New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

Councilman Kallos said the Trump decision spurred him to action. He said he has wanted to ban disposable plastic water bottles since trying to buy one himself while visiting San Francisco several years ago and being told he could not. So he bought a reusable bottle to tote around — something he now does in New York.

“You see plastic bottles everywhere,” he said. “It makes New York look like a dump and we can do better.”

This is not the first time that New York has taken a stand against plastic bottles. In 2008, the office of the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, stopped buying bottled waterfor Council offices. A 2009 state executive order barred state agencies from buying bottled water, to save taxpayer dollars and improve the environment.

The city has also targeted other plastic waste. In 2016, the Council sought to encourage shoppers to give up plastic store bags by charging 5 cents for most plastic and shopping bags. But that law was blocked last year by state legislators, some of whom argued that it imposed a regressive tax on the poor, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Mr. Kallos and Mr. Espinal said their proposed ban on plastic bottle sales was more limited than the plastic bag fee and less likely to draw interference from state lawmakers.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, left, a sponsor of the ban, discussed its merits with Michael O’Neal, a co-owner of the Ballfields Café in Central Park. A manager at the café said a ban could cut into his bottom line. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times
City Councilman Ben Kallos, left, a sponsor of the ban, discussed its merits with Michael O’Neal, a co-owner of the Ballfields Café in Central Park. A manager at the café said a ban could cut into his bottom line. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

 

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, said that while Mr. Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, had not yet seen the proposed ban, “The speaker has always said that the city has the ability to enact a ban on unnecessary plastic waste.”

Mr. Kallos and Mr. Espinal said they will introduce bills next week to lay out more details about the proposed ban. Mr. Kallos said that vendors in city recreational areas could face penalties for selling plastic bottles, including possibly having their concessions revoked.

 

Kallos says he sees the impact of the law’s flaws. Across the street from his Council office, shedding has been in place for eight years despite a lack of work.
“Every day I see scaffolds where work is not happening at existing buildings,” he says.

Industry professionals tell City Limits privately that such delays could occur for legitimate and unavoidable reasons, such as a dysfunctional co-op board, delays in receiving city permits, new owners, a broke landlord who inherited an old walk-up, a building exchanging hands. Imposing a six-month limit, one architect warned, was “arbitrary” and could create a risk to public safety. And some wonder why a landlord would needlessly allow a shed to stay up if it was hurting their commercial tenants, who pay him rent.

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) says Kallos’ proposed law will inconvenience the developer and the public and bring further delays. “The bill is well-intentioned but there are too many unintended consequences, insists REBNY’s Carl Hum, senior vice president of the organization, which represents more than 13,000 building owners and professionals.

Kallos’s office tells City Limits that the bill was reintroduced in 2017 and that negotiations are continuing with the DOB, REBNY and the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a trade group for residential building owners, which did not comment. “We have to negotiate with other people in the room,” Kallos says.

Kevin Dougan, director of the New York State Restaurant Group, supports the bill, as does the New York Hospitality Alliance. Dougan says that more than 600 of his members (mostly in Manhattan) report seeing a 40-percent slump in earnings because of the sheds, in an industry where profits are low as is.

In a 2016 sweep, the DOB says, it found that 98 percent of the sheds are necessary to protect the public, ordering the remainder to be removed. But that’s a number whose accuracy Dougan doubts, given the lack of inspectors. Kallos says the sweep did not determine whether work was active at each site.

 

Ben Kallos, a software developer who championed then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Reinvent Payphones” initiative in 2013, noticed some kiosks in his district were partially out of order, and offered Wi-Fi but not free calls.

 

"Spring has finally sprung and with the new trees and planters can't wait to turn every pedestrian island into a small garden," Kallos said in a statement. "I am glad I was able to collaborate with our city agencies to launch and expand this great program to beautify the neighborhood."

Seventeen tree guards to protect the new trees from neighborhood pets were also installed as an extension of the Adopt-A-Planter program launched by Kallos in 2014 to bring trees to the First Avenue bike lane, officials said.

 

“We are a welcoming community. And whether it is women in need or others, we are going to work with you.”

City Council member Ben Kallos

For New Yorkers, the issue of homelessness is virtually impossible to ignore.

