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A question for Carlina Rivera before C.B. 3/C.B. 6 Open Restaurants/Open Streets Town Hall

Kimberley Wurster, an East Village resident who co-owns a local small business with her husband, Stuart Zamsky, an officer of the E. Fifth St. Block Association, submitted the following query to Councilmember Carlina Rivera before the Tues., Jan. 12, Community Boards 3 and 6 Town Hall on Open Restaurants and Open Streets: Restaurants.

BY KIMBERLEY WURSTER | Ms. Rivera, like most Council District 2 residents, I’m proud to support restaurants and bars in my neighborhood, especially in this time of COVID.

Operators are doing what they must to survive, and we are ready to help them, as individual citizens and a city! But, as you know, our district suffers from an oversaturation of bars and restaurants.

As a proprietor of a small shop for the last 25 years, I have seen all like businesses close, while seeing an exponential growth in the hospitality industry. Walk down any avenue in my neighborhood (and probably most of District 2) and restaurants and bars outnumber other businesses by at least two to one.

Given these circumstances in your district, why did you sponsor a bill on Oct. 10 with “the establishment of a permanent outdoor dining program” in its title, and which specifies that upon the expiration of the temporary program on Sept. 30, 2021, the “…program would be replaced by a permanent program to allow for the use of roadway seating as outdoor dining areas,” without any input from, and benefit to the constituency you serve?

I understand that there is an existential issue regarding public space. But if one examines this particular choice, the space used by Citizen X for his or her car, now becomes an asset for a landlord who gains additional income renting it to the hospitality industry. If you look at the demographics of these two groups (an easy thing to do as you only need to observe a morning of alternate-side parking and a C.B. 3 State Liquor Authority meeting), they couldn’t be more different: The former is a diverse group of men and women, black, white and LatinX, mostly middle class; the other group, landlords and hospitality operators — wealthy white men.

Why are we transferring property so that these men can make more money on the backs and at the cost of residents? Why do you choose to give money to a wealthy real-estate and hospitality industry at the cost of our middle class? Why is such a dramatic and potentially disruptive change to our streetscape slipped in with temporary legislation in the midst of a pandemic?

Is our community’s goodwill toward these businesses misunderstood? Or being taken advantage of? Why is a temporary measure, highly appropriate for this time of COVID, being automatically forced on a future New York when COVID will not be a factor?

The neighborhoods of the East Village and Lower East Side are already overburdened with the hospitality industry. Why are you sponsoring a bill that promotes a Bourbon St. atmosphere, when residents already, literally, cannot sleep due to street noise and oversaturation?

Wurster is co-owner, White Trash, Midcentury Modern Antiques, at 304 E. Fifth St.

14 Comments

  1. Choresh Wald Choresh Wald January 11, 2021

    Dear Ms. Wurster, 80% of area residents don’t own vehicles so have no problem with the usage of curb space for people usage instead of car storage. I agree that some provisions need to be put in the legislation language where, for example, in addition to the dining area, the business area manages additional street space dedicated for the general public to use without paying for food and beverages. Free car storage is an inefficient usage of curb space: you were correct to point out that you can see the car owners once a week when they sit in their cars, idling their engines, polluting the air for an hour and a half. Open Streets / Open Restaurants is a blessing to our neighborhood: they bring life and activity to our streets. We don’t want to go back to the dark nights of empty streets we had in April, May and June.

  2. Ken Bravo Ken Bravo January 11, 2021

    I usually don’t chime in but I have to on this one. I truly appreciate the businesses that have formed in the area. Unfortunately, those businesses are suffering. I wholeheartedly disagree with the statement that 80% of the community don’t have cars. Yes, you see people in their cars idling because of the lack of spaces. The same spaces being taking over by street-side platforms. There has to be a compromise. I don’t have a vehicle now but I have a family and I rent cars to travel to my jobs. When I get home at 3-4 AM, I literally have to find a spot, or I will have to sleep in the car until I find a spot. No, Choresh, you don’t speak for me. Stop with the assumptions. For the record, the dark nights have nothing to do with the lack of open-air restaurants. It was COVID that had people stay home and make the dark nights.

