Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Shutting Engines At Schools

Idlers be forewarned: Sputtering engines will not be tolerated near schools by the City Council.

That's the message the City Council sent Wednesday when it passed two bills bolstering the city's ability to issue tickets for engine idling anywhere in the city and reducing the allotted time a driver can idle near school grounds.

The council also passed legislation that enables the city to track construction contractors' safety records and requires safety managers at sites with problem contractors.

Idling Engines

If drivers are idling next to a private or public school, they will have 60 seconds to turn off the engine or face a fine, under legislation approved yesterday.

Idling has been restricted in New York City since the 1970s. Currently, vehicles can idle for three minutes, but anything above is subject to a $100 fine, said city officials. The (Intro 631-A) legislation, which was approved by a vote of 43 to 3 Wednesday, does not change the city's fine structure and reduces the idling time only in areas adjacent to schools.

The council also approved a bill (Intro 40-A) by a vote of 40 to 6, which gives Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Sanitation employees the power to issue these idling tickets.

Citing climate change and carbon emissions from vehicles, city officials said it saves gasoline and energy (as well as the lungs of the city's adolescents) if drivers shut off vehicle engines after 10 seconds and restart rather than idle. Idling, they add, adds to the wear and tear of a vehicle engine, while emitting noxious fumes.

The bill, said supporters, is aimed not at parents, but at delivery and diesel-consuming trucks.

"We don't want the city to be seeing dollar signs on the face of parents as they pick up and drop off their kids," said Councilmember John Liu, the bill's sponsor.

Emergency vehicles are exempt from the legislation, and, according to the bill, school buses can idle to "maintain an appropriate temperature for passenger comfort," for maintenance or in emergency evacuations.

Opponents of the bills said the city already issues too many tickets and empowering it to issue more on the backs of parents would be malicious. Others worry that parents dropping off and picking up their children would be subject to the fines if their children were running slightly late.

"The message isn't 'Don't Idle,'" said Councilmember Simcha Felder, an opponent of the bill. "The message is, 'We're out to get you.'"

Some council members wondered whether an educational campaign would curb engine idling better.

In response, the council is considering an amendment to the bill that would exempt both the drop off and pick up times for facilities serving kindergarten through middle school.

Other members took issue with expanding ticketing powers to agencies other than the police department. Idling, they said, should not be used as a source of revenue, especially after the spike in summonses that has occurred under the Bloomberg administration.

"What agency will be next?" asked Councilmember Jimmy Vacca of the Bronx. "Maybe the Landmarks Commission will come and give tickets in my district."

City officials said both parks and sanitation officials already issue these tickets, but the bill would make that power permanent.

A mayoral spokesman said the mayor would sign the legislation.

Construction Site Safety Reprise

The council has approved 10 bills in 2008 in response to two fatal crane accidents in Manhattan. The legislation approved yesterday adds two more bills to this arsenal and is supposed to be the last legislative word in response to the deaths.

The first bill (Intro 878) would assign every city construction contractor a number, which will allow city officials to track their safety records across projects and years. If a contractor has an atrocious record, it could be banned from doing business in the city, according to the bill. This will be the first time the city can track performance and violations for a single contractor, said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

For those with poor records, the city will require contractors to draft and abide by a safety plan. Contractors with the worst records could see their numbers revoked or suspended.

Every general, demolition or concrete contractor will have to have a number to receive a city permit for construction.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg released the following statement in response to the bill's passage: "This tool will give the department an unprecedented ability to track contractors across construction sites and get a true picture of who has the best safety records, and who must be held accountable for unsafe jobs that endanger workers and the public."

In addition, the council approved legislation (Intro 760), introduced by Councilmember Jessica Lappin, requiring contractors with poor safety records or a number of immediately hazardous violations to hire independent safety monitors who will work with the Department of Buildings to ensure the site is run smoothly.

Both bills were approved by the council unanimously.

Lappin said the monitors would serve as the "eyes and ears of the department."

The city will not have to pay for the monitors, though they will report to the Department of Buildings as independent contractors.

A Recovery Package From Bloomberg

Trumpeting, both literally and metaphorically, New Yorkers' ability to get through tough times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed a nine-part "recovery package" during his annual State of the City address Thursday, confirming to many attendees that the 2009 campaign season has started.

