In July, we announced nearly $9 million to rebuild a new Ruppert Park.
When a 20-foot sinkhole opened up I was on the scene and repairs are complete as work to prevent it from happening again.
Legislation I authored would help communities like ours build new schools by getting a heads up on new property that is up for sale. Another bill hopes to help taxpayers save millions.
We continued to fight to stop the New York Blood Center’s proposed 334-foot tall commercial tower from permanently blocking out the sun in St. Catherine's park as I joined hundreds testifying at two hearings.
This August, we are keeping our parks busy with movies under the stars including Wonder Woman 1984 and Bill & Ted Face the Music, a Welcome Home Concert in Central Park. We have our annual No-Cost Mammogram Van. Children returning to school can stop by our free Children’s Backpack Giveaway. Our Fresh Food Box is back for the season and First Friday is back in person!
How has your summer been so far and how can we make it even better?
$9 Million Secured for Renovations to Ruppert Park
As you may have read in amNY, Ruppert Park will be getting an $8.9 million full renovation thanks to discretionary funding from my office, Assembly Member Dan Quart, Council Member Keith Powers, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the City Council. Last month, they joined me in the park to celebrate the announcement along with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Community Board 8, Parks Manhattan Commissioner Bill Castro, and community stewards from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Muslim Volunteers for New York, and nearby Knickerbocker Plaza.
On May 20th, after providing the initial discretionary funding allocation of $2.5 million, I joined NYC Parks in hosting dozens of residents at a public scoping session to discuss details relating to the redesign of the park with the community and hear their input. Moving forward, a design plan will be presented to the public at Community Board 8 and the Public Design Commission in 2021. Ruppert Park, at the site of the former Ruppert Brewery, was built in 1979 by the City’s Housing Preservation and Development Administration and transferred to NYC Parks Department in 1997. The project is expected to begin construction in 2023. For more information, read the release, watch the announcement or see coverage in Patch, TAPinto, and amNY.
Update of 20-Foot Sinkhole on East 89th Street
As CBS 2 recently reported, when a sinkhole appeared on East 89th Street between York and East End avenues, my office responded immediately and began monitoring the situation. After connecting with the City’s Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, I’m happy to report that no one was hurt, repairs are underway and nearly complete, and the 10 apartments that were temporarily without water had it restored hours later. One year after a sinkhole opened up on the East River Esplanade between East 74th and 76th street, I told Patch:
“We’ve seen our subways and even the FDR Drive flooding with the slightest rains. I don’t want to see a Miami building collapse happen in New York City.”
While the exact cause of the collapse remains unconfirmed, it was likely due to a leak in a damaged sewer line, which is why we need city agencies and service providers working together to prevent this from ever happening again. Repairs are expected to be completed by Friday, July 30th. For more information, see coverage in Patch, Our Town, and CBS 2,.
Blood Center Hearings
As a new father, particularly with a daughter too young for a vaccine, playgrounds are an essential part of life. Last Fall, amidst the pandemic the New York Blood Center proposed a 334-foot commercial office tower in the residential mid-block at East 67th Street between First and Second Avenues, creating a precedent to remove long-held mid-block zoning height protections and casting a permanent shadow on St. Catherine’s Park.
Community Board 8 Manhattan has had multiple hearings on the proposal where I have joined hundreds of residents to speak at every opportunity to raise community concerns. On May 25th, Community Board 8 voted unanimously to recommend the application be denied.
I provided comprehensive testimony that was more than a dozen pages long. My testimony touched on decades of opposition from every elected official along with thousands of residents in the community. My testimony highlighted the environmental impacts of this proposed development, from shadows on the park and JREC to new loopholes and the fact that the proposal would include the displacement of thousands of people from 500 apartments. We also touched on the issue of proximity, the Blood Center's exclusion from existing new joint projects in the neighborhood, other sites they won't consider, the 18 other locations in New York and New Jersey, along with a possible headquarters on Long Island. We took a serious look at the $269 million the New York Blood Center made selling blood that was donated, the $75 million they've spent buying up blood centers in 5 states, the $3 million in offshore accounts, and if that wasn't enough, the fact that they spent more buying real estate ($27 million) then on research ($14 million) which only accounts for less than 5% of their program services budget. You can read my draft testimony at BenKallos.com.
