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DiNapoli: MTA tipped Apple bid on Grand Central space
July 30th, 2012

The Apple store’s arrival in Grand Central Station was greeted with much ballyhoo, its unveiling like something out of a science fiction novel appearing out of nowhere to stun the masses.

Well, according to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, there was something extraordinary about the Apple store’s arrival in Grand Central.

He says Apple had an unfair advantage in the bidding process for the space thanks to help from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. According an audit by DiNapoli, the MTA worked with Apple for a year before issuing an RFP for the bidding on the space.

While Apple may turn out to be a good tenant, the MTA set a troubling
precedent when it played favorites and gave Apple a competitive edge over
others for the Grand Central space, DiNapoli said. Apple was directly
involved in setting the terms of the lease and given exclusive access to
information more than a year before any other vendor knew the Grand Central
location was available. The company even signed a $2 million agreement with
the current tenant to vacate its space five days before the MTA issued the
RFP.

While Apple may turn out to be a good tenant, the MTA set a troublingprecedent when it played favorites and gave Apple a competitive edge overothers for the Grand Central space, DiNapoli said. Apple was directlyinvolved in setting the terms of the lease and given exclusive access toinformation more than a year before any other vendor knew the Grand Centrallocation was available. The company even signed a $2 million agreement withthe current tenant to vacate its space five days before the MTA issued theRFP.”

DiNapoli is recommending changes to the Public Authorities Law to allow for a more transparent bidding process.

The current law only calls for certain contracts to be reviewed by the state Comptroller’s office. DiNapoli’s proposed change would make all contracts over one million dollars eligible for review. DiNapoli’s office was not allow to review the process that led to the Apple lease before it was finalized because it was allegedly a competitive process.

MTA chairman Jay Lhota is a Cuomo ally and DiNapoli has a contentious relationship with the governor.

Cuomo never endorsed DiNapoli in 2010 and DiNapoli has been working with another one of Cuomo’s rumored political rivals Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Here is a timeline of events provided by DiNapoli’s office: Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 30, 2012, 12:30 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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Developers Chosen for Brooklyn Bridge Park Hotel Complex
June 19th, 2012

The board of Brooklyn Bridge Park announced today the final plan for construction of a hotel and residency complex by the park’s Pier 1.

Toll Brothers City Living and Starwood Capital Group will collaborate on the approximately 550,000-square-foot complex, slated for completion in the fall of 2015, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Brooklyn Bridge Park has quickly become one of the most loved public spaces along our citys waterfront, Mayor Bloomberg said in the release. The major private investment is a vote of confidence in Brooklyn and its future as a great place to live, work and visit.

The $295 million project is set to break ground next summer, generating as many as 510 jobs, both permanent and temporary. The board’s aim is to keep the park financially sustainable with a series of hotels along the piers when completed, it will cost $16 million a year to run the park. They expect to take in $3.3 million yearly in rent and other payments, adding up to an expected $119.7 million net revenue by the end of the 97-year ground leases on the hotel and residential sites.

The mayor’s office also released four renderings of the proposed complex, showing its stone-and-glass facade and surrounding green space. Rogers Marvel Architects designed the 10-story hotel, called 1 Hotel, which will include 200 rooms, 18,000 square feet of banquet, meeting and retail space and a 6,000 square foot spa. There will also be a five-story building with 159 residential units.

Todays vote helps to ensure Brooklyn Bridge Parks future, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said in the press release.

By on June 19, 2012, 4:25 pm
In category: Community Development,Gotham City,Housing,Land Use,Parks,Waterfront | No Comments »

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Cuomo Gives Legislature Late Heads Up on Convention Center
January 10th, 2012

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to legislative leaders today to tell them about that um…you know…that massive convention center he mentioned he wants to build during his State of the State speech last week. Cuomo has been criticized for seemingly avoiding any of the steps mandated by state law for a project involving gaming in the state. He addresses the point in the letter stating:

“In the past selection of gaming operators, race track issues, VLT designations have raised serious ethical and legal issues for the state. To be sure, the states current gaming arrangements are varied and controversial. I look forward to the opportunity to bring a logic and strategy to gaming operations in the state over the next two years through development of casino legislation and regulations.

