Thursday, June 17, 2010

Peddling More Small Business Tsuris

There was a city council hearing on a new proposed law that would crack down on vendors that illegally park their, "mobile," food trucks on the streets of our city-and once again the Bloomberg administration, along with a small business unfriendly NY Times, failed to step up for beleaguered store owners and community residents. As City Room reports: "Proposed legislation to revoke vendors’ licenses of food-truck operators who rack up too many parking violations drew outcries from foodies and food-truckers alike at a City Council hearing Wednesday. There are an estimated 300 such trucks in the city — both ice cream and hot dog purveyors and high-end vendors of waffles, schnitzel and the like. “It is clearly discriminatory that we get put out of business, while FedEx and U.P.S. pay millions in parking tickets as the cost of doing business,” one vendor said."

Sure it is. Fed EX, pal, is a legal taxpaying business and not a sidewalk hugging squatter like the peddlers are-and the delivery services are, well, servicing the local tax paying stores who pay rent and have other normal business overhead that the peddlers do not. But this just demonstrates how far we have sunk-when street intrusions can come out in droves to scream that they are being discriminated against when the legislature is looking to prevent New York from turning into Bangladesh!

The legislation is designed to prevent the hostile street takeover of these food vans: "The legislation — also sponsored by Karen Koslowitz, Democrat of Queens, the committee chairwoman — would amend city code to suspend Department of Health permits for food trucks that receive two parking tickets during the course of 12 months for feeding parking meters or idling engines. The measure would revoke the licenses of operators who receive three such tickets. “It is already against the law for food trucks to idle, and to feed the meter, but we hope that our legislation will improve enforcement,” said Ms. Lappin, a councilwoman from the Upper East Side, who said that her constituents had increasingly been complaining that food trucks were monopolizing parking spaces for entire days and even distributing menus listing their parking spots as addresses."

Nothing arrogant about that. But we can always count on the mayor to not stand up for the taxpaying store owners: "Midway through the session, Ms. Koslowitz announced she had learned that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg opposed the legislation. The Bloomberg administration did not present testimony at the hearing, but Patrick A. Wehle, director of City Legislative Affairs, sent a letter to the Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee saying that the legislation was “well intentioned” but “too punitive for such routine” parking offenses."

This from the same pusillanimous pipsqueaks who have allowed peddlers to metastasize all over neighborhood streets-further putting struggling stores at risk. Punitive? How about just any enforcement from a crew that treat the plight of small business with malign neglect? And the vendor advocates prattle about lowered cost, with no cognizance of the rationale behind the ability to out compete those with legitimate overhead: "Sean Basinski, director of the nine-year-old Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit group that he said represented 1,100 dues-paying street vendors, estimated that there were some 300 food trucks in New York City, most offering ice cream. The number of non-ice-cream vehicles “has gone from zero to 50 to 100 in the last few years,” he said, adding that they had increased food diversity and convenience “and lowered prices for consumers.”

The irony here is that the mayor and his minions have no compunction in whacking small businesses with punitive regulations when it fits their ideological agenda-witness the gruesome anti-smoking signs that are being foisted on the bodegas. And the further irony is that, if you are just a poor shlub from the neighborhood, you will be pestered and set upon by the mayor's parking enforcement brigade-no worry about punitive in the neighborhoods of Throggs Neck, Bay Ridge or Forest Hills.

Now we have been all over this issue for the last eight years, but it's just too fatiguing to continually try to swim upstream against a billionaire mayor who doesn't give a fig about no account small businesses and the communities that they serve. And while council members Koslowitz and Lappin deserve kudos, where is the outrage from 30 or more of their colleagues-members who are quick to scream about budget cuts, but who get lockjaw when the store owners who pay the taxes that the city depends on are under siege by an army of freeloaders.

As one store owner told the council: "One merchant, Evan Xenopoulos, an owner of the Oxford Cafe pizza and sandwich shop on 591 Lexington Avenue at 57th Street, said that “it started with one, and now there are two or three in front of our cafe,” he said. “They block foot traffic to our store and the view of our entrance, and we’ve seen a drop-off in our revenues.”

How Orwellian has the whole situation become? Well, the complaint of the cafe owner was met with the following riposte: "To which another operator — Yasir Z’raouli, whose Bistro Truck advertises its Moroccan-themed menu as “gourmet street food” — responded: “When did competition become illegal in America?” Hey fella, it is, or should be, when you park for free on the streets and make the unlevel playing field a constitutional right.

We'll give our friend, the intrepid Michelle Birnbaum. the last word on this insanity: "But Michele Birnbaum, chairwoman of the vendor committee for the East 86th Street Association, said that “we get daily complaints from both residents and merchants, who say that these trucks are taking their parking spaces — and sometimes the trucks will take up multiple spots.” Maybe what the merchants and residents need are more Officer Chus-parking agents with a temper and a flair for a little vigilante justice?