New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Our Town

Our Town Sinkhole on the Upper East Side by Emily Higginbotham

Sinkhole on the Upper East Side

“New Yorkers are used to seeing potholes - this is on another level,” UES Council Member Ben Kallos told Our Town, noting that the hole was 20 feet deep and 15 by 15 feet. “We’ve never seen sinkholes in New York City, let alone sinkholes this big.”

The size of the hole grew throughout the day as crews worked to survey how much of the earth below had eroded and other possible damage. Water was shut off to two buildings on the street while crews worked, but service was restored by Thursday night. Con Edison also sent representatives to the scene to ensure the gas line stayed intact.

Though the city has massive rainfall and flash flood warnings in recent weeks, Kallos said the apparent cause of this particular sinkhole was related to a 12-inch water main and a six-inch sewer line. The Council member said he introduced legislation in May that could prevent sinkholes such as these from happening in the future.

“If we had smart meters on our water supply and on our gas, the city would have noticed the gallons and gallons of water that was missing between the building and the distribution point,” said Kallos. “We need to catch water and the gas leaks before buildings explode and sidewalks crumble, and God forbid, something like what happened to Miami happens here in New York City.”

The two sinkholes forming in the span of a few days represent an urgent problem that won’t be solved by simply repaving streets, Kallos said.

Our Town Kallos Allocates $3M to Renovate Ruppert Park by Jason Cohen

Kallos Allocates $3M to Renovate Ruppert Park

As Council member Ben Kallos has received complaints about outdated equipment at Ruppert Park, he stepped up to the plate and allocated $3 million to give it a much needed facelift.

Ruppert Park, located at Second Ave. between East 90th Street and East 91st Street, was built in 1979, yet it has been nearly 25 years since it was renovated.

“We haven’t done enough for Ruppert Park,” the Council member said. “It’s fallen into disrepair.”

According to Kallos, parents with young children will go to any park on the UES but Ruppert.

Our Town As the mayor announced that he would expand the free universal program to every school district in the city, Kallos is hoping to scale up seats on the UES by EMILY HIGGINBOTHAM|

As the mayor announced that he would expand the free universal program to every school district in the city, Kallos is hoping to scale up seats on the UES

When Mayor Bill de Blasio launched his free universal pre-Kindergarten program in 2014, the Upper East Side was only allotted 100 seats. It was a blow to parents in the neighborhood, where need greatly outsized availability. In the intervening years, the number of pre-K slots steadily grew to universal access, with about 70,000 four-year-olds currently enrolled across New York City.

This week the de Blasio administration announced the city is using federal stimulus funds to expand its free universal 3K program to every school district in the city – amounting to an additional 16,500 seats and 40,000 seats total – by this fall, and UES City Council Member Ben Kallos said he is already doing everything he can to ensure his district gets its fair share of those spots this time around.

“We’ve already gotten all hands on deck in my office to reach out to every provider that currently offers pre-K and every school that currently offers pre-K to find out how many additional seats they can accommodate,” Kallos, who is term-limited and running for Manhattan Borough President, told Our Town. Seats in the 3K program come from city-funded private daycare providers, DOE preschools, Head Start classes and home-based childcare programs.

Kallos said he’s contacting co-op boards looking for empty storefronts and keeping tabs on empty Duane Reeds for the city to potentially buy and convert to facilities for the 3K program.

“I’m going to spend the next six months, hopefully, working with parents, providers, and the real estate community to scale up as many seats as quickly as possible,” said Kallos. “I want as many of those seats to come to the Upper East Side as possible.”

Our Town Calls for More Bike Parking by Jason Cohen

Calls for More Bike Parking

Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a bike rider and one of the only elected officials without a car, spoke with Our Town about the need for more bike parking.

“Anyone would be amused or horrified to learn what New Yorkers do to fit their bikes in tiny studio apartments,” Kallos said. “I once had to put my bike vertically in a bathtub while visiting a friend for lack of bike parking or space in their apartment. I fully support every recommendation from Transportation Alternatives and will work to make them a reality. We’ve already partnered with residents to place bike racks throughout the district anytime they are requested. I am particularly interested in the climate protected and even pods to protect bikes from theft.”

He noted that even if someone is fortunate to live in a building with bike parking, it can take months or a year to get a spot.

According to Kallos, when he first ran for office there were several complaints about bikes being chained to trees and sides of buildings, both of which are illegal. So, when he got elected he asked his constituents how they wanted the streets to look and many wanted more bike parking.

Our Town Scrapping the ‘Tower on Stilts’ by Emily Higginbotham

Scrapping the ‘Tower on Stilts’

Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents a neighboring district, said the original building plans being thrown out was a result of a job well done by community activists.

“The history of real estate in our city is developers getting away with things until somebody finally speaks out,” said Kallos. “The idea of just putting buildings on stilts to get better and better views, without actually building any housing in between, was just the most cynical thing I’ve ever seen. So if a new developer has come in who’s going to build real housing for real New Yorkers, I’ll support it.”