In the interim, any transaction that the state makes with Genting or any modifications to the current state agreement will be submitted to the legislature for full review and action before becoming binding. Given the past history, while I may have the legal authority to proceed unilaterally, I choose to only proceed in full public view and with support of the legislature in a spirit of cooperation.”

Dear Majority Leader Skelos and Speaker Silver: Read the rest of this entry »

By on January 10, 2012, 3:35 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Eye on Albany,Land Use | 5 Comments »

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Bronx Business Incubator Opens
January 9th, 2012

The Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a city-backed business incubator in the Bronx earlier today. The Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator at 890 Garrison Ave. in Hunts Point is set up to house 400 entrepreneurs. The New York City Economic Development Corporation helped started the incubator with a $250,000 grant. The incubator is the 8th to open as part of the city’s network of incubators.
Here is the release from the Mayor’s office: Read the rest of this entry »

By on January 9, 2012, 1:13 pm
In category: Economy,Gotham City,Land Use,Public Finance,Tech,Work and Labor | 12 Comments »

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Closing Public Spaces
October 31st, 2011

(Gotham Gazette parks reporter Anne Schwartz filed this post.)

Last week, Crain’s reported that landlords, taking action in response to Occupy Wall Streets weeks-long occupancy of Zuccotti Park, want the city to revamp its laws covering the citys privately owned public parks to set hours of operation and prohibit large gatherings. Crain’s has a survey asking readers whether they think “private parks” should be allowed to set their own hours. As of today, the 201 people who bothered to respond said yes by a margin of almost two to one.

The business paper, however, did not note that these spaces are actually public places that developers were required to create — and keep open — in return for the right to build taller buildings under city zoning laws. Having already received the financial benefits of the added floor space, the landlords now are seeking to restrict some of the public benefit.

A study conducted in 2001 by Jerold Hayden, a Harvard professor of urban planning and design, with the Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society, found that 40 percent of these parks “were and are practically useless, with austere designs, no amenities and little or no direct sunlight. Roughly half of the buildings surveyed had spaces that were illegally closed or otherwise privatized.” (For Gotham Gazette’s report on that study, go here.)

The results still hold today, Kayden wrote in a recent New York Times piece.
Kayden said he welcomes the attention the protesters have called to the city’s privately owned public spaces, but calls for a much broader discussion on how they can contribute meaningfully to city life. “They need a champion, an independent steward or curator who actively promotes their use, not only by assuring that spaces are provided as legally promised but also by encouraging improvements, activities and public educational opportunities,” Kayden said.

By on October 31, 2011, 3:06 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Gotham City,Land Use,Parks | No Comments »

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Judge Orders Another Look at Atlantic Yards
July 13th, 2011

Opponents of the massive Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn have filed suit after suit to try to block the arena and residential complex - largely without much success. Meanwhile Bruce Ratner has moved ahead on his project, reaping government help, razing buildings and building much of a basketball arena for the still New Jersey Nets.

Now, though, Ratner’s rivals have won a victory. Today Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn announced that state Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman has ordered the Empire State Development Corp. to conduct additional environmental review of the project, including a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. (The ruling is available here.)
Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 13, 2011, 4:49 pm
In category: Albany,Community Development,Land Use,Law | No Comments »

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Koppell Would Consider Motion to Discharge for Living Wage
May 11th, 2011

Councilmember Oliver Koppell told Gotham Gazette today he would consider triggering a rare council rule to bring his living wage bill to the floor should Council Speaker Christine Quinn choose to oppose it.

“I would consider it, yes,” said Koppell at the Emigrant Savings Bank. “I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. I’m hoping to convince the speaker to support this or some version of this.”

Typically legislation does not move at the City Council unless it has earned the support of the speaker. Quinn refused to say this afternoon whether she would bring the legislation to the floor or when she would decide whether or not to support it.

The bill, which has strong backing from many of the city’s unions, would require city subsidized developers pay a living wage. The Bloomberg adminsitration does not support the measure. On Monday, the city Economic Development Corp. released a study claiming a wage mandate would stall development and reduce jobs in the five boroughs.

Koppell said today, “The assumptions of the mayor are more than questionable.”

Koppell’s bill has been stalled in committee for nearly a year, despite the fact it has garnered 30 sponsors.

At the beginning of Quinn’s tenure — and in the name of transparency — Quinn revised the council rules to make it easier to bring a bill to the floor if it was stalled in committee. A council member must get seven members to sign a memo to bring the bill to the floor. The full council then determines whether the legislation should have a formal vote.