Approximately 63,495 people are homeless in New York City, 22,293 of whom are children in the public school system and 17,085 are parents with children, according to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, in figures from April 12 cited by City Council Member Ben Kallos.

These numbers only account for people in shelter system and do not represent the minority of homeless individuals — about 3,700 people — who sleep on the streets.

City leaders and homelessness experts discussed the situation on April 12 at the Ramaz School during a forum that addressed avenues for alleviating the problem in New York City, specifically on the Upper East Side.

“It really is more of a think tank,” said Barbara Rudder, a co-chair on the Health, Seniors, and Social Services Committee of Community Board 8. The forum, which was attended by over 60 people including Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, was meant to share information about the homeless problem with the public and discuss workable solutions to fix it.

To the experts on the panel — who included representatives from the NYC Department of Homeless Services, the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter, the Doe Fund and the Women’s Mental Health Shelter — affordable housing is the first step. In the years between 2005 and 2015, rents have increased by 18.4 percent while incomes have increased by just 4.8 percent.

Kallos, whose district includes Yorkville, Lenox Hill and Carnegie Hill, discussed his efforts to increase the number of supportive housing facilities in the city. He mentioned his success during his re-election last year when he assisted in the acquisition of seventeen two-bedroom apartments for homeless women and their families.

“We are a welcoming community,” remarked Kallos. “And whether it is women in need or others, we are going to work with you.”

 

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents Sutton Place and the Upper East Side, testified Tuesday that residents had been fighting to rezone Sutton Place before Gamma even bought its development site.

"If the BSA is going to live up to its purpose which is to grant relief to developers when there is undue hardship, it cannot grant this exemption because these developers knew exactly what they were doing at all times and decided to assume risk despite the clear and present intentions and efforts of the community," Kallos said at a Board of Standards and Appeals hearing.

 

The Department of Buildings decided to release the data to give residents a better idea of when permits are issued and when they expire, and allow watchful neighbors to track sheds they suspect of overstaying their welcome.

"Real-time mapping not only increases our ability to monitor structures such as sidewalk sheds, but also shows how we are harnessing technology to hold building owners accountable," Rick Chandler, commissioner of the department, said in a statement.

Many attempts to reduce the proliferation of unwarranted scaffolding have been made over the years. After New York City Housing Authority residents complained that scaffolding at their developments was left in place long after work finished, the state passed a bill requiring them to be removed. And in 2016, City Councilman Ben Kallos introduced a bill that would penalize owners who leave scaffolding up when work is not being done, though the legislation has yet to gain traction.

 

The New York City Council is moving ahead with a bill to create a Charter Revision Commission to review the city charter, the city’s seminal governing document, with a committee vote on the bill set for Tuesday, and the full Council likely to vote it through on Wednesday. The Council’s commission is a separate effort from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own commission, called by the mayor a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations will hold a hearing on the latest version of its bill, whose prime sponsors are Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ben Kallos (at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.) James and Brewer initially put forth the idea last year, and Johnson got behind the effort after being elected speaker in January, when a new Council class was seated.

 

“All too often, there has been a strong correlation between people who give political contributions and groups that receive, or lose, millions in taxpayer funds,” said East Side Council Member Ben Kallos.

Historically, he noted, it wasn’t uncommon for some elected officials to use public money to “reward friends and punish enemies.” Now, PB walls off $1 million per district from being any part of that vicious cycle: “It puts those dollars back into the hands of the voters,” he said.

There are other benefits of the citizen-driven, decision-making process, said Kallos, who has utilized it since taking office in 2014. Considering that elected officials don’t always keep their word to voters, he added, “This is better than most campaign promises!”

Indeed, PB provides “almost instant gratification in which people can vote on a project, see the money allocated and then see it built,” he said.

And Kallos summed up the bottom line, saying, “Now, the people get to decide how to spend $1 million — irrespective of elected officials and the political process.”

 

Councilmembers Mark Treyger Treyger (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst), Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side) and Helen Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side) are pushing legislation to make it easier for New Yorkers to register to vote and to cut the red tape prospective candidates face getting on the ballot.

