Gotham Gazette 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/component/tags/tag/bill-de-blasio 2018-06-25T13:37:47+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Push for Budget Transparency Falls Far Short 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7756:city-council-push-for-budget-transparency-falls-far-short Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41843779605_e3c8577c07_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio City Council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Johnson, de Blasio, Dromm (l-r) (photo: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>At several budget hearings earlier this year, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took a hard line on transparency. He insisted that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was being less than forthcoming on how money is spent and was hampering the Council’s charter-mandated authority to review and approve the city’s spending plan. To wit, in its official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget in April, the Council proposed adding 123 new units of appropriation -- budget lines that explain expenditures -- in order to more clearly and specifically show what the city is spending money on.</p> <p>When the city’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new $89.2 billion budget</a> was approved last week, however, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget only added a total of five new units.</p> <p>“We’re going to work with the Council,” de Blasio promised at at the release of his executive budget proposal in late April, two weeks after the Council’s response, when Gotham Gazette inquired about the push for more units of appropriations. “We have, over the years, been adding. We’re open to adding more. That’s an ongoing discussion, which we’ve had again today with the Council. Stay tuned.”</p> <p>But there was little news to stay tuned for. The five new lines in the adopted budget include four under the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications -- two each for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MoME) and the NYC Cyber Command office which both fall under DoITT’s purview. Those units are for personal services (PS) which covers salaries and wages of agency employees, and other than personal services (OTPS) which includes costs such as office supplies, equipment, maintenance, and the like. In total, those budget lines cover $25.2 million in expenditures for MoME and $65.8 million for the Cyber Command.</p> <p>The fifth unit of appropriation was created under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, to allow the Council to look at expense funding allocated for the New York City Housing Authority, about $255.4 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>It should be noted that the separate capital budget, which outlines city spending on infrastructure,includes six new budget lines -- one for the Brooklyn Public Library and five within Parks Department expenditures.</p> <p>In April, at a hearing on a mid-year modification to the current annual expense budget, the Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7651-city-council-takes-harder-line-on-mid-year-budget-modifications" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first showed indications</a> that it wouldn’t approve OMB’s requests without greater disclosure from the administration. Then, at a May hearing on the executive budget, prior to the new units of appropriation being added, Council Member Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Council’s finance committee, which leads the budget process at the Council, excoriated OMB officials for their refusal to be more transparent, insisting that the administration “must discontinue the longstanding practice of using vague and overbroad units of appropriation” over more specific ones.</p> <p>Dromm continued, “While such a shift is understandably resisted by the Mayor because it would restrict his ability to transfer funds between programs without oversight and to avoid seeking budget modification approval from the Council, it is necessary to facilitate the Council’s and the public’s understanding of agency spending and performance and to more transparently track the Administration’s priorities.”</p> <p>But the Council’s response to Gotham Gazette’s queries about the units of appropriation were more tempered. “[The] Council is very pleased with the end results of this budget process and is committed to more transparency measures, including continuing the push for more lines of appropriation,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Dromm did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog that advocates for increased budget transparency, among other changes, said the Council’s push for transparency likely fell by the wayside as it negotiated larger priorities such as discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.</p> <p>“It might be best to come to some sort of agreement about this outside the budget because when you’re negotiating a budget, it’s all about the dollars and cents and not necessarily how the dollars and cents are presented,” Doulis said in a phone interview. She said the five new units are a “micro step forward” and that the Council must remain committed to a long-term approach, which could happen through a dedicated working group.</p> <p>She also noted that the City Council has failed to push for transparency at crucial moments. She pointed out, for instance, that the mayor announced a new labor deal with the United Federation of Teachers on Wednesday but without details of how the spending will be reflected in the city budget. “So all these Council members are on this press release and they’re happy to laud and support this effort,” Doulis said, “but I didn’t hear any of them saying, ‘And we’d like to see a full accounting of what exactly the city will be paying for on this.’ So I don’t know that transparency is any better or worse than it was last year, or a couple of years ago under Mayor Bloomberg. In my mind it’s pretty much the same or marginally better.”</p> <p>Although Doulis did say that the city’s budget is enormous and complex, and that the administration does publish more budget documents than other local governments, she said there should nonetheless be improvements. “The question is, can the average citizen ask a basic question about services that he or she cares about and their costs and look in the budget to find an answer fairly simply and easily,” she said, “and the answer to that is ‘no.’”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41843779605_e3c8577c07_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio City Council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Johnson, de Blasio, Dromm (l-r) (photo: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>At several budget hearings earlier this year, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took a hard line on transparency. He insisted that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was being less than forthcoming on how money is spent and was hampering the Council’s charter-mandated authority to review and approve the city’s spending plan. To wit, in its official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget in April, the Council proposed adding 123 new units of appropriation -- budget lines that explain expenditures -- in order to more clearly and specifically show what the city is spending money on.</p> <p>When the city’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new $89.2 billion budget</a> was approved last week, however, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget only added a total of five new units.</p> <p>“We’re going to work with the Council,” de Blasio promised at at the release of his executive budget proposal in late April, two weeks after the Council’s response, when Gotham Gazette inquired about the push for more units of appropriations. “We have, over the years, been adding. We’re open to adding more. That’s an ongoing discussion, which we’ve had again today with the Council. Stay tuned.”</p> <p>But there was little news to stay tuned for. The five new lines in the adopted budget include four under the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications -- two each for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MoME) and the NYC Cyber Command office which both fall under DoITT’s purview. Those units are for personal services (PS) which covers salaries and wages of agency employees, and other than personal services (OTPS) which includes costs such as office supplies, equipment, maintenance, and the like. In total, those budget lines cover $25.2 million in expenditures for MoME and $65.8 million for the Cyber Command.</p> <p>The fifth unit of appropriation was created under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, to allow the Council to look at expense funding allocated for the New York City Housing Authority, about $255.4 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>It should be noted that the separate capital budget, which outlines city spending on infrastructure,includes six new budget lines -- one for the Brooklyn Public Library and five within Parks Department expenditures.</p> <p>In April, at a hearing on a mid-year modification to the current annual expense budget, the Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7651-city-council-takes-harder-line-on-mid-year-budget-modifications" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first showed indications</a> that it wouldn’t approve OMB’s requests without greater disclosure from the administration. Then, at a May hearing on the executive budget, prior to the new units of appropriation being added, Council Member Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Council’s finance committee, which leads the budget process at the Council, excoriated OMB officials for their refusal to be more transparent, insisting that the administration “must discontinue the longstanding practice of using vague and overbroad units of appropriation” over more specific ones.</p> <p>Dromm continued, “While such a shift is understandably resisted by the Mayor because it would restrict his ability to transfer funds between programs without oversight and to avoid seeking budget modification approval from the Council, it is necessary to facilitate the Council’s and the public’s understanding of agency spending and performance and to more transparently track the Administration’s priorities.”</p> <p>But the Council’s response to Gotham Gazette’s queries about the units of appropriation were more tempered. “[The] Council is very pleased with the end results of this budget process and is committed to more transparency measures, including continuing the push for more lines of appropriation,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Dromm did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog that advocates for increased budget transparency, among other changes, said the Council’s push for transparency likely fell by the wayside as it negotiated larger priorities such as discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.</p> <p>“It might be best to come to some sort of agreement about this outside the budget because when you’re negotiating a budget, it’s all about the dollars and cents and not necessarily how the dollars and cents are presented,” Doulis said in a phone interview. She said the five new units are a “micro step forward” and that the Council must remain committed to a long-term approach, which could happen through a dedicated working group.</p> <p>She also noted that the City Council has failed to push for transparency at crucial moments. She pointed out, for instance, that the mayor announced a new labor deal with the United Federation of Teachers on Wednesday but without details of how the spending will be reflected in the city budget. “So all these Council members are on this press release and they’re happy to laud and support this effort,” Doulis said, “but I didn’t hear any of them saying, ‘And we’d like to see a full accounting of what exactly the city will be paying for on this.’ So I don’t know that transparency is any better or worse than it was last year, or a couple of years ago under Mayor Bloomberg. In my mind it’s pretty much the same or marginally better.”</p> <p>Although Doulis did say that the city’s budget is enormous and complex, and that the administration does publish more budget documents than other local governments, she said there should nonetheless be improvements. “The question is, can the average citizen ask a basic question about services that he or she cares about and their costs and look in the budget to find an answer fairly simply and easily,” she said, “and the answer to that is ‘no.’”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson Outlines His Portfolio, Which Includes Everything 2018-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7736:new-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson-outlines-his-portfolio-which-includes-everything Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayor-first-lady-strat-policy.jpg" alt="mayor first lady strat policy" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Thompson, with the Mayor and First Lady (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Bill de Blasio and Phil Thompson go back decades, working together in the administration of Mayor David Dinkins, but they spent many years apart before rejoining the same team earlier this year, when de Blasio announced the appointment of Thompson as the new Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.</p> <p>Replacing Richard Buery in the role, Thompson begins his tenure in the de Blasio administration for the start of the Democratic mayor’s second and final term, and after nearly two decades teaching at MIT, writing books and essays, and working on a wide variety of projects as a consultant. He returns to city government with recent experience around the world, including in Brooklyn and South America, where he has helped coordinate community and economic development programming, environmental sustainability efforts, and other projects.</p> <p>“When the mayor offered me this job I was teaching a course in the Amazon and I was working with community groups in a city that had been devastated by an avalanche of boulders. following an unprecedented weather event,” Thompson told Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7716-whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">during a recent appearance on the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast</a>.</p> <p>“The mayor called me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about coming back into government?’ and I said, ‘Hell no…I’m in the Amazon, I’m not thinking about New York!’” Thompson said, laughingly, before turning serious about the “divisiveness and narrow-mindedness” that he thinks is permeating the country under President Donald Trump.</p> <p>“To be honest with you, I really am worried about this country,” he said. “The opportunity to serve and make a difference…Everybody who can do something ought to do what they can do…I never really thought of myself as a patriot, per say, but I really feel that’s what it is. I need to do something for the country.”</p> <p>And much of what Thompson believes he can do is to contribute to significant advances for New York City, providing models for elsewhere, and help advance a new era of urbanism and Democratic politics. During the podcast discussion, Thompson made clear he is someone who thinks about large trends and how to harness or respond to them, and that he wants the de Blasio administration to pursue new, big ideas to advance social, economic, and environmental justice before the mayor is forced from office due to term limits. He said workforce development would be a major focus for him, and explained how it ties in with racial and environmental factors.</p> <p>“I actually want to drill down...into workforce and where the economy is going and then aligning our business development, which his under me -- small business development, MWBEs, and workforce programs -- with where things are going and where I think things are going,” Thompson said. “I think we’re on the verge of three major changes in the city, but also in the country, that are going to be the most dramatic changes in the history of this country.”</p> <p>The first, Thompson says, is climate change. He believes retrofitting city buildings, including schools and NYCHA complexes, to make the facilities more energy efficient should be a priority for the city, which already has a plan, announced by de Blasio in 2014, to retrofit approximately 3,000 buildings before 2025. De Blasio has also announced a proposal to see private building owners forced to retrofit. Thompson wants to see these efforts integrated with jobs programs for New Yorkers, especially in underserved communities.</p> <p>“We know that the biggest danger in New York is probably heat in Manhattan...and we know there are going to be rising oceans,” he said. “My own view is: if your problem is heat, you don’t build walls to keep the ocean out, you figure out a way to bring the water in. Does that mean Manhattan becomes Venice? Maybe.”</p> <p>The second major challenge facing the city and beyond, Thompson believes, is the digital revolution, namely the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated jobs, and he wants government to invest money to pursue innovation. “There are two types of jobs for the future: One, where you tell robots and computers what they’re going to do, and the second, where robots and computers tell you what you’re going to do...so how do we make sure our kids are telling computers and robots what to do?” <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7716-whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he said</a>.</p> <p>“In my opinion the government should be developing infrastructure around AI,” he said. “We’re going to have smart cars soon, which are going to be guided by traffic managers who exist in a cloud, which are going to be AI traffic managers. That infrastructure ought to be designed and owned by government because if it’s owned by a private company they’re going to own everything.”</p> <p>The third issue facing society as a whole, Thompson says, is an growing bloc of voters who will change the way politics and government happen across America. “Eighty percent of American cities are majority of color now, and if you look at young white people in cities, 80 percent of them voted for [President Barack] Obama twice. If you put those two facts together, that was the coalition that elected Bill de Blasio -- people of color, young white folks, and progressives. That coalition can be replicated across the country and I think that’s the coalition that will turn the tide in this country. It’s very promising and it’s never happened before.”</p> <p>“[It will] turn the tide on American politics and governance, period,” Thompson said, as the hosts interjected a note about the Electoral College.</p> <p>A large potion of Thompson’s vision involves educating young people so they will have the tools to thrive in this vastly changed world. He hopes to align education and training programs with summer camps and innovation areas to “actually develop and train young people for what’s coming, and not for what’s going to disappear in five years.” He argued for project-based experiential learning, particularly in economic growth areas. And he agrees that changes in education should extend all the way through schooling.</p> <p>“For example, there’s an immense investment now in DNA research -- future prescription drugs are going to be for your particular DNA -- and it requires skill in what’s called computational biology,” he said. “That’s the future, so working backwards...we’re trying to say, ‘how will we integrate the summer youth job experience with computational biology exposures?’”</p> <p>When asked, Thompson used his own personal story of opportunity to express support for de Blasio’s recently announced plan to integrate the city’s elite specialized high schools, by moving away from a single test determining entry.</p> <p>For the 18 years prior to joining the de Blasio administration, Thompson has worked as an Associate Professor of Political Science and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He’s on loan to the city for two years from MIT, a leave that can be extended another two years if the sides agree, according to a City Hall spokesperson.</p> <p>Thompson has spent time in New Orleans, Peru, and Haiti on post-disaster planning, he said, and he’s worked in Columbia on post-conflict building, and, for the last four years, he’s been working on a community health initiative called Vital Brooklyn -- a $1.4 billion plan designed by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to revitalize Central Brooklyn that includes a $700 million investment in healthcare, the area that Thompson has helped inform.</p> <p>In the early 1990s Dinkins era, Thompson oversaw housing coordination and became the Deputy General Manager for Operations and Development at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).</p> <p>In returning to city government he said he has an “understanding” of what de Blasio is trying to achieve in New York City, and that the mayor’s “been the same” for as long as they’ve known each other. “We all started out together like, ‘how do we actually make change for people who are suffering?’ That's really what it’s about,” Thompson said of how he and de Blasio see the work of government.</p> <p>It’s unclear if Thompson will be roped into helping NYCHA recover from scandal and implement the terms of a consent decree with federal prosecutors announced on Monday (several days after Thompson appeared on the podcast). It is clear that he is approaching his job as one that stretches across virtually all city agencies, overlapping at times with other deputy mayors, and that allows him leeway to think in systems and at large scale.</p> <p>Having only been in his new job a couple of months, Thompson was mostly able to speak broadly to his portfolio, which includes certain policies and programs launched under Buery, like the expansion of pre-kindergarten to all three-year-olds, but also new areas, like the administration’s democracy agenda to increase civic participation. He is tasked by de Blasio will coordinating the city’s effort to ensure an accurate Census count in 2020. Part of that work, he said, will be convincing traditionally undercounted populations, such as immigrant communities and African-American communities, to participate in full.</p> <p>Thompson outlined several concrete ideas he is interested in pursuing, such as for creating jobs in the city to address not only unemployment, but also to improve health outcomes and strengthen communities in areas such as Brooklyn and the Bronx.</p> <p>“When you look at what leads to coronary heart disease, of which there’s a lot of in these places, it’s stress mainly due to poverty and unemployment. [There’s] stress due to lack of stable housing, and then there’s bad food habits - it’s expensive to get healthy food,” he said on the podcast.</p> <p>It’s a sentiment similar to that in <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235282731600015X#bib39" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a 2016 paper</a>, in which Thompson and his co-authors argued racial discrimination felt by children of color at schools, and in legal and health systems, can trigger a physiological stress response that leads to additional health problems in these demographics. By addressing the source of this stress by reducing discrimination, increasing employment, and reducing poverty, Thompson thinks the overworked health system will be somewhat relieved, too.</p> <p>“Addressing something like our exorbitant expenses in healthcare ultimately means keeping people out of hospitals but that means really addressing unemployment,” Thompson said.</p> <p>A starting point, he said, could be using some of the city’s massive procurement budget to build local furniture to service hospitals and schools. “One of the things we’re really interested in is maybe a furniture factory to make furniture for hospitals, and the hospitals are really interested in that,” he said. “They buy a lot of furniture, as do our schools. Why not make it locally? Why not have a company that’s locally owned or worker owned, or a co-op?”</p> <p>Thompson’s seen success in this first-hand, and believes it can be replicated across New York City. He was involved in <a href="https://democracycollaborative.org/content/anchor-mission-leveraging-power-anchor-institutions-build-community-wealth" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a 2013 paper</a> that analyzed the merits of a 2005 case study, in which University Hospitals (UH) in Cleveland, Ohio, constructed five major medical facilities, as well as expand a number of existing facilities, with the goal of boosting community wealth in the process.</p> <p>Working with the mayor’s office, as well as local building trade unions, UH vowed that 80 percent of contracts would go to businesses that were regionally owned in Northeast Ohio, with five percent of contracts going to female-owned businesses and 15 percent to minority-owned businesses. Beyond 2010, all purchases from UH over $20,000 now require at least one bid from a local, minority-owned firm -- UH spends at least $800 million to contractors each year.</p> <p>Thompson and his co-authors called the Cleveland case study “pathbreaking” in the 2013 paper, and touted it as a “powerful model for how a place-based institution can...better the long-term welfare of the community in which it is located.”</p> <p>Another example, Thompson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7716-whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said on the podcast</a>, of different departments coming together to deliver comprehensive change to the city is the Healthy Buildings Project in the Bronx. The project saw 50 buildings retrofitted with the goal of removing mold, roaches, and rodents to reduce repeat asthma cases. At the same time, the apartments were retrofitted to increase energy efficiency and the savings this caused -- in reducing energy bills, and in selling power back to the grid -- helped pay for the asthma retrofit.</p> <p>“That takes bringing together a bunch of different city departments and state and funding streams and figuring out the financing, which is all complicated. But that’s the kind of thing we need to do in order to really address the health disparity crisis,” Thompson said, adding the “silo approach” so often seen in government is “not very strategic and not very smart.”</p> <p>“It’s definitely a challenge, it’s always been a challenge,” Thompson said of bureaucracy and government silos, especially in a government the size of New York City’s. “That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing in my prior life, before coming here, is trying to break through those silos.”</p> <p>“I wrote a book about the Dinkins experience and about black mayors and the point of the book was really to explain the problematic of trying to use City Hall to change policies on behalf of low-income people when they're all sorts of entrenched interests that basically push in the other direction,” he added.</p> <p>Going forward, Thompson is eager to see the de Blasio administration take on the big issues like climate change, technology, and education in a way far different from the “narrow-mindedness” of the Trump administration. Asked if part of his job is to help de Blasio become less risk averse and get more creative, Thompson said has been bold in pursuing universal pre-kindergarten, which he called “4-K,” and the broad mental health program being led by First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>“I don’t think the mayor is risk averse. I don’t think the mayor had any idea 4K would work when he first started it - I think that was just a bold thing and ThriveNYC was a bold thing,” Thompson said. “I also don’t think the government’s role is risk averse...I came from 18 years at MIT, I got to tell you, computers and the internet came from 20 years of consistent funding from government, which took the risk out of it. You could screw up a thousand times, which they did, but the government said ‘it’s real strategic for us to develop these systems,’ No venture capitalist would have put the money in over a 20-year period not knowing what was going to happen.”</p> <p>“The government's role is exactly to socialize risk,” Thompson continued. “The government's role is to say, ‘this is something, as a city or as a country, we have to do so we’re going to invest.’”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayor-first-lady-strat-policy.jpg" alt="mayor first lady strat policy" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Thompson, with the Mayor and First Lady (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Bill de Blasio and Phil Thompson go back decades, working together in the administration of Mayor David Dinkins, but they spent many years apart before rejoining the same team earlier this year, when de Blasio announced the appointment of Thompson as the new Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.</p> <p>Replacing Richard Buery in the role, Thompson begins his tenure in the de Blasio administration for the start of the Democratic mayor’s second and final term, and after nearly two decades teaching at MIT, writing books and essays, and working on a wide variety of projects as a consultant. He returns to city government with recent experience around the world, including in Brooklyn and South America, where he has helped coordinate community and economic development programming, environmental sustainability efforts, and other projects.</p> <p>“When the mayor offered me this job I was teaching a course in the Amazon and I was working with community groups in a city that had been devastated by an avalanche of boulders. following an unprecedented weather event,” Thompson told Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7716-whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">during a recent appearance on the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast</a>.</p> <p>“The mayor called me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about coming back into government?’ and I said, ‘Hell no…I’m in the Amazon, I’m not thinking about New York!’” Thompson said, laughingly, before turning serious about the “divisiveness and narrow-mindedness” that he thinks is permeating the country under President Donald Trump.</p> <p>“To be honest with you, I really am worried about this country,” he said. “The opportunity to serve and make a difference…Everybody who can do something ought to do what they can do…I never really thought of myself as a patriot, per say, but I really feel that’s what it is. I need to do something for the country.”</p> <p>And much of what Thompson believes he can do is to contribute to significant advances for New York City, providing models for elsewhere, and help advance a new era of urbanism and Democratic politics. During the podcast discussion, Thompson made clear he is someone who thinks about large trends and how to harness or respond to them, and that he wants the de Blasio administration to pursue new, big ideas to advance social, economic, and environmental justice before the mayor is forced from office due to term limits. He said workforce development would be a major focus for him, and explained how it ties in with racial and environmental factors.