Week In Review: October 24

Andres Pazmino from Chelsea/Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce, Anwar Khoder from Li-Lac Chocolates, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick and Christopher Taylor from Li-Lac Chocolates at the award ceremony over the weekend.

State Senator Brad Hoylman celebrated the opening of Li-Lac Chocolate’s sixth location at Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue on Saturday. At a weekend ceremony, Hoylman presented Li-Lac Chocolates with the New York Senate Empire Award to honor this local small business. The Empire Award is the New York State Senate’s highest award for local businesses, honoring them for excellence and community involvement. Li-Lac Chocolates was given this award in recognition as Manhattan’s oldest chocolate house, and for making their community a sweeter place to live. At the award presentation on Saturday, October 19, Hoylman was joined by Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick; Erik Bottcher, Chief of Staff to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Anthony Cirone, Anwar Khoder and Christopher Taylor.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods,” Hoylman said. “At a time when multinational corporations and big landlords are making it difficult for small businesses to survive, it’s wonderful to see this local Greenwich Village small business thriving. I’m proud to present Li-Lac Chocolates with the New York Senate Empire Business Award to honor their years of success and sixth location. What could be sweeter than that?”

In response to the increased use of “smart key” systems in residential buildings throughout New York City, City Councilmember Mark Levine introduced legislation in the City Council last Thursday to prevent landlords from improperly using personal data collected by these systems to harass or evict tenants or to monitor their individual apartments. In recent years residential landlords in the city have increasingly been replacing traditional key locks with new keyless access to buildings – often referred to as “smart access systems.” These new entry systems replace physical keys with several new technological components like biometrics identifiers (i.e. fingerprints, eye scans, facial recognition technology), smartphone apps, and personalized key fobs. The ability of “smart access systems” to collect a broad range of personal data on tenants and their apartments has created serious concerns over where these systems can be used, what data can be collected, and who has access to that data.

“With the rapid conversion to electronic access in residential buildings across New York City, we have to make sure tenants are safeguarded from landlords who may try to use the information collected by these systems to harass or evict tenants from their homes,” Levine said. “Most renters in the city are probably unaware that every time they use a keyless access system in their building or in their apartment that information is electronically logged and can be seen by their landlords. We need to have strong regulations in place to protect tenants from the misuse of this data by their landlords. Every tenant has the right to know what data is being collected by their landlords and should feel secure that that data cannot be used against them.”

The de Blasio Administration launched a campaign on Monday to educate tenants on their new rights under the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. The ads, designed by The Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, give New York City renters the information they need to hold their landlords accountable. The ads will run from October 21 to December 15 and will be displayed in subways, bus shelters, small businesses, Staten Island ferry terminals, community newspapers, Link kiosks and online. The city’s Public Engagement Unit will be going door to door to make sure tenants know about the new protections and how to advocate for themselves.

Tenants across New York City won new protections this summer due to new State legislation. The new laws make it harder for landlords to evict tenants and strengthened protections for New Yorkers living in rent regulated apartments. These laws are enforced by the State’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR). These protections include protection from large security deposits, onerous application fees, limits on how rent can increase, and limits how much landlords can charge regulated tenants for building improvements. Anyone with questions about their rights or concerns that they are being illegally harassed can find more information at the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants’ new website or by calling 311.

“The State Legislature passed some of the most progressive rent reforms we’ve seen in decades, but if New Yorkers don’t know their rights, it will all be for nothing,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This campaign will arm New Yorkers with the knowledge to fight harassment and stay in their homes.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman praised Governor Cuomo last Thursday for signing legislation to end the double jeopardy loophole and enable requesting Congressional committees to obtain a President’s state tax information. As President Trump continues his abuses of power and conflicts of interest, Senator Hoylman and the New York State Senate are taking action to protect our democracy and constitution against abuses by this and future presidential administrations. Hoylman’s TRUST Act, which allows New York State to share tax return information with Congressional investigations, was passed by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo earlier this year. Governor Cuomo signed additional legislation last Wednesday to close the ‘double jeopardy’ loophole and reduce Trump’s power to pardon his corrupt associates; this legislation was advanced by Attorney General Letitia James, sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky and co-sponsored by Senator Hoylman.

