Turf war! Brooklyn Law students join street vendors’ fight against sidewalk hedge

Uprooted: Vendors Nelia Williams and Paula Tirado may be forced to find a new location if Brooklyn Law School installs its proposed planters on Joralemon Street.
Brooklyn Paper
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This grass-roots opposition is growing!

Brooklyn Law School must pull its application to install large planters in front of its Downtown campus that will force out local sidewalk vendors, say students who joined the peddlers in their fight against the foliage on Friday with an online petition demanding school honchos stop using their fees on “frivolous” landscaping and let the merchants stay put.

“We, as students, believe that it is fundamentally unjust for our school to spend our tuition money displacing people who rely on those spots for their livelihood,” said Devin Horzempa, who started the digital appeal and has since gathered more than 250 signatures.

The vendors — who hawk kids’ books, fruit, and jewelry on Joralemon Street near Boerum Place — have been terrified of losing their prime trading posts since learning of the school’s plans to pay the city $250 a year so it can stick 10 boxwood hedges where they do business in late November, days after the local community board had already given its okay.

The lawyers-in-training claim the school also led them up the garden path — they only learned of the planters after reading a news article about a public hearing on Feb. 13, where city officials told the vendors they had 10 days to fight the application by finding powerful community members to support them — and they’re serious about winning the turf war.

“We’re really committed and we’re not just making noise,” said Horzempa, adding that even students with corporate aspirations, who aren’t usually drawn to activist causes, are on board. “We’re angry and upset they tried to sneak it by us.”

Horzempa said the news was especially galling because Brooklyn Law has a partnership with advocacy group the Street Vendor Project, where students do volunteer work fighting for the rights of curbside entrepreneurs just like the ones it is trying to boot from its doorstep.

“It’s on our website and we brag about doing this pro bono representation, and they turn around do this,” he said.

Ironically, the vendor-defending outfit is now working with the traders, students, and local pols to stop the shrubbery. The transportation department had originally given the merchants until Feb. 13 to collect comments from locals opposed to the foliage before it makes up its mind, but a rep for the project says it is working with officials to push that date back.

The groups are now gathering locals’ signatures to take back to the department, and will meet again on Tuesday evening to plan their next move.

A rep from Brooklyn Law refused to comment on the petition or vendors, but said the planters will “beautify” the street and improve life for everyone in the area.

“The planters will add much-needed greenery to the streetscape and advance the quality of life for the thousands of students, workers, residents, and visitors who pass through our neighborhood every day,” said spokesman John MacKin.

The vendors and their allies will meet at Panera Bread (345 Adams St. at Willoughby Street Downtown) on Feb. 16 at 6:30 pm.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: U[dated with more recent petition figures.
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Reasonable discourse

Ian from Williamsburg says:
Not exactly a tragic ending if these vendors actually end up paying retail rents like the rest of the taxpaying businesses downtown.
Feb. 14, 2016, 7:28 am
Virginia Pooter from Brooklyn says:
I don't get it, are these people in the picture the planters? Do they want to plant plants? If they do, then theys hould plant them and just get it over with. Plants are good for the enviornment.
Feb. 15, 2016, 6:17 am
Henry Dooter from Brooklyn Heights says:
This is only one side of the story! Interview the plants! What do they have to say about this?
Are they more important than tax-free pirated dvds?!?!
Feb. 15, 2016, 9:35 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Wow. One of the vendors appears to be holding an illegally made bootleg DVD... right in front of a Law School that offers concentrations in Copyright Law.

