Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sun-Fried Ban

We missed the NY Sun editorial this morning on the proposed Trans fat ban. In particular, we appreciated the way in which the paper came to the defense of local ethnic eateries and, "the so-called ethnic foods that make the city the culinary capitol of America." We also would agree with the Sun's description of the "out-of-control" Board of Health.

Kudos to the Sun for actually caring about the preservation of a health business climate and not just an intrusive public health agenda. As the paper strongly points out, "It is foolish to think that by bankrupting small eateries and depriving customers of choice in the name of banning a single substance, the government can improve the American diet. The only result is going to be a dearth of local restaurants..."

And while we're at it will someone tell us by what right some of these advocacy groups get to call themselves "public interest" organizations. This is what the social scientist might call a reified concept: a notion that there is a public interest set apart from the interplay of actual interests-and that there are a few "wise" ones who are better able than us mortals to discern just where this public interest lies.

By the way, in thirty years of observing public interest groups we've yet to see any of them actually support a policy that benefited a business. Which is strange considering the fact that it is precisely the incredible achievements of American business that provides us most of the benefits that we enjoy today. The public interest solons, however, are virulently anti-business and, if left to their own devices, would cripple the private sector with disastrous results.

Fat Fit to be Fried

Yesterday's Department of Health hearing on trans fat generated a swarm of media attention and, in the process, underscored why administrative processes are probably not the best approach to this kind of health initiative. As the NY Daily News editorializes this morning, the Health Board didn't bother to stick around for all of the the testimony and there was the lack of legislative give-and-take that is so useful at arriving at reasonable compromise.

That being said, the Alliance and its ally-Louis Nunez and the Latino Restaurant Association-got there message across loud and clear, whether it was in a long article in the Spanish language daily El Diario and one in Hoy, or in a piece in the mainstream NY Times where Nunez told the paper that, "This big brother policy doesn't work." In fact, as the Times reported, Commissioner Frieden did come out to address the media and said that he "would consider revising the terms of the proposed legislation before a vote in December."

Our main point about the lack of outreach appears to be resonating with the Department. An article in AM-New York quotes Nunez that in his poll of 1,000 Latino-owned restaurants, over 900 had no idea about what trans fat was or what the city was planning. And in Newsday he told the paper that it was important to give his members the time necessary to insure that the new ingredients didn't alter the taste of the ethnic cuisine.

All in all, the Alliance received 332 separate hits yesterday in newspapers around the country, thanks to the effort of the AP's David Caruso's newswire story. We also defended the industry's interests on WCBS Channel 2 and Eyewitness News as well. We're not getting set to meet with the commissioner to hopefully work out a protocol on implementation with the Health Department. We haven't, however, given up on the hope that the City Council will intervene in this issue and make it part of its legislative agenda.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Trans Fat Hearing is Heated

The Trans fat hearing held today at the Department of Health was heated. More on this tomorrow but a belated mention should be given to the Associated Press story in today's NY Sun that mentions the Alliance's complaints about the availability of Trans fat alternatives.

In addition, the NY Times has a front page story in its Metro Section on the other issue before the Health Department-the nutritional information on menu requirement. It appears that the Department doesn't really grasp how the sheer volume of information that it is requiring would make menus so voluminous as to make them impractical to even use.

Trans Fat Free Fatheads: Hearing Today

As we get set for today's DOH hearing on the proposal to ban Trans fat we are also gearing up for the ideological zealotry of some of the anti-Trans fat fanatacism a group called Trans Fat Free New York (reminds us of the Save the Seals campaign). As AM New York reports this morning, the head of the group is accusing the Alliance of "Swift Boating," which we take to mean some form of exaggeration-although, given John Kerry's infrequent atachment to veracity we may well decide to take the accusation as a compliment.

The point remains that the Alliance is not opposed to the change we are only concerned that if one is to be made that it is done in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of neighborhood eateries. As the NY Post points out this morning, there may not be an adequate supply of Trans fat alternatives to allow a smooth July 1st implementation date.

All we are asking for is a collaborative effort with the Health Department that takes into account that there may be some difficulties in the transition. Having people who have never owned a restaurant making these faux authoritative statements on what can or cannot be done is no substitute for a reasonable approach to this health issue.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Caveat Vendor

In today's NY Daily News the paper has a point-counterpoint debate over the role of peddlers in New York City. On one side, representing New York retailers, is Gristedes head John Catsimatidis. Promoting the peddler point of view is Sean Basinski, who directs the Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor Project.

The Alliance's position on this issue has been made clear on any number of occasions. Basinski, though, makes a strong case that the peddlers are generally hard working and should be allowed to continue to pursue what he believes is the American dream. He then goes on to say,"The only people complaining about vendors are stores that would rather not have the competition. But competition is the American way."

First of all, as Catsimatidis points out, the stores are not the only ones complaining about peddler proliferation. On the East Side, Community Board #8 has issued a strong condemnation of the apparent metastasizing of vendors in their community. Even more important, however, is the fact that the competition that Basinski believes he is championing is nothing but a sham.

As Catsimatidis highlights the romanticization of peddlers overlooks their almost complete lack of overhead when it comes to rent, taxes and even the regulatory burden that Basinski whines is so crippling for his peddlers ( "...an average of 6.7 tickets every year."). Most city supermarkets would buy into a deal that guaranteed that they would only get 6.7 tickets in a year.

The city's retailers, many of whom are also hard-working immigrants, are the economic backbone of the city. If the city wants to have non-real estate paying peddlers set up right in front of Manhattan food stores it should offer the stores a 50% reduction in the property taxes that they pay. When the issue is put into that kind of perspective, when the city's bills need to get paid, the peddlers don't look quite so romantic after all.

Trans Fat Hearing Tomorrow

Tomorrow the NYC Department of Health will hold its hearing on a proposal to ban all trans fat from the city's restaurants. In today's NY Daily News the New York State Restaurant vice president, Chuck Hunt, writes about the difficulties that the ban, whose start up date is July, 1, 2007, will cause for the city's eateries. He makes a number of important points that the Department should pay close attention to.

