Gotham Gazette Thu, 25 Feb 2021 02:09:38 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) City Council, De Blasio Administration Clash Over Comprehensive Planning Legislation daily life short

New York City (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

City Council members and officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration clashed at a Tuesday hearing over proposed legislation to overhaul, consolidate, and in some ways expand the city’s planning processes into a singular ten-year procedure that would align budget, policy, and land use decisions.  

The proposal was released by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in December and seeks to replace what he calls redundant, antiquated, inequitable, and ineffective existing planning procedures by taking a more holistic approach to planning. It would create a centralized process for examining and budgeting for the city’s long-term infrastructure and community needs, with an eye towards correcting long-standing racial and socio-economic disparities while also equitably meeting the city’s transit, housing, open space, school seats, shelters, and other needs.

The Council’s Committees on Governmental Operations and Land Use and Subcommittee on Capital Budget convened on Tuesday to hear from the de Blasio administration about its concerns and objections to the idea, while also pressing mayoral officials to answer for the many failures of the current siloed planning processes that are spread across various city agencies.

[City Council Speaker Unveils Comprehensive Planning Legislation]

“For decades, the city has relied on a piecemeal and ad hoc approach, muddling through its planning exercises one neighborhood, topic, and project at a time,” said Johnson, a Democrat, in his opening remarks. “That planning has largely neglected people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and low-income New Yorkers. That has also led to serious inefficiencies. Our budget documents often simply don't relate to our city's policy and land use priorities. And as we enter a period of fiscal stress, we have no rational system for prioritizing our community's most urgent budget needs to reduce disparities and combat climate change.”

Early on, Johnson sought to dispel “misinformation” about the bill, noting that it would not amend the city’s zoning laws, mandate any zoning requirements or specific zoning actions, or change the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Rather, he emphasized that it “requires the city to provide community boards and the public with new resources, new data and new analyses to support proactive community-based plans.” It would encourage proactive rather than reactive approaches to development and encourage the city to pursue new growth away from neighborhoods at risk of sea-level rise and other forces of displacement including gentrification and real estate speculation. 

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat who chairs governmental operations, pointed out that the current planning process is enshrined in more than a dozen Charter-mandated documents that do not currently involve sufficient coordination between and among city agencies. “There's a fundamental disconnect here that cannot be overstated,” he said. “How can we as a city plan for our future when we only have fragments of the full picture of the city's current needs and assets?”

Testifying on behalf of the administration, City Planning Commissioner Marisa Lago sought to dissuade the Council from advancing the bill, opposing it because of concerns about “its feasibility, its costs, and its ultimate impact.”

She estimated that the bill’s requirement of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for each community district would cost about $500 million over ten years. “We're concerned that the ultimate impact of that time and money would be counter to our shared goals,” she said. “That it would make it more difficult, not easier, to build affordable housing or to site essential city facilities.” 

Johnson had already countered that argument in his own statement. “That cost estimate is both inaccurate and absurd. It indicates that this administration is not engaging in this conversation with us seriously. There is nothing about this bill that will amount to that price tag,” he said, arguing that it could actually end up saving money for the city and for developers pursuing land use applications. 

Lago and Johnson had a fundamental disagreement about the language of the bill. Lago said it would create a “heavily top-down” planning process and give City Council members even greater influence in changing land use applications near the conclusion of ULURP. Instead of streamlining planning, she said it would add an additional layer of bureaucracy to an already lengthy land use procedure.

“The bill also underestimates the importance of focused topic-specific planning efforts,” Lago said, “such as those for the waterfront, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, environmental justice, food policy or resiliency.” She pointed to the city’s OneNYC strategic plan created every four years as a “better model” than the Council’s proposal and said the city’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances is necessary for long-term planning. She cited the city’s ten-year food plan released on Monday, a pending coastal resiliency zoning plan, and the proposed SoHo-NoHo rezoning as examples of how the current processes are working towards goals of equitable growth. 

In particular, she said the comprehensive planning bill would increase rather than limit the ability of affluent communities to forestall projects that are in the city’s interest, which has been a wrench in some of Mayor de Blasio’s agenda, though he has often done little to counteract those forces.

Later during the hearing, Johnson took exception to Lago’s interpretation of the bill. “It's not top-down. We're empowering local communities to actually engage in planning, instead of being reactive to [City Planning Commission’s] certifying of private applications and public applications,” he said. He said he was ”flabbergasted” at Lago’s “complete and total misrepresentation” of the bill. 

Lago also worried that a new planning process could place a “chill on development.” “That would be so unfortunate, at a time where the pandemic has made crystal clear the need to provide more housing and, in particular, affordable housing, the need to kickstart the economic recovery,” she said. 

Council Member Brad Lander showed frustration with the administration for critiquing the Council’s proposal without offering any solutions of its own to fix the city’s broken land use process. “We are the frog in the proverbial pot. We are watching the water boil, the temperatures are rising and the seas are rising, our affordable housing crisis is growing, our infrastructure is aging,” he said. “And it is clear that our land use process has become toxic and broken and unable to deliver thoughtful conversation about the very future of our city.”

If Lago was going to oppose the Council bill, what is the de Blasio administration’s plan to improve how the city does planning and growth, he asked. 

Lago struggled to give a straight answer, and instead pointed to what she sees as another deficiency with the bill. “The speaker himself noted that this proposal would not require any rezonings,” she said. “And there may be many communities who would anticipate having no growth and this bill does nothing to change that.”

Lander responded with frustration. Later on, Council Member Keith Powers asked Lago to name areas of the city with good transit options that could be home to significant housing growth. Lago only pointed to the Soho-Noho and Gowanus rezonings, which are currently in process, and declined to name any other neighborhoods. This, despite the fact that the de Blasio administration has not achieved rezonings in the neighborhoods it targeted early in the mayor’s first term, thus far only rezoning a series of lower-income communities of color. Lago instead again said that the city looks to work with Council members who want to work with the city. The exchange was one of several where the two sides appeared to point to each other as broken or talk in circles.

