New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

The new hyrdoponic greenhouse facility will teach students about sustainability, climate change and science

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Students at an Upper East Side public school will have the chance to learn about issues such as sustainability and enhance their science skills at a brand-new lab facility funded through participatory budgeting.

Nonprofit organization NY Sun Works — which installs hydroponic science labs in New York City schools — celebrated the opening of its newest facility last week at PS 183 Robert Louis Stevenson, the company announced. Funding for the lab was provided by City Councilman Ben Kallos through a participatory budgeting vote in 2017.

"We must invest in STEM education to prepare students for jobs of the future and today, we cut the ribbon on a $600,000 science lab," Kallos said in a statement. "Voting creates real change. The 11-year-olds and parents who voted can see for themselves, as they learn first-hand the power of democracy, not to mention all the science they'll get done."


Students at PS 183, a pre-k through 5th grade school located on East 66th Street between York and First avenues, will be able to use the facility to grow food and other plants. The experience of growing crops will provide firsthand knowledge of science, a spokesperson for NY Sun Works said.

The new science lab can also be used to teach students lessons about climate change and sustainability efforts such as urban farming. NY Sun Works has built more than 125 similar labs in schools in all five boroughs, teaching about 40,000 students. Construction on the lab at PS 183 took less than a year to complete and included electrical upgrades, a heating unit and new


sinks, flooring, counters, cabinetry and furniture for the classroom.

"The hydroponic lab will provide students with the opportunity to grow food while learning hands-on about science and climate education as well as food justice and community service," NY Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora said in a statement.


Manhattan Councilmember Ben Kallos said, “It says something that the number one demand is caseload.” The average pay of Housing Works employees is $16.23, he noted, “Too close to the minimum wage.” He also listed “No clear grievance process and concern about a safe work environment” as good reasons to unionize.


With chants like “Union busting is disgusting” and “Fix Housing Works now,” more than 100 fed up employees of Housing Works packed together on the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall October 29 to speak out about poor working conditions and demand that management respect their efforts to unionize.

The rally represented a dramatic turn of events for the nonprofit, which has long been dedicated to eradicating the dual crises of HIV/ AIDS and homelessness and has often led demonstrations on behalf of marginalized people. This time around, however, the organization found itself on the other side of the protests: Workers stormed out of their offices on a Tuesday morning to flock to the rally, where they spoke of flimsy healthcare plans with high deductibles, railed against inadequate paid time-off policies, and told stories of colleagues suddenly getting terminated without notice and escorted out of the office.


Delivery trucks come and go at all hours of the day, are sometimes double parked and sit idle and at times the sorting of endless packages is happening right on city sidewalks.

Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos says his district isn't happen and he believes delivery companies themselves should be doing more by getting themselves more warehouses.

An estimated million and a half packages flood into New York City daily and according to the Times that number tripled from 2009 to 2017. The delivery companies most utilized by New Yorkers? Amazon, freshDirect, Peapod, UPS and FedEx.

So, as the burden grows, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said congestion pricing will likely be the most immediate plan to ease the pain on the roads.


Trucks, trucks and more trucks

As the delivery armada has ballooned, so, too, have the complaints.

Four delivery companies — FedEx, FreshDirect, Peapod and UPS — accumulated just over 515,000 summonses for parking violations in 2018, totaling $27 million in fines, according to the city. In 2013, those same companies received roughly 372,000 summonses and paid $21.8 million.

After one idling FreshDirect truck drew numerous complaints, Ben Kallos, a City Council member who represents the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said he contacted the police. It was towed away, only to have other trucks soon take its place.

“It’s kind of a game of whack-a-mole,” Mr. Kallos said. “They operate somewhere until we get complaints and then they move.”

Images and videos of delivery trucks blocking bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks are easy to find on social media. In some neighborhoods, Amazon’s ubiquitous boxes are stacked and sorted on the sidewalk, sometimes on top of coverings spread out like picnic blankets.

