2018 State of the District2018 State of the District Josh Jamieson Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:43pm
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We finally authorized the decade’s delayed a franchise for the Roosevelt Island Tram for the next fifty years through 2068.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.