Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/49 Sat, 24 Aug 2019 01:00:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A Chore We Must Do: Over-Hauling Private Waste Management in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8706-a-chore-we-must-do-over-hauling-private-waste-management https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8706-a-chore-we-must-do-over-hauling-private-waste-management assist parade cleanup

(photo: Michael Anton/Department of Sanitation)


Environmental advocates and labor unions are dissatisfied with New York City’s system of collecting garbage from commercial establishments. Unlike waste from residences, including apartment buildings, which is collected by the city’s Department of Sanitation, waste from office buildings, retail businesses, and restaurants is collected by for-hire companies that charge their customers fees for the service.

Environmentalists decry the traffic and pollution caused by multiple different waste collection companies’ trucks driving all over the city on uncoordinated routes and schedules. Labor unions are concerned about the reliance of many of the smaller waste-haulers on non-unionized workers with low salaries, no benefits, and relatively little in the way of safety protections. These concerns were highlighted by fatal crashes that led to the shutdown of one waste hauling company. 

My former organization, Citizens Budget Commission, has long been concerned about the high costs of New York City’s waste disposal practices; as CBC President I first testified about this issue before the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management in October 2011.

We published a comprehensive analysis of city solid waste management in 2014. With respect to commercial waste collection, CBC noted that the high number of private carters (as many as 250 in 2014, including those that handle only special types of waste such as construction and medical) has kept collection prices low and minimized corruption, but a more efficient zoned system would minimize congestion and greenhouse gas emissions:

“...the City should shift from “open” competition to competitively awarded franchises for service in designated districts. The franchise should not be given exclusively to one carter but instead limited to a small number of firms. Such “non-exclusive” franchises allow for greater competition and provide greater opportunity for small and medium size businesses to compete…The franchise agreements should include standards for worker safety and vehicle environmental performance.” 

In November 2018, after two years of study and consultation with stakeholders, the Department of Sanitation released a reform plan that largely reflects CBC’s recommendations. As the City Council appears close to movement on solid waste management reform, it would be wise to quickly adopt legislation that includes the key tenets of what CBC and Sanitation have put forward, so that an aggressive but careful multi-year implementation process can begin.

Sanitation proposes a Commercial Waste Zone (CWZ) program that would divide the city into 20 zones. Within each zone carters would compete to win city contracts to provide waste collection services. Three to five carters would be selected in each zone, depending on the density of commercial activity in the zone. Selected carters would have to specify a maximum price, offer recycling and organic collection at discounted rates, and comply with vehicle emission standards. The contracts would last 10 years and the first awards would be made in 2021 with the system to be phased in over the following two years, 2022-2023.

CWZs would be a dramatic change and all change meets resistance. Some carters are opposed to limiting the number of franchisees, fearing that they would not be able to compete and would go out of business. Businesses, especially large ones that are now able to drive a hard bargain, are concerned that collection fees will increase and they will have little leverage to control costs. They also want flexibility to be able to change trash haulers if they believe they can get a better deal or performance isn’t meeting expectations.

Environmentalists contend that there should be only one carter per zone to achieve the maximum reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Labor unions want the better salary and benefits that union-only employees would receive and that only very large collection firms that have exclusive franchises can assure. 

The City Council Sanitation Committee chair, Antonio Reynoso, has been a strong advocate of some environmentally–oriented waste management policies, like charging for single-use plastic bags and curbside collection of organic waste. Now, he has taken the lead on CWZs by introducing legislation to create franchise zones.

His bill provides for only one franchisee per zone. The enviro/labor groups are pleased, but the business community is very concerned about the prospect of dramatically increased waste collection fees and a loss of customer choice. They point to the recent experience in Los Angeles, which adopted single-vendor zones and prices for some companies quadrupled.  (The LA system is quite different and much larger and more expensive in that it applies to multi-family residential as well as commercial waste collection.)

As they say, the mark of a good compromise is that all stakeholders are somewhat dissatisfied. CWZs will require significant readjustments by the Department of Sanitation, the city’s Business Integrity Commission ( which licenses carters), the business community, and the waste collection industry; it would be wise to move resolutely but carefully.

Moving from what is essentially a free-for-all to a highly constrained and regulated system is probably too much to do all at once. The Department of Sanitation’s proposal to allow several franchisees per zone would give businesses some price and quality leverage to select among a few competitor vendors. It would enable some of the smaller waste haulers to remain in business while elevating the quality of equipment and safety of the industry citywide.

Studies indicate that as much as 85% of the greenhouse gas emission reductions to be gained from a CWZ system would be achieved by limiting franchisees to a small number. So while it may not be the more categorical result that some would prefer, let’s hope that the Council doesn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the very good.

The Sanitation Department’s proposal is a thoughtful balancing of interests and concerns. Hopefully some areas of compromise can be found so that the Council can adopt CWZ legislation in the fall and adjustments can be made, if needed, after the city has some experience with the new system. But the time to act is now.

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

 

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A Chore We Must Do: Over-Hauling Private Waste Management in New York City Wed, 31 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Leaving the REBNY vs NIMBY Doom Loop https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8708-leaving-the-rebny-vs-nimby-doom-loop https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8708-leaving-the-rebny-vs-nimby-doom-loop city planning manhattan brooklyn waterfront

(photo: NYC Planning)


This past week, amidst flooded streets, blackouts, overheated jails, and subway failures, New Yorkers saw the consequences that result from a failure to engage in strategic long-term planning for the future of our city. In the final decisions of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, we also missed a big chance to do something about it.

The dangers of failing to invest strategically in the infrastructure that sustains our city will grow in coming decades, as temperatures and sea levels rise. Meanwhile, even as our infrastructure strains, the city’s population continues to grow. So our housing affordability crisis is on track to get worse – exacerbating displacement, inequality, and the unfair imposition of our city’s burdens on low-income communities of color.

It’s clear that we need a better way to make infrastructure and land-use decisions that take climate change, affordability, and the challenges of growth seriously. Our piece-meal planning system is not up to the task. 

Currently, the process of developing a capital plan to invest in our infrastructure constitutes just making a big list – a list that is in no way informed by plans for rezoning or development. How can we plan which neighborhoods should get resilient infrastructure like levees and seawalls when land-use and growth decisions are happening elsewhere? Shouldn’t we include capital budgeting for infrastructure like transit and schools as part of the process of planning for the new residential growth that will require it?

