Aug. 4, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
A group of Queens Democratic officials held a rally in Corona Plaza on Wednesday, Aug. 2, where they criticized the Department of Sanitation for recently cracking down on unauthorized vendors operating at the location and City Council Member Francisco Moya, who is also a Democrat and represents the district, did not attend the demonstration as he supported the agency’s move.
In an exclusive video interview with the Queens/Jackson Heights Post shortly after the rally, Moya explains why he disagrees with his colleague’s stance, saying the sweep was necessary since the plaza — which was initially created to be an open public space — had become unsanitary, dangerous, and crime-ridden in large part due to the unauthorized vendors.
“What is happening in Corona Plaza and all along Roosevelt Avenue is just out of control, it’s chaos,” Moya says.
In the video interview, Moya explains how the area had become unruly, while he also voices his concerns over massage parlors operating as illegal brothels.
He says that residents and local business owners have long called for the area to be cleaned up.
“We’ve gotten significant complaints from business owners that are losing clientele because the vendors are setting up shop right in front of their own stores selling either the same food or the same products that are there,” Moya says. “The number of 311 complaints has grown astronomically.”
Watch the full interview below
Moya says that crime has also spiked at the plaza, with more than 75 felony arrests at the plaza so far this year. He says vendors had been operating late into the night, attracting intoxicated people to the location. And he alleges that drugs were also being sold at the plaza.
“That’s not bringing in commerce, it’s bringing in crime and that’s a real problem here. The residents have had enough,” Moya says.
Moya also alleges that some vendors are storing propane tanks under the elevated staircases to the 103rd Street–Corona Plaza station and says that one of the tanks exploded a few months ago. He says vendors were not disposing of trash properly, pouring grease down drains while others had moved cinder block planters in order to operate. He says that some vendors were operating on sidewalks around Corona, too, competing with local businesses.
“We cannot just have one group of people do whatever they like when we have business owners that are paying property taxes, paying rent and losing business,” Moya says.
The Queens officials who rallied on Aug. 2 — U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assembly members Catalina Cruz and Steve Raga, as well as Council member Julie Won — said that the vendors are only trying to survive and feed their families. They called for more permits to be issued so vendors could operate within the law at the plaza.
Moya says he understands and empathizes with vendors who are looking to make a living, but he says they must do so in an orderly fashion.
He says he voted in 2021 in favor of the city issuing 445 new permits every year until 2032. The rollout is understood to be behind schedule.
However, Moya says that some of the unauthorized vendors would not be able to get a permit because they are selling food that would not pass a health inspection.
Moya says he has also proposed installing kiosks at the plaza or creating new zoned areas so vendors could operate there safely.
The council member also discussed illegal prostitution in his district, with many massage parlors allegedly operating as brothels along Roosevelt Avenue. He said it has become so prevalent there is a video on YouTube providing tips on how to negotiate prices for sex.
“I’ve never seen it out in the open and exposed like it is now,” Moya said. “If you walk there right now, you’ll see women standing out front soliciting for massages. We have to figure out ways to either close down those establishments or go after the landlords or whoever it is that’s allowing that to be operated in their storefronts, or in their buildings.”
He says the unauthorized vending and illegal prostitution can, in part, be linked to undocumented immigrants coming into the city. He said he fears many sex workers may have been trafficked here.
He called on the governor to issue a state of emergency in order to tackle the migrant crisis and for the federal government to allocate financial aid to help the city.
“We need our federal partners or members of Congress to tell the Biden administration that they need to help in terms of bringing real funding to help solve the crisis that we’re facing right now.”