Group Alleges Unfair Treatment of Forsyth Street Vegetable Vendors

The Street Vendor Project (part of the Urban Justice Center) is coming to the defense of the Forsyth Street vegetable merchants.  Yesterday they staged a news conference under the Manhattan Bridge, alleging that city agencies are unfairly targeting the vendors, who they said are only trying to provide a low-income neighborhood with fresh produce.

The organization released a report, citing recent statistics from the city’s Environmental Control Board.  Among the findings, 949 summonses were issued to Forsyth Street vendors in 2009 and 2010, far outpacing enforcement actions at any other market in the city.

In this time period, 470 tickets were written to merchants for failing to keep items in or under a cart. Officers handed out 120 tickets fto vendors or failing to display a license.  The group said some vendors have accumulated fines in excess of $20,000. Since they have no hope of paying, the vendors are unable to renew their city permits.

Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project argued the policies are not only forcing the vendors out of business but depriving an immigrant neighborhood of fresh food.

The NYPD told WNYC the stepped up enforcement on Forsyth Street “came as a result of complaints from residents in the area of unsanitary conditions left by the vendors.” DNA Info reported:

The 5th Precinct — which Basinski claimed is leading the ticketing blitz — has stood by its actions, saying the block had become filthy and that scofflaw motorists park their produce trucks on the curb overnight in violation of parking regulations. “That place looked like a zoo,” the precinct’s commanding officer, Inspector Gin Yee, said at a community council meeting last month, noting that vendors throw rotting produce onto the sidewalk and street, and also don’t properly refrigerate their food. “We’re going to clean it up.”

According to Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer, the city’s Department of Sanitation complained that vendors were leaving their trucks on Forsyth Street overnight, making it impossible to clean the rat-prone corridor between Canal and East Broadway.  CB3 asked the 5th Precinct to help with enforcement. In the past, Stetzer noted, the community board has tried to improve the flow of information between the vendors and city agencies.

State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office has now gotten involved. Working with CB3 and several city agencies, they’re hoping to schedule a meeting to facilitate a solution all parties can accept. City Councilwoman Margaret Chin is setting up a meeting with Urban Justice Center staff to discuss the issue. She is a co-sponsor of two City Council bills aimed at reducing fines vendors are compelled to pay.

The city is planning to build a new plaza above Forsyth Street.  Officials at the Department of Transportation have said licensed vendors will have a permanent home in the new public space, which is scheduled to open in 2013.