CITY Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/city 2019-03-25T10:05:57+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Transportation Commissioner on Managing the Streets, Expanding the Subway, & More 2019-03-25T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8384-nyc-transportation-commissioner-trottenberg-de-blasio-streets-subway Savannah Jacobson sjacobson@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/43486087084_40c0d5309e_z.jpg" alt="Trottenberg de Blasio DOT" width="600" height="383" /></p> <p>Trottenberg, middle, with de Blasio, left (photo: NYC DOT)</p> <hr /> <p>New York needs to rapidly build more subway stops, get people out of cars, rethink its approach to parking, and keep working to drive down historically low numbers of deaths due to vehicle crashes on city streets.</p> <p>So said New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearing on a recent episode of the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast</a> to share her assessment of city transit successes and challenges and her vision for the future of transportation in New York City. In a wide-ranging discussion, Trottenberg touched on protecting bike-riders, expanding bus lanes, fighting parking placard abuse, and much more.</p> <p>Trottenberg views the the sluggish pace of subway expansion as the city’s most pressing transportation problem. “Given the growth and economic dynamism of New York City, we should be opening three subway stops every year...if not faster,” she said, noting population growth over the past decades since the subway network was really built out in a signficant way.</p> <p>“The biggest transportation challenge the city faces right now is we have stopped building out our subway network,” she said. “That gets into a bigger discussion of the MTA, of the governance, of the funding challenges there,” she added, pointing to current debates over governance reform and congestion pricing that are on the table in Albany as state budget negotiations continue.</p> <p>“Nothing carries people like subways,” Trottenberg said.</p> <p>The main reasons New York is not, Trottenberg said, are the MTA’s other urgent needs as it digs out from crisis and a lack of political will for building out subway service. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed Trottenberg to her post as transportation at the start of his administration in 2014, commissioned a study to extend Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue subway line in 2015, for example, but Trottenberg said it’s no longer a priority as the MTA needs funding and is dealing with a multitude of other issues related to its existing assets.</p> <p>“They just don’t have the funds right now to be in the subway line-building game -- and we should get them back in that game” like big cities in other countries, she said.</p> <p>Trottenberg also mentioned the need to make subway systems accessible moving forward, which is now mandated by law under the Americans with Disabilities Act.</p> <p>Overall, Trottenberg’s primary goals are to make city streets safer and reduce auto usage by providing trustworthy alternatives. “If you want to get people out of their cars, you’ve got to have good subway service, you’ve got to have good bus service, you’ve have to have safe, protected bike lanes so people want to hop on bikes,” she said. She didn’t go as far as to echo City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to ‘break the city’s car culture,’ but she cited a number of the same goals, discussing the work she’s led for more than five years that is continuing to evolve with not only new street redesign plans and an expansion of Citi Bike, but also new transit experiments like car-sharing and dockless bike-sharing.</p> <p>Accomplishing the goal of reducing car usage requires robust collaboration between the city’s Department of Transportation and the MTA, especially when it comes to buses, Trottenberg said. While the MTA runs and staffs the subways and buses, NYC DOT’s purview includes traffic signals, roads, bridges, tunnels, sidewalks, bikes, ferries and more. As a result, Trottenberg explained, DOT has a lot of say over buses, including its help designing routes, but also aspects related to bus lanes and traffic signals.</p> <p>Yet, when it comes to enforcing bus lanes so that there are fewer cars parked in them, for example, the city needs permission from state government to mount more cameras on the buses so that enforcement doesn’t just rely on NYPD patrols.</p> <p>Trottenberg said addressing the buses is a major priority for Mayor de Blasio, President of MTA New York City Transit Authority Andy Byford, and herself. “Buses have been slowing and we’re losing ridership,” she said. “Both agencies [DOT and the MTA] are really working hard to see if we can turn that around.”</p> <p>Though she said she’s had plenty of experience on the bus and is pushing bus reform, Trottenberg acknowledged it’s not as much a part of her personal transit as other methods. When asked how she gets around the city, she said, “I do every mode every week -- I try to -- subway, driving -- I oversee the roads, so I do drive -- biking when I can, and then taking the ferry when I can, I don’t take the ferry every week, but I try and ride the Staten Island Ferry when I can, too, since it’s part of what we oversee.”</p> <p>Asked about the bus, which she didn’t list, she said, “I don’t get on the bus that often, I’ll admit, I”m lucky where I live in Brooklyn I’m near the subway.” Trottenberg added that as the city has put up new Select Bus Service (SBS) lines around the city, she’s ridden some of those, and rode the buses along 14th Street in Manhattan with some frequency as the city and MTA as the city and MTA developed mitigation plans for an expected L-train shutdown, “to get a sense of what we need to do there.”</p> <p>The parties had been preparing to make 14th Street a largely exclusive “busway” during what was expected to be a full 15-month shutdown of the L-train, until Governor Andrew Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA, swooped in somewhat last minute to upend the plans and push forward an alternative that will see major service changes, but not a full shutdown, as L-train tunnel repairs are done starting in April.</p> <p>Trottenberg explained that the city and MTA are now holding a new set of community meetings in Manhattan and Brooklyn about “what to do on 14th Street” and other impacted areas. The new plan calls for many months of night and weekend work, with one of the two tubes closed and trains running much less frequently.</p> <p>Trottenberg said 14th Street is still painted for the busway, and that she prefers to still implement one, but that it is one of two options now being presented to impacted communities, home to hundreds of thousands of L train riders and many others who use the main and surrounding roadways involved, in both boroughs. The busway would include “minimal vehicular access. Basically local pick up and drop off and deliveries, but no through-driving,” Trottenberg explained, a system that is somewhat complicated, she added, by the fact that the route has a lot of housing along it.</p> <p>The alternative under consideration, she said, is a hybrid plan centered around Select Bus Service (SBS), which would increase bus service and still allowing cars on the road.</p> <p>[LISTEN:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg">Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on What's The [Data] Point?</a>]</p> <p>While Trottenberg spoke to many of the challenges facing the city’s public transit system, she was also eager to highlight successes, namely the Vision Zero street safety program, the design and implementation of which she has been in charge of since 2014 after it was a piece of de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign.</p> <p>In 2018, the number of traffic-related fatalities on city streets fell to 202, down by 20 from 2017 and down nearly a third, she pointed out, since the 299 deaths in 2013. “In that same period, nationwide fatalities went up around 14, 15 percent,” she said, calling it “a signature initiative of the de Blasio administration” and outlining the key principles of Vision Zero: “engineering, enforcement, and education” that lead to hundreds of street redesigns.</p> <p>The installation of speed cameras around schools has been a cornerstone of the program’s success. “We see speeding drop by over 60 percent, we see injuries go down by 17 percent,” Trottenberg said, and pointing to the recent success in Albany where Democratic lawmakers in charge of both legislative houses just passed a bill allowing the city to install hundreds more cameras near schools. Saying that she expects Cuomo to sign it, Trottenberg said it will enable the city “to do a lot to protect New Yorkers...all over the city.”</p> <p>Despite Vision Zero’s overall success, six bicyclists have already been killed on city streets this year, compared to a total of ten in all of 2018 (there were 24 in 2017), renewing calls to expand the city’s bike lane network. “This year, unfortunately, I think that number may go up,” Trottenberg said, explaining that she and other officials are “heartbroken” about the spate of fatalities early this year. “Progress isn’t always going to be linear. We want to see that the long-term trends are going in the right direction,” she said. But around the tragedies, DOT always studies where crashes occur, she said, and city is looking at places to add new "protected infrastructure," particularly in Manhattan cross-streets, where the city has added that infrastructure in several places.</p> <p>Trottenberg said DOT is exploring plans to install bike lanes on 52nd Street and 55th Street, in addition to many “key connections” across the city, like the one between the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. “It’s a really short stretch of roadway, but it’s an incredibly important piece of connecting the bike network.” DOT plans to build better bicycle and pedestrian friendly connections between northern Manhattan and the Bronx, in addition to expanding the bicycle network into neighborhoods where “cycling is growing,” like Jackson Heights, she said.</p> <p>DOT uses a metric called KSI, or killed and seriously injured, per mile to identify problem areas, the commissioner explained. Trottenberg said the department mapped out KSI on every city corner in all five boroughs and found that seven to eight percent of the city’s roads are responsible for half of the city’s fatalities, enabling DOT to target safety measures in key intersections. This effort has also been advanced with help from the Mayor’s Office of Operations, NYPD, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, she said.</p> <p>Interagency data further unveiled a spike in fatalities during seasonal changes, particularly in late October when commuters are adjusting to the start of daylight saving time, and in early spring when warm weather brings out more pedestrians and bikers. “We’ve attempted to look at geography, at seasonality, at time of day, and then at driver behaviors,” she said. “We’re trying to tackle fatalities and crashes at every dimension.”</p> <p>Trottenberg said that the levels of New York City bureaucracy and community input processes can slow the pace of the growth of bike networks. She said it’s a frequent point of contention, with some New Yorkers calling for DOT to surpass community boards, while others believe that projects should not move forward without community input. “When we can bring people along and buy them in and make them part of our Vision Zero work, I think that’s a better approach,” she said, while affirming that while she’s proud of the administration’s pace she always wants to move faster.</p> <p>On car usage, Trottenberg said she favors raising the cost of parking, implementing congestion pricing and turning to a computerized system that reads city officials’ license plates to fight placard abuse.</p> <p>Alternative modes of transportation like dockless bikes and scooters are “in an experimental phase,” she said. DOT is piloting dockless bikes in several places, including on Staten Island, where she said the city is talking to officials and residents about “doing a borough-wide pilot.”</p> <p>She said it appears dockless bike-share is best suited to geographically confined but less population-dense areas where the bikes can be kept in a defined area and docks don’t make as much sense. Scooters, meanwhile, are not yet legal in New York City, she noted -- another issue awaiting approval in Albany, where signs have pointed to likely advancement -- adding that “there’s a lot of interest in scooters,” but many questions remain. “The jury’s still out,” she said.</p> <p>Regarding her role at the MTA, where Trottenberg is about to hit roughly five years on the board, she said “we have a great leader in Andy Byford, I think we need to give him the resources and the support he needs to continue what is clearly starting to be a real turnaround in the subway system.” That requires action in Albany and support from the MTA board she said, adding that the board needs to be more transparent and accountable.</p> <p>“I’d like to see the city’s priorities really considered and be part of what the MTA is focused on,” Trottenberg added. Asked how that happens, she said it relates to how the whole MTA capital plan happens, the role of key stakeholders, and other changes, not just with the board itself. “I’d like to I think see the MTA and the city work together more closely leading up to whatever happens on board day,” when the board meets and often votes on things, she said.</p> <p>Of the mayor’s four representatives on the board and the importance of the city’s voice there, Trottenberg noted she had a couple of years where she was basically the city’s only representative on the MTA board, but that she was then joined by three other strong members, who have been able to influence the discussions.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on What's The [Data] Point?</a>]</p> <p> </p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/43486087084_40c0d5309e_z.jpg" alt="Trottenberg de Blasio DOT" width="600" height="383" /></p> <p>Trottenberg, middle, with de Blasio, left (photo: NYC DOT)</p> <hr /> <p>New York needs to rapidly build more subway stops, get people out of cars, rethink its approach to parking, and keep working to drive down historically low numbers of deaths due to vehicle crashes on city streets.</p> <p>So said New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearing on a recent episode of the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast</a> to share her assessment of city transit successes and challenges and her vision for the future of transportation in New York City. In a wide-ranging discussion, Trottenberg touched on protecting bike-riders, expanding bus lanes, fighting parking placard abuse, and much more.</p> <p>Trottenberg views the the sluggish pace of subway expansion as the city’s most pressing transportation problem. “Given the growth and economic dynamism of New York City, we should be opening three subway stops every year...if not faster,” she said, noting population growth over the past decades since the subway network was really built out in a signficant way.</p> <p>“The biggest transportation challenge the city faces right now is we have stopped building out our subway network,” she said. “That gets into a bigger discussion of the MTA, of the governance, of the funding challenges there,” she added, pointing to current debates over governance reform and congestion pricing that are on the table in Albany as state budget negotiations continue.</p> <p>“Nothing carries people like subways,” Trottenberg said.</p> <p>The main reasons New York is not, Trottenberg said, are the MTA’s other urgent needs as it digs out from crisis and a lack of political will for building out subway service. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed Trottenberg to her post as transportation at the start of his administration in 2014, commissioned a study to extend Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue subway line in 2015, for example, but Trottenberg said it’s no longer a priority as the MTA needs funding and is dealing with a multitude of other issues related to its existing assets.</p> <p>“They just don’t have the funds right now to be in the subway line-building game -- and we should get them back in that game” like big cities in other countries, she said.</p> <p>Trottenberg also mentioned the need to make subway systems accessible moving forward, which is now mandated by law under the Americans with Disabilities Act.</p> <p>Overall, Trottenberg’s primary goals are to make city streets safer and reduce auto usage by providing trustworthy alternatives. “If you want to get people out of their cars, you’ve got to have good subway service, you’ve got to have good bus service, you’ve have to have safe, protected bike lanes so people want to hop on bikes,” she said. She didn’t go as far as to echo City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to ‘break the city’s car culture,’ but she cited a number of the same goals, discussing the work she’s led for more than five years that is continuing to evolve with not only new street redesign plans and an expansion of Citi Bike, but also new transit experiments like car-sharing and dockless bike-sharing.</p> <p>Accomplishing the goal of reducing car usage requires robust collaboration between the city’s Department of Transportation and the MTA, especially when it comes to buses, Trottenberg said. While the MTA runs and staffs the subways and buses, NYC DOT’s purview includes traffic signals, roads, bridges, tunnels, sidewalks, bikes, ferries and more. As a result, Trottenberg explained, DOT has a lot of say over buses, including its help designing routes, but also aspects related to bus lanes and traffic signals.</p> <p>Yet, when it comes to enforcing bus lanes so that there are fewer cars parked in them, for example, the city needs permission from state government to mount more cameras on the buses so that enforcement doesn’t just rely on NYPD patrols.</p> <p>Trottenberg said addressing the buses is a major priority for Mayor de Blasio, President of MTA New York City Transit Authority Andy Byford, and herself. “Buses have been slowing and we’re losing ridership,” she said. “Both agencies [DOT and the MTA] are really working hard to see if we can turn that around.”</p> <p>Though she said she’s had plenty of experience on the bus and is pushing bus reform, Trottenberg acknowledged it’s not as much a part of her personal transit as other methods. When asked how she gets around the city, she said, “I do every mode every week -- I try to -- subway, driving -- I oversee the roads, so I do drive -- biking when I can, and then taking the ferry when I can, I don’t take the ferry every week, but I try and ride the Staten Island Ferry when I can, too, since it’s part of what we oversee.”</p> <p>Asked about the bus, which she didn’t list, she said, “I don’t get on the bus that often, I’ll admit, I”m lucky where I live in Brooklyn I’m near the subway.” Trottenberg added that as the city has put up new Select Bus Service (SBS) lines around the city, she’s ridden some of those, and rode the buses along 14th Street in Manhattan with some frequency as the city and MTA as the city and MTA developed mitigation plans for an expected L-train shutdown, “to get a sense of what we need to do there.”</p> <p>The parties had been preparing to make 14th Street a largely exclusive “busway” during what was expected to be a full 15-month shutdown of the L-train, until Governor Andrew Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA, swooped in somewhat last minute to upend the plans and push forward an alternative that will see major service changes, but not a full shutdown, as L-train tunnel repairs are done starting in April.</p> <p>Trottenberg explained that the city and MTA are now holding a new set of community meetings in Manhattan and Brooklyn about “what to do on 14th Street” and other impacted areas. The new plan calls for many months of night and weekend work, with one of the two tubes closed and trains running much less frequently.</p> <p>Trottenberg said 14th Street is still painted for the busway, and that she prefers to still implement one, but that it is one of two options now being presented to impacted communities, home to hundreds of thousands of L train riders and many others who use the main and surrounding roadways involved, in both boroughs. The busway would include “minimal vehicular access. Basically local pick up and drop off and deliveries, but no through-driving,” Trottenberg explained, a system that is somewhat complicated, she added, by the fact that the route has a lot of housing along it.</p> <p>The alternative under consideration, she said, is a hybrid plan centered around Select Bus Service (SBS), which would increase bus service and still allowing cars on the road.</p> <p>[LISTEN:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg">Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on What's The [Data] Point?</a>]</p> <p>While Trottenberg spoke to many of the challenges facing the city’s public transit system, she was also eager to highlight successes, namely the Vision Zero street safety program, the design and implementation of which she has been in charge of since 2014 after it was a piece of de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign.