Community Board 4 held a Consumer Affairs Summit last Wednesday in the Community Room at the Queens Center mall to allow residents to voice their consumer concerns with city officials.
The issues varied from consumer safety to street vendors and ticketing
“When I first was in the Council, we were in the business of helping people,” Councilwoman and former Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said. “Now we are in the business of hurting people. We are in the business of giving out tickets.”
Discussion of ticketing and street vending swallowed up a majority of the meeting, as much of the CB 4 area, Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, is congested with shopping centers and vendors.
“It makes me sick to my stomach that our streets have gotten this way,” Councilwoman Julissa Fererras (D-Corona) said. “There aren’t these problems on Park Avenue or the Upper East Side. It’s time we get the same treatment as Manhattan.”
Many of those in attendance concurred with the councilwoman’s disgust, but for a few people, the topic hit close to home.
“As a licensed vendor, I just want to say that these restrictions make it hard,” a woman in the audience shouted out. “They restrict you to these areas where there are no people. How are you going to make money when you’re on a block that has no people on it? We have to make a living.”
Fererras acknowledged the issue and assured those in attendance that there can be a solution.
“I think there is a way to identify and spread out vendors,” she said. “At the subway stop on 85th there are 5.5 million people who pass through there every year. There’s a way we can do the planning. If your product is a good product, people will come to you.”
The issue of street vendors has been long running. Legally, only one street vendor per block is permitted and they must abide by a number of rules including: 6-foot table length and always having their vending license in sight.
However, many vendors, who do not pay rent, continue to sell their products illegally, causing store owners, who pay rent and other fees for their businesses, to grow frustrated.
“I have a vendor near my office who brings two truck-loads of office furniture and lines the roads with this stuff,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “I’m talking file cabinets, rolling chairs, desks, all outside in front of the stores. He’s been arrested three times and still keeps coming back. He’s now even suing the city, claiming harassment.”
A representative from the Department of Consumer Affairs who was in attendance said he would report all of the issues on street vending and more back to the department.
There is no panel on the City Council dedicated to really investigate and review street vending, but Koslowitz mentioned a possible solution that is in the works.
“We haven’t had people keeping an eye out in the last 12 years,” she said. “I am introducing legislation to bring back a review panel so people will know what is going on in these areas.”
Aside from street vending and fines, Deputy Inspector of the 110th Precinct Ronald Leyson spoke on a rash of robberies that have been occurring in the CB 4 area, most of which involve small electronics.
“We live in a different world,” Leyson, the precinct commander, said at the meeting. “It is a different age and with all of this technology, we need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.”
According to Leyson, while crime has been on a decline, “from-the-person robberies” have increased.
“The resale value on these small electronics is so great,” he said. “We had a rash of snatches on Queens Boulevard done by a group from Queens South, near Jamaica. These kids are 13, 14, 15 years old and they’re snatching electronics from people on the street. Why? Because they know they can sell the stuff for $300 at a bodega or something.”
Leyson added that when people find themselves faced by a robber who is demanding a cell phone or other possession, simply give it to them.
“Don’t fight if you get accosted,” he said. “It’s not worth getting stabbed or shot. Get the best description you can and then call us.”
This is the third Consumer Affairs summit held by CB 4 and though topics varied and conversations got heated, many residents and officials left satisfied.