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Stated Meeting: Fines for Unlicensed Plumbing


Installing pipes at any project without a license is about to cost a whole lot more.

Cracking down on unlicensed plumbers and fire prevention workers, the City Council unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday to more than double fines for contractors working on projects without a license.

Plumbing Fines

The bill (Intro 68) would increase the fine for the first violation from $1,000 to $2,500 and a second violation from $2,500 to $5,000.

When asked how often plumbing or fire suppression work is installed at a project by an unlicensed contractor, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she did not have statistics. She said the council often has heard anecdotal complaints.

"This is too much of an important issue not to leave to experts," said Quinn.

City officials said increasing fines for unlicensed plumbing and fire preventions work would deter shoddy construction in new and renovated buildings.

The law, which the administration testified in support of in April, will go into effect 90 days after it is signed. The Mechanical Contractors Association of New York and the New York Fire Sprinklers Contractors Association also support the bill.

Astoria Rezoning

The neighborhood best known for spanakopita and airy, European-esque cafes received what some residents called a lifeline from the council yesterday in the form of a rezoning.

The rezoning, one of more than 100 approved during the Bloomberg administration, would preserve the character of the neighborhood and prevent out-of-scale luxury development prevalent during the building boom, said city officials.

"I've lived in Astoria my whole life," said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who represents the area. "Today is a great day for Astoria."

According to Vallone, the neighborhood has not been rezoned since 1961.

The rezoning will allow for larger buildings along the neighborhood's major thoroughfares, like Steinway Street, and require smaller buildings along its residential side streets.

Both the Queens borough president and the local community board supported the rezoning.

Child Care Reporting

The council approved legislation ( Intro 226) requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to report to the council quarterly on its child care programs. Similar legislation was approved by the council in 2005, but expired in 2008.

The new bill will require the department report on the number of child care programs, their inspections, complaints of programs operating without a license and programs that have lost licenses.

Health Permits

The council also unanimously approved legislation (Intro 206) that rescinds a requirement for medical record storage facilities to receive permits from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It also revises the information needed to obtain a permit to transport milk or milk products.

Making Sure Process Servers Really Deliver

Every year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers do not show up in court to contest suits against them -- simply because they never received the papers alerting them of the action. By the time they do find out, their bank accounts could have been frozen or their wages garnisheed.

According to advocacy groups and some member of City Council, many process servers do not take adequate steps to ensure those charged receive their court papers. Yesterday City Council enacted a bill with several measures it said would remedy that.

Also at its stated meeting, the council approved bills to help public school students get library cards and to aid those children in the foster care system who also are undocumented immigrants get legal residency in the United States. In other action, the council passed its own budget for the coming fiscal year and approved a former member -- David Yassky -- as taxi and limousine commissioner.

Lost Papers

In 2008, more than 200,000 consumer cases in civil court in New York resulted in default judgments, meaning the plaintiff never appeared. MFY Legal Services and other groups have discovered that, in many cases, the person had not received notification of the action. The process servers couldn’t find the person, made little effort to do so or even threw the document away, sparking some to refer to this kind of paper serving as "sewer service."

"The very foundation of our legal system is the right to defend yourself," said City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, the bill's sponsor, but the "sewer service" deprives people of that right. According to Garodnick, a study by MFY looked at 350 cases where client were to be served with papers for debt collection. Not a single one was served properly.

Jackie Neal, a Brooklyn woman who was on hand before the council meeting, said she went to the bank to use her debit card and was denied the money. She eventually found out, she said, that "a company I had never heard of had won a judgment against me." With the help of legal services, it took her eight weeks to correct the matter. "Checks bounced. I missed days at work trying to resolve it legally," she said.

The bill (Intro 6-A) would require process servers pass a test, keep records of papers served for seven years, and either post a bond or pay into a fund to cover unpaid fines. In addition, the server would have to use some kind of global positioning device that would record the time, date and location when he or she served papers. The latter was apparently prompted at least partly by one server who reportedly claimed to have delivered papers to 77 people over an area of 400 miles in a single day.

The companies employing the servers also would have to meet new requirements including informing all of their employees of their rights and responsibilities as process services.

City Councilmember Oliver Koppell objected to requirement that servers post bond. "Requiring businesses to get bonds is often a barrier to their doing business," he said.