This procedure is rarely ever used and is considered an affront to the speaker’s leadership.

By on May 11, 2011, 3:51 pm
In category: City Hall,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance,Work and Labor | 2 Comments »

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Quinn Mum on Living Wage Decision
May 11th, 2011

Council Speaker Christine Quinn refused to take a position on legislation to require a living wage this afternoon, but instead said she would review a recently released study and forthcoming testimony on the matter.

The Economic Development Corp. released a study Monday which found requiring a living wage mandate at city subsidized developments would result in job losses. Legislation to require such wage mandates has been pending at the council for more than a year.

The bill will get its first hearing tomorrow, and both opponents and supporters are scheduled to make a strong showing. Quinn said today she would not attend the hearing.

“We are looking forward to a robust hearing,” Quinn said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the testimony from both the proponents and the opponents. Having the portions of the EDC report that are out there will make the hearing a more informed and interesting hearing.”

When asked if she knew when she would make a decision on whether to bring the bill to a vote, Quinn said: “When I have one.”

Quinn would not say whether the bill would eventually get to the floor.

Already 30 council members have signed on to the legislation. The lead sponsors of the bill, council members Oliver Koppell and Annabal Palma, could file a motion to discharge — which would send the bill to the floor if it had enough support outside of the speaker’s office. The move has only occurred once during Quinn’s tenure.

By on May 11, 2011, 2:42 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Work and Labor | 2 Comments »

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Clash at IDA Board Over Study
May 10th, 2011

A small spat erupted at this morning’s Industrial Development Agency board meeting, when Bronx borough president appointee Albert Rodriguez questioned the legitimacy and release of the city’s living wage study.

Rodriguez chastised the Economic Development Corp., which is the parent agency to the Industrial Development Agency, for hastily releasing the study’s executive summary to the press before giving a copy to the board on Monday. He also seriously questioned the report’s findings, which suggest a living wage mandate for city subsidized developments would result in job losses. Legislation to require similar wage standards is currently ruminating at the City Council.

Rodriguez called the study “political football for the interest of the Bloomberg adminsitration” and “very flawed.”

“This was a waste of money,” Rodriguez said. “We could have hired nine more teachers.”

The IDA board authorized the agency to spend $1 million on the study, which was conducted by Boston-based consulting firm, Charles River Associates.

The study’s executive summary was released yesterday afternoon in anticipation of a City Council hearing scheduled for Thursday, said EDC President Seth Pinsky. The City Council had asked the agency to accelerate the study’s release so it could discuss the findings at the hearing. The full report will be released in the “coming weeks,” Pinsky said.

In defense of the study, Pinsky said it was “disappointing” officials would allege the agency was playing politics.

“I think [the study] is very similar, in fact, to the approach that’s been taken on many of the studies that have been cited by proponents of wage mandates,” Pinsky said. “What the study found was the legislation that has been proposed in the City Council here in New York is dramatically different from wage mandate legislation that has been proposed across the country. The additional requirements that are put into this particular legislation… they would make it extremely difficult and unlikely that people would continue to take the benefits.”

Pinsky said there are other ways to create better “living standards,” including expanding the benefits of the earned income tax credit. Any change in that tax credit would need federal, state and city approval. Pinsky also said the agency is conducting an internal study on how it can expand jobs in various middle income sectors, like construction or health care.

“There is nobody on either side of this debate who doesn’t want to figure out a way to raise the living standards of the least fortunate members of society,” Pinsky said. “The question is: Is this the right way to do it?”

The study found living wage policies would increase the standard wage at city subsidized developments, but could result in substantial job losses — anywhere from 33,000 to 100,000. Immediately after the executive summary was released, a Bloomberg spokesperson reiterated the administration’s opposition to the bill.

Rodriguez too is not without political motives. His boss, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., proposed the living wage legislation after the City Council rejected a proposal to develop the Kingsbridge Armory in the borough. The proposal was defeated because the developer would not promise to force tenants to pay a living wage.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on May 10, 2011, 12:26 pm
In category: City Hall,Community Development,Economy,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,Law,nextNY,Public Finance,Work and Labor | 1 Comment »

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Living Wage Study Says Policy Costs Jobs
May 9th, 2011

After much anticipation, the city Economic Development Corp. released a $1 million study on living wage policy today, which finds implementing higher pay standards at city subsidized developments would cost jobs.

