UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — For years, Upper East Siders have observed growing numbers of vacant storefronts in the neighborhood. Then the pandemic hit.
The coronavirus threatens to unleash a retail apocalypse on New York City, having already shuttered scores of beloved neighborhood eateries and other businesses facing unfulfillable rent payments and a lack of aid from the federal government.
Before the crisis, vacancies were already mounting — a trend that Upper East Side City Councilmember Ben Kallos blames partly on landlords "demanding rents that only national chains and banks could pay."
Pepe-Souvenir, an attorney from Brooklyn, works as the Title IX Coordinator for CUNY’s Central Office and serves as president of the Haitian American Lawyers Association. Nominated by the current Brooklyn Democratic Leader, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, Pepe-Souvenir garnered 42 votes. Only City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer opposed the appointment, as a matter of principle.
Only two members besides Van Bramer bothered to explain their votes. Manhattan City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who has long-championed reform at the Board of Elections and is running for Manhattan Borough President, said his conversation with Pepe-Souvenir left him satisfied that she would work to overcome long lines, broken machines and would work to expand early and online voting.
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — It is once again time for Upper East Siders to weigh in on how to spend more than $1 million to improve their neighborhood through the city's participatory budgeting process.
The process — which has residents brainstorm, pitch and vote on ideas for local funding — opened this month in District 5, which includes the eastern stretch of the Upper East Side as well as Roosevelt Island.
Councilmember Ben Kallos has $1 million for capital projects — brick-and-mortar, physical infrastructure work — to allot to his constituents. (City Councilmember Keith Powers, who also represents part of the Upper East Side, has not yet announced a budgeting program for this year.)
When it comes to controversial issues politicians are looking to avoid, upzonings are probably high on the list. One needs to look no further than the proposed neighborhood rezonings in Inwood, Bushwick and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx during New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, and the intense backlash they elicited.
But recently mayoral contenders including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have come out in favor of changing the zoning in SoHo to allow more housing development. White, wealthy neighborhoods should help address the city’s shortage of affordable housing, they say. Some progressive tenants groups are getting behind the push as well, and de Blasio himself, after initial reticence, announced his intention to propose a rezoning that his administration said could create 800 units of affordable housing.
Cyclist and pedestrian access on the Queensboro Bridge isn’t just a leisure-time amenity connecting Manhattan and Queens locales. The North Outer Roadway is a vital interborough axis for essential delivery workers on e-bikes, heading to and from Manhattan from neighborhoods as far as Flushing and Jamaica. With round-the-clock flow, the afternoon rush hour gives way to a second peak around midnight, after restaurant closing times.
That the North Outer Roadway has avoided serious crashes so far is a testament to micromobility and biking’s forgiving nature. Cycling and scootering, even alongside pedestrians, can function because of clear sightlines and the ability to change direction and stop short — until crowding and higher speeds make it impossible.
Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos have promised immediate funding to build safety fencing on the South Outer Roadway, but NYC DOT says that the earliest they can work on this is 2022. That means the city is forcing people to share a narrow 30-block sidewalk with racing motor scooters for two more years.
New York, NY—New York City schoolchildren are now back in school, alternating between in-person and remote learning during the school week. On the days there is remote learning, parents have had to scramble to figure out child care options for their young children. A new program by the NYC Department of Education provides free childcare options, but a limited number of seats are currently available in Community Board 8’s district.
Last week, CB 8 hosted a webinar on the urgent need for child care that featured numerous officials, including speakers from NYCDOE, NYC Department of Youth and Community Development and the Office of Management and Budget, as well as Council Members Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) and Keith Powers (D-Manhattan).
Learning Bridges, the new NYC Department of Education program, provides free child care options for children from 3-K through 8th grade on days when they are scheduled for remote learning.
Kallos Cuts Ribbon Celebrating New French Dual Language Programs on UES
Council Member Ben Kallos
Last Friday, Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of two new French dual language classes at the District 2 Pre-K Center.
Kallos first proposed the idea for the classes last December; he hosted a petition urging the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to establish a French dual language program for School District 2. His petition accumulated 200 signatures, and the programs were greenlit three months later.
“I am incredibly proud of the people who did the work in order to make this program a reality,” said Kallos. “Knowledge is power so any opportunity we get to expand and improve education in my district I will be supportive of. We all know the benefits of dual language education and I am proud that we were able to bring them to this district. Thank you to Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack for his ongoing partnership in expanding early education opportunities, the French Consulate for supporting the Francophone community, and especially to Stephane Lautner and Catherine Remy who worked closely with my office to put meetings together and organize hundreds of other parents.”
Two City Council Members, two state Senators, a Borough President and the head of the city’s foremost bike and pedestrian advocacy group met with Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on Monday — and got what participants said was a firm quasi-commitment that the city would take back a lane on the Queensboro Bridge from car drivers and finally give it back to pedestrians, who currently share a single crowded lane with cyclists going in both directions.
