Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hot Dogging Fines

In yet another example of how the city's street vendor situation is out of control, the NY Post reported yesterday on the scofflaws who thumb their noses against the fines they've received: "The city will apparently never "ketchup" to these scofflaws. Four Midtown hot-dog vendors collectively owe more than $700,000 in unpaid summonses for a slew of safety violations -- and they have no intention of ever paying up. "Last year, I got 29 tickets in one day. That's $15,000 in [fines] in one day! How can I pay that?" griped Turky Abdelrehem, 26, who sells shish kabobs and frankfurters on East 55th Street near Fifth Avenue. Abdelrehem owes a total of $164,050 for a series of summonses dating back to 2007, city records show. Actually, "I owe a lot more than that," the vendor conceded."

What the hell is going on here? If a local restaurant was in the same situation that would be a big fat F on the front window-that is, if in fact the food outlet could even hope to stay open. So once again we have a double standard-and legitimate tax paying businesses are treated with disdain while street peddlers are allowed to violate the laws of the city with impunity.

The reason this has deteriorated to this extent, is that the mayor's office has refused to reform a corrupt and inoperable enforcement regime-as we have said before on numerous occasions: "We are working with the city council to address this collapse of enforcement and the nonsensical system of licensing. That we have to push so hard, is indicative of the unremitting negative attitude that the current mayor has to store owners-and the total lack of concern for remedying the unlevel playing field."

The Post has dramatized the chaos-citing the IBO report on the problem:

"If you're going to have violations [and] you don't collect on them, they become somewhat meaningless," IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky said. He also said the vendors cost the city at least $7.4 million in 2009, most of which is the cost of funding the NYPD's street-peddling enforcement unit that operates south of 59th Street in Manhattan.

Part of the problem, Turetsky said, is that street vendors exist in a messy web of bureaucracy: The Consumer Affairs and Health departments license them, the NYPD, Health and several other agencies issue fines, the Department of Finance collects those payments and the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings makes judgments on appeals."

What is encouraging is the fact that we may have a new sheriff in town-as CM Dan Garodnick has taken over the Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee at the City Council. But he has a daunting task in front of him if he wants to remedy the peddler problem. A more sensible placement system needs to be devised-one that prevents locating peddlers in front of stores that sell the same products, but with greater overhead so that there isn't a level playing field.

In addition, there needs to be one agency dedicated to enforcement-and when a peddler is a predicate felon and scofflaw, he or she should be prevented from purveying wares on the city's streets. The rule of law and simple notions of fairness and a level playing field dictate that the city does no less.