All other 45 members at the meeting voted in favor.

Helping Foster Children Stay Here

Undocumented immigrant children in foster care qualify for a special immigration juvenile status from the federal government that could help them obtain legal residency and a green card.

Despite that, according to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's Adminstration for Children's Services has "no dedicated plan or policy" to support these children or to make sure they get help. In fact, Quinn said, the administration does not even know how many children in the foster system might qualify for the special status. The council has estimated a number in the hundreds.

Intro 3-A, sponsored by Councilmember Daniel Dromm, directs children's services to identify children who might qualify, track them until they obtain special status or some other immigration help, assist them in getting their status, and provide training on immigration benefits to its case workers. Children's Services also would have to report to City Council on its efforts.

Dromm said, in a statement, that the bill aims to help "ensure that children who qualify are given the opportunities they deserve, including the ability to be put on a path toward citizenship."

While praising that "noble purpose," Councilmember Peter Vallone said the bill comes as the Administration for Children's Services faces budget cuts, making this a bad time to ask the agency to do more. He abstained.

Councilmember Daniel Halloran said he shared that concern and worried that,a year from now, council might find that "work that should be getting done by ACS may not be because of this mandate." He voted in favor, however.

The vote was 45 in favor with the one abstention.

Council Budget

The council unanimously approved a $52.9 million internal operating budget for the coming fiscal year. That represents a 4.6 percent increase for this year, although, according to Quinn, the council had previously cut its budget by $3 million and reduced its staff by 30.

Quinn attributed the rise this year to cost of living increases for council employees. Noting that other city employees had received these raises, Quinn said, "I think it would be inappropriate for the City Council to be the only entity in the City of New York not to take these increases."

If the budget picture gets even worse, she said, council would re-examine its budget. This money does not include member items, which are allocated later in the budget season.

Cards for Kids

The council unanimously approved a bill (Intro 59-A) proposed by Councilmember James Van Bramer that would provide library cards applications and information on the libraries to all public school student entering kindergarten and sixth and ninth grade. Council members said the Department of Education had informed them the applications could be provided at virtually no additional cost to the school system.

Councilmember to Commissioner

With lots of congratulations, the council approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's nomination of Yassky to head the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The only complaint -- and an abstention -- came from Councilmember Charles Barron. Noting that Yassky had backed the mayor's successful bid to overturn term limits in 2008, Barron said, "We have to be cautious of any appearance or perception of the mayor rewarding people who support him."

Other members praised Yassky, who left the council to make an unsuccessful bid for city comptroller, for pushing for hybrid taxis while on the council. Naming him to the post, Councilmember Lewis Fidler said, was putting "a round peg in a round hole."

Several members said they hoped Yassky would address problems in the taxi system including any reluctance by some drivers to pick up black passengers or to service some sections of the city. "Now we know who to call when we can't get a cab to take us home from Manhattan to Brooklyn on a Saturday night," said Councilmember Stephen Levin.

Endorsements Trump Issues in Brooklyn Council Race

david greenfield, joe lazar
Kenneth Rice, David Greenfield and Joe Lazar are running in Tuesday's special City Council election.

Unlike many candidates for public office Joe Lazar does not seem very interested in getting his political views out to the voters. Lazar, one of three candidates running in a special election for a Brooklyn City Council seat Tuesday, has declined to speak with the New York Times, City Hall or Gotham Gazette.

In contrast with most campaign web sites, Lazar's does not feature his views on the issues but refers visitors to his blog. It has exactly one post -- on the importance of educating children about the Holocaust. (Lazar's parents were Holocaust survivors who lost two children at Auschwitz.)

Despite -- or perhaps because -- of his reticence, Lazar is generally perceived as one of two frontrunners in the race to represent Brooklyn's 44th City Council district. He faces two candidates: Democrat David Greenfield and Republican Kenneth Rice, a lawyer for the police department, in the contest to replace Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat and one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's favorites council members -- at least until the two had a falling out last summer.

In this largely Orthodox area, which includes the heavily Jewish communities of Midwood and Borough Park as well as parts of Bensonhurst, Lazar has racked up endorsements from a number of prominent politicians including influential State Assemblymember Dov Hikind. Lazar also reportedly appears on a number of rabbi trading cards.

