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Opinion

The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter


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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The red carpet has been rolled out and Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are giddily holding open the doors: Jeff Bezos and Amazon are coming to town, for the low price of $3 billion, a helipad, and prime real estate in Queens. For years, homeless activists have pressed the mayor and governor to invest resources and political will to tackle the historic crisis of homelessness plaguing both our city and state. Instead, they partnered in selling out taxpayers and sidelining politicians to make the Amazon deal a reality.

But not everyone will accept this reality without a fight. In fact, the Amazon giveaway has been criticized by everyone from newly-elected democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the corporation-friendly editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. They join homeless activists like me, city and state elected officials, and thousands of others who are concerned about responsible government and the rights of immigrants, workers, tenants, students, and many more.

I am one of 89,000 people that live in the shelter system across this state, one of the 60,000-plus that live in New York City. I am from Flatbush, but I live in a homeless shelter in Long Island City, just blocks away from where Amazon is planning to make its home. In recent months, Mayor de Blasio has faced major scrutiny for refusing to set aside 30,000 housing units in his 300,000-unit affordable housing plan to house homeless New Yorkers. I confronted him at his gym and on the radio, and others have faced him at town halls. On every occasion, he denies us the basic thing we need -- housing -- and lectures us on why his housing plan is “for every kind of New Yorker.”

“Every kind of New Yorker,” including the ones who haven’t arrived yet and the ones Amazon claims would earn an average salary of $150,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has done no better. He refuses to follow through on his own housing commitments for the homeless. In 2016, he committed $20 billion in the state budget to tackle affordable housing and homelessness -- including 20,000 units of supportive housing -- but only a tiny sliver of those resources were made available after a year of campaigning and protests.

The governor pledged to create 6,000 units of supportive housing over five years, yet two years later, 559 units were reportedly open as of August of this year. He's reduced funding for rental assistance, forced cities to shoulder the cost of shelters, and blocked legislation attempting to solve the problem with new housing assistance, like Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi’s Homes Stability Support plan.

The mayor and governor have refused to adequately help the homeless, but they’ve been quick to negotiate a deal with the richest man in the world. Take a look across the country to predict what happens next.

A Seattle county official said the city was “asleep at the switch” when Amazon arrived. By the time the giant settled in, rents had skyrocketed and homelessness soared from 8,522 people in 2017 to 12,000 during a one-night count in January 2018. In 2017, 169 people experiencing homelessness reportedly died in Seattle, and today record-numbers of people are living in cars and in tent cities. In an attempt to reverse the damage, the Seattle City Council introduced a bill to tax companies like Amazon in order to fund homelessness initiatives. The bill passed, only to then be crushed by Amazon, which refused to be taxed and threatened to stop construction in the city. This it the kind of power we are up against in New York. Our homes, neighborhoods, and our lives are on the line.

Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have long-ignored the true needs of the homeless across New York. But by bypassing democracy and giving Amazon billions in incentives and grants to move here, they are trying to erase us -- and many others -- from the map.

We won’t have it. We must remember, this is not the mayor’s city nor the governor’s city, and it’s certainly not Amazon’s city -- it is ours.

Now it is critical that we fight back against this plan and demand the future we all deserve: safe and affordable housing for all New Yorkers, quality education for our kids, a transportation system that works, strong small businesses that remain the lifeblood and culture of our city, a powerful unionized workforce that bolsters fair wages, families that are never divided, and companies that don’t profit off the imprisonment and deportation of our loved ones.

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Nathylin Flowers Adesegun is a community leader at VOCAL-NY. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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Amazon Will Only Exacerbate Long Island City School Overcrowding


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(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)


The plan to provide Amazon up to $3 billion in city and state tax cuts and other subsidies to site one of their new headquarters in Long Island City leaves the children who are living there in the lurch. The booming community is already severely short on school seats, a problem that Amazon’s move to the area will only exacerbate given recent trends, Department of Education projections, and the details of the Amazon deal that have been released.

The only zoned elementary school in Long Island City, PS 78, is already at 135% capacity, and more than 70 children who were zoned to the school were put on the waitlist for kindergarten last spring, while classes for numerous pre-K kids are being housed in trailers.

There are plans for two small elementary schools of about 600 seats each to be created as part of a huge 5,000-housing unit Hunters Point South development, but these schools are likely to be immediately overcrowded the day they open. There are already three sections of kindergarten students attending class in an incubation site at a nearby pre-K center, waiting to attend the first elementary school, which will not be completed until 2021.

An already-planned middle school had been proposed to be built on city-owned land as part of a mixed-use 1,000-unit project, but this area is now to be incorporated into the Amazon development. Contrary to Mayor de Blasio’s claims, the memorandum of understanding with Amazon includes no new school for the neighborhood. Instead, the MOU merely says that the company will pay for this middle school already in the city’s capital plan – but moved to another location, as yet undetermined. As Chalkbeat NY explained, “The company agreed to house a 600-seat intermediate school on or near its Long Island City campus, replacing a school that had already been planned in a residential building nearby.”

From 2006 to 2017, more than 20,000 residential units were built in Long Island City. A study found that 12,533 apartments in 41 separate developments were built in the community between 2010 and 2016 – not just the highest number in New York City, but more than any other neighborhood in the entire nation.

The housing start data recently posted by the School Construction Authority projects 20,000 residential units to be built between 2018-2024 in Queens’ District 30, which includes Long Island City. According to the DOE formula used to estimate how much school enrollment growth this will generate, there will be a need for seats for about 4,000 additional elementary and middle school students. Meanwhile, the new proposed five-year capital plan for 2020-2024 includes only 1,012 new seats for the entire district – a shortage of nearly 3,000 seats, before the impact of the Amazon deal is even considered.

Though nearly all Queens high schools are already overcrowded, there are fewer than 1,000 high school seats for the borough in the proposed five-year plan, while the housing start data alone would generate the need for about 5,000 additional high school students.

Another part of the deal includes Amazon making payments in lieu of taxes into an infrastructure fund that, starting 11 years after the deal, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) can spend on nearly any sort of use, “including but not limited to streets, sidewalks, utility relocations, environmental remediation, public open space, transportation, schools and signage,” according to the MOU.

And to add the most grievous insult to injury, the city now plans to give Amazon a large DOE office building, one that community members have been fighting to convert into much-needed schools and a community center instead. A petition, now with more than 1,500 signatures, to the mayor and local elected officials was posted last year by the Long Island City Coalition.