</p> <p>“I actually want to drill down...into workforce and where the economy is going and then aligning our business development, which his under me -- small business development, MWBEs, and workforce programs -- with where things are going and where I think things are going,” Thompson said. “I think we’re on the verge of three major changes in the city, but also in the country, that are going to be the most dramatic changes in the history of this country.”</p> <p>The first, Thompson says, is climate change. He believes retrofitting city buildings, including schools and NYCHA complexes, to make the facilities more energy efficient should be a priority for the city, which already has a plan, announced by de Blasio in 2014, to retrofit approximately 3,000 buildings before 2025. De Blasio has also announced a proposal to see private building owners forced to retrofit. Thompson wants to see these efforts integrated with jobs programs for New Yorkers, especially in underserved communities.</p> <p>“We know that the biggest danger in New York is probably heat in Manhattan...and we know there are going to be rising oceans,” he said. “My own view is: if your problem is heat, you don’t build walls to keep the ocean out, you figure out a way to bring the water in. Does that mean Manhattan becomes Venice? Maybe.”</p> <p>The second major challenge facing the city and beyond, Thompson believes, is the digital revolution, namely the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated jobs, and he wants government to invest money to pursue innovation. “There are two types of jobs for the future: One, where you tell robots and computers what they’re going to do, and the second, where robots and computers tell you what you’re going to do...so how do we make sure our kids are telling computers and robots what to do?” <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7716-whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he said</a>.</p> <p>“In my opinion the government should be developing infrastructure around AI,” he said. “We’re going to have smart cars soon, which are going to be guided by traffic managers who exist in a cloud, which are going to be AI traffic managers. That infrastructure ought to be designed and owned by government because if it’s owned by a private company they’re going to own everything.”</p> <p>The third issue facing society as a whole, Thompson says, is an growing bloc of voters who will change the way politics and government happen across America. “Eighty percent of American cities are majority of color now, and if you look at young white people in cities, 80 percent of them voted for [President Barack] Obama twice. If you put those two facts together, that was the coalition that elected Bill de Blasio -- people of color, young white folks, and progressives. That coalition can be replicated across the country and I think that’s the coalition that will turn the tide in this country. It’s very promising and it’s never happened before.”</p> <p>“[It will] turn the tide on American politics and governance, period,” Thompson said, as the hosts interjected a note about the Electoral College.</p> <p>A large potion of Thompson’s vision involves educating young people so they will have the tools to thrive in this vastly changed world. He hopes to align education and training programs with summer camps and innovation areas to “actually develop and train young people for what’s coming, and not for what’s going to disappear in five years.” He argued for project-based experiential learning, particularly in economic growth areas. And he agrees that changes in education should extend all the way through schooling.</p> <p>“For example, there’s an immense investment now in DNA research -- future prescription drugs are going to be for your particular DNA -- and it requires skill in what’s called computational biology,” he said. “That’s the future, so working backwards...we’re trying to say, ‘how will we integrate the summer youth job experience with computational biology exposures?’”</p> <p>When asked, Thompson used his own personal story of opportunity to express support for de Blasio’s recently announced plan to integrate the city’s elite specialized high schools, by moving away from a single test determining entry.</p> <p>For the 18 years prior to joining the de Blasio administration, Thompson has worked as an Associate Professor of Political Science and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He’s on loan to the city for two years from MIT, a leave that can be extended another two years if the sides agree, according to a City Hall spokesperson.</p> <p>Thompson has spent time in New Orleans, Peru, and Haiti on post-disaster planning, he said, and he’s worked in Columbia on post-conflict building, and, for the last four years, he’s been working on a community health initiative called Vital Brooklyn -- a $1.4 billion plan designed by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to revitalize Central Brooklyn that includes a $700 million investment in healthcare, the area that Thompson has helped inform.</p> <p>In the early 1990s Dinkins era, Thompson oversaw housing coordination and became the Deputy General Manager for Operations and Development at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).</p> <p>In returning to city government he said he has an “understanding” of what de Blasio is trying to achieve in New York City, and that the mayor’s “been the same” for as long as they’ve known each other. “We all started out together like, ‘how do we actually make change for people who are suffering?’ That's really what it’s about,” Thompson said of how he and de Blasio see the work of government.</p> <p>It’s unclear if Thompson will be roped into helping NYCHA recover from scandal and implement the terms of a consent decree with federal prosecutors announced on Monday (several days after Thompson appeared on the podcast). It is clear that he is approaching his job as one that stretches across virtually all city agencies, overlapping at times with other deputy mayors, and that allows him leeway to think in systems and at large scale.</p> <p>Having only been in his new job a couple of months, Thompson was mostly able to speak broadly to his portfolio, which includes certain policies and programs launched under Buery, like the expansion of pre-kindergarten to all three-year-olds, but also new areas, like the administration’s democracy agenda to increase civic participation. He is tasked by de Blasio will coordinating the city’s effort to ensure an accurate Census count in 2020. Part of that work, he said, will be convincing traditionally undercounted populations, such as immigrant communities and African-American communities, to participate in full.</p> <p>Thompson outlined several concrete ideas he is interested in pursuing, such as for creating jobs in the city to address not only unemployment, but also to improve health outcomes and strengthen communities in areas such as Brooklyn and the Bronx.</p> <p>“When you look at what leads to coronary heart disease, of which there’s a lot of in these places, it’s stress mainly due to poverty and unemployment. [There’s] stress due to lack of stable housing, and then there’s bad food habits - it’s expensive to get healthy food,” he said on the podcast.</p> <p>It’s a sentiment similar to that in <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235282731600015X#bib39" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a 2016 paper</a>, in which Thompson and his co-authors argued racial discrimination felt by children of color at schools, and in legal and health systems, can trigger a physiological stress response that leads to additional health problems in these demographics. By addressing the source of this stress by reducing discrimination, increasing employment, and reducing poverty, Thompson thinks the overworked health system will be somewhat relieved, too.</p> <p>“Addressing something like our exorbitant expenses in healthcare ultimately means keeping people out of hospitals but that means really addressing unemployment,” Thompson said.</p> <p>A starting point, he said, could be using some of the city’s massive procurement budget to build local furniture to service hospitals and schools. “One of the things we’re really interested in is maybe a furniture factory to make furniture for hospitals, and the hospitals are really interested in that,” he said. “They buy a lot of furniture, as do our schools. Why not make it locally? Why not have a company that’s locally owned or worker owned, or a co-op?”</p> <p>Thompson’s seen success in this first-hand, and believes it can be replicated across New York City. He was involved in <a href="https://democracycollaborative.org/content/anchor-mission-leveraging-power-anchor-institutions-build-community-wealth" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a 2013 paper</a> that analyzed the merits of a 2005 case study, in which University Hospitals (UH) in Cleveland, Ohio, constructed five major medical facilities, as well as expand a number of existing facilities, with the goal of boosting community wealth in the process.</p> <p>Working with the mayor’s office, as well as local building trade unions, UH vowed that 80 percent of contracts would go to businesses that were regionally owned in Northeast Ohio, with five percent of contracts going to female-owned businesses and 15 percent to minority-owned businesses. Beyond 2010, all purchases from UH over $20,000 now require at least one bid from a local, minority-owned firm -- UH spends at least $800 million to contractors each year.</p> <p>Thompson and his co-authors called the Cleveland case study “pathbreaking” in the 2013 paper, and touted it as a “powerful model for how a place-based institution can...better the long-term welfare of the community in which it is located.”</p> <p>Another example, Thompson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7716-whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said on the podcast</a>, of different departments coming together to deliver comprehensive change to the city is the Healthy Buildings Project in the Bronx. The project saw 50 buildings retrofitted with the goal of removing mold, roaches, and rodents to reduce repeat asthma cases. At the same time, the apartments were retrofitted to increase energy efficiency and the savings this caused -- in reducing energy bills, and in selling power back to the grid -- helped pay for the asthma retrofit.</p> <p>“That takes bringing together a bunch of different city departments and state and funding streams and figuring out the financing, which is all complicated. But that’s the kind of thing we need to do in order to really address the health disparity crisis,” Thompson said, adding the “silo approach” so often seen in government is “not very strategic and not very smart.”</p> <p>“It’s definitely a challenge, it’s always been a challenge,” Thompson said of bureaucracy and government silos, especially in a government the size of New York City’s. “That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing in my prior life, before coming here, is trying to break through those silos.”</p> <p>“I wrote a book about the Dinkins experience and about black mayors and the point of the book was really to explain the problematic of trying to use City Hall to change policies on behalf of low-income people when they're all sorts of entrenched interests that basically push in the other direction,” he added.</p> <p>Going forward, Thompson is eager to see the de Blasio administration take on the big issues like climate change, technology, and education in a way far different from the “narrow-mindedness” of the Trump administration. Asked if part of his job is to help de Blasio become less risk averse and get more creative, Thompson said has been bold in pursuing universal pre-kindergarten, which he called “4-K,” and the broad mental health program being led by First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>“I don’t think the mayor is risk averse. I don’t think the mayor had any idea 4K would work when he first started it - I think that was just a bold thing and ThriveNYC was a bold thing,” Thompson said. “I also don’t think the government’s role is risk averse...I came from 18 years at MIT, I got to tell you, computers and the internet came from 20 years of consistent funding from government, which took the risk out of it. You could screw up a thousand times, which they did, but the government said ‘it’s real strategic for us to develop these systems,’ No venture capitalist would have put the money in over a 20-year period not knowing what was going to happen.”</p> <p>“The government's role is exactly to socialize risk,” Thompson continued. “The government's role is to say, ‘this is something, as a city or as a country, we have to do so we’re going to invest.’”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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</p>
De Blasio and City Council Agree on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities 2018-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7731:de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/42026176154_6c5b9671ec_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Corey Johnson budget City Hall" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Johnson shake on it (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday announced an agreement on an $89.15 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year that includes key Council priorities that the mayor had been hesitant to fund for months.</p> <p>“This budget is profoundly responsible, it is balanced, it is progressive and it is early,” de Blasio said at the ceremonial budget handshake with Johnson and other Council members at City Hall on Monday evening, about three weeks before the July 1 deadline that is the start of next fiscal year.</p> <p>The latest spending plan is a slight uptick from the mayor’s $89.06 billion executive budget proposal released in April, and a total $480 million increase from the $88.67 billion preliminary proposal put forward by the administration in February. Overall, it reflects a $16.45 billion increase from the $72.7 billion budget that de Blasio inherited when he took office in 2014. Asked about that significant growth, de Blasio said on Monday, “It’s an investment model, it’s a strategic investment concept,” insisting that much of the city’s prosperity over the last few years stemmed from his administration’s responsible spending and fiscal management.</p> <p>The money has certainly been there to spend, even as the budget has grown so large, the city has put record sums in reserves, though watchdogs do warn of long-term fiscal impacts of the large growth in public sector headcount de Blasio has overseen.</p> <p>It was Johnson’s first budget as speaker and he notched a massive victory, convincing an initially reluctant de Blasio to provide $106 million to partially fund the ‘Fair Fares’ program that will provide half-priced MetroCards to New Yorkers that live below the federal poverty line. The Council members in attendance struck an especially celebratory tone.</p> <p>“I believe that Speaker Johnson said the words ‘Fair Fares’ to me an unfair number of times,” de Blasio mused of Johnson’s almost single-minded focus on the issue in the lead up to the budget deal. The speaker headed a concerted campaign for the program, using digital and social media and grassroots advocacy. All but three members of the City Council had expressed their support for it by this week; it was clearly the speaker’s top priority in negotiations with the mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio said Monday that the program will launch in January 2019 and run through the rest of the fiscal year, and will be implemented by the city rather than the MTA, in a similar fashion to the Human Resource Administration’s cash assistance and food stamp programs. Following the six-month rollout, the city will evaluate participation and cost to decide on future funding, Johnson later said as he insisted that both he and the mayor will continue to push for an additional millionaires tax approved in Albany to fully fund the program.</p> <p>The mayor also added $225 million in funding to reserves, conceding nearly half of the Council’s $500 million demand for more rainy day funds. About $125 million was added to the general reserve, bringing it to $1.25 billion each year, and $100 million to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, increasing it to $4.35 billion, while the capital stabilization reserve remained static at $250 million.</p> <p>De Blasio also touted other top items that had been outlined in earlier iterations of the budget, namely $125 million in increased fair school funding, added resources for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), an expansion of 3-K for all, and funding for police body cameras.</p> <p>“This spending plan will strengthen our social safety net and do more for New Yorkers who are struggling to get by on less,” Johnson said as he thanked the mayor for “good faith” negotiations over the last few months.</p> <p>“We are taking a sharp-eyed, sober approach to the future,” he added, detailing a few of the initiatives funded in the budget, including $150 million in additional capital funding over three years to improve accessibility for the disabled at city schools and an expansion of of the summer youth employment program from 70,000 to 75,000 slots.</p> <p>Johnson also highlighted the hundreds of millions of dollars that the city previously committed to the MTA Subway Action Plan, as Johnson had wanted it to but de Blasio did not, after the state budget forced the city's hand. He also stressed additional investment in supportive housing, to accelerate the pace of units opening.</p> <p>The deal, according to a press release from the mayor's office, also increases and baselines funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program "to $20 million annually" and adds $3.5 million "for additional litter basket pickup" to avoid trash can overflow on street corners.</p> <p>The final budget does not include a $400 property tax rebate for thousands of homeowners -- another key Council priority -- since the administration and Council announced late last month that they would convene a property tax commission to review the system and propose reforms. The commission is expected to begin its work with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year and will hold ten hearings to seek public input.</p> <p>The budget agreement announcement came hours after another, more tense news conference at City Hall where <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7730-city-agrees-to-federal-monitor-and-cash-infusion-for-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">de Blasio addressed the city’s agreement, announced Monday morning, with federal prosecutors to accept a federal monitor for NYCHA</a>. The deal also requires the city to provide billions more in funding for the ailing housing authority over the several years, and that funding will be reflected in the capital budget when it passes the City Council later this month, de Blasio said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/42026176154_6c5b9671ec_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Corey Johnson budget City Hall" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Johnson shake on it (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday announced an agreement on an $89.15 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year that includes key Council priorities that the mayor had been hesitant to fund for months.</p> <p>“This budget is profoundly responsible, it is balanced, it is progressive and it is early,” de Blasio said at the ceremonial budget handshake with Johnson and other Council members at City Hall on Monday evening, about three weeks before the July 1 deadline that is the start of next fiscal year.</p> <p>The latest spending plan is a slight uptick from the mayor’s $89.06 billion executive budget proposal released in April, and a total $480 million increase from the $88.67 billion preliminary proposal put forward by the administration in February. Overall, it reflects a $16.45 billion increase from the $72.7 billion budget that de Blasio inherited when he took office in 2014. Asked about that significant growth, de Blasio said on Monday, “It’s an investment model, it’s a strategic investment concept,” insisting that much of the city’s prosperity over the last few years stemmed from his administration’s responsible spending and fiscal management.</p> <p>The money has certainly been there to spend, even as the budget has grown so large, the city has put record sums in reserves, though watchdogs do warn of long-term fiscal impacts of the large growth in public sector headcount de Blasio has overseen.</p> <p>It was Johnson’s first budget as speaker and he notched a massive victory, convincing an initially reluctant de Blasio to provide $106 million to partially fund the ‘Fair Fares’ program that will provide half-priced MetroCards to New Yorkers that live below the federal poverty line. The Council members in attendance struck an especially celebratory tone.</p> <p>“I believe that Speaker Johnson said the words ‘Fair Fares’ to me an unfair number of times,” de Blasio mused of Johnson’s almost single-minded focus on the issue in the lead up to the budget deal. The speaker headed a concerted campaign for the program, using digital and social media and grassroots advocacy. All but three members of the City Council had expressed their support for it by this week; it was clearly the speaker’s top priority in negotiations with the mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio said Monday that the program will launch in January 2019 and run through the rest of the fiscal year, and will be implemented by the city rather than the MTA, in a similar fashion to the Human Resource Administration’s cash assistance and food stamp programs. Following the six-month rollout, the city will evaluate participation and cost to decide on future funding, Johnson later said as he insisted that both he and the mayor will continue to push for an additional millionaires tax approved in Albany to fully fund the program.</p> <p>The mayor also added $225 million in funding to reserves, conceding nearly half of the Council’s $500 million demand for more rainy day funds. About $125 million was added to the general reserve, bringing it to $1.25 billion each year, and $100 million to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, increasing it to $4.35 billion, while the capital stabilization reserve remained static at $250 million.</p> <p>De Blasio also touted other top items that had been outlined in earlier iterations of the budget, namely $125 million in increased fair school funding, added resources for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), an expansion of 3-K for all, and funding for police body cameras.</p> <p>“This spending plan will strengthen our social safety net and do more for New Yorkers who are struggling to get by on less,” Johnson said as he thanked the mayor for “good faith” negotiations over the last few months.</p> <p>“We are taking a sharp-eyed, sober approach to the future,” he added, detailing a few of the initiatives funded in the budget, including $150 million in additional capital funding over three years to improve accessibility for the disabled at city schools and an expansion of of the summer youth employment program from 70,000 to 75,000 slots.</p> <p>Johnson also highlighted the hundreds of millions of dollars that the city previously committed to the MTA Subway Action Plan, as Johnson had wanted it to but de Blasio did not, after the state budget forced the city's hand. He also stressed additional investment in supportive housing, to accelerate the pace of units opening.</p> <p>The deal, according to a press release from the mayor's office, also increases and baselines funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program "to $20 million annually" and adds $3.5 million "for additional litter basket pickup" to avoid trash can overflow on street corners.</p> <p>The final budget does not include a $400 property tax rebate for thousands of homeowners -- another key Council priority -- since the administration and Council announced late last month that they would convene a property tax commission to review the system and propose reforms. The commission is expected to begin its work with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year and will hold ten hearings to seek public input.</p> <p>The budget agreement announcement came hours after another, more tense news conference at City Hall where <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7730-city-agrees-to-federal-monitor-and-cash-infusion-for-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">de Blasio addressed the city’s agreement, announced Monday morning, with federal prosecutors to accept a federal monitor for NYCHA</a>. The deal also requires the city to provide billions more in funding for the ailing housing authority over the several years, and that funding will be reflected in the capital budget when it passes the City Council later this month, de Blasio said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York City Must Protect Due Process for All in The Trump Era 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7725:new-york-city-will-protect-due-process-for-all-in-the-trump-era Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-rikers-island.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice rikers island" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Under the Trump administration, we are seeing escalated attacks against immigrant communities across the country. Raids, workplace sweeps, and the detention of Dreamers, asylum seekers, and other immigrants have led to the daily separation of families.</p> <p>More than any other city, New York City has been proactive in responding to these attacks. At the center of our efforts to support our immigrant community is the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) — the nation’s first universal legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation.</p> <p>Over the last four years, NYIFUP has set the national standard for protecting the due process rights of immigrants and keeping families together. &nbsp;</p> <p>Research shows that detained immigrants with access to legal counsel have a 48% probability of success in immigration court, as compared to 4% without access to counsel. &nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the New York City Council has made significant investments in complementary initiatives, including providing representation to immigrant children, survivors of domestic violence, asylum seekers, and those applying for U.S. citizenship. &nbsp;</p> <p>Our comprehensive legal services effort ensures income is not a barrier to obtaining quality, trustworthy representation for many immigrants at risk of deportation.</p> <p>Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has dangerously limited due process to many more at risk of deportation by quietly implementing a policy that excludes immigrants, including veterans, with certain convictions from qualifying for representation through our legal defense programs.</p> <p>New York City already mandates universal appointment of counsel in Family Court and Housing Court. Appointed counsel in those courts is based on financial need, not on a person’s criminal record.</p> <p>A criminal record may, at times, be a factor for a judge deciding the merits of the case, but it’s never a factor in deciding who deserves an attorney. We must have the same standard in our immigration courts that we do in family and housing.</p> <p>Elected officials, especially those who proclaim a progressive identity, should not fuel the nation’s deportation machine by limiting due process at a time like this.</p> <p>Instead, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure a level playing field in a system that is heavily weighted against people of color and immigrants, who all too often are ensnared by a system set up to criminalize them.</p> <p>The mayor’s approach is dangerous. We reject his exclusionary policy and urge him to restore our legal services programs to universal representation models without discriminatory exclusions.</p> <p>Our legal services programs do not determine who gets to stay in the country and who doesn’t — that is the role of our courts. Instead, our publicly funded programs help immigrants understand the proceedings they are in, as well as their legal rights and obligations.</p> <p>Making certain individuals ineligible for legal services strips them of a meaningful opportunity to have their day in court — leaving immigrants subject to deportation to countries where their lives may be at risk and allowing for the senseless separation of families.</p> <p>We would do well to remember the words of retired Immigration Judge Paul Grussendorf, who explained, “it is un-American to detain someone, send them to a remote facility where they have no contact with family, place them in legal proceedings where they are often unable to comprehend, and not to provide counsel for them.”</p> <p>U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are the laboratories of democracy. We add that cities are the spark of genius that drives innovation in our democracy.</p> <p>New York City has led the way in protecting the rights of immigrants. We must expand on that progress — not turn back. Other cities across the nation are looking to us as beacons of progress.</p> <p>As descendants of immigrants and LGBTQ members of the New York City Council, and as New Yorkers, we are committed to eradicating inequality, discrimination, and barriers to fairness in our great city.</p> <p>We are committed to universal representation and due process for all immigrant New Yorkers.</p> <p>Justice is on our side.</p> <p>***<br /> Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. Menchaca chairs the Council’s immigration committee, while Dromm is chair of the finance committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/cmenchaca" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@cmenchaca</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/dromm25" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Dromm25</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-rikers-island.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice rikers island" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Under the Trump administration, we are seeing escalated attacks against immigrant communities across the country. Raids, workplace sweeps, and the detention of Dreamers, asylum seekers, and other immigrants have led to the daily separation of families.</p> <p>More than any other city, New York City has been proactive in responding to these attacks. At the center of our efforts to support our immigrant community is the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) — the nation’s first universal legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation.