Councilwoman Cindy Bass is at war with nuisance delis, and part of her strategy is to force owners to tear down bulletproof windows that protect cashiers. But the potential collateral damage from this move — someone being shot — is too high.
If someone does get shot, Bass will have blood on her hands. So will every member of City Council who goes along with it, and Mayor Kenney if he signs it.
Bass has included the plexiglass ban as part of a solution to regulate "stop-and-go" nuisance delis, which are allowed to sell single beers or shots of liquor, but only if they also serve food and have tables and chairs for 30 people — which state law also requires. Many delis don't.
As an attempt to have stricter adherence to the state law, Bass wants delis to have tables and chairs and a bathroom for patrons, and she doesn't want food served through a plexiglass partition, arguing that "real restaurants" don't use such barriers.
But that's overreach. Proprietors install the glass for a reason – they stop bullets.
No amount of testimony about how it is an "indignity" for customers to get food served through a window, or the health commissioner's observation that it might take a worker a few seconds longer to help a choking patron, justifies taking down a safety barrier. Without them, merchants say they plan on getting guns to protect themselves.
Bass rightly says some beer delis are a problem. Neighbors complain that some sell single beers or shots in the morning, sending patrons stumbling onto the sidewalks as children walk to school. They say the stores have sold alcohol and tobacco products to minors. Others stay open late and their rowdy patrons party on the corner while people are trying to sleep.
But state liquor and city nuisance laws already address those issues. In November, Gov. Wolf signed a law that would let the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board immediately suspend the liquor licenses of the most flagrant offenders.
With adequate laws in place, it's pretty clear that forcing merchants in tough neighborhoods to take down their bulletproof windows is a way to scare them out of business.
The real problem is that existing laws aren't well enforced.
State Police, who enforce the liquor code, are stretched pretty thin. Seemingly to make up for that, Bass' bill would have the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections enforce her rules.
L&I seems to think it can handle the increased workload. But someone in the administration should ask if using L&I staff to traipse around the city to make sure beer deli owners have taken down their safety windows is the best use of staff who already have a lot to do with enforcing building, zoning, and fire codes, sealing and demolishing dangerous buildings, and issuing permits and business licenses.
Bass' bill also has unnecessarily stoked racial tensions because it singles out beer delis in largely African American neighborhoods — most of which are owned by Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese.
Bass says she wants to solve the problem of nuisance delis, but strong-arming merchants and putting lives in jeopardy isn't the way to do it. Enforcement of existing laws is.