BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Get outdoor dining out of the gutter already!
That’s what members of CUEUP (Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy), who have been fighting Open Restaurants — the city’s seemingly never-ending, pandemic-inspired program — want to see.
However, last week, the City Council released a new version of the outdoor dining legislation, which, CUEUP charges, the Council has been “crafting in backroom meetings with industry and special-interest lobbyists.” The Council reportedly could be voting on the retooled legislation as soon as June.
“Intro 31-B serves as a stark reminder of who is really in charge within the Council chambers. Lobbyists had multiple seats at the table, residents had none,” a CUEUP press release charges.
No public hearings were held on 31-B, nor its predecessor 31-A. One marathon public hearing was held — but it was well in advance of a final bill having been drafted.
“Meanwhile, political insiders and special-interest lobbyists are bragging about how they have manipulated the mayor and City Council,” CUEUP alleges. “Democratic Majority Leader Keith Power spoke of ‘months of tricky discussions.’ Open Plans Director Sara Lind thanked all those who worked ‘diligently behind the scenes.’ And Hospitality Alliance chief Andrew Rigie crowed about how ‘two years of discussions and negotiations with the mayor’s administration and the City Council’ allowed his legal counsel to write the legislation.
Yet, according to the community activists, those two years of backroom dealings have resulted in “a bill that grants the hospitality industry and bike lobbyists nearly unrestricted control over every inch of New York sidewalks and streets. … Even a quick read reveals the damage Intro 31-B will wreak on New Yorkers’ quality of life.”
Under 31-B, restaurant operators can open a sidewalk or roadway cafe anywhere they want. This despite CUEUP and local community boards, including Community Board 2, having urged the city not to continue its “one size fits all” approach to outdoor dining.
However, under the revised legislation, there are no caps on how many outdoor dining setups can be located on any block. And the legislation makes no distinction between commercial corridors and small residential side streets where people live and sleep — or, as CUEUP notes, now try to sleep at night due to noise from the dining sheds.
(In March, CUEUP issued its own 10-point set of neighborhood-friendly recommendations, titled “Community Blueprint for Open Dining,” which, among other things, calls for the end of roadway dining and a 50 percent reduction in the amount of outdoor dining, in general.)
Also, while there had been a feeling that the street structures program would be scaled back to be only seasonal, the legislation surprisingly defines “seasonal” as no less than eight months, or three-quarters of the entire year.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, for one, previously said she favored allowing outdoor dining on the curb but not in the street. But apparently her view did not hold much sway over the body that she runs. Furious spin by advocacy media outlets, like Streetsblog — slamming Speaker Adams as favoring “car storage” over drinking-and-dining yurts — also may have helped tip the balance against her.
Furthermore, CUEUP notes that, under the new proposal, “Roadway dining setups will have heavy barriers. So our streets will now be swept only in the winter months [the “non-seasonal” period]. That summer scent of garbage and standing water? Look forward to more!”
Opponents say the sheds also both feed and shelter rats.
Dining hovel haters are also furious that the Department of Transportation — which, they say, has “thoroughly bungled the temporary pandemic open restaurants program for the last three years” — would still be in charge of running the permanent program, controlling the licensing and setting new rules. D.O.T. officials have admitted the agency intentionally has done lax enforcement against Open Restaurants, not wanting to come down hard on scofflaw bars and eateries during the pandemic and post-pandemic.
Also under the bill, D.O.T. would fully take over jurisdiction of sidewalk cafes — as in, those on the pavement, as opposed to in the roadbed — from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
In addition, CUEUP slammed the rock-bottom fees the city would charge the operators for commandeering coveted New York City open space — starting at just $5 per square foot annually, or “less than the price of just one latte,” they note — even as the mayor is “gutting the budgets of libraries, senior centers, pre-K and public schools.” For Manhattan south of 125th Street, however, there would be two shanty “zones” with the fees set between $14 and $31 per square foot.
Licenses for the on-top-of-the-asphalt eateries would be for four years.
The bill, in fact, does call for public hearings in cases where local community boards recommend denial of applications for specific roadway sheds. However, the legislation appears to give the final say regarding contested shed applications to the City Council and mayor.
Particularly galling to the anti-shanty set, 31-B keeps the current ramshackle structures on the city’s streets until at least November 2024.
In short, the CUEUP press release states: “Intro 31-B highlights the distressing reality that the mayor and City Council are more responsive to the demands of special-interest groups than to the concerns and well-being of the people they are elected to serve.”
In one positive, though, at least as far as the “streetery” opponents are concerned, roadway shacks in landmarked historic districts or adjacent to individual landmarks would each need approval of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. But it sounds like it could often be a lightning-fast review process — with the bill language noting, “The…commission shall make a determination within no later than 10 days after the receipt of a complete application…,” unless a hearing is deemed necessary.
As a result, CUEUP block association members from around the city are now calling on “city councilmembers with any conscience to Kill Bill 31-B.”
Diem Boyd, the leader of the Lower East Side Dwellers, teed off on the revamped legislation. She charged that the New York City Hospitality Alliance, along with Open Plans — a very well-funded nonprofit that lobbies to reshape the city’s streets — clearly are the ones calling the shots on the bill, not local residents and community boards.