Meticulously orchestrated and equipped with its own theme ("New Yorkers. Together."), the mayor's address featured a small marching band brandishing the Brooklyn Dodgers label, a chorus from a Brooklyn elementary school and a documentary short courtesy of Ric Burns, which retold stories of triumph against tragedy in New York City.

The address, which the mayor usually uses to lay out his policy agenda for the coming year, focused primarily on getting the city through the current recession, including jump-starting a proposal to bring in 400,000 jobs. The mayor also focused on quality of life crimes, in an attempt to keep the city from reverting back to the 1970s, when core city services were cut amid an economic downturn.

"Our job is to help all those who are struggling -- help them improve their chances for a job, for keeping their homes, for making ends meet and to do it all without new funding -- because the city just doesn't have the money," the mayor said to a crowd of about 2,300.

Creating Jobs

In what could be his most ambitious proposal, Bloomberg suggested rescinding the unincorporated business tax -- a change that would need state approval -- and creating jobs through capital programs, including the construction of the recently approved Willets Point development in Queens. As of 2005, according to the city's Independent Budget Office, 22,900 sole-proprietor businesses were subject to the unincorporated business tax. The mayor's plan would rescind the tax for about 17,000 businesses at an estimated savings of $3,400 each.

Bloomberg also hopes to create thousands of "green" jobs by requiring private buildings to become more energy efficient. He intends on expanding job creation programs to accommodate 20,000 individuals instead of the usual 17,000 and hopes to make doing business with the city more accessible by putting certain permits online.

Many of the capital projects that Bloomberg attributed to future job growth in the city are nothing new, such as the expansion of the number 7 subway line and development of Hunter's Point South in Queens.

"If the speech only had those, it would have been fair to fault it for not having new, new jobs," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "But it had more than that."

Many of the mayor's proposals to spur job growth would need either approval from Albany or funding from the federal government, including his call for Washington to pay for new air traffic control systems at the city's airports.

Quality of Life

In addition to job creation, the mayor hopes to keep city streets safe and clean despite the lack of city resources. He wants to identify a dozen habitual quality of life offenders in each borough for "special attention" from law enforcement. He will call them "the dirty dozen."

Bloomberg will also ask the state legislature to approve a proposal making a seventh quality of life conviction in a year a felony. To combat the worst city crime, the mayor proposed to deploy cameras in the three neighborhoods with the highest murder rates.

Keeping in line with his development and education agenda, the mayor said the city would continue to landmark and rezone land in the outer boroughs and would urge the State Legislature to re-approve mayoral control of schools -- set to expire this year. Bloomberg also plans on launching a pilot 311 program, aimed specifically at getting information from the Department of Education to parents.

Cutting Costs

To address the city's skyrocketing pension costs, Bloomberg reiterated his call for pension reform, specifically creating a new tier that would save $5.4 billion over two decades. That proposal sparked applause from some fiscal advocates.

"It’s a very smart approach in our situation to try to do more with less, to try to get the most out of what we have," said Carol Kellermann, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission. "I was very, very happy to see pension reform."

DĂ©jĂ  Vu?

Some saw the mayor's address, held at Brooklyn College, as a kickoff to the mayoral campaign, when Bloomberg will be seeking a third term after winning a change in the city's term-limit law last year.

Welcoming the audience to his borough, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said, "Now that term limits have been extended, so many in the city are looking forward to the mayor's massive job creation program -- by the way, it's also known as the Bloomberg re-election campaign."

The comment was met with laughter and applause.

While some attendees and city officials praised the mayor's address, others said the proposals were stale. Comptroller William Thompson, who is a declared candidate for mayor and is stepping up his criticism of the administration, said he has been working on many of the mayor's ideas for some time.

"There were a few things that you wanted to stand up and go, 'Uh wasn't that my idea?'" said Thompson. "I thought a lot of the vision the mayor put forward are things that I've recommended and suggested."

Thompson referred to his support of small businesses and attempting to increase the number of self-employed.

Others said the mayor's address provided evidence that he is equipped, ready and the right person to lead the city for the next four years.

"He reassured New Yorkers that we are going to have a positive approach to dealing with the economy, and we're not going to sit around and wait for the federal government to take charge," said New York University Professor Mitchell Moss.

