New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Douglas Feiden

Our Town Safe space on Sutton Place by Douglas Feiden

Safe space on Sutton Place

Kallos tapped his discretionary funds to buy five security cameras for the northern blocks — each with a live 24/7 feed to the 17th Precinct — and Powers dipped into his Council funds to purchase two more for the culs-de-sac as far south as Beekman Place and 50th Street.

They don’t come cheap: Each camera will cost $35,000 for an overall tab of $245,000. It wasn’t immediately clear when they will be installed.

“Soon, the 17th Precinct will have eyes on the park — and it will be able to respond instantaneously and even proactively,” Kallos said in an Aug. 3 press conference at the river-facing dead end on East 54th Street.

Our Town Redeeming an Upper East Side eyesore by Douglas Feiden

Redeeming an Upper East Side eyesore

t was 1939, construction was wrapping up on the East River Drive, the waterfront was being reinvented and dozens of property holders were cutting deals as their riverside rights began to vanish.

Case in point: The Brearley School. It limited its claim for the loss of air and light and the surrender of riparian rights to a symbolic $1 when the city obtained an easement for its playground and pier.

It did not, however, walk away empty-handed: In return for getting out of the way of the highway, Brearley got the city to build a new elevated structure above the promenade deck for its use as a play space.

And for the past 79 years, the private all-girls school has been leasing the 3,720-square-foot, steel-and-concrete platform that rises above the East River Esplanade’s John Finley Walk between 82nd and 83rd Street.

Unfortunately, for the past half-century, the city-owned hulk — called “The Pier,” for the jetty it replaced, and “The Overhang,” because it juts out over the Esplanade — has become one of the most detested and unsightly visual objects on the Upper East Side.

“I have spent my entire life walking up and down the Esplanade, passing under this overhang — and watching it fall apart,” said 37-year-old City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area.

Our Town Mission: Spend a million dollars by Douglas Feiden

Mission: Spend a million dollars

“All too often, there has been a strong correlation between people who give political contributions and groups that receive, or lose, millions in taxpayer funds,” said East Side Council Member Ben Kallos.

Historically, he noted, it wasn’t uncommon for some elected officials to use public money to “reward friends and punish enemies.” Now, PB walls off $1 million per district from being any part of that vicious cycle: “It puts those dollars back into the hands of the voters,” he said.

There are other benefits of the citizen-driven, decision-making process, said Kallos, who has utilized it since taking office in 2014. Considering that elected officials don’t always keep their word to voters, he added, “This is better than most campaign promises!”

Indeed, PB provides “almost instant gratification in which people can vote on a project, see the money allocated and then see it built,” he said.

And Kallos summed up the bottom line, saying, “Now, the people get to decide how to spend $1 million — irrespective of elected officials and the political process.”

Our Town A kinder, gentler, cleaner dump by Douglas Feiden

A kinder, gentler, cleaner dump

A kinder, gentler, cleaner dump


PUBLISHED MAR 6, 2018 AT 4:28 PM (UPDATED MAR 6, 2018)

The garbage depot on the East River, one of the most reviled projects on the UES, may not be quite as dreadful as feared — but just-revealed sanitation truck routes will stress out plenty of neighbors



    Twilight falls on the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station on Sunday, March 4th. Loathed by locals since it was proposed nearly 15 years ago, the MTS will now process far less trash than originally projected -- and the number of garbage trucks rumbling across the East Side will also plummet. Photo: Douglas Feiden

“Simply put, less trash means fewer trucks.”

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia

The mountains of trash that will be hauled to the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station when it opens in 2019 have been dramatically reduced, new data from the city's Department of Sanitation shows.

Municipal garbage trucks will still thunder across the Upper East Side as they travel to and from the MTS — but the size of the planned fleet will be sharply scaled back, according to DOS projections.

In a January 25 letter sent to East Side elected officials, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia summed up the bottom line: “This is not the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station of years ago,” she wrote.

The missive, provided to Straus News by East Side City Council Member Ben Kallos, who has long battled to kill the project, is perhaps the only good news the MTS has generated since it was first proposed in 2004.

“Thanks to your work — and more importantly, the great recyclers in your community — the amount of refuse processed at the MTS will be lower than anticipated during the planning process,” Garcia wrote.

Flash back to 2003, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg initiated the planning for a facility that would process all residential waste from Community Boards 5, 6, 8 and 11 — an area bounded by 14th Street on the south and 135th Street on the north, Eighth Avenue to the west and the East River to the east.

Our Town The curse of Manhattan by Douglas Feiden

The curse of Manhattan

Now, a bill has been reintroduced in the City Council that would, for the first time, mandate the removal of a giant chunk of the scaffolds that front 7,750 buildings and envelop more than 275 miles of city sidewalk.

Sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, whose district on the Upper East Side is pockmarked by hundreds of sheds, the legislation would require a structure to be dismantled within six months of being erected — or in seven days if no work has been performed in that time.

Failure to complete necessary building repairs and demolish the nuisance structure after 180 days would call for the city to intervene, finish the job, take down the shed and bill the property owner for all costs, according to the language of the bill.

Built with planks, poles and a steel roof, the pop-up eyesores are designed to keep pedestrians safe as they pass beneath construction sites. But the structures typically stay put when a project is delayed for years, runs out of financing or encounters other stumbling blocks.

“Sidewalk sheds are like the once-welcomed house guest who never leaves,” Kallos said.

Our Town After three decades of false starts, a business improvement district finally advances in a 20-block area between First and Park Avenues in the East 80s by Douglas Feiden

After three decades of false starts, a business improvement district finally advances in a 20-block area between First and Park Avenues in the East 80s

Still uncertain is the organization’s name. One logical choice is the East 86th Street Business Improvement District.

