New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

Transit advocates vowed Thursday to ensure congestion pricing isn’t killed by New Yorkers looking for a free ride.

“We have 20 months until this goes into effect,” said Alex Matthiessen, who began forming coalitions around congestion pricing in 2010 after Mayor Bloomberg’s plan failed to muster enough support two years earlier. “There’s all kinds of possibilities for mischief-making, for rollbacks, for backlash.”


New York City Council Member Ben Kallos is moving forward with a bill to increase the amount of public funds a candidate running for elected office can receive from the city’s campaign finance program, in order to further reduce the influence of big money donors in local political campaigns.

New York City’s voluntary campaign finance program matches small dollar donations in order to afford candidates without deep pockets or wealthy donors a more level playing field in elections. In November, voters approved a ballot question that increased the matching ratio from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250 for citywide offices ($175 for all other offices), and increased the maximum amount of public funds that could be paid out from 55% of the spending limit for an office to 75%.

The changes also reduced individual contribution limits across the board and gave candidates running in the 2021 city elections the choice to opt in to the new rules, which otherwise go into mandatory effect beginning 2022.


On Tuesday, City Council members Margaret Chin, Brad Lander, Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Ben Kallos, and Keith Powers announced forthcoming legislation providing for a 5-cent fee on paper bags. Proceeds from every bag sold would be divided between the NYS Environmental Protection Fund, which would get 3 cents, and the city, which would use the remainder to buy reusable bags for New Yorkers (particularly low-income and elderly New Yorkers, who might have a hard time avoiding the fee otherwise).


(Beyond Pesticides, April 2, 2019) The new documentary film “Ground War” will have its New York City premiere screening on Saturday, April 6, 2019, 7:30pm at Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street, New York, NY. The film is a moving depiction of a son’s quest for answers about the cause of his father’s cancer—which takes him into the world of doctors, scientists, pesticide regulators, victims of pesticide poisoning, activists, and land managers. The issue is exposure to pesticides used to manage lawns and playing fields and the father’s exposure as an avid golfer. The son, who is the filmmaker, finds others on the same search for answers because of harm or death of a loved one, then finds a solution in the work of activists and organic land managers.


Dangerous jobs usually come with higher wages due to the risks involved. Construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the world, but many construction workers receive little more than minimum wage. Many construction projects receiving government subsidies pay workers minimum wage. That hardly seems fair considering the risk of personal injury. Still, people need jobs, so they’re willing to take that risk for less pay.


UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A nonprofit that turns under-utilized real estate into spaces where artists can create and present their artworks opened a new studio on Monday that will feature the work of immigrant artists for its debut exhibit, the nonprofit and local elected officials announced.

The organization Chashama renovated an empty space in the St. Tropez condo complex on East 64th Street near First Avenue into an art gallery following the building's donation of the space. City Councilman Ben Kallos, the nonprofit and artists celebrated the opening of the space Monday with a ribbon cutting ceremony.


Voting opens on March 30 and end April 7 for New York City's eighth participatory budgeting cycle, city officials said. Residents of the Upper East Side will vote on whether to fund projects selected as finalists by City Council members Keith Powers or Ben Kallos, depending on whether they live within the council's fourth or fifth district.

Projects selected as finalists for participatory budgeting address community needs such as housing and school improvements, park upgrades, public safety and senior services. Most projects don't carry a funding value of $1 million, so multiple projects can win funding. If certain projects prove popular, city council members may chose to allocate even more funds.


NEW YORK — Sorry, kids — now you'll have to ask for that Coke. New York City restaurants will likely be banned from offering kids sugary drinks under legislation the City Council approved Thursday.

The bill restricts the beverages that eateries can offer with children's meals to water, juice and low- or non-fat milk. Restaurants could still give kids soda or another drink if they ask for one, but those that get caught offering heavily sweetened sippables could be fined up to $200.

