Monday, February 25, 2008

Dueling Demos

As the NY Sun reports this morning, there will be dueling demonstrations today at City Hall over the fate of Intro 665, the green carts legislation. As the Sun points out: "The mayor and City Council speaker's plan to bring 1,000 new fruit cart vendors to poor neighborhoods is drawing glowing praise from health advocates and bitter criticism from supermarket owners and grocers. The two camps will hold dueling demonstrations on the steps of City Hall today, aiming to influence a council committee's vote on the bill scheduled for Wednesday."

With the vote in the Consumer Affairs Committee up for grabs, the council leadership is going through hoops in an attempt to insure that it has the three necessary votes to discharge the revised bill out of committee. In both the original and revised bill the targeted areas for the carts were delineated by police precinct. Now, according to reports, council districts are being used in an additional revision as a way to entice council members to support the bill by exempting their districts-insuring the political health of the legislation at the expense of the sponsors' public health allegations.

As said in the previous post, we think that the current controversy can be useful if it leads to the creation of a collaborative effort to address the creation of better access to healthy foods. The current Intro, by failing to carefully consider local economic impacts, has led to unnecessary conflict and confusion: "The legislation faces a backlash from businesses and council members who say the carts represent unfair competition."

Health advocates for the measure haven't helped in this regard by failing to accurately depict the concerns over cart placement: "Ms. March-Joly described grocers' fears of being undercut by fruit carts as unfounded. "We're targeting areas where supermarkets are virtually nonexistent and the stores that do exist are not selling produce," she said. "In no way would a cart compete with a grocery store."

In the first place, the targeted areas have plenty of both supermarkets as well as green grocers. Secondly, carts placed directly in front of stores do take away business-as we've seen in Manhattan where carts are doing just that. The danger to green grocers who only sell produce is even greater.

The silver lining in all of this is, hopefully, that the city will realize that it's important to enlist the stores in devising a business and health friendly food policy. As we've said before, the health of the city's neighborhood economies is as important as all of the public health initiatives that the DOH comes up with.