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Queens Chronicle

De Blasio report finds agencies target Queens businesses

Public Advocate claims inspections used to fatten municipal coffers

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:50 am, Thu Mar 7, 2013.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is blasting what he portrays as intentionally stringent enforcement of city business regulations in the outer boroughs in an attempt to bolster the city’s coffers by $50 million.

“When Mayor Bloomberg sees these stores, he sees dollar signs,” the Democratic mayoral candidate said, pointing to shops lining Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill during a press conference on Monday.

The public advocate last Thursday released a report titled “Borough Bias: How the Bloomberg Administration Drains Outer Borough Businesses,” which claimed Queens establishments are more likely to receive an unexpected visit from a city inspector and pay a fine.

Bloomberg was reported as dismissing de Blasio’s findings, pointing to population differences between the five boroughs.

“Manhattan’s population is 1.5 million out of 8.4 million, so that shouldn’t be a surprise that there are more places to inspect,” media sources quoted him as saying.

De Blasio’s report found the borough’s businesses are 16 percent more likely to be inspected by the Department of Consumer Affairs than their siblings in Manhattan, resulting in a 22 percent higher outlay in fines in comparison to businesses across the East River.

The DCA seems to have it in for Queens, according to the report. It found nine of the agency’s 10 most-fined neighborhoods are in the borough. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene follows a similar trend, with seven of the agency’s 10 most-fined neighborhoods in Queens.

The DCA fines have a higher occurrence south of the Long Island Expressway, with St. Albans, Springfield Gardens and Cambria Heights leading among all city neighborhoods.

“There is a shockingly clear pattern of over-enforcement in the outer boroughs and under-enforcement in Manhattan,” de Blasio said, adding the city’s budget outlay for 2010 to 2012 called for increased revenue from fines, which was then met by increased enforcement of arcane rules.

De Blasio told the story of a bar owner who used a fork to clean candle stands, leading to some dabs of wax on the untensil. A city inspector found the offending silverware and stuck the business owner with a fine, claiming the fork could find its way into the other clean silverware, and then into a patron’s mouth.

The bar doesn’t serve food.

“We’ve found arbitrary and unfair judgments by inspectors,” de Blasio said. “The mayor’s plan is to fine first, ask questions later.”

The arcane rules ignore the added headache of fighting a fine, which he said requires a full day out of the workplace to wrangle with city agencies. Many business owners, like Andy Jareandhan, owner of the Fresh Point Market on Liberty Avenue, have thrown up their hands and settled for a default judgement against them.

One inspector found three boxes of fruit on the ground at his store, leading to a fine of $7,500.

The chance at recourse is what de Blasio ultimately seeks. He suggested a grace period for some violations, allowing inspectors to return after several days to see if the violation was addressed, and fines doled out only to those who ignored the first warning.

It’s a much better solution, he claimed, than fining businesses for “offenses, both real and imagined,” he said.

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