</p> <p>In 2018, the number of traffic-related fatalities on city streets fell to 202, down by 20 from 2017 and down nearly a third, she pointed out, since the 299 deaths in 2013. “In that same period, nationwide fatalities went up around 14, 15 percent,” she said, calling it “a signature initiative of the de Blasio administration” and outlining the key principles of Vision Zero: “engineering, enforcement, and education” that lead to hundreds of street redesigns.</p> <p>The installation of speed cameras around schools has been a cornerstone of the program’s success. “We see speeding drop by over 60 percent, we see injuries go down by 17 percent,” Trottenberg said, and pointing to the recent success in Albany where Democratic lawmakers in charge of both legislative houses just passed a bill allowing the city to install hundreds more cameras near schools. Saying that she expects Cuomo to sign it, Trottenberg said it will enable the city “to do a lot to protect New Yorkers...all over the city.”</p> <p>Despite Vision Zero’s overall success, six bicyclists have already been killed on city streets this year, compared to a total of ten in all of 2018 (there were 24 in 2017), renewing calls to expand the city’s bike lane network. “This year, unfortunately, I think that number may go up,” Trottenberg said, explaining that she and other officials are “heartbroken” about the spate of fatalities early this year. “Progress isn’t always going to be linear. We want to see that the long-term trends are going in the right direction,” she said. But around the tragedies, DOT always studies where crashes occur, she said, and city is looking at places to add new "protected infrastructure," particularly in Manhattan cross-streets, where the city has added that infrastructure in several places.</p> <p>Trottenberg said DOT is exploring plans to install bike lanes on 52nd Street and 55th Street, in addition to many “key connections” across the city, like the one between the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. “It’s a really short stretch of roadway, but it’s an incredibly important piece of connecting the bike network.” DOT plans to build better bicycle and pedestrian friendly connections between northern Manhattan and the Bronx, in addition to expanding the bicycle network into neighborhoods where “cycling is growing,” like Jackson Heights, she said.</p> <p>DOT uses a metric called KSI, or killed and seriously injured, per mile to identify problem areas, the commissioner explained. Trottenberg said the department mapped out KSI on every city corner in all five boroughs and found that seven to eight percent of the city’s roads are responsible for half of the city’s fatalities, enabling DOT to target safety measures in key intersections. This effort has also been advanced with help from the Mayor’s Office of Operations, NYPD, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, she said.</p> <p>Interagency data further unveiled a spike in fatalities during seasonal changes, particularly in late October when commuters are adjusting to the start of daylight saving time, and in early spring when warm weather brings out more pedestrians and bikers. “We’ve attempted to look at geography, at seasonality, at time of day, and then at driver behaviors,” she said. “We’re trying to tackle fatalities and crashes at every dimension.”</p> <p>Trottenberg said that the levels of New York City bureaucracy and community input processes can slow the pace of the growth of bike networks. She said it’s a frequent point of contention, with some New Yorkers calling for DOT to surpass community boards, while others believe that projects should not move forward without community input. “When we can bring people along and buy them in and make them part of our Vision Zero work, I think that’s a better approach,” she said, while affirming that while she’s proud of the administration’s pace she always wants to move faster.</p> <p>On car usage, Trottenberg said she favors raising the cost of parking, implementing congestion pricing and turning to a computerized system that reads city officials’ license plates to fight placard abuse.</p> <p>Alternative modes of transportation like dockless bikes and scooters are “in an experimental phase,” she said. DOT is piloting dockless bikes in several places, including on Staten Island, where she said the city is talking to officials and residents about “doing a borough-wide pilot.”</p> <p>She said it appears dockless bike-share is best suited to geographically confined but less population-dense areas where the bikes can be kept in a defined area and docks don’t make as much sense. Scooters, meanwhile, are not yet legal in New York City, she noted -- another issue awaiting approval in Albany, where signs have pointed to likely advancement -- adding that “there’s a lot of interest in scooters,” but many questions remain. “The jury’s still out,” she said.</p> <p>Regarding her role at the MTA, where Trottenberg is about to hit roughly five years on the board, she said “we have a great leader in Andy Byford, I think we need to give him the resources and the support he needs to continue what is clearly starting to be a real turnaround in the subway system.” That requires action in Albany and support from the MTA board she said, adding that the board needs to be more transparent and accountable.</p> <p>“I’d like to see the city’s priorities really considered and be part of what the MTA is focused on,” Trottenberg added. Asked how that happens, she said it relates to how the whole MTA capital plan happens, the role of key stakeholders, and other changes, not just with the board itself. “I’d like to I think see the MTA and the city work together more closely leading up to whatever happens on board day,” when the board meets and often votes on things, she said.</p> <p>Of the mayor’s four representatives on the board and the importance of the city’s voice there, Trottenberg noted she had a couple of years where she was basically the city’s only representative on the MTA board, but that she was then joined by three other strong members, who have been able to influence the discussions.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on What's The [Data] Point?</a>]</p> <p> </p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Land Use and Planning 2019-03-25T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8385-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-land-use-and-planning Savannah Jacobson sjacobson@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/42268461490_62c3342a22_z.jpg" alt="press conference" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The sixth 2019 Charter Revision Commission “expert” hearing ended in more confusion than it began with on the decidedly complex topics of land use and city planning.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours on Thursday evening, experts struggled to articulate a clear definition of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">comprehensive planning</a>, leaving the commissioners feeling like they had little to work off moving forward in the process of examining the city charter and recommending changes to the city’s foundational governing structures and laws, even if they support the idea abstractly. Meanwhile, experts on the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) put forth several different ideas about how much ULURP should involve the community, but mostly agreed that it already works well enough.</p> <p>As with several of the other hearings, experts and commissioners agreed on the broad goal of working toward a more equitable, affordable, and livable city, but disagreed on the means to achieve it.</p> <p>The charter revision commission is holding a series of expert hearings as it works toward the first potential significant overhaul of city governing since 1989, with four main focus areas to decide on a series of suggested reforms to put on the ballot before voters this November.</p> <p>The commission has already held hearings on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting">city budgeting and contracting</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer">conflicts of interest and chief diversity officers</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting">the public advocate and law department</a>. The commission consists of 15 members appointed by each borough president, the city council speaker, the comptroller, and the mayor, and there is staff to help with research and more.</p> <p>Uniform Land Use Review Process<br />“Would you agree that how land is used in any particular place is always a political act?” Commission Chair Gail Benjamin asked the question of the hour, jumpstarting a ULURP panel with commissioners concerned about displacement and equity, and an expert panel that largely echoed those concerns but conceded few suggested reforms.</p> <p>ULURP refers to the city’s “standards and timelines for certain land use actions” that stretch beyond the purview of the land’s zoning. Currently, ULURP is a monthslong process that moves from the Department of City Planning to community boards to borough presidents to the City Planning Commission to the City Council.</p> <p>Experts were mixed on how to reform ULURP, or whether it even requires change. Marisa Lago, Director of New York City Department of Planning, cautioned against moving away from as-of-right housing development, or new housing that complies with existing zoning laws and does not require special approval, which she said provides much of New York City’s affordable housing. The ULURP process, Lago said, is also indispensable to supporting affordable housing and prioritizes community input.</p> <p>Some experts emphasized the importance of a comprehensive, citywide perspective, rather than a hyperlocal view of city planning.</p> <p>Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning, called for a timely, fully public process that balances community input with governmental power -- and indicated ULURP may give too strong a voice to louder local opposition to development. “While some local voices feel that the ULURP process does not give them a strong enough voice, we hear from affordable housing developers, fair housing advocates, and others who see that local concerns are frequently winning out over the wider needs of families, immigrants and others among the city’s most vulnerable.”</p> <p>Andrew Lynn, who formerly held Laremont’s role and is currently a consultant, similarly warned against prioritizing “a vocal, local minority directly affected by an action whose interests may conflict with those of a larger, quieter citywide constituency that has a stake in the action.”</p> <p>Joe Rose, former chair of the City Planning Commission and director of the Department of City Planning, espoused many of same the viewpoints as the other experts on the panel, but also recommended a process that adds 30 extra days to community boards’ decision time, which is currently 60 days, in particularly complex cases. Community Boards currently have an advisory role in ULURP. Rose further argued that giving the Department of City Planning a stronger enforcement role regarding zoning laws would alleviate unnecessary convolution in the ULURP process.</p> <p>Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect, urbanism professor of practice at Columbia University, and former planner for the city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was part of the experts’ consensus against significantly revising ULURP to bring in more considerations. “We are outpacing our growth projections,” he said. “But given our land scarcity, we simply can’t keep up unless we expand the production of both affordable and market-rate housing. The fantasy that less growth will lead to equity is irresponsible rhetoric.”</p> <p>The only expert who spoke unequivocally in favor of ULURP reform was Carmen Vega-Rivera of Community Action for Safe Apartments, who spoke about her “extremely frustrating” experience with the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the South Bronx that was approved a year ago and she says invited private developers into the rezoned neighborhood and could potentially lead to gentrification and displacement.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera called for an overhaul of the CEQR, or environmental review process, which she said failed to adequately assess the threat of displacement in the Jerome Avenue project. She suggested a public CEQR process that is renewed at least every five years and delivers a full explanation to the community of the Planning Department’s methodology. She also recommended revoking total mayoral control over the CEQR process and instead endorsed a special oversight commission of appointed experts. “In other words,” Vega-Rivera said, “no one has more power than the other.”</p> <p>After Commissioner Alison Hirsh, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, asked experts to answer to Vega-Rivera’s concerns, Laremont assured, “we take very seriously the risk of displacement,” but that the CEQR manual is highly technical and public revision risks making an already complex document more difficult to maneuver.</p> <p>Commissioners were mostly concerned with maintaining equity and community oversight in the ULURP process. Commissioner Sal Albanese, former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, asked experts how the city can achieve a balance of continued growth and a vibrant working-class population, while Commissioner James Vacca, a former City Council member, asked why ULURP fails to engage community boards earlier in the process to avoid isolating local residents and stakeholders.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera said community-based efforts are not occurring. “I happen to be a tenant fighting not to be displaced in my community,” she told the commissioners. “No one has knocked on my door to assess my situation.”</p> <p>The other experts largely agreed with each other that New York City can only achieve equity with a comprehensive view of the city, arguing that a neighborhood-centric approach is myopic. Lago offered homeless shelters as an example: few neighborhoods want to host them, but they remain a critical service that have to exist throughout the city, she explained. At the same time, none of these experts endorsed an actual comprehensive plan for New York City.</p> <p>Commissioner James Caras, the Land Use Director for the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, reupped his colleague’s question about engaging the community earlier. Laremont answered, “I’m a little bit confused because I’m not aware of a single instance when that has not been the case.” Even if the process has been informal, community members and stakeholders are consistently looped into the ULURP process, she said. When Caras asked why a community-centric process should not be codified if it’s already in place, Lago said that “one size doesn’t fit all,” and city planning groups need flexibility.</p> <p>Other concerns from commissioners included the disparate planning entities in the city, which experts argued makes the process more robust; increasing digital access to ULURP applications, which Laremont assured; and adding urban planners to the City Planning Commission, which received mixed reviews.</p> <p><strong>Comprehensive Planning</strong><br />New York City <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">does not have a comprehensive city plan</a>, unlike many other cities across the globe. Some are calling for the requirement to be added to the charter, whereby at some regular interval, the city would be responsible for developing such a plan for land use, development, and key aspects of city life.</p> <p>The competing definitions of comprehensive planning were debated more than any concrete reform suggestions, flummoxing commissioners after an intense two hours of two comprehensive planning panels. Commissioner Hirsh at one point told the experts that she counted seven different ideas in their written testimony submitted to the commission that could all be considered comprehensive planning.</p> <p>In a <a href="http://charter2019.nyc/pdfs/Land%20Use.pdf">document</a> distributed prior to the hearing, the commission defined a comprehensive plan as “a document that articulates long-term development goals related to transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, housing, and other types of infrastructure and services.” But the first expert, Vicki Been, the former commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, began the panel by admitting, “I’m not sure that we’re all on the same page about what is meant by comprehensive planning.”</p> <p>She called a charter mandate “empty platitudes without much more detail about what is meant by comprehensive planning,” and cautioned that its ratification could make an already lengthy and unpredictable process more onerous.</p> <p>Most of the first comprehensive planning panel shared Been’s concerns, while the second panel was significantly more receptive to the idea, if less uniform on what comprehensive planning means and how to enact it.</p> <p>Other panelists who spoke against comprehensive planning cited its failure in the 1970s charter revision process, when by the time it was codified, it was almost immediately outdated, according to several experts. Urban planner Sandy Hornick called the idea “inherently top-down,” rather than community-based. Patrice Carroll of the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, where comprehensive planning is in place, said that Seattle’s plan allows for flexibility within a broader framework that precludes an overly top-down approach.</p> <p>Commissioner Hirsh asked how the current system accounts for equity, again probing at the hearing’s lack of clear definitions. Been explained that citywide tension stems from a lack of a clear interpretation of fairness, and Hornick offered the example of waste stations to illustrate the argument that comprehensive planning will not remedy the problem that residents will fight against undesirable assets in their neighborhoods.</p> <p>Commissioner Vacca strongly pushed against this notion, saying, “We’re not talking fairness or saturation, we’re talking inequality.” He cited the significant five-year gap in life expectancy between Manhattan and the Bronx due to issues like air quality. “These studies are not subjective, this is the reality. We already have this information at our fingertips and we don’t use it when we plan,” he said. “We plan in a vacuum.”</p> <p>This sentiment was echoed most prominently by City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, including Williamsburg, which has become essentially synonymous with gentrification and displacement. “Planning has left us an unaffordable, economically segregated, racially segregated city in a climate crisis,” he said, testifying before the commission in favor of comprehensive planning. “There has to be a better way.”</p> <p>Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development, argued the comprehensive planning trusts communities to articulate their own needs, and Tom Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College, accused other experts of depicting comprehensive planning as a catch-all “boogeyman.”</p> <p>Commissioner Albanese expressed concern that comprehensive planning would stifle growth, but Angotti said that cities that use the system are growing, like Seattle and Amsterdam. Commission Chair Benjamin inquired about legislating comprehensive planning, rather than mandating it through the charter. Reynoso said that he did not trust his own body, the City Council, to handle the issue properly.</p> <p>Nearly all commissioners agreed that they approved of a form of city planning that is community-based, equitable, and meets the challenges facing the city––from displacement to climate change––but seemed wary about the future of a comprehensive planning mandate without more concrete proposals.</p> <p>[READ:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One?</a>]</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/42268461490_62c3342a22_z.jpg" alt="press conference" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The sixth 2019 Charter Revision Commission “expert” hearing ended in more confusion than it began with on the decidedly complex topics of land use and city planning.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours on Thursday evening, experts struggled to articulate a clear definition of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">comprehensive planning</a>, leaving the commissioners feeling like they had little to work off moving forward in the process of examining the city charter and recommending changes to the city’s foundational governing structures and laws, even if they support the idea abstractly. Meanwhile, experts on the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) put forth several different ideas about how much ULURP should involve the community, but mostly agreed that it already works well enough.</p> <p>As with several of the other hearings, experts and commissioners agreed on the broad goal of working toward a more equitable, affordable, and livable city, but disagreed on the means to achieve it.</p> <p>The charter revision commission is holding a series of expert hearings as it works toward the first potential significant overhaul of city governing since 1989, with four main focus areas to decide on a series of suggested reforms to put on the ballot before voters this November.</p> <p>The commission has already held hearings on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting">city budgeting and contracting</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer">conflicts of interest and chief diversity officers</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting">the public advocate and law department</a>. The commission consists of 15 members appointed by each borough president, the city council speaker, the comptroller, and the mayor, and there is staff to help with research and more.