One bill would seek to strengthen the Young Adult Voter Registration Act, a 2004 law requiring voter registration forms to be sent to graduating high school seniors with their diplomas. The bill would require the forms to be distributed to students in class instead of mailing them with diplomas.

"Ensuring that our schools are connecting students with language-appropriate voter registration materials will help us empower our young adults to stand up, take action for what they believe in, and become part of the social fabric of our city, our state and our country," said Treyger, chairman of the Council’s Committee on Education.

A second bill would require landlords to provide new tenants with voter registration forms with the apartment lease.

The third bill would overhaul the process by which candidates get on the ballot. Under the bill, candidates could qualify to get on the ballot by meeting a minimum threshold to receive public funds through the city’s campaign finance system.

It would do away with the current system which requires candidates to secure a certain number of signatures on nominating petitions from registered voters in their districts.

Kallos charged that the current system has given rise to “ballot bumping,” an effort by well-financed candidates and political clubs to hire lawyers to take opponents to court and knock them off the ballot for minor technical infractions.

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The Queensboro Oval will remain home to a sports facility — not a park — for at least another 10 years, according to the city Parks Department.

The Parks Department released a request for proposals in February seeking a partner to develop, operate and maintain a sports facility at the space located underneath the Queensboro Bridge on East 59th Street between First and York avenues. Community boards and elected officials representing the Upper East Side and East Midtown had advocated converting the space into a public park.

"For many months last year, NYC Parks engaged in an extensive dialogue with elected officials, community board members, local residents and those who have enjoyed tennis at the Queensboro Oval for the past 40 years, and determined that open to the public sports recreational use of this kind of space is the best, safest, and most accessible," Parks Department Spokeswoman Crystal Howard said in a statement. "We look forward to continued engagement with the public as we move forward."

The Queensboro Oval site is owned by the city Department of Transportation, which will not allow the construction of any permanent structures on the property, according to a Parks Department spokesperson. The inability to create permanent structures such as tree and shrub plantings or play equipment makes the site unfit for a traditional park space, the spokesperson said.

 

Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos, who is also a computer programmer, said the new initiative is “incredibly welcome” in his books. He maintained the necessity of protecting residents, businesses and government’s privacy as well as ensuring their safety.

 

“This city has a commitment to Vision Zero, and having crossing guards at dangerous intersections could be helpful to more than just our public school students.”

City Council Member Ben Kallos

Despite increased funding as part of a citywide push to hire enough crossing guards to cover every school crossing post in New York City, as many as half of budgeted crossing guard positions in some Manhattan neighborhoods have gone unfilled.

Five out of nine budgeted crossing guard positions were unfilled in the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct as of January 2017, the most recent period for which data is available. (Rosenthal said it is her understanding that the number of positions filled has not since changed. The NYPD is required to report updated data on crossing guard vacancies to the City Council by Sept. 30, 2018.)

 

The City Council last year passed a law mandating that the BOE implement online voter registration and, in mid-2016, mandated that the BOE create an online voter information portal where New Yorkers can track their absentee ballots, check their registration status and voting history, as well as access other voting and election resources. Both bills were sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee last Council session.

The BOE has often been reluctant to abide by local laws, since it is governed by the state, and has either implemented common-sense measures that do not necessarily require legislation or has been pushed to do so by litigation. Ryan reiterated that fact Monday, setting aside the “mandate-no mandate argument” and laying out the BOE’s plans for this year. He also explained why the BOE had been slow to implement those measures, when Council Member Kallos sought answers about the delay.

“Simply put, 2016 happened,” Ryan said, referring to the 2016 presidential election, during which the BOE faced widespread criticism for mishandling of election operations and settled a federal lawsuit arising from a voter purge in Brooklyn. “We had the issues, painful as it is for me to resurrect, we had the voter registration issues in Brooklyn, followed shortly after that by the cybersecurity issues that arose just prior to the presidential election.”

 

"I am pleased to report that thanks to your work and more importantly the great recyclers in your community, the amount of refuse processed at the MTS will be lower than anticipated during the planning process," Garcia said in a letter.

City Councilman Ben Kallos said the reduction of truck traffic on the Upper East Side is a positive sign that the city may scrap the plan entirely.

