Going After Yoga With Obsolete Rules
Here is something I wanted to do something about 15-plus years ago, but go nowhere because I was a public employee, and thus could make no useful contribution to the city. Use regulations that make no sense but remain on the books, to be enforced rarely and in a discriminatory way.
The New York Times reports that some yoga studios are being fined, and are at risk of being shut down, for being "physical culture establishments," which technically they are. Basically, just about any place with exercise is required to get a special permit that requires months to get -- after you have already rented a place and started paying rent, but before you are allowed to do anything to prepare the property to open for business. It is something no business other than a huge national chain can afford, so most places -- from karate schools to your local health club -- just open without it, or get it later. But every now and again they go after someone.
Hint hint yoga studios -- lots of campaign contributions to incumbent members of the state legislature and city council and every announced candidate for Mayor. Why to "health clubs" require a special permit? To prove they are not houses of prostitution. And why to they, of all businesses, have to spend a year proving they are not houses of prostitution? Because back in the 1970s Ed Koch wanted to shut down this place called Plato's Retreat, which was a "swinger's club." His lawyers took the position that any type of business not specifically listed in the zoning resolution was not allowed in the city (which would be a huge list today). So Plato's Retreat claimed to be a health club. And thus, the special permit.
Now it is 35 years later and a different world, but the special permit remains. Along with lots of other useless, widely ignored restrictions. Useless in a city planning sense, not in a political sense. People can be singled out for harassment at any time. New York has always found a way around the "equal protection" clause to treat the serfs like serfs, and this is one of them. So donate lots of money, yoga clubs, and avoid getting shut down. Donate more, and you can get your competitor shut down. Or if you competition happens to be of a different ethnic or economic tribe than the politically active seniors in the neighborhood, you can probably get them shut down for free.
Perhaps some people in Queens who are sick of all the Asians moving in will go after yoga studios operated by immigrants for India. Clearly that is suspect behavior the neighborhood does not need. (Yes, there are still a relatively small number of people like this in New York City. Not many, but they control the political establishment. They don’t like bicycles and transit either, because they drive everywhere and believe only the serfs do not.)
So should the city just get rid of rules like this? Just go ahead and try. You’ll have political types running to the media in droves to “fight for the people” against you. While I was there City Planning undertook a huge effort and had a report ready to go. The head of DCP didn’t even have the guts to publish it. Just publish the report, let alone actually propose something. And the Office of Midtown Enforcement actually claimed that if health clubs were not allowed to open just like any other business, Times Square would be overrun with the (separately classified) adult entertainment businesses again.