UES Community Board Wants Stricter Rules for Street Vendors

By Amy Zimmer on October 25, 2011 5:10pm 

UPPER EAST SIDE — Limiting the number of street vendors per block, requiring design guidelines for carts and trucks, and creating an agency dedicated to enforcing vendor rules are among the ideas being floated by an Upper East Side community board.

Just as several City Council members have introduced or are mulling new legislation to regulate street vendors, Community Board 8 is trying to come up with solutions to what they believe is a growing problem in their neighborhood.

"This is our No. 1 complaint from constituents," Susan Gottridge, of the East 86th Street Association and the Carnegie Hill Neighbors group, told members of Board 8's Street Vendor Task Force at a meeting Monday night.

"People object to people just showing up on their doorstep one day without any advance notice … and basically opening a restaurant or produce store," Gottridge said. "Our quality of life is at stake."

Gottridge complained that vendors leave trash on the street, forcing property owners to pay the fines. Others from East 86th Street — a stretch that famously ousted Paty's Taco Truck from its spot there — complained that food vendors were only serving the neighborhood's "transients" and that the vendors were hurting the area's brick-and-mortar locations. 

Vendor supporters at the meeting talked about the importance of street food in creating jobs cheap eats for their fans, many of whom are devoted followers through Twitter and other social- networking sites.

Nicholas Viest, who chairs the task force, said CB 8 gets many complaints about vendors, especially from older people who say they have difficulty navigating the sidewalks with their walkers because of the crowds at trucks or carts.

City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who represents part of the Upper East Side, introduced legislation that would require the Health Department issue letter grades to food vendors as they do at restaurants. He is now drafting legislation that would create "curbside zones" for food trucks, his legislative aide Teresa Boemio said at the meeting.

She explained the zones would help in light of a judge's ruling against Paty's Tacos, which had been towed three times for illegally vending from a metered spot on Lexington Avenue near East 86th Street. The taco truck thought the rule only applied to those selling merchandise, not food, but a judge still ruled against Paty's. The truck is appealing the decision.

"Our office receives a lot of complaints," Boemio said. "But food vendors are part of the city's economy and there has to be some sort of happy medium.

"There are long lines," she added. "People enjoy the food."

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who also represents the Upper East Side, is considering introducing legislation to "clarify the rules," such as not being able to sell from a metered spot, her representative Taina Prado told community board members.

However, Lappin's proposed legislation, which would revoke food trucks' permits for three parking violations, has languished in the Council since it was introduced last year.

Sean Basinski, head of the Street Vendor Project advocacy group, which runs the annual Vendy Awards, asked Prado if her office has ever polled constituents on their views of street vendors.

"I live in the district," he said, "and a lot of young people here love the food trucks. It seems like Lappin is listening to a few people."

The councilwoman's office said it did not conduct an official poll of residents. But, according to a survey of 1,300 of Garodnick's constituents released by his office, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they strongly agreed or agreed somewhat that the city needed to get the street vendor situation under better control.

Other pending legislation includes a bill from North Brooklyn City Councilman Stephen Levin that would lower vendors' fines from $1,000 to $250. Upper West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer recently introduced a bill requiring the Health Department to report how many permits are being used for food carts and trucks, since the current data does not differentiate between the two.

"We recognize the vendor community is hardworking," CB 8's Michele Birnbaum said. "But the streets do not belong to them. They belong to everybody."

Her idea to create a standardized look for street vendor's carts had been met with boos at a hearing years ago, she admitted. But "in terms of professionalism and respect," she thought it would help vendors.

Board 8 had passed a resolution in 2009 supporting this and other ideas, but their suggestions were not taken up by the city.

Viest said he would reconvene the task force in December to discuss ideas.

Across town on the Upper West Side, after months of mounting complaints from locals, police said they were working to identify which vendors repeatedly break the law in the hopes they'll be given stiffer penalties when they go before a judge.

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