This is not the first time the community’s needs for schools have gone entirely ignored. In 2008, EDC re-zoned city-owned land for the Hunters Point South project without any plan to create a single new school, ignoring the thousand or so children who were likely to inhabit these new apartments. It took a concerted organizing effort of Long Island City parents and elected officials in 2015 for the city to agree to belatedly include two small schools in the plans.

We’ve seen this poor planning repeatedly, wherever new residential developments are springing up. The Amazon deal is but a particularly egregious example of how the city’s policies are driven by the interests of the real estate industry and private corporations while the educational needs of our children are too often overlooked. As many education advocates, parents and community leaders have pointed out, the school planning process in New York City is broken, resulting in more than half a million students crammed into overcrowded schools and classrooms, with the problem likely to get worse as the city’s population continues to grow.

In March 2018, the New York City Council released a report, Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge, which documented many of the problems inherent in the city’s dysfunctional planning process. Before that, Class Size Matters released two reports, Space Crunch and Seats Gained and Lost: the Untold Story, which identified many of the same problems, showing how the city’s methodology to plan for new schools is inherently flawed and lags further and further behind the actual need.

The city has consistently underestimated the real need for public schools and to plan accordingly. The school capacity formula is aligned to excessive class sizes of 28 students per class in grades 4-8 and 30 in high school, larger than the current citywide averages, and thus would tend to push class sizes even higher in these grades.

The Department of Education’s projections also are based upon housing start data that is highly unreliable, especially the ten-year data, which estimate only a tiny number of new units to be built after the first five or six years. For example, the housing start data posted in March 2017 used to create the current five-year plan projected not a single new housing unit to be built in Brooklyn between 2020 and 2024. The housing start data used for the new proposed capital plan projects 45,000 new housing units will be built in ten school districts between 2018 and 2024, but not a single one the next three years. In District 24 in Queens -– currently, the most overcrowded district in the borough -- the data projects over 3,000 new units to be built during the first six-year period, but only 150 additional units thereafter.

Worse yet, a consideration of the need for new schools is only triggered when a proposed development is projected to increase school overcrowding by at least five percent – even in areas like Long Island City, where the schools are already severely overcrowded.  

Instead, every new large-scale project should require new schools to be built where schools are already overcrowded or likely to become so as a result of new housing and/or current enrollment trends. Parent-led community education councils should be consulted in a meaningful way about the likely impact on schools each time a large-scale project or rezoning is proposed, as they know the educational landscape directly, not just community boards.  

The formula for projecting enrollment should include 3-K and pre-K students and should be updated regularly with the latest Census and American Community Survey and housing data.  And the need for schools should be based upon more realistic ten-year housing trends – not just five-year trends, as it usually takes far more than five years to site and build a new school.

Class Size Matters and other parent leaders are proposing these and additional critical reforms to the school planning process to the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission so the city’s students are not left in even worse conditions in the years to come. Meanwhile, the Amazon deal should be scotched or revamped, because, as is stands, it is yet another giveaway to a corporate giant with no consideration of the need to alleviate the overcrowded schools and classrooms under which the neighborhood’s children struggle to learn.

If New York City is to thrive and offer opportunities to all its residents, we must ensure that investment in our public schools is a top priority for all agencies, including those focused on economic development. School construction should be the first consideration in all our development goals, rather than added as an afterthought years later, when the overcrowding has become too extreme to ignore. In the end, our investment in education will provide far better financial returns than yet more public land and tax giveaways to developers and corporations.

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Leonie Haimson is Executive Director of Class Size Matters; Sabina Omerhodzic is a Long Island City resident and a member of the Community Education Council in District 30.

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 2)


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(photo via NYC Department of Transportation)


This is the second part of a 3-part series. Part 1 discussed the causes for bus ridership decline, the Fast Forward Plan as it relates to buses and why its focus needs to be changed to reverse this decline. In this part: measures that have worked in the past.

The Southwest Brooklyn Changes of 1978
No other group of bus route improvements were that comprehensive. The 1978 changes also differed from others in that they were not initiated by the MTA, but by the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP). It was the only time another agency suggested bus route changes to the MTA; all other route changes originated in-house. I authored the DCP route changes and headed the study, which took four years due to the MTA throwing up roadblocks. First, MTA reps suggested we expand the study’s scope; then they claimed the scope was too large, making the changes infeasible. 

In the end, about 25 percent of the proposals became reality after a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council included a provision requiring the MTA to take actions in southern Brooklyn to alter bus routes to improve air quality in Manhattan per the 1970 Clean Air Act. 

DCP met with community boards before and during the study to solicit bus problems and to describe both the positives and negatives of the proposal. That approach resulted in approval by three boards with the other three boards, which were least-affected, taking a neutral position. No board objected.

By contrast, all presentations of MTA studies provide limited facts, omit the negatives, and community recommendations are only considered when massive numbers support or oppose a change. That results in opposition to all MTA bus changes. The southwest Brooklyn changes went virtually unnoticed by the media because the last citywide newspaper strike occurred in the autumn of 1978.

What the Southwest Brooklyn Changes Did Not Accomplish
As complex and successful as it was, three-quarters of the proposal was rejected. It also recommended the meandering B16 serving Fort Hamilton Parkway and 13th Avenue be split into two direct routes along each of those streets to better serve Maimonides Medical Center and make bus transferring more direct. This important traffic generator has only one east-west bus route serving it and an elevated line over a quarter-mile away. The B16 would have passed directly in front of the hospital, greatly improving accessibility.

Outdated bus routes are a problem throughout the city.

Some routes were never properly designed when they were created. According to The New York Times, when the U shaped B21 was created in 1946 (then named the 21) from the combination of two other routes, there was a protest outside Coney Island Hospital that the route did not meet the needs of the community. Yet it remained in place for over 30 years until it was discontinued as part of the 1978 southwest Brooklyn changes.

Comparison with MTA-Led Studies
Unwillingness to compromise has characterized several MTA bus studies, such as the northeast Bronx study circa 1993 that resulted in no route changes. A Staten Island study in the early 1980s resulted in only two route changes and an early 1980s Brooklyn study and early 1990s study resulted in no changes at all. That is why the 1978 study stands out for its accomplishments.

It proved that comprehensive studies can work, something the MTA refuted, because its studies failed, until a few years ago when it undertook a northeastern Queens bus study at the insistence of local elected officials. Recent support of comprehensive studies by the Bus Turnaround Coalition also led the MTA to rethink its piecemeal rerouting approach. 

