Editorial: Amazonian giveaway to a giant

After months of speculation on where Amazon would decide to hold court, the online retail giant finally announced the locations of its headquarters, which will be split in two cities: Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City in New York.

It didn’t take long before City Hall and nearly every politician in town crowed about Amazon’s promise to make at least 25,000 hires  in positions paying an average of $150,000, after being promised up to $2.2 billion in state and city giveaways. Of course good-paying jobs are a benefit to New Yorkers. However, we still can’t help but feel the city has really turned its back on small businesses this time.

As the long-stalled effort to get the Small Business Jobs Survival Act passed proves, no one is afraid to parrot the real estate industry’s argument that the demise of mom-and-pops has more to do with online shopping than exorbitant rent. At the hearing for the SBJSA, a representative of the city’s Small Business Services agency argued against the bill, warning of “unintended consequences” like landlords being more hesitant to lease to small businesses.

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Veterans Day Parade celebrates end of WWI

Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

On Sunday, around 25,000 veterans, active military personnel and their supporters marched up Fifth Avenue from 23rd Street for New York City’s annual Veterans Day Parade.

The city’s parade, which is the largest in the country, this year celebrated the centennial of the end of World War I, with the army the featured branch of the military.

Prior to the march, speakers mentioned how that war presented a number of firsts, including women joining the ranks. Additionally, one tenth of the military during what was then known as “The Great War” or “The World War” were residents of New York State, half of those New Yorkers from the city.

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LES ferry makes maiden voyage

ferry arrives at Stuy Cove2

The Ocean Queen Rock Star, part of the fleet of NYC Ferry’s Lower East Side route, arrives at Stuyvesant Cove at 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Despite temperatures climbing high enough to warrant an official heat advisory from the city, cool winds prevailed along the East River on Wednesday for those aboard the new ferries along the Lower East Side route that launched that morning. The ferry that made the maiden voyage took off from Long Island City at around 6:30, arriving at Stuyvesant Cove at exactly 6:45 a.m. as the sun rose, carrying a mix of Stuyvesant Town residents and reporters.

The ferry, named the Ocean Queen Rock Star, then proceeded — at around 26 miles per hour — to downtown landing Corlears Hook, named, like Stuyvesant Cove, after a park on the waterfront. There, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Member Keith Powers cheered the new route, which made its debut months ahead of the dreaded L train shutdown.

De Blasio mentioned that the city has been getting many requests from New Yorkers who want a ferry stop in their neighborhoods and said that by the end of the year, decisions will be made on where else they would go. As of Wednesday, there were already six active ferry routes in the city, all operated by Hornblower. According to the mayor, there have also already been six million riders so far on NYC Ferry.

“We know how crowded the subways are. We know the streets are congested,” he said. “We know we need new ways to get around the city. We will not be the city we were meant to be if we don’t have better options.”

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Fourth L train shutdown bus route announced

Mayor Bill de Blasio heard from a commuter during a ride on the L train, as he headed to a press conference with reporters on the aforementioned train’s dreaded shutdown. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The MTA is adding a fourth bus route to help commuters get from Brooklyn to Manhattan during the L train shutdown that will run up First Avenue.

Joseph Ehrlich, a project manager for NYC Transit, said at a Community Board 5 meeting this week that the route was added based on feedback from members of the community.

The agency announced the additional bus at CB5’s most recent transportation committee meeting on Monday evening and also provided more detailed logistical information about how the buses would run.

The new bus, the L4, will operate along a similar route in Manhattan as the previously-announced L1. After heading into Manhattan over the Williamsburg Bridge, the L1 and L4 will go up Allen Street and continue onto First Avenue before turning onto East 15th Street and going south on Second Avenue until East Houston Street. The L1 originates near the L’s Grand Street stop while the L4 services riders close to the Bedford stop on the L.

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Opinion: Being mayor in New York City

By former Assemblyman Steve Sanders

Five years ago this month, Bill de Blasio was running for mayor against a bevy of better-known candidates featuring City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Congressman Anthony Weiner in the Democratic Primary. His early standing in the polls was fifth among five.

As the summer wore on, one by one they fell by the wayside.

Weiner’s political career dissolved amid a flurry of revelations about his obsession with sending pictures and texts of the most personal nature to women (and later even girls). He was utterly discredited. Quinn came across as entitled and arrogant and the voters soured on her. Another contender, City Comptroller John Liu, had been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegal political advertising and never gained traction. And Bill Thompson could not repeat his impressive showing from four years earlier.

By the end of August just weeks before the primary, voters began to gravitate towards de Blasio by process of elimination. He was progressive and made great promises about a liberal renaissance after 20 years of Republican rule in City Hall.