The study examines legislation at the City Council to require any entity who recieves more than $100,000 in financial assistance from the city to pay a living wage. Thirty council members have signed on in support of the measure. Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not revealed her position. Although the speaker has Ok’d a hearing on the bill, which is scheduled for Thursday.

The adminsitration called for the study, which was conducted by Boston-based consulting firm Charles River Associates, last year after the City Council defeated a controversial development at the Kingsbridge Armory. The developer refused to guarantee tenants of the proposal would pay a living wage.

The study found certain development projects would no longer be “financially feasible” if the city adopted a living wage mandate. As a result, it argues, the city would lose jobs.

In response to the study, Andrew Brent, a mayoral spokesperson, released the following statement:

The study is clear: the legislation would result in major job losses at all income levels and particularly among low-income New Yorkers. The biggest job losses would occur in the areas with the highest unemployment at a time when too many New Yorkers are without jobs as it is. The legislation would have a very harmful effect on growth opportunities of small businesses and the creation of affordable housing, and it would reduce overall private investment in New York City by an estimated $7 billion. Aggregate wages among low-skilled workers would not change because any gains among some workers would be more than offset by families losing employment opportunities entirely. The goal of increasing wages among New Yorkers of course is a good one, but this type of approach in other cities hasnt just failed, its done so with severe consequences for job-seekers and businesses.

But not everyone was thrilled with the results. In response to the study, Comptroller John Liu (a frequent critic of the Economic Development Corp.) released the following statement:

The EDCs claim that a living wage kills jobs shows just how distorted the agencys operations have become. The proposed living wage would be a requirement on new projects that are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. It may curtail the number of new minimum wage jobs, with the hope that these new jobs would then pay a decent wage. The claim of job losses is rhetoric at its worst.

Asked what he thinks the study means for the living wage legislation currently under consideration at the City Council, Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, still seemed optimistic.

“The council I’m sure will give it careful consideration,” Sonn said. “We expect them to look at more rigorous research, which includes other studies and hearing the real world experiences of other cities.”

And for your reading pleasure:

Living Wage Exec Summary_2011 05 09

By on May 9, 2011, 6:11 pm
In category: City Hall,Community Development,Economy,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Work and Labor | 1 Comment »

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Advocates Protest SWMP Delays (UPDATE)
April 12th, 2011

Five years after the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to a solid waste management plan for the five boroughs – one that spread out the city’s garbage burden — council members and environmental justice advocates say the adminsitration is backpedaling.

In its preliminary capital budget, the adminsitration has delayed the construction of four waste transfer stations, three of which are in Manhattan. The cut, said Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council, could delay funding for these facilities between five and eight years. Advocates fear the stations will never occur. Five years from now, there will be a new occupant in City Hall — one perhaps with different priorities.

“We are very troubled,” said Goldstein.

The waste transfer stations are a crucial part of the 2006 solid waste management plan, which attempts to get garbage off of diesel-spewing trucks and onto rail cars and barges instead. The plan was also meant to spread stations throughout the five boroughs to ease the burden on communities inundated with city waste — like the South Bronx, Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The delayed stations in Manhattan are the only ones slated for the borough, which currently sends the vast majority of its trash to New Jersey.

We are waiting for a response from the Department of Sanitation.

Advocates also decried the administration’s recent exploration of waste-to-energy — a controversial technology that typically involves burning or heating trash to create electricity (We reported on it here two weeks ago). Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group decried the move.

“The types of technology they want to pilot have not been proven successful commercially anywhere in the country,” said Haight. “We believe this is a waste of energy.”

A conversation on the equal distribution of these types of facilities is occurring right now at a hearing of the Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses Subcommittee. Councilmember Brad Lander, the committee’s chair, blasted the adminsitration for refusing to testify (his letter appears below).

“We’ve concentrated those facilities in low-income communities, in communities of color,” Lander said this afternoon on the City Hall steps.

A spokesperson for the Bloomberg adminsitration said they would not send a representative, because “fair share,” as it’s commonly referred to, is currently the subject of litigation.

UPDATE: We just got this response from City Hall spokesperson Jason Post:

Because of the economy, the City has been forced to reduce all of its expenditures, including its capital program.

