Tenants attorney Alex Schmidt Photo courtesy of Wolf Haldenstein
By Sabina Mollot
Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents who are due rent overcharge damages as a result of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit won’t be getting their money as soon as expected.
According to the “Roberts” attorney for tenants, Alex Schmidt, while he’d initially aimed to get checks sent to tenants by October, attorneys are now hoping that some money will be distributed later this year and the rest by the first quarter of 2014.
The delay in payments was first reported in Crain’s on Friday. John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, had also given neighbors a heads up on Wednesday on the association’s Facebook page.
However, both Schmidt and a rep for CWCapital insisted that the October date had never been set in stone; it’s just what the parties had been shooting for. Schmidt said the reason “Roberts” plaintiffs haven’t been paid yet is that the paperwork for the plaintiffs (of which there are 27,500) is taking a longer time to sort through than expected, with many parties only entitled to minimal damages. (Damages range from $150 to $200,000.)
Additionally, at this time, attorneys are also waiting for CW to turn over data regarding “Roberts” class members who the special servicer believes owe back rent money. Under the settlement, CW is entitled to any rent owed and therefore that affects how the individual would be paid.
Schmidt said attorneys are hoping to get money owed by MetLife to tenants by the end of the year, then focus on getting people paid who are not in arrears in rent, and then the people who CW says do owe rent.
Those individuals “would then have 45 days to say whether or not they disagree,” said Schmidt, but first the special servicer of the property has to calculate how much it believes it is owed. “It’s unfortunately very complicated,” said Schmidt.
Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CW, added, “A timeframe for payments was never established. That said, we hope that tenants are paid as soon as possible, but it is a lengthy administrative process given the number of claimants.”
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is a “Roberts” class member, said the money should be repaid to tenants “as quickly as possible.”
He added that CW “should be as quick to give it back as they are to take it.”
Out of a $173 million settlement for tenants in apartments that were illegally deregulated by former owners MetLife and Tishman Speyer, close to $69 million will be paid out to tenants. The rest of the money is in the form of rent savings.
In other “Roberts” related news, over 150 tenants who got mid-lease increases have gotten rent rollbacks, Garodnick said.
In June, following an investigation by the attorney general into the mid-lease increases issued to around 1,100 residents of ST/PCV, the A.G. and CWCapital reached a deal to give rent rollbacks to any tenant who’d been misled into thinking there would be no mid-lease hikes.
The investigation came as a result of Garodnick alerting Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that he’d heard from residents who claimed they were assured by leasing agents that getting a mid-lease increase was highly unlikely, only to then get socked with an increase. Those tenants were then asked by the A.G. to sign affidavits describing how they were misled about the increases and in June, Garodnick said he knew of about 40 people who were affected. CWCapital said at the time that after its own “exhaustive effort” to find the affected parties, the special servicer had only heard from around 10. However, Garodnick said he has since learned about a total of 152 people who were awarded rent rollbacks.
The rent increases were issued by CW in May as a result of the “Roberts” settlement. The increases went as high as over $2,000, though most affected tenants reported getting hikes that were in the hundreds, and tenants were given six weeks to decide whether to renew their leases or leave. Another two hundred tenants got rent reductions.
City Council candidate Richard del Rio Photo by Sabina Mollot
By Sabina Mollot
Lower East Side-based clergyman Richard del Rio, or, as the hog-riding, tattooed 61-year-old is better known in the neighborhood, “Pastor Rick,” will be on the ballot on Primary Day as the Democratic challenger facing Council Member Rosie Mendez.
Del Rio, who founded his nondenominational church, Abounding Grace Ministries, over 30 years ago and has since become known as a community activist as well as a spiritual leader, said he is running because he feels there’s been a neglect of the poor and the elderly in the second city district, in particular NYCHA residents.
He’s also staunchly against elected officials being able to run for a third term, a policy enacted four years ago so Mayor Bloomberg could run again. “It’s legal, but it’s still offensive,” said del Rio. “It was just a few people that overturned the will of 8.5 million people.”
Mendez, of course, is running for a third time, and, while del Rio was quick to say during a recent interview at his Avenue C campaign office that he isn’t about to “trash her,” he has referred to her as a “no-show” politician on his website.
During the interview, del Rio discussed a number of issues from crime (which he’s been on top of as an NYPD clergy liaison), NYCHA’s plan to build market rate housing on eight of its developments (which he’s opposed to) and the gentrification of the district, which includes the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay. (Del Rio said he’s been extremely concerned about residents being priced out of the area and NYU’s ongoing expansion without having to build any affordable housing as part of the development deals.)
“Meanwhile they’re getting prime real estate and (they want) humungous towers that are overwhelming to the community.”
On NYCHA’s “infill” plan of leasing space on public housing parks and parking lots to outside developers, including at Campos Plaza, del Rio said he feels that the housing authority’s board has “not only neglected but dismissed the poor.” If elected, he said he promises to fight the plan, as well as fight to protect the rent-regulated housing that exists.
“The middle class and the poor are being pushed out,” he said, “the creativity of the East Village — that’s all being stifled with this new plan to create a city for the wealthy.”
Del Rio, whose parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico, has always worked directly with the poor since starting his church in “the worst area” of that time which was the Lower East Side. This place, cops, warned him, was where people sold heroin and their bodies. The idea of setting up a base there was to cut down on gang activity and crime, with del Rio saying he found the most effective way to do this was by befriending gang members and other young people who were failing school, homeless or facing other problems like incarcerated family members. Del Rio and his sons, then ages 3, 6 and 8, were often with him as he took a van around, in particular to Union Square, offering information about treatment and other drug-related programs.
It was in the mid-90s when, del Rio said, he was able to stop a gang from retaliating at Alphabet City’s Haven Plaza for the killing of one its members by a rival gang. He did this by showing up, talking to the gang members and “letting them vent.”
“They want to know you’re going to talk to them without judging them or even preaching to them, so I became friends with them,” he said.