  3. Yvonne Yvonne January 12, 2021

    Thank you, Ms. Wurster. The East Village has the highest number of noise complaints in the entire city. We do not need permanent outdoor restaurants in every curb under our windows for ever after.
    As a longtime East Village resident, I have seen all of the closings of the many interesting small shops that don’t serve food.
    I agree with you that Carlina Rivera should not be supporting this.

  4. Jane Doe Jane Doe January 12, 2021

    Good point, had not thought of that, it is privatizing a public asset and making it a lucrative asset for the landlord that now has an incentive to only rent to that use which would utilize that formerly public space

  5. Augustine Hope Augustine Hope January 12, 2021

    I agree with Ken and Yvonne. We in the West Village community (foolishly?) supported the Open Restaurants program only to see operators treat the privileges given as a right to open outdoor bars (mercifully now mostly stopped) and build enclosures to serve customers “outdoors” (an ongoing fiction despite the governor’s lockdown).

    These operators and their landlords have not earned the right to privatize our streets in perpetuity. They have not earned the right to drive out our small, family businesses. They have not earned the right to shovel money into their pockets at 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning in our residential neighborhoods. They have not earned the right to demand government bailouts after successfully lobbying against the minimum wage. And so on.

    There are many things that can be done to help our neighborhood residents and businesses. Unfortunately, our own city councilmembers don’t seem interested in listening to their constituents, and the legislation to make the program permanent was passed with unseemly speed and without any public input.

  6. South Village Neighbors South Village Neighbors January 12, 2021

    Bravo to Ms. Wurster for speaking up about the ways that the Mayor and Council Speaker’s outdoor dining program are wreaking havoc on Downtown neighborhoods at the expense of nonfood service businesses and neighborhood residents.

    Over here in the South Village (south of Houston and sandwiched between SoHo and the the burgeoning rezoned Hudson Square development area) we have narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks, and a disproportionate number of restaurants and liquor licenses consequent to astonishingly high rents for ground-floor retail.

    We are passionate about supporting our restaurants during this devastating period of the pandemic, but many of us are alarmed at the lack of enforcement of basic safety provisions in the outdoor dining program that the Mayor, Council Speaker and outgoing City Councilmembers — working at the behest of the Hospitality Alliance lobbying group — have foisted on residential neighborhoods.

    Highly flammable and explosive propane is being used in exceptionally unsafe ways and stored in and adjacent to residential buildings. Sidewalks that are not wide enough to allow for mandated social distancing or even wheelchair accessibility now host unmasked drinkers and diners. When restaurants are using both sides of the street, pedestrians are forced to walk in the street if they want to avoid close proximity to unmasked revelers. Musicians working with amplified sound and percussive instruments are setting themselves up in the street adjacent to outdoor dining areas (in some cases at the invitation of the restaurants) well into the night and are also drawing unmasked crowds. Residents can no longer sleep, and the NYPD has been instructed to stand down on enforcing illegally amplified music, depriving residents of sleep — among the most basic needs for human health and a functioning immune system. COVID dining sheds have been built as fully enclosed, unventilated structures, bringing the dangers of indoor dining to our sidewalks, putting restaurant workers at risk.

    The current lack of enforcement (and the panoply of agencies one has to engage to even register concerns) demonstrates a stunning lack of leadership on the part of outgoing, term-limited elected officials who pushed this program through without neighborhood input. We have to ask ourselves are they paying off campaign contributors, or setting themselves up as future lobbyists for just these industries, or some combination of both?

    That said, we support a regulated outdoor dining program with prompt and reliable enforcement of the current rules for the duration of the pandemic. We want our neighborhood restaurants — those that are still operating — to survive. But we strongly oppose the City Council’s capitulation to the hospitality lobby at the expense of both residents and our other small, nonfood-service businesses that enliven our neighborhoods. And we abhor the Mayor and City Council’s overreach in making this program permanent in their recent legislation (NYC Int-2127-2020) without adequate review and neighborhood consultation.

