Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Stated Meeting: Cooling City Streets

The burst of cool air aimed at luring impulse buyers off of city streets will now come with a cost.

The City Council approved legislation Thursday that would fine businesses for leaving their doors open while they have their air conditioning blasting. The bill, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign, would exempt stores smaller than 4,000 square feet.

In addition to the air conditioning legislation, the City Council also approved a bill that would exempt the commissioner for the Department of Buildings from being a registered architect or a licensed engineer.

A Ban on Cool Sidewalks

According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a business with a typical doorway in New York City (or 6 to 7 feet across) can waste up to $1,000 and a ton of carbon dioxide if it leaves its door open in the summer.

That same practice can increase energy consumption by 20 to 25 percent, according to a report by the Long Island Power Authority.

That's why Councilmember Gale Brewer set out to ban the practice. Her bill (Intro 264 ) was approved by a vote of 41 to 8.

Any business that keeps its door open to lure in customers will first receive a warning, followed by a fine of $200 for each open door. Another violation would increase the fine to $400 per door.

The bill would not apply to emergency situations nor to instances where doors have been propped open for deliveries or by customers carrying out merchandise.

"There are not going to be Department of Consumer Affairs cops lurking in every corner looking for someone who propped the door open for five minutes," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Brewer said the measure is meant to raise awareness, not revenue.

Some retailers and businesses associations opposed the legislation because they were afraid closed doorways would deter spontaneous purchases from passersby. Some council members who opposed the legislation said, in this case, the council was stepping too far into a business's affairs.

"We're going a bit far," said Councilmember Charles Barron, who opposed the bill. "Now we're going into our communities and closing the doors of businesses."

Though some retailers were concerned over the bill's affect on their business, the city's utility company, Con Edison, came out in support of the measure. "Critics who oppose the bill because they interpret it as a manner of individual elective choice miss the point," read a Con Ed statement. "It's not just the offending business that's paying the electric bill for the waste of energy. Everyone pays."

More Construction Legislation

In another round of legislation aimed at increasing safety and decreasing mismanagement at the Department of Buildings, the City Council approved three bills -- one of which brought an unusual amount of opposition from council members.

The council approved legislation, which would no longer require the commissioner of the Department of Buildings have a license in engineering or be a registered architect. The bill (Intro 755) was approved by 36 to 12, and it has seen considerable opposition amongst industry professionals.

One day following the council's approval, Bloomberg announced his intention of appointing Acting Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri as buildings commissioner. LiMandri has an engineering degree, but not a license.

Some members objected to the bill, seeing a need for a licensed professional to oversee the whole department – in part because the department has been mired in controversy and mismanagement. So far this year, there have been 16 fatalities as a result of construction site accidents.

“We’re hiding behind this,” said Councilmember Diana Reyna, who voted against the legislation. “We must not lose site of the fact that we’re losing lives, putting New Yorkers at risk.”

The bill requires either the commissioner or the first deputy commissioner have an engineering license or be a registered architect. Supporters say it will provide the administration greater flexibility when choosing a department head.

In addition to changing the requirements for the commissioner, the council also approved legislation (Intro 783) that requires a site safety manager be hired for construction jobs that require pouring concrete. The accident in January at Trump Soho, which caused one fatality, occurred during concrete operations, said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Concrete safety managers will be required at major work sites -- those involving structures taller than approximately 10 stories, said Quinn -- that pour more than 2,000 cubic yards of concrete.

The bill was approved by a vote of 49 to 0.

Also, by a vote of 49 to 0, the council approved legislation ( Intro 790) requiring all workers at construction sites take a 10-hour course from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration every five years. A site safety plan must include a statement verifying that all workers have completed the course.

Disclosing Funding

The council unanimously approved a finance resolution (Reso. 1585) outlining what groups received $32 million in funding that was first earmarked when the council approved the city’s budget in June.

The council appropriated the funding to 158 organizations. Quinn said all the organizations were selected by the chair of the relevant committee, the initiative’s sponsor, or by the speaker’s office with advice from relevant parties. They were also approved by the council’s budget negotiating team.

Quinn said all of the groups had been vetted properly.  

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