The DCP southwest Brooklyn study cost only $250,000. The MTA spent well over $20 million on its bus route studies and has little to show for them. Only a Bronx study in the mid-1980s and the northeast Queens study resulted in a few meaningful bus route changes. The MTA also mixes good and bad ideas in its plans with too much of a focus on reducing operating costs and too little emphasis on improving service.

Examples are a service extension in Brooklyn around 2001 to the Gateway shopping center, which was combined with a route cutback in Ridgewood in order to save a single bus. Similarly, an improvement combining service on the two portions of Ralph Avenue also was coupled with a cutback in service on St. John's Place to keep costs neutral. That created a new service gap and reduced accessibility. The approach to mix good with bad ensures opposition to MTA plans.

Unwillingness to invest in providing additional bus miles to attract new patronage has partially been the reason for ridership declines. The MTA has long-insisted that bus route changes be cost neutral with the exception of the SBS program. In recent years, service in developing neighborhoods has been addressed by the creation of shuttle routes or extensions operating every 30 minutes without consideration of the rest of the bus system; those routes have not performed well. A B67 extension caused additional routing problems by terminating a few blocks from a major transportation terminal, hindering transferring, also to save a single bus. 

In other words, if you make sensible proposals that do not needlessly hurt communities and are honest with them by telling them the entire story — the positives as well as the negatives, as DCP did — they will support your plan. Conflicting and partial information, refusing to compromise as in the northeast Bronx study, and refusing to respond to questions, as with the SBS program, will result in opposition.

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 here. The final part discusses routing changes that are still needed in Brooklyn and what needs to be changed in the Fast Forward plan.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Infrastructure Planning Should Not Include Vilifying Workers


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Development and infrastructure are among the most widely discussed topics in New York City. Over the last few weeks, for example, City & State hosted the Rebuilding New York Summit focusing on infrastructure, financing, and policy; an article came out regarding MTA contracting reform; and several City Council members had a press conference to call for an investigation into MTA spending. But typically missing from the conversation are the people actually doing the work. When workers are mentioned, it’s usually to argue that the costs associated with labor make it harder to take on or to complete new projects. These recent instances fell right into this familiar pattern.  

The New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund, which participated in the Rebuilding New York Summit, was pleased to be able to provide the perspectives of our more than 40,000 members -- men and women who work day-in and day-out to keep New York running. Our members in New York are skilled, knowledgeable, and professional Construction Craft Laborers including cement and concrete workers, drill runners and demolition specialists, asphalt pavers and asbestos workers, sandhogs, or tunnel workers, hazardous waste workers, and more.

This workforce paves our roads, builds our railways, bridges, and utilities. The Laborers ensure this workforce is well-trained, safe, and sustained so that it may continue to build and repair projects for years to come. Workers receive competitive wages to support themselves and their families, safety and skills training, health Insurance, and savings toward retirement. The unionized construction industry provides workers with a sustainable career, which raises the bar for non-union workers as well, and benefits everyone in society.

Investing in infrastructure is necessary. It contributes to economic growth by producing reliable and quality projects which allow New Yorkers and products to move around more easily. It supports the continually increasing population of the city, as well as those who visit it. And finally, it creates jobs and increases the demand for a skilled workforce. But we cannot talk about the building and infrastructure needs without including those who will physically do the often dangerous work.

Is the cost of labor too high?
In December 2017, a New York Times piece reported the costs of tunnel labor in Paris and compared it to the cost in New York City, and what was clear is that they were not the equal. The piece claimed that workers in New York City are paid over $100 an hour while a similar worker in Paris is paid the equivalent of $60. But, left out of that math is that a large portion of hourly “wage” in New York actually goes to paying for healthcare, retirement, and paid leave. These benefits exist as government-sponsored programs in many places around the world, but not here. What these tunnel workers here in New York are left with as take-home pay at the end of the day is actually less than someone doing the same work in Paris.

New York taxpayers are construction workers and construction workers are taxpayers who also want jobs completed efficiently, safely, and by the most skilled workers to ensure quality. We ride the trains, drive on the roads, and live in the buildings with our families, and those of our neighbors.

All building and repairing projects in New York must include worker protections. This can help to ensure workers have basic wage and safety expectations and that projects are done in a professional and competent manner. But when the New York City subways received many headlines for their state of disrepair, workers were targeted. Scapegoating construction worker wages, and decisions made to build a well-trained workforce, is a simplistic argument to describe the challenges of complex and multi-billion-dollar projects.

Instead of demonizing workers because they can support themselves and their families, we should strive to raise the bar for all workers and penalize worker exploitation. We cannot support projects where taxpayer money is used, and workers are exposed to irresponsible contractors with histories of wage theft, safety violations, and low-wages.

It’s a matter of life and death for workers. How much is a worker’s life worth? Working in construction is dangerous. When workers are represented they may feel less pressure to work on an unsafe jobsite or perform a task they do not know how to do. Newly immigrated workers and day laborers may put their lives in dangerous situations for their livelihood. Union contractors ensure the safety of workers and uphold the standards of the industry while nonunion contractors continually cut corners using unsafe cost-saving measures, putting the scrupulous contractors at a disadvantage.

We must continue to raise the standards for all workers and to demand that contractors and developers do the same, and remember the worker when discussing infrastructure needs in New York.

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Vinny Albanese is Director of Policy and Public Affairs at New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund (LIUNA).

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Placard Abuse is Corruption; 2019 is The Year to End It


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De Blasio pledging a placard crackdown (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

In New York City, the people are betrayed by many conspiring groups. Dishonest drivers get away with breaking laws by displaying parking placards, or “courtesy cards,” or even safety vests and handwritten notes – pretty much anything that demonstrates the right connections to the placard class. The police misuse their “discretion” to operate a favor-trading system they euphemistically refer to as “professional courtesy.” Sham oversight offices and district attorneys participate in the system, too. And the politicians spread placards around and avoid oversight to buy support.

Those who abuse the system may try to rationalize it. They might call it a job perk or a victimless crime. Nonsense. And as the city becomes denser, worsening placard corruption has more impact on safety and quality of life. It impedes emergency responses by congesting streets and sidewalks and by blocking fire hydrants and turning movements at critical locations. It fills loading zones and inflames congestion. It destroys transit service by blocking bus lanes and bus stops. It makes streets unsafe by forcing people on bicycles into traffic and blocking sight lines at intersections. It makes sidewalks uncomfortably narrow and physically destroys them.