    Yes to saving our restaurant operators during an unprecedented crisis. No to a permanent outdoor street dining program without significant public input and appropriate review and processes.

  7. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro January 12, 2021

    I hope that wide swaths of city streets are closed to private vehicles forever! I live on one of MacDougal Street’s busiest blocks. The biggest annoyance is the honking of horns at night by impatient drivers.
    Have deliveries made between 8 am and 1 pm.
    Cars and their obnoxious owners are almost the worst. (Uber and other gig drivers are truly the worst.)
    To the guy who can’t park a rental right in front of his home, use a garage and walk a couple blocks. Scared of the dark? Take a cab and put it on your expense account.
    The city, at least Downtown, is safer and more friendly now – with one big exception. Delivery electric bikes which speed, often on sidewalks when bike lanes are right there. These bike riders ignore pedestrian safety regulations and directional ordinances. Start licensing and insuring this new class of motor vehicles
    This is, or should be, a pedestrian city. If you’re too lazy or fat to walk – move!

  8. Jen Miller Jen Miller January 12, 2021

    This article very neatly summarizes the experience of other neighborhoods as well. Here in the South Village, we have welcomed the Open Restaurants program, on a temporary basis, and have endured very crowded sidewalks as a result, stuffed with mask-less restaurant patrons. We understood this as a temporary trade-off, in support of local restaurants, and more specifically, the WORKERS they employ.

    Having our Councilperson propose to make this PERMANENT, without any community input or reasonable assessment of the program (let alone enforcement of the existing guidance) has been a big slap in the face to those of us who attempted to work in good faith with our neighbors, local businesses and our elected officials.

  9. Carol Carol January 12, 2021

    No matter what percentage of the population in NYC have cars, as taxpayers they have a right to park on the street and I would hardly call it CAR STORAGE!! Quite frankly, anyone who has enough money pays for a parking garage since trying to find a parking spot every day is torture. Many people need their cars for their businesses or personal reasons (not that they should have to justify it to anyone).
    Yes, the restaurants right now need those outdoor spaces and car owners have to suffer because of it for the better good of the community. However, there is no reason for this to be a permanent situation. Between bike lanes, bus lanes, double-parked delivery trucks and now the restaurant extensions, traffic is often reduced to one or two lanes. This causes much more air pollution (check out bumper-to-bumper Second Avenue between 3-6 p.m., M-F) than cars looking for parking spots.
    So, wear your mask, keep your distance, get vaccinated and be kind. There’ll be plenty of space for restaurant patrons (inside) and parking spots (sort of) once the virus is under control.

  10. Sophie M. Sophie M. January 12, 2021

    As a East Village resident, I must disagree with the assertion that taking over curb space to be used for amenities other than parking is in and of itself is an equity issue. The argument that car owners who once enjoyed parking for free are somehow less privileged than small business owners is problematic.

    The concept that drivers should have the automatic right to space that could be offered to pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders, strollers, delivery workers and others is flawed.

    I can’t afford the cost of a car or the roughly $10k it costs to operate it, nor can many community residents who make far less than the average median income of our neighborhood. It is infinitely less equitable for the community to revert to using that space for parking.

    • Carol Carol January 13, 2021

      Pedestrians and strollers have sidewalks, cyclists have bike lanes, bus riders have bus lanes and delivery trucks park wherever they can. No one is asking any of these spaces to “revert” to spaces for parking.

      • Choresh Wald Choresh Wald January 14, 2021

        That’s the thing: Delivery and utility vehicles cannot park “wherever they can” because there’s no designated street space for them to operate from, so they end up double-parking, blocking the bus lane, blocking the crosswalk for the pedestrians and blocking the bike lanes: We need the city to designate Neighborhood Loading Zones to allow these vehicles to operate safely.

  11. Carol Carol January 15, 2021

    Look at the parking signs. There are loading zones on every avenue.

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