Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/111 Thu, 21 Feb 2019 08:45:58 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8293-e-scooter-companies-ramp-up-lobbying-for-state-and-city-authorization http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8293-e-scooter-companies-ramp-up-lobbying-for-state-and-city-authorization birdride inc

(photo: @BirdRide)


With Governor Andrew Cuomo proposing the legalization of electric bikes and scooters in New York and the New York City Council considering several bills to achieve that goal, the two prominent e-scooter firms looking to do business in the state are ramping up efforts to lobby lawmakers and other officials.

Bird and Lime are barnstorming New York with lobbyists as they seek to expand into what could be a massively profitable market. The e-scooter companies have already established a presence in hundreds of cities across the United States and the globe, presenting their products as affordable “micro mobility” alternatives that get people around while reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

It’s an appealing argument that has been embraced as part of the broader public transit conversation by many elected officials and transit and street safety advocates, particularly in New York City with its crumbling subway system, slow buses, and crowded streets. And that argument is being spread widely through hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lobbying.

At the state level, Cuomo has proposed giving municipalities the authority to legalize both e-bikes and e-scooters, which many, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, argue would need to happen first if the city is to act.

“Authorizing these transportation alternatives in a sensible and safety conscious manner will provide cheaper and more environmentally friendly transit options to New Yorkers and visitors who can use these options for work or leisure,” said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, in a statement. The proposal includes mandates for the use of helmets, reflective gear, a bell or horn, and a maximum speed limit.

“It will also attract new businesses and generate job opportunities for New Yorkers, and align the state with many other states and cities that have successfully brought this technology to their residents,” Conwall added.

De Blasio has seemed open to legalizing e-scooters, though he has emphasized that public safety must be the first priority. “If I can see something that will create safety in this city and allow people to use e-bikes or e-scooters, I’m very open to that,” he said at an unrelated news conference in November. But while he is in favor of pedal-assist e-bikes, he has strongly opposed legalizing e-bikes with throttles, citing safety concerns, though without evidence.

At de Blasio’s behest, the NYPD has been cracking down and confiscating e-bikes, which are often used by immigrant delivery workers, and fining individuals and businesses (most of the fines are levied against individuals, as reported by Gothamist in January, contrary to de Blasio’s professed plan to target businesses). Meanwhile, the city launched a pilot dockless-bike program last year in July -- in partnership with Lime, CitiBike, and Jump -- which allowed pedal-assist bikes, which are similar to throttle bikes but run at slower speeds.

Scott Gastel, a city Department of Transportation spokesperson, said the de Blasio administration is reviewing the governor’s proposal. “If the State takes action to provide a local path to legalization, there will be a conversation about what makes sense for New York City,” he said in an email.

The City Council is already pushing that conversation, however, through four bills that were debated at a transportation committee hearing last month where Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg raised concerns about the “unregulated, illegal nature” of e-bikes and “particularly their speeds and irresponsible use by some.”

The bills in question -- sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Rafael Espinal -- would remove restrictions against e-scooter and e-bike use, create a program to help throttle-bike owners to convert them to pedal-assist bikes, and create a pilot scooter-sharing program.

“Legalizing electric scooters and throttle electric bikes may seem like distinct issues, but they share a common theme: transit equity,” said Espinal, in a statement, “the principle that all people – particularly marginalized communities – deserve affordable, accessible, and safe transit options that get them where they need to go, whether that be for a job, a social engagement, or anything else.”

For certain City Council members, lobbying by e-scooter firms has presented a golden opportunity to attach e-bikes to the conversation, providing what they say is much-needed justice for immigrant delivery workers who have suffered under de Blasio’s crackdown.

“There’s no doubt that the reason that we’re talking about e-bikes today again is because of the money and the power that has been wielded by these tech companies, these e-scooter companies,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, in a brief interview outside City Hall. Menchaca has been among the most vocal critics of the mayor’s enforcement policy on e-bikes, calling the crackdown “discriminatory.”

Over the last year, Bird Rides Inc. has hired several firms to represent its interests including Blue Suit Strategies, Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz, the Mirram Group, Dickinson Avella Vidal, and Tusk Strategies, which has close ties to Council Speaker Johnson and is known for its successful effort in helping the ride-hailing service Uber avoid new regulations in New York City in 2015 (those regulations did pass in 2018).

David Estrada, Bird’s chief legal officer, is among several Bird employees who have also registered as lobbyists in New York. By the end of 2018, Bird had spent about $142,000 on its lobbying effort, according to city and state lobbying records.

Those efforts are ongoing and Bird signed retainer agreements with several of firms to work throughout this year. Blue Suit, for instance, signed an agreement to be paid $3,000 each month through March 2019 to lobby before city officials. Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz signed on for a $6,500 monthly retainer through the end of the year. The Mirram Group’s contract, which extends till August, is expected to cost $10,000 per month. Ostroff Associates is expected to receive $5,000 each month till the end of July. And Tusk Strategies’ contract was the costliest, at $25,000 per month for the full year.

Neutron Holdings, Lime’s parent company, similarly hired James F. Capalino & Associates, Urban Strategies, and Yoswein New York to lobby local and state officials for both e-scooter legislation and for expanding its dockless bike share service into New York.

“We are working with both state and city officials to improve transportation options for all New Yorkers,” said Phil Jones, Lime’s senior director of East Coast Government Relations & Strategic Development, in a statement. “Shared dock-free scooters can make transportation reliable and affordable for all New Yorkers—especially underserved communities that do not have easy access to mass transit.”

The company had already spent about $146,000 by the end of last year and plans more. Capalino & Associates’ contract runs through the end of 2019 with a $10,000 monthly retainer. Urban Strategies was retained to work for the company through the end of May for $5,000 each month.

Menchaca is adamant that e-scooter legalization should only happen along with e-bikes, and the e-scooter firms also seem on board since it advances their interests. “I was very clear from the beginning...that we’re not even talking about e-scooters till we figure out what’s going on with the e-bikes and fix that problem,” he said. “They understood that so they’re gonna play...They’re savvy. We’ll do it together.”

And he seemed to partly excuse the de Blasio administration, even as he criticized the “discriminatory focus from the NYPD” on immigrant workers. “We can’t move that much because of the state, the state needs to move to unlock our ability to legislate this,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say that the administration’s not listening.”

Does the mayor really care? “I think we’re gonna make the mayor care,” Menchaca said.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso sees the issue as indicative of a larger de Blasio problem. “The way we’re thinking about it is we’re gonna leverage the lobbying effort made by the e-scooters to make sure that we get justice for the e-bike folks,” he said in a brief interview in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

“I think it’s less about whether or not the mayor cares about lobbyists and immigrants and more about the mayor just being bad on transportation policy,” he added. “Let’s put it in perspective. Who it affects, how it affects them is kind of second to the mayor not understanding that he’s a proponent of car culture in a significant way. So whether it’s e-scooters or e-bikes, I think to him, who’s advocating for it is second to just bad policy.”

De Blasio finds himself increasingly isolated in his position. E-scooters and e-bikes are one of those rare issues where the interests of transit and street safety advocates on the ground line up with those of large firms with a profit incentive.

“It is indeed disturbing to continue to see Mayor de Blasio...continuing to criminalize the use of an e-bike which is an efficient, sustainable mode of transportation,” said Marco Conner, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, in a phone interview he gave while riding a CitiBike, the bike-sharing program that de Blasio has expanded and which started to offer pedal-assist bikes as part of the city’s L-train shutdown mitigation plans. “Meanwhile, he’s en route to inviting e-scooter-share companies and has also legalized pedal assist e-bikes.”

Conner said the mayor’s argument that e-bikes are illegal and so the NYPD must enforce the law doesn’t hold water, particularly considering the mayor’s rhetoric about making New York the “fairest big city in America” with strong “sanctuary city” protections. The crackdown, he noted, exposes low-wage immigrants to the criminal justice system, opening them up to potential interactions with immigration authorities. “Every New Yorker jaywalks daily. Police officers jaywalk daily,” Conner said. “That’s illegal under local statute but you don’t see that kind of targeted crackdown.”