"Healthy drinks with kid's meals will be the new normal in New York City no matter where they are eating," Councilman Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. "While parents can still order whatever they want the default will be healthy."


Kids who enjoy soda with their happy meals might not be too sweet about a new bill approved by the City Council on Thursday.

The legislation drafted by Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) makes water, milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice the “default beverage option” in all kids’ meals served at restaurants.

Kallos said his bill’s goal is to tackle childhood obesity.

“Healthy drinks with kid’s meals will be the new normal in New York City no matter where our kids are eating,” he said.

The new law is not an outright ban. Parents could still request soda or other sugary beverages when placing their order.

It would apply to all restaurants that serve kids’ meals.

Unlike former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s failed attempt to ban sales of large sodas at food outlets and movie theaters, the bill has the support of the American Beverage Association.


Restaurants that disobey the law would be subject to monetary penalties.

Public health advocates and the city Health Department supported the bill during a City Council hearing last month. The Health Department has described reducing the consumption of sugary beverages as a top agency priority. Nearly 1 in 5 children ages 6 to 19 are obese citywide.

"We know this change will do a lot to keep sugary drinks away from our children, helping them avoid childhood obesity and grow up to be healthy adults," Councilman Ben Kallos, the bill's sponsor, said in a statement.

Separately, the council approved a bill that would allow for the removal of a physician's name from a patient's birth certificate if the doctor's license has been surrendered or revoked for misconduct. The bill was introduced following BuzzFeed News' story on a patient who had been sexually abused by the OB/GYN who delivered her children. 


Towering structures have been a feature of many New York neighborhoods for quite some time now, but some of these buildings have big gaps in them that are supposed to be for mechanical purposes, hence why they’re known as “mechanical voids.” As skeptics grow more concerned about the increase in the use of these empty spaces, the city is looking to step in. The mayor and city council are ready to start looking into the matter that skeptics suggest could create dangerous situations and unnecessary and wasteful uses of space and resources.


Veterans advocates and elected officials gathered on the steps of City Hall March 25 to protest looming budget cuts and remind the general public that President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender service members is not some federal issue in a faraway land — it’s a very real problem in our own backyard.

NYC Veterans Alliance president and founding director Kristen Rouse, who was joined by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America president John Rowan, and several other members of the veterans community, sent a strong message to elected officials that their causes are as important as any other ones — and they deserve attention now.


NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — There’s a new initiative at City Hall to make kids’ meals in New York City healthier.

As WCBS 880’s Mike Sugerman reports, many children push their parents for kids’ meals because of the sugary sodas that automatically come with the deal.


AT the heart of many of New York's tallest residential skyscrapers lie "mechanical voids". They are growing in size and number and the city council and Mayor Bill de Blasio have had enough.


Kallos' legislation, which was passed by the council's Committee on Housing and Buildings Monday, would require landlords to report inspections of their cooling towers soon after they happen to the city's Health Department directly. The city would then make that information public. The bill would make it easier for health inspectors to identify problem buildings, Kallos said, as they currently have to rely on the state's data can be outdated.

The bill would also send regular reminders to cooling tower owners to have their equipment inspected.

"There was a Legionnaires' cluster in my neighborhood. Somebody died. Six people got sick," said Councilman Kallos, referring to a 2017 outbreak of the disease. "My hope is, with these 90-day inspections actually happening no one has to get sick or even die from Legionnaires' ever again."


Critics see the practice as potentially dangerous, forcing firefighters or medical workers responding to an emergency to cover much greater distances -- sometimes unanticipated, since the voids aren’t numbered floors.

“It is a symptom of everything that is becoming wrong with our society that developers would rather build empty spaces in buildings for billionaires than affordable housing,” said New York City Council member Ben Kallos. “We’re not saying that you can’t do this. What we’re saying is that if you have a limited amount of floor area that you can use to put up a building, then you have to use that floor area.”


