Authors https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion Sat, 24 Aug 2019 01:15:43 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Replacing Unsuccessful ‘Community Benefits Agreements’ with Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8737-replacing-unsuccessful-community-benefits-agreements-with-neighborhood-stock-ownership-plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8737-replacing-unsuccessful-community-benefits-agreements-with-neighborhood-stock-ownership-plans yankees nycfc stadium

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


When Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man, and Amazon sought to locate a major campus in New York City, they ran into a buzzsaw of opposition that derailed the project. Despite the promise of tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in local investments, members of the community reacted to the company’s planned arrival with fear and fire. Rallies against the tech giant occurred weekly. Elected officials orchestrated public hearings where they criticized the corporation. Lots of bad press accompanied the news that Bezos would have his own helipad.

Neither Governor Cuomo nor Mayor de Blasio could put this Humpty Dumpty deal together again. After months of disgrace, Amazon withdrew.

Now, the world’s third-wealthiest man, Mansour bin Zayed, owner of the New York City Football Club, wants to build a soccer stadium in The Bronx. And, like Bezos in Queens, he’s likely to run into a storm of opposition from that community. What can be learned from the Amazon issue that can help both the neighborhood and the stadium project?

The collapse of the Amazon move into Long Island City signaled the end of the era of the “Community Benefits Agreement” (CBA). The benefits agreement strategy has been used by neighborhoods for decades to confront gargantuan development projects like sports arenas or corporate expansions. But decades of unfulfilled promises made by corporations and government officials to communities have sullied the reputation of CBAs. New York City neighborhoods have become suspicious of agreements that can be (and have been) ignored by behemoths like Amazon, Forest City Ratner, and politicians.

The Barclays Center was created with a CBA. The new Yankee Stadium came with a CBA. And, the current talk about a Bronx professional soccer stadium includes conversations focused on perks promised to the host neighborhood, like jobs and housing for local residents. But the promise of perks never convinced Queens that the Amazonian tech giant and the world’s wealthiest man were worthy of their support.

Civic groups in Queens like those in the Bronx and Brooklyn have become disillusioned because these benefits agreements lack enforcement. At Yankee Stadium, members of the community board who opposed the new ballpark and its CBAs were removed from the board. In Brooklyn, small businesses feel ripped off by the developer whose community benefits promises lacked the force of law and transparency. In Queens, local elected officials were left out of the negotiations by the mayor and the governor.

New York City neighborhoods need a new strategy to safeguard their integrity and create a partnership among residents, local businesses, nonprofits, government, and developers.

I propose a new approach, a Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plan (NSOP), modelled after employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

ESOPs have been around since 1956. Across the country, there are nearly 7,000 ESOP companies covering more than 14 million participants. In ESOPs the workers earn the right to buy shares in the company at a discount rate based on the number of years they have worked there. These worker-shareholders have a seat on the company’s board. Profits are shared with employees through dividends and increases in the stock price. Transparency abounds, and so does workplace satisfaction.

The ESOP model can be modified to reflect and reinforce lots of different stakeholders, not just employees. It can become a mechanism by which residents, local businesses, employees, and civic organizations become partners with, not opponents of, a developer.

This is how a Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plan could work: those who live, work, or own a business in the development area will be given stock options based on the length of time they’ve lived, worked, or operated a business in the project district. Nonprofits in the vicinity would also be gifted shares based on their membership. Instead of agitating, NSOP members will be aggregating money, based on the revenues of the company and its stock price.

This NSOP will protect communities from having to settle for corporate hand-outs. It will tie the community and the corporation together so that revenue for the company automatically means money for the community.

If a soccer stadium were built in the Bronx, for example, an NSOP would mean that broadcast fees, stadium naming rights, and merchandising deals benefit those whose transportation, trash, and tranquility will be impacted by the sports venue. Using an NSOP framework would give neighbors and newcomers a common ground to discuss corporate policies and procedures. With an NSOP, the dynamics of patron and patronage that created hostile environments for Amazon, Barclays, and likely a new soccer stadium could be avoided.

Whatever is good for the community will be good for the corporation and vice versa.

Will the stadium developer, the team owners, the mayor and the governor have the foresight to reject the old “community benefits” strategy and try a new approach? Will they see the soccer stadium project as a chance for social innovation and community support? Seems to me like a good goal (pun intended) for everyone.

***
Dr. Cary Goodman is executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District at Yankee Stadium.

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cgoodman@gg.com (Cary Goodman) Opinion Fri, 23 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Small Business ‘Crisis’ That Isn’t https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8748-the-small-business-crisis-that-isn-t https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8748-the-small-business-crisis-that-isn-t city council mmv sbs bishop

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


When shops and restaurants that you love and depend on close it can be heartbreaking; I know from personal experience. My Upper West Side neighborhood has been seen as the epicenter of what some call a “small business crisis” in New York City, and we have certainly seen our share of lost community icons and long-shuttered storefronts, but a new report shows there is no citywide crisis and lawmakers should be very careful as they consider remedies to what problems do exist.

Earlier this month the New York City Department of City Planning issued a comprehensive, well-designed study of vacancies on commercial business strips in 24 neighborhoods across the city. It shows that retail storefront vacancies are not unusually high in most neighborhoods (the industry standard is 5-10%) and, where they do exist, are due to a number of causes, which differ from place to place and storefront to storefront.

Just last month, a package of bills was adopted by the City Council that will provide even more information about retail vacancies by requiring that landlords report periodically to the Department of Finance on the number and status of their retail spaces.

Yet elected officials continue to refer to a “crisis” of retail vacancies. Just a few days after the City Planning report was released, Council Speaker Corey Johnson bemoaned the “blight” of retail vacancies “all across the city.” 

Examples of long-standing merchants priced out by rising rents are more compelling news stories than data that shows the localized nature of the problem. So, despite the fact there is no citywide crisis and the Council’s new legislation will provide additional data on vacant storefronts, support is strong for a proposal to require sweeping protections for retail tenants to help assure lease renewals, including mandatory 10-year terms and arbitration when landlord and tenant cannot agree on rent increases. The number of Council sponsors of the “Small Business Justice and Stability Act” (SBJSA) has grown to 30 (of 51 members) since a hearing was held on it this past December.

Concern about retail storefront vacancies and turnover in New York City is not new. It has been labeled as a “crisis” as far back as the 1970s and was a focus of intense scrutiny during the Koch administration in the mid-’80s when the mayor responded by forming a commission to study the topic. Then-Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger championed a rent arbitration proposal back then.