“They are using public space as their private warehouse,” said Christine Berthet, who lives in Midtown Manhattan. “That is not acceptable. That is not what the sidewalk is for.”

The total number of trucks on tolled crossings into New York City and within the five boroughs rose about 9.4 percent in 2018, to an estimated 35.7 million, from 32.6 million in 2013, according to transit data.

That increase in traffic has made the interchange of Interstate 95 and New Jersey Route 4, about a half-mile from the George Washington Bridge, the country’s most gridlocked stretch of highway for trucks, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.

“There is just not enough room for all the trucks that need to make deliveries, the cars that need to get past them and the people who live here,” Mr. Kallos said.


City council members Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos, both Manhattan Democrats, have introduced a bill to require the periodic reviews as a way of preventing the system from becoming warped over time, as has happened since the last major changes were made four decades ago.If the bill becomes law, it would create a commission appointed by the mayor and speaker to analyze the system in terms of “equity, efficiency, transparency, ease of administration, and compliance.” It would be required to hold two public hearings and issue a report with an analysis and recommendations by November 2030. The process would repeat every 15 years.  


Last week, Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos introduced a bill mandating evaluation of the system in 2030. The idea is to prevent it from becoming warped over time, as has occurred since the last major change was made four decades ago.

The law would create a commission appointed by the mayor and speaker to analyze the system in terms of “equity, efficiency, transparency, ease of administration, and compliance.” It would be required to hold two public hearings and issue a report with an analysis and recommendations by November 2030. The process would repeat every 15 years.


City Council member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) has proposed a bill that would allow the city to opt-in and institute the safety measure in the five boroughs. The idea is gaining momentum as lawmakers plan a hearing on the issue within the next month.


"Closing Rikers now is essential. The Progressive Caucus has won commitments in the communities being most affected for more transitional housing, healthcare support, and connection centers along with more programs to help local residents with mental health. Thank you to Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio for working with the Progressive Caucus in making this commitment to these communities," said Council Member Ben Kallos.


EAST HARLEM, NY — The men and women who fish off of the East River Esplanade have a vital new resource in the form of an ADA-accessible bait station on a stretch of the East Harlem waterfront.

The station — where fishermen and fisherwomen can prepare bait, inspect catches to see if they require release and clean catches to take home — was funded by the group Friends of the East River Esplanade through a $15,000 grant from Sea Grant New York, according to the organization's board chair Jennifer Ratner. In addition to serving as a useful tool for East River anglers, the bait station is outfitted with public art depicting sketches of the types of fish that call the urban river home, Ratner said.


Other Acacia residents have filed complaints against SERA Security Services, the private firm Acacia contracts with to provide security at its shelters. SERA and another private contractor used by city shelters, FJC Security, faced 21 lawsuits over violence as of mid-2018.

According to New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, the City Council is probing the abuse allegations from Acacia residents.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet with several people who have stayed in Acacia Network scattered site housing and shelters and was concerned with their personal stories and what they went through,” Kallos told Sludge. “We met with them as well as investigators from the City Council, and if the allegations are true it gives rise to serious concerns. And we are actively looking into it and have reported it to the proper authorities, including referrals to the Department of Investigation.”


 “There is no question that someone doing business with the city is only going to bundle because they think it will help their bottom line,” Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) said.

Critics of the loopholes hope an increase in the public match, from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1 for certain donations, will help curb big-money influence in the 2021 elections.

“Hopefully that disincentives this behavior,” Kallos said.


New York City Council Member Ben Kallos first introduced legislation to ban glyphosate (and all chemical pesticides) from city parks in 2015, shortly after the World Health Organization’s verdict that it’s unsafe. During the legislation’s hearing in September 2017, dozens of elementary-school children crowded City Hall to testify their support. The legislation failed, but Kallos and Carlina Rivera reintroduced it in April, just before the EPA classified the chemical as safe. The bill has 24 sponsors; it needs 34 to guarantee a hearing.


