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City Council Votes 45 to 1 to Approve De Blasio’s Major East New York Rezoning Plan

April 22nd, 2016

The City Council has approved Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to rezone East New York, casting the definitive vote and bringing the agenda’s months-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to a close.

In a nearly unanimous vote, every council member — other than a single dissenter — voted to approve the plan, meaning the city can now move forward with enacting the sweeping zoning changes and development much discussed over the past year.

“This is literally the best affordable housing plan that any community has had in the history of this city,” said City Council member David Greenfield, according to NY Yimby.

Councilwoman Inez Barron cast the single vote against the rezoning. Barron, along with her husband, activist and State Assembly member Charles Barron, has long spoken out against de Blasio’s proposal, and was even accused of using delay tactics to stall the process in March of 2015.

“Twenty percent of my community earns less than $15,000 and will not be reached by this plan,” Barron told the Council. “There is no guarantee that developers will build affordable housing if they don’t want those subsidies.”

Remind me. What’s the East New York rezoning plan?

This is Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to upzone East New York, giving developers permission to build taller (and therefore bigger) in the neighborhood. Called the East New York Community Plan, this initiative is intended to stimulate economic development in the area, according to the administration, and also help create more affordable housing — one of the mayor’s favorite things.

What does this mean?

The controversial proposal is a key feature of Mayor de Blasio’s larger goal to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. Under the plan, East New York, Cypress Hills and Ocean Hill would be rezoned and “strengthened” to increase economic growth in the area without displacing longtime tenants, according to the city.

The East New York Community Plan promises to bring 6,970 new apartments to the area over the next 15 years, significantly increasing the area’s residential density.

Getting the plan approved wasn’t easy

The process kicked off on September 21, starting at the community board level, where it was overwhelmingly rejected by board leaders. It then moved to the borough president, who also rejected the plan, and from there to City Planning, which approved the plan and praised the increased density it called for. The City Council’s vote on Wednesday marked the last step in the formal approval process.

Brooklynites took an active interest in the rezoning proposal, jamming Brooklyn Borough Hall during public hearings and loudly voicing their opinions — which were largely negative — in other forums. Local East New Yorkers especially were skeptical of the plan, fearing it would displace current residents.

A number of Brooklynites argued that the affordable housing component of the rezoning plan is not affordable enough to stave off gentrification.

What happens next?

Now that City Council has approved this nabe-changing proposal, developers looking to build in the area must abide by new regulations. Any new residential development in the neighborhood is required to set aside at least 20 percent of its apartments as permanently affordable units for families making $30,000 per year.

The city will also infuse the area with developer subsidies and infrastructure improvements to the tune of $257 million, according to DNAinfo. Borough President Eric Adams has also proposed that city move six of its offices to a 300,000-square-foot space near the Broadway Junction station.

But an army of cranes and wrecking balls probably won’t descend on the neighborhood just yet. As developer David Kramer told Brownstoner, the housing economics in East New York don’t quite make it profitable enough for large-scale market-rate developments. But the de Blasio administration is betting that a new wave of development will hit East New York in the next 15 years. And property values in the area have already seen a bump.

What’ll happen to the neighborhood’s historic buildings?

In addition to planned changes, the proposal also sparked an effort to landmark the area after locals became concerned development would result in the destruction of some of the nabe’s historic structures.

Indeed, the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church at 400 Glenmore Avenue — a domed church built in 1935 in the traditional Russian Orthodox style — could have shadows from new, taller buildings darken its sunlight-sensitive stained glass windows for extended periods following the construction of certain rezoning-related buildings. The Empire State Dairy Building at 2840 Atlantic Avenue — a Medieval German-inspired factory building completed in 1915 — could be “demolished or substantially altered” if the structure is not soon designated as a landmark due to the rezoning.

Luckily for fans of the dairy, the Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared it for a public hearing in March, meaning it may yet be landmarked and saved.

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Cuomo Faces Loud Backlash Over Push to Cut State’s CUNY Funding

March 25th, 2016

Prof. Gail Green-Anderson of LaGuardia Community College at a rally outside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Manhattan office on Thursday.

Todd Heisler / The New York Times
By VIVIAN YEE

ALBANY — As the April 1 deadline for the state budget approaches, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appears close to victories on raising the minimum wage and instituting paid family leave across New York, achievements that would cement his carefully cultivated reputation for progressive leadership.

Yet since announcing in January that he would reduce state funding to the City University of New York by some $485 million, expecting New York City to pick up the balance, Mr. Cuomo has been playing fiscal defense, besieged by a well-orchestrated drive to paint his treatment of the university as a stain on his liberal agenda.

“The same people that we’re lifting up with raising the minimum wage are the same people that will be affected by the really draconian cuts to the university system,” said Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, a liberal group that has teamed up with the Democratic governor on the minimum-wage push this year. “It’s those same people, it’s those same low-income people, same communities of color, that are going to be hurt by this.”