Several of my favorite restaurants, diners, and clothing stores on the three blocks of Amsterdam closest to my apartment have closed over the last ten years. There are many vacancies in my neighborhood for a number of reasons.

Some are due to the creation of new, unrented retail space on the ground floor of brand new high-end residential buildings that have sprouted up along the corridors; some are because proprietors decided to retire, or because a new enterprise misjudged how much business it would attract in the area, or because the landlord -- sometimes a residential rental or co-op building -- is holding out for a chain store type of tenant that can pay a high rent to help offset increasing costs like property taxes. This is all part of life in an upscale neighborhood like the Upper West Side. It may be unsettling and even sad, but it is not a crisis. 

Also, while some of us may miss our favorite places, the new stores and restaurants that replace them are serving the people that live here, albeit in different ways.

An example is a large new restaurant/juice bar that has opened around the corner from my apartment. A beloved diner used to be there, and when the lease was not renewed nine years ago, it remained vacant for more than two years. The two small stores next to it were also vacated, while the rental apartment building owner held out for a larger tenant to take over the entire space. A slick new place arrived that lasted five years but didn’t seem to me to have been able to generate enough business to sustain the large space. (There were protests when the spaces were combined and when the new restaurant opened.) After another six months, Tacombi, which has several other branches in the city, opened. With a menu of reasonably-priced Latin-American food and drinks it appears to be thriving and is filled with neighborhood families.

It is understandable that elected officials feel compelled to “do something” when their constituents feel impacted in such a direct and personal way, which explains why my City Council representative, Helen Rosenthal, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, are two of the most vocal advocates for the SBJSA. But as the City Planning report shows, there is simply no basis for citywide legislation. Time will tell, but I expect that the newly-mandated reports from landlords will bear out that conclusion. 

Moreover, the SBJSA will do nothing to bring back beloved stores that have already closed and could make it even harder to bring in new tenants since landlords, with less flexibility to respond to the market, will be more selective and want only those with a proven record of financial viability.

A more targeted approach would focus on strengthening retail storefront presence in those areas that City Planning calls “Underperforming Corridors” – in Coney Island, Brownsville, Richmond Hill, and Longwood -- which suffer from long-term historic disinvestment. Incentives and/or modest tenant protections would help these areas without interfering with business decisions in high-income areas that don’t need help. 

We are not suffering from a shortage of places to shop or eat on the Upper West Side. The market will work here: if stores remain vacant for too long, landlords will lower the rents. That appears to be starting to happen.

The Council should not forge ahead with sweeping legislation that will impose real burdens on landlords in the majority of neighborhoods. 

***
Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

 

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ckellerman@gg.com (Carol Kellermann) Opinion Thu, 22 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State Campaign Finance Commission is About to Get to Work; Here’s How It Can Help Albany Clean Up Its Act https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8745-state-campaign-finance-commission-is-about-to-get-to-work-here-s-how-it-can-help-albany-clean-up-its-act https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8745-state-campaign-finance-commission-is-about-to-get-to-work-here-s-how-it-can-help-albany-clean-up-its-act govandcuomo frdowntown

(photo: governor's office)


Over the next few months, New York State is poised to overhaul its campaign finance laws in ways that will help reduce corruption and pay-to-play and give more of a voice to the average person. 

The potential for this major reform hinges on the actions of the Public Financing and Elections Commission. It is no exaggeration to say that the commission can achieve historic change when it issues binding recommendations on December 1.

The Commission was established during the April budget deal following a campaign for public financing by the 200-group coalition Fair Elections for New York, including Reinvent Albany. The nine-member state commission was appointed by Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders, and is charged with establishing a public financing program. 

We want the commission to create a strong small-donor matching program, dramatically lower campaign contribution limits, and establish independent enforcement as in New York City’s successful program, which is widely seen as a national model.  

A public financing system encourages everyday New Yorkers to participate in our democracy by matching small contributions (or a small portion of a contribution) with public funds. This amplifies the voice of regular folks who cannot make large contributions, and often aren’t even asked for donations.

Reinvent Albany found the state’s legislative leaders raised few campaign donations from the very people they were elected to represent during the 2018 election cycle. State Senate leaders raised only 23 percent of their contributions from their home district residents, while Assembly leadership raised just 16 percent.

Public financing is essential for fixing our broken campaign finance system. Most of the money donated to Albany elected officials comes from special interests – corporations, associations, and unions – and very wealthy individuals. The 2013 Moreland Commission found the Assembly Health and Senate Committee Chairs in 2011-2012 received about three quarters of their campaign contributions from lobbyists or the healthcare and insurance industries. Candidates received 65% of their funds from donors who gave $1,000 or more and just 3% from donations of under $100 during the same period. 

If this year’s commission truly wants to change Albany, it must establish a strong public financing system. Reinvent Albany has put forth 18 recommendations for a strong public financing program, including these critical components:

-Create an independent agency to administer campaign finance for all candidates, including those who take public funds. With the state giving public funds for campaigns, the enforcement agency must be fair, independent, and safeguard taxpayer funds so they are used appropriately.

-Dramatically lower contributions limits – and make even lower limits on doing business donors – for all candidates. Candidates must be incentivized to participate in the voluntary public financing program rather than opt out and accept large donations. Donations to all candidates must be low enough so they do not create the appearance or reality of corruption or pay-to-play.

-Set reasonable thresholds to receive public funds. Candidates only receive public funds if they show community support measured by the number of small contributions and the dollar amount raised. These figures must be low enough so community members with local support can run for office.

-Match small contributions only. Only small contributions should be matched with public funds. A common misconception of the New York City public financing program is that candidates are given $6 in taxpayer funds for every $1 in small contributions up to $175. The truth is the first $175 of any contribution, no matter the size, is matched $6 to $1. Reinvent Albany believes taxpayers should not subsidize large contributions – currently allowed up to $70,000 – under New York State campaign finance law.  

-Establish “sure winner” restrictions. To protect public dollars and the integrity of the public financing program, public funds should not be given in full to candidates with nominal opposition. Only a portion of public funds should go to candidates whose opponent has few endorsements, little media exposure, or hasn’t held an elected office previously.

If the Public Financing Commission includes these components in its program, and applies it to all offices and elections, New York’s campaign finance system will stand as a national model for addressing the problem of money in politics. 

The commission and its appointers – the state’s leaders – should seize the moment for, at long last, transformative change.

***
Alex Camarda is Senior Policy Advisor at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @alex_camarda & @ReinventAlbany.

