Wall Street Journal: Vendor-Bill Debate Sizzles
By Sumathi Reddy
June 17, 2010
For years, the city's food trucks have been the subject of complaints from business groups and some residents even as their popularity increased.
That tension came to a head yesterday at a lengthy City Council committee hearing on a proposal that would revoke the permits of trucks that accumulate three parking tickets a year.
"There is a vendor on 86th and Lexington who thinks that he owns the northeast corner and he doesn't and that bothers me," said Council Member Jessica S. Lappin, sponsor of the bill, at the start of the hearing.
The bill would only pertain to tickets for idling and feeding the meter, not all parking violations. Ms. Lappin said the plan would merely enforce existing laws.
Theatrics and confrontation played a big part in the hearing: Stacks of pink parking tickets were distributed to Ms. Lappin; a petition with thousands of signatures was given to her by the owner of the Schnitzel & Things truck, who told council members they should try a schnitzel and that would change their minds; and the owner of the Waffles & Dinges truck delivered free wrapped waffles to all.
Proponents brought their own evidence, including photos of trucks idling in illegal spots.
In middle of the meeting, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, a bill sponsor who is chairwoman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, announced that she had received a letter from Mayor the Bloomberg administration opposing the legislation.
Before the hearing, Michele Birnbaum, a vice-president of the East 86th Street Association, said that area has been "inundated with vendors," causing sanitation and parking issues.
The hearing was dominated by the owners of a new wave of so-called gourmet food trucks that began about two years ago and now includes vendors selling everything from artisanal ice-cream to grass-fed burgers. The Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit group that represents street vendors, estimates that there are 300 food trucks in the city, 250 of which sell ice-cream.
Opponents repeatedly called the proposal discriminatory and a draconian measure that would put most of them out of business. "The penalty that you are proposing is very disproportionate to the infraction," said Thomas DeGeest, owner of the Waffles & Dinges truck.
Mr. DeGeest estimated that he gets about three parking tickets a month.
Daniel A. Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, spoke on behalf of the city's Business Improvement Districts.
He said the BIDS were "angry" about trucks idling and litter. "If we had to characterize vendors as good citizens or bad citizens….a majority of them are bad citizens with regard to litter," he said.
When asked by a council member if there were parking spots in his district for the trucks, Mr. Biederman acknowledged there really weren't.