In the first place, as we have been harping on for the past week, the area's small restaurants have gotten no adequate notice of the trans fat issue. The outreach is non-existent and, as Hunt underscores, the question of an adequate supply of alternative ingredients has not been addressed. The reality is that the Health Department has not done the needed due diligence to see what the difficulties are out in the neighborhoods.

As Hunt indicates, "Another problem is that 80% of frying oils now used by restaurants come from soybeans. While special low fat soybean oils are now on the market, the current supply is inadequate." There may be as much as an 18 month delay before the supply lines are sufficient to meet the instant demand caused by the NYC ban.

There is a compelling need for the city to step back, take a deep breathe, and look to put back any implementation date for at least a year and a half from the current July 1st deadline. The DOH needs to then engage the industry, particularly the ethnic trade associations that are capable of reaching out to the thousands of immigrant restaurant owners who are totally in the dark on trans fat, and really conduct a well financed educational program that includes the identification of alternative sources of supply.

As we have said before, outreach does not begin with a $1,000 fine. Let's do the right thing here so that the goal of a healthier New York includes the health of the city's small businesses.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wal-Mart Town Hall a Rousing Success

Last night in Spring Valley nearly two hundred area residents packed the Town Hall to listen to speakers lay out the dangers that a super Wal-Mart will bring to the Monsey/Spring Valley community. As the Rockland Journal News reports this morning the Alliance's Richard Lipsky told the crowd, It's not a done deal...It's something that you can come and counteract, but you have to make your voice heard."

And if last night's gathering is any indication, there is a growing awareness of the dangers of the proposed development. Brian Ketcham, the traffic engineer hired by the Alliance, laid out in expert fashion the vehicular nightmare that lies ahead for all within this Route 59 corridor. His expertise was bolstered by the anecdotal evidence laid out by speaker after speaker about the inappropriateness of this heavily trafficked site. In addition, the meeting began with a moment of silence for the woman who had been killed last week while trying to cross Route 59.

What was particulary heartening about he meeting was its composition: a diverse group assembled that represented all of the various communities that are impacted by the project. African-American speakers were followed by people from the Orthodox community and they, in turn, were followed by labor spokespeople. As strong environmental statement was given by Legislator Ellen Jaffee, who attacked Wal-Mart's abysmal record in this area. She was seconded in her sentiments by a representative of the Rockland Council on the Environment who talked about the high rates of asthma in the county.

The main point made by speakers from the audience was the need to use this meeting's passion to mobilize the entire community. The Alliance promised that that mobilization will occur and there are plans to rally next month un front of Ramapo Town Hall. All in all, this was a very inspiring and promising meeting that will undoubtedly lay the ground work for the job of defeating the Walmonster.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wal--Mart Town Hall Tonight in Spring Valley

The Wal-Mart informatiion session will be held tonight at the Spring Vallet Town Hall on Route 45. Speakers will address the traffic, crime and small business impacts of the project and will hear from elected officials who are opposed to the development. The meeting will start at 7:30.

Alliance on the Insider

In today's Crain's In$ider the newsletter refers to the Alliance's support of a city council measure against trans fat, support that comes more from procedural concerns than any substantive differences between the council and the city's Department of Health on the trans fat issue. The worry here is the lack of the proper outreach to local restaurants and the short implementation phase-in with the Department's regulatory move.

As Crain's says, the Alliance's Richard Lipsky has told law makers that the restaurants outside Manhattan are "fuzzy" on Dr. Frieden's plan and; "What we're afraid of is that the educational effort that they'll undertake will be a $1,000 fine." We are hopeful that, with the council's intervention, we'll be able to get some better protections put into place.

Elsewhere, the NY Sun, in reporting on the mayor's gun summit, reiterates the fact that Chicago's Mayor Daley doesn't see eye to eye with Bloomberg on the issue of trans fat. The Alliance will be meeting with the DOH today on some unrelated issues regarding health policy and the supermarkets. We will, however, make overtures to the department in order to establish dialogue on the educational and outreach issues with trans fat and restaurants.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Counciling the Trans Fat Ban

The NY Daily News is reporting today on the effort by the City Council to chime in (supersede?) on the Department of Health's initiative to ban trans fat. The bill, sponsored by Peter Vallone Jr., was endorsed by Health Committee chair Joel Rivera, who told the paper, "This is a major health crisis and discounting any worthy ideas could potentially add to the issue."

As the News reports restaurant groups would rather see the council weigh-in on this issue because the legislative process offers opponents a better opportunity to help craft a bill that would be more considerate of all of the difficulties that may confront the industry in making the transition to other cooking oils.

As the DOH initiative currently stands there is a great deal of uncertainty about whether the restaurants in the outer boroughs (5,000 Latino owned establishments alone) have been adequately informed about the proposed ban. Without the proper information the proposed 6 month implementation period is simply too short and is just one more way for the DOH to violate the city's small restaurants.

This is not just the usual alarmist chatter. As the figures sent to us by the New York State Restaurant Association's Chuck Hunt indicate, the cash cow references that we have made are not exaggerated. In the first six months of this year the Health Department has collected over $10 million in fines from city restaurants. In May, June and July, the daily average fine collection was $109,460. That's not a cow, it's a whole herd!

And for those of you who think that is is some indication of a vigilant campaign to protect the public health, we suggest that you sit for a couple of hours with Hunt or Sung Soo Kim of the Korean Small Business Service Center-or look up Howard Tisch in retirement in Florida from his decades of defending the supermarket industry against consumer affairs fines-these guys will set you straight on how the mission to protect public health is subverted by the more compelling need to extract hard earned dollars from retailers and restaurant owners. Clearly, trans fat banning will just be another quiver in the DOH collection bow apparatus.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fat Ban Fried

In today's NY Sun the paper writes about the concern among non-English speaking restaurant owners that the proposed ban on trans fat was poorly advertised in the neighborhood eateries and that the current implementation schedule is too swift. As the head of the Latino Restaurant Association points out, "None of my members received letters...What will happen is a lot of my members will be targeted, will be ticketed as cash cows."

