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.