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acamarda@gg.com (Alex Camarda) Opinion Wed, 21 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Further Dominates State Job Growth; Rest of State Still Growing Slowly https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8742-new-york-city-further-dominates-state-job-growth-rest-of-state-still-growing-slowly https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8742-new-york-city-further-dominates-state-job-growth-rest-of-state-still-growing-slowly frst dep mayor ant sho

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


New York City is now utterly dominating job growth in the State of New York. In the past two-and-a-half years, 79% of all new jobs in the state have been created in New York City.

New York State Labor Department seasonally-adjusted data show that 230,000 of the nearly 293,000 jobs created in the state from December 2016 to June 2019 were in the city. The growth rate in the city for the two-and-a-half year period was 2.1% per year; for the rest of the state separate from the city, the growth rate was about one-half of one percent per year*.

The city's share of growth has picked up even more since the end of 2017; 138,000 of the 169,000 jobs created statewide from December 2017 to June 2019 were created in the city -- nearly 82%. The city's share of total state employment was 46.5% at the end of 2016; as of June 2019 its share was 47.5%.

In October 2018 I wrote about the increasing contribution of the New York City economy to the state's tax revenue, much of it due to its share of employment growth. The increasing share of jobs will only accelerate this trend. While the city economy has become the engine of the state's economic growth, the Cuomo administration has focused much of its attention to rescuing the Upstate New York economy, which faltered in the two recessions that occurred after 2000. 

   

NEW YORK EMPLOYMENT (000)

   
   

Dec.2010

Dec.2016

June.2019

   

New York State

8587.4

9493.6

9786.2

   

New York City

3781.1

4413.6

4643.9

   

Source: NY State Labor Department Seasonally Adjusted Employment

Job growth rates for both New York City and the rest of the state have slowed compared to the period between December 2010 and December 2016. The city gained 633,000 jobs in that six-year period and its growth rate was 2.8% per year, compared to 2.1% per year since December 2016. The rest of the state gained 274,000 jobs in those six years, a growth rate of just under 1% per year. The city was 70% of the state's job growth in those six years, quite dominant then, but its share of growth just keeps expanding. Comparable national job growth rates for December 2010 to December 2016 was 1.9% per year, and 1.6% from December 2016 to June 2019.

One reason for slower growth outside the city is that job growth rates in the New York City suburbs have fallen to about the same rates of growth as Upstate. Upstate New York is a big area and one should not generalize too much about it. The growth rates in Upstate New York vary greatly by metropolitan area; some areas are achieving modest growth, others hardly any growth at all nine years after the Great Recession ended.

Long Island gained about 100,000 jobs from December 2010 to December 2016, but just 19,000 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. The Orange-Rockland-Westchester metropolitan area gained 50,000 jobs in the 2010-2016 period, but just 7,000 from the end of 2016 to this June. These two New York City suburban areas had their growth rates slow from 1.3-1.4% per year from 2010-2016, to under six-tenths of one percent per year in the past two-and-a-half years.

One of their possible challenges may be the competition from New York City itself, since the city has become such a powerful economic and social magnet and these suburban areas are right nearby.

   

SUBURBAN EMPLOYMENT(000)

     

Dec.2010

Dec.2016

June.2019

Nassau-Suffolk

 

1237.6

1338

1356.9

Orange-Rockland-Westchester

663.7

713.9

724.3

The four larger Upstate metropolitan areas are growing. The Syracuse metropolitan area has gained more than 9,000 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, growing at a rate of 1.2% per year. The Buffalo-Niagara Falls area has gained 10,500 jobs since December 2016, for a growth rate of three-fourths of one percent per year. From 2010 to 2016, it gained 20,000 jobs, for a growth rate of six-tenths of one percent per year.

The Rochester area gained 7,300 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, a growth rate of .55 of one percent per year. From 2010 to 2016, it had gained about 23,000 jobs and had a growth rate of .8 of one percent a year. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy area gained 7,700 jobs since the end of 2016, for a growth rate of .7 of one percent a year. It had done better in the 2010-2016 period, gaining nearly 34,000 jobs in those six years for a growth rate of 1.3% per year.

   

UPSTATE LARGE METRO AREAS (000)

     

Dec.2010

Dec.2016

June.2019

Buffalo-Niagara Falls

537.9

558

568.5

Rochester

 

509.9

533.1

540.4

Albany-Schenectady-Troy

432.7

466.5

474.2

Syracuse

   

308.9

316.8

326.1

Several other Upstate metropolitan areas are growing at more than 1 percent a year. The Ithaca metro area had the best sustained growth since 2010 in Upstate New York, gaining more than 7,000 jobs, including 2,600 since the end of 2016, for a sustained growth rate for the eight-and-a-half years of about 1.5% per year. Two Hudson Valley areas, Dutchess-Putnam and Kingston, have gained about 5,700 jobs over the past two-and-a-half years for a growth rate of 1.1% per year. They have gained 13,000 jobs since December 2010.

Five smaller Upstate metro areas are struggling. Binghamton, Utica-Rome, and Elmira have gained 2,200 jobs among them since the end of 2016, for a combined growth rate of just three-tenths of one percent a year. Glens Falls metro has lost jobs since the end of 2016 and Watertown-Fort Drum has only gained 100 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. The combined employment base of these five metropolitan areas is about 368,000, making them combined just barely larger than the Syracuse metro area and smaller than each of the four larger Upstate metro areas.                      

   

OTHER UPSTATE METRO AREAS(000)

   

Dec.2010

Dec.2016

June.2019

Dutchess-Putnam

141.4

146.6

149.9

 

Utica-Rome

129

127.6

128.6

 

Binghamton

107.8

103.2

104.2

 

Ithaca

 

59.1

63.9

66.5

 

Kingston

 

59.8

61.9

64.4

 

Glens Falls

54.5

56.2

55.5

 

Watertown-Ft.Drum

42.9

42

42.1

 

Elmira

 

39.5

36.8

37.2

 

The Labor Department's estimates for the 12 Upstate metropolitan areas show job gains of 45,000 since the end of 2016 to June 2019, with employment rising from 2.512 million to 2.557 million, or a growth rate of seven-tenths of one percent a year. The metropolitan areas of Upstate New York include about five-sixths of total employment in Upstate New York.

State Labor Department estimates for the non-metro areas of Upstate New York from 2016-2018 show job gains of a little over 4,000, for a growth rate of about four-tenths of one percent per year. The non-metro areas of Upstate New York have a little more than 500,000 jobs. They are one-sixth of Upstate New York employment and about 5% of total New York State employment.

The loss of population continues to be a challenge for sustaining economic growth in Upstate New York.