The preliminary capital budget for the Sanitation Department includes deferred spending on four Marine Transfer Stations.

The Administration remains fully committed to SWMPs principles of borough equity, using rail and barge to transfer solid waste, relieving the burden of waste receiving from certain communities, strengthening our recycling infrastructure and piloting new technologies to derive clean energy from waste.

We have made great progress on SWMP alreadylong term rail contracts are in place and two marine transfer stations are under construction, as is the Citys new recycling facilityand we are exploring cost-effective alternatives to expedite the construction schedule outlined in the preliminary capital plan. We will make a decision before the Mayors executive budget presentation.

CM Lander Letter to Mayor Bloomberg Re Fair Share Hearing(2)

By on April 12, 2011, 2:22 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Community Development,Crime & Safety,Environment,Gotham City,Governing,Health,Land Use,nextNY,Waterfront | 2 Comments »

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Vote Breakdown for Koch Queensboro
March 24th, 2011

We have had a number of requests for a breakdown of yesterday’s vote on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

(We cover the debate this morning here.)

So, without further ado, here you go:

Maria Del Carmen Arroyo — absent
Charles Barron — no
Gale A. Brewer — yes
Fernando Cabrera — yes
Margaret S. Chin — no
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. — no
Elizabeth S. Crowley — yes
Inez E. Dickens — yes
Erik Martin Dilan — yes
Daniel Dromm — yes
Mathieu Eugene — yes
Julissa Ferreras — yes
Lewis A. Fidler — yes
Helen D. Foster — no
Daniel R. Garodnick — no
Read the rest of this entry »

By on March 24, 2011, 11:08 am
In category: City Hall,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,Law,nextNY,Public Finance,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Replacing Indian Point
March 23rd, 2011

Today we cover the Bloomberg administration’s renewed interest in developing waste-to-energy facilities — or plants that burn or heat garbage to create energy.

The administration’s interests are even more timely since Gov. Andrew Cuomo, experts and advocates have called for the closure of Indian Point.

(It should be noted that Mayor Michael Bloomberg does not share their opinion. He said last week: We need energy in this city, and the first thing we have to do is take a very close look at what happened in Japan and see if theres any lessons that we should learn from that and any improvements that we should learn and make at Indian Point.”)

Indian Point provides up to 30 percent of New York City’s electricity. Steven Cohen, the executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, estimates waste-to-energy could provide about 10 percent of the city’s needed megawatt hours.

“Particularly if you’d like to get rid of the Indian Point plant, generating 10 percent of the city’s energy from garbage would be feasible,” said Cohen. “What would you rather have? Would you rather have these trucks driving around the city polluting and a nuclear power plant, or would you rather close that down and have a bunch of waste to energy plants?”

Cohen supports the development of small-scale plants throughout the city.

For more on the debate, go here.

By on March 23, 2011, 11:32 am
In category: Albany,City Hall,Community Development,Economy,Environment,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,nextNY,Public Finance,Tech | No Comments »

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New Yorkers Want Wal-Mart (UPDATE)
March 18th, 2011

5266815680_ec09e9d38f

Photo (cc) Wal-Mart

Despite fierce opposition from the city’s unions and a majority of the City Council, New Yorkers favor bringing the world’s largest retailer to the five boroughs.

According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, 57 percent of New York City voters say officials should allow Wal-Mart to open up in the the city, while 36 percent say the retailer should be kept out. If Wal-Mart set up shop in the Big Apple, 68 percent of New York City voters would shop there if it was convenient.

In response to the poll, Steven Restivo, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart, sent over the following statement:

The results affirm what we have been hearing for months: New Yorkers want Walmart. Whether it’s physically leaving the city to shop our stores, responding favorably in polls or just voicing their opinion on Facebook and at neighborhood rallies, city residents show their support for Walmart every day. With too many communities living with double-digit unemployment and limited access to affordable groceries, we continue to evaluate local opportunities that will allow us to do what we do best: open stores, create jobs, stimulate economic development and lower the cost of living for customers.

Mickey Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement: “Voters agree that Walmart can be tough on its employees and on its mom-and-pop competitors, but even voters in union households say 63 – 34 percent they’ll shop there anyway.”