He also suggested that the city should institute a buy-back program for e-bike owners, similar to the NYPD’s regular gun buy-backs that take guns off the streets.

Conner did have concerns, however, about the governor’s legalization proposal, particularly the helmet and reflective clothing requirements, which he said are “well-intended” but would discourage the use of e-bikes and e-scooters. It would also harm the existing CitiBike program, which doesn’t require either, he pointed out.

“Helmet sharing is not a thing and will never be a thing,” he said, while the reflective clothing rule is “a recipe for subjective and racially disparate enforcement.” The governor’s proposal also gives motor vehicles the right of way over e-bike and e-scooter riders, which Conner said should be reversed.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization Tue, 19 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Public Housing Chair Weighs in on HUD Deal, NYCHA’s Future http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8287-city-council-public-housing-chair-weighs-in-on-hud-deal-nycha-s-future http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8287-city-council-public-housing-chair-weighs-in-on-hud-deal-nycha-s-future Ampry-Samuel NYCHA

Alicka Ampry-Samuel (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


As Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced his “NYCHA 2.0” plan to secure the future of the city’s public housing authority, an agreement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that includes a new federal monitor of NYCHA, and a new interim chair to lead the authority, the City Council member charged with oversight of NYCHA has some questions.

Alicka Ampry-Samuel is the chair of the City Council’s public housing committee and represents parts of central Brooklyn, home to many NYCHA residences. During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio, Ampry-Samuel explained some of her concerns about the latest NYCHA-related developments, said that de Blasio had not reached out to her ahead of announcing that Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia would be named interim NYCHA chair, and promised a public hearing on the city’s deal with HUD in the coming months.

Ampry-Samuel had measured praise for de Blasio’s NYCHA 2.0 plan, which includes fairly aggressive measures to bring in new revenue to address the housing authority’s $30 billion-plus in physical needs, but she joined the chorus of critics who have questioned the mayor’s deal with HUD that includes no new federal money for NYCHA.

“We are seeing better things, but tell that to the person who’s suffering right now,” Ampry-Samuels said of the general situation across NYCHA, particularly relative to last winter, when there were widespread heat and hot water outages. “It’s hard for them to receive that response because they’re thinking, ‘What about me?’ That’s not the case in my home.”

On January 31, de Blasio announced at a press conference with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson a deal that includes the federal government taking more direct oversight of NYCHA in response to years of crisis, criticism, management turmoil, and federal law enforcement inquiry.

Opponents have criticized the deal as giving too much power to a federal government that has often been at odds with the de Blasio administration and not supportive enough of public housing. The deal includes no new federal funding but a federal monitor who will be tasked with tracking NYCHA’s actions.

“Who is this person?” Ampry-Samuel said of the impending monitor. “Do they care about public housing, or is just a business-minded person who’s coming in to change and reform management, coming in to change the operational structure? Or is this someone who’s going to come in and look at NYCHA 2.0 and raising revenue to deal with the $32 million capital repairs it needs.”

Ampry-Samuel took a measured, pragmatic approach throughout the discussion. “With there now being federal monitor, this is opportunity to have an independent voice and be able to sit down with residents and the City of New York and say, ‘These are the things you have in place’ and review it. Go line by line and say, ‘You have not been able to do what you needed to do in the past and this is a way forward.’”

In December, de Blasio announced NYCHA 2.0, a revamped comprehensive plan to reform NYCHA and bring in more than $20 billion in revenue to repair the crumbling and dangerous public housing home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers. Some of the measures de Blasio had either rejected in the past or supported in far more limited fashion, but he said that without large-scale federal help, the city had no other viable options.

According to a de Blasio press release, the plan will resolve $24 billion in repairs, including renovations for 175,000 residents. Some of that will depend on new development on underused NYCHA land, such as parking lots, where a mix of market-rate and affordable housing will be erected. Ampry-Samuel appeared to acknowledge the elements of the plan as necessities, despite the fact that many have expressed grave concerns about such “infill” housing. The development process must be community-led, she said, and the money from development must be reinvested in the particular NYCHA projects where the new housing is built.

“We have to figure out ways to bring money in, but we have to make sure that the residents who are already part of the fabric of that development benefit from all the deals,” she said. “And we have to make sure it doesn’t happen to them -- it happens with them.”

Just last week de Blasio announced his next choice for interim chair of NYCHA: Kathryn Garcia, commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation, whom de Blasio had also recently put in charge of lead remediation efforts, which came out of the NYCHA lead paint scandal. Garcia replaces outgoing interim chair Stanley Brezenoff who recently criticized the city’s deal with HUD.

“I can’t figure why [the next NYCHA chair] is someone who has no housing background, no one with experience to that level,” said Ampry-Samuel. “She’s a great woman, with a great career, she rose through the ranks at Sanitation, but we can’t play musical chairs with this type of situation.”

A permanent chair, perhaps Garcia, is expected to be named after the federal monitor is in place, given that the monitor will have a say in approving de Blasio’s choice to head the authority.

The City Council Committee on Public Housing plans to hold an oversight hearing with Garcia, the administration, and a HUD representative on the deal between HUD and the city and NYCHA in the next several weeks, Ampry-Samuel said. She called for the creation of a chief resident officer as an advisor to the chair of NYCHA. The position, she hopes, could spur a greater relationship between NYCHA and NYCHA residents, though there are also tenant councils.

Asked about a time frame for the hearing she promised, Ampry-Samuel was hesitant to provide specifics, given how unsettled things are and how fresh the deal with HUD was, but she said she looked forward to a public discussion of all the recent changes and those to come.

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel]

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Public Housing Chair Weighs in on HUD Deal, NYCHA’s Future Thu, 14 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Strips Diaz Sr. of Committee After Latest Homophobic Remarks http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8283-city-council-strips-diaz-sr-of-committee-after-latest-homophobic-remarks http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8283-city-council-strips-diaz-sr-of-committee-after-latest-homophobic-remarks ruben diaz sr comm vehicles

(Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council)


In a rare move on Wednesday, the New York City Council voted to dissolve a standing committee after its chair, Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., made homophobic remarks in a recent radio interview and repeatedly refused to apologize for them in the days after.

Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister with a long history of anti-LGBT positions and actions, said last week in the radio interview that the City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community," as reported by NY1. The comment drew a swift backlash from dozens of elected officials, including several openly gay members of the Council, and others demanding that he apologize. But Diaz Sr. doubled down, leading many Democrats, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to call for his resignation.

On Wednesday, the Council voted 45-1 to dissolve the For-Hire Vehicles committee chaired by Diaz Sr. The committee was created at Diaz Sr.’s request last year to oversee the burgeoning ride-hailing service industry and has passed 16 bills in that time, including measures to increase wages paid to for-hire vehicle drivers. It’s jurisdiction will be transferred to the transportation committee under Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

At Wednesday’s vote, Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who also holds anti-LGBT views, was the sole dissenting voice, saying the Council should educate Diaz Sr. and “bring him closer than further and let him know that words are very strong.” Council Members Rodriguez, Andy King, and Fernando Cabrera (also a conservative member from the Bronx) abstained from the vote. Diaz Sr. himself was not present in the chamber.

For Johnson, who is openly gay and openly HIV positive, the vote was an emotional moment as he grappled with his own personal experiences and the hurt he said Diaz Sr.’s comments had caused to Council members and staff. Johnson has spent days apologizing for having given Diaz Sr. the benefit of the doubt and elevating him to committee chair, considering the reverend’s long history of anti-LGBT positions and actions. “I will apologize again, deeply, for making a mistake and having a blind spot to begin with in trying to give everyone a fresh start...I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I'm sorry to all the people who came before me and allowed me to be here today, and I'm sorry to gay and lesbian New Yorkers who deserve so much better,” he said.

