PROTECTING & PRESERVING FREE SPEECH & PUBLIC SPACE

The Villager has just published a news article, [“Board #2 asks city
to review vendors jamming Broadway” January 31, 2013] revealing that
local community groups are trying to revive the Street Vendor Review
Panel (see end of this email for that article and my letter to The
Villager about it).

This is a very important piece of vending news that will affect all
NYC vendors regardless of where you sell, what you sell or what your
legal status is and regardless of whether you are an artist, art
vendor, food vendor,
general vendor or vet vendor. Artists should note that by restricting a street
(such as Broadway, West Broadway, 53rd Street etc) to food cart vending, that
artists are automatically restricted from that street.

CB#2, the same SoHo Community Board that pressured Mayor Giuliani
to launch the crackdown on artists in 1994 (which led to the founding of ARTIST
and all of our lawsuits) is now trying to pressure Mayor Bloomberg
into reviving the Street Vendor Review Panel (SVRP). Until it was
disbanded in 2001, that panel arranged for virtually all the streets
in NYC that are now restricted to vending to be restricted. The panel
was run 100% by the BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) and it
existed for the sole purpose of eliminating independent vendors
and then replacing them with BID and City-owned vending concessions.
Before you can replace vendors with BID and city-owned concessions
you have to eliminate the vendors.

If the SVRP becomes active again this is the likely 4 stage pattern of
events that will take place, if we don’t stop it:

1. West Broadway, Broadway, Spring and Prince in SoHo will be made
completely restricted to all vendors 7 days a week. 5th Avenue and
similar midtown streets and Avenues that are now only partially
restricted will be made 100% restricted. Throughout the City, any BID
that submits an application to have their local streets restricted
will be granted that restriction. Park Conservancies will also try to
get the SVRP to make their parks and the sidewalks around those parks
completely restricted to all non-City run vending.

2. A small number of vending spots will be allowed to remain open (temporarily)
in each BID territory so as to prevent a lawsuit from being too easy for
vendors to win. Those  handful of remaining legal spots will be made
available by either a medallion (as is currently the practice in 4 NYC parks)
or by a permit-lottery system.

3. The demand for those limited vending spots will so high that
vendors themselves will start begging the city to put them up for
bids, exactly as vending concessions are now bid for in parks. If you
think this is far fetched, consider that some artists who previously
sold in Union Sq Park for free, now pay as much as $14,000 to set up
for one month in the Holiday Market.

Once the demand for the very few remaining legal spots is high enough
the City will claim that vendors themselves are “forcing” the City to
sell the spots as concessions. This is the real agenda behind this
effort.

The media, (many newspapers and TV networks are directly connected
to the BIDs, or actually founded the BIDS)  will depict all vendors as
dangerous, dirty, lawbreaking, violent tax dodgers that need to be curtailed
for the sake of public safety.

4. Once all vending spots are sold as concessions, virtually 100% of
all the vendors now working will either be out of business or will be
forced to sell illegally. Vending concessions in NYC Parks generally
sell for anywhere from $50,000 a year to as much as $750,000 a year
for a single spot. Vending spots on the streets could sell for much
more, since it will be corporations using them for advertising and
promotion, not just for selling merchandise and food.

***
Is there anything we can do to counter this or prevent it from happening?

1. The lawsuit against the 2010 park rules, Lederman et al v Parks Department,
is now before the 2nd circuit Federal Appeals Court. If we win, not only will
the park rules and the artist medallions be struck down, but it will become very
difficult legally for the City or the BIDs to enact unreasonable new
restrictions on artists, especially on streets where we have legally
sold art since winning our first
lawsuit in 1996.

2. The reason the Street Vendor Review Panel was disbanded was that
between 1998 and 2001 vendors held very large protests against the
Street Vendor Review Panel, lobbied elected officials, sued the city
and otherwise made it into a very public expose about the BIDs. The
ARTIST group was at the forefront of these protests, but other groups
also had a high profile in them, including disabled veterans, food
vendors and general vendors’ groups. It was definitely a group effort.
However, as First Amendment protected vendors with a constitutional
right to sell on these streets, artists have the best possible legal
arguments to defeat whatever a new SVRP might try. Without us, those
other vending groups have virtually no chance to win.