Our Town The Businesses Left Behind by Emily Higginbotham

The Businesses Left Behind

Higashi said he’s spoken to one elected official about his worries, Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos who is running for Manhattan Borough President in 2021. Kallos told the West Side Spirit that keeping institutions such as Kokushi Budo from closing should be a top priority for the city.

“Despite uncertainty about the future as it concerns the virus the City has a responsibility to come up with guidance and real tangible support so that small gyms like this one do not close for good and right now we have not done that yet,” said Kallos. “New Yorkers know the value of small businesses like this gym and they have shown that their tremendous generosity over the last two weeks raising ten of thousands so this neighborhood favorite opens up again once we beat this virus.”

Our Town Outdoor Cafes for Social Distancing by Jason Cohen

Outdoor Cafes for Social Distancing

After numerous people on the Upper East Side disobeyed social distancing last weekend and converged in front of bars, elected officials are trying to come up with a solution.

On May 18, Council Members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking to grant temporary permission before Memorial Day weekend for bars and restaurants to use sidewalks and streets to serve patrons safely for everyone’s benefit.

The elected officials were quite angry with the recent behavior on the UES and hope that if the city approves these plans, it will prevent those actions.

“Rather than rely on enforcement or fine individuals and small businesses that may already be hurting financially from the pandemic, we should adapt our city’s streets to allow for and encourage safe practices,” the letter states. “Without granting businesses a better option, we are afraid restaurants and bars may just take the risk and pay whatever violations may be issued as a cost of doing business rather than shutter their doors permanently.”

Our Town On the Front Line of Testing by Emily Higginbotham

On the Front Line of Testing

Connecting to Health Care Providers

In making that possible, Mason has been working with Council Member Ben Kallos to identify ways to distribute the test throughout the city. Kallos said he’s been connecting Mason to health care service providers throughout the New York, including City Med.

“They have something like 200 locations all over the city of New York as well as the metropolitan area,” said Kallos. “So we were working with them on having a situation where City Med could be a place to go and get rapid testing while [patients] waited, and that we could take one of the exam rooms and turn it into a lab processing room where we could be testing several hundred people an hour.”

Kallos said he’s been disappointed by how much time the United States lost by not having testing ready by the time the outbreak was declared a pandemic.

“I think the key thing here is when the President was saying we don't need testing, when my colleagues in this government were saying we don't need testing, I knew that the only way we were gonna get out of this crisis is with access to testing to everyone,” said Kallos, who is running to replace the term-limited Gale Brewer as Manhattan Borough President in 2021. Notably, Kallos’ opponent in the race, fellow Council Member Mark Levine, who chairs the health committee, had been calling on New Yorkers who were not extremely ill to stay home and not get tested for the virus to avoid overwhelming the city’s health care resources. “But that being said, we have the brightest minds on the planet here in my district, and in the city, and I'm certain that between Dr. Mason and others in our city and in our country that will be able to shore up the kind of testing that you need to get back to work and back to normal as soon as possible.”

Our Town City Says 'Oui' to French Lessons for Pre-K by Emily Higginbotham

City Says 'Oui' to French Lessons for Pre-K

The Department of Education announced that it will launch a French dual-language program this fall at the pre-kindergarten center on the Upper East Side to cater to the Francophone community in the city.

A group of French-speaking parents, including immigrants from Canada, Africa and France, began spearheading a campaign two years ago to attain bilingual education for their children, and have worked closely with City Council Member Ben Kallos, Education Attaché of the Embassy of France Fabrice Jaumont, Community Education District 2 President Maud Maron, Deputy Chancellor of Early Childhood and Student Enrollment Josh Wallack, and the Community Education District Superintendent Donalda Chumney to bring it to fruition.

French is the third most common spoken language in the UES neighborhood, according to a report from Business Insider.

“I hear so many languages spoken in my district from every corner of the world and now we are working with the Francophone community to address a need in the neighborhood as we hope to increase the overall diversity of our schools,” said Kallos.

Our Town Cutting Supertalls Down to Size by Emily Higginbotham

Cutting Supertalls Down to Size

Politicians, community advocates and developers are looking to the future of Manhattan development following an unprecedented court ruling this month ordering the removal of 20 floors from a nearly finished Upper West Side tower. One lawmaker is already at work to use the decision to cut the height of another supertall across town.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents part of Midtown and the Upper East Side, was one of the several elected officials who turned out to celebrate Judge Franc Perry’s decision to revoke the building permits for the 59-story tower at 69th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Quickly, Kallos, who is running for Manhattan Borough President when Gale Brewer leaves the post in 2021, got his wheels turning and saw that Perry’s ruling opened a window to reargue the legality of the 847-foot Sutton Tower being constructed at 430 East 58th Street in his district.

“In both cases, I think what we have in common is if you have a Department of Buildings and a city that is complicit in allowing people to break the law, whether or not people can profit off their crimes,” said Kallos. “What jurisprudence typically says is, no. If you do something wrong, you shouldn't get to profit from it.”