This summer, state Senator Jose Peralta called Roosevelt Avenue “the new old Times Square” and announced legislation to create an 11-member commission to help get rid of “bad actors” on the strip.
On Nov. 1, Peralta took that recommendation further when he, along with state Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, announced that the legislation was amended to include the entirety of the avenue from 114th Street in Corona to 49th Street in Woodside.
Peralta said members of Community Board 2, who represent the avenue through Woodside, came to him after his announcement to ask that he not limit the scope of the commission to Jackson Heights and Corona.
The senator said he “didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes politically” but was eager to amend the legislation after Gianaris, who represents Woodside, and DenDekker, who represents Jackson Heights, said they would back it.
As part of Senate Bill S8184, members of Community Boards 2, 3 and 4, NYPD, FDNY, State Liquor Authority (SLA), Department of Consumer Affairs (CAD), Department of Sanitation and the Department of Health would come together for a lifetime of five years to help improve the corridor.
After one year, the commission would be responsible for creating a “plan of action in terms of rules and regulations that make sense.”
“They can streamline and cooperate within the agencies to talk about redundancies and come up with a series of recommendations to the state and city that we can implement,” Peralta said.
Another piece of legislation calls for the SLA to increase the fines for operating without a cabaret license from up to $1,000 to up to $10,000. According to Peralta, only about eight or nine establishments from 114th Street through 49th Street have cabaret licenses “out of hundreds [of businesses on the corridor].”
“During the day it’s a great destination,” he said. “We have a lot of foot traffic with restaurants, bars, shops. You name it, Roosevelt Avenue has it.”
But at night, the senator said the corridor is a site for prostitution, drugs, human trafficking and an area for gangs to congregate.
“You’re allowing folks to dance and drink, fine, we have nothing against that, but just get the licenses,” Peralta said. “Unfortunately, something else is moving around whether it’s drugs or $2 dances. That’s why you’re not applying for these licenses.”
Peralta said his constituents’ top complaints about Roosevelt Avenue include the prostitution, loud music coming from bars, drunk patrons spilling onto the street and illegal massage parlors. He also said residents want to see less garbage on the street.
After speaking to the NYPD, SLA and CAD, Peralta said enforcement is also a problem that needs to be addressed.
“We can pass all the legislation we want but if there’s no enforcement there’s no teeth to it,” he said.
Denise Keehan-Smith, district manager of Community Board 2, said that members of her board contacted Peralta when they heard about the proposed legislation. The board represents Roosevelt Avenue from 52nd Street to 69th Street.
“It’s an area that we think needs additional attention so when [City Services Chair Pat O’Brien] heard about Peralta’s legislation he took it upon himself to contact the senator to incorporate some of his ideas into our area,” she said.
His legislation would also call for the City Council to increase the CAD budget so they can hire enforcement agents to enforce cabaret laws. On a state level, the officials want to allow SLA to keep their yearly revenue. Currently, the SLA makes about $13 million a year. That revenue is transferred to a general fund.
Peralta wants the agency to keep the money and also hire enforcement agents to ease the burden of the NYPD, who ends up employing officers to these establishments at night.
“This is not about the good actors,” Peralta said. “Roosevelt Avenue is a very vibrant avenue and the fact that it is so diverse — street vendors, brick and mortar stores, bars, clothing stores — this is all great [and run by] entrepreneurs and immigrants that give it that eclectic feel. But at night it turns into the old Times Square and that’s the problem.”
If Democrats in the Senate take back the majority, Peralta is hopeful that the legislation can be passed by June 2017.
“This is a presidential year and every presidential year the Democrats in the Senate take back the majority,” Peralta said. “We look poised to take back the majority, and this year were working to develop a relationship with the Independent Democratic Conference. If the Democrats don’t take back the majority, Republicans won’t let this see the light of day.”