Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Caveat Vendor: Freeriders Protest Permits

The legion of street vendors who, for a relatively small permit fee, take millions of dollars a year from the cash registers of tax paying store owners, aren't satisfied with the number of permits the city gives out for vending. This, as the City Room blog points out, is in spite of the fact that the mayor and the speaker are supporting legislation-Intro 665-that would increase the number of fruit and vegetable peddlers by 1500 in two years.

As the City Room blogs: "In the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished category, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg came up with a plan to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income New Yorkers, and he got hit with rotten tomatoes from city street vendors...Rafael Samanez, the director of the advocacy group Vamos Unidos, said an extra 1,500 cart permits, under the city’s proposed Green Cart legislation, is far too low for the demand of street vendors. “The city has failed to meet the needs of thousands of low-income workers,” he said."

This nonsense simply has to stop. The city's neighborhood stores have been whacked with rent increases of greater than fifty percent ever since the mayor and the council raised real estate taxes in 2002. This, along with the high costs of health insurance and the increased enforcement activities of myriad city agencies, is driving stores out of business in the very neighborhoods that Intro 665 wants to flood with peddlers.

Driving along Utica Avenue in Brooklyn today we saw scores of vacant store fronts. When is this administration and the legislature going to protect the interests of the small businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers? Senor Samanez needs to be cognizant of the hundreds of thousands of store workers-many of whom are recent immigrants-who will be out of jobs when vendors with no overhead compete directly with stores paying high rents and high taxes. The pool of consumer spending revenue is a finite one, and the proliferation of peddlers creates a very real zero-sum game.

And the Times goes on to say; "Mr. Samanez said the scarcity of permits means that even licensed food vendors must work outside the law to earn a living, skirting police enforcement while operating their carts without a license." No, they don't have to break the law, they can work for good union wages at many local supermarkets; where, if they save their money they can open up stores, pay taxes, and contribute directly to the city's upkeep.

As far as Intro 665 is concerned-a hearing is scheduled for January, 31, 2008-it continues to generate a spewing of erroneous information. Here's the latest: "Anthony Hogrebe, a spokesman for the City Council, said the purpose of the plan “is to get fresh fruits and vegetables into neighborhoods that lack access to healthy foods.”

No just where is that neighborhood? All through the low income neighborhoods of Brooklyn that we drove through today we saw supermarkets and green grocers. Under Intro 665, a bill without any geographic restriction within the targeted neighborhoods, a peddler can set up right in front of the very stores that are selling fresh produce. In fact, there's nothing to stop a multitude of vendors from doing just that. Which gives you a good idea why it's said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The final indignity here comes from the vendor advocate: "Mr. Samanez’s group said there is a current waiting list of 2,500 people seeking cart permits and estimates another 9,000 vendors are operating without permits. The group said the city has maintained the current limit, of 3,000 food carts and 853 merchandise carts, since 1979."

So, as we have always suspected, the city-with 9,000 illegal carts already in the streets-is simply unwilling to enforce the law; and now wants to add to the Marrakesh atmosphere with more peddlers. The assault on legitimate businesses, communities, and union workers needs to stop.