Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/63 Wed, 26 Jun 2019 02:02:45 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) De Blasio Reps Sought to Kill Police Accountability Measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8632-de-blasio-reps-sought-to-kill-police-accountability-measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8632-de-blasio-reps-sought-to-kill-police-accountability-measure mdbd graduation cermony

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Less than a week after arguments ended in the high-profile NYPD administrative trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the administration of Mayor de Blasio waged an effort to block a significant reform aimed at preventing and punishing lying by police officers during investigations of misconduct.

One commissioner on the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission says members were contacted by a representative of the mayor in advance of a vote earlier this month on whether to move to the November election ballot a slate of proposals to modify the city charter, while the police department carried out a parallel campaign to sway commissioners, who are supposed to be independent of the elected officials who appoint them.

A spokesperson for de Blasio did not deny the effort, telling Gotham Gazette that the administration talks through all the issues with charter commissioners, including sharing concerns from city agencies.

The 15 commissioners on the 2019 commission, tasked with reviewing the city’s central governing laws and presenting proposed changes to voters, were appointed by the mayor, City Council, comptroller, public advocate, and borough presidents. After months of hearings and meetings, the commission recently met twice to vote on which proposals to advance to the ballot, selecting 20 in total.

One of the 20 proved especially controversial. It was the only one that was voted down during the first of the two recent meetings, but was then passed upon reevaluation at the second. It deals with strengthening the power of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to prosecute discipline charges when police officers lie during the course of investigations.

According to four charter revision commissioners Gotham Gazette spoke with, in the conversations ahead of the first meeting on June 12, administration and police representatives urged the commissioners to vote down the measure, “proposal 7,” which accountability advocates believe would significantly curtail officers’ ability to avoid scrutiny and discipline.

In public, however, the administration has maintained silence on the proposal to rein in police lying -- a practice that has been exposed in significant new detail in recent months by reporting by Gothamist and elsewhere -- and a spokesperson for the mayor told Gotham Gazette it is still in the process of official review.

The events shine a light on the mayor’s oft-criticized level of commitment to transparency and accountability with regard to police misconduct and efforts to reform the politically powerful police department.

Commissioner Sal Albanese, who twice voted against the charter proposal, told Gotham Gazette he was contacted by a representative of the de Blasio administration who told him the current apparatus to deal with false official statements is working well.

“The de Blasio administration made a very compelling case that the present system works. If an officer is accused or makes a false statement that they handle it, and if it’s serious it goes to the prosecutors. That was their position and it makes sense,” Albanese said, referring to the NYPD’s process of handling allegations of police lying internally. Albanese, a former City Council member and mayoral candidate, was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former NYPD officer and captain.

Probed further about contact from the de Blasio administration, Albanese said, “That’s their position. That’s the call I got from them, yeah.”

But in an email to Gotham Gazette Friday, Will Baskin-Gerwitz, a spokesperson for the mayor, wrote: “Mayor de Blasio has heard the informed opinions of CCRB and NYPD about the proposal, and he continues to review it in advance of the revision commission’s final vote in July.”

Albanese and six other commissioners, including all four appointed by de Blasio and the commissioner appointed by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, originally voted against proposal 7 on June 12 at the first meeting where the commission took up potential charter amendments. The measure was the only one of the 18 considered by the 15-member body that was not passed that night.

Asked to comment on the mayoral appointees’ voting pattern at the June 12 vote, Commissioner Sateesh Nori, an appointee of former Public Advocate Letitia James, told Gotham Gazette, “I don’t know what happened exactly in their minds, and whether they voted individually or as a collective group, whether they represented anybody.”

“But they’re all respectable, straightforward people and I think hopefully they’ll change their minds, or enough of them will,” he said, referring to the possibility of revisiting the vote.

“I think that’s the only life and death issue that we’re dealing with here,” Nori said. “It’s deeply disappointing.”

In an unusual display of political metanoia, after speaking with representatives of the CCRB and hearing from police reformers including the mothers of men killed by police, charter revision commissioners moved to revisit proposal 7 at the June 18 hearing, and voted it ahead toward the ballot in November.

One mayoral appointee, Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, changed his vote to support the controversial measure. The other three affirmed commitments to police transparency and honesty but did not support codifying the measure to bring police lying under independent scrutiny.

The purpose of the June votes was to advance proposals from the commission staff to the commission’s final report, which members need to approve at the end of July before amendments can be placed on the ballot in November.

‘The only life and death issue’
False statements made by the police in the course of misconduct investigations are well-documented and have figured into some of the most serious cases of police brutality and corruption, including the trial of Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. 

A number of versight entities have been created to address police misconduct, corruption, and mismanagement, each with a relatively narrow mandate to pursue aspects of departmental impropriety. Several of the reforms being weighed by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, including the one that has apparently attracted the opposition of the administration, have to do with giving more teeth to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is appointed by the mayor from a pool designated by the mayor, City Council, and police commissioner.

The CCRB is the principal entity charged with investigating civilian allegations of police misconduct when they fall into one of four categories, known as FADO: use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language.

Currently, false testimony by the police to investigators falls outside the FADO categories, and as such cannot be the subject of investigations and disciplinary recommendations by the CCRB, which is an independent agency with the power to prosecute cases in administrative settings. Instead they must be referred to the police department to be dealt with internally, where allegations of lying are often downgraded or dismissed without repercussion.

A report in the New York Times last year found that of the 81 tracked cases of false statements referred to the police department by the CCRB since 2010 only two were affirmed by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. A “Blue Ribbon” panel appointed by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to recommend reforms to the department’s internal disciplinary system, in its final report in January, discussed a pervasive culture of “lax” or nonexistent responses to officers who lie to investigators about their and their colleagues’ actions.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the NYPD, said the department has “accepted all of the recommendations of the independent Blue Ribbon Panel on discipline.” McRorie made a distinction between “intentional or willfully false statements” -- which would immediately result in an investigation and potential disciplinary action -- and “unintentional inconsistent statements which are generally the result of insufficient preparation for testimony, in which case enhanced one-on-one training may be appropriate.”

The distinction did not resonate with some of the charter revision commissioners.

“I have to say that the argument that we should be giving the benefit of the doubt to police officers who cannot remember what they did in a situation of likely police misconduct and even violence,” in contrast with the treatment of people of color by police nationwide, “was infuriating to me,” Commissioner Alison Hirsch told Gotham Gazette. Hirsch, the political director at the powerful building services workers union, 32BJ SEIU, was appointed to the commission by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

To enhance the CCRB’s ability to check the powers of the police, many stakeholders have pushed for the expansion of FADO to include other types of misconduct like lying to investigators. The charter revision commission, which has the power to examine the entire City Charter and put amendments directly to voters via referendum, has attracted advocates eager to see reform to the NYPD, a less-than-transparent city department backed by influential political forces with a great deal of sway at City Hall.

Several of the commissioners, who saw the June 12 commission vote as an opportunity to advance police reforms, were surprised at proposal 7’s lone failure that night.

“Some of us left that meeting last week with our jaws dropped. Like, what happened, how did that happen?” Nori said. “We thought it was a close vote but we didn’t think it would be unsuccessful, and that was a huge shock.”

Several other commissioners who spoke with Gotham Gazette expressed the same sense of bewilderment.

That night, seven commissioners voted against proposal 7, including all four de Blasio appointees, as well as the commissioners appointed by borough presidents from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The commissioners chosen by the public advocate, comptroller, and Manhattan borough president, and two of the commissioners appointed by the City Council voted in favor. The remaining two City Council appointees abstained from voting, and the Queens Borough President’s appointee was absent because of a family emergency.

Four other proposals relating to the CCRB were voted ahead on June 12. If passed by voters in November, they will give other entities besides the mayor the authority to appoint members to the board; give the CCRB executive director subpoena power; guarantee a minimum budget for the agency; and require the police commissioner to provide an explanation when deviating from a CCRB disciplinary recommendation.

Charter revision commissions have historically been empaneled by mayors, as was the one that put proposals on the ballot last November. The current commission, however, was created through the City Council on the initiative of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and then-Public Advocate Letitia James.

Its members were appointed by a mix of elected officials, with none appointing a majority: The mayor and City Council each chose four commissioners; the remaining seven were appointed by each borough president, the public advocate, and the city comptroller.

