New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Our Town

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.)

Our Town A kinder, gentler, cleaner dump by Douglas Feiden

A kinder, gentler, cleaner dump

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

Photos

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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.

Our Town The curse of Manhattan by Douglas Feiden

The curse of Manhattan

Now, a bill has been reintroduced in the City Council that would, for the first time, mandate the removal of a giant chunk of the scaffolds that front 7,750 buildings and envelop more than 275 miles of city sidewalk.

Sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, whose district on the Upper East Side is pockmarked by hundreds of sheds, the legislation would require a structure to be dismantled within six months of being erected — or in seven days if no work has been performed in that time.

Failure to complete necessary building repairs and demolish the nuisance structure after 180 days would call for the city to intervene, finish the job, take down the shed and bill the property owner for all costs, according to the language of the bill.

Built with planks, poles and a steel roof, the pop-up eyesores are designed to keep pedestrians safe as they pass beneath construction sites. But the structures typically stay put when a project is delayed for years, runs out of financing or encounters other stumbling blocks.

“Sidewalk sheds are like the once-welcomed house guest who never leaves,” Kallos said.

Our Town After three decades of false starts, a business improvement district finally advances in a 20-block area between First and Park Avenues in the East 80s by Douglas Feiden

After three decades of false starts, a business improvement district finally advances in a 20-block area between First and Park Avenues in the East 80s

Still uncertain is the organization’s name. One logical choice is the East 86th Street Business Improvement District.

Another option: “BID East Eighties,” or BEE, which is favored by City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area and has been spearheading the effort and winning over wavering property owners for the past 2.5 years.

“This will finally provide the funding the community has needed for generations to support our businesses and keep 86th Street clean and tidy and beautiful,” Kallos said.

“Even with millions of dollars in city investment in the area, folks still feel that 86th Street needs more attention, and that’s where the BID comes in,” he added. “This will go above and beyond what government could possibly do.”

The breakthrough came earlier this month when a tally found that the owners of at least 50.1 percent of the value of commercial assessed properties in the district were backing the BID, Our Town has learned.

That is the threshold required for the proposal to advance — the failure to reach it doomed the original 1988 initiative and at least one other abortive effort — and it means that property owners have agreed to pay the annual levy to fund services and make the BID viable.

The good news was unveiled on Tuesday, January 23rd at Maz Mezcal, the Mexican restaurant at 316 East 86th Street where owner Mary Silva, a steering company member, has hosted several meetings for BID organizers and business owners, participants said.

“We have achieved the support of the majority of commercial assessed value in the neighborhood,” Kallos confirmed in an interview. “It is a very big deal.”