Calling Renewed Attention to Decades-Old Scaffolding, My Proposal to Get It Down
As CBS 2 recently reported, over the last five years, I have introduced multiple pieces of legislation to address the scaffolding issue in our city but the power of the real estate industry has prevented the city from enacting them. Last month, renewed attention was called to a building at 51 West 86 Street where a sidewalk shed has been up for the last 15 years and expired permits indicate façade work that should have been completed. Rather than the shed coming down, the building’s management added scaffolding with netting in 2020, which blocks light and attracts pests. As I told CBS 2:
“I have legislation that says that when the sidewalk sheds go up, work has to start. If it doesn’t, the city would step in, do the work and make bad landlords pay.”
Last month, after I tweeted about 11-year-old scaffolding at 1772 Second Ave, Patch reported on my previous efforts to persuade the city to offer decent, temporary apartments where the building’s residents could stay while much-needed repairs are carried out. Unfortunately, an inspection from the NYC Department of Buildings in April only resulted in a violation issued to the owner for failing to properly maintain the building. These are only two instances of a much larger issue across New York City that will persist until new laws are put in place. For more information on my bill, see coverage in Patch and CBS 2.
New Legislation Would Create More Transparency in Land Use Process
New York City’s population is still growing in spite of the ongoing pandemic and we are in need of more space for vital infrastructure as schools grow overcrowded, firehouses struggle to cover more residents and the city stands largely already built. Legislation I introduced last week would call on real property owners and real estate professionals to notify the city 30 days before vacant properties of 20,000 square feet or more are to be listed for sale. City agencies would then have 30 days to respond either expressing or disclaiming interest and make their explanation available to the public. As I told the
“The City of New York used eminent domain to build Barclays Center and to basically remove an entire city neighborhood, but we don’t use eminent domain to build schools. That seems strange to me.”
This legislation would put the city and communities in the loop on big real estate transactions, as well as force city agencies to be transparent about whether and how they are attempting to meet the needs of the community. We can already see instances of this public-private partnership model working successfully here in the district, like the Kent on East 95th Street where the city built a new pre-kindergarten center in the base of a new building, and I know it can work for the rest of the city. For more information, read the release or see coverage in the Commercial Observer.
Saving Taxpayers Millions with New Bill to Codify Office of Taxpayer Advocate
Thousands of New Yorkers are relieved from millions in unfair tax bills with the help of the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate (OTA) and I am looking to ensure this vital work continues. In July, I joined Finance Chair Danny Dromm in introducing legislation that will make the office permanent by requiring it as law mandated by the city charter, with the goal of enabling a long-term option for New Yorkers seeking guidance and justice with tax issues.
Established in 2015 as an advocacy and service arm of the New York City Department of Finance by Director Jacques Jiha, OTA has assisted New Yorkers for six years, resulting in $15,633,506 in refunds, $22,687,936 in abatements, plus $22,709,531 in corrections, for a total of $61,030,973 in funds returned to taxpayers as of tax year 2020-21. Passage of this legislation would have New York join Washington D.C. as the first cities in the country to codify such an office, along with a number of states and a federal office. For more information, check out coverage in PoliticsNY or read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases
In the News
- "City delivers high-speed internet access to 5 NYCHA developments," Bronx Times, 7/30/2021
- “Debate Continues To Swirl About Return To In-Person Classes For All Public School Students This Fall” CBS 2, 7/20/2021
- “Super PACs Poured Millions Into The NYC Primary. Whose PAC Got The Best Results?” Gothamist, 7/16/2021
- "Upper East Side Got Millions In NYC's 2022 Budget: Here's Where," Patch, 7/8/2021
- “Pressure for reform at NYC Board of Elections increases after vote tally blunder” FOX 5, 7/2/2021
- "Low-Cost Broadband Access for Another 10,000 NYCHA Residents," NYC.gov,7/27/2021
- “Mayor de Blasio Recommends Sherif Soliman to Traffic Mobility Review Board, Calls on MTA to Expedite Congestion Pricing Launch,” NYC.gov, 7/15/2021
- "MTA to Expand NYC311 Service into Subway," NYC.gov, 7/2/2021
- Apply Now to Become A New York State Public Health Corps Fellow
- GrowNYC Hiring Fresh Food Box Site Managers
Out and About
Breaking Ground on New $15 Million Bronx Science Research Lab
Last month, I visited my alma mater, the Bronx High School of Science, to break ground on a new $18 million lab space alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Bronx Science Alumni Foundation, and the generous donor and alumni Stanley Manne.
