By Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.
The New York City Council, under the forceful direction of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, is attempting to pass Intro #1303-2016, a law that would double the number of food vending carts throughout NYC. She has lined up 16 council members as sponsors, all of whom claim the law is intended to help immigrant vendors and to resolve the many problems associated with street vending.
Yet, most of these same council members have built their political careers on harassing, persecuting and maligning vendors. Has the entire City Council suddenly reversed course after more than 100 years of effort to limit or eliminate street vendors?
Why would Speaker Mark-Viverito and her colleagues sponsor a law that goes completely against the interests of Business Improvement Districts(BIDs), residents, stores and the thousands of legal food vendors, disabled veteran vendors and street artists who oppose this bill?
Exactly what constituency are they trying to please? Perhaps the answer can be found in the Speaker’s close connection to a vending cart corporation, MOVE SYSTEMS.
MOVE is backed by Wall Street billionaires, a billionaire real estate developer, a fracked natural gas provider and a financial services corporation. As detailed in a press release from the Speaker’s office, MOVE Systems wants to initially place 500 new high-tech food carts on the streets, powered by fracked natural gas, with each cart additionally tethered to an electrical outlet installed in the sidewalk.
MOVE and Speaker Mark-Viverito have a big legal obstacle to accomplishing this plan: by NYC law you can only own 1 food cart permit.
For MOVE to have 500 carts, let alone the 16,000 carts Intro 1303 ultimately envisions, they must find hundreds, eventually thousands, of people to issue new food vending permits to. The only two groups that would qualify for getting these desirable permits are disabled veterans, or, under Intro 1303, immigrant vendors who have been illegally vending food from substandard carts.
Moreover, because the MOVE carts Speaker Mark-Viverito is championing require an electrical outlet, the vending spots for these 500-16,000 carts would have to be permanently set aside, reserved for only these carts. For that to happen, all legal street vending spots would have to be part of a privatized concession system, distributed by competitive bidding, exactly as is done in the NYC Parks System that the Speaker, as a former chair of the Parks Committee, is intimately familiar with.
Exactly how are poor immigrant vendors going to outbid a billionaire-backed vending corporation for vending spots?
The rosy picture the sponsors of Intro 1303 are trying to paint gets uglier the more you examine it.
Intro 1303 also contains 2 sections that directly contradict the fiction it is intended to help oppressed immigrant vendors. It re-creates the BID-controlled Street Vendor Review Panel; a quasi-governmental body that can write new anti-vending laws without going through the City Council; and a new enforcement agency that will focus solely on summonsing, harassing, confiscating and arresting vendors.
Intro 1303 may be the most insincere vending reform bill ever proposed by the City Council.
The bill seems intended to help 3 groups of people: Mark-Viverito, City Council Speaker – who has received thousands in political donations from some of the MOVE executives; the corporate backers of MOVE – who stand to make billions from the electronic advertising on the carts and a cut of the financial transactions from every sale; and the council member sponsors – who have either lost their minds or been promised a very nice quid pro quo for their hard work.
Immigrant vendors are being exploited for the purpose of helping a billionaire get richer. Shame on the Speaker and her colleagues.
Robert Lederman is the President of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics) an advocacy group representing the City’s street artists. Lederman began vending his art on the streets of Brooklyn in 1961. He has won 5 Federal lawsuits about street artists’ right to vend without a license or permit.
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The New York City Council hearing on Intro 1303-2016 – also referred to as the Street Vending Modernization Act – with public comment takes place Wednesday, October 26th at 10 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
Crain’s Editorial: City Council’s food-vending legislation would not satisfy hunger for reform