</p> <p>Over the last four years, NYIFUP has set the national standard for protecting the due process rights of immigrants and keeping families together. &nbsp;</p> <p>Research shows that detained immigrants with access to legal counsel have a 48% probability of success in immigration court, as compared to 4% without access to counsel. &nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the New York City Council has made significant investments in complementary initiatives, including providing representation to immigrant children, survivors of domestic violence, asylum seekers, and those applying for U.S. citizenship. &nbsp;</p> <p>Our comprehensive legal services effort ensures income is not a barrier to obtaining quality, trustworthy representation for many immigrants at risk of deportation.</p> <p>Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has dangerously limited due process to many more at risk of deportation by quietly implementing a policy that excludes immigrants, including veterans, with certain convictions from qualifying for representation through our legal defense programs.</p> <p>New York City already mandates universal appointment of counsel in Family Court and Housing Court. Appointed counsel in those courts is based on financial need, not on a person’s criminal record.</p> <p>A criminal record may, at times, be a factor for a judge deciding the merits of the case, but it’s never a factor in deciding who deserves an attorney. We must have the same standard in our immigration courts that we do in family and housing.</p> <p>Elected officials, especially those who proclaim a progressive identity, should not fuel the nation’s deportation machine by limiting due process at a time like this.</p> <p>Instead, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure a level playing field in a system that is heavily weighted against people of color and immigrants, who all too often are ensnared by a system set up to criminalize them.</p> <p>The mayor’s approach is dangerous. We reject his exclusionary policy and urge him to restore our legal services programs to universal representation models without discriminatory exclusions.</p> <p>Our legal services programs do not determine who gets to stay in the country and who doesn’t — that is the role of our courts. Instead, our publicly funded programs help immigrants understand the proceedings they are in, as well as their legal rights and obligations.</p> <p>Making certain individuals ineligible for legal services strips them of a meaningful opportunity to have their day in court — leaving immigrants subject to deportation to countries where their lives may be at risk and allowing for the senseless separation of families.</p> <p>We would do well to remember the words of retired Immigration Judge Paul Grussendorf, who explained, “it is un-American to detain someone, send them to a remote facility where they have no contact with family, place them in legal proceedings where they are often unable to comprehend, and not to provide counsel for them.”</p> <p>U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are the laboratories of democracy. We add that cities are the spark of genius that drives innovation in our democracy.</p> <p>New York City has led the way in protecting the rights of immigrants. We must expand on that progress — not turn back. Other cities across the nation are looking to us as beacons of progress.</p> <p>As descendants of immigrants and LGBTQ members of the New York City Council, and as New Yorkers, we are committed to eradicating inequality, discrimination, and barriers to fairness in our great city.</p> <p>We are committed to universal representation and due process for all immigrant New Yorkers.</p> <p>Justice is on our side.</p> <p>***<br /> Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. Menchaca chairs the Council’s immigration committee, while Dromm is chair of the finance committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/cmenchaca" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@cmenchaca</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/dromm25" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Dromm25</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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What's The [Data] Point? 2020, with Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson 2018-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7716:whats-the-data-point-2020-with-deputy-mayor-phil-thompson Ben Max <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 43</strong><strong> -- 2020,&nbsp;with Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson [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/wtdp-w-cbrecher-120.jpg" alt="wtdp w cbrecher 120" width="440" height="120" style="display: block; margin: 10px auto;" /></p>--> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/phil-thompson-pod.jpg" alt="phil thompson pod" width="277" height="143" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Phil Thompson is the new Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Joining the administration in March, Thompson has a portfolio that includes managing the city's approach to the upcoming U.S. Census and much more. He joined the podcast to talk about his new role, his path back to City Hall (he and de Blasio both worked for Mayor David Dinkins), and some of the policy areas where he's looking to bring his expertise to bear.</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/455214492&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="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<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 43</strong><strong> -- 2020,&nbsp;with Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson [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/wtdp-w-cbrecher-120.jpg" alt="wtdp w cbrecher 120" width="440" height="120" style="display: block; margin: 10px auto;" /></p>--> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/phil-thompson-pod.jpg" alt="phil thompson pod" width="277" height="143" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Phil Thompson is the new Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Joining the administration in March, Thompson has a portfolio that includes managing the city's approach to the upcoming U.S. Census and much more. He joined the podcast to talk about his new role, his path back to City Hall (he and de Blasio both worked for Mayor David Dinkins), and some of the policy areas where he's looking to bring his expertise to bear.</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/455214492&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="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test 2018-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7719:former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/suransky_farina.jpg" alt="Shael Suransky DOE" width="600" height="385" /></p> <p>Shael Polakow-Suransky, right, with Carmen Farina (photo: Bank Street College)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan earlier this week to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools through changes in admissions policies.&nbsp;The schools currently <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/03/07/few-black-and-hispanic-students-receive-admissions-offers-to-new-york-citys-top-high-schools-again/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">enroll very few black and Latino students</a>, while, relative to their numbers in the larger school system, white and Asian students are highly over-represented.</p> <p>De Blasio’s plan involves a first step of setting aside 20 percent of seats at these schools for low-income students whose scores fall just under the qualifying threshold, which the city can take on its own, as well as pushing for phasing out the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and implementation of a new admissions system based on state test scores and middle school grades, which requires approval from the state Legislature.</p> <p>The mayor’s initiative was quickly met with both widespread praise and consternation. Supporters, including some educators and elected officials, applauded the administration for taking the first step in desegregating the city’s top high schools while some parents, elected officials, and alumni groups cried foul that the changes would be unfair to students who work hard to do well on the test, that it is a piecemeal reform that will largely punish low-income Asian students, and that it will exacerbate inequities in educational achievement.</p> <p>In Albany as well, the mayor’s proposal was met with resistance and the state Senate looks like it may reject his push to scrap the SHSAT even if it is successful in the Assembly in the final few weeks of this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo, while acknowledging the problem the mayor is targeting, did not take a set position and predicted the issue would be taken up next year alongside a variety of other education topics.</p> <p>Among those who are more full-throated in calling for change is Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education, who oversaw the city Department of Education’s SHSAT contract as the DOE’s chief academic officer and senior deputy chancellor. After the mayor’s announcement, Polakow-Suransky tweeted that the SHSAT is “not a particularly strong or predictive test.” He said “a multiple measures approach” to admissions with both qualitative and quantitative data “is long overdue.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette spoke with Polakow-Suransky about the mayor’s plan, the problems with the current system, and the administration’s overall approach, or lack thereof, to school desegregation.</p> <p><em>This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.</em></p> <p><strong>Gotham Gazette (GG): What you think about the mayor’s plan? How is it going to work and what are the issues with the existing system?</strong></p> <p>Shael Polakow-Suransky (SPS): I think the biggest challenge here from my perspective is that the current system is missing a lot of talented children who have the right skills to be in these schools, but because we’re looking through a very narrow and pretty blunt instrument at who has those skills, we’re missing a lot of talent that could really strengthen these schools. So that’s a real shame and if the ideas of these schools is to take the most talented young people in the city and accelerate learning for them so they can be leaders, then we need to be looking for the best talent in the city and in order to find that, we can’t use an instrument that you need to game and we can’t use an instrument that only focuses on some narrow set of math and reading skills.</p> <p>As someone who used to oversee the accountability office, one of my responsibilities was managing the contract with Pearson [the testing company] around this test and…we didn’t have as much money as we would have liked, and I think that’s still true, to spend on this and you kind of get what you pay for.</p> <p><strong>GG: To spend on the test?</strong></p> <p>SPS: Yeah. Tests are expensive and the quality of the instrument depends on how much you’re going to spend on it. And so this is a really basic one, like as far as tests go, it’s about as simple an instrument as you can create.</p> <p><strong>GG: So, what are the problems with it exactly? You’re saying it’s too simple?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I’m saying that the kinds of skills it’s measuring are the kinds of skills that you can measure through multiple-choice questions, and the content area it’s focused on are English and math. So it’s multiple-choice questions, there’s no writing. If you look at good exams out there today, there’s a combination of multiple-choice and writing and we aren’t looking at any writing. We’re not looking at kids’ problem-solving skills. We’re not looking at their ability to work with others. We’re not looking at their presentation skills. You know, those are the kinds of things you would see if you took into account the grades that they’re getting in middle school, references from teachers, they’re asked for writing submissions.</p> <p>Any high-performing university, any high-performing private school, and most of the other high-performing screen schools in the city all look at a range of measures in order to find the best talent and we don’t for the specialized schools. We just look at this very narrow set of English and math skills that you can measure with multiple choice questions. And it leads to an inequitable outcome because we’re relying on the students who are participating in this test to kind of focus on how do they do well on this set of questions that this test is measuring, which is not really the right set of things that we should be looking for to find the best talent. And then people spend lots of money and lots of time doing test prep to get good at taking this test which doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re great writers or great thinkers or great leaders.</p> <p><strong>GG: Have there been efforts to change it over the last couple of years?</strong></p> <p>SPS: There haven’t been meaningful changes. I think there have been small changes around the edges. But, nothing meaningful.</p> <p><strong>GG: Did you try to implement changes when you were there?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I didn’t because it wasn’t something that I could convince others was an important area of focus.</p> <p><strong>GG: Where was the pushback coming from?</strong></p> <p>I think the folks at the leadership level felt that this was something that had been in place for a long time and they didn’t really want to open this issue up. They were more interested in investing in trying to provide more supports for kids in middle school, which is also really important. I think there wasn’t major focus at that point.</p> <p><strong>GG: And by leadership level, you mean just the DOE or just in terms of the City Council, the administration? No one was pushing for it?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I mean I was working in the DOE, I can’t really speak to things beyond that, but this has been in place for a long time, and it’s a fairly new thing that people are seriously considering changing the state law.</p> <p><strong>GG: Mayor de Blasio’s plan, what do you think about it? Could it have been better? Is it a good first step?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I’m not sure what the right solution is. I applaud him for taking the issue on. I think trying to think about how should the state law change so that we can use multiple measures to find the most talented young people in the city for these schools is important. It’s important in order to have more diversity, but it’s also important to make sure that we’re really rewarding talent and not a narrow set of test-taking skills.</p> <p><strong>GG: Do you think in terms of the larger efforts to desegregate the city’s schools, is this a good first step, and what needs to happen next, in your opinion?</strong></p> <p>SPS: Well, I think the larger question on segregation is much more complicated than this small group of schools. I think that, if you look at the school districts in the city at the elementary and middle school level where there really is a lot of diversity in terms of different races, those school districts could pursue policies that allow for more choice at the elementary and middle school level that would increase diversity.</p> <p>But, that is a process that needs to be negotiated in partnership with the local Community Education Council. It’s not completely up to the Department of Education and the mayor to change those zones that currently exist. It’s to include a process with the community and I think that’s happening in District 3 now. It’s happened in District 1. There’s efforts in District 15. But I think it’s that type of work that is needed in order to sort of move away from zones that completely track to where people live.</p> <p><strong>GG: What do you think of the resistance to the mayor’s plan?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I think that there are people who are afraid that they’re going to be winners and losers with this shift and they’re trying to protect their current status, which positions them with an advantage in the system. So any change is hard. The truth is that there are many, many other good high schools in the city that are not specialized high schools…so, the notion that these are the only places where you can get a good education is just ridiculous.</p> <p>I think it’s sort of become a symbolic issue and symbolism is important and we’re a city that has a public school system and 70 percent of the kids in that school system are African-American and Latino. And it’s not right that we aren’t identifying this talent among the African-American and Latino students when we have schools like this that are meant to serve the most talented young people in the city. So, we need to figure out a better way to do it. And, I think with any change, there’s going to be a process where folks push in different directions and that’s part of the nature of making change in a large school system.</p> <p><strong>GG: Are there comparisons with other cities - is there a path that New York City could follow that some other cities have already done or are there similar issues?</strong></p> <p>SPS: Most cities have magnet schools like this. So, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know a lot about their admissions processes in other cities, but I do know in the private school world and I know in the university world, it’s very rare that you rely on a single test as a way to do admission for the elite programs in this country. There’s almost nothing left in the world that relies on a single test as the way the admission is granted. So this is really a relic. And, it’s a really blunt instrument to do it because it’s only measuring a really narrow set of skills. And so we’re missing tons of talented kids that could be great in these schools.</p> <p><strong>GG: What do you think of the mayor’s leadership in general on schools, on school segregation?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I think he’s moving in the right direction. I think it’s good that - I think it’s impressive that the new chancellor has decided to take this on and that he’s supporting him.</p> <p><strong>GG: People have been critical that the mayor didn’t take this up until his second term when it’s sort of politically safer for him to do it. And of course the new chancellor seems a bit more willing to take a line that’s not the same as the mayor’s. So, you think that’s promising?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I think they’re on the same page, actually. I think it is politically complex to do this well because if you force changes through the system that generates conflict in communities between parents or within schools, between teachers, that can distract from the education. And, so, you have to be really strategic and deliberate about the changes you make and to the extent that you can build support within communities and make the changes in ways that bring all stakeholders along, that’s the ideal. So, you know, I don’t have an opinion on the pace of this or when it’s happening, but I do think it’s great that we have a chancellor that wants to take on this issue and it’s great that the mayor is supporting him.</p> <p>The only other thing I would say is that one of the things that a lot of folks who are lay-people, who don’t know the school system that well, think when they think about specialized schools is that these are the only good schools and the truth is that that’s not the case. I currently run a graduate school of education and as part of that we also have a lab school that is a K-through-8 independent school. And so our eighth-graders apply all over the city to the top schools, some of them private, some of them public. And for many really talented kids at our school, the specialized schools are not the right set because they have a fairly traditional education model with lots of direct instruction by teachers, very large schools, large classes, not great at personalizing the education to the individual child and so I certainly want folks to understand that these are wonderful schools for young people who thrive in that larger environment, but they’re not actually the best schools in the city. There are better public schools that exist that are doing much more innovative work and I think that we need to be thinking about this less from this being the sort of pinnacle of the school system and more in terms of this is one option within the school system that is an important option, but there are many other really interesting options as well.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/suransky_farina.jpg" alt="Shael Suransky DOE" width="600" height="385" /></p> <p>Shael Polakow-Suransky, right, with Carmen Farina (photo: Bank Street College)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan earlier this week to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools through changes in admissions policies.&nbsp;The schools currently <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/03/07/few-black-and-hispanic-students-receive-admissions-offers-to-new-york-citys-top-high-schools-again/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">enroll very few black and Latino students</a>, while, relative to their numbers in the larger school system, white and Asian students are highly over-represented.</p> <p>De Blasio’s plan involves a first step of setting aside 20 percent of seats at these schools for low-income students whose scores fall just under the qualifying threshold, which the city can take on its own, as well as pushing for phasing out the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and implementation of a new admissions system based on state test scores and middle school grades, which requires approval from the state Legislature.</p> <p>The mayor’s initiative was quickly met with both widespread praise and consternation. Supporters, including some educators and elected officials, applauded the administration for taking the first step in desegregating the city’s top high schools while some parents, elected officials, and alumni groups cried foul that the changes would be unfair to students who work hard to do well on the test, that it is a piecemeal reform that will largely punish low-income Asian students, and that it will exacerbate inequities in educational achievement.</p> <p>In Albany as well, the mayor’s proposal was met with resistance and the state Senate looks like it may reject his push to scrap the SHSAT even if it is successful in the Assembly in the final few weeks of this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo, while acknowledging the problem the mayor is targeting, did not take a set position and predicted the issue would be taken up next year alongside a variety of other education topics.</p> <p>Among those who are more full-throated in calling for change is Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education, who oversaw the city Department of Education’s SHSAT contract as the DOE’s chief academic officer and senior deputy chancellor. After the mayor’s announcement, Polakow-Suransky tweeted that the SHSAT is “not a particularly strong or predictive test.” He said “a multiple measures approach” to admissions with both qualitative and quantitative data “is long overdue.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette spoke with Polakow-Suransky about the mayor’s plan, the problems with the current system, and the administration’s overall approach, or lack thereof, to school desegregation.</p> <p><em>This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.</em></p> <p><strong>Gotham Gazette (GG): What you think about the mayor’s plan? How is it going to work and what are the issues with the existing system?</strong></p> <p>Shael Polakow-Suransky (SPS): I think the biggest challenge here from my perspective is that the current system is missing a lot of talented children who have the right skills to be in these schools, but because we’re looking through a very narrow and pretty blunt instrument at who has those skills, we’re missing a lot of talent that could really strengthen these schools. So that’s a real shame and if the ideas of these schools is to take the most talented young people in the city and accelerate learning for them so they can be leaders, then we need to be looking for the best talent in the city and in order to find that, we can’t use an instrument that you need to game and we can’t use an instrument that only focuses on some narrow set of math and reading skills.</p> <p>As someone who used to oversee the accountability office, one of my responsibilities was managing the contract with Pearson [the testing company] around this test and…we didn’t have as much money as we would have liked, and I think that’s still true, to spend on this and you kind of get what you pay for.</p> <p><strong>GG: To spend on the test?</strong></p> <p>SPS: Yeah. Tests are expensive and the quality of the instrument depends on how much you’re going to spend on it. And so this is a really basic one, like as far as tests go, it’s about as simple an instrument as you can create.</p> <p><strong>GG: So, what are the problems with it exactly? You’re saying it’s too simple?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I’m saying that the kinds of skills it’s measuring are the kinds of skills that you can measure through multiple-choice questions, and the content area it’s focused on are English and math. So it’s multiple-choice questions, there’s no writing. If you look at good exams out there today, there’s a combination of multiple-choice and writing and we aren’t looking at any writing. We’re not looking at kids’ problem-solving skills. We’re not looking at their ability to work with others. We’re not looking at their presentation skills. You know, those are the kinds of things you would see if you took into account the grades that they’re getting in middle school, references from teachers, they’re asked for writing submissions.</p> <p>Any high-performing university, any high-performing private school, and most of the other high-performing screen schools in the city all look at a range of measures in order to find the best talent and we don’t for the specialized schools. We just look at this very narrow set of English and math skills that you can measure with multiple choice questions. And it leads to an inequitable outcome because we’re relying on the students who are participating in this test to kind of focus on how do they do well on this set of questions that this test is measuring, which is not really the right set of things that we should be looking for to find the best talent. And then people spend lots of money and lots of time doing test prep to get good at taking this test which doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re great writers or great thinkers or great leaders.</p> <p><strong>GG: Have there been efforts to change it over the last couple of years?</strong></p> <p>SPS: There haven’t been meaningful changes. I think there have been small changes around the edges. But, nothing meaningful.</p> <p><strong>GG: Did you try to implement changes when you were there?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I didn’t because it wasn’t something that I could convince others was an important area of focus.</p> <p><strong>GG: Where was the pushback coming from?</strong></p> <p>I think the folks at the leadership level felt that this was something that had been in place for a long time and they didn’t really want to open this issue up. They were more interested in investing in trying to provide more supports for kids in middle school, which is also really important. I think there wasn’t major focus at that point.</p> <p><strong>GG: And by leadership level, you mean just the DOE or just in terms of the City Council, the administration? No one was pushing for it?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I mean I was working in the DOE, I can’t really speak to things beyond that, but this has been in place for a long time, and it’s a fairly new thing that people are seriously considering changing the state law.</p> <p><strong>GG: Mayor de Blasio’s plan, what do you think about it? Could it have been better? Is it a good first step?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I’m not sure what the right solution is. I applaud him for taking the issue on. I think trying to think about how should the state law change so that we can use multiple measures to find the most talented young people in the city for these schools is important. It’s important in order to have more diversity, but it’s also important to make sure that we’re really rewarding talent and not a narrow set of test-taking skills.</p> <p><strong>GG: Do you think in terms of the larger efforts to desegregate the city’s schools, is this a good first step, and what needs to happen next, in your opinion?</strong></p> <p>SPS: Well, I think the larger question on segregation is much more complicated than this small group of schools. I think that, if you look at the school districts in the city at the elementary and middle school level where there really is a lot of diversity in terms of different races, those school districts could pursue policies that allow for more choice at the elementary and middle school level that would increase diversity.</p> <p>But, that is a process that needs to be negotiated in partnership with the local Community Education Council. It’s not completely up to the Department of Education and the mayor to change those zones that currently exist. It’s to include a process with the community and I think that’s happening in District 3 now. It’s happened in District 1. There’s efforts in District 15. But I think it’s that type of work that is needed in order to sort of move away from zones that completely track to where people live.</p> <p><strong>GG: What do you think of the resistance to the mayor’s plan?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I think that there are people who are afraid that they’re going to be winners and losers with this shift and they’re trying to protect their current status, which positions them with an advantage in the system. So any change is hard. The truth is that there are many, many other good high schools in the city that are not specialized high schools…so, the notion that these are the only places where you can get a good education is just ridiculous.</p> <p>I think it’s sort of become a symbolic issue and symbolism is important and we’re a city that has a public school system and 70 percent of the kids in that school system are African-American and Latino. And it’s not right that we aren’t identifying this talent among the African-American and Latino students when we have schools like this that are meant to serve the most talented young people in the city. So, we need to figure out a better way to do it. And, I think with any change, there’s going to be a process where folks push in different directions and that’s part of the nature of making change in a large school system.</p> <p><strong>GG: Are there comparisons with other cities - is there a path that New York City could follow that some other cities have already done or are there similar issues?