For months – years actually – city officials have been blocking Wal-Mart’s attempt to infiltrate the New York City market. They claim the retailer’s wages are below average, they have a poor record of providing health care and discriminate against certain employees, specifically women. Officials have also said Wal-Mart would drive out New York City’s mom and pop shops.

On the other hand, the five boroughs already is home to Target, Costco, Best Buy and other big-box retailers. We looked into whether there were stark differences between them.

Here is what we found.

UPDATE: Wal-Mart Free NYC sent over this response to today’s poll:

“New York didn’t become great because of Walmart, it became great because of the thousands of small businesses owners who worked hard to make our mom and pops the engine of our economy — the same neighborhood mom and pops that New Yorkers agree Walmart would destroy,” said Eric Koch, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Free NYC

By on March 18, 2011, 11:28 am
In category: City Hall,Demographics,Economy,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Land Use,Measuring UP,nextNY | No Comments »

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Regulation of Bus Companies Questioned
March 15th, 2011

Just hours after officials called for stricter safety regulations for discount buses departing from Chinatown yesterday, another fatal accident took the lives of two more passengers.

A Super Luxury Tours bus headed for Philadelphia slammed into a guardrail on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing the driver and another passenger. The crash came just three days after a brutal accident in the Bronx, which killed 15 people.

Saturday mornings crash was a heartbreaking tragedy and requires us to look closely at the safety regulations in place for the discount tour bus industry, said Sen. Charles Schumer in a prepared statement yesterday. While its vital we get to the bottom of what caused Saturdays crash, we must make sure that the regulations that govern the overall safety of this industry are effective and being followed by operators.

Schumer wants to see the National Transportation Safety Board investigate the entire industry.

According to the release, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver introduced legislation last month that would require these discount bus companies, many of which operate from the curbside in Chinatown, to get permits from the city. They are now regulated exclusively by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. His bill would also designate where they can drop off and pick up passengers.

According to a study from the Department of City Planning, these companies conduct 2,000 trips from Chinatown every week.

We covered the issue last year. For an in-depth look at the controversy, go here.

By on March 15, 2011, 2:07 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Community Development,Crime & Safety,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Sparks Fly at Walmart Hearing
February 3rd, 2011

If today’s hearing is any indication, Walmart will have a next to impossible chance of getting a New York City store approved by the City Council.

Several dozen council members and a standing room only crowd gathered in Lower Manhattan this afternoon to debate how a Walmart store would affect small businesses and communities in the Big Apple. Last month, Walmart kicked off a vigorous marketing campaign to court New Yorkers and convince them to support a New York City store.

Officials from Walmart refused to attend today’s council hearing, arguing they were being unfairly targeted.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn blasted the corporation for not testifying. Their absence, she said, “sadly only leads me to be further skeptical.”

For more than four hours, council members tore into Walmart’s policies, including its labor practices, which have been the subject of several lawsuits. They heard from experts across the country who had studies in hand that argued Walmart would lead to small businesses boarding up.

Not one council member voiced support for a New York City Walmart.

The Walmart issue encapsulates a familiar debate at the City Council – one that last reared its head when the body rejected the development of the Kingsbridge Armory. As Walmart argues it will bring jobs to New York City, advocates and officials question the quality of those jobs, whether they will provide health insurance and whether they will pay a living wage.

For some, the prospect of jobs is good enough.

“Everyone is waving this boogeyman around about how this corporation is going to come in,” said Tony Herbert, a community activist and Walmart supporter. “I will say to you directly, we need jobs for our community.”
Read the rest of this entry »

By on February 3, 2011, 6:53 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Community Development,Crime & Safety,Economy,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Land Use,Measuring UP,Public Finance,Work and Labor | 3 Comments »

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Walmart Declines Hearing Invitation... Again
February 1st, 2011

This should come as no surprise, but Walmart once again will pass on testifying at a City Council hearing on Thursday.

In a letter dated today, Walmart‘s Philip H. Serghini attempts to strike down anti-Walmart sentiments wafting through the City Council, arguing the retail giant is committed to healthy foods, diversity and jobs. But Serghini says he could not commit to attending the hearing, because the council is only focused on Walmart and ignores the impact of other big-box stores in the city. You can see his explanation below.