Meanwhile, New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is a reactive, project-by-project process for considering changes – bereft of strategic vision, shared values, or a connection to long-term infrastructure planning.

Codified in 1975 when the city’s challenge was abandonment rather than growth, ULURP has become reduced to a shrill, tug-of-war between the pro-growth forces of the Real Estate Board of New York (who profit on each development, and therefore rarely worry about which ones make long-term sense for the public good) and neighborhood activists whose Not In My Back Yard advocacy (rooted in a variety of motivations) leaves no way to figure out where and how the growth we need to address the scale of the housing crisis should take place.

The process ensures that decisions are driven by the interest group with the most powerful political connections, creating a planning rationale that reflects and reinforces systemic inequities.

If we are going to plan for the future that’s coming, like it or not, we need a way out of the REBNY vs. NIMBY doom loop. 

The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission -- which last week issued its final decisions on ballot proposals to go before voters this November -- had the chance to plot a better course forward. The Charter Revision Commission heard more complaints about New York City’s land use process than any other topic. Commission members and staff acknowledged “a level of public disillusionment” and that “the somewhat scattered approach the Charter currently takes to its various planning requirements exacerbates this disillusionment and confusion.”

But, even with all the signs pointing to the need for better long-term planning, they failed to propose any meaningful changes. When we vote in November on charter changes, addressing our disparate and dysfunctional planning processes won’t be on the ballot, though 19 other proposals will be.

When the commission began its work last fall, we proposed a real step forward. Together with the Thriving Communities Coalition of community-based groups, affordable housing, environmental, and planning advocates, we asked the commissioners to require New York City to undertake a comprehensive planning process, in which we would work together to set a broader citywide framework for land use and infrastructure decisions.

The process would begin with data-driven, citywide analyses of our challenges. We would then have a public conversation about the values that should shape decisions -- values like fairness across communities, making sure people can stay in their homes, mitigating climate change, investing in resilient infrastructure, new modes of transit, and closing the Rikers Island jails. We could do it every ten years as they do in so many other cities, or every four years to coincide with our mayoral election cycles. 

Together, we would set a citywide framework for the tough job of balancing citywide needs and neighborhood preferences. Communities would get a real voice, but not a veto. The City Council would vote on this broader framework. After that, zoning actions, development proposals, and infrastructure investments aligned with the comprehensive plan would move more smoothly. Those that conflict with the plan would not (or, at least, would have to clear extra hurdles). 

We would plan for increased transit capacity alongside increased housing density, budget for new parks equitably across the city, and take a holistic look at where we need to take further action to plan for rising sea levels and more 100-degree days. Communities could be able to have confidence that promises made to them – for new parks, schools, libraries, or transit – would actually be kept.

Comprehensive planning is not a panacea, but evidence from other cities suggests that it is an essential component of fair and rational progress. As part of their process last year, our friends in the Minneapolis City Council voted to get rid of single-family zoning across the city, and upzone their transit corridors citywide to address their housing shortage (at the same time, they voted to strengthen tenant protections to protect renters from displacement as growth occurs).

Let’s be honest: there is no way Minneapolis would have done this with a process like ULURP, which goes one neighborhood or project at a time. What neighborhood would have agreed to be the first one to give up the privilege of single-family zoning? Not one.

By comparison, of the ten neighborhood rezoning processes initiated during the de Blasio administration, nine have been in low-income communities of color. This would not have happened if we had developed a comprehensive plan, with fairness across communities as one of its principles. 

The Charter Revision Commission failed to get the job done. But the heat wave and its impacts reminded us that, in the longer term, we really don’t have a choice. So in the coming months, we’ll be working in the City Council to do what we can through legislation. And in the coming years, we’ll try to make sure that the 2021 city elections focus on issues that matter the most, even if they don’t always make the daily news cycle. 

Comprehensive planning may not top the polls. But if we are going to meet the collective challenges of rising temperatures and sea levels, growing population, aging infrastructure, keeping people in their homes, and addressing deeply-rooted inequality, we’re going to have to start doing it.

***
City Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso represent parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @BradLander & @CMReynoso34.

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

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Leaving the REBNY vs NIMBY Doom Loop Tue, 30 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State Lawmakers Must Help Launch a New Era of NYPD Transparency and Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8542-state-lawmakers-must-help-us-launch-a-new-era-of-nypd-transparency-and-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8542-state-lawmakers-must-help-us-launch-a-new-era-of-nypd-transparency-and-accountability cm reynoso press

Council Member Reynoso, one of the co-authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


In recent history, New Yorkers have witnessed numerous instances of brutality and mistreatment at the hands of the police. Justice has not been delivered in many of these cases, and they all point to a glaring reality: a lack of transparency and accountability plagues the New York City Police Department.

The public was vividly reminded of this just a few weeks ago when a video of Christopher Parham’s 2018 arrest surfaced. In the video, 19-year-old Parham is seen picking up groceries for the restaurant where he worked when three plainclothes officers followed him outside of the grocery store and threw him to the ground, violently arresting him without cause. The officer who took him into custody – an officer with a history of civil rights lawsuits – and his colleagues slammed his head onto the sidewalk of a busy Williamsburg street, giving him a concussion and tasing him repeatedly before dragging him backwards by his handcuffed arms into a police car.

Despite the fact that this brutal assault occurred in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and was captured on cell phones and security camera, paperwork completed by the NYPD indicated that no force had been used during the arrest. The NYPD says an internal investigation cleared the officers who attacked him of wrongdoing.

The charges filed against Parham were eventually dismissed following the District Attorney’s review of surveillance footage obtained by Brooklyn Defender Services and our partnership advocating on his behalf. However, Parham’s experience with law enforcement is not unique, and residents of New York City are not strangers to officers with problematic histories patrolling their streets.

Stories like Parham’s are why we support the SaferNY Act, a package of bills currently in the New York State Legislature that aims to increase police accountability through measures such as repealing section 50-a of the state’s Civil Rights Law, which shields police personnel records; enacting the Police Statistics and Transparency (STAT) Act; and strengthening the role of the Special Prosecutor currently enacted by executive order.

