State of the District

State of the District admin Tue, 02/10/2015 - 2:59pm

Each year I pledge to report on the State of the District.

Inauguration

Inauguration

Over 700 community members joined my inauguration ceremony on January 26 featuring:

  • Dances Patrelle,
  • Asphalt GreenWave Gymnastics Team,
  • The 92Y Gym Stars,
  • Pianist Roy Eaton,
  • Talented Unlimited High School's men’s ensemble,
  • Elsbeth Reimann of Stanley Isaacs Senior Center reading Pastor Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came…” and
  • Jim Bates of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association reading FDR’s “Four Freedoms.”

Thanks are also due to the many elected officials and community leaders who attended and spoke:

  • State Senator Krueger, who acted as Master of Ceremonies,
  • United States Senator Schumer,
  • State Comptroller DiNapoli,
  • City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito,
  • Congress Member Maloney,
  • City Comptroller Stringer,
  • Public Advocate James,
  • Manhattan Borough President Brewer,
  • Council Member Garodnick,
  • Former Public Advocate Green,
  • Former Council Member Lappin,
  • Former New York State Assembly Member Bing,
  • Founder of New Roosevelt Bill Samuels, as well as
  • Attorney General Schneiderman, who performed the swearing-in.

 

Official Remarks:

Thank you for joining me today for this inauguration which we have dedicated as a celebration of our community and of one another.  We are bastion of culture and diversity that stands together in unity as one council district.

There are many people to whom I owe profound gratitude.

  • My wife has been my rock and constant source of support.
  • My mother, who raised me as a single parent, sent more than 15,000 letters to her neighbors asking them to vote for me, and from what I’ve been told is the only reason many people did.
  • My family and friends, those that immigrated here to escape anti-Semitism, those that couldn't be here today, those that have given me unconditional love and support through the years.
  • Mentors who have prepared me for this undertaking.
  • New colleagues in government, in the City Council, and especially my friends in the Progressive Caucus.
  • Working families with whom I have fought and will fight for a living wage for all New Yorkers.
  • The community and cultural groups that make this district what it is and that participated in this inauguration.
  • And last but not least – I want to thank you.

You have given me a remarkable responsibility.

I will heed the lessons of the “greatest generation.” I will speak for those for whom there is no one else to speak, regardless of whether I am one of them. Four essential human freedoms that we heard about from Jim remain a generation overdue.  But like FDR, I believe them to be “attainable in our own time and generation.” And I believe that they start at the local level, in the community.  I will focus on “freedom from want” to ensure “a healthy peace time life for inhabitants,” a living wage for all so that we may eliminate the ever-growing gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in hopes of unifying our great city.

I started this journey out of love for the neighborhood where I grew up and the conviction that government could do better. After thousands of conversations, hundreds of volunteers, dozens of special interest checks turned away, and your solutions for a better city submitted on my website and shared with me in person, I have been overwhelmed by your support for my vision: A government that is open, transparent, and accountable to you.

In the City Council, I will be chairing the Government Operations Committee in order to help make that vision a reality.  With broad oversight powers I hope to bring reforms to:

  • community boards in partnership with our borough presidents to empower our neighborhoods,
  • campaign finance to empower residents making small dollar contributions over special interests,
  • the board of elections to enfranchise more New Yorkers so more people actually vote, and
  • the board of standards and appeals to ensure that the zoning laws  keep our neighborhood a great place to live are only varied from under appropriate conditions with full Community Board support.

Our mandate will be to make our city’s operations more efficient at seamlessly serving you.

This City Council office belongs to the community and I am just its steward for the time being. That means that your hopes and needs will shape the actions that we take and the battles that we wage.  I am confident we can make real progress on the important issues in our neighborhood because we’ll be working together.

Join me for “First Fridays” where we will meet monthly in-person to discuss what issues are important to you.  The next one is on Friday, February 7 from 8AM to 10AM in our new District Office at 244 East 93rd Street, just off Second.  It is in the old Weight Watchers, where we can help you with almost any problem other than a new diet.  If getting to my office is too difficult you can call me at 212-860-1950 or we can bring our office to you with mobile hours in your closest community center.

You can visit BenKallos.com where we have over one hundred solutions for a better city that you can vote on, comment and improve upon, or suggest your own.  We have our work cut out for us and will need your support to get it all done.  Please consider leading or joining a policy committee on education, senior services, transportation, environment or propose your own. 

I graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, and believe every child is entitled to the same world-class education. But we need more seats in schools and I was proud to see our community successfully push for a new middle school in Yorkville. That’s just the kind of collective action that we need.  Together we can propose and implement innovative new solutions for new schools from incentivizing their inclusion in new construction to identifying new locations.

We know that pre-K helps children thrive – and we need to fund it universally so we don't deny any child that chance.

We have a generation of young people, who, for the first time, expect to be worse off than their parents. By developing innovative loan forgiveness programs for CUNY students who work and stay in New York, we can help our city’s economy thrive.

We can no longer isolate learning to the classroom alone. A truly holistic education includes vibrant afterschool and summer programs. It includes nutritious meals and essential medical care. Our schools can be hubs for services, so children with fewer opportunities get a fair chance in life.

My mother is a senior who lives in the district.  I am committed to keeping senior centers open, protecting vital services like meal on wheels, and healthcare so that seniors and their caregivers can be healthy and independent.

We must protect and expand affordable housing.  Those that made our neighborhood what it is today deserve to remain here to reap the rewards of their lifetimes of hard work.  New construction, which is sure to come with the completion of the Second Avenue Subway, must include affordable housing for middle-class New Yorkers.  If we do this right, even I will be able to afford to live here.

I am taking over this seat from Jessica Lappin, who did an incredible job for all of us. That means that there will be one less woman in the City Council. But I have joined the Women’s Issue Committee of the Council and will keep the equal rights of all New Yorkers at the top of my agenda.

Of course, we have some battles to take on.  I am a member of Asphalt Green’s Triathlon Team and will continue to fight the Marine Transfer Station in Yorkville.  As we speak I am working to build a broad city-wide coalition of Council Members and community leaders in opposition to any dump in a residential neighborhood.  It won’t be easy, it won’t happen right away, and I will need your help: but together we can make real progress in defeating it.

A lot of this depends on you. In order to create real change, we need you to join us in partnership. We will have many opportunities in the months and years ahead for you to connect with us about what you are passionate about in the community, so please get involved. If we invest in each other – our time, energy and compassion – our government can work better for all of us.  Please join me because together we can build a better city.

admin Sat, 03/01/2014 - 10:52am

2015 State of the District

2015 State of the District admin Tue, 02/10/2015 - 3:22pm

Watch the Full Program:

Watch Council Member Ben Kallos' State of the District Only

State of the District Invitation

Official Remarks:

Good afternoon.

Thank you to this afternoon’s program participants and to my staff, interns and volunteers without which, today would not have been possible.

More than a year ago, five hundred residents of this district joined me as I was sworn in as your City Council Member.

Thank you to those of you who were there then, those of you who are here today, and to all of you who have been there along the way.

Since that time, one year, one month, eight days later, much has been accomplished.

My team and I have been honored to assist more than 1,000 residents with problems ranging from potholes to evictions.

As Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, I have chaired 14 hearings, and passed 7 bills and 2 resolutions through committee.

I am proud to stand before you as a law maker who has passed 2 resolutions and four bills into law.

I’ve held 20 first Fridays and policy nights and attended 100 community meetings.

I secured $35 million in funding for the East River Esplanade and distributed $2.7 million in participatory budgeting.

With 2 years, 10 months, 19 days, 10 hours, 30 minutes and 10 seconds left, we’ve got so much more to get done, in precious little time.

Democracy depends on government that is transparent, open, and accountable, that empowers residents to have the information, access, and ability to play a meaningful role in the decision-making process.

These are your streets, your parks, your light, your air, and your city.

If it wasn’t clear already, this office belongs to you—and it is open to you.

On the First Friday of every month from 8am to 10am residents are welcome to join me in my office to discuss issues that matter to them. Attendance varies from a high of fifty to an average of ten to twenty.  But I hold them each month because of how important it is to open government to provide a chance for residents to meet me face to face.

Democracy only works with your participation.  Thank you to residents like Mel Lyman, Elsbeth Reimann and Carole Hughes who have been there each month and inspire me to keep going.

For those who join us at First Fridays, you may know that if anyone has a good idea for a policy or legislation they get invited to Policy nights, to mobilize people who want to create change.

With such precious time to get so much done, the only way to get more done then I otherwise could alone, it to empower residents with the tools and support they need from my office to help advocate for and set policy.

Mrs. Lorraine Brown, who did a beautiful reading of ‘Still I Rise,’ has been working with me to close the digital divide in public housing, a project that came from policy night.

Mrs. Myrna Lebow, concerned for the mental health of public school students following acts of violence in schools, far too many to name, advocated for more school counselors, and I was proud sponsor legislation that became law requiring reporting by the Department of Education.

I’ve hosted monthly forums on topics from safer streets to emergency preparedness so you can speak directly to city agencies.

Opening my office wasn’t enough, I decided to be even more proactive and come to you. 

I launched a Mobile Office where my social work team goes into the community with hours at Stanley Isaacs and Holmes Towers, Robins Plaza and Lenox Hill, and Roosevelt Island.  If you know of a community that needs my help, with a location to host us, please let me know so we can expand our services.

In order to make it even easier, I launched “Ben in Your Building” where I will come to your home if you can organize 10 neighbors to be there whenever it is most convenient for you.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with condo and cooperative boards, tenant associations, and concerned citizens in their apartments to learn from you and your neighbors what is most important.

I’ve also decided to give you one million dollars, through Participatory Budgeting which allows you to propose projects and vote directly on how your tax dollars get spent.  Last year the community voted to bring bus count down clocks to the downtown M31 and crosstown buses and improvements to NYCHA including accessibility, new appliances, gardens, and security.

Most people do not know what a Council Member is, or what we do. Some Council Members don’t even know what a Council Member does. So I started an education campaign, visiting street fairs in the district to talk to you about how my office can help.

Through outreach like this, I have been able to discuss with many of you the issues of importance to you and your families.

Issues that I plan to address today, like the marine transfer station, open spaces, safe streets, education, affordable housing and sustainable development.

The top issue in the district remains the ill-conceived Marine Transfer Station, a garbage dump in a residential neighborhood.

I grew up across the street from it when it was active, have been a member of Asphalt Green, and ran for office in large part so that I could help fight it.

In my first months in office, I worked with Pledge 2 Protect — who tabled outside the event today — to reframe the narrative. Rather than fighting over where to spread harm, we advocated for investing in our future: reduce, reuse, recycle.

According to the Pledge to Protect talking trash report:

  • We have 22,056 residents, 1,059 children, 6,755 minority residents, 1,173 units of public housing, and 6 schools, near this one station, more than all 6 other stations combined;
  • If the Sandy Flooding of the FDR wasn’t enough, we showed that the station was being built in a flood plain;
  • We could save $93 million a year, if we went from recycling just 15% to the Los Angeles rate of 45%,

 You can take the pledge and read the report at Pledge2ProtectNYC.org

This year, we built a coalition with activists from Brooklyn who are also facing a marine transfer station in their residential communities.

All summer, we held rallies in front of Asphalt Green. Elderly residents and activists like Joan Cavanaugh, Barbara Heyman and Lorraine Johson got arrested for the first time in their lives.

During budget hearings I exposed the fact that the estimated capital costs for the station quintupled since the project began, jumping from $44 million dollars to $215 million dollars.

I commissioned a report from the Independent Budget Office that showed that it will cost New Yorkers three times as much to dispose of trash through this Marine Transfer Station than the current system of sending our trash to New Jersey with $600 million, or two-thirds of a billion over the next 20 years.

I have used this information to call on the administration to stop the marine transfer station for the good of all New Yorkers.

I support the proposal to move the ramp away from the center of the Asphalt Green fields. But I remain ever-vigilant and hopeful that logic, reason and facts will win over politics – and that the dump can finally be stopped.

As I run or walk along the East River Esplanade and through Carl Shurtz Park, so many of you have stopped me to share the importance of open space and revitalizing our waterways.

According to New Yorkers for Parks, we have less open space on the East Side than nearly any other part of the city.

When Rockefeller University announced that it would be expanding their campus over the FDR, as part of a deal from a generation ago, I was pleased to follow the Community Board and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in working with President Marc Tessier Lavigne to provide millions to support infrastructure and a redesign, with a first-of-its-kind million dollar trust to maintain their area of the waterfront forever.

Rockefeller University, through Vice President Tim O’Connor, will be representing hospitals and research universities along the Esplanade on the board of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, a nonprofit that I have designated as the conservancy to be the caretaker for our waterfront.  Thank you to its founder and leader Jennifer Ratner as well as other volunteers for tabling today and your ongoing service.

Coming into office, I knew that the Parks Department projected a need to invest 115 million dollars in repairing our esplanade to avoid having to spend 430 million dollars to rebuild it.

I worked hard to secure 35 million dollars in funding in partnership with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, as co-chairs of the East River Esplanade Task Force, to repair and revitalize our open space.

I will continue to work with agencies to invest in our waterfront on piers that have fallen into disrepair and adding concessions that can generate revenue and most importantly make our waterfront a destination.

I have long advocate for ferry service, along with Congresswoman Maloney.

Ferry service is yet another promise from my platform, which I will be coming to the East Side and Roosevelt Island by 2018, as announced by Mayor de Blasio in the State of the City.

We are taking back our waterfront so that it can become a center for transportation, commerce and recreation once again.

I am also working to make streets safer.

I support Vision Zero – with the goal that no member of our community should ever lose his or her life in a traffic collision.

Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists must all be able to use our streets safely.

I used my first newsletter to ask 60,000 residents to share their knowledge of the most dangerous intersections and desired street fixes and improvements. 

I compiled the information into a “Livable Streets” report, and am now putting it into action. It is available for download at BenKallos.com/Livable-Streets

In the past year, I held three forums on street safety.

During my campaign and once in office, I have had thousands of conversations, many concerning commercial bicyclists, and a frustration, that complaints have gone unheard.

In response, I launched the “Commercial Bike Safety” program to empower every resident to help improve safety for pedestrians concerned about delivery bikes.

The program has a few easy steps:

  1. Educational Forum

We canvassed every restaurant in the district and held a forum for over one hundred of them where the Department of Transportation distributed FREE Safety Vests, bells and lights.

  1. More safety vests.

If you see or receive a bike delivery from a person with NO safety vest displaying business name and ID number, report it to the business, 311 and to me.

  1. Report unsafe biking.

If you see wrong way or unsafe biking, remember the business name and identification number from the safety vest then report it to the store, 311 and to me.

The most important is your communication with the restaurant, the power of your dollars, far outweighs the power of government to these stores.

  1. Enforcement.

When you call 311, DOT and NYPD will be notified and will take the appropriate steps to resolve the issue.

The program has already had success in curbing unsafe behavior, spreading awareness and increasing the use of safety vests.

CitiBike and bike lanes are coming to our district in the coming years. I will work with residents and city agencies to ensure we all have a voice in the locations and the implementation process.

I hear a LOT about the M79 — and living at 80th and York, I experience it, too. Recently the M79 won the “Pokey Award” for slowest bus in the city by the Straphangers Campaign.

I am working to make the archival bus time GPS information of these buses public, so we can hold the MTA accountable.

I also invested in Bus Clocks, so you will be able to see when your bus is going to arrive and plan accordingly.

We’ve all suffered through the construction of the Second Avenue Subway and I’ve done my best to support businesses along the corridor, through advocacy for funding in the budget to support with my own dollars.  If you are going out for a meal or ordering in, please Shop Second Avenue.

I am proud to announce, the Second Avenue Subway is on track for completion on December 31, 2016.

While we wait, I’ve authored legislation that would allow you hail a New York City yellow or green cab easily on your phone.  Since I proposed it, the idea has become so popular that the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago have already adopted it.  I look forward to making it easier for everyone to hail a cab on their phone and get where they are going, fast.

You are my eyes and ears, and we can only improve transportation if we work together.

So please tell me the locations that need improvement and visit BenKallos.com/Livable-Streets

We have some of the best public schools in the city and as a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science I am committed to a world class public education.

I have been trying to visit all 29 incredible schools in the district. Some have even visited me. If I haven’t visited your school yet, please contact my office to let me know.

My goal is to support our principals, teachers, parents and students. Providing resources and advocacy for what they need. 

Far too many children go hungry every day. That is why I helped lead the Lunch 4 Learning Campaign to provide free school lunches to every student.  We won free school lunch for middle schools.