Below is a population growth table taken from the New York State Assembly's annual Economic and Revenue report from early 2019. It shows that New York City was 95% of the state's population growth between 2010 and 2017. The Hudson Valley, the Capital Region, and Long Island had small but positive population growth, but the rest of the Upstate New York regions lost population. Clearly these regions would benefit from new immigrants and increases in the allowable number of refugees into the United States.

jbimage1

And what of the Cuomo administration's efforts to help Upstate New York? The administration's main initiatives have included the Buffalo Billion, the $1.5 billion Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (some projects are in the Downstate area), the Albany Nanotechnology Initiative (begun during the Pataki administration), infrastructure spending in transportation and water and sewer upgrades, Tax-Free New York, cheap hydropower allocations from the State Power Authority, new investments in renewable technologies, especially windpower in the Lake Ontario area.

Surely these initiatives, and there are many, have had a positive impact, and are ongoing efforts that are budgeted for several years of future investment. But for them, the Upstate New York economy would likely be in even weaker condition.

Since the end of 2010, the aggregate numbers for Upstate show a net gain of 156,000 jobs. The state had a $10 billion deficit in 2011, the first year of the Cuomo administration, and there were spending cuts that affected state and local government employment, especially local schools.

Upstate New York lost 37,000 government jobs between 2010 and 2016, with those jobs stabilizing around 2013. Government jobs have remained relatively flat since that time in Upstate New York, so private sector employment is higher than the 156,000 net gain, probably about a 190,000 increase. It should also be noted that the State Labor Department's separate regional metro data show somewhat higher job growth numbers*.

The most recent year-over-year growth rates by state, from 2017 to 2018, showed 16 states had growth rates of seven-tenths of one percent per year, the Upstate New York growth rate, or less. Twenty-three states had growth rates of less than one percent.  Upstate New York is not at the bottom of the nation in growth - it is slowly growing.

The state has also cut income, corporate, and property taxes, to the chagrin of progressives who would like to see stronger government spending. Governor Cuomo came into office in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and concern about whether New York taxes were undercutting business investment and encouraging out-migration affected early decision-making about how to grow the state's economy. More recently, recognition about the importance of infrastructure investment has replaced tax cuts as a priority, especially with the uncertain impact of federal tax reform on New York.

Since December 2010, the economy of the City of New York has essentially been carrying the state, with the city responsible for 863,000 of the 1.199 million jobs gained statewide.

(*The State Labor Department notes in its monthly employment press releases that the separate regional Metro area employment estimates do not match up (add up to the same numbers) as the aggregate employment numbers reported Statewide. The Statewide employment reports are estimated independently of the regional estimates. As a result there are discrepancies between subtracting New York City and its suburban areas from the statewide numbers to get the Upstate employment numbers, versus adding up each of the separate regional Upstate metro areas. Using aggregate numbers results in smaller employment growth totals for Upstate New York and the rest of the State outside New York City. The aggregate numbers show a growth rate of one-half of one percent a year; the regional numbers show .6-.7 tenths of one percent a year.)

***
Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

 

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jbrennan@gg.com (Jim Brennan) Opinion Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
We’re Transforming Public Sector Contracting https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8743-we-re-transforming-public-sector-contracting https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8743-we-re-transforming-public-sector-contracting mbdb maven cli

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


As the City of New York continues to work towards building the most efficient, most transparent, highest functioning government possible, the historically opaque and wasteful government contract procurement process is often overlooked, and for too long has been deemed too complicated to untangle.

But new technology has the capacity to make government procurement simpler, faster, and cheaper -- and it is happening in New York.

Of the city’s $92+ billion annual budget, over 20% -- approximately $19.3 billion -- is spent buying the necessary goods and services used to provide vital services to New Yorkers, maintain and improve the city’s infrastructure, and facilitate the government’s day-to-day operations via nearly 40,000 financial transactions. For any large organization, from governments to Fortune 500 companies, managing that kind of scale is a challenge, requiring dedicated people and state-of-the-art software that is up to the task of making procurement as efficient as possible.

At Ivalua we have spent the last two decades building our spend management software to maximize value for both private and public sector organizations along every step of the procurement process, and we’re in the midst of doing it for the City of New York.

Spend management technology enables procurement and supply chain leaders to more effectively manage how their money is being spent by:

-Identifying opportunities to reduce costs and drive efficiencies;

-Improving transparency in bidding to ensure competitive pricing;

-Speeding up the contracting process;

-Streamlining the purchasing process for procurement officers and suppliers to ensure invoices match contracts.

Leading private sector companies have long leveraged such technology to optimize their procurement processes, maximizing value, improving efficiency, mitigating risk, and ensuring transparency for shareholders. Unfortunately, the ability of governments to drive similar results has been greatly limited until now.

Despite their best intentions, strict regulations and complex, ever-evolving legislation have bound the hands of those charged with procuring the goods and services needed to run a government. For decades, city agency procurement teams have had to rely on paper-based processes or homegrown, subpar solutions, without the best-of-breed capabilities that drive real value in the private sector. This frustrates everyone, from taxpayers who just want a park built, to the companies selling the playground equipment.

For years, Ivalua has been helping the most proactive public sector leaders close this gap at all levels of government, including states such as Maryland, Arizona, and Ohio, Shared Services Canada, Paris’ airports, and now right here in the great City of New York. With a major office right here in Manhattan (one of 15 around the globe), we live here and rely on the same vital services.

For New York, we’re now implementing a complete suite to maximize the efficiency and transparency of city government.

The city planned its transformation over three phases spanning several years due to the massive complexity involved. The first phase focused on vendor management and deployed in 2017. A vendor registration process that used to require 12 pounds of paper per vendor and take most vendors 30 days has been fully digitized and cut to just a day.

Information that was previously siloed at dozens of agencies is now shared, improving transparency and efficiency, with input already provided by over 12,000 contractors, 24,000 members of their staffs, and 7,000 city agency staff. Contracts can now be registered more quickly with more timely, automated submission to the city Comptroller.

The second phase deployed more recently and focused on streamlining the purchasing process itself. The third phase will address the bid solicitation and invoicing processes to take taxpayer dollars further while improving payment timeliness and accuracy. It is in design mode, on schedule to be delivered in 2020.

All told, New York City has already significantly improved efficiency, transparency, and the ability to deliver better services more rapidly. While much work remains, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services has taken an incredible step forward that will prove to be a model for cities across the country, and we are proud to be leading the way with them. 