After asking his wife to make some sandwiches and hot chocolate — because he’d be inviting the gang over — the group talked some more and then, said del Rio, “It was my turn and I told them, ‘If you do this, this is just going to escalate.’” In the end, the retaliatory battle never happened. Del Rio said he became privy to the looming gang war from the cops, who he said he’s always enjoyed a good working relationship with. For the past 20 years, del Rio has been an NYPD police-clergy liaison.
On crime these days in the district, del Rio is concerned about the still-occasional shootings at public housing projects, and attends meetings of the 9th Precinct Community Council. He has mixed feelings about stop-and-frisk, having once been on the receiving end of such an investigation in which he thought the officer’s behavior was “rude,” but also believing that the local cops – NYPD and those working for NYCHA – have a tough job to do.
On education, del Rio is not a fan of the current system that shuts down failing schools. “Our mayor brags about being able to shut schools down; why in the world would he want to have that as his achievement?” asked del Rio.
In 1996, del Rio and his family started a program called Generation X-Cel, which was aimed at helping kids who were failing in school and had other problems. His sons, who helped run it, had asked local kids, what kind of things they wanted to see in an after school program, and found that by asking, the kids got interested. The program ran at a space rented in a building at the Jacob Riis Houses, until the group was booted when NYCHA decided to use it for storage. The organization was replaced in 2008, though, by another program called 20/20 Vision for Schools, which was implemented at 16 schools.
One of his sons is still involved with the program. Del Rio has a total of three grown sons as well as a grown daughter, now a registered nurse, who is adopted. She came from a family he knew, in which the mother was dying of AIDS. The mother had asked del Rio and his wife Arlene to care for her children, which they did, and he wound up adopting one of them.
As for his pastoral duties, del Rio has operated his church in a space he rents at MS 34, a school on East 11th Street and Avenue D. Though he’s been less active at the church since he launched his campaign earlier in the year, he’s still been involved in some activities including a couple of local street fairs organized by clergy as well as an 18-year-old church tradition of holding an annual basketball tournament.
“(People are) so dismissive of clergy, but clergy are servants you don’t have to pay and they have a relationship with the community,” he said.
Richard del, Rio, not long after Hurricane Sandy, helps distribute food and supplies. Photo courtesy of Richard del Rio
Del Rio noted that it was through relationships he’d developed with locals and law enforcement that enabled him to respond to Sandy with trucks full of supplies. He and others, including groups from as far as West Virginia, distributed hot meals as well as things like blankets and batteries on the street on Avenue D. Eventually, 20,000 people were recipients of the supplies and 12,000 hot meals were served.
On smaller issues, del Rio said he would like to do more for residents who feel that they’re living in “permanent construction zones” and be quicker about fixing things, like, for example, restoring a few Alphabet City bus stops that were recently removed. The removals were supposed to be temporary, he said, but complaints he’s gotten from local seniors have indicated that they weren’t.
If elected, del Rio said he is hoping for a Democratic mayor that is either Bill Thompson or Bill de Blasio. Both, he said, have promised to have roundtables with local clergy.
“Being a political outsider, I know there’s a lot for me to learn,” said del Rio, but, he added, “I’m a quick learner.”
Council Member Rosie Mendez in front of her campaign office
By Sabina Mollot
Rosie Mendez, who’s served as City Council member for the second city district for the past eight years, is hoping voters will choose her on Primary Day, as she seeks a third term.
Mendez, who’s been tackling such issues as building neglect in public housing, disappearing affordable housing options in the district and more recently, plans for a sanitation garage on First Avenue that she opposes, said she’s running again because, “I love my job and I still have more to do. I don’t want to run for something else.”
On Monday, Mendez discussed her goals for the coming years if re-elected as well as ongoing projects at her campaign office on Avenue B and 11th Street, just down the block from where she lives.
In that area of Alphabet City, it’s hard to find a storefront that doesn’t have a campaign poster with either Mendez’s smiling face or Democratic rival Richard del Rio’s.
Del Rio has been critical of his opponent for running for a third term, but at her office, Mendez defended her position, saying that while she had been against overturning term limits for the mayor, she doesn’t feel the same way about other city legislative positions.
“My opponent and some people do not remember the whole process,” she said of the City Council’s move to overturn the term limits, which allowed Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third time.
The reason she said she feels a different policy should apply to the executive of City Hall from the rest of the elected officials, is that simply put, the mayor, with his staff, has outnumbered and outmaneuvered the Council, with theirs, at numerous turns and disagreements.
“Their staff was able to run circles around us,” she admitted. “We don’t have the staff with the experience to really get in and catch everything they’re hiding.”
At this point, Mendez is hoping the next mayor will be the Democratic candidate she’s endorsed, Speaker Christine Quinn. (Mendez also said she supports term limits for that position as well.)
However, Quinn, she believes, would be more sympathetic to tenants, and housing has for many years been the biggest challenge facing the district. This is particularly due to owners of regulated units opting out of the Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 programs and public housing being in a state of crisis with NYCHA having fallen seriously behind on repairs — around one million jobs. Additionally, at this point, the agency seems unsure where to go with a previously hatched “infill” plan to build market rate housing at existing low-income developments. As of last week, NYCHA went from asking developers from RFPs (requests for proposals) to RFIEs, requests for expressions of interest. Mendez said this week that she doesn’t want to see anything pop up that doesn’t have the support of tenants and isn’t entirely or mostly affordable housing. She also doesn’t want any new development at one of NYCHA’s proposed infill sites, Smith Houses, because of how it flooded during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
Council Member Rosie Mendez at Campos Plaza, where residents recently got a security camera system Photo by Sabina Mollot
Having grown up in Williamsburg Houses, the first public housing project to be built in Brooklyn, Mendez is no stranger to the problems of public housing.
Mendez said she is also not a supporter of the infill program because she doesn’t think the expected income from market rate units will cover the financial needs of the complex, but, she said, doing away with the $74 million NYCHA pays each year for police services would. The practice of paying the police, which private landlords do not, began in the Giuliani era. Mendez said she’s been pushing for the payments to end since she first came into office. While she is not enthusiastic about that happening any time soon, she has allocated $10 million in funding to NYCHA this coming fiscal year. Last year she did the same.
