Speaker commits to hold a hearing on S.B.J.S.A.

Melissa Mark Viverito last week at the site of the March 26 East Village gas explosion.    Photo by William Alatriste / NYC Council
Melissa Mark Viverito last week at the site of the March 26 East Village gas explosion. Photo by William Alatriste / NYC Council

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON   |  During last Friday’s tour of Second Ave. businesses hard-hit by the March 26 East Village gas explosion, The Villager asked Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito where exactly she stands on a critical issue affecting small businesses citywide: Namely, if she plans to let the Small Business Jobs Survival Act come up for a vote in the City Council, something that that previous speakers have never done.

The long-stymied bill would give commercial tenants facing lease renewals the ability to go through binding arbitration with their landlords to reach a fair rent, and would guarantee a 10-year lease extension. However, a new potential tenant could take over a space if he negotiates terms that the existing tenant refuses to meet.

Asked point blank if she would allow the S.B.J.S.A. — which currently has 19 supporters in the Council — to come to the floor for a vote, Mark-Viverito said that a process must be followed first.

“The bill gets introduced once the [Council] staff do their due diligence,” she explained. “Then there are hearings to hear from all sides. And then we figure out what the next steps will be — because sometimes options are being explored that legally we don’t have the ability to implement as a city or as a legislative Council.

“So we have to do the things we have to look at, so we’re not there yet,” she said. “But people are very familiar [with the S.B.J.S.A.], and I’ve heard a lot from people, and other councilmembers have heard a lot of people [gesturing toward Councilmember Rosie Mendez standing nearby] and we’re looking into that.”

She was then asked about the fact that, two years ago when they were running for mayor, both former Speaker Christine Quinn and then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio were asked by The Villager about the S.B.J.S.A., and both responded tersely that they had been briefed by the Council’s law staff that the bill was “illegal.”

Mark-Viverito indicated she might not necessarily be of the same view, but needs to study the issue further before she knows for sure.

“Well, I mean, right,” she said of prior assertions that the bill would be illegal. “But, there’s a new administration. I’m a new speaker, and I have to look at it, and take the time to speak to staff and figure out what is possible and not possible,” she stated. “So we’ll look at that. But we’re fully aware of the conversation and we’re hearing a lot from a lot from people on this.”

A bit later, inside Jimmy’s No. 43 bar, The Villager asked her about Borough President Gale Brewer’s alternative bill. Brewer’s measure would offer only one-year lease extensions at a 15 percent rent increase to give merchants who can’t come to terms with their landlords time to relocate. Basically, the speaker indicated, everything — from the S.B.J.S.A. to Brewer’s bill — would be in the mix at the upcoming hearing.

“We have to look at it,” Mark-Viverito said of the B.P.’s idea. “We want to do an issues-based hearing and would look at all legislation.”

Asked exactly when the Council would hold the hearing, Mark-Viverito said she didn’t know, and that they are currently enmeshed in the middle of the budget session.

Steve Null, who authored the forerunner of the S.B.J.S.A. 30 years ago and continues to advocate for it today, said the speaker’s emphasis on “process” is a red herring, and that the powerful real estate lobby will merely continue to stall the bill.

“Passing just any bill will not be a victory for small businesses unless it has real teeth to change the lease renewal process,” Null said. “Nothing is more fair and just than the S.B.J.S.A.”

Other than Dan Garodnick, all the Manhattan councilmembers support the S.B.J.S.A. Null said as soon as the bill is introduced, it would pick up more sponsors.

To watch a video of Mark-Viverito answering The Villager’s questions on the S.B.J.S.A., see www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUMsIh8FPkc