</p> <p>Uniform Land Use Review Process<br />“Would you agree that how land is used in any particular place is always a political act?” Commission Chair Gail Benjamin asked the question of the hour, jumpstarting a ULURP panel with commissioners concerned about displacement and equity, and an expert panel that largely echoed those concerns but conceded few suggested reforms.</p> <p>ULURP refers to the city’s “standards and timelines for certain land use actions” that stretch beyond the purview of the land’s zoning. Currently, ULURP is a monthslong process that moves from the Department of City Planning to community boards to borough presidents to the City Planning Commission to the City Council.</p> <p>Experts were mixed on how to reform ULURP, or whether it even requires change. Marisa Lago, Director of New York City Department of Planning, cautioned against moving away from as-of-right housing development, or new housing that complies with existing zoning laws and does not require special approval, which she said provides much of New York City’s affordable housing. The ULURP process, Lago said, is also indispensable to supporting affordable housing and prioritizes community input.</p> <p>Some experts emphasized the importance of a comprehensive, citywide perspective, rather than a hyperlocal view of city planning.</p> <p>Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning, called for a timely, fully public process that balances community input with governmental power -- and indicated ULURP may give too strong a voice to louder local opposition to development. “While some local voices feel that the ULURP process does not give them a strong enough voice, we hear from affordable housing developers, fair housing advocates, and others who see that local concerns are frequently winning out over the wider needs of families, immigrants and others among the city’s most vulnerable.”</p> <p>Andrew Lynn, who formerly held Laremont’s role and is currently a consultant, similarly warned against prioritizing “a vocal, local minority directly affected by an action whose interests may conflict with those of a larger, quieter citywide constituency that has a stake in the action.”</p> <p>Joe Rose, former chair of the City Planning Commission and director of the Department of City Planning, espoused many of same the viewpoints as the other experts on the panel, but also recommended a process that adds 30 extra days to community boards’ decision time, which is currently 60 days, in particularly complex cases. Community Boards currently have an advisory role in ULURP. Rose further argued that giving the Department of City Planning a stronger enforcement role regarding zoning laws would alleviate unnecessary convolution in the ULURP process.</p> <p>Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect, urbanism professor of practice at Columbia University, and former planner for the city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was part of the experts’ consensus against significantly revising ULURP to bring in more considerations. “We are outpacing our growth projections,” he said. “But given our land scarcity, we simply can’t keep up unless we expand the production of both affordable and market-rate housing. The fantasy that less growth will lead to equity is irresponsible rhetoric.”</p> <p>The only expert who spoke unequivocally in favor of ULURP reform was Carmen Vega-Rivera of Community Action for Safe Apartments, who spoke about her “extremely frustrating” experience with the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the South Bronx that was approved a year ago and she says invited private developers into the rezoned neighborhood and could potentially lead to gentrification and displacement.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera called for an overhaul of the CEQR, or environmental review process, which she said failed to adequately assess the threat of displacement in the Jerome Avenue project. She suggested a public CEQR process that is renewed at least every five years and delivers a full explanation to the community of the Planning Department’s methodology. She also recommended revoking total mayoral control over the CEQR process and instead endorsed a special oversight commission of appointed experts. “In other words,” Vega-Rivera said, “no one has more power than the other.”</p> <p>After Commissioner Alison Hirsh, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, asked experts to answer to Vega-Rivera’s concerns, Laremont assured, “we take very seriously the risk of displacement,” but that the CEQR manual is highly technical and public revision risks making an already complex document more difficult to maneuver.</p> <p>Commissioners were mostly concerned with maintaining equity and community oversight in the ULURP process. Commissioner Sal Albanese, former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, asked experts how the city can achieve a balance of continued growth and a vibrant working-class population, while Commissioner James Vacca, a former City Council member, asked why ULURP fails to engage community boards earlier in the process to avoid isolating local residents and stakeholders.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera said community-based efforts are not occurring. “I happen to be a tenant fighting not to be displaced in my community,” she told the commissioners. “No one has knocked on my door to assess my situation.”</p> <p>The other experts largely agreed with each other that New York City can only achieve equity with a comprehensive view of the city, arguing that a neighborhood-centric approach is myopic. Lago offered homeless shelters as an example: few neighborhoods want to host them, but they remain a critical service that have to exist throughout the city, she explained. At the same time, none of these experts endorsed an actual comprehensive plan for New York City.</p> <p>Commissioner James Caras, the Land Use Director for the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, reupped his colleague’s question about engaging the community earlier. Laremont answered, “I’m a little bit confused because I’m not aware of a single instance when that has not been the case.” Even if the process has been informal, community members and stakeholders are consistently looped into the ULURP process, she said. When Caras asked why a community-centric process should not be codified if it’s already in place, Lago said that “one size doesn’t fit all,” and city planning groups need flexibility.</p> <p>Other concerns from commissioners included the disparate planning entities in the city, which experts argued makes the process more robust; increasing digital access to ULURP applications, which Laremont assured; and adding urban planners to the City Planning Commission, which received mixed reviews.</p> <p><strong>Comprehensive Planning</strong><br />New York City <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">does not have a comprehensive city plan</a>, unlike many other cities across the globe. Some are calling for the requirement to be added to the charter, whereby at some regular interval, the city would be responsible for developing such a plan for land use, development, and key aspects of city life.</p> <p>The competing definitions of comprehensive planning were debated more than any concrete reform suggestions, flummoxing commissioners after an intense two hours of two comprehensive planning panels. Commissioner Hirsh at one point told the experts that she counted seven different ideas in their written testimony submitted to the commission that could all be considered comprehensive planning.</p> <p>In a <a href="http://charter2019.nyc/pdfs/Land%20Use.pdf">document</a> distributed prior to the hearing, the commission defined a comprehensive plan as “a document that articulates long-term development goals related to transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, housing, and other types of infrastructure and services.” But the first expert, Vicki Been, the former commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, began the panel by admitting, “I’m not sure that we’re all on the same page about what is meant by comprehensive planning.”</p> <p>She called a charter mandate “empty platitudes without much more detail about what is meant by comprehensive planning,” and cautioned that its ratification could make an already lengthy and unpredictable process more onerous.</p> <p>Most of the first comprehensive planning panel shared Been’s concerns, while the second panel was significantly more receptive to the idea, if less uniform on what comprehensive planning means and how to enact it.</p> <p>Other panelists who spoke against comprehensive planning cited its failure in the 1970s charter revision process, when by the time it was codified, it was almost immediately outdated, according to several experts. Urban planner Sandy Hornick called the idea “inherently top-down,” rather than community-based. Patrice Carroll of the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, where comprehensive planning is in place, said that Seattle’s plan allows for flexibility within a broader framework that precludes an overly top-down approach.</p> <p>Commissioner Hirsh asked how the current system accounts for equity, again probing at the hearing’s lack of clear definitions. Been explained that citywide tension stems from a lack of a clear interpretation of fairness, and Hornick offered the example of waste stations to illustrate the argument that comprehensive planning will not remedy the problem that residents will fight against undesirable assets in their neighborhoods.</p> <p>Commissioner Vacca strongly pushed against this notion, saying, “We’re not talking fairness or saturation, we’re talking inequality.” He cited the significant five-year gap in life expectancy between Manhattan and the Bronx due to issues like air quality. “These studies are not subjective, this is the reality. We already have this information at our fingertips and we don’t use it when we plan,” he said. “We plan in a vacuum.”</p> <p>This sentiment was echoed most prominently by City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, including Williamsburg, which has become essentially synonymous with gentrification and displacement. “Planning has left us an unaffordable, economically segregated, racially segregated city in a climate crisis,” he said, testifying before the commission in favor of comprehensive planning. “There has to be a better way.”</p> <p>Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development, argued the comprehensive planning trusts communities to articulate their own needs, and Tom Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College, accused other experts of depicting comprehensive planning as a catch-all “boogeyman.”</p> <p>Commissioner Albanese expressed concern that comprehensive planning would stifle growth, but Angotti said that cities that use the system are growing, like Seattle and Amsterdam. Commission Chair Benjamin inquired about legislating comprehensive planning, rather than mandating it through the charter. Reynoso said that he did not trust his own body, the City Council, to handle the issue properly.</p> <p>Nearly all commissioners agreed that they approved of a form of city planning that is community-based, equitable, and meets the challenges facing the city––from displacement to climate change––but seemed wary about the future of a comprehensive planning mandate without more concrete proposals.</p> <p>[READ:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One?</a>]</p> <p> </p> What's The [Data] Point? 202, with City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg 2019-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8378-what-s-the-data-point-202-with-city-transportation-commissioner-polly-trottenberg Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 68</strong><strong> -- 202, with City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/polly-trottenberg-wtdp-march-2019.jpg" alt="polly trottenberg wtdp march 2019" width="150" height="147" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg joined the podcast to discuss her tenure and approach to managing city streets and transit, as well as her role on the MTA Board. The conversation touched upon street safety and the city's Vision Zero program, getting the city's buses moving again, bike-sharing, parking placard abuse, L-train repair work mitigation plans, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/593663178&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 68</strong><strong> -- 202, with City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/polly-trottenberg-wtdp-march-2019.jpg" alt="polly trottenberg wtdp march 2019" width="150" height="147" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg joined the podcast to discuss her tenure and approach to managing city streets and transit, as well as her role on the MTA Board. The conversation touched upon street safety and the city's Vision Zero program, getting the city's buses moving again, bike-sharing, parking placard abuse, L-train repair work mitigation plans, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/593663178&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City’s Flawed Capital Project Process the Subject of Renewed Scrutiny, and Some Reform 2019-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8381-city-s-flawed-capital-project-process-the-subject-of-renewed-scrutiny-and-some-reform Andrew Millman amillman@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Public Advocate's Office, Law Department, Ranked-Choice Voting 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/charter2019nyc-pub-adv.jpg" alt="charter2019nyc pub adv" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>(photo: @Charter2019NYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Three former New York City Public Advocates argued for strengthening the powers of the office. Former and current Law Department officials defended the agency’s independence. Experts on city government argued for and against expanding the powers of non-mayoral elected officials. And a Board of Elections official detailed the logistics of implementing ranked-choice voting in New York City.</p> <p>Those were the broad themes of a Monday night hearing held at the City Council chambers by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is tasked with examining the powers and functions of city government with the aim of improving them. The commission, whose members are appointed by a variety of the city’s elected officials, will put forth proposals to change the city’s constitution that will go before voters this November.</p> <p>Monday’s was one in a series of “expert hearings” being held by the commission as it considers specifics within its previously outlined focus areas. Before Monday, expert hearings had been held on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflicts of interest and a proposal to create a chief diversity officer</a> across city government.</p> <p><strong>Strengthening the Public Advocate</strong><br />Among the ideas the commission is considering is giving more authority to the public advocate -- or to eliminate the office entirely if not -- and three of the four former officeholders were at the hearing to defend the role of the city’s ombudsperson. They included Mark Green, Betsy Gotbaum and Letitia James, who held the position before being elected attorney general last year. James was also one of the original sponsors, along with Borough President Gale Brewer, of the legislation that created the charter commission.</p> <p>The only former public advocate not in attendance was Mayor Bill de Blasio. City Council Member Jumaane Williams is currently public advocate-elect after winning the February special election. He’ll take office soon. The public advocate is the city’s watchdog and ombudsperson, one of just three citywide elected officials and first in line to the mayor if the city’s chief executive is unable to finish his or her term.</p> <p>James, Gotbaum, and Green all defended the responsibilities of the office they once held, and called for giving the public advocate greater authority. James pushed for subpoena power for the office and for the statutory ability to bring lawsuits against city agencies on behalf of New Yorkers, an issue she pursued after using litigation to mixed effect against the de Blasio administration. She called on the commission to “finally fulfill the promise of a fully empowered people’s watchdog.”</p> <p>All three also argued for an independent budget for the public advocate, where it would receive a certain percentage of the city’s overall budget or financing based on some other statistical model, removing its reliance on the mayor’s whims. The office receives about $3.6 million in funding for the current fiscal year. Though de Blasio, a former public advocate himself, has increased the office’s budget and is proposed another small increase for next fiscal year, previous mayors have not been so generous. “It was this constant dance and constant fight,” said Gotbaum, now the executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union, of her fight for greater funding under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That’s just unnecessary.”</p> <p>Green was the only one to suggest a number: at least $6 million to carry out the office’s duties. “It is wrong and foolish that if an office does its job, it loses its job because of a mayor who is politically or personally antagonistic,” he said.</p> <p>He also urged the commission to finally put to rest the idea that the public advocate should be eliminated, a suggestion that was even put into legislation by a few City Council members earlier this year.</p> <p>Though the commission seemed open to the former public advocates’ ideas, Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, repeatedly asked them to justify the office’s existence, citing anecdotal evidence that people believe it is a wasteful use of taxpayer money. He insisted that City Council members can perform the same duties and that the public advocate was a “vestigial” institution in the city’s political system.</p> <p>Naturally, the three former public advocates pushed back. James cited the thousands of complaints she fielded and resolved for New Yorkers, and the bills she introduced that were passed into law -- more than all public advocates before her combined, as she is fond of noting. Green cited the office’s push for the creation of the city’s 311 helpline, among other successes, saying it was “spurious and silly” to consider scrapping the office altogether.</p> <p>James and Gotbaum also advocated for giving the public advocate the power to appoint members to other watchdog agencies such as the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the Human Rights Commission. “Putting more public officials on those committees would at least get a better balance of interests on those committees so that the mayor isn’t so, so powerful,” Gotbaum said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College who has worked with previous charter commissions, did later agree with Albanese that the public advocate’s office has been ill-defined since it was created by a 1989 charter revision commission that drastically changed the structure of city government -- the last major overhaul to the city’s governing document and structure. “It derives from the ambiguity of the position,” Muzzio said during his testimony. “It was never decided what the purpose of the body was...All the reforms are random decorations on the christmas tree. They’re not integrated into a purpose that is coherent, logical, and adequately funded.”</p> <p><strong>Conflicts at the Law Department</strong><br /> In its <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/NYC-Council-Report-to-the-2019-Charter-Revision-Commission.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommendations</a> to the charter commission, the City Council raised questions about the corporation counsel, the city’s top lawyer and a mayoral appointee, and the Law Department, specifically wondering who the agency represents if there are internecine disagreements in city government. The Council has in the last year sued the city to block a development project on the East River waterfront and even filed a lawsuit against the corporation counsel, arguing for the ability to file amicus briefs in court.</p> <p>At the hearing, former corporation counsel Victor Kovner and Karen Griffin, senior counsel at the Law Department, defended how the department functions and attempted to clarify how legal decisions are made. Both urged caution and insisted that any attempts to interfere in the powers of the corporation counsel, including imposing term limits as some have suggested, would undermine the office’s independence.</p> <p>“It would undermine the independence of that office at great cost to the city,” Kovner said.</p> <p>“Ultimately, the charter gives the corp counsel the authority to make final decisions about what’s in the best interest of city,” Griffin said.</p> <p>Though Griffin did not take a position on whether the City Council should be given “advise and consent” authority in the selection of the corporation counsel, as the Council has called for, Kovner rejected the proposal, again citing the office’s independent reputation. “I think it’s a great mistake...Leave it. It’s working well,” he said.