“It's important that no single official appoints a majority. Some previous charter reviews haven't been independent, instead dominated by appointees answering directly to mayors,” wrote Brewer and James in an op-ed announcing their plan.

Vote Revisited
Following the June 12 failure of proposal 7, a counter effort was waged among some of the commissioners sympathetic to the arguments of police reformers to revisit the “no” vote.

“The police have a tremendous amount of power in this city and they waged an effective campaign to influence people and change their minds,” Nori told Gotham Gazette before the second meeting, referring to commissioners.

“I hope we can try to change that today,” he said.

On June 18, when the commission met for a second time to discuss and vote on which proposals to send toward the ballot, Nori raised the issue again and asked if any of the opposing commissioners would reconsider their vote.

Weisbrod was the only commissioner appointed by the mayor to change his vote to support proposal 7 but, thanks to the affirmative votes of commissioners who had abstained or were absent at the first meeting, the proposal passed eight to six (with one abstention) at the second meeting.

One of four de Blasio appointees, Weisbrod, flipped his vote to support the enhanced oversight measure after thanking Nori and Hirsch for helping him “see the light on it for what it is,” after the previous meeting.

“I think we have an obligation to support the truth,” he said at the meeting.

The other mayoral appointees seemed to walk a fine line when they chose to explain their opposition in the face of reconsideration.

Commissioner Lisette Camilo, a de Blasio appointee and the head of the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said, “I really agree with the spirit of the reasons to put this motion forward and I supported the reconsideration. I will vote no. I do not believe that passing this will largely change anything. This is more of a symbolic action.”

Commissioner Paula Gavin, another mayoral appointee and former Chief Service Officer under the mayor, said, “I do believe in truth and honesty but I’m going to keep my vote as no because it has to do with structure.”

Commissioner Lindsay Greene, a de Blasio appointee and senior advisor in the mayor’s office, said, in the absence of more fundamental changes to the powers of the CCRB, “I don’t think this does enough, so it feels more form over substance. But I generally support any efforts we are trying to pursue, generally, for more police accountability. My vote is no.”

But the measure passed, and police reform and accountability activists celebrated.

“The false statements ballot item is important because it is the ONLY item on this November’s ballot that has any meaningful significance for police accountability,” wrote the Communities United for Police Reform coalition in a statement.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio Reps Sought to Kill Police Accountability Measure Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
How De Blasio Fared in Albany This Year https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8635-how-de-blasio-fared-in-albany-2019-cuomo https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8635-how-de-blasio-fared-in-albany-2019-cuomo mayor state state

Mayor de Blasio with Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Democrats in control of the state Legislature for the first time in a decade ended a whirlwind legislative session last week, having notched a raft of progressive victories that were denied to them when Republicans controlled the state Senate. 

At a news conference in Albany on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared it the “the most productive legislative session in modern history,” and in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed.

“As we tally up the scorecard for the end of session, one thing is clear: New Yorkers have won big on a host of progressive legislation that will help make our state fairer,” de Blasio said in a statement on Friday.

Among the bills passed this year were several sweeping packages with significant ramifications for the city’s 8.5 million residents. Registering to vote will become easier. Tenants will have stronger protections. Wealth will no longer determine, in most cases, if someone accused of a crime loses their freedom. Marijuana possession won’t land people in jail. The subways will get new funding and the streets will be a little less crowded by vehicles. Cameras will catch speeding drivers near schools. Construction projects will be completed more efficiently. Undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for driver’s licenses and receive education funding. And that’s not all.

Among de Blasio’s top stated priorities, he saw movement on stronger rent regulations, mayoral control of city schools, congestion pricing, election reform, design-build authority, criminal justice reform, and more.

Nonetheless, there were a few professed priorities for the mayor that did not get approved this year including legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana, scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), and reforming Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law, which shields police officer disciplinary records from public disclosure, among others.

“We haven’t seen a session this daring, productive and progressive in decades, and while we have much more work to do for New Yorkers, I want to thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the rest of the legislature for passing these sweeping reforms,” de Blasio said. “I also would like to thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for taking swift action on many of these pieces of legislation.”

The city has already or will soon begin the process of executing some of the various reforms that passed, including creating new local regulations for e-bikes and e-scooters to expanding contract awards for MWBEs, and implementing bail reform. Some reforms will also take effect immediately while other programs are scheduled to ramp up over time.

Here’s a rundown of approved bills and programs, some broad and others more specific, that will impact New York City:

Expanded MWBE Program
The Legislature gave the city greater authority to award discretionary contracts to Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) as well as Emerging Business Enterprises run by socially and economically disadvantaged business owners.

The legislation increases the value of contracts that the city can award without a formal competitive process to such businesses from $150,000 to $500,000 million. It also allows adding MWBE or EBE status as a criteria for creating pre-qualified vendor lists, allows the Department of Design and Construction to create a mentoring program for MWBEs and EBEs, and allows those businesses to apply for School Construction Authority contracts.

De Blasio had called this a top priority, holding a press conference on the subject in late March (he wanted the threshold raised to $1 million, but was pleased with $500,000) and reiterating its importance as the session moved toward completion. A $1 million threshold would have allowed the city to increase annual MWBE awards by $500 million, he had said.

“Our city is fairer and more vibrant when everyone – regardless of race, gender or ethnicity – has an opportunity to participate in our economy,” de Blasio said in a statement. “With the help of State lawmakers and persistent advocacy from our minority and women entrepreneurs, we managed to once again expand economic opportunity for people who have historically been left out of our economy. A $500,000 discretionary award limit for minority and women entrepreneurs will strengthen our thriving economy and entrepreneurial backbone.”

Expanded Design-Build Authority
Design-build is a procurement method intended to cut infrastructure costs by allowing government to solicit a joint design and construction contract. De Blasio has been pushing for the commonsense measure for years but it was repeatedly used as a leverage item by the governor and Republican Senate, with at times small gains allowed to the city.

Democrats this year expanded the city’s design-build authorization to several city agencies: the Department of Design & Construction, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, the School Construction Authority, the Department of Parks & Recreation, the New York City Housing Authority and New York City Health + Hospitals.

Legalizing Electronic Bikes and Scooters
The Legislature legalized e-bikes and e-scooters (with a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour), mandated safety requirements for e-scooters, and gave municipalities the ability to regulate e-scooters within their jurisdiction.

In New York City, the bill could end a de Blasio-ordered crackdown by the NYPD on e-bikes, which are often used by immigrant food delivery workers. It will also allow the City Council to create new regulations where earlier its hands were tied. Several bills were introduced and discussed at a Council hearing in January, which can now move forward. When pressed on his e-bike crackdown, de Blasio repeatedly pointed to Albany, saying he wanted state regulations so the city could then act, but also expressing safety concerns not backed up by any data.

Governor Cuomo did say Friday that he is still reviewing the legislation, and he expressed safety concerns about where and how e-bikes and e-scooters riders would operate, saying he didn’t think they should be in bike lanes or on sidewalks with those riding traditional bikes or walking. De Blasio has expressed similar concerns.

Rent Regulations
The Legislature passed and governor signed a package of sweeping tenant-friendly rent regulations, with no expiration dates unlike previous rent laws, which are expected to affect more than 2.4 million rent-regulated tenants in the city. 

The bills ended high-rent and high-income vacancy decontrol, limited rent increases from “major capital improvements,” and banned blacklisting of tenants for being sued in housing court, among other regulations.

De Blasio called the rent regulations “extraordinary” in an interview on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “[W]e created the biggest affordable housing program this city has ever had, we gave free lawyers to stop evictions, we’ve done a lot of things here that are working – rent freezes for two years, obviously. But the missing link was to get action in Albany,” he said. “Now we have the strongest rent laws we’ve ever had and that’s extraordinary. And I think this has been – this is one of the watershed moments in terms of protecting New York City as we love it, you know, keeping New York New York, making sure it’s a city for everyone.”

Environmental Regulations
In a last-minute agreement, the governor and Legislature approved the expansive Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, said to be the strongest environmental regulation of its kind in the country. It mandates goals for cutting carbon emissions to zero in the electricity sector by 2040, invests heavily in wind and solar energy, and will direct state agencies to invest 40% of clean energy funds in disadvantaged communities.

The bill also empanels a Climate Action Council charged with creating a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050.