Lago repeatedly noted the Council’s informal policy of member deference, which allows Council members to veto land use projects that need Council approval and rezonings in their district. Because of that, she said, often the only projects that succeed are those that have active support and participation from local members. 

“So member deference is the problem?” Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked her. 

“I think that that is a challenge,” she said. She added, “I think, were the Council to adopt a citywide lens rather than looking exclusively to Council member deference that that could be tremendously helpful in achieving our shared goal of more equitable land use,” she said. 

“That's exactly what this legislation is trying to do,” Reynoso responded.

Several advocates and experts also testified in support of the bill, though some suggested that it could be improved. They included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Barika Williams, executive director of Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, which is part of the Thriving Communities coalition; Maulin Mehta, senior associate at Regional Plan Association; Spencer Williams, director of advocacy at the Municipal Arts Society; Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, among others.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, raised some concern about the legislation though it has long supported overhauling the city’s capital planning process. In testimony submitted to the Council, CBC Senior Research Associate Sean Campion said tying capital plan reforms to land use reforms is not necessary, that changing the structure and timing of regularly issued capital budget reports would make them less useful, and that capital budgeting power should remain in the hands of the mayor. “[A] strategic plan is only as good as its implementation design,” his testimony reads. “Extreme care should be taken when adding new processes, requirements and organizations since they could slow or thwart progress towards those outcomes or unnecessarily increase costs.”

Similarly, testimony from the Municipal Arts Society noted that the current proposal leaves land use decisions under the purview of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, which would be in charge of the ten-year comprehensive planning process. “MAS counters that a successful comprehensive plan for New York City must balance bottom-up and top-down planning through meaningful, ongoing community engagement strengthened by effective coordination and commitment from involved City agencies,” the testimony reads. “As written, Intro 2186 would reinforce the current structural imbalance in the City’s planning process.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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City Council, De Blasio Administration Clash Over Comprehensive Planning Legislation Tue, 23 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Leading Immigrant Advocacy Group Backs Reynoso for Brooklyn Borough President 2 antonio rey leads mtr

Antonio Reynoso (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

One of New York’s most prominent immigrant advocacy groups is backing City Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s campaign for Brooklyn borough president to replace the outgoing Eric Adams, who is term-limited.

Reynoso, a Democrat who is also facing term limits, was endorsed on Friday by Make the Road Action, the political arm of Make the Road New York, a nonprofit organization with more than 24,000 members that advocates for rights and services for immigrants. Reynoso is seeking the Democratic nomination in a crowded primary that includes two of his colleagues, Council Members Robert Cornegy and Mathieu Eugene, as well as Assemblmember Jo Anne Simon and others.

In its endorsement, Make the Road Action cited Reynoso’s progressive record in office and, in particular, praised his support for defunding the NYPD, removing police from schools, and decriminalizing sex work. “Antonio Reynoso has been a deep and trusted ally for Black and Latinx communities in Brooklyn, and I’m so thrilled to be able to support him for Borough President,” said Nilda Baez, a Make the Road Action member from Brooklyn, in a statement. “We know that he will continue to work alongside us to end the school-to-prison pipeline, prioritize deeply affordable housing, divest from criminalization and invest in our communities.”

Though the race includes more than a dozen registered candidates, Reynoso, Cornegy, and Simon appear to be the frontrunners, with the strongest bases of support and political operations. Reynoso is angling to be the favorite among progressive elected officials, groups, and activists, and will be counting on organizations like Make the Road Action to provide all-important volunteers to get the word out about his candidacy across the borough with the most registered Democrats.

“I have been proud to stand with Make the Road Action over the years as we fight for social and economic justice for all New Yorkers, and I’m excited to have their support today,” Reynoso said in a statement. “Make the Road Action knows how important it is to advocate for the immigrants and working people hardest-hit by this pandemic who are too often ignored by government aid. I’m ready to keep fighting on the frontlines with them and building power for immigrants, tenants, workers, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.”

Reynoso has been endorsed by prominent progressives including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and State Senator Julia Salazar. Cynthia Nixon, who ran an upstart campaign to challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary in 2018, has also backed Reynoso’s campaign, as has the Teamsters Union.

The primary election, which is all but certain to determine the eventual winner given how heavily-Democratic Brooklyn is, will feature ranked-choice voting, a new system where voters can rank their preferences and helps assure candidates campaign more widely and that winners earn a broader base of support. The borough president has limited powers but does lead a staff of dozens and hold a bully pulpit, allocate capital budget funds, appoint community board members, weigh in on land use decisions, and act as a representative for the borough.

“We’ve been proud to partner with Antonio Reynoso in our efforts to end the school-to-prison pipeline in Brooklyn and across New York City,” said Keith Fuller, another youth member of Make the Road Action from Brooklyn, in a statement. “We’re excited to help him become the next Borough President so we can continue working with him in the urgent youth-led effort to remove officers from schools and invest in opportunities for all of us.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Leading Immigrant Advocacy Group Backs Reynoso for Brooklyn Borough President Fri, 18 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Speaker Unveils Comprehensive Planning Legislation m b skyline

New York City development (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would overhaul New York City’s long-term planning processes, eliminating duplicative procedures, streamlining agency coordination, and establishing a more proactive, holistic approach to land use and budgeting that prioritizes racial and economic justice. 

For decades, the city’s zoning, land use, and development have been subject to disparate sets of mandates and guidelines, some overlapping and redundant, in the City Charter, the city’s foundational governing document. There are more than a dozen planning documents that determine how infrastructure is built and how communities and boroughs grow. 

