Press Coverage

New York Times
Editorial Board
5/10/17
 

While responsible apartment managers adhere promptly to the spirit of the building safety law, recalcitrant owners leave the sheds up for years as a cheap way to avoid making building repairs. There are no deadlines set to force the work to be done or the sheds to come down.

The pole-and-metal roofed structures, designed to catch debris, attract it instead, along with idlers and loners, according to the complaints of nearby residents who are urging the city to take action. City Councilman Ben Kallos has proposed legislation to force a timetable of three to six months on building owners, but some insist that they don’t have the money to finish jobs. Thus sheds stay perpetually, as much a protection for scofflaw owners as pedestrians.

 

Our Town
Madeleine Thompson
5/10/17
 

Until recently, the most crowded bus route in Manhattan also had the oldest buses in the fleet. According to data analyzed by the Bus Turnaround Coalition, which advocates for better bus service citywide, the M15 carries more than 46,000 passengers every day, though ridership has decreased roughly 10 percent since 2010. Thanks to a combined community effort, 79 new buses have already begun to replace the vehicles on the M15 route, as well as on the M14, M101, M102 and M103 routes.

“We spent an enormous amo”unt of time demonstrating the need for the buses,” Council Member Ben Kallos said. “When residents complain about bus service we pass it on to MTA and MTA usually tells us the buses were there.” Kallos, who has a background in software development, partnered with Civic Hackers to collect and assess bus data in order to demonstrate that bus service on the Upper East Side was spotty and often bunched. Between gathering the data and convincing the MTA, Kallos said the project “ended up soaking up about two years of my life.”

Betty Cooper-Wallerstein, the president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association and a former Council member, began collecting her own data many years ago by compiling results from survey cards she would hand out at community meetings. She would ask bus riders to note the route they took and their driver’s punctuality, both to monitor service standards and to give awards to the highest ranking bus drivers. “We have very many seniors,” Cooper-Wallerstein said, emphasizing the need for more reliable service so older riders aren’t waiting as longer or having to walk far away to a better line. Cooper-Wallerstein said she expects the new buses will be “a big help.”

Kallos credited state Senator Liz Krueger with helping set up the meeting last fall with Darryl Irick, the president of the MTA Bus Company, who confirmed that the M15’s vehicles were the oldest in the fleet and agreed to provide the new ones. “The MTA has advised me that the 79 buses is enough for a full replacement on the M15,” said Kallos, who takes that route to work. The remaining new buses will be distributed across the M14, M101, M102 and M103 routes, he added, “where we will continue advocating for more buses.”

The Bus Turnaround Coalition shows that the M101, M102 and M103 have the fourth, 15th and 22nd highest ridership in Manhattan. On the M101 route, one of every six buses arrives bunched.

The 79 new buses will have Wi-Fi, USB charging ports and digital displays displaying upcoming stops. They are also equipped with a pedestrian warning system to prevent collisions. “It can be tough to balance trying to keep people getting to work on time with pedestrians in the intersection who may or may not be obeying the law,” Kallos said. “This technology will really help drivers avoid any mishaps.

 

Gothamist
Nathan Tempey
5/9/17
 

Advocates have plenty of examples to point to when describing the lien sale process running amok. By their tally, 89 properties with community uses had their tax debt sold in 2016. Among them was Grace Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which sold last year to cover wrongfully levied tax bills, according to reporting by Urban Omnibus. The Al-Muneer Foundation, a mosque and community center, in Jamaica, Queens had its wrongfully issued tax debt sold in 2014 and had to fight to get the tax erased.

A church's failure to pay taxes or file for an exemption for one of three neighboring lots that make up the Imani Community Garden in Crown Heights led to its tax debt being sold in 2004. The affected lot is in the middle of the garden and contains a decades-old willow tree. In 2015, BNY Mellon's trust foreclosed on the debt, and a developer bought it at private auction. The new owner fenced the lot off from the other two sides of the garden, and is now planning to build an apartment building there, according to Buildings Department records.