De Blasio has already set New York City on a path to reduce emissions by making large buildings more energy efficient and other measures, including related to how the city gets its energy and uses automobiles. The mayor announced in April that all city operations would be powered by renewable energy sources within five years. The CLCPA, with its aggressive goals, will add fuel to those efforts and beyond.

The Legislature also passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at retail and grocery stores (a few years after the state overruled a new city law to a similar effect). The bill does include several exemptions, however, and also allows municipalities a choice to impose a 5-cent fee on single-use paper bags. 

Voting and Elections Reform 
The Legislature passed several laws this year to remove hurdles to voting and registering to vote, most of them early in the year. In New York City, where the New York City Board of Elections has shown repeated failures in administering elections, some of those reforms promise to make voting processes far more efficient. 

Among the measures the Legislature passed were early voting, electronic pollbook authorization, three hours of paid leave on Election Day, consolidating the federal and state primary, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, changing the party enrollment deadline to allow more time for voters to pick a party, and universal portability of voter registrations.

The Legislature also approved measures to amend the state constitution to allow same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail. Those measures will have to pass through another Legislative session and a ballot referendum.

De Blasio has already been wrangling with the city Board of Elections, which the city does not control but funds, about some of the changes, including how many early voting sites will be operated for the November election.

Extended Mayoral Control
The state budget deal passed in April gave de Blasio a three-year extension on mayoral control of city schools, compared to the one- and two-year extensions he’d received in the past. The extension gets him through the rest of his term.

The deal also required no concessions from the mayor, unlike when Republicans used mayoral control to pass measures friendly to charter schools or require more oversight. In fact, the charter school cap, which has been hit in New York City, was not lifted at all this year, pleasing the mayor.

The budget did add two members to the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, and changed how members of local parent councils are appointed.

The city will also have to do additional new reporting on where state education aid is going, which could lead to conflict next year if Cuomo believes the city is not moving enough state dollars to the most needy schools.

Criminal Justice Reform
De Blasio’s plan to close the Rikers Island jails hinges on reducing the population of the jail complex to below 5,000 (the city's entire correction facility population was slightly under 7,500 as of this week, according to the de Blasio administration). The mayor has repeatedly insisted that that would require broad criminal justice reforms at the state level, and the Legislature obliged with a broad package.

The Legislature ended the use of cash bail for most offenses, save for violent crimes; they overhauled the discovery process, allowing defendants access to evidence against them earlier and more easily; and they guaranteed a defendant's right to a speedy trial.

De Blasio had wanted a change in the recently-passed bail laws, asking the Legislature to give judges the ability to assess a suspect’s “dangerousness” in order to set bail in cases of violent crimes, but the measure proved controversial and failed.

At a June 3 news conference in Albany, he explained, “Remember, there are some people who are profoundly dangerous who have a proven, unfortunately, a proven record of being dangerous to their communities, but are not a flight risk. In those cases, judges’ hands are tied and they do not have a ready way to hold them in, in the way they need to. We need to come up with a very precise definition of dangerousness so that it is not overused. But I think that's something that can and should be done while this legislature is still in session.”

The Legislature also decriminalized possession of low quantities of marijuana, but failed to legalize the recreational adult use of marijuana which would have also allowed commercial sales.

De Blasio has insisted that he would only support legalization done responsibly and with investments for communities long adversely affected by enforcement. “I want to see legalization of marijuana for sure, but I want to see it done in a way that does not create a new monster corporate class that takes advantage of people, that profits in a very inappropriate way,” he said at the June 3 Albany news conference. Cuomo has promised to pursue marijuana legalization again next year.

Transit, Traffic and Congestion Pricing
After opposing it for years, de Blasio embraced a congestion pricing program to impose a charge on drivers entering Manhattan’s central business district, 60th street and below. The Legislature this year approved something of a broad plan -- though it will not take effect till 2021 and must be designed by a committee where de Blasio has little control -- which will create an annual stream of $1 billion in revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and allow it to leverage to raise about $15 billion in bond funding to repair and maintain the city’s struggling subways. 

The governor and Legislature also mandated reforms at the MTA, including an overhaul of its management structure. But Governor Cuomo seemed to make a last-minute power grab at the state authority, where he already appoints a plurality of board members and its top leadership.

Cuomo nominated his budget director, Robert Mujica, to the board and was successful in pushing the Legislature to waive the requirement that Mujica be a resident of the city. In fact, he had state law changed so that the state budget director is always a member of the MTA Board.

One new de Blasio nominee to the board, former city labor commissioner Bob Linn, was approved by the Senate.

At the same time, the governor failed to advance the mayor’s other nomination for MTA Board member, Dan Zarrilli, to the Senate for confirmation, which leaves de Blasio and the city with one fewer representative.

“It is disappointing the City will have less say on the board during this critical time of change for the MTA, especially that of Mr. Zarrilli, a Staten Islander and professional engineer who is ideally suited to the role,” said Seth Stein, a de Blasio spokesperson, in a statement. “We will continue advocating for the residents of New York City.”

The governor’s office has not fully explained why Zarrilli’s nomination was held up. A spokesperson for Cuomo, Patrick Muncie, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Mr. Zarrilli’s recommendation was received after Mr. Linn’s, and he is currently going through the background process.” Muncie did not respond to a question about whether Cuomo prefers to have the city at less than full strength on the Board.

Aid for the Undocumented
The Legislature approved the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act, named for the state Senator who sponsored the bill but died last year before seeing it passed. The bill gives undocumented immigrant students access to state tuition assistance to attend college and also creates a privately-funded scholarship fund. It’s likely to be significantly impactful in New York City, which is home to about 150,000 DREAMers, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The Legislature also approved the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act that would reinstate undocumented immigrants’ eligibility to apply for drivers licenses, which was banned following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. 

Cameras Near Schools and on Buses
Democrats reauthorized and dramatically expanded a speed camera program around New York City schools this year, after Republicans had let it lapse last year. Cameras are expected to be installed in 750 school zones, up from 160, and will operate for longer hours.

And the state moved to allow for cameras mounted on city buses in order to ticket vehicles parked in bus lanes, which will aid de Blasio's effort to speed up the city's slow bus fleet.

Veteran Firefighters
Working with city officials, the Legislature crafted and approved a bill that would allow military veterans to subtract seven years from their age (up from six) to qualify for the city’s Fire Department. “If you’re a veteran who has served this country proudly, your age shouldn’t be a barrier to continue serving our fellow New Yorkers,” de Blasio said, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

LGBTQ and Gender Equity
The Democrat-led Legislature moved forward on a number of bills that Republicans had repeatedly blocked in past years. They banned conversion therapy for minors, passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual identity.

The Legislature also passed the Reproductive Health Act, which codified federal abortion protections established by Roe v. Wade into state law, and passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, mandating that insurers cover the cost of contraception. They also banned employers from discriminating against employees based on reproductive health decisions.

Child Victims Act
The Legislature approved the Child Victims Act, which raises the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil and criminal complaints.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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How De Blasio Fared in Albany This Year Mon, 24 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City to Launch 5 Cross-Agency Projects to Fight Poverty-Related Challenges https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8622-city-to-launch-new-cross-agency-projects-to-fight-poverty https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8622-city-to-launch-new-cross-agency-projects-to-fight-poverty bdb att ge er sc bk institute

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


The de Blasio administration is hoping to address challenges faced by struggling New Yorkers and fight poverty by improving access to city services through five new initiatives that will launch July 1, the start of the next city fiscal year.

The five projects, overseen and funded by the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, cut across city agencies and involve a diverse set of goals: increasing school attendance for students in temporary housing; expanding education services for adults leaving jail and prison; improving staff training at and design of domestic violence shelters; improving how the city tracks services for homeless people living on the street; and enhancing the city’s family support service system.

“Many folks in the world of social services, whether at nonprofits or city agencies…are all in general agreement that silos are bad,” said Matt Klein, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, which uses data and research to fight poverty-related challenges faced by New Yorkers. “Issues related to poverty are multi-faceted and complex so this is an effort to put into operation the principle that we should serve people more holistically as opposed to single isolated interventions.”

Klein’s office put out a call to city agencies last September to solicit ideas about improving collaboration and overcoming “service silos” to provide more efficient and well-rounded social services. The projects will receive a total of $6 million over the next three years from NYC Opportunity’s Innovation Fund, a $28 million pot of money that the office uses to test new projects and ideas to tackle poverty. The office also publishes its own measure of poverty, which takes into account additional cost of living factors in the city to provide a more coherent picture of poverty than the federal measure.