Unveiling the FDR Hope Memorial on Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island is one of the few places in New York City and the world that is entirely accessible, planned, and built a generation before the Americans with Disabilities Act. In July, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Hope Memorial was unveiled on Roosevelt Island celebrating the former president in a wheelchair, an image that is all too often omitted. I was proud to attend and share in the moment with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, and Shelton J. Haynes, President and CEO of Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC).
My office provided $100,000 in funding as a seed since, as many of you know, getting the money is just the start. From then, we worked hard alongside the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, meeting with the Office and Management and Budget, the Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation to bring this memorial to reality.
Movie Night: Bill & Ted Face the Music
Movie Night: Bill & Ted Face the Music
Thursday, August 12, Dusk (8:30pm)
John Jay Park (FDR Dr btwn E 76th & 78th Streets)
Join us on Thursday, August 12th around 8:30pm for a free Family Movie Night at John Jay Park, sponsored by my office and NYC Parks. Bring your family (and a blanket) to our screening of the science fiction comedy Bill & Ted Face the Music, based on the 1989 classic!
No registration is required and admission is first-come, first-served. The movie will begin at dusk or around 8:30pm. For more information or to RSVP, visit BenKallos.com/Events
Movie Night: Wonder Woman 1984
Movie Night: Wonder Woman 1984
Thursday, August 19, Dusk (8:30pm)
St. Catherine’s Park
1245 1st Ave
Join us on Thursday, August 19th for a free Family Movie Night at St. Catherine’s Park, sponsored by my office and NYC Parks. Bring your family (and a blanket) to our screening of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman 1984!
No registration is required and admission is first-come, first-served. The movie will begin at dusk or around 8:15pm. For more information or to RSVP, visit BenKallos.com/Events
No-Cost Mammogram Van
No-Cost Mammogram Van
Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, Courtyard
415 East 93rd Street
Wednesday, August 25th, 9am–4:30pm
Do you need a Mammogram? The American-Italian Cancer Foundation and my office have made getting one available at no cost to you. You must be a woman over the age of 40 to qualify for breast cancer screening. No co-pays are required and deductibles are waived. Uninsured patients are also welcome.
This year, to ensure the safety of patients and staff, screenings will be performed by appointment-only, and walk-ins will not be accommodated. You must RSVP to participate. Also offered on-site will be free dental screenings and a free backpack giveaway (see below). For more information, visit BenKallos.com/events
Back-to-School Backpack Giveaway + Health Screenings
Children’s Backpack Giveaway + Health Screenings
Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, Courtyard
415 East 93rd Street
Wednesday, August 25th, 3pm–5pm
In partnership with my office and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center is giving away free backpacks loaded with school supplies starting at 3pm on Wednesday, August 25th. Backpacks will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. Also offered on-site will be free dental screenings and a free mobile mammogram bus (see above). For more information, visit BenKallos.com/events
Fresh Food Box is Back
Fresh Food Box
Thursdays, 3:30pm - 6:30pm
93rd St and 2nd Ave
Through the partnership with my office, GrowNYC’s Fresh Food Box program has been providing affordable, healthy food since 2016. We are happy to announce that Fresh Food Box will be returning to District 5 for the 2021 season starting August 5th through December 21st, every Thursday from 3:30pm to 6:30pm outside of my district office!
To purchase a Fresh Food Box, complete the registration form, then come to the site in person to sign up and pay for the Box at least one week before you’d like to pick it up. For more information, or if you have any questions, visit grownyc.org/foodbox/district5
GrowNYC is currently hiring for the position of Farmstand Site Manager, who will oversee the operations of Farmstands throughout New York City, including supervising and training all Farmstand staff and youth staff. The Farmstand Site Manager position is seasonal and could be part-time or full-time. Some positions require driving. For more information, visit recruiting.paylocity.com
First Friday In-Person in September
First Friday In-Person
Friday, September 3rd, 8am–10am
1741 2nd Ave
First Friday remains one of my favorite parts of my job representing you as your Council Member. Join me next month for the first time since the pandemic in-person at Ruppert Park starting at 8 am on Friday, September 3rd for a conversation with friends and neighbors. If rain is forecast for the morning we will host over Zoom.
RSVP now at BenKallos.com/events
Home Coming Concert in Central Park
Tickets will be available at nyc.gov/homecomingweek in batches on Aug. 3 at 7 a.m., Aug. 4 at 9 p.m., Aug. 5 at 7 a.m., Aug. 6 at 10 a.m., and Aug. 7 at 9 p.m. Proof of vaccination will be required.