It has even seized public park land and entire streets just to provide more free parking for the placard class. It stomps on the rights of people with disabilities who cannot use crosswalks and sidewalks or safely board buses from the curb. And when the police turn a blind eye to illegally parked vehicles, it creates a vulnerability for terrorism. NYPD Counterterrorism knows about the risk of car bombs being overlooked with a placard, but the illicit parking perks consistently prove to be a higher priority than protecting the public.

Placard corruption itself is real criminal misconduct. But we are also concerned that it is often a missed warning flag for much worse criminal activity. Internal Affairs knows, for example, that police placards are attractive for drug smuggling. Failing to maintain discipline also allows the bad apples to remain on the force until they do something heinous, rather than identifying and removing them when a pattern of misconduct emerges.

With our streets already overrun with placard corruption, Mayor de Blasio made the decision last year to hand out an extra 50,000 placards. There was immediate backlash to what appeared to be an effort to buy political support from teachers, and the mayor found himself on the defensive. To save face, he announced a fake crackdown on placard corruption.

On May 24, 2017, he stood at a press conference in the Bronx with the NYPD at his side to announce the city’s new zero tolerance policy. It was empty rhetoric. There was never any real enforcement.

Even before the press conference, it seemed clear the administration was not really serious. The previous week, the mayor's press secretary responded to one of our tweets of a traffic enforcement agent refusing to write a ticket to a vehicle with an illegal license plate cover because there was a NYPD placard on the dashboard by saying: "you tweet at me an awful lot. I read almost none of them. But from what I gather, you'll care about an event we do next week in the BX."

The "crackdown" was designed from the start to minimize any real impact. It added more staff at taxpayer expense, but did not require the tens of thousands of existing officers and enforcement agents who aggressively blanket every part of the city in a half-billion dollars in tickets every year to simply provide honest enforcement. But the lack of real enforcement turned out to be even worse than we expected.

agenda19v2 aOver the course of an entire year, a grand total of 89 vehicles were towed, according to testimony at a City Council oversight hearing (which we believe included plenty of perjury by top NYPD officials). That was with new towing capacity and 100 additional enforcement agents that we are all paying for. Eighty-nine vehicles using placards to park illegally in ‘No Standing’ zones could be towed out of Battery Park City and the Financial District in a single afternoon.

Ticketing also remains elusive. We see cars parked illegally with placards all the time, and when we check their summons history with @howsmydrivingny, far too often the only tickets ever issued came from automated cameras. There is no mystery why placard perp Senator Marty Golden and his friends in the police officers union fought so hard to have safety cameras disabled (before Golden reversed course amid an unsuccessful reelection bid firestorm).

At one point, the Department of Investigations put on a good show. They rounded up a bunch of nobodies that had forged fake placards and perp walked them for the news cameras. After making headlines, their effort stopped. Meanwhile, DOI continued letting drivers with NYPD placards (including some real placards that were used fraudulently) to park illegally in front of DOI’s office. Some DOI employees continued using their own placards to get away with breaking the law, too. One particular DOI staffer was eventually forced to remove his illegal license plate cover after repeat complaints, but he never got a ticket and he is still using his placard to park illegally around City Hall.

Our twitter account has crowdsourced a tremendous amount of evidence, yet the District Attorneys pretend to know nothing. Why? Perhaps to avoid upsetting police officers, whose testimony DAs rely on; perhaps because prosecuting police officers would risk cases built on testimony from those officers. Perhaps because some of the DA’s own staff are perpetrators. After all, we routinely see DA placards on illegally parked cars, including some registered out of state that look suspiciously like insurance fraud.

Some of the perpetrators of placard corruption have fought back against accountability. They do not just close 311 complaints with false statements (a crime worse than the misconduct they are covering up), sometimes they use the contact information to harass citizens who ask for safe streets. The NYPD has resorted to unconstitutional censorship on Twitter, and it illegally withholds information in response to Freedom of Information requests. To resort to such tactics, they must feel very invested in the benefits and power their corruption provides them.

But power belongs to the people, and it is up to New Yorkers to finally put an end to the corruption by those we pay to serve our city and expect to lead it ethically. Let your precinct and elected politicians know that you are not willing to accept their corruption anymore.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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The authors are members of the @placardabuse team.

 

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NYCHA Follows the Money


de Blasio NYCHA RAD

NYCHA RAD announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Had the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Congress, and various Presidents funded public housing at a level equivalent to its needs for the past two decades, NYCHA would still have problems, but not at the scale it does today. Nor would a progressive Mayor be wholeheartedly embracing private management of about one-third (62,000) of the city’s precious, low-cost, public housing units. The only way to understand why the Mayor, NYCHA leadership, and many local politicians endorse increasing the use of public-private partnerships to run NYCHA is to step back and view NYCHA’s problems through the wider angle of changing federal policy.

From the 1930s to the 1990s, NYCHA lobbied for and won federal subsidies that allowed it to build and manage public housing on a massive scale. Sadly, most other American cities used these same subsidies to create much smaller, lower-quality, worse managed, more isolated, and thus less popular systems. New Yorkers, by contrast, grew accustomed to the idea that a city would have 175,000 decent low-cost apartments thanks to Uncle Sam. NYCHA employees dutifully managed thousands of towers even under very trying conditions.

By the 1990s, however, New York stood out like a sore thumb. The federal government, responding to public housing problems nationally (such as those in Chicago), was now paying to knock down towers and complexes, encouraging privatization, and pouring more money into voucher programs (i.e. Section 8) and low-income housing tax credits. The whole federal funding system for public housing was redesigned from the ground up to emphasize private sector leadership in low-cost housing.

The towers in cities like Chicago and Baltimore, many of which were only partly occupied by this point, came down at amazing speed, replaced with vouchers and privately-run, mixed-income, medium- or low-rise neighborhoods. Few former public housing tenants were rehoused on former public housing sites; instead, they were mostly scattered into private housing thanks to voucher programs. New York, with full towers, a decent management reputation, tight housing market, and local political commitment to public housing, barely participated in these redevelopment programs.

The demise of large, high-rise, elevator buildings (and public housing more generally) in the rest of the United States was, however, terrible news for NYCHA. The loss of a national program and the urban political allies dedicated to expensive and publicly-run urban public housing led to systemic disinvestment. Even “good” federal funding years did not provide anything close to the needed funds for reinvestments and operations in New York, especially given the advancing age of most buildings. The shift in federal housing policy meant the cuts were permanent features of public housing management.