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to fighting poverty and income inequality in the city, having won office on that platform in 2013, any city administration has somewhat limited tools to directly achieve what is largely affected by macroeconomic factors.

The mayor has taken many related steps to support the lives of no-, low-, and middle-income New Yorkers, including enacting universal pre-kindergarten, various workplace protections like expanding paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage for city employees to $15 (before the state followed suit for all workers), funding lawyers for many tenants facing eviction, and a large affordable housing program. De Blasio has also claimed success, announcing earlier this year that there were 236,500 fewer people living in poverty or near poverty in 2017 than in 2013. Poverty rates have been falling nationwide, owing to strong and stable economic growth over the last decade, and it’s hard to attribute the effect solely to city policies. The fact that the minimum wage jumped quickly over the last few years has been a significant factor in New York.

NYC Opportunity’s projects are intended to make improvements in the systems that the city does control, in providing social services and easing access to them. The projects include:

A partnership between the Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services to increase coordination and data-sharing to increase attendance rates for thousands of students living in 25 homeless shelters across the city.

Improving 15 domestic violence shelters through environmental design changes and better training for staff to provide trauma-informed care. That project will involve the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Human Resources Administration and the Administration for Children’s Services.

ACS and DOHMH will also work together to analyze how families interact with city services to find ways to “refine referral pathways, improve families’ access to services, and promote positive child outcomes.”

The CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice Prisoner Reentry Institute and the SUNY Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center will collaborate to provide individuals who leave city jails and state prisons with high school, college and career preparation services as well as individual support.

The Department of Homeless Services will improve how it tracks street homelessness by expanding its StreetSmart tracking and case management system to Drop-In Centers and Safe Havens which provide services to those outside of the shelter system. DHS will also give nonprofit service providers better access to data to improve services.

The projects are meant to be scalable and to provide lessons in best practices. For instance, the domestic violence shelter project acknowledges “both the relation between physical design and programmatic effort to address trauma,” said Klein. “That could also be precedent setting in the development of public spaces. All of these have potential for very meaningful operational change.”

David Berman, the office’s director of programs and evaluation, added, “As part of the selection criteria, we particularly focused on projects that could have a big impact on low-income residents but also to potentially transform systems or provide informative learning for other city agencies so that they would have a bigger impact.”

Berman said the office will apply performance tracking measures to each of the projects to measure process and outcomes, and will publicly report the results. “We’re continuously working with our agency partners to monitor the programs as they go,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City to Launch 5 Cross-Agency Projects to Fight Poverty-Related Challenges Thu, 20 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Administration Doesn't Support Council Bill to Create Department of Sustainability & Climate Change https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8611-de-blasio-opposes-council-bill-to-create-department-of-sustainability-climate-change https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8611-de-blasio-opposes-council-bill-to-create-department-of-sustainability-climate-change Costa Constantinides City Council

Council Member Constantinides (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


At a recent hearing of the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection, the de Blasio administration expressed its opposition to a bill that would establish a New York City Department of Sustainability and Climate Change.

The bill, Intro. 1399, was introduced in February by Council Member Costa Constantinides, a Queens Democrat and chair of the environmental protection committee.

It would make New York City among the first in the nation to implement a municipal-level agency dedicated to sustainability and climate change, according to Constantinides, and would repeal the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and replace it with the new department, led by a commissioner. This change, going from part of the mayor’s office to a separate department, would likely mean more funding and staff for the responsibilities involved, signifying greater emphasis on the city’s efforts to fight climate change and prepare for its effects.

The commissioner of a Department of Sustainability and Climate Change would be responsible for all matters pertaining to recovery, resiliency, and sustainability, the three main pillars of the work involved as the city takes additional efforts to deal with and fight climate change. The department would develop and coordinate the implementation of policies, programs, and actions to meet the long-term needs of the city.

The proposed bill would also establish a Sustainability Advisory Board with members to include, at a minimum, “representatives from environmental, environmental justice, planning, architecture, engineering, oceanography, coastal protection, construction, critical infrastructure, labor, business, and academic sectors.” Most members would be appointed by the Mayor though it would also include the Speaker of the City Council and the chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection or their designees.

“It’s time for us to make as a city a larger investment, a deeper investment, and one that when this mayor leaves, and when this City Council leaves, that we’re leaving behind a stronger apparatus, an apparatus that would be in perpetuity in relation to climate change,” Constantinides said during the hearing.

But Mark Chambers, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, testified before the Council committee at the June 12 hearing, which also dealt with two other bills related to reducing methane emissions and leaks in the city, and expressed the de Blasio administration’s opposition to the bill to create a new department.

After highlighting what he deemed the many successful initiatives of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, and the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs, Chambers said a new department is not necessary. Key measures and structures are already in place to ensure that resiliency, sustainability, and recovery are embedded in all New York City agencies and initiatives, Chambers argued.

“Climate change is a cross-cutting issue requiring the specialized expertise of almost every city agency. By giving the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs the power to coordinate agency efforts, we are able to act with the urgency that our residents demand,” Chambers said in his testimony.

“Having said that, while the administration believes that our current climate teams are structured appropriately to meet the challenge, New York City residents need every tool at our disposal in this fight,” he continued. “We share your goals that were put forward in Intro. 1399 to prepare New York City for the impacts of climate change, build a more sustainable city and effectively respond to and recover from climate emergencies. In the coming months, we look forward to discussing strategies for effectively meeting these goals together.”

“I completely agree that doing more is not only advantageous but it’s absolutely necessary. To your original point about the benefits of making sure there is a legacy of this work, making sure that it has to continue, one of the hallmarks of our approach to our climate work is codifying it wherever possible,” Chambers said in his testimony. “So it’s not just working with the Council, it’s also with changing the energy codes, changing the building codes, changing the zoning codes to make sure that it is not subject to just prioritization but it’s become a culture of how we do work internally in the city as well as how the city at large has to redefine our environment.”

Constantinides acknowledged the work that the mayor’s office and the City Council have done to address climate change, its threats and impacts, but said the city needs a single agency to act as a conduit for all resiliency work moving forward. “The men and women of MOS and MOR have done an outstanding job and I want to thank them for that,” he said in his opening statement. “We cannot expect, however, that the several dozen employees in this office have the capacity to manage the sustainability policies for the over 300,000 strong city workforce. We want to give them more help.”

The new department would implement and monitor sustainability initiatives in New York City that have been launched in recent years such as the city’s commitment to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and the city’s initiative to install 1 gigawatt of solar capacity citywide by 2030 -- enough to power 250,000 homes -- among many others. Led by Constantinides, the City Council just passed, with de Blasio’s support, sweeping legislation to mandate major carbon emissions reductions and green upgrades at the city’s largest buildings, and the de Blasio administration is moving ahead not only with continued recovery efforts from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, but new resiliency efforts like the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project.

The proposed bill would also require the commissioner of the Department of Sustainability and Climate Change to present a long-term sustainability plan for the city that would detail interim goals based on planning and sustainability indicators. The city would have to achieve each interim goal by no later than April 22, 2030 and long-term goals no later than April 22, 2050. (April 22 is Earth Day.)

Additionally, the commissioner must prepare and submit to the mayor and the speaker of the City Council an initial report on the city’s performance with respect to the identified sustainability indicators and long-term planning and sustainability efforts no later than April 22, 2020.

At the hearing, Constantinides asked Chambers how a new mayor would affect the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability’s current $17 million budget. “The discretion would still stand with the mayor, whether it’s agency or whether it’s mayoral office,” Chambers responded.

After Chambers and other representatives of the de Blasio administration testified, members of the public appeared before the Council to discuss the bills at hand, raising some questions about the proposed department bill.

“I’m concerned that there do not appear to be any enforcement mechanisms if agencies fail to meet their stated goals,” said Amy Ruther of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “I’m also concerned that the members of the Sustainability Advisory Board are all appointed, not elected, and they are not required to seek input from the communities that their decisions will impact the most.”

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by Jewel Antoine, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio Administration Doesn't Support Council Bill to Create Department of Sustainability & Climate Change Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8586-the-fading-promise-of-property-tax-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8586-the-fading-promise-of-property-tax-reform may bdb cc speaker corey jo

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Despite promising that in his second term he would take on the challenge of property tax reform, Mayor de Blasio appears to be shying away as many leaders have done many times before.