</strong></p> <p>SPS: Most cities have magnet schools like this. So, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know a lot about their admissions processes in other cities, but I do know in the private school world and I know in the university world, it’s very rare that you rely on a single test as a way to do admission for the elite programs in this country. There’s almost nothing left in the world that relies on a single test as the way the admission is granted. So this is really a relic. And, it’s a really blunt instrument to do it because it’s only measuring a really narrow set of skills. And so we’re missing tons of talented kids that could be great in these schools.</p> <p><strong>GG: What do you think of the mayor’s leadership in general on schools, on school segregation?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I think he’s moving in the right direction. I think it’s good that - I think it’s impressive that the new chancellor has decided to take this on and that he’s supporting him.</p> <p><strong>GG: People have been critical that the mayor didn’t take this up until his second term when it’s sort of politically safer for him to do it. And of course the new chancellor seems a bit more willing to take a line that’s not the same as the mayor’s. So, you think that’s promising?</strong></p> <p>SPS: I think they’re on the same page, actually. I think it is politically complex to do this well because if you force changes through the system that generates conflict in communities between parents or within schools, between teachers, that can distract from the education. And, so, you have to be really strategic and deliberate about the changes you make and to the extent that you can build support within communities and make the changes in ways that bring all stakeholders along, that’s the ideal. So, you know, I don’t have an opinion on the pace of this or when it’s happening, but I do think it’s great that we have a chancellor that wants to take on this issue and it’s great that the mayor is supporting him.</p> <p>The only other thing I would say is that one of the things that a lot of folks who are lay-people, who don’t know the school system that well, think when they think about specialized schools is that these are the only good schools and the truth is that that’s not the case. I currently run a graduate school of education and as part of that we also have a lab school that is a K-through-8 independent school. And so our eighth-graders apply all over the city to the top schools, some of them private, some of them public. And for many really talented kids at our school, the specialized schools are not the right set because they have a fairly traditional education model with lots of direct instruction by teachers, very large schools, large classes, not great at personalizing the education to the individual child and so I certainly want folks to understand that these are wonderful schools for young people who thrive in that larger environment, but they’re not actually the best schools in the city. There are better public schools that exist that are doing much more innovative work and I think that we need to be thinking about this less from this being the sort of pinnacle of the school system and more in terms of this is one option within the school system that is an important option, but there are many other really interesting options as well.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One? 2018-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7674:new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/42000771351_74d4ce3daa_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio city planning" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is the only major city in the country that has never had a comprehensive development plan, according to Tom Angotti, professor of urban policy at Hunter College.</p> <p>Facing major, city-wide challenges now and into the coming decades, the city’s approach to development and planning is byzantine, narrow, and somewhat haphazard. The vast, diverse city of 8.5 million residents and millions more visitors every day is often looked at by neighborhood, legislative district, or borough. At the same time, infrastructure investment decisions and project implementation lack transparency and efficiency.</p> <p>City government has no coherent, overarching plan for growth and the challenges that come with it -- housing, transportation, climate resiliency, school seats, garbage collection, and more -- and city officials don’t believe that one is necessary.</p> <p>As the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to implement a 12-year affordable housing plan and a 10-year jobs plan, it is also adding to its transportation agenda in piecemeal fashion, and adjusting a wide variety of other policies in at least partial silos of agency planning. The administration is slowly moving down its list of neighborhood rezonings in an effort to create more affordable housing and improve community services, which include infrastructure investments, job training programs, and more -- but they do not fit into a larger connected vision of where the city is heading, leaving those invested in the city’s future with little more than projected numbers of new housing units and jobs, among other numerical goals like lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and reducing carbon emissions, and largely disparate local projects.</p> <p>The Department of City Planning, which helps craft the neighborhood rezoning plans, would be the logical place for the creation of a city plan, but none is being drafted there, and top City Planning officials dismiss the notion that one is needed.</p> <p>In its efforts, DCP works with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the City Council, community boards, and other agencies and entities, including elected officials like borough presidents and City Council members. While some current and former city officials believe the ongoing approach is more than adequate, other experts believe the city should and could be doing better planning that is more coherent,&nbsp;inclusive, and transparent.</p> <p>On <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7620-what-s-the-data-point-307-45-with-anita-laremont-of-city-planning" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent episode of What’s The [Data] Point?</a>, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, guest Anita Laremont, the general counsel and chief data officer at the Department of City Planning, was asked about the lack of a comprehensive city plan. “We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan,” Laremont said, “and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well-considered plan.”</p> <p>Laremont was referring to the city’s land use rules, its zoning regulations that, generally speaking, dictate what types of building are allowed to be built where, and to what size. For example, whether an area of the city is zoned for commercial, residential, or manufacturing use, and how big the buildings can be, from small homes to large apartment buildings, for instance. The city’s 100-year-old zoning text has been amended many times, including in sweeping fashion during de Blasio’s first term in order to mandate affordable housing when a developer receives permission to build more densely on a plot of land or during a neighborhood-wide change to the land use rules that allows more height.</p> <p>According to Laremont, this approach offers a pragmatic, incremental strategy that suits the city. “This is such a dynamic city, in terms of where people live, where they work, we actually believe that it would not be productive to try to sit down and come up with a plan, because that dynamism really leads to a need to be responsive and nimble,” she said when asked why the city doesn’t have a comprehensive master plan.</p> <p>“The other thing is that our process --...ULURP -- is ultimately a very political process, and we have, I think, at City Planning, some of the smartest people that work in city government, but we don’t have the ability to implement just what we think is appropriate,” Larement continued. “You know there are pushes and pulls and other considerations that go into ultimately what is the land use and zoning resolutions.”</p> <p><strong>A Regional Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association (RPA), a non-profit planning association founded in 1922, recently released its <a href="http://fourthplan.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fourth regional plan</a>, which cites significant difficulties currently or soon to be faced by the tri-state region encompassing New York City, and recommends a long series of ambitious infrastructure investments, institutional reforms, and policies. What the RPA produces every generation may be as close as there is to a master plan for the New York City area, but it takes a much wider lens and is not something that city officials endorse, though many of its recommendations are likely to influence government decision-making.</p> <p>RPA’s new plan aims to combat forces that could undermine the growth and health of the region, including overwhelming population additions, wealth inequality, climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate public institutions.</p> <p>It reports a number of alarming figures about the future of the area: based on current trends, the tri-state region is expected to gain 1.8 million inhabitants but only 850,000 more jobs by 2040; for the bottom three-fifths of households, incomes have stagnated since 2000, and more people live in poverty today than a generation ago; in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan region, a total of 46% of households spend more than 30% of their incomes on rent; and, today, more than a million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities.</p> <p>How well prepared the region and, specifically, New York City, are to deal with these difficulties remains an open question.</p> <p>The latest RPA plan includes recommendations from expanding the subway in New York City to implementing congestion pricing to unclog Manhattan streets to increasing access to healthy, affordable food in every community.</p> <p>When asked about the feasibility of RPA’s fourth regional plan, Laremont of DCP replied, “I wouldn’t say that it’s not realistic. I would say those kinds of things are very aspirational, and they have the luxury of not having to be responsive to the realpolitik that we live within...we welcome those sort of thought exercises that people do and they give us food for thought.”</p> <p><strong>City Planning, But No City Plan</strong><br /> The city’s Zoning Resolution was first adopted in 1916 to limit the bulk of skyscrapers because of widespread anxieties that they would block air and light from the streets below. Over the last century, it has been incrementally altered, in part to respond to population growth, technological advancements, and changing industries and trends. Its text establishes the zoning districts for the city and the regulations governing land use and development. Any change to the zoning resolution has to be ratified by the City Council as well as the City Planning Commission, a 13-member body, with seven members appointed by the mayor, five appointed by the borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. The commission is different from the Department of City Planning, though they interact constantly, with the commission voting on many proposals that originate with or come through DCP.</p> <p>Among other tasks, DCP is responsible for making sure that new development conforms to the Zoning Resolution, reviewing applications for land use, and producing Environmental Impact Reviews to assess how development might affect its surroundings. These represent the first stages of the Uniform Land Use Process (<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb10/downloads/pdf/ulurp_info.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ULURP</a>), which is triggered on a variety of circumstances including significant proposed changes to a plot of land or neighborhood. While local community boards and the borough presidents have formal opportunities to publish recommendations on land-use decisions in their districts, they are only advisory, and the City Planning Commission ultimately has the power to approve or deny each new development, followed by the City Council, which has final say on land use matters. As City Limits <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/09/nycs-planning-commission-rubber-stamps-or-checks-and-balances/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a> in 2017, the City Planning Commission rarely stops major developments.</p> <p>Carl Weisbrod was chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning from 2014 to 2017, as appointed by Mayor de Blasio. Like Laremont, who worked for Weisbrod before he retired from city government, Weisbrod told Gotham Gazette that a city-wide plan is undesirable. He pointed out that such a plan would be a lengthy and costly exercise, and discussed the last time the city tried to make such a plan, the <a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1969 Plan for New York City</a>, which was never adopted. Weisbrod said the proposed plan took so long to complete that it was outdated by the time it was finished.</p> <p>Under Weisbrod DCP made a number of reforms: including adding the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to the zoning code; creating the Department of Regional Planning, directed by Carolyn Grossman Meagher, in order to connect New York City’s planning process to the wider region; creating a capital budget division to establish cooperation between DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget; and creating a $1 billion neighborhood development fund to support growth with public investments in parks, transportation, streets and sidewalks, and other improvements.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that a city-wide development plan would be incompatible with the city’s dynamic economy. The problem with making such a plan, he said, is that “the market has to wait to see what the plan is going to be, or it will go in a different direction,” thus disrupting the plan. Laremont said similarly on the podcast. “If, for example, the city were going to get Amazon[‘s second headquarters], anything we were thinking previously about what might be appropriate in various places might be proven completely wrong,” she said, in reference to the notion that big plans can quickly become obsolete.</p> <p>The city’s approach to development has been to “react to market forces and take advantage of market forces,” said Weisbrod. When asked, he added that the city doesn’t just wait for opportunities presented to it, but also takes a proactive role in shaping development. He pointed to planning initiatives at Hudson Yards, Times Square, Battery Park City, and Willets Point as examples of successful interventions.</p> <p>A master plan, he said, “suggests a top-down approach to neighborhood development, and it ought to be a bottom-up process...that has been the approach of the de Blasio administration.” Weisbrod stressed that the city’s planning efforts were done with close attention to communities. DCP uses a wealth of detailed information about the <a href="https://popfactfinder.planning.nyc.gov/#13.73/40.64153/-74.00295" target="_blank" rel="noopener">demographics of neighborhoods</a>, consults local stakeholders, and collaborates with other governmental entities, such as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York Housing Authority, in order to make planning decisions. “It may seem chaotic from the outside, but planning is a very thoughtful process,” Weisbrod said.</p> <p><strong>Who’s Really Doing the Planning - And Where</strong><br /> Some community advocates do not share Weisbrod’s confidence in the process. The de Blasio administration, like others before it, has been criticized for not being proactive enough in engaging communities where significant change is being eyed, for not taking enough community input into consideration, and for implementing policies that enhance negative effects of gentrification rather than ameliorate them. Michelle de la Uz -- appointed to the City Planning Commission by de Blasio when he was public advocate, and reappointed by current Public Advocate Letitia James -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7577-de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has become one of the de Blasio administration’s most ardent critics</a>, often voting against the city’s housing and development proposals because she believes they do more harm than good and that the housing is not at the levels of affordability it should be.</p> <p>It is a sentiment shared by Chris Walters, the Rezoning Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Association for Neighborhood &amp; Housing Development (<a href="https://anhd.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ANHD</a>), an umbrella organization of around 100 non-profit affordable housing and economic development groups serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. Walters has been involved with some of the campaigns opposing the recent neighborhood rezonings, for example the <a href="https://www.bronxcommunityvision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision</a>, providing technical assistance and helping draft policy counter-proposals to those offered by City Planning.</p> <p>As Gotham Gazette has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7521-questions-arise-as-de-blasio-rezones-series-of-low-income-neighborhoods?edchoice=side" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a>, the rezonings that have passed -- in East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx -- will create more residential districts and allow for higher-density development, a crucial part of de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. As part of the rezoning plans, these neighborhoods are also slated to receive substantial infrastructure investments in public housing, transit, parks, schools, and other community benefits. However, community advocacy groups and some elected officials and outside experts have expressed frustration at the fact that the rezoned neighborhoods are primarily low- and moderate-income communities of color, that these neighborhoods have had to accept higher density in order to receive investment, and they have voiced concerns that the rezonings will spur displacement.</p> <p>DCP maintains that the neighborhoods, often led by the local City Council member, volunteered for the rezonings, with Laremont saying that each rezoning is a “collaborative process between the city, members of the City Council, and neighborhoods, in terms of neighborhoods themselves raising their hands and saying, ‘we would welcome a rezoning,’ because they thought there were opportunities in that.” Ultimately, the City Council as a body does defer to the local member, and, after negotiations, each local member has proudly ushered through the neighborhood rezonings that have passed.</p> <p>But Walters criticized the city’s process for choosing which neighborhoods to rezone as being opportunistic, saying there “was no rationale as to why these neighborhoods have been chosen.” Walters pointed out that neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Bay Ridge are similarly low-density and have good transit access -- reasons given by DCP for rezoning neighborhoods.</p> <p>“If you had a comprehensive plan, which included projections of population increase and the amount of new housing needed, saying, ‘this is what the future will look like,’” Walters said, “[the rezoning process] would be more accountable.” Advocacy groups have not focused on the issue of a city-wide development plan, he said, because “pragmatically, that’s not where groups want to put their energy,” given that there are more pressing matters on their agenda.</p> <p>Walters’ main criticism is that the planning process is not adequately inclusive. He pointed out that <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cb/about.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">members of community boards</a> (CB) are not elected, but are appointed by the borough president and by the City Council, and that they disproportionately represent homeowners and business-owners, who don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood. Community boards do have some influence, drafting a “need statement” for the community, which is then examined by DCP to help it draft plans, and it has an advisory vote in ULURP. Walters said that, despite outreach efforts by DCP, people feel as if plans are already determined before they are presented to the community.</p> <p>He also criticized the methodology of Environmental Impact Reviews. For example, Walters is skeptical of the figures published in the Jerome Avenue rezoning <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/19_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">construction</a> report: in the “Reasonable Worst-Case Development Scenario,” the report estimates that 3,228 new dwelling units will be added to the neighborhood. However, Walters said this estimate was arrived at by using the city’s classic lot size of 2,500 square feet, but lots are commonly 5,000 square feet around Jerome Avenue. He also takes issue with the report claiming that the development enabled by the rezoning will not contribute to any rise in rents, on the grounds that market pressures were already driving rent costs up in the area. The <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/00_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">executive summary</a> (p. 52) says that, “The Proposed Actions’ contributions to rent pressures in the study areas would be limited by the supply of market-rate and affordable housing resulting from the Proposed Actions, which could serve to offset existing housing demand and rent pressures.”</p> <p>“The point is often made in communities that they are not saying ‘no’ to increased density, but they are saying ‘no’ to an unregulated market rate that is going to drive displacement,” Walters argued.</p> <p><strong>From PlaNYC to OneNYC</strong><br /> While the city’s land-use decisions are mediated through ULURP and the zoning resolution, the past two mayoral administrations have published a version of a long-term strategic plan. On Earth Day in 2007, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg released “PlaNYC,” which aimed to address climate change and the city’s fast-growing population, putting in one place a series of strategies, but not forming a comprehensive city plan. Mayor de Blasio has since rebranded it as <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">OneNYC</a>, adding equity to the list of major concerns.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that OneNYC, which he helped write, is not a development plan, but rather “a set of longer-term strategic priorities - a strategic plan.”</p> <p>Angotti, the urban policy and planning professor at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center, has mixed feelings about these plans. On the one hand, he has seen them as a welcome step towards a more coherent approach to the city’s long-term development, and he praised both Bloomberg for having brought up climate change and de Blasio for having raised equity as primary policy concerns.</p> <p>OneNYC reports that the city has committed to spending $20 billion on a city-wide resiliency program, which includes helping local businesses prepare for flooding risks, helping building-owners with flood-insurance, and addressing risks to infrastructure. Moreover, following Hurricane Sandy, the city introduced a flood resilience <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">zoning update</a> to the zoning resolution, which allowed for development of flood-resistant construction to occur in areas deemed at risk of flooding.</p> <p>However, Angotti is critical of the way in which PlaNYC was drafted and said that OneNYC shared the same flaws. He expressed frustration at the speed with which the plans were drawn up, saying that the discussions with local communities were not adequately participatory and “flawed.” Bloomberg hired McKinsey, the international consulting firm, to carry out much of the plan’s analysis. (Angotti has previously written several critiques of PlaNYC for Gotham Gazette, summarized <a href="http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/ccpd/repository/files/planyc-a-model-of-public-participation-or.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.)</p> <p>OneNYC’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">original plan</a>, as well as the <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC_Progress_Report_2017-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 Progress Report</a>, show much of it is a summary of various initiatives and achievements of de Blasio’s administration, organized around the themes of growth, equity, resiliency, and sustainability.</p> <p>The OneNYC website refers the reader to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office for Recovery and Resiliency. Angotti remarked that “the plan is not known by the vast majority of the public, including most politically active people. Perhaps it’s a guidance document used inside City Hall but it’s not a public plan.”</p> <p><strong>Calls for Broader Planning</strong><br /> City Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn (de Blasio’s successor in the City Council) is an unequivocal advocate for a city-wide development plan and a trained urban planner himself. Lander contributed an <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CJ68rgjBBYEtTLUU5oMFpG5CvjxJ33ks/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener">essay</a> titled “Rediscovering City Planning and Community Development, Together,” to the volume, Toward a Twenty First Century For All (2013), a compilation of policy recommendations for the incoming mayoral administration. Lander said that it was still relevant, as “not much has changed.”</p> <p>With regards to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, Lander pointed out that Bloomberg had initially hired urban planner Alex Garvin to analyze the city’s future population growth and propose appropriate measures. When Garvin’s <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/Garvin_Report_Full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> found that the city’s population would reach 9 million by 2030, if not sooner, Bloomberg dropped Garvin from the process, fearing the controversy such a number would provoke, Lander said. The report was leaked to <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2006/08/16/the-first-look-at-bloombergs-sweeping-new-vision-for-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Streetsblog</a> before Garvin was dismissed.</p> <p>Of the lack of a comprehensive plan, Lander said, “I think it is a major failing in the city’s planning process. You can’t connect long-term infrastructure planning, managing the city’s growth, and community equity without a plan.” Lander thinks of “a city-wide plan as being in favor of growth, with equity and sustainability.”</p> <p>He remarked that NIMBYism -- or people not wanting to see significant development in their communities -- represents an almost inevitable obstacle, saying that, “in the vast majority of neighborhoods, people like their neighborhoods, and they don’t want them to change.” In his essay, Lander writes that planning and development in the city are made more difficult by assumptions that people have about the planning process:</p> <blockquote>“Developers and administration officials generally believe neighborhoods will oppose &nbsp;development, so they gird for battle. Rather than creating space for dialogue about shaping &nbsp;growth or the infrastructure necessary to support it early in the process, they grit their teeth, fight &nbsp;through opposition, and negotiate concessions at the last minute.</blockquote> <blockquote>“With good reason, communities believe that the City will ultimately approve plans with little attention to their core concerns about neighborhood preservation, quality of life, amenities, &nbsp;or infrastructure – so they oppose proposals with a fatalist fervor.”</blockquote> <p>Lander understands these adversarial assumptions as a cause and a symptom of the flaws of the planning process.</p> <p>The essay also included a quote from Hope Cohen, an urban planner working at the Manhattan Institute think tank, delivering a harsh indictment of DCP’s environmental review process:</p> <blockquote>“[it] has lost its connection to good planning. Instead it has become an expensive and time-consuming annoyance to large projects, and a potentially project-ending burden to small ones. Environmental review today is a wide-ranging effort to identify “impacts” for the purpose of legal disclosure only. It is not the planning activity that people commonly assume it to be, nor is it the one that New York desperately needs as its aging infrastructure struggles to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population and citizens move into previously underdeveloped areas of the city - areas that require new access to transportation, sewage treatment, electricity, and schools” (2007)</blockquote> <p>In his essay, Lander proposes a host of reforms that are aimed at promoting community planning in conjunction with city-wide planning. During the recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Lander highlighted that he supports reforms to community boards, as well as reforms to the city’s “fair share” system, which is supposed to distribute helpful services and infrastructural burdens evenly across the city. Last year the City Council released a <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017-Fair-Share-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> with recommendations for reform of the fair share system. Several of Lander’s preferred reforms would require a change in the city’s charter. There will soon be two charter revision commissions preparing to recommend changes to the charter for approval or disapproval by voters: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7625-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-starts-its-work" target="_blank" rel="noopener">one</a> is sponsored by the mayor, with recommendations due this fall, and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7596-with-tweaks-city-council-charter-revision-commission-bill-expected-to-pass" target="_blank" rel="noopener">other</a> by the City Council in partnership with Public Advocate James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with proposals due in 2019.</p> <p>Lander said that one “tension in planning is balancing the needs of the city with the needs of a neighborhood,” but that “it needs to be a system which yields to our shared needs.” He expressed his reservations about the fact that under the current system, “we trust the DCP and the Mayor’s Office to represent those needs,” referring to infrastructural needs such as schools or preparations to mitigate the risks of climate change. But in his view, in the current process, “you can’t see the direct connection between our long-term infrastructure planning and our land-use planning.”</p> <p>Separate from its fourth regional plan, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in January published a report, "<a href="http://library.rpa.org/pdf/Inclusive-City-NYC.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Inclusive City: Strategies to achieve more equitable and predictable land use in New York City</a>."