NYCHA officials were in denial for years. They thought they could "manage" their way out of the problems created by budget cuts until the federal picture improved -- as they had sometimes in the past. They were wrong. Looking back now we see that the dramatic declines in operating and capital funds led to the loss of thousands of experienced employees, deferred maintenance (i.e. mold, peeling paint, broken boilers), compliance failures, inexperienced hires, and more. NYCHA labor unions also successfully fought policy changes and efficiency measures that would have improved quality of life for residents.

When it comes to a massive housing system -- in a very expensive city -- less money inevitably meant lower quality service.

The Mayor's emerging plan for NYCHA 2.0 is an overdue acknowledgment that the federal funding landscape has permanently changed. There will never be a day or decade when NYCHA can from federal funds meet its $31.8 billion capital need, or even fully fund its operations. And while the City has made up for some shortfall over the past few years, to the tune of billions of dollars, it isn’t realistic to believe that the City will redirect tens of billions more of its own capital and operating funds (unless the courts force its hand) from other worthy causes.

Shifting 62,000 NYCHA apartments to private-sector management, as planned in the initial portion of NYCHA 2.0 that we’ve now seen, through various voucher programs, allows private companies to combine rents, voucher reimbursement, and federal tax credits with the money they can borrow as mortgages, loans, etc. They will apply these funds to renovating tens of thousands of apartments in structurally sound NYCHA buildings. They can shave labor costs by hiring new workers and investing in technology. They can take a harder line on rent collection and resident behavior.

NYCHA buildings clean up well under good private managers and new employees, as anyone who has visited the RAD Ocean Bay project can attest. By shifting so many apartments to the private section, moreover, private managers will relieve NYCHA of billions in unfunded capital needs, and of the management of most of its smaller developments, allowing remaining NYCHA staff to focus on the larger projects in its portfolio. The city, of course, will not face a massive bill for renovation. There is an undeniable political payoff as well: future problems at these complexes will no longer be a mayoral liability.

Many residents, local politicians, employees, and activists are leery of NYCHA “privatization.” Indeed, the NYCHA 2.0 plan, promised by Mayor de Blasio by the end of the year, needs to build in solid protections for current NYCHA residents, encourage non-profit participation in private management, and spell out the long-term fate of these apartments as residents come and go. Given the dominance of the private sector in federal policy, and the current balance of power in Washington, those who believe in purely public housing -- the old NYCHA -- will have difficulty developing an alternative and equally beneficial plan. The ball is in their court as the NYCHA 2.0 plan develops.

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Nicholas Dagen Bloom, Ph.D. is a professor at New York Institute of Technology and the author of many books.

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 1)


mta double decker electric bus

(photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


Bus Ridership in New York City is on the decline despite innovations such as Select Bus Service (SBS). Newly appointed New York City Transit (NYCT) President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan will not reverse this trend unless its focus is changed to make it more passenger friendly.

The plan states (page 34) that the bus route network will be redesigned within three years “based on customer needs through a process of customer consultation and analysis of travel patterns.” NYCT will also “Rationalize bus stops in consultation with local communities and the NYC Department of Transportation to reduce travel times, including eliminating under-utilized stops and consolidating closely-spaced bus stops” (there is no definition of “closely spaced”).

There are several priorities NYCT must have in undertaking this work, and lessons that can be learned from past planning.

Warning Signs and Inclusive Planning
If the recent elimination of 25 Q22 bus stops in the Rockaways is any indication, walking distances to bus stops will be a half-mile or more in some cases. Also, those changes were opposed by the community, but implemented anyway (and there was massive confusion afterward due to inadequate notice). So, what does Byford mean that changes will involve community consultation?

Bus stop removal does not necessarily speed buses. The Q22 averaged 15 mph west of Beach 116 Street.  There was no need for these buses to travel faster. Further, since the eliminated stops were very lightly used, most of them were usually skipped anyway, so no meaningful time was saved by eliminating them, but total travel time for travelers was increased due to extra walking and a greater likelihood of missing the bus. Saving a few minutes on the bus due to fewer stops is not an improvement when those minutes are instead spent walking extra to and from the bus, and it may even increase trip time. 

Longer walking distances disproportionately harm the elderly, handicapped, those with temporary injuries, e.g. those on crutches, or have health issues such as sciatica which makes walking exceedingly painful. Fewer bus stops can also be categorized as a cut in service.

People carrying packages, women accompanied by small children, or lugging shopping carts, pushing baby carriages, or pulling suitcases are also not willing to walk long distances. Weather is also a factor.  Most would not want to walk half a mile in a snowstorm or pouring rain to get to a bus stop. When there is a choice between the bus and train, many choose the bus because they cannot walk stairs.

Bottom line: Planning should not be done by only considering able-bodied riders on good weather days.

Why is Bus Ridership Declining?
There are many reasons. The city Comptroller says its due in part to a fractured management system. Buses are often late, slow, and otherwise unreliable and sometimes overcrowded, and some routes do not take passengers where they want to go. They often involve indirect travel and one or more transfers requiring long waits. Alternatives do exist besides driving, and bus riders are increasingly switching to them. There is walking and cycling, taxis, car services and app-based services like Uber, indirect subways, and of course the decision not to make discretionary trips. 

Riders want as much direct service as possible and are willing to tolerate one bus transfer except when service is very infrequent. Two transfers usually involve an extra fare for those without unlimited passes, another system deterrent. Passes do not make sense for those who cannot afford them and those who use the system less than five days a week, such as many college students. Approximately half the passengers do not have unlimited passes. Total trip time, personal safety, and cost are the primary factors determining mode of travel. Yet the MTA does not measure total trip time. It is more concerned with time spent on the bus and increasing average bus speed. Any plan which necessitates additional transfers will fail.

How Do We Reverse the Trend 0f Declining Ridership?
We can look at what has already worked for clues. 

November 12, 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the southwest Brooklyn bus re-routings, which I designed at the Department of City Planning (DCP). We studied eight interlinked bus routes and redesigned them to improve their effectiveness.

Most notably, we proposed a new 86th Street bus route (designated as the B86) replacing four separate routes that covered different portions of the street. The old routings caused unnecessary complexity making the bus system difficult to use. Three transfers and multiple fares were required to travel between Bay Ridge to Manhattan Beach. Four or five buses were required from Bay Ridge to Brighton Beach. 

Rather than using such a cumbersome bus system, mass transit travel between those neighborhoods usually involved three indirect subways via downtown Brooklyn. That was replaced by making many more one and two-bus trips possible. A portion of that proposal was accepted and the new route was designated the B1. Today, the B1 has good frequencies and is the seventh most-heavily utilized route in the borough. The routes it replaced were all moderately or lightly used with poor frequencies. Service gaps were filled and connections were vastly improved. 