Johnson’s comments do not necessarily tell the whole story, though, given that his ascent to the speakership included support from the Bronx Democratic Party, where Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the Council member's son, is especially powerful, and after he had courted Diaz Sr.’s backing.

The resolution to dissolve Diaz Sr.’s committee moved swiftly through the Council. The Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges met on Wednesday morning at a hastily convened hearing and unanimously approved the measure before it was voted on by the full Council. Separately, the Committee on Standards and Ethics is also probing Diaz Sr.’s remarks and could recommend disciplinary action ranging from censure to removal from office.

Council Members Ritchie Torres, Daniel Dromm, Carlos Menchaca, and Jimmy Van Bramer, all of whom are openly gay, took turns critiquing Diaz Sr. and commending Johnson for taking the necessary steps to hold him to account.

“This behavior is not new,” said Dromm, speaking just after Council Member Deutsch. Dromm cited his own decades-long opposition to Diaz Sr.’s homophobia and said, “I don’t think any amount of education at this point is really going to help him.”

Torres, with tears in his eyes, emphasized that Diaz Sr.’s comments were not reflective of the politics of the Bronx, which he also represents, and he said he was “naive to expect redemption” from Diaz Sr. based on his record. “Imagine if someone said the Council was controlled by a black cabal or a Jewish cabal. The Council would take action,” he added.

Diaz Sr. has announced that he is holding a rally with supporters on Thursday in the Bronx. The Council member is eligible to run for another term in the Council in 2021. One of his 2017 Democratic primary opponents, Amanda Farias, has already announced her intention to run for the seat.

Van Bramer, who spoke about struggling with suicidal thoughts as a young gay man, condemned Diaz Sr.’s “hate speech.” “Demonizing people causes real and permanent pain,” he said. “When elected officials speak with such hate, young people internalize that hate. That in and of itself is a form of violence.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Strips Diaz Sr. of Committee After Latest Homophobic Remarks Wed, 13 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Opposing Responses to Cashless Retail on Docket for City Council Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8277-opposing-responses-to-cashless-retail-on-docket-for-city-council-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8277-opposing-responses-to-cashless-retail-on-docket-for-city-council-hearing cm rtorres funding

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


The polarizing issue of local retailers going cashless has gotten the attention of New York City Council members, and on Thursday a Council committee will hear testimony on the topic and consider competing legislative proposals.

The Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal, a Brooklyn Democrat, will hear the bills for the first time. One, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, would outright ban retailers from not accepting cash. The other, sponsored by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, would require cashless retail establishments to display conspicuous signage to alert consumers that they are card-only before they get to the register. Both Torres and Cabrera are Bronx Democrats.

After Torres introduced his bill last fall, it generated widespread media coverage and ignited a debate on the convenience of credit and debit cards versus how refusing cash excludes individuals without plastic. Notably, as of Tuesday afternoon, Torres’ bill has 18 co-sponsors in the 51-seat Council, including committee chair Espinal. Cabrera, along with Council Member Andrew Cohen, also a Bronx Democrat, are the lone sponsors of his bill.

Cashless retail establishments are seen as problematic for the “unbanked” or “underbanked,” those without bank accounts and those without easy access to banks, respectively. In 2015, an Urban Institute study surveying New Yorkers found that nearly 12 percent, or 360,000 households, did not have bank accounts. The finding is higher than the approximately 8 percent of Americans nationwide who are unbanked. An additional 25 percent, or 780,000 New York households are underbanked, the study found, compared to the 20 percent of underbanked Americans across the country.

Shoppers in the U.S. are expected to generate 190 billion cashless transactions this year, including e-commerce, according to Kristen Regine, a professor of marketing at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. She cites millennials as leading the way on the consumer side, but the move is likewise a matter of convenience for retailers.

“A lot of people think money is dirty and they don’t want to touch and deal with it. For retailers, it’s more labor intensive to deal with, to reconcile the days’ end transactions. And for the retailer thinking about line queue, it’s swipe and go and quicker to get through the line. In some places you’re not even signing your name anymore,” said Regine. “In areas where there’s a lot of traffic and robberies, it’s safer for the person working behind the counter not to have cash.”

The growing trend of exclusively requiring plastic or mobile pay, like Apple Pay, for purchases is here locally, with fast casual chains such as Sweetgreen and Dig Inn, or higher-end restaurants such as Danny Meyer’s epicurean empire adopting the policy.

Cabrera also sees this as part of the trend Regine described. “This is not new, this is not someday, this is the now. And if that’s their business model, and they have taken into consideration the potential they could lose a few customers, you know, that’s their business model. My bill basically gives them the freedom to use their business model, but at the same time, gives strong consideration to the customers to be able to know right off the bat that business will accept cash or not,” said Cabrera.

Torres, seeking to ban establishments from going cashless, is more concerned with inequality baked into cashless policies. “If you have the money you should be able to use it. Cash is the great equalizer and the universal mode of currency. Not everyone accesses credit or debit, but everyone uses cash at some time in their life,” said Torres. “In New York City, we have a historic opportunity to set a national precedent for rest of country to follow.”

As for the country, according to Regine, over 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t carry cash. “It’s just kind of our way of life,” she said.

Yet, both Cabrera and Torres want to account for that other 60 percent, which may be higher in New York City given the unbanked population. Thursday’s hearing will provide insights into where their legislation may be headed. But, there won’t be any votes on Thursday. The Council committee will hear the bills and testimony from whomever has been invited or signs up to discuss the legislation, such as business owners and consumers. Then the bills will be laid over in committee, at which point they can be tweaked within the Council, or not, and picked back up for a vote by the committee. If successful in committee, a bill heads to the full Council for a vote.

Both Council members are cautiously confident their bills will move forward for a vote. “I believe we’re going to get this through. It’s a common-sense bill,“ said Cabrera.

Torres slightly hedged his bet. “There’s no telling what will happen in a City Council meeting,” he said, adding, “I see a clear path of passage for the bill.”

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Opposing Responses to Cashless Retail on Docket for City Council Hearing Tue, 12 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Testifies in Albany; State Sexual Harassment Hearing & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 11 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8269-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-feb-11 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8269-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-feb-11 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week looks like it will be dominated by several storylines:

-Controversy over comments made by City Council Member Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr. that the City Council is "controlled by the homosexual community," as reported by NY1's Juan Manual Benitez. Diaz Sr.'s comments, the latest in a long line of controversial and bigoted statements, have been met with condemnation by many, and calls to resign from some, including many of his Council colleagues. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- who sought Diaz Sr.'s support for his speakership bid and rewarded him with the creation of a new committee for him to chair -- said Sunday that the Council is looking into its options for consequences for Diaz Sr., who said he has no plans to resign and refused to apologize for his comments.

-Monday will see Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local officials testify at a legislative budget hearing in Albany. It is de Blasio's yearly trip to the capital to discuss the governor's executive budget plan, the city's top state government priorities and funding needs, and to take questions from legislators.

-Wednesday will see a joint legislative hearing on sexual harassment in New York, both the public and private sectors. The hearing will also include discussion of how to improve upon the anti-sexual harassment laws passed last year without public hearings. Victims and alleged victims of harassment are expected to testify, including about how sexual misconduct has been part of a culture in state government in Albany and the systemic failures to address it that persisted for a long time, and may still have remnants even as awareness has been heightened and new laws have been passed.

-Tuesday will mark just two weeks until the February 26 special election for Public Advocate. Candidates are raising money, getting their messages out, working to secure endorsements, and trying to make sure they qualify for the second televised debate, which will be on NY1 on February 20.