“Everyone wants this project to happen, including Polly Trottenberg,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who walked the bridge with his Council colleague Ben Kallos, plus state Senators Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris and Trottenberg. “And everyone knows these are disastrous budgetary times, but the money is not the issue. It’s a small amount of money relatively speaking.”
Higashi said he’s spoken to one elected official about his worries, Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos who is running for Manhattan Borough President in 2021. Kallos told the West Side Spirit that keeping institutions such as Kokushi Budo from closing should be a top priority for the city.
“Despite uncertainty about the future as it concerns the virus the City has a responsibility to come up with guidance and real tangible support so that small gyms like this one do not close for good and right now we have not done that yet,” said Kallos. “New Yorkers know the value of small businesses like this gym and they have shown that their tremendous generosity over the last two weeks raising ten of thousands so this neighborhood favorite opens up again once we beat this virus.”
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Officials and families cut a ceremonial ribbon at an Upper East Side pre-K center Friday, marking the start of a new French dual language program nearly a year in the making.
The program's origins date back to a December 2019 meeting with City Councilmember Ben Kallos and local school leaders and parents at the Stanley Isaacs Center.
That meeting gave rise to a petition signed by more than 200 parents pledging to send their children to a French dual language program if such a program was created, Kallos's office said.
New York, NY—Council Member Ben Kallos led a ribbon cutting to announce the availability of 40 Pre-K Seats for a French dual language program that will serve members of the Francophone community on the East Side.
According to Council Member Kallos, the New York City Department of Education will operate the classes using a side-by-side instructional model where it will have one Early Childhood-certified teacher who is fluent in French and who has or will work towards a bilingual extension, alongside a second Early Childhood-certified teacher.
Classes started at the Pre-K Center at 355 East 76th Street on September 21.
Kallos was joined at the ribbon cutting by parents, teachers, school administrators and the French Consulate General to New York, each of whom had an opportunity to say a few words during the press conference about how grateful they are that the DOE recognized the need and agreed to make the seats available.
The ribbon cutting preceded a multi-year effort of activism by numerous parents in the neighborhood, which Kallos recounted in his opening remarks. He talked particularly about one parent, Stephane Lautner, who first reached out to the president of the Community Education Council District 2, Maud Maron, to discuss the possibility of making seats available for a French dual language program.
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — When Rebecca Lamorte arrived at Carl Schurz Park on Wednesday, she almost missed the official-looking, red-and-white sign affixed to a post near the park's East 86th Street entrance.
"It didn't dawn on me right away until I stopped to read it," said Lamorte, one of the co-founders of the group Upper East Side for Black Lives Matter (UES4BLM), which has held nightly demonstrations against racism in the park since June.
When she examined it more closely, she realized it bore a startling message: "ABSOLUTELY NO PROTESTING ALLOWED."
"I was like, oh, this is an encroachment on our First Amendment right," she said. "So I immediately took a photo — I did what millennials do, I put it out on social."
Lamorte's tweet triggered a quick response from city agencies, who said the sign was not official, and from City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood.
undreds of protesters took over the south outer roadway of the Queensboro Bridge to demand a dedicated lane for pedestrians so that walkers in both directions don’t have to share a single path with two-way cyclists — and the Department of Transportation said it agrees with the demand.
But … it still can’t happen until 2022.
At the rally, politicians including Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos — whose districts are connected by the fabled span — and State Senators Jessica Ramos and Mike Gianaris made the same demands that activists and pols have been making for years: That booming bike and pedestrian use of the bridge — coupled with declining driving — made it essential to convert the southernmost car lane (which is conveniently already separated from other car lanes on the bridge) into a pedestrian-only lane. Cyclists would then split the north outer roadway.
“We don’t need the money to do this,” said Van Bramer, who, with Kallos, has promised to fund the security fencing that the DOT says it must construct. “We need the political will.”
In a statement, the DOT agreed with Van Bramer.
“We couldn’t agree more: adding bike and pedestrian capacity to our bridges is a great idea,” said agency spokesman Brian Zumhagen. “We’re completing urgent safety upgrades to the Queensboro Bridge, a 100-plus-year-old structure, and we need extra lane capacity to get it done. We also have to evaluate every project in the context of our historic budget crisis. But conversations are ongoing on moving this project forward, and we’re grateful for the community’s enthusiasm for it.”
That full-throated endorsement is more of a sore-throated kind: the repair work on the Queensboro Bridge won’t be finished until 2022, as DOT has said. But the agency has also been caught making other excuses that have contradicted previous explanations for why the additional space could not be made, as Streetsblog has reported.
As a result, the bridge configuration will remain nine lanes for automobile traffic, one-half lane for pedestrians and one-half lane for cyclists. That formula was mocked in one protester’s sign (right).
After the speeches, scores of pedestrians walked over the bridge, enjoying, for the first time since the roadway was seized from pedestrians for cars in the 1990s, spectacular views of Manhattan and booming Long Island City.