Recent City Council legislation sponsored by Councilmember Ben Kallos also brought up percentage of the spending limit that can be publicly funded to 88.89 percent, meaning that a candidate only needs to raise 11.11 percent in match-eligible private contributions in order to max out the spending limit.

When it comes to getting big money out of politics to level the playing field, a clear victory can be seen in the 2019 public advocate special election — the first with an 8:1 match on small donations. The race attracted a wide range of contenders, with 11 of the 17 candidates receiving matching funds and all but one opting for the higher match (there were two options in this election). Together, they received $7,178,120, accounting for more than 72.25 percent of the funding in the race, according to Kallos’ office and the CFB respectively.

The high public match also seemed to encourage candidates to seek out small donations, with contributions of $250 and under making up 93.82 percent of donations and 60.78 percent of the private money raised. Compare that with the last competitive public advocate election in 2013 in which small contributions made up only one-quarter of the private money raised, according to Kallos’ office. In the 2019 special election, the most common donation was just $10, according to the CFB.


New Yorkers face the same problem as many Americans: employers do not provide a retirement plan at work. If we don’t address our inadequate retirement system, 2 out of every 5 older American households will fall into poverty or near-poverty when they retire at 62. Along with this human toll, massive downward mobility among the elderly will hurt our economy, cutting demand and jobs while increasing the need for more government and social spending.

Due to federal inaction, 43 states (and the city of Seattle) have made various proposals to expand their residents’ access to retirement coverage. New York State is one of 11 that has passed reforms into law.


For City Councilmember Ben Kallos, renovations to the playground are personal. The local lawmaker played in Carl Schurz Park while growing up in the neighborhood and now takes his daughter to the playground, he said Thursday.

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"A lot of parents have brought concern about the condition of the equipment — at one point there was actually plywood up," Kallos said. "Thankfully that is now down but this park has been desperately in need of an upgrade."

Kallos and the City Council allocated $2.5 million in funding for the project. Another major backer was Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, whose office allocated $775,000.


“Retirement should be for everybody, not just for people who work in offices here in Manhattan, and not just for people lucky enough to have a pension,” Onza Lynch, a Bronx commercial carter, said at a Sept. 23 rally to push legislation that would establish a universal retirement savings plan for private-sector employees across the city.

Mayor de Blasio, City Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Ben Kallos, and advocate groups including the American Association of Retired Persons spoke of the importance of retirement security at the City Hall event.


We covered last week’s renewed call for pedestrian and bike safety fixes on the dangerous Queensboro Bridge, but you have to see Clarence Eckerson’s latest Streetfilms video to really understand the situation.


BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Lawmakers from both sides of the East River want the city to make part of the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge a walkway solely for pedestrians.

Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos along with Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris called on the Department of Transportation to not stall any longer and turn the Queensboro Bridge’s South (Queens-bound) Outer Roadway into a walkway.

“I don’t think we need to wait, I think we need to get it done before congestion pricing,” said Kallos at a press conference held the South Outer Roadway’s entrance at 59th Street. He was joined by Van Bramer and Gianaris, along with a crowd of activists from Transportation Alternatives and Bike NY.

Currently, people crossing the bridge by foot in both directions have to share a narrow pathway on the North Outer Roadway with cyclists crossing the bridge also traveling in both directions.


The city’s failure to give more space to the increasing number of pedestrians and cyclists on the Queensboro Bridge is a betrayal of Vision Zero — and that failure seems based on a fealty to car traffic on a span where bikes and walkers sometimes outnumber drivers.

East Side Council Member Ben Kallos and his Queens counterpart Jimmy Van Bramer blasted Department of Transportation officials for their continued claim that they cannot convert the south side of the bridge’s outermost lane, also known as the South Outer Roadway, into a pedestrian path so that walkers do not need to share the bridge’s narrow North Outer Roadway with cyclists, who are increasing by double-digit counts.