“The final Open Restaurants bill, introduced by City Councilmembers Marjorie Velazquez, Julie Menin, Keith Powers and Justin Brannan, is a dystopian nightmare surpassing our worst expectations,” Boyd railed. “It lays bare the true power dynamics at City Hall, transforming once-secretive backroom deals into brazen, frontal assaults on our democracy.
“The people — the voice of the people — was steamrolled by the insidious influence of the Hospitality Alliance and the zealotry of Open Plans, a tech-funded urbanist moral majority. These entities now revel in their control over the mayor and City Council, basking in the glow of their own hubris, splattered across media outlets and social platforms.
“Behind closed doors,” Boyd continued, “these deep-pocketed special-interest heavyweights conspired with the mayor and the bill’s sponsors, Vazquez, Menin, Powers and Brannan, to execute one of the most egregious public land giveaways in New York City’s history. Our once-public sidewalks and roadways, reduced to mere commodities, sold off at a laughable price of $5 per square foot, a slap in the face of the very notion of public space.
“Every single provision coveted by these special interests was granted: from the public having to endure 1.5 more years of filthy, blighted sheds cluttering our streets, to 12 a.m. closing times, from entrusting the bumbling New York City D.O.T., which botched the temporary [Open Restaurants] program, to extending seasonal operations,” Boyd said. “The list of horrors, including not disallowing amplified sound or open [bar and restaurant] facades, is never-ending. We implore any City Council members with an ounce of integrity to rise up and Kill Bill 31-B.”
CUEUP also has already won one lawsuit over Open Restaurants, in which the court ruled that New York City had failed to do an environmental impact study to assess the sprawling program. However, a push then to shut down Open Restaurants immediately (piggybacking off the earlier ruling), was deemed “not ripe” yet, since the judge ruled the argument should wait until after the permanent legislation had been approved.
“We won our first lawsuit, but it was dismissed on a technicality related to timing — the ‘ripeness’ issue,” a CUEUP leader told The Village Sun. “And we fully intend to return to court when the issue is deemed ‘ripe.'”
I’m sorry to point this out, as this situation is already extremely disheartening, but please notice how many tree pits have been bricked or concreted over for easier walking from shed to restaurant. Do you think we’ll ever have trees again in those tree pits on 1st Street between Bowery and 2nd Ave where the trees died and the so-called pits have been compacted and strewn with attractive rocks? And on 2nd Ave below 4th where one of the tree pits was bricked up enclosing the living tree? Start to look on your next walk. And this despite knowing that tree-cover helps cool the city…. Argh
It’s been happening in Hell’s Kitchen as well: trees cut down and tree bed filled with concrete so restaurant can have more seating. This is the program our Council Member seems to be supporting.
Write your Council Member and tell them to Vote No on 31B. For a pre-drafted letter telling your, visit http://www.cueupny.com or follow this link directly to the letter: https://mailchi.mp/2e0059fab4f8/new-yorkers-tell-the-city-council-vote-no-on-31b-538360?e=%5BUNIQID%5D
I know at least one restaurant where they actually cut down the trees so they could put up their street shed. Another reason to not vote for Carlina Rivera who promotes street dining. Allie Ryan opposes it.
There are so many things wrong with the sheds.
They need to go!
Never mentioned is how the street shed concept is also unfair, in that only restaurants that are well-situated can benefit.
A family restaurant on a corner with a bus stop and fire hydrant has no ability for sidewalk cafe or street shed — but the LLC-owned restaurant down the block has both sidewalk seating and a huge shed!
The article has very interesting details showing how lobbying by BID members controls the decision making process in the NY City Council. The Council is strongly supporting a bill that their own resident/constituents are completely against. They are supporting a bill that is illogical, harms public health, causes intense congestion and increases the rat problem. Why? The answer is corruption. The entire City Council are BID puppets whether they are Democrats, Republicans, woke or conservative. They do the bidding of the BIDs at every turn.
PLEASE! If you see a tree pit filled with bricks or worse concrete, report it to the Dept of Parks via 311. This is against the law and will have to be remedied. In addition ONLY the Dept of Parks can cut down trees. Report this also. The Dept of Parks will send an inspector.
I have lived here most of my life and NEVER have encountered such an awful bill. Our city council members think they are improving the city? They are destroying the quality of life for so many. Such stupidity!!!!!
P. S. Maybe this will help our homeless situation — so many current residents will give up their homes to flee the city that illegal migrants can move in.
Our guess is that they’d like to clear us out to make way for tech workers at the new Google site by the river and the Disney “imagineers” on Spring Street. Getting people to move out is all part of the hyper-gentrification process.
Previous commenter’s point indeed significant. For further insight, please see Oscillations—“DEFEND Human Rights, DEFEAT New York Open Restaurants Bill: https://oscillations.net/2023/05/25/defend-human-rights-defeat-new-york-open-restaurants-bill/
We’re up to 12 comments. Four comments allege restaurant crap-shacks damaged trees and tree pits. The first of these comments provides at least a generalized location. The other three comments leave location to the reader’s imagination.
For anyone filing a complaint – either using 311 or to a councilcritter – a specific location (fancy jargon: an “address”) is essential. And that specific address would help The Village Sun’s journalism.
Thanks, RedBike. You can also report setups damaging trees via the NYC Parks Department’s Tree Map site:
You locate the tree you’re concerned about on their map and then report the issue. Goes straight to the people who look out for the urban tree canopy. We need the trees more than ever with temperatures rising.