Redesigning the City’s Bus Routes
The Fast Forward plan to redesign the city's bus routes within three years is a necessary and monumental task. Will this redesign result in increased ridership? It is difficult to tell because few details have been released.

We know routes will be straighter, with fewer bus stops. There also will probably be fewer routes since one of the goals is to eliminate what is considered duplicative route segments. What is really duplicative? Are two routes operating on the same street serving different destinations duplicative? Is a bus on the same street as a subway duplicative or do they serve different purposes? Will eliminating one of them increase the number of transfers that are necessary to complete a trip? These questions need answers.

Successful route planning that increases ridership cannot merely be accomplished by studying a bus map and eliminating turns making routes simpler and easier to understand. Certainly, simple routes are desirable, but making them simpler can also make them less useful by increasing walking distances.  

Operating costs appear to be the prime factor in determining the MTA's decision for how to restructure bus routes and bus stops. The single goal appears to be to have buses operate faster to reduce operating costs. In that regard, during the past decade, the MTA has converted many revenue miles into non-revenue miles for partial trips to and from depots because they regard non-revenue miles as more productive and efficient than miles where passengers are carried. Some buses even make entire trips not in service.

Bottom line: If the needs of the passenger are not the primary focus, the bus route redesign will fail to increase ridership and most likely will result greater ridership declines. 

That is not to say that every bus stop is needed and no portions of routes can be eliminated successfully. Operating costs must of course be a consideration, but not the primary one. Improving reliability, reducing crowding, passenger total trip times, and transferring must be prime areas of focus.

Increased reliability can be accomplished by maintaining long routes but scheduling more service appropriate to the demand. This can in part be done by having many buses not operating end to end, but serving only the areas of the route with the highest ridership, more closely matching service to demand.

Shorter trips increase reliability because a delay at one end of the route will not affect all buses throughout the entire route. Merely splitting very long routes in half, as the MTA has done, greatly increases the need to transfer and reduces the amount of direct travel. It is better to split very long routes so that there is some overlap.

The personnel in charge of reliability should be adequate and dispatchers need to be properly trained. Bus schedules should also reflect realistic road conditions. Some bus operators have complained that some trips can routinely take them nearly twice the allotted schedule which means that all scheduled trips are not provided.

Creating exclusive bus lanes with little enforcement has not significantly improved bus reliability according to city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. These lanes have slowed down other traffic in many cases, increasing trip times for those not in buses, a factor the MTA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have been ignoring. 

The MTA must realize that increased service results in increased ridership and not believe the two are unrelated. The 2010 massive service cuts assumed there are alternatives for every eliminated route and route segment, and that ridership will not decrease. Ridership, of course, did decrease.

Bottom line: The MTA must be willing to invest in service enhancements to reverse the trend of declining bus ridership and not continue to insist that all changes to bus routes be cost neutral with no examination of latent demand.

Service is not planned with latent demand in mind but only for existing riders. The assumption is that increased service will not improve ridership. Operating costs and current patronage should not be the only variables in the decision whether or not to increase service.

Service gaps must be filled with an emphasis on reducing the need for transferring. In order to understand how to do this, in part 2 of this series, I examine the southwest Brooklyn changes more closely and compare them to past MTA studies that have not achieved their desired results. And part 3 of 3 will discuss routing changes that are still needed for Brooklyn and discuss measures to reverse the decline in bus ridership.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Amazonian Lessons for Urbanists


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Gov. Cuomo & Mayor de Blasio announcing Amazon deal (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


As soon as Amazon announced last year that it would be opening a second headquarters to house 50,000 new employees, cities across the country feverishly competed to lure the colossus retailer. With promises of tax breaks, infrastructure upgrades, employee training and just anything they thought would work, local politicians courted billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos hoping he would deem their town worthy of his high tech presence. The bragging rights alone seemed well worth the price.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio overcame long animosities as they ran victory laps around Long Island City to celebrate winning even half the prize.

To Cuomo and de Blasio’s surprise, not everyone is so elated.

Local legislators howled when they heard that the state would circumvent the city’s land use process and deny community residents a more full opportunity to review and comment on the development. Queens residents raised concerns that Amazon’s arrival would accentuate ongoing problems of displacement and gentrification. A skeptical New York press parsed through whatever information was available to figure out what the state and city were giving away to close the deal. The very smart people who write editorials for the New York Times concluded it wasn’t New York bagels that attracted Amazon to Queens.

The entire episode can be instructive for those who care about the future of cities and the people who live in them. There is plenty of blame to go around, and it does not stop in New York. What follows is four major lessons to move the conversation along.

1. Nobody knows
It was bad enough that the entire deal was negotiated in secrecy. But even with more information available, it is difficult to definitively assess the costs and benefits of such complex arrangements with any measure of certainty.

Sometimes, we don’t discover the consequences until it is too late. Last week, a study completed by researchers at the New School’s Center for Economic and Policy Analysis estimated that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “self financing” Hudson Yards project will cost taxpayers $2.2 billion. In the Amazon case, most of the exceptional tax breaks are being absorbed by the state. The city has not negotiated away any special financial benefits beyond those contained in existing laws – except, of course, an opportunity for affected communities to have a real say in what happens where they live. The latter is a matter of state law.

New Yorkers, like most Americans, are cynical about the political process. When people don’t know all the facts in a complex situation like this one, they assume they are being short-changed. They usually are.

2. Politicians are tone deaf
The United States has the widest disparity in wealth and income of any major country in the free world. New York City is a worst-case example of how concentrated wealth is localized. Much of the growing disparity is a result of federal regulatory and tax policies that have functioned to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Economists have been tracking this trend for decades.

Most Americans more or less understand what is happening and they are angry. They express their anger in the voting booth, but many politicians don’t seem to get the message. A relatively unknown candidate named Bernie Sanders almost derailed Hillary Clinton’s taken-for-granted Democratic Party nomination in 2016 when he candidly told voters that the political system is “rigged” against them. Donald Trump, unfortunately, capitalized on voter discontent to defeat Clinton in the general election.

Local politicians contribute to the overall distrust in government when they make sweetheart deals with corporations and real estate magnates. People, especially those struggling to make ends meet, don’t like to be had and they know it happens to them all the time.

3. Our political leaders live in a bubble
Didn’t decision-makers understand that handing over nearly $3 billion in incentives and grants to the richest man in the world so that he can make more money would stir resentment? Whose brilliant idea was it to allow CEO Jeff Bezos to build a private helipad just down the road from stops on a crumbling subway system and public housing projects where people are living under substandard conditions?

