Raul Larios

Hey New York, is our State Liquor Authority dysfunctional?

New York Senator Thomas Duane

Having worked at several Wall Street firms, I would always hear the mantra “government regulation is a bad thing”. But ever since the Lehman bankruptcy, I have come to realize that when left to its own devices, capitalism will easily lose its ethical compass, whether in the pursuit of huge profits (such as the granting of AAA credit ratings on sub-prime mortgages) or even for just a few bucks.

Consider the following: a recent liquor license application for a proposed bar in a privately owned building that literally sits on a school playground in the West Side of Manhattan (766 Tenth Ave.). To be more specific, this building from which the bar would operate sits at the southwest corner of the PS 111 playground, and across the street (at an angle) from a second school (Sacred Heart of Jesus).  And guess what?  Our State Liquor Authority (SLA) is about to approve the license!!

You see, it turns out that this bar will meet all the technical requirements of current regulation through some clever moves by the applicant.  For example, the master lease on the building will be split into two leases (one for a taco stand with no liquor, and the other for the bar).  It does not matter to the SLA that the bar owners may have a financial interest in the taco stand, as long as tacos are not being served with liquor.  It also does not matter to the SLA that the bar proposes to move its front door a few feet to the north just to get around the 200- and 500-foot rules, which would have triggered other protective requirements.  The rumor is that these changes are good enough for the SLA, and that the license will be approved.

Fortunately, State Senator Tom Duane heard the outcries from community leaders, and recently hosted a forum on nightlife and bar issues.  Among his guests was SLA Deputy CEO Michael Jones.  By his own admission (and I think to everybody’s surprise, including myself), Mr. Jones declared that the SLA was dysfunctional and inefficient, and according to a recent independent review commission, “can pose a threat to public health, safety and welfare.”  He described how the agency is under-budgeted and under-staffed, having only 6 investigators to cover an area that includes all of New York City, Long Island and Westchester counties.

Despite his budget problems (and given our protestations at Senator Duane’s forum), I’m sure Mr. Jones will find the resources to take a closer look at the application for a bar in a school playground.  However, I fear that the license will get approved because it complies with the technical requirements of existing SLA regulations.

Senator Duane, I want to thank you for hosting this forum.  However, if this license gets approved, I hope that you will follow-up by leading the effort to modify/increase SLA regulations so that this travesty does not happen again.  Just like in Wall Street, more regulation is needed – not less!


February 1, 2012 - Posted by | New York

1 Comment »

  1. “Travesty” ?!?!?! What is the community worried about? 10-year old’s being served at this bar? It’s not like it’s a strip club or something. Just another dumb regulation that prevents business formation (and the creation of JOBS) with our Puritan-based liquor laws. I grew up in Queens and walked past a bar on my way home from grade school everyday (and the drinking age was 18 then) — never thought about going in. What is the travesty? What is the threat? What is the danger here? Instead of always being “outraged” over our precious children, let’s use common sense to help form businesses not build higher barriers to prevent it! This is Manhattan, not some backwater in the Bible Belt. This ordinary bar is a threat to the future of the children playing across the street when they are exposed to drugs (no 500-foot rule for them), cigarettes, sex and violence on TV? Pick a different crusade.

    Comment by John Doe | February 15, 2012 | Reply

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