Stated Meeting: Residency Redux and Inspecting Water Tanks

Brooklyn Water Tower
Photo (cc) Yovanoff


In a rare disagreement with the Bloomberg administration, the City Council overrode a mayoral veto Wednesday allowing certain municipal employees to live outside of the city after working for two years.

The bill only pertains to District Council 37, the city's largest municipal workers union.

In addition, the council approved a bill requiring the inspection of water tanks, which store thousands of gallons of drinking water, be made public and that a passenger bill of rights be posted in the back of livery cabs. It also made permanent a requirement to recycle at street fairs.

Residency Requirements Reprise

As part of a collective bargaining agreement with District Council 37 in September 2006, the city agreed to allow employees to live outside of the five boroughs, specifically in Nassau, Westchester, Suffolk, Orange, Rockland and Putnam counties.

That agreement also would have allowed other unions to benefit from the withdrawal of the residency requirement.

Saying the City Council would not "give away" its legislative power to negotiate residency requirements with other unions, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said they would consider matters relevant to contracts one by one as they came to them. Thus, the council approved an exception only for District Council 37 (Intro 837) Wednesday by a vote of 47 to 0.

"I don't think this has any effect in the long-term bargaining" with unions, said Quinn. "The issue of residency and whether it should be waived is a significant issue."

There are about 121,000 members of District Council 37, and this bill would affect approximately 45,000 of them.

The bill was approved despite a competing proposal introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Intro 452) in 2006 that would have allowed the administration to relax the residency requirements for some employees beyond those in District Council 37. According to a veto message (which accompanies any bill vetoed by the mayor), Bloomberg said the collective bargaining agreement from 2006 does not jibe with the bill approved by the City Council. It creates the perception of "unfairness," the mayor writes by singling out one union and leaving out others that settled on the same terms.

Bloomberg also opposed requiring that employees live and work in the city for two years before moving to neighboring counties.

The residency requirement bill is the ninth veto override during Quinn's tenure as speaker of the City Council -- far fewer than under her predecessor, Gifford Miller.

Since the collective bargaining agreement more than two years ago, some council members have expressed concern that rescinding a residency requirement would give city jobs to non-New Yorkers. Now, with ever increasing rents and cost of living, members have compromised.

Inspecting Water Tanks

New York City is known for its pristine and pure drinking water. The tanks that hold them, though, are another story.

The city's approximately 12,000 tanks -- according to an estimate by city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene -- must be inspected annually by building owners, and the inspection records must be kept for five years. Those records, however, are not made public. Not even a subpoena can break them open.

Under legislation (Intro 408) approved by the City Council Wednesday by a vote of 47 to 0, that will no longer be the case. Water tank records will be submitted to the city's health department and subsequently reported to the City Council annually. Notices will also be posted on the tanks, similar to city elevators, saying they have passed inspection.

"There may be no more closely guarded secret than the condition of 12,000 water tanks throughout the city," said Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, the main sponsor of the bill. "These reports should not be treated like state secrets."

Currently, when a tank does not pass inspection, the department is notified. But, Garodnick said, the department estimates that a third of city tanks are not checked regularly.

In an urban environment, rodents can carve out holes in the tanks, thus contaminating the water supply of a building.

Passenger Bill of Rights

The City Council also approved legislation ( Intro 880) making more than 40,000 for-hire vehicles subject to the city's passenger bill of rights. The bill was approved by a vote of 46 to 0 with one abstention by Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

The city's passenger bill of rights currently applies to 13,237 taxicabs, but not the 40,217 livery cabs often seen in the outer boroughs. The bill, also sponsored by Garodnick, would require cabs hang the bill of rights in the back seat for passengers to see. The bill of rights includes that drivers be licensed, seat belts be working and that the fare quoted by a dispatcher be honored.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission, Garodnick said, estimates it receives between 400 and 1,000 livery cab complaints annually. By posting information in the back of these cabs, including where to go or call with complaints, the city could have more accurate descriptions of occurrences, the councilmember added.

Street Recycling at Fairs

Largely codifying a practice at street fairs, the City Council approved a requirement ( Intro 908) that street fair operators recycle and properly dispose of their trash.

Scattered throughout the city during the summer and fall months, large street fairs take over popular thoroughfares. This bill, sponsored by Councilmember Darlene Mealy, would require the producers, not the sponsors of the event, clean up. Fines associated with the bill would be $100 per day.

Events held by block associations or the New York City Public Housing Authority would be exempt.

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