New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Ben Kallos

Crain's New York Make Retirement Savings Plans Accessible to All New Yorkers by Ben Kallos, I. Daneek Miller, Beth Finkle

Make Retirement Savings Plans Accessible to All New Yorkers

At 73 years old, Kitty Ruderman enjoys being retired. She volunteers with a number of nonprofits, including AARP, advocating on behalf of folks like herself. She’s grateful to have no major health issues draining her energy or her bank account. But with her rent higher than her Social Security income, she’s worried. If her cost of living doesn’t go up – if she doesn’t get sick, if her rent doesn’t increase, if she has no new expenses – she estimates that she can maintain her current lifestyle for another 10 years. After that, she doesn’t know.

Middle- and low-income New Yorkers increasingly struggle to pay the bills and even seniors like Kitty, who worked for decades saving for retirement, are among those hit hardest by the City’s affordability crisis.

The most recent data show that more than one third of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. Most of these folks are disproportionately people of color.  White 50-plus New Yorkers’ retirement incomes are almost double that of black, Asian and Latino New Yorkers, and the majority of 50-plus New Yorkers of color are likely to retire with incomes near the poverty threshold.

The Guardian The unseen carcinogenic danger lurking in New York City's public parks by Ben Kallos

The unseen carcinogenic danger lurking in New York City's public parks

Parks are New Yorkers’ oasis. They’re where we escape the crowds, the din of traffic, and our often tiny apartments; where we play with our children, walk our pets, and relax in the sun. Parks should be a place where New Yorkers can relax and play without being exposed to dangerous chemicals. So why is a herbicide believed to cause cancer being sprayed in our parks?

The New York City parks department is a prolific user of Roundup, a popular weedkiller sold by Monsanto. Yet research by the World Health Organization has linked the active chemical in Roundup, glyphosate, to cancer – a finding buttressed by several major civil suits recently brought against Monsanto.

You may not hear about the dangers of Roundup from the Trump administration or the various agencies that are supposed to protect the American public from dangerous toxins. Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that there is no risk to public health from glyphosate if it is used in accordance with label instructions. The EPA even went a step further, adding that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

The problem with this assertion by the EPA – now helmed by a former coal industry lobbyist – is that the evidence Roundup may be unsafe is rapidly mounting. Three recent lawsuits brought against Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, have resulted in the company paying nearly $3bn to people who have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of using Roundup.

The EPA, ostensibly tasked with “reducing environmental risks based on the best available scientific information”, is at odds with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization. The IARC identified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” in 2015, leading to the chemical being banned in some cities in the United States and many countries around the world.

New York City has 1,700 parks spanning 30,000 acres, most of which are dedicated for public use and the enjoyment of residents, tourists and most importantly children. There are currently no restrictions on the use of glyphosate, and according to the city government’s own data, the Department of Parks & Recreation continues to generously deploy Roundup. In 2017, city workers sprayed over 500 gallons of glyphosate, including in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, which receives 8 million visitors a year. And we don’t even know how much glyphosate is used in parks like Central Park, which are managed by private conservancies that haven’t shared the data.


New York Daily News Why not charge cars to enter all New York City streets? A bigger congestion pricing idea by Ben Kallos

Why not charge cars to enter all New York City streets? A bigger congestion pricing idea

The discussion around congestion pricing has evolved from earlier goals of transforming our streets and fighting climate change to today’s single-minded focus on raising money for a failing transit system. There is an understandable urge among some transit advocates to focus only on the plan at hand as a practical way to stop the bleeding at the MTA. Certainly the Manhattan-centric plan is an improvement to the status quo, but it hasn’t changed much in more than a decade, and with minor variations it has been defeated repeatedly.

Now may be the time to try something different. With a fresh look at the evidence we can devise a plan that would more dramatically reduce congestion. Such a plan would:

Toll all entry points to New York City for all vehicles. All 4.4 million drivers — not just 717,000 — would pay a price to enter and drive around on New York City streets, likely getting hundreds of thousands if not over a million vehicles off the city’s crowded streets.

New development must fund public infrastructure. Projects that would bring hundreds or thousands of new residents to a neighborhood should be required to set aside funds at the outset so the transit system can add capacity in time for the project’s completion.

Expand and improve existing transit infrastructure throughout New York City as well as counties on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley to make it easier for commuters to choose public transportation.

High-speed automated tolling. Institute a universal system using now-ubiquitous license plate readers for tolls at all entry points to New York City.

Dynamic pricing could take advantage of electronic tolling to charge vehicles more during rush hours in the mornings and afternoons, while reducing or eliminating charges in the evening to allow residents to come home and to encourage deliveries overnight.

Real accountability is necessary to end the tug-of-war and blame games between state and city officials. New York City Speaker Corey Johnson’s idea for municipal control is a welcome answer here.