</p> <p>Griffin also explained that when conflicts arise in the Law Department’s representation of a city official against another, the agency would “independently decide which position is legally correct.” And, in cases involving the mayor facing off against the City Council, the department sides with the mayor as the appointing authority, which could change if advise and consent is approved as a policy. Otherwise, in those circumstances, the Council has called on the charter commission to consider mandating that the Law Department provide funding for outside counsel for all other non-mayoral elected officials.</p> <p>Muzzio later suggested that the city do away with the corporation counsel and create the position of city attorney, similar to Los Angeles and San Francisco.</p> <p><strong>Balance of Power</strong><br />The commissioners questioned the third panel of experts -- Muzzio and Stanley Brezenoff, a veteran of decades of city government service who recently retired after holding several positions under de Blasio -- on improving the balance of power in city government, which heavily favors the mayor.</p> <p>“Is there anything that either of you envision that a body like this could do to provide for a meaningful voice…to the borough executives without disrupting [the] strong mayoral formula?” asked Commissioner Stephen Fiala.</p> <p>Muzzio suggested that the power of borough presidents could be enhanced through independent budgeting and by giving them a greater voice in the city’s land use approval process.</p> <p>“We don’t have a government, fortunately, that is simply a top government and a bottom government. We have an intermediate government that can recognize the needs and desires of boroughs and at the same time work within a citywide paradigm,” he said. “This is a supplemental power, it’s not revolutionary. It’s not going to change the basic strong mayor structure of city government.”</p> <p>He similarly argued that the City Council’s authority could be strengthened in various ways without undermining the mayor.</p> <p>But Brezenoff warned of diluting the power of the mayor or the Office of Management and Budget, which sets funding levels for the borough presidents. “This surgical approach to governmental structure is hard stuff,” he said. Brezenoff also did not seem to agree with the idea that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) should have set timelines under the charter. “This is a very difficult balancing act. I would just urge care,” he said. (ULURP will be one focus of Thursday’s expert hearing.)</p> <p><strong>Ranked Choice Voting and Special Elections</strong><br />Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, was the final panellist to testify before the commission on Monday. Ryan primarily urged the commission to consider a change in the charter’s provisions on special elections, pointing to the recent one held for public advocate in February.</p> <p>Currently, the charter requires that the mayor declare a special election, after a vacancy, to be held within 45 days. That short timeline, he said, precludes the BOE from being able to send out ballots in time, particularly military ballots, and also prevents candidates or voters from successfully challenging ballot petition decisions in court. It will also mean that once Council Member Jumaane Williams, now the public advocate-elect, resigns his Council seat, another special election will have to be held within just six weeks, instead of waiting for the already-scheduled election days this year, which are for a June primary and November general election.</p> <p>Ryan said the commission should consider bringing the “glaring inconsistency” in the city’s special elections in line with timelines set for state special elections -- elections take place between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s proclamation. That would also be particularly necessary once the city begins to implement early voting for elections under a new state law, he said. “The more predictability that people have in the conduct of elections, the better off we’re all gonna be,” he said.</p> <p>Asked about ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, Ryan said the BOE did not have an official position. A charter commission convened by the mayor last year declined to formally take up the issue, citing a lack of sufficient time to explore its pros and cons.</p> <p>At the hearing. Ryan did lay out the prerequisites for implementing ranked-choice voting from his perspective. He said the BOE’s vendor of election systems would be able to implement it with its current mechanisms, though with duplicative counting required by the agency, and that a more automatic process would require more time to upgrade software. “Until we know what the rules are and what the expectation is, the algorithm can’t be determined,” he said of the ranked-choice formula that voting machines would have to use. [<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Read more about ranked-choice voting</a>]</p> <p>He did point out that the state BOE would have to approve any changes passed by the city, though he doubted it would face any opposition since it would be limited to New York City alone. “I can’t imagine a scenario where the state would say no,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/charter2019nyc-pub-adv.jpg" alt="charter2019nyc pub adv" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>(photo: @Charter2019NYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Three former New York City Public Advocates argued for strengthening the powers of the office. Former and current Law Department officials defended the agency’s independence. Experts on city government argued for and against expanding the powers of non-mayoral elected officials. And a Board of Elections official detailed the logistics of implementing ranked-choice voting in New York City.</p> <p>Those were the broad themes of a Monday night hearing held at the City Council chambers by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is tasked with examining the powers and functions of city government with the aim of improving them. The commission, whose members are appointed by a variety of the city’s elected officials, will put forth proposals to change the city’s constitution that will go before voters this November.</p> <p>Monday’s was one in a series of “expert hearings” being held by the commission as it considers specifics within its previously outlined focus areas. Before Monday, expert hearings had been held on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflicts of interest and a proposal to create a chief diversity officer</a> across city government.</p> <p><strong>Strengthening the Public Advocate</strong><br />Among the ideas the commission is considering is giving more authority to the public advocate -- or to eliminate the office entirely if not -- and three of the four former officeholders were at the hearing to defend the role of the city’s ombudsperson. They included Mark Green, Betsy Gotbaum and Letitia James, who held the position before being elected attorney general last year. James was also one of the original sponsors, along with Borough President Gale Brewer, of the legislation that created the charter commission.</p> <p>The only former public advocate not in attendance was Mayor Bill de Blasio. City Council Member Jumaane Williams is currently public advocate-elect after winning the February special election. He’ll take office soon. The public advocate is the city’s watchdog and ombudsperson, one of just three citywide elected officials and first in line to the mayor if the city’s chief executive is unable to finish his or her term.</p> <p>James, Gotbaum, and Green all defended the responsibilities of the office they once held, and called for giving the public advocate greater authority. James pushed for subpoena power for the office and for the statutory ability to bring lawsuits against city agencies on behalf of New Yorkers, an issue she pursued after using litigation to mixed effect against the de Blasio administration. She called on the commission to “finally fulfill the promise of a fully empowered people’s watchdog.”</p> <p>All three also argued for an independent budget for the public advocate, where it would receive a certain percentage of the city’s overall budget or financing based on some other statistical model, removing its reliance on the mayor’s whims. The office receives about $3.6 million in funding for the current fiscal year. Though de Blasio, a former public advocate himself, has increased the office’s budget and is proposed another small increase for next fiscal year, previous mayors have not been so generous. “It was this constant dance and constant fight,” said Gotbaum, now the executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union, of her fight for greater funding under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That’s just unnecessary.”</p> <p>Green was the only one to suggest a number: at least $6 million to carry out the office’s duties. “It is wrong and foolish that if an office does its job, it loses its job because of a mayor who is politically or personally antagonistic,” he said.</p> <p>He also urged the commission to finally put to rest the idea that the public advocate should be eliminated, a suggestion that was even put into legislation by a few City Council members earlier this year.</p> <p>Though the commission seemed open to the former public advocates’ ideas, Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, repeatedly asked them to justify the office’s existence, citing anecdotal evidence that people believe it is a wasteful use of taxpayer money. He insisted that City Council members can perform the same duties and that the public advocate was a “vestigial” institution in the city’s political system.</p> <p>Naturally, the three former public advocates pushed back. James cited the thousands of complaints she fielded and resolved for New Yorkers, and the bills she introduced that were passed into law -- more than all public advocates before her combined, as she is fond of noting. Green cited the office’s push for the creation of the city’s 311 helpline, among other successes, saying it was “spurious and silly” to consider scrapping the office altogether.</p> <p>James and Gotbaum also advocated for giving the public advocate the power to appoint members to other watchdog agencies such as the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the Human Rights Commission. “Putting more public officials on those committees would at least get a better balance of interests on those committees so that the mayor isn’t so, so powerful,” Gotbaum said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College who has worked with previous charter commissions, did later agree with Albanese that the public advocate’s office has been ill-defined since it was created by a 1989 charter revision commission that drastically changed the structure of city government -- the last major overhaul to the city’s governing document and structure. “It derives from the ambiguity of the position,” Muzzio said during his testimony. “It was never decided what the purpose of the body was...All the reforms are random decorations on the christmas tree. They’re not integrated into a purpose that is coherent, logical, and adequately funded.”</p> <p><strong>Conflicts at the Law Department</strong><br /> In its <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/NYC-Council-Report-to-the-2019-Charter-Revision-Commission.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommendations</a> to the charter commission, the City Council raised questions about the corporation counsel, the city’s top lawyer and a mayoral appointee, and the Law Department, specifically wondering who the agency represents if there are internecine disagreements in city government. The Council has in the last year sued the city to block a development project on the East River waterfront and even filed a lawsuit against the corporation counsel, arguing for the ability to file amicus briefs in court.</p> <p>At the hearing, former corporation counsel Victor Kovner and Karen Griffin, senior counsel at the Law Department, defended how the department functions and attempted to clarify how legal decisions are made. Both urged caution and insisted that any attempts to interfere in the powers of the corporation counsel, including imposing term limits as some have suggested, would undermine the office’s independence.</p> <p>“It would undermine the independence of that office at great cost to the city,” Kovner said.</p> <p>“Ultimately, the charter gives the corp counsel the authority to make final decisions about what’s in the best interest of city,” Griffin said.</p> <p>Though Griffin did not take a position on whether the City Council should be given “advise and consent” authority in the selection of the corporation counsel, as the Council has called for, Kovner rejected the proposal, again citing the office’s independent reputation. “I think it’s a great mistake...Leave it. It’s working well,” he said.</p> <p>Griffin also explained that when conflicts arise in the Law Department’s representation of a city official against another, the agency would “independently decide which position is legally correct.” And, in cases involving the mayor facing off against the City Council, the department sides with the mayor as the appointing authority, which could change if advise and consent is approved as a policy. Otherwise, in those circumstances, the Council has called on the charter commission to consider mandating that the Law Department provide funding for outside counsel for all other non-mayoral elected officials.</p> <p>Muzzio later suggested that the city do away with the corporation counsel and create the position of city attorney, similar to Los Angeles and San Francisco.</p> <p><strong>Balance of Power</strong><br />The commissioners questioned the third panel of experts -- Muzzio and Stanley Brezenoff, a veteran of decades of city government service who recently retired after holding several positions under de Blasio -- on improving the balance of power in city government, which heavily favors the mayor.</p> <p>“Is there anything that either of you envision that a body like this could do to provide for a meaningful voice…to the borough executives without disrupting [the] strong mayoral formula?” asked Commissioner Stephen Fiala.</p> <p>Muzzio suggested that the power of borough presidents could be enhanced through independent budgeting and by giving them a greater voice in the city’s land use approval process.</p> <p>“We don’t have a government, fortunately, that is simply a top government and a bottom government. We have an intermediate government that can recognize the needs and desires of boroughs and at the same time work within a citywide paradigm,” he said. “This is a supplemental power, it’s not revolutionary. It’s not going to change the basic strong mayor structure of city government.”</p> <p>He similarly argued that the City Council’s authority could be strengthened in various ways without undermining the mayor.</p> <p>But Brezenoff warned of diluting the power of the mayor or the Office of Management and Budget, which sets funding levels for the borough presidents. “This surgical approach to governmental structure is hard stuff,” he said. Brezenoff also did not seem to agree with the idea that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) should have set timelines under the charter. “This is a very difficult balancing act. I would just urge care,” he said. (ULURP will be one focus of Thursday’s expert hearing.)</p> <p><strong>Ranked Choice Voting and Special Elections</strong><br />Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, was the final panellist to testify before the commission on Monday. Ryan primarily urged the commission to consider a change in the charter’s provisions on special elections, pointing to the recent one held for public advocate in February.</p> <p>Currently, the charter requires that the mayor declare a special election, after a vacancy, to be held within 45 days. That short timeline, he said, precludes the BOE from being able to send out ballots in time, particularly military ballots, and also prevents candidates or voters from successfully challenging ballot petition decisions in court. It will also mean that once Council Member Jumaane Williams, now the public advocate-elect, resigns his Council seat, another special election will have to be held within just six weeks, instead of waiting for the already-scheduled election days this year, which are for a June primary and November general election.</p> <p>Ryan said the commission should consider bringing the “glaring inconsistency” in the city’s special elections in line with timelines set for state special elections -- elections take place between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s proclamation. That would also be particularly necessary once the city begins to implement early voting for elections under a new state law, he said. “The more predictability that people have in the conduct of elections, the better off we’re all gonna be,” he said.</p> <p>Asked about ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, Ryan said the BOE did not have an official position. A charter commission convened by the mayor last year declined to formally take up the issue, citing a lack of sufficient time to explore its pros and cons.</p> <p>At the hearing. Ryan did lay out the prerequisites for implementing ranked-choice voting from his perspective. He said the BOE’s vendor of election systems would be able to implement it with its current mechanisms, though with duplicative counting required by the agency, and that a more automatic process would require more time to upgrade software. “Until we know what the rules are and what the expectation is, the algorithm can’t be determined,” he said of the ranked-choice formula that voting machines would have to use. [<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Read more about ranked-choice voting</a>]</p> <p>He did point out that the state BOE would have to approve any changes passed by the city, though he doubted it would face any opposition since it would be limited to New York City alone. “I can’t imagine a scenario where the state would say no,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
In Push for City Resources, Advocates Show Acute Impacts of Homelessness 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8362-amid-push-for-city-resources-advocates-show-acute-impacts-of-homelessness Brianna Zimmerman bzimmerman@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bill-de-blasio-pro.jpg" alt="mayor bill de blasio pro" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As examination of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for next city fiscal year continues, the Citizens’ Committee for Children, a small data- and advocacy-focused non-profit, is releasing a new infographic capturing key aspects of the city’s homelessness crisis, particularly the high proportions of families with children and black and Latino families that make up the city’s homeless population.</p> <p>It also points to the high number of students experiencing homelessness and raises the issue of the impact of homelessness on learning and schools, as well as the relationship between rising rents and the housing crunch that has left tens of thousands of people in shelter.</p> <p>The data, drawn together from public and private sources from across the city, shows a variety of stark facts about the city’s homelessness crisis. For example, that “homelessness is a citywide issue, but it has a disproportionate impact on young children and families of color in poverty.”</p> <p>Over 13,000 families with children lived in shelters, or are sheltered by the city in hotels or cluster sites without access to social services that the city provides to those in most shelters, like childcare and after-school care. In city fiscal year 2018, the average number of families with children in city shelters per day was 12,619 -- a 28 percent increase form the average 9,480 in fiscal year 2013.</p> <p>And overall, more students than ever before are in temporary housing, with over 114,000 students in elementary through high school living doubled up with relatives or friends, in a homeless shelter, in a hotel where in some cases there is no kitchen and the neighborhoods can be challenging to afford food.</p> <p>“This is particularly traumatic for children,” said Jennifer March in a phone interview, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee of Children of New York, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “And I think the point of the infographic is to draw attention to the fact that the vast majority of people who are homeless in the city are families with children.” CCC is pushing for greater attention from city and state government leaders to the family homelessness crisis and for specific policy and funding changes.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ccc-family-homelessness-one-sheet.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ccc-family-homelessness-one-sheet.jpg" alt="ccc family homelessness one sheet" width="250" height="332" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>The data shows the burden disproportionately placed on black and Latino families, which is not a new finding, but increasingly shows the disparity between housing and homelessness along racialized lines. “Among the heads of families staying in [Department of Homeless Services] shelters,” the infographic states, “57 percent were Black and 37 percent Hispanic in 2017, which exceeds their share of family household population across” the city. Roughly 24 percent of households in New York City have black heads of household, while 28 percent are home to Latino heads of household.