NEWS AND ISSUES
September 21, 2010
New York State Liquor Authority
80 South Swan Street, Suite 900
Albany, NY 12210-8002
Dear Chair Rosen:
We write in the wake of an incident that underscores the failure of our current oversight system for bars and nightlife establishments in the East Village. On August 22nd, a man was shot outside of Sin Sin, a nightclub located at the corner of East Fifth Street and Second Avenue. Despite the relatively fast response to the scene by the NYPD and the EMT team from Bellevue hospital, the victim died of his injuries. In our judgment, this tragic incident must serve as a catalyst for reform of the State Liquor Authority to include more substantive community participation.
In recent years, the East Village has been transformed by the proliferation of nightlife establishments. As a result, the local community board has been faced with the difficult task of balancing respect and encouragement for legitimate entrepreneurial activity with a broader consideration of community needs.
In the case of Sin Sin, Manhattan Community Board 3 (CB3) recommended the denial of an application to transfer the liquor license from the previous owners of Sin Sin to its new owners after an outpouring of community concerns based on Sin Sin's past record of operation, including several instances of prostitution and violence inside and outside the club and persistent complaints of excessive noise. In considering the application for transfer, CB3's SLA committee took care to note that the majority of Sin Sinfs security problems occurred under previous ownership, and that the new owners were not automatically responsible for the mistakes of their predecessors. However, in CB3's determination, there was no reason to believe Sin Sin would cease to plague its neighborhood under a new ownership that refused to change the establishment's name, style, or business model. It is precisely in situations such as this that a community board's perspective is most valuable, as community members have a firsthand knowledge of the establishments in question.
As elected officials in Manhattan amid a troubled economic climate, we respect and encourage entrepreneurship, but we refuse to believe that support for free enterprise requires turning a blind eye to businesses that disrupt and endanger our communities. The fact is that no single entity appears capable of managing the overwhelming number of inebriated patrons mixing on the streets of our neighborhoods, creating an enforcement gap that allows problem establishments like Sin Sin to spiral out of control. Resources are on short supply across the city, from the police department to other agencies in place to maintain quality of life for our residents, and as a result neighborhoods have taken to doing the work themselves, via block associations and community policing. While community groups have worked with bar owners and the NYPD to address escalating noise and violence, and have held meetings with the owners of bars such as Sin Sin – who to their credit willingly added additional security staff to help manage the situation in the front of their club – community-driven efforts alone cannot safeguard our neighborhoods. Instead, community engagement must be complimented by a proportionate increase in attention and reform across the authorities responsible.
In our positions as elected officials, we will continue to do everything we can to provide additional support to our police precincts, and to ensure that all city agencies remain vigilant when it comes to locations that have a proven record of malfeasance. In crafting the 500 ft rule that informs SLA policy, our original intent was for hearings to be held that not only examined the operators seeking a liquor license, but also scrutinized the larger community impact of a granted license, so that our mixed-use neighborhoods retained a sense of balance between residential and commercial interests. We ask that your agency help restore that balance by placing a higher premium on the recommendations made by the community boards with regard to license applications. While we understand that you have neither the authority nor the desire to arbitrarily deny licenses based on the number of licenses already existing in a neighborhood, we ask that you seriously consider denial in cases where issues of violence on a given site have resulted in police action and feature prominently in the Community Board's recommendation for denial.
It is essential that we begin making changes to SLA procedures now, in order to avoid future outbreaks of violence. The tragic situation at Sin Sin is a potential harbinger of what is to come if we do not proactively address the ever-growing problems caused by the proliferation of troublesome nightlife establishments in residential areas.
Deborah J. Glick
New York State Assemblymember
Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senator
New York State Senator
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Manhattan Borough President