Volume 18, Number 37 | Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2006


Reform at S.L.A. might have to wait for a new governor

Governor Pataki’s recent appointment of an Upstate police chief to head the State Liquor Authority came as a huge letdown to residents of Downtown Manhattan, who were clamoring for the governor to appoint a commissioner who lives in New York City.

Thirty-five State Senators and Assemblymembers signed a letter urging Pataki to appoint a resident of the five boroughs to the S.L.A. In addition, Community Boards 3 and 4 — representing the East Village/Lower East Side and Chelsea, respectively, areas facing a serious oversaturation of bars and nightclubs — also wrote the governor to the same effect. But all their efforts were in vain.

Soho also has too many bars and Tribeca has had problems in the past and they could surface again.

New York City has 39 percent of the state’s liquor licenses and half the state’s population. It’s absurd that we have no representation on the S.L.A. The S.L.A., however, is a body wholly controlled by the governor. And the governor’s appointment of Daniel Boyle, police chief of Glenville, was confirmed by the Republican-controlled State Senate. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes some of the Lower East Side, has little influence in the process.

We’re not against nightlife. It’s part of what makes New York City great. But there has been a persistent problem with the S.L.A. during Governor Pataki’s tenure — namely, the authority has not listened to local community boards’ recommendations and has repeatedly ignored and abused the 500-foot rule. This rule states that a license must be denied if three or more licensed premises are within 500 feet of the applicant’s location, unless granting such a license can be proved to be in the “public interest.”

The result is today entire neighborhoods have become bar and club zones. Lower Avenue B, for example, is the latest area to be deluged with nightspots, and the honking taxis and traffic jams there on weekends have police considering whether the avenue should become one-way. Meanwhile, small businesses, and even old-time bars, are being forced out as only the new places can afford the skyrocketing rents.

We need an S.L.A. that respects a community board when it recommends denial of an application because an operator has a bad track record or the location is in an oversaturated area. And we need an S.L.A. that doesn’t flout the 500-foot rule by flippantly justifying doling out licenses by saying they “help the economy.”

Pataki leaves office at the end of the year so there is hope. One of the leading candidates to succeed him, Eliot Spitzer, a New York City resident, is running for governor this year and presumably would appoint commissioners who understand city residents’ concerns about bars. In the coming months we want to hear what all of the gubernatorial candidates have to say about the S.L.A.

Speaker Silver’s office tells us he plans to hold a public hearing in the early spring on the S.L.A., at which the exemptions to and disregard of the 500-foot rule will be discussed, along with other concerns of local residents. We’re glad to see Silver getting more involved on S.L.A. reform. And we’d sincerely like to see Mayor Mike Bloomberg do the same.


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