I will continue fighting for all 1.1 million students to have a free salad bar, breakfast after the bell and lunch.

With hunger rampant throughout our city, I am committed to making sure our city’s children grow up healthy from cradle to career with a fair chance at the American dream.

Last year, I invested one million dollars in Science, Technology Engineering and Math education (STEM) education through my discretionary funds to improve our labs, computers and equipment. Our children must be prepared for jobs in what has become a STEM based economy.

I learned how to code growing up, and it opened up a world of possibilities. Every child deserves that chance.

Education is also about learning to be a good citizen. That is why I have made special effort to connect our schools with our local democracy.

This year, I pioneered a mock voting program for children at PS290, offered civics classes to schools in our district, and gave a Summer Reading Challenge for dedicated students to read five or more books.

I am introducing a Council Member for a Day essay contest for students in grades five through eight.

My young adult voter registration bill would guarantee that high school seniors get voter registration forms in their classrooms and at graduation to encourage them to register.

But, as they get older, students are being crushed under a mountain of debt.

During my campaign, The New York Times endorsed my plan to create free CUNY right here in New York City. For every year a young graduate works and stays, they should be forgiven ten percent of their loans.

There is momentum for this idea: President Obama called for 2 years of free Community College and Governor Cuomo has called for low-income SUNY graduates to have loan payments covered for the first 2 years after graduation.

We must invest in students so they can power our city’s economy. Instead of crushing debt, students deserve opportunity.

And, it is time to take back New York City for our tenants and residents.

What if finding an affordable apartment wasn’t impossible?

What if rents didn’t skyrocket each year?

What if our seniors and our disabled residents didn’t have to choose between medication and paying rent?

Last year, I was proud to help lead a coalition, that won a historic low 1% increase on 1-year leases for rent-regulated apartments. I will keep fighting for a rent freeze in 2015.

I was proud to fight side by side with tenants at Knickerbocker Plaza like Rita Popper and Harri Molese to protect former Mitchell-Lama residents from being downsized to smaller apartments. The City heard our voices – and now, seniors are now longer being moved from 1-bedroom to 0-bedroom apartments.

Recently, I introduced a bill to protect tenants from being placed on a blacklist simply for being named in housing court. And, last year, the City Council successfully raised the maximum income for residents receiving Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemptions and Disabled Rent Increase Exemptions.

And we must continue to develop responsibly once the Second Avenue Subway is built.

Any new building must contain affordable units.

We must fix our zoning code so that tall skyscrapers for the few do not block light and air for the many.

The future of our community depends on neighbors working together for responsible, community-driven development.

Our district can only make progress if our city as a whole moves forward.

Since taking office, I have made it a mission to move government out of the backrooms and into plain sight.

As Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations in the City Council, I have fought to reform the most entrenched dysfunction.

Though changing government takes time, just one year later, some of the results are in:

The City Council passed Rules Reform to make it more fair and accountable with legislation that will be online for you to do what you wish.

I identified 4 billion dollars in potential waste in contract overruns.

I fought corruption at the Board of Elections, fighting for them to post jobs publicly instead of using them as patronage and won their adoption of a conflict of interest policy. I also successfully advocated for a transparent process for appointing three new commissioners, who swore under oath to instate these key reforms.

Finally, I passed four laws to improve transparency, efficiency and participation in our city:

  • The City Record Online Bill will make public meeting and contracting notices available to you online instead of locked away in a file cabinet.
  • Online Voter Guide Bill saves the city millions of dollars by allowing the city voter guide to go online-only which already started this year. 
  • The Agency Based Voter Registration that will help New Yorkers participate by making it mandatory that more city agencies assist people in registering to vote.
  • Open Law, introduced by Council Member Lander, which I co-sponsored, will put the law online so you can actually see the laws by which you are governed without an expensive Lexis or Westlaw subscription.

When government is efficient, honest, and technologically sound, it is easier for residents to have a say, get help and get ahead.

I hope to see you again soon, far before next year’s State of the District, at a First Friday, Policy Night, Mobile Hours, Ben in Your Building, Cooking with Kallos, Street Fair, Participatory Budgeting, Forum, Community Meeting, or just saying stopping by to say hello.

One year ago, I promised to faithfully discharge the duties of Council Member to the best of my abilities.

Today, I promise to continue to fight as hard as I can to make the changes we want to see in our streets, our neighborhoods and our city.

But the state of our district depends not just on me, but on you, because together we can ensure it keeps getting better.

2016 State of the District

2016 State of the District admin Sun, 01/10/2016 - 10:36pm

Watch the Full Program:

Watch Council Member Ben Kallos' State of the District Only

State of the District Invitation

Official Remarks:

Good afternoon.

Thank you to the elected officials and their representatives who have joined us today.  Most importantly, thank you to those in the audience who came out here today, this speech is for and about you.

I am your Council Member Ben Kallos. I have had the privilege of representing the Upper East Side, Midtown East, Sutton Area, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island over the past 24 months and 9 days.

Today, I will report on what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short time period and a plan for what we can get done together in the remaining 1 year, 11 months and 21 days, 10 hours, and 20 minutes of my first term.

As a constituent and advocate myself, then candidate, and now Council Member, I have always been frustrated with how government can be opaque, closed, unaccountable and broken. What if we started to change all that -- empowering our community -- what would that look like?

I opened my office as “your office,” a community center, where I invite you to join me, in person, for the First Friday of each month from 8am to 10am, Policy Night at 6pm on the second Tuesday of each month, for you to organize and shape public policy. Free legal clinics provide free housing, family law and domestic violence counseling each month. Monthly mobile office hours at senior centers and NYCHA bring our office to you. Each evening, I or my staff attend Community Board, precinct council, neighborhood association, and tenant association meetings. Over the warmer months, you will find us at street fairs or Cooking with Kallos at greenmarkets. But all of that involves you coming to meet us, so we’ve launched Ben In Your Building, where if you can gather 10 neighbors, I will come to you and meet in your home or lobby to discuss whatever is important to you. Yes, I make house calls

Thank you to Elsbeth Reiman, Daniel Dornbaum, and Danny Kayton, who join me each and every month for First Friday and Policy Night. Their support and regular contributions make my job fulfilling and more effective. We’ve had nearly two dozen First Fridays and Policy Nights.

My Constituent Service team led by Debbie Lightbody with support from Tirso Tavarez and roughly a dozen graduate students in social work have helped more than 4,000 constituents. Our legal clinics have provided individual counsel to nearly 250 of our neighbors, who are trying to stay in their homes or get heat back in their apartments. And I have made dozens of house calls through “Ben In Your Building.”

Ultimately, my goal is to personally meet all 168,413 people who live in my district in order to better serve and work with you to find affordable housing or get that 311 complaint resolved or to work together to draft and pass a law that will make our city better. Please stop by my office and let us know how we can help.

Most of of our most substantial and pressing constituent service is around housing issues. From poor conditions to evictions we are here to help individuals and protect housing in our neighborhood. I grew up here; I want to raise a family and grow old here too. We must protect our affordable and public housing, and combat the forces of overdevelopment. Our affordable housing crisis is forcing people from their homes and on to the streets.

As of Christmas we had 23,416 children, 17,071 parents, and 12,845 single adults in our shelter system and the more than 3,100 people on our streets. When you see someone who is homeless or panhandling on the street, please don’t give them money, but call or use the 311 app to report it so that we can send an outreach team to offer them 3 meals a day and shelter. 311 will let you know the results of their outreach. Even if the person says “no,” if you keep calling, each interaction helps build a relationship that gets them closer to saying “yes” to our help.

The development boom threatens rent-stabilized and affordable housing, we have fought to preserve the affordability and character of our residential neighborhoods.

When the Mayor’s housing plan called for adding height to the contextual height caps that allow for the East Side’s quiet side streets, we opposed the measure with Borough President Gale Brewer and Senator Liz Krueger, so developers wouldn’t tear down rent stabilized buildings to get more height. And the Department of City Planning heard us, and agreed to protect the midblock.

With CIVITAS Chair Felipe Ventegeat and Executive Director Emma Bologna, we’ve continued to address the Mayor’s housing plan, ensuring that historic districts remain protected and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing provides housing to keep our middle class from being squeezed out. This city must be affordable for all New Yorkers.

The Upper East Side has a long history of rent stabilization, and after two years of ardent advocacy alongside tenant leaders we won a rent freeze on rent regulated leases for the first time in New York City’s history.

There is overdevelopment and then there are superscrapers. When residents of the Sutton Area, including Sutton Area Community President Dieter Selig, alerted my office to a proposed 90-story building for billionaires, we worked with local residents to form the East River Fifties Alliance. Under the leadership of President Alan Kersh, the Alliance has worker with our office to organize the community behind an effort to rezone the neighborhood to draw the line on billionaires row at residential neighborhoods. Integral to this community effort are Herndon Werth, the “Sage of Sutton”, and Charles Fernandez, who have rejected buyouts and resisted harassment, and stayed in their apartments, saying the light and air and history of our neighborhood are too important to demolish for a superscraper.

Preserving the history of our city this past year held special significance.

Just as we marked the 50th anniversary of the landmarks law, it came under attack, first with a proposal to remove hundreds of buildings from protection without review, and then with legislation that would have created a five-year moratorium incentivizing historic communities to be razed. Leading a coalition of over seventy preservation groups with Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts’ Chair Franny Eberhart and then Executive Director Tara Kelly, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, we persuaded the Landmarks Preservation Commission to review every proposed landmark that was on the chopping block and we have fought the bad legislation.

Developers have long sought to privatize our public housing, which provides a safety net from homelessness, in a city that is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Now, Mayor de Blasio seeks to build luxury apartments on a playground serving the children of Holmes Towers. Prior to NYCHA’s announcing Holmes as a location, I came out against the plan, unless it had (1) resident support, (2) maximum preference for existing tenants, and (3) 100% affordable housing. Congress Member Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Brewer and I stand united with Holmes Towers Tenant Association President Sandra Perez against building luxury units on NYCHA playgrounds.

All of these campaigns, whether they’re local or citywide, are meant to address the issues that you have brought me and my team.

When Rebecca Sears, who is disabled living in a basement walk-up apartment on the East Side, applied for affordable housing, she was put on a wait list, twice, with no information about how long the wait would be. Rebecca raised awareness of this issue by sharing her story with NBC, and I introduced a bill that would create a single, universal application for all affordable housing and bring transparency to waiting lists. Landlords have received over $1 billion dollars in tax breaks and abatements to build affordable housing, but the City currently has no way to verify the affordable units were built, so my bill would also require them to register with the city. Recent investigations by ProPublica have found that 50,000 to 200,000 units of affordable homes are being hidden from New Yorkers. Our City is in desperate need of affordable housing and we cannot allow landlords to hide even a single unit of it from the public.

Another of the most common issues I hear about from you is transportation.

In my first year, when a series of traffic collisions in our neighborhood reinforced the importance of Vision Zero, I mailed a survey to 60,000 households, asking for your feedback about improving our streets. We compiled your responses into a report on Livable Streets, highlighting our most dangerous intersections and proposing street improvements throughout the neighborhood. The Department of Transportation’s Manhattan Pedestrian Safety Plan prioritized seven of our most dangerous intersections, and we are already starting to see repaving, medians, neckdowns, and other safety improvements on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Avenues. Please continue to report dangerous intersections and corners to my office — so we can all have livable streets.

In addition to making our transportation infrastructure safer, I’ve been focused on improving the behavior of those using our streets to better share them safely.

First we took on commercial cycling. If you order food at home, which all of us do, a commercial cyclist has delivered it. We’ve gone to every restaurant in the neighborhood two years in a row to offer free vests, lights and bells in exchange for participating in a training on safe cycling. We also changed 311 so you can report commercial cyclists without vests, and we secured a commitment from DOT to send an inspector in response to your calls. You should see more vests now and are empowered to be my eyes and ears in the community to report specific restaurants whose cyclists are not obeying the law. I’ve also asked every building that has hosted a Ben In Your Building to ban commercial cyclists from delivering food on electric bikes or without vests, which is the same way we eliminated menus being slid under our doors.

This past summer, we launched a Bike Safety Program to ensure the safety of pedestrians, motorists and cyclists alike. I partnered with the DOT, the NYPD, Citi Bike, Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York’s Sharon Pope to:

  • distribute safety materials and safety equipment such as bells, lights, and helmets;
  • train cyclists on safe practices and rules of the road in school and when they buy new bikes; and
  • increase education and enforcement against unsafe behavior.

And we got results. The 19th precinct stepped up enforcement 52 percent and distributed safety materials to over 8,000 cyclists, resulting in 18 percent fewer bike and vehicle collisions and 15 percent lower bike and pedestrian collisions as of this summer.

This summer also saw CitiBike expand to the Upper East Side. Thank you to the hundreds of people who provided feedback, online and in person at several community forums. Through your hard work, we were able to move multiple locations including at 72nd and 84th streets.

CitiBikes are already the safest vehicles on the road with not a single death and only 10.5 collisions per million trips as compared to 1,121 fatal car crashes in New York in 2013 alone. But, I wanted them to be safer, and CitiBike has agreed to provide a monthly 90-minute bike safety class at my office that provides participants with a free day pass or month on an annual membership.

I also introduced legislation to improve hazardous sidewalk conditions and fix crumbling curb cuts to ensure the 889,219 New Yorkers with disabilities and nearly one million residents 65 or older can navigate the city streets safely.

Safety is first but improving your commute is the purpose of all this work.

I have long advocated for expanded East River ferry service and am proud that the City has approved new stops for Roosevelt Island in 2017 and 62nd and 90th Streets by 2018, utilizing our waterfronts to improve commutes.

Select Bus Service has brought off-board fare payment to the M86, following my advocacy to improve crosstown service. The block-long lines we all know too well should be a thing of the past as the bus gets 20% faster. I continue to advocate for the expansion of select bus service to other crosstown buses including the M79. That time saved translates into revenue for businesses whose taxes help pay for further transit improvements: a virtuous circle.

Being trapped in the subway without a lifeline is now a part of the past, following my advocacy for mobile service and free Wi-Fi in subways, I am happy to announce the service at 86th Street and at stops along Lexington Avenue.

The Second Ave Subway construction last started, nearly a decade ago. Since then, I have joined Congress Member Maloney at regular meetings and press conferences to hold the MTA accountable so that they finish “on time” by December 2016. We remain on track for completion by then and are fighting the MTA’s decision to stall working on Phase 2 construction into East Harlem.

This summer City Hall proposed limiting the number of Ubers, unfairly targeting innovation and making it harder for New Yorkers to get where they are going. I came out against and helped defeat this plan. Government should embrace innovation from the private sector and pass my legislation for an NYC e-hail app that would allow any New Yorker to hail all 19,000 of our trusted yellow and green taxis.

This year I continued to tour our local schools. I have now made it to nearly every public school in the district to meet with principals, teachers, students and parents. I hope to re-visit schools each year as this has been a valuable way to get to know each school in to address its needs. 

We’ve opened two new schools in the district this year: the Iken pre-school with the goal of inspiring young children to become scientists and the Trevor Day School, with a new building on 95th Street.

I am especially proud to have worked with allies like Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James to negotiate major gains for public education into this year’s City Budget:

  • $12.7 million for renewal schools that offer city services and support for families and children who need it most
  • $1.14 million to hire 80 more crossing guards so students can be safer, and
  • $17.9 million for “breakfast after the bell” to fight hunger for 339,000 children at 530 elementary schools in the city.

But more has to be done to fight child hunger. I introduced a bill requiring schools to report on their school breakfast use rates and efforts, which would get us one step closer in our fight to get universal breakfast after the bell. Only 35% of students who eat free school lunch also eat school breakfast.

Here in the district, I’ve invested over $5 million in discretionary funding to support STEM education in our local public schools.

My office worked with Eva Bosbach, coordinator of the Roosevelt Island Parents Network and the Department of Education to open additional pre-k seats on Roosevelt Island.

The five and six year olds in Paula Rogovin’s class at PS 290 were only just out of pre-K, but that didn’t stop them from pitching me on legislation. The kids asked me to write a bill banning toxic pesticides in our City’s parks, allowing only natural pesticides, and when the bill was ready to be introduced in the Council, we announced it together for the press in the playground, on the heels of the World Health Organization’s announcement that certain toxic pesticides were carcinogens.

We’ve continued the annual public school art show featuring student work at Sotheby's. Thank you to PS 183 Principal Tara Napoleoni, Art Director Wan Ling Fahrer, and parent Patricia Correge for leading the effort and to the students from PS 183, PS 77, PS 290, PS 151, Vanguard HS, PS 169, PS 6, PS 527, MS 177 who participated. Creativity must be nurtured in schools by promoting the arts.