</p> <p>The report, put together after meetings of a working group that included dozens of individuals from inside and outside government, is focused less on broader planning and more on changing the ways in which the mayoral administration is doing its planning now to make sure that more stakeholders are involved and that community input is more central to the planning process, especially for the neighborhood rezonings that are being proposed and implemented.</p> <p>However, of the four central recommendations in the report, the first is "dramatically increase the amount o proactive planning in New York City." Noting that "the public remains in the dark" about why certain neighborhoods have been chosen for rezonings and the major changes therein, the report calls for "a comprehensive citywide planning framework" that does not currently exist.</p> <p>"PlaNYC and OneNYC demonstrate the City’s&nbsp;ability to think long term and holistically, and a citywide&nbsp;comprehensive planning framework would go a step further&nbsp;by including community district level targets, including those&nbsp;for housing creation and public facilities," the report states. "A comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework would greatly ease public concerns&nbsp;around disproportionate impacts by ensuring proposed&nbsp;zoning changes and other actions analyze and disclose how&nbsp;they further or undermine adherence to the comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework, which would in turn have been&nbsp;produced with strong, meaningful public participation."</p> <p><strong>Capital Spending and Planning</strong><br />The city’s infrastructure spending is determined by the capital budget, which is drafted by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The City Council has to vote to approve this budget as well as the annual expense or operating budget. According to the OMB <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/omb/faq/frequently-asked-questions.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a>, the city’s capital budget in the current fiscal year, FY2018, is $16.2 billion, which is funded through a variety of sources, including from the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority, the New York City Transitional Finance Authority, grants from federal, state, and private sources, and city general obligation bonds. The city’s capital expenditures for the current year and the next three years are programmed in the Capital Commitment Plan, and longer-term capital expenditures are scheduled by the Ten-Year Capital Plan, which outlines $95.8 billion in spending, according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/typ4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 plan</a>.</p> <p>Prior to 1975, the Ten-Year Capital Plan was jointly published by DCP and OMB. Following the fiscal crisis of 1975, the City Charter was changed and OMB became solely responsible for drafting the Ten-Year Capital Plan. Under Carl Weisbrod, however, DCP created a Capital Planning Division, whose <a href="https://capitalplanning.nyc.gov/about/capitalprojects" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a> is still in “beta,” in order to once again give DCP more say in how the city determines its infrastructure spending. The most recent plan, published in 2017, was co-signed by Marisa Lago, the director of DCP, who succeeded Weisbrod when he decided to leave city government.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a non-profit fiscal watchdog, said the current process for deciding the capital budget is misguided.</p> <p>Primarily, Doulis is concerned about the lack of transparency around the major investments involved. “We have no insight into the projects that agencies are undertaking -- if they meet the city’s most critical needs, or if they are the easiest to undertake,” Doulis said in an interview. She added that this was not the case for all the city’s agencies, pointing out the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation both have satisfactory levels of transparency. On the other hand, the Department of Environmental Protection, for example, “could post better reports,” she said. The current report lacks specificity -- “what are their goals?” Doulis asks.</p> <p>Earlier this year, CBC published a <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/rightsizing-and-right-timing-new-york-citys-capital-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>, “Rightsizing and Right Timing New York City’s Capital Plan,” which describes how the city has consistently drawn up capital commitment plans that are “overly ambitious” for the city’s agencies, forecasting much more spending than is executed and sowing unnecessary confusion. According to the report, the city’s agencies only attained 54% of their capital commitments. The report concluded that:</p> <blockquote>“The inability of agencies to meet their commitment targets suggests that their capital plans are either overly ambitious or fail to reflect actual priorities. This overly ambitious schedule leaves the City vulnerable to taking on more capital projects than it has capacity to manage, which has led in the past to delays and increased costs. A 2017 analysis by the City Council found that more than half of city capital projects with budgets greater than $25 million are behind schedule, over budget, or both.”</blockquote> <p>In the interview, Doulis said that the issues are a result of the fact that those determining the budget have little reason to curb the growth of the capital budget. “[OMB’s] incentive is to improve these [agencies’] projects, the City Council has little incentive to not pass the budget because the short-term effects of debt-servicing are small.” While politically expedient for the time being, Doulis said, the city’s “big outstanding debt liability is a problem because it is paid through the operating budget, and is a fixed cost.” When the next inevitable economic-downturn occurs, “there will be cuts to services,” she said.</p> <p>Doulis is critical of the general lack of strategic forethought in the city’s capital planning. “There is no eye on what the city can do and what they should do, and in what order,” she said. On the de Blasio administration’s priorities, as reflected in OneNYC, she said, “there’s a specificity that’s lacking.”</p> <p><strong>To Plan or Not To Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association said investments needed to meet the city’s coming challenges are even more far-reaching than the “overly-ambitious” budgeting that is currently occurring. But, the RPA takes a regional frame and includes New York State and other non-city governmental entities like the MTA and Port Authority.</p> <p>The RPA suggests changing this structure anyway, with a fourth plan call for establishing a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years. RPA also wants to see transformation of the Port Authority into a infrastructure bank that finances large-scale transit infrastructure projects; expansion of the existing carbon pricing system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to include emissions from transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; consolidation of the region’s three existing commuter rail systems into one integrated system; expansion of JFK and Newark airports, and more.</p> <p>Chris Jones, vice president and chief planner at the Regional Planning Association, joined <em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/ggcbcpodcast/wtdp-23-final-edit-mixdown-3db" target="_blank" rel="noopener">What’s the [DATA] Point?</a></em> soon after the Fourth Plan was released.</p> <p>“Each of the plans that we’ve done has really tried to start a conversation about the difficult questions that people don’t think that we can really address because they’re just too hard,” he said.</p> <p>Acknowledging that many proposals in the plan are extremely ambitious and require a lot of political will, he said, “we put out, ‘here’s what we think the ideal is,’ and in the real political world, it doesn’t end up being that ideal, but you can move towards that in a number of ways.”</p> <p>In that real political world, Mayor de Blasio recently said that "each element of our mass transit planning has to be seen individually," when asked a question at a May 3 <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/05/03/de-blasios-ignorance-of-nycs-bus-crisis-shines-through-at-his-umpteenth-ferry-announcement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">press conference</a> where he was highlighting the city’s ferry service, which he has focused on expanding.</p> <p>The comment made planners, urbanists, and transit experts groan, further evidence to some that de Blasio does not value real urban planning and that he does not have a vision for integrated transit options in his expansive city where many struggle to get around efficiently. If de Blasio does not have a cohesive transportation plan, he certainly cannot begin to have a comprehensive city plan, though he has not expressed that as a goal.</p> <p>De Blasio has described his transportation vision as being about providing more options and reaching new people. A more extensive subway system would be nice, he said, but given the challenges with such a goal, he is working on other modes of transportation, including ferries, bikes, and a planned light-rail streetcar for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the BQX.</p> <p>“We’ve got to do more than one thing to create a 21st century city with multiple mass transit options that are convenient and that work for people,” he said in response to a question about his focus on ferries.</p> <p>“If we were planning for a city that wasn’t changing you could have one conversation, but we’re about to pick up an additional population in the next 10, 20 years about the size of the population of Staten Island,” de Blasio later said. “We’re going to add that into New York City. And we need more and better options for people to get around.”</p> <p>***<br /> by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max</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/2018/42000771351_74d4ce3daa_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio city planning" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is the only major city in the country that has never had a comprehensive development plan, according to Tom Angotti, professor of urban policy at Hunter College.</p> <p>Facing major, city-wide challenges now and into the coming decades, the city’s approach to development and planning is byzantine, narrow, and somewhat haphazard. The vast, diverse city of 8.5 million residents and millions more visitors every day is often looked at by neighborhood, legislative district, or borough. At the same time, infrastructure investment decisions and project implementation lack transparency and efficiency.</p> <p>City government has no coherent, overarching plan for growth and the challenges that come with it -- housing, transportation, climate resiliency, school seats, garbage collection, and more -- and city officials don’t believe that one is necessary.</p> <p>As the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to implement a 12-year affordable housing plan and a 10-year jobs plan, it is also adding to its transportation agenda in piecemeal fashion, and adjusting a wide variety of other policies in at least partial silos of agency planning. The administration is slowly moving down its list of neighborhood rezonings in an effort to create more affordable housing and improve community services, which include infrastructure investments, job training programs, and more -- but they do not fit into a larger connected vision of where the city is heading, leaving those invested in the city’s future with little more than projected numbers of new housing units and jobs, among other numerical goals like lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and reducing carbon emissions, and largely disparate local projects.</p> <p>The Department of City Planning, which helps craft the neighborhood rezoning plans, would be the logical place for the creation of a city plan, but none is being drafted there, and top City Planning officials dismiss the notion that one is needed.</p> <p>In its efforts, DCP works with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the City Council, community boards, and other agencies and entities, including elected officials like borough presidents and City Council members. While some current and former city officials believe the ongoing approach is more than adequate, other experts believe the city should and could be doing better planning that is more coherent,&nbsp;inclusive, and transparent.</p> <p>On <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7620-what-s-the-data-point-307-45-with-anita-laremont-of-city-planning" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent episode of What’s The [Data] Point?</a>, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, guest Anita Laremont, the general counsel and chief data officer at the Department of City Planning, was asked about the lack of a comprehensive city plan. “We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan,” Laremont said, “and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well-considered plan.”</p> <p>Laremont was referring to the city’s land use rules, its zoning regulations that, generally speaking, dictate what types of building are allowed to be built where, and to what size. For example, whether an area of the city is zoned for commercial, residential, or manufacturing use, and how big the buildings can be, from small homes to large apartment buildings, for instance. The city’s 100-year-old zoning text has been amended many times, including in sweeping fashion during de Blasio’s first term in order to mandate affordable housing when a developer receives permission to build more densely on a plot of land or during a neighborhood-wide change to the land use rules that allows more height.</p> <p>According to Laremont, this approach offers a pragmatic, incremental strategy that suits the city. “This is such a dynamic city, in terms of where people live, where they work, we actually believe that it would not be productive to try to sit down and come up with a plan, because that dynamism really leads to a need to be responsive and nimble,” she said when asked why the city doesn’t have a comprehensive master plan.</p> <p>“The other thing is that our process --...ULURP -- is ultimately a very political process, and we have, I think, at City Planning, some of the smartest people that work in city government, but we don’t have the ability to implement just what we think is appropriate,” Larement continued. “You know there are pushes and pulls and other considerations that go into ultimately what is the land use and zoning resolutions.”</p> <p><strong>A Regional Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association (RPA), a non-profit planning association founded in 1922, recently released its <a href="http://fourthplan.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fourth regional plan</a>, which cites significant difficulties currently or soon to be faced by the tri-state region encompassing New York City, and recommends a long series of ambitious infrastructure investments, institutional reforms, and policies. What the RPA produces every generation may be as close as there is to a master plan for the New York City area, but it takes a much wider lens and is not something that city officials endorse, though many of its recommendations are likely to influence government decision-making.</p> <p>RPA’s new plan aims to combat forces that could undermine the growth and health of the region, including overwhelming population additions, wealth inequality, climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate public institutions.</p> <p>It reports a number of alarming figures about the future of the area: based on current trends, the tri-state region is expected to gain 1.8 million inhabitants but only 850,000 more jobs by 2040; for the bottom three-fifths of households, incomes have stagnated since 2000, and more people live in poverty today than a generation ago; in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan region, a total of 46% of households spend more than 30% of their incomes on rent; and, today, more than a million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities.</p> <p>How well prepared the region and, specifically, New York City, are to deal with these difficulties remains an open question.</p> <p>The latest RPA plan includes recommendations from expanding the subway in New York City to implementing congestion pricing to unclog Manhattan streets to increasing access to healthy, affordable food in every community.</p> <p>When asked about the feasibility of RPA’s fourth regional plan, Laremont of DCP replied, “I wouldn’t say that it’s not realistic. I would say those kinds of things are very aspirational, and they have the luxury of not having to be responsive to the realpolitik that we live within...we welcome those sort of thought exercises that people do and they give us food for thought.”</p> <p><strong>City Planning, But No City Plan</strong><br /> The city’s Zoning Resolution was first adopted in 1916 to limit the bulk of skyscrapers because of widespread anxieties that they would block air and light from the streets below. Over the last century, it has been incrementally altered, in part to respond to population growth, technological advancements, and changing industries and trends. Its text establishes the zoning districts for the city and the regulations governing land use and development. Any change to the zoning resolution has to be ratified by the City Council as well as the City Planning Commission, a 13-member body, with seven members appointed by the mayor, five appointed by the borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. The commission is different from the Department of City Planning, though they interact constantly, with the commission voting on many proposals that originate with or come through DCP.</p> <p>Among other tasks, DCP is responsible for making sure that new development conforms to the Zoning Resolution, reviewing applications for land use, and producing Environmental Impact Reviews to assess how development might affect its surroundings. These represent the first stages of the Uniform Land Use Process (<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb10/downloads/pdf/ulurp_info.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ULURP</a>), which is triggered on a variety of circumstances including significant proposed changes to a plot of land or neighborhood. While local community boards and the borough presidents have formal opportunities to publish recommendations on land-use decisions in their districts, they are only advisory, and the City Planning Commission ultimately has the power to approve or deny each new development, followed by the City Council, which has final say on land use matters. As City Limits <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/09/nycs-planning-commission-rubber-stamps-or-checks-and-balances/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a> in 2017, the City Planning Commission rarely stops major developments.</p> <p>Carl Weisbrod was chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning from 2014 to 2017, as appointed by Mayor de Blasio. Like Laremont, who worked for Weisbrod before he retired from city government, Weisbrod told Gotham Gazette that a city-wide plan is undesirable. He pointed out that such a plan would be a lengthy and costly exercise, and discussed the last time the city tried to make such a plan, the <a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1969 Plan for New York City</a>, which was never adopted. Weisbrod said the proposed plan took so long to complete that it was outdated by the time it was finished.</p> <p>Under Weisbrod DCP made a number of reforms: including adding the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to the zoning code; creating the Department of Regional Planning, directed by Carolyn Grossman Meagher, in order to connect New York City’s planning process to the wider region; creating a capital budget division to establish cooperation between DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget; and creating a $1 billion neighborhood development fund to support growth with public investments in parks, transportation, streets and sidewalks, and other improvements.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that a city-wide development plan would be incompatible with the city’s dynamic economy. The problem with making such a plan, he said, is that “the market has to wait to see what the plan is going to be, or it will go in a different direction,” thus disrupting the plan. Laremont said similarly on the podcast. “If, for example, the city were going to get Amazon[‘s second headquarters], anything we were thinking previously about what might be appropriate in various places might be proven completely wrong,” she said, in reference to the notion that big plans can quickly become obsolete.</p> <p>The city’s approach to development has been to “react to market forces and take advantage of market forces,” said Weisbrod. When asked, he added that the city doesn’t just wait for opportunities presented to it, but also takes a proactive role in shaping development. He pointed to planning initiatives at Hudson Yards, Times Square, Battery Park City, and Willets Point as examples of successful interventions.</p> <p>A master plan, he said, “suggests a top-down approach to neighborhood development, and it ought to be a bottom-up process...that has been the approach of the de Blasio administration.” Weisbrod stressed that the city’s planning efforts were done with close attention to communities. DCP uses a wealth of detailed information about the <a href="https://popfactfinder.planning.nyc.gov/#13.73/40.64153/-74.00295" target="_blank" rel="noopener">demographics of neighborhoods</a>, consults local stakeholders, and collaborates with other governmental entities, such as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York Housing Authority, in order to make planning decisions. “It may seem chaotic from the outside, but planning is a very thoughtful process,” Weisbrod said.</p> <p><strong>Who’s Really Doing the Planning - And Where</strong><br /> Some community advocates do not share Weisbrod’s confidence in the process. The de Blasio administration, like others before it, has been criticized for not being proactive enough in engaging communities where significant change is being eyed, for not taking enough community input into consideration, and for implementing policies that enhance negative effects of gentrification rather than ameliorate them. Michelle de la Uz -- appointed to the City Planning Commission by de Blasio when he was public advocate, and reappointed by current Public Advocate Letitia James -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7577-de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has become one of the de Blasio administration’s most ardent critics</a>, often voting against the city’s housing and development proposals because she believes they do more harm than good and that the housing is not at the levels of affordability it should be.</p> <p>It is a sentiment shared by Chris Walters, the Rezoning Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Association for Neighborhood &amp; Housing Development (<a href="https://anhd.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ANHD</a>), an umbrella organization of around 100 non-profit affordable housing and economic development groups serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. Walters has been involved with some of the campaigns opposing the recent neighborhood rezonings, for example the <a href="https://www.bronxcommunityvision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision</a>, providing technical assistance and helping draft policy counter-proposals to those offered by City Planning.</p> <p>As Gotham Gazette has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7521-questions-arise-as-de-blasio-rezones-series-of-low-income-neighborhoods?edchoice=side" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a>, the rezonings that have passed -- in East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx -- will create more residential districts and allow for higher-density development, a crucial part of de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. As part of the rezoning plans, these neighborhoods are also slated to receive substantial infrastructure investments in public housing, transit, parks, schools, and other community benefits. However, community advocacy groups and some elected officials and outside experts have expressed frustration at the fact that the rezoned neighborhoods are primarily low- and moderate-income communities of color, that these neighborhoods have had to accept higher density in order to receive investment, and they have voiced concerns that the rezonings will spur displacement.</p> <p>DCP maintains that the neighborhoods, often led by the local City Council member, volunteered for the rezonings, with Laremont saying that each rezoning is a “collaborative process between the city, members of the City Council, and neighborhoods, in terms of neighborhoods themselves raising their hands and saying, ‘we would welcome a rezoning,’ because they thought there were opportunities in that.” Ultimately, the City Council as a body does defer to the local member, and, after negotiations, each local member has proudly ushered through the neighborhood rezonings that have passed.</p> <p>But Walters criticized the city’s process for choosing which neighborhoods to rezone as being opportunistic, saying there “was no rationale as to why these neighborhoods have been chosen.” Walters pointed out that neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Bay Ridge are similarly low-density and have good transit access -- reasons given by DCP for rezoning neighborhoods.</p> <p>“If you had a comprehensive plan, which included projections of population increase and the amount of new housing needed, saying, ‘this is what the future will look like,’” Walters said, “[the rezoning process] would be more accountable.” Advocacy groups have not focused on the issue of a city-wide development plan, he said, because “pragmatically, that’s not where groups want to put their energy,” given that there are more pressing matters on their agenda.</p> <p>Walters’ main criticism is that the planning process is not adequately inclusive. He pointed out that <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cb/about.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">members of community boards</a> (CB) are not elected, but are appointed by the borough president and by the City Council, and that they disproportionately represent homeowners and business-owners, who don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood. Community boards do have some influence, drafting a “need statement” for the community, which is then examined by DCP to help it draft plans, and it has an advisory vote in ULURP. Walters said that, despite outreach efforts by DCP, people feel as if plans are already determined before they are presented to the community.</p> <p>He also criticized the methodology of Environmental Impact Reviews. For example, Walters is skeptical of the figures published in the Jerome Avenue rezoning <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/19_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">construction</a> report: in the “Reasonable Worst-Case Development Scenario,” the report estimates that 3,228 new dwelling units will be added to the neighborhood. However, Walters said this estimate was arrived at by using the city’s classic lot size of 2,500 square feet, but lots are commonly 5,000 square feet around Jerome Avenue. He also takes issue with the report claiming that the development enabled by the rezoning will not contribute to any rise in rents, on the grounds that market pressures were already driving rent costs up in the area. The <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/00_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">executive summary</a> (p. 52) says that, “The Proposed Actions’ contributions to rent pressures in the study areas would be limited by the supply of market-rate and affordable housing resulting from the Proposed Actions, which could serve to offset existing housing demand and rent pressures.”</p> <p>“The point is often made in communities that they are not saying ‘no’ to increased density, but they are saying ‘no’ to an unregulated market rate that is going to drive displacement,” Walters argued.</p> <p><strong>From PlaNYC to OneNYC</strong><br /> While the city’s land-use decisions are mediated through ULURP and the zoning resolution, the past two mayoral administrations have published a version of a long-term strategic plan. On Earth Day in 2007, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg released “PlaNYC,” which aimed to address climate change and the city’s fast-growing population, putting in one place a series of strategies, but not forming a comprehensive city plan. Mayor de Blasio has since rebranded it as <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">OneNYC</a>, adding equity to the list of major concerns.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that OneNYC, which he helped write, is not a development plan, but rather “a set of longer-term strategic priorities - a strategic plan.”</p> <p>Angotti, the urban policy and planning professor at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center, has mixed feelings about these plans. On the one hand, he has seen them as a welcome step towards a more coherent approach to the city’s long-term development, and he praised both Bloomberg for having brought up climate change and de Blasio for having raised equity as primary policy concerns.</p> <p>OneNYC reports that the city has committed to spending $20 billion on a city-wide resiliency program, which includes helping local businesses prepare for flooding risks, helping building-owners with flood-insurance, and addressing risks to infrastructure. Moreover, following Hurricane Sandy, the city introduced a flood resilience <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">zoning update</a> to the zoning resolution, which allowed for development of flood-resistant construction to occur in areas deemed at risk of flooding.</p> <p>However, Angotti is critical of the way in which PlaNYC was drafted and said that OneNYC shared the same flaws. He expressed frustration at the speed with which the plans were drawn up, saying that the discussions with local communities were not adequately participatory and “flawed.” Bloomberg hired McKinsey, the international consulting firm, to carry out much of the plan’s analysis. (Angotti has previously written several critiques of PlaNYC for Gotham Gazette, summarized <a href="http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/ccpd/repository/files/planyc-a-model-of-public-participation-or.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.)</p> <p>OneNYC’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">original plan</a>, as well as the <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC_Progress_Report_2017-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 Progress Report</a>, show much of it is a summary of various initiatives and achievements of de Blasio’s administration, organized around the themes of growth, equity, resiliency, and sustainability.