It will also be a very busy week of hearings at the City Council, including a Stated Meeting of the full Council, at which new bills are introduced and those that have passed committee are voted on by the full body. That's not it, though. As always, there are a variety of events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, State Senator James Sanders will hold a press at the State Capitol to discuss new legislation for a “Green New Deal for New York.” [Read about Sanders’ proposal here: State Senate Bill Would Advance Framework for More Aggressive Green New Deal in New York]

Also at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Albany, “dozens of Mayors and village officials from across New York State” will hold a press conference “to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore over $60 million in funding to municipal governments across the State,” according to a press release from Village of Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on “local government officials/general government.” Mayor Bill de Blasio will be the first to testify at the hearing. After the mayor, Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will each testify, as will leaders from other cities around the state.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Justice System will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH), as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to issue quarterly reports on MARCH.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring landlords to take steps to eradicate “indoor asthma allergen hazards” and to establish a “demonstration program” for legal basement apartments in East New York.
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the Astoria transformer explosion and the transition to a green grid,” as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to study and issue a report on the feasibility of replacing gas power plants with renewables.
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at noon to discuss the DCAS provisional employee reduction plan.
--The Committee on Immigration will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding IDNYC.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 1:15 p.m. Monday, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, CUNY Interim Vice Chancellor Christopher Rosa, other elected officials, and student leaders will rally at the State Capitol to demand greater funding for students with disabilities in New York colleges.

At 5 p.m. Monday, there will be a meeting of the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet in Albany for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

On Tuesday, the State Legislature will hold joint budget hearings on:
--Economic development at 9:30 a.m.
--Taxes at 1 p.m.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Finance and Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will meet jointly at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring city agencies to electronically notify elected officials and community board members of delays in capital projects and requiring the city to create a publicly searchable database on all pending capital projects.
--The Committees on Juvenile Justice and Youth Services will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and the juvenile justice system.”
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1:30 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “Commission on Public Information and Communication’s collaboration in developing city information policies and promoting governmental transparency.”

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

At noon Tuesday, Council Member Brad Lander, Families for Safe Streets, TransAlt, and the Red Hook Community Justice Center will rally at the City Hall steps to demand passage of the Reckless Driver Accountability Act.

Starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, faculty unions and student activists from SUNY and CUNY will hold a lobbying day in Albany to press lawmakers for full funding of public higher education.

Wednesday
The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will be prefaced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s pre-stated press conference.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Immigration will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a resolution calling on the State Legislature to pass a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committees on Investigations, Ethics, and Women’s Issues, the Assembly Standing Committees on Governmental Operations and Labor, and the Task Force on Women’s Issues will hold a public hearing in Albany to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committees on General Welfare and Higher Education will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “food insecurity in New York City.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws prohibiting and establishing penalties for cashless businesses, and requiring cash-only businesses to post signage indicating that they only accept cash.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will join CNN commentator Symone Sanders for a discussion at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will deliver her inaugural address at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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De Blasio Testifies in Albany; State Sexual Harassment Hearing & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 11 Sun, 10 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In Second 311 Oversight Hearing, City Council Examines Agency Responsiveness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8271-in-second-311-oversight-hearing-council-examines-agency-responsiveness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8271-in-second-311-oversight-hearing-council-examines-agency-responsiveness Holden Yeger City Council

Council Members Holden, right, and Yeger (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


The City Council recently held its second in a two-part oversight hearing on the city’s 311 system, the country’s largest non-emergency call center. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the chair of the governmental operations committee, led both hearings. While the first hearing focused on system upgrades to 311 that are in process and language access, the second was organized around examining responsiveness by 311 to New Yorkers’ complaints and questions, often through how city agencies take up issues that come through the call center.

Cabrera stressed the importance of the second hearing, saying that “New Yorkers should be able to trust that a complaint filed with 311 will not languish in a void.” Joe Morrisroe, the executive director of 311, testified at the first hearing and returned for the second. He was joined at the second hearing by officials from seven city agencies.

Johnson’s primary concerns at the hearing were the quality of the data that 311 collects and transparency in regards to the status of complaints and service requests. “We see extensive data-quality issues,” he said, arguing that data errors prevent the public from following the progress of complaints, and ambiguous complaint resolution descriptions create confusion over agency responses. Johnson said poor data quality meant that the Council could not determine how or if many cases were resolved. He cited the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOMHM), Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), Department of Finance (DOF), and Department of Transportation (DOT) as city agencies with ambiguous resolution statuses.

The DOMHM and TLC each have 99% of their cases that are technically marked closed, but many also appear to be ongoing. Mark Lee, the TLC’s assistant commissioner for licensing and standards, said that he needed “to look into this data further” and that TLC is “proactively communicating to complainants, but we do need to get that reflected to the public.”

About 20% of rodent complaints to DOMHM were listed as resolved on a date before the complaint was filed, to which Johnson incredulously asked, “how is that possible?” Jeff Hunter, DOHMH assistant commissioner for environmental health and administration, said that this could be because multiple complaints were filed for the same location and the resolution date reflected the response to the first complaint.

The DOT and DOF had 46% and 74% of their respective complaint responses determined to be vague by the Council committee. Rebecca Zack, DOT’s assistant commissioner for intergovernmental and community affairs, said that the department’s vague responses directed customers to the DOT website for more information, instead of being resolved within the 311 system. Sheela Feinberg, DOF’s director of intergovernmental affairs, said that the vague responses were due to the sensitive nature of DOF service requests, which include personal information, and that DOF’s direct responses to complaints provide more information that what may be reflected in the Council’s data.

Johnson expressed frustration at how confusing the whole thing is, labeling the agencies’ differing response system to be “ad-hoc.” He suggested an inter-agency working group to work with the Council to improve the whole response system, and to “stop the insanity, there needs to be a better way.” He also expressed the importance of having the two hearings on 311, because “if people lose trust, they stop trying.”

Another major issue that came up frequently at the hearing was how agencies decide the order in which they respond to service requests. Most of the agencies outlined an internal system of prioritization based on a request’s impact on public safety. For example, Patrick Wehle, the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) deputy commissioner for external affairs, said that DOB typically responds to high-priority complaints within nine hours, the next level of priority can take up to 11 days, while lowest-priority complaints sometimes take up to three months. Most of the agencies present followed a similar prioritization hierarchy, representatives said. However, there were some exceptions, such as DOT, which schedules maintenance work, such as refilling potholes, for efficiency rather than by another priority, according to Zack. Council Member Cabrera asked if the volume of calls received about a particular issue affects an agency’s responsiveness. Zack said it depends on the issue, that DOT determines whether to adjust on a case-by-case basis.

The Committee on Governmental Operations also considered one bill proposal, sponsored by Council Member Robert Holden. Holden’s bill would require 311 to indicate if an agency is unable to respond to a service request or complaint. Morrisroe said that his agency “cannot support the bill’s intent in its current form.” He explained that the bill “would drastically change 311’s operations and would not allow it to fulfill its role of providing New Yorkers with the information they seek or help them submit and monitor their service request.” Morrisroe asserted that providing this information would go beyond 311’s “core competency” of making referrals to other city agencies. The bill was laid over by the committee, perhaps for tweaking or further consideration in the future.

Council Member Kalman Yeger voiced his frustration with the city agencies present, saying that 311 was not at fault, but the agencies are failing, calling it “a management problem at every agency.” He expressed particular frustration over the fix rate for rodent problem complaints, which is currently 30%. He said rodent complaints should have a “100% success rate and a picture of the dead rat in the response.” He ended his remarks (he didn’t ask any questions) by telling the officials present to “go back today to the office and say ‘that crazy guy from Brooklyn once again is letting loose with his microphone and maybe we could figure out a way that we don’t have this again.’”

Two agencies notably not represented at the hearing were the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Department of Sanitation, a fact noted by Holden. These two agencies interact most with the public, he said, so their responses to 311 complaints need to be reviewed. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Holden said in the hearing, about the absences of the NYPD and Sanitation.

