THROGS NECK — A convoy of NYPD and Parks Department vehicles, a garbage truck and officers on foot and horseback swept through Ferry Point Park Saturday, shutting down unlicensed vendors and issuing tickets to rule-breakers.
The crackdown follows a DNAinfo.com New York article earlier this month that reported on frustrated park permit-holders who were forced to clean up mounds of Styrofoam plates and beer bottles after weekend soccer tournaments and on locals who avoided the park altogether because of the drinking and gambling that often accompany the games.
Both groups put some blame on the Parks and police departments, saying that lax enforcement of park rules had allowed conditions to deteriorate.
Parks Department enforcement officers wrote nine tickets Saturday — three for alcohol possession, two for fire restrictions, two for public urination and two for unlicensed vending, according to Parks Department spokesman Zachary Feder.
“We conduct regular patrols and enforcement operations with the NYPD in response to quality-of-life issues, including illegal vending,” Feder said. “This is one example of our ongoing, joint efforts to help curb these activities.”
Police officers also issued summonses, but a spokesperson could not immediately say how many or for what violations.
The joint enforcement team arrived about 2 p.m. Saturday, according to Geoffrey Croft, president of the nonprofit NYC Park Advocates, who witnessed the operation.
Croft said plainclothes and uniformed police and Parks Department enforcement officers checked vendors’ permits and identification. When one vendor could not produce any ID, the officers tossed her folding table into the garbage truck, Croft said.
He said officers gave a ticket, presumably for fire restrictions, to a vendor using a propane tank to cook food. They also confiscated at least one cooler packed with beer bottles.
The western portion of the park, where the operation occurred, has eight athletic fields where hundreds of soccer players and their fans converge every weekend from April to October. Five Latin American soccer leagues, some with 25-member teams, pay to use the fields.
Many players and spectators spend full weekend days at the park and rely on the vendors, said a woman connected with one of the leagues who asked not to be named for fear of becoming an enforcement target.
“They cook food for the players,” the woman said. “The people need food.”
Though 20 or more merchants might sell food on any given soccer weekend at Ferry Point, only one vendor paid for a permit, according to the Parks Department.
The agency could do a better job helping these small-scale vendors, many of them immigrants, navigate the permit process, said Croft, the park advocate.
The Parks Department “isn’t reaching out to the small vendors,” he said. “You can’t just kick people out without providing an opportunity.”
The park’s licensed vendor, La Perla Del Ulua, which also runs a restaurant in Brooklyn, paid $6,800 for the current year’s permit, according to the Parks Department.
Sylvia Rivera, the co-owner, said permits of that cost, along with insurance and other expenses, are beyond the reach of many of the merchants trying to make some extra money on the weekends.
“I believe everybody would like to apply for a permit,” but it’s too expensive, Rivera said.
After Saturday’s crackdown, which included the public urination tickets, another woman who frequents the soccer games noted that the entire 414-acre park — half the size of Central Park — lacks a single comfort station. One is scheduled to be built by 2014.
The woman, who asked not to be named so that she would not be associated with the crackdown, also said that only regular enforcement will stamp out the unlicensed vending, littering, drinking and gambling.
“If they become consistent, rather than randomly once in a while, it will help us,” she said. Otherwise, “Everybody will be right back there on Saturday.”