Precisely so, yet, according to the NY Daily News, the Health Department said that "materials about trans fat were widely distributed in several languages." One wonders where this wide circulation occurred, perhaps in the circular file.

As the Alliance's Richard Lipsky told the News, "The small restaurants are going to be hit with an avalanche of fines." There is a need for the city to slow this process up and begin to engage in as dialogue with the industry so that there can be the development of a public private partnership in the promotion of healthier eating. The issuance of edicts with the full force of law is much too premature and is counterproductive; as well as it is injurious to the small business community.

When DOH wanted to promote low fat milk in low income areas it began an outreach program with the city's bodegas that should be seen as a model of the kind of partnership we're referring to. Take our word for it, Dr. Frieden, the outreach effort was not sufficient and this current implementation process needs to be re-thought.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lipsky's "Moxie" on Wal-Mart

In today's Rockland Journal News the paper editorializes on the Wal-Mart $4 prescription drug plan and the paper opines that this is just the kind of thing that makes it so difficult to fight the giant retailer. No matter that the company's growth is at the expense of its low-paid employees and the small businesses that it eliminates, the fact that it can deliver lower prices fuels its metastization.

The News does, however, give kudos to the Alliance and Richard Lipsky for their fighting spirit in the face of the low price mantra; "Frankly, you can only admire the moxie associated with such a tough sell..." On the other hand, we have found that this has not been such a tough sell in any number of neighborhoods where we have successfully organized against the Walmonster.

Which brings us to the Monsey Wal-Mart plan. One of the key issues here is the traffic and its attendant dangers on Route 59 and assorted side roads around the proposed site. These dangers were brought home last Friday night when a Monsey mother of three was run down and killed. With an additional six million cars a year on area roads as a result of the Wal-Mart (should it be built), what happened Friday will sadly be repeated with all too much frequency.

Put very simply: The Route 58 corridor is simply too crowded and dangerous for a Wal-Mart to be built at the proposed location. Monsey doesn't need moxie to say NO! to this bad idea.

Trans Fat Ban Questioned

In today's NY Post the paper writes on the difference of opinion between Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Daley of Chicago on the issue of trans fat. In an interview with PBS Daley told the viewers that if we banned the substance we'd all soon, "be eating carrots and tofu."

The Post also points out that while the National Academies' Institute of Medicine found that there were no safe levels of trans fat a ban on it would be "impractical" because trans fats are in so many different types of food. The NYC Department of Health is holding a hearing next Monday on a proposal to ban trans fat.

Our concern at the Alliance is not related to the scientific underpinning of the proposed ban. We're more worried about the impact that the proposal will have on the city's neighborhood restaurants, many of whom, at least according to our initial inquiries, haven't even heard of the ban. Don't forget, the city has thousands of restaurant owners who are not English fluent and whose primary source of information is the non-English media.

We'd like to see the proposal go through a more thorough vetting process whereby the DOH conducts a full "environmental review" of the proposal, one that would gauge the level of trans fat use in the boroughs' eateries as well as the cost of eliminating the substance for the businesses that are impacted.

This kind of process, needless to say, is better when coordinated with the legislative review procedures of the City Council- where a full set of hearings is conducted and where restaurant owners are given the chance to talk directly to the elected officials that represent their neighborhoods. The Council should press the mayor to collaborate here so that this proposal doesn't unfairly impact struggling neighborhood entrepreneurs.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Post Up for Clubs

In today's NY Post the paper editorializes against the proposal, advanced by the Bloomberg administration, that would allow the city to shut down a club for two violent incidents or for two violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law. The Post's key point: "Let's be clear: Mayor Mike should go very slow before burdening one of the city's most important industries with more regulations."

The paper goes on to indicate that the harsher regulations could make it very difficult for new clubs to start up and, in the view of the Alliance, would send a big "not in New York" signal to clubowners who would begin to look for more hospitable venues to invest their money in (something which is already happening because of the new SLA crackdown). As the Post highlights this is no way to treat an industry that generates roughly $700,000,000 in tax revenues every year.

The Post hits on another key issue when it indicates that the proposed regs would treat the
clubs as presumed guilty if an untoward incident occurred-something that bars and clubs all over the city are experiencing at present when they call the police to help quell potential trouble. As David Rabin is quoted saying in today's editorial, "Why on earth would I call the police ever again if I'm risking my entire business?"

The paper goes on to say that the clubs need to be more proactive in order to avoid draconian measures, yet it leaves out the most significant variable in the entire equation-the role of the police. Nothing will be done to really create a safer club atmosphere unless the cops begin to treat the industry as "one of the city's most important" ones. The mayor's proposed crackdown should not make anyone sanguine that this will happen soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bottle Bill Threat

Today's Crain'$ Insider is reporting that supporters of expanding the bottle bill are upbeat about their chances considering the fact that Eliot Spitzer has publicly supported the measure as Attorney General. They are probably right to be optimistic since Judy Enck, a long time bottle bill promoter, is Spitzer's environmental advisor.

The food and beverage folks have a great deal of work to do because if Spitzer puts the initiative into his first budget proposal it will be difficult for the industry to rely on the ability of Senate Majority Leader Bruno to stifle the measure.

Nightlife Hearing; The Threat and the Promise

Yesterday's hearing on four nightlife safety bills introduced at the City Council was a mixed bag for the industry. As the NY Daily News reports this morning there was some real movement evinced from the NYPD on the issue of Paid Detail. As the News points out, the department's government affairs representative, Susan Petito, told the council, "We're not prepared to take a position on it, however it'd something that we can further discuss."

