De Blasio backs more permits for food carts as restaurants struggle

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Mayor Bill de Blasio took sides in a food fight Monday — backing legislation during the coronavirus pandemic that will dramatically increase the number of street food cart permits opposed by local restaurateurs.

“This is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time,” de Blasio said, who pushed his own proposals in years past.

The bill would create 4,000 new sidewalk and food cart permits by 2032 — nearly doubling the cap.

De Blasio insisted the measure, expected to soon pass the City Council, would be fair to “brick and mortar” eateries because it includes “clear ground rules” and “strong enforcement” mechanisms.

“There’s been a lot of discussion in the last weeks with the council. I think we’re in a good place. I think we’re getting now the kind of balance that we’ve needed all along,” said Mayor de Blasio, whose support indicates he will sign the bill into law after it passes the City Council.

“I’m certainly aware that small businesses have gone through hell and we need to protect them at this moment. I think this legislation, as I’ve seen it so far, has been written in a way that does that.”

But restaurateurs struggling to survive during the COVID-19 outbreak said de Blasio was rubbing more salt in the wound by increasing permits for street food carts and trucks near their eateries. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that currently prohibits city eateries from having indoor dining to help contain the spread of the killer bug.

“A lot of this isn’t logical. He’s gonna put junk food on the streets? Don’t we need to stay healthy during the coronavirus?” said Luis Cortez, 43, partner at Amsterdam Ale House on the Upper West Side.

“This is no good balance. If this bill passes it will jeopardize the jobs of hundreds of black and Latino workers in the outer-boroughs,” said Hank Sheinkopf, spokesman for the New York State Latino Restaurant Bar and Lounge Association.

The New York Hospitality Alliance also opposes the bill as currently drafted.

“We’re concerned with this bill as it doesn’t eliminate the underground market that exploits vendors, doesn’t extend the distance requirements from which vendors can sell in-front of brick-and-mortar restaurants and doesn’t fund enforcement,” said Hospitality Association director Andrew Rigie.

Under current law, street vendors must sell their food 20 feet away from a food establishment. That rule should be extended to 25 feet, Rigie said.

“It’s a bad time to make permanent changes,” he said.

But more than 30 council members agree with The Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group for street food cart operators, who say the cap on street vendors has triggered an exploitative underground market and years long waiting lists to obtain a permit. They have signed into the bill, Resolution 116.

“Since the early 1980s, an arbitrary cap has been placed on the number of available food permits and general vending licenses. This cap effectively makes street vending illegal for thousands of vendors and has led to the creation of a black market where permits (originally purchased from the City for $200) are now sold upwards of $20,000,” the Street Vendor Project said.

“Lifting the caps on permits and licenses would not only decriminalize vending for the thousands of hard-working New Yorkers, but also generate a significant increase to New York City’s revenue.”

Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan), chief sponsor of the bill to lift the cap, said, “Food vendors are a part of our small business community and they’re here to stay. Restaurants have benefited from outdoor dining and some COVID-19 financial aid while vendors have received nothing.”

Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca said, “Whether it’s a 5th Avenue hot-dog stand, a #Chinatown fruit cart, or a #SunsetPark taco truck, street vendors are deeply embedded in the cultural identity of NYC. We have an opportunity to modernize an outdated permit and enforcement system by passing Intro 1116.”

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