</p> <p>The numbers are pulled from Census data, public city data from the Department of Homeless Services, and other sources, according to Jack Mullen, CCC’s research associate, who led the data collection and analyses.</p> <p>The data also offers a comparison of city rents from 2012 to 2017 —&nbsp;with a median monthly rent increase of $236 in Manhattan, $169 in Queens, $180 in Brooklyn, $140 in the Bronx, and $79 on Staten Island.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has put in place a variety of plans and programs to address the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crises, including his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan and a number of often successful efforts to reduce evictions, as well as rent-voucher programs. And while the overall number of people in city homeless shelters has leveled off over the past year or so, the census is still at about a record high, with the mayor only aiming to reduce the homeless population to about 57,500 by 2022, at which point he’ll be out of office.</p> <p>Many non-profit and grassroots organizations, as well as elected officials, are asking for the mayor to double the amount of units in his housing plan that are reserved for individuals leaving homeless shelters — currently 5 percent of the 300,000 units are set aside for them. He has vehemently and repeatedly resisted that push, saying that his housing plan is balanced the way he believes is best for the city.</p> <p>And, given the need, that’s not the only ask.</p> <p>“This is a crisis that's not going away, and we are smack in the middle of the budget process for next year and this is the time when we might be able to get more funding for Bridge the Gap workers, for neighborhood subsidies that help center formerly or on-the-edge homeless folks to remain stably in their homes,” said March.</p> <p>CCC is advocating for continued financing for that Bridging the Gap program, which puts social workers inside city schools in an effort to manage social services for homeless students. This call for an increase to Bridging the Gap comes at a time when the mayor has called for agencies to tighten their belts and removed funding for those counselors from his preliminary budget, a repeated move from past years that he says is only part of the budget process wherein his administration is reassessing where to spend the money to best help homeless kids and their families.</p> <p>“CCC is right that homelessness and the affordability crisis are two sides of the same coin,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director of the Coalition for the Homeless, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Record homelessness and its negative impacts on children continue to persist due to inaction by Mayor de Blasio on building deeply subsidized affordable housing for New Yorkers most in need. We have consistently called on him to build 24,000 new apartments through his Housing New York 2.0 plan, as part of a larger goal to secure 30,000 units of housing for homeless New Yorkers. This is a proven solution needed to reduce all-time record homelessness and the suffering of 23,000 children sleeping in shelters each night.”</p> <p>Advocates and service-providers like CCC and Coalition for the Homeless, among others, are also looking at city and state legislation that’s on the table. CCC’s data appears to lend support to the Home Stability Support bill in the state Legislature -- lead sponsors are Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi of Queens and Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan (S2375/A1620) -- which would add statewide subsidy for rental housing for New Yorkers on the border of homelessness, and a New York City Council bill sponsored by Council Members Rafael Salamanca and Stephen Levin that would mandate set-asides for homeless New Yorkers at 15% for every housing development in the city that receives any city subsidy.</p> <p>A new state budget is due by April 1, a new city budget by July 1. CCC plans to release its new infographic and use the data therein to push for more attention to the city’s homelessness crisis, especially as it relates to children and families.</p> <p>

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by Brianna Zimmerman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bill-de-blasio-pro.jpg" alt="mayor bill de blasio pro" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As examination of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for next city fiscal year continues, the Citizens’ Committee for Children, a small data- and advocacy-focused non-profit, is releasing a new infographic capturing key aspects of the city’s homelessness crisis, particularly the high proportions of families with children and black and Latino families that make up the city’s homeless population.</p> <p>It also points to the high number of students experiencing homelessness and raises the issue of the impact of homelessness on learning and schools, as well as the relationship between rising rents and the housing crunch that has left tens of thousands of people in shelter.</p> <p>The data, drawn together from public and private sources from across the city, shows a variety of stark facts about the city’s homelessness crisis. For example, that “homelessness is a citywide issue, but it has a disproportionate impact on young children and families of color in poverty.”</p> <p>Over 13,000 families with children lived in shelters, or are sheltered by the city in hotels or cluster sites without access to social services that the city provides to those in most shelters, like childcare and after-school care. In city fiscal year 2018, the average number of families with children in city shelters per day was 12,619 -- a 28 percent increase form the average 9,480 in fiscal year 2013.</p> <p>And overall, more students than ever before are in temporary housing, with over 114,000 students in elementary through high school living doubled up with relatives or friends, in a homeless shelter, in a hotel where in some cases there is no kitchen and the neighborhoods can be challenging to afford food.</p> <p>“This is particularly traumatic for children,” said Jennifer March in a phone interview, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee of Children of New York, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “And I think the point of the infographic is to draw attention to the fact that the vast majority of people who are homeless in the city are families with children.” CCC is pushing for greater attention from city and state government leaders to the family homelessness crisis and for specific policy and funding changes.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ccc-family-homelessness-one-sheet.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ccc-family-homelessness-one-sheet.jpg" alt="ccc family homelessness one sheet" width="250" height="332" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>The data shows the burden disproportionately placed on black and Latino families, which is not a new finding, but increasingly shows the disparity between housing and homelessness along racialized lines. “Among the heads of families staying in [Department of Homeless Services] shelters,” the infographic states, “57 percent were Black and 37 percent Hispanic in 2017, which exceeds their share of family household population across” the city. Roughly 24 percent of households in New York City have black heads of household, while 28 percent are home to Latino heads of household.</p> <p>The numbers are pulled from Census data, public city data from the Department of Homeless Services, and other sources, according to Jack Mullen, CCC’s research associate, who led the data collection and analyses.</p> <p>The data also offers a comparison of city rents from 2012 to 2017 —&nbsp;with a median monthly rent increase of $236 in Manhattan, $169 in Queens, $180 in Brooklyn, $140 in the Bronx, and $79 on Staten Island.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has put in place a variety of plans and programs to address the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crises, including his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan and a number of often successful efforts to reduce evictions, as well as rent-voucher programs. And while the overall number of people in city homeless shelters has leveled off over the past year or so, the census is still at about a record high, with the mayor only aiming to reduce the homeless population to about 57,500 by 2022, at which point he’ll be out of office.</p> <p>Many non-profit and grassroots organizations, as well as elected officials, are asking for the mayor to double the amount of units in his housing plan that are reserved for individuals leaving homeless shelters — currently 5 percent of the 300,000 units are set aside for them. He has vehemently and repeatedly resisted that push, saying that his housing plan is balanced the way he believes is best for the city.</p> <p>And, given the need, that’s not the only ask.</p> <p>“This is a crisis that's not going away, and we are smack in the middle of the budget process for next year and this is the time when we might be able to get more funding for Bridge the Gap workers, for neighborhood subsidies that help center formerly or on-the-edge homeless folks to remain stably in their homes,” said March.</p> <p>CCC is advocating for continued financing for that Bridging the Gap program, which puts social workers inside city schools in an effort to manage social services for homeless students. This call for an increase to Bridging the Gap comes at a time when the mayor has called for agencies to tighten their belts and removed funding for those counselors from his preliminary budget, a repeated move from past years that he says is only part of the budget process wherein his administration is reassessing where to spend the money to best help homeless kids and their families.</p> <p>“CCC is right that homelessness and the affordability crisis are two sides of the same coin,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director of the Coalition for the Homeless, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Record homelessness and its negative impacts on children continue to persist due to inaction by Mayor de Blasio on building deeply subsidized affordable housing for New Yorkers most in need. We have consistently called on him to build 24,000 new apartments through his Housing New York 2.0 plan, as part of a larger goal to secure 30,000 units of housing for homeless New Yorkers. This is a proven solution needed to reduce all-time record homelessness and the suffering of 23,000 children sleeping in shelters each night.”</p> <p>Advocates and service-providers like CCC and Coalition for the Homeless, among others, are also looking at city and state legislation that’s on the table. CCC’s data appears to lend support to the Home Stability Support bill in the state Legislature -- lead sponsors are Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi of Queens and Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan (S2375/A1620) -- which would add statewide subsidy for rental housing for New Yorkers on the border of homelessness, and a New York City Council bill sponsored by Council Members Rafael Salamanca and Stephen Levin that would mandate set-asides for homeless New Yorkers at 15% for every housing development in the city that receives any city subsidy.</p> <p>A new state budget is due by April 1, a new city budget by July 1. CCC plans to release its new infographic and use the data therein to push for more attention to the city’s homelessness crisis, especially as it relates to children and families.</p> <p>

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by Brianna Zimmerman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Examines De Blasio's 'New York Works,' Said to Have Produced 3,000 Jobs of 100,000 Goal 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8368-city-council-examines-de-blasio-s-new-york-works-said-to-have-produced-3-000-jobs-of-100-000-goal Pranshu Verma pverma@ggmail.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/47414747151_33076d8a07_z.jpg" alt="Patchett EDC hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>EDC President James Patchett (photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs, with annual salaries of $50,000 or more, within 10 years, giving New Yorkers a pathway to the middle class. On Monday, City Council members held an oversight hearing on that plan, attempting to more fully gauge how the de Blasio administration is doing on its promise.</p> <p>Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigation, co-led a tense Council hearing where the head of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), James Patchett, was grilled about how many jobs had been created as part of de Blasio’s jobs plan and who has been getting them.</p> <p>“Anyone who heard the mayor’s [2017] State of the City would believe there are actual jobs,” said Torres, “but anyone who believes that is operating under a false assumption.”</p> <p>Patchett responded to Torres’s rapid-fire questioning about unclear jobs numbers with a consistent message: answering a simple question like “how many jobs have been created” is not so easy.</p> <p>De Blasio declared good-paying jobs to be those that pay $50,000 or more, and said those in his plan would be in economic sectors that will be around for years to come. When de Blasio, Patchett, and then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen laid out the plan a few months after de Blasio announced the goal during his 2017 State of the City speech, they said that they would only count jobs spurred by some kind of city action.</p> <p>On Monday, Patchett said jobs are only counted towards the mayor’s 100,000 goal if they are created as a direct result of the five-point strategy laid out in the jobs plan, known as “New York Works.”</p> <p>The plan focuses on investing in city-owned property, providing tax incentives to small and large businesses, making infrastructure investments, using zoning tools, and directly investing in companies that can bring 21st century jobs to New York City.</p> <p>About $1.3 billion in capital funding has been allocated to New York Works, with about $300 million already spent, Patchett said, on projects like the Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the FutureWorks advanced manufacturing shop at Brooklyn Army Terminal.</p> <p>But even with specific strategies and budget numbers, there still remains a fair amount of estimation in gauging the impact of the plan.</p> <p>At one particularly tense point in Monday’s hearing, Patchett was asked about the 2018 New York Works progress report, where EDC reported the city had “laid the foundation for 19,000 good paying jobs.”</p> <p>“Of the 19,000, how many are actually working today?” asked Torres.</p> <p>“3,000,” replied Patchett.</p> <p>“We make projections based on the best available data,” said Patchett, explaining that in some scenarios, when EDC completes a project under the New York Works plan, actual jobs are still yet to come.</p> <p>The economic development agency tries its best to project how many jobs will be created based on the expertise of their in-house economists, detailed economic data, and, in some cases, specific contracts that have been signed.</p> <p>A recent example can be found in the Staten Island Teleport Campus.</p> <p>In 2018, EDC reported in the New York Works progress report that it had “closed a deal” to create office space on the Staten Island campus meant for medical tenants, a charter school, adult education programs, and a variety of social ventures. Though no businesses had formally moved in, the agency estimated 750 jobs would be created and counted that towards de Blasio’s goal.</p> <p>In the same report, EDC also noted the city “opened 500,000 square feet of space” at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, creating 1,000 good-paying jobs towards the mayor’s 100,000 jobs goal. It is unclear whether these jobs have actually been created or are still a projection, according documents published by the Council.</p> <p>Patchett also confirmed that if out-of-state residents were to get a good-paying job created under de Blasio’s jobs plan, it would count towards the mayor’s goal.</p> <p>When de Blasio announced the New York Works jobs plan in June 2017, he said the good-paying jobs would be meant primarily for New Yorkers who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have access to such opportunities.</p> <p>“These are jobs that we intend to be open to New Yorkers of every background,” he said at the time, “we can’t address the affordability crisis if we don’t turn the city into a place where more and more good people get a good paying job.”</p> <p>But for City Council members that represent the city’s lowest-income residents, there are persistent concerns whether these good-paying jobs end up accessible to people in their districts.</p> <p>Brooklyn Democrat Inez Barron, who represents the 42nd Council District where more than 30% of residents are under the poverty line according to census data, wanted to know why most of the $1.3 billion allocated to New York Works is for building and development projects rather than programs that could help train residents to actually qualify for the good-paying jobs de Blasio’s plan sets out to create.</p> <p>Patchett mentioned that workforce development strategy is outside the purview of EDC, but he reassured the Council member that the agency works closely with higher education institutions such as LaGuardia Community College and other CUNY schools, along with the New York City Department of Education to inform them of what they think the skills of the future are that educational institutions should be aware of when creating training programs.</p> <p>Monday’s hearing was also co-led by Queens Council Member Paul Vallone, chair of the Council’s Committee on Economic Development. Vallone left the hearing unimpressed.</p> <p>“We just had a hearing on the progress of a jobs plan that revealed that there is no conclusive data on the jobs created by that plan,” Vallone said in a statement. “How can we rely on projections and job pathways when there is no tracking to ensure that they actually materialize into real jobs for New Yorkers?”</p> <p>Near the end of the hearing, tensions between Torres and Patchett simmered down a bit, with Patchett offering a solution to Torres’ contention around confusing jobs numbers.</p> <p>“I will try to provide not just projections,” Patchett said, “but an estimate as to actual jobs created based on the best data available.”</p> <p>Torres responded with the crux of his complaint: “If my constituents ask me how many jobs are created by that plan, I want to be able to answer that question.”</p> <p>***<br />by Pranshu Verma for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/47414747151_33076d8a07_z.jpg" alt="Patchett EDC hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>EDC President James Patchett (photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs, with annual salaries of $50,000 or more, within 10 years, giving New Yorkers a pathway to the middle class. On Monday, City Council members held an oversight hearing on that plan, attempting to more fully gauge how the de Blasio administration is doing on its promise.</p> <p>Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigation, co-led a tense Council hearing where the head of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), James Patchett, was grilled about how many jobs had been created as part of de Blasio’s jobs plan and who has been getting them.</p> <p>“Anyone who heard the mayor’s [2017] State of the City would believe there are actual jobs,” said Torres, “but anyone who believes that is operating under a false assumption.”</p> <p>Patchett responded to Torres’s rapid-fire questioning about unclear jobs numbers with a consistent message: answering a simple question like “how many jobs have been created” is not so easy.</p> <p>De Blasio declared good-paying jobs to be those that pay $50,000 or more, and said those in his plan would be in economic sectors that will be around for years to come. When de Blasio, Patchett, and then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen laid out the plan a few months after de Blasio announced the goal during his 2017 State of the City speech, they said that they would only count jobs spurred by some kind of city action.</p> <p>On Monday, Patchett said jobs are only counted towards the mayor’s 100,000 goal if they are created as a direct result of the five-point strategy laid out in the jobs plan, known as “New York Works.”</p> <p>The plan focuses on investing in city-owned property, providing tax incentives to small and large businesses, making infrastructure investments, using zoning tools, and directly investing in companies that can bring 21st century jobs to New York City.</p> <p>About $1.3 billion in capital funding has been allocated to New York Works, with about $300 million already spent, Patchett said, on projects like the Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the FutureWorks advanced manufacturing shop at Brooklyn Army Terminal.</p> <p>But even with specific strategies and budget numbers, there still remains a fair amount of estimation in gauging the impact of the plan.</p> <p>At one particularly tense point in Monday’s hearing, Patchett was asked about the 2018 New York Works progress report, where EDC reported the city had “laid the foundation for 19,000 good paying jobs.”