Mendez, who chairs the Council’s Public Housing Committee, said one thing she is considering — if constituents like the idea — is to get some affordable housing built specifically for seniors. Although well aware that it “takes funding to make,” she’s optimistic about the future under a new mayor, who, she hopes, would give owners incentives to maintain as well as build affordable housing beyond the standard 80/20 formula.
Priority one though for Mendez, if re-elected, would be to focus on a plan of action and preparation for the next Sandy-like disaster. After the superstorm hit, Mendez and her staff went to many buildings to check on the district’s most vulnerable residents, the elderly, sick and disabled. In some cases, this meant trudging up the stairs of high-rises to recharge residents’ motorized wheelchairs or bring them hot meals, medicine and buckets of water for drinking and flushing. With many residents having no water or just afraid to use what they’d saved, “It created an unhealthy and unsanitary situation,” said Mendez. By coordinating with local nonprofits such as GOLES and the Stein Senior Center, Mendez said she was able to meet the needs of those who were most in need while also not duplicating services offered by other agencies.
“It was multiple levels of triage to try to get to everyone so we wouldn’t have a tragedy,” she said, though she added that, “Unfortunately, we did have some tragedies.” One was a senior living at Kips Bay Court who had been carried down the stairs from her apartment on an upper floor, in her bed, as well as along with her oxygen tank, for medical help. The woman ended up not surviving although curiously, she wasn’t considered a Sandy casualty, with her death getting blamed on whatever condition she had. “It should count,” said Mendez.
Other problems were that at local emergency shelters, there weren’t enough cots for people who’d evacuated, and that those who remained behind in their homes were in many cases just unprepared for a blackout that lasted several days.
On education issues, Mendez has been opposed to many of the co-locations of schools in recent years and blasted the Panel for Education Policy as “rubber stampers” for approving the Department of Education’s co-location plans.
“I like to say I’m old school,” said Mendez. “When I went to school, a school was a building and a building was a school.”
From what Mendez has seen, the co-locations have led to principals having to put students’ issues on the back burner while trying to coordinate on who gets the library or rear yard at what time and schools not getting enough funding for arts, music and summer programs.
“I’ve been trying to supplement it with that much maligned discretionary funding,” she said. “It allows me to fund after school programs and during the day.”
Schools that have been on the receiving end of such funding include PS 110, PS 34, PS 40, PS 116, PS 188, PS 15 and MS 104, which recently used the money for a summer tennis clinic.
Other money from the discretionary funds has gone towards local nonprofits’ food pantry and hot meal programs. Mendez noted how on any given Saturday morning, at a church across the street from her campaign office, near the corner of Avenue B, the line for bags of food stretches outside almost down to Avenue A. “You’ll see anywhere from 200 to 400 people,” she said.
More recently, another issue that has been of concern to Mendez is the planned Brookdale campus sanitation garage. While located in City District 4, it would affect Mendez’s constituents living in East Midtown Plaza and Kips Bay. Mendez said she is mainly opposed to it because the garbage trucks would all be located in an area where “we’ve seen cars floating. If the trucks were to get flooded, there are pollutants and a lot of dirt and grime on them. I don’t know how the mayor justifies putting this right in the middle of hospital row, right in the middle of a flood zone. I think it’s very ill advised.”
On crime, Mendez said she believes the police force currently has too few officers due to a shrinking force, and while District 2, which covers the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay, hasn’t seen the kind of crime it used to, there is still the occasional shootout, and noted Mendez, a spike in sexual assaults all around the city. She suggested that the city put “less money into consultants and more into our agencies.”
As far as quality of life issues is concerned, noise from bars has been an ongoing one though Mendez noted stipulations on hours venues can do business as well as fines issued by the State Liquor Authority against repeat offenders have helped to some degree. Another growing complaint has been evening noise from construction sites with developers applying for and getting variances to do construction from as early as 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mendez said she’s, in some specific cases, managed to get it “scaled back” though at other locations, late construction has persisted despite intervention from her office. She said she’ll continue to meet with the developers as well as the Department of Buildings.
Throughout her career in the City Council, Mendez said she considers her biggest accomplishments to be helping to save the Stein Senior Center, which has recently reopened in a new and improved location, preventing closures of daycare centers and in general, being responsive to individual concerns.
“Everything in politics is local,” she said, “so I’m proud of my track record with constituent services.”
Before her first run for office, Mendez graduated from New York University and Rutgers School of Law.
She began her career in politics as chief of staff to her predecessor in the Council, Margarita Lopez (now employed by NYCHA). Like Lopez, Mendez is openly gay and a champion for LGBT rights.
STUY TOWN WOMAN COMES HOME TO FIND NAKED MAN TRYING ON HER SKIRT A resident of 310 First Avenue reported that her apartment was broken into last Friday at 4:09 p.m. She told police that when she entered the apartment, she saw a man inside her bedroom without permission to be there. He was also naked in her bedroom and when she went in the room, she saw him putting on her skirt. She said that she was unsure if she had locked the door and there was no forced entry. No arrests have been made. In response to the incident, a rep for CWCapital said, “Public Safety is aware of the situation and is cooperating fully with the investigation.”
‘FAKE COP’ BUSTED FOR ROBBERY Police arrested 20-year-old Alexander Dove for robbery at the northeast corner of East 14th Street and Union Square West last Tuesday at 12:10 a.m. Witnesses told police that Dove was patting people down and when the officer approached, Dove allegedly said, “Do you want to go to jail? I have my car over there.” When Dove saw the officers approaching, he allegedly ran and after chasing him, police apprehended him and the witnesses identified him. The first witness told police that Dove had tried to sell narcotics to him and a friend and when they refused, Dove allegedly said that he was an undercover officer and forcibly pinned them against a fence, removing his wallet and elbowing him on the head. Dove also allegedly pinned the second witness against the fence and took his cell phone from his pocket.
