New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

A rally against anti-Semitism was held Sunday at Asphalt Green, where protesters held signs and called for unity after swastikas were found painted at the recreation center and in the wake of the mosque shootings in New Zealand. (Credit: Todd Maisel)

 

UPPER EAST SIDE — Cameras have deterred drivers from running red lights and speeding past schools — and they could help keep New York City's bus lanes clear too, lawmakers and advocates say.

State law limits the number of routes where cameras can be used to ticket drivers who block bus lanes. Legislators and transit advocates say they want to change that through the state budget so cameras can be used across the city.

 

West Side, Upper East Side, Queens and the Bronx.

The limits seemed lax to several elected officials and neighborhood groups in Manhattan, who claimed at a hearing Wednesday that the regimen would still allow the proliferation of places like 432 Park Ave., where mechanical voids account for about 25 percent of — and illuminate patches at night of — the 1,396-foot tall condo, according to City Councilman Ben Kallos. 

"We need to pass it immediately due to the sheer number of buildings that are coming down the pipeline that want to use voids to get additional height," Kallos said. "There is always room for improvement, and I am concerned it doesn't go far enough."

Trade groups representing engineers and developers, however, said the framework proposed was not flexible enough for the breadth of buildings it could regulate and raised concerns about it impeding energy efficiency and other construction advancements.

"By restraining innovation at a time when the means of achieving operational and energy efficiencies are rapidly evolving, the legislation could cost the city opportunities for future use of the most advanced and appropriate mechanical health and safety systems," said Paul Selver, a member of the Real Estate Board of New York trade group representing landlords and developers.

Kallos, reading testimony on behalf of 10 other Manhattan politicians, suggested mechanical spaces that stretch beyond 14-feet in height be calculated into buildings' permitted square footage; and grace spaces only be allowed every 200, rather than 75, feet.

 

City planners have not managed to avoid critiques with their new approach to mechanical voids.

The Department of City Planning suggested new protocols for spaces set aside in residences for electrical, heating and cooling systems after community groups claimed developers were stretching buildings past standard heights by including unusually tall floors for mechanical equipment.

 

In addition, there are a number of charter revision proposals that will spark alarm among real estate developers. Some politicians and anti-development groups have trained their aim on the Board of Standards and Appeals, a quasi-judicial body that grants minor zoning changes to landlords who argue the city land use rules make development or renovations financially difficult. Councilman Ben Kallos, for example, wants to give the City Council and borough presidents the power to appoint members to the board, which is currently chosen by the mayor. He posits that the mayor has too much power over the land use process, because he appoints the BSA and the majority of the City Planning Commission.

“No single indivdual who is seeking money to run for higher office should be able to control the land use process from beginning to end,” Kallos explained.

Another recommendation on the charter commission’s list calls for allowing the council to veto BSA decisions. But even Kallos acknowledges that could raise legal issues, since the council also signs off on major zoning changes.

Real estate lawyers argue that these two changes could create serious legal issues for the city, because they would politicize a board that’s supposed to be independent of city politics. The BSA exists to offer relief from the city’s zoning code. Without the BSA, developers can argue that zoning qualifies as a constitutional “taking” of property.

 

According to CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”

Kallos, the City Council’s resident good government wonk, has pushed improvements to the city’s campaign finance law for years and felt vindicated by seeing the campaign finance numbers behind the election. The ballot question, proposed by a charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was largely similar to a bill Kallos had sponsored in the previous legislative session of the Council.

“One of the reasons I was so eager for this to apply in the public advocate’s race is I was worried about the time between the vote in November [2019] and 2021 and I wanted to prove to people that this could work,” he said. There will be another public advocate election this fall to decide who will hold the seat vacated by Attorney General Letitia James for the final two years of her public advocate term. Kallos’ bill also lowered the thresholds for candidates to qualify for official debates sponsored by the CFB and for public funds payments.

 

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, took it upon himself to act as a crusader for the zoning resolution's amendment by visiting 10 of Manhattan's 12 community boards to discuss the proposal. Of those 10 community boards visited by Kallos, eight voted on resolutions to support the city's amendment and two voted to oppose the amendment but said they would switch their position if improvements were made.

 

Representatives from the Department of City Planning faced a packed and vocal crowd during a recent presentation to Manhattan Community Board 7 about a proposed text amendment to place restrictions on developers’ use of excessive mechanical voids in high-rise buildings.

 

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed suit against a Boston-based contractor, alleging that the company took retaliatory measures against one of its employees — facilitating his U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrest — after he reported a workplace injury, an event that kicked off an OSHA investigation. 

  • According to the lawsuit, José Martin Paz Flores (Paz) was working as a drywall taper for Tara Construction when he fell from a ladder and broke his leg. Based on Paz's report to a foreman and a referral from the local fire department that day, OSHA began an investigation into safety conditions at the jobsite.