The joint hearing, however, does not appear to consider the impact of the hundreds of NYC stores operated by these companies; rather it focuses solely on Walmart. Since we have not announced a store for New York City, I respectfully suggest the committee first conduct a thoughtful examination of the existing impact of large grocers and retailers on small businesses in New York City before embarking on a hypothetical exercise.

For these reasons and more, we respectfully decline participation in the February 3rd hearing.

Should the committee decide to conduct the hearing in a more comprehensive manner, we would be happy to revisit our decision. In the interim, we do feel a responsibility to better inform the planned discussion and share some facts about the company that the committee can share with participants.

Earlier this year, Walmart kicked off a major marketing campaign to persuade New Yorkers to support a store within the five boroughs. They are sending out mailers, taking out radio ads and have launched a NYC-centric Web site to corral support.

So far, no one at the council is budgeting.

The full explanation from Walmart is below.

Final City Council Letter

By on February 1, 2011, 5:54 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Community Development,Crime & Safety,Economy,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance,Work and Labor | No Comments »

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Quinn Denies Member Item Unequal Distribution
January 5th, 2011

Are member items distributed equally at the City Council?

Council Speaker Christine Quinn says so.

Refuting a report in the New York Times this week, Quinn said all of the council’s discretionary dollars, which come in the form of individual member items, capital funding and more, are spread throughout the five boroughs sans favoritism.

“The report looked at one of the funding sources the council allocated in the budget,” Quinn said before today’s meeting. “There are numerous different funding sources: initiatives, member items, the speaker’s list.”

She continued: “If you looked at all of those collectively, I think you see a set of data that shows a diverse distribution through out the city.”

We started examining those lists back in 2007 (and have done it every year since). In other funding areas, take capital funding, we have seen a similar pattern: those in leadership get more cash.

For our past coverage, go here and here and here and here and here.

By on January 5, 2011, 3:11 pm
In category: City Hall,Community Development,Economy,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing,Housing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance | No Comments »

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Bloomberg Mulls Over ATM Bill
December 20th, 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is mulling over whether to sign a bill that would drastically increase fines for property owners with illegal sidewalk ATMs after small business owners expressed concern over the bill’s impact this afternoon.

According to a spokesperson, the mayor will take the next couple of days to consider the bill and announce his decision after Christmas.

“I dont want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas,” the mayor said today. “On the other hand the city has requirements, where one of the issues here is the ability to pass on the sidewalk.”

Up until this morning, the mayor was expected to sign the measure, which the council approved earlier this month. At today’s bill signing, small business owners reportedly said the legislation would limit access to cash for neighborhoods without banks and hurt small businesses.

Under the current version of the bill, fines could increase from $250 to $5,000. These ATMs are already illegal, but there is barely any enforcement or regulation of them, council officials said.

If the mayor vetoes the measure, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the council would move to override it.

“This will give the power for them to be taken off the street,” said Quinn. “It actually gives the city the power and the tools to make this illegal behavior end. That’s a good thing.”

Here is the mayor’s statement this morning courtesy of the City Hall press office:
Read the rest of this entry »

By on December 20, 2010, 2:49 pm
In category: Community Development,Crime & Safety,Economy,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Housing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Parks,Public Finance | 3 Comments »

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Council Set to Expand Housing Law
November 30th, 2010

For some New Yorkers, their apartments are far from welcoming.

Their one or two-bedroom abodes actually make them sick.

Three years ago, the City Council approved legislation to target buildings with the worst housing code violations — those perennially without heat or hot water or collapsed floors and roofs. Together, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the City Council targeted 200 buildings a year and forced landlords to make the repairs.

Now, Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced this morning, the council is set to consider legislation to expand the program to target larger buildings with hazardous conditions related specifically to asthma, such as vermin or mold.

“We are recognizing peoples’ homes can actually make them sick,” said Quinn, surrounded by a crowd of officials and advocates on the steps of City Hall.

Hazardous building conditions have long been connected to the city’s concentrated asthma pockets, which affect neighborhoods like Sunset Park, Corona or Bushwick. By using targeted enforcement of these violations, Quinn said the city could curtail asthma rates in these areas.

The legislation, she said, promises to more than double the amount of units in the program. The council will have its first hearing on the proposal on Dec. 14.

By on November 30, 2010, 12:04 pm
In category: City Hall,Community Development,Electoral Politics,Environment,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Health,Housing,Immigrants,Land Use,Law,nextNY | No Comments »

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