They are a nuisance and get in the way. I've lived my whole life walking around that area and it will be good to see them go.
Feb. 15, 2016, 10:28 am
Lola from Gravesend says:
Jim, it will good to see you go -- to H***, you worthless commenter.
Feb. 15, 2016, 11:25 am
Rena from BH says:
One question - the petition signers include nonstudent neighbors and alumni. How does that represent "our tuition money" and current students?
Feb. 15, 2016, 12:34 pm
BLS Student from BH says:
Rena- the petition collected well over 100 signatures before anyone outside BLS found out about it. I would also encourage you to look at the comments on the petition itself- the overwhelming majority are from BLS students.
Feb. 15, 2016, 12:38 pm
Chris Antonelli from Crown heights says:
I also rarely buy DVDs, so that particular vender (others include vegetables, gloves, children's workbooks etc.) being displaced doesn't really effect me. I also don't buy makeup, so I would like to replace Sephora with a green house. Also, I don't have a car so I'd like to close Joralemon to traffic and plant a farm there. I usually don't take the bus, so can we get rid of that bus stop already? Also, I've never been on fire, so I would much prefer a tree to that hydrant I always step around.
Feb. 15, 2016, 1:02 pm
Claire from Crown Heights says:
As a current BLS student, I stand with the street vendors and support them in their fight to keep their livelihoods and prevent the further gentrification of the neighborhood at the hands of an institution that claims to be a supporter of the local community. Also, while we may not all buy DVDs, we all eat at that halal cart and it is DELICIOUS, come on.
Feb. 15, 2016, 1:17 pm
Jill from South Slope says:
I am a current BLS student and I stand with the street vendors. If we as a law school strive to be a public interest institution... to be good community members and neighbors... to engage in critical thinking on gentrification during our annual Race and the Law program series... to run a Street Vendor Project pro bono program... then we cannot also displace local vendors and jeopardize their livelihoods. Not to mention doing so in an opaque way that prevents vendors from being able to defend their space or adequately prepare for change. If we need more plants, put them inside the courtyard! Solidarity, not "beautification" and displacement!
Feb. 15, 2016, 1:57 pm
Passerby from Brooklyn says:
The photo actually shows a vendor (are they licensed, btw?) holding bootleg DVDs for sale. I understand that they're trying to support themselves, and I sympathize with the loss they face if kicked out. But the school isn't trying to bulldoze an orphanage to build a faculty lounge here. It's trying to act within the law at the expense of people who have been acting without it. "Trying to support one self" cannot be the sole standard applied in these scenarios. At least some of the vendors are breaking the law by selling bootleg property. Others are possibly violating regs by selling without permits. Claiming that they deserve protection because this is their means of subsistence is equivalent to saying "They've been allowed to profit from breaking the law for this long, you can't deprive them of their right to continue to break the law." Understanding their plight and supporting them is one thing, but vilifying the school seems entirely inappropriate.
Feb. 15, 2016, 1:59 pm
Chris A. from Crown Heights says:
@ Passerby and Jill from Cobble Hill
I hear your point about the illegal DVDs and such. That's a separate issue. They are licensed by the city to be street vendors. If they are breaking the law, its up to the city to prosecute those INDIVIDUALS. There's a whole bunch of other things the the various vendors sell which are perfectly legal. A private institution displacing all of them for the alleged offenses of a few is obviously inappropriate.
Feb. 15, 2016, 5:08 pm
Kyle from Brooklyn Heights says:
The community voted to get the planters there. Additionally, couldn't they just locate really close by? There seems to be a lot of spots open and I may be wrong, but it seems they could move pretty easily with the Street Vendor guidelines.
Feb. 15, 2016, 5:29 pm
Jerehme from Brooklyn Heights says:
I wouldn't agree that the community voted to put the planters there, because most of the stakeholders (students, faculty, staff of BLS the vendors themselves) weren't even aware of this plan until last week. BLS created and pushed for this proposal without telling anyone about it. There was no referendum.

I take it you mean the Community BOARD voted to allow the planters there- this is true. They did so after hearing commentary from only two parties: the Brooklyn Downtown Partnership (businesses with an interest in kicking out the vendors who are their competition) and BLS (which apparently has decided to abandon its commitment to advocating for people with less resources to advocate for themselves).

Having walked Joralemon between Court and Boerum every day for two years, I'm not sure which open spots you're referring to. The other side of the street has a bus stop which prevents stalls, and anyway it is NOT comparable because it has less, and different, foot traffic.