Each year residents in my district ages 14 older get to vote on how to spend one million dollars in the community. The ballot is decided and the process is run by residents like you who volunteer as Delegates. Last year, our top vote-getters were new green roofs for P.S. 151 and P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island. Thank you and congratulations to principals Samantha Kaplan and Mandana Beckman, PTA Presidents Nesli Ciner, Michael Rawlinger and Olga Shchuchinov, and on Roosevelt Island Girl Scout Troops 3244 and 3245 led by Janine Schaefer, and the brownies of Girl Scout Troop 3001 led by Aiesha Eleusizov, all of whom worked together to develop and gain support for their respective projects.

In our first year we had under 600 votes, last year we had 2,140 votes, and this year I am hoping that you can help us reach the more than 130,000 people who live in the district for them to vote.

Our parks will also see significant improvements, starting on the East River Esplanade.

When I took office, our community’s tireless leader, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, asked me to Co-Chair the East River Esplanade Task Force, as the Esplanade was in desperate need of repair. In my short time in office, I have negotiated $35 Million in city funding and over $9 million from Rockefeller University and $1 million from Hospital for Special Surgery. The Esplanade will see improved landscaping with irrigation to keep it alive, new seating and lighting, designated bike lanes, and a new noise barrier along the FDR Drive for a more peaceful and beautiful park from 64th to 68th and 70th to 72nd Street with maintenance in perpetuity to keep it that way. This is coupled with investment in a “Friends of” conservancy founded by Jennifer Ratner, which just brought on Executive Director Jessica Marcellin. We’ve already broken ground and see the Esplanade becoming a central public space for our community once again.

Carl Schurz Park Playground is in line for a $1.3 million renovation, and I’d like to say thank you to the children, parents, grandparents and community members who attended community meetings to provide guidance for the Parks Department.

This year saw the launch of conservancies for Ruppert and Sutton Parks, thanks to Nancy Ploeger and Jack Barnett, respectively. These new groups join the long-standing and invaluable conservancies we have. The Carl Schurz and St. Catherine’s Parks who protect our all-too-limited park space. Thank you to the neighborhood associations that support our parks including the East Sixties with Judy and Barry Schneider as well as East 79th Street with Betty Cooper Wallerstein along with Marcia Reese  who helped bring senior fitness classes and an adult passive recreation space to John Jay Park. I hope in the next year we can found conservancies for John Jay Park and Stanley Isaacs, thereby achieving my goal of having a conservancy for each and every park in my district.

Please also consider adopting a planter on your block or on First Avenue, a program we’ve established in partnership with Sarah Gallagher and the Upper Green Side.

Since before I was elected, I have been a vocal opponent of the building of a marine transfer station in a residential neighborhood. We continue to fight the Marine Transfer Station and, thanks to your support, here is what we've already accomplished:

  • We moved the ramp one block north to protect 35,000 children from all over the city who play at Asphalt Green in partnership with Pledge 2 Portect and the local community;
  • I introduced air quality monitoring legislation with Council Member Dan Garodnick to protect us from pollution;
  • I forced commitments from Sanitation Commissioner Garcia under oath to limit use of the MTS to only 1,800 of the total 5,200 tons per day capacity, keeping more than 300 garbage trucks off our streets;
  • I have advocated for and secured funding for guardrails on garbage trucks and other large city vehicles;
  • I advocated for and won a citywide goal of zero waste to make Marine Transfer-to-landfill obsolete by 2030;
  • We exposed high costs increasing from $93/ton to $278/ton for a total price tag of $632 million;
  • We built a three borough coalition against garbage dumps in residential neighborhoods;

With your help we will continue to fight this ill-conceived Marine Transfer Station.

In order to limit trash, I have cosponsored legislation to limit the use of disposable plastic bags and am distributing free reusable bags from Citizens Committee for New York so that we can each save the planet one bag at a time.

Speaking of trash, constituents have complained for years about conditions emanating from 86th Street and Lexington. This is where 20.7 million riders use that subway station each year, which is similar ridership to Penn Station at 7th Avenue. The permanent, sustainable solution to keep 86th Street clean is a Business Improvement District. My office, with the leadership of Susan Gottridge as acting chair of the BID steering committee and Elaine Walsh of the East 86th Street Association, and the support of local property owners, is leading this push to provide funds to supplement city services with sidewalk sweeping, trash pickup, Big Belly solar compactors, public safety and small business support. Thank you to Andrew Fine for his tireless reporting of this problem and his productive outreach to business owners to gather support for this initiative. If you want to clean up 86th Street, the best thing you can do is get every store in the neighborhood to support the BID and fill out the survey at BenKallos.com/BID.

Thousands of quality of life violations are issued to the Environmental Control Board every year for things like leaving trash in the streets, un-shoveled sidewalks, construction companies working outside of hours or not following the safety regulations, and stores violating health regulations.

Unfortunately, many of these fines go unpaid to the tune of $1.6 billion dollars. I co-chaired a hearing on a package of legislation that would allow the city to revoke licenses and permits from property owners who have unpaid debt and are repeat offenders so quality of life will improve.

I have growing concerns that the city has been setting the bar too low in the Mayor’s Management Report, the annual public report card on local government that is critical to management. Unfortunately, according to my analysis the city failed to set performance targets more than half the time and, when it did, 35% of the time targets were set below current performance standards, which if followed would make conditions in our city worse. At an oversight hearing I chaired on the report, we asked the Administration why their report had planned for an increase in homelessness and infant mortality. They agreed to work with us going forward to improve the report and I look forward to working to get our Management reporting and the city back on track.

I have authored legislation and resolutions that have passed the City Council and been signed into law to improve democracy:

  • Pro-Voter Law Expansion, Local Law 63
  • Online Voter Guide, Local Law 43

Transparency in Government:

  • Open Legislation, Resolution 184, co-sponsor
  • Law Online, Local Law 37, co-prime sponsor
  • City Record Online, Local Law 38
  • Open Mapping, Local Law 108

Women’s Issues:

  • National Women’s History Museum Resolution 354 supporting Congress Member Maloney’s successful passage.

A lot of my laws use technology and the Internet to upgrade our government, but that isn’t much use for those on the other side of the digital divide. That is why I have advocated with Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for affordable broadband for low-income New Yorkers as a condition to any merger with Time Warner Cable in New York City.

I am proud to announce that following our advocacy the Public Service Commission has just ordered Charter, which will replace Time Warner Cable, to provide affordable broadband at 30 MBPS for $14.99 a month to 875,601 low-income students receiving free and reduced school lunch, and 174,646 seniors receiving Social Security Supplemental Income in New York City. This will be coupled with subsidized laptops for $199 and free training, which all together will help eliminate the “home work gap” and go a long way towards bridging the digital divide.

But the best is yet to come. As Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, you may have already figured out that I have been focused on improving democracy, transparency, and a no wrong door approach to government as a public utility that just works like your faucet.

One of the most significant steps we could take towards fulfilling this vision can be found in “Automatic Benefits” legislation I proposed this summer that would give government benefits to everybody who qualifies automatically, no application or renewal required, using information the government already has to increase efficiency and reduce bureaucracy. My constituents like Ken Craddock, whose nutrition benefit renewal took four appointments and nearly 16 hours of waiting on the phone would get the help they need when they need it, helping us bridge the 550,000 person gap between New Yorkers who qualify for nutrition benefits and those who receive them. And that’s just food. No one should go hungry, lose their home, or go without healthcare in one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

As we work towards that ambitious goal of Automatic Benefits, we can help you get the benefits you are entitled to. In 25 minutes we can screen you for more than 25 government benefits at my office, or you can go online to nyc.gov/ACCESSNYC.

It should be obvious by now, that nothing we’ve gotten done, we’ve done alone. If you’re looking for one more way to get involved in the community, please join me in my office, or one of the organizations I’ve mentioned, or apply for your local Community Board.

I know many of our hardworking board members are in the audience today, including Community Board 8 Chair Jim Clynes. I’ve worked to provide support and transparency to the boards, perhaps most excitingly by passing a law to allow 16 and 17 year olds to serve, and I was then excited to appoint high schooler Zoe Markowitz upon the law’s implementation.  I am also fighting to add urban planners to the board staffs and have published best practices for appointments. I believe this is a great time to join our most grass-roots level of government and I hope you will pick up a form in the lobby and apply.

Speaking of the lobby, please join us there for “Bagels with Ben” and please fill out your form for your picture with me in our photo receiving line.

Whether or not you have a title, all of us in this room are leaders in some aspect of this neighborhood and city. Whether on the community board, your neighborhood association, your building, your PTA, or in your home, your experience and expertise in our community can bring value to the rest of us. Thank you for your partnership and I hope to see you over the next year as we work to make the Fifth Council District and New York City an even better place to live.

2017 State of the District

2017 State of the District admin Mon, 01/23/2017 - 10:39pm

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Invitation

Official Remarks:

Good afternoon. If we haven’t met yet, I am your Council Member Ben Kallos. I have the privilege of representing the Upper East Side, Sutton, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island.

Thank you to the elected officials and their representatives who have joined us.  Most importantly, thank you to those in the audience who came out today. The State of the District is a report on all that we have accomplished together over the past 3 years, 21 days, 13 hours, 35 minutes, and 5 seconds and a chance to look ahead at our future.

If this is your first time, welcome. You don’t have to wait for our annual State of the District.

I want to meet all 168,413 people who I represent in order to better serve you.

You can join me, in person, on the First Friday of every month from 8am to 10am, to have a conversation with neighbors, or for Brainstorm with Ben on the second Tuesday of every month at 6pm for policy discussion and organizing.

We have Mobile Hours at Senior Centers. Free Legal Clinics in our District Office on Housing, Family Law, Domestic Violence, Land Use, Landmarking, and even Life Planning.

Each evening, I or my staff attend Community Board, precinct council, neighborhood association, and tenant association meetings. Over the warmer months, you will find us at street fairs or Cooking with Kallos at greenmarkets. And don’t forget to stop by our Fresh Food Box with farm-to-table produce for just $12.

But you don’t have to come to us. I will come to you for Ben In Your Building. Just gather 10 neighbors in your home, your lobby, or at a board or annual meeting. Yes, I make house calls.

Each month we hold public meetings from Town Halls to special events focusing on the environment, tenants’ rights, or senior health. These events rely on community partnerships, like our emergency preparedness trainings, which we do with our local Community Emergency Response or CERT teams on Roosevelt Island and the Upper East Side. Thank you to CERT leaders Howard Polivy and Christine Donovan.

We are here to help: We can work with you on issues related to seniors, housing, jobs, families, finances, nutrition, and especially getting your 311 complaints resolved.

When you are in need, getting government to work for you should be as easy as turning on the faucet in your kitchen sink. I’ve introduced “Automatic Benefits” legislation to cut through bureaucracy and get you your benefits automatically. We’ve launched a benefits screening tool in partnership with Intuit and the Federal government which we’ve release nationwide, but in the meantime to borrow from GEICO, “25 minutes or less could screen you for 25 or more government benefits.”

My Constituent Service team led by Debbie Lightbody with support from Tirso Tavarez and more than a dozen graduate students in social work, as well as many of our undergraduate interns, has helped more than 5,000 constituents to stay in their homes, renew their SNAP benefits, or get that pothole outside their bedroom window fixed.

This was quite the year. Here on the local level, a lot of it was actually good, so let’s review. Just like Law and Order, we will share stories ripped from the headlines of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and NBC news about the fights we’ve taken on as a community. Where we’ve won and where we continue to fight on.

We’ve fought special interests, greedy landlords, over development and displacement, the Marine Transfer Station. We’ve invested in education, expanded our transportation, opened new parks, and so much more.

When I ran for office, I promised to work for you fulltime without taking money on the side from private employment as a lawyer. I also promised to work for you, not the Speaker of the City Council, foregoing the common practice of receiving tens of thousands in personal income called a “lulu” for being a Committee Chair, which the Daily News long called “legal bribery.” So I kept my pledge and I wrote the law that made outside income and lulus illegal, so that all city elected officials would work exclusively for their constituents.

New York City’s Campaign Finance system matches every dollar you give with $6 dollars from the government up to $175 to empower the small dollars of residents over special interests. But lobbyists were bundling small contributions to help candidates get matching dollars without going through the residents themselves only strengthening special interests. I wrote the law that stopped that match, so public dollars will only amplify your voices.

While we were at it, we closed the Campaign for One New York loophole that allowed elected officials to take tens of thousands of dollars from special interests and spend it on advertisements to support themselves in office. Elected officials that control non-profits will have to disclose their donors who will be limited to “doing business” contribution limits of $400.

In the wake of the unlawful purge of hundreds of thousands of voters at the Board of Elections before the Presidential Primary, I wrote a law to create a voter information portal so voters can track absentee ballots, find poll sites, view ballots, and verify registration status and whether votes were counted.

Following outrage after a deed restriction was lifted allowing a nursing home on Rivington Street to become luxury housing, I reviewed records and held a hearing so that New Yorkers could finally learn what happened on the record and under oath. I then worked with Borough President Brewer and Council Member Chin to pass a law to prevent it from happening again.

Fiscal responsibility requires saving in good times to get us through the bad. Since I was elected I’ve advocated for the City to save more money to get us through the next economic downturn, and in response the City increased its reserves to an estimated $8.76 billion.

Fiscal responsibility also means watching your budget for escalating costs. When I noticed the City’s lawsuit payouts were escalating to over a billion dollars a year, I was able to pressure the Law Department to reduce planned lawsuit payouts by $430 million over the next five years.

With a budget of $82 billion dollars, it can be hard to monitor how our taxpayer dollars are being spent, especially when the budget is only available in print or PDF. So I introduced legislation to put New York City’s budget online and shortly thereafter the Office of Management and Budget did it. Please take a look at the city’s budget and let me know if you notice anywhere we can save money. After all it is your money.

The City can and must do more to fight overdevelopment and the march of Superscrapers across 57th Street and into residential neighborhoods. In April of 2015, Dieter Selig brought a planned 1,000 foot tower to my attention as children were collecting Easter Eggs at the annual Sutton Area Community hunt. We sprang to action bringing hundreds of neighbors to Community Board 6, which passed a resolution within 45 days calling on City Planning to cap heights of the mid-blocks between First Avenue and Sutton, just like in the rest of the neighborhood.

But we didn’t wait for City Planning to do it for us, because we’d still be waiting. So Dieter Selig and I began meeting with buildings throughout Sutton, and we were soon joined by Alan Kersh to raise money for a community-led rezoning. We launched the East River Fifties Alliance, led by Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Lisa Mercurio, Jessica Osborne, and the Leadership Committee with elected officials, organizations, over 35 buildings, and more than 400 individual members.

With local heroes we’ve been winning the fight.

When Herndon Werth, the “Sage of Sutton,” who grew up here, was offered a buyout offer, he refused to sell out the community and abandon his home of over 40 years. He stopped the developer from acquiring 434 East 58th Street, a crucial fourth building that the developer was saying he already owned.

Charles Fernandez, a retired security guard who has lived here with his family for decades has also refused numerous buyout offers. He began facing harassment, receiving a letter saying construction workers would be entering his home to cut holes in the ceiling and the walls leaving him exposed to the elements through the cold winter months. He reached out on a weekend and by that Monday the Department of Buildings had blocked the demolition work because of errors, omissions, and their failure to have a legally required plan to protect tenants.

Last month ERFA, Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, Council Member Garodnick and I finally filed an application to rezone the neighborhood, capping buildings at 210 feet or 260 feet if they included affordable housing on-site. Join the fight at ERFA.nyc/donate. You can do it now, on your mobile phones. Seriously.

Just as we made progress in Sutton, a skyscraper, the tallest north of Trump Plaza, popped up at 180 East 88th Street, and just as they were pouring the foundation, the Carnegie Hill Neighbors came to the rescue led by President Lo Van Der Valk with expert urban planner George Janes. We worked together and found that they had created a “loophole” in the form of a tiny four-foot lot that would allow them to build much taller than normally allowed. We wrote a letter with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and got a stop work order that was in place for months. Thanks to the vigilance of Senator Liz Krueger we noticed when new plans were filed with a still unbuildable ten-foot lot and together we filed a zoning challenge. Though the city is letting the developer build, the challenge stands and if the city does not do the right thing, we will go to court. Please join the fight at CarnegieHillNeighbors.org.

The zoning law was created to stop tall buildings, like the 40-story, Equitable Building. If we want to stop every building on the Upper East Side from being 400 feet and taller, please support Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, who work every day to protect our neighborhood’s character.