During the hearing, Johnson did say that “despite these troubling issues, we do see some very positive things,” highlighting Sanitation for its clarity and responsiveness.

[Read: City’s 311 Upgrade Set for Mid-Year Launch]

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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In Second 311 Oversight Hearing, City Council Examines Agency Responsiveness Sun, 10 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Parent’s ‘Gut-Wrenching’ Testimony, Next Step in City Council School Bus Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8254-after-parent-s-gut-wrenching-testimony-next-step-in-city-council-school-bus-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8254-after-parent-s-gut-wrenching-testimony-next-step-in-city-council-school-bus-reform council mem just brannan irish

Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten\City Council)


Sally Kabel was diagnosed with infant leukemia at ten months old, the treatment for which led to seizures, three broken bones, and a weak immune system. She developed epilepsy, and after her third bout of pneumonia she required continuous oxygen support. None of this stopped her from going to school more than complications with her school bus, according to her mother, Nicole Kabel.

After missing the first day at Manhattan Star Academy on the Upper West SIde because she was sick, 5-year-old Sally was ready for her own first day. But, her assigned nurse did not show up to accompany her to school. Three days later, Nicole was informed Sally’s nurse had been reassigned, so Sally couldn’t go to school until she had a new nurse. It took two weeks. After persistent, unfruitful calls to the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT), a division inside the city’s Department of Education (DOE) responsible for providing transportation by yellow bus and public transit for all students in New York City, Nicole found out Sally’s nurse could not accompany her on the bus, as the bus was only designated for one passenger.

Nicole, who has two other children, took Sally to school herself before a bus with a nurse finally showed up. But then there was no car seat for Sally. Nicole tried calling the DOE, but there was no fix. Sally had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a personalized plan for the education of children with special needs, which meant she had her own school bus and a supposed shortened commute time. Finally, the bus matron convinced the bus company to put a car seat on the bus, uncleared by the DOE.

“School was her happy place. Psychologically she needed it to stay positive and keep going,” Nicole said during testimony at a City Council hearing of the education committee in October 2018, discussing the many challenges their family faced in trying to get Sally to school at the hearing, which was dedicated to oversight of the Office of Pupil Transportation and a suite of bills to reform it.

Throughout the entire 2017-2018 school year Nicole made consistent calls to the DOE and OPT trying to address the long commute time and the lack of car seat. Sally began at a private school that summer, but the summer bussing company would not give her a car seat as it still violated code. Nicole tried to address the issue, but in the absence of a car seat, the nurse was forced to hold up Sally’s head and body to avoid breathing issues while Sally napped.

In late August 2018, Nicole attempted multiple times to contact the DOE to again address the incorrect coding and the small nurse staff. Sally didn’t start school on time that year either.

“She thrived [at school], whatever pain was happening to her, she forgot about it at school,” Nicole said in an email. “It was her happy place. It breaks my heart she was not able to go to school the first week of September. Her teacher whom she had previously and was going to have again texted me every day hoping busing/nursing issues would be sorted. The school missed her, and she missed them.”

On September 15, 2018, four days after her sixth birthday, instead of going to school Sally was brought into the NYU Langone emergency room where she went into septic shock. She died four days later, on September 19.

“I spent countless hours and days the last month of our daughter’s life battling to get her back to school where she could be happy. Those are hours wasted that should have been spent with her that we can no longer have back,” said Nicole.

Nicole was among the parents and education advocates who testified at the City Council hearing last year, pushing Council members to address problems with the city’s school transportation system, including more transparency from the Department of Education and more efficient bus times.

On January 9 of this year, the Council passed a series of bills designed to update the school bussing system of New York City. The package was spearheaded by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos and Brooklyn Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Committee on Education. Legislation dealing with the city’s school bussing system has been kicked around the Council for over 15 years, primarily driven by former Brooklyn Council Member Michael Nelson, who called for tracking capabilities as early as 2005 and two-way radios in buses as early as 2000, but has never made it out of committee.

Most notably in this block of bills known as the School Transportation Oversight Package (STOP) is a bill, Intro. 1099, that mandates that each school bus used to transport students to and from school must be equipped with a GPS tracking device and a two-way radio allowing communication with the operator of the school bus. Furthermore, parents must have access to the real-time location of their child’s school bus.

(According to the City Council Finance Division, about 6,000 out of the approximate 10,000 school buses used for pupil transportation already have GPS technology compliant with the legislation.)

The suite of bills, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to either sign or allow to age into law, also mandates that the DOE must report to the Council twice a year specific information regarding bus transportation duration times, detailed information on complaints about school bus service and ensuing investigations, as well as the number of compliant buses, vendors, and students using the system.

The DOE will have to share with parents their student’s bus route, scheduled arrival and departure times, as well as a school bus ridership guide with detailed descriptions of the system and the complaint protocol process. DOE will also be required to share daily if their child’s bus is late arriving or departing their school.

The ridership guide is required to be sent to authorized parents and guardians of general education and special education students.

The Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation have long been criticized for complications in the complaints process and for leadership turmoil. Public criticism reached a height this past November when multiple school buses, including students with special needs, were stuck in the snow and could not deliver some students until past midnight. While getting stuck was apparently not the bus company or drivers’ faults, the lack of ability to communicate with parents or for parents to track their children’s whereabouts was frightening and troubling to many, including parents and City Council members.

But while the package of bills passed by the Council do a lot, they do not address all of the issues faced by Nicole and Sally Kabel, and other families with similar challenges. A new bill is in the works to more directly address those situations.

Nicole said that the doctors at NYU Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital “gave their hearts, they gave their hours, they supported us in every way, shape, and form. And although they could not save her life, I have no anger to them whatsoever.”

“I do, in fact, have anger towards the Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation,” she said.

Council Member Justin Brannan, whose Southern Brooklyn district the Kabels live in, said Nicole’s “testimony at that hearing was just gut-wrenching. I knew the story because I had lived it with her but really hearing her lay it all out in front of everybody was really eye-opening and really moving. I wanted to become an elected official for moments like this.”

“Most people would think [testifying at the Council] would be an insane thing to do after losing a child but there’s so many things that are out of your control that doing something on things you can control makes me feel better,” Nicole said in a phone interview.

The STOP bills most directly address the aspects of Kabel’s testimony dealing with communicating with the Office of Pupil Transportation and lodging complaints against the Department of Education and the OPT. However, the bills don’t really deal with issues related to how parents directly manage Individualized Education Programs and transportation.

Brannan told Gotham Gazette that as a direct result of the Kabel family’s ordeal, he is currently writing legislation to address the school bussing system for students with special needs.

“I’m a big believer in the constituent marching in the office and saying there should be a law and you doing everything you can do to make a change,” Brannan said in a phone interview.

“The idea that came out of her testimony was to find a way so that no other child with additional needs or an IEP has to deal with this type of insanity ever again,” he said.

The Council “listened to a lot of families and have given it a lot of thought on how to make the process better,” Kabel said in the interview.

Brannan’s planned bill, which is being drafted by the Council’s staff, would require the Department of Education to name specific caseworkers for parents and guardians of children with both an IEP and some type of special needs transportation assistance.

“One of the problems Nicole speaks about is she got someone on the phone with a heart and who cared but then was rerouted and had to tell her story again while she should have been playing in the park with her daughter who was dying of cancer,” Brannan said.

Furthermore, Council Member Kallos told Kabel at the October hearing that the OPT “may need a position just focused on special education” and a way to enhance “interoperability in the DOE for the different departments and to share information,” both of which could potentially be part of further legislation.

“I was so angry about the time I wasted in bureaucracy and the amount I had to do to give her a meaningful life in a world in which a child can go to school and have friends and learn,” Kabel said in the interview.

She added she would still like to see the DOE implement a program to assign someone who knows the IEP, is assigned year around, and “makes sure everything is done correctly without putting it back on the parent.”