Police departments in New York are tasked with disciplining their own officers, which means that officers who commit crimes, ranging from lying under oath to murder, are allowed to keep their jobs, even after an assessment of potential wrongdoing has been made. In this enormously flawed law enforcement disciplinary system – one where, for example, a finding of wrongdoing by the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board and Internal Affairs Bureau investigations does not guarantee that officers are penalized – the personnel records of police officers remain sealed under 50-a.

Under 50-a, the information contained in personnel files, including investigations and findings of fact, are sealed from public scrutiny. This is problematic because the publicly available records paint an incomplete picture, one that judges and prosecutors are all too able to ignore at the NYPD’s urging. As a result, even when numerous public civil lawsuits have been filed, they are not considered as findings of fact or determinations of guilt and most of these cases settle out of court.

The public is starting to learn of some of the most problematic cases and worst offenders, however they have yet to be held accountable. As an example, Sgt. David “Bullethead” Grieco has been named in more than 30 lawsuits with allegations including physical violence and lying under oath. Yet despite his egregious track record, cases brought by this officer are still being prosecuted.

If we want a city that is safe, fair, and equitable, we must hold all citizens to the same standards and levels of accountability, including members of our law enforcement. It shouldn’t take a City Council member and advocates to join forces to protect individuals like Christopher Parham from those who are supposed to protect us.

Parham wants to move on with his life, “I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” he says. It is in the hands of the New York State Legislature to get us closer to this goal, and that is why we urge our state lawmakers to pass the SaferNY Act before the end of this session in Albany.

***
City Council Member Antonio Reynoso represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Lisa Schreibersdorf is Executive Director and Founder of Brooklyn Defender Services. On Twitter @CMReynoso34 & @lisaschreib.

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

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State Lawmakers Must Help Launch a New Era of NYPD Transparency and Accountability Wed, 22 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Hearing Highlights Big Gaps in City Planning Processes https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8513-council-hearing-highlights-big-gaps-in-city-planning-processes https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8513-council-hearing-highlights-big-gaps-in-city-planning-processes hearing city hall cm rafael salamanca jr

Council Member Salamanca, center (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


A Tuesday City Council hearing about how city planning is done revealed major flaws in the process and showed significant divides between the mayoral administration and the Council over a set of bills aimed at changing relevant processes. Specifically, the legislation addresses how the outcomes of neighborhood rezonings -- where land use rules are adjusted in certain geographic areas to meet new development goals -- are projected and evaluated.

The hearing, which included racial overtones, was centered on oversight of the “City Environmental Quality Review,” known by its initials, CEQR, the city’s pre-rezoning assessment of the potential impact discretionary changes may have on the area and its residents.

Questions from members of the Council’s land use committee to representatives from the de Blasio administration brought into focus what planning and evaluation tools the city does and does not use when it pursues a major neighborhood overhaul or plans key infrastructure developments, and in measuring what impact these developments have on the communities.

A key concern expressed at the hearing was whether the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission are appropriately and accurately evaluating the local impact of zoning changes to inform future studies and planning. Several of the Council members present sponsor bills intended to improve the way the city evaluates the potential impact of rezonings on local transportation, schools, and residential displacement, changes that often fall along racial and economic lines.

With real estate always at a premium in New York City, the restrictions the city places on how land can be used in the five boroughs has incredibly broad effects on the character and utility of neighborhoods. Anything from the number of apartments available (and the number of affordable ones), what commerce and industry operates, the density of sidewalks and public transportation, and what city services will be accessible, can all be dramatically affected by zoning decisions.

The shifting needs of neighborhoods and the interplay of local economies throughout the metropolitan area makes development -- and, consequently, land use rule changes -- a necessary reality in New York City. But as has been the case in other periods of its history, with drastic recent changes over the last two decades, the city has had to grapple with how to grow responsibly.

City government has a lengthy process for considering and making changes to zoning restrictions, which requires that a lead city agency be designated to conduct a review of the “potential adverse environmental effects” of a rezoning proposal. Except for certain actions deemed by the lead agency to be too minor to warrant review, the study must result in an Environmental Impact Statement with proposals for mitigation strategies to avoid unfavorable outcomes.

The rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004 and of parts of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in 2006 both required Environmental Impact Statements, and were the subject of scrutiny at Tuesday’s oversight hearing.

While representatives of the Department of City Planning and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination (MOEC) spoke to the process of conducting and assessing environmental impact studies, they could not speak to the outcomes of these rezonings and whether the environmental reviews have been able to accurately predict the reality that followed.

What became painfully evident during the hearing was the fact that there is no procedure, or even an intention, to assess the accuracy of environmental impact predictions integral to the city’s consequential decisions to change the way land may be used.

The reality in those two cases is far different from what was predicted by the environmental impact statements, both Council members and administration representatives agreed. Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned largely to create opportunities for commercial development, while allowing some residential expansion; the result 15 years later is a vastly different neighborhood dominated by residential development, and a new economic landscape that has pushed out most of the community there before the rezoning, according to several of the Council members present.

While the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning was intended for residential development to accommodate what was a growing need in 2006, an “explosion” of land speculation, land use variances, and illegal conversions in the years since have also displaced a large portion of residents, according to Council Member Antonio Reynoso, whose district includes parts of the neighborhood. The Environmental Impact Statement for that rezoning predicted a number of adverse impacts, including the indirect displacement of approximately 2,510 residents, and suggested mitigation strategies including the preservation and creation of additional affordable housing in the neighborhood.

The Department of City Planning has never revisited these figures or strategies. (Nevertheless, it considers Downtown Brooklyn to be a “very successful rezoning,” according to Susan Amron, general counsel at DCP, who testified on Tuesday.)

Amron told Council members at the oversight hearing that such a post-rezoning review does not fall under the agency’s purview.

“It is important to remember that environmental review is a disclosure process that applies only to discretionary decision-making, and not to the as-of-right developments that constitute nearly 80% of projects in the City,” she said. “Environmental review is also not a tool that looks backward to identify causes of current conditions...Again, it is a disclosure tool prepared at a specific moment in time, intended to aid decision-makers.”

But Council members present at the hearing could not understand why such a process wouldn’t include a retrospective assessment of whether the methodologies employed are sound and instructive, at times expressing shock and frustration.

“That answer doesn’t sit right with me,” Salamanca said. “How can the City of New York put a report out, submit it to the City Council, and then not go back and double-check to see how accurate that report was?”