Bill de Blasio (center) in Stuy Town with TenantsPAC Board Member Anderson Fils-Aime, Treasurer Mike McKee, Board Member (and ST-PCV Tenants Association President) John Marsh and Tenants Association Board Member Margaret Salacan (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
With Mike Bloomberg soon to end a 12-year reign as mayor, New Yorkers will have an incredibly important decision to make in the general election in November, but perhaps even more so in the September 10 primary.
This particular mayoral race is so cluttered it’s become hard to decipher one candidate’s rhetoric from the next at times, and following the candidacy of Anthony Weiner, it’s been hard to take much of it seriously. Still, we hope that voters won’t be so turned off that they won’t show up at the polls, especially if they care about issues like affordable housing. And if they do, we believe that the best choice for mayor, on the Democrat side, is Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
A month ago, de Blasio, making a campaign stop in Stuyvesant Town, was endorsed by TenantsPAC, and with good reason. While his “tale of two cities” tagline is getting mocked at this point, Manhattanites living in luxury housing simply because they didn’t have the option of moving into regular working joe housing, know that there is absolute truth to de Blasio’s (and a few other candidates’ talk) about the disappearing middle class.
Re: Letter, “Why landscape fences make complete sense,” T&V, Aug. 22
John Giannone writes that irresponsible dog owners think “that it is ok for dogs to urinate on anything that grows and anything that does not — grass, bushes, trees, garbage cans, street posts, bench legs, the walkways, the legs of pedestrians. (Ok, so the last is false!)” John, are you sure “the last is false”? I witnessed my neighbor’s dog pee on her leg while I was speaking with her at the door of her apartment. So I know that man’s best friend (and woman’s too) does pee on the legs of humans. Some friend.
Also, it almost happened to me. I was sitting on a bench in front of the children’s playground in the Oval watching people walking their dogs in the “no dog area” gravel where the greenmarket is located on Sundays and where children play during the week. This was a weekday and I was watching a dog lift its leg to pee on the sign that read “no dog area” when a cute little dog, which bore a resemblance to my neighbor’s cute little dog, approached me. Thanks to my scientific background, I could discern that he was a male. His owner was watching her dog, which is unusual as most owners are too busy talking or texting on the phone or to a friend or themselves to notice what their dog is doing, as the little doggie approached my leg and started to sniff my foot. This dog was probably smelling some other dog’s doo doo that I had inadvertently stepped on; it’s so difficult not to step on a schmear or two of this fecal matter, wet or dry, in Stuy Town as it is left all over the walkways so that residents can bring these little gifts home for their children or cats to enjoy.
But I became anxious as her male dog got within inches of my leg. She did not pull the dog away from me, being of the school that advocates letting the little pet pissers live their lives to the fullest by smelling everything in sight. To avoid any unnecessary confrontations, as I might have been mistaken for a fire hydrant, I gently lifted my foot to shoo the dog away. But the owner barked, “What are you doing to my dog?” I replied, “I don’t like having urine on my pants. It’s not good for relationships.” Then she growled, “Well, you don’t have to hit him!” And then her dog led her away. She had her nose in the air while his was towards the ground, living his life to the fullest.
Camille Diamond, who runs the new composting program, in front of the Y’s bin and scale Photo by Sabina Mollot
By Sabina Mollot
At the 14th Street Y, administrators have been hoping to get members to learn the joy of composting, a form of recycling of food scraps that reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
And so far, the new compost drop-off program — essentially a bin at the East 14th Street center’s lobby alongside a scale — has actually been a surprise success with its members, residents of Stuyvesant Town and the East Village, who’ve been showing more than just a fleeting interest in the waste-reducing activity.
This may be because, according to Camille Diamond, the Y’s communications director, who runs the program, the goal of the project was actually to demonstrate that composting is actually pretty simple. However, New Yorkers generally only get the opportunity to do it at greenmarkets, and even then, the food that can be composted is usually limited to produce and other items available at the markets. At the Y, other food waste can also be composted and then it’s all taken to a plant in Delaware that processes and then sells the compost to farmers.
“Composting is not something residents can do on their own,” said Diamond, adding that Y is “going to keep doing it until Manhattan decides to starts its own residential composting program. What we wanted to do is show people it’s pretty easy once they get into the habit of it.”
The program has also been used as an educational tool at the Y, which has a summer camp, and said Diamond, the kids have shown a genuine interest in the process. “Kids understand what a landfill is,” she said. “My kids are saying, ‘Does this go into the landfill or compost?’”
Adults have too, considering that a composting workshop held at the end of June was a big hit and a couple of local restaurants, Northern Spy Food Co. and Hotel Tortuga, have offered gift certificates for participants who are automatically entered into monthly giveaways.
The composting program, which was the idea of Y member Laura Rosenshine, has been in place since March. Diamond said the Y had been looking at ways to make the building more green.
When food waste is emptied into the bin in the lobby, it goes into bio-bags, which are bags made of corn. Initially, the bags were picked up and taken away twice a week, but the pickups have become a little more frequent recently as more members have begun to participate. On average, around 300 pounds of composted materials have been coming into and leaving the Y each week and 180 member families have signed up for the program. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was the third time ever that kayaking was offered in Stuyvesant Cove Park and it was the second and last time for this season. Many of the volunteers and participants said that they’re hoping the opportunity will be more regularly available and LIC Boathouse chair John McGarvey said that he’s hoping the recent $1 million grant that came in conjunction with the East River Blueway plan will help make a boathouse at Stuyvesant Cove Park a reality. With the current set-up, kayaking at Stuyvesant Cove Park is available so infrequently because there is nowhere to store the boats, especially since the naturally formed beach at the park disappears at high tide, and the only way to get to the river is by climbing up and over the fence with a rigged ladder and a cooler as a stepping stool.
“The grant will help with infrastructure and ideally will help consult with the boathouse, and won’t let some architect make something that’s just pretty and useless,” McGarvey said. “It’s a boon to the community the value it gives to the real estate, environmental activism and health. We’ll keep supporting it. The trick is to just be politically active to get things done.”
