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City Should Boost Number of Street Cart Permits, Politician Says

By Katie Honan | October 23, 2014 11:24am
 Sen. Jose Peralta hopes to make fixes to regulations of the city's food carts, like this Ecuadorian cart on Roosevelt Avenue.
Sen. Jose Peralta hopes to make fixes to regulations of the city's food carts, like this Ecuadorian cart on Roosevelt Avenue.
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CORONA — A local politician is pushing the city to lift the cap on its number of food cart street vendor permits — while also forcing them to obtain letter grades like restaurants — in a bid to ease tensions between popular vendors and neighborhood store owners.

State Sen. Jose Peralta is also suggesting restarting the Street Vendor Review Panel, which was created in 1995 to help determine where the carts could set up shop, but which hasn't met since 2001.

The panel was made up of commissioners from city agencies and a representative selected by the mayor and the City Council speaker.

Peralta urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to bring it back to help “make sense of the myriad, often overlapping and confusing city regulations governing the rights and obligations of street vendors.” 

The vendors, who hawk food from around the globe, are “critical parts of the fabric of many communities” but face more challenges than fledgling restaurateurs, he said.

“Under the current system...street vendors are forced to overcome significant obstacles not faced by their brick-and-mortar counterparts,” Peralta said.

One issue is a current cap on permits — about 3,000 in the city — which creates a black market, he said.

The cost of the permit, for non-veterans, is between $100 to $200. But Peralta said some working vendors told him they paid as much as $24,000 to obtain a black-market permit for only two years.

The City Council decides how many permits are given out, according to a city official.

The panel could also address concerns from shops near street vendors, some of which have complained that their businesses are impacted by the carts, Peralta said.

Restaurant owners said vendors often sell similar food to what's on their menus, at lower prices, which cuts into their bottom line, he said.

They also complain that vendors aren't required to display letter grades, he said. But they do face Health Department inspections, he said.

“Brick-and-mortar business owners and community members are concerned about the way current regulations and enforcement practices lead to serious congestion and sanitation problems and other issues,” he said.

Sean Basinski, founder and director of the Street Vendor Project through the Urban Justice Center, said they appreciate Peralta's support, especially with increasing the number of vendor permits.

The group's current campaign is centered around allowing more street carts to legally operate.

"More than 30 years ago, the city froze the number of permits available, and it's time for that to change," Basinski said. 

"We're grateful for him for the suggestion to increase the number of permits."