"We've spent four years fighting the Marine Transfer Station and pushing for a smarter way to handle our city's waste, which is already paying off with a 25% reduction in trucks and trash," Kallos said in a statement. "We must continue our fight to stop the Marine Transfer Station from opening, if it opens see it closed, and spend every moment reducing waste through diversion, such as reusing, composting and recycling."

 

Mr. Johnson’s more assertive posture is reflective of an attitude shared by many Council members, including those who ran against Mr. Johnson for speaker and others who did not support his bid.

Councilman Benjamin Kallos of Manhattan welcomed a new era of debate. “I think conflict is good for resolving problems,” he said.

“The notion that the mayor is the sole branch of New York City government is an anachronism,” said Ritchie Torres, a councilman who represents the Bronx. “It has no place in the age of Corey Johnson.”

 

A kinder, gentler, cleaner dump

BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN

PUBLISHED MAR 6, 2018 AT 4:28 PM (UPDATED MAR 6, 2018)

The garbage depot on the East River, one of the most reviled projects on the UES, may not be quite as dreadful as feared — but just-revealed sanitation truck routes will stress out plenty of neighbors

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    Twilight falls on the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station on Sunday, March 4th. Loathed by locals since it was proposed nearly 15 years ago, the MTS will now process far less trash than originally projected -- and the number of garbage trucks rumbling across the East Side will also plummet. Photo: Douglas Feiden

“Simply put, less trash means fewer trucks.”

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia

The mountains of trash that will be hauled to the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station when it opens in 2019 have been dramatically reduced, new data from the city's Department of Sanitation shows.

Municipal garbage trucks will still thunder across the Upper East Side as they travel to and from the MTS — but the size of the planned fleet will be sharply scaled back, according to DOS projections.

In a January 25 letter sent to East Side elected officials, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia summed up the bottom line: “This is not the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station of years ago,” she wrote.

The missive, provided to Straus News by East Side City Council Member Ben Kallos, who has long battled to kill the project, is perhaps the only good news the MTS has generated since it was first proposed in 2004.

“Thanks to your work — and more importantly, the great recyclers in your community — the amount of refuse processed at the MTS will be lower than anticipated during the planning process,” Garcia wrote.

Flash back to 2003, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg initiated the planning for a facility that would process all residential waste from Community Boards 5, 6, 8 and 11 — an area bounded by 14th Street on the south and 135th Street on the north, Eighth Avenue to the west and the East River to the east.

 

Rita Sklar, of the family has possessed the building since the 1940s and principal of Ninety Five Madison Corp., warmly embraced designation of the “grande dame that has withstood the test of time.” Sklar said the Emmet was a “tiny building in a growing sea of towering modern buildings,” that “remained a jewel”, and was worthy of individual landmark designation. The Historic Districts Council’s Kelly Carroll discussed Dr. Emmet’s support for the Irish independence movement, and noted that he left his extensive library to the Irish American Historical Society and Notre Dame. Designation was also supported by Community Board 5, the 29th Street Block Association, the Society for the Architecture of the City, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, who had recently visited the site, said the building has been “beautifully maintained,” and “has great presence on the block.”

Chair Srinivasan stated that State Senator Liz Krueger, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, and Council Member Ben Kallos had communicated their support for both designations in a joint letter to the Commission.

 

"The city does not limit how long a sidewalk shed can stay in place. Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) has proposed legislation that would require such eyesore sheds be removed after seven days if no work takes place, but the bill has stalled."

 

The subject of the suit is DDG luxury condo located at 180 E. 88th St. The suit contends that the project’s developers and a pair of New York City agencies took advantage of a loophole in designing the project’s height and configuration.

“The loophole being abused here is just an example of what residents have endured from overdevelopment in our city,” City Councilman Ben Kallos, who is a party to the suit, said in a statement.

Ground broke on the DDG building back in April of 2015. Approximately one year later, however, trouble arose when local community groups voiced concerns over what they saw as an unusual aspect of the location’s zoning. Specifically, they said, the developer had included a separate 4-ft.-by-22-ft. lot along East 88th Street that permitted changing the building to a more suitable shape.