Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

City Council Stated Meeting - June 23, 2005

Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.

"If we can take private property for purposes of a [basketball] arena in Brooklyn, then we can take private property to preserve affordable housing," – Councilmember Leticia James, voting in favor of a bill allowing tenants of subsidized housing to purchase their buildings.

New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller had scheduled a vote on the location of three marine transfer stations that are part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed waste management plan, but abandoned it when he could not secure the support he needed from other council members.

On June 8, the City Council voted against the three sites by a vote of 29 to 19. The mayor vetoed the council's action, but the speaker did not have the five additional votes needed to override the mayor's veto.

Bloomberg's waste management plan would require each borough to handle its own residential trash. The council was not asked to vote on the entire plan, only to approve three of the four marine transfer stations, slated for the Upper East Side at 91st Street in Manhattan and in Red Hook and Gravesend, Brooklyn. (The fourth location in College Point, Queens has already been approved.)

Speaker Miller, who is running for mayor, has opposed the plan, in large part because the 91st Street station is located in his district.

Last week in an effort to negotiate an agreement, Miller said he would allow a marine transfer station on the Upper East Side, as long as it is used only for recycled paper and would not accept trucks at night. He also proposed three sites on the West Side of Manhattan for handling the borough's garbage.

But the Bloomberg administration refused to negotiate.

"While the administration may feel they have won this battle, the war is far from over," Miller said in a statement.

The mayor's overall waste management plan must still be approved by the City Council in the future. Councilmember Michael McMahon, who chairs the council's sanitation committee, said he will continue to work on reaching an agreement with the administration over the summer.

The New York City Council passed a bill (Intro 186-A), dubbed the "Tenant Empowerment Act," that would give tenants of certain kinds of subsidized housing the right to purchase a building if the owner tries to sell it.

Under the legislation, if the owner of a building in the Mitchell-Lama program or with a significant population of Section 8 tenants wants to sell a property, they must give residents 12 months notice. The tenants would then have the "first rights" to purchase the building at a fair-market value.

"If the landlord doesn't want to own a Section 8 building anymore - 'fine, leave,'" said Councilmember Margarita Lopez. "But sell it to the tenants."

While residents would still have to come up with the money to purchase the building, supporters hope that the bill will encourage non-profit community groups to help tenants with financing.

The bill passed by a vote of 47 to 3 with the three Republican members of the council (James Oddo, Dennis Gallagher, and Andrew Lanza) voting against it.

Some have argued that the legislation unfairly interferes with a landlord's right to sell a property as they wish, but council members said that owners will still have the ability to get market value for their properties.

Even if it does restrict a landlord's options, Councilmember Leticia James, who represents Central Brooklyn where developer Bruce Ratner is currently seeking to build a basketball stadium and a series of skyscrapers, said she didn’t see that as a problem. "If we can take private property for purposes such as an arena in Brooklyn, then we can take private property to preserve affordable housing," said James.

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to veto the legislation; the council has more than the 34 votes needed to override the veto.

There are approximately 500,000 New Yorkers who are eligible for federally-funded food stamps, but do not currently receive them. This translates into $1 billion in food stamps that are not being claimed by residents, according to the City Council.

In an effort to expand access to food stamps, the council passed three bills to make it easier to apply and receive the benefits.

Intro 593-A allows people to submit food stamp applications online.

Intro 594-A ensures that food stamp applications are available in city-funded food pantries and shelters.

And Intro 615-A will require the city to accept food stamp applications by fax and allow applicants to skip in-person interviews in cases of hardship.

"We are talking about getting food to people who need it, particularly children," said Councilmember Bill deBlasio.

All three Republicans - James Oddo, Dennis Gallagher, and Andrew Lanza - and two Democrats (Madeline Provenzano and Peter Vallone, Jr.) voted against the bills. Some council members said they are concerned that less stringent application requirements could lead to fraud.

The council also approved legislation (Intro 312) that would reduce the number of cars that are towed for unpaid fines.

Currently, if a driver has $230 worth of unpaid tickets, city marshals or sheriffs can tow a vehicle. Under the new bill, a person can rack up to $350 in tickets before a car can be impounded.

Councilmember Erik Dilan, who drafted the legislation, said the measure is needed because the city doubled the fines for parking violations in recent years from $50 to $100. It is expected to cut in half the number of cars that are towed each year. The mayor supports the legislation and is expected to sign it into law.

The most divisive vote of the meeting (if a vote of 42 to 8 can be considered divisive) occurred on Intro 491-A, a bill which restricts city officials from inquiring about a person's immigration or citizenship status when applying for a street vendor’s license.

Councilmember Charles Barron authored the legislation, and he argues that street vendors are unnecessarily harassed when applying for licenses to sell food or merchandise on the street.

The measure passed by a vote of 42 to 8; Tony Avella, Dennis Gallagher, Andrew Lanza, Michael McMahon, Michael Nelson, Madeline Provenzano, Peter Vallone, Jr. and James Oddo voted "no.”

"My forefathers came here legally; these folks are here illegally," said Councilmember James Oddo. "And we are setting a structure in place not to question it. We should not be rewarding - in any way, shape, or form – illegality."

The council approved a rezoning of West Chelsea that officially preserves the elevated rail way, known as the High Line, as a future park. The High Line is a 22-block elevated railway on Manhattan’s west side that has been abandoned for a quarter century. In 2002, the city committed to turning the railway into a public space and officials began working together to select a design team.

The action also aims to create more affordable housing in the Chelsea area. It requires that 22 percent of new apartments built in the neighborhood under new zoning regulations be affordable.

In addition, the council approved a "down-zoning" of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn that limits the density of the housing in the area, restricts the height of new buildings, and preserves one- or two-family houses.

There are approximately 35,000 homeless people living in the city’s shelter system and approximately 4,400 people living on the streets. But the city currently does not keep specific statistics on how and where homeless people die in New York.

The council passed a bill (Intro 127-B) requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to track and report deaths of homeless persons to the mayor and the council in an effort to track exactly how many deaths occur and find ways to provide better health services.

It will be safer for New Yorkers to put their dog in a kennel when they go on vacation under legislation that would require pet owners to provide proof of vaccination for certain diseases.

The bill (Intro 498-A) was dubbed "Jazzy's Law" in honor of New York Post columnist Cindy Adams' Yorkshire Terrier, named Jazzy, who died last year while in an upstate boarding kennel.

The bill aims to prevent the spread of diseases from one dog to another. It requires pet owners to show proof of vaccination using health certificates or receipts from a veterinarian, and requires business owners to maintain records including record of immunization, duration of stay, services provided and emergency contact information. Businesses that violate the law would be subject to a $250 fine.


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