By the end of the event last Saturday, the Lower East Side Ecology Center said that almost 150 people came to go paddling, which they considered a success, and LIC Boathouse volunteer Ted Gruber said that he was happy to see the Cove’s beach empty most of the afternoon, with all of the boats on the river.
Gruber, one of the many LIC Boathouse volunteers at the event, is a strong proponent for kayaking in the East River because it’s a resource the community could use and it’s not being taken advantage of.
“There’s no river access on the East Side,” he said. “There are at least seven access points on the west side, and none on the east.”
He added that aside from these sporadic events near Stuyvesant Town providing fun summer activities, he said that residents need to attend the events to show that there is interest in making it a more permanent fixture.
“It’s important that we educate people in Stuy Town so people know that they can have this here,” he said. “The people who want to see this here need to come out and let people know that there is a demand and that we’d like this here.”
Barbara Alpert, a Stuyvesant Town resident who grew up in the area and also volunteers with the LIC Boathouse, said that she really wants to encourage people to come out and participate.
“I like kayaking but I especially like it out in the neighborhood,” she said.
Graeme Birchall, president of Downtown Boathouse, which offers free kayaking on the Hudson River, was at the event to support the effort for East Side river access.
“This is the cleanest air in Manhattan,” he said. “It might not be the cleanest water but it’s the cleanest air. Wouldn’t it be nice if these residents of the East Side had similar possibilities as those on the west? It’s amazing to do right in the city and people don’t even realize they can do it here.”
Beatrice Hoffman and her sister Celeste Clarke had never been to Stuyvesant Cove Park but Hoffman has kayaked with the LIC Boathouse before and she’s a volunteer with them and the Brooklyn Bridge Park. The two, who are also senior citizens, were out on Saturday because Clarke had never been kayaking before.
“So many people don’t get the opportunity to do water sports and they don’t realize how easy it is to do in the city, especially because it can be so expensive,” Hoffman said.
“But it’s important to do things like kayaking because it also encourages people to learn how to swim.”
Helene Jnane outside Peter Cooper Village Photo by Sabina Mollot
By Sabina Mollot
It’s not easy to be a Republican in New York City, in particular on Manhattan’s East Side, and even less simple is running against a popular Democratic incumbent. However, a political outsider on the Republican and Libertarian ballots said she’s determined to give it a shot.
Helene Jnane, an Upper East Sider who’s been a practicing attorney for 23 years, is currently the only candidate for City Council running against Dan Garodnick, also an attorney, who’s now seeking a third term representing the 4th district. Jnane has had some experience in the world of politics though, having been a campaign attorney for Ron Paul, whose ideals she says she admires in terms of factors like fiscal conservatism and keeping government small.
Jnane, who left the law firm Short & Billy last February, and is now doing freelance legal consulting work, hasn’t yet begun the process of fundraising for her campaign though she said she has plans to get her name out there once the primary is over. (Neither she or Garodnick have opponents in their parties and therefore neither will be on the ballot until November.)
Meanwhile, she’s been campaigning here and there at three-hour clips, trying to get the word out on the street while fending off the occasional barb aimed at her party. While most democrats have been polite even after hearing the dreaded R-word, that hasn’t always been the case. Recently, said Jnane, while she was petitioning in midtown, a woman gave the international vomit sign by sticking her finger in her throat when asked if she was a registered republican. This, said Jnane, was in contrast to Stuyvesant Town, where voters have all at least been willing to put aside their earbuds and give a candidate’s pitch about fiscal conservatism and socially liberal values a chance. Jnane admitted it’s sometimes been hard to stay motivated in less friendly environments, but said she has “faith in the voters,” who she believes will vote in November for the candidate that has “respect for the constitution.”
When discussing the values of the Republican Party, Jnane said she believes there’s a “misunderstanding about what it means to be Republican,” that the party wants to infringe on people’s personal rights. “It’s about not growing government at the expense of the people.” And when asked about social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, Jnane indicated (though she didn’t outright say) that she wasn’t opposed to either.
“The government should not be telling people they can’t have inter-personal relationships and the government shouldn’t be telling women what they should be doing in their personal lives,” she said.
During a recent interview at Second Avenue coffee bar Pushcart, Jnane also discussed her campaign and her platform, which is more than anything else about making sure government officials are responsible for keeping the promises they make and keeping government spending at a minimum. With almost all questions asked, she paused before answering, and often referred to legal points in either the state constitution or city charter to explain her reasoning. However, consistently, she appeared most confident when discussing her philosophy about a desire to see less government overreach and spending and a return to the idea of legislators as “humble public servants.”
She gave an example of government arrogance, as well as the government catering to special interests, when referring to a bill sponsored by a state senator in 2011 that would have legislatively undone the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” case. The bill, sponsored by upstate Senate Member Cathy Young, which was eventually shot down, would have made landlords who’d deregulated apartments while accepting J-51 tax breaks responsible for paying back the taxes but not the money overpaid by tenants.
“The government benefits, but not the people,” she said.
As for her own interest in running for office, Jnane said, “The government has to obey the law and a lot of politicians have forgotten that. I’m not talking about anyone in particular, but there is an important adjustment the government in general needs to make to be more humble public servants.”
On the City Council having to work with the mayor, Jnane wouldn’t say if she had a favored candidate for that role, but, when asked who she saw herself working with, responded, “Whoever becomes the mayor of New York City.”
She also discussed her dislike of what she called the “one-party system” in the City Council.
“Like a monopoly in the market, it causes prices to rise and services to be reduced,” she said. “Costs go up and innovation goes down and this is what we’re seeing in city government.”
However, on the issues faced by residents of the district, which winds from Stuyvesant Town to 96th Street along the East Side, as well as issues faced by the entire city, Jnane was less quick to suggest change.
One exception to this is with regards to education, with Jnane saying it’s important to “empower students and parents” by making class size smaller and allowing families more school choice. She’s also a supporter of charter schools.
