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De Blasio backs street vendor reform despite administration’s objections

Mayor Bill de Blasio seems to have developed a taste for street meat.

The Democrat lent tentative, conceptual support Friday to reforming the city’s controversial mobile vendor program, a little more than a week after members of his administration testified before the City Council against the latest iteration of a bill to overhaul permitting and enforcement.

The Street Vendor Project, which has long advocated for liberalizing the system, blamed the mayor for the failure of the 2017 efforts.

De Blasio told a caller on his weekly WNYC “Ask the Mayor” radio segment that he had neither read the new proposal nor discussed it with the city’s Department of Health.

“I don’t know why the Health Department took the stance it did,” he said. “I want to find out.”

At present, there are 5,100 city licenses to serve food on the sidewalk, most of them in the hands of an illicit cartel system. Permit holders renew their certificates every two years for a $200 fee and then illegally rent them to cart operators for up to 200 times that much.

The Street Vendor Project has called for issuing more permits at a similarly low cost—which it asserts would undermine the costly and exploitative black market. But advocates for brick-and-mortar eateries demand the immediate revocation of unlawfully leased licenses—and even a reconsideration of the entire program, which they claim gives an unfair competitive advantage to food carts. Cart operators, those advocates point out, escape the burdens of rent, insurance and sidewalk maintenance.

On air, the mayor urged an ecumenical approach: increase enforcement, limit where food wagons may locate and issue more permits.

“We can get to wholesale street-vending reform. We can do it,” the mayor said. “It’s going to take some geographical restrictions, to protect brick-and-mortar stores. It’s going to take adding some more vendor permits, for sure. It’s going to take much better enforcement and cracking down on that black market.

“So I think there is a sort of big set of pieces that can come together in one omnibus bill and solve the problems, and we’ve been trying to get there with the City Council. I believe that vision still can be achieved in the coming months.”

He did not, however, commit to any specifics.

The current bill would create a new enforcement division for policing street carts, but it does not establish a revenue stream for funding it. It would obligate the city to offer 400 new permits per year during the next decade to vendors on the current waiting list, and would obligate each licensee to remain on premises. But it would exempt the currently issued permits from this requirement—which would seem to allow the current black market to evade regulation.

Fees would increase, but only to $400.

A new street vendor advisory board, consisting of an array of city officials and stakeholders, would consider restrictions on cart locations.

The bill is in many ways more liberal than the one that failed to clear the council in 2017, and brick-and-mortar business advocates have come out fiercely against it.

In its testimony earlier this month, the Health Department warned of a lack of adequate sanitary commissaries where the new licensees might store their carts, and of the potential negative impact of additional outdoor grills on city air quality.

SOURCE: Section Page News – Crain’s New York Business – Read entire story here.