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Air asbestos free, city says, but evacuated buildings still off limits

July26 Con Ed cleanup

A Con Ed crew cleaning up the street on Friday (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

The air is asbestos-free, the city said, after testing samples following the steam pipe explosion, on Friday evening. While some debris samples contained asbestos, it’s unlikely people exposed will become ill since “asbestos-related illnesses usually develop after many years of exposure,” according to an update provided by the mayor’s office and the Office of Emergency Management. The city also said irritation to the eyes, nose and throat from debris is possible, and recommends anyone with those symptoms contact doctor.

Meanwhile, the city is still keeping people out of the “hot zone” in Flatiron.

While the area continues to be cleaned up, the hot zone boundaries include:

  • Fifth Avenue from 19th Street to 22nd Street (midway down the block on 19th Street and most of 20th and 21st streets on the west side).
  • The entire block on East 20th and 21st Streets and midway down the block on East 19th Street.

Neighborhood residents whose building have been evacuated (49 buildings in total) are still displaced. Forty-four buildings had their facades visually expected. However, none were cleared for residents to return home as of Friday at 5 p.m. as testing for asbestos continues. At this time, the city doesn’t have a number as to how many buildings have been contaminated. Once a determination is made, the buildings’ facades will be washed. Con Ed has appointed outside vendors for this project.

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Citi Bike to expand before L shutdown

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Citi Bike will be increasing the number of bikes and docking points, as well as the number of valet stations, around transit points near 14th Street starting next spring to help mitigate the L train shutdown.

The plan, announced by the mayor’s office last Thursday, will add 1,250 bikes and 2,500 new docking points to the network to increase coverage in some of the city’s busiest neighborhoods for the bikeshare and added valet stations will increase service during peak hours. The process of offering denser coverage, known as “infill,” will involve enlarging current Citi Bike stations as well as the addition of new docking stations.

The 10 percent expansion of service will begin in Manhattan for the first stage of its plan, focusing on the neighborhoods from Canal to 59th Streets, a DOT spokesperson told Town & Village. Specific locations for the new docks have not yet been announced.

Valet stations are docking points near transit hubs in Midtown and Lower Manhattan that are staffed by Citi Bike employees who can corral extra bikes during peak hours when docks fill up and empty quickly and the bikeshare is planning to add up to 10 new valet stations in preparation for the shutdown.

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Campos Plaza TA president says developers have improved NYCHA

July5 Campos Dereese courtyard

DeReese Huff, president of the Campos Plaza 1 Tenants Association, says since the city formed partnerships with developers at certain NYCHA properties, repairs have been getting made and residents feel safer. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, the mayor touted a pilot program in which the city partnered with private developers to improve conditions of NYCHA buildings, which, in recent months, have only drawn headlines highlighting the city’s lack of ability to deal with the crumbling buildings, freezing apartments and even lead paint.

However, based on the results of a study conducted by Citizens Housing & Planning Council, a nonprofit research group that investigates housing policy in New York City, the program that transferred management of six Section 8 properties, including Campos Plaza 1 on East 12th Street and Avenue C, to a public-private partnership has been successful in transforming the neglected buildings. Repairs are being conducted far more swiftly, upgrades have been getting made and residents have reported feeling safer.

While announcing a $400 million expansion to the program for 21 buildings, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the results at Campos and other participating properties were “the shape of things to come” at NYCHA. The mayor spoke alongside the president of the tenants association at NYCHA’s Campos Plaza 1, DeReese Huff.

“Everything is updated,” the mayor said. “It’s a place people can be very proud of. It’s a place that now has a strong foundation and whenever there is a need for repair, those repairs are being made quickly to keep it strong. That is the beauty of this model.”

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Opinion: Fixing rents and making enemies

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It is said that a good deal is one in which neither party is entirely satisfied. More about that in a moment.

Rent regulations in New York City has been a thorny issue for decades. So a little recent history. The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) was established in 1969 and modified by the passage of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. There are nine members of the RGB all appointed by the mayor. Of the nine, two are from the real estate industry, two representatives of tenant groups and five “public members.”

The RGB will meet on June 26 to set rent increases for leases that will expire beginning on October 1 through September 30, 2019. Currently, increases are set at 1.25 percent for a one-year lease and two percent for a two-year lease. Based on the proposals that have been recommended for public comment by the RGB, next year’s guidelines will be similar. There have been years where the rent increases rose into the double digits and there have been years that rents have been frozen. Generally speaking whatever the RGB decides, both tenants and owners cry foul. This year will be no different.

The fact is that try as they may, the RGB satisfies nobody. Moreover, it is difficult to do any planning because nobody knows what the rents will be set at from year to year. It is also a very dubious claim that the decision by the RGB is tied to any real economic data in terms of owners’ costs or profits and certainly not taking into consideration the financial burdens on tenants. In short, it is an arbitrary and often political process.

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Letter to the editor, May 17

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Sex harassment reforms appreciated

To the editor,

I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council for their leadership to enact a comprehensive and visionary package of reforms to address sexual harassment in our city.

