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).
Gothamist After Backlash From UES Residents & Officials, City Halts 'Building On Stilts' Over Fire Safety Concerns by Elizabeth Kim
On February 15th, state Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer, Council members Keith Powers and Ben Kallos, wrote a letter to the DOB citing its actions on the Upper West Side project. “Regardless of whether the void in the building proposed at 249 East 62nd Street is enclosed or open air as described to the press, we believe you must also refer this building to the FDNY.”
On Thursday, Kallos said the letter was intended to "call attention to the disparate treatment by the DOB between East Side and West Side." He said he was glad that the matter had been referred to the FDNY, noting that the measure "will ultimately keep residents safe."
Gothamist 'Building On Stilts' That Inspired City To Close Zoning Loophole May Get Built Anyway by Elizabeth Kim
City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, responded by saying that he was "horrified" that DOB's interpretation appeared to be at odds with that of City Planning. In the past he has asked City Planning to consider adding more height restrictions in certain residential neighborhoods.
Citing 180 East 88th Street and 200 Amsterdam, two other projects that opponents say have used loopholes to add building height, Kallos said, "It's DOB that has been willfully refusing to follow zoning regulations."
Similarly, Rachel Levy, the executive director of Friends, expressed disbelief and frustration at the DOB’s position.
Gothamist NYCHA Residents Excoriate The Agency's 'Desperate' Pitch For Privatization by Elizabeth Kim
Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough President, and City Councilmember Ben Kallos both attended the hearing to oppose the project, and suggested that the issue may ultimately wind up in court. "I don't want to be specific but we're very serious about this project," Brewer added.
After the hearing, Gregory Morris, president and executive director of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit at the housing complex whose services includes a community center, after-school programs and daycare, issued the following statement:
"NYCHA residents of Holmes Towers/Isaacs Houses and Members of Manhattan Community Board 8 made clear last night that they were uninformed about the Fetner project, as well as deeply concerned about its legality and potential environmental hazards. As the primary provider of social services in the development for more than 50 years, the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center will continue to amplify the voices of public housing residents who have long been ignored and isolated. We will continue to stand with all stakeholders to ensure that this project is subject to the City's Uniform Land Use Review Process, as the preservation of public housing through private investment should never conflict with the preservation of human dignity."
On Wednesday night, after four hours of public testimony, NYCHA officials, who appeared both worn and frustrated by the outpouring of anger, stopped trying to sell the project and conceded the reality of the situation.
There are over 300 miles of scaffolding in this city. Those damp, dimly-lit plywood tunnels installed alongside construction sites are meant to keep construction materials from falling on pedestrians below. But sidewalk sheds can also be dangerous. Earlier this month, construction workers in Williamsburg were injured when a sidewalk shed gave way beneath them. Last summer, scaffolding in Brooklyn Heights fell outside a Starbucks, injuring three people below. And in 2017, a young woman suffered major spinal damage when scaffolding collapsed on her in SoHo.
Gothamist Data Suggests City Still Lacks Vigilance Following Legionnaires' Deaths by Sean Carlson and Lylla Younes
City Councilman Ben Kallos was a co-sponsor of the law. He says if the data is correct and there really is widespread noncompliance with the state and city rules, the city should do something about it.
“We need to know if the legislation we passed is actually working,” Kallos said.
Meanwhile, some advocates say the law isn’t working. Brad Considine is the director of strategic planning at the APLD. He believes that New York City residents are not getting their money's worth for the law, which costs cooling tower owners approximately 130 million dollars a year.
“The whole thing is misguided, but they did it over a weekend,” Considine said, referring to the city’s legislation. “They felt political pressure and their political interests and business interests [are] driving this discussion, and meanwhile people are getting sick and dying.”
This story was co-reported by WNYC and Gothamist.