Meanwhile, on the north outer roadway, conditions continued to be dangerous and unnerving for all users. The roadway — a single car lane — has since 2000 been serving as the lone route for cyclists and pedestrians. But the narrow pathway has become a victim of the city’s own Vision Zero strategy of encouraging cycling and walking, former city transportation official Jon Orcutt ruefully pointed out.
“The bike boom is a fulfillment of years of city policy, but when it happened during the coronavirus, the city wasn’t ready” with more safety infrastructure, said Orcutt, who was one of two members of the so-called QB6 — six protesters who got arrested in 1990 at a similar rally to create more space on the bridge — on hand on Sunday. Charles Komanoff also attended and spoke about how basic transport is an essential equity issue.
At the time Komanoff and Orcutt were arrested, the rallying cry was “Just One Lane,” Orcutt reminded. “Now, it’s ‘One More Lane!'”
Here’s a mega slideshow of the best images from the day:
Councilman Ben Kallos on Wednesday is expected to introduce two additional bills intended to support small businesses during the pandemic. The first one would streamline the process for restaurants to obtain a sidewalk-cafe license or renew one if it was previously approved. It would also allow for licenses to be transferred if the establishment undergoes a change of ownership.
Mr. Kallos, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan, also plans to introduce a bill that would establish a low-interest small grants and loans program that would provide restaurants with up to $250,000 in funds to bring their restaurants into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Mr. Kallos said the funds could be used for infrastructure changes, as well as ventilation improvements and other public health measures to assist those who are at greater risk for developing serious complications of the coronavirus.
“Accessibility can be a challenge because there are so many old buildings that were built prior to the ADA,” said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the city’s hospitality alliance, a nonprofit association representing restaurants and nightlife establishments. “This bill could provide the much needed support to assist them in becoming more accessible.”
In-person learning is now supposed to start Sept. 29 for those in kindergarten through fifth grade and to Oct. 1 for older students after de Blasio made an 11th-hour decision to delay the opening.
Councilmen Ben Kallos, who joined Councilman Brad Lander in July saying the program fell far short of the number of slots needed, said the city had done a poor job of explaining exactly what Learning Bridges provided and how to apply.
“I would just say it’s a total mess,” Kallos said.
City Hall could not provide much in the way of answers including how many children had been offered slots.
After Tishman's death, the city hired additional inspectors, increased fines and in January, mandated that another 220 buildings put up sheds.
“That was a reaction to someone losing their life, and in that regard, I think we should pull out every measure that we can to make people safe," said Brooklyn City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., "but there’s another measure that can be even more effective and efficient.”
The Democrat sponsored legislation requiring the city to explore allowing building owners to use drones to complete required facade inspections. Quicker inspections could reduce the need for sidewalk sheds. His bill is awaiting the mayor's approval.
“We actually need building owners and landlords to take care of their buildings," said Manhattan City Councilman Ben Kallos. "Right now, what happens is, they look at the side of the building, they see a loose brick and then just they put up the scaffolding, and it stays there for years.”
For example, a sidewalk shed on 115th Street in East Harlem has been up for more than 11 years.
“They haven’t done nothing. It’s still like now the same,” a neighbor told NY1.
council members Robert Cornegy and Ben Kallos sponsored the bill to conduct a study into the use of drones after lamenting on the 303 miles of scaffolding that crowds NYC streets.
According to Kallos, “If laid out side to side, city scaffolding would stretch from Central Park to the Canadian border. The average age of a sidewalk shed is 308 days. One is old enough to have its bar mitzvah, which is 13, and some are old enough to vote.”
New York, NY—The need for social services has increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic but providers face the possibility of cutting back their services because the money that the city first promised late last year to pay for overhead costs is now being rescinded because the virus has pinched the city’s coffers.
The overhead costs, for items such as rent, water bills and staff wages, are known as indirect costs, which Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson promised $54 million in December 2019 to fund. But then last month, because of the ongoing economic fallout due to COVID-19, the Mayor notified nonprofit leaders that funding for indirect costs would be cut by $20 million, down to $34 million.
Councilman Ben Kallos and the Human Services Council co-sponsored a virtual rally earlier today to start building momentum to reverse the cuts when modifications to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget happen in November.
“These are human beings and they should not be getting tossed around from community to community,” said City Councilmember Ben Kallos.
Mayor de Blasio’s office and the Department of Homeless Services did not return a request for comment, however, the Legal Aid Society says it will not rest until the city builds a culture of transparency with its shelter residents.
The Legal Aid Society has also threatened to sue the city unless mayor de Blasio meets their demands, including meeting with every family individually to determine their needs, help them relocate, and give them enough notice to leave.
The pared-down event schedule also may affect climate-change demonstrations and other gatherings meant to catch the attention of top officials from around the world and the media.
The lack of a surge of diplomats will hurt New York economically in September, especially when the U.S. Open has no fans and New York Fashion Week will be reduced in size.
“A lot of restaurants, hotels and other venues are going to go unbooked, losing millions of dollars for the city,” said New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents an area of Manhattan north of the U.N. “The only group of people I know who won’t be complaining is anyone who drives a car in Manhattan. That is the only silver lining.”