Two of the bills being discussed would require city agencies to produce a comparative report on the projected and actual effects of a rezoning on transportation and school overcrowding, sponsored by Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Francisco Moya, respectively. They would further require the Department of City planning or the lead agency to make recommendations on how to amend the CEQR Technical Manual, which provides technical guidance on environmental impact studies, to “more accurately forecast such impacts in future land use actions.”

Another bill, sponsored by Moya, on the table Tuesday would require the city’s housing agency to produce a similar comparative report on residential displacement, and a fourth bill, sponsored by Reynoso, would require the city to track mitigation commitments.

At the hearing, Hilary Semel, director and general counsel of MOEC, the agency responsible for producing the CEQR Technical Manual, said that the office will soon launch an update to the manual, but has not yet determined its scope or the timeline of its release. City agencies “with expert jurisdiction over certain technical areas led the updating to those methodologies” in the past, Semel told the committee. But the manual has only been updated four times since it was first published in 1993, the most recent update in 2014, largely to accommodate changes to local, state, and federal law and policy.

In terms of tracking mitigation strategies, Semel said, OEC “is currently actively working on initiatives that will incorporate aspects of mitigation tracking. OEC will be able to apply its unique CEQR expertise, the developmental process, and the development of a public mitigation tracker.”

These initiatives, while still in the early stages of development, missed the crux of the matter for a number of the Council members present, many of whom are black and Latino and represent districts in which communities of color have been displaced or are under extreme economic pressure. Under Mayor de Blasio, a series of lower-income communities of color -- including East New York, East Harlem, Inwood, and others -- have been home to rezonings targeted at increasing housing density while providing broader public benefits. Several other proposed rezonings, in a more diverse mix of neighborhoods, are at various points in the lengthy process.

“The fact that you believe CEQR requires some changes because...everything can be improved and not speak to the gross miscalculations made by whatever formula exists in the CEQR manual, that you would come in here and say the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was a success and that it’s something you’re proud of, is beyond me,” said an emphatic Antonio Reynoso, Council member from Williamsburg, Bushwick, and other areas who sponsors the bill to track mitigation strategies.

“You are part of the reason why 30,000 Latinos were displaced in ten years,” he continued. “You did that intentionally if you don’t think you have a problem with your manual. The manual needs to be modified so it can speak to real world problems.”

Council Member I. Daneek Miller of Queens wondered aloud about the racial make-up of the Department of City Planning. Only 28% of the department is black or Latino, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, as of the 2017 fiscal year. For the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, an agency involved in mitigating displacement through affordable housing, that metric is a much higher 61%.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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Council Hearing Highlights Big Gaps in City Planning Processes Thu, 09 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8293-e-scooter-companies-ramp-up-lobbying-for-state-and-city-authorization https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8293-e-scooter-companies-ramp-up-lobbying-for-state-and-city-authorization birdride inc

(photo: @BirdRide)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization Tue, 19 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect mayorsoffice gradu

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The Right to Know Act, a significant piece of police reform legislation passed by the City Council last December, is set to go into effect Friday and advocates who hoped it would transform street interactions between New Yorkers and police officers are worried that the NYPD may not fully comply with the new law.

The Right to Know Act comprises two laws with requirements for how officers conduct themselves in street stops. The first, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, mandates that officers identify themselves when questioning individuals, provide a valid reason for doing so, and provide a business card with their name and rank to the individual. The second law, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat, requires officers with no probable cause to obtain verbal consent before searching an individual or their property while informing people of their right to refuse a search. The police department will also have to compile and report data on the number of such encounters.

Developed as a response to the NYPD’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk policing, the Right to Know legislation travelled a bumpy years-long road to passage. In 2016, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to allow the bills to come to a vote and instead struck a deal with the NYPD to implement certain provisions administratively. The move was protested by criminal justice advocates who believed Mark-Viverito had kowtowed to opposition by the police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Then, in 2017, when the two bills were on the verge of being approved, Torres’ bill was amended in ways that police reform advocates said diluted and betrayed its original intent by removing certain categories of interactions from its jurisdiction. The CPR coalition pulled its support for that bill before it passed, as did some of the Council Members who co-sponsored it. Nonetheless, the enactment of the legislative package was mostly celebrated as a victory for criminal justice reform efforts in the city.

Advocates and the bill sponsors have since been eagerly awaiting and preparing for the two laws to go into effect on Friday, though there have been questions raised about the NYPD’s readiness to change its ways -- concerns the NYPD is pushing back against, promising full compliance with the new laws and asserting its outreach efforts as “unprecedented.”

“We’re gearing up to see how the NYPD implements the reforms mandated in the law,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel in the advocacy department at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a phone interview on Tuesday. NYCLU is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition, which spearheaded advocacy for the Right to Know bills for years. Sisitzky said his organization has been conducting internal education sessions about the two laws as they await its implementation.

But he noted that the NYPD has failed to significantly engage with advocates or solicit enough community input on changing its policies to adhere to the laws, which was explicitly required by Reynoso’s bill.

“That consultation didn’t happen in any meaningful way,” Sisitzky said. “The NYPD really decided to not follow the spirit and requirements of the law and consult with communities despite these communities being involved in this for the last five years.” He said it was a “missed opportunity” to reimagine policing tactics and that more so than other reforms related to greater reporting on enforcement or the creation of outside monitors, its success depends on how it is executed on the ground. “This was an easy chance for them to work with communities to create new policies,” he said.

On Wednesday, Joo-Hyun Kang, director of CPR, told the New York Daily News that the coalition had only one meeting with the NYPD in September and that it’s recommendations were not taken into account in new guidance issued to officers. Drafted guidance in the NYPD patrol guide, which dictates officer conduct and protocols, that was seen by Kang seemed to fall short of the requirements in the law, the News reported, and Kang worried that officers were not being properly trained.

Council Member Reynoso echoed the sentiments of the advocates. On Wednesday morning, Reynoso visited the offices of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles complaints of NYPD officer misconduct and abuse of power, to speak with more than 60 CCRB staffers about the Right to Know Act, what inspired it and how it will improve policing, particularly communities of color, where the overuse of stop-and-frisk was damaging to police-community relations and ruled unconstitutional by a judge.

