Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jessica Lappin Targets Small Businesses…on Wheels

Here is the logic: Getting parking tickets makes your food truck dirty and unhealthy and therefore if you get two tickets in 12 months you lose your vendor license. Say what?

Or at least that is what City Council Member Jessica Lappin (D-Upper East Side) is trying to promote with her new bill before the City Council.

Needless to say the mobile-gourmands took to Twitter and Facebook to fight back against this ill-conceived plan. The boys over at “Schnitzel and Things” put up a petition that attracted hundreds of signatures within a few hours of its publication (I am #27). Nearly every iPhone and Droid on those targeted trucks were a buzzing in the aftermath of the announcements and the people responded to the epicurean call to action.

But Council Member Lappin, my representative to the somewhat lawless body of the New York City Council, has yet to reply to my email or Facebook messages. Granted she is probably busy with the unexpected backlash to this bill, but I would like to know her rationale for this legislation. (I will let all three of you reading this know if she gets back to me.)

What Council Member Lappin is trying to accomplish, besides riding our streets of creative culinary treats and tasty morsels of deep fried goodness, is really beyond me. The cynical side of my political mind says that she is getting pressure from real estate bound restaurants, many of whom would love the viral support of a Wafle & Dinges (haha…dinges) or Rickshaw Dumpling Truck. The restaurant industry, which has been hit so very hard by this recession and employees most of the “aspiring” actors in a town of “aspiring” action, legitimately needs help. But I can’t think of a better way to support local businesses than to change the rules to hurt other small local business. Can you?

New York City would not be the same place if it wasn’t for our diverse and delicious food establishments. There is a reason why New York is the capital of American Food. (Back off LA, you so don’t even come close. Chicago, that is cute but chill out. San Fran, please enjoy your tofu and sit quietly on your organic high horse.) Supporting local industry is an extremely worthwhile goal of local legislation. But this piece of slick, backroom dealings hurts more than it could ever help.

For example, Thomas DeGeest, CEO and Founder of Wafle & Dings (I said dinges again, huhuh) outlines the amount of money the city collects from these mobile business owners. This represents only the parking costs; these numbers are before taxes are collected, before people travel into the city to find these treats and before DeGeest and his other employees spend their hard earned green in New York City establishments:
In my business, Wafels & Dinges, we are relentless and truly obsessive about paying for munimeter receipts and avoiding parking tickets. But sometimes you have a line and you're just 5 minutes late, which is enough to give you a 95% chance on a ticket (thanks to Mr. Bloomberg, who has turned parking tickets into a major revenue source for the city).

We still end up with average 3 tickets per month, but we do pay an average of $36 per day in munimeter receipts (5 days / week, make that $9180 / year). Add the tickets at an average $106 / ea and we pay another $3800 / year in tickets.

I have long been a supporter of the exciting new food trucks and their older, traditional cousins. There are lots of things these guys do, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, that can get on the nerves of other businesses. But there is no reason to create a specialized parking law that targets these entrepreneurial up-starts.

This is a self-serving law that puts the interests of brick and mortar restaurants before those of a group of newer, faster moving, innovative businesses represented by these trucks. Ms Lappin should be fostering all business in our city and not fixing the books to favor one group over another.

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