</p> <p>The OneNYC website refers the reader to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office for Recovery and Resiliency. Angotti remarked that “the plan is not known by the vast majority of the public, including most politically active people. Perhaps it’s a guidance document used inside City Hall but it’s not a public plan.”</p> <p><strong>Calls for Broader Planning</strong><br /> City Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn (de Blasio’s successor in the City Council) is an unequivocal advocate for a city-wide development plan and a trained urban planner himself. Lander contributed an <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CJ68rgjBBYEtTLUU5oMFpG5CvjxJ33ks/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener">essay</a> titled “Rediscovering City Planning and Community Development, Together,” to the volume, Toward a Twenty First Century For All (2013), a compilation of policy recommendations for the incoming mayoral administration. Lander said that it was still relevant, as “not much has changed.”</p> <p>With regards to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, Lander pointed out that Bloomberg had initially hired urban planner Alex Garvin to analyze the city’s future population growth and propose appropriate measures. When Garvin’s <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/Garvin_Report_Full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> found that the city’s population would reach 9 million by 2030, if not sooner, Bloomberg dropped Garvin from the process, fearing the controversy such a number would provoke, Lander said. The report was leaked to <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2006/08/16/the-first-look-at-bloombergs-sweeping-new-vision-for-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Streetsblog</a> before Garvin was dismissed.</p> <p>Of the lack of a comprehensive plan, Lander said, “I think it is a major failing in the city’s planning process. You can’t connect long-term infrastructure planning, managing the city’s growth, and community equity without a plan.” Lander thinks of “a city-wide plan as being in favor of growth, with equity and sustainability.”</p> <p>He remarked that NIMBYism -- or people not wanting to see significant development in their communities -- represents an almost inevitable obstacle, saying that, “in the vast majority of neighborhoods, people like their neighborhoods, and they don’t want them to change.” In his essay, Lander writes that planning and development in the city are made more difficult by assumptions that people have about the planning process:</p> <blockquote>“Developers and administration officials generally believe neighborhoods will oppose &nbsp;development, so they gird for battle. Rather than creating space for dialogue about shaping &nbsp;growth or the infrastructure necessary to support it early in the process, they grit their teeth, fight &nbsp;through opposition, and negotiate concessions at the last minute.</blockquote> <blockquote>“With good reason, communities believe that the City will ultimately approve plans with little attention to their core concerns about neighborhood preservation, quality of life, amenities, &nbsp;or infrastructure – so they oppose proposals with a fatalist fervor.”</blockquote> <p>Lander understands these adversarial assumptions as a cause and a symptom of the flaws of the planning process.</p> <p>The essay also included a quote from Hope Cohen, an urban planner working at the Manhattan Institute think tank, delivering a harsh indictment of DCP’s environmental review process:</p> <blockquote>“[it] has lost its connection to good planning. Instead it has become an expensive and time-consuming annoyance to large projects, and a potentially project-ending burden to small ones. Environmental review today is a wide-ranging effort to identify “impacts” for the purpose of legal disclosure only. It is not the planning activity that people commonly assume it to be, nor is it the one that New York desperately needs as its aging infrastructure struggles to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population and citizens move into previously underdeveloped areas of the city - areas that require new access to transportation, sewage treatment, electricity, and schools” (2007)</blockquote> <p>In his essay, Lander proposes a host of reforms that are aimed at promoting community planning in conjunction with city-wide planning. During the recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Lander highlighted that he supports reforms to community boards, as well as reforms to the city’s “fair share” system, which is supposed to distribute helpful services and infrastructural burdens evenly across the city. Last year the City Council released a <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017-Fair-Share-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> with recommendations for reform of the fair share system. Several of Lander’s preferred reforms would require a change in the city’s charter. There will soon be two charter revision commissions preparing to recommend changes to the charter for approval or disapproval by voters: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7625-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-starts-its-work" target="_blank" rel="noopener">one</a> is sponsored by the mayor, with recommendations due this fall, and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7596-with-tweaks-city-council-charter-revision-commission-bill-expected-to-pass" target="_blank" rel="noopener">other</a> by the City Council in partnership with Public Advocate James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with proposals due in 2019.</p> <p>Lander said that one “tension in planning is balancing the needs of the city with the needs of a neighborhood,” but that “it needs to be a system which yields to our shared needs.” He expressed his reservations about the fact that under the current system, “we trust the DCP and the Mayor’s Office to represent those needs,” referring to infrastructural needs such as schools or preparations to mitigate the risks of climate change. But in his view, in the current process, “you can’t see the direct connection between our long-term infrastructure planning and our land-use planning.”</p> <p>Separate from its fourth regional plan, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in January published a report, "<a href="http://library.rpa.org/pdf/Inclusive-City-NYC.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Inclusive City: Strategies to achieve more equitable and predictable land use in New York City</a>."</p> <p>The report, put together after meetings of a working group that included dozens of individuals from inside and outside government, is focused less on broader planning and more on changing the ways in which the mayoral administration is doing its planning now to make sure that more stakeholders are involved and that community input is more central to the planning process, especially for the neighborhood rezonings that are being proposed and implemented.</p> <p>However, of the four central recommendations in the report, the first is "dramatically increase the amount o proactive planning in New York City." Noting that "the public remains in the dark" about why certain neighborhoods have been chosen for rezonings and the major changes therein, the report calls for "a comprehensive citywide planning framework" that does not currently exist.</p> <p>"PlaNYC and OneNYC demonstrate the City’s&nbsp;ability to think long term and holistically, and a citywide&nbsp;comprehensive planning framework would go a step further&nbsp;by including community district level targets, including those&nbsp;for housing creation and public facilities," the report states. "A comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework would greatly ease public concerns&nbsp;around disproportionate impacts by ensuring proposed&nbsp;zoning changes and other actions analyze and disclose how&nbsp;they further or undermine adherence to the comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework, which would in turn have been&nbsp;produced with strong, meaningful public participation."</p> <p><strong>Capital Spending and Planning</strong><br />The city’s infrastructure spending is determined by the capital budget, which is drafted by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The City Council has to vote to approve this budget as well as the annual expense or operating budget. According to the OMB <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/omb/faq/frequently-asked-questions.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a>, the city’s capital budget in the current fiscal year, FY2018, is $16.2 billion, which is funded through a variety of sources, including from the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority, the New York City Transitional Finance Authority, grants from federal, state, and private sources, and city general obligation bonds. The city’s capital expenditures for the current year and the next three years are programmed in the Capital Commitment Plan, and longer-term capital expenditures are scheduled by the Ten-Year Capital Plan, which outlines $95.8 billion in spending, according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/typ4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 plan</a>.</p> <p>Prior to 1975, the Ten-Year Capital Plan was jointly published by DCP and OMB. Following the fiscal crisis of 1975, the City Charter was changed and OMB became solely responsible for drafting the Ten-Year Capital Plan. Under Carl Weisbrod, however, DCP created a Capital Planning Division, whose <a href="https://capitalplanning.nyc.gov/about/capitalprojects" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a> is still in “beta,” in order to once again give DCP more say in how the city determines its infrastructure spending. The most recent plan, published in 2017, was co-signed by Marisa Lago, the director of DCP, who succeeded Weisbrod when he decided to leave city government.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a non-profit fiscal watchdog, said the current process for deciding the capital budget is misguided.</p> <p>Primarily, Doulis is concerned about the lack of transparency around the major investments involved. “We have no insight into the projects that agencies are undertaking -- if they meet the city’s most critical needs, or if they are the easiest to undertake,” Doulis said in an interview. She added that this was not the case for all the city’s agencies, pointing out the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation both have satisfactory levels of transparency. On the other hand, the Department of Environmental Protection, for example, “could post better reports,” she said. The current report lacks specificity -- “what are their goals?” Doulis asks.</p> <p>Earlier this year, CBC published a <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/rightsizing-and-right-timing-new-york-citys-capital-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>, “Rightsizing and Right Timing New York City’s Capital Plan,” which describes how the city has consistently drawn up capital commitment plans that are “overly ambitious” for the city’s agencies, forecasting much more spending than is executed and sowing unnecessary confusion. According to the report, the city’s agencies only attained 54% of their capital commitments. The report concluded that:</p> <blockquote>“The inability of agencies to meet their commitment targets suggests that their capital plans are either overly ambitious or fail to reflect actual priorities. This overly ambitious schedule leaves the City vulnerable to taking on more capital projects than it has capacity to manage, which has led in the past to delays and increased costs. A 2017 analysis by the City Council found that more than half of city capital projects with budgets greater than $25 million are behind schedule, over budget, or both.”</blockquote> <p>In the interview, Doulis said that the issues are a result of the fact that those determining the budget have little reason to curb the growth of the capital budget. “[OMB’s] incentive is to improve these [agencies’] projects, the City Council has little incentive to not pass the budget because the short-term effects of debt-servicing are small.” While politically expedient for the time being, Doulis said, the city’s “big outstanding debt liability is a problem because it is paid through the operating budget, and is a fixed cost.” When the next inevitable economic-downturn occurs, “there will be cuts to services,” she said.</p> <p>Doulis is critical of the general lack of strategic forethought in the city’s capital planning. “There is no eye on what the city can do and what they should do, and in what order,” she said. On the de Blasio administration’s priorities, as reflected in OneNYC, she said, “there’s a specificity that’s lacking.”</p> <p><strong>To Plan or Not To Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association said investments needed to meet the city’s coming challenges are even more far-reaching than the “overly-ambitious” budgeting that is currently occurring. But, the RPA takes a regional frame and includes New York State and other non-city governmental entities like the MTA and Port Authority.</p> <p>The RPA suggests changing this structure anyway, with a fourth plan call for establishing a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years. RPA also wants to see transformation of the Port Authority into a infrastructure bank that finances large-scale transit infrastructure projects; expansion of the existing carbon pricing system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to include emissions from transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; consolidation of the region’s three existing commuter rail systems into one integrated system; expansion of JFK and Newark airports, and more.</p> <p>Chris Jones, vice president and chief planner at the Regional Planning Association, joined <em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/ggcbcpodcast/wtdp-23-final-edit-mixdown-3db" target="_blank" rel="noopener">What’s the [DATA] Point?</a></em> soon after the Fourth Plan was released.</p> <p>“Each of the plans that we’ve done has really tried to start a conversation about the difficult questions that people don’t think that we can really address because they’re just too hard,” he said.</p> <p>Acknowledging that many proposals in the plan are extremely ambitious and require a lot of political will, he said, “we put out, ‘here’s what we think the ideal is,’ and in the real political world, it doesn’t end up being that ideal, but you can move towards that in a number of ways.”</p> <p>In that real political world, Mayor de Blasio recently said that "each element of our mass transit planning has to be seen individually," when asked a question at a May 3 <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/05/03/de-blasios-ignorance-of-nycs-bus-crisis-shines-through-at-his-umpteenth-ferry-announcement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">press conference</a> where he was highlighting the city’s ferry service, which he has focused on expanding.</p> <p>The comment made planners, urbanists, and transit experts groan, further evidence to some that de Blasio does not value real urban planning and that he does not have a vision for integrated transit options in his expansive city where many struggle to get around efficiently. If de Blasio does not have a cohesive transportation plan, he certainly cannot begin to have a comprehensive city plan, though he has not expressed that as a goal.</p> <p>De Blasio has described his transportation vision as being about providing more options and reaching new people. A more extensive subway system would be nice, he said, but given the challenges with such a goal, he is working on other modes of transportation, including ferries, bikes, and a planned light-rail streetcar for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the BQX.</p> <p>“We’ve got to do more than one thing to create a 21st century city with multiple mass transit options that are convenient and that work for people,” he said in response to a question about his focus on ferries.</p> <p>“If we were planning for a city that wasn’t changing you could have one conversation, but we’re about to pick up an additional population in the next 10, 20 years about the size of the population of Staten Island,” de Blasio later said. “We’re going to add that into New York City. And we need more and better options for people to get around.”</p> <p>***<br /> by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Continues Stall on Broader Reform 2018-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7671:city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41058180115_2ea1821e0a_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson City Council hearing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson &amp; Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council has been pushing for temporary relief for lower- and middle-class homeowners in this year’s budget, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund a one-time $400 property tax rebate that would cost about $187 million in total. Council Members, some of whom are homeowners themselves and could potentially qualify for the rebate, say it’s a much needed measure that could help thousands of New Yorkers reduce their annual tax burden.</p> <p>The Council’s proposal set a $150,000 threshold for households to qualify for the $400 rebate, which would reach roughly 467,000 homeowners, according to the Council’s finance division. The proposal is merely a stop-gap, in lieu of broader reform of the city’s property tax system, which the mayor has promised but has been slow to act on.</p> <p>At least a few Council members themselves stand to benefit from the rebate, given that the City Council voted in 2016 to increase members’ salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, while at the same time limiting the outside income they can earn, meaning that individual members fall just under the Council’s income threshold for the rebate. Most Council members, like most residents of the city, are renters, but a few do own property according to the latest available disclosures filed with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said member income was not part of the discussion on the rebate, which would reach about 75 percent of home, coop, and condo owners.</p> <p>“Middle class homeowners deserve a break, which is why the City Council proposed a $400 refund for them in this year’s budget response,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “We know that every little bit counts and felt this refund could help people while we work on the bigger issue - reforming the broken system.”</p> <p>Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island and a homeowner, says he wouldn’t qualify for the rebate since he earns about $6,000 from teaching at College of Staten Island, which he’s allowed to do under the Council’s rule change, which includes exceptions for forms of passive income and a few activities like teaching. That extra income puts him just over the top.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7234-city-council-members-still-navigating-outside-income-divestment-ahead-of-deadline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline</a>]</p> <p>Borelli, whose district is largely homeowners and is one of the main proponents of the rebate, isn’t concerned about the optics of Council members potentially benefiting from a rebate that they’re pushing so hard, though he conceded that members could be forthcoming about qualifying for it. “It’s like saying we all receive the public benefit of a new stop sign or a new highway,” he said. “If there’s something that’s done as a public benefit to all taxpayers, if you wanna require people to disclose that they’re going to get a check for 400 bucks in the mail, I’m certainly happy to do that. Also saying I won’t qualify myself.”</p> <p>He rightly predicted that even members who own property will likely pass the threshold since many file their tax returns jointly with their spouses. “It’s an interesting question, I just don’t have the answer. But it sucks that I won’t be getting it,” he half-joked. “That’s on record, too.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7659-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy Podcat: City Council Member Joe Borelli</a>]</p> <p>Borelli is among the members who were particularly disappointed by the mayor’s refusal to address property taxes in his $89 billion executive budget proposal, released late last month. A joint statement from Borelli and Council Members Justin Brannan, Steven Matteo, Paul Vallone, Barry Grodenchik, and Mark Gjonaj noted that the administration had yet to address “the glaring inequities of a property tax system that charges the owner of a modest home in our districts more than the owner of a multi-million dollar brownstone in Park Slope,” a clear reference to de Blasio’s Brooklyn homeownership, which includes two houses that he currently rents out. De Blasio would not be eligible for the rebate given his $258,750 salary.</p> <p>“I know we speak for just about every property owner in the five boroughs when we say, ‘C’mon man, give us a break!,’” the Council members concluded.</p> <p>“[L]ike many of his constituents, Councilman Matteo owns a home,” said Peter Spencer, a spokesperson for the minority leader, also a Staten Island Republican, in an email. “His household income fluctuates, so it would depend on the tax filing year as to whether he would meet the $150,000 threshold. He has been advocating for a property tax rebate for years for all homeowners, to alleviate the financial burden skyrocketing property taxes are having on so many families and seniors.”</p> <p>The other members on the statement are all Democrats, as are de Blasio and Speaker Johnson, but they represent areas of the city with higher home ownership rates than most other Council members. Grodenchik and Vallone’s offices did not respond to voicemails requesting comment. Reginald Johnson, Gjonaj’s chief of staff, said the Council member owns property but files a joint tax return with his wife, who is a nurse, and would not qualify for the rebate.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly said that he would launch a commission to look at the city’s property tax system and to recommend fundamental change in how taxes are assessed. Unlike other taxes, the city does not need approval from the state Legislature to amend its property tax rates, which have remained flat over the last few years but have been evenly applied across the city with no accounting for varying property values, while assessments continue to rise, increasing tax bills virtually across the board.</p> <p>“We’re going to...go at the heart of the property tax problem and have a commission, working closely with the Council to try and reform fundamentally the property tax to be more fair for everyone,” de Blasio told reporters at his executive budget presentation on April 26. “So, I would argue the best way to address the property tax question is the fix the whole system. Everyone loves a rebate, but it doesn’t fix the root cause, and most rebates are pretty small and then you never see them again. We want to get at the root cause.”</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice-president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, echoed that position while also pointing out that the Council’s interim approach may be flawed. “It’s a well-intentioned proposal,” she said of the rebate, “but it’s too broad a measure to address their concerns.” An umbrella threshold, she said, doesn’t capture the differences in households and property values across the city, so those with a high property tax burden would stand to receive the same benefit as those with a negligible one.</p> <p>“It’s best to do it with a circuit breaker rather than a flat rebate,” she said, referring to <a href="https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/pb10cb.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an industry term</a> for targeted property tax breaks based on a percentage of income. “Circuit breakers take into account your income as well as your burden. That’s a better way to do it. Given the complexity and problems with the property tax, I’m not sure adding another wrinkle is the best thing to do.”</p> <p>Council Member Brannan, who has been advocating for property tax reform since his campaign for office, is a renter but he understands the effect a rebate could have. “I’m a renter, but my landlord certainly would factor that into my rent,” he said.</p> <p>“Obviously it doesn’t benefit me because I’m a renter but because when I was knocking on doors for nine months in my campaign, that was one of the top things I heard about, was people getting squeezed -- renters too. It all trickles down. Coops, condos, homeowners, everything. It’s a big deal for me. I’m not gonna benefit from it but it’s a big deal,” he added. (CBC’s Doulis said it’s unclear that a temporary rebate would get passed down to renters but that wholesale reform was more likely to have that effect.)</p> <p>Other homeowners identified in COIB disclosures include Council Members Peter Koo, Jumaane Williams, and Fernando Cabrera.</p> <p>Cabrera and Williams did not respond to requests for comment. Scott Sieber, a spokesperson for Koo told Gotham Gazette the Council member files taxes jointly with his wife and would not qualify for the rebate. “The rebate is good for all our constituents in the city,” Koo said at City Hall last week.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator, said that he has qualified for state property tax credits in the past but has refused to apply for them. “When I was in Albany, they gave credits to property owners and I never took one and I would never apply for it until I retire,” he told Gotham Gazette in the Council chambers last week. “But there are people in the City of New York, homeowners that deserve to take a break on those things. I support the speaker.”</p> <p>What if he qualified for the Council’s proposed rebate? “I won’t take it,” he said.</p> <p>The City Council is in the midst of weeks of hearings on de Blasio’s executive budget, while Johnson and others <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">continue to push their top priorities</a> -- the property tax rebate, reduced price MetroCards for people living in poverty, and an added $500 million into reserves -- for inclusion in the adopted budget, which the two sides must agree on by the July 1 start to the new fiscal year.</p> <p>On the steps of City Hall, Council Member Chaim Deutsch brushed aside any concerns about personal conflicts in pushing for a rebate. “When we’re fighting for issues, a lot of the time we fight for issues that affect us because that’s where we get the experience from, and that’s how we know sometimes how to fight for things,” he said. “Because we as New Yorkers understand sometimes when it’s difficult for a Council member to make ends meet, that we know how difficult it may be for others. So we fight for issues. So you can’t single out one thing over another.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">De Blasio, City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41058180115_2ea1821e0a_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson City Council hearing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson &amp; Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council has been pushing for temporary relief for lower- and middle-class homeowners in this year’s budget, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund a one-time $400 property tax rebate that would cost about $187 million in total. Council Members, some of whom are homeowners themselves and could potentially qualify for the rebate, say it’s a much needed measure that could help thousands of New Yorkers reduce their annual tax burden.</p> <p>The Council’s proposal set a $150,000 threshold for households to qualify for the $400 rebate, which would reach roughly 467,000 homeowners, according to the Council’s finance division. The proposal is merely a stop-gap, in lieu of broader reform of the city’s property tax system, which the mayor has promised but has been slow to act on.</p> <p>At least a few Council members themselves stand to benefit from the rebate, given that the City Council voted in 2016 to increase members’ salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, while at the same time limiting the outside income they can earn, meaning that individual members fall just under the Council’s income threshold for the rebate. Most Council members, like most residents of the city, are renters, but a few do own property according to the latest available disclosures filed with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said member income was not part of the discussion on the rebate, which would reach about 75 percent of home, coop, and condo owners.</p> <p>“Middle class homeowners deserve a break, which is why the City Council proposed a $400 refund for them in this year’s budget response,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “We know that every little bit counts and felt this refund could help people while we work on the bigger issue - reforming the broken system.”</p> <p>Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island and a homeowner, says he wouldn’t qualify for the rebate since he earns about $6,000 from teaching at College of Staten Island, which he’s allowed to do under the Council’s rule change, which includes exceptions for forms of passive income and a few activities like teaching. That extra income puts him just over the top.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7234-city-council-members-still-navigating-outside-income-divestment-ahead-of-deadline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline</a>]</p> <p>Borelli, whose district is largely homeowners and is one of the main proponents of the rebate, isn’t concerned about the optics of Council members potentially benefiting from a rebate that they’re pushing so hard, though he conceded that members could be forthcoming about qualifying for it. “It’s like saying we all receive the public benefit of a new stop sign or a new highway,” he said. “If there’s something that’s done as a public benefit to all taxpayers, if you wanna require people to disclose that they’re going to get a check for 400 bucks in the mail, I’m certainly happy to do that. Also saying I won’t qualify myself.”</p> <p>He rightly predicted that even members who own property will likely pass the threshold since many file their tax returns jointly with their spouses. “It’s an interesting question, I just don’t have the answer. But it sucks that I won’t be getting it,” he half-joked. “That’s on record, too.