“This is where bureaucratic dysfunction was impacting real lives,” Brannan said. “When your daughter is sick, and her life hangs in the balance then bureaucracy isn’t just frustrating, it’s life affecting.”

Brannan’s bill will be introduced in the City Council once Council lawyers finish drafting it. He said he expects it to pass the Council quickly, becoming the next step in efforts to improve both the city’s school transportation system and its services to students with special needs, and where the two meet.

“It should not be so hard to send your child to school,” Kabel said.

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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After Parent’s ‘Gut-Wrenching’ Testimony, Next Step in City Council School Bus Reform Mon, 04 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
First Public Advocate Debate; Cuomo Manhattan Speech & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 4 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8251-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-4 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8251-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-4 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week the state Legislature will continue its very busy start to the year, including more budget hearings, while Governor Andrew Cuomo will give a speech in Manhattan on Thursday.

The main event of the week might be the first debate in the special election for Public Advocate, which will take place among 10 candidates on Wednesday night (there are 17 candidateson the Feb. 26 ballot). Tuesday will mark just three weeks until the vote; the second debate will be on Feb. 20.

There are several interesting hearings at the City Council this week, but perhaps most notable is the Thursday oversight hearing on police discipline, which comes just after the NYPD received and responded to an independent report commissioned by Commissioner James O'Neill that found the police department's approach to discipline is secretive and inconsistent. O'Neill promised some reforms, while also reiterating support for a state law change that would allow more transparency around officer discipline.

There's a lot to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will hold a press conference in the state Capitol.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday, "On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza will make an announcement about Pre-K and 3K. This event is open press. There will be no Q-and-A." The announcement will take place at PS 128 Audubon on West 169th Street.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “city agency responsiveness to 311 service requests,” as well as to discuss a proposed law to require 311 operators to indicate to callers when an agency can’t respond to a complaint.
--The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “client experience at HRA centers,” as well as to discuss several related proposed laws, including to require all HRA Job Center or SNAP employees to undergo de-escalation training, require a social worker to be present at all HRA facilities, and requiring space for children at HRA facilities. "The hearing comes after a highly publicized incident in December when Jazmine Headley entered a Department of Social Services (DSS) Job Center after her child care benefits were terminated. Ms. Headley allegedly waited over four hours to speak to a supervisor and subsequently faced a physical encounter with HRA and NYPD officers as Ms. Headley’s child was removed from her arms."

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at both Council hearings. Later in the day, in his Acting Public Advocate role, Johnson will continue his five-borough bus rider survey tour in Queens, "talking to bus riders at the Jamaica Center - Parsons/Archer Station in Queens with Council Members Adrienne Adams, Rory Lancman, and I. Daneek Miller."

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Monday in the Capitol, "Senator Luis R. Sepúlveda will address the human rights violations at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn involving lack of electricity and heat...The senator will be joined by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Senator Jamaal Bailey."

On Monday, the State Legislature will hold two joint budget hearings: on housing at 11 a.m. and on workforce development at 3 p.m.

Tuesday
The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

"Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins joined Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, Senator Todd Kaminsky, and members of the Senate and Assembly Majority Conferences to announce support for historic legislation to ban oil and natural gas drilling in New York's coastal areas. The legislation (S.2316), sponsored by Senator Kaminsky, will protect Long Island and New York from the Trump Administration’s dangerous offshore drilling expansion efforts. The Senate Majority will pass this critical legislation on Tuesday, February 5."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on health and Medicaid.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCHA management of TPA funds.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:45 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “discrimination testing and commission-initiated cases at the NYC Commission on Human Rights.”

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on elementary and secondary education.

Wednesday at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, the latest episode of Max & Murphy will air; catch it on 99.5FM or streaming at wbai.org.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the first of two televised debates in the special election for Public Advocate. There are 10 participating candidates, who met the financial threshold needed, out of the 17 who will be on the February 26 ballot. The debate will air on NY1 and be streamed online by the network, which is co-sponsoring the Campaign Finance Board-sanctioned debate with POLITICO New York, Citizens Union, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Latino Leadership Institute, The League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring the Parks Department to report more detailed information on its capital expenditures, requiring the Department to provide portable defibrillators to all public pools and staffing all pools with someone trained to use it, and to allow the Department to distribute extra defibrillators to sports leagues after fulfilling their obligation to youth baseball and softball leagues.
--The Committees on Justice System and Public Safety will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding police discipline, and to discuss several related proposed laws, including laws requiring the NYPD to report monthly on complaints of police misconduct, requiring the NYPD to study the feasibility of an “internal disciplinary matrix,” requiring District Attorneys to report detailed information on criminal prosecutions, requiring the NYPD to publish its disciplinary guidelines and reports, requiring the NYPD to provide DAs with disciplinary records, and requiring the NYPD to report on arrests for obstructing government administration and resisting arrest. The committees will also discuss a resolution calling for the state to repeal section 50-a of the civil rights law.
--The Committee on Health will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law allowing individuals to request that the name of a physician whose license has been revoked be removed from their birth certificate.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on mental hygiene.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Governor Cuomo will speak at the Association for a Better New York at the Midtown Hilton, discussing infrastructure.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will host a debate for Public Advocate candidates. NY1’s Errol Louis will moderate. The participating candidates are former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Members Rafael Espinal and Ydanis Rodriguez, and Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Nomiki Konst.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton for a “CityLaw Breakfast” focusing on “rebuilding New York’s airports for the 21st century.”

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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First Public Advocate Debate; Cuomo Manhattan Speech & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 4 Sun, 03 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Seeks Expanded Power, Sweeping Change in Recommendations to Charter Revision Commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8249-city-council-seeks-expanded-power-sweeping-change-in-recommendations-to-charter-revision-commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8249-city-council-seeks-expanded-power-sweeping-change-in-recommendations-to-charter-revision-commission johnson council

(Photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council wants a voice in picking the commissioner of the NYPD, more independence for ethics and oversight agencies, and greater power over the city budget.

Those are among the recommendations that the City Council made in a new report to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, seeking amendments to the city’s governing document that would broadly strengthen the powers of non-mayoral elected officials and require changes to how the city budgets, decides land use changes, and plans for the future.

The 2019 commission was created last year through legislation passed by the Council and spearheaded by then-Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Its members are appointed by a variety of public officials, including the mayor, comptroller, borough presidents, and City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who also appointed the chair.

A separate commission, conducting its work in 2018, had previously been appointed by the mayor and put three questions on the November ballot that were overwhelmingly approved.

On Thursday evening, the Council-created commission finalized a list of focus areas that will be the subject of several public hearings in the next few months before its final report is due in September. Ultimately, its recommendations will be on the ballot for voters to approve or disapprove this November.

The City Council’s 37-page report to the commission details several recommendations in key areas on the balance of power in government, voting processes, police oversight, city budgeting and contracting, and land use and planning policy. The report is authored by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Fernando Cabrera, who chairs the Council's government operations committee, and Brad Lander, the deputy leader for policy.

“It’s been almost 30 years since the last comprehensive Charter Commission and based on the public participation in the 2019 Commission’s process, it is clearly time for change,” Johnson said in a statement. “In formulating the Council’s proposals, we took into consideration all of the public testimony given as well as Council Member input, and we are confident that our recommendations will improve the way our City is governed and make life better for New Yorkers.”

Balance of Power
The report proposes requiring advice and consent powers for the City Council in appointing the city’s corporation counsel, the NYPD commissioner, City Planning Commission chair, the chief administrative law judge and the executive directors of the Campaign Finance Board and Conflicts of Interest Board (none of these positions are currently subject to Council approval). It also proposes implementing three-year terms for each of those positions.

It also proposes requiring the City Council’s approval before the mayor can remove the commissioner of the Department of Investigation, currently the one department commissioner the Council must approve after mayoral nomination. That proposal may be a response to the controversy involving the termination of former DOI Commissioner Mark Peters, who had been a thorn in the side of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. Though Peters was removed for overstepping his authority, Council members at the time raised concerns about the agency head’s ability to stay independent and investigate the very mayor who appoints them without worrying about retaliation.