Over the last two years, Johnson and his colleagues, particularly Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso, have been attempting to reform those processes into one centralized comprehensive approach that would act as an overarching strategy for everything from housing creation to school construction, public spaces, transit access, and economic development. The approach would bring about more equitable and sustainable growth across the city, addressing long-standing disparities and needs, particularly in Black and brown communities, while also meeting citywide goals.

Council members along with the Thriving Communities coalition of advocates and experts unsuccessfully proposed such a comprehensive planning framework before a Charter Revision Commission last year. They sought to have the commission present the policy to voters in the form of a ballot question, but the commission decided against including it in its final list of ballot proposals. 

“We have a piecemeal and top-down approach to land use and planning and we can't afford to carry that ineffective approach into our future. The stakes are just too high,” Johnson said Wednesday, as he announced the new legislation and released an accompanying report, “Planning Together.” The report outlines the city’s broken planning procedures that have created inequities and critiques city government’s inability to realistically evaluate, budget, and build major infrastructure projects through the capital budget.

The report and the legislation, Johnson said, would “give us tangible and useful tools to plan for our future...We're going to have clearly-defined, measurable, citywide goals, and every neighborhood is going to develop their own land use plan. These are real concrete things that New Yorkers can actually wrap their heads around.” 

Johnson was joined at a virtual rally to announce the report and legislation by Reynoso and Lander, as well as Council Members Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the Council capital budget subcommittee, Carlina Rivera, and Ben Kallos, as well as planning experts and advocates from Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, the Pratt Center for Community Development, the Municipal Art Society, and the Regional Plan Association. 

The new legislation, which includes City Charter amendments, would incorporate and re-jigger all the current elements of city planning into a comprehensive planning strategy over ten-year cycles, mandating a regular effort at thoughtful, coordinated growth and that decisions on land use and the city budget actively seek to rectify historic inequities across the city for low-income communities of color and to prevent the displacement that may be caused by forces of gentrification.

The plan will be a living document, changing every five years to keep up with the evolving needs of the city and based on regular engagement with communities. If the legislation is passed in 2021, the ten-year process would begin in 2022, with a Long Term Planning Steering Committee and an assessment of needs from community boards. The plan itself would first be published in 2025, and then amended in 2030 as citywide goals, needs and land use actions are reassessed.

It would require regular appraisals of infrastructure needs, short- and long-term risks and the impact of land use decisions. The proposed bill would require that the city prioritize community input and create new, local decision-making bodies to weigh in on land use and development processes. And it would set quantifiable targets for “housing, jobs, open space, resiliency infrastructure, schools, transportation, and other infrastructure.”  

The legislation was built off the Planning Together report, which includes, as Johnson called it, an indictment of “bureaucracy at its worst” under past mayoral administrations that created siloed processes, inefficient coordination across city agencies, and lacked proactive planning for community needs. Those problems, the report argues, have only worsened under Mayor Bill de Blasio and have served to effectively water down his attempt at holistic planning through OneNYC, his vision for equitable growth that retooled former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC framework. “The lack of proactive public engagement or buy-in from elected officials and communities has allowed the significance and utility of PlaNYC/OneNYC to fade over time,” the report says. 

It highlighted what has become a central issue for de Blasio’s affordable housing program: vociferous community opposition to individual neighborhood rezoning and land use proposals. The mayor’s administration has sought to upzone swathes of neighborhoods to allow for more density and to encourage developers to build a combination of market-rate and rent-restricted housing. But time and again, those rezonings have been met with widespread resistance and even legal challenges, some of which have successfully derailed the administration’s plans. The ones that have been passed, in coordination with the City Council, have all been in communities of color. In his final year in office, de Blasio is looking to advance rezoning plans in Soho and Gowanus.

“That contention is, in part, due to a growing distrust of the process and a sense among some community stakeholders that the City and private developers are often unfairly targeting neighborhoods—particularly low-income communities of color—to bear the burdens of growth in exchange for long-overdue investments like affordable housing, schools, child care centers, street safety improvements, parks, and playgrounds,” the Council’s report notes.

Johnson said he is hoping to soon hold a hearing on the legislation.

“It has long past time, long overdue that we implement these best practices that nearly every other city in the world uses to prioritize its spending,” said Council Member Gibson. 

“[A]dvocates are marching today as they have often in the past for an approach to land use that starts from listening to communities about their needs, rather than starts by responding to a proposal from a developer,” said Council Member Lander. “A comprehensive plan, developed in conversation with communities grounded in principles of fair housing, equity, livable neighborhoods, and sustainability will help give us the tools to do that.” 

An equity-focused comprehensive plan “will help move us away from this ad hoc approach to planning that only perpetuates the existing inequalities,” said Barika Williams, executive director of ANHD, which is a leader of the Thriving Communities Coalition.

Council Member Reynoso said comprehensive planning would ensure that “the burden of building ourselves out of any crisis doesn't fall on strictly poor Black and brown neighborhoods. We get to have a conversation about how all neighborhoods can contribute.” Reynoso recently killed a de Blasio administration attempt to rezone a portion of his district in Bushwick after the sides could not come to agreement on key pieces of the puzzle.

The comprehensive planning legislation is of a piece with Johnson’s policy agenda as speaker. He successfully created a “streets master plan” for traffic and pedestrian infrastructure, which was signed into law by the mayor at the end of last year (though it’s implementation has been delayed due to the pandemic). Johnson has pushed through legislation to codify the mayor’s Office of Food Policy into law and to mandate a ten-year plan to tackle hunger and food inequity. He called for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses in his first State of the City speech last year. In January this year, he proposed a homelessness reduction plan, though he has yet to produce a strategy for building affordable housing which he promised at the time as a companion plan. In March, Johnson also released an in-depth report and a series of proposals to mitigate climate change and build resiliency infrastructure. The plan was originally meant to be released in his State of the City speech, which was cancelled because of the pandemic.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Speaker Unveils Comprehensive Planning Legislation Wed, 16 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City Fiscal Crisis is an Opportunity to Reimagine Failing Programs, Like Organics Recycling financial opp

Questions about recycling abound (photo: Michael Anton/Sanitation)

The May 13 op-ed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, New York City Must Keep and Expand Organics Collection, It’s an Essential Service, suffers from two major fallacies.