Loophole closing

An amendment filed by the planning department at de Blasio’s request would limit mechanical spaces to a height of 25 feet, and require multiple mechanical floors to be at least 75 feet apart. Otherwise, they would count toward the building’s floor area as set by zoning rules, which determine how tall a building can be.

Kallos worries that without intervention, the mechanical voids will just keep growing—to 300 or 400 or 500 vertical feet of dead space. The practice is especially noticeable on Billionaire’s Row—a strip of super-luxury condo buildings just south of Central Park. Mechanical voids make up about a quarter of 432 Park Ave., Manhattan’s tallest completed condominium tower, according to Kallos. The building’s minimalist boxy design can be seen from every borough.


“In the event of an emergency, first responders are going to be called upon to run up hundreds of feet of empty building to rescue people in these apartments.”

Council Member Ben Kallos


As the city prepares to tighten restrictions on developers' use of mechanical voids — large, empty spaces within buildings that primarily serve to inflate the height, views and market value of the floors above — a planned Upper East Side tower frequently cited by critics as among the most egregious examples of the practice is in limbo as the Department of Buildings evaluates void-related objections concerning the project.




Proposal to Change Social Media Policies at Tourist At­trac­tions

PUBLISHED 9:38 AM ET MAR. 21, 2019


Next time you take a picture at a tourist attraction, you may want to read the fine print first. 

The most recent installation to pop up in the city is the Vessel at Hudson Yards. 

It's already caused a social media frenzy, with New Yorkers and tourists alike snapping selfies in front of the 150 foot-tall, honeycomb-like structure. 

But, critics are questioning a policy that grants the owners of the Vessel access to content taken at and of the site. 

After backlash, they softened the original language to make it clear visitors own their photos, but that the Vessel retains the right to re-use those images.

Councilman Ben Kallos says this issue has shone a light on the issue of ownership in the age of social media.

He is now proposing legislation to ban tourist attractions from forcing visitors to give up ownership of their photos or identities.


The discussion around congestion pricing has evolved from earlier goals of transforming our streets and fighting climate change to today’s single-minded focus on raising money for a failing transit system. There is an understandable urge among some transit advocates to focus only on the plan at hand as a practical way to stop the bleeding at the MTA. Certainly the Manhattan-centric plan is an improvement to the status quo, but it hasn’t changed much in more than a decade, and with minor variations it has been defeated repeatedly.

Now may be the time to try something different. With a fresh look at the evidence we can devise a plan that would more dramatically reduce congestion. Such a plan would:

Toll all entry points to New York City for all vehicles. All 4.4 million drivers — not just 717,000 — would pay a price to enter and drive around on New York City streets, likely getting hundreds of thousands if not over a million vehicles off the city’s crowded streets.

New development must fund public infrastructure. Projects that would bring hundreds or thousands of new residents to a neighborhood should be required to set aside funds at the outset so the transit system can add capacity in time for the project’s completion.

Expand and improve existing transit infrastructure throughout New York City as well as counties on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley to make it easier for commuters to choose public transportation.

High-speed automated tolling. Institute a universal system using now-ubiquitous license plate readers for tolls at all entry points to New York City.

Dynamic pricing could take advantage of electronic tolling to charge vehicles more during rush hours in the mornings and afternoons, while reducing or eliminating charges in the evening to allow residents to come home and to encourage deliveries overnight.

Real accountability is necessary to end the tug-of-war and blame games between state and city officials. New York City Speaker Corey Johnson’s idea for municipal control is a welcome answer here.

A lock box would be created by securing capital against new revenue, as suggested by former Lieutenant Gov. Dick Ravitch. We should borrow to build a transit infrastructure today that is ready for tomorrow when millions of commuters would transition from vehicles to a new and improved public transit system.

The time is now for New York to finally implement congestion pricing. We should take an honest look at our traffic and address the whole problem by expanding the congestion zone to all of New York City. The revenues from such a plan could build a true 21st-century public transit system, so that everyone can actually have a decent commute to and from working in the big city.