Something smells rotten about new food-cart bill

BY ROBERT LEDERMAN | The New York City Council, under the direction of Speaker Melisa Mark-Viverito, is attempting to pass Intro No. 1303, a law that would double the number of food vending carts throughout the city. She has lined up 13 councilmembers — including Margaret Chin — plus the public advocate and the Manhattan borough president as sponsors, all of whom claim the law is solely intended to help immigrant vendors and to reform the problems with food carts.

Yet, most of these same elected officials have built their political careers on harassing and persecuting vendors. Has the City Council abruptly reversed course after more than 100 years of effort to limit or eliminate street vendors and become vendor advocates?

Soho residents say large food carts in the neighborhood, such as this one on Broadway near Broome St., narrow the sidewalks for pedestrians, which becomes even more of an issue during rush hours and on weekends. However, the writer's main concern is about a big-business takeover of the vendors' carts. Villager file photo

Soho residents say large food carts around the neighborhood, such as this one on Broadway near Broome St., narrow the sidewalks for pedestrians, which gets even worse during rush hours and on weekends. However, the writer is more concerned about a big-business takeover of the vendors’ carts, among other issues. Villager file photo

Why would Speaker Mark-Viverito and her colleagues sponsor a law that goes completely against the interests of every business improvement district, community board, resident, restaurant, store and the thousands of legal food vendors, disabled veteran vendors and street artists who oppose this bill?

Perhaps the answer is in the speaker’s intimate connection to one vending cart corporation, MOVE Systems.

MOVE is backed by Wall Street billionaires, a billionaire real estate developer, a fracked natural gas provider and a financial services corporation. As detailed in a press release from the speaker’s office, MOVE Systems wants to initially place 500 new high-tech food carts on the streets, powered by fracked natural gas, with each cart also tethered to a sidewalk electrical outlet.

MOVE and the speaker have a significant legal obstacle to accomplishing this plan: Under New York City law you can only own one food-cart permit.

The City Council held an eight-hour public hearing on this bill on Oct. 26. Officials from every BID, from the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Health, the Police Department, community boards, restaurants, stores and numerous vendor advocates all testified strongly against Intro No. 1303. Yet the speaker and her co-sponsors continue to promote the measure.

As expressed in the testimony, as many as 90 percent of the city’s current 8,000 food carts are black market, meaning that the person issued the permit has illegally sold or leased it to the person operating the cart. The MOVE-Viverito agenda would double the number of black market carts.

A Department of Health official testified that one food cart releases as much particulate pollution daily as a semi-truck driving 3,500 miles.

BID representatives said that the only way doubling the number of food carts would work is to privatize all vending spots by selling them to the highest bidder. The BIDs believe they would be entitled to a share of those fees. Once sold, those vending spots on public streets would belong to MOVE.

How are immigrant vendors going to outbid a billionaire-backed vending corporation? MOVE’s corporate backers would make billions from the carts’ electronic ads, plus a cut of every sale.

An article with links supporting each of the claims in this talking point, plus a video of the City Council hearing is available at https://www.facebook.com/stopintro1303/ .

Lederman is president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), an advocacy group representing New York City street artists.

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