Thursday, February 21, 2008

Council a La Cart

The City Council, after great pressure from supermarket owners, green grocers and labor, has scaled back the original plan for Intro 665, the bill designed to push produce peddlers on certain neighborhoods of the city. As the NY Daily News reports this morning:"The city has scaled back its plan to put more fruit and vegetable vendors in poor neighborhoods after a high-pressure campaign by bodega and market owners nearly killed the idea."

And while we do still feel that the idea lacks any great merit we're aware that, with the support of the mayor and the speaker, it's extremely difficult to completely derail legislation-particularly when the industry and labor aren't fully mobililized and united. Therefore, the compromise in the works is a cautionary tale; imagine what could be achieved if all of these factors were brought into play?

As part of the compromise here, the city is setting up a supermarket task force to address the issue we've been commenting on-the disappearance of neighborhood supermarkets. That being said, it's incumbent now on the industry forces to make sure that the task force actually achieves the goal of developing and implementing a supermarket promotion and retention plan-a plan that in the best of all possible worlds should have proceeded any attempt to put peddlers on the street.

The revised plan doesn't address the inequity of allowing vendors to set up right in front of supermarkets, bodegas and green grocers. As the News points out: "The battle pitted health advocates against the food industry, which argued that vendors can set up right outside markets and undercut their prices." This hasn't changed, but it remains to be seen just how much business these carters will do-since the demand assumptions of supporters have yet to be demonstrated.

The city apparently realizes this since, as part of the bill, there will be a review committee set up: "The department will study the vendors next year to see if the plan worked, Frieden said." The review panel, however, needs to represent a cross-section of labor and business. If the DOH is the only reviewer, it will amount to little more than allowing the department to mark its own exam-and won't provide an equitable evaluation.

The bottom line here is that local business is on the back burner, and until proven otherwise, the health of the neighborhood economies is still a secondary priority of city government. That it is, is as much the fault of the industry as it is the fault of a city government that has yet to exhibit any great concern for small business.