How can public officials defend the Amazon deal after telling us that we do not have the funds to address such problems? Put aside the merits of the case. What about the optics (which do matter)? Don’t our elected officials have public relations experts around them to explain that subsidizing a private landing pad for a billionaire entrepreneur is a ridiculous idea that does not sit well with ordinary people? Can’t Mr. Bezos figure out another way to get to the office?

4. Big is not beautiful
Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him? There was a time when leaders who called themselves progressives broke up large business conglomerates in the public interest. They understood that supersized economic enterprises can hinder healthy competition and that accumulated wealth can give certain individuals outsized influence in the democratic process. They had the gumption to take on the likes of John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil cartel. Populism was once a bipartisan progressive project. That was before professional lobbyists armed with campaign cash took over Washington.

Amazon is a prime example of how elected officials in both major parties have let businesses grow across commercial domains with little concern for the public interest. Jeff Bezos can sell you anything from a high-tech computer to a bag of grapes. When he decides to come to your town, he commands the attention of those in charge, and usually gets what he wants. Yes, including his personal landing pad.

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Joseph P. Viteritti is the Thomas Hunter Professor of Public Policy at Hunter College and author of The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York (Oxford). Note: I need to thank the students in my “Governing the City” class for their stimulating conversation on this topic.

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The Invisible Toll of Hurricane Maria


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Puerto Rico (photo via the governor's office)


The physical damage caused by Hurricane Maria on the island of Puerto Rico was undoubtedly devastating. Fortunately, homes and buildings can, have been, and will be rebuilt, but it’s often trauma from these natural disasters that leaves the most lasting and destructive mark on a community.

The psychological impact of months without electricity, access to food and clean water, and unexpectedly losing loved ones – experienced on an island-wide scale – cannot be overstated. This kind of stress and instability is shocking, and that’s why so many professionals in the mental health community have prioritized working with victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Superstorm Sandy in the northeast, and other natural disasters over the years.

It's not unusual for storm victims to have feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, or shock in the immediate aftermath of these destructive events. It becomes a problem when these feelings continue for weeks, months, or years after such disasters. Mental health professionals know that if communities are not given the proper help and support to cope with trauma from a horrific storm, they may never truly recover.

Earlier this month, political and community leaders from New York City gathered in Puerto Rico to assist with recovery, and work together to help chart a path forward. At the core of the discussion was mental health and health care – in fact, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made it the signature announcement of his trip. He and First Lady Chirlane McCray announced a $200,000 commitment to help a nonprofit health care provider hire additional psychiatrists for some of the neediest communities – including one dedicated to children.

This help could not come soon enough. While on the island myself two weeks ago, I helped deliver supplies to a Federally Qualified Health Center, which is trying to do as much as it can with the little it has. Equipment as basic as medical gloves is frequently needed, and doctors are forced to meet with patients – some even struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well – in rooms the size of large closets. All the while, quality primary and specialty care for these communities is needed more than ever before, with thousands of doctors fleeing the island in the years leading up to Maria and during its aftermath.

For too long, mental health has been an afterthought of medical care, especially in Latino communities. In a recent citywide study we conducted of New York’s Latino patients – Invisible: The State of Latino Health – we found that only one-third of Latinos think that behavioral or mental health services are easily accessible. This lack of access to care can have severe consequences, as untreated trauma can push the most vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that almost two-thirds of New York City Latinos who die from drug overdose are, in fact, Puerto Rican.

We know another Hurricane Maria will hit – it’s just a matter of when. Until then, we need governments, public leaders, and community groups to ensure Puerto Rico has the right support systems in place to help families rebuild their spirits and psyches, not just their homes. While the financial costs of these disasters may make the biggest headline splash, it’s the often unseen damage that may demand our greatest attention and action.

[Read: State of Latino Health: Dismal, and Invisible]

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Ricardo is the Chief Business Development Office for SOMOS Community Care, and the former executive director of Medicaid in Puerto Rico.

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Enact Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Responsibly


mayor bloomberg grad2010

(photo: Spencer T. Tucker/Mayor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

The Governor and the Legislature should use this once in a generation opportunity to make New York State the world leader in thoughtful and effective public protection policies that hold offenders accountable in a humane and forgiving way, and which allows those who offend to, within reason, receive opportunities to make amends and start afresh.

They could start strong by creating a grand blue ribbon commission with multiple subsidiary groups consisting of cross-partisan experts representing a broad public justice and human services spectrum.

And they should forego the impulse, admittedly hard to resist in the afterglow of strong electoral results 10 days ago, to pursue ideological approaches at the expense of posing honest questions and hunting for approaches that work.

The poisonous blue versus red state rhetoric is polluting this conversation (this is happening all over the country where more liberal states seem to relish the chance to stick a finger into conservative eyes - and the contempt is mutual): this divisive tact has no place in devising rational, humane, and effective approaches. It presents the false choice that one has to pick a side: the ACLU or Jeff Sessions. We must do better.

This is a task that is bigger than the Legislature and the Governor. Indeed, it is our political system that has bequeathed the contemporary system that is criticized from all sides. It must be stipulated that much bad criminal justice policy was the product of scare-mongering politicians of a different era seizing on anecdotal, low-probability events as grounds for enactment of draconian laws, such as ones that target narcotics possession and sale. There should have been, but frequently was not, pushback when these laws and policies were gathering steam.

Now, the danger runs in the other direction.

Advocates have commandeered the conversation and this has dangerous implications. Far too frequently, this means that several shades of only one side of an argument are presented.

Bail and parole reform of some sort is a commendable pursuit, but the public must be leveled with: early release will mean that there will likely be more victims, and some may lose their lives. Will cashless bail mean that a defendant who has no skin in the game will be less concerned about skipping court appearances? This is not a reason not to embrace change, but advocates (who are often backed up by billionaires who are unelected and unaccountable and who are, themselves, and their families, unlikely to have violence fall on them) have a maddening tendency to obscure or dissemble in the face of evidence that runs counter to their objectives. When reforms are being discussed the lives put at risk are almost invariably not in affluent places.

And the voices of individual victims and communities as a whole have been marginalized or stifled altogether.

To be sure, there are daily miscarriages involving charged individuals -- people supposed to be presumed innocent -- locked up for prolonged periods, despite the presumption of innocence, in true Kafkaesque fashion. Dramatically speeding up adjudication will make much of the bail debate academic.