New York City government is extremely dependent upon its property tax, which will generate roughly $30 billion this coming fiscal year, more than any other single revenue source. Not surprisingly, New Yorkers gripe about their property taxes almost as much as about the subways.

The laws and methods used to determine and assess the tax on individual properties are extremely complex and inequitable, but reforming them is a daunting task that will inevitably make some property owners unhappy. For that reason, elected officials have long avoided tackling the problem.

The current New York City property tax system was created in 1981. A lawsuit brought by law professor William Hellerstein in 1975 challenged the legality of the property tax system state-wide as violating the constitutional requirement that all similar properties be taxed equally.

After several missed deadlines, rejected proposals, and a last-minute override of Governor Carey’s veto, a new law was passed that divided properties in New York City into four “classes,” set different percentages of the value of each class of property to be assessed (assessment ratios), limited the amount of total property tax levy to be derived from each class (class shares), and provided for phase-ins and limitations on the growth of tax revenue from different classes so that no one property or type of property would experience a dramatic increase in value and taxation as the new system was phased in.

Thirty-eight years later, New York City looks quite different, property values have soared, and there have been many unintended consequences of the design of the property tax system.

Limitations on phasing in growth in value mean that properties within the same class are often taxed at very different effective rates and the limitations on class shares of the tax levy mean that different classes are shouldering disproportionate amounts of the burden of the growth in overall property value.

One of the most egregious outcomes is that co-ops and condos -- for which the market was very different in 1981-- are in the same class as rental properties and are assessed, not on their market value, but as if they were only generating rental income. The result is many high-end apartments assessed at far lower amounts than their real value; whole residential co-op and condo buildings in some parts of Manhattan are taxed at less than the actual sales prices of individual apartments in the building.

What is to be done? In April 2017 a group of frustrated real estate developers and landlords joined with individual property owners and supportive civic and civil rights groups (including Citizens Budget Commission, which I led at the time and filed an amicus brief) to file a new lawsuit, Tax Equity Now NY LLC vs. City of New York, et al. alleging the current property tax system discriminates against primarily people of color who are low-income renters and homeowners. The lawsuit was filed in the hope that, as had happened in response to the Hellerstein case, city and state leaders would respond with urgency and determination to develop a reformed taxation system.

Instead, both city and state defendants have strenuously resisted the suit, moving to dismiss it on the grounds that the plaintiffs aren’t directly impacted and/or that the state defendants aren’t responsible. The City also infuriated City Council members who wanted to intervene on behalf of the plaintiffs by opposing their application to file a separate brief.

The motion to dismiss was filed in June but it took until September 2017 for the judge to rule that the case could proceed and until February 2018 to rule that the Council members could not intervene in the case. The City filed an appeal and all further action in the case is on hold until that appeal is decided.  

At a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York the day before he was re-elected in November 2017, I asked Mayor de Blasio whether he was going to take on property tax reform. He answered directly and forthrightly that the system needs to be more fair and transparent but that we cannot afford to reduce substantially the revenue it generates and that relying on the judicial system to resolve the problem would be a mistake.

He estimated that it would “take a year or two” to bring all the stakeholders together and come up with the needed reforms and that it would require being “blunt” about the challenges. He said: “I am ready to do it….When I say something that definitively, I mean it…We will create tax reform.”

It took until May 31, 2018, more than a year after the Tax Equity Now case was filed and now a year ago, for the Mayor and the City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to announce the formation of an Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform. Co-chaired by former city Housing Commissioner Vicki Been, then faculty director of the NYU Furman Center, and former First Deputy Mayor and then Interim COO of CUNY Marc Shaw, the commission was charged to “develop recommendations to reform New York City’s property tax system to make it simpler, clearer, and fairer, while ensuring that there is no reduction in revenue used to fund essential City services.”

No deadlines were specified, but the commission was instructed to conduct at least 10 public hearings.

All the public hearings and meetings were recorded and are available online. The last one was held this past February 28. Yet there is still no word on what the commission will recommend or when it will publish its report. The state legislative session is almost over so it is too late to achieve any changes this year and Been has become a deputy mayor with a lot more on her plate.

So the mayor’s promises notwithstanding, an opportunity to rationalize our property tax system and make it more fair has been missed and the commission looks more like a stalling device than a sincere effort to make tough decisions. Who wants to make New York property owners unhappy during a presidential campaign? As was the case four decades ago, it appears that we will need a lawsuit to compel elected officials to make tough decisions.

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

 

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

 

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

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The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform Tue, 11 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Assessing Vision Zero Amid a Spike in Traffic Fatalities https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8583-assessing-vision-zero-amid-a-spike-in-traffic-fatalities https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8583-assessing-vision-zero-amid-a-spike-in-traffic-fatalities Vision Zero

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Soon after Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped into office in 2014, he championed Vision Zero, a signature street safety program with the goal of reducing traffic-related fatalities from 297 in 2013 to zero by 2024. About halfway through that ten-year timeline, the program has become a significant de Blasio success, even as some advocates and lawmakers have said the administration could and should be moving ahead faster to protect pedestrians and bikers, and limit deference to cars.

Through increasing the number of protected bike lanes, reducing speed limits, redesigning intersections, increasing penalties for dangerous drivers, and other street safety improvements, the number of traffic fatalities fell to an all-time low of 202 last year. But the first half of this year has seen a dramatic spike.

Through June 2, the number of fatalities due to traffic crashes on city streets has risen to 82, a 26.2% increase over the same time period from the previous year, according to city statistics. Advocates and legislators alike are calling on the de Blasio administration to address the increase as an emergency and do much more to continue and accelerate the trend VIsion Zero had been following.

During a press conference last week, de Blasio said he would not stop until he had  “done everything conceivable,” and that is why he “takes a Vision Zero approach.” Yet some view de Blasio as too timid in implementing key elements of Vision Zero. Last year, de Blasio’s administration built 21 miles of new bike lanes, a decrease from 25 in 2017.

“The frustrating thing in light of this epidemic of traffic violence is that under de Blasio, even though many of these tools have been implemented, they simply have not been implemented at the pace that the crisis and the epidemic requires,” Marco Conner, interim executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast.

Transportation Alternatives is an advocacy group whose mission is “to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and advocate for better bicycling, walking, and public transit for all New Yorkers.”

Conner would like to see a city less dependent on cars, he said, though he acknowledges car transportation will remain a key aspect of city transit and street use. It’s the degree that matters. His comments are in line with Speaker of the City Council Corey Johnson’s recently introduced legislation to mandate a “master plan for city streets” to help accomplish his goal to “break the car culture” in New York. Johnson’s plan would have the city create within five years at least 150 miles of protected bus lanes, at least 1,000 intersections with signal priority for buses, at least 250 miles of protected bicycle lanes, many more pedestrian plazas, and citywide upgrades to bus stops.

Others, including Conner and Transportation Alternatives, have called for narrower vehicle lanes and more pedestrian islands to decrease crossing distance and improve pedestrian safety.

“The extent to which our streets are saturated with cars and trucks is not something that we need,” Conner said. “And so the ideal New York City that I imagine is one where everyone in New York can get around without a car if they have to,” he said.

De Blasio has emphasized a lower speed limit and speed cameras and appeared less enthusiastic about increasing the number of bike lanes (and though he recently took more of an interest, he’s been especially slow to show much interest in speeding up the city’s buses). The mayor recently announced that the city will install speed cameras in all 750 of the city’s school zones by June 2020, the result of his and others’ advocacy and a new state law.

“The central problem still is motor vehicles. The central problem is changing behavior, getting people to actually slow down, getting people to actually follow the laws, stop at the stoplight, stop at the stop signs, yield to pedestrians,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on May 31.

Many of the city's existing bike lanes leave cyclists at high risk to nearby traffic, but some still blame cyclists for creating a traffic hazard. “We also have to overcome the victim-blaming that we see, and that’s something that we actually see in part with the mayor now, who has directed a crackdown against food delivery workers on e-bikes in this city,” Conner said.

Johnson’s proposal to create more protected bike lanes would be a “tremendous step forward,” Conner said.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, sees bike lanes as instrumental in decreasing the number of cars in the city.

