Gotham Gazette

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New Bills: From Parking to Playgrounds

More than 230 pieces of legislation were introduced in 2008, most of which won't ever become law.

We waded through some of those bills to give you a roundup of the more recently proposed. In December and January, council members have suggested bills that span the policy spectrum, from banning the sale of dust remover to minors to regulating parking permits for teachers.

Parking Grace Period

In an attempt to do away with "gotcha" tickets, Councilmember Simcha Felder introduced legislation ( Intro 907) reinstating a five-minute grace period for people who violate meter and alternate-side parking rules.

The move is a response to the increase in tickets given to parkers immediately after their meters expire. According to Felder, about 10 percent of tickets issued last year for alternate side violations were issued within two minutes of the time to move the car.

In a prepared statement, Felder said: "Enough is enough. Tickets should be issued to encourage compliance, not to generate revenue for the city."

The Bloomberg administration has balked at the bill, saying traffic enforcement agents are there to enforce the law.

Cleaning Recyclables

Councilmember Darlene Mealy introduced legislation (Intro 908) codifying rules by the Department of Sanitation that require food merchants at street fairs to recycle. The bill also increases fines for violators, which would range from $250 to $500. It would also require the proper trash bins for street events and the proper disposal of recyclable materials.

Energy Volatility Task Force

Legislation (Intro 891) introduced by Councilmember Tony Avella would create an energy task force to review energy prices, their peaks and plummets, in order to propose, revise and review the city's energy policy. Members would be selected by the mayor and the speaker of the City Council.

Getting Gas

Councilmember Maria Baez introduced two bills (Intro 892 and Intro 893) regulating the gasoline industry in the city. The first would require quarterly inspections of gas stations, and the second allows the city to shut down stations for between three to five days if they have more than four violations in a 24-hour period.

Teacher Parking

In response to a crackdown by the Bloomberg administration early last year, Baez introduced legislation (Intro 894) that requires every teacher for the Department of Education to be issued a parking permit.

At the beginning of the school year, the administration cut teacher permits from about 63,000 to 11,000, citing the lack of spaces surrounding city schools.

Baez's office received complaints that teachers were abandoning classrooms to go feed parking meters. The bill, said Baez's Deputy Chief of Staff Domingo Flores, ensures teachers can park during the school day.

Hot Turf

To keep bare feet from the fiery surface of playgrounds, council members Bill de Blasio and Jessica Lappin introduced legislation (Intro 896) that requires warning signs be posted at all city playgrounds with rubber mats.

According to city officials, playground rubber mats can reach temperatures as high as 166 degrees. Five years ago, said officials, a child was hospitalized with second-degree burns from these mats.

"The current signs saying 'footwear should be worn' just don't cut it," said Lappin in a prepared statement. "The temperature of these mats can reach 165 degrees. They can severely burn children and parents and caretakers need to be appropriately warned."

The legislation would require the following warning at any playground: "WARNING - SAFETY SURFACING MAY BE HOT. SHOES SHOULD BE WORN AT ALL TIMES."

Muni-Meter Tickets

Councilmember Daniel Garodnick introduced legislation (Intro 897) that would give drivers the opportunity to challenge tickets if they have a valid muni-meter receipt for the corresponding time period.

If drivers did not show their parking receipt on their dashboard as required, they could mail in the receipt to have the ticket repealed under this bill.

Parking Spots for Car Sharing

Legislation (Intro 901) introduced by Councilmember John Liu would require city parking garages dedicate 10 spaces or 10 percentof their spaces, whichever is less, to cars used for car sharing programs like Zipcar.

Car companies will be required to pay a small fee for the spaces under the bill.

Restricting Dust Remover

A bill (Intro 903) initially introduced by former Councilmember Michael McMahon, now a U.S. representative, would ban anyone under the age of 17 from purchasing dust remover, which has been used by adolescents for "huffing".

Store owners could receive up to 10 days in jail and a $250 fine for a violation.

Crimes Near Schools

Under a bill (Intro 904) introduced by Felder, the New York Police Department would have to notify schools of a crime that occurred against a minor within 1,000 feet of school grounds.

Novelty Lighters

Legislation introduced by Councilmember Miguel Martinez (Intro 884) would ban the sale of novelty lighters -- those shaped like toys that can be enticing to children -- in the city.

Publishing Tax Exemptions

This legislation (Intro 883) introduced by Councilmember Letitia James would require the city compile a list of all recipients of the J-51 tax exemption, which allows landlords to make capital improvements without their assessments changing on affordable units.

The list of recipients would have to be made public on the city's Web site under the bill.

Banning Ghetto

Following up on trend to ban the n-word and the b-word, Baez introduced a resolution (Reso 1723 ) that would symbolically ban the negative use of the word "ghetto," arguing it links "a racial or ethnic group to terminology used to describe a state of poverty (which) only serves to further dehumanize and disenfranchise that particular group."

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.

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