Emphasizing the need for the Right to Know Act, Reynoso recounted his own personal experience with stop-and-frisk from his high school days, when he and his cousins were abruptly stopped and searched by police officers as they walked down the street. “That experience was very life-changing for me. I felt like I lost all dignity,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he noted that the NYPD should have been more collaborative as they prepare to adapt to the new laws. “I think the NYPD does want to follow through with the bills,” he said, while conceding that they have “done a very poor job” of communicating with reform advocates. “While I do believe that they haven’t done enough at this moment to engage communities the way they’re supposed to by law, moving forward I do feel comfortable that they’ll be able to engage,” he said. “But, because we’ve lost all this time, without communicating to the advocates, there are some things that they could have done better or might have overlooked that could have been addressed before implementation. Now we have to wait till after implementation to address a lot of these issues.”

Reynoso stressed that the new laws would be a valuable tool in the pockets of public defenders and New Yorkers who feel that their civil rights have been violated, and that the department’s compliance would also be ensured by the full implementation of its body camera program. De Blasio announced in January that all patrol officers would be outfitted with cameras by the end of the year.

There are concerns, however, about how closely officers will follow the new laws. “Unfortunately, the NYPD doesn’t have the best track record complying with legal mandates,” NYCLU’s Sisitzky said. The NYPD has in recent months come under fire for refusing to abide by a City Council law mandating disclosure of data on subway fare evasion arrests. And de Blasio has repeatedly chosen to defer to the department’s leadership, which cited public safety concerns, instead of ordering compliance.

Asked if the NYPD could be trusted to follow the Right to Know, which the department fought, and if the mayor could be relied upon to enforce it, Reynoso seemed to harbor some doubts. “I absolutely believe that the mayor should be on the front lines...but the mayor has shown that he cares deeply about his relationship with the NYPD.” Even when certain pieces of police reform legislation are justified, Reynoso said, “[The mayor] would err on the side of the police [rather] than the people of the City of New York.”

A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment. An NYPD spokesperson, asked about the concerns expressed by advocates, said in a statement, “The NYPD will fully comply with the Right to Know Act when it takes effect this Friday. As the Department developed its policies, it heard numerous recommendations from the advocacy community through discussions with the Federal Monitor. The Department also provided advocates unprecedented access to NYPD policies, forms, and trainings prior to the law taking effect. And the NYPD will of course continue to talk to advocates to fine tune the policy as it is implemented and we can assess what’s working and what might be improved.”

Advocates and the City Council say they will be keeping an eagle eye on the police adherence. “The City Council is proud of its efforts in this area and we will be watching the roll out to ensure the Right To Know is being followed,” said Jennifer Fermino, City Council communications director, in a statement.

On Thursday afternoon, the CPR coalition rallied with several City Council Members outside City Hall, celebrating the Right to Know Act but also airing their complaints about the NYPD's lacklustre engagement and promising to hold the department and the de Blasio administration accountable. "And, on Friday morning, Reynoso and members of the CCRB will hit the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx to inform New Yorkers about their new rights under the Act.

“I think [the new laws] offer New Yorkers a real sense of control and knowledge over their encounters with the police department,” said Jonathan Darche, CCRB executive director, in a phone interview. “And we’ve been working hard with the department in order to make sure that we’re on the same page with them about how they are training members of service so that we can hold members accountable to the standard that is being demanded of them by the department.”

“I’m excited that it’s coming to fruition,” Council Member Torres said outside City Hall on Wednesday as he rushed to attend a Wednesday meeting of the full Council.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect Thu, 18 Oct 2018 17:21:15 +0000
Hoping to Dictate City Rezoning and Stem Gentrification, Locals Put Forth Bushwick Community Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan bushwick today 19

photo via Bushwick Community Plan


A years-long endeavor to protect a Brooklyn neighborhood from unwanted development and plan for its future took a major step forward over the weekend: the Bushwick Community Plan, an ambitious and collaborative effort, was formally released.

The creation of the plan has at times been contentious, indicative of the fraught nature of virtually any community planning process and the high stakes involved in addressing affordability, transportation and other crises facing many neighborhoods across New York City. The effort was organized by local City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal with Brooklyn Community Board 4 and a variety of other stakeholders.

At the release event on September 22, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez told the more than 200 people who packed into the cafeteria of the Academy of Urban Planning to learn the details of the plan that the development of the community plan was an example of democracy in action.

“You will empower our member of the City Council, Reynoso, to go to the city and say, ‘This is a community-driven rezoning plan – and this is how it should be done,’” she said.

The Bushwick Community Plan includes a number of goals – including slowing displacement, preventing out of character development, and supporting both small- and large-scale manufacturing businesses – and is being presented from the community and its leaders to the Department of City Planning as it begins to evaluate the area for changes to land use rules and new city investments, similar to processes that have taken place in areas like East Harlem.

Like several others the de Blasio administration has rezoned already, including East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Bushwick is home to many low-income people of color at risk of housing displacement. But more like East Harlem and Inwood, Bushwick has already seen significant gentrification and locals are concerned about how the pace has accelerated without a coherent plan.

The comprehensive 74-page community plan covers six areas: land use and zoning, housing, economic development, community health and resources, open space and transportation and infrastructure. Under land use and zoning, the key issue, recommendations include not allowing areas currently zoned for manufacturing to become residential unless certain requirements are met; allowing higher density development in some cases when it will increase the number of affordable housing units; and proposing historic districts as well as individual landmarks throughout the neighborhood. The plan also calls for increased funding for anti-displacement legal services, the creation of a program that would incentivize homeowners to keep rents affordable in their buildings, more sanitation funding for commercial corridors, and improving Maria Hernandez Park and Irving Square Park, the two largest parks in the neighborhood.

But at issue is how feasible the plan is, how the de Blasio administration approaches its efforts to rezone and invest in the area, and how far Reynoso, Espinal, and their partners can push the city to adopt the community’s vision. The Department of City Planning may use the community plan as something of a guide as it designs a rezoning proposal, but it remains to be seen to what extent the community proposals shape the process, which will ultimately come to a vote before the City Planning Commission and the City Council, where Reynoso and Espinal will have outsized sway. Bushwick residents, both for and against a rezoning, worry about how the city might mangle or ignore the plans altogether.

A democratically-designed rezoning plan
Under current land use rules, otherwise known as zoning, significant new development is allowed in Bushwick without consideration of affordable housing or the aesthetic character of the neighborhood. There are many properties that have extensive as-of-right powers, meaning developers can build taller buildings without any real negotiation with the city for community benefits.