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7659-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy Podcat: City Council Member Joe Borelli</a>]</p> <p>Borelli is among the members who were particularly disappointed by the mayor’s refusal to address property taxes in his $89 billion executive budget proposal, released late last month. A joint statement from Borelli and Council Members Justin Brannan, Steven Matteo, Paul Vallone, Barry Grodenchik, and Mark Gjonaj noted that the administration had yet to address “the glaring inequities of a property tax system that charges the owner of a modest home in our districts more than the owner of a multi-million dollar brownstone in Park Slope,” a clear reference to de Blasio’s Brooklyn homeownership, which includes two houses that he currently rents out. De Blasio would not be eligible for the rebate given his $258,750 salary.</p> <p>“I know we speak for just about every property owner in the five boroughs when we say, ‘C’mon man, give us a break!,’” the Council members concluded.</p> <p>“[L]ike many of his constituents, Councilman Matteo owns a home,” said Peter Spencer, a spokesperson for the minority leader, also a Staten Island Republican, in an email. “His household income fluctuates, so it would depend on the tax filing year as to whether he would meet the $150,000 threshold. He has been advocating for a property tax rebate for years for all homeowners, to alleviate the financial burden skyrocketing property taxes are having on so many families and seniors.”</p> <p>The other members on the statement are all Democrats, as are de Blasio and Speaker Johnson, but they represent areas of the city with higher home ownership rates than most other Council members. Grodenchik and Vallone’s offices did not respond to voicemails requesting comment. Reginald Johnson, Gjonaj’s chief of staff, said the Council member owns property but files a joint tax return with his wife, who is a nurse, and would not qualify for the rebate.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly said that he would launch a commission to look at the city’s property tax system and to recommend fundamental change in how taxes are assessed. Unlike other taxes, the city does not need approval from the state Legislature to amend its property tax rates, which have remained flat over the last few years but have been evenly applied across the city with no accounting for varying property values, while assessments continue to rise, increasing tax bills virtually across the board.</p> <p>“We’re going to...go at the heart of the property tax problem and have a commission, working closely with the Council to try and reform fundamentally the property tax to be more fair for everyone,” de Blasio told reporters at his executive budget presentation on April 26. “So, I would argue the best way to address the property tax question is the fix the whole system. Everyone loves a rebate, but it doesn’t fix the root cause, and most rebates are pretty small and then you never see them again. We want to get at the root cause.”</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice-president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, echoed that position while also pointing out that the Council’s interim approach may be flawed. “It’s a well-intentioned proposal,” she said of the rebate, “but it’s too broad a measure to address their concerns.” An umbrella threshold, she said, doesn’t capture the differences in households and property values across the city, so those with a high property tax burden would stand to receive the same benefit as those with a negligible one.</p> <p>“It’s best to do it with a circuit breaker rather than a flat rebate,” she said, referring to <a href="https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/pb10cb.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an industry term</a> for targeted property tax breaks based on a percentage of income. “Circuit breakers take into account your income as well as your burden. That’s a better way to do it. Given the complexity and problems with the property tax, I’m not sure adding another wrinkle is the best thing to do.”</p> <p>Council Member Brannan, who has been advocating for property tax reform since his campaign for office, is a renter but he understands the effect a rebate could have. “I’m a renter, but my landlord certainly would factor that into my rent,” he said.</p> <p>“Obviously it doesn’t benefit me because I’m a renter but because when I was knocking on doors for nine months in my campaign, that was one of the top things I heard about, was people getting squeezed -- renters too. It all trickles down. Coops, condos, homeowners, everything. It’s a big deal for me. I’m not gonna benefit from it but it’s a big deal,” he added. (CBC’s Doulis said it’s unclear that a temporary rebate would get passed down to renters but that wholesale reform was more likely to have that effect.)</p> <p>Other homeowners identified in COIB disclosures include Council Members Peter Koo, Jumaane Williams, and Fernando Cabrera.</p> <p>Cabrera and Williams did not respond to requests for comment. Scott Sieber, a spokesperson for Koo told Gotham Gazette the Council member files taxes jointly with his wife and would not qualify for the rebate. “The rebate is good for all our constituents in the city,” Koo said at City Hall last week.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator, said that he has qualified for state property tax credits in the past but has refused to apply for them. “When I was in Albany, they gave credits to property owners and I never took one and I would never apply for it until I retire,” he told Gotham Gazette in the Council chambers last week. “But there are people in the City of New York, homeowners that deserve to take a break on those things. I support the speaker.”</p> <p>What if he qualified for the Council’s proposed rebate? “I won’t take it,” he said.</p> <p>The City Council is in the midst of weeks of hearings on de Blasio’s executive budget, while Johnson and others <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">continue to push their top priorities</a> -- the property tax rebate, reduced price MetroCards for people living in poverty, and an added $500 million into reserves -- for inclusion in the adopted budget, which the two sides must agree on by the July 1 start to the new fiscal year.</p> <p>On the steps of City Hall, Council Member Chaim Deutsch brushed aside any concerns about personal conflicts in pushing for a rebate. “When we’re fighting for issues, a lot of the time we fight for issues that affect us because that’s where we get the experience from, and that’s how we know sometimes how to fight for things,” he said. “Because we as New Yorkers understand sometimes when it’s difficult for a Council member to make ends meet, that we know how difficult it may be for others. So we fight for issues. So you can’t single out one thing over another.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">De Blasio, City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Mayor's Charter Revision Commission Hears Testimony in Manhattan 2018-05-10T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7665:mayor-s-charter-revision-commission-hears-testimony-in-manhattan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/39754861341_c25f5e9b46_z.jpg" alt="Ben Kallos Bill de Blasio " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos &amp; Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A large public turn out and testimony that touched on topics such campaign finance reform, improving voter participation, enhancing police discipline, and the benefits of participatory budgeting marked the Manhattan hearing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission on Wednesday night at the main branch of New York Public Library.</p> <p>It was the last of five hearings, one in each borough, to launch the mayor’s charter revision commission, which will hold other listening sessions as it moves ahead with its work -- it plans to prepare a preliminary report early this summer and have a set of proposals by early September that will be presented to voters on their November ballots.</p> <p>On Wednesday evening, community members delivered their insights into the way the commission can revise the city’s charter, a document outlining municipal governance, to improve democracy in New York City. De Blasio has charged the commission with reforming campaign finance to reduce the influence of big money and increasing voter turnout, though by law it can look at the entire charter. Topics such as police discipline and the role of community boards, among many others, have been discussed at the five public hearings thus far.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents a large swath of the Upper East Side, testified at Wednesday night’s meeting, and though he said the campaign finance system currently in place is “the model campaign finance system in the country,” he also agreed there’s “room for improvement.” Kallos, who last term chaired the Council committee with oversight of the city Campaign Finance Board and has been a longtime reform advocate, said he’d like to see changes to “shift the balance of power away from the wealthy and…back towards the people it was designed to serve,” and he believes those changes can be implemented effectively without “putting this existing system at risk.”</p> <p>The city’s current paradigm includes a public matching system that provides six dollars of public money for every dollar of private money raised from qualifying donors up to $175.</p> <p>Kallos' first recommendation outlined on Wednesday night is to move “big money out of New York City politics and empower small donors” by increasing the cap on pubic funding from 55 percent of each candidate’s spending limit, where it currently stands, to 85 percent of the spending limit.</p> <p>He suggested the city should increase the match of small-dollar donations over larger donations, or “matching small donations of $100 or less at a higher rate than the larger contributions.” When later questioned on the issue by commission Vice Chair Rachel Godsil, he said this change would encourage candidates to “hustle in their own communities for $10 donations” instead of looking outside their district for big money.</p> <p>Kallos urged the commission to consider lowering the contribution limit from the current $5,100 -- “which is more than you can give to the President of the United States,” he said -- to $2,000 for citywide candidates and $1,000 for City Council candidates. He also touched upon introducing democracy vouchers, a program used in Seattle that provides eligible voters with money to give candidates. And, Kallos discussed ballot access reform, before suggesting the charter should be amended to end the “revolving door” between city and state politics in New York.</p> <p>In many cases in 2017 and prior city election cycles, he said, “you saw the [state] assembly members coming in as virtual incumbents, raising and spending — I think in one case I think they spent $1 million — and if you have these musical chairs where people are going back and forth.” Replying to a follow-up question from Commissioner Larian Angelo, Kallos continued, “the communities never get an opportunity to have other representation and it defeats the whole purpose of term limits.”</p> <p>His also encouraged the commission to adjust the charter so each elected official is allowed to serve for “two consecutive terms in an office, period, end of story…You get to be a Council member once for two terms, a public advocate once for two terms, a borough president once for two terms, and so on.” Currently, officials can return to an office they’ve held after they’ve been out of office for an election.</p> <p>When pressed by Godsil on the top three recommendations he believes are the most important, Kallos said he “would die on a hill” for full public matching. “As a City Council member who is termed out with 38 other City Council members, I am terrified of 2021,” he said, referring to the next cycle election cycle when about three-quarters of the Council (and all of the borough presidents and all three citywide elected officials) will have to leave office due to term limits. “I am terrified of 38 people running for offices and raising $3,850 to $4,950 from people and those dollars coming from real estate,” he said, adding the current system sees city officials “selling out their communities for real estate contributions to their campaign.”</p> <p>Also discussing campaign finance reform at Wednesday night’s hearing, Alex Camarda from Reinvent Albany, an organization that advocates for government transparency and accountability, recommended moving lobbying enforcement out of the City Clerk’s office into the Conflicts of Interest Board, as well as consolidating all city administrative functions pertaining to campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying under on entity.</p> <p>“We know of no other locality that has a more fragmented system than the one in the city,” he said. “The City Clerk’s office oversees lobbying in the city; the Conflicts of Interest Board oversees ethics laws; the Campaign Finance Board oversees campaign finance; the Elections Board oversees election administration; and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services oversees the Doing Business database, which also pertains to campaign finance. We would like to see consolidation of these administrative functions.”</p> <p>Camarda echoed Kallos’ suggestion to increase the public funding cap for campaigns to 85 percent to “effectively eliminate it.” And recommended the board change the charter so the CFB can only provide six-to-one matching on small campaign donations, not all campaign contributions: “It’s not widely known in this city…you’re actually matched six-to-one on the first $175 of any contribution,” he told the panel. “So if a candidate’s running for office there’s a real incentive to actually just raise large contributions, get the match on $175, and then not be inclined to raise money from smaller contributions.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/img-7220.jpg" alt="charter revision commission hearing Manhattan" width="400" height="241" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Also in Reinvent Albany’s recommendations, there are suggestions to expand the ‘Doing Business’ definition to include clients of lobbyists, which Camarda said is “a fairness issue,” and also subcontractors doing large amounts of work on city contracts. Camarda also urged the commission to strengthen disclosure laws so that limited liability companies (LLCs) making independent donations to campaigns can be identified. When asked by Commissioner John Siegal to elaborate, Camarda said: “We know that in state election law there are provisions that say the donor of the contribution must be provided, so we think requiring that…is something that would be consistent with state election law.”</p> <p>Regarding the city’s voting system, Camarda said Reinvent Albany is supportive of instant runoff voting, also called ranked choice voting — where, instead of choosing a single candidate, voters rank the candidates in order of preference to avoid actually holding a runoff election in the event that no candidate hits the required 40 percent threshold in a citywide primary. He said this would improve the outcome of primary elections for citywide offices, all special elections, and for military and overseas voters.</p> <p>“Military and overseas voters cannot vote in the runoff because there’s not enough time for the Board of Elections to send them a ballot, and have military and overseas voters complete it, and send it back in two weeks,” he said. “And that’s something where other states have sued and actually put in instant runoff voting in response.”</p> <p>Several others spoke about instant runoff voting on Wednesday night, with founder of the Center of Collaborative Democracy Sol Erdman telling the charter commission ballot reform would help diminish the trend of negative campaigning — “if you have two top candidates for any office, the easiest way to win is simply to undercut the other candidate,” he said — and lead instead to a rise in issue-based campaigning.</p> <p>“There is a proven technique for eliminating the benefits of negative campaigning, and that’s rank choice voting,” he said. “Why would this city, which is the leader in so many areas, not want to adopt a method of voting that basically will reward candidates for talking issues, for trying to build coalitions across social, economic, and political lines, and will result in candidates who win being much more accountable?”</p> <p>When the commissioners asked election and campaign finance lawyer Jerry Goldfeder, who had also testified, about how instant runoff voting will enhance voter turnout, he replied: “I don’t know that instant runoff is going to increase voter turnout, I don’t think that’s the purpose. The purpose is to save taxpayer dollars, to make the elections more efficient.”</p> <p>Goldfeder said the commission should push for better voter registration opportunities, which he believes could lead to a more participatory public. “Allowing people to register up to ten days before a primary, or a special, or a general, will get us more people registering,” he said. This was in response to Siegal’s observation that “The trends are abysmal in this city; the plunge in voter participation since 1969 is more than half the people who voted 40 years ago, don’t vote.”</p> <p>Opening up party primary elections to independent, or unaffiliated, voters was also discussed at length by members of the public and concerned organizations. “Everyone should be allowed to vote in the first round of voting, regardless if they are registered to a party or not,” a representative from the Queens Independence Club said, adding that one million voters in New York are independent voters.</p> <p>As in previous hearings, the issue of participatory budgeting — that sees certain City Council members set aside capital funds for community-decided projects — was also raised on Wednesday night by community members hoping to institutionalize the concept. High school senior Ilana Cohen, who founded PB Youth, testified on the issue and was asked by Commissioner Mendy Mirocznik her opinion on the role city schools are playing in increasing civic engagement in young people.</p> <p>“New York City public schools, in my experience, are incredibly lacking in terms of civic engagement,” she said. “I mean, we learn about the founding of the national constitution, but we learn nothing about state or city government, which is why I love participatory budgeting, because anyone can get involved and you vote starting at age 11.”</p> <p>Though not on de Blasio’s list of focus areas, police discipline is an issue that’s been raised frequently throughout the charter commission’s initial hearings. On Wednesday night, Commissioner Siegal, while responding to testimony about police violence, admitted there are “real issues with the current system that prevents citizens knowing what’s going on in cases unless it goes to trial.” “That doesn’t make any sense,” he added.</p> <p>Other matters raised at Wednesday’s hearing include the right to housing for all New Yorkers, expanding paid parental leave to all city employees, and “correcting the injustice” around allocating street vendor licenses.</p> <p>With a hearing in each borough now behind it, the commission is expected to deliver an initial draft list of recommendations in July.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7662-brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>photo above: Wednesday's charter revision commission hearing in Manhattan, via the charter commission</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/39754861341_c25f5e9b46_z.jpg" alt="Ben Kallos Bill de Blasio " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos &amp; Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A large public turn out and testimony that touched on topics such campaign finance reform, improving voter participation, enhancing police discipline, and the benefits of participatory budgeting marked the Manhattan hearing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission on Wednesday night at the main branch of New York Public Library.</p> <p>It was the last of five hearings, one in each borough, to launch the mayor’s charter revision commission, which will hold other listening sessions as it moves ahead with its work -- it plans to prepare a preliminary report early this summer and have a set of proposals by early September that will be presented to voters on their November ballots.</p> <p>On Wednesday evening, community members delivered their insights into the way the commission can revise the city’s charter, a document outlining municipal governance, to improve democracy in New York City. De Blasio has charged the commission with reforming campaign finance to reduce the influence of big money and increasing voter turnout, though by law it can look at the entire charter. Topics such as police discipline and the role of community boards, among many others, have been discussed at the five public hearings thus far.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents a large swath of the Upper East Side, testified at Wednesday night’s meeting, and though he said the campaign finance system currently in place is “the model campaign finance system in the country,” he also agreed there’s “room for improvement.” Kallos, who last term chaired the Council committee with oversight of the city Campaign Finance Board and has been a longtime reform advocate, said he’d like to see changes to “shift the balance of power away from the wealthy and…back towards the people it was designed to serve,” and he believes those changes can be implemented effectively without “putting this existing system at risk.”</p> <p>The city’s current paradigm includes a public matching system that provides six dollars of public money for every dollar of private money raised from qualifying donors up to $175.</p> <p>Kallos' first recommendation outlined on Wednesday night is to move “big money out of New York City politics and empower small donors” by increasing the cap on pubic funding from 55 percent of each candidate’s spending limit, where it currently stands, to 85 percent of the spending limit.</p> <p>He suggested the city should increase the match of small-dollar donations over larger donations, or “matching small donations of $100 or less at a higher rate than the larger contributions.” When later questioned on the issue by commission Vice Chair Rachel Godsil, he said this change would encourage candidates to “hustle in their own communities for $10 donations” instead of looking outside their district for big money.</p> <p>Kallos urged the commission to consider lowering the contribution limit from the current $5,100 -- “which is more than you can give to the President of the United States,” he said -- to $2,000 for citywide candidates and $1,000 for City Council candidates. He also touched upon introducing democracy vouchers, a program used in Seattle that provides eligible voters with money to give candidates. And, Kallos discussed ballot access reform, before suggesting the charter should be amended to end the “revolving door” between city and state politics in New York.</p> <p>In many cases in 2017 and prior city election cycles, he said, “you saw the [state] assembly members coming in as virtual incumbents, raising and spending — I think in one case I think they spent $1 million — and if you have these musical chairs where people are going back and forth.” Replying to a follow-up question from Commissioner Larian Angelo, Kallos continued, “the communities never get an opportunity to have other representation and it defeats the whole purpose of term limits.”</p> <p>His also encouraged the commission to adjust the charter so each elected official is allowed to serve for “two consecutive terms in an office, period, end of story…You get to be a Council member once for two terms, a public advocate once for two terms, a borough president once for two terms, and so on.” Currently, officials can return to an office they’ve held after they’ve been out of office for an election.</p> <p>When pressed by Godsil on the top three recommendations he believes are the most important, Kallos said he “would die on a hill” for full public matching. “As a City Council member who is termed out with 38 other City Council members, I am terrified of 2021,” he said, referring to the next cycle election cycle when about three-quarters of the Council (and all of the borough presidents and all three citywide elected officials) will have to leave office due to term limits. “I am terrified of 38 people running for offices and raising $3,850 to $4,950 from people and those dollars coming from real estate,” he said, adding the current system sees city officials “selling out their communities for real estate contributions to their campaign.”</p> <p>Also discussing campaign finance reform at Wednesday night’s hearing, Alex Camarda from Reinvent Albany, an organization that advocates for government transparency and accountability, recommended moving lobbying enforcement out of the City Clerk’s office into the Conflicts of Interest Board, as well as consolidating all city administrative functions pertaining to campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying under on entity.</p> <p>“We know of no other locality that has a more fragmented system than the one in the city,” he said. “The City Clerk’s office oversees lobbying in the city; the Conflicts of Interest Board oversees ethics laws; the Campaign Finance Board oversees campaign finance; the Elections Board oversees election administration; and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services oversees the Doing Business database, which also pertains to campaign finance. We would like to see consolidation of these administrative functions.”</p> <p>Camarda echoed Kallos’ suggestion to increase the public funding cap for campaigns to 85 percent to “effectively eliminate it.” And recommended the board change the charter so the CFB can only provide six-to-one matching on small campaign donations, not all campaign contributions: “It’s not widely known in this city…you’re actually matched six-to-one on the first $175 of any contribution,” he told the panel. “So if a candidate’s running for office there’s a real incentive to actually just raise large contributions, get the match on $175, and then not be inclined to raise money from smaller contributions.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/img-7220.jpg" alt="charter revision commission hearing Manhattan" width="400" height="241" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Also in Reinvent Albany’s recommendations, there are suggestions to expand the ‘Doing Business’ definition to include clients of lobbyists, which Camarda said is “a fairness issue,” and also subcontractors doing large amounts of work on city contracts. Camarda also urged the commission to strengthen disclosure laws so that limited liability companies (LLCs) making independent donations to campaigns can be identified. When asked by Commissioner John Siegal to elaborate, Camarda said: “We know that in state election law there are provisions that say the donor of the contribution must be provided, so we think requiring that…is something that would be consistent with state election law.”</p> <p>Regarding the city’s voting system, Camarda said Reinvent Albany is supportive of instant runoff voting, also called ranked choice voting — where, instead of choosing a single candidate, voters rank the candidates in order of preference to avoid actually holding a runoff election in the event that no candidate hits the required 40 percent threshold in a citywide primary. He said this would improve the outcome of primary elections for citywide offices, all special elections, and for military and overseas voters.</p> <p>“Military and overseas voters cannot vote in the runoff because there’s not enough time for the Board of Elections to send them a ballot, and have military and overseas voters complete it, and send it back in two weeks,” he said. “And that’s something where other states have sued and actually put in instant runoff voting in response.”</p> <p>Several others spoke about instant runoff voting on Wednesday night, with founder of the Center of Collaborative Democracy Sol Erdman telling the charter commission ballot reform would help diminish the trend of negative campaigning — “if you have two top candidates for any office, the easiest way to win is simply to undercut the other candidate,” he said — and lead instead to a rise in issue-based campaigning.</p> <p>“There is a proven technique for eliminating the benefits of negative campaigning, and that’s rank choice voting,” he said. “Why would this city, which is the leader in so many areas, not want to adopt a method of voting that basically will reward candidates for talking issues, for trying to build coalitions across social, economic, and political lines, and will result in candidates who win being much more accountable?”</p> <p>When the commissioners asked election and campaign finance lawyer Jerry Goldfeder, who had also testified, about how instant runoff voting will enhance voter turnout, he replied: “I don’t know that instant runoff is going to increase voter turnout, I don’t think that’s the purpose. The purpose is to save taxpayer dollars, to make the elections more efficient.”</p> <p>Goldfeder said the commission should push for better voter registration opportunities, which he believes could lead to a more participatory public. “Allowing people to register up to ten days before a primary, or a special, or a general, will get us more people registering,” he said. This was in response to Siegal’s observation that “The trends are abysmal in this city; the plunge in voter participation since 1969 is more than half the people who voted 40 years ago, don’t vote.”</p> <p>Opening up party primary elections to independent, or unaffiliated, voters was also discussed at length by members of the public and concerned organizations. “Everyone should be allowed to vote in the first round of voting, regardless if they are registered to a party or not,” a representative from the Queens Independence Club said, adding that one million voters in New York are independent voters.</p> <p>As in previous hearings, the issue of participatory budgeting — that sees certain City Council members set aside capital funds for community-decided projects — was also raised on Wednesday night by community members hoping to institutionalize the concept. High school senior Ilana Cohen, who founded PB Youth, testified on the issue and was asked by Commissioner Mendy Mirocznik her opinion on the role city schools are playing in increasing civic engagement in young people.</p> <p>“New York City public schools, in my experience, are incredibly lacking in terms of civic engagement,” she said. “I mean, we learn about the founding of the national constitution, but we learn nothing about state or city government, which is why I love participatory budgeting, because anyone can get involved and you vote starting at age 11.”</p> <p>Though not on de Blasio’s list of focus areas, police discipline is an issue that’s been raised frequently throughout the charter commission’s initial hearings. On Wednesday night, Commissioner Siegal, while responding to testimony about police violence, admitted there are “real issues with the current system that prevents citizens knowing what’s going on in cases unless it goes to trial.” “That doesn’t make any sense,” he added.</p> <p>Other matters raised at Wednesday’s hearing include the right to housing for all New Yorkers, expanding paid parental leave to all city employees, and “correcting the injustice” around allocating street vendor licenses.</p> <p>With a hearing in each borough now behind it, the commission is expected to deliver an initial draft list of recommendations in July.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7662-brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>photo above: Wednesday's charter revision commission hearing in Manhattan, via the charter commission</p>