With all this construction, New York City has nearly 9,000 scaffolds that cover nearly 200 miles of city sidewalks. Scaffolding is supposed to temporary, to protect the public from falling bricks or construction. However, when I met residents like Robert Feiner and Warren Yeh at Ben In Your Buildings they complained of scaffolds that went up and never came down, because it was cheaper for neighboring buildings to leave them up then fix the underlying problems. Jane Foss lives in a building where her landlord is trying to use scaffolding that’s been up for years to force her and other tenants out. In response, I’ve introduced legislation with timelines so that when scaffolding goes up, the work gets done and goes back down, or the city steps in and makes bad landlords pay.

When the Mayor proposed a city-wide zoning change “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability” in partnership with Manhattan Borough President Brewer and our Community Boards we fought to make sure it worked for our neighborhoods and won:

  • Kept our mid-blocks at 75 feet;
  • Reduced height increases to 86th, 79th, 72nd from 50 feet to 25 feet for a maximum of 235 feet;
  • Protected the Sliver Law which prevents towers narrower than 40 feet wide;
  • Add options for half of New York City residents who earn less than $33,078 a year; and
  • Required HPD to track, register, and monitor new affordable housing.

If you are one of the million New Yorkers who lives in rent stabilized housing, you know that the Rent Guidelines Board votes on how much your rent goes up each year. So we have fought for tenants each year, leading the City Council with letters and testimony. After a generation of always seeing the rent go up, even when inflation went down, we won the lowest rent increase ever our first year and the first ever rent freezes for the next two years.

Whether or not you are in rent stabilized housing, if you’ve been to housing court you are on the Tenant Blacklist. Margot Miller ended up in court and won her case, then agreed to move out. But when she tried to rent a new apartment, tenant screening companies reported that she’d been in housing court and no one would rent to her, leaving her out on the street. Nobody should be discriminated against for exercising their right to go to court. In response to what happened to Margot and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers like her, we worked with Senator Liz Krueger and tenant lawyer Jaime Fishman to propose legislation to license tenant screening companies, forcing them to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The City’s homelessness continues to rise to over 60,250. But why can’t they go get a job? Well 23,456 of those homeless are children. 23,456 woke up in a shelter and went to public schools with our children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors. 17,858 are their family members, 3,790 are single women, and 9,858 are single men in our shelters, with more than 2,794 people on the streets.

In 2015, as we saw an increase in the city’s homeless, we began organizing an Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services. Launched in 2016 to bring elected officials, city agencies, nonprofit and faith-based providers to the table to ensure they have support in helping our city’s neediest.

Please take a moment now to download the 311 app. If you see someone in need, take 30 seconds to use the 311 app to dispatch “homeless assistance.” The city will offer 3 meals a day, free medical, mental health or substance abuse care, shelter including rent vouchers, and even free job training. 311 will let you know the results of their outreach. Even if the person refuses, which they likely will, if you keep calling, each interaction helps build a relationship that gets them closer to saying “yes” to our help.

The Mayor continues to build the Marine Transfer Station, a project started with its approval in 2006. We’ve been able to delay its opening for another four years and continue to fight every day. We’ve gained many concessions, including moving the ramp to 92nd Street, limiting use to only one-third of capacity to keep 300 garbage trucks off our streets each day, and as promised during my campaign with my advocacy for zero waste to make this landfill dump obsolete, the city has set a goal of zero waste by 2030.

Along those lines, we can reduce 7,500 garbage truck trips a year through reusable bags. We’ve given away over 500 with another 200 hundred today as we prepare for a single use plastic bag reduction bill that will go into effect on February 15.

We do all this, because we do not inherit the earth from our parents, but borrow it from our children. In whom we must invest and educate.

I believe in a world class public education. That starts with Universal Pre-Kindergarten for all. I was proud to campaign alongside the Mayor for this, but was disappointed when in 2014, my district only had 123 seats to serve an estimated 2,100 four year olds.

When Eva Bosbach and Susana del Campo of the Roosevelt Island Parents Network reached out, we immediately worked with PS/IS 217 Principal Mandana Beckman to double the number of pre-kindergarten seats.

With more seats in hand but still not enough, we assessed the need by collecting a list of three year olds on Roosevelt Island to prove to the Department of Education that there was need. We worked with Pamela Stark at the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery through the bureaucratic application process, and when there was one last hoop that we couldn’t clear alone, Susan Rosenthal, President of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation stepped in to secure the space we needed for 54 four year olds.

We’ve built a model and replicated it with Ariel Chesler and Jack Moran at P.S. 183 where Principal Tara Napoleoni opened more seats.

I will continue to pressure the Mayor and Chancellor Farina to make sure every child in my district has a seat in the neighborhood because pre-k for some but not for all. But the best thing we can do is find vacant first and second floor commercial spaces or private providers with whom we can partner to open more seats in the district.

Once in school, children shouldn’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from. Children should be able to focus on learning. That’s why I advocated for and won free school lunch for middle schools and continue to push for free lunch for all 1.1 million public school students.

While some might cut funding to the arts, I believe in supporting them with our annual Art Show at the world-famous Sotheby’s. Thank you to Patricia Correge, the PTA President at P.S. 183 who helped get the Art Show back off the ground, Principal Tara Napaleoni and Art Teacher Wan Ling Fahrer for organizing and seeing the event through, and to hundreds of children whose art we hang at Sotheby’s each year.

Arts are part of, our investment in STE[A]M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Green Roofs and Technology have been the top vote getters in Participatory Budgeting where residents over 14 vote on how to spend discretionary capital dollars from my office, so together we’ve invested $3.1 million in Green Roofs and $3.8 million in computers, smart boards and science labs. Please become a delegate in order to decide what goes on the ballot and help secure one million dollars for an improvement in the neighborhood.

We must also make sure it is safe for our children and adults to get around our neighborhood. Drivers, riders, bikers, and walkers must all have a space on the street so we may share it safely. With the launch of Vision Zero, we held forums and surveyed 60,000 households to identify dangerous intersections, compiling responses into a Livable Streets report. The Department of Transportation’s Manhattan Pedestrian Safety Plan prioritized seven of our most dangerous intersections for improvement. Please continue to report dangerous intersections and corners to my office — so we can all have livable streets.

Pedestrians are afraid of being hit and hurt or killed by a car or bicycle. But so are bicycle riders. We launched a bike safety program and are expanding it from my district to the entire Upper East Side and Midtown East this year with Council Member Garodnick.

We are using education, equipment and enforcement to make our street safer all the way from East 30th to East 96th Street, training residents at bike shops and monthly classes in my office with a free month on a CitiBike membership for those who attend. We are also training commercial delivery bikes in English, Spanish and Chinese with free safety vests so we can identify who isn’t obeying the laws. Our next training is Thursday, January 26 from 2:30PM to 5PM at RFK, please make sure your favorite restaurant gets the training.

I’ve asked everyone who has hosted a Ben In Your Building to ban commercial cyclists from delivering food on electric bikes or without vests, which is the same way we eliminated menus being slid under our doors. I want to thank the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association led by Valerie Mason and Liz Patrick for beginning the process by grading restaurants on their use of safety vests and electric bikes.

With the continued help of all of our partners, especially the 17th and 19th precincts, we have seen results, in 2016: 17,615 moving violations issued to motor vehicles, 1,865 summonses issued to bicycle riders (a nine fold increase from last year), and seizure of 70 illegal electric bicycles.

We will continue to do more. But please go to the 19th Precinct on the first Monday of every month to thank Commanding Officer McPherson for all the bike enforcement and express your support for more.

How many of you took a bus to get here this afternoon? In my district we love our buses but we want faster service and more of it. We won Select Bus Service, which increases speeds by as much as 20% for the M86 and now the M79 following my request, and we are studying it for more crosstown routes.

Residents complain about poor service but MTA denies it. Using BusTime, I can tell you where every single bus is in the City of New York at every moment of the day. We found that as many as 17.9 percent of buses in the district were showing up bunched, which is the equivalent of losing one in five buses on a route. I’ve requested that the MTA share information from their fare box so we can see ridership for ourselves and to test our hypothesis that ridership declines with poor service and long delays.

After residents near East 72nd Street, including my mother, complained about the loss of limited bus service, we worked with numerous volunteers from the East 72nd Neighborhood Association to collect over 2,700 signatures of residents who want Select Bus Service reinstated at this stop. You can add your name at BenKallos.com.

In response to the petition, I authored a letter with Senator Krueger signed by our East Side elected officials in October. At the January meeting of CB8 the MTA declined to add the stop as requested and erroneously stated they had advised elected officials. The following week we received the letter they had claimed to send. In the letter they blamed low ridership, but to this day they refuse to share fare box information and so we fight for transparency and the restoration of this stop.

After decades without a franchise agreement to protect the iconic and indispensable Roosevelt Island tram -- especially on weekends when F trains don’t always run -- I am proud to have passed authorization in the City Council through 2068. We also brought Ferry service to Roosevelt Island, starting later this year and to the East Side next year.

Congress Member Carolyn Maloney has been ever vigilant in pushing to get the Second Avenue Subway completed on time and I’ve been proud to join in her fight. Thanks to Governor Cuomo, MTA Chair Prendergast, and Dr. Michael Horodniceanu of MTA Capital Construction, we opened the Second Avenue Subway on New Year’s Eve.

For a more “connected” commute, free Wi-Fi has been expanded from 86th Street and the 4/5/6 where we opened it in 2015 to every subway station in the system.

Improving commutes is one thing, but we still need open space to play or relax. My council district ranks fourth from the bottom for park space per capita according to New Yorkers for Parks and its only getting worse with new construction. So we’ve been focused on finding new spaces and improving the parks we do have.

As Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade Taskforce with Congress Member Maloney, I have secured $47 million in public and private funds for the Esplanade, with more to come.

Working with Jennifer Ratner, founder of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, Senator Serrano, and Assembly Member Rodriguez, we identified several locations along the waterfront to activate for the public. Working with the Department of Transportation, the Parks Department, and Friends, I was proud to add more than 3,000 square feet of park space by opening the 90th Street Pier to the public.

When we figured out that the lease for the 1¼ acre Queensboro Oval under the 59th Street Bridge at York Avenue would finally be up after more than a generation as a private tennis club, Community Board 8 Parks Committee Chairs Peggy Price, Susan Evans and I got together with one goal in mind: “Open the Oval.” We launched a petition, Peggy and Susan organized a rally, and we’ve been working with the Parks Department ever since. Please join us by signing the petition.

Thank you to the leaders in the community, thank you to those who signed petitions, who came out to meeting after meeting, who made your voice heard in government, because a democracy by the people for the people, only works when people are involved.. Thank you to my staff, graduate students in social work, undergraduate fellow and interns, who help residents every day.

As you can see, we’ve come a long way in just three years, but none of it happened through one person, none of it happened on its own, we’ve done so much because of those of you who stood up to the challenge, to get involved and make change. Because together we can do anything.

I have 11 months, 8 days, 8 hours, 56 minutes and 13 seconds left in my first term as your Council Member. Although I have every intention of staying on the job, a second term cannot be taken for granted. Let’s make every second count.

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2018 State of the District

2018 State of the District Josh Jamieson Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:43pm

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Official Remarks

Good afternoon!

I am Council Member Ben Kallos.

I have had the honor and privilege of representing the Upper East Side, Sutton, East Harlem and Roosevelt Island in the City Council for the last 4 years, 6 days, 14 hours, __ minutes and __ seconds.

I love this job and every moment is a precious opportunity to make the world a better place. As many of you know, since I first got elected I had been counting down the time, to squeeze every minute out of the four years I had. So I am humbled and honored that you overwhelmingly supported me last November for a second term in the job I love.

Thank Yous

Thank you to:

  • Rabbi Arthur Schneier for today’s invocation and for an education grounded in Jewish values that I carry with me today in my mission of tikun olam, repairing the world.
  • Our wonderful musicians from Eleanor Roosevelt High School:
    • Isabella Baugher on percussion
    • Azaan Chawla on vocals and guitar
    • Willie Harvey on saxophone
    • Taylor Lasomer on guitar
    • And music director Scott Anderson
  • Judy Schnieder my fellow “happy warrior” for her beautiful reading and for her lifetime of fighting for the East Sixties Neighborhood Association.

Thank you to:

  • Congress Member Carolyn Maloney
  • Comptroller Scott Stringer
  • Speaker Corey Johnson
  • Senator Liz Krueger
  • Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright

Most of all thank you to all of the residents who have joined us here this afternoon for my annual report to you on the hard fought battles we’ve won and those we’ve lost as we look towards the future and what we can accomplish together to improve our neighborhood and our city.

If you are just here for “Bagels with Ben” and the free tote bag that’s fine too.

Road Map

Today, we will discuss our open office, how we can help you, the funding we provide and policies we pass to invest in education, improve commutes, rebuild our parks, improve quality of life, fight overdevelopment, find affordable housing, and reform our government to better serve you.

Open Office

Over the past 4 years, 6 days, 14 hours and __ minutes, and __ seconds I have pursued a goal of opening government to residents and my hope to meet all 168,413 people that I represent.

I meet residents each month for First Friday from 8am to 10am, Brainstorm with Ben at 6pm on the second Tuesday, my office has Mobile Hours at Senior Centers on Roosevelt Island and NYCHA, and I even make house calls for Ben In Your Building where I can join you for your annual meeting. I also do weddings and bar mitzvahs!

In the evenings, we hold monthly events and my staff or I attend Community Board, precinct council, neighborhood association, and tenant association meetings.  In the warmer months, you can find us at street fairs or Cooking with Kallos at greenmarkets. And don’t forget a fan favorite, our Fresh Food Box with farm-to-table produce for just $14.

Here to Help

We are here to help!

We have free Legal Clinics in our District Office on Housing, Family Law, Domestic Violence, and even Life Planning.

My Constituent Service team led by Debbie Lightbody with support from Tirso Tavarez and a dozen graduate students in social work, as well as many of our undergraduate interns, has helped more than 7,500 constituents to stay in their homes, renew their SNAP benefits, or follow up on complaints made to 311 in an effort to improve the City.

If you have a problem, give us a call, we are here to help.

Constituent Service is about addressing individual problems, but it’s also about making the system work for everybody. More seniors in my district aren’t getting the hunger assistance that they are entitled to than anywhere else in the city. With so many government benefits, it is hard to learn about all of them, let alone find out if you qualify, and it is even harder to apply. That is why I authored “Automatic Benefits” legislation that would use information the government already has to provide the benefits residents need automatically. After authoring a memorandum clearing the legal regulatory framework, releasing the software to provide the benefits in partnership with Intuit, and securing funding to study the long-term impacts, the City has agreed to study this important step from reactive to proactive governance.

Online Voter Registration

Thank you again to the voters who came out last year in the Primary and General Elections, where we won with 7,847 votes at 75% and 22,514 votes at 81% respectively.

But voting can and should be easier, which is why I worked with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to author and pass online voter registration for New York City so you can register on your phone snapping a picture of your signature or just signing with your finger.

Budget

We can use technology in other places to make our democracy even better.

You as a resident should know how every penny of your tax dollars is spent. Our City's massive $85 billion budget should be transparent. That is why I authored, negotiated and passed the Open Budget bill. While the budget may be available in paper or in massive PDFs, you can now search the budget online, download it and look through it to see how we spend your hard earned tax dollars.

Transparency is one thing, but government really should work for you, and you should have a say in how tax dollars are spent in your district. Through Participatory Budgeting, residents 14 and older have been voting on how to spend discretionary capital dollars from my office every year. I hope you will consider becoming a delegate to help choose what goes on the ballot.

So far the community has voted on where to spend over $3 million in the district on Green Roofs, new computers, smart boards and science labs for schools.

I’ve matched your dollars with $2 million in investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in our schools.

Education

As a graduate of Bronx Science I believe every child is entitled to a world class education.

Each year we partner with world renowned auction house Sotheby’s to bring hundreds of pieces of art from nearly a dozen public schools in the district for our annual art show. Thank you to P.S. 183 parent Patricia Correge, Principal Tara Napoleoni and Art Teacher Wan Ling Fahrer for organizing the event, and to the hundreds of talented children whose art we hang at Sotheby’s each year.

We’ve also brought Brainstorm with Ben to the classroom.

After kindergarten students at P.S. 290 learned about pesticides from their teacher Paula Ragovin, they proposed legislation to ban them from parks, long before the World Health Organization found Round Up to be a carcinogen. Despite having the cutest hearing ever, with strong testimony from medical experts, we will continue our fight in the New Year.