One such property is near the Myrtle-Wyckoff transit corridor, where developers plan to build a 27-story tower with retail space, office space, and 400 apartments, according to the minutes from a February meeting of the community board’s Housing and Land Use subcommittee. That particular high-rise wouldn’t be allowed under the zoning rules that are being proposed as part of the Bushwick Community Plan, according to Community Board 4 District Manager Celeste Leon.

In 2013, concerned by overdevelopment happening in nearby neighborhoods, members of the community board wrote a letter to then-City Council Member Diana Reyna seeking to explore the idea of rezoning Bushwick. The goal was to preserve the character of the community. In particular, preventing taller buildings, which have been referred to as “middle finger buildings,” from being wedged in between two- and three-family homes, according to current Reynoso, who succeeded Reyna in 2014.

“Affordable housing would have been icing on the cake,” Reynoso said in a late August interview.

After his election, Reynoso, along with Espinal, who took office the same year after moving from the state Assembly, initiated the Bushwick community planning process, an effort to allow residents to democratically design a rezoning plan that would best suit their needs. Over the course of the next several years, the steering committee – comprising of more than 200 participants, including the members of the community board, organizations like immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York, the RiseBoro Community Partnership, and Churches United for Fair Housing, as well as 21 individual Bushwick residents – held a dozen workshops, town halls, and other issue-specific meetings.

Planning this way is time-consuming and complicated, but the process allows for many voices to be heard, Reynoso said.

Shortly after Bill de Blasio was elected mayor, he put forth an agenda to rezone 15 different neighborhoods throughout the city in an effort to create more housing, especially affordable housing, and infuse communities with new resources, in part to handle an influx of new residents. His predecessor, too, used rezoning to manage development in New York City, though with a somewhat different lens: during his three terms, Michael Bloomberg oversaw more than 100 rezonings. Before de Blasio began to move through his rezonings, he worked with the City Council to pass significant changes to the city’s land use rules, including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires developers to include certain percentages of affordable housing in new buildings that receive a city variance to build denser.

Bushwick was not on de Blasio’s original list of neighborhoods, but city officials have been closely involved as the community has crafted its plan and appears ready to move into its planning process.

The city will hold its own listening sessions and do its own studies, then release its own initial plan. Once the Department of City Planning certifies a Bushwick rezoning application, the Uniform Land Use Review Process, which takes roughly seven to ten months, begins. After the community board offers its advisory vote, the plan moves to the borough president for review and additional nonbinding feedback, then the City Planning Commission for formal approval, followed by the City Council for final say. Throughout the process, local leaders, especially the City Council member(s), typically continue to negotiate with the mayoral administration to make tweaks to the city’s proposal and secure additional investments.

Pushback against the plan
As in most rezonings, at issue in Bushwick is that the mayoral administration’s interests may not be in line with the community’s. One example is the neighborhood’s manufacturing zones. Bushwick is known for its old factories and warehouses, which developers often eye as potential for new residential space. The community plan would oppose changing most manufacturing zones to residential zones unless special conditions are met. That is one point the city has tried to ignore, said Leon, the community board district manager.

Another example: at a February meeting, Winston Von Engel, the Brooklyn director of the Department of City Planning (DCP), reportedly told Bushwick residents that the city was interested in preserving the aesthetic character of the neighborhood, more so than preventing displacement, according to several residents who were present. Von Engel later told the Bushwick Daily that he had been misinterpreted and that there should be a balance between preservation and expansion.

In June, a group of activists shut down that month’s Community Board 4 meeting so that the board could not discuss the rezoning plans at all. One of the activists, Pati Rodriguez, of the anti-gentrification group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, stood up to plead with the board: “I want to continue to live in the neighborhood that raised me, and I wish I could keep raising my daughter here too, but if this goes to DCP, I don’t think that is ever going to happen.”

Activists like Rodriguez oppose the rezoning entirely.

“The community board has no veto vote,” Rodriguez said in a later interview. “It makes the community powerless. That’s why we have decided the only way we can stop anything from happening is to disrupt the process.”

Michael Higgins, a member of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, said that the plan itself could cause Bushwick residents to panic, from which landlords can then benefit.

“I think trying to address overdevelopment with rezoning is a backwards solution,” he said. “It comes from the belief that we can meet market forces with government, and unfortunately that’s just not the way the City of New York works in fundamental ways.”

He said the community has more leverage when individual properties are rezoned, rather than whole swaths of a neighborhood, because residents have the opportunity to negotiate requests like more affordable housing and community space.

Tom Angotti, professor emeritus of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and the author of “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City,” said he understands the skepticism over the rezoning.

There have been no citywide studies that explain the relationship between rezonings and gentrification, but individual case studies do show that zoning changes lead to displacement, particularly in low income communities and communities of color, Angotti said.

Reynoso acknowledges the community’s concerns, but said that Bushwick’s geography, as well as the way it is built out, leaves fewer opportunities for growth compared to other neighborhoods around the city, referencing the recently-passed Inwood rezoning, which drew criticism from local housing activists concerned about density, neighborhood character, and gentrification. But Inwood, Reynoso said, encompasses waterfront property that the city could capitalize upon.

New development of that nature just isn’t possible in Bushwick. The Bushwick plan envisions growth near transit hubs, but otherwise is mostly designed to downzone the neighborhood, Reynoso said, and disallow large new residential buildings.

“The basic principles of what’s happening in other locations don’t necessarily apply here,” Reynoso said in the interview. “The fears that people have are not necessarily apples to apples.”

That’s true, Angotti said, but that still doesn’t mean the Bushwick Community Plan will prevent displacement. He points not so much to the community plan itself, but to the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission.

Angotti said the city has rejected every community-based rezoning proposal of which he is aware over the last 25 years.

“In every instance that I know of, the community plans get ripped up and changed to the point of being unrecognizable to the people in the community,” he said. “The city planning department has its own way of looking at land use in the city, and it doesn’t include communities. It doesn't include people.”

In a statement, the agency did confirm that rezoning applications, even those by city agencies, are usually changed during the public review process.

Jose Lopez, the co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York, has been heavily involved with the Bushwick Community Plan, serving on its steering committee. He recognizes that DCP will craft its own proposal for the ULURP process, but has some hope for the influence that the community plan may have.