The sentiment in favor of utilizing off-duty cops was echoed by Public Safety Committee Chair, Peter Vallone Jr., who said that there was no legal barrier to the use of these officers. Vallone cited the language of the SLA's recent legal opinion that said, "In addition, trade/neighborhood associations may-if permissible under local law-contract with police departments to have on-duty officers provide security for a particular area."

There is clearly room here to get a compromise since the major hang-ups, at least publicly, seem to revolve around language and definition (Off or on duty is a semantic distinction as far as the industry is concerned). The article in this morning's NY Sun also underscored the point, saying that Petito had apparently "opened the door" for the eventual deployment of cops in nightlife areas.

More ominously, however, was the administration's proposal to toughen the nuisance abatement law-making two violations grounds for a license revocation. This was the headline in the NY Post this morning and the main thrust of the paper's story (for some reason the paper's website is still posting yesterday's news so we can link the story now). This, as NYNA' David Rabin points out, will only make nightlife less safe because it will make clubs even more reluctant to call the cops if there is trouble. In the past, such a call for police intervention has led to the citing of the business for "unsafe premise."

Clearly, the proposed action by the NYPD, which would need council approval, belies any willingness on the part of NYPD to work cooperatively with the nightlife industry. It appears that the desire to enforce, rather than partner cooperatively, is still in the forefront of the police minsdset. Unless this changes the ability of the city to create a safer nightlife climate will be seriously in jeopardy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Information Session Set for Monsey Wal-Mart

As the Rockland Journal News is reporting today, there will be an information session on the proposed Monsey Wal-Mart for next Thursday at Spring Valley Village Hall beginning at 7:30 in the evening. The meeting, sponsored by the Alliance and Legislator Ellen Jaffee, will focus on "The High Cost of Low Prices," and get into the economic and social costs that are not always apparent to the bargain hunters.

As the paper informs this morning, the Town of Ramapo has mandated a full environmental and economic impact analysis from the developer and it is expected that all of the required documentation will be submitted to the Town in the next few weeks. In what has to be described as a fatuous statement Jerrold Berlingham, managing director of National Realty who is developing the site , told the News, "We're pleased with the results of the studies we're doing...The business of the shopping center is to have anchor tenants that support smaller business."

If true, than we'd have to assume that the developer has decided not to put Wal-Mart into the site. After all, no box retailer does a better job at eliminating smaller competitors than the Walmonster. Berlingham's pleasure at the results of the data that his company commissioned, comically underscores our point about the poor methodology in this kind of land use issue- where the folks with the vested interest are assigned to generate the information for the Town to evaluate.

National Realty will have its own informational meeting in early November where it will unveil the results of its studies. As Berlingham remarks, with no apparent irony, "I find it difficult to have a meeting without any of these studies." Which is precisely why Legislator Jaffee has written the State DOT to request that they monitor any data submitted to Ramapo. Wal-Mart-driven stats are simply unreliable lowballing and there is a pressing need for an impartial evaluation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wal-Mart and Anti-Semitism

A few weeks ago Abe Stauber, the head of the Ramapo Jewish Chamber of Commerce wrote an Op-ed piece for the Journal News of Rockland on the feared impact of Wal-Mart on his Monsey community. Stauber felt that the combination of traffic, crime and effects on neighborhood business would add up to a big negative for his Monsey.

This is a fair opinion, one that you might disagree with, but fair nevertheless since it is held by millions of Americans in small towns and large cities all over this country. Which is why we were so appalled by the response to Stauber's essay in a letter in this morning's Journal News. It was so offensive that we wonder whether the paper printed it precisely in order to expose its blatant anti-Semitic bile.

The letter, written by one Robert Smith of Montebello, starts by saying-quite adroitly given his animus-that he just wants to "call a spade a spade" (thankfully he wasn't talking about Spring Valley here). He goes on to tell the paper's readers that, "It is an ultra-Orthodox community trying to keep everyone else away."

Now Abe Stauber is an Orthodox Jew but t o say that his opinion reflects the monolithic view of all of that community-and to stigmatize it in this way-demonstrates the vicious bias of Mr. Smith. Forget the fact that the Tottenville community in Staten Island felt the same, as did hundreds of others just like it that have said, "NO" to Wal-Mart all over the country.

What Smith does is to attempt to take the legitimate concerns about Wal-Mart and transpose them into a peculiar feature of an insular (and selfish) community. After all, why would Smith ask rhetorically, "Now I ask you, Mr. Stauber, if the proposal was for a 216,00 square-foot Yeshiva, would it even be an issue?"

Now there could be at least twenty other kinds of development that Stauber and others in Monsey might prefer over the Wal-Mart, yet Smith is compelled to use the invidious Yeshiva example to make his jaundiced point. Smith is entitled to his opinion on Wal-Mart, and if he feels that it will "benefit everyone in our community" he can certainly make the case as strongly as his somewhat limited intellect enables him to do.

Making this dispute all about the Orthodox in Monsey has no place in the debate over the merits or demerits of the Walmonster. The proponents of the store do their cause a major disservice when they stoop to anti-Semitic vitriol.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More Focus On Healthy Eating

In today's NY Sun there's an article on a Harlem charter school's effort to get youngsters to eat healthier meals. This school is doing a study, led by Marlene Schwartz of the Yale (Rudd) Center for Food Policy and Obesity, to determine the eating habits of the students in order to get better insight into how to improve these habits.

This is the kind of policy initiative that fits right into the discussion we've been having on obesity, health and food policy in New York City. It seems to us, especially in our role of representing food retailers, that these store owners can become key players in any effort to improve the healthy eating of New Yorkers. We will, however, always be skeptical (as the Sun's Andrew Wolf is also today) about heavy-handed government regulation in this, or in any other area.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Towards a Healthy Food Policy

The controversy that was unleashed when Councilman Joel Rivera mused about using zoning to restrict the proliferation of fast food outlets has tended to obscure the compelling issue of the availability of healthy food alternatives in the neighborhoods that Rivera was focusing on. It is an issue that Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez has tried to address with her initiative on "healthy bodegas."