Gothamist Hundreds Of Nonprofits At Risk Of Having Their Tax Debt Sold—Even Though Many Should Likely Be Tax Exempt by Nathan Tempey
Advocates have plenty of examples to point to when describing the lien sale process running amok. By their tally, 89 properties with community uses had their tax debt sold in 2016. Among them was Grace Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which sold last year to cover wrongfully levied tax bills, according to reporting by Urban Omnibus. The Al-Muneer Foundation, a mosque and community center, in Jamaica, Queens had its wrongfully issued tax debt sold in 2014 and had to fight to get the tax erased.
A church's failure to pay taxes or file for an exemption for one of three neighboring lots that make up the Imani Community Garden in Crown Heights led to its tax debt being sold in 2004. The affected lot is in the middle of the garden and contains a decades-old willow tree. In 2015, BNY Mellon's trust foreclosed on the debt, and a developer bought it at private auction. The new owner fenced the lot off from the other two sides of the garden, and is now planning to build an apartment building there, according to Buildings Department records.
Aging nonprofit administrators, dwindling church congregations, decentralized dioceses, and transient volunteer pools can all contribute to nonprofits missing the significance of bills or failing to file paperwork, according to people familiar with the issue.
"I’ve heard from some folks who are like, 'Why can’t some nonprofits fill out some forms?'" said East Side Councilman Ben Kallos, who lead the sign-on effort. "If this goes into the lien sale, no bank is going to say, 'Oh you don’t need to pay us back, you just need to fill out this form with the city.' The city should be reaching out proactively to folks."
Gothamist NYC Councilman Seeks To Curb Light Pollution By Requiring Guards On Streetlights by Nathan Tempey
East Side Councilman Ben Kallos is planning to introduce a bill to cut down on light pollution by mandating that the city use light-directing fixtures when replacing streetlights.
Gothamist New Proposal Would Require DOE To Share Extensive Data On Public School Enrollment by RAPHAEL POPE-SUSSMAN
City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents a broad swath of Midtown East and the Upper East Side, on Wednesday introduced a bill requiring expanded disclosure on school enrollment, part of an effort to address a space crunch that has half of the city's public school students attending overcrowded schools.
Under the terms of the proposed bill, the Department of Education would make publicly available aggregated and disaggregated data on the number of applications and admissions granted for each school in the city, as well as enrollment numbers and expected open seats for the next school year. This data would be further broken down by grade level and the community school and council districts of residence for students, as well as their zip codes.
"We need to better track what schools people are applying to, how many folks are being turned away from schools, and have a better sense of where they're ending up so we can re-adjust programming," Kallos told Gothamist.
Gothamist Election Day In NYC Plagued With Long Lines, Broken Scanners, Misinformed Poll Workers by Nathan Tempey
A 2014 report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, formed following problems with the 2012 presidential election, concluded that "no voter should have to wait more than half an hour," and that where that happens, "corrective measures should be deployed." And as research cited by the New York Times today found:
Early voters, urban voters and minority voters are all more likely to wait and wait and wait. In predominantly minority communities, the lines are about twice as long as in predominantly white ones[...]And minority voters are six times as likely as whites to wait longer than an hour to vote.
Citing the presidential commission's report, Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos, chairman of the Council Committee on Governmental Operations, wrote, "At poll sites across the city, New Yorkers are reporting long lines. The consolidation of poll sites crammed too many election districts into mega-poll sites and left New Yorkers waiting on mega-lines. For safety, the fire code limits how many people can occupy a space and the number of voters at certain poll sites is dangerously close to those limits. We need additional, wheelchair-accessible poll sites to reduce lines and ensure a safe voting experience."
Perhaps even more troubling than technical and logistical malfunctions is poll worker misdirection, based on false understandings of law and procedure. At PS 142 in Carroll Gardens, reader Nicole Yoblick wrote:
The people working at my booth giving out forms were instructing us that we have to vote ALL democratic or ALL republican, that we could not pick and choose or the machines would reject the form when scanned. They said it had happened multiple times already...So we would not be allowed to vote for a democratic president and a republican senator. This is wrong!"