“Combined with our new law to require Trump hand over his state tax returns to Congress, the new law closing double jeopardy loophole is New York’s ‘one-two punch’ against the lawlessness perpetrated by Donald Trump,” Hoylman said. “While the Trump Administration tramples on the constitution and the rule of law, New York is acting responsibly to hold the president accountable. I’m grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing these important bills into law and to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senator Todd Kaminsky for passing this legislation.”

The City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions and the Committee on Land Use voted last Wednesday to approve the plan to close the jails on Rikers Island and build four new borough-based facilities, and the plan passed at a full vote in City Council last Thursday, culminating a years-long effort propelled by the strong advocacy of the formerly incarcerated to shutter Rikers Island. The vote occurred as Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson and Council leadership agree to a wide-range of investments tied to the closure of Rikers totaling $391 million dollars, including $126 million in previously planned investments and $265 million in new programming that will address the root causes of incarceration and help fundamentally reshape New York City’s criminal justice system going forward. These investments are being announced in detail for the first time today.

“Throughout this process I have stressed the importance of investing in communities most impacted by the criminal justice system,” said City Councilmember Keith Powers, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. “These targeted, citywide investments further indicate that closing Rikers Island is not only a land-use action, but an urgent moment to overhaul the criminal justice system.”

MTA New York City Transit announced last Thursday that more than 1,500 vehicles have been captured blocking bus lanes on the M15 Select Bus Service route since a new bus-mounted camera enforcement began on Oct. 7. The MTA’s newly implemented forward-facing mobile camera system is part of a multi-agency approach to keep bus lanes clear, speed up rides and prioritize transit on high-volume corridors throughout the city. NYC Transit is using an Automated Bus Lane Enforcement (ABLE) system on 51 buses that travel on the M15 Select Bus Service route, which uses dedicated bus lanes implemented by the New York City Department of Transportation. ABLE camera systems capture evidence such as license plate information, photos and videos, as well location and timestamp information, of vehicles obstructing bus lanes to document clear cases of bus lane violation. The system collects multiple pieces of evidence from multiples buses traveling in the bus lanes to ensure that vehicles making permitted turns from bus lanes are not ticketed. The package of evidence is transmitted to NYCDOT for review and processing, and the program is administered in partnership with NYCDOT and the NYC Department of Finance.

“Under Mayor de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan, we have committed to increase citywide bus speeds 25 percent by the end of 2020, and to get there, we will need to step up enforcement to keep vehicles out of the more than 100 miles of dedicated bus lanes we have built around the city,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “For years, we had overhead cameras along routes like the M15, but adding enforcement cameras to the buses themselves will help us further keep bus lanes clear, allowing tens of thousands of commuters to keep moving.  And we know that improvement in bus travel times consistently lead to increased ridership. We thank our state elected officials in Albany who successfully pushed for this change as well as NYCT President Andy Byford and the team at the MTA for their partnership as we strengthen this essential enforcement program, serving the New Yorkers who take more than 2 million daily bus trips.”

Week in Review: Oct. 17

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Carlina Rivera last week announced the publication of the final report on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR) by independent consultant Deltares, hired for the review of the project last month. In her Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) recommendation, Brewer requested an independent environmental expert to review the ESCR Project and prepare comments regarding the City’s Preferred Alternative 4 proposal and the other three alternative designs. The independent review by Deltares was led by Dr. Hans Gehrels.

Among the findings in the report, which studied resiliency in the Alternative 3 and Alternative 4 designs, are: the need for improving transparency and stakeholder engagement; ongoing monitoring for air quality impacts to be made available publicly; release of city documents that provide evidence for the analysis underlying the Final Environmental Impact Statement; further investigation of Interim Flood Protection Measures (IFPM) during the construction period; phased construction for continued use of of portions of the park with additional open space mitigation; and additional clean fill for future flood protection against sea-level rise. The full report can be viewed online.