There is an extremely provocative policy paper written by JC Dwyer that takes a look at the anomalous incidence of poverty and obesity in East Harlem. Dwyer does focus some attention on the role of fast food but goes on to take a long look at the lifestyles and attitudes of the people of East Harlem as well as the availability of health food options.

This is something that is also looked at by City Limits in its mapping of grocery stores and McDonalds in the city. While we would disagree with some of the superficial policy analysis in the Dwyer piece (in particular the comparison of East Harlem with the Upper East Side), it does have the merit of highlighting an important issue that deserves the attention of policy makers.

It is precisely why the NYC Department of Health has launched its program to encourage bodegas to offer vegetables and low fat milk to its customers (what the Velasquez initiative tries to incentivize). Clearly, the availability of healthy food is also the impetus behind Speaker Quinn's greenmarket proposal. As we have already argued, there is a better policy approach to address this problem: the building of more supermarket outlets and the encouragement of the existing store owners to work to provide healthier eating options.

Which is also a potential role for the nascent Health Corps that Rivera has been championing. The HC, situated currently in five city high schools, could potentially play an important educational and activist role in the community. As crucial as availability of healthy food options certainly is, a sea change in local attitudes and behavior must also be effected if the folks are going to avail themselves of these alternatives.

Related Feeds on Carrion

In today's NY Post the paper's Dave Seifman reports on the generosity bestowed by the Related Companies on Bronx BP Adolfo Carrion and the rest of the borough's political powers. It's the least the company could do since it was Carrion and Jose Rivera who paved the way for the outrageous sweetheart deal for the Bronx Terminal Market that was crafted for the company.

It will be interesting to see just how this whole scenario plays out in 2009-or even before if the rumors of a federal investigation about development deals in the Bronx are true. Whatever the feds are looking at here , for us the real villains are located elsewhere, and if they're going to investigate they should be looking not-"at the thief who steals the goose from off the commons," but at the greater felon "who steals the commons from the goose."

What we are now seeing, however, is the way in which Joel Rivera, Jose's son and city council majority leader, is distancing himself from this potential sordidness by becoming a strong advocate for health. It's a smart move and will give him the kind of boost that will pave the way to the borough presidency in 2009.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wal-Mart's NYC Troubles

You kind of know that the Walmonster is having its share of troubles when one of the premier business magazines writes in its latest issue on the company's difficulties in finding a suitable site in NYC. That's just what Forbes has done and the story focuses on the fact that, "After a number of false starts, Wal-Mart Stores is planning to launch in New York City-the five boroughs, and especially the juicy, consumer-driven world of Manhattan."

Well, were almost as breathless as Forbes' prose. The article, however, doesn't offer much in the way of exciting news. No location is identified and Wal-Mart's spokesman Phil Serghini "admits that the company must still persuade some sketptical city council members and a less than friendly local union."

Some? How about 51 out of the 51 members of the body? As the Alliance's Richard Lipsky told the magazine, the only viable option at the present time is for the store to find a location that doesn't need to go through the land use review process. Any other avenue is going to run into a political buzz-saw.

Sun Shines on Fake IDs as Well

We missed the fact that the NY Sun also wrote about the Vallone concern with fake ID's in the paper this morning. Kudos to Russell Berman who has been following this story assiduously as well as fairly.

Council's Genuine Concern: Fake IDs

As the NY Post is reporting today, City Council Public Safety Committee chairman Peter Vallone Jr. is promising that, "in the near future," the legislature will "tackle the issue of fake IDs by cracking down on the companies that manufacture them in the Big Apple." This is certainly good news and reflects the fact that the Council has been listening to NYNA's concerns about the right approach to the problem of underage drinking.

Vallone points to the fact that the illegal hawking of these IDs are openly being advertised on the Web and he has written a letter to Homeland Security head Chertoff warning him about this issue As he says, "you can just Google right now 'fake IDs'...and find hundreds of sites that actually advertise that they can beat the scanners."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Food Geography

In the middle of the uproar over fruit and vegetable peddlers and the promotion of greenmarkets it is important to point out that there is a much better way to insure that all New Yorkers have access to healthy food. That way, pioneered by the Food Trust in Philadelphia and institutionalized by Governor Rendell in Pennsylvania, is the aggressive advocacy for the building of new supermarkets in previously underserved areas.

What all of the studies on the issue of health in minority neighborhoods indicate is that the situation could be dramatically improved by the public promotion of new supermarket development. As the Food Trust underscores, "Emerging evidence suggests that access to healthy food in neighborhoods is associated with a healthy promoting diet and that poor access is associated with poor health outcomes."

What is needed here is a public-private partnership on the lines proposed by Congresswoman Velasquez for the city's bodegas. The supermarkets and bodegas of New York City can play an important role in helping to educate its customers about eating healthier. At the same time, the city can do more to promote the economic health of these retail outlets and the development of new food outlets in areas that are identified as having health deficiencies (see a parallel discussion over at Gotham Gazette).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No Free Speech for All

As a postscript to the preceding comment on Columbia it is instructive for everyone to really read the insightful story written by Eliana Johnson in today's NY Sun. The self-serving and self-righteous comments of the protestors speak for themselves. When asked about their trampling of the free speech rights of others one Monique Dols of an international socialist group told the paper:"The nature of these questions shows there's more concern for the Minutemen than for helpless illegal immigrants."

What we have here is the rejection of the formal protections afforded us in the Constitution for the larger issue of substantive justice for the oppressed. What Dols doesn't understand is that these formal protections are essential to protect the rights of immigrants. The Alliance has used them for the better part of three decades to do just that. If Dols and her comrades had their way we'd all be under the "guidance" of commissars who would be able to decide just what was appropriate for us all to hear. And we know how well that worked out, Don't we?