A blue ribbon commission can look in a sweeping and holistic way at the agencies charged with delivering justice, with a keen eye to unintended or collateral consequences to seemingly simple silver bullet reforms. It is far too easy for elected officials to succumb to sponsoring slapdash reforms that allow them to bask in the glow without considering the wider implications of the bills they sponsor.

Certainly, some legislative steps taken in the name of “police reform” have helped lead to the current death spiral of the police profession. There are a number of public officials who seem to believe, misguidedly, that it is a great accomplishment to create an atmosphere where the police avoid engaging festering community conditions. If they looked across the country before acting, they would know that urban police departments willing to take risks and bear the brunt of criticisms for defending communities against disorder and insecurity are becoming as rare as the dodo. They would also notice that police departments are struggling mightily to find someone, anyone, to put on a uniform these days. This may not seem like a pressing concern in our presently supersafe city, but what if the future sees dramatic shifts and upheavals?

The blue ribbon commission could launch its work by conducting in-depth, high-quality, sustained surveys to gauge the sentiments of people in communities (in my experience the feedback gathered will always contain surprises). And true justice would have a local flavor: it is folly to try to create one uniform, static standard in each of the state’s 62 very different counties. Indeed, even in a single NYPD precinct, there can be many different communities and seemingly, at times, as many opinions and sensibilities about safety as there are residents.

The country (and we could seek out leaders from overseas as well) has many current and former law enforcement, justice, and human services professionals who have progressive instincts but who will not forget that the duty is to strike a practical, humane balance.

We should pursue grand and workable ideas, research, and demonstration programs from all over the planet, rejecting the chauvinism and insularity that is a hallmark of a 50-state justice system.

Consideration should be given to creating a statewide super-agency, something like the Department of Community Well Being and Safety. Perhaps it should be led by a First Deputy Secretary or Deputy Secretary to the Governor.

Too often agencies continue to work siloed off from one another, law enforcement agencies separated from agencies with other portfolios, working at cross-purposes. Protecting the public and treating offenders decently demands that the education, health, employment, mental health, and drug and alcohol addiction infrastructure be central to any final package of reforms. Can the notoriously independent, aloof even, federal law enforcement community be looped into these efforts?

agenda19v2 aWe must also not ignore hard truths. It is a noble and fiscally prudent goal to urgently seek to shrink prison and jail populations. But these populations would be significantly higher if the justice system was better at apprehending those who commit serious crimes. Most of these offenders are never apprehended. Can true justice system reform ignore this reality?

And despite all the rhetoric about shrinking the punitive footprint of the system, new laws continue to be added with each passing legislative session, while existing laws are almost never revoked.

The system has to be repaired but also defended and re-legitimized. There is a widespread misbelief that convictions of the innocent are commonplace. Elected officials must embrace, vouch for, and sell the system; after all, it is their creation. In the wake of serious crimes, people are sometimes not cooperating with investigators. What do lawmakers offer as a remedy?

We need a complete blue sky review of the uses of technology to prevent crime and to track offenders so that they are getting what they need to steer clear of re-arrest. How can technology be used to vitiate the need for the police to make custodial arrests?

What is the promise for treating breaches of public peace and order in a civil, rather than criminal, context?

We need to examine the work of all prosecutors’ offices, but also the concerning trend where “progressive prosecutors” pursue or decline prosecutions or overlook laws never repealed by the Legislature on the basis of what can be spongy, unstructured, idiosyncratic whims -- that Is not a system of laws, but of ‘men.’

There is also a need to provide affirmative policy preventing and responding to mass casualty shootings and terrorist acts ranging from unsophisticated lone wolves to catastrophic uses of chemical or biological warfare in our streets.

And we need to examine big business and white collar crime anew in the face of evidence that some business bottom lines are being topped off by what can only be described as scams, schemes, and frauds.

And essentially, it must be said that this economy is not working for millions of people. Anyone who interacts with young people knows of their fears and insecurities about finding a place in this society. High turnover, insecure, minimum wage jobs represent a menace to society's well being. In her new book, "The Job," Ellen Ruppel Shell sums it up succinctly: “Good work brings stability of the sort that staves off conflict…”

It is always hard to ask political folks to soar above political considerations and to deliver evidence-based solutions to thorny problems, come what may. New York’s political establishment has a chance to rise to the challenge. Will they take it? Will they go big?

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Eugene O’Donnell is a former NYPD officer and prosecutor in Brooklyn and Queens, and currently a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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New York Votes for a State Senate that Trusts Women


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(photo: @PPESVotesPAC)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

For years reproductive health advocates have pushed to update New York’s antiquated abortion law and increase access to affordable contraception, only to be stalled by our state Senate leadership’s refusal to consider any reproductive health legislation. That roadblock continued despite the federal administration's efforts to drastically alter our reproductive health care - including our constitutional right to safe, legal abortion.

This November, voters turned out in larger-than-usual numbers for state Senate candidates who trust women to make their own health decisions - because the clear majority of New Yorkers understand our autonomy relies on our ability to control our own reproductive health care.

New York voters consistently support access to abortion. According to a July Quinnipiac poll, 73% of New York voters agree with U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman's right to access abortion care.

However, the state Senate majority leadership refused to consider the will and values of New Yorkers. During the election, we saw the same old rhetoric to shame and stigmatize women and their providers. But we also saw an energized electorate in New York and across the nation that trusts women, supports women, and believes that everyone should have equal access to health care.

You can outlaw safe, legal abortion, but you can’t legislate away the need. More than one-in-four women receive abortion care before age 45, and 59 percent of women who obtain an abortion already have at least one child. That’s your mom, your friend, your sister, or your fellow commuter on the train.

agenda19v2 aWhile approximately 90 percent of abortions happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, serious complications can arise at any time during pregnancy. Providing access to needed abortion care throughout pregnancy simply ensures proper medical care for those who require it.

Our current laws restrict our ability to access abortions to safeguard our health and fail to consider complications throughout pregnancy. Voters saw this clearly even if the Senate leadership refused to.

Now we have a state Senate that will truly represent women, not one that seeks to control them. We expect real progress, including protecting our right to abortion in our state law and keeping essential reproductive health care accessible to all New Yorkers.

In 2019, the voices of all New Yorkers will clearly be heard, not only in the streets but in the legislative chambers. That’s a trend we expect to see continue in our state and across the nation as voters realize that they can create the change they demand by casting a ballot.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Robin Chappelle Golston is the Chair of Planned Parenthood Empire State Votes. On Twitter @PPESVotesPAC.

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