As the nation slipped into controversy over transgender bathrooms, students at East Side Middle School led by a fearless Principal in David Getz, authored legislation to require the Department of Education to offer LGBTQ training to teachers, share who has received the training, and which schools have Gender Sexuality Alliances in order to support their expansion. Students Neal Sarkar, Katarina Korr, Chloe Schamisso and Ananya Roy testified before the Council and helped pass this law.

Yes it’s true, if you haven’t attended Brainstorm with Ben, proposed an idea, drafted legislation, and passed it into law by middle school, then in this district you are considered an underachiever.

Pre-Kindergarten

We do not have enough school seats on the Upper East Side. This was true before I got elected and is only getting worse with all the new construction.

With childcare starting at $24,000 in the neighborhood, many parents are forced to choose between a career and leaving the city they love.

That is why I have been fighting for Pre-Kindergarten for 3 and 4 year olds since 2013, but when we fought alongside Mayor de Blasio and won funding from Albany we only got 154 for 2,767 four-year-olds.

We more than doubled seats in 2015 to 377. In 2016 we worked with Roosevelt Island Parents Network, Day Nursery, and Operating Corporation to open 90 pre-kindergarten seats to fully meet need on the Island, and nearly doubled seats again to 618.

When we actually lost seats in 2017, with 736 four-year-olds applying for only 550 seats, we organized a rally with the support of Congress Member Maloney, Comptroller Stringer, Public Advocate James, Borough President Brewer, State Senator Krueger, Assembly Members Seawright & Quart and Council Member Garodnick. As you may have read on Friday in the Wall Street Journal, we just won an additional 400 seats with 234 seats opening in the fall at East 57th and East 95th Streets and 180 next year on East 76th Street.

I am sure that need will quickly outpace demand especially as we expand pre-kindergarten to 3-year-olds as part of 3K for All.

With childcare on the horizon for 3 and 4 year olds, I hope to continue to expand the program with Federal and State funds to 2-years-olds, then 1-year-olds, and eventually infants, for a vision of Universal Childcare.

But that will take a lot of work so please join me in making sure every new construction or empty storefront with more than 10,000 square feet is considered for pre-kindergarten. If you need a seat for your child or when you see space, email upk@benkallos.com, and we’ll be sure to work with you.

Gifted and Talented

We also need more seats for gifted and talented students in School District 2 which include the Upper East Side where 306 preschoolers — nearly half of those who applied — were turned away in 2016. That is why I introduced and passed legislation that will track applications, offers, and admissions geographically. This will help assess need by neighborhood and give us a better understanding of how geography contributes to school segregation, which in New York City, has only gotten worse since Brown v. the Board of Education and must finally come to an end.

Wrap Around Services

As we identify need and build more seats, we must ensure children have the support they need to learn.

I grew up in this neighborhood in a household with a single parent and my grandparents. That meant I was twice exceptional and eligible for free and reduced school lunch. But I never ate the free lunch because of the stigma surrounding it. In order to ensure no child makes the same bad choice I did, I fought for and won Breakfast After the Bell and Universal Free lunch to provide two free meals a day for all 1.1 of New York City’s public school children. And Local Law 215 of 2017 which I authored will require the city to set goals and report on increasing participation in these programs.

With children out of school at 3PM, the work day ending at 5PM if you are lucky, and most parents not getting home till much later, children need after-hours programs, and young adults may want jobs, which will keep them out of trouble. These programs can be coupled with supper to send children home well fed, with their homework done, to spend quality time with their family.

I believe we can meet Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for our children by helping them to self-actualize with the food they need through Universal Supper, the love and support they need from adults through Universal After School and Youth Jobs, and the education they need to have better lives.

Digital Divide

Education doesn’t stop in school, but continues in the home, where if you can’t access a computer with broadband Internet, you’re starting off on the wrong side of the digital divide, facing a growing homework gap. One-in-four homes in Brooklyn does not have broadband, and in the Bronx nearly one-in-three homes lacks this essential utility. When Charter sought to purchase Time Warner Cable, we worked with Public Advocate Tish James and other elected officials to condition the sale on providing affordable high-speed Internet to low-income residents. We won Spectrum Internet Assist, which provides 30 Mbps for only $14.99 per month for households with students receiving free or reduced school lunch and seniors on supplemental social security income. This has the power to bring affordable high-speed Internet to more than 1.2 million low-income New Yorkers.

Excelsior Scholarship

As children grow up, higher education, is only getting more expensive. I am one of many who will be paying off my students loans until I am close to retirement. That is why in 2013, I proposed and the New York Times endorsed forgiving loans for education at the City University of New York for student who stay, work and pay taxes in the city and state, repaying our investment in their education several fold in income taxes. I am proud to say that Governor Cuomo made it happen statewide without any debt but as the Excelsior Scholarship, so that students can attend CUNY or my alma mater SUNY. This is an effective investment in our most important asset, our residents.

Career and Technical Education

I hope to expand this program further. All High School students age 16 and older, particularly those at risk or less engaged in academic pursuits, could receive a stipend for GED preparation and exams as well as for completing a free two-year career or technical degree from CUNY’s community colleges. Those who might otherwise drop out of school would come into adulthood ready to start a career.

Cornell Tech

For careers in technology, we need higher education institutions of the future, which we’ve built right here on Roosevelt Island at the recently opened Cornell NYC Tech. We just cut the ribbon on the Tata Innovation Center to connect students, researchers and companies to build the next big app. Lookout Silicon Valley and even Silicon Alley, because we’ve got Silicon Island.

Transportation

Getting to Roosevelt Island as well as the transportation desert on the Upper East Side had to be improved. After all transportation is the economic lifeblood of our city.

Tram

We finally authorized the decade’s delayed a franchise for the Roosevelt Island Tram for the next fifty years through 2068.

Ferry

We launched ferry service on Roosevelt Island in the summer and expect it will come to the Upper East Side at 90th Street this summer currently providing traffic free commutes of 14 minutes to 34th street and 25 minutes to Wall Street, all for the same price as a MetroCard swipe.

Subway

We joined Governor Cuomo in opening the Second Avenue Subway on time last New Year’s Eve bringing the Q to the Upper East Side for hundreds of thousands of riders a day.

We even brought free Wi-Fi to our subways.

Buses

On the Upper East Side we love our buses and have been focused on something even Westsiders can agree on, which is improving crosstown service. After implementing Select Bus off-board payment on the M86, we won an expansion to the M79 which opened last summer, and we continue our push for the M96 next.

After you voted for bus countdown clocks in participatory budgeting in 2014, we invested $640,000 in 32 bus countdown clocks for the M15, M31, M57, M66, and M72 so you know when the next bus is coming.

Despite investments in SBS, we’ve seen proposed cuts to other crosstown service on the M31, M57, M66, and M72. Though we’ve been able to stop cuts to the M57, we’ve sent letters to the MTA with every elected official and partnered with the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association led by Valerie Mason and Liz Patrick on a petition to Save Our Bus Service. If you haven’t already, please sign and share the petition at BenKallos.com/share/crosstownbus

Traffic

We are working with Mayor de Blasio to test restricting loading and unloading times from rush hour and from certain connected locations, as well as restricting double parking to only one side of the street in the East 50s, which if successful we hope to bring to the Upper East Side.

Bike Safety

In order to improve commutes pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles must all have a safe space on the street. We added two crosstown bike lane pairs and opened the Second Avenue protected bike lane. With an increase in cyclists we’ve focused our efforts in a bike safety program that uses education, equipment, and enforcement, and has become a model for the city. We offer every restaurant on the Upper East Side free vests, lights, bells and even helmets in exchange for participating in a 90 minute training in English, Spanish and Chinese. CitiBike offers a free class monthly in my district office on the rules of the road giving participants a free pass or month on their membership. We’ve given away over 6,000 helmets. The NYPD has increased enforcement, writing 1,557 summonses in 2017 and confiscating 103 illegal ebikes, representing a disproportionately high 10% of all enforcement in the city.

We’ve worked with the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association to distribute flyers to building and grade restaurants on their use of safety equipment and ebikes. Please join us in expanding the effort.

And if you see or experience a dangerous intersection where you’ve had a close call, please report it to my office so we can make our streets safer for you and everyone else. BenKallos.com/livable-streets

Marine Transfer Station

Traffic safety also means anticipating new dangers, such as the new garbage trucks that will be driving through our neighborhood when the Marine Transfer Station opens. Though we’ve fought the dump for years, exposing high costs, building citywide coalitions, and introducing legislation to protect air quality and mandate zero waste, Mayor de Blasio continues to squander hundreds of millions in building this monstrosity. We’ve moved the ramp to protect 35,000 children at Asphalt Green and most notably forced Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia to agree under oath to give up two-thirds of the 5,200 tons per day capacity, keeping more than 300 garbage trucks off our streets each day. We still haven’t given up. We are tapping into our strongest asset, our residents, like Evan Zebooker, whose proposal I support to repurpose the Marine Transfer Station. Please join our fight at BenKallos.com/MTS

Parks

If you’ve taken a walk anywhere near the Marine Transfer Station one thing you’ve noticed is that the East River Esplanade was literally falling into the river.

That is why I joined Congress Member Carolyn Maloney as co-chair of the East River Esplanade Task Force. In four short years, we’ve secured and overseen spending of $190 million in public and private dollars.

From top to bottom:

  • Last year I allocated 1 million dollars to fund irrigation from 96th to 90th Streets.
  • Last summer we opened the 90th Street Pier to the public as park space in partnership with the Department of Transportation, Parks Department, and the Friends of the East River Esplanade.
  • We broke ground this summer on 35 million dollars secured in 2014 to rebuild 88th to 90th Street and points north.
  • In 2016, I allocated 500,000 dollars to repair John Finley Walk from 80th to 84th Streets, following recommendations from CIVITAS.
  • We cut the ribbon in December on a new 15 million dollar accessible 81st Street pedestrian bridge to 78th Street connecting the upper and lower Esplanades.
  • We broke ground in October on a 1 million dollar public-private partnership with Hospital for Special Surgery to rebuild 70th to 72nd Street and maintain it in perpetuity, which will soon expand to 78th Street as part of one master plan. This was secured as a community benefit for upcoming expansions.
  • In 2016, I allocated 1 million dollars to renovate 70th to 68th Streets to seamlessly connect our two public-private partnerships for one look and feel.
  • In 2014 we secured in 2016 we broke ground on a $10 million public-private partnership with Rockefeller University secured as a community benefit for their expansion to rebuild the seawall and parkland above it from 62nd to 68th Street.
  • Contracting is moving forward on $29 million in public-private funding secured as a community benefit from Memorial Sloan Kettering to build Andrew Haswell Green Phase 2B from 61st to 60th Street.
  • In November we cut the ribbon on a newly planted Andrew Haswell Green Phase 2A under the Alice Aycock sculpture at 60th Street.
  • In 2017, we unveiled the design for an extension to the Esplanade from 61st to 53rd Street with Mayor de Blasio who announced $100 million in funding in 2016, with completion slated for 2022.

Yes, that is two miles of a new and improved East River Esplanade funded, in construction, or opened only in my first term of four years.

We will have our work cut out for us, as we continue to work alongside neighbors like Charlie Whitman, Harvey Katz, and Ira Shapiro on 81st Street, who worked to improve designs on the 81st Street Pedestrian Bridge, as well as community groups and fellow elected officials as we all keep a close watch to ensure projects stay on pace.

New Yorkers for Parks rates my district among the last for its amount of park space for the number people living here. We must improve and find new park space wherever we can.

In addition to opening the 90th Street pier we worked with Community Board 8 Manhattan Parks Committee Co-Chairs Peggy Price and Susan Evans on a campaign joined by every elected official to open the Queensboro Oval to the public without having to pay $180 an hour at a private tennis club. This summer, the Queensboro Oval was opened to the public to play air conditioned tennis using the city’s annual tennis pass that cost $100 for the whole season.

The Upper East Side has more privately owned public spaces, which folks call POPS, than almost anywhere else in the city. Developers received additional height for these public amenities, but they are often closed, in disrepair, or do not exist at all. Working with Comptroller Stringer and Land Use Chair Greenfield, we passed Local Law 250 of 2017 mandating POPS to have signage detailing amenities, advising residents to call 311 with complaints, and establishing escalating and ongoing fines. Former Manhattan Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Ploeger has spent years fighting for improvements to POPS in the neighborhood and this law is in part a result of your advocacy.

Quality of Life

Whether it’s in our parks or in our homes, we as New Yorkers are sometimes just looking for some peace and quiet.

Noise

In fact, New York City’s number one 311 complaint is noise, and a report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says it’s only getting worse.

New York City may be the city that never sleeps but that shouldn’t be a result of after hours construction noise waking you up before 7, after 6, or on weekends. Richard McIntoch and Pamela Tucker lived across the Avenue from one of the noisiest construction sites in the city. They came to First Fridays for months and we did our best to help, but it was clear that the laws were broken.

 

I authored Introduction 1653, which passed the Council, working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection to:

  • put noise mitigation plans online,
  • require rules for inspections when noise is actually happening or going to recur,
  • move noise measurement from inside apartments to the street, and
  • allow inspectors to stop noisy construction.

Best of all it turns down after hours construction noise by about half in residential neighborhoods.

Scaffolding 

New York City will be even better when they finish building it.

But the 9,000 scaffolds spanning 200 miles of our city would indicate that most of our city is in construction or disrepair. The problem is that scaffolding goes up and doesn’t come down for months or years while no work is happening. Some scaffolding is almost old enough to vote. I’ve introduced legislation requiring work to continue without interruption for more than a week and to be completed within 3 to 6 months, or the city would step in do the work and make bad landlords pay. If you hate scaffolding as much as I do, we will need your help to fight real estate interests, and build citywide support.

Scofflaws

Most quality of life problems really come down to a couple of bad neighbors, who ignore fines or just pay them as a cost of doing business, whether it is sidewalks that go unshoveled or uncleaned, trash that piles up, noise or worse.  That is why I authored Local Law 47 of 2016, requiring the city to withhold or revoke licenses, permits and registrations for scofflaws and repeat offenders. While the city has refused to enforce this law, we’ve held hearings calling agencies to task to make them improve quality of life.

Trash Cans

Even when neighbors and residents did the right thing, trash was piling up over the tops of trash cans or a gust of wind was blowing refuse all over our streets. Thanks to the persistence of Andrew Fine who joins me each month at Brainstorm with Ben as well as partnership with Susan Gottridge, both from the East 86th Street Neighborhood Association, as well as Valerie Mason of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, we launched a pilot to see if new large covered trash cans would have an impact. Following positive results and support from these neighborhood associations which were joined by the East Sixties Neighborhood Association led by Judy and Barry Schneider we spent $175,490 on 322 on new large covered trash cans for every corner in my district.

I owe special thanks to these leaders and their organizations, 4 years, 6 days, 13 hours and ___ minutes and 4 seconds into my service, according to voters these trash cans are apparently my greatest accomplishment.

BID

In some places, we are still getting complaints, like on East 86th Street whose train stations see as many visitors a year as Penn Station, at more than 20 million a year. We continue our work towards establishing a Business Improvement District for East 86th Street to supplement city services with daily street sweeping and support for our local businesses. You can help clean up East 86th Street by getting your favorite business and their landlord to share their support at BenKallos.com/BID/Support

Homeless

We are also seeing more homeless and panhandlers throughout our city. As of the New Year, 22,636 children woke up in a shelter with 17,385 parents, 5,309 adults in families, and 10,706 single men, 4,061 single women and an estimated 3,892 people on our streets. To take on this issue in 2016 I launched the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (“ETHOS”) with Senator Liz Krueger and Borough President Gale Brewer, convening local churches, synagogues, and non-profits with city agencies. We are devoted to building supportive housing in the district and helping the homeless.

We’ve been proud to break ground on East 91st Street for 17 two-bedroom supportive homes for Women-in-Need lead by former Speaker Christine Quinn, alongside Social Services Commissioner Banks, Congress Member Maloney, Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, Assembly Member Seawright, Community Board 8, Rector Jennifer Reddall of Church of the Epiphany and students leaders from P.S. 527 the East Side School for Social Action and East Side Middle School.

We’ve already been able to help a chronically homeless individual in the community who we believe had long been suffering from mental illness and often spitting. When a resident was willing to come forward working with me, the 19th Precinct, the District Attorney and DSS worked together to get them the help they needed.

We hope to get every unsheltered person living on the street the help they need. If you see one of our City’s most vulnerable on the street, please call 311 or use the NYC 311 App to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” They will ask where you saw the person, what they looked like, and offer to report back to you on whether the person accepts our city’s offer of shelter, three meals a day, health care, rehabilitation, and job training.

Please consider financially supporting or volunteering with our ETHOS partners in their direct service to help those who are less fortunate.