Free Speech and Immigration

The Alliance has represented a great many immigrant businesses over the past twenty five years. For much of that time we were the lone voice advocating for the fair treatment of these hard working entrepreneurs. Our activities have run the full gamut-from defending the rights of Dominican supermarket owners in the East Harlem Pathmark controversy, to protecting Pakistani newsstand dealers from extinction and Korean green grocers from a predatory city bureaucracy.

In all of this work we've come to really admire the dedication and entrepreneurial spirit that theses immigrants symbolize. New York is a better city and a richer cultural place as a result of these good folks. That is why we are so outraged and saddened by what took place at Columbia last week. The shouting down of the Minutemen speakers was as anti-democratic an act as we have seen in a long time. The fact that the protestors, now pleading cravenly for amnesty for themselves, claimed to speak on behalf of immigrants made the whole sorry event even worse.

The outrage here is that the immigrants that I know and have come to admire come to this country to embrace the democratic freedoms here. They're generally fleeing from less open societies where speaking one's mind is often dangerous. The shouting down of speakers in the name of immigrant rights is simply unacceptable and is defamatory to the ethos that they ( but certainly not the protestors) represent.

You see the protestors express disdain for ther American dream and the democratic ethic that undrpins it. They believe that it's a sham and some of these disrupters, particularly those whoe ludicrously call themselves socialists, would like nothing better than to see the entire fabric of this culture torn asunder. For these storm troopers to call the Minutemen fascist is a complete joke, but the irony is no doubt lost on them. It always is to the zealot.

The basic point here is that free speech is an absolute and it is not up to a group of intellectual thugs to determine what you or I are allowed to hear. By doing this in the name of immigrants these fools do more harm to the cause of immigration than any Minuteman possibly could.

And just what does their slogan, "No One is Illegal," actually mean? Does it mean that we should allow a totally open border? Does it mean that those of us who want an immigration policy are racist? And what's up with the Arabic on the banner that was unfurled? These fifth columnists might not believe that we live in an age of terror but we certainly do.

Need for Public Hearings

All of which is why we need for the City Council to hold hearings on the Columbia incident. This should be done at the council's committee on immigration and should most certainly include Mr. Gilchrist's Minutemen, who should be invited in to articulate and defend the organization's position.

If the Columbia brain surgeons want to testify and expose their ignorance, than by all means they should be encouraged. Then we can all get a clear idea as to what passes for intellectual rigor up on Morningside Heights.

Monday, October 09, 2006

City Retailers Dread Further Garbage Hikes

According to our sources the city has yet to hire a consultant to investigate whether it would be OK for private carters to once again raise garbage rates for New York 220,000 business customers. The rate that was approved in 2003 allowed the carters to charge a higher hauling rate for "wet" garbage. This organic waste rate increase is what has caused disposal rates to double and triple over the past three years. Apparently this isn't enough for the carting industry, and they have now requested an additional raise.

What's of real interest to us is to see if there are any city council members who are willing to stand up for the beleaguered food retailers of the city. We have already seen how Sanitation chair Mike McMahon sold out these folks by by-passing Intro 133, a measure that would have allowed the food retailers and restaurants to grind their garbage into the sewer system. The protocol that the council and the administration agreed to would not provide any relief to the retailers until 2009 at the earliest. This is as good example of bad faith as we have seen in a long time.

What we have, just as we do with the misplaced sympathy for peddlers and greenmarket operators, is a total lack of concern for the hard working small business owners who form the backbone of the city's economy. Is an overblown worry about the prevalence of algae in the Jamaica Bay more important than a rising garbage rate that would cripple struggling neighborhood businesses? Apparently, for this council, it most certainly and regrettably is.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Moratorium Loopholes

Let's hope that the NY Times' editorial writers don't get to read today's NY Post story on the effort of license applicants to find loopholes to the SLA moratorium. They'd probably have a fit that some businesses were not going to sit back and lose tens of thousands of dollars because of bureaucratic inanity.

All of which illustrates that the entire licensing stoppage was ill-conceived in the first place. What we do need from the city and the state is a discussion of a sensible nightlife policy. This discussion inevitably needs to include an evaluation of the 500 foot law and the exceptions to it that should be allowed.

The one useful aspect of the ignorance on this rule , so eloquently expressed in the Grey Lady this morning, is that we should finally be able to get a reasonable evaluation of the efficacy of this 500 foot rule and the danger that would be created if it were, as the Times would like, enforced literally.

Behind the Times

The old saw of Bill Buckley's, that he'd rather be governed by the first hundred names in the New Haven phone book than by the faculty of Yale University can now be updated. Instead of the Yale, however, we now can substitute the out-of-touch editorialists at the NY Times who, in today's opinion piece on the SLA's license moratorium, managed to totally mischaracterize the entire nightlife issue.

This is not out of character for the paper when it comes to neighborhood businesses. A little over a decade ago, the Times engaged in a campaign against independent supermarkets that called these immigrant owned stores high priced and dirty "bodegas." All without ever having the decency to send reporters out to actually report on the real life neighborhood activity; reporting that would have shown that these store owners had invested tens of millions of dollars to buy, refurbish and re-inventory units that had been abandoned by the national chains.

The Times, however, was in the thrall of self-described food advocates who downplayed and denigrated the huge success story of minority-owned stores bringing needed economic activity to areas that had been abandoned. And so it is now with nightlife. And now the same editorial writer, unchastened by his own hubris, is at it again, this time with an even greater breathtaking ignorance.

The Times piece, written after just a cursory discussion with NYNA's Rob Bookman, doesn't at any time mention that this is a vital industry for the economic health and commercial reputation of New York. It talks about the 500 foot law with an almost willful ignorance of that measures application and implementation over the past decade.

