New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Our Town

Our Town Safe space on Sutton Place by Douglas Feiden

Safe space on Sutton Place

Kallos tapped his discretionary funds to buy five security cameras for the northern blocks — each with a live 24/7 feed to the 17th Precinct — and Powers dipped into his Council funds to purchase two more for the culs-de-sac as far south as Beekman Place and 50th Street.

They don’t come cheap: Each camera will cost $35,000 for an overall tab of $245,000. It wasn’t immediately clear when they will be installed.

“Soon, the 17th Precinct will have eyes on the park — and it will be able to respond instantaneously and even proactively,” Kallos said in an Aug. 3 press conference at the river-facing dead end on East 54th Street.

Our Town Panel Eyes Changes to Community Boards by Michael Garofalo

Panel Eyes Changes to Community Boards

As part of the city’s ongoing charter revision process, New Yorkers could be asked to vote this year on major changes to rules governing community board membership, including instituting term limits and a uniform citywide appointment process.

Ben Kallos, who represents much of the Upper East Side in the City Council, said in recent public testimony that term limits “are necessary to ensure that these bodies reflect their communities and create a culture of getting things done and foster mentoring and the passing on of institutional memory.”

Our Town UES tower dispute heads to appeal by Mike Garofalo

UES tower dispute heads to appeal

Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood in the City Council, has joined a pending lawsuit against the developer and the city alleging that the developer’s tactics represent “a deliberate attempt to circumvent and nullify” city zoning provisions. Kallos and others said the East 88th Street project speaks to a broader issue of developers finding and exploiting zoning loopholes to build ever-taller towers without regard for neighborhood context. Several speakers at the July 16 press conference referenced the proposed 668-foot condo tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side that is the subject of an ongoing zoning dispute over the project’s irregularly shaped lot.

“It’s kind of like playing a game of whack-a-mole, with an industry that has billions to devote to coming up with new ways to circumvent the rules,” Kallos said, citing tactics such as excessive floor-to-floor ceiling heights, so-called “gerrymandered” zoning lots, and the use of mechanical voids as tools that have been used by developers with increasing frequency in recent years to inflate building heights and property values.

Kallos and other members of the City Council have said that the legislative body needs more resources to expand its land use staff to review projects before they receive approval.

Our Town Separation and solidarity by ALIZAH SALARIO

Separation and solidarity

 

Outrage turned to action as New Yorkers worked to support migrant children brought to the city

 

An outpouring of donations for the separated migrant children at the office of Council Member Mark Levine (right). Photo courtesy of the Office of Mark Levine

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    Lawyer Moms for America participated in a protest in downtown Manhattan last week. Photo courtesy of Lawyer Moms of America

 

“It was a very intense and an emotional experience, and I experienced the heartbreak of meeting the children, some as young as one-year-old.”

Council Member Mark Levine, after touring the Cayuga Center in East Harlem

 

At first, not even New York City’s elected officials knew that the perilous journeys for 239 migrant children separated from their parents had come to an end, for now, in Manhattan.

But as the story unfolded last week of how the Trump administration’s family separation policy — widely denounced as a moral and human rights catastrophe by politicians, religious leaders and former first ladies from across the political spectrum — had resulted in an estimated 2,300 children shipped to far-flung cities around the country, New Yorkers took notice. And when news broke that approximately 700 of those children were believed to be in New York State, with over a quarter of them in New York City alone, many City leaders and everyday citizens first expressed outrage — and then quickly took action. “I have to say how incredibly proud I am of the way New Yorkers have supported these kids,” says City Council Member Mark Levine, who represents Northern Manhattan.

Under pressure, President Trump signed an executive order on June 20 ending his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents who were detained at the southern border. But New York City officials continue to push back against the lack of Federal transparency about the reunification process and demand the exact whereabouts of the children already separated from their parents. And that begins with the young people shipped hundreds of miles now sharing the same shores as Lady Liberty.

On June 22, Levine, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and other elected officials, toured the Cayuga Center in East Harlem, where some of the migrant children are being held, as first reported by NY1.

“It was a very intense and an emotional experience, and I experienced the heartbreak of meeting the children, some as young as one-year-old,” says Levine. “It was also a tremendous relief to see the quality of care [Cayuga Center] is providing [them]. That’s not to minimize the trauma these kids have gone through.”

After Levine’s office put out a call for donations last week, they were flooded with baby formula, diapers, clothing and books, sometimes brought in by young children themselves to help those in need. Over 1,200 volunteers signed up with the office online, including attorneys offering pro bono services and doctors and dentists offering their expertise to provide check-ups for the migrant children.

“It is better that the children are here in a state that is willing and able to help them rather than elsewhere,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side. “I hope to be able to work with the City and the State to improve the lives of these children and reunite them with their families, and if even possible help put them on a path toward legal status here in the U.S.”

Our Town Stubborn sidewalk sheds of the UES by Mike Garofalo

Stubborn sidewalk sheds of the UES

While city law dictates when scaffolding must be erected, there are currently no regulations requiring sheds to be dismantled if no work is being done on the building. Legislation sponsored by Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos would change that.

The bill, first introduced by Kallos in 2016, would require all sheds erected due to dangerous building conditions to come down within six months — or sooner, if work is interrupted for more than seven consecutive days. If a building owner fails to complete the necessary repairs and remove scaffolding within that time frame, the legislation calls for the city to step in to complete the work, take down the scaffolding, and bill the landlord for all costs.

“Scaffolding goes up but doesn’t go down — for months, years, even decades — while no work is happening,” Kallos said in January when he reintroduced the bill for the current session. Real estate groups oppose the proposed reform on the grounds that it would unfairly burden building owners.

Our Town UES votes to fund tech, school infrastructure by Michael Garofalo

UES votes to fund tech, school infrastructure

“Education and the well-being of our neighborhood children have always been a top priority for me,” Kallos said in a statement. “I am proud and happy that the residents who voted and participated in the process share that feeling and made it known with their vote.”

Our Town Redeeming an Upper East Side eyesore by Douglas Feiden

Redeeming an Upper East Side eyesore

t was 1939, construction was wrapping up on the East River Drive, the waterfront was being reinvented and dozens of property holders were cutting deals as their riverside rights began to vanish.

Case in point: The Brearley School. It limited its claim for the loss of air and light and the surrender of riparian rights to a symbolic $1 when the city obtained an easement for its playground and pier.

It did not, however, walk away empty-handed: In return for getting out of the way of the highway, Brearley got the city to build a new elevated structure above the promenade deck for its use as a play space.

And for the past 79 years, the private all-girls school has been leasing the 3,720-square-foot, steel-and-concrete platform that rises above the East River Esplanade’s John Finley Walk between 82nd and 83rd Street.

Unfortunately, for the past half-century, the city-owned hulk — called “The Pier,” for the jetty it replaced, and “The Overhang,” because it juts out over the Esplanade — has become one of the most detested and unsightly visual objects on the Upper East Side.

“I have spent my entire life walking up and down the Esplanade, passing under this overhang — and watching it fall apart,” said 37-year-old City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area.

Our Town Help for the homeless by Shoshy Ciment

Help for the homeless

“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.”

Our Town Mission: Spend a million dollars by Douglas Feiden

Mission: Spend a million dollars

“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.”

Our Town School crossing guards in short supply by Michael Garofalo

School crossing guards in short supply

“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.)