“I think that our goal should be to reduce the number of New Yorkers who own vehicles, from 1.4 million car owners that we have today to 1 million by 2030. And by doing that, we have to continue building more protected bike lanes,” Rodriguez said on Max & Murphy. “And I feel that when we look at protected bike lanes and see how we’re building around 20 protected bike lanes last year, we could do better,” he said.

Rodriguez also noted the importance of improving public transportation in “transportation deserts. We need to create jobs besides the Midtown area, Long Island City, and Brooklyn, so that people, they don’t have to travel to go to work,” he said.

However, Rodriguez offered only vague answers to possible costs that would come as a result of the solutions being offered by legislators like Johnson and advocates like Conner. Asked about the reduction of free on-street parking that may come from an increase in bike lanes and other measures to “break the car culture,” Rodriguez said he was focusing on “how drivers are still driving over the speed limit, and how we can redesign our intersections and also how we can redesign our streets.”

Rodriguez’s own legislation, developed with Transportation Alternatives and others, known as the “Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill” just passed through the City Council, and is expected to become law.  It mandates the city Department of Transportation “to develop a standard checklist of safety-enhancing street design elements that the department must consider for major transportation projects,” according to a press release from Rodriguez’s office, including things like ADA accessibility, protected bicycle lanes, dedicated unloading zones, narrow vehicle lanes, pedestrian safety islands, and more.

DOT will also “be required to post the standard checklist on its website for public access” and “to complete a checklist stating which street design elements were applied and justify which elements were not applied.”

During the interview, Rodriguez also offered an ambiguous answer about what to do with the city’s taxi medallion crisis, though he acknowledged that the city had failed those to whom the city marketed medallions and pledged a proposal is in the works.

“I think that we need to put together a team of individuals that brings recommendations on how to reorganize the TLC industry and how to be helpful to all sectors that interact with the Taxi & Limousine Commission,” Rodriguez said. He said that he is working with Speaker Johnson and others on a plan, but did not provide specifics.

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Is Vision Zero Stalled?]

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by Noah Berman
@GothamGazette

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Assessing Vision Zero Amid a Spike in Traffic Fatalities Sun, 09 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Interim NYCHA CEO Kathryn Garcia on the Federal Monitor and Future of Public Housing in New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8562-interim-nycha-ceo-on-the-federal-monitor-and-future-of-public-housing-in-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8562-interim-nycha-ceo-on-the-federal-monitor-and-future-of-public-housing-in-new-york de Blasio NYCHA lead

Mayor de Blasio & Kathryn Garcia, right (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Four months on the job, NYCHA Interim Chair and CEO Kathryn Garcia remains optimistic and determined about the future of the New York City public housing authority, home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers and several major crises. Garcia, who was the city’s sanitation commissioner for about five years until taking leave to fill in as the head of NYCHA, appeared on WBAI’s Max & Murphy show, where she discussed the de Blasio administration’s plans and programs to address problems at the housing authority, which is now under federal monitorship.

“NYCHA is huge organization and in many ways you can think of it as a small city, the size of Miami,” Garcia said. “One of the things I wanted to put in place while I was here is the on-boarding of the federal monitor, which started a few weeks after the agreement was signed to make sure we were setting up systems to come into compliance and have a successful monitorship.”

Garcia discussed working with the monitor, Bart Schwartz, and said she does not believe she is in the running to be named as the permanent NYCHA chair and CEO -- Mayor de Blasio and federal authorities have extended their own deadline to name a new NYCHA leader until the end of June. She also detailed some of what NYCHA is doing to address its long-term financial troubles, including the controversial plan to allow developers to build new private apartment buildings, with a mix of “affordable” and market-rate housing, on under-utilized NYCHA land.

In terms of getting Schwartz integrated and beginning their working relationship, Garcia said they were doing “big-picture planning on issues of compliance” and “setting up the three departments -- compliance, safety, and quality assurance,” and addressing lead paint, “hopefully eventually coming off having a monitor.”

“But there’s also a longer-term goal,” Garica said, of “how do we drive investment into these buildings. Because they are assets of the city and critical homes for all of the residents.” It’s important, she said, to consider a variety of newer options, including the “Obama-era RAD program, or what we call the Build to Preserve program to ensure residents are seeing impact as quickly as possible,” referring to the Rental Administration Demonstration program that allows for private management of NYCHA buildings and added federal dollars, as well as the “infill” private development on NYCHA land.

For Garcia, and whomever replaces her, the challenges are immense -- not only has the public housing authority had a lead paint scandal that it is now aggressively attempting to mitigate, but overall NYCHA has a $30-plus billion needs assessment for the housing stock to be brought to a state of good repair over the next five or so years. That need includes things like roofs, boilers, elevators, and more.

On the show, Garcia noted that “one role NYCHA is serving is it’s the only bastion of affordable housing left in some of these neighborhoods, so it’s doubly important for us to make a commitment to it.”

“[W]e don’t have a lot of options at this point in terms of the incredible need,” she said at one point, pointing to the administration’s plan to lease NYCHA land to developers who will fund millions of dollars in repairs at the NYCHA properties where they build.

NYCHA is operating under Schwartz’s eye after the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) threatened receivership and federal prosecutors turned up major safety issues. At the end of January, Mayor de Blasio and HUD Secretary Ben Carson came to a deal, approved by a judge and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, that included the monitor.

The month before, in December 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled “NYCHA 2.0,” a ten-year plan to repair public housing in the city by bringing in $24 billion. The plan includes funding for capital repairs across the NYCHA system and tackling problems such as lead paint, mold, elevator malfunctions, heat outages, and vermin infestations, which have increasingly plagued the city’s public housing in recent years. The plan represents three-quarters of NYCHA’s $31.8 billion overall capital needs.

Garcia acknowledged that it has been “somewhat more complicated” to run an agency under federal monitorship, but also said that “outside eyes” can often be helpful in tackling a complex issue such as NYCHA.

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia]

Garcia remains “hopeful” that the state and federal governments will increase their funding for NYCHA, but she, like de Blasio, appears realistic that major help is unlikely any time soon. She did note, though, that an allocated $450 million in state money is on the verge of finally being spent on NYCHA repairs, and she explained that “one of the reasons we’re looking to these programs that convert from traditional public housing funding to section 8 is it’s been historically more fully funded than traditional public housing.”

On the RAD program and whether it should raise concerns of NYCHA “privatization” as some have claimed, Garcia said, “we are leveraging the private market to bring additional funding into NYCHA.” She emphasized that NYCHA will still own the land and will ensure that residents are protected in development.

Despite some initial pushback to the “NYCHA 2.0” plan, Garcia called the Build to Preserve program, which would see private development on NYCHA-owned land, “another tool in our toolbox to drive funding into NYCHA’s buildings” and “one of three legs” along with RAD and selling air rights. She also said the program would not work or be appropriate everywhere.

“I completely understand why NYCHA residents would be anxious about it because historically people got moved out of their homes and they never came back,” Garcia said, but then also promised, “we are taking a completely different approach to this,” pledging a lot of communication, no residential displacement, and investment of revenue directly into the home campus.

Saying there aren’t other options to address NYCHA’s needs, Garcia added, “This is a way to take...value from the campuses and do two things really: make sure residents do well and also increase the supply of housing and affordable housing in the City of New York, which is of course always in dire need.”

On the lead crisis at NYCHA, Garcia said, “We stabilized thousands of apartments that had presumed or lead-based paint with children under six. We still have a lot more to do...We don’t know where all the lead paint is, and that is why we kicked off what is called the XRF initiative, which is X-raying the paint and being able to tell whether it has any lead. We started that on April 15...It will take us till end of 2020 to get that done because we are planning to test 134,000 apartments.”

Some issues present “relatively straightforward fixes, like baseboards were painted lead, but nothing else in the apartment, while there will probably also be apartments where lead paint was used on every wall and those will obviously be much more significant jobs,” she said. X-raying all the paint is the “critical first step,” she said.

Asked her assessment as to what really went wrong around lead paint inspections, Garcia said, “I obviously wasn’t here to assess exactly what all the steps were...One of the things that I think is true is a basic failure to understand what the requirements were and how much work it was going to take under HUD regulations and getting systems in place to really ensure that that happened,” later adding that it was also about complying with “local law.”

