By Perri Colley, Staff Reporter
Mister Softee got caught red-handed.
Ice cream trucks were double parked and blocked an entire stretch of sidewalk outside the company's building on Southern Boulevard in Hunts Point. A fire hydrant spewed water, a flood of trash filled the gutters, men blocked traffic to repair trucks and an illegal tank of propane gas was found in a closet.
It was a messy scene Thursday outside the brick building that was in such disrepair that its outer walls bulged and a crack pierced its side.
All of this, and more, was duly noted by a raiding party of two dozen city inspectors, police officers, firefighters and community advocates making a semiannual surprise swoop in Hunts Point.
"You give me 30 tickets a year for no reason," the manager of the building screamed, his face turning the color of his bright red jacket and cap.
He paced the sidewalk, which was greasy from truck repairs. He watched sanitation workers write summonses for trash, environmental protection inspectors write them for the flowing hydrant, building inspectors write them for loose bricks and traffic agents and cops write them for double-and sidewalk-parked trucks.
The manager kicked the sidewalk. "I work seven days a week to pay the city," he said, arms flailing to no avail. His next bit of bad news was from the firefighters: an illegal tank of compressed gas was found stowed in a closet, maybe used to power torches or forklifts.
It was a terrible day for Mister Softee. But the enforcement team loved it. Only twice a year do these men and women come together from nine city and state departments to issue summonses and warnings to businesses that routinely violate safety and quality of life laws.
"I love to see the fear in their faces," said John Robert, district manager of Community Board 2, who organizes the expeditions each spring and fall. This year he compiled a list of 11 businesses about which community members had complained.
The convoy visited each business on the list, which took from 11:30 a.m. to after 3 p.m. This method has proved efficient over the last seven years since massive enforcement seems to get the attention of violators more than the appearance of an inspector from a single agency, Robert said.
The sweep resulted in nearly 50 summonses and violations, each with a potential fine of $50 to $1,000, depending on the issuing agency and the severity of the alleged offense.
The number would have been higher if business hadn't gotten wind of the search, said officials in the convoy.
"I swear they knew," Robert said as his van approached the first inspection of the day, Timpson Salvage Co. at 677 Timpson Place. "This place normally has an unbelievable amount of crap all over the place."
As if to remind himself, he said, "But our aim isn't punitive. It is to modify behavior."
Notorious for its scrap metal spilling out into the sidewalk and street, the company got only one summons for leaving a stack of wooden pallets on the sidewalk.
"I get the summons, I pay it and I go on like I have for 50 years," said Ralph Scottino, an owner of the company.
But that's not good enough. This team wants a permanent change and not just Scottino's 50 bucks. New housing has been built next door to the company, and residents want to walk down their sidewalks without having to dodge pieces of scrap metal and shards of wood, Robert said.
Capt. Steve Silks of the 41st Precinct said police would be back with a Polaroid camera -- tomorrow and every day after to make sure debris does not reappear on the street.
"By three months from now, everyone will have forgotten we were here," said John Foley, district supervisor of the sanitation department. "That's the way it is in the city. You have to start it all over again."