Aging nonprofit administrators, dwindling church congregations, decentralized dioceses, and transient volunteer pools can all contribute to nonprofits missing the significance of bills or failing to file paperwork, according to people familiar with the issue.

"I’ve heard from some folks who are like, 'Why can’t some nonprofits fill out some forms?'" said East Side Councilman Ben Kallos, who lead the sign-on effort. "If this goes into the lien sale, no bank is going to say, 'Oh you don’t need to pay us back, you just need to fill out this form with the city.' The city should be reaching out proactively to folks."

 

Gotham Gazette
Ben Max
5/4/17
 

Two weeks after he announced the initiative, de Blasio and others who had spurred the effort -- especially Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Member Ben Kallos, Comptroller Scott Stringer, liberal activist Bill Samuels, and members of AARP-NY -- held a celebratory rally at City Hall. They said they were pushing the federal Department of Labor to issue rules paving the way for their plan and that legislation would soon be introduced at the city level.

Several months later, in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Department of Labor did issue such a ruling, but just a few months after that, the new Congress passed a resolution to negate the permission the DOL had extended to large cities like New York. President Trump then signed the bill on April 13. According to multiple sources, and further illuminated by International Business Times reporting, the financial services industry has been opposed to allowing city and state-backed private-sector programs, which led to federal action.

In fact, rolling back city permission appears to have been a high priority for the Trump administration. In photos posted to Twitter by a visitor to his office (left), top Trump advisor Steven Bannon is shown to have listed the resolution number one under “Bills,” as part of several lists of priorities and pledges.

“This is a deeply disappointing move by President Trump and Congressional Republicans,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “As the mayor has repeatedly pointed out, fewer than half of all working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for their retirement years. This legislation does little more than block them from securing their futures.”

 

Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid
5/4/17
 

Fuleihan insisted that the city has baselined 65,000 slots for the program, showing that the administration is indeed committed to SYEP. He also noted that a joint youth jobs task force created by the Council and the administration to study the issue only recently released its recommendations and that those would be incorporated before the adopted budget. “I had no doubt that this was going to be another priority that we’re going to be working together on adoption now that we have the task force recommendations,” Fuleihan said.

The hearing touched on a number of other budget items, small and large, and many related to individual Council members’ purviews as chairs of Council committees. For instance, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, brought up funding for the arts; transportation committee chair Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez questioned the administration’s refusal to back discounted Metrocards for low-income New Yorkers; and Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of governmental operations, pushed for budgeting to be linked with agency performance. In his typical refrain, Fuleihan repeatedly said OMB would work with the Council members on their individual concerns.

One of the larger issues addressed at the budget hearing was the city’s capital plan -- not the level of funding, but rather the process of allocation. Council members said the city has often allocated excessive funds for projects that are often delayed and that no plans exists to account for cost overruns.

 

Upper East Side Patch
Brendan Krisel
5/3/17
 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Improvements to two neighborhood schools won funding during this year's participatory budgeting cycle, City Councilman Ben Kallos announced Thursday.

Nearly 2,500 residents from the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island voted on how to allocate $1 million to improve the neighborhood.

The projects that won funding are:

  • 1,514 votes – P.S. 183 Green Science and STEM Lab Classroom - $600,000
  • 1,139 votes – P.S. 198/77 Playground Renovation - $500,000

The cost of both projects exceeded the $1 million allotment, but Kallos said his office will chip in $100,000 in capital funds to make sure both projects are fully funded. If the project you voted for didn't make the cut, all is not lost.

 

New York Times
Winnie Hu
5/2/17
 

While Mr. Rubin said the city’s new scaffolding database would be useful, he added that it did not go far enough to address the problem. “As long as building owners find it cheaper and easier to keep up a sidewalk shed, rather than remedy the dangerous building conditions that make sheds required, the many problems that are caused by these ubiquitous sidewalk sheds will never be solved,” he said.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, said he was “underwhelmed” by the building department’s efforts, adding that it will do little to address scaffolding that has overstayed its welcome. “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Mr. Kallos has proposed legislation that would give a building owner three months to repair a facade, with the possibility of a three-month extension, so that scaffolding can be removed within six months of going up, or sooner when no work is being done. The legislation has drawn support from many residents and business groups, including the New York State Restaurant Association and the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

 

Curbed
Ameena Walker
5/2/17
 

While its a step in the right direction, annoyed New Yorkers are saying its not enough and call for legislation that will penalize property owners who keep the sidewalk sheds up for extended lengths of time to avoid making necessary repairs. “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” City Councilman Ben Kallos told the Times. He has proposed a bill that would require building owners to make facade repairs within three to six months so that scaffolds aren’t up for longer than that.