Rather than running on issues, Lazar points to his 40 years in government and working with various community groups and says this background will enable him to bring resources to the district even now. His slogan, while not exactly catchy sums that up: "In these tough economic times, we need a City Councilman who actually understands the budget."

Beyond the Public Schools

Many of the prime concerns elsewhere in the city find little resonances in the 44th district. With so many families sending their children to private religious schools, the quality of the city schools gets little mention here. Families tend to be large in this community, and parents want to ease the financial burden of sending so many children to religious schools.

This is key to Greenfield's campaign. Greenfield, the executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, founded Teach NYS, a group working to get tax credits for all families, regardless of whether their kids attend public, private or parochial schools. He supports a $2,500 tax credit and said he would advocate for "consistent" funding of private and public schools.

Rice said he also favors tax credits and other way to help families who send their children to private or religious schools. But, he said, he supports all education and would work to improve the public schools with smaller class sizes and to create more charter schools.

Greenfield said he also would make older people a priority. "Seniors built our community. The idea we're not taking care of our seniors is outrageous," he said.

Money and Services

The 44th District has many small business or, as Rice put its, "it's all small business." Both Rice and Greenfield say government excessively taxes, fines and charges the small businesses and families of their district. Both call for easing the burden.

Rice said reducing taxes and fees could increase city revenues in the long run. "If you cut taxes and encourage small business and create jobs, you're going to bring in more money," he said. Now, though, he said, smal businesses "are going out of busines left and right."

The two candidates also agree that subways service in the area is not what it should be. Greenfield advocates more frequent train and bus services, as well as an express F train to Manhattan. To accomplish this, he said, there have to be major changes at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "You have to bring in a new team and do a top to bottom review. I think there has to be 100 percent transparency and accountability," Greenfield said.

In the one debate between Lazar and Greenfield (Rice did not attend), the two reportedly clashed over how to provide services in the midst of the city's budget woes. Lazar said the focus should be on saving programs and that "anybody that tells you they are going to go ahead and do new programs in this budget is out and out lying to you."

Greenfield said he "couldn’t disagree more" and continued, "in the budget process and the budget system we have to come up with innovative ways on how we can actually deliver services to our community."

Rice said in a later interview that the city could be more efficient.

Evolution of a Contest

The race has gone through many changes since Felder announced -- only two months after winning re-election -- that he would leave the post to become a deputy city comptroller. Several candidates -- notably Civil Court Judge and former Councilmember Noach Dear and Assemblymember Rory Lancman considered running but decided against it.

Ballot challenges knocked 18-year-old college sophomore Abraham Tischler off the ballot. A ballot challenge by Greenfield also forced Republican Jonathan Judge out of the election. Although Judge had collected 1,221 signatures -- and needed only 765 -- the Board of Elections and the courts ruled hundred of the names invalid. Judge called that charge "one absurdity on top of another," and told Boropolitics the move represented "the product of machinations of the Brooklyn Democratic machine under Vito Lopez and collusion with the Brooklyn Republican Party."

Judge later endorsed Lazar.

Party Labels

Being a Democrat clearly does not mean the same thing in District 44 as in many other parts of the city. In running unopposed in November, Felder had the endorsement of the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties but not of the Working Families Party.

Rice said that many people in the largely conservatives neighborhoods express pleasure that he is Republican even though he said in many parts of New York "people are almost ashmed to be Republicans."

Felder was viewed as one of the most socially conservative members of during his eight years on council. Greenfield has said he will continue in those footstep saying at the debate he would take his values as a religious Jew to City Hall. Lazar reportedly said he would balance his personal views with those of his constituents.

Endorsements have become the key battleground. Lazar has backing from City Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, as well as from several state legislators from Brooklyn. Bloomberg, former Mayor Ed Koch, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and Brooklyn Democratic Party leader Vito Lopez, are among the politicians backing Greenfield. Lazar has a long list of community leaders backing him; Greenfield does not.

Greenfield, who began contemplating a run for the seat years ago, before the extension of term limits, has raised $131,464. Lazar brought in $91,629 in contributions and Rice lags far behind with $2,200.

Rice conceded he had not been able to mount the kind of large-scale campaign his opponents have. But he said he has knocked on lots of doors and he concluded, "In a special election anything can happen."

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