A lock box would be created by securing capital against new revenue, as suggested by former Lieutenant Gov. Dick Ravitch. We should borrow to build a transit infrastructure today that is ready for tomorrow when millions of commuters would transition from vehicles to a new and improved public transit system.

The time is now for New York to finally implement congestion pricing. We should take an honest look at our traffic and address the whole problem by expanding the congestion zone to all of New York City. The revenues from such a plan could build a true 21st-century public transit system, so that everyone can actually have a decent commute to and from working in the big city.

City and State New campaign finance reform would return power to the people by Ben Kallos, Morris Pearl

New campaign finance reform would return power to the people

On Nov. 6, New York City voters will have the chance to limit the corrupting influence of large political contributions by voting “yes” on Ballot Question 1, a proposal from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission to lower donation limits and increase public matching funds.

New York is already one of the few cities that matches campaign contributions up to $175, a system that empowers normal citizens – who do not have thousands of dollars to spare – to financially support their preferred candidates. By doing so, it reins in the influence of big money in politics, and most candidates in New York City participate.

Our Town Let's not wait 10 years for traffic safety by Ben Kallos

Let's not wait 10 years for traffic safety

It is unacceptable to have to wait a decade for Upper East Side's transportation improvements to materialize.

Underground, it took 10 years for the Second Avenue subway construction to be completed. Now we can't wait another 10 years for a safer design of Second Avenue at street level.

Any pedestrian who has tried to cross under the Queensboro Bridge on Second Avenue knows it is not safe, and while the new subway runs in both directions, residents of the Upper East Side who travel above ground via bicycle have no safe route downtown Community Board 8's Transportation Committee. But we can work with the city to change this, by demanding Second Avenue safety improvements at next tomorrow's public session of. Second Avenue needs a road diet, and the Department of Transportation is proposing just that, with the addition of five proposed crosswalks, two new pedestrian islands at 59th Street, and the continuation of the parking-protected bike lane from 68th Street to 60th Street.

City Limits CityViews: NYC Ought to be Fighting for More Than Just 140 Speed Cameras by Ben Kallos

CityViews: NYC Ought to be Fighting for More Than Just 140 Speed Cameras

There are dangerous intersections in every neighborhood. The ones we dread crossing every day, the ones we take the long way to avoid, the ones where we ask loved ones to hold our hands while crossing.

These intersections are a perfect storm of outdated traffic design, millions of vehicles competing with pedestrians and cyclists to move around the city each day, drivers who flout the traffic laws, and the limits of asking 35,000 uniformed police and 3,000 traffic enforcement officers to police 6,000 miles of city roadways.

Residents frequently complain of dangerous drivers not receiving tickets, of police writing tickets for one moving violation but not others, or of an intersection that is made safe for only part of the day, during an officer’s shift.

City and State NYC public employees need paid parental leave by Ben Kallos, Antonio Reynoso

NYC public employees need paid parental leave

Four years ago, after being elected to the New York City Council, we both learned what it means to be a public official the only way you really can: on the job. Now we are learning on the job in a very different role, with our families, as fathers of new children. As we experience this once-in-a-lifetime moment alongside our respective partners, we are excited and, perhaps like all parents, more than a little nervous. Helping to settle our nerves is the fact that we’re able to stay home with our families as we navigate this new stage in life. We are both lucky: As elected officials, our leave is at our discretion. We have both decided to take the time to be with our families.

In the United States, new parents seeking time with their child face both a legal and cultural challenge. There is no national mandate for paid family leave. Even where it is offered, fathers remain a lot less likely than mothers to take full advantage. As elected officials and as fathers, we hope that taking leave will help empower other new fathers who are considering their leave options to take time as well.

Crain's New York New Yorkers could see the stars, if only lawmakers could see the light by Ben Kallos

New Yorkers could see the stars, if only lawmakers could see the light

How many kids grow up in the city without realizing what the night sky really looks like? But it’s not inevitable that this continue for generations to come. If only the city would tackle light pollution. The potential benefits of reducing light pollution are enormous, ranging from the pragmatic (saving energy) to the fantastic (inspiring the next Einstein).

Knight Foundation Blog Civic tech class will help communities create tools to improve government by Ben Kallos

Civic tech class will help communities create tools to improve government

Before I became a City Council member, I was a civic technologist and activist seeking to make government better through technology.  In one such action, I FOILed Albany voting records and posted them online for the public to see, prompting the legislature to follow suit. Because of this background, I am especially looking forward to helping other civic technologists create tools that will make government more transparent, efficient and engaging.

These tools have great potential to be tools that the next generation of citizens actually uses to engage with their local officials. The funding from Knight Foundation will allow me to assist teams in doing just that, with firsthand knowledge of how governments use technology.