</p> <p>“Of the 19,000, how many are actually working today?” asked Torres.</p> <p>“3,000,” replied Patchett.</p> <p>“We make projections based on the best available data,” said Patchett, explaining that in some scenarios, when EDC completes a project under the New York Works plan, actual jobs are still yet to come.</p> <p>The economic development agency tries its best to project how many jobs will be created based on the expertise of their in-house economists, detailed economic data, and, in some cases, specific contracts that have been signed.</p> <p>A recent example can be found in the Staten Island Teleport Campus.</p> <p>In 2018, EDC reported in the New York Works progress report that it had “closed a deal” to create office space on the Staten Island campus meant for medical tenants, a charter school, adult education programs, and a variety of social ventures. Though no businesses had formally moved in, the agency estimated 750 jobs would be created and counted that towards de Blasio’s goal.</p> <p>In the same report, EDC also noted the city “opened 500,000 square feet of space” at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, creating 1,000 good-paying jobs towards the mayor’s 100,000 jobs goal. It is unclear whether these jobs have actually been created or are still a projection, according documents published by the Council.</p> <p>Patchett also confirmed that if out-of-state residents were to get a good-paying job created under de Blasio’s jobs plan, it would count towards the mayor’s goal.</p> <p>When de Blasio announced the New York Works jobs plan in June 2017, he said the good-paying jobs would be meant primarily for New Yorkers who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have access to such opportunities.</p> <p>“These are jobs that we intend to be open to New Yorkers of every background,” he said at the time, “we can’t address the affordability crisis if we don’t turn the city into a place where more and more good people get a good paying job.”</p> <p>But for City Council members that represent the city’s lowest-income residents, there are persistent concerns whether these good-paying jobs end up accessible to people in their districts.</p> <p>Brooklyn Democrat Inez Barron, who represents the 42nd Council District where more than 30% of residents are under the poverty line according to census data, wanted to know why most of the $1.3 billion allocated to New York Works is for building and development projects rather than programs that could help train residents to actually qualify for the good-paying jobs de Blasio’s plan sets out to create.</p> <p>Patchett mentioned that workforce development strategy is outside the purview of EDC, but he reassured the Council member that the agency works closely with higher education institutions such as LaGuardia Community College and other CUNY schools, along with the New York City Department of Education to inform them of what they think the skills of the future are that educational institutions should be aware of when creating training programs.</p> <p>Monday’s hearing was also co-led by Queens Council Member Paul Vallone, chair of the Council’s Committee on Economic Development. Vallone left the hearing unimpressed.</p> <p>“We just had a hearing on the progress of a jobs plan that revealed that there is no conclusive data on the jobs created by that plan,” Vallone said in a statement. “How can we rely on projections and job pathways when there is no tracking to ensure that they actually materialize into real jobs for New Yorkers?”</p> <p>Near the end of the hearing, tensions between Torres and Patchett simmered down a bit, with Patchett offering a solution to Torres’ contention around confusing jobs numbers.</p> <p>“I will try to provide not just projections,” Patchett said, “but an estimate as to actual jobs created based on the best data available.”</p> <p>Torres responded with the crux of his complaint: “If my constituents ask me how many jobs are created by that plan, I want to be able to answer that question.”</p> <p>***<br />by Pranshu Verma for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a></p> Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Conflicts of Interest and Chief Diversity Officer 2019-03-18T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer Savannah Jacobson sjacobson@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gg-cc-h.jpg" alt="gg cc h" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.</p> <p>After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.</p> <p>The commission has already heard from experts on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reform</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.</p> <p>The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.</p> <p>The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coib/the-law/chapter-68-of-the-new-york-city-charter.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chapter 68</a> of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.</p> <p>Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.</p> <p>“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.</p> <p>Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.</p> <p>Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.</p> <p>Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”</p> <p>Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”</p> <p>While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.</p> <p>The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.</p> <p>Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.</p> <p>The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”</p> <p>The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gg-cc-h.jpg" alt="gg cc h" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.</p> <p>After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.</p> <p>The commission has already heard from experts on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reform</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.</p> <p>The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.</p> <p>The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coib/the-law/chapter-68-of-the-new-york-city-charter.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chapter 68</a> of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.</p> <p>Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.</p> <p>“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.</p> <p>Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.</p> <p>Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.</p> <p>Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”</p> <p>Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”</p> <p>While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.</p> <p>The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.</p> <p>Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.</p> <p>The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”</p> <p>The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.</p> <p> </p> LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19) 2019-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/alyssaguilera-vocal.jpg" alt="alyssaguilera vocal" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)</p> <hr /> <p>Six of the seven candidates for Queens District Attorney gathered for a debate on Tuesday, March 12 at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, sponsored by a broad range of reform groups that have formed the "Queens for DA Accountability Coalition" and moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout. This year, Queens will elect its first new District Attorney since 1991. The Democratic primary is June 25. The six participating candidates at Tuesday's forum were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves. The seventh candidate in the race, Mina Malik, was unable to attend due to illness.</p> <p><em>Listen to the full debate via the embedded audio below, or you can find it in the "Max &amp; Murphy" podcast stream from Gotham Gazette wherever you get your podcasts. [Read more about the candidates and the race here: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">'We're in a New Era': Inside the Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney</a>.]</em></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/589552335&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/alyssaguilera-vocal.jpg" alt="alyssaguilera vocal" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)</p> <hr /> <p>Six of the seven candidates for Queens District Attorney gathered for a debate on Tuesday, March 12 at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, sponsored by a broad range of reform groups that have formed the "Queens for DA Accountability Coalition" and moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout. This year, Queens will elect its first new District Attorney since 1991. The Democratic primary is June 25. The six participating candidates at Tuesday's forum were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves. The seventh candidate in the race, Mina Malik, was unable to attend due to illness.</p> <p><em>Listen to the full debate via the embedded audio below, or you can find it in the "Max &amp; Murphy" podcast stream from Gotham Gazette wherever you get your podcasts. [Read more about the candidates and the race here: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">'We're in a New Era': Inside the Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney</a>.]</em></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/589552335&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> What's The [Data] Point? 4.7 MPH, Traffic & Transit with Nicole Gelinas 2019-03-15T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8358-what-s-the-data-point-4-7-mph-traffic-transit-with-nicole-gelinas Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 67</strong><strong> -- 4.7 MPH, Traffic &amp; Transit with Nicole Gelinas [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/wtdp-nicole-gelinas.jpg" alt="wtdp nicole gelinas" width="150" height="172" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute is an expert on New York City transit, street use, and traffic. She joined the podcast to discuss her recent report on "decongesting" New York City, MTA improvement, and how to get New York moving again.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/590025066&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 67</strong><strong> -- 4.7 MPH, Traffic &amp; Transit with Nicole Gelinas [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/wtdp-nicole-gelinas.jpg" alt="wtdp nicole gelinas" width="150" height="172" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute is an expert on New York City transit, street use, and traffic. She joined the podcast to discuss her recent report on "decongesting" New York City, MTA improvement, and how to get New York moving again.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/590025066&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on City Budgeting and Contracting 2019-03-13T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mbdb-execb.jpg" alt="mbdb execb" width="600" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is looking at ways to improve the city’s central governing document, heard suggestions on Monday from community-based organizations, fiscal watchdogs, and former and current city officials about potential changes to the city’s byzantine budgeting process.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours, experts weighed in on the city’s flawed contract procurement system, the severe lack of transparency in spending on capital projects, the possibility of creating a rainy day fund for the city, and measures to generally improve accountability in city spending. There was general agreement that city procurement needs to be overhauled to make it more efficient and transparent, but broader opposition to changes in the budgeting process and the administration’s ability to set revenues and expenditures.</p> <p>The city’s budget and budgeting processes are one of four areas of focus for the commission, which will sift through the hours of testimony it has heard, and has yet to hear, before releasing a draft of ballot proposals sometime next month. The proposals will go through another round of public input before the final questions are approved in June. The proposals will then be presented to voters on the November election ballot. The commission has already held hearings on elections reform, exploring issues such as ranked-choice voting, redistricting and campaign finance improvements, and another on police accountability measures. The next hearing is scheduled on Thursday, where the commission will look at issues involving finance and governance including the city’s pension system, a Chief Diversity Officer proposal, and issues around corruption and conflicts of interest.</p> <p><strong>City Contracting</strong><br />At Monday’s hearing, there was broad consensus from those within and outside government about how the city’s contracting process works, or rather, doesn’t. Advocates representing human-service nonprofits, which receive most of their funding from the city, bemoaned the now well-known sorry state of the system, with contracts delayed for months, threatening their financial security and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. Unlike private contractors, they cannot cancel the services they provide, advocates said, since they fill the gaps where the city is not meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers. “We’ve entered an era for nonprofits that’s very dangerous,” said Janelle Faris, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.</p> <p>Michelle Jackson, deputy executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents more than 100 nonprofits, noted that the city spends $6.5 billion on human services each year, which also allows nonprofits to leverage state and federal funding and philanthropic dollars. “We’re an economic engine,” she said. “The sector nationally is larger than the airline industry yet we do not treat nonprofits the same way we treat airline executives.”</p> <p>Jackson recommended several measures to improve procurement including established contracting timeframes, interest or other penalties on late payments by the city, and more detailed annual reporting in the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks performance indicators for city services. Marla Simpson, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), however, said financial penalties may not be effective and the best solution may be to name-and-shame agencies for their failures. “Transparency and sunlight is a much more important cure,” she said.</p> <p>Officials from the comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services concurred that city contracting is inefficient though they outlined steps they have already taken to improve it and promised that improvements are slowly coming to fruition. “I agree that New York City’s procurement must be overhauled,” said Daniel Symon, acting director of MOCS, in his opening statement. “Reliance on paper, a patchwork of siloed agency systems and a sometimes necessarily risk-averse culture combine to limit achievable results.”</p> <p>Lisa Flores, deputy comptroller for contracts, said the procurement system is “notoriously slow, bureaucratic and opaque,” and leads to delays that increase project costs for city vendors, which end up being passed on to taxpayers. She noted, for instance, that in fiscal year 2018, 80 percent of all new and renewal contracts submitted to the comptroller’s office for registration came in after the start date (40 percent of those contracts were late by six months or more) and for human services contracts, the number increased to 89 percent. She called for more transparency and accountability, particularly by setting specific timelines for agencies to submit contracts. Currently, the city charter only requires the comptroller’s office to register contracts within a timeframe.</p> <p>The commissioners recognized that procurement reform is an age-old issue. “I was on the City Council 20 years ago and we were having the same discussions,” said Commissioner Stephen Fiala, though he expressed doubts about imposing penalties on agencies for late submission of contracts. Other commissioners pressed the expert panel on oversight at agencies and the institutional issues with procurement.</p> <p>Flores suggested more outward transparency for the process and establishing metrics to track whether agencies are working in a timely manner. Symon, though, was wary of creating timelines for agencies that could potentially allow them to delay their work or lead to clashes with vendors. “What I don’t want to do is start with an arbitrary time-frame when we don’t know how fast it can be,” he said. Both agreed that the contracting process needs to be more structured and predictable, with vendors being able to track the progress of their contracts in real time. A time-frame, Flores said, would be an important first step. Advocates agreed.</p> <p><strong>City Budgeting</strong><br />There was similarly consensus on the subsequent panels where experts testified on the city’s expense, revenue, and capital budget procedures. But rather than agreeing on ways to improve the budget, they mostly were on the same page in warning the commissioners to be careful about interfering in what is already a strong fiscal management system.</p> <p>“Changing our fiscal discipline practices will cause unintended and perhaps adverse consequences,” said Chuck Brisky, deputy director for expense and capital coordination for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. He opposed any shift in responsibility for the city’s revenue forecast, which is set by the mayor. Brisky said the mayor is accountable to New Yorkers for providing services and so must be responsible for setting the revenue projections that funds those services.</p> <p>“If the budget isn’t balanced by even one-tenth of one percent at our current revenue and spending level, the city could lose control of its finances to the Financial Control Board under the Emergency Financial Act,” he said. The state, he noted, doesn’t have the same stringent budget and accounting standards as the city. Brisky also opposed any changes to the mayor’s power to impound revenues, which allows for short-term fixes during times of crisis such as natural disasters, financial recessions or terror attacks.</p> <p>Preston Niblack, deputy comptroller for budget, echoed that sentiment, as did Mark Page, a former director of OMB, and Anthony Shorris, previously the first deputy mayor under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Page and Shorris repeatedly cautioned the commission to tread lightly around imposing new mandates on the administration’s budgeting powers.</p> <p>Niblack did raise several measures that could make the budget more transparent. It’s “very hard to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money,” he said, noting that the budget process is not linked to the delivery of services. The MMR, he said, is ineffective and does not report measures attached to spending.</p> <p>When Commissioner James Caras posed a question about the mayor’s ability to impound revenue, Niblack did agree that there could be limits on it to prevent misuse for political reasons. “Right now it’s open ended and should probably be restricted,” he said.</p> <p>The city’s capital spending process has been particularly fraught, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delayed projects. At the hearing, Jon Kaufman, chief operating officer at the Department of City Planning, outlined several reforms DCP has implemented and said that his department works with agencies to appropriately plan their future capital needs. But, he said, “I don’t think additional charter mandates are going to lead to materially increased collaboration.”</p> <p>Independent fiscal watchdogs also bolstered the administration’s argument. Carol Kellermann, former president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), gave the commission two pieces of advice: “First, do no harm...Second, don’t use the charter to do things that can be done by local law.”</p> <p>This question, what can and should be done by local law as opposed to amending the city charter, has been a theme raised throughout charter revision processes, including the one formed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which saw three charter amendments passed by voters, all of which, some argued, could have simply been passed as local law.</p> <p>Kellermann and her successor at CBC, Andrew Rein, did recommend that the charter consider a proposal to create a rainy day fund for the city. Though Kellerman noted that it would require authorization from the state as well, she said the charter commission could create the criteria for it and present it to voters for their approval, strengthening the city’s case in front of the state. She also pushed for greater transparency in the capital budget, including by expanding the annual statement of needs that agencies provide to all city-controlled public authority assets.</p> <p>On a proposal to create independent budgeting for certain offices -- such as the public advocate, comptroller, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board -- Kellerman warned that it would be “dangerous” and could disrupt the city’s budget process by giving other elected officials besides the mayor creeping authority over the budget.