Parents at PS 116 expressed concern on Monday about the school at 210 East 33rd Street being opened as a voting site by the Board of Elections for early voting for 10 days starting at the end of this month. Parents said that there was no warning about the school being chosen, since the mayor’s office initially proposed high schools and universities but PS 116, an elementary school, was not included on the initial lists. One parent noted that identification is usually required to enter the school building but while it is open for early voting, an unknown number of people will be allowed to enter the school without being checked. 

PS 116 will be the early voting site for Peter Cooper Village residents, where early voting will be available starting on Saturday, October 26 through Sunday, November 3. Early voting for Stuy Town residents will be at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists at 10 East 15th Street.

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Week In Review, Jan. 21

State Senator Brad Hoylman called on telecommunications giant Time Warner Cable on Monday to improve access for blind and visually impaired customers by voluntarily instituting basic product standards, including television guides and documents written in Braille, font size options for on-screen menus, as well as “talking menus” and “talking guides.” In a letter to Chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, Hoylman noted that while “Comcast has already set an example with its simple to use and accessible technology,” Time Warner has yet to implement similar programs for its share of New York’s 400,000 visually impaired residents.
Hoylman learned of the issue from a constituent while visiting VISIONS, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitation and social services to the visually impaired, in his senate district with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The City Council voted unanimously in support of legislation to change the way that the city communicates with New Yorkers who qualify for the city’s Rent Freeze Program on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy, requires the Department of Finance to include a notice regarding legal and preferential rents on certain documents related to the NYC Rent Freeze Program.
Specifically, the notice must include the rent amount on which the benefit calculation was based, an explanation of why that amount was used in the calculation, an explanation that the tenant may continue to pay a preferential rent even once enrolled in the program, A statement that the tenant can obtain a rent registration history and file a complaint with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal and a telephone number and email address for that agency. In addition, by 2018, the legislation would require the Department of Finance to include both the preferential and legal regulated rents of applicants to the NYC Rent Freeze Program in its database and include the preferential rent amount in the notice described above.

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Week In Review, Aug. 13

Rev. Jacob Smith

Rev. Jacob Smith

Several members of the Cavalry-St. George’s parish, including Reverend Jacob Smith and Josh Encinias, were at the All Angels Episcopal Church in Twilight Park, Greene County over the weekend when a fire broke out. Everyone was able to escape the building and although several people were hospitalized, all are expected to make a full recovery. The building was destroyed in the fire, which is believed to be electrical in origin. Reverend Smith will be at Calvary-St. George’s next Sunday and available then to provide an update.

Stuyvesant Town resident and swimmer Simona Dwass completed a big race on the first Saturday in August. The recent high school graduate was attempting the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, taking a counterclockwise turn about the island, and she made it in eight hours and 20 minutes. She was initially worried that the water temperature might be an impediment to her finishing but managed to overcome the obstacle. “I was cold, but just kept going,” she said. “Overall it was a great adventure.”

Breastfeeding mothers and families, elected officials and advocates from throughout the city participated in the “NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council’s Annual Breastfeeding Subway Caravan” on the steps of City Hall on Friday.
After the rally, the caravan traveled on the A train to Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Restoration Plaza for the Brooklyn Alliance for Breastfeeding Empowerment’s (B.A.B.E.) day-long breastfeeding celebration. The Breastfeeding Leadership Council seeks to draw attention to the fact that too many women are still being questioned or harassed for breastfeeding in public.
At the rally, Maloney was presented with the NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council’s Breastfeeding Champion Award for her leadership in promoting breastfeeding as an option for working mothers. For many years, Maloney has introduced legislation to promote and protect a mother’s right to breastfeed. She partnered with Senator Jeff Merkley to include a provision in the Affordable Care Act stating that employers must provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, until the child’s first birthday.