“This an easy place to get trapped in putting out the fire of the day,” she continued, “and not stepping back and saying are we hitting all the milestones we need to hit to ensure that we are coming into compliance and to ensure that we are building a future here.”

She also said “lead-based paint is...inherently a maintenance issue,” because “it’s not dangerous if it’s not peeling and chipping off the walls,” but when leaks are allowed to fester and apartments are not regularly painted, problems arise.

Another big part of NYCHA 2.0 is the plan to convert 62,000 of its 176,000 public housing units to Section 8, through programs such as RAD. Sarah Watson, the deputy director of the Citizen Housing and Planning Council, appearing on Max & Murphy just after Garcia, compared this to a similar strategy that was used to fix London’s public housing in the 1980s.

“The UK did hit a similar sort of crisis around public housing around 40 years ago, so has spent 40 years trying to deal with a very similar issue, which is it’s somewhat easy for government to build housing but it’s difficult for them to figure out how to keep that going” without dramatically increasing subsidies, she said.

About a third of London residents were living in 770,000 public housing units in 1980. This is compared to the 400,000-plus New Yorkers living in 176,000 units today. The UK’s solution had two parts. First was allowing public housing residents to buy their homes and second was repairing the remaining public housing stock. “One of the most radical acts of housing policy ever seen was giving families the right overnight to buy their house or apartment,” according to Watson.

She also said that the first phase then saw “a downside effect of being left with the worst quality housing stock with the most troubled and low-income residents.”

While she acknowledges that replicating London’s plan may not be a complete fix, Watson said that fixing NYCHA “will take some radical new approaches and certainly some bold leadership,” like what happened in the United Kingdom. London’s public housing included a substantial number of homes in addition to apartments and “it was a little harder to get apartments to sell.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia]

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lessons from London for How to Fix NYCHA]

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Interim NYCHA CEO Kathryn Garcia on the Federal Monitor and Future of Public Housing in New York Mon, 03 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's End-of-Session Albany Agenda https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8566-de-blasio-s-end-of-session-albany-agenda https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8566-de-blasio-s-end-of-session-albany-agenda mayor bdb carls assembly

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


With 11 days of state legislative session left, including Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio headed to Albany to confab with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to push for several legislative priorities.

Among the major items on his agenda, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, are reforming rent regulations, legalizing marijuana, eliminating the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT), authorizing design-build contracting at several city agencies, expanding the discretionary threshold for awarding contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs), restoring employer protection provisions for school bus contracts, repealing Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights law, which shields disciplinary records of police officers, parole reform, and allowing judges to consider dangerousness of an individual as a factor when determining bail.

"There's a lot going on in the final weeks here of the legislative session," de Blasio said at a Monday afternoon news conference, before meeting with legislative leaders. "I want to say at the outset, I want to express my admiration for Speaker Heastie and Leader Stewart-Cousins. What they've achieved already this year has been remarkable, it’s been historic. A lot more is going to happen over the next few weeks. This is going to be judged as one of the great legislative sessions in many decades."

De Blasio has mostly been quiet about his Albany priorities ahead of the June 19 end of the scheduled session, at which time a typical “big ugly” mash-up of bills may again pass through the Legislature and be approved by the governor. Active on the presidential campaign trial, de Blasio is making his presence felt in the state capital at what he says is the right time, given that little is decided in Albany before the final days before a budget is due or the legislative session ends. Questions linger, though, about de Blasios’ focus on his mayoral duties, including pushing his state agenda, and about what kind of clout the mayor has among state leaders.

Unlike past years, where the mayor had to contend with a hostile Republican-controlled Senate, de Blasio finds himself in a stronger position as he negotiates with and lobbies his own Democratic allies. The mayor did not meet with Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday but, on a few items on his list, he finds himself on the same page as Cuomo, who listed his own ten legislative priorities last week.

Cuomo’s top priorities include rent regulation reform, strengthening the state’s MWBE program, strengthening state sexual harassment laws, legalizing paid surrogacy, banning the ‘gay and trans panic defense’ for violent crimes, passing an Equal Rights amendment to the state constitution, approving drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, ending the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape, passing a prevailing wage requirement for certain private construction, and pay equity for women.

“The first opportunity to pass these things was in the budget, so the items that are left are the items that we couldn’t pass in the budget for one reason or another,” Cuomo said at an unrelated news conference. “Either they were too difficult or we just couldn’t get to them as a matter of time.”

Rent regulations
In a May 20 op-ed for The New York Daily News, de Blasio railed against state rent regulations, which are expiring June 15 and apply to roughly 1 million New York City apartments, home to about twice that many New Yorkers.

Democrats, in control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in nearly a decade, are advancing a massive overhaul of the current state rent laws that housing and tenant advocates have blamed for increasing unaffordability and a housing crisis in the state. It’s unclear at this time, however, if the Assembly majority, Senate majority, and Cuomo can get on the same page with exactly how aggressive they want to be in favor of tenants. So far, de Blasio has sounded mostly aligned with Cuomo, a bit more moderate than where Assembly Democrats say they want to go with the laws. The Senate majority has not outlined its agenda.

“For 25 years, the landlord lobby has had the upper hand writing these rent laws,” de Blasio wrote. “Now, we have a chance to do right by tenants and close the loopholes landlords have exploited. People’s homes and security are on the line. There’s no higher priority for the days left this session in Albany. I’m ready to fight alongside tenants, shoulder to shoulder, to get this done once and for all.”

Last week, in a Friday interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio again said his top agenda item is reforming rent regulations. “Well on the Albany I’d say rent, rent and rent,” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer. “I mean overwhelmingly, number one is to strengthen rent control, get rid of vacancy decontrol, get rid of the vacancy bonus, fix the whole situation with the major capital improvements and the apartment improvements so that tenants are not paying through the nose and constantly paying for something even after it’s already been paid off, protect folks who have preferential rents, you know, stop the abuse of them.”

Marijuana Legalization
De Blasio also insisted that the legalization of adult use of marijuana should be “done the right way.” It has been looking increasingly likely that marijuana legalization will again fall off the table as decisions are made in the capital. Cuomo has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe the votes are there in the Senate to pass legalization, citing reports from the Senate Democrats themselves.

“I still think it might happen, Brian, but I’m adamant about the fact it cannot lead to a new corporate reality and I fear this deeply that legalization of marijuana creates a new tobacco industry or a new opioid industry done the wrong way,” de Blasio said. “If New York State as a progressive state is going to legalize marijuana it has to be done in a way that really empowers community-based businesses particularly in communities of color that suffered for so long because of draconian laws that sent people to prison for low-level drug offenses.”

On Monday, he reiterated that position. "We have a chance to get it right. It does not have to be a sector dominated by big corporations. It can be something very different, and New York State has the power to do that, and that's what I'm going to fight for," he said. 

SHSAT
The SHSAT is a single test used to determine admission to the city’s eight specialized high schools, per state law that applies to the three most prominent of the eight. But de Blasio has sought to scrap the test in part to diversify the student population at those high schools, where black and Latino students are vastly underrepresented.

Though the mayor has the ability to eliminate the test at five of the eight schools, he has instead sought state authorization to do away with the test entirely. It is a controversial stance that has backers and opponents, and it appears unlikely that the Legislature and Cuomo will come to resolution on the issue by the end of session.

Design-Build
Design-build allows government agencies and authorities to solicit bids for infrastructure projects that, as the name suggests, combine both the designing and building aspects in one contract. It streamlines procurement, cutting down on time and costs. But New York City agencies need the state’s approval to use design-build, and Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly pushed for it to little avail. 

"Design- build is not high profile, but it's high impact," the mayor said on Monday. "We’re talking about a methodology that saves across many, many construction projects, can save literally billions of dollars, can save years of construction time, much better for neighborhoods." The key agencies and authorities for which the mayor is seeking design build authority are the Department of Transportation, Department of Design and Construction, the Parks Department, Health + Hospitals, and the New York City Housing Authority.

MWBE Discretionary Funding
In the last few years, the city has successfully lobbied the state to increase the value of city contracts that can be awarded to Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) from $20,000 for goods and services to $150,000. Last year, the city awarded $3.7 billion in contracts to MWBEs, up from $1.6 billion in 2015. In March, de Blasio announced a state proposal that would expand the discretionary threshold to $1 million, estimating that it would increase MWBE contract awards by $500 million each year. 