On housing, however, or more specifically concerns from tenants about affordability, she said she isn’t about to interfere with the market. Doing so, she said, would infringe on personal liberty.
For example, while sympathetic to issues faced by tenants like rising rents, in particular in Stuy Town following the settlement of “Roberts,” she has no plans for drafting legislation that would add to tenant protections. She also has no plans for building affordable housing or protecting the existing stock of it.
However, she said, she would make sure the existing laws protecting tenants “are obeyed” to the letter. “Contract is promise.”
She gave an example by responding to a growing concern of residents in Stuyvesant Town, which is that as the rents continue to rise, the community has become more transient with more and more students and post-graduates taking up residence in groups as opposed to families.
“If it is legal for landlords to rent apartments to students, I cannot ask him to do otherwise,” she said. “What I can do is make sure that the laws that may apply to habitation, quality of life (are followed), like if the students next door are making all kinds of noise. But I will not make promises to people that I can’t keep.”
On another housing matter, the Rent Guidelines Board, Jnane said she is interested in making sure that those who sit on it are “not doing it for themselves or their own self-aggrandizement.”
Another issue, one of the few Jnane has been particularly vocal about, is stop-and-frisk. This past week, Jnane posted on her campaign website that she felt the recent decision by a judge declaring stop-and-frisk unconstitutional was an example of government overreach. She explained during the interview with Town & Village her belief that one of two pending stop-and-frisk bills, which would appoint an inspector general to oversee the NYPD, is just a waste of taxpayer money that adds another layer to government while not necessarily making New Yorkers any safer.
“The solution to the problem of the government is not more government or a bigger government,” she said.
Jnane, who’s lived at the same co-op building on 95th Street for the past 15 years, sits on the board there. A native of Morris County, New Jersey, Jnane has lived in New York for 20 years in different Manhattan neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village.
When not working, she enjoys walking and reading articles on the economy and government as well as more local issues. She got into law, first with firm Seeger Weiss, which handles a lot of class action lawsuits, and then later moved onto Short & Billy, which focuses on no fault insurance law.
“I love the law,” said Jnane. “It’s a focused way of thinking. We start from principles and we apply the principles to the facts of any situation that comes up and this is how you draw a conclusion.”
A number of neighbors have voiced irritation at the presence of fencing now encircling much of the plantings. About that fencing, I agree, it is rather cheap, ugly and not the sort of fencing likely to last. In fact, in some places it is already compromised.
However, I find our neighbors’ expressed puzzlement a bit fictitious. “Why has the fencing gone up?” they ask. Really? Really? They don’t know?
Let’s provide some data from which they might construct a hypothesis.
First: “dog friendly.” Second: irresponsible owners of PCV/ST: No place for dogs to do doggie things. Third: irresponsible tenants: First: buying dogs when it is know that the place has no way to accommodate their elimination needs. Second: some irresponsible dog owners: putting it out that it is ok for dogs to urinate on anything that grows and anything that does not — grass, bushes, trees, garbage cans, street posts, bench legs, the walkways, the legs of pedestrians. (Ok, so the last is false!)
Third: making a common practice of allowing dogs to defecate on common ground. (Thanks by the way to the large dog owner who covered his/her doggy’s fecal matter with leaves on the south side of the paddle ball courts a few weeks back: I really loved the soft gushy slippery feel.)
So, about our neighbors who want the rest of us to believe that they are puzzled about the presence of fencing and the closing of the “open look” give an explanation your best shot!
Police are looking for a 12-year-old girl who was last seen at the Administration for Children’s Services building on First Avenue on Tuesday evening at 9 p.m.
Maleah Decambre is described as approximately 5 ft 6 ins. and 145 lbs., with brown eyes and black hair. She was last seen wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt.
Anyone with information regarding Decambre is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.
Participants enjoy a kayaking event at Stuyvesant Cove Park held in June. Photo by Marisa Buxbaum/Solar One
Community residents are invited to a free kayaking event at Stuyvesant Cove Park on Saturday, August 17 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Participants must know how to swim, be at least 18 years old or attend with a parent or guardian, and must sign insurance waivers. All equipment is provided free. Participation will be on a first-come, first-paddling basis. Provided by Long Island City Community Boathouse. The event is a joint project of LICCB, the New York City Water Trail Association, and Urban Swim, in conjunction with the Lower East Side Ecology Center and the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club with the support of Solar 1 and NYCEDC.
In addition, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Solar One’s long-running series of monthly “Family Day” events for children and their parents kicks off with an Interactive Plant Fair for Wildflower Week. For Family Day: Creatures, kids can make flower costume, collages and paintings, make seed bombs and plant wildflowers they can take home, get their faces painted and much more. RSVP to email@example.com.
Other upcoming events in the neighborhood:
Waterside Plaza Dance Festival on August 17
The Waterside Plaza Dance Festival will take place on August 17 starting 5 p.m., featuring talented local dance companies and choreographers performing outside on the Plaza. This year performance groups are creating original site-specific work that showcases the unique landscape of Waterside Plaza’s outdoor space. Rain date is August 18. For more information, call (212) 340-4208 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Movies at Waterside continue through August 26
Waterside Plaza presents RCN Monday Night Movies on August 19 and 26. Films will start at dusk (usually around 8:15 p.m.) outside on the Plaza. Co-sponsored by RCN, admission is free and open to the public. For more information, call (212) 340-4208 or email: email@example.com.
Stuyvesant Strolls on Wed., Aug. 21
On Wednesday, August 21 from 6-7 p.m., Solar One will host Stuyvesant Strolls, a guided, sunset tour through Stuyvesant Cove Park. This is a great opportunity to discover the wide variety of plants and wildlife native to New York City.
Kids Summerfest in Stuyvesant Town on August 25
The next scheduled event for young residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and their guests is Kids Summerfest II, which will feature The Airborne Comedians, mini golf, and more on Sunday, August 25 at 3 p.m. on the Oval.
See listings for more local events, including theater, concerts, comedy, kids’ events and more on the Town & Village Blog Around & About page.