Land Use

Our homeless crisis is a symptom of our city’s long term affordable housing crisis with tenants in rent regulated housing being forced out onto the streets, unable to find new affordable housing to meet their needs.

Tenants Safety

As Vice Chair of the Progressive Caucus, I’ve been leading the charge to protect tenants from harassment, wrongful evictions, blacklists and rent hikes.

We introduced “Stand for Tenant Safety,” a package of 12 bills to protect tenants from harassment, with two bills I authored signed into law.

Local Law 152 of 2017 counts violations that are not only hazardous but hurt the quality of life for tenants and makes them subject to tax liens that help identify bad landlords.

Local Law 153 of 2017 identifies landlords of big buildings who have accrued massive debt and forces them to make necessary repairs or else see their property foreclosed on through a program called “Third Party Transfer” and handed off to a responsible, non-profit owner.

Right to Counsel

We also helped pass a Right to Counsel in housing court to help fight wrongful evictions and keep residents in their homes.

Blacklist

With more tenants going to housing court, many will find themselves on the Tenant Blacklist used by landlords to reject potential tenants. Having worked with Assembly Member Jonathan Bing as his Chief of Staff on state legislation, I introduced local legislation to protect going to court as a human right and worked with Senator Liz Krueger on city legislation to regulate tenant screening companies.

Rent Freezes

Each year, the Rent Guidelines Board votes on the rents for over a million rent-stabilized apartments. And each year we lead the Council in fighting for a rent rollback to account for the years of increases that outpaced inflation and actual landlord costs. In the last four years we won two consecutive rent freezes.

Affordable Housing

We’ve done a lot for tenants in affordable housing, but what about the residents who call my office everyday for help finding affordable housing?

Thanks to a hero and whistleblower at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Stephen Werner, we learned through ProPublica found that owners of 15,000 buildings — receiving over $100 million from the city in tax breaks — failed to register any affordable units, leaving New Yorkers roughly 50,000 units short of what they were promised.

In response, I authored Introduction 1015, which forces developers and landlords who get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks in return for building and keeping affordable housing units in their development to actually live up to their ends of the deal. Developers receiving these incentives from the city must register these units so we can see where they all are and so that low-income New Yorkers can apply for new and existing affordable housing. After months of negotiations this bill has been passed and awaits being signed into law.

Board of Standards and Appeals

In the past, developers have been able to circumvent city zoning laws restricting building forms, use, height, and density, through the Board of Standards and Appeals, or BSA, even though local Community Boards and elected officials objected to the Board’s decisions. At my inauguration I pledged to focus on this little known but powerful agency and authored laws to reform applications, decisions, notifications, staffing and transparency around the BSA to be more accountable to the public.

Rezoning

Even without going through the BSA, developers have found ways to create new loopholes in the law to make buildings taller than ever before without any public review.

After years of watching supertall after supertall casting Central Park and our residential neighborhood in shadow, we drew the line on building buildings for billionaires at Sutton.

ERFA

We organized first under the leadership of Dieter Seelig of the Sutton Area Community then through the East River Fifties Alliance, a coalition of 45 buildings and 2,700 individuals from 550 buildings from around the city lead by Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Jessica Osborn, and Lisa Mercurio. We were joined by co-applicants Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, and Council Member Garodnick with support from Congress Member Maloney. Local heroes like Herndon Werth and Charles Fernandez stood up for the community.

Though many thought it impossible, we rezoned the East Fifties before the developers of the first supertall site could finish their foundation, showing residents everywhere that they could lead grassroots rezonings to dictate what their neighborhood should look like with the support of elected officials who worked for them, not real estate. New buildings in this area will be squatter and more in line with the surrounding neighborhood, thanks to new restrictions forcing developers to use about half of their development rights under 150 feet, thus limiting zoning lot mergers and how tall buildings can get.

The supertall developer hasn’t given up and neither have we. Please support the effort at ERFA.nyc.

Loopholes

On the Upper East Side, developers are using and even creating loopholes to build taller than they should, with 16 foot floor to ceiling heights, huge empty spaces in buildings that aren’t counted against the buildings height, tiny lots, even buildings on pedestals and stilts. I have allocated funding for Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts to study closing these loopholes for predictable development. Please join our effort at Friends-UES.org.

All of these fights mean overcoming the strong influence of big real estate money in politics whether outside income or campaign cash.

Government Reform

When I got elected, Council Members could take payment for legal services from developers with business before the city or would get cash payments from the Speaker—a practice the Daily News referred to as “legal grease.”

I chose not to take outside income or payments from the Speaker and authored the laws to end these unsavory practices, making the City Council a full time job.

I also ended the practice of amplifying the voices of lobbyists who bundled large amounts of money, which will no longer be matched with public dollars.

Even with all these victories, 95% of the money raised for Mayoral candidates came in big dollar contributions, with half of them being for $4,950, the maximum amount allowed under law. Much of this money comes from real estate.

This is because the city only gives candidates a little more than half the money they need to reach their spending limit. I have proposed matching every small dollar so anyone can run for office with contributions of $175 or less to get big money out of New York City politics.

Please sign and share the petition at BenKallos.com/BigMoneyOut

Conclusion

Thank you again for joining us today.

We’ve accomplished so much in the past four years and I ask for your continued partnership in the years to come. If you found something interesting, anything really, it was long speech, please join me in making it happen.

It has been an honor to serve as your Council Member over the past 4 years, 6 days, 14 hours, __ minutes, and __ seconds. Thank you!

Post Conclusion

Please join us in the lobby for Bagels with Ben, have a cup of hot coffee, complete our survey so we know how we can improve this program, and join me for a photo.

2019 State of the District

2019 State of the District admin Thu, 01/31/2019 - 10:42am

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Official Remarks

INTRO

Good afternoon,

 

I am Council Member Ben Kallos.

I have had the honor of representing over 168,000 New Yorkers on the Upper East Side, Midtown East, the Sutton Area, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island in the City Council for 5 years, 12 days, 13 hours, 39 minutes, and 46 seconds. 

This is by far the best job I have ever had, and every moment is a precious opportunity to make the world, starting in our neighborhood and city, a better place. The best part of this job is getting to meet my neighbors, to work with local activists, faith leaders, educators, fellow elected officials, New Yorkers united in a common mission: to make the world a better place, starting with its capital: New York City.

THANK YOUS 

And I want to give a special thank you to the participants in today’s program, starting with Reverend Beverly Dempsey for today’s invocation and for the work you do every day at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Urban Outreach Center in service of New Yorkers in need. 

Thank you to our incredible group of musicians/singers from Talent Unlimited High School:

    • Jada Peralta
    • Mariah Goodridge
    • Taylor Sailsman
    • Alexa Maldonado
    • Kendall Speaks, who will be filming
    • Their music director Jayne Skoog
    • And principal Yeou-Jey Vasconcelos

And of course, to Rita Popper for her wonderful reading of a 21st century version of “If” written by Rudyard Kipling. Rita is a tenacious advocate and has been an inspiration to me since I first joined Community Board 8. I’m so glad I get to continue to work with her all the time, just as I am continually inspired by the work of my fellow elected representatives.

Thank you to Congress Member Carolyn Maloney and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who just game my speech before me. 

Thank you also to the whole team here at Memorial Sloan Kettering, for opening this wonderful space for us to gather and stay warm today, including

    • Phoebe Kmeck
    • Shakima Grant
    • Ed Swisher
    • Sam Palmucci

Most importantly, I’m honored by how many of you came out to share this Sunday afternoon with us, to reflect on the work we have done together, and to look forward to everything we can accomplish.

ROADMAP

Today I will talk about the resources available at my office, the investments we have made in school seats, how we have worked to improve commutes, rebuild our parks, improve quality of life, fight overdevelopment, build and preserve affordable housing, and reform our government and elections to better serve you. I promise that if you are here just for the bagels and reusable bags that is okay, we will get to that. And if this is your fifth State of the District, you’ve probably heard me tell that joke five times.

HERE TO HELP

My office is the community’s office, a neighborhood center. I invite you to join me, in person, for the First Friday of each month from 8am to 10am and meet with my staff at Policy Night, at 5pm on the second Tuesday. 

Sign up for our free legal clinics on housing, family law and domestic violence each month. 

We host monthly mobile office hours at senior centers and NYCHA to bring our office and the services we provide directly to you. Most evenings, my staff or I attend Community Board, precinct council, neighborhood association, and tenant association meetings. During the spring and summer months on weekends you will find us at street fairs or Cooking with Kallos at greenmarkets. You can even get some of fresh fruits and veggies at our office during the summer and fall, thanks to our partnership with Grow NYC and the Fresh Food box site at our office every Thursday. 

But all of that forces you to come to us, so I even make house calls for “Ben in Your Building” where I can join you for your annual meeting. I also do weddings and bar mitzvahs! Seriously though, I am a registered marriage officiant, and I don’t charge.
GOOD GOVERNMENT

Since I first ran for this office, I’ve said I want to change the fundamentals of government—how politicians are elected, how they’re paid, who has influence—to cut back on corruption and make our government responsive only to the people it represents.

When I was elected, I promised to work for only you, so I refused tens of thousands of dollars in personal income called “lulus,” offered for being a Committee Chair. Then I went further, and wrote the law that made lulus illegal, as well as banning outside income and making the City Council a full-time job. The New York Times recognized the Council for its leadership in instituting these changes and recommended my reforms be replicated in Albany. 

To improve voter participation, we worked with the New York State Attorney General to author the law that will allow New Yorkers to register to vote online.

Whether you’re concerned about overdevelopment, the lack of school seats, or anything else, your number one issue is really campaign finance reform.

This is because politicians spend so much of their time asking for contributions up to $5,100, more than you can even give to the president—not that you would [either one!]. Everyone expects something in return for their money. I once gave somebody something worth thousands of dollars—and I expected her to spend the rest of her life with me. She said yes and we have a lovely daughter. 

But I’ve never thought anybody should be giving politicians that much money. Since I was elected, I have continued my decades long fight to get big money out of city elections. Last session, I introduced campaign finance reform that would expand our public matching system, but even with a majority of Council Members signed on, we couldn’t get it done. This year, we worked with Mayor Bill de Blasio to steer campaign finance reforms around the City Council and directly to the voters as Ballot Question 1.

In a historic turnout on Election Day this past November, New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to support campaign finance reforms proposed on Ballot Question 1. You and 1.1 million other New Yorkers from all five boroughs spoke loudly and clearly to get big money out of politics. 

The new system that I am proud to have helped usher in

  • Lowers Contribution Limits by More than Half from as much as $5,100 to $2,000 (which is still too much!)
  • Make Small Dollars More Valuable by increasing their match with public dollars from 6 to 8.
  • Increase Public Grants from half the money candidates can spend to three-quarters eliminating the need for big dollars.

When Question 1 passed so overwhelmingly, I authored a law to implement the reforms immediately, instead of waiting until 2021. That law passed last month, and the program is already up and running.

I helped lead the Yes Yes Yes campaign in favor of the ballot initiatives, and Question 1 wasn’t the only victory. New Yorkers also voted to approve Ballot Questions 2 and 3, which created a Civic Engagement Commission, expanded participatory budgeting from my district and some others to the rest of the city, and will provide Community Boards with term limits and urban planners. I have funded urban planners for all of my community boards, and now every board will have their own George Janes to take on developers. I believe in term limits at every level of government. I believe in term limits for the President—oh boy do I believe in them for the president—and I believe in them for myself. This reform will give more New Yorkers the opportunity to serve their communities on these local boards. Please see Luisa Lopez after my speech at Borough President Gale Brewer’s table about how to become a public member or apply to your community board and tell her I sent you!

Having successfully changed our Charter last year, we’re not done yet. I took some time to read through to section 3,103 of the Charter and have proposed 72 new Charter reforms from giving communities a binding vote in the land use process to eliminating obsolete references to the telegraph. I will now read all 72 in their entirety. [pause] I’m joking, I only skimmed in some places and I won’t read them all, but you can at Ben Kallos.com/Charter2019. Thank you to Community Board 8 Manhattan for convening a Charter Revision Committee and I hope you will come testify to submit your own proposals.

EDUCATION

As a graduate of Bronx High School of Science, I believe everybody deserves the same world-class education what I got.

After the launch of Universal Pre-Kindergarten, WNYC reported that our district only had 123 Pre-K seat, nowhere near enough. After five years of advocacy, we now have 900 seats. This year we cut the ribbon on two new facilities on 57th and 95th Streets, and we’ve broken ground on a new site on 76th Street that is on track to open by September.

But the good news doesn’t end at Pre-K. After years of advocacy and passing laws to track the number of children turned away, helped prove our case, and there are now 640 new grade school seats planned for the Upper East Side with $93 million in funding. 

I am also fighting to bring 3K seats to our district as soon as possible. I’ve told the Mayor that if we don’t get 3K seats on the Upper East Side by 2021, he owes me $30,000 for my daughter.

For years, the start of every school year has given parents nightmares when their children are stuck on buses for hours. Those nightmares reached a crisis level in November during Winter Storm Avery, when Jennifer Reynoso, a mother of a child receiving a special education, could not locate her child late at night in the snowstorm. I saw in her child my own daughter, and I immediately contacted the Mayor’s office and worked with them to send emergency services to rescue the children shortly after midnight. Just last week, the City Council passed common-sense legislation I had introduced to put GPS on every school bus so parents can track their children just like they’ve been doing in the Chancellor’s home city of Houston since 2015.

Once at school, I believe that if we meet our children’s basic needs, they are more likely to become self-actualized in accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to better guarantee their long-term success. We should provide our children with the food they need through Universal School Breakfast, Lunch and Supper and providing supervision and the mentorship they need from adults through Universal After School and Youth Jobs.

We won a commitment to Universal Free Lunch in 2017 and now free lunch for every student in New York City is a reality, so there’s no longer a stigma for those who accept it—the same stigma that drove me to make the unfortunate decision of refusing free or reduced school lunch when I was a student.

In school I always loved art, it was one of the only places I could be creative and express myself. That is why each year my office partners with Sotheby’s to bring hundreds of pieces of art from more than a dozen local public schools to hang at our annual art show. Thank you to P.S. 183 parent Patricia Correge, Principal Martin Woodard and Art Teacher Wan Ling Fahrer for their partnership.

Learning continues beyond school, which is why I secured $3.7 million in capital funding for necessary repairs and technology at the public libraries on Roosevelt Island, 67th Street, and at the Webster Branch. Last year, we even broke ground on the construction of a brand new $7.8 million library on Roosevelt Island.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Like a quality public school education, every New Yorker deserves an affordable home. My constituent service team works with residents every day to keep New Yorkers in their homes, to apply for SCRIE and DRIE to keep their rents affordable, and to find new affordable housing. 

Thanks to a brave whistleblower at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Stephen Werner, we found that owners of 15,000 buildings — receiving over $100 million from the city in tax breaks — failed to register any affordable units, leaving New Yorkers roughly 50,000 units short of what they were promised.

We worked with our whistleblower, ProPublica and Wall Street Journal reporter Cezary Podkul to author Local Law 64 of 2018 to force developers and landlords who get millions for affordable housing to actually live up to that promise by registering every single unit so we can see where they all are and so that low-income New Yorkers can apply for new and existing affordable housing. Since the law passed late in 2017, we’ve worked on implementation of a new Housing Connect website to find an apply for affordable housing that will be as easy to use as StreetEasy or Zillow — and have a whole lot more housing on it.

In recognition for the work I’ve done around affordable housing, I was appointed chair of the Land Use subcommittee on Planning Dispositions and Concessions, which is responsible for approving affordable housing built on City land or with tax abatements. I’ve been focused on forcing transparency around these projects to get to the bottom line of each unit of affordable housing costs the City so we can get more units and more affordability. We’ve highlighted where affordable housing may be gentrifying neighborhoods, where its construction may actually be worsening the crisis by paying construction workers low wages, and we’ve introduced legislation to uncover conflicts of interest and protect workers on these sites.

When the Mayor initially announced NYCHA Infill I wanted to ensure that the projects provided adequate funding to support NYCHA, were cited in locations that would not leave the poor in the shadows of the rich and would ultimately provide a pathway out of poverty. I have joined Congress Member Carolyn Maloney and Borough President Gale Brewer in opposing the proposal for Infill at Holmes Towers for being placed on a playground, leaving poor tenants in the shadows of wealthy tenants above them, while failing to generate even enough money to make the repairs needed at the adjacent buildings. They are planning to build a skyscraper in violation of the neighborhoods zoning without going through the land use process, something I will continue to fight.