3. We have a lot of documentation that can be used in a subsequent
lawsuit (if necessary) showing how BIDs themselves create far more
sidewalk congestion, due to their own very extensive vending
activities and planters, than all other vendors combined create. As
just one example, within the community board #2 district (that’s the
board pushing Mayor Bloomberg to revive the Street Vendor review
Panel) there are more than 100 annual street fairs and thousands of
sidewalk planters. Each of these street fairs has as many as 1,000
vendors completely obstructing pedestrian and vehicular traffic for an
entire neighborhood. The planters obstruct it 24/7/365. These street
fairs are all approved by the exact same community board, CB#2, trying
to eliminate independent vendors. Need one mention that the Community
Board directly benefits financially from these street fairs as does
the Mayor’s office?

If you are one of those vendors who is thinking these newly proposed
restrictions are reasonable because some vendors take up too much
space, sell items for a lower price than you or compete with you for
the same spot, it would be a good idea for you to educate yourself on
the real dynamics behind the City’s more than 100 year long effort to
destroy vending. These BIDS want to take over vending for themselves.
Open and unobstructed sidewalks are the very last thing they are
interested in.

Here are links to a few video clips, documents and news articles from
the fight against the Street Vendor Review Panel illustrating the
anti-vending effort for those who were not there or don’t remember:

NY Times 6/2/98
Vending Ban Widens: Not just food but also books and art
http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/02/nyregion/vending-ban-widens-not-just-food-but-also-books-and-art.html

*Artists protest privatizating vending system 1999
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eqvc3qk3E7E

*Vendors Stage A March Against N.Y. Restrictions Giuliani Is Pushing
To Ban Them From Much Of Manhattan. He Points To Sidewalk Congestion.
http://articles.philly.com/1998-06-04/news/25728382_1_food-vendors-hot-dog-restrictions

*NY Times Street Vendors Win Reprieve From Giuliani
http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/18/nyregion/street-vendors-win-reprieve-from-giuliani.html

*Daily News VENDORS VENT ANGER ON CURBS
http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/vendors-vent-anger-curbs-article-1.789883

*How BIDS use planters to obstruct sidewalks and prevent legal vendors
from setting up
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvtFS2GCdDw

*Legal Brief the BIDs filed in Bery/Lederman et al v City of NY 1995
http://www.scribd.com/doc/102623165/BIDs-Amicus-Brief-96

*BIDs Exploit Immigrant Vendors
http://www.scribd.com/doc/123500452/BIDs-exploit-immigrant-vendors

*BIDs Operate Criminal Courts for vendors
http://www.scribd.com/doc/123500432/Bid-operate-Criminal-courts

*****The new article about the Street Vendor review Panel*****
The Villager
Board 2 asks city to review vendors jamming Broadway
January 31, 2013

Large food carts along Soho in Broadway, like this one near Broome
St., narrow the sidewalk for pedestrians, which becomes even more of
an issue during rush hours and on weekends. This photo was taken on
Wednesday around noon. Photo by Sam Spokony
BY SAM SPOKONY  After heaps of complaints from Soho residents about
the number of street vendors along Broadway, Community Board 2 is
calling on Mayor Bloomberg to take action by reconvening a city review
panel that hasn’t been used in more than a decade.

The resolution, which C.B. 2 passed unanimously last week, ultimately
seeks to limit the amount of vendors allowed to operate on the stretch
of Broadway between Houston and Canal Sts.

“The proliferation of vendors [along that] corridor constitutes a
serious and immediate threat to the health, safety and well-being of
the public and local residents on the weekends,” the resolution
states, “in that sidewalks are too congested by pedestrian traffic to
permit the [current number of vendors].”

Many Soho residents have said that those problems are compounded by a
lack of consistency and overall effectiveness in the city’s
enforcement of current street vendor regulations, such as one that is
supposed to stop vendors from operating within 20 feet of a building’s
entranceway.

To address the entire issue, C.B. 2 now wants Bloomberg to convene the
city’s Street Vendor Review Panel, which would include members of the
departments of Small Business Services, Transportation and City
Planning. The panel was first created in 1995, but it has not been
convened since 2001 — the year before Bloomberg first took office.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Pete Davies, a Broadway resident for more than 30 years and
neighborhood activist, lauded the C.B. 2 resolution, saying that he
and his neighbors — a group called the Broadway Residents Coalition —
have been trying to “make some noise” about this issue over the past
year.

“We’re very happy to see this, since the review panel is really the
key to getting things back together,” Davies said. “The system is just
broken right now.”

