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Nonprofit advocates for vendors in Jax. Heights

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Street vendors along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights got a visit Friday from organizers from the Street Vendor Project who informed them of their rights, solicited feedback and handed out information on the nonprofit, which is part of the Urban Justice Center.

Darya Marchenova, a project organizer, said the organization counts more than 1,200 of the city’s approximately 10,000 street vendors as members and cited anecdotal evidence that many of the vendors live in the area.

She said the high costs of fines and unfair ticketing practices are two of their major concerns.

Wearing a pin with a red stripe crossing out “$1,000,” Marchenkova said street vendors are the targets of unfair harassment by police officers, such as when they are fined for not wearing their licenses around their necks or positioning themselves too far away from the curb. Fines for such administrative violations start out at $50, and after six violations a vendor will be fined the maximum of $1,000 for every other instance of an administrative violation. The maximum fine was increased from $250 in 2005 by the Bloomberg administration.

“It’s unjust the way these fines escalate,” said Marchenkova. “It’s unreasonable, and the vendors aren’t paying the fines. So if the city is doing this as a way to raise revenue, they’re not getting it.”

The project is currently focused on advocating for two bills in the City Council introduced by Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn). The first would make $250 the maximum fine, while the second would make it so that unrelated violations would be treated as separate offenses.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) is not signed on as a co-sponsor for either bill, but said she is still assessing them.

“Obviously, there are a lot of big vendor issues and I’m looking for solutions that benefit my constituents as well as the vendor population,” Ferraras said in a telephone interview. “I’ve met with vendors who have put their children through college, but I also have constituents who constantly complain. People have to walk around them to get over to the train and small-business owners complain that they take away some of their business. There are conversations I’m still having with Councilman Levin.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) is listed as a co-sponsor on the second bill, but not on the first. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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