The authors begin their piece:

 “While is it is no secret that the city’s curbside organics collection program doesn’t pay for itself, that’s only half the story.  It is true that the program currently generates a small amount of revenue, about $50,000.  However, if properly executed, the program has the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city.”

The first fallacy once again raises the belief that a recycling-related program can one day generate sufficient revenues to significantly offset or eliminate the cost of its operation. Second, and perhaps more significant, is the belief that the organics collection program as currently conceived and executed should be further expanded.

To justify the above speculations the authors quote from an “analysis” performed by the Independent Budget Office estimating $22.5 million in possible future revenues from composting. This analysis is based upon an If, Then series of hypotheses untethered from current programmatic realities. The authors go on to further speculate that “realizing the increased revenue from organics recycling is dependent upon expansion.” 

In the midst of a pandemic and the resulting financial crisis, it is irresponsible for elected officials to call for the expansion of a program that is clearly not working. Successful recycling collection programs are evaluated on a number of factors. In the case of an organics collection program, these most critical factors are: 1) A program design that overcomes participants’ inherent revulsion to decaying organic waste; 2) Maintaining sustained and consistent levels of participation by the generator (container set-out). Without robust participation by all parties targeted by the program, neither collection nor processing can be efficient and sustainable; 3) The three basic means by which to drive participation: regular public education, tangible enforcement, and differential charging for refuse versus recycling services. The latter two options for increasing participation have typically been strongly opposed by most local elected officials and to date there has been very limited investment in the first option.

In recycling programs, participation drives all of the other operational factors like collection efficiency and the successful processing of what is ultimately collected.   There are many other challenges that can contribute to the success or failure of collection and processing but without sustained and adequate participation, organics programs fail. Based solely on the participation levels of the current organics program it is unsustainable and expansion is unjustified.

The authors next invoke the historical decision in 2002, following the recession brought about by the events of 9/11, to temporarily suspend the collection of plastics and glass as justification for why organics should not now be suspended. They argue that once restored in stages over the next two years following 2002, the recycling program never regained the same participation rates it experienced prior to this suspension. While it is true that the gross diversion rates of recyclables did not go back to the exact same levels as prior to 2002, there are a number of reasons for this change in diversion that are related to the suspension but unrelated to the speculations of the authors.

Chief among those was that post-suspension sanitation workers were better trained to no longer pick up what was essentially garbage in a recycling can or bag, but instead leave it for garbage collections.  The recycling diversion rate (simply the weight of what was formerly trash, diverted to collection by recycling trucks) was in fact higher prior to suspension but so was the post-collection residue rate -- the rate of what the processors had to throw out as non-recyclables (garbage) received along with recyclables.

What the recession following 9/11 allowed was for a suspension of business-as-usual thinking, both political and operational, which then provided an opportunity to redesign the metal, glass, and plastics collection and processing program.   

A little more history
Going back to the 1990s and the recession during the Dinkins administration, the city had decided to abandon investment in recycling processing infrastructure and to instead rely solely upon the private sector for the processing of recyclables. City contracts were based upon the lowest bid or lowest net cost to the Department of Sanitation for the processing of those recyclables; contracts that ultimately placed the entire risk of post-consumer commodity market price fluctuation upon the contractors.

While this arrangement worked for well over a decade, following 9/11 and the experience all New York City-contracted recyclers had shipping recyclables out of the Port of Newark for many months, those same recyclers decided it was time to assume far less of the risk associated with processing and marketing the city’s recyclables. In addition, when Sanitation released its rebid of the same processing in contracts in mid-2002 it decided in an unstable marketplace to reduce the risks to its contractors by assuming the market risk instead of the contractor, rather than sharing revenues the sanitation department would be the recipient of most of the revenues, both good and bad, and the contractor would bid a straight processing fee per ton, which would include the contractor’s overhead and profit.  

The market instability plus the new contract structure resulted in what appeared to many as far higher prices, when in fact the prices after revenue offsets would have likely been similar. However, in the rush for cost-cutting following 9/11, one of the proposed cuts by the then-commissioner was to eliminate the entire metal, glass, and plastics collection program.

After much back-and-forth between the administration and the City Council leading up to the 2002 fiscal year budget, a compromise was made to temporarily suspend the collection of plastics and glass while continuing to collect just metal under a straightforward revenue-only contract the recycling bureau had in place. The former metal, glass, and plastics collection program was then scheduled through political compromise, and memorialized into law, for full restoration approximately two years later. 

The previous history is invoked solely to illustrate the fact that the recession combined with the decision to temporarily suspend the metal, glass, and plastics collection program brought about an opportunity to rethink how to design the future processing and marketing of the metal, glass, and plastics recycling stream in New York City.

At the time the city already had long-term, 20-plus-year revenue contracts with private firms for the acceptance and processing of paper but lacked anything similar with metal, glass, and plastics. Because of the limited revenue-generating potential of the metal, glass, and plastics recycling stream, combined with the added cost of processing the same complex heterogeneous stream, unlike with paper, it was incumbent upon the city to make the needed investment to ensure the proper infrastructure to accept, process, and market the materials collected.

The political and operational rethinking provided by this opportunity resulted in the release by the recycling office of a request-for-proposals for a public-private partnership to process the city’s metal, glass, and plastics for the next 20-40 years on a piece of land provided by the city.