Reforming 50-a
Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights law prohibits the disclosure of the personnel records of police officers. Though the statute was not enforced for decades, the NYPD under de Blasio began to use it to prevent the disciplinary records of officers from being released to the public. De Blasio has defended the department’s about-face on the policy as simply compliance with the law, but has repeatedly said he supports reforming the statute, a position that has been echoed by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.

Bail and Parole Reform
Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed several criminal justice reforms, including severely limiting the use of cash bail. But, while reform advocates want to completely eliminate cash bail, de Blasio has instead supported a “dangerousness” standard that would allow judges to factor in whether a defendant could pose a risk to public safety. "Remember, there are some people who are profoundly dangerous who have a proven, unfortunately, a proven record of being dangerous to their communities, but are not a flight risk," de Blasio said Monday. "In those cases, [the] judge’s hands are tied and they do not have a ready way to hold them in the way they need to. We need to come up with a very precise definition of dangerousness so that it is not overused. But I think that's something that can and should be done while this legislature is still in session." Even as they accepted compromise on significant limits to the use of cash bail, legislators who backed bail reform have mostly balked at the idea of creating a “dangerousness” standard.

De Blasio is also in support of a bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Walter Mosley and State Senator Brian Benjamin, that would prevent parolees from being sent to jail for non-criminal, technical violations. The measure would further reduce the population of Rikers Island, which is necessary for the city’s plan to close the scandal-plagued jail complex. De Blasio has also pushed for New York State parolees to be removed from city jails, which the administration says is the only population that has been increasing at Rikers.

Employer Protection Provisions
De Blasio has pushed since 2014 to restore Employee Protection Provisions (EPPs) to all school bus contracts awarded by the Department of Education. EPPs require bus companies to hire workers based off a seniority list, to ensure adequate wages and pension benefits. The inclusion of EPPs has been a priority for the New York City Council as well; the Council’s Committee on Education passed a resolution last week calling on the state Legislature to approve EPPs in all current and future bus contracts.

MIssing from De Blasio’s End of Session Agenda
De Blasio’s recent comments and the list provided by his spokesperson do not include a variety of policies that the mayor has either expressed support for or interest in seeing addressed by state government. These include legalization of certain e-bikes and e-scooters, aggressive climate protection legislation, and more.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Mayor de Blasio supports reforming Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, not repealing it. 

Note - This article has been updated with the mayor's comments from a Monday news conference.

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De Blasio's End-of-Session Albany Agenda Mon, 03 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement maybill public adv

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Fulfilling a promise he made in his successful campaign for public advocate, Jumaane Williams introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require the city to conduct an assessment of expected racial and ethnic impact brought on by proposed neighborhood rezonings, in order to ensure that the city is complying with the federal Fair Housing Act, and combat segregation and displacement.

The Fair housing Act, passed in 1968, is meant to protect against discrimination in the sale, purchase, and renting of housing, or in trying to obtain housing assistance, and it also requires jurisdictions receiving federal assistance to take affirmative steps to integrate housing. New York City, Williams said at a news conference Wednesday morning, has failed on that front.

The public advocate was joined by Bronx City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, who chairs the powerful land use committee and has co-sponsored the bill, and members of Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), a grassroots advocacy group that has called for such ‘racial impact studies’ to help inform neighborhood rezonings, which typically occur to change land use rules to allow greater housing density and usher in new city investments in a given community. City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents areas of Brooklyn that have seen significant gentrification and is negotiating a possible Bushwick neighborhood rezoning with the city, also expressed support for the legislation. 

“Rezonings are one of the primary drivers of gentrification, which leads to displacement, which leads to racial segregation,” Williams said, harshly critiquing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has relied on upzoning neighborhoods to create more density with a legal requirement -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing -- for developers to build affordable housing.

Most of the rezonings pursued by the administration have been in low-income communities of color and advocates say that has exacerbated gentrification while also refusing to ask more affluent and white communities to allow more housing in their neighborhoods. Williams, who voted against MIH when he was in the City Council, has called for a moratorium on all neighborhood rezonings.  

Williams’ bill would mandate that any land use application that goes through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires an environmental impact statement and is reviewed by the City Planning Commission, must also include a racial impact study. The ULURP process occurs for many proposed new developments, from neighborhood rezonings that impact broader communities and are typically spearheaded by the mayoral administration to single plot rezonings that allow developers to build a bigger building than the current zoning allows.

“[E]ven the announcement of ULURP leads to rampant speculation that coincides with a rise in harassment and displacement,” Williams said. “The link between [neighborhood] rezonings and racial segregation is very clear. I don’t think anyone can argue with the results of it. Yet the city has failed to even acknowledge the problem.”

As an example, Williams pointed to the 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront, approved under then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which “transformed low-income communities of more color into enclaves for new wealthy and white residents,” Williams said. “A decade later, the waterfront area’s white population increased by 45% compared to 2% decline citywide, while the area’s Latinx population declined by 27% compared to a 10% increase citywide. This is just unacceptable. To combat racial segregation, we first need to study it.”

Williams also noted that Seattle has implemented a similar policy that takes racial justice into account while creating affordable housing. “Even Seattle doesn’t have the phrasing ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and they are doing much more to address the tale of two cities, I believe than the housing plan here in New York City,” he said, invoking the campaign slogan that de Blasio employed in his first mayoral race in 2013.  

At an unrelated afternoon news conference, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not take a position on the bill, saying he had yet to study it. But he acknowledged the rationale behind it. “I do think what it speaks to is the gentrification and displacement that we’ve seen throughout our entire city, all five boroughs, that anxiety, that fear, especially amongst long term residents about what’s happening to them,” he said.

De Blasio has insisted that his housing and planning policies are sound and use a combination of strategies to create new housing, including many affordable units, while also putting resources in communities with new parks, school seats, and other investments that often accompany rezonings. He has said that the neighborhood rezonings under his administration have been done in concert with local Council members who welcome new zoning rules, more affordable housing, and city investment. The mayor has also pointed to the city’s significant increase in tenant eviction protection during his tenure.

"This Administration is fighting displacement with record levels of affordable housing, free legal services, rent freezes, and programs to combat harassment," said Jane Meyer, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement. "Through Where We Live NYC, we are developing new fair housing policies to fight discrimination and build more inclusive neighborhoods. We look forward to reviewing this legislation and working with our partners to promote equity and fairness."

Salamanca has his own concerns with the mayor’s housing plan as he has pushed for a 15% set aside in new affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers, which the administration has resisted. “We can continue to grow the city of New York, because there is a housing crisis,” he said at the morning news conference with Williams, “but we should be able to do that without displacing our communities, and that’s what this is about.”

He also refuted the notion that a racial impact study could add another layer of red tape to the already lengthy and burdensome ULURP process. “We’re not trying to change the timeframe as to how the ULURP process works,” he said in response to reporters’ questions, “but...what we’re adding is more resources, more information, to that [environmental impact study] so that Councilmembers can make the right decision.”

CUFFH was created ten years ago when advocates sought to fight the proposed rezoning of Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn. The group was part of a larger coalition that took the Bloomberg administration to court, arguing that the rezoning would violate the Fair Housing Act. The case was only settled in 2017 with the de Blasio administration.

But Alex Fennell, network director of CUFFH, said the city continues to fail to live up to its obligations under the FHA. “Being displaced is not a choice. And the current zoning process, rather than promoting fair housing encourages developers to profit from harassing, displacing and segregating out long time residents,” she said on Wednesday.

She added, “The racial impact study is the first step in undoing the harm caused by over a century of land use policy rooted first in overt racism, then shielded by colorblind language.”

The next step for the bill would be a committee hearing.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated with comment from a mayoral spokesperson.

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Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8559-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-s-future-with-interim-ceo-kathryn-garcia https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8559-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-s-future-with-interim-ceo-kathryn-garcia kathryn garcia wbai 600

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


May 29, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA's Future, with Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia

kathryn garcia wbaiKathryn Garcia, the city's sanitation commissioner for most of Mayor Bill de Blasio's tenure, was recently named interim chair and CEO of NYCHA, tasked with steering the public housing authority through tumultuous times, including the beginning of a federal monitorship. Garcia joined the show to give her perspective on NYCHA, how the monitor is working so far, how she's appoached the job, lead paint remediation, the "NYCHA 2.0" plan that the mayor announced in December, 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 wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000