By Alex Christodoulides
The so-called “green carts” legislation proposed in City Council in December would have created 1,500 special permits for street vendors to sell produce in areas where it is easier to find fast or processed foods than markets with fruits and vegetables.The permits were to be phased in over two years and the vendors would be required to sell only produce in designated neighborhoods, with 250 licenses awarded just to Queens.In a compromise reached last week, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene cut back the proposal to 1,000 permits. The Council was to vote on the plan Wednesday.Under the revised plan, Queens would get 150 carts to be distributed equally in areas in the 103rd, 105th and 113th precincts in southeast Queens, and the 100th and 101st precincts in the Rockaways. A 2004 study by the city DOH showed that between 14 and 26 percent of residents in these areas get little to no fruit or vegetables in a typical day's diet.City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) represents one of the areas proposed for the green carts and chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee, and said he agrees with the idea of bringing to produce to underserved areas but understands the arguments against it.”I'm aware of, and trying address, fears that those receiving licenses will only go to certain areas, or that they will use them for other purposes,” he said. “We're working to make sure carts are readily identifiable, and they will carry maps of area they work in.”Some bodega owners see the proposal as a threat to their business because customers could be lured away.”We will work with greengrocers,” Comrie said. “We need to protect those folks' ability to do business.”City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who sits on the committee, also opposes the green carts plan on grounds that bringing 1,000 more vendors to the streets may encourage illegal vending.”There's no question that eating more fruit and vegetables is healthy and reduces obesity and diabetes, and I'm in full support of that,” he said. “The idea, however, that selling more of this stuff on sidewalks will get people to eat more of that is nothing more than a pipe dream. The benefits [of the carts] are doubtful but the consequences are very real. The illegal vending that occurs often extends beyond the parameters of the permits, and that's exactly what would happen here.”The DOH and city have sought ways to bring healthier food to lower-income neighborhoods, and owners of fixed-site businesses may also apply for green cart permits to expand and complement their inventory.Liu disagreed that the problem is access. “If people want to eat this stuff, stores will carry it. But increasing supply doesn't increase demand,” he said. “I'd be totally in favor of giving this stuff away for free in poor neighborhoods.” Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.