A tour of the 57th Street sanitation garage was held last Wednesday. (Pictured) A DSNY rep, Bob Qu, a rep for Council Member Dan Garodnick; Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Assocation; Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Gerard Schiffren, a resident of East 23rd Street Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick
By Sabina Mollot
Local elected officials are calling on the city to come up with a more comprehensive plan on its intended use for a block where a planned sanitation garage is to be built. More details, they’re saying, are needed about what the east and west parcels of the property on the current Hunter College Brookdale campus, would be used for, as well as other factors. Only the center area is slated to be used for the garage.
This comes after a tour was held last Wednesday of an existing garage facility on 57th Street in an attempt by the Department of Sanitation to answer questions about the one intended for 25th Street and First Avenue. The tour was attended by Council Member Dan Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and representatives for State Senator Brad Hoylman and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, as well as a few community leaders. Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, was present, as was the property’s general manager, Peter Davis, and 23rd Street resident Gerard Schriffen, president of a group called the Rose Hill Community Association. Leading the tour at the 57th Street facility was Dan Klein, director of real estate for DSNY.
Following the tour, Kavanagh and Garodnick echoed concerns previously made by community residents about the Brookdale facility plan, which was first announced close to a year ago, being sped along to get necessary approvals while Mayor Bloomberg is still in office. The city announced the plan as part of a land swap that would give Hunter property on 73rd Street for a new school and medical facility to be built in collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Kavanagh, however, called the DSNY’s hope to get a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) for the garage “premature,” considering the garage isn’t even going to begin construction until 2018. The ULURP, he added, should wait “until they can tell us what they want to do with the entire building. And they have no idea what they want to do with the rest of the building. There are a lot more questions than answers at this point.”
Garodnick said the tour was “useful in that you can get a sense of the potential structure,” but, he added, “We think this proposal is being rushed and it has not fully contemplated the entire block be tween the FDR Drive and First Avenue.”
The Brookdale campus takes up a full city block from 25th to 26th Streets and First Avenue to the FDR Drive. “It’s impossible to evaluate an incomplete plan,” said Garodnick, “and that’s what we have.”
He added that he thought the discussion should continue as it has been at Community Board 6 meetings. The last public meeting on the subject was held in late June and an extended public comment period ended on August 14.
In response to a question from a reporter of whether the DSNY would delay its ULURP request, Belinda Mager, a spokesperson for the department, indicated it wouldn’t.
“DSNY needs to advance the site selection and design process of this garage so that construction contracts can be awarded as soon as the city has site control in 2015,” she said. She added that, “DSNY would only control the part of the site required for the garage.”
The department has said previously the west and east sides could be leased out by the city to private developers. Meanwhile, the lack of available information on the plans for the east and west parcels has led at least one neighborhood resident, Schriffen, to draw his own conclusions — that the city will be using one side to store fuel tanks, the other for a salt shed. The DSNY has however said that while there will be fuel storage onsite, there won’t be a salt shed.
“No salt shed is included with this project,” said Mager. “Salt spreaders would be loaded at existing salt sheds.”
Still, Schriffen, a former prosecutor turned private practice attorney, said he thinks that’s what’s coming because there isn’t yet one nearby and the department’s own scoping document, dated May 24, notes that the department wants to rezone the block from its current R8 (mixed residential and institutional status) to M-16, which is for “large scale special development” and to get “various bulk waivers.”
As for a salt shed, he said he was opposed to that use for the property as well as the storage of diesel fuel due to the dangerous chemicals that are found in both.
To store the fuel tanks, Schriffen said he was told on the tour that there would be a berm made of pebbles with a concrete lid. Handal said it was explained that it would be placed below ground but appear to be above ground inside and “above the flood plain.” She added that she’s been asking for a drawing of the plan since she and others on the tour found the explanation confusing.
Later, Mager said the tanks would be stored underground “and would be constructed to adhere to all applicable city, state and federal codes.”
On the tour, Sanitation reps noted that there were vents in the garage for pumping out fumes for the safety of people in the building, but Schriffen, who lives on East 23rd Street, later said he wondered about the safety of the surrounding community.
“Where do those fumes go?” he said. “Bellevue? The V.A. hospital? NYU Medical School is going to be sucking all that in?”
Other area residents have also expressed concern about the presence of onsite diesel fuel tanks at the garage and how they would affect security and air quality. Additional concerns have been raised about traffic on the surrounding streets due to sanitation trucks competing for space with V.A. and Bellevue hospital ambulances, odors from garbage emanating from the site and excess noise once construction begins.
Handal said she was particularly concerned about traffic congestion around the facility since Waterside Plaza, which is located right across the FDR Drive from the site, has two onsite schools. Additionally, a nearby street, Asser Levy Place, is eventually going to be closed to traffic following the Asser Levy Playground’s planned expansion.
“They say they’ve done traffic studies already, but I want to see copies of those because they need to do that during the school year,” said Handal.
Area residents have also been vocal about their opposition to the garage based on the fact that such a facility is completely inconsistent with the rest of First Avenue in the East 20s and some of the 30s, now a corridor housing three hospitals as well as numerous other medical and science-related facilities.
Pending legislation aims to reform the Rent Guidelines Board. Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel
By Sabina Mollot
For years, tenant-friendly politicians (Assembly Democrats) have been pushing in Albany for legislation aimed at keeping housing affordable and protecting renters’ rights while the real estate-friendly pols (Senate Republicans) have successfully pushed back.
While local legislators Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Brad Hoylman have admitted they don’t know if this year will be any different once the legislative session starts up again after the summer, they are of course going to continue to try to get the bills, which have passed the Assembly, get through the Senate in one piece this time.Tenant-related laws were last strengthened somewhat in 2011 after years of being weakened due to landlord pressure. They included changing the rent increase owners can charge for renovating apartments from 1/40th to 1/60th of the rent and killing a bill that would have legislatively undone the effects of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit. Additionally, high-income decontrol levels, which previously deregulated apartments where tenants paid $2,000 in rent and earned $175,000 a year in household income were raised to $2,500 and $200,000, respectively.
