New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

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health inspectors to identify problem buildings, Kallos said, as they currently have to rely on the state's data can be outdated.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.

 

 

MORNINGS ON 1

Proposal to Change Social Media Policies at Tourist At­trac­tions

BY SPECTRUM NEWS STAFF 
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.

 

NYC Councilmember Ben Kallos, from the Upper East Side, said he planned to introduce legislation to make sure that tourists' photos and videos "are not taken and sold to the highest bidder."

"Security cameras can help keep us safe, but storing footage for marketing is a nightmare," Kallos said. He suggested that if photo-use policies similar to the Vessel's are in place elsewhere the Council should examine that as well.

Social media companies also have terms and conditions that grant permissions for use to the company.Purchasing a ticket for many other attractions and events also gives consent for photography.

 

But City Council member Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, said he planned to introduce legislation to make sure that tourists' photos and videos "are not taken and sold to the highest bidder."

"Security cameras can help keep us safe, but storing footage for marketing is a nightmare," Kallos said. He suggested that if photo-use policies similar to the Vessel's are in place elsewhere the Council should examine that as well.

"Now that we are aware of the problem I will be looking into this citywide and I hope I will have the help and support of Hudson Yards," Kallos said.

 

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – “Vessel,” the eye catching landmark at Hudson Yards officially opened to the public Friday and is now already embroiled in a social media controversy.

“There’s so many different angles it’s an instagrammable paradise,” photographer Rene Clement said.

“Amazing… just going up and down and seeing the view from up there, beautiful,” one visitor told CBS2’s Alice Gainer.

Despite all the fanfare surrounding the attraction, there’s already backlash over its photo policy. In the age of social media, the new rules are catching many people clicking away off guard.

There aren’t any signs posted around Vessel, but if you read your ticket it directs you to the Terms & Conditions page online.

A ticket (with very controversial fine print) to see Vessel at Hudson Yards. (Credit: CBS2)

All those videos and pictures visitors just posted to social media can be used for free by Vessel’s operator – ERY Vessel LLC.

“I hereby grant to company and its affiliates the right to re-post, share, publish, promote and distribute the Vessel Media,” the terms state.

That’s not all. Upon entering the structure, you can be photographed, filmed, or recorded however…

The “Company has the unconditional, irrevocable right to reproduce, display and use the Recordings, including for advertising, marketing and promotional purposes, in all media and formats, whether now known or later developed.”

The terms & conditions when entering Hudson Yards and Vessel in Manhattan. (Credit: CBS2)

“Yeah, I mean that’s kinda crazy because you’d think you’d have to sign a release to be able to do that,” Lizzie Goodman of Brooklyn said.

“That’s how social media is. If you’re putting it out there for the world to see then I feel like it’s their piece they have the right to take it,” Harlem resident Crawford Horton argued.

“It’s disgusting,” Rene Clement charged.

One attorney says that the Vessel has gone too far.

“I would say it’s overreaching,” entertainment and media attorney Craig Delsack declared.

Delsack added normally you’d see a big physical sign warning people that they’re walking into an area where filming could be taking place. As for their social media policy, that also bothers the lawyer.

“That’s not fair because if you are the Annie Leibovitz of instagrammable photos you’re going to want to be paid for that commercial use by someone else.”

City councilman Ben Kallos says he’s taking action to try and change this policy.

“I don’t think that Hudson Yards should be allowed to take someone’s identity or their photos and sell them and that’s why i’m introducing legislation in New York City to make it illegal,” Kallos explained.

 

(Credit: CBS2)

A spokesperson for Hudson Yards told CBS2 they wanted to over-communicate and be transparent.

So is there anyway to protect your selfie at Vessel from being used by someone else? All the social media sites have their own terms and conditions and – even in their terms and conditions – if you post a picture of something, we Twitter, Facebook, Instagram get to use that image as well,” Delsack warns.

So if you’re truly concerned about where your images will end up, the only surefire way to protect your rights (at the moment) is to keep them off the internet.

 

 

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.”

 

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.