is the way in which the media here is trying to ruin someone's reputation when there has been no determination that the club did anything wrong. And even if it did, the epidemic of underage drinking is not something that can't be fully controlled by any one business. Why isn't this parent outraged that the police towed the girls' car?

Towards the end of the Post article we get the real essence of the overall problem here. Ms. Kenan argues that Bakhshi is irresponsible because "...this guy lets kids in and they drink. That's not running it right...Of course kids are going to try to get in. It's up to the owners to stop it from happening."

This is a breathtaking point-of-view. Kids, her kid in this case, knowingly looks to violate the law and it's only the club owner's fault! But it shouldn't be just up to the owners at all. That's been NYNA's point all along. Everyone-including parents Ms. Kenan-need to take more responsibility. Did Kenan know where her daughter was going that night and what she was planning to do?

If young people are going to drink we need to make them culpable for breaking the law. At the same time we need to make the environment around the clubs safer as well. Towing cars on the Far West Side in the middle of the night is not being responsible for the safety of the public. Is the revenue worth it?

On Thursday the NYNA folks will be out in force to defend their industry from scapegoating. We need for responsible leaders to step forward so that we can make sure that, while people are kept safe, an important business sector is allowed to grow and prosper.

Arena Foes Poll-Axed

AS the NY Post reports this morning Crain's New York has conducted a poll of city residents that shows over 60% of New Yorkers support the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. While opposition was strongest in Brooklyn, only 33% of that borough's citizens say they are against the arena development.

All of which shows that support for the project is strong especially as you move outward from the development's footprint. In spite of all the publicity generated and policy expertise demonstrated by the DDD folks the group doesn't have the kind of traction needed to stop the project.