An unhappy Mike Memon displays a Sanitation ticket in his  office at Bergen Discounts.
An unhappy Mike Memon displays a Sanitation ticket in his office at Bergen Discounts.

Inspectors strike at night, merchants complain

When businesses in the Hub close their doors for the evening, the Department of Sanitation opens its ticket book.

Mike Memon, 67, has been the owner of Bergen Discounts on Willis Avenue for the last 20 years. He can’t find a way to avoid the fines for summonses written at 2 a.m.

“How can I deal with this problem?” Memon asked, with his arms in the air. “Nobody is here at night to clean up the garbage outside.”

During the day, Memon says, his employees clean up almost every half hour to keep the storefront presentable.  But they’re not there to clean up at night.

Memon is not alone. On Willis Avenue, Third Avenue and East 149th Street, merchants say they are being unfairly targeted for tickets delivered when their stores are closed.

Savi Persaud, the manager at Dr. Jay’s on Westchester Avenue, said she received three tickets for loose rubbish in November. She thinks the most recent will be dismissed, as the two before were.  But being spared the $100 fine doesn’t satisfy her.

“They’re just wasting our time by making us go to the hearing, just to get rid of the tickets,” Persaud said.

She has pleaded with the Environmental Control Board, the city agency that adjudicates violations, to dismiss the tickets by mail or phone, but the summonses require a physical appearance. Going to hearings takes up valuable time she could be using to manage her store, Persaud said.

Store owners and managers who belong to the 149th and Third Avenue HUB Business Improvement District (BID) have asked its director Vincent Valentino for help to end the ticket blitz.

The BID, which provides sanitation and security services and sponsors community projects and sales promotions, employs two full-time workers who pick up trash on the streets and sidewalks daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Valentino said that storeowners have asked for a change in these hours to help them avoid the early-morning summonses.

However, Valentino said, changing the hours wouldn’t solve the problem. The Department of Sanitation’s rules require businesses to clean the sidewalks and gutters in front of their stores. Enforcement officers conduct inspections between 10 and11 a.m and 2 and 3 p.m. Valentino schedules his cleanup crews to help businesses avoid littering fines during these times. If he changed their hours, he said, the businesses would still be vulnerable to fines.

To counter the wave of tickets, the BID installed additional surveillance cameras on stores. Business owners like Memon have used the footage to persuade the Environmental Control Bureau to dismiss tickets.

But the cameras cost the BID $8,900 a year to maintain, a hefty cost out of its $450,000 annual budget. Though Valentino wants to hire another person to clean sidewalks, he says the BID can’t afford to.

While the sanitation department is only permitted to write tickets for litter during the specified daytime hours, according to its rules and regulations handbook, enforcement supervisors have the right to cite businesses for any other sanitation violation, including loose rubbish, at any time, day or night.

The handbook  defines litter as trash that is swept or discarded, and loose rubbish as trash that is “likely to be blown or scattered about the street” from unsecure bundles or garbage bags. Loose rubbish accounts for all the tickets being written in the hours before dawn.

Garbage spills from bags that have been rifled on Willis Ave.
Garbage spills from bags that have been rifled on Willis Ave.

The seven new cameras installed by the BID revealed people foraging for cans and bottles in trash bins, scattering the rest of the trash that the wind then blows along the sidewalks. Collectors looking for deposit containers are a major source of the rubbish that is causing the problem, Valentino said.

Of the five BIDS in the Bronx, only the HUB is experiencIng this problem, according to their directors. Medina Sadiq, executive director of the Southern Boulevard BID in Longwood, said many people in the neighborhoods her BID serves live below the poverty line; she doesn’t know why this problem is unique to the Hub.

“Stores in our shopping center close down at 8, except McDonalds, and it becomes a haven for people to look for soda cans and bottles,” Valentino said.  At a BID directors meeting in November, he asked the nearby 40th Precinct to add more patrols to the area to prevent collectors from rummaging through the trash.

Whatever the reason for the rubbish on the streets of the HUB at night, the sanitation department stands by its rules and regulations.

“The Department of Sanitation is a 24-hour operation and has uniformed and civilian personnel assigned around the clock either in offices or in the field,”

Kathy Dawkins, director of public information, wrote in an email.

The sanitation enforcement officers have given out 28,571 summonses citywide this November compared to 9,109 last year.

Enforcement makes a difference, the department maintains. In a report in October, it ranked the Bronx as one of the cleanest boroughs in the city, with 94 percent of its sidewalks labeled “acceptable.” However, the Hub had only 83 percent acceptably-clean sidewalks.

Valentino hasn’t given up on softening some of the sanitation department’s rigid procedures. He has scheduled a meeting on Dec. 20 with Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo about his BID’s problem and will suggest a grace period to permit stores to clean up in the morning after they open.

Mark Hazen, co-owner of the women’s boutique Revolution on Third Avenue, thinks that would be a sensible solution.

“It is a little absurd to give a ticket at 1 a.m. We always put our garbage out a certain and secure way. There’s little else we can do. The next morning, had we seen garbage, of course we would clean it up,” Hazen said.





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