Without this opportunity, it is likely that the metal, glass, and plastics collection program, if it still existed, would have experienced many more ups and downs between 2004 and now, as it had since its inception. Instead of looking to expand an organics program that is currently purely voluntary and with a participation rate that dooms it to failure, it would be far better to use this opportunity to suspend the program and rethink all aspects of it to ensure that if and when it is restored, it is designed to succeed rather than fail.

Presently the organics program relies almost entirely upon a private-sector jury-rigged infrastructure for receiving, processing, and marketing the organics it collects.  An infrastructure like that used for originally processing the metal, glass, and plastics stream, designed for another purpose and a wholly different quality stream but modified to a limited degree to answer the current call and secure a contract.  

Times of crisis provide opportunities, if seized, to abandon conventional thinking and instead be creative. Rather than elected officials attempting to satisfy politically powerful constituencies such as the Natural Resources Defense Council by calling for restitution of a failing program, they should use the present crisis as an opportunity to call for the redesign of the program for operational success rather than political success. 

Robert Lange was the prime architect of New York City’s recycling program and the director of the Department of Sanitation’s recycling program for 20 years. He was a 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Public Service Award recipient, and retired from Sanitation in 2016.

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City Fiscal Crisis is an Opportunity to Reimagine Failing Programs, Like Organics Recycling Wed, 27 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Must Keep and Expand Organics Collection, It’s an Essential Service rec org mat

Organics collection (photo: NYC Department of Sanitation)

Among the businesses listed as essential in Governor Cuomo’s PAUSE order are "trash and recycling collection, processing, and disposal" industries. Yet on April 7, Mayor de Blasio followed a different interpretation by announcing that the Department of Sanitation’s organics recycling program would be eliminated on May 4. To do away with this critical environmental program just to save a miniscule percentage of the city’s budget doesn’t make sense, and here’s why:

While it is no secret that the city’s curbside organics collection program doesn’t pay for itself, that’s only half the story. It is true that the program currently generates a small amount of revenue, about $50,000. However, if properly executed, the program has the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city.

In a February 2019 study, "How Much Potential Revenue are New Yorkers Wasting by Trashing Organics?," the city’s Independent Budget Office calculated that if all of the 1 million tons of food and yard waste generated by New Yorkers annually were recycled into compost, it could produce $12.5 million in revenue. If the same annual tonnage were recycled into biogas and used to generate electricity, the potential revenue could be as much as $22.5 million.

We can only realize the untapped financial potential of the organics program if enough New Yorkers separate their leftover pizza crusts and banana peels from their trash and into the city's brown bins. Cutting the program nixes the opportunity for that to happen and washes away years of gains in a single stroke. What the city should do is pursue an "expand to save" model, accomplishing multiple goals at once.

Realizing the increased revenue from organics recycling is dependent upon expansion. An investment in our organics program now will save money in the long run, all while helping our planet. It’s a win-win. 

Furthermore, history suggests that eliminating the program now means it will be that much harder to bounce back if it is ever restored. When the Bloomberg administration suspended plastics and glass recycling in 2002, in the midst of another recession, New Yorkers were recycling at a rate of about 20%. Recycling has never returned to the same level after it was brought back; the latest available data, from fiscal year 2019, shows an 18.1% recycling diversion rate citywide, a decade and a half after. Changing habits is hard.

Loss of New York City’s composting program would also have implications for the cleanliness of our city. This could mean an uptick in rats and other vermin. Currently, buildings that participate in the curbside organics collection program store their food scraps in rat-proof brown bins provided by the Department of Sanitation. Once brown bin collection stops, the same amount of organics will end up in garbage bags stacked on sidewalks, a ready feast for rats. To make matters worse, the mayor has also proposed eliminating fourth-day garbage collection in "Rat Zones." 

Ending the curbside collection of organics is short sighted and ill-advised. It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish in a time when we desperately need to be thinking about how to build a resilient city. The health and longevity of our neighborhoods, city, and planet should be paramount, especially in times when tough decisions need to be made about our city’s budget and how the fiscal decisions we make today will impact our future.

The CORE Act, being introduced on Wednesday by City Council Members Keith Powers and Antonio Reynoso (a co-author here), would provide New Yorkers with places to drop off organics, electronics, textile, and other materials for recycling, as an interim measure until we restore and expand curbside collection of these streams to all New Yorkers. We know from recent history that the relatively little we save with a cut like this doesn’t justify the decades it will take to rebuild the good that it does for New Yorkers.

Gale Brewer is the 27th Borough President of Manhattan. City Council Member Antonio Reynoso represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens and chairs the Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management. On Twitter @galeabrewer & @CMReynoso34.

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New York City Must Keep and Expand Organics Collection, It’s an Essential Service Tue, 12 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Coronavirus Crisis Reinforces the Climate Emergency, Our City Budget Must Recognize That reynoso celebrate renovate

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

These months will go down as one of the most trying periods in our city’s history. We are consumed by the grief of lost loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors, while facing a level of economic uncertainty not seen in generations. In this moment of crisis, many of us feel compelled to put on blinders and focus solely on addressing the present situation, and there is no doubt that efforts to combat COVID-19 will require vast resources and attention from our best minds.

As with many other issues confronting our communities, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated by a broad array of societal problems, particularly environmental degradation and injustice. We must take a comprehensive approach to fighting this disease, one that not only looks to meet our short-term needs, but puts forth solutions that greatly improve our public health and economic resilience to prevent and withstand future emergencies. This starts with protecting our environment. 

Research is now showing that communities most impacted by pollution, predominantly black and brown communities, have higher rates of infection and death from COVID-19. This should come as no surprise. The virus impacts the respiratory system; high levels of pollution lead to increases in respiratory illnesses, which leave the body less equipped to fight off the virus. With this knowledge in hand, one would expect our leaders to double down on environmental initiatives to improve our air quality.