The Council also recommends giving the City Council, the public advocate, and the comptroller one appointment each on the Conflicts of Interest Board, which is currently made up entirely of members appointed by the mayor. “No single elected officer should be solely responsible for the appointment of COIB and by dividing the appointments between all the branches of City government, COIB can more effectively meet the goals of its mission,” the report reads.

Other recommendations include giving the Council a direct appointment to the city’s Art Commission and changing the structure of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A few of the proposals would also increase the authority of other elected officials, including the public advocate, an office with a small budget and limited powers but a strong bully pulpit. The Council proposes allowing the public advocate to direct DOI to conduct investigations and giving the office an appointment at the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which probes NYPD officer misconduct. The report also recommends independent budgets for the public advocate and comptroller — the two offices would be able to submit their own budget proposals into the mayor’s executive budget — and guaranteed “non-negotiable” budgets for borough presidents and community boards based on a percentage of an existing, related budget.

Voting and Elections
The upcoming special election for public advocate on February 26, with 17 candidates on the ballot, illustrates cause for some of the issues that the Council’s report addresses, it says. It advocates for establishing ranked-choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, in all primary and special elections. Without ranked choice -- which allows voters to pick their preferences by ranking and distributes second-rank votes if no candidate initially meets the required vote threshold -- a candidate in a crowded special election could win with a small total vote and percentage of the ballots cast.

The report also notes that establishing ranked-choice voting would eliminate the need for costly primary and general elections that are held after a special election -- for instance, the winner of the public advocate special will have to defend their seat later this year. The report recommends doing away with those contests since ranked-choice would ensure that a candidate with deep support is elected to the seat and serves the remainder of a term.

Police Oversight
The Council recommends giving the public advocate the power to appoint one member of the CCRB, reducing one of the mayor’s appointments, and also proposes that the agency’s chair be chosen jointly by the mayor and the Council.

It also pushes for putting into law the CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit, which conducts civil trials for officers accused of severe misconduct. The APU was created in 2012 through a memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and the CCRB, which the report points out could be revoked by the police commissioner, threatening the independence of the oversight agency.

The Council also proposed strengthening the CCRB in other ways, tying the agency’s budget to the NYPD’s, giving it subpoena power, and establishing a time-bound process for the NYPD to respond to the agency’s disciplinary recommendations.

Budgeting and Contracting
One of the more prominent roles of the City Council is its power to approve the city’s annual budget in negotiation with the mayor. For years, Council members have cried foul about the imbalance in those negotiations and the “budget dance” -- purposefully underfunding an item in initial proposals only to fully fund it later on, knowing all along the plan is to do so -- that mayors past and present have used as leverage.

In his first year as Council speaker, Johnson pointed to the imbalance and put forth a new focus on the city’s capital budget and made the level of rainy day funds put away each year a priority. The Council would put new related measures into the charter.

Among other things, the report proposes requiring the mayor to submit revenue estimates at a fixed date in the budget process, allowing the Council to estimate how much the city should be spending, and calls for increased transparency in the expense budget, particularly by tying spending to performance measures.

It also proposes limits on the mayor’s control over appropriated funds, and more efficiency and transparency in the long-term capital planning process.

Perhaps the biggest budgetary change the report recommends is the creation of an explicit Rainy Day Fund, which is currently prohibited by a law in place till 2033. The Council recommends establishing the fund in the charter as well as seeking state authorization for it.

On city contracting, the report recommends several improvements including setting time limits for specific processes, such as requiring that oversight agencies review contracts within 30 days (the same limit applied to the Comptroller’s office), and involving the comptroller’s office at an earlier stage.

Land Use and City Planning
The report advances several suggestions for making the city’s land use process “more equitable and rational,” chiefly by requiring a comprehensive plan for the city every ten years, created with community feedback, to inform policies on land use and infrastructure.

The Council also seeks to enhance the “fair share” system which determines how municipal facilities and infrastructure is sited across the city. The current “fair share” guidelines have often been criticized as inadequate and have not prevented the concentration of undesirable facilities, often in low-income communities of color. The Council’s report proposes changing those guidelines into binding rules to be followed and updated regularly along with other improvements to the siting process.

The Council is also attempting to wield more power over land use applications, giving them the ability to modify city-sponsored land use project during the approval process.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Seeks Expanded Power, Sweeping Change in Recommendations to Charter Revision Commission Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In Amazon Debate, Atlantic Yards Lessons Beyond Those Aired at First City Council Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8229-amazon-debate-atlantic-yards-lessons-city-council-queens http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8229-amazon-debate-atlantic-yards-lessons-city-council-queens barclays center ground

An Atlantic Yards groundbreaking (photo: Spencer T Tucker)


More public participation might help. So might ULURP. But rigorous skepticism is more important.

It was fascinating, having watched in 2004 and 2005 two New York City Council subcommittee hearings on the announced Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project, to see the Council's Committee on Ecomomic Development, with the Speaker prominent, on December 12 take a distinctly adversarial stance toward the proposed Amazon campus in Queens.

Back then, not only were the Governor and Mayor gung-ho for “jobs, housing, and hoops,” many Council members, despite their questions, were essentially enthusiastic. Meanwhile, the developer and supporters got significant time from the hearings’ start, relegating opponents to later slots.

And it was curious to hear both proponents and opponents of the Amazon deal rather tritely invoke lessons from Atlantic Yards (now called Pacific Park), suggesting the need for either broader public participation or the importance of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which gives the Council the final say (rather than using the state General Project Plan, which puts the Governor in charge).

Don’t get me wrong: neither broader participation nor ULURP are necessarily bad things. But they’re hardly saviors when big money and powerful players are at work, and when projects unfold over time and multiple economic cycles.

For example, promises made in Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), or even in state approval documents, as we’ve learned, can be followed by contracts that offer crucial slack. For example, the fine print allowed Atlantic Yards, estimated to take ten years, a 25-year buildout.

So, while these massive development projects differ significantly, the Atlantic Yards experience makes clear that, as the Amazon deal unfolds, more muscular, and consistent, skepticism and oversight is needed. We’ll see how much surfaces at the next hearing, held by the City Council's Committee on Finance, scheduled for January 30.

Circumventing ULURP?
In December, at about an hour into the first of several promised Council hearings on the Amazon deal, Council Speaker Corey Johnson confronted James Patchett, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, about a line he’d truncated—for faster delivery—from his prepared statement: “this is by no means an attempt to deliberately circumvent the ULURP process.”

“Former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff was asked, when he left city government” about the avoidance of ULURP for Atlantic Yards, recounted Johnson. “If I had to do it over again,” Johnson said, paraphrasing Doctoroff, “I would bring Atlantic Yards through ULURP…because it's the right process to get community buy-in, and the public review is worthwhile.”

“Now, I don't agree with Dan Doctoroff on everything, but I thought that was an interesting comment,” Johnson continued, pressing Patchett on “why it was important…to facilitate the subverting” of ULURP.

Patchett replied that the “UDC Act”—referring to the Urban Development Corporation, the state authority that can override local land use—“is available to do more comprehensive planning,”  and is “more powerful” than ULURP for certain projects. Certain things, he said, can’t happen with ULURP, like having the state hold title to project land. Hmm—similar tactics were used with Atlantic Yards, but Doctoroff, in retrospect, would’ve used ULURP.

So when Patchett said the city’s primary focus was getting the promised 25,000 jobs, it sounded like the end justifies the means. “More powerful” also translates as “certain passage by appointees who answer to the governor.” With Atlantic Yards, that meant not only initial passage of the project, but steady agreement regarding revisions of the timetable and thus promised public benefits.