 

As a result of the new map, the DOB was able to order 150 scaffolds to be dismantled since work had been finished. Though the database consolidates data, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will help scaffolds come down any quicker. “We’re erring on the side of safety to keep them in place so no one gets hurt,” said DOB Commissioner Rick Candler.

 

Our Town
Madeleine Thompson
5/2/17
 

Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a new initiative last week to offer universal pre-kindergarten to all New York City 3-year-olds, though kinks in the original program have yet to place all 4-year-olds in their preferred schools. Before the mayor’s announcement, Council Member Ben Kallos already had a rally planned for April 30 to demand additional seats for 4-year-olds within his district. “Pre-K for all must include the Upper East Side,” Kallos said at his event. “Three hundred 4-year-olds are being told that they have to take a commute down to the financial district.”

There has been progress on the Upper East Side, however. Since 2013, seats available for 4-year-olds enrolling in pre-K have increased fourfold, from about 150 to about 600. This school year, though, 900 4-year-olds applied to fill them. As of 2014, more than 2,700 children in that age group lived on the Upper East Side, some of whom choose private school. Numerous elected officials attended Kallos’ rally, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer and state Senator Liz Krueger, all of whom echoed Kallos’ call for de Blasio to keep his promise.

 

CBS New York
Mike Smeltz
4/30/17
 

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials and parents rallied Sunday on the Upper East Side, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to open up more pre-kindergarten seats in neighborhood schools.

As WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported, Irina Goldman was planning on placing her 4-year-old into the City’s Pre-K program this upcoming school year. Living at 83rd Street and First Avenue, she was really looking for anything within a 20-minute walk.

But as many parents in the neighborhood are facing, her child was placed in a school six miles away in Lower Manhattan.

“When I found out, honestly, I cried, just out of frustration,” Goldman said.

Upper East Side parent Rob Bates was also hoping he could get his son, Michael, a pre-K seat a program somewhere – really anywhere – in the neighborhood. But Michael, 4, was assigned to a program in Union Square – at least a 30-minute subway ride away.

Bates said the trip was a huge burden for their family.

“The subways are very crowded, and it makes us nervous,” he said. “You know, you have a fragile little child. You don’t want to put him on a crowded subway like that, especially for that length of time.”

In all, more than 900 Upper East Side families with 4-year-olds applied for the Pre-K program. A third of them were given seats outside the neighborhood, creating a logistical nightmare for parents.

Goldman said her family has no clue now if they are going to send their child to pre-K at all.

 

Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid
4/28/17
 

A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).

The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.

 

DNAinfo.com
Shaye Weaver
4/28/17
 

"If you own a piece of land where the zoning says you can't build a skyscraper in this part of the district, you don’t get to draw an imaginary line in the sand," said City Councilman Ben Kallos, who filed the appeal with other elected officials and the Carnegie Hill Neighbors group this month.

 

Curbed
Tanay Warerkar
4/28/17
 

Neighbors and local elected officials have however argued that that consensus was ludicrous, and that it would be hard to imagine a building going up in a 10-by-22-foot lot. Neighbors have already filed two appeals against the project, according to DNAinfo, and now led by their local City Council member, Ben Kallos, they have filed a third. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has expressed her opposition to the project as well.

 

New York Daily News
Erin Durkin
4/25/17
 

“We’ll be able to see who’s getting hurt, where and why so that we as a city can make construction safer. We must count every life,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), the bill’s sponsor.

 

Metro
AMANDA MIKELBERG
4/25/17
 

Councilman Ben Kallos, who co-chairs the East River Esplanade Taskforce, applauded the plan. “I will finally be able to run the full length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem,” he said.

