On a particularly balmy February afternoon, Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio blasted what he said was statistical evidence the city targets outer-borough small businesses when enforcing regulations, using violations as a way to generate city revenue.
“When Mayor Bloomberg sees these stores, he sees dollar signs,” the Democratic mayoral candidate said at the time, pointing to shops lining Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill during a press conference.
Now a report by the Daily News claims the Department of Consumer Affairs uses a secret quota system to drum up more fines from small business owners, leading deBlasio to launch an investigation into the allegations.
The investigative report by the News’ Juan Gonzalez claims a quota system urging inspectors to “keep numbers high” has led to the veritable fiscal vise grip put on many small business owners, which claim to have seen DCA violations jump since Mayor Bloomberg took office.
The DCA calls for one violation for every four businesses inspected, according to internal agency records obtained by the News, leading to a de facto “25 percent threshold.” That mandate led various unnamed inspectors to face bad evaluations for not being up to snuff.
By the very nature of small businesses in New York, the report claims immigrants and poorer neighborhoods endure the brunt of the policy, costing some businesses tens of thousands of dollars for arguably minor violations.
The agency denied the allegations.
But an incensed de Blasio sent a letter to Bloomberg, saying he was “appalled” by the charges in the report.
“The full scope of the DCA’s quota system and the improper influence of the adjudication process must come to light,” he wrote in the letter.
Bloomberg reportedly algebraically denied the allegations in the story during a question-and-answer session at a press conference.
“The quotas are ‘You gotta inspect X number of restaurants,’ not ‘You gotta find X number of faults,’” the mayor reportedly said. “I can’t imagine how you’d run it without that. It’s like saying our teachers have to teach X number of hours and Y number of students.”
The public advocate echoed his February report, which found Queens’ businesses are 16 percent more likely to be inspected by DCA than those in Manhattan.
“Before an inspector even walks through the door, the fix is in. City Hall is out to squeeze small businesses any way it can. We see it every day with nuisance fines that can literally kill a business. To find out that even the appeals process is rigged against business owners is completely outrageous. This is government at its worst — and this needs to end now,” de Blasio said in a statement.
His claims in February sounded nearly identical.
“We’ve found arbitrary and unfair judgments by inspectors,” de Blasio said on Feb. 22. “The mayor’s plan is to fine first, ask questions later.”
The report also claims the DCA directed its administrative judges to uphold fines in the appeals process.
“If there is any truth to the allegations laid out in today’s Daily News article, immediate changes need to be made at DCA —changes that cannot wait until a new administration takes over in 2014,” de Blasio wrote in his letter to the mayor.