However, following the pattern of past economic downturns, environmental programs are among the first to see budget cuts, allowing elected officials to crow about a balanced budget, while their constituents are left vulnerable to future catastrophe. 

In June of last year, the New York City Council officially declared that we are in a climate emergency. COVID-19 has not displaced this emergency, which worsens by the day. And yet, the proposed cuts in the Mayor’s recently-released Executive Budget directly target concrete initiatives that would mitigate effects of climate change: suspending the city’s organics program, which will lead to increased methane emissions, and disinvesting from building bike lanes, making it harder for people to use alternative modes of transportation at a moment when people are more hesitant than they’ve ever been to ride public transit. Environmental initiatives, like a robust organics program and network of bike lanes, are not just necessary components of a well-functioning, modern municipality, they are also basic elements in any plan to mitigate an environmental catastrophe and improve public wellness.  

The scope and scale of both the public health and economic costs of climate change have the potential to dwarf what we’ve witnessed during the immense coronavirus crisis. Future generations would be left to deal with rising sea levels, longer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and poor air quality. The results will be tragic; millions living in low-lying areas will be displaced from their homes, food and water shortages will occur, and deaths from heat and respiratory-related illnesses will skyrocket. 

Responding to the twin emergencies of COVID-19 and climate change can seem overwhelming, but it presents a critical opportunity to improve our public health, revive our economy, and create greater equity within our communities. This is precisely the time to make investments that better prepare us for the next emergency. But before we can make further environmental investments, we must stop divesting in the limited number of environmental initiatives already on the books. We must protect and accelerate progress already underway.

As we watch the coronavirus curve flatten, we should not be thinking about how we “get back to normal” – normal is what left us unprepared, normal is what led to people of color dying from the virus at greater rates, normal is what left low-income folks completely devastated by the economic downturn.

We must rebuild our communities with equity and resiliency top of mind. This is not the time to follow the Republican orthodoxy of austerity; this is a time to figure out how we can prevent future large scale crises, like the looming climate crisis. Our goal should be a green economy, allowing us to reduce pollutants -- improving public health and mitigating climate change -- all while putting people to work building solar panels, processing compost, growing food locally, and in myriad other vocations.

We can start by preserving  the environmental initiatives we already have. If we do not rise to tomorrow’s climate crisis with the necessary urgency, the coming decades will bring cascading crises that no government will be equipped to respond to. 

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens. On Twitter @CMReynoso34.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

The Coronavirus Crisis Reinforces the Climate Emergency, Our City Budget Must Recognize That Wed, 22 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Supporters of Democratic Presidential Candidates Make Their Case delegate wbai

(l-r) Henry Munoz, Chris Coffey, Aaron Mendelsohn, Tristian Thomas-Allen, Antonio Reynoso, Ana Maria Archila, Ben Max, Jarrett Murphy

February 26, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Supporters of Democratic Presidential Candidates Make Their Case

It was a very lively discussion as the presidential primary heats up. Max & Murphy hosted a special live show panel discussion with supporters of six major Democratic presidential candidates: Antonio Reynoso for Warren; Ana Maria Archila for Sanders; Aaron Mendelsohn for Klobuchar; Chris Coffey for Bloomberg; Tristian Thomas-Allen for Buttigieg; and Henry Munoz III for Biden.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Supporters of Democratic Presidential Candidates Make Their Case Fri, 28 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Pursues Comprehensive Planning Legislation city planning

(rendering via the Mayor's Office)

The New York City Council is crafting legislation to mandate the creation of a comprehensive plan for the city that would guide long-term decisions on land use, zoning, and investments in infrastructure. The effort is being led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso.

Last year, the City Council urged the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to propose to voters an amendment to the city’s governing document to require a comprehensive plan every ten years. A comprehensive plan would serve as “a citywide strategic framework and vision for growth and development,” the Council wrote in its recommendations to the charter commission, which included representatives from various top city elected officials, including Johnson, who appointed its chair.

“The lack of a citywide plan contributes to the overall housing shortage and exacerbates conflicts for space between different uses,” the Council report reads. “The ad hoc selection of particular neighborhoods for growth-oriented rezoning plans has proved to be an inefficient and acrimonious process and is not delivering enough opportunities for development as the city needs.”

Even the charter commission’s staff agreed with the need for a comprehensive plan, recommending to the commissioners that it consider taking up the issue. The commission’s preliminary staff report issued in April noted that there are currently 12 different charter-required documents that determine city planning. “But the Charter does not always make clear how (and whether) these plans are intended to fit together, what they must address, how they relate to one another, how progress (or lack thereof) toward their goals is measured and assessed, and how the public can affect the content of these plans (if at all),” the staff report reads.

But the commission demurred, and among nearly 20 changes proposed to voters, all of which passed in November, only put forward tweaks to the city’s current land use processes. Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by Johnson, and Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, the former head of City Planning who was appointed to the commission by Mayor Bill de Blasio, both seemed opposed to the proposal, as did members of the de Blasio administration.

But where the charter commission passed, the City Council appears ready to move ahead. “Comprehensive Planning was a Council and personal priority in our testimony to the Charter Revision Commission and we continue to explore options to achieve those goals legislatively,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. A spokesperson for the speaker did not provide any additional detail about what the legislation would contain or the timeline for its introduction.

At the end of last year, Johnson passed and de Blasio signed a "streets master plan" law that includes mandates around bike and bus lanes and pedestrian space across the city. This past week, Johnson unveiled a "holistic, long-term" approach to combating homelessness in the city and said that a corresponding affordable housing plan is in the works. In a brief interview at City Hall after he released the homelessness plan, Johnson told Gotham Gazette that the larger planning legislation will incorporate those pieces and more.

Lander and Reynoso, who helped lead the push for comprehensive planning during the charter commission’s work and quickly rued the fact that the commission passed on the idea, indicated that there will be a package of several bills to accomplish comprehensive planning and related goals.