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Oct. 24 Week In Review

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal introduced legislation last year that would protect rent-regulated tenants filing for bankruptcy protection and would prevent a landlord from buying a rent-regulated tenant’s lease at a discounted price to satisfy a portion of the tenant’s debt in bankruptcy. In a recent trend, bankruptcy courts have been allowing bankruptcy trustees to count the value of a rent-regulated lease as an asset when the tenant files for bankruptcy.
The state provides an exemption for homeowners filing for bankruptcy so that they will not lose their homes and the intent of bankruptcy is not to destabilize families by making them homeless and the same should be true for rent-regulated tenants, Rosenthal argued, because their apartments are just as much of a home as a house or other owned property.
“Filing for bankruptcy won’t land you in debtor’s prison anymore, but if you’re a rent-regulated tenant, it could make you homeless, and that’s simply unfair,” Rosenthal said. “That’s why I introduced legislation to ensure that rent-regulated tenants are afforded the same protections as homeowners when filing for bankruptcy.”

A flood wall will soon be built to protect the VA Medical Center from future storms. (Rendering courtesy of VA Medical Center)

A flood wall will soon be built to protect the VA Medical Center from future storms. (Rendering courtesy of VA Medical Center)

There will soon be a temporary flood wall around the VA’s Manhattan Campus on East 23rd Street, the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System announced on Tuesday. The temporary wall will extend from Asser Levy Place, partially up East 23rd Street and to East 25th Street. The eight-foot flood wall, made of cellular structures filled with sand, is expected to take about six weeks to complete construction. Construction of a higher, more permanent wall to protect from future storms potentially stronger than Hurricane Sandy will be built over an 18-month period. The VA was closed for many months following Hurricane Sandy, opening partially in March and then fully over the summer.

Asser Levy Place will also be closed to traffic beginning October 28 in anticipation of a new park that will be in its place. The expansion of the park is due to funding from City Councilmember Dan Garodnick and the United Nations Development Corporation. Work is expected to be completed on the project within a year.
“Open space is sorely needed on the East Side of Manhattan, and this expansion will ultimately mean more open space not only at Asser Levy, but also for the whole East Side waterfront,” Garodnick said. “This is the first step in a plan that will increase the amount of active space East Siders get, and at no cost to the City.”

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy coming up next week, Con Edison has made numerous improvements to its energy-delivery systems as part of its plan to strengthen critical infrastructure and protect residents from major storms. The overhead equipment is now more resilient, substations have new walls and raised equipment and gas and steam infrastructure is protected with water-proofing measures. The next steps for post-Hurricane Sandy plans throughout the next few years include burying 30 miles of overhead lines, installing stronger aerial cable, redesigning lower Manhattan networks to de-energize customers in flood zones and replacing cast iron and steel gas pipes in flood-prone areas.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a number of New York chefs and restaurants have taken the “Pride of New York Pledge” to support New York State’s agricultural products and local foods, increasing their usage by 10 percent or more. The program is designed to encourage the local culinary industry to take advantage of the food and beverage products that the state has to offer. A number of local restaurants will be participating, including Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Maialino and Blue Smoke.

The New York Daily News reported last Saturday that Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is a supporter of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on big sodas. “I’m not ever afraid to disagree with Mayor Bloomberg when I think he’s wrong. But I believe the mayor is right on this issue,” de Blasio said. “We are losing the war on obesity. It’s unacceptable. This is a case where we have to get aggressive.”

The Downtown Manhattan exit ramp will be closed for the weekend beginning on Friday at 7 p.m. Motorists are advised to use an alternate route into Manhattan and to expect delays. There will also be one tube closed for the weekend at the Queens Midtown Tunnel, beginning this Saturday at 1 a.m., through 5 a.m. next Monday, due to necessary construction.

Bill de Blasio failed to report the tens of thousands of dollars in income from renting out his second Brooklyn home in his Conflict of Interest Board filing, Crain’s New York Business reported on Monday. A campaign spokesperson told Crain’s that the rental proceeds didn’t need to be reported to the conflicts board because there was no net income, but the city’s administrative code says that lawmakers need to report any income of $1,000 or more from each source during the previous calendar year.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, chair of the Commission on Government Administration, co-hosted a roundtable discussion on cloud computing in government last Tuesday. Cloud computing technology creates opportunities to improve coordination and efficiency of government resources, as well as reshape the state government’s interactions with the general public, such as how the public can access important information. Kavanagh will also be hosting a roundtable discussion on open data next Tuesday.