As City Proceeds with Two Charter Revision Commissions, A Cautionary Tale from Los Angeles 2018-05-09T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7663:as-city-proceeds-with-two-charter-revision-commissions-a-cautionary-tale-from-los-angeles Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayor-staab-office.jpg" alt="mayor staab office" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Hall (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Public awareness is at the heart of achieving buy-in and delivering progress through a charter revision commission, which can propose foundational changes to city laws that go before voters for approval or disapproval. But in New York City, there will soon be two such commissions running concurrently -- one launched by Mayor Bill de Blasio and another through City Council legislation -- creating risk of competing and overly-politicized messages, a confused public, and, ultimately, failure at the polls despite significant attempts to offer potential improvements to how the city functions.</p> <p>The dual commissions are being called duplicative and “absurd,” showing that New York City did not heed a cautionary tale from across the country two decades ago.</p> <p>A similar instance was seen in Los Angeles in 1999 and serves as an example of the unnecessary confusion and wasted resources two simultaneous charter revision commissions can cause. “If it can be avoided, don’t have two separate commissions,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the publicly-elected chair of the mayor’s 1999 charter revision commission in Los Angeles, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Chemerinsky spent almost two years deadlocked with a separate commission appointed by the Los Angeles City Council and said he “can’t believe it’s happening again” in New York. It was only after extensive negotiations with the chair of the L.A. Council’s appointed commission, George Kieffer, that Chemerinsky could reach a compromise and deliver one proposal to voters in June of 1999.</p> <p>“[It’s] a huge waste of time and effort. Also, the two commissions inevitably will be perceived – and will perceive themselves – as rivals,” Chemerinsky said.</p> <p>At the moment in New York City, the charter revision commission called by de Blasio through mayoral fiat, with all 15 commissioners named by the mayor, is in the midst of public hearings and rapidly working towards delivering voters ballot proposals for a changed charter on Election Day in November of this year. His commission, announced during his February State of the City address, has been given a mandate to focus on campaign finance reform and improving voter access -- with the context that only 1 million of<a href="https://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-and-elections/de-blasio-voter-turnout-2017.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 4.6 million active voters</a> turned up for the 2017 mayoral election in November, up slightly from record low turnout in 2013.</p> <p>Yet, charter revision commissions are required to consider the entirety of the charter when doing their work. “Either commission could take up whatever issues it wants to take up,” Hunter College professor Joseph Viteritti, who was involved in New York City’s 1989 charter revision commission – the last time the city’s charter was truly looked at in its entirety (and revamped significantly) – told Gotham Gazette. “Once the commission is set up it can do what it chooses.”</p> <p>The other commission, the creation of Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the City Council, has a much broader mandate from those officials, and is being tasked with a full review of the charter including looking at major processes for land use and budgeting. It has a longer timeline -- with proposals projected to go before voters in November 2019 -- and will be made up of commissioners appointed by the citywide and borough-wide elected officials. &nbsp;</p> <p>Its members have not yet been appointed, but de Blasio, who will have four appointees to the commission, recently signed the legislation to create it. The mayor has downplayed the notion of two competing commissions.</p> <p>“They’re different concepts,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at an April 25 press conference. “We talked very openly about the goals of each commission…They are trying to achieve different things.”</p> <p>Others are far more concerned.</p> <p>“It’s hard to get the public engaged in a discussion about the city’s charter,” said Claude Millman, who served as a commissioner during the 2001 New York City charter revision commission and who was the executive director for the city’s 1999 commission. “It’s even harder to keep the public involved when charter revision is diffused over two, separate commissions.”</p> <p>The city charter is, as Viteritti explains, “the city’s constitution.” It’s a document that outlines the distribution of power and describes the duties of municipal officials. New York City has seen several charter revision commissions in the last decades, including in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2010. Not all of them were successful in having their proposals approved by voters. But the last complete overhaul to the city’s charter -- similar to what the City Council is hoping to deliver -- was approved in 1989, with sweeping changes to how city government is structured and functions. “These kinds of issues are profound, it could reorganize the whole government,” Viteritti said.</p> <p>In Los Angeles, the city’s charter was also transformed following the 1999 public vote, in which 60 percent of voters approved the proposed measure, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/10/us/los-angeles-reinvents-itself-adopting-new-city-charter.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times</a> reported. The document was condensed to improve efficiency and clarity (according to the <a href="https://news.usc.edu/8482/Legal-Scholar-s-Role-in-Charter-Reform-Wins-Praise/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">University of Southern California</a>, it was sliced from a 700-page document to a 143-page document) and it led to the introduction of neighborhood councils, delivered things like clarification on the role of the police commission’s inspector general, and mandated regular audits of the city’s finances.</p> <p>Chemerinsky said the charter overhaul was only successful because, after spending two “frustrating” years conducting hearings and operating separately as seeming “rivals,” the mayor’s commission and the City Council’s commission came together to deliver the public one coherent and comprehensive proposal at the polls. “George Kieffer, the chair of the [City Council’s] appointed commission called me and said we needed to come up with one proposal or both would get defeated,” Chemerinsky said. “It was tremendously difficult. It took a huge effort to work out a compromise and an even larger effort to get the commissions to accept it.”</p> <p>New York City should consider this example fair warning, says Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, a government reform organization.</p> <p>“I think it’s absurd we have two,” Lerner told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7617-max-murphy-podcast-reforming-special-elections-more-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent podcast</a>. Referencing the Los Angeles example, Lerner said: “at the end of the day, after double staffing and double meetings that multiplied the process unnecessarily, they ended up having to consolidate and come up with one compromised charter revision.”</p> <p>And there is no doubt the resources involved are extensive -- the mayor has budged $1.5 million for his commission; the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has its slotted to spend</a> at least $1.7 million. “It’s a Herculean task,” Millman said. “The new agency has to open its office, divvy up tasks, promote its mission to the public, draft legislation, prepare reports justifying the need for the legislation, find and consult with experts, hold hearings throughout the city, respond to media and elected officials, select legislative proposals that are detailed enough to matter, and summarize those legislative proposals in a few sentences that can fit on the ballot.”</p> <p>Though James and Brewer<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7547-city-council-hears-bill-on-charter-revision-commission" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> urged the mayor</a> to drop his commission, telling the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations during a March 16 haring that it has “predetermined conclusions; narrow focus; and a timeline too tight,” de Blasio has given no indication of slowing down. His commission has already held five public hearings, one in each borough wrapped up in Manhattan on Wednesday night, and is moving quickly towards a ballot proposal deadline of September 7 and Election Day vote in less than six months.</p> <p>James believes that campaign finance reform can be looked at as part of an “independent” and all-encompassing commission.</p> <p>“New Yorkers deserve a truly independent review commission that is charged with evaluating the entire charter to effectively take on the needs of neighborhoods and communities across the city,” James told Gotham Gazette. “The mayor has made it clear that his commission will focus solely on campaign finance reform. While I wholly support campaign finance reform, after thirty years, it is time that we do a top to bottom review of the city's charter in a democratic and inclusive manner.”</p> <p>On the other hand, Brewer said she thinks the commissions “don’t need to be combined” as they are serving different purposes, but admitted talking about the two might prove confusing for the public. “It may be a bit confusing for us all to talk about two different commissions over the next couple months, but there doesn’t need to be any conflict,” she said in an interview.</p> <p>The open public hearings held by the mayor’s commission in recent weeks have seen varying levels of engagement, but many of the questions and comments from members of the public have been about issues separate from campaign finance reform or voter access.</p> <p>At the hearing in the Bronx on April 30, there were concerns raised around term limits for elected officials; suggestions around an independent body with the power to discipline police; questions around the amount of public funding going to NYC Health + Hospitals; and queries about obtaining a New York driver’s license and state identification for people living in the borough.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7662-brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During the Brooklyn hearing on Tuesday evening</a>, those testifying touched on a variety of matters, including campaign finance reform and civic engagement, but also land use processes, school integration, and more.</p> <p>“Hearings give people opportunity to voice issues they think are important – issues about the amount of power the mayor has, community boards, the role of money in campaigns,” Viteritti said.</p> <p>Yet, depending on what comes through de Blasio’s commission, the same people may feel compelled to turn up again to address the City Council’s commission, sharing the same concerns if left unaddressed.</p> <p>“It’s a sad statement the mayor and the City Council couldn’t come together on this,” said Lerner, of Common Cause, which will be offering testimony to the commissions. Another government reform group, Reinvent Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7654-charter-revision-commission-urged-to-consider-tighter-donation-rules-for-city-affiliated-nonprofits" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently testified to the mayoral commission</a> that it should explore proposing strict fundraising limitations on nonprofits that are aligned with city government.</p> <p>According to Viteritti, the success of the city’s 1989 commission came from an “honest, scholarly and research-oriented examination of the charter” by experts. “It shouldn’t be political resizing, or re-allocating the power balances within the institution in the name of self-interested parties,” he said.</p> <p>“I don’t think the two commissions are going to be combined here,” Viteritti continued. “But I hope both commissions can bring in real experts to prepare an informative report for the public and it doesn’t turn into a back-and-forth politically.”</p> <p>As the two Los Angeles commissions were being formed in the late 1990s, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1996-09-17/local/me-44737_1_charter-reform">the LA Times asked</a>, “Can Charter Reform Survive the Politics?” The answer appeared to be “no” as the two commissions carried on their rivalry, even after a merger of proposals -- “Nasty Turn on Charter Reform,” another headline declared -- with the LA Times <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/may/19/local/me-38764">reporting</a>: "No doubt some council members hoped that bickering and competition between the two commissions--and between the mayor and the council--would doom serious reform.”</p> <p>But after all, a "Great Leap into Reform" was taken, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jun/10/local/me-46263">according to the LA Times</a>, which credited Mayor Richard Riordan for the charter revision success and applauded the "36 men and women of the two charter reform commissions who, in more than 300 meetings over two years, crafted a document that will serve Los Angeles' future, not its past."</p> <p>Mayor Riordan, in turn, credited Chemerinsky. “His clarity and leadership brought together a consensus that would have been impossible without him, and that consensus was absolutely necessary,” Riordan said, according to <a href="https://news.usc.edu/8482/Legal-Scholar-s-Role-in-Charter-Reform-Wins-Praise/">a University of Southern California article</a> from soon after the vote. “It absolutely wouldn’t have happened without him.”</p> <p>If executed thoroughly and with forward thinking, the impact a successful charter revision commission can have on a city is extraordinary. “Los Angeles Reinvents Itself, Adopting New City Charter” reads a 1999 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/10/us/los-angeles-reinvents-itself-adopting-new-city-charter.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">headline</a> from The New York Times after the charter review proposals were successful at the polls, somewhat similarly to New York’s successful 1989 overhaul. Local communities in Los Angeles were given increased control over zoning and planning, and a system of neighbourhood advisory councils was introduced. But delivering these positive changes took a united effort from the mayor and the City Council, Chemerinsky said, if not in the commissions themselves, then in their messages to the pubic.</p> <p>“If there are two commissions, find a way to have them come together,” Chemerinsky said. “Find a way to have one commission, or failing that, one proposal.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7639-de-blasio-downplays-placing-donors-on-charter-revision-commission" target="_blank" rel="noopener">De Blasio Downplays Placing Donors on Charter Revision Commission</a>]</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7596-with-tweaks-city-council-charter-revision-commission-bill-expected-to-pass" target="_blank" rel="noopener">With Transparency Tweaks, City Council Passes Charter Revision Commission Bill</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayor-staab-office.jpg" alt="mayor staab office" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Hall (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Public awareness is at the heart of achieving buy-in and delivering progress through a charter revision commission, which can propose foundational changes to city laws that go before voters for approval or disapproval. But in New York City, there will soon be two such commissions running concurrently -- one launched by Mayor Bill de Blasio and another through City Council legislation -- creating risk of competing and overly-politicized messages, a confused public, and, ultimately, failure at the polls despite significant attempts to offer potential improvements to how the city functions.</p> <p>The dual commissions are being called duplicative and “absurd,” showing that New York City did not heed a cautionary tale from across the country two decades ago.</p> <p>A similar instance was seen in Los Angeles in 1999 and serves as an example of the unnecessary confusion and wasted resources two simultaneous charter revision commissions can cause. “If it can be avoided, don’t have two separate commissions,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the publicly-elected chair of the mayor’s 1999 charter revision commission in Los Angeles, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Chemerinsky spent almost two years deadlocked with a separate commission appointed by the Los Angeles City Council and said he “can’t believe it’s happening again” in New York. It was only after extensive negotiations with the chair of the L.A. Council’s appointed commission, George Kieffer, that Chemerinsky could reach a compromise and deliver one proposal to voters in June of 1999.</p> <p>“[It’s] a huge waste of time and effort. Also, the two commissions inevitably will be perceived – and will perceive themselves – as rivals,” Chemerinsky said.</p> <p>At the moment in New York City, the charter revision commission called by de Blasio through mayoral fiat, with all 15 commissioners named by the mayor, is in the midst of public hearings and rapidly working towards delivering voters ballot proposals for a changed charter on Election Day in November of this year. His commission, announced during his February State of the City address, has been given a mandate to focus on campaign finance reform and improving voter access -- with the context that only 1 million of<a href="https://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-and-elections/de-blasio-voter-turnout-2017.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 4.6 million active voters</a> turned up for the 2017 mayoral election in November, up slightly from record low turnout in 2013.</p> <p>Yet, charter revision commissions are required to consider the entirety of the charter when doing their work. “Either commission could take up whatever issues it wants to take up,” Hunter College professor Joseph Viteritti, who was involved in New York City’s 1989 charter revision commission – the last time the city’s charter was truly looked at in its entirety (and revamped significantly) – told Gotham Gazette. “Once the commission is set up it can do what it chooses.”</p> <p>The other commission, the creation of Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the City Council, has a much broader mandate from those officials, and is being tasked with a full review of the charter including looking at major processes for land use and budgeting. It has a longer timeline -- with proposals projected to go before voters in November 2019 -- and will be made up of commissioners appointed by the citywide and borough-wide elected officials. &nbsp;</p> <p>Its members have not yet been appointed, but de Blasio, who will have four appointees to the commission, recently signed the legislation to create it. The mayor has downplayed the notion of two competing commissions.</p> <p>“They’re different concepts,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at an April 25 press conference. “We talked very openly about the goals of each commission…They are trying to achieve different things.”</p> <p>Others are far more concerned.</p> <p>“It’s hard to get the public engaged in a discussion about the city’s charter,” said Claude Millman, who served as a commissioner during the 2001 New York City charter revision commission and who was the executive director for the city’s 1999 commission. “It’s even harder to keep the public involved when charter revision is diffused over two, separate commissions.”</p> <p>The city charter is, as Viteritti explains, “the city’s constitution.” It’s a document that outlines the distribution of power and describes the duties of municipal officials. New York City has seen several charter revision commissions in the last decades, including in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2010. Not all of them were successful in having their proposals approved by voters. But the last complete overhaul to the city’s charter -- similar to what the City Council is hoping to deliver -- was approved in 1989, with sweeping changes to how city government is structured and functions. “These kinds of issues are profound, it could reorganize the whole government,” Viteritti said.</p> <p>In Los Angeles, the city’s charter was also transformed following the 1999 public vote, in which 60 percent of voters approved the proposed measure, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/10/us/los-angeles-reinvents-itself-adopting-new-city-charter.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times</a> reported. The document was condensed to improve efficiency and clarity (according to the <a href="https://news.usc.edu/8482/Legal-Scholar-s-Role-in-Charter-Reform-Wins-Praise/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">University of Southern California</a>, it was sliced from a 700-page document to a 143-page document) and it led to the introduction of neighborhood councils, delivered things like clarification on the role of the police commission’s inspector general, and mandated regular audits of the city’s finances.</p> <p>Chemerinsky said the charter overhaul was only successful because, after spending two “frustrating” years conducting hearings and operating separately as seeming “rivals,” the mayor’s commission and the City Council’s commission came together to deliver the public one coherent and comprehensive proposal at the polls. “George Kieffer, the chair of the [City Council’s] appointed commission called me and said we needed to come up with one proposal or both would get defeated,” Chemerinsky said. “It was tremendously difficult. It took a huge effort to work out a compromise and an even larger effort to get the commissions to accept it.”</p> <p>New York City should consider this example fair warning, says Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, a government reform organization.</p> <p>“I think it’s absurd we have two,” Lerner told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7617-max-murphy-podcast-reforming-special-elections-more-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent podcast</a>. Referencing the Los Angeles example, Lerner said: “at the end of the day, after double staffing and double meetings that multiplied the process unnecessarily, they ended up having to consolidate and come up with one compromised charter revision.”</p> <p>And there is no doubt the resources involved are extensive -- the mayor has budged $1.5 million for his commission; the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has its slotted to spend</a> at least $1.7 million. “It’s a Herculean task,” Millman said. “The new agency has to open its office, divvy up tasks, promote its mission to the public, draft legislation, prepare reports justifying the need for the legislation, find and consult with experts, hold hearings throughout the city, respond to media and elected officials, select legislative proposals that are detailed enough to matter, and summarize those legislative proposals in a few sentences that can fit on the ballot.”</p> <p>Though James and Brewer<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7547-city-council-hears-bill-on-charter-revision-commission" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> urged the mayor</a> to drop his commission, telling the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations during a March 16 haring that it has “predetermined conclusions; narrow focus; and a timeline too tight,” de Blasio has given no indication of slowing down. His commission has already held five public hearings, one in each borough wrapped up in Manhattan on Wednesday night, and is moving quickly towards a ballot proposal deadline of September 7 and Election Day vote in less than six months.</p> <p>James believes that campaign finance reform can be looked at as part of an “independent” and all-encompassing commission.</p> <p>“New Yorkers deserve a truly independent review commission that is charged with evaluating the entire charter to effectively take on the needs of neighborhoods and communities across the city,” James told Gotham Gazette. “The mayor has made it clear that his commission will focus solely on campaign finance reform. While I wholly support campaign finance reform, after thirty years, it is time that we do a top to bottom review of the city's charter in a democratic and inclusive manner.”</p> <p>On the other hand, Brewer said she thinks the commissions “don’t need to be combined” as they are serving different purposes, but admitted talking about the two might prove confusing for the public. “It may be a bit confusing for us all to talk about two different commissions over the next couple months, but there doesn’t need to be any conflict,” she said in an interview.</p> <p>The open public hearings held by the mayor’s commission in recent weeks have seen varying levels of engagement, but many of the questions and comments from members of the public have been about issues separate from campaign finance reform or voter access.</p> <p>At the hearing in the Bronx on April 30, there were concerns raised around term limits for elected officials; suggestions around an independent body with the power to discipline police; questions around the amount of public funding going to NYC Health + Hospitals; and queries about obtaining a New York driver’s license and state identification for people living in the borough.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7662-brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During the Brooklyn hearing on Tuesday evening</a>, those testifying touched on a variety of matters, including campaign finance reform and civic engagement, but also land use processes, school integration, and more.</p> <p>“Hearings give people opportunity to voice issues they think are important – issues about the amount of power the mayor has, community boards, the role of money in campaigns,” Viteritti said.</p> <p>Yet, depending on what comes through de Blasio’s commission, the same people may feel compelled to turn up again to address the City Council’s commission, sharing the same concerns if left unaddressed.</p> <p>“It’s a sad statement the mayor and the City Council couldn’t come together on this,” said Lerner, of Common Cause, which will be offering testimony to the commissions. Another government reform group, Reinvent Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7654-charter-revision-commission-urged-to-consider-tighter-donation-rules-for-city-affiliated-nonprofits" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently testified to the mayoral commission</a> that it should explore proposing strict fundraising limitations on nonprofits that are aligned with city government.</p> <p>According to Viteritti, the success of the city’s 1989 commission came from an “honest, scholarly and research-oriented examination of the charter” by experts. “It shouldn’t be political resizing, or re-allocating the power balances within the institution in the name of self-interested parties,” he said.</p> <p>“I don’t think the two commissions are going to be combined here,” Viteritti continued. “But I hope both commissions can bring in real experts to prepare an informative report for the public and it doesn’t turn into a back-and-forth politically.”</p> <p>As the two Los Angeles commissions were being formed in the late 1990s, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1996-09-17/local/me-44737_1_charter-reform">the LA Times asked</a>, “Can Charter Reform Survive the Politics?” The answer appeared to be “no” as the two commissions carried on their rivalry, even after a merger of proposals -- “Nasty Turn on Charter Reform,” another headline declared -- with the LA Times <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/may/19/local/me-38764">reporting</a>: "No doubt some council members hoped that bickering and competition between the two commissions--and between the mayor and the council--would doom serious reform.”</p> <p>But after all, a "Great Leap into Reform" was taken, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jun/10/local/me-46263">according to the LA Times</a>, which credited Mayor Richard Riordan for the charter revision success and applauded the "36 men and women of the two charter reform commissions who, in more than 300 meetings over two years, crafted a document that will serve Los Angeles' future, not its past."</p> <p>Mayor Riordan, in turn, credited Chemerinsky. “His clarity and leadership brought together a consensus that would have been impossible without him, and that consensus was absolutely necessary,” Riordan said, according to <a href="https://news.usc.edu/8482/Legal-Scholar-s-Role-in-Charter-Reform-Wins-Praise/">a University of Southern California article</a> from soon after the vote. “It absolutely wouldn’t have happened without him.”</p> <p>If executed thoroughly and with forward thinking, the impact a successful charter revision commission can have on a city is extraordinary. “Los Angeles Reinvents Itself, Adopting New City Charter” reads a 1999 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/10/us/los-angeles-reinvents-itself-adopting-new-city-charter.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">headline</a> from The New York Times after the charter review proposals were successful at the polls, somewhat similarly to New York’s successful 1989 overhaul. Local communities in Los Angeles were given increased control over zoning and planning, and a system of neighbourhood advisory councils was introduced. But delivering these positive changes took a united effort from the mayor and the City Council, Chemerinsky said, if not in the commissions themselves, then in their messages to the pubic.</p> <p>“If there are two commissions, find a way to have them come together,” Chemerinsky said. “Find a way to have one commission, or failing that, one proposal.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7639-de-blasio-downplays-placing-donors-on-charter-revision-commission" target="_blank" rel="noopener">De Blasio Downplays Placing Donors on Charter Revision Commission</a>]</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7596-with-tweaks-city-council-charter-revision-commission-bill-expected-to-pass" target="_blank" rel="noopener">With Transparency Tweaks, City Council Passes Charter Revision Commission Bill</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>