Democratic lawmakers have criticized Mr. Cuomo at a volume unusual in Albany. Liberal groups have banded together to demand increased funding in marches and protests. A group of prominent CUNY backers took out full-page ads in three city newspapers this week, calling the unsettled fiscal situation “deeply troublesome.”

Perhaps the most pointed critique came from the Student Senate chairman, Joseph Awadjie, who testified at a meeting of the university’s board of trustees on Monday night that Mr. Cuomo’s actions were “an attack on the American dream.”

Facing a backlash, the governor has appeared to alter his position. Initially adamant that the city pay what he called its fair share of the university’s costs — the city appoints one-third of CUNY’s trustees, and should pay a commensurate portion of its budget, he argued — Mr. Cuomo soon declared that the shortfall would be made up by “efficiencies.” The city, he said, would not have to pay “a penny.”

On Wednesday, after several days in which the university’s advocates tried in vain to parse the governor’s past statements on the issue, Mr. Cuomo’s director of operations, Jim Malatras, said that the proposal to offload costs to the city had been no more than a negotiating tactic to force the city and the university to take reforms seriously.

CUNY had ignored calls from the governor to make its spending more efficient in the past, Mr. Malatras said in an interview, and the administration had found with other issues — including teacher evaluations and Medicaid reform — that “the only way you compel change sometimes is where you put financial skin in the game.”

After he said he would reduce state funding to the City University of New York by some $485 million, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers at a volume unusual in Albany.

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Mr. Malatras announced last week that the state would hire a management consultant to streamline CUNY’s spending. Several days later, the governor’s office clarified that if the Legislature approved the hiring of a restructuring consultant, Mr. Cuomo would support the inclusion of CUNY’s full $1.6 billion allocation in the state budget, with no cost to the city.

Citing the “high administrative cost in overhead” at CUNY, Mr. Malatras said: “We want to reduce that overhead as much as humanly possible in order to provide enhanced services to our students, which is the focus of what we’re doing here. That is not something to apologize for; that’s something to be applauded.”

If the governor were truly interested in improving CUNY, many university employees say, he would reverse a trend under his tenure: State investment per student has not kept pace with enrollment, falling 3 percent even as tuition has increased, according to the university’s faculty union. Professors tell of the scarcity of basic school supplies like paper and chalk, swelling class sizes, hiring freezes and increasing reliance on poorly paid adjuncts to teach classes. The faculty has gone without a contract or raise for six years.

All in all, many CUNY employees believe, the governor has little love for their schools.

“It’s very demoralizing; there’s sort of a drumbeat in the back of your head,” said David Forbes, an associate professor at Brooklyn College’s School of Education. “You look at N.Y.U. or Columbia, they don’t have these kinds of issues.”

Mr. Cuomo and his aides have repeatedly pointed out that their budget proposal called only for the city to assume some of CUNY’s costs, not for its budget to be cut. Any savings, said Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for the governor, should go to “students and teachers instead of toward bloated administrative costs.”

Ms. Lever added on Thursday that eliminating inefficiency and redundancy was not inconsistent with a progressive agenda. “It’s mind-boggling that groups claiming to represent the best interest of those students are instead defending the bureaucracy that diverts much-needed funding away from the classrooms,” she said.

The uncertainty over CUNY’s future has served only to mobilize a coalition of lawmakers, professors, students, liberal activists and city leaders in a coordinated effort to turn public opinion against the governor.

Hundreds marched on Mr. Cuomo’s New York office on Thursday; the rally was part of the alliance’s push to “humanize the folks that will be impacted,” said Javier Valdés, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a primarily Hispanic grass-roots group that has supported the governor’s minimum-wage and family-leave efforts.

City Councilman Ritchie Torres, a co-chairman of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, called the governor’s simultaneous moves on paid family leave, the minimum wage and CUNY “an exercise in cognitive dissonance.”

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Two Council members among 41 arrested at CUNY protest

March 25th, 2016

by Amanda Woods


Protestors demonstrate outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office.
Photo: Zumapress

Two City Council members were among 41 people arrested Thursday during an union protest outside Gov. Cuomo’s Midtown office.

Council members Inez Barron of Brooklyn and I. Daneek Miller of Queens were charged with disorderly conduct for staging a “die-in” outside the building, according to police.
Council members Inez Barron (left) and I. Daneek Miller.Photo: Left: Stefan Jeremiah; right: FilmMagic

The demonstrators were demanding a state budget that includes what they said would be adequate funding for CUNY and a fair contract for its Professional Staff Congress.

The protesters formed a human chain in front of the building and blocked pedestrian traffic.

An announcement on the union’s Web site said that “if there is no resolution to our contract funding by March 24, some participants in the protest will be prepared to risk arrest in a non-violent action to demand justice.”

A Cuomo spokesperson told CBS that CUNY will receive its full $1.6 billion in funding this year and urged the PSC to resolve its contract negotiations with the school.

All of the protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and issued desk-appearance tickets, cops said.

