By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — Paty's Taco Truck and other street vendors that park in city metered spaces may be in for some rotten times.
A Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled on Friday that food trucks are subject to a city law prohibiting merchandise to be sold from metered parking spots, ending a longstanding grey area that allowed the trucks to sell their wares from curbside spots until the meter ran out.
Justice Geoffrey Wright's ruling came in response to a request by Paty's Taco Truck for the court to allow it to sell food from metered spots on the Upper East Side without fear of tickets or towing. Paty's Tacos had their truck towed three times from metered parking spots during an NYPD ticket blitz that launched a battle over the city's metered parking rules.
An earlier judge had dismissed all but one of the NYPD's tickets against Paty's Tacos on technical grounds, saying that they were written incorrectly.
Paty's Tacos owner Patricia Monroy, who runs the truck with her son, Alberto Loera, said she didn't they were violating the city's rules against selling merchandise from a metered parking spot because they didn't think food and merchandise were the same thing.
Food is licensed by a different agency (the Department of Health) than general merchandise (Department of Consumer Affairs), the truck owners argued in their lawsuit against the city.
The city's Law Department argued that the distinction didn't matter for the purposes of parking regulations, and the judge agreed.
Paty's "can only demonstrate that there is a line drawn between food and other merchandise for the purpose of licensing," Wright wrote in his decision. "In the end though, definitions must take a back seat to other considerations, those being the interest of the Dept. of Transportation in traffic flow, both in the streets and on the sidewalk."
Christina Hoggan, an attorney with the city's Law Department said in a statement that the agency was "pleased that the Court reached what we believe is the correct decision."
Sean Basinski, of the Street Vendor Project, which is representing Paty's, said he was "very disappointed in the judge's ruling, and we intend to appeal."
The taco truck had won the enmity of some merchants and residents in the area, who complain that food trucks cause too much congestion on already busy sidewalks and that they take away business from stores.
Wright offered a possible path for changing the rules — though not through the courts.
"While I am sympathetic to the plight of [Paty's], the courts, in this case, while perhaps a faster form of relief, are ultimately not the appropriate forum. The City Council is," Wright wrote. "Perhaps it can be persuaded to pass a law permitting, by license, which will generate income, vending zones of the type that [Paty's] is, in essence, seeking here."
City Councilman Dan Garodnick — in whose district Paty's sells its tacos, burritos and cemitas, and who chairs the council's consumer affairs committee — saw a potential opening in the judge's decision.
"I welcome the Court's suggestion that we create zones where food trucks can operate," said Garodnick. "If we are going to have these businesses in the street, let's have straightforward rules to govern them and find the right balance between commerce and all the other uses of the street and sidewalk."
Monroy, who claimed that her business has dwindled 80 percent since tshe was ousted in November from the Upper East Side spot where she has built a loyal clientele, almost had her truck repossessed last Friday after missing lease payments.
But the truck leasing company agreed not to reposess the truck as long as Monroy can come up with $4,000 of the $8,000 owed this week, Monroy's son, Alberto Loera, said.
"I was disappointed with the [court's] decision. But I'm happy about the truck. If we didn't win, what can we do? At least we gave it a fight," Loera said while prepping to serve lunch from the truck on the Upper West Side at 86th Street and Broadway, where they'll be Monday until 6 p.m.
Paty's will then return to its old corner on Lexington and East 86th Street for the dinnertime crowd, between 7 to 10 p.m. — when meter rules are no longer in effect — before feeding late night cravings for folks around Union Square, Loera said.
"We've got to go out and work. It's a new day," he said.