***
Dan Amzallag is CEO of Ivalua, Inc. On Twitter @ivalua.

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damzallag@gg.com (Dan Amzallag) Opinion Mon, 19 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Attorney General James Should Sue to Dissolve the Trump Organization https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8736-attorney-general-james-should-sue-to-dissolve-the-trump-organization https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8736-attorney-general-james-should-sue-to-dissolve-the-trump-organization let james att

NY AG Letitia James (photo: @NewYorkStateAG)


For a company of only a few dozen employees, the Trump Organization has accumulated an astonishing rap sheet of fraud, crime, and other corporate misconduct over the years. And since its owner came to occupy the Oval Office, the company has sunk to new depths as a vehicle for influence and corruption by supplicants from corporate lobbies and foreign governments.

Now that federal prosecutors have refused to pursue a clear case of felony campaign violations using the Trump Organization as the fraudulent financial vehicle, Trump’s Attorney General and the federal Department of Justice are giving the boss’ company a green light for similar campaign crimes in 2020.

But New York Attorney General Letitia James doesn’t answer to Trump, and she has a power unique in America: the power to investigate and potentially dissolve the Trump Organization. It’s time to use that power.

Under the state’s Business Corporation Law—the modern version of a long-standing legal procedure with a rich history tracing back to the medieval English “writ of quo warranto” —Attorney General James can file a lawsuit in state court to dissolve a corporation, such as the Trump Organization, that is incorporated in New York. The test is whether the company “has exceeded the authority conferred upon it by law,...or carried on, conducted or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner, or by the abuse of its powers contrary to the public policy of the state has become liable to be dissolved.” (This is a cousin of the separate legal provision under which the New York Attorney General successfully sued to dissolve the Trump Foundation.)

This type of lawsuit to dissolve a corporation isn’t common, but it isn’t rare either. Right now, Attorney General James is in the middle of a dissolution case against a credit card equipment leasing company, and just last year her office won another dissolution order against a different company. It’s true that neither of those were companies owned by the president of the United States—but it’s all the more important that the president should not get more lenient treatment for fraud than other citizens get. If no one is above the law, New York state law should apply to presidents and non-presidents equally.

Consider, then, the Trump Organization. That’s the small nerve center, based in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, that oversees a sprawling empire of about 500 tightly-controlled Trump businesses and real estate developments. Some of those, like the Trump National Doral Miami golf course, were legitimate businesses before the Trump Organization bought them. Others, such as the no-longer-Trump SoHo in Manhattan, seem on paper like they might be legitimate, but due to the Trumps’ poor business skills, can only be profitable through extensive fraud.

Still others, such as the Mar-a-Lago resort and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., began as legitimate businesses, but have become festering swamps of corruption since Trump entered the White House. And a few, such as a Panama City development dubbed “Narco-a-Lago,” or the failed Trump Tower Baku in Azerbaijan, seem to have been conceived at the start as vehicles for money laundering and corruption.

The case against the Trump Organization, detailed in a series of letters that we and our colleagues sent to Attorney General James and her predecessors, is extensive. Keep in mind that Michael Cohen already pleaded guilty to a campaign finance felony directly implicating Trump himself and Trump Organization officials knowingly and willfully.

Some of the charges on the company’s rap sheet—fraud against customers and investors, illegal political contributions, bribery, and obstruction of justice—reflect corporate misconduct of a relatively familiar type, but at an eye-opening scale. Other charges—violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, and facilitating the most flagrant presidential violations of the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses as a business model—are more unusual and also more compromising of our national security. The overall picture is a company soaked in a culture of corruption and impunity.

Dissolving the Trump Organization doesn’t mean closing office buildings, hotels, or golf courses, or putting innocent people out of work. The law provides that the Attorney General can work with a court-appointed receiver to develop a plan to ensure that relevant businesses can continue to operate and pay their staff and vendors while dissolution is pending in court, and allow for successful operation afterwards under new ownership.

Will Attorney General James use her authority to hold this corrupt company accountable? She’s not afraid to tangle with Trump. When he accused her—the first woman and the first African-American to be elected New York attorney general—of just being Governor Cuomo’s “tool” for “harassing” Trump’s businesses, she kept her cool and responded, “No one is above the law, not even the President. P.S. My name is Letitia James.”

It’s a name that Trump—as well as Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and the assortment of corrupt “business associates” sweating in Trump Tower—had better learn. Because if enough New Yorkers make their voices heard, her signature may soon appear on a lawsuit to dissolve the Trump Organization.

***
Ron Fein is the Legal Director of Free Speech For People. Jed Shugerman is Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. On Twitter @RonFein & @JedShug.

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mauthors@gothamgazette.com (Ron Fein & Jed Shugerman) Opinion Fri, 16 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Improving Opportunity Zones to Truly Benefit Needy Communities in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8733-improving-opportunity-zones-to-truly-benefit-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8733-improving-opportunity-zones-to-truly-benefit-new-york-city childrens museum cojo

Speaker Johnson, the author, at a construction site (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Opportunity Zones, which were part of the 2017 federal tax package, have the potential to improve low-income communities. But the way they are currently structured, they will only benefit neighborhoods already in the midst of building booms and gentrification.

Here is how they are supposed to work: Investors get tax breaks if they invest in businesses and property development in low-income communities. In New York City, investors are eligible to save on state and local taxes in addition to their federal taxes.

Unfortunately, in a city like New York that already has substantial incentive programs across the city and has enjoyed relative economic success in recent years, these new incentives could end up mostly going to projects that would have happened anyway. 

Opportunity Zone neighborhoods like Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, and Gowanus are communities where private investment has already poured in, and seems poised to continue doing so even without the extra tax incentive - and as a result, they are expected to attract the majority of any Opportunity Zone investment that does happen. Our city does have neighborhoods that would benefit from the additional investment right now, but these aren’t them.

Displacement is a concern, too. 

The expected concentration of investment in a small handful of already-affluent (and often rapidly-changing) communities, and in high-end real estate, could accelerate many of the elements of gentrification that we are already struggling to keep up with. 

Fiscally, the program could be a huge loser for New Yorkers. 

With investors looking for the optimal combinations of high-profit and low-risk investments, and no requirements that investments deliver any public benefit, capital is likely to flow toward large, low-risk companies and high-end residential, commercial, or hotel development. In other words, not the intended targets, and not the people or businesses who could use help from the government. 

New York City taxpayers will bear a huge chunk of the cost. The city’s loss of tax revenue shares from Opportunity Zone tax breaks at the federal, state, and local levels could amount to $715 million just over the next five years – and much more over the following decades as investors continue to cash in on tax-free capital gains.

In New York, officials must make sure these Opportunity Zones help the right targets in the most vulnerable communities.