</p> <p>“The City Charter calls for a lot more clarity on programmatic spending and performance in the city’s operating budget than we actually see in practice,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency. He noted that the budget includes units of appropriation that are overly broad and that obscure spending, and that the charter should be strengthened to require units to be linked to individual programs. Kellermann also said as much, though she laid some blame at the City Council’s feet. “The Council really needs to insist more on doing this...but the definition in the charter is already clear that they need to be more specific than they are,” she said.</p> <p>Sweeting recommended that the charter commission start looking at ways to improve the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, which the city uses as a form of reserves, as a means of testing the appropriate way to create a dedicated rainy day fund. That could include specific “rules for when deposits have to be made and when withdrawals could be made.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mbdb-execb.jpg" alt="mbdb execb" width="600" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is looking at ways to improve the city’s central governing document, heard suggestions on Monday from community-based organizations, fiscal watchdogs, and former and current city officials about potential changes to the city’s byzantine budgeting process.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours, experts weighed in on the city’s flawed contract procurement system, the severe lack of transparency in spending on capital projects, the possibility of creating a rainy day fund for the city, and measures to generally improve accountability in city spending. There was general agreement that city procurement needs to be overhauled to make it more efficient and transparent, but broader opposition to changes in the budgeting process and the administration’s ability to set revenues and expenditures.</p> <p>The city’s budget and budgeting processes are one of four areas of focus for the commission, which will sift through the hours of testimony it has heard, and has yet to hear, before releasing a draft of ballot proposals sometime next month. The proposals will go through another round of public input before the final questions are approved in June. The proposals will then be presented to voters on the November election ballot. The commission has already held hearings on elections reform, exploring issues such as ranked-choice voting, redistricting and campaign finance improvements, and another on police accountability measures. The next hearing is scheduled on Thursday, where the commission will look at issues involving finance and governance including the city’s pension system, a Chief Diversity Officer proposal, and issues around corruption and conflicts of interest.</p> <p><strong>City Contracting</strong><br />At Monday’s hearing, there was broad consensus from those within and outside government about how the city’s contracting process works, or rather, doesn’t. Advocates representing human-service nonprofits, which receive most of their funding from the city, bemoaned the now well-known sorry state of the system, with contracts delayed for months, threatening their financial security and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. Unlike private contractors, they cannot cancel the services they provide, advocates said, since they fill the gaps where the city is not meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers. “We’ve entered an era for nonprofits that’s very dangerous,” said Janelle Faris, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.</p> <p>Michelle Jackson, deputy executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents more than 100 nonprofits, noted that the city spends $6.5 billion on human services each year, which also allows nonprofits to leverage state and federal funding and philanthropic dollars. “We’re an economic engine,” she said. “The sector nationally is larger than the airline industry yet we do not treat nonprofits the same way we treat airline executives.”</p> <p>Jackson recommended several measures to improve procurement including established contracting timeframes, interest or other penalties on late payments by the city, and more detailed annual reporting in the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks performance indicators for city services. Marla Simpson, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), however, said financial penalties may not be effective and the best solution may be to name-and-shame agencies for their failures. “Transparency and sunlight is a much more important cure,” she said.</p> <p>Officials from the comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services concurred that city contracting is inefficient though they outlined steps they have already taken to improve it and promised that improvements are slowly coming to fruition. “I agree that New York City’s procurement must be overhauled,” said Daniel Symon, acting director of MOCS, in his opening statement. “Reliance on paper, a patchwork of siloed agency systems and a sometimes necessarily risk-averse culture combine to limit achievable results.”</p> <p>Lisa Flores, deputy comptroller for contracts, said the procurement system is “notoriously slow, bureaucratic and opaque,” and leads to delays that increase project costs for city vendors, which end up being passed on to taxpayers. She noted, for instance, that in fiscal year 2018, 80 percent of all new and renewal contracts submitted to the comptroller’s office for registration came in after the start date (40 percent of those contracts were late by six months or more) and for human services contracts, the number increased to 89 percent. She called for more transparency and accountability, particularly by setting specific timelines for agencies to submit contracts. Currently, the city charter only requires the comptroller’s office to register contracts within a timeframe.</p> <p>The commissioners recognized that procurement reform is an age-old issue. “I was on the City Council 20 years ago and we were having the same discussions,” said Commissioner Stephen Fiala, though he expressed doubts about imposing penalties on agencies for late submission of contracts. Other commissioners pressed the expert panel on oversight at agencies and the institutional issues with procurement.</p> <p>Flores suggested more outward transparency for the process and establishing metrics to track whether agencies are working in a timely manner. Symon, though, was wary of creating timelines for agencies that could potentially allow them to delay their work or lead to clashes with vendors. “What I don’t want to do is start with an arbitrary time-frame when we don’t know how fast it can be,” he said. Both agreed that the contracting process needs to be more structured and predictable, with vendors being able to track the progress of their contracts in real time. A time-frame, Flores said, would be an important first step. Advocates agreed.</p> <p><strong>City Budgeting</strong><br />There was similarly consensus on the subsequent panels where experts testified on the city’s expense, revenue, and capital budget procedures. But rather than agreeing on ways to improve the budget, they mostly were on the same page in warning the commissioners to be careful about interfering in what is already a strong fiscal management system.</p> <p>“Changing our fiscal discipline practices will cause unintended and perhaps adverse consequences,” said Chuck Brisky, deputy director for expense and capital coordination for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. He opposed any shift in responsibility for the city’s revenue forecast, which is set by the mayor. Brisky said the mayor is accountable to New Yorkers for providing services and so must be responsible for setting the revenue projections that funds those services.</p> <p>“If the budget isn’t balanced by even one-tenth of one percent at our current revenue and spending level, the city could lose control of its finances to the Financial Control Board under the Emergency Financial Act,” he said. The state, he noted, doesn’t have the same stringent budget and accounting standards as the city. Brisky also opposed any changes to the mayor’s power to impound revenues, which allows for short-term fixes during times of crisis such as natural disasters, financial recessions or terror attacks.</p> <p>Preston Niblack, deputy comptroller for budget, echoed that sentiment, as did Mark Page, a former director of OMB, and Anthony Shorris, previously the first deputy mayor under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Page and Shorris repeatedly cautioned the commission to tread lightly around imposing new mandates on the administration’s budgeting powers.</p> <p>Niblack did raise several measures that could make the budget more transparent. It’s “very hard to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money,” he said, noting that the budget process is not linked to the delivery of services. The MMR, he said, is ineffective and does not report measures attached to spending.</p> <p>When Commissioner James Caras posed a question about the mayor’s ability to impound revenue, Niblack did agree that there could be limits on it to prevent misuse for political reasons. “Right now it’s open ended and should probably be restricted,” he said.</p> <p>The city’s capital spending process has been particularly fraught, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delayed projects. At the hearing, Jon Kaufman, chief operating officer at the Department of City Planning, outlined several reforms DCP has implemented and said that his department works with agencies to appropriately plan their future capital needs. But, he said, “I don’t think additional charter mandates are going to lead to materially increased collaboration.”</p> <p>Independent fiscal watchdogs also bolstered the administration’s argument. Carol Kellermann, former president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), gave the commission two pieces of advice: “First, do no harm...Second, don’t use the charter to do things that can be done by local law.”</p> <p>This question, what can and should be done by local law as opposed to amending the city charter, has been a theme raised throughout charter revision processes, including the one formed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which saw three charter amendments passed by voters, all of which, some argued, could have simply been passed as local law.</p> <p>Kellermann and her successor at CBC, Andrew Rein, did recommend that the charter consider a proposal to create a rainy day fund for the city. Though Kellerman noted that it would require authorization from the state as well, she said the charter commission could create the criteria for it and present it to voters for their approval, strengthening the city’s case in front of the state. She also pushed for greater transparency in the capital budget, including by expanding the annual statement of needs that agencies provide to all city-controlled public authority assets.</p> <p>On a proposal to create independent budgeting for certain offices -- such as the public advocate, comptroller, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board -- Kellerman warned that it would be “dangerous” and could disrupt the city’s budget process by giving other elected officials besides the mayor creeping authority over the budget.</p> <p>“The City Charter calls for a lot more clarity on programmatic spending and performance in the city’s operating budget than we actually see in practice,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency. He noted that the budget includes units of appropriation that are overly broad and that obscure spending, and that the charter should be strengthened to require units to be linked to individual programs. Kellermann also said as much, though she laid some blame at the City Council’s feet. “The Council really needs to insist more on doing this...but the definition in the charter is already clear that they need to be more specific than they are,” she said.</p> <p>Sweeting recommended that the charter commission start looking at ways to improve the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, which the city uses as a form of reserves, as a means of testing the appropriate way to create a dedicated rainy day fund. That could include specific “rules for when deposits have to be made and when withdrawals could be made.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8348-report-under-new-law-small-donors-drove-public-advocate-special-election-campaigns Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/poolnytdebate_001.jpg" alt="poolnytdebate 001" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>The first public advocate debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))</p> <hr /> <p>Small-dollar donors were behind 63 percent of the first wave of campaign contributions to candidates who ran in the February special election for public advocate, up from 26.3 percent in 2013 when there was an open race for the seat, according to an analysis by New York City Council Member Ben Kallos. The Manhattan Council member sponsored the law to implement in the public advocate special election the new campaign finance rules overwhelmingly approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year.</p> <p>The public advocate special election, in which City Council Member Jumaane Williams emerged victorious, was the first citywide race under the new rules that lowered contribution limits for special elections for citywide offices from $2,550 to $1,000 (special election limits are half of the regular election limits, which changed from $5,100 to $2,000), increased the ratio of public matching funds given to candidates from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a qualifying contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250, and increased the limit for public funds payments from 55 percent of the spending limit for a race to 75 percent. Soon after the referendum was approved -- by just over 80 percent of voters -- the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio expedited legislation in order to apply the rules to elections before 2021, after which they were set to be mandatory. For the special election and those through 2021, the next citywide election year, candidates must choose the old or new system.</p> <p>Of the 17 candidates on the public advocate ballot, all but one opted into the voluntary public matching funds program, which is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Only four decided to stick with the outgoing matching program while the rest chose lower contribution limits that came with higher public matching funds. In total, the 11 candidates who eventually qualified for public funds received $7,178,120 via the CFB.</p> <p>According CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”</p> <p>Kallos, the City Council’s resident good government wonk, has pushed improvements to the city’s campaign finance law for years and felt vindicated by seeing the campaign finance numbers behind the election. The ballot question, proposed by a charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was largely similar to a bill Kallos had sponsored in the previous legislative session of the Council.</p> <p>“One of the reasons I was so eager for this to apply in the public advocate’s race is I was worried about the time between the vote in November [2018] and 2021 and I wanted to prove to people that this could work,” he said. There will be another public advocate election this fall to decide who will hold the seat vacated by Attorney General letitia James for the final two years of her public advocate term. Kallos’ bill also lowered the thresholds for candidates to qualify for official debates sponsored by the CFB and for public funds payments.</p> <p>His analysis, which covers the candidates’ pre-election campaign finance disclosures till February 11 (the most recent filing deadline - final numbers are due March 25), found that contributions of $1,000 and more accounted for 26 percent of the $2.2 million raised to that point in the election, compared with 60 percent throughout 2013. In total, all the candidates raised $2.6 million for the special election, which was “nonpartisan” and did not have party primaries. In 2013, candidates raised $4.9 million running for public advocate in the primary and general.</p> <p>Kallos has long been critical of big money in elections, particularly donations from the real estate industry which have been a large force at the city and state level. “This is the first time a citywide elected official has been elected without real estate money,” said Kallos, who himself rejects real estate donations. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Several candidates in the special election similarly refused real estate cash, which is of a piece with broader calls for candidates to rely on small donors. Public Advocate-elect Williams was among those who signed a pledge floated by New York Communities for Change, a housing justice advocacy organization, to refuse corporate and real estate money.</p> <p>“New York City has changed forever: we will no longer be held hostage by big-money real estate developers and landlords who aim to profit through policies that incentivize the displacement and gouging of low-income tenants,” said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director, in a statement calling on other candidates to follow Williams’ lead.</p> <p>Several candidates running for citywide office in 2021, or exploring a candidacy, have already said that they will rely on the new campaign finance system, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>Real estate donations are increasingly becoming a litmus test for progressive Democrats, some of whom were elected to the state Legislature last year and are also pushing to implement a public financing program for state elections similar to the city’s model. For advocates and labor leaders, the public advocate election was proof positive that small-dollar financing is effective and should be replicated by the state. “Jumaane Williams's victory, and the public participation in the process, is a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we pass campaign finance reform at the state level,” said Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager for Citizen Action. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, said, “The major shift towards small donor financing in city wide elections shows that working people in our state want a more democratic system.</p> <p>Kallos notes that candidates can spend fewer hours dialling for dollars from wealthy donors if they rely on small contributions from the tens of thousands of residents of their districts, or from millions in the case of citywide races. “My hypothesis was that if we increase the public match...that that would halve big money and it actually did that,” he said. “It wasn’t a modest success. It literally cut it almost in half.”</p> <p>The expanded matching funds program has been widely praised for elevating the voices of everyday New Yorkers. “Normally, a special election for public advocate would probably be very much of an insider’s race. It would be funded by insiders and people who follow politics closely,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. “And I think that what putting this legislation into effect now did was incentivized candidates to reach out to ordinary New Yorkers to campaign.” Camarda also expects this momentum to carry forward and that candidates will feel “real pressure” to participate.</p> <p>Many of the candidates who ran for public advocate were also first-time contenders, including Nomiki Konst and Dawn Smalls, who were among the ten candidates on stage at the first official debate in the race, and among the seven candidates at the second official debate.</p> <p>There have been arguments levelled against the public funds system, of course, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will work for a full-fledged citywide race rather than a truncated special election. Some candidates have said the regulators of the program are sometimes overly harsh and fine them for small, technical violations. Others criticize the cost to taxpayers -- the entire special election is estimated to cost the city around $20 million in administrative and public campaign financing while the annual budget of the public advocate was only about $3.6 million last year. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who stuck with the old campaign finance rules and came in third in the special election, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2019/01/02/new-campaign-finance-law-creates-fissure-in-public-advocates-race-769959" target="_blank" rel="noopener">argued</a> that the new system was being pushed through to prevent her from winning, apparently in part because she was transferring a significant sum of funds from her prior campaign account, an advantage more easily mitigated with the new system.</p> <p>But there is otherwise broad agreement that the city’s program is a model to be emulated, as other jurisdictions have done across the country, and it is progressively being improved. “I’m still not done yet,” Kallos said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify that total candidate fundraising was $2.6 million for the special election. It has also been updated to clarify the contribution limits for special elections.