  • The DOL alleges that Tara CEO Pedro Pirez subsequently contacted law enforcement with concerns about Paz’s identity and facilitated Paz’s arrest outside of Tara’s offices, which resulted in his detention by ICE for days. 

 

Dive Insight:

The DOL is seeking back pay and damages from Tara on behalf of Paz, as well as other relief such as a neutral letter of recommendation for Paz, who has since been cleared to work, to present to prospective future employers. Reporting an injury and causing an OSHA investigation to be initiated are protected acts under federal whistleblower laws, which blanket all workers, regardless of immigration status. 

 

“Until they have been demonstrated to be safe, novel designs such as vast void areas must be evaluated by the FDNY,” the letter reads. “Due to the nature of such different design elements and any review processes surrounding aspects of this size, we feel it is critical to involve the FDNY prior to the approval of such building plans.”

Kallos said he is pleased with the “starting point” zoning amendment the city has brought forward, but is “very disappointed that the Department of Buildings has been engaging behind closed doors to close one loophole while it opens another” in terms of open air voids. He said it ultimately boils down to ensuring that first responders can access those living above excessive voids in case of an emergency.

“Tragedies happen, fires happens, and it’s going to be up to our first responders to rescue whomever is in this building. I don’t think it’s right to ask a first responder to climb 150 feet or more of steps just to get where people might be who need saving,” said Kallos.

Levy echoed the Council member’s concern and said the city has a duty to give these structures extra safety scrutiny.

 

On February 15th, state Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer, Council members Keith Powers and Ben Kallos, wrote a letter to the DOB citing its actions on the Upper West Side project. “Regardless of whether the void in the building proposed at 249 East 62nd Street is enclosed or open air as described to the press, we believe you must also refer this building to the FDNY.”

On Thursday, Kallos said the letter was intended to "call attention to the disparate treatment by the DOB between East Side and West Side." He said he was glad that the matter had been referred to the FDNY, noting that the measure "will ultimately keep residents safe."

 

Kallos’s district includes the Upper East Side, Midtown East, Roosevelt Island and East Harlem. For his first three years on the council, he was the chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee, where he tackled more than the campaign finance issue. He also focused on using technology to aid access to government and took aim at patronage. He helped get rid of outside income for council members, and to end the practice wherein the council speaker had the discretion to give “lulus,” or specific financial disbursements.

What has he not done? He hasn’t stopped the city’s plan for a marine transfer station in the area. “Doesn’t mean I have given up yet,” he says.

One big surprise when he got to the council: the corruption. He remembers being told that he needed to “go along to get along” and hearing advice against making any waves. “These are all the things that you might read about in a book,” he says.

 

The buses are also a priority for New York City Transit President Andy Byford. His transit overhaul plan released last year called for redesigning the city's bus route network and rolling out 2,800 new buses within five years. His agency also wants to speed up boarding by using all doors.

But officials should move faster to make changes that can help commuters, said City Councilman Ben Kallos, whose Upper East Side district got a failing grade.

"What do we say to all the commuters who had a rough commute this morning, who didn't get to work on time, who lost money or may have lost their jobs because of the bus that never showed up, the bus that showed up bunched or the bus that got caught in traffic because there was no bus lane?" Kallos, a Democrat, said.

The MTA says its redesign of Staten Island's express bus network has made average bus speeds 12 percent faster, and a redesign is now underway for The Bronx. But Max Young, the agency's chief external affairs officer, acknowledged that there is still "an enormous amount of work to do on this issue" despite recent progress.

 

The New York City Council’s Democratic conference held on Thursday what officials said was its first ever public vote to appoint three new commissioners to the New York City Board of Elections.

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The debate around congestion pricing in New York City is often focused on bustling areas such as Midtown Manhattan and the Financial District, but neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side stand to benefit from the policy as well, safe streets advocates said during a Thursday morning rally in the neighborhood.

 

"I would love to see New York City and New York State catch up to other jurisdictions to keep children and parents safe, but I would also like us to become a leader," Kallos told the Post.

School buses are currently equipped with stop arm devices that display a stop sign when the bus is stopped for pickups and dropoffs. Drivers are supposed to yield so that kids can get to the curb safely, but nearly 50,000 drivers ignore the signals each year in New York State, the Post reported.

 

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- After two separate incidents in which vehicles in Brooklyn drove on a sidewalk near a school within the last week -- almost mowing down school children and pedestrians -- a New York City councilman is calling for a new law that would add cameras to the stop sign of a school bus.

 

A New York City Council member is calling for cameras on the sides of school buses that can record drivers so impatient they drive dangerously, following two such incidents recently in Brooklyn.

 

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — One New York City lawmaker wants to make it easier to fine drivers who don’t hit the brakes around stopped school buses.