Coalition formed against sanit garage

The Brookdale site as seen from Waterside (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The Brookdale site as seen from Waterside (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenant groups against the proposed sanitation garage at the Brookdale campus organized themselves just in time for another public scoping hearing that took place at the site of proposed facility on Wednesday.

 The Brookdale Neighborhood Coalition announced their formation on Tuesday in the form of a press release. The individual tenant organizations have been fighting the construction of the garage since it was announced almost three years ago but this is the first time that the groups have officially come together to oppose the plan. The coalition consists of the tenant associations at Waterside Plaza, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, East Midtown Plaza and the Kips Bay Neighborhood Association.

The Economic Development Corporation had invited community members to provide their input on the project through a working group, but this venture was designed to discuss plans for the bookend sites, not the garage itself.

Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, said that many members of the community were hopeful and then quickly discouraged by the purpose of the working group because most people primarily wanted to discuss how to prevent the garage and talking about the outer parcels was less of a priority.

“(DSNY) said the time to talk about the garage would be at public meetings so we organized after last public meeting and decided we would be more effective as one voice,” Handal said.

The coalition aims to keep higher standards for the DSNY in terms of its requirements for the projected studies that the department will be conducting and a formal response will be released on July 22. At that time, the coalition will outline its concerns on pedestrian safety, traffic, air quality and other issues.

Tenants are concerned about the fact that DSNY says a public health analysis of the project is not warranted.

“When you start looking at the data, Gramercy has the worst health

quality and that’s from the mayor’s own portal,” Handal said. “DSNY says, ‘well, we use ultra clean diesel,’ but that does not do anything with the fine particulate matter. The filters on the trucks reduce that pollution by 90 percent, which is good, but that’s not all of it so you have a net increase of pollution. The devil is in the details, as they say.”

Other issues that the coalition is worried about involve pedestrian safety, especially because of the area’s proximity to a number of schools, in addition to the multiple residential housing complexes. Traffic is another concern: according to data from the city website for Vision Zero, there is a high density of traffic-related incidents in the area and there was a 30 percent increase in collisions from 2009 to 2014.

“When you go back and think about what Mayor de Blasio’s goals were with Vision Zero, the first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens,” Handal said. “How is that happening here?”

The group is also hoping to highlight some points that they feel the draft EIS has missed in terms of comprehensive analysis of the garage’s impact, including the identification of alternative locations and not adequately studying the health hazards.

The last public scoping hearing, which was scheduled for July 15 (after T&V’s press time), was meant to gather comments that will be incorporated into the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Residents will get a 30-day period in which to respond and then the final Environmental Impact Statement will be released. Handal said that she’s not optimistic that DSNY is open to a discussion addressing all of the community’s concerns, but she has been motivated by her investigation into the hazards to keep trying anyway.

“I sometimes get lulled into the notion of a kinder, gentler garage,” she admitted, “but when I do the research it’s so upsetting because we’re right next door.”

A spokesperson from the DSNY was not immediately available for comment on the coalition.

Lawsuit to close election loophole

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (pictured at a rally in May) is one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, three Democratic state legislators filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections aimed at closing the “LLC Loophole.”

The so-called loophole, created by the board in 1996, came under scrutiny this year due to all the campaign cash that had been legally funneled to legislators through limited liability companies. Many of the LLCs were controlled by real estate interests, most infamously Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management. The loophole has allowed them to give nearly limitless contributions — up to $60,800 in a single election year by allowing them to be considered individuals.

“It’s not just (Litwin),” said Brent Ferguson, an attorney with New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which helped prepare the lawsuit. “In the real estate industry, they can operate a separate LLC for every building they own.”

He added, “We think it’s an incorrect reading of the law.”

The Brennan Center got involved with a suit on the loophole, said Ferguson, because it’s “become very popular” in recent years. “The amount has skyrocketed.”