There needs to be a dialogue with ALL the stakeholders in order to find a just balance between "beautification" and the livelihoods of our neighbors.
Feb. 15, 2016, 5:44 pm
Meghan from Brooklyn Heights says:
I am a current student at BLS and also stand with the street vendors. While I do love greenery and the trees found around Brooklyn, I do not love it at the expense of people and people's livelihood. These vendors have become a part of my daily life in Brooklyn and add to the diversity of the city that I love so much. Brooklyn Law School purports to be a public interest school, attracting the attention of many public interest-minded students and this action goes against everything we stand for. This is not the BLS I have spent over $200,000 to attend and I am not ok with my tuition dollars helping displace people from their jobs and income.
Feb. 15, 2016, 8:39 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
The same ones who want them removed better not say sh*t if the vendors decide they wanna go on welfare because of it. I say leave them alone & let them make a living, just like all the other vendors downtown. You might not think whatever they're selling fits your saditty tastes but still, they gotta eat just like the next person.
Feb. 15, 2016, 10:01 pm
A little bird from Brooklyn Heights says:
This is just step one of BLS' plan to expand its main building toward Joralemon, remove or reduce the courtyard, and rent out street-level retail space.

But they're not telling you that yet, minions, because if you haven't yet figured it out they don't care what you think and only want your $50k/yr.

I'd be interested in their spokesman's thoughts on this plan.
Feb. 15, 2016, 10:58 pm
BLS minion from Brooklyn Heights says:
@ A little bird, trolling? Or do you have information on this. Would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Feb. 15, 2016, 11:25 pm
Original Little bird from Brooklyn Heights says:
@BLS Minion, pardon my imposter's rude remark. I am not trolling. I'm relaying what I have heard from those that I believe would know. I am an alum who does not necessarily agree with many directions the school is going. Hence, I chose to air what I've been told because I assumed students are in the dark on this and may like to know (if indeed correct). Inquire if you'd like. I do not know any specifics.
Feb. 16, 2016, 7:40 pm
whooelse from everywhere says:
Ad you wonder why the welfare rolls are loaded in nyc...leave them alone & let them work, my goodness!
Feb. 16, 2016, 8:06 pm
BLS minion from BK Heights says:
@Little Bird, thanks very much for this info. I think I can speak for many of my fellow students when I say that we are absolutely in the dark on this and several other puzzling decisions the administration has made unilaterally, using our tuition $$.
Feb. 16, 2016, 10:41 pm
Passerby from Brooklyn says:
@Chris A.: I wasn't suggesting that the school, et al. were motivated by an effort to punish wrong doing. I was just surprised that everyone was so ready to defend the wrongdoing. This seems to be plain old gentrification. The school wants plants and the community board wants to look more like the Promenade and less like Canal Street.
I'm a student at BLS. I don't understand all the disapproving comments regarding secret, unilateral, non-inclusive decision making process. I don't recall Brooklyn Law making any promises to me regarding my future inclusion in their decision making processes, when I accepted my seat there. Did any of you receive such assurances? The school worked with the Downtown Partnership and the community board to get something done. Is that NOT how these things are supposed to get done? Did the board not have an opportunity to publicize the process in order to invite a broader participant base? Would the vote have been different if a bunch of mid 20s law students aired their grievances?

The school is doing what it thinks is best for the school. None of us had to come to BLS. We all voted with our dollars. If we voted poorly, that's on us. You can vote further by becoming rich alumni and leveraging your donation dollars to incentivize the school to be more responsive to student input. As it stands, everyone's just complaining that the school failed to provide something that it never promised to provide. I don't get it.
Feb. 18, 2016, 8:37 pm
Bypasser from downtown brooklyn says:
@passerby you sound like either an administrator or an automaton student to me. Having made the decision to attend a particular law school doesn't mean that the conversation with that law school is over forever. For better or worse we all have a stake in this place, not simply because we pay tuition, but because we all have to move through our careers with the Brooklyn Law name and reputation attached to our resumes. If you can't understand why students feel disappointed when their institution makes a decision that adversely impacts the community and contributes to what you call "plain old gentrification" (which, by the way, might not be a movement you want to hang your hat on), fine. But there's no need to disparage others for being younger and perhaps slightly less jaded than you .
Feb. 22, 2016, 7:29 pm

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