The editorial treats this 500 feet as if it were not only a defensible public policy for a city as dense as New York, but as if it were somehow sacrosanct. Here's the money quote: "Until recently, however, the state liquor authority was routinely issuing licenses anyway, under an exception to the law that is supposed to apply only in special cases." Does the Times realize what would happen in this town if the 500 foot rule was applied literally?

The editorial feeds into the notion that these are "troubled times" for the nightlife business. Why? Because of two incidents among 65 million customer transactions? It goes on to imply that clubowners are snubbing their noses at the police, saying that the NYPD would get more "cooperation" if the city controlled enforcement, instead of acknowledging that the clubs themselves are the ones that have been crying out for more police protection.

Finally the paper, unwilling to rest its case on all of the aforementioned misrepresentation, takes a position, that if followed to its inevitable conclusion would lead to the end of nightlife as we know it in this city. It states: "Finally, the authority should devise a strategy for cutting back the number of licenses in areas that are deemed to be very saturated."

There's a a reason that the Times is hemorrhaging readership, the paper is simply and completely out of touch with the people and the pulse of this city. Today's "Improving the Quality of Nightlife" editorial proves the point and is reminiscent of the Vietnam era slogan: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Big Box Swindle

Anyone interested in the danger of box store proliferation needs to go out and buy Stacy Mitchell's book, "The Big Box Swindle." Mitchell, a researcher for the Institute of Local Self Reliance, is one of this country's leading experts on the way in which box stores harm local economies. In particular she outlines just how much more money circulation-what she calls the multiplier effect-a locality gets from local businesses than from the big box chains.

Following Mitchell's analysis you can get a much better idea of just how lacking in substance all of the "low price" arguments are when it comes to gauging the economic benefits of the big boxes. Her argument gains even more when we examine the current wage trends that Wal-Mart is spearheading in this country.

City Council Bills on Nightlife

Our friends at the Gotham Gazette have linked the four nightlife bills that have been introduced at the last Stated Council meeting. We have commented on the legislation and have pointed out that the real key to safety lies with the NYPD developing a more proactive and cooperative role with the industry. This issue is fully aired out in this week's Villager. Along with this, it is imperative that the city and state begin to crackdown on the use of fake IDs.

We are looking forward to the council hearings on these bills and are hopeful that we'll also be able to get some of our own initiatives drafted into law. The climate at the recently concluded summit give us a degree of optimism in this regard.

Wal-Mart's Wager: Bad Bet for Anyone

In today's NY Time$ the columnist Paul Krugman lashes out against the Wal-Mart war on workers' wages. In fact, he sees the Wal-Mart campaign to cut labor costs as part of a national trend by employers all across the country. As he points out, "But after tax profits have more than doubled, because workers' productivity is up, but their wages aren't..."

Krugman sees Wal-Mart as the exemplar of this national trend; "The problem from the company's point of view, then, is that its workers are too loyal; it wants cheap labor that doesn't hang around too long, but not enough workers quit before acquiring the right to higher wages and benefits." In order to accomplish this the company is seeking to raise the number of its part-time workers from 20% to 40%.

Another aspect of the strategy is to impose wage caps on the workers and to find ways to make older workers more discomfited so that they no longer will stick around. As Krugman observes, "It is a brutal strategy." In the past this would have sparked a fierce and successful union organizing drive but for the fact that "the people who are supposed to enforce labor laws are on the side of the employers..."

The key point in all of this is that the glittering promise of low prices is a fools gold illusion that is built on the foundation of a corporate philosophy that sees workers as a "disposable commodity, paid as little as possible and encouraged to leave after a year or two." This is a clear message to the good folks in New York City and its neighbors up in Rockland who are looking at the prospect of a Walmonster in Monsey.

Wal-Mart will destroy companies that are paying good wages and benefits-supermarkets such as Pathmark, Shoprite, Key Foods and A&P- while at the same time wiping out immigrant and ethnic entrepreneurs who own the independent stores in the areas surrounding the invading box store. This is precisely the " Big Box Swindle" that our friend Stacy Mitchell has written so eloquently about. It certainly is no bargain for any community.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Brawl at Columbia

A speech given by the leaders of the controversial Minutemen group was interrupted last night and a full scale brawl erupted. We're wondering (yeah, we know that no alcohol was served) if the NYPD that were called to maintain order issued the university with a "failure to control premises" citation?

SLA Suit On Moratorium

In today's NY Sun the paper's Russell Berman uncovers the first lawsuit against the State Liquor Authority challenging the agency's recently adopted moratorium. The operator of Barramundi, a Lower East Side bar claims in court papers that will be losing their entire $4.15 million investment because of the SLA's action. As the court papers say: "If the petitioner loses the ability to continue in business, all will be lost."

The tragedy here is that the bar's owner, Tony Powe, had already gotten the approval of the local community board and in any previous SLA scenario there would have been no reason for the authority to turn the license application down. As we had predicted, and as the Sun underscores, the license ban was bound to"catch innocent businesses in a wide net aimed at the industry's few negligent operators."

In addition, the case of Barramundi highlights the capricious nature of the ban since the bar had been operating on a temporary license after closing on the purchase of an existing business. This is a common industry practice that assumes the official approval of the temporary license by the SLA. There has never been a case in our memory where the SLA refused to grant a license under these conditions (certainly not when the local community board signed off).

The court, in recognition of the exigencies of the situation and perhaps also realizing that the petitioner had a strong case, granted the bar its emergency petition to remain open at least until the next court date on October 19th. As the bar's lawyer remarked about the moratorium, "You can't, in one fell swoop, condemn everybody."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Peddling Nonsense

In today's NY Times the paper reports on the travails of the city's street peddlers who are "barely able to make a living at a time when most vendors are educated, law abiding immigrants who increasingly support large families both overseas and locally..." All this is according to a report done by the Urban Justice Center. We now know why some people refer to justice as "just us."