PARKS

When I first got elected, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney asked me to co-chair the East River Esplanade Taskforce with her, because it was literally falling into the river, and then actually did. Since then, we have secured and overseen spending of $200 million in public and private dollars.

This year, after two years of negotiations we formed a public-private partnership with the Brearley School to invest $1.5 Million in the Overhang between 82nd and 83rd Streets. The plan includes colorful new designs, contemporary lighting, green walls, new planters, and a partnership with a local conservancy. Construction starts this summer.

We also cut the ribbon on a renovated section of the East River Esplanade at 70th - 72nd street with the latest step in our project with the Hospital for Special Surgery, Rockefeller University, and the Parks Department to completely redo the Esplanade from 62nd Street to 78th Street. This stretch will now feature noise barriers, a water fountain and irrigation to keep plants alive, new planting beds, improved lighting, repaired railings, new seating and paving, and it will be maintained by our partner institutions in perpetuity.

As we invested in the Esplanade, residents raised safety concerns, so although I personally oppose surveillance, we put NYPD security cameras on the Participatory Budgeting ballot where they won hundreds of votes. Ultimately, we invested $336,000 in security cameras for our hard-to-patrol parks, transit hubs, and quality of life hotspots. With Rockefeller University, we installed the cameras on the new section of the East River Esplanade and with Council Member Keith Powers we put cameras in the Sutton Area Parks, and at the request of the 19th Precinct at the 86th Street Subway Stations.

Our Parks are only as nice as we keep them, and we are lucky to have strong conservancies led by East Siders who are dedicated to their local parks. I want to thank everybody who helps run or volunteer with the conservancies and partnerships at our local parks, including:

  • Carl Schurz Park Conservancy
  • Friends of St. Catherine’s Park
  • Friends of the East River Esplanade
  • Sutton Place Parks Conservancy
  • Samuel Seabury Park Conservancy
  • Muslim Volunteers for New York at Ruppert Park
  • East 79th Street Neighborhood Association at John Jay Park
  • Green Park Gardeners at Andrew Haswell Green Dog Run
  • And Upper Green Side

I am also excited to be forming a new partnership with the NY Roller Hockey League at Stanley Isaacs Park. If anybody wants to start a conservancy for 24 Sycamores Park, I think we will have all of our parks cared for.

OVERDEVELOPMENT 

New York City can and must continue to do more to fight overdevelopment and the march of Superscrapers into residential neighborhoods.  In November of 2017 our long-fought battle to rezone the Sutton area became law, thanks to relentless advocacy and our partnership with the East River Fifties Alliance, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Senator Liz Krueger.

Although we defeated the planned supertall that would have exceed 1,000 feet tall, last year, the Board of Standards and Appeals grandfathered a proposed 800-foot skyscraper under the old zoning, so I sued the City in the New York State Supreme Court alongside and representing ERFA where so far a judge has ordered the developer who has agreed, to build the building in compliance with the new zoning law we passed as the case is being decided.

Thank you to East River Fifties Alliance, led by Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Lisa Mercurio, Jessica Osborne, local heroes like Herndon Werth, Charles Fernandez, and more than 400 individual members.

Join the fight at ERFA.nyc/donate. You can do it now, on your mobile phones. Seriously.

Throughout Manhattan, we’re seeing buildings that had previously been in context with one another shooting up in height thanks to a series of zoning loopholes.

Perhaps the most common loophole is voids, which are essentially empty floors that don’t get counted against a building’s allowable height, giving buyers of expensive apartments at the top of the building views over the rest of us. I funded Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts to research how to close these loopholes, and after our advocacy, at our Mayoral Town Hall last January, the Mayor promised to reform these loopholes. That promise has not yet been fully completed, but we are making progress on ensuring our city’s zoning leads to predictable development.

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING 

Every year since I took office, we have brought Participatory Budgeting to the district, where residents 11 years old and over voted on how to spend discretionary capital dollars from my office. Last year, P.S. 290 won $200,000 for re-construction of vital infrastructure, the New York Public Library in our District won $200,000 technology and computer upgrades and 10 schools won laptops for $350,000.

All together since I have been in office, we’ve invested $3.1 million in Green Roofs and $3.8 million in computers, smart boards and science labs. 

Since the passage of Ballot Question 2 in November, Participatory Budgeting is expanding beyond my council district to citywide.

HEALTH & THE ENVIRONMENT

As a Council Member every once in a while, we get to do work that will literally save lives.

Anyone here read our newsletter? I mean the whole thing, cover to cover? Well Kathleen Steed did, found a free cancer screening in our newsletter, detected it early, and beat cancer. Thank you to Josh Jamieson for drafting our newsletter, our community partners for providing so many free programs for our newsletter, and to Kathleen Steed for giving more credit than was due and most importantly for fighting cancer and winning!

Following a cluster of Legionnaires’ diseases on the East Side, I changed city policy so that we clean all towers that test positive for the legionella bacteria rather than waiting until it develops into legionnaires’ disease. When WNYC found that many towers were out of compliance with the law, we authored legislation to improve inspections reporting so we can prevent any more deaths from legionnaires’ disease.

While Queen Elizabeth the II banned the single-use water bottles across England's royal estates in an effort to be more environmentally friendly, President Trump has rolled back regulations meant to curb America's dependency on single-use plastic water bottles. That is why I introduced legislation to ban the sale of single use plastic water bottles in City owned parks and open spaces. 

We are still working with P.S. 290, the Sierra Club, and local activists to ban the use of toxic pesticides in City Parks and are working on a stronger version of the legislation.

I continue to support plastic bag diversion and am disappointed that it is still blocked in Albany. In the meantime, you can get your reusable bag from us at the end of the event, and make sure to bring it with you when you shop for groceries.

MARINE TRANSFER STATION

As we discuss the environment and health, I have to make sure I address the Marine Transfer Station. During the last five years we have stood our ground against the Mayor and his MTS and we have won several concessions that will help the community. I remain opposed to the construction of this facility and more importantly the impact it will have on our small residential streets.  

For that reason, we fought the administration by exposing high costs, ensuring zoned trash pickup will not be tied to tipping at our MTS, exposed dangers of sanitation trucks winning funding for guardrails on every truck, introduced legislation mandating and won a commitment to zero waste to make Marine Transfer-to-landfill obsolete by 2030.

A new ramp will be constructed one block north in partnership with P2P and the local community to protect children from all over the city who play at Asphalt Green.

Finally, I co-sponsored and passed a Waste Equity Law that will protect our neighborhood from receiving more than 10% of the city's waste. The initial version of the bill exempted districts with Marine Transfer Stations from the cap. I was able to negotiate this exemption out of the bill in exchange for my support and am now confident it will protect the Upper East Side from getting more trucks than are planned.

Most recently as reported by Our Town, following a letter I sent to the Department of Sanitation we learned that the neighborhood is going from having over 200 trucks a day at the sanitation garage on 74th street to an average of 40 to 50 trucks per day. Our neighborhood saw such a dramatic reduction because our neighborhood is producing 25% less trash by using fewer single-use plastic water bottles, reusable bags, and composting. Please help reduce the number of trucks coming to our neighborhood by signing up for textile and electronics recycling or composting for your building.

TRANSPORTATION

On the transportation front, as many of you know we have a super convenient NYC Ferry stop on Roosevelt Island that opened in 2017. In 2018 we took that a step further and cut the ribbon on an NYC Ferry for right here on the Upper East Side on 90th street. The NYC Ferry shuttles anywhere from 150,000 to 200,000 New Yorkers and tourists around our City every week. The new routes are an asset to our City, and I am proud to have advocated for the service.

We have also expanded Select Bus Service, winning it first for 86th Street and then replicating that successful model at 79th Street. We are fighting for 96th Street next, to speed up that crosstown commute.

With ferry service and Select Bus Service combined with the 2nd Avenue Subway, CitiBike and the miles of bike lanes in the district, we have made it a lot easier to get around a neighborhood that used to be known as a transportation desert.

Everybody, whether a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver, should feel safe on our streets. With our Bike Safety program, we have ensured that improved the bike lane on Second Avenue to close the gap, provided a pedestrian and bike crossing at 59th Street and the Queensboro Bridge, added bike lanes, and leading pedestrian intervals and safety neckdowns to make it easier to cross the street. The NYPD has also increased enforcement, writing 1,749 summonses issued to bicycles summonses in 2018 combined with 81 ebike seizures.

And if you see or experience a dangerous intersection where you’ve had a close call, please report it to my office so we can make our streets safer for you and everyone else. BenKallos.com/livable-streets

CLEANING UP THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Since transportation issues have improved in our neighborhood, we have been able to continue to focus on improving quality of life.  One of the most obvious ways we have done that is by making our streets cleaner. Thanks to the 322 large covered trash cans on every corner of the district purchased with funding from my office and twice a day pick up by the Department of Sanitation at our busy streets and intersections. 

Just months ago, I allocated $85,000 so that Wildcat Services sends three-person crews four-days a week focused on sweeping of sidewalks and bike islands, cleaning gutters and drains of blockages, and removing litter from tree pits. This is a pilot program that if successful and so far, so good will greatly improve the appearance of our neighborhoods. 

Thank you to Andrew Fine who has made it a point at every Brainstorm with Ben and on social media to point out where we need to clean up. Thank you also to Susan Gottridge, both from the East 86th Street Neighborhood Association, as well as Valerie Mason of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association for being supportive of those efforts.

Because the East 86th Street train station sees more than 20 million visitors a year. Ultimately my goal is to have a Business Improvement district for the East 86 Street business corridor. It is the only way we will get it to the shape that it deserves to be. A BID here will help with daily street sweeping and support for our local businesses. You can help clean up East 86th Street by getting your favorite business and their landlord to share their support at BenKallos.com/BID/Support

HOMELESSNESS AND HUNGER

New York City continues to struggle with the crisis of homelessness. As of the New Year, 22,463 children woke up in a shelter with 16,948 parents, 5,400 adults in families, and 11,831 single men, 4,471 single women and an estimated 3,892 people on our streets. To take on this issue in 2016 I launched the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (“ETHOS”) with Senator Liz Krueger and Borough President Gale Brewer, convening local churches, synagogues, and non-profits with city agencies. We are devoted to building supportive housing in the district and helping the homeless.

We’ve been proud to break ground on East 91st Street for 17 two-bedroom supportive homes for Women-in-Need lead by former Speaker Christine Quinn, alongside Social Services Commissioner Banks, Congress Member Maloney, Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, Assembly Member Seawright, Community Board 8, Rector Jennifer Reddall of Church of the Epiphany and students leaders from P.S. 527 the East Side School for Social Action and East Side Middle School.

We hope to get every unsheltered person living on the street the help they need. If you see one of our City’s most vulnerable on the street, please call 311 or use the NYC 311 App to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” They will ask where you saw the person, what they looked like, and offer to report back to you on whether the person accepts our city’s offer of shelter, three meals a day, health care, rehabilitation, and job training.

Please consider financially supporting or volunteering with our ETHOS partners in their direct service to help those who are less fortunate.

One of the most important ways of preventing homelessness and hunger is to make sure New Yorkers are actually getting the benefits they qualify for. That’s why I authored “Automatic Benefits” legislation that would use information the government already has to provide the benefits residents need automatically. The City agreed to perform a study examining the feasibility of this proposal and the best ways to get benefits directly to those in need. We have been working with the administration on the study and are excited for it to come out this year.

In a city where one-in-four homes in Brooklyn does not have broadband, rising to one-in-three in the Bronx I am proud to have advocated for and won alongside Public Advocate and now Attorney General Tish James for Internet Assist from Spectrum and Altice, which provides 30 Mbps high-speed broadband for only $14.99 per month to households with students receiving free or reduced school lunch or seniors on supplemental social security income. This has the power to bridge the digital divide by bring affordable high-speed Internet to more than 1.2 million low-income New Yorkers.

In addition to universal broadband, finding and making tens of thousands of units of affordable housing available, and increasing access to food, we must also help every New Yorker retire. As an attorney who practiced ERISA, I am proud to lend my expertise to legislation authored by Public Advocate Tish James to provide two million New York City residents without any retirement savings with an auto-enrollment payroll deduction “Retirement Security for All” Roth IRA. Despite the Trump administration’s seeking to stop us, May Bill de Blasio announced support for this vital legislation in his State of the City.

CONCLUSION

New York City should be a place where you can raise a family with universal childcare, 3K, Pre-K, the best schools in the world serving three square meals a day, universal after school and youth jobs, free higher education, with affordable housing to live here, easy commutes, beautiful parks, and an unparalleled quality of life.

All a part of a city that works seamlessly and proactively for you.

We have spent the past 5 years, 12 days, 14 hours, ___ minutes, and 46 seconds working tireless to accomplish these goals.

I have 2 years, 11 months, 17 days, 9 hours, __ minutes, and 10 second left as your Council Member. 

Let’s use that time wisely on worthy goals that we can accomplish now to make our city and the world around us a better place. Please consider joining our effort at BenKallos.com/volunteer

Thank you for your partnership and joining us today.

Please join us in the lobby for Bagels with Ben, have a cup of hot coffee, complete our survey so we know how we can improve this program, and join me for a photo.

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2020 State of the District

2020 State of the District admin Sun, 01/26/2020 - 4:28pm

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Official Remarks as Prepared

Good afternoon!

I am Council Member Ben Kallos.

I have had the honor of representing over 168,000 New Yorkers on the Upper East Side, Midtown East, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island in the City Council for 6 years, 25 days, 13 hours, __ minutes, and 18 seconds.

If this is your first time joining us, welcome! If not, welcome back. I know you’re here for Bagels with Ben, and that’s fine with me.

You don’t have to wait until our state of the district to see me. All year, you can join me and neighbors for a discussion on the First Friday of each month, work with staff at Policy Night, talk to an attorney for free, and support local agriculture at our fresh food box. I’ll even make house calls for Ben in Your Building at your co-op, condo, or tenants association meeting.

We are here to help. We are here for everyone from seniors to families, with services like housing, finances, and nutrition, even assistance finding a job.

We are also here to support the community and we’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. Today we’ll be highlighting what we’ve been able to do together as we focus on what we can accomplish in the remaining 1 year, 11 months, 5 days, 10 hours, __ minutes, and 36 seconds.

  1. Winning new school seats and investing big in education
  2. Getting big money out of politics and winning ethics reforms for good government
  3. Fighting overdevelopement and winning rezonings for affordable housing
  4. Helping the homeless
  5. Building new parks
  6. Protecting public health and safety
  7. Improving commutes, and
  8. Cleaning up the neighborhood.

Education

When I first began fighting to provide more Pre-Kindergarten seats for our district, I was a newlywed. Now my daughter is two.

In 2014 we only had 154 seats for over one thousand four-year-olds. In September, we finally closed that gap, when we cut the ribbon on our third new Pre-K Center, this one on 76th Street with 180 seats. After securing 900 new seats for a total of 1,122 as of this school year, we finally have Universal Pre-Kindergarten on the Upper East Side.

In 2013, our research showed that federal funding available for pre-kindergarten would not only cover four-year-olds but also three-year-olds. Just as we fought for the Mayor to keep his promise on Universal Pre-Kindergarten, we must fight for Universal 3K on the Upper East Side. Hopefully in time for my daughter, otherwise I’m out $30,000. You can join the fight to make this happen by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/3K.

Beyond pre-kindergarten, I’ve never believed that the Upper East Side had enough school seats. Despite all the new residential construction, when I was elected the city had no plans to build additional school seats. So as the New York Times reported, I authored and passed a law requiring the Department of Education to show how they calculated seat need and prove it. Last year we got funding for 640 school seats, and this year, thanks to my law, the Department of Education added funding for another 184 school seats for a total of 824.

I ran for office because I wanted to do a lot of things differently than other elected officials. We were one of the first council districts to offer Participatory Budgeting, letting any resident 11 or older vote online or in person on how to spend one million dollars from my office in the community.

Over the years we have begun to see projects from Participatory Budgeting become reality.

  • In October, we cut the ribbon on a new $600,000 dollar Hydroponics Science Lab at P.S 183. Thank you to delegate Michael Ekstract and to the 1,514 residents who voted for the lab in 2017.
  • In June, we cut the ribbon on a new $600,000 dollar playground for P.S. 77/198 thanks to 1,134 votes in 2017. We also celebrated the completion of the school’s $8.2 million dollar exterior renovation. It looks like a Hilton.

My district is lucky to have one of the best high schools in New York City, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, which has a “dance studio” instead of a real gym. That hasn’t stopped their women’s volleyball team from becoming city-wide champions. When I hosted a town hall with Mayor de Blasio in 2018, Amanda Calviero, who was then a senior at the school, asked the Mayor for a gym. As you may have read in Our Town, we hosted a petition for the new gym, and it received over 5,000 signatures. Soon after, I was proud to join School Construction Authority President Lorriane Grillo to announce a new gym for these champion athletes. We will break ground this spring above the Pre-K center just down the block.