Since 2011, $54 million has been donated by LLCs through the loophole, and while those doing the giving are usually traceable, they aren’t always.

“We think it’s one of the biggest problems in New York’s campaign finance system and democracy in general,” said Ferguson.

The legislators who are plaintiffs in the suit include Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Senators Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron who are all Democrats as well as

Republicans John R. Dunne, a former senator and former U.S. attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and Maureen Koetz, who ran a campaign against Assembly Member Sheldon Silver last year.

Another plaintiff is SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, an upstate Republican Party leader. The suit was filed with the Albany County Supreme Court with the help of the Brennan Center and the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

In April the Brennan Center and Emery Celli asked the BOE to close the loophole, but the board, after a 2-2 vote, didn’t reverse its decision.

Prior to the rent laws being renewed last month, Kavanagh had introduced legislation that would cap contributions from corporations at $5,000 per calendar year. The bill made it through the Assembly but not the Senate.

In an official statement, Kavanagh said, “The individuals and businesses who give large contributions through LLCs have much more power than those who have not contributed or have contributed under the lower limits that apply to other entities and individuals. The result is that government does not adequately represent those New Yorkers who do not have the ability or desire to exploit the LLC Loophole.”

Krueger said that she’s encountered would-be candidates for public office who got turned off from running because they didn’t think they’d be able to compete with candidates raising more money.

“The prominence of LLC contributions has a significant effect on the willingness and ability of people to run for office,” she said.

Ferguson said the plaintiffs are hoping the litigation will be resolved before the 2016 elections. The fight is not a new one though, he said, noting that in 2007, some good government groups raised some of the points to the BOE raised in the suit.

The lawsuit argues that an LLC is not individual because: “An LLC cannot vote. It holds no political view separate of its members.” It also noted how LLCs had been looked at by the governor’s now disbanded anti-corruption panel, who believed they contributed to Albany’s “pay-to-play culture.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.

Letters to the Editor, July 16

July16 Toon Iran gray

An accelerating problem on East 23rd Street

The following is an open letter to Council Member Dan Garodnick:

Dear Dan,

On the heels of a letter to you by a resident of Stuyvesant Town, Mr. Sanderson, which was published in the Town & Village, about unsafe conditions in the service lane, I would like to bring to your attention some very dangerous conditions a little bit north, on 23rd Street.

I have been a resident of Peter Cooper Village for many years. For a long time, 23rd Street was a quiet place. Not anymore. For the past few years, it has become a major access road to the FDR Drive. During the quieter times, before and after rush hours, 23rd Street from First Avenue down to the Drive, has a become a speedway for many cars and busses. If a device checking speed limits were to be set up, many vehicles would clock in at well over the 25 mile an hour speed limit, more like 40 to 50 miles per hour.

During rush hours when the traffic is bumper to bumper, horns blaring, many drivers have taken to the service lane as a way to avoid the backup of traffic. So, now, the service lane becomes the speedway. Many drivers go through the stop sign at First Avenue and 23rd Street, and the one at Asser Levy Place. At the end of the service lane is a sign and signal for a right turn only. Not for many of these drivers who care not what a sign says. There are many, many u-turns made all day, all evening.

If someone stops in the service lane, briefly, to wait for a parking spot, these speeders start honking, and sometimes screaming at the person who has every right to stop for a minute or two.

Another infraction is cars exiting the service lane at what is the entrance, and entering at the exit. It is a collision waiting to happen.

I was at the 13th Police Precinct’s community meeting last summer to discuss these issues. After listing all the above, the only comment was  “Oh yes, children go to school over there.”

I think they should have said we really need to keep the residents of the community safe, or people are always crossing to use the gym at Asser Levy Place, or anything in the way of grasping the seriousness of the reckless driving.

I am hoping that action will be taken here, so that we do not have a pedestrian hit by a vehicle, or a very serious accident on 23rd Street.

Sincerely,

J. Greene PCV

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