This is the problem with advocacy research (and the folks who receive its wisdom uncritically). One never knows what data was left out, what questions were left unasked, and what conclusions were left undrawn because they would have conflicted with the researchers' agenda. After all the Urban Justice Center is the group that is promoting "the reduction in fines imposed on vendors."

The funniest line in the story is the reported yearly income of $7,500. The Times does have the sense to point out, however, that "many may have deliberately underreported their earnings." Well, of course they might have.

The vendors go on to complain that they are being unfairly fined, an average of $433 a year. The authors of the report lament: "Vendors are faced with so much regulation and harassment that they can barely subsist." These are the kinds of complaints that cry out for some context.

First of all, the complaints about over-regulation and harassment are the daily menu faced by the legitimate retailers of the city, many of whom are also immigrants. Second, there is of course no mention in the report about the impact that the vendors have on these very same retailers and the consequent damage being done to the city's tax base.

The fines that the peddlers face are simply the cost of doing business in NYC and $433 is a little more than $35 a month! Compare this to the rents and real estate taxes that the stores pay. And don't forget that for most vendors a license is only $250 a year. It should also be pointed out that a good percentage of the fines are for being in a restricted street and for being too close to a storefront (in many cases the store in question is selling the very same goods as the vendor).

Mayor Bloomberg's quote is right to the point here: "The only way to get people to obey the law is to fine them...So I guess first and foremost I'd say, 'Don't break the law and then you won't have that problem.'" But what the vendors and their apologists want is unrestricted vending everywhere in the city-and the retailers be damned!

Which brings us to a weakness in the story. The Times, while quoting the mayor to gauge the city's official position, doesn't talk to the retail community for its reaction. We have been engaged in a year-long effort to curtail peddler proliferation and the newspaper should have gotten our points across as part of the story. We'll be sure to keep after the Times on this.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fat Hits the Fire

The recent announced NYC ban on trans fats has begun to generate considerable heat. Now, an industry sponsored group called the Center for Consumer Freedom (it's interesting how an industry group steps up gallantly on behalf of its customers), has lashed out at the "food police."

The Center will join the NYS Restaurant Association in fighting the ban and it is likely that it will be a two front war since the city council wants to legislate the issue because, in the words of Councilman Vallone, "Rules can be changed by the next mayor or health commissioner. It's much more difficult to change a law than a regulation."

It is clear that the health and obesity issue is going to continue to get the attention of our elected officials. This summer Councilman Rivera's call to use zoning to restrict fast food outlets caused quite a stir and his Health Corps support garnered a big grant from the City Council. Rivera, the council health chair, plans an obesity conference later this year.

For those in the food industry who don't like the intrusiveness there is going to have to be an awakening of their consciousness on the obesity issue. They will either be part of the solution or they'll get attacked as part of the problem.

Times Hits Wal-Mart Lowballing of Workers

In a hard hitting editorial today the NY Times hits at the Wal-Mart plan to rid its payroll of some of its higher paid workers. The story, first reported in the paper yesterday, told about how the company was looking to create as many part-timers as possible in a move to reduce labor costs.

All of this underscores the concept of Walmartization-the process, started by Wal-Mart but increasingly emulated by other retailers looking to keep up with the giant competitor, of reducing the labor force to as low a level as possible in order to maximize corporate profits. The Times editorial hits this point hard: "While the company would like the world to focus on the benefits derived from its low prices, we cannot ignore how the nation's largest private employer often grinds up its hourly workers in the same machine."

Another key issue here is the pattern that the Times points out; Wal-Mart's poorly compensated workers"turn to government programs" for benefits that should be forthcoming from the flush mega-retailer.

This is a warning to places such as Ramapo where the Walmonster is busy trying to sell its new development. A full examination of the costs and benefits of the project must include the levels of public subsidies that generally are utilized by the poorly compensated work force.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Wal-Mart Stoops Even Lower

In today's NY Times the paper reports on the decision by the Walmonster to push "a cheaper, more flexible work force by capping wages, using part-time workers and scheduling more workers on nights and weekends." Just when you thought that the retail giant couldn't get any worse, they demonstrate the uncanny knack of surprising even their harshest critics.

What this all shows is that the economic boon that all of the Wal-Mart apologists like to trumpet comes at a heavy price for the workers who toil in the company vineyards. It also shows what happens when labor is shut out and the workers (excuse us, the "associates") are forced to fend for themselves.

So all of the cheerleaders in Rockland better come to their senses, A Wal-Mart in Monsey will only have a negative impact on wages and benefits throughout the county, while at the same time forcing smaller mom-and-pop stores out of business.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Post Strikes a Balance

In today's NY Post the paper editorializes on the recent City Council Nightlife Safety Summit and manages to strike a decent balance in its view of what needs to be done. This does not mean that the editorial is something that the industry can agree with 100%, but it is, given the paper's ongoing and relentless campaign-titled "Wasteland"-a big step in the right direction (Not to mention the nice picture of NYNA's David Rabin right in the middle of the editorial).

The good news in the piece is its call to find a good balance, basically to not throw the nightclub baby out with the safety bath water. The Post points out that all of the legislative measures can "help to stem underage drinking...But they need to be done in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of the businesses and, of course, the patrons."

The paper also goes out of its way to underscore the economic contribution that the industry makes to the city and, in a not too subtle dig, remarks that the Council isn't often sensitive to any concerns of the private sector (implying that it shouldn't go too far in legislating restrictions that could hurt the clubs).

The Post also quotes NYNA's Rabin in the editorial about the association's appreciation that the industry is finally being listened to. In the end, however, the Post also advocates the curtailment of bottle service, a practice that has extreme economic repercussions, but is something that the industry is going to have to come to grips with in some fashion since the pols are clearly on the warpath on this issue.

All in all, this was a good pro-industry piece and gives a clear indication of the potential that a well-organized industry response can achieve in the media arena once everyone gets behind their trade association. It doesn't guarantee success but the failure to organize does guarantee failure.