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Thursday, February 21, 2013

West New York Sign Law Makes Business A Crime

The currently-under-federal-indictment mayor of tiny, poor West New York, NJ now can destroy any business in town with a new signs ordinance that makes virtually all commercial advertising illegal and requires all businesses to pay $150 just to apply for a license for each sign.

Doing business in West New York -- or even driving a commercial van through it -- now brings the threat of daily fines.  While the nation suffers through an ongoing recession -- and the entire state of New Jersey suffers through "official" unemployment of almost 10% -- the "poor" town of West New York now seeks to hammer existing businesses with the threat of fines of up to $1,000 per violation, plus the immediate license fee of $150.  By the way, the license fee doesn't assure approval, as the West New York government can now decide in its discretion whether it likes your sign.

Maybe West New York's Mayor Felix Roque -- sorry, that's Dr. Roque --  will decide he really doesn't like your business.  Maybe you're competing with a friend of his down the street.  Or maybe you just haven't greased the right palm.  Any and all of these reasons can result in the town using the sign ordinance as a pretext for their real goal: to soak every dime from you and drive you out of business.

Among the now-prohibited signs are "portable commercial signs" -- that means, all commercial vans need to avoid West New York or pay a fine.

Also prohibited -- any signs which "compete for attention with...a traffic signal."  That could be, well, just about anything.

The cost of doing business in West New York has just exploded.  Essentially, you now need the permission of the town government to do business.  You'll need lawyers to do the application, and maybe an engineer and architect.  You'll definitely need a lawyer if you want to contest the fines which you can expect to be a daily occurrence.  For your reward for trying to be a good citizen, you'll be considered a sucker.  In the meantime, until you do whatever you have to in order to obey the law, you are now viewed as an undesirable. 

You could try to do business without signs, without any advertising.  That way, you avoid any risk of being denied approval.  But if you can't advertise, you soon won't have customers.   

West New York businessowners should simply walk up ten blocks and cross the border into neighboring towns which don't view struggling mom-and-pop storeowners as virtual criminals.   Soon, people who shop in West New York -- most especially the poor without cars who have little choice -- will have no choice but to walk to shops and stores which will have moved in order to survive.  The poor, once again, get hammered the very most by this ordinance.

The irony of the West New York ordinance is that it was introduced by the town's mayor, Dr. Felix Roque.  Dr. Roque should be particularly knowledgeable about the risks of overregulation, overcriminalization and the peril of abusive government power.  Not only is he an emigre of Communist Cuba (as are many West New York residents), but Dr. Roque is presently under federal criminal indictment (along with his son) for allegedly hacking the computers of his political opponents.  

Emulating the nastiest traditions of banana republic dictators and the aristocratic elites from which so many millions fled, and sought refuge in this country, Dr. Roque apparently has no problem with government power.  That is, when he holds it.

This ordinance is not just anti-business.  It's anti-working class. It's anti-poor.  It's anti-American values.  It's anti-immigrant and definitely anti-Latino.  It may even be de facto racist..  It's one of the most elitist, condescending government actions I have seen in my nearly 20 years as a lawyer.

Eric Dixon is a business and corporate lawyer who has been practicing in New York since 1994 and has been admitted to the bar in both New York and New Jersey.

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