&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/poolnytdebate_001.jpg" alt="poolnytdebate 001" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>The first public advocate debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))</p> <hr /> <p>Small-dollar donors were behind 63 percent of the first wave of campaign contributions to candidates who ran in the February special election for public advocate, up from 26.3 percent in 2013 when there was an open race for the seat, according to an analysis by New York City Council Member Ben Kallos. The Manhattan Council member sponsored the law to implement in the public advocate special election the new campaign finance rules overwhelmingly approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year.</p> <p>The public advocate special election, in which City Council Member Jumaane Williams emerged victorious, was the first citywide race under the new rules that lowered contribution limits for special elections for citywide offices from $2,550 to $1,000 (special election limits are half of the regular election limits, which changed from $5,100 to $2,000), increased the ratio of public matching funds given to candidates from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a qualifying contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250, and increased the limit for public funds payments from 55 percent of the spending limit for a race to 75 percent. Soon after the referendum was approved -- by just over 80 percent of voters -- the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio expedited legislation in order to apply the rules to elections before 2021, after which they were set to be mandatory. For the special election and those through 2021, the next citywide election year, candidates must choose the old or new system.</p> <p>Of the 17 candidates on the public advocate ballot, all but one opted into the voluntary public matching funds program, which is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Only four decided to stick with the outgoing matching program while the rest chose lower contribution limits that came with higher public matching funds. In total, the 11 candidates who eventually qualified for public funds received $7,178,120 via the CFB.</p> <p>According CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”</p> <p>Kallos, the City Council’s resident good government wonk, has pushed improvements to the city’s campaign finance law for years and felt vindicated by seeing the campaign finance numbers behind the election. The ballot question, proposed by a charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was largely similar to a bill Kallos had sponsored in the previous legislative session of the Council.</p> <p>“One of the reasons I was so eager for this to apply in the public advocate’s race is I was worried about the time between the vote in November [2018] and 2021 and I wanted to prove to people that this could work,” he said. There will be another public advocate election this fall to decide who will hold the seat vacated by Attorney General letitia James for the final two years of her public advocate term. Kallos’ bill also lowered the thresholds for candidates to qualify for official debates sponsored by the CFB and for public funds payments.</p> <p>His analysis, which covers the candidates’ pre-election campaign finance disclosures till February 11 (the most recent filing deadline - final numbers are due March 25), found that contributions of $1,000 and more accounted for 26 percent of the $2.2 million raised to that point in the election, compared with 60 percent throughout 2013. In total, all the candidates raised $2.6 million for the special election, which was “nonpartisan” and did not have party primaries. In 2013, candidates raised $4.9 million running for public advocate in the primary and general.</p> <p>Kallos has long been critical of big money in elections, particularly donations from the real estate industry which have been a large force at the city and state level. “This is the first time a citywide elected official has been elected without real estate money,” said Kallos, who himself rejects real estate donations. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Several candidates in the special election similarly refused real estate cash, which is of a piece with broader calls for candidates to rely on small donors. Public Advocate-elect Williams was among those who signed a pledge floated by New York Communities for Change, a housing justice advocacy organization, to refuse corporate and real estate money.</p> <p>“New York City has changed forever: we will no longer be held hostage by big-money real estate developers and landlords who aim to profit through policies that incentivize the displacement and gouging of low-income tenants,” said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director, in a statement calling on other candidates to follow Williams’ lead.</p> <p>Several candidates running for citywide office in 2021, or exploring a candidacy, have already said that they will rely on the new campaign finance system, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>Real estate donations are increasingly becoming a litmus test for progressive Democrats, some of whom were elected to the state Legislature last year and are also pushing to implement a public financing program for state elections similar to the city’s model. For advocates and labor leaders, the public advocate election was proof positive that small-dollar financing is effective and should be replicated by the state. “Jumaane Williams's victory, and the public participation in the process, is a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we pass campaign finance reform at the state level,” said Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager for Citizen Action. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, said, “The major shift towards small donor financing in city wide elections shows that working people in our state want a more democratic system.</p> <p>Kallos notes that candidates can spend fewer hours dialling for dollars from wealthy donors if they rely on small contributions from the tens of thousands of residents of their districts, or from millions in the case of citywide races. “My hypothesis was that if we increase the public match...that that would halve big money and it actually did that,” he said. “It wasn’t a modest success. It literally cut it almost in half.”</p> <p>The expanded matching funds program has been widely praised for elevating the voices of everyday New Yorkers. “Normally, a special election for public advocate would probably be very much of an insider’s race. It would be funded by insiders and people who follow politics closely,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. “And I think that what putting this legislation into effect now did was incentivized candidates to reach out to ordinary New Yorkers to campaign.” Camarda also expects this momentum to carry forward and that candidates will feel “real pressure” to participate.</p> <p>Many of the candidates who ran for public advocate were also first-time contenders, including Nomiki Konst and Dawn Smalls, who were among the ten candidates on stage at the first official debate in the race, and among the seven candidates at the second official debate.</p> <p>There have been arguments levelled against the public funds system, of course, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will work for a full-fledged citywide race rather than a truncated special election. Some candidates have said the regulators of the program are sometimes overly harsh and fine them for small, technical violations. Others criticize the cost to taxpayers -- the entire special election is estimated to cost the city around $20 million in administrative and public campaign financing while the annual budget of the public advocate was only about $3.6 million last year. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who stuck with the old campaign finance rules and came in third in the special election, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2019/01/02/new-campaign-finance-law-creates-fissure-in-public-advocates-race-769959" target="_blank" rel="noopener">argued</a> that the new system was being pushed through to prevent her from winning, apparently in part because she was transferring a significant sum of funds from her prior campaign account, an advantage more easily mitigated with the new system.</p> <p>But there is otherwise broad agreement that the city’s program is a model to be emulated, as other jurisdictions have done across the country, and it is progressively being improved. “I’m still not done yet,” Kallos said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify that total candidate fundraising was $2.6 million for the special election. It has also been updated to clarify the contribution limits for special elections.&nbsp;</p>
Library Presidents Seek Additional Funds at City Council Budget Hearing 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8350-library-presidents-seek-additional-funds-at-city-council-hearing Ben Brachfeld bbrachfeld@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/jvb_libraries.jpg" alt="libraries rally city hall" width="600" height="376" /></p> <p>Library rally before the Council hearing (photo: @NYCLibraries)</p> <hr /> <p>The presidents of the city’s three public library systems on Monday requested from the City Council an additional $35 million in operating support and $15 million in capital funding, allowing the libraries to maintain and expand collections, hire more workers, fund more programming, make necessary building repairs and expansions, and respond to emergencies.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget proposes a $388.8 million subsidy for the public library systems, which are separated into the New York Public Library (serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library, as well as four Research Centers. City Council documents note that the combined system contains 216 branches across the five boroughs, and has over 65 million items, including books, DVDs, and periodicals, in circulation.</p> <p>Under the budget proposal, the NYPL would receive $142.9 million, the BPL would receive $106.7 million, the QBPL would receive $110.2 million, and the research libraries would receive $29 million. This would be a decrease for the NYPL and an increase for the other systems from this year’s adopted budget. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1; in February, de Blasio released his preliminary spending plan, coming in at $92.2 billion, that is now the focus of City Council hearings and will be the subject of negotiations before a new budget is agreed upon in June.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration has significantly increased funding for libraries. De Blasio’s first budget as mayor, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, included $311.4 million for the systems, which itself was a large increase after several years of post-recession austerity in library funding under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>The presidents of the three library systems testified in front of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee, chaired by Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and to a packed audience of library workers wearing orange “Invest in Libraries” shirts. The presidents are Tony Marx of NYPL, Linda Johnson of BPL, and Dennis Walcott of QBPL.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who before the hearing addressed a rally of library workers outside City Hall, was broadly sympathetic to the argument for more funding.</p> <p>“Just about anything good that happens in this city couldn't happen without libraries and without library workers, and we've gotten to a good place on public libraries in this city, but we can do even better,” Van Bramer said at the beginning of the hearing. “And I want to frame the discussion there and make sure that we're all working towards that goal.”</p> <p>The city’s public libraries provide far more services than just book lending and study space. The public libraries provide literacy programs, instruction in coding, and outreach to incarcerated individuals. They are, for many people, the only access point to the internet. The libraries are currently gearing up to play a critical role in ensuring an accurate count in the upcoming U.S. Census. And, according to Marx, 20 percent of IDNYCs are obtained at library branches.</p> <p>“We cannot do all of this if we don't get increased funding simply because our costs have been increased,” Marx said at the hearing. “We want to do everything in partnership with you, and we're proud of what we have done. But it is simply unsustainable without additional support.”</p> <p>Collective bargaining increases led to small proposed increases in the budgets for the BPL and QBPL, but the presidents signalled that this was not enough to cover rising labor and health care costs that would be met by the additional $35 million investment.</p> <p>The additional funding would, according to the presidents, allow the libraries to maintain current funding for their host of programs, instead of directing money towards fulfilling labor obligations.</p> <p>“[Allocating $35 million] will ensure our growing programs remain strong and have new and expanded spaces, are staffed with library workers, program rich, and filled with materials our patrons deserve,” said Johnson. She went on to note that the administration had instead asked the libraries to identify $8 million in savings as part of the mayor’s “Program to Eliminate the Gap.”</p> <p>While funding for libraries has substantially increased, there are some obvious areas where new funding could greatly improve the situation. One hundred percent of the city’s libraries are now open six days per week, but the percentage open seven days per week is in the single digits. While everyone in the room expressed support for having 100 percent of locations open seven days per week, the presidents dismissed this possibility as impossible in the short term, and that additional funding would be needed just to maintain six day weeks.</p> <p>On the capital front, de Blasio’s preliminary ten-year capital plan unveiled in February allocates $778.3 million to the city’s libraries, which will go towards renovations, expansions, or relocations for certain existing branches. Those present noted that branches often have to close in the summer due to broken air conditioning and in the winter due to broken boilers.</p> <p>The presidents asked for the additional $15 million capital allocation this year, $5 million for each system, in order to fund critical maintenance at branches, such as air conditioning or boiler failures.</p> <p>The spectators, library workers and allies, expressed satisfaction with the work of the library presidents and with Van Bramer via silent, jazz hands applause. Nonetheless, as their shirts indicated, they also were calling for greater investment in the systems.</p> <p>“The libraries have to advocate for funding because they have to make their points known why they need the funding in the first place,” said Kleon Battersby, a technology resource specialist at BPL. “New York is ever increasing as far as population, and they have to know that the funding is being used for the right reasons. So as long as they keep advocating for the libraries, I personally think the hearing went very well, and I hope that they give them the funding that they need.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/jvb_libraries.jpg" alt="libraries rally city hall" width="600" height="376" /></p> <p>Library rally before the Council hearing (photo: @NYCLibraries)</p> <hr /> <p>The presidents of the city’s three public library systems on Monday requested from the City Council an additional $35 million in operating support and $15 million in capital funding, allowing the libraries to maintain and expand collections, hire more workers, fund more programming, make necessary building repairs and expansions, and respond to emergencies.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget proposes a $388.8 million subsidy for the public library systems, which are separated into the New York Public Library (serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library, as well as four Research Centers. City Council documents note that the combined system contains 216 branches across the five boroughs, and has over 65 million items, including books, DVDs, and periodicals, in circulation.</p> <p>Under the budget proposal, the NYPL would receive $142.9 million, the BPL would receive $106.7 million, the QBPL would receive $110.2 million, and the research libraries would receive $29 million. This would be a decrease for the NYPL and an increase for the other systems from this year’s adopted budget. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1; in February, de Blasio released his preliminary spending plan, coming in at $92.2 billion, that is now the focus of City Council hearings and will be the subject of negotiations before a new budget is agreed upon in June.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration has significantly increased funding for libraries. De Blasio’s first budget as mayor, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, included $311.4 million for the systems, which itself was a large increase after several years of post-recession austerity in library funding under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>The presidents of the three library systems testified in front of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee, chaired by Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and to a packed audience of library workers wearing orange “Invest in Libraries” shirts. The presidents are Tony Marx of NYPL, Linda Johnson of BPL, and Dennis Walcott of QBPL.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who before the hearing addressed a rally of library workers outside City Hall, was broadly sympathetic to the argument for more funding.</p> <p>“Just about anything good that happens in this city couldn't happen without libraries and without library workers, and we've gotten to a good place on public libraries in this city, but we can do even better,” Van Bramer said at the beginning of the hearing. “And I want to frame the discussion there and make sure that we're all working towards that goal.”</p> <p>The city’s public libraries provide far more services than just book lending and study space. The public libraries provide literacy programs, instruction in coding, and outreach to incarcerated individuals. They are, for many people, the only access point to the internet. The libraries are currently gearing up to play a critical role in ensuring an accurate count in the upcoming U.S. Census. And, according to Marx, 20 percent of IDNYCs are obtained at library branches.</p> <p>“We cannot do all of this if we don't get increased funding simply because our costs have been increased,” Marx said at the hearing. “We want to do everything in partnership with you, and we're proud of what we have done. But it is simply unsustainable without additional support.”</p> <p>Collective bargaining increases led to small proposed increases in the budgets for the BPL and QBPL, but the presidents signalled that this was not enough to cover rising labor and health care costs that would be met by the additional $35 million investment.</p> <p>The additional funding would, according to the presidents, allow the libraries to maintain current funding for their host of programs, instead of directing money towards fulfilling labor obligations.</p> <p>“[Allocating $35 million] will ensure our growing programs remain strong and have new and expanded spaces, are staffed with library workers, program rich, and filled with materials our patrons deserve,” said Johnson. She went on to note that the administration had instead asked the libraries to identify $8 million in savings as part of the mayor’s “Program to Eliminate the Gap.”</p> <p>While funding for libraries has substantially increased, there are some obvious areas where new funding could greatly improve the situation. One hundred percent of the city’s libraries are now open six days per week, but the percentage open seven days per week is in the single digits. While everyone in the room expressed support for having 100 percent of locations open seven days per week, the presidents dismissed this possibility as impossible in the short term, and that additional funding would be needed just to maintain six day weeks.</p> <p>On the capital front, de Blasio’s preliminary ten-year capital plan unveiled in February allocates $778.3 million to the city’s libraries, which will go towards renovations, expansions, or relocations for certain existing branches. Those present noted that branches often have to close in the summer due to broken air conditioning and in the winter due to broken boilers.</p> <p>The presidents asked for the additional $15 million capital allocation this year, $5 million for each system, in order to fund critical maintenance at branches, such as air conditioning or boiler failures.</p> <p>The spectators, library workers and allies, expressed satisfaction with the work of the library presidents and with Van Bramer via silent, jazz hands applause. Nonetheless, as their shirts indicated, they also were calling for greater investment in the systems.</p> <p>“The libraries have to advocate for funding because they have to make their points known why they need the funding in the first place,” said Kleon Battersby, a technology resource specialist at BPL. “New York is ever increasing as far as population, and they have to know that the funding is being used for the right reasons. So as long as they keep advocating for the libraries, I personally think the hearing went very well, and I hope that they give them the funding that they need.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>