The beginning of every school year has been a nightmare for parents waiting hours for buses that never show up or worse yet lost somewhere in the city with their children. That’s why I introduced legislation in response to a resident’s complaint at First Friday to put GPS on every school bus. When dozens of children, many with special needs, were stuck on buses for hours due to a freak winter storm in December 2018, we were able to pass this long sought-after law.

I wish that were the end of the story. The Department of Education did not did not get their assignment done on time for the beginning of the school year, and we are now working with parents like Beth Pilchick to make sure it gets done. The city has turned to Via with whom we are working closely to get the GPS online complete with an app for parents to keep track of their vehicle and their children by the start of the next school year.

Once we know where the school buses actually are, it is vital that we keep our kids safe as they get on and off. We’ve all seen cars speed past school buses as children get off and on, putting them at risk. We’ve even seen one man drive up on the sidewalk. After Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law allowing municipalities to implement school bus stop-arm cameras I authored legislation to do just that. We’ve already received a hearing and you can help pass this legislation by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/StopArm

Everyone knows that a good education doesn’t end in the classroom. My favorite part of school was after-school. I was never great at sports and always got picked last in gym class, so the after school program where I actually got to play basketball outside of class and wasn’t picked last was a highlight for me. But don’t feel too bad. Now that I’m a Council Member, I always win at Basketball with Ben especially when I play against interns and my staff.

In New York there are more than half a million children in K-12 schools who are left alone and unsupervised during after-school hours. We know from research that after-school programming keeps young people positively engaged during the hours of 2 to 6pm when they are most vulnerable to get in trouble with the criminal justice system. With a recent spike in young adults robbing younger students in the area, we need Universal After School more than ever.

We won Breakfast After the Bell and Universal School Lunch. If we can win Universal After School, we can complement that with feeding every kid supper, which is already federally funded.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if we can address every child’s physiological needs with universal breakfast, lunch, snack, and supper, their safety needs with Child Health Plus, and finally, if we can offer love, belonging, and esteem through universal after school, we can provide a positive future for an entire generation of children.

Just weeks ago the City Council heard Universal After School legislation I authored that would mandate an after school slot for any of the 1.1 million public school students who need them.

Learning continues after school and throughout our lives. That’s why I love books and I love our New York public libraries. Last month, we even cut the ribbon on $2.5 million dollars in renovations funded by my office, Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor de Balsio, when we reopened the 67th Street Library where I got my first library card as a kid. We’ve already broken ground on a new library for Roosevelt Island and you are all invited to the ribbon-cutting.

Good Government

As we reap the rewards of investing in our education, we must ensure the rest of our government is working for everyone, not just those with wealth and power.

When I was elected I thought I should work for you not our politicians or outside interests, so I refused outside income and tens of thousands of dollars in personal income from political leaders called “lulus.” Then I wrote the laws that made lulus illegal and even banned outside income to make the City Council a full-time job. The New York Times called on Albany to follow the reforms I authored. It should come as no surprise that they took the money without the ethics reforms.

Making outside income and lulus illegal helped, but politicians were still spending their time wining and dining millionaire and billionaire real estate developers to give them $5,000 contributions. In 2013, half the money Mayoral candidates raised were in these big contributions that are the maximum allowed under law. Anyone here ever give anyone $5,000 without expecting anything return? I once offered someone a valuable gift and I expected her to spend the rest of her life with me. She said yes, and our daughter is now 2.

I work for you. So I wasn’t chasing money from real estate developers, but everyone else was. While politicians say one thing, city land use policy continues to force out every day New Yorkers to make room for the wealthy to park their money in superscrapers.

That’s why I advocated for full public matching campaign finance reform that would make $175 just as valuable as a new lower contribution limit of $1,500 for borough-wide office by matching each small dollar with 8 public dollars to become $1,575. When the stronger program I supported was put on the ballot in 2018, 1.1 million (or 80% of the) voters agreed. I then authored two new laws to apply the new system to the Public Advocate’s race and to guarantee a full public match. The results are already in: we’ve flipped campaign finance on its head so that candidates are no longer being financed by a majority of big dollars, but instead by small dollars. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is the first candidate to win citywide office without real estate money.

In 2019, the New York Times joined me in calling on Albany to implement the system I authored to “foster competition and challenge entrenched party machines.” Once again, Albany failed.

After our success at the ballot in 2018, the Council convened a 2019 Charter Revision Commission in which I participated. Although they did not accept all 72 of the proposals I came up with after reading the whole Charter, they did put five before the voters. After I ran around the borough of Manhattan educating voters, all five questions passed, including ranked-choice voting. The ones I'm most excited about are around the topic of ethics reform.

Although I prefer Senator Warren’s lifetime ban on lobbying for elected officials, voters chose to double the existing one year ban to two years. We won protections for the borough presidents and public advocate from having their budgets cut by a vengeful council or mayor. We also gave residents a more meaningful role in the land use process by adding Community Board engagement at the beginning of the process.

Overdevelopment

When I was elected, billionaires’ row was marching from the commercial business district in midtown Manhattan into residential districts on the Upper East Side. Then we did something that hadn’t been done before, winning the largest, first-of-its-kind grassroots rezoning, which stopped the march of supertalls in the Sutton area. Although the Board of Standards and Appeals overturned the community’s victory and grandfathered one building, we successfully won protections for our neighborhood. I sued the city alongside the community over that grandfather clause, and despite a recent setback at the trial court, we intend to file a notice of appeal.

When developers began creating loopholes like gerrymandered zoning lots and empty spaces in buildings, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Senator Liz Krueger joined Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and me in the fight at 180 East 88th Street.

When a developer proposed a 150 ft empty space at East 62nd Street and 176 feet at West 66th, we built a brough-wide coalition including Landmark West to close the loopholes. There is a problem when developers would rather build empty spaces in buildings to give billionaires a better view than build affordable housing.

I visited nearly every community board in Manhattan to pass resolutions to protect us from mechanical voids of unlimited height in residential districts, and I led the City Council in passing this change.

No sooner than we closed the loophole did developers take the walls off the voids to make buildings on stilts. Our coalition continues to move forward alongside Borough President Gale Brewer on two additional citywide zoning changes to limit stilts and gerrymandered lots. I’ve also authored legislation co-sponsored by the Borough President that's already received a hearing that would give community boards and elected officials public notifications when developers merge zoning lots to build taller.

When the city proposed building a luxury skyscraper on a public housing playground, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer and I supported the community in their years’ long fight. Following the Borough President’s lawsuit, residents won, with the city agreeing to withdraw and start over. We've used funds from our office to provide financial support to attorneys at Take Roots Justice for a new lawsuit to secure heat and hot water for our tenants in public housing, and we've been winning in court.

Affordable Housing

During my time as chair of a Land Use sub-committee we were able to ensure every tax dollar allocated for housing was used to build the most affordable housing possible for the lowest-income New Yorkers. In just over a year we were able preserve or create nearly six-thousand units of affordable housing throughout New York City.

For the people who think that they can build their way out of the housing crisis with market rate condos, the New York Times and The Atlantic recently shared that of all the condos built since 1995, half of them are sitting there empty. For those who have an oversimplified understanding of economics or who believe we just need to have supply exceed demand, it’s time to face the reality that developers would rather leave their condos empty than make anything affordable for everyday New Yorkers.

I support Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing. But those units are only offered through a lottery involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of people for each one. Being able to afford to live in our great city shouldn't just be a matter of winning the lottery.

Worse yet, I learned from a hero and whistleblower, Stephen Werner at HPD, that more than 200,000 units of affordable housing might be getting billions in city subsidies while charging market rates. Working with him, Pro Publica, and his union the Organization of Staff Analysts, we authored Local Law 64 to force landlords to register every city-subsidized affordable unit and to let middle-class and low-income New Yorkers apply for hundreds of thousands of units of existing affordable housing. That system should go online in June.

Homelessness

A symptom of the affordable housing crisis is the homeless crisis as families are literally forced on to our streets. We are finally stemming the tide on homelessness with less 60,000 people in our shelters, 10% down from our high-water mark. It’s important to see the face of homelessness in our city. As of Friday, 21,399 children woke up in a shelter with 16,035 parents, 12,455 single men and 4,728 single women.

In 2016, I launched the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (“ETHOS”) with Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger, and the Department of Social Services, convening local churches, synagogues and non-profits with city agencies. Together, we are devoted to building supportive housing in the district and helping the homeless. By 2017, we broke ground on a supportive housing facility for Women-in-Need on East 91st Street. In August, we officially cut the ribbon to welcome 17 families to supportive housing plus a Sunshine Early Learning Center for children living in the building and surrounding community. This supportive housing is across the street from where I live and the park where I play with my daughter, and I couldn’t be happier.

It is our hope that every unsheltered person living on the street gets the help they need. If you see one of our City’s most vulnerable on the street, please do not give them money and pay them to stay on the street. Instead please call 311 or use the NYC 311 App to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” And if you can, please consider financially supporting or volunteering with our ETHOS partners in their direct service to help those who are less fortunate.

Parks and Open Spaces

Living in tiny apartments in the densest neighborhood in America, we need our parks.

When I got elected, waterfront parks were at risk of falling into the River, and then they did.

I have worked together with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney as co-chairs of the East River Esplanade Taskforce. This year alone, we:

  • Broke ground on a $3.3 million dollar renovation of the Carl Schurz Park Playground, funded by Council District 5 and Borough President Brewer.
  • Opened a quarter of an acre in Sutton Parks, connecting two parks with the help of the Conservancy.
  • Worked with constituent and parent Greg Davis, whose two sons play basketball at John Jay Park, to get the Parks Department to replace the backboards and paint new courts with $7,500 dollars in funding from my office.
  • Cut the ribbon and made a splash on a $1 million dollar investment for the pool at John Jay Park, where we will also break ground this spring on the long-sought Adult Space
  • Cut the ribbon on $15 Million dollars in renovations by Rockefeller University on a section of the East River Esplanade from 62nd to 68th
  • Secured an additional $75 million in Mayoral Funding for the ongoing reconstruction of the East River Esplanade.
  • Last but not least, we broke ground on the $100 million East Midtown Greenway, which will run between East 53rd and 61st Street.

Our grand total so far is a whopping $275 million, and in my remaining two years I want to double that investment.

We are also improving access to existing parks. Working with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Dan Quart, we were able to negotiate with the Parks Department and Dr. Tony Scolnick to open access to indoor tennis at Queensboro Oval year round to the community.

Now, the community can play tennis for free with a Parks tennis permit starting in April through Labor Day, at total cost for the full season of $10 for youth, $20 for seniors and $100 for everyone else. Throughout the winter months, take advantage of $10 drop-ins for early mornings, afternoons and late evenings as well as $10 clinics for residents and seniors. We even offer 30 scholarships for children, and free access for Yorkville Athletics and Hunter College.

Having parks and access to open spaces is incredibly important to our health and the health of our community.

Public Health and Safety

More than half of New York City’s adults are overweight or obese and 1 in 5 kindergarten students enters school already obese. The truth is that an 8-year-old would need to walk the distance between City Hall and Time Square to “walk off” the calories from a 12 oz. soda, and kids their age aren’t getting that much exercise in school.

The Healthy Happy Meals law I authored with the American Heart Association, backed by peer reviewed research, and gained the crucial support of Speaker Johnson to pass last year. McDonald’s even testified that they implemented the law on their kids’ menus back in 2013, leading to healthy drinks being served with more than half of Happy Meals. Starting in April my law requires every restaurant in New York City to only offer water, low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice as part of any children’s meal.

Following a Legionnaires’ outbreak, I co-sponsored a law mandating inspections of cooling towers. When a Legionnaires’ cluster appeared on the Upper East Side in 2017, I changed City policy so that we clean all towers that test positive for the legionella bacteria to avoid their advancement into Legionnaires’. In 2018, WNYC found that more than 20 percent of towers were out of compliance with the law I co-sponsored, so in 2019 I authored and passed legislation to remind cooling tower owners to inspect and to require them to report to the city when inspections are complete so we can make sure they are getting done, keeping vulnerable residents safe.

Perhaps the biggest threat to our city and the planet is climate change. That’s why, last year, I introduced a resolution declaring a climate emergency with Environmental Protection Committee Chair Costa Constantinides authored by Extinction Rebellion. Within days of the hearing we became the biggest city on the planet to pass this declaration, making international news. A week later Senator Sanders introduced the resolution in Congress.

If it wasn’t clear by now, when I say you can work with our office to author laws, I mean it. I am also lucky to have amazing constituents who I learn from every day.

I even introduced one bill because of what I learned in Kindergarten. Not mine, but at P.S. 290 where the five-year-olds taught me the chant: “Ban Toxic Pesticides, Use Only Nature’s Pesticides.” We’ve been working on this legislation since 2015 to ban spraying of carcinogens like glyphosate, the key ingredient in Round Up, in city parks where children play and then if they are like my daughter put their hands in their mouths. I hope you will join us this Wednesday, January 29th at 10 a.m. at City Hall to testify in favor of this important legislation.

Quality of Life

As we protect our children from the carcinogens in the ground, we must also protect everyone from harm from above.

As of today there are 9,384 scaffolding structures covering 344 miles of sidewalk in New York City to protect us from falling bricks that recently claimed one life, as the city literally crumbles around us.

I’ve authored legislation to force landlords to make repairs once sidewalk sheds go up or have the city step in and do it. Following the collapse of sidewalk sheds throughout the city I have also proposed requiring the city to inspect sheds as they go up and every six months thereafter. The city has recently announced that it will be inspecting every sidewalk shed and step in to do the work on the most dangerous buildings and make bad landlords pay. If you own a car, you have to maintain it. The same thing goes for owning a building.

While sidewalk sheds might be my pet peeve, the top complaint in New York City is noise, particularly from after hours construction. That’s why in 2017 I authored the law with support of Environmental Chair Constantinides to reduce noise on after hours construction from 85-decibels to 75-decibels, a reduction of about half. The change went into effect this New Year, so hopefully you will hear, or not hear, the difference. We also changed the law so violations could be issued without having to measure noise from inside someone’s home.

Mike Edison, a constituent who has worked with my office, took the fight to get a quieter City into his own hands by winning a lawsuit against construction companies in small claims court, forcing loud construction sites to pay up and turn down the noise.

Transportation

When I got elected it was a lot harder to get around. And good luck even getting on the 4/5/6 or F during rush hour.

Since then we’ve opened the Second Avenue Subway, two new ferry stops serving the district, brought Select Bus Service to two crosstown routes, and even launched bike share.

With bike ridership more than doubling, we’ve worked with the Department of Transportation, the NYPD’s 17th and 19th Precincts and Council Member Keith Powers, on a Bike Safety program that’s been making our streets safer.

We need to keep pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists safe from each other by giving each their own space on the road:

For pedestrians we’ve added leading pedestrian intervals along York Avenue and “safety neckdowns”

For Bikes:

  • We’ve more than doubled bike lanes complete with more crosstown lanes;
  • Last year we made it safer to cross the mouth of the Queensboro Bridge.

We’ve offered bike safety classes in schools, bike shops, and our office where attendees get a free month on a CitiBike membership. We’ve held trainings in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and given attendees free safety equipment.

Bike enforcement by our police precincts is higher than anywhere else in the city, up from a hundred when I got elected to 2,472 summonses issued to bicycles.

Cleaning Up the Neighborhood

As we near the end of this year’s state of the district, it is funny to think that what I am best known for is putting a new covered trash can on every corner. We’ve purchased 560 of them, but who’s counting? With every corner covered, we are now working with Wildcat to help people get back on their feet while cleaning up the neighborhood four-days a week, sweeping sidewalks and bike islands, cleaning gutters and drains of blockages, and removing bags caught in branches and litter from tree pits. We’ve even been power washing our sidewalks alongside Congress Member Maloney.

Conclusion

As we conclude, please join us for our volunteer fair, and of course enjoy “coffee with kallos” and “bagels with ben.” Please complete the evaluation form in your reusable bag to let us know how we can do better, and consider joining me in the selfie line.

The state of our district is strong, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what we’ve been able to accomplish together. We’ve already done so much, and yet, we have so much more left to do.

I’ve been your Council Member for 6 years, 25 days, 13 hours, __ minutes, and 18 seconds. What can we accomplish together in the remaining 1 year, 11 months, 5 days, 10 hours, __ minutes, and 36 seconds?

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