First, lawmakers in Albany must add localized criteria to the incentives. In order to be eligible for state- or city-level Opportunity Zone breaks, I am proposing that a project must be receiving substantial state or city government discretionary assistance, such as direct subsidy, land acquisition, or subsidized loans. This would help because local government agencies consider public benefit as a factor in dispensing discretionary assistance, so this change would enshrine a requirement of at least some benefit for local communities.

Second, we need to right-size other, complementary subsidies for projects. State and city agencies should consider Opportunity Zone equity sources as part of their due diligence process and allocation calculations when disbursing subsidy. This could prevent the unnecessary over-subsidizing of projects receiving both government assistance and Opportunity Zone tax breaks.

Third, we need robust monitoring at all levels. Federally, and at the state level, administrators must mandate transparency, monitor compliance, and evaluate results to ensure that Opportunity Zone incentives are used appropriately, fairly, and to the benefit of the public.

In cities like New York, this program could be a windfall for wealthy investors to little community benefit. But with action from state legislators, there is still a chance to salvage at least some benefit for New Yorkers who actually need it.

***
Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. On Twitter @NYCSpeakerCoJo.

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cjohnson@gg.com (Corey Johnson) Opinion Wed, 14 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Monument to an Indigenous Future, Worthy of Attorney General James’ Support https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8730-a-monument-to-an-indigenous-future-worthy-of-attorney-general-james-support https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8730-a-monument-to-an-indigenous-future-worthy-of-attorney-general-james-support shinnecock indian nation 600x400

The Shinnecock billboard on Route 27 (photo via a Shinnecock Nation member)


New York State Attorney General Letitia James earned a reputation as a relentless fighter for working people in the Brooklyn gentrification struggles of the early 21st century. Representing parts of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early 2000s, City Council Member James insisted that low-income and working people must have a place and a future in Brooklyn.

Block by block, James helped community members keep their homes and businesses in a context where the rent -- tied to the speculative dreams of wealthy investors and not to the livelihoods of current residents -- was always rising. James's office supported my own rent battle in Crown Heights from 2005 to 2010.

But now, in her new statewide role as Attorney General, James is threatening the land rights of a community that has resisted and survived one of the original, violent processes of forced displacement in United States history. Why? 

The Shinnecock Nation of Eastern Long Island is facing legal threats from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the State of New York for launching a billboard project on tribal land.

The advertising revenue from two 60-foot electronic billboards on either side of Route 27, known as Sunrise Highway, at Hampton Bays is slated to support health and dental clinics, a community daycare facility, and other projects for the Shinnecock community. 

The town of Southampton, the Shinnecock's nearest neighbor since 1640, has deemed the billboards a driver distraction, an aesthetic blight, a detraction from the 'character' of the Hamptons, and has enlisted the DOT to stop the project.

The irony of Southamptonites' pearl-clutching in response to the Shinnecock’s modest attempt to chart a path toward economic survival, and not to the McMansions, the private jets, the environmental disaster of a golf course, and all manner of excess that characterize the Hamptons development trajectory is laughable, but not surprising. For generations, Southampton town has insisted that the Shinnecock should play a particular role (read: silent, servile, picturesque) in their shared community. 

And yet, the Shinnecock Nation's decision to use its land as its members wish is their right, the result of 32 years of successful struggle to become a federally-recognized Indian nation; NIMBY doesn't work when it is not actually your backyard.  The legal battle involving this only highway into the Hamptons tests the solidity of federal tribal sovereignty rights against a monied community’s belief that the future of the Hamptons is theirs alone to dream and develop.

Supporting the Shinnecock are the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and others who recognize that the survival of indigenous communities will require new, creative, and unapologetic assertions of sovereignty. In many parts of the country, state or federal highways run across tribal land. These thoroughfares are spatial evidence of a history of violent displacement but they also offer economic opportunities for native communities. By foregoing local or state permits, the Shinnecock root their economic development project in their hard-won federal legal status; and well they should. State and local courts have historically lacked the precedents or courage to support indigenous economic self-determination. The problem of so-called “home cooking” in biased state courts is legendary in federal Indian law jurisprudence

Given her 2018 election as the state’s chief legal officer, Letitia James has an opportunity to move Albany beyond the acrimony that predates her, and has long characterized the relationship between New York State and the Shinnecock Nation.

James had spoken of a desire to use the law to fight for all New Yorkers; there are few politicians who better understand the right to space as a key battleground for creating opportunity and equity. However, the entanglement of economic marginalization and geographic displacement looks different in the state versus the city contexts. Here, the "neighborhood" is the curling whippet of land along the Peconic Bay; "gentrification" has looked alternately like genocide, golf courses, and greenwashing (among other things) over the past five centuries. 

A phenomenon that native scholars have coined “indigenous erasure” helps explain why the Shinnecock billboard project faces such opposition in eastern Long Island, why few in the New York City-Hamptons circuit have spoken out about this issue, and why a progressive fighter like James has not yet reached out to the Shinnecock Nation, choosing instead to maintain the state’s track record of relating to this community through lawsuits and threats. 

I live in eastern Long Island, where indigenous names dot the landscape from Montauk to Massapequa and yet non-native communities are defensive or downright hostile when asked to acknowledge the indigenous present or make room for an indigenous future. Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s claim that "[the billboards] will completely change the character of the community we have fought long to protect" reflects a jarring sense of entitlement; 500 years of settler history will do that to you.  

In these parts, people wonder out loud why the Shinnecock can’t think of anything beyond cigarettes and billboards to earn money -- which is really a way of insisting that the Shinnecock future must follow a course pre-approved by the settlers in their midst who know little about the Nation and care even less. In my area, people crow loudly that this billboard project is the Shinnecock “straying from their culture”-- which is really a way of saying that externally-generated stereotypes of American Indians are more authentic than the voices of actual living indigenous people. ‘Why can’t they just follow the law?’ I have heard. ‘This is not about race, it’s the law!’ But this too is a smokescreen, a bemusing disregard of the copious evidence that U.S. law, particularly where land is concerned, has never been color- or power-blind.

And yet, with all deliberation and speed the Shinnecock Nation moves forward to pursue an economic future despite being largely excluded from the wealth streams of the Hamptons development machine. And so Shinnecock tribal elders have deemed these billboards a monument. They have claimed them as works of art and justice, as a tangible symbol of the Nation’s effort to choose how it is represented in public and to determine its economic trajectory.

As a historian, I understand the multivalent work of monuments -- the way they preserve and petrify particular narratives in their heavy materials. So this past July 4 at sunrise, I joined my Shinnecock neighbors at this monument as an act of solidarity and gratitude for their work of art and faith. I almost hoped to see Attorney General James there. I’ll be looking out for her on Labor Day Weekend at the 72nd Annual Shinnecock Pow Wow.  