“Let's be perfectly honest, the only way we would have done it in a real comprehensive way, would have been through the charter,” Reynoso said in a brief interview outside City Hall. “So what we're doing now is taking the most aggressive legislative action we could take to try to mimic what should have been done through the charter.”

Lander stressed that the need to take “a more collaborative, more comprehensive, more proactive, more values-attuned approach, it just gets more and more urgent.”

“If we want to have a city that matches our values and carries them into planning for our future, the processes we currently have are broken and we have to have new ones,” he said during a phone interview.

Lander echoed Reynoso in pointing out that any bill passed by the Council will be more limited than what the charter commission could have accomplished. “By Council legislation, you can require a comprehensive planning process every so often, but you can’t change the [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] process to favor projects that would be aligned with that plan or make it more difficult to have projects that don't,” he said.

The push for comprehensive planning also has the support of the Thriving Communities coalition, made up of advocates, nonprofits, and grassroots organizers who sought to convince the charter commission to pursue their goals. The coalition criticized the commission’s refusal to take up the issue. “While the status quo might work for developers and the powerful few, it does not work for most New Yorkers, and without meaningful changes, the processes we have now will only exacerbate inequality, segregation, and displacement,” it wrote in a statement after the commission issued its final ballot proposals. Spokespeople for the coalition -- which included organizations like Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, Community Action for Safe Apartments, New York Appleseed, Regional Plan Association, and Pratt Center for Community Development, among others -- did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Any comprehensive planning legislation is likely to face push back from the de Blasio administration.

Vicki Been was formerly commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and testified before the charter commission as an outside expert at a March 21 hearing. She later rejoined the de Blasio administration when the mayor appointed her Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development in April.

In her testimony, Been raised the issue of the city’s Fair Share criteria, which determine how the city sites municipal facilities according to neighborhoods bearing their fair share of the burden. Over the years, the fair share policy has been criticized for largely failing to accomplish its intended objective as facilities such as homeless shelters and waste management plants began to be concentrated in certain communities, often low-income communities of color.

“Much of the criticism of the fair share criteria is that they are like an environmental impact review, all you have to do is show that you considered the fairness of the distribution. You don't have to meet any numerical or other target because one wasn't set because it's too difficult of a question,” Been said at the hearing. “And so there's no reason to believe that moving the question into what we call a comprehensive planning system would accomplish anything other than what is accomplished in the conversation about fair share.”

Anita Larement, executive director of the Department of City Planning, similarly raised red flags about comprehensive planning at that hearing. “On the one hand, people are looking for more community control over decision-making, which actually we know will lead to more problems in regards to siting things that people don't want in their neighborhoods. And this notion that somehow on the other hand if we can do comprehensive planning that we will solve these problems? What I would really submit is that, that is not correct,” she said.

After the 2019 Charter Revision Commission declined to move comprehensive planning forward toward a ballot proposal, Lander and Reynoso wrote a joint op-ed lamenting the missed opportunity but stressing the importance of moving ahead with better city planning, especially regarding infrastructure, climate resiliency, housing affordability, transit, school seats and more, with a holistic vision for development, services, and community benefits and burdens.

"Comprehensive planning is not a panacea, but evidence from other cities suggests that it is an essential component of fair and rational progress," they wrote. Concluding that if New York City is "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."

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

City Council Pursues Comprehensive Planning Legislation Sun, 02 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Bushwick Rezoning Hits an Impasse antonio rey wbai

Council Member Reynoso (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

January 15, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Bushwick Rezoning Hits an Impasse

antonio rey wbai150City Council Member Antonio Reynoso joined the show to discuss the controversy over the possible rezoning of part of Bushwick, plans for which have hit an impasse, with Reynoso and others backing one plan and the de Blasio administration in favor of another. The debate gets at the heart of community say, housing policies, gentrification, displacement fears, neighborhood planning, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The Bushwick Rezoning Hits an Impasse Wed, 15 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Deadly NYPD Shooting of Officer and Civilian Tests New Body Camera Footage Policy anto reyes police body cam

Monday's press conference at City Hall (photo: @changethenypd)

[Update (Sunday Dec. 15): on Friday, Dec. 13, the NYPD released body camera footage in this case]

Antonio Williams’ parents were not allowed to see their son in the hospital before he died from police gunshot wounds he sustained while attempting to flee a police stop in late September. Two-and-a-half months later, they are seeking footage from the body cameras worn by the officers involved that night and, in the process, are testing the NYPD’s new policy for publicly releasing video of what it calls “critical incidents,” including when civilians are killed by police.

NYPD Officer Brian Milkeen was also shot and killed by NYPD officers during the altercation as he wrestled with Williams. Many details of the event remain murky but a police department representative said Monday the NYPD expects to release footage of the incident "in the coming week."

At a tearful press conference on the steps of City Hall Monday, Williams’ family was joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (no relation), members of the City Council, and the families of other black men killed by police to seek details from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD about the September shooting. Despite a recently-published policy designed to clarify and expedite the process of releasing footage to the public, Shawn and Gladys Williams, Antonio’s father and stepmother, say they have not been shown body-camera video of the events leading to their son’s death.

“At the end of the day, we just want the truth. We want to find out what happened that night, why it happened, what could have been done to prevent it happening,” said Shawn Williams. Shawn and Gladys were joined by Antonio’s brother, Justin, who wore a shirt that said “My Brother, My Guardian Angel.” Others held signs saying “Justice for Antonio Williams #ReleaseTheNames” and “De Blasio/NYPD Stop Blocking Transparency, Justice for Antonio Williams.”

