New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Ryan Brady

Queens Chronicle Queens pols weigh in on State of the City by Ryan Brady

Queens pols weigh in on State of the City

Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, had introduced legislation with his colleague Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) to establish a “retirement security for all” system in the city. He lauded de Blasio for taking initiative on the issue.

“Too few Americans lack the means or direction to adequately plan for their retirement,” the lawmaker said in a prepared statement. “We all recognized this deficiency several years ago, and dared to act boldly to provide the infrastructure necessary to help nearly half of our City’s private workforce members lay a foundation for a more stable future.”

Queens Chronicle Mayor OKs 9 bills aiming to reform BSA by Ryan Brady

Mayor OKs 9 bills aiming to reform BSA

Variance-seeking developers will be affected by one of the laws, which Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) introduced. In their BSA applications, they will have to demonstrate that the situation is a unique one in the neighborhood. And if they lie on their application, they face a civil penalty of up to $15,000.

Kallos introduced four other bills signed by de Blasio that affect staffing at the BSA and aim to make it more transparent.

One of the former requires the Department of City Planning to appoint a coordinator who testifies in defense of existing zoning rules to the BSA; the testimony will be accessible on the internet. The other mandates that a New York State-certified real estate appraiser be available to consult with or work for the BSA to analyze and review real estate financials that developers provide.

The transparency measures dictate that the locations for all sites for which special permits and variances were approved by the BSA since 1998 be viewable as a layer and list on an interactive New York City map. The second law requires the BSA to biannually report the average length of time it takes to make a decision on an application; the total number of applications; how many were approved and denied and the number of pre-application meeting requests.

Queens Chronicle BSA reform bills before City Council by Ryan Brady

BSA reform bills before City Council

Sick of the Board of Standards and Appeals approving projects contrary to their wishes, members of Queens civic associations are highly supportive of a 10-bill package before the City Council to make the agency more transparent.

A hearing on the bills, some of which were introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) this month and others of which were introduced before, was held on Dec. 14.

Some of the measures that stand out include a bill that would create a $25,000 fine for lying on an application; one that would require the agency to reference arguments made by community and borough boards and the City Planning Commission in its decisions; and another that would mandate the creation of a map showing locations where variances and special permits have been granted.

Gotham Gazette Application Season Underscores Community Board Reform Efforts by Ryan Brady

Application Season Underscores Community Board Reform Efforts

Two years ago, Kallos released a policy report about the bodies and identified some areas for reform.

Since then, according to the Council member, some positive changes have been made. “The borough presidents have adopted improved applications,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette, noting the switch to applying online. “We’ve seen applications go up on the community boards that I oversee and other members are overseeing.”

Aside from online applications, a possible reason for the enrollment increase is a state law passed in 2014 allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to serve on community boards. An increase in youth representation on the boards was recommended by Kallos in his report, and he co-sponsored a City Council resolution in support of the state legislation.

“We’ve appointed numerous 16-year-olds throughout the city,” Kallos said. “They’re bringing youth and energy to the boards, and they are our best and brightest.”

In April of last year, Kallos introduced a bill that would have required borough presidents to provide professional urban planning staff to community boards, a policy that advocacy groups have also endorsed.

“Since they are doing the work of looking at their neighborhoods to see what should be improved locally and what recommendations they want to make about land-use decisions, streetscapes, that kind of thing, we think that they should actually have professional advice,” said Werber of Citizens Union.

Like the term limits bill, this bill was laid over after a public hearing.

Torres’ community board reform bill is currently active on the Council floor and awaiting an initial hearing. Simply put, the bill would require community boards to publish information on board vacancies, attendance records, as well as demographic data in an effort to increase board diversity.

Kallos, a co-sponsor of the bill, has already seen its policies practiced by the community boards under his oversight. “It’s already being implemented by Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer and it’s really had a significant impact,” the governmental operations committee chair said.

Community board reform bills must go through Kallos’ committee, but in order to move they also must have the support of many Council members who may be worried about upsetting their local board members.

“I have great hopes for Council Member Torres’ legislation,” Kallos said. “I think transparency is good anywhere we can bring it.”

Gotham Gazette At Homelessness Forum, Manhattanites Voice Local Concerns on Pressing Issue by Ryan Brady

At Homelessness Forum, Manhattanites Voice Local Concerns on Pressing Issue

At a Tuesday night town hall hosted by City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez at Gramercy’s Church of the Epiphany, stakeholders voiced concerns about problems related to homelessness, an increasingly controversial issue facing the East Side of Manhattan.

After presentations from city officials and nonprofit leaders who work on homelessness issues, local residents asked questions about how they can resolve problems specific to the area, like the myriad issues with the 850-bed 30th Street Men’s Shelter (also known as “Bellevue”).