***
Dr. Abena Ampofoa Asare is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Stony Brook University (SUNY). She is the author of Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana (University of Pennsylvania, 2018).

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aaasare@gg.com (Abena Ampofoa Asare) Opinion Mon, 12 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Protecting Aging New Yorkers Amid Growing Threats Posed by Extreme Heat https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8731-protecting-aging-new-yorkers-amid-growing-threats-posed-by-extreme-heat https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8731-protecting-aging-new-yorkers-amid-growing-threats-posed-by-extreme-heat mansion tax

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


In a city where flooding is the face of climate change, extreme heat is a silent but growing threat. Every year, extreme heat in New York City causes, on average, more than 450 emergency room visits and 150 hospital admissions, and results in the deaths of 115 New Yorkers from heat stroke and heat-related exacerbation of chronic health conditions. Older people are at the most risk.

For the first time in human history, our planet has more people over 65 than children under five, and the world’s global population is concentrating in cities. New York exemplifies both demographic shifts.

The city’s largest landlord, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), has approximately 62,000 residents aged 65 years and older, and seniors continue to be the public housing authority’s fastest growing population. Research shows that during heat waves older people suffer worse outcomes than the general population when air conditioning is not available or fails due to power outages. This makes it critical that the city augment its current cooling strategies.

As heat waves continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a new report commissioned by NYCHA recommends ways to protect the city’s most at-risk population. Sheltering Seniors from Extreme Heat compares the benefits and costs of a variety of physical upgrades, including energy efficient façades, mechanical cooling, and onsite generator backup, and provides a list of sustainable improvements that would allow NYCHA’s senior residents to remain safely at home during summer heat waves and power outages.

Arup’s study of NYCHA senior housing units reveals that, in the absence of air conditioning, indoor air temperatures rise dangerously high during heat waves and that upgrading building envelopes is not enough to remedy the problem. To ensure adequate cooling, these upgrades must be supplemented with backup power. Analyses comparing partial backup of critical systems to full-site backup found that the latter increases comfort and that implementation is less disruptive to NYCHA residents’ daily activities.

NYCHA recently launched a new cooling system initiative in response to the report. The smart air-conditioning pilot project is currently underway at Meltzer Tower, a NYCHA senior building in Manhattan. As part of the project, each of the building’s cooling units will be linked to a networked central control system for a safe and efficient service during dangerous heatwaves.

Another pilot project designed to test the feasibility of heat-pumps as an environmentally sustainable alternative to gas is slated to launch this summer. Seven apartments at the Fort Independence Houses in the Bronx will have their gas-fired hot water heating replaced by an electric heat-pump system that can also deliver cooling.

Smart and electrified cooling systems offer a great opportunity for New York City to meet its ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050, while ensuring that senior residents can remain comfortably and safely in their own homes during a heatwave or blackout. As the landlord to more than 400,000 city residents, NYCHA has an important role to play in safeguarding New York’s senior population and is paving the way to make New York a safer, more heat-resilient city.

***
Pallavi Mantha is Senior Energy and Sustainability Consultant at Arup. On Twitter @PallaviMantha of @ArupGroup.

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pmantha@gg.com (Pallavi Mantha) Opinion Mon, 12 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Equifax Data Breach Highlights Corporations’ Troubling Use of Mandatory Arbitration and Need for Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8727-equifax-data-breach-highlights-corporations-troubling-use-of-mandatory-arbitration-and-need-for-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8727-equifax-data-breach-highlights-corporations-troubling-use-of-mandatory-arbitration-and-need-for-reform govcuomo signs first exec

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced that New York will receive $19 million from Equifax as part of a broader $700 million settlement for a massive data breach that took place in 2017. This settlement represents a clear victory for civil justice, but it also highlights how major corporations use underhanded mandatory arbitration policies to deny accountability and recourse to consumers.

When news of the data breach first broke in fall of 2017, Equifax attempted to make amends by offering a year of identity theft protection services to affected customers. But this offer came with a startling catch – under the required terms, which could not be negotiated by the customer, affected customers were prohibited from joining collective lawsuits against the company, and instead were required to accept “mandatory arbitration.”

“Mandatory arbitration,” the legal clause wielded by Equifax in its offer of “free” identity theft protection, is widely used by companies as a shield from the civil justice system. Further, it is often buried in cumbersome contractual language (the “terms and conditions” people blindly agree to when they buy something online or even use a coupon), which is more often than not overlooked by consumers until it is too late.

Why is mandatory arbitration a scourge to consumers and victims?

The mandatory arbitration clause strips victims of their right to a trial by jury, which is guaranteed by the 7th amendment, and instead resolves victims’ claims through a private process with an arbitrator and arbitration association selected by the corporation. These arbitration associations routinely do business with the corporation and owe their loyalty not to the interest of justice, but to that corporation. 

Moreover, victims are up against powerful corporations with overwhelming resources, and in an arbitration everyday working New Yorkers are no match for a team of high-powered, professional defense attorneys, who will sit across from the consumer at a large, intimidating conference table, hammering home their points. Further, in mandatory arbitration evidence and outcomes are shielded from public scrutiny and wrongdoers are able to hide their bad acts.  

Our country’s civil justice system is designed to hold companies and industries responsible when their actions cause harm to consumers and employees. In a court of law, victims of negligence, discrimination, and malpractice have an opportunity to address corporate transgressions.

For that reason, it’s important that consumers have avenues to justice unencumbered by mandatory arbitration policies. It’s critical that those affected by corporate negligence can hold bad actors accountable. Under mandatory arbitration, perpetrators can escape scrutiny by burying individual claims in paperwork and litigation costs.

In practice, the civil justice system has forced companies and organizations to address wrongdoings, compensate victims, and correct institutional flaws. When mandatory arbitration has been removed from the picture, civil courts have successfully helped to limit deceptive tobacco advertising, protect people from toxic chemicals, and even make our cars safer.

Mandatory arbitration is a sham, intended to stifle cries of injustice and protect a company’s bottom line. Moreover, this assault on the right to trial has crept into all types of contracts, including the agreement you sign with the nursing home for your elderly parent as well as the items and services you may buy online.

In the wake of the Equifax scandal and countless others like it, it is imperative that our state and federal lawmakers stand up for consumers’ legal rights. 

The concept and practice of mandatory arbitration is an offense against the public interest. It’s time for big business to end the use of mandatory arbitration, or risk being held accountable for using this shameful and deceitful practice to rip off everyday Americans.

