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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Clear & Present Taco Danger

News from Red Hook, some good some bad.

The good:
  • The DOH arrived on Sunday. They did not issue any summons and, per the vendors, were “nicer overall” than in past weeks. NY1 was also on-hand with a camera crew.
  • Senator Schumer sent a letter to the DOH commissioner on the vendor's behalf, while Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz issued his first public statement of support.
The bad:
  • New clouds on the horizon: FDNY regulations and the Tax Man. Unless, of course, the vendors are forced to close sooner.
  • Close, you ask? That rumor about the Vendors getting shut down after labor day is legit. Turns out the Parks Department is now stating they have not yet decided to extend the Vendors' permit. Which came as a big surprise to Cesar Fuentes, who was led to believe an October extension was already signed and sealed. As it stands, the Vendors have 2 weeks left.
  • Given this twist, the Vendors are now hoping to initiate a hearing with Parks, the DOH, politicians and community representatives before September 8, to reach some sort of definitive resolution for the year: “clear answers, not just considerations,” as Cesar put it.
As for the Vendors? Per Cesar, they are “overwhelmed” and deeply “concerned about all the sudden enforcement, being priced or fined out, and losing what they love permanently. I'm working hard to keep their spirits up and keep them firm and positive about their future.” Things that help? “The community's support, and the growing lines.”

Two more tidbits in closing.

First, I was recently told that the DOH used pictures from this and other websites to 'illustrate' alleged violations and improprieties during the Vendors' food protection training course last week. I spoke to several people at DOH today, and did not receive a definitive answer. I will therefore assume that this rumor is just that–a rumor. And (since City Officials are obviously monitoring this stuff) I heartily invite anyone in the know to shed a little light.

That said, if true this really really irks me. Up until this nonsense, The 'Chop has been all about spreading the delicious: nothing more, nothing less. The very thought that our efforts have been used for the purposes of bullying or reprimanding makes me puke in my mouth. It's about as far from the spirit of The Porkchop Express as you can get. On this point, I think I speak for everyone else in BK and beyond who has taken the time to document what has been, for 30+ years, a scene worthy of celebration.

On a more interesting note, reader Doug C. forwarded us an intriguing email from NYC Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn about a “hearing” on the parks and concessions issue and we decided to investigate. It turns out that the Department of Parks & Recreation will be hosting a hearing on the general issue of concessions (businesses that generate revenue on parkland), to answer some crucial jurisdictional questions: who determines if and when concessions are allowed? Who receives the revenue (“extra money,” from a budgetary standpoint) generated from these deals? And who should make these decisions?

[Note to self: could it be this nonsense is all about concessions money, and not porta-sinks and hairnets?]

Following the initial hearing, a councilperson may introduce new legislation on the matter (if warranted). This must first pass a relevant subcommittee, before going to the entire 51-member council for a full vote. In times of “crisis” laws can push thru in a month. But it could just as easily lumber on for half-a-year: well after taco season, in other words. Worst-case scenario? A woman from Staten Island, who recently complained that her borough has been waiting 109 years and counting for a public transportation upgrade.

But seriously, this hearing is key. Public health and fire notwithstanding, our hunch at The 'Chop is that the Vendors are knee-deep in a concessions struggle. Hearing schedules are posted the last Friday of each month at the NYC Council website, so check in there. And in the meantime, send Councilwoman Gonzalez another note of support; she is a key advocate. And drop Councilwoman Quinn a note about your interest in the upcoming hearing as well. Finally, if you want to check in with the DOH try their Office of Public Affairs at (212) 788-5290.

And that, good reader, is about all I can make sense of this week...



Blogger funkjester said...

"...turns out the Parks Department is now stating they have not yet decided to extend the Vendors' permit. Which came as a big surprise to Cesar Fuentes, who was led to believe an October extension was already signed and sealed."

Yeah, which comes as a BIG surprise to everyone else the Parks Department misled as well.

When the news of trouble in Red Hook first broke, seemed (to me, and many others, anyway) that the Parks Dept. made it very clear that the vendors would be permitted to remain for the full season.

I need to go check my e-mail archives as well, but I'm almost sure I got e-mails affirming the same from both Marty Markowitz and Christine Quinn, if not others.

What gives with the bait and switch, and just who IS the person who really has it out for the Red Hook vendors? Obviously, someone somewhere in the bueracracy has decided the crackdown will be severe. Who is it, and WHY? And why can't whomever it is be more creative in trying to craft a plan to keep the vendors in business while bringing them into compliance? As I've said before, IT'S NOT AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous annulla said...

Outrageous! I agree with funkjester, someone in a position of power has made the vendors a target.

This just makes me sad & angry. Thanks for keeping us updated.

"Hell no, pupusas won't go!"

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to my City Council member Gail Brewer on the Upper West Side with a "cc" to Councilwoman Gonzalez to let them know of my concern about the vendors. Brewer never wrote back to me. I'm going to write her again to let her know she should support legislation to protect the vendors.

10:19 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

to be honest, i'm unsure this is a 'word from above' scenario targeting the vendors... it feels way too haphazard & disorganized; and too many concessions (no matter how minute) have been made. the axe could have easily dropped already...

also, the DOH has had a serious stick-in-the-butt ever since that rat colony ran out of Taco Bell. (if DiFara's already been shut down twice...) i do, however, think Parks underestimated public response...

but yeah, FJ is right: compliance is far from impossible. i'm still optimistic for this season.

& anulla: like the chant!

& anon: we put up a bunch of email addresses for folks you might want to contact. like the DOH.

12:25 PM  

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