However, there was no effect on major capital improvement (MCI) fees or vacancy bonuses, nor was there a change to vacancy decontrol. Home rule was also not returned from the state to the city.
Currently, these are the major tenant-related bills that have so far passed the Assembly, but have been rejected by state senators:
1. Reform of the Rent Guidelines Board—This bill would give the City Council more oversight in the selection of the nine people who sit on the board. Currently, they are chosen by Mayor Bloomberg, and tenant advocates have criticized the board’s five “public members” as being owner-biased.
The bill would mean those who want to serve as public, tenant or owner members would have to explain why they want the unpaid job, which involves getting heckled at every public appearance, and what experience they have that qualifies them to decide the fates of over a million rent-stabilized New Yorkers.
2. Limiting of MCI fee payment period—Major capital improvements are fees landlords can charge to recoup their costs for necessary improvements they make on their properties, on top of tenants’ regular rent. However, even after the projects are paid off, the fees still remain on tenants’ rent bills. This means MCIs can end up being big business for owners, and in 2009, after meeting with the state housing agency, ST-PCV Tenants Association leaders learned that 20 percent of the MCI requests in the city came from ST/PCV alone.
If this bill is passed, the charge for an MCI would be paid off in a period of seven years and then taken off a tenant’s rent bill.
“So it doesn’t become permanent,” said Kavanagh, “which gives landlords incentive to do things that are not necessarily in the best interest of the building or tenants.”
3. Repeal of vacancy decontrol—While at this time, residents in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village are rent-stabilized because of the outcome of “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer,” Kavanagh pointed out that vacancy decontrol will be allowed once again to turn vacated apartments in ST/PCV to market rate once the property’s J-51 tax benefits expire in 2020. Repealing vacancy decontrol would obviously remove incentive for landlords to churn out apartments in the hopes of getting a new tenant to pay market rate.
4. Lowering of vacancy bonuses—Currently, every time a rent-stabilized apartment is vacated, an owner can raise the next tenant’s rent by 20 percent. This bill would lower that amount to seven percent. This, bill, too, is aimed at reducing a landlord’s incentive to encourage apartment turnover.
5. Elimination of “preferential rents”—Currently, in many cases in the city, owners charge what’s referred to as “preferential” rents to tenants, while also explaining that legally, the charge could be higher. This has led to confusion among tenants, in particularly those who are new to rent-regulated housing.
Kavanagh, however, said he considers the policy a bait-and-switch scheme. Because, he said, when the lease is next up for renewal, a tenant’s rent can be increased drastically up to the legal rent. If the bill is passed, once a tenant’s rent is set, there couldn’t be any hike at the next renewal other than what has been issued by the Rent Guidelines Board.
“In many parts of the city, they use preferential rents to get you into apartments,” said Kavanagh.
Additionally, although not exactly housing related, one bill that Hoylman said he believes will ultimately help tenants is campaign finance reform. Through this act, he believes, more Senate members will support tenants rather than the real estate industry.
He added that he thought the act does have some legs, in part due to a commission started by Governor Cuomo this summer that will investigate legislators and possibly uncover misconduct, including over issues that are campaign finance related. It’s unlikely, however that anything will happen this year, since the commission won’t be reporting on its findings until December.
Borough President Scott Stringer, pictured with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick, marching in the Peter Stuyvesant Little League Parade in April Photo by Sabina Mollot
Since his late entry into the race for city comptroller, former Governor Eliot Spitzer has garnered the lion’s share of the press out of the two candidates, though his rival, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, has also proven to be no slouch in that department.
Naturally, much of the headlines have focused on the hooker scandal that ended Spitzer’s career as governor rather than debates over whether Stringer or Spitzer is better equipped for the job of keeping an eye on the city’s books. It is worth noting though, that the media’s (and readers’ and viewers’) fascination with Spitzer’s past is hardly unfair, given it involved illegal activities. His attempt to re-enter the world of politics constantly brings to mind the debate of whether or not lawmakers who break the law should be forgiven and given a second chance. Ultimately, on Primary Day, September 10, the people will decide if they do.
However, we hope that New Yorkers make it clear that they don’t want to hire a hypocrite. Especially since there is another candidate, who (so far at least) has proven himself to be a law abiding citizen and, in his function as borough president, has become very much in the know about what New Yorkers’ needs are, and therefore where their tax dollars need to be spent and where they don’t.
On the one hand, Stringer, like, Spitzer, is no CPA, so their respective goals of becoming comptroller don’t seem like obvious job choices for either of them, but in politics, sometimes it’s just about entering the race in which the odds of winning seem higher. And this particular race at one point appeared to be a shoo-in for Stringer. The current standoff, however, with Spitzer’s name recognition and real estate money and Stringer’s own impressive war chest and celebrity endorsements, show that both of these guys mean business.
Still, we believe that of the two, Stringer is simply the better man for the job and he has our endorsement.
While normally, no one from this newspaper would even be focusing on the race for comptroller, the fact is that due to Spitzer’s salacious past, this race, like the one for mayor (in part due to the campaign of former Congressman and serial sexter Anthony Weiner), has attracted citywide interest.
But there may some distinct local interest as well. Residents of the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village community may recall that Stringer, long before he ran for comptroller (ending that particular dream for Dan Garodnick) has been a supporter of residents here. He wrote an amicus brief for the tenants in the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit and has seldom missing a meeting held by the Tenants Association.
He also, along with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, has dreamt up the East River Blueway plan, which will revitalize the riverfront from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 38th Street, making the East Side of Manhattan more prepared for the next natural disaster while also giving area residents something they’ve never had before ― access to the water, complete with kayaks and beaches.
Stringer’s other projects in the past year alone have included unveiling the “Veggie Van,” a mobile greenmarket for underserved communities, releasing a report detailing the concerns of NYCHA residents about safety in their homes and releasing another report revealing deplorable conditions at local animal shelters.