***
Michele Mirman is President of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. On Twitter @NYSTLA.

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mmirman@gg.com (Michele Mirman) Opinion Fri, 09 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
American Prosecutors Need Not Wait for Marijuana Legalization https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8718-american-prosecutors-need-not-wait-for-marijuana-legalization https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8718-american-prosecutors-need-not-wait-for-marijuana-legalization cc ps comm prelim budget

Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Last week, Governor Cuomo signed a bill effectively decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana. Once in effect at the end of August, New Yorkers charged with possession of less than two ounces of marijuana will face fines instead of criminal charges. Possession of over two ounces of marijuana maintains high fines and the possibility of jail time.

It is well known that throughout the United States communities of color have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests. In 2018, 89% of all New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession were black or Hispanic; only 7% of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York were white.

The new law fails to address the disparate impact of the pernicious enforcement of marijuana use as grounds for parole and probation violations, but thankfully will allow people already convicted of low-level marijuana possession to have those charges expunged from their criminal records.

This law is an important legislative step towards addressing the over-policing and over-prosecution of our communities, and brings about a statewide change that has already been successfully piloted in parts of New York City thanks to local prosecutors’ sound use of their discretionary power.

In 2014, then-Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson implemented a policy declining to prosecute possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2018, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession in his jurisdiction and vacated 3,000 cases and bench warrants for possession and smoking of marijuana. In February 2019, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession.

These efforts have been mirrored in other states as well. Baltimore District Attorney Marilyn Mosby rightly announced in February that “prosecuting [marijuana] cases ha[s] no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”

Prosecutors across the country should follow the example of these district attorneys. Using their powers, prosecutors don’t need to wait for state or federal marijuana decriminalization or legalization to provide justice.

Prosecutors use their discretion every day to tailor their recommendations on cases; the decision to decline to prosecute certain crimes that do not affect public safety is one way prosecutors should use that discretion to reduce the negative impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, build trust with the communities they serve, and reduce interactions with the criminal justice system that may cause harm despite benign intent on the part of the system.

Regardless of the outcome of any particular case, contact with the criminal justice system can affect an individual’s employment, interrupt child care, and make community members feel unsafe due to unnecessary system pressure. For prosecutors managing offices with heavy caseloads, the decision to decline to prosecute cases that do not increase public safety is also a strategic one. By lowering caseloads, prosecutors are able to reallocate resources to finding

innovative, evidence-based, restorative responses to serious crimes that cause true harm to our communities.

Local prosecutors across the country have the potential to impact countless people through the thoughtful use of their discretion in ways that reflect local values while prioritizing the safety of all. As New York has demonstrated, prosecutors need not wait on state or national legislative solutions to enact policies that will help enable communities to thrive.

***
Lucy Lang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. On Twitter @LucyLangNYC.

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Note: this column has been corrected to note that the Brooklyn DA office announced its policy in 2014 under then-DA Ken Thompson.

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llang@gg.com (Lucy Lang) Opinion Wed, 07 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As New York’s Ambitious Energy Plan Breaks Offshore Wind Records, Report Identifies Challenges and Opportunities https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8722-as-new-york-s-ambitious-energy-plan-breaks-offshore-wind-records-report-identifies-challenges-and-opportunities https://www.gothamgazette.com/authors/130-opinion/8722-as-new-york-s-ambitious-energy-plan-breaks-offshore-wind-records-report-identifies-challenges-and-opportunities energy gov nrel gov 2

(photo: Energy.gov/NREL.gov)


The offshore wind energy revolution has arrived on American shores. In a relatively short period of time, East Coast states are breaking offshore wind records as they compete with each other over wind power. A recent report, though, by the Business Network for Offshore Wind finds that industry challenges will slow growth unless offshore wind states work together to find solutions.

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched the largest offshore wind project in the country. His climate change bill codified 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind power into law, which will produce clean energy for over 3.4 million homes. Similar record-breaking news has been announced in other East Coast states but problems with grid connections, transmission lines, port infrastructure, marine logistics, and employee training can stand in the way of reducing carbon emissions with ocean power quickly and efficiently.   

The speed behind the development of ocean power is one of the most important races the United States must run to strengthen our environment, our economy, and our job growth. Today the U.S. has one offshore wind farm consisting of five turbines, compared to Europe’s 4,543 grid-connected offshore wind turbines across 11 countries. During the next two decades, East Coast states and California will have over two-dozen offshore wind farms under development in various stages. 

Our states have demonstrated they can and will play a critical role in the global renewable energy market, but we have work to do if we wish to ascend to a top leadership position globally. With the help of over 100 offshore wind experts, the Network’s Leadership 100 report focuses on the demands facing the industry with recommendations to meet them.

For example, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are accelerating their goals for a total of almost 16,000 megawatts (MWs) in offshore wind power. But, as of right now, the Northeast grid will be challenged in capacity to produce beyond 4,000 MWs.

The report argues that a project-by-project approach to grid connection is necessary to get the first turbines in the water. However, once the first few projects are constructed and connected to the grid, it will be difficult to reach the goals set forth by states without a coordinated grid approach. This means states need to build and pay for one grid for all states on the East Coast.

Port infrastructure is another obstacle. The report recommends that port infrastructure for offshore wind should be built and its use distributed among states, meaning some states will use port infrastructure in other states to support different parts of a project, and other states may not need to build offshore wind ports at all.

Unique and customized solutions for the U.S. offshore wind industry will give way to yet unknown spin-offs. For example, a bonus industry for the East Coast region is a marine logistics industry. With multiple developers and utilities involved in different states, marine logistics will be critical for coordinating the use of vessels and ports.

Also, as the report explains, bottlenecks will occur, along with setbacks, if the U.S. does not inventory what it can do well and focus on these few things. State competition needs to be resolved and a recognition that not everything can be built in the U.S. is also required.

Overall, there is confusion within the states about the labor, skills, and training needed for offshore wind production. Industry leaders also are confused on where to access training. Our workforce development system is daunting and needs improvements.

The Network’s report includes recommendations for offshore wind states for advancing grid and transmission projects, developing an industry road map and launching a public engagement campaign. The offshore wind supply chain has the potential to reach every state. We all want an American industry operated with American content, intelligence, and know-how. Let the race for ocean power begin but let’s all get on the same team.

***
Liz Burdock is President and CEO of Business Network for Offshore Wind. Jay A. Borkland is Senior Engineering Manager for Lloyd’s Register Boston Office of Renewables. On Twitter @LizBurdock1 of @offshorewindus.

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mauthors@gothamgazette.com (Liz Burdock & Jay Borkland) Opinion Wed, 07 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000