On September 29, Mulkeen, in plainclothes, approached Antonio Williams in front of the Edenwald Houses, a NYCHA complex in the northeast Bronx, then chased and wrestled him to the ground after Williams fled, according to then-Police Commissioner James O’Neill. Other officers were also in pursuit. According to the police department, Mulkeen can be heard via the not-yet-released body camera recording yelling, “He’s reaching for it. He’s reaching for it,” as Williams is, according to the NYPD, seen reaching toward his waist. Both Mulkeen and Williams died by police gunfire. Officers on the scene discharged 15 rounds, O’Neill said.

Police reported finding a handgun on the scene belonging to Williams, which had not been fired. A witness said that Williams was waiting for a cab when he was approached. Advocates say that in New York State it is not, by itself, illegal to run from the police.

The police department has not released details to the Williams family or the public about what Williams was being stopped for or whether he was suspected of a crime while the events were unfolding. It is also unclear whether officers identified themselves as police before approaching Williams.

Jonathan Moore, a lawyer with Beldock Levine and Hoffman LLP who is representing Williams’ family, said they have requested these details, as well as the names of the officers involved and any body-worn camera footage recorded that night, which could illuminate what happened and whether police officers acted appropriately and within the law. Moore’s firm submitted a request for the body-camera footage and other details through the state’s Freedom of Information Law on Monday, Moore said.

“We are concerned that that information is being covered up,” Moore said at the press conference. “Let’s see some transparency here. Let’s level the playing field. Let’s have the evidence about what happened.”

On October 18, the NYPD quietly published a long-sought policy outlining how the department would approach publicly sharing body-worn camera footage of “critical incidents” -- police interactions where the use of force resulted in death or serious injury, or where releasing body camera video would “address vast public attention, or concern.” The policy came months after O’Neill and de Blasio announced the full implementation of the body-worn camera program. It was originally piloted as a way to hold officers accountable after a judge found the NYPD had for years unconstitutionally targeted people of color with stop-and-frisk policing. As of this fall, roughly 24,000 police officers have been equipped with cameras.

The shooting deaths of Mulkeen and Williams appear to fall squarely within the NYPD’s definition of a “critical incident,” and participants at the press conference Monday, organized by Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, said the department is in possession of video that could provide answers and closure for Williams’ family.

“We don’t even know what happened,” said Brooklyn City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “We don’t know whether the officers did anything wrong, whether Antonio did something wrong. We don’t know anything. We’re standing here blind. The city has all the information and refuses to give it to us.”

The new policy says “the Department will decide when to publicly release BWC footage of a critical incident within 30 calendar days, excluding any non-disclosure period(s), provided that the force investigation review is completed.” It does not say whether it applies to events retroactively and does not guarantee footage will be published, leaving that decision entirely within the police commissioner’s discretion.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, police spokesperson Devora Kaye wrote, “The NYPD is committed to releasing footage of critical incidents captured by body-worn cameras within 30 days, with limited exceptions, while also balancing privacy concerns, protecting against compromising criminal investigations, and the need to comply with federal, state and local disclosure laws.”

“We expect to release the video from this incident in the coming week, and the Department will be sharing additional videos for other police involved shooting incidents in the coming weeks and months,” she wrote of the September 29 shooting.

Last month, under the new policy, the NYPD posted a 14-minute video of the fatal shooting of Gregory Edwards by police on Staten Island.

When asked whether the new policy should apply retroactively to Williams’ death and if Mayor de Blasio had discussed the matter with the police department, a mayoral spokesperson deferred to the NYPD.

A spokesperson for the Civilian Complaint Review Board says the watchdog agency has received no complaints stemming from the shooting, which is required in order to open an investigation.

The increasingly vocal public outcry around Williams’ death is setting up the September shooting to be one of the first tests of how the department will deal with critical incidents since the policy was released.

“I call on Dermot Shea, the new police commissioner: this is the first item on your plate,” said Moore on Monday. “We’re asking simply that there be full disclosure so that we can determine whether justice has been done in this matter.”

City Council Member Brad Lander, also a Brooklyn Democrat, said the police department will need to be more transparent about the application of the policy, especially in sharing video to the families of people killed by police. “A policy is written precisely to go out of the realm of implication into the realm of specific knowledge, and it is not clear. It does not obligate the NYPD to share [footage] with the family,” he told Gotham Gazette after the press conference.

Shaping the narrative and controlling the information around civilian deaths are hard and enduring issues for the loved ones of people killed by police. The new body-camera footage policy says the police department will release “representative samples” of the video but makes no commitment to publish footage completely or without redaction.

“Before they bring the evidence out, they want to tell it their way,” said Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, at the press conference. “But that officer [Brian Mulkeen] may have died for other reasons, we don’t know. They want to make Antonio the scapegoat like in so many other cases.”

Speaking the day after the shooting, then-Police Commissioner O’Neill told reporters, “Make no mistake, we lost the life of a courageous public servant solely due to a violent criminal who put the lives of the police and the people we serve in jeopardy.”

“We just need to know,” said Gladys Williams, Antonio’s stepmother. “It has been two-and-a-half months. It is hard to spend the holidays without our son.”

Note: this article has been updated to say the Civilian Complaint Review Board has not received a complaint in this matter.

[Update (Sunday Dec. 15): on Friday, Dec. 13, the NYPD released edited body camera footage in this case. Just prior to the release of that video, family of Antonio Williams and others held a press conference to criticize the mayor and NYPD, saying in an accompanying press release: "Antonio Williams’ father, stepmother and brother – joined by elected officials and police accountability advocates – rallied in front of NYPD headquarters to protest Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD’s refusal to provide Williams’ family with full access to unedited police body camera footage of the September 29th Bronx police killing of Antonio Williams and Officer Brian Mulkeen. The rally took place after the Williams family was able to preview an NYPD-produced video that is expected to be released publicly today."]

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Deadly NYPD Shooting of Officer and Civilian Tests New Body Camera Footage Policy Mon, 09 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000