Another option: “BID East Eighties,” or BEE, which is favored by City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area and has been spearheading the effort and winning over wavering property owners for the past 2.5 years.

“This will finally provide the funding the community has needed for generations to support our businesses and keep 86th Street clean and tidy and beautiful,” Kallos said.

“Even with millions of dollars in city investment in the area, folks still feel that 86th Street needs more attention, and that’s where the BID comes in,” he added. “This will go above and beyond what government could possibly do.”

The breakthrough came earlier this month when a tally found that the owners of at least 50.1 percent of the value of commercial assessed properties in the district were backing the BID, Our Town has learned.

That is the threshold required for the proposal to advance — the failure to reach it doomed the original 1988 initiative and at least one other abortive effort — and it means that property owners have agreed to pay the annual levy to fund services and make the BID viable.

The good news was unveiled on Tuesday, January 23rd at Maz Mezcal, the Mexican restaurant at 316 East 86th Street where owner Mary Silva, a steering company member, has hosted several meetings for BID organizers and business owners, participants said.

“We have achieved the support of the majority of commercial assessed value in the neighborhood,” Kallos confirmed in an interview. “It is a very big deal.”

Our Town ‘Something to sing about’ by Douglas Feiden

‘Something to sing about’

The street, bisecting the site of the long-demolished Jacob Ruppert and Co. Knickerbocker Brewery, has been closed to vehicular traffic for 42 years and serves as an open-air community space.

Officially named James Cagney Place, for the song-and-dance man who grew up on East 96th Street, it is the hill where a 5-year boy named Ben

Kallos once played in the puddles on a rainy day with other local kids.

Now, he’s the 36-year-old City Council member representing the area, and he’s never stopped coming to the block — a “staple of childhood on the Upper East Side,” he calls it — especially for sledding after a snow.

“This portion of East 91st Street has been a closed play street for longer than I have been alive,” Kallos added.

In recent years, that status appeared to be in doubt: A possible threat to the landscaped, red-brick pedestrian plaza-and-walkway suddenly loomed on the horizon — the city’s planned Marine Transfer Station.

Our Town Bid to lid high-rise heights by Douglas Feiden

Bid to lid high-rise heights

Over the past decade, a forest of slender, cloud-piercing towers has been shoehorned into modest-sized lots along West 57th Street and lower Fifth Avenue. Skyscrapers on broader footprints have shot up from the Hudson Yards to the World Trade Center.

While not on the same scale, even the Upper West Side — long resistant to bulky, boxy, outsized glass-sheathed structures — has been getting its fair share since 2007, when the 37-story Ariel East and 31-story Ariel West first dwarfed its neighbors in the Broadway corridor.

For years, the Upper East Side, with plenty of exceptions, was a low-rise redoubt. Not anymore. The dawn of the Second Avenue subway, and a long-anticipated, if embryonic, eastward flow of residents, has fueled a construction boom that is literally raising the roof on the neighborhood.

And it has already provoked a significant backlash: Community Board 8, which represents the old Silk Stocking District, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, who has campaigned to “Stop Super-Scrapers,” are backing a proposal to rein in the loftier heights sought by dozens of developers.

“No one wants to live in the shadow of a billionaire,” Kallos said in an interview. “When you have buildings that are 60- or 100-feet high, and then suddenly someone wants to build 500-feet high or taller, well, that is when folks take exception.”

Our Town To give or not to give? by Douglas Feiden

To give or not to give?

All of this is playing out on the Upper East Side, where social-service groups and community-based nonprofits, churches and synagogues, block associations and community boards, and civic, faith and elected leaders — not to mention a perplexed citizenry — are grappling with the homeless issue. And mulling a basic question: To give or not to give?

Those ruminations, like so much else today, burst into public view with a tweet.

The scene was the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, at 337 East 74th Street, on the evening of October 16th, where the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association was holding a public meeting, and City Council Member Ben Kallos was discussing the homeless problem.

That night, says Tina Larsson, the group’s secretary-treasurer, she tweeted a message that emerged from his presentation, and shortly after, Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and Midtown East, retweeted it.

“Don’t give money to the homeless in our neighborhood,” she wrote. “Donate to the faith-based institutions that help them instead.”

The sharp surge in the homeless presence locally has been disturbing to residents, Larsson says. She notes a small square at 75th Street on the west side of First Avenue near the Saratoga apartment building as one problem spot.

And she cited a local nuisance known as the “Spitting Lady of 77th Street,” a longtime fixture on Third Avenue who cursed, screamed and spat upon people, often children. The woman became the focus of a Facebook page, and an online petition to de Blasio demanding her removal that garnered 1,500 signatures. She hasn’t been spotted since May.

Handouts to people like that encourage their behavior, increase the volume of solicitations and fuel dependency, the argument goes. “If you keep giving them money, they’ll keep staying here,” Larsson said.

Kallos say his constituents are deeply compassionate. “And when they see someone on the street, many people give from the bottom of their hearts,” he says. “The problem is for everyone else in the neighborhood who don’t want to see panhandlers, those who give are literally paying them to be there.”

He regularly addresses groups of as many as 100 residents in their buildings, asking for a show of hands of those who give cash to street beggars. Typically, some 10 percent of attendees raise their hands, and Kallos will implore, “Please stop doing that. You are paying them to stay there.”

Offering money can also discourage the needy from accepting tax-supported city services that could get them off the streets, he argues.

The alternative? “If you want to help someone on the street, call 311,” Kallos urges, saying a call can open the door to city shelter, three square meals a day, substance abuse programs, job training, even money to help pay the rent.