He explained that his group has been counting the number of vendors
along Broadway each weekend for about a year, and claimed they’ve
found that there are around 100 total vendors located between Houston
and Canal Sts. during a typical weekend day. Around 30 percent of
those are food carts, according to Davies’s estimations.

The C.B. 2 resolution specifically highlighted those larger food
vendors, which generally use their own diesel fuel generators and have
garnered additional complaints for their allegedly careless disposal
of cooking grease.

Another of Davies’s points that was mentioned in the resolution was
one regarding food carts left on the sidewalk overnight. To do so is a
violation of city regulations, but Davies said that his group has
found about a dozen carts left overnight, specifically between Houston
and Broome Sts.

Sean Basinski, director of a wing of the Urban Justice Center that
advocates for the rights of street vendors, declined an interview to
discuss the matter, instead sending a statement that revealed an
apparently hyperbolic and tangential interpretation of the C.B. 2
resolution.

“Street vendors are a vital part of New York, and Lower Broadway is a
busy commercial strip that is enhanced by the presence of vendors,”
Basinski said. “Rather than trying to ban vending there, we encourage
the community board to work with vendors to find solutions that
benefit vendors, shoppers and residents alike.”

C.B. 2 did not call for any kind of outright ban on street vending
along Broadway. Instead, the resolution recommends — after the
convening of the city review panel — that legislation should
eventually be passed to limit the number of vendors there.

Pedro Amin, 31, a full-time worker at the Tribeca Taco Truck, which
has been located on Broadway between Prince and Spring Sts. for more
than six years, said that he often hears complaints from local
residents, even though he tries to keep his part of the street clean.

“They mostly complain to us about the crowds on the sidewalk, or
sometimes they just call the police,” Amin said. “I feel bad about it,
because I just want to work, and support my family. And I always take
the time to sweep the street around the cart.”

Like nearly every food cart worker along Broadway, Amin does not own
the cart in which he serves tacos all day. Davies stressed that he and
his group understand that fact, and that they are not out to pick a
fight with employees like Amin.

“We understand that people who work out there are trying to earn a
living, and they’re working their butts off,” Davies said. “And a bad
part of this is that when the city issues a violation to one of the
employees, rather than the owner, they’re penalizing the wrong
person.”

Instead, as the C.B. 2 resolution stated, Davies puts the onus on the
city to analyze this situation and come up with effective solutions.

“These food cart workers, along with the residents, are simply being
ill-served by the city right now,” he said. “The mayor has allowed
this problem to mushroom by not convening the Street Vendor Review
Panel at all during his time in office, so of course it’s going to be
much more difficult to fix now. It’s become an urban planning issue
now.

“We just want the city to seriously look at this,” Davies said, “so
they can make a real determination about how to move forward.”

Questions or comments?
Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST
artistpres@gmail.com

Letter to The Villager

To the editor re: “Board 2 asks city to review vendors jamming Broadway” 1/31/13
CB#2 has a very long history of harassing and persecuting street
artists and vendors. I have testified many times before CB#2, the
Police Community Council and the City Council explaining that
draconian new laws and new restrictions are not what is needed.
Enforcing the existing vending laws, which are 60 pages long, very
detailed and which cover all possible scenarios, is what is needed.
When CB #2 first started persecuting street artists it caused us to go
to court and win the first in a series of rulings that greatly
strengthened vending rights. I suggest before you open up this next
can of worms, that you might ask Kathryn Freed and Alan Gerson what to
expect from trying to eliminate artists and vendors from your
community. You might also ask your community board why it approves
almost 100 giant street fairs in your district each year, some of
which are fronts for organized crime, and each of which causes more
congestion than all the vendors being complained about create in their
entire lifetimes. Ironically, CB#2 is falling into a trap with this
entire idea, which is directly associated with the new BID. BIDS want
to take over vending for themselves. Open and unobstructed sidewalks
are the very last thing they are interested in. Helping them to do it
by reopening the Street Vendor Review Panel will ultimately bring you
far more congestion, noise, dirt and tourists than you complain about
now. And if you want to relieve sidewalk congestion right away, why
not eliminate the thousands of illegal sidewalk planters that
landlords, stores and BIDs have installed on SoHo’s narrow sidewalks?
Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST

————————————

To contact Robert Lederman
please use this address ONLY:
artistpres@gmail.com

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