“If there is a good rezoning where we can control growth, generate affordable housing, where we see effective tools that keep people in the homes they live in – if it’s a good rezoning, that is something we can get behind,” he said. “But our members believe that a bad rezoning is worse than no rezoning at all.”

Reynoso said that the discretion and authority to rezone really lies with the City Council, not with any city agency, and “the Council member’s job is to advocate on behalf of the community” – which he plans to do.

Typically, when the City Council votes on a rezoning plan, the expectation is that the Council will vote to support what the local City Council member(s) – in this case, Reynoso and Espinal – want. Yet, in May, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said that his approach is “deference” but “no veto” for Council members on land use matters.

“Michael Bloomberg did 140 rezonings,” Angotti said. “Everyone of them passed. So the track record pretty much demonstrates how difficult it is, once something gets into ULURP, to derail it under the current system because of the overwhelming power of the mayor.”

Robert Camacho, the chair of Community Board 4, has been involved with the planning process since the beginning. He said he is satisfied with the final plan, but does worry for its future.

“If we don’t do anything, the city will do what it wants,” he said. “And if we submit something, the city can do what it wants anyway. I see it as a lose-lose situation. So why not do something? Something beats zip. If you don’t ask, you’re not getting anything.”

***
Bianca Fortis is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. On Twitter @biancafortis & @GothamGazette.

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Hoping to Dictate City Rezoning and Stem Gentrification, Locals Put Forth Bushwick Community Plan Tue, 25 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
I’m with Cynthia Because She Stands for Schools, Not Jails https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7800-i-m-with-cynthia-because-she-stands-for-schools-not-jails https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7800-i-m-with-cynthia-because-she-stands-for-schools-not-jails cmreynoso34 cynthia 2

Antonio Reynoso, the author, endorses Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CMReynoso34)


Last week, I endorsed Cynthia Nixon for Governor because her campaign is focused on making sure young people of color across New York thrive in school, rather than wither away in jail. As a City Council member from a predominantly black and brown community in Brooklyn, I constantly hear from young people who know what they need to succeed in school and what stands in their way.

Right now, there are more police in New York City schools than there are guidance counselors and social workers combined. What message does that send our children?

It is time to drastically change course in how we invest in the lives of black and brown young people. Talking to friends and allies across the state, the stories and experiences of the young people in my district are strikingly similar to those of young people across New York, from the Hudson Valley to Syracuse and beyond—because, while we can draw geographical lines to separate their school districts, it’s the color line that ensures they will all still be impacted by racially discriminatory school discipline policies and practices.

These policies have created a school-to-prison pipeline that afflicts young people of color across the State of New York. As Governor, Cynthia Nixon is committed to transformative policy changes to dismantle this system. That’s why a central part of her #SchoolsNotJails platform is school climate reform. Cynthia’s plan will push New York to lead the way by creating a Restorative Practices Training department within the State Department of Education to support schools in implementing restorative practices, introduce legislation to end school-based arrests for misdemeanors and violations, support schools to remove ineffective security measures, such as law enforcement and metal detectors, and only use suspensions as a last resort.

In New York State, there are over 500 suspensions per day and a disproportionate number of our young people being suspended are students of color. Statewide, one in five black boys are suspended from school each year; for black girls, it is one in seven. In New York City, black students are 27% of the population but nearly half of all students suspended; in Kingston they are 14% of the student body but 36% of all suspensions; and in Troy, they are 31% of the population but 61% of all students who are expelled.

The racial disparities in the statistics on referrals to law enforcement are just as alarming. In New York City, black and Latino students are 92% of all students who receive a summons; in Schenectady, black and Latino students are 75% of all students referred to law enforcement; and in Buffalo, black and Latino students are 85% of all students referred to law enforcement.

These disparities begin in pre-kindergarten, where black students are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from school. And they continue through high school and beyond—one suspension in high school doubles the likelihood that a student will drop out before graduation and it denies students from critical instructional time. Last year, students in New York lost 686,000 days of instruction because of suspension. If the school discipline gap continues, it’s no wonder that our state is struggling to close the graduation gap.

Those numbers alone should be enough evidence to convince Governor Cuomo to take steps to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. But instead of confronting this reality, under his leadership, New York has done nothing to curtail the school-to-prison pipeline.

The young people I meet with are clear that the way forward is not to continue to “harden” their schools and rely on ineffective and harsh school discipline and policing, but to ensure equity in school discipline policies and practices and reimagine our approach to safety. There is no evidence that police officers and metal detectors make schools any safer, but there is ample research that shows they makes students feel less safe and result in more young people being pushed in front of police officers, prosecutors, and judges instead of guidance counselors, social workers, and school administrators.

Students feel safest in their schools not when they know technology exists that track their every move, or police officers do random checks and sweeps, but when they have staff trained in trauma-informed care, restorative practices, and youth development that are there to attend to their needs and create an inclusive environment.

Young people in my district are leading the way in demonstrating what safe and supportive schools can look like. Many of these schools are implementing restorative practices with real results -- dramatically decreasing suspensions and building strong school communities. This year my district saw one of the largest decreases in suspensions across the city. We can replicate this and transform schools into the safe and supportive learning environments our students and families deserve.

New York needs a public school system that is completely disentangled from the criminal justice system and a commitment that we are creating a nurturing and supportive environment for all students. This is the commitment that Cynthia Nixon is making. We need to invest in schools, not repeat the same policy failures that have led to our children ending up in jails.

***
Antonio Reynoso is the City Council member for New York’s 34th Council District in Brooklyn. On Twitter: @CMReynoso34.

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

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I’m with Cynthia Because She Stands for Schools, Not Jails Thu, 12 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Council Sanitation Chair Says Mayor Must Get ‘Bold’ on Waste Management https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7729-council-sanitation-chair-says-mayor-must-get-bold-on-waste-management https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7729-council-sanitation-chair-says-mayor-must-get-bold-on-waste-management reynoso ready nyc

Council Member Reynoso, middle (photo: @JoeEspoNYC)


“Trash — it’s not sexy,” said City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “It’s the hardest thing to get people to care about and it’s also something that’s out of sight and out of mind because it gets picked up -- for the most part, the Department of Sanitation does a great job.”

