Politicians and community activists squawk, almost instinctively, about the sanitation ills of Flushing at every chance. Asian restaurateurs blamed for the stench, however, say that litterbugs and private garbage carters are the true culprits.
In the heart of Flushing, a center known for some of the finest Asian cuisine in the city, restaurant owners who hold front-row seats to the piles of garbage waiting to be removed or to the sidewalks that have taken on the color of tar accept the foul odors as a fact of life.
On 40th Road near the Long Island Rail Road overpass - described by community leaders as the smelliest street in Flushing - a co-owner of the Shiao Du Hui Restaurant stepped outside to show off her blotchy-colored sidewalk, proudly comparing it with the thoroughly blackened pavement next door.
"You can't just blame the restaurants," she said Monday, through an interpreter, "because people often throw litter on the restaurant walkway. We already spend a lot of time working inside, so it's hard to take care of the outside so well."
Some Queens residents, though, insist that the blame lies exclusively with what they believe are slovenly Asian restaurateurs, a stereotype that these hardworking, immigrant men and women resent. Instead, the Asian community says the blame should be pinned on careless garbage collectors.
As is required of all New York City businesses, Shiao Du Hui subscribes to a private sanitation company, regulated by the city Trade Waste Commission, which trucks away the garbage everyday, except on Saturdays. But occasionally, the Shiao Du Hui owner who asked not to be identified said the bags tear open while being thrown into the truck, causing refuse to spill on to the streets.
And when that happens, she said, the garbage collectors just leave it there for the owners to deal with when they open for business.
"They don't take responsibility," she said somewhat frustrated, adding that the restaurant has switched back and forth between various waste-removal companies, all the time running up against the same troubles.
Shiao Du Hui has little downtime as far as restaurants go. It operates from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Sunday. A steady stream of customers snakes its way through the restaurant all day long, picking up pace around the early evening, which makes it difficult for workers to juggle between sweeping the litter of the streets and serving their customers.
"You have to give tickets to people who litter," she said exactingly. "Enforce the law!"
The restaurant owner then drew the distinction between abdicating responsibility for maintaining one's property and imploring the city to assist in cleaning the sidewalks as well as the streets during their daily cleaning runs.
"If the city can clean the roads, they might as well clean the sidewalks," she said, pointing out that the restaurant is happy to pitch in its fair share of work.
Even if all goes as planned - namely that the garbage is packaged in black garbage bags and left outside on time to be carted away - the owners say there is still one impediment to effective garbage pickup: being subject to the whim off the private sanitation company.
Tending to a roasting chicken and duck in the entranceway of the Blue Orchid Palace on Main Street, the owner, who did not give his name, said the outfit he uses to remove garbage will sometimes skip five days before making another pickup.
Restaurant workers, consequently, have to shuttle the bags in and out of the restaurant each night, he said, storing them in the backyard, to avoid being ticketed by the city.
"I thought of changing companies, but they're all the same," he said. And reporting a deadbeat carting company has proved an exercise in frustrating futility, the restaurateurs' complaints always falling on deaf ears, he said.
"You can't rely on reporting that garbage companies are not doing their jobs," he said. "The government or police would just tell you to go find another company."
But the owner of the Full House Restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue offered an alternate solution that he said has worked in Hong Kong - make the city, not the restaurant owners, pay the private carting companies. This, he said, might make private haulers more accountable than they are now.
City and state politicians, including Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), have all clamored for supplements to city sanitation services in Flushing to fight the garbage war.
Ethel Chen, president of the American Chinese Women's Association, is all for more stringent enforcement of city health codes and better waste facilities to handle the prodigious amounts of garbage produced in Flushing.
"We all have the same kind of nose," she said in a phone interview. "If we had tighter rules against these violations, we would have a better quality of life."
Why Flushing is lacking such sanitation facilities is one among many gnawing questions for John Liu, vice president of the Queens Civic Congress.
"Flushing is an area that is thriving," he said in a phone interview last week. "If the city would reinvest some of those resources like increased tax revenues, Flushing would get even more resources."
With an unceasing wave of immigrants arriving in Flushing, some New Yorkers have come to view what has become a sparklingly diverse community as an epicenter of filth and grime, as the epitome of urban sprawl run amok.
But to fault Asian immigrants for something that is the unfortunate byproduct of overcrowding and paltry resources, Liu said, is totally unfair, not to mention groundless.
"There are some bad apples among Chinese restaurant owners," he said. "If that characteristic of every Chinese restaurant owner? No way."
©2000 Community News Group
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