Thursday, July 8, 2010

Proposed Legislation Targets Mobile Food Vendors

By Tamara Best

New proposed legislation aimed at mobile food vendors is receiving mixed reviews from business owners and customers.
According to the legislation, mobile food vendors could have their license revoked if they receive a certain number of parking tickets or other related violations within a year.

The legislation proposed by Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan) would allow the city Department of Health to suspend a permit if two tickets are received within a 12-month period for infractions such as idling, or revoke the permit of a truck operator who receives three parking tickets in a 12-month period. The law would only apply to food trucks, not carts.

Koslowitz said she and Lappin are not trying to impact the livelihood of the vendors but improve the quality of life for those who live in areas heavily populated by food trucks.

“Not too long ago I saw a vendor on Queens Boulevard feeding the meter... which they’re not supposed to do,” said Koslowitz. “I got a lot of complaints from people who live in the neighborhoods. Many of them keep their motors running to keep their food refrigerated and it’s a hazard to the health of people who live there.”

Koslowitz said the food trucks are particularly a problem in Jackson Heights, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.

“These are public streets and nobody has the right to use them exclusively,” said Lappin. “People were willing to look the other way, until it was being abused. It’s against the law but clearly the penalty [parking tickets] is not severe enough to make people obey the law.”

One location that is home to a large number of food vendors is the area surrounding the Queens Center Mall at the intersection of Queens and Woodhaven boulevards. On Monday, several operators of trucks said the proposed legislation unfairly targets them.

“I don’t think it’s fair. Everyone gets tickets at some point,” said a worker at Raspados on 57th Avenue, which sells shaved ice treats.

Another vendor selling hot dogs, bagels and pastries on 56th Avenue agreed. “It could affect people’s livelihood,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

Smitty’s Hot Dogs at Crossbay Boulevard and Pitkin Avenue in Ozone Park said the proposed legislation and other changes over the years have made business increasingly difficult for mobile food vendors.

“It’s a lot of different laws, it never stops,” said a worker at Smitty’s on Tuesday. “You can change things and then the next year you have to do something else and a lot of times they don’t notify the vendors properly. They’re pushing a lot of small businesses out.”

But New Yorkers are split in their opinion of the proposed legislation.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous – where else are they supposed to go?” said Leslie Winter. “It’s not like the carts where they can be on the sidewalk. Being on the street is the only way they can make money. If taxi drivers get three tickets in a year should their license be revoked too?”

Other residents disagreed.

“I think it is fair,” said Sal Caruso. “A lot of food carts place themselves in front of other eating establishments, creating competition for store owners who have overhead and other expenses that they don’t have.”

One area resident said the new legislation would help drivers in the area.

“I think that they should have their license revoked,” said Sandy, who declined to give her last name. “It’s not fair to other drivers who need the parking spaces. It’s not like they are paying rent for it.”

In a letter to Koslowitz, Patrick A. Wehle, director of City Legislative Affairs for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, objected to the legislation.

“While well intentioned, the emphasis on the violation of Administrative Code Section 24-163 (which prohibits truck idling) is misplaced.” Wehle said the trucks often operate off legal generators and expressed concern that the penalties are “too punitive for such routine, and arguably, unrelated offenses.”

Wehle called the measure of license revocation “unnecessarily excessive,” noting that no other industry which operates on city streets can have their license revoked for the accumulation of parking tickets.

Groups including the The Street Vendor Project have been compiling petitions to fight against the proposed legislation.

“We think it’s a bad idea,” said Sean Basinski of The Street Vendors Project. “We agree that there are some violations that a permit should be revoked for, but a parking ticket is not one of them.”

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