Collectively, this package of legislation sends a strong message that the workplace must be filled with respect and that violating basic principles of decency will no longer be tolerated. Women’s City Club hopes that this bold action will prompt even further changes in the private sector – and, throughout society.

Carole J. Wacey
President and CEO of Women’s City Club of New York

Opinion: The business of stopping harassment

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers that’s aimed at cracking down on sexual harassment on Wednesday, May 9. (Photo courtesy of Keith Powers)

By City Council Member Keith Powers

Most businesses in New York City are small businesses. Not just small, but really small: a whopping 62.8 percent of businesses in the city have just 1-4 employees, according to census data.

For this reason, I was surprised to discover that workers for New York City businesses with fewer than four employees had no legal protection from incidents of sexual harassment under New York City’s Human Rights Law.

That’s why I introduced my first piece of legislation in January to extend sexual harassment protection to all private employees in New York City regardless of their size. The protection already existed at the state level, but this law wasn’t already in place here. That means every single private employee wasn’t protected. It was important to address this oversight, especially given how many employees fall into this group.

Our country is experiencing a watershed moment as women and men speak up about their experiences of harassment, creating the era of #MeToo. As stories unfold and wrongdoings are revealed, cities and states are taking action to modernize laws and prevent any incidents in the future.

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Mayor announces expanded ferry service

The ferry landing at Stuyvesant Cove Park (Photo by Thomas Rochford)

By Sabina Mollot

One year after the launch of NYC Ferry, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that ridership along the city’s waterways could grow to as many as 9 million annual passengers by 2023. This is twice as many passengers as were initially projected, so in anticipation of commuters abandoning the subway and flocking to ferries, the city will be nearly doubling its fleet of boats. For this purpose, $300 million has already been socked away for use over the next several years.

The funds will go towards three new 350-passenger capacity ferries (by late this summer) along the busiest routes and a second homeport where ferries will be maintained and repaired. There will also be improvements to the two main ferry terminals, Pier 11/Wall Street and East 34th Street. These include wider gangways and new bow-loading locations to increase the number of vessels that can dock simultaneously. Infrastructure improvements and upgrades are also planned for existing barges and landings to accommodate larger crowds. Eight charter vessels will also be deployed this summer, each with capacity between 250-500 passengers.

Commuters will also see increases in service. Boats will be arriving every 20-30 minutes on weekdays and weekends on all four routes. Additionally, beginning on Memorial Day Weekend, Governors Island will be the last stop on the East River and South Brooklyn routes. This is aimed at increasing service to the popular summer destination.

No changes were mentioned specifically for the ferry stop at Stuyvesant Cove, although it, along with four other stops on the Lower East Side route, is expected to open late this summer, which would be on schedule.

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Opinion: Star Wars

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The first Governor Cuomo (Mario) was fond of saying that “politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.” What he meant was that political campaigns are filled with lofty sounding rhetoric, but leading a government takes practical and carefully detailed policies. The place to actually look for what public officials mean to do and their priorities is found in the budget each year. That is the vehicle to literally put your money where your mouth is.

Last week the legislature and the governor put the finishing touches on the state budget for the new Fiscal Year. It was passed during the Passover Seder and hours before Easter Sunday. One thing for sure: There was no candy for Mayor de Blasio in those Albany Easter eggs. Mostly just bitter herbs.

Andrew Cuomo, who has never been shy about reacting to real or perceived slights, is using his powers as governor to the fullest extent to belittle and damage Bill de Blasio. However, he is doing a disservice to the people of New York City. It does not matter how this rivalry began. It has morphed into full-scale war. To make things even more interesting, both men fancy themselves as the progressive champion and alternative to the policies of President Trump. And there is not enough space for two such gargantuan egos in the same room or from the same state.

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Students participate in March For Our Lives

Protesters on Central Park West (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Young students and gun control advocates participated in the March For Our Lives on the Upper West Side this past Saturday, calling on Congress to pass stricter gun laws. Mayor Bill de Blasio posted on Twitter following the march that 175,000 New Yorkers had participated in the protest.

The rally prior to the official march along Central Park West to Columbus Circle included survivors from the Parkland shooting, as well as survivors from the Las Vegas and Sandy Hook shootings. Volunteers for the march were also wandering through the crowd encouraging participants, especially high school students about to turn 18, to register to vote and helping them fill out the appropriate paperwork.

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Editorial: A pilot program in preservation

The city was quick to slam an independent report that said the affordability preserved in the property’s most recent sale was exaggerated (although this was without disputing the actual figures cited by the Independent Budget Office).

Measuring affordability through years rather than apartments, the IBO has calculated that the majority of apartments would have remained affordable even without a deal that cost the city $220 million.

Just whether or not the city got what it paid for remains to be seen, as is how stable the community will remain over the years with a combination of market rents, true stabilized rents and upper and lower lottery tier rents.

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