 

Curbed
AMY PLITT
4/25/17
 

Local officials, including City Council members Ben Kallos, Dan Gardonick and Ydanis Rodriguez; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney also cheered the decision, with Garodnick noting that, “while we still have some considerable gaps, our plans just got a whole lot closer to reality.” Another $5 million will be allocated to a study of the Greenway’s remaining parcels, with the goal of clarifying next steps in finishing the entire waterfront.

 

Upper East Side Patch
Brendan Krisel
4/25/17
 

“The dream of an East River Greenway is getting closer with a vital connection to fill the gap between 53rd and 61st streets. I will finally be able to run the full length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem,” City Council Member and Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade Taskforce Ben Kallos said in a statement.

 

 

Our Town
LAURA HANRAHAN
4/25/17
 

Council Member Ben Kallos said his office is working with police to increase oversight of that stretch of York.

Kallos said his office worked to eliminate asymmetric lights at East 79th Street and York, and recently installed leading pedestrian intervals at the intersection where the collision took place, which allow pedestrians to enter the intersection before vehicles.

 

New York Daily News
Erin Durkin
4/24/17
 

The legislation introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos would cover stores, restaurants, office building lobbies and all other public buildings where New Yorkers now often only have the option to trash paper and plastic items that could be recycled.

 

DNAinfo.com
Shaye Weaver
4/24/17
 

More than 900 4-year-olds and their families applied for pre-K this year, but there were only 596 seats available on the Upper East Side, meaning that 300 students and their parents must travel outside the neighborhood to get to school, according to City Councilman Ben Kallos.

 

New York Daily News
Jillian Jorgensen
4/22/17
 

Scientists are ditching their labs and taking to the streets Saturday — with marches planned in New York City and Washington aimed at protecting the public funding of science.

Among those marching in Manhattan is Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side), a computer scientist by trade — who hopes the marches sway scientists to run for office.

“It would be nice not to be the only nerd in government,” quipped Kallos.

The councilman said he’d like to see the federal government recognize climate change is real — a dig at President Trump’s policies on the issue.

“I would like to see a government that makes decisions based on science and measures the results of those decisions,” he said.

While Trump’s planned budget cuts and disdain for climate science may have precipitated the march, its local organizers stressed the event won’t be partisan.

 

Gothamist
Nathan Tempey
4/21/17
 

East Side Councilman Ben Kallos is planning to introduce a bill to cut down on light pollution by mandating that the city use light-directing fixtures when replacing streetlights.

 

Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid
4/20/17
 

Excerpt:

The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the CFB, is set to hear a bill on April 27 that would raise the cap on matching funds from 55 percent of the spending cap to a full match of the cap. The bill is sponsored by the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a participant in the public funds program and has spearheaded campaign finance reform in the Council. Kallos had reservations about some of the bills that were expedited through the Council late last year and believes his bill will significantly shift the election landscape.

“I was concerned with recent amendments and their impact on the campaign finance system,” he said, “and as we get closer to the June deadline for opting in or out of the system, we will learn just what impact that legislation had and whether it improves participation in the system or actually discourages it. And whatever the results, I hope to create new incentives for people to participate.” The CFB is reviewing Kallos’ proposal and will testify at the hearing.

Read the whole story at http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6882-city-council-members-opt-out-of-campaign-finance-program

 

Curbed
Rachel Sugar
4/19/17
 

According to the audit, the vast majority of POPS hadn’t been inspected in four years—and if they had been, those inspections were regularly “late, incomplete, or ineffective.” In the last four years, only 58 locations had been inspected in total. Of those, 41 were found to be noncompliant. Of those, only 10 were issued violations.

But enforcement may be about to get a whole lot more stringent. In addition to the report’s recommendations—proactively investigate POPS, maintain a better database of them, install more and better signs around the plazas—three new bills were introduced in City Council last month. The bills, introduced by Council members Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick, are designed to protect POPS through steeper fines, annual inspections, increased signage, and a new website where people could register complaints.