But there’s a lot about trash -- waste management, really -- to discuss, and Reynoso is at the forefront of the conversations as chair of the City Council’s sanitation committee, a position he has held for more than four years, continuing in the post into a second and final term.

Reynoso discussed major waste management issues facing New York City during a recent appearance on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, touching on regulating the private caring industry, which is the source of a great deal of controversy; changing the waste-hauling zones in the city to reduce pollution and increase efficiency; mandating more recycling from New Yorkers, such as of solid food waste, also known as composting; and more.

Reynoso, who represents a district that includes Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood, crossing from Brooklyn into Queens, and a lot of the city’s manufacturing space. Many of his constituents rely on the L train, and Reynoso touched upon the line’s looming closure.

Born in Williamsburg to immigrant parents, Reynoso was the chief of staff for City Council Member Diana Reyna before he ran for the Council in 2013 and defeated former Assemblymember Vito Lopez in the Democratic Party.

“Scandal hit [Lopez] very hard,” Reynoso said on the podcast, referring to the fact that Lopez had been forced from the Assembly over a sexual harassment scandal. “He tried to run and I went against him, people still bet on me to lose. I didn’t get all the endorsements, surprisingly, but I won. I was very fortunate, my community had my back, I had people around me, and it was a very joyous moment for me.”

Reynoso easily won the general election in a heavily Democratic district and cruised to reelection in 2017. Throughout his time in the Council, he has chaired the sanitation committee and had oversight of key agencies related to trash, snow, and more.

In New York, every commercial establishment that will not heave its own trash is obliged by law to have its waste removed by a private carter licensed by the Business Integrity Commission. There are more than 200 carters licensed by the BIC that can lawfully gather trash from commercial establishments in the city.

However, many of these carters have bad safety records and recent journalism, largely by ProPublica, has exposed the rogue and dangerous world of private carting. Reynoso said the BIC, which was originally an anti-organized crime unit, is failing to regulate the city’s private waste industry, even after two deaths involving Sanitation Salvage, a private carter, in the last six months.

“They were put in to weed out organized crime and they’ve done a great job at doing that, but they also have other responsibilities and one of those responsibilities is regulating this industry relating to safety as well,” Reynoso said of BIC. “They’ve never done that.”

Not only is better safety regulation of private carters essential, Reynoso said, but the city must also return to a zoned system for collections, where a small number of companies wins contracts for certain geographic areas.

“It’s funny, they had a zone system when they had organized crime because they knew it was more efficient and they knew it was more profitable — you can’t make this stuff up,” Reynoso said. “The only problem is that their zoning was corrupt. We would be doing it in a way that’s fair.”

A plan is expected soon from the de Blasio administration with proposed zones and other regulations.

Reynoso discussed the importance of requiring what he called “mandatory organics recycling.” This would involve adding organics to the list of required recyclables that already includes metal, glass, plastic, and paper.

“It’s eggshells, it’s food, all that stuff you throw away,” Reynoso said. “Once you seperate it, you’ll notice that maybe 5% of your trash is not organics or recycling and that would help considerably.”

For this directive to work it must be compulsory, not voluntary, Reynoso said.

“We have to mandate that,” Reynoso said. “We can’t tell people ‘We’re going to let you volunteer or it’s a choice.’ We don’t work with choice. Unfortunately in the city of New York, you have to tell us what to do or we won’t do it.”

Throughout the podcast, Reynoso repeatedly emphasized the word “bold” in discussing the need for the city to pursue and see real change.

“To be honest, being bold is the thing that we lack here in New York City when it comes to trash,” Reynoso said. “Almost everywhere else, whether it’s immigration, housing or education, people are trying to do something. A community school here, a sanctuary city there, there’s an attempt at something bold to change the landscape of what we consider a crisis, but not sanitation.”

He called on Mayor de Blasio to take the lead.

“Being bold — having someone like a mayor that would be able to say ‘We’re going to do this, this is what’s going to happen, it’s my last four years, it’s good for the future of the City of New York so I’m going to stand up and do it.’” Reynoso said. “If we don’t see that, we’re going to have trouble and it’s not going to change.”

Beyond trash and sanitation, Reynoso was briefly asked about the upcoming L train shutdown, which will begin in 2019 and force hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use the subway line to go between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day to find alternate routes.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded the Canarsie Tunnel under the East River with gallons of salt water, which caused critical destruction. The MTA has released a wide-ranging plan to alleviate the consequences of the eventual stoppage, including a busway and bikeway in Manhattan and increased subway service throughout the city on other lines. A number of details still need to be worked out, some of which rely on the city’s Department of Transportation.

Reynoso said an audacious effort by DOT is required for city transportation to run smoothly following the shutdown.

“We’re going to have a hard time here,” Reynoso said. “We’ll see the crisis in the first three weeks and DOT has to be very flexible to be able to fix it…I want them to be bold.”

He said the DOT has not planned enough change on the Williamsburg Bridge for a smooth transition. He is calling for an exclusive bus lane that runs 24/7 and the importance of shutting down streets for pedestrians, buses, and bikes.

“We really need to start looking at how to move around the city of New York outside of vehicles. DOT has a perfect chance to prove that they can do it here…you have an opportunity, there’s a crisis, take advantage of it.”

[Listen: What's The [Data] Point? 1,988, with Antonio Reynoso]

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by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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Council Sanitation Chair Says Mayor Must Get ‘Bold’ on Waste Management Mon, 11 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 1,988, with Antonio Reynoso https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7701-what-s-the-data-point-1-988-with-antonio-reynoso https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7701-what-s-the-data-point-1-988-with-antonio-reynoso whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 42 -- 1,988, with Antonio Reynoso [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

antonio reynoso

1,988 pounds -- almost one ton! -- is the average amount of garbage a New York City household throws out each year, according to a recent study by the City Department of Sanitation. Citywide Sanitation disposed of 3.2 million tons in 2017, and that does not include commercial waste.

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn, chair of the Council's sanitation committee, joined the podcast to discuss what he believes are essential steps the city must take regarding waste management, both regarding the public sector and private sector, including elements related to recycling requirements, new routes, and more. Reynoso discusses how he got elected to the Council in 2013, why he wanted to chair the sanitation committee, how he approaches waste management with an equity lens, and more, including measures he believes should be taken during the looming L-train shutdown.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 1,988, with Antonio Reynoso Thu, 31 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000