Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The environmental injustice of the past does not justify environmental revenge today or in the future.” - Councilmember Michael McMahon rejecting a plan to build a garbage transfer station on the Upper East Side.
The New York City Council blocked a key aspect of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed waste management plan, which would ship the city’s garbage out of the city by rail or barge, instead of by truck.
Central to the mayor’s plan is the reopening of four marine transfer stations, piers where sanitation trucks can dump garbage onto barges. The trash would then be shipped out of state. (Read an article about the mayor's garbage plan.)
Bloomberg’s proposal has the support of numerous health organizations, environmentalists, and community groups in Brooklyn and the Bronx where thousands of trucks currently ship 50,000 tons of household trash per day through residential neighborhoods.
The council was not asked to vote on the entire waste management plan, only to approve three of the four marine transfer stations, slated for the Upper East Side at 91st Street in Manhattan and in Red Hook and Gravesend, Brooklyn. (The fourth location in College Point, Queens has already been approved.)
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who is running for mayor, has opposed the plan, in large part because the 91st Street station is located in his district.
For weeks, both the speaker and the mayor have been lobbying various members of the council and both sides have delayed a vote several times.
Yesterday, the council voted 29 to 19 (with one abstension) to reject the three waste transfer sites. Two members were absent. (See list below for how each councilmember voted.)
In a legislative body dominated by Democrats, usually under the tight control of the speaker, that often votes almost unanimously, this was one of the closest votes in council history. The mayor is expected to veto the decision, and currently the council lacks the 34 votes needed to override the mayor. The mayor has five days to veto; Speaker Miller then has 10 days to try to gain those five extra votes.
The debate in the City Council broke down into two sides.
Speaker Miller and others argued that the council should not give up its power over land use decisions when it still has considerable concerns with the overall plan. They argued that the plan does not do enough to address recycling, handle commercial waste, and reduce overall garbage production in the city. The mayor's plan will also cost an additional $100 million per year.
"This council should not surrender its leverage over the solid waste management plan," said Miller.
On the other side were council members who argued that 80 percent of the city’s waste is processed in four neighborhoods, which are predominantly low-income and minority communities. The proposed plan requires each borough to handle its own garbage.
"This is the best plan so far to show how we are going to get tons of garbage out of the South Bronx,” said Councilmember Joel Rivera.
The speaker and others have proposed alternative sites for Manhattan like West 59th Street or Pier 76 in the Meatpacking District, but so far the Bloomberg administration has not been open to negotiating the locations of the facilities.
“Environmental injustice of the past does not justify environmental revenge today or in the future,” said Councilmember Michael McMahon, who chairs the council’s sanitation committee. “Let’s put together a plan that is good for every New Yorker.”
The day was marked by vigorous debate and backroom meetings, and for a time, the outcome of the vote seemed uncertain.
Earlier in the day, the council’s subcommittee on Landmark, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses actually approved the mayor’s plan by a vote of 5 to 2.
A few hours later, the council’s Land Use committee, chaired by Councilmember Melinda Katz, introduced a resolution rejecting the earlier decision. The committee approved it by a vote of 13 to 9.
By the time the issue reached all 51 members on the floor of the council, some council members felt strong-armed by the speaker and his last minute tactics. “Seventy-two hours before this vote, I began getting phone calls and a whole lot of pressure to vote against this,” said Councilmember Carmen Arroyo.
But others saw the public disagreement as a sign of democracy in the council. ”It's wonderful that we finally have an issue that we can discuss in a relatively intelligent fashion... and disagree," said Councilmember Simcha Felder.
What most did agree about is that the city is still far from a comprehensive plan for disposing of garbage, a problem that has plagued New York for decades.
“At the end of the day, we are going nowhere,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. “Both sides have politicized this issue.”
COUNCIL VOTE ON WASTE TRANSFER STATIONS
Voted to Reject the Mayor’s Proposed Sites
Peter Vallone, Jr.
Voted in Favor of the Mayor’s Proposed Sites
Abstained from the Vote