Empire State Development, the successor to the UDC, has, in my observation, steadily affirmed the governor’s (and developer’s) will regarding Atlantic Yards. Only at state legislative oversight hearings have ESD officials faced hard questions. That key state authority, we should remember, avoided the first City Council hearing on Amazon, just as it sidestepped those Atlantic Yards hearings held by the Council.

Community buy-in?
“We certainly did take lessons from Atlantic Yards,” Patchett continued, citing “the importance of community input, the importance of genuinely involving people in the way the project ultimately looks. That's why we set up the Community Advisory Committee.”

Pre-empting the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) announcement, state Senator Michael Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer announced on November 21 that they would boycott such a body, calling it “a thinly veiled attempt to present the Amazon development as a fait accompli.” That’s hard to doubt, though it is possible that the CAC -- supposed to advise on issues like workforce development -- could have some impact.

The CAC has 45 members (though one’s already resigned), appointed in consultation with local elected officials and stakeholders, and is supposed to meet quarterly; its three subcommittees -- including one that will advise on local infrastructure spending -- are supposed to meet monthly. Town halls should be held two weeks after each quarterly meeting, reported Christine Chung of The City. That could add some sunlight.

Given the very low bar, this has more legitimacy than the Atlantic Yards CAC, which was not set up until some 28 months after the project was announced and barely met. When Atlantic Yards opponents, in a lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental review, called the CAC illegitimate, a judge disagreed, saying the law is so slack it’s even legit to establish such a committee after a project is approved.

A somewhat transparent CAC also seems better than the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a private contract that purported to guarantee such things as job-training and affordable housing, but had crucial loopholes; for one thing, the developer never hired the required Independent Compliance Monitor.

The CBA was used as a political wedge. The developer gained support from groups -- some with track records, others astroturf -- led in large part by black leaders in Central Brooklyn, who had legitimate grievances about past developments and could help a large corporation to argue that middle- and upper-class opponents living closer to the project site, largely white, were selfish NIMBYs.

So it’s surprising that Amazon has not already organized some Queens stakeholders to vouch for the company’s intentions to lift up some of the borough’s struggling precincts. After all, Amazon has already taken a page from the big-developer playbook, buying ads in the tabloids (and mailing several flyers to New Yorkers) repeating, for example, the dubious claim that the project would bring $27 billion in new tax revenues.

Keep in mind that even seemingly robust public consultation may only go so far when the state’s in charge. In 2014, a volunteer body, the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), was set up to advise ESD, as part of a 2014 settlement to avert a potential lawsuit on fair housing issues. However, it’s mostly toothless.

A few now-departed AY CDC members have raised questions about the project, while most -- the board is controlled by the governor -- are there to nod yes. Though the AY CDC is supposed to meet quarterly, last year it held its second meeting -- essentially to support an ESD contract renewal -- with just one day’s notice on March 30, and hasn't met since.

How good is ULURP?
Though ULURP offers more public input, and New York City legitimacy, than the state process, it typically leads to tweaks, not significant changes. Doctoroff has said the Bloomberg administration at the time doubted its rezoning prowess, so it pursued the expedient route around the City Council. “With twenty-twenty hindsight,” he wrote in his 2017 memoir, “I am positive we could have placated our opponents in negotiations and gotten the process through ULURP.”

Well, not quite; some people adamantly opposed the arena (now Barclays Center), or the project’s density. But ULURP would at least have put the debate in the public sphere, and empowered the local Council member, then Letitia James.

It should be noted that the two Council committee hearings regarding Atlantic Yards came under the leadership of then-Speaker Gifford Miller. After the project was approved, while the Speaker was Christine Quinn, known for her closeness to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Council wouldn't green-light future oversight hearings requested by James and colleague Brad Lander.

Today, compared to the Atlantic Yards history, the Council Speaker is less beholden to the mayor; the economic impacts of the 9/11 attacks are more distant; we don’t have the distraction (and lure) of professional sports; and we’ve seen the explosion of gentrification near the waterfront. Moreover, Amazon is a lightning-rod company, to say the least.

(Still, it would be interesting to see whether an office project at the Long Island City waterfront without subsidies -- or Amazon -- would generate such pushback. After all, the Amazon site was once to encompass two huge mostly residential rezonings -- Anable Basin, Long Island City Innovation Center -- arguably adding more neighborhood burdens.)

Yet, Johnson surely knows that ULURP is its own political game. Consider the Council’s recent approval of a giant two-tower project, 80 Flatbush, at a site that bridges Downtown Brooklyn and low-rise streets. After the project’s developer sought to nearly triple the allowable density, Council Member Steve Levin expressed concern, while the local community board was staunch in its opposition.

Eventually the project was approved with only modest reductions, and Johnson, according to Levin, was very much in the loop. While the public learned a lot about the expected benefits -- affordable housing, a replacement school, a new school -- ULURP never ventilated a key question: the value of the additional square footage the developer gained via an upzoning.

Regarding Amazon and ULURP, not everyone sees a silver bullet. As urban planner Sylvia Morse tweeted, “The people are shouting NO AMAZON, not ‘we want 7 months of procedural theater, during which speculators will drive up housing prices in LIC, followed by a bad deal getting rammed through anyway after council members get to pretend they tried.’”

A better planning process
Last September, Council Member Lander offered some cogent criticism before the Council-spurred 2019 Charter Revision Commission, suggesting that, with challenges like affordability, sustainability, and aging infrastructure, “our highly reactive ULURP process just is not getting the job done."

"Each application is brought either by a private developer or by the administration,” Lander said, “and it's not judged against a broad set of goals we've collectively agreed to, for sustainability or affordability or how to share and distribute the challenges and benefits of growth.”

He suggested "a comprehensive and proactive planning process.” What might that mean regarding Amazon? Perhaps the city and state should’ve set some goals for transit and other infrastructure for Long Island City beforehand, beyond the modest $180 million announced by the city on October 30. Remember, the two percolating rezonings were not being judged in that proactive way. (See criticism from the Municipal Art Society.)

A broader effort at planning might have put the city and state “incentives” (subsidies) in context. Sure, we’re not necessarily shoveling cash, outside a state construction grant that could be worth $505 million, as a special favor to Amazon, given that most of the subsidies are as-of-right and performance-based.

But some dialogue and data might clarify, as critics have argued, whether such subsidies are wise and deserve to be perpetuated. After all, Amazon admitted that the prime, not sole, driver was the talent pool.

Stronger analysis
There are also other murky parts of the deal, such as a seemingly low fee for public land and generous lease terms, as I wrote last month for Gotham Gazette. It was interesting to see Speaker Johnson scorn the state projections that saying Amazon would be a financial boon for the city and state, and argue for an independent study.

New York has a vehicle for such analysis; it’s called the city’s Independent Budget Office and, when called in 2005 and 2009, IBO raised serious skepticism about Atlantic Yards (and should probably do an update). With that project, however, government officials and many in the press embraced a study paid for by the developer, which was wrong from the start and which is now clearly way off (in part because the project wasn’t built in ten years).

Another analysis is needed, too. At one point during the Amazon hearing, Council Member Francisco Moya requested an independent study to report on such things as the project’s economic, infrastructure, and housing impact. The NYC EDC’s Patchett, nonplused, responded that, of course, the state process requires a study.

But that’s not a truly independent study. In projects like Atlantic Yards, such environmental reviews, however sufficient to pass legal scrutiny, serve the interests of the project’s sponsors and the agency boosting it.

The Council could fund a such an independent study. Sure, this doesn’t address the question of Amazon-the-company, with business practices that, to some, disqualify it. But, at the very least, if the chief executives of New York City and State are going to offer pre-cooked ambitious plans, the obligation of the legislative branches should be continued oversight.

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Norman Oder is a Brooklyn journalist who writes the watchdog blog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report. On Twitter @AYReport.

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

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In Amazon Debate, Atlantic Yards Lessons Beyond Those Aired at First City Council Hearing Sun, 27 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000