BLS Street Vendor Pro-Bono Project

On Friday, January 28 at 6PM, the Brooklyn Law School Environmental Law Society (ELS) and the Street Vendor Project (SVP) will host a meeting to discuss ways that law students can represent street vendors at the Environmental Control Board when vendors receive tickets, and how students can get involved in helping to pass the newly introduced bill which will dramatically lower the civil penalties which vendors face. New York City Councilman Stephen Levin from Brooklyn has sponsored two bills that would reduce the vending fines to pre-2005 levels. Intro 434 and Intro 435, which now each have 17 co-sponsors at City Council, would provide relief to street vendors during difficult times. When the bills come to a hearing, BLS probono students will testify and submit written testimony.

According to Lee Miller, co-chair of land use programs for ELS, the event to be held on Friday in Room 605 will have food from Kwik Meal (the best street meat in NYC!). Lee says that the Street Vendor Pro-Bono Project is a new public interest opportunity for BLS students that started last semester. The ELS is sponsoring and funding the pro-bono project in its first year. The groups cross-promote and work collaboratively to tie vending and sidewalk culture issues to environmental programs. Their objectives include lifting the cap on vending permits and licenses and reducing the fines associated with vending violations.

Students who participate in this pro-bono project have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of New York City-based street vendors. They analyze violations by the Department of Health, the Parks Department and the Police Department, and defend the vendor before the Environmental Control Board (ECB), the administrative tribunal that handles civil violations issued by City agencies. Preparation for these cases involves direct interaction with street vendors, site visits, evidence gathering, and an analysis of Administrative Code provisions and the Rules of the City of New York. Students will refine their legal research and oral argument skills as they present their defenses before administrative law judges at the ECB.

A recent case involves a street vendor operating for the past three years at the corner of 86th and Lexington, Paty’s Taco Truck. Last summer, New York City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin from the Upper East Side introduced a bill to revoke permits of food trucks if they receive three parking tickets. Although the bill is stalled, the street vendor has been targeted for enforcement of a traffic law which prohibits the selling of “merchandise” (not food) from a metered parking spot. The vendor’s truck has been towed three times and all three tickets were dismissed by the traffic court. It is not clear if the law applies to food vendors as the vending laws in New York City consistently distinguish between “food” vendors and “general merchandise vendors”.