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At chaotic council meeting, de Blasio wins affordable-housing requirement

March 24th, 2016

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Boisterous opposition from the gallery could not stop the mayor’s zoning overhaul from sailing through

By Rosa Goldensohn

Mayor Bill de Blasio notched a major win Tuesday, changing the way housing is built in the city through a zoning revision that mandates affordable apartments for the middle class and people aspiring to get there.

His two zoning text amendments sailed through the City Council. A bill mandating affordable housing in newly rezoned areas passed 42-5, and a bill changing height and parking requirements passed 40-6. As protesters railed against the plan from the balcony of the council chamber, members lauded it as the most far-reaching affordable-housing policy in the country.

The mandatory inclusionary housing policy defines de Blasio’s political agenda. It was proposed as a counterweight to the trend of rising residential rents and the displacement of longtime residents from their neighborhoods.

When unveiled last year, the plan got a rocky reception. The amendments were roundly rejected by community boards across the city last fall. The mayor also upset construction unions by refusing to mandate union-level wages on affected projects, and angered community groups that said the planned housing will speed gentrification and be too expensive for the poor.

But despite long lines of critics at City Planning Commission hearings and rallies from some left-wing groups, the proposal gained momentum over the winter. Powerful city unions backed the plan, and business groups including the Partnership for New York City and the Real Estate Board of New York testified in its favor.

The plan insists that developers set aside apartments for lower-income residents in exchange for being allowed to build more market-rate units. The administration also committed billions of dollars in subsidies over the decade-long plan to foster affordability in neighborhoods where the zoning bonus is not valuable enough to support reduced-rent apartments.

The main coalition opposed to the proposal, Real Affordability for All, came on board after the mayor pledged to study its demands for lower-income options. But by that point, it had become clear that the council would approve the plan. Still, other protesters interrupted the Tuesday vote on mandatory inclusionary housing, chanting “City Council vote no, MIH has got to go.” After a struggle with security guards, one protester required medical attention.

A typical development under the proposal would include housing for individuals making $36,300 or $48,400, on average–equivalent to 60% or 80% of the area median income for New York City, respectively. The City Council added to the plan a formula for developers to build units for poorer tenants, but that will be entirely optional.

DE BLASIO ADMINISTRATION, CONSTRUCTION UNIONS TO DISCUSS SUBSIDY REFORM

March 21st, 2016

City and state

BY SARINA TRANGLE

Despite de Blasio’s vow, “notorious” construction tax break proceeds as usual

After construction unions did not see concessions in New York City’s rezoning plan or City Hall’s pitch for reforming the 421-a tax abatement, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration plans to meet with union leaders to discuss labor standards and public subsidies.

De Blasio spokesman Austin Finan said City Hall will convene stakeholders in “the coming days” to start the conversation.

“We agree it’s imperative to maximize every tool we have to drive more equitable growth and create real opportunity for our neighborhoods,” Finan said in a statement. “We’re approaching these discussions about labor standards, public subsidies, and transparency in good faith, and we look forward to meaningful discussions with our partners in communities and in organized labor.”

Last spring, de Blasio released a proposal to amend the 421-a tax abatement used by developers to build market-rate residences that include some affordable housing units, but it did not include the prevailing wages sought by unions. De Blasio’s administration has said the pay mandate would have limited the amount of affordable housing created under the benefit. His tweaks stalled in Albany, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the Real Estate Board of New York and construction unions six months to reach a deal on the tax break. They missed the deadline.

Then the unions seized on zoning proposals working their way through the land use review process in New York City. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, a labor management fund advocating for unions and contractors that work with them, pushed de Blasio to include local hiring provisions and require state-approved apprenticeship programs on housing projects as part of two major rezoning proposals. The City Council announced a slew of changes to the zoning text, but did not explicitly mandate local hiring or the state training programs. After arguing labor standards could not legally be written into zoning text, de Blasio’s team agreed to conduct a feasibility study that examines the union’s requests and ways to spur the creation of affordable housing for lower income families than targeted in the zoning text.
Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said public subsidies should come with responsibilities.

“We need to build quality affordable housing at safe sites while paying middle class wages to construction workers – both union and nonunion alike,” LaBarbera said in a statement. “The New York City Building and Construction Trades Council will negotiate in good faith with any party which knows the value of advancing these principles because it serves the public interest.”

Pat Purcell, executive director of Greater New York LECET, also described subsidy reform as “critical.”
“Our greatest responsibility is to protect the lives of construction workers both union and nonunion alike,” Purcell said in a statement. “We look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure projects that receive public subsidies include rigorous safety standards, require state sanctioned apprenticeship and training programs, as well as pay construction workers a middle class wage.”

EXCLUSIVE: Assembly Democrats pushing for $500 million to repair dilapidated NYCHA buildings

March 11th, 2016

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BY KENNETH LOVETT DAILY NEWS ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF

ALBANY — State Assembly Democrats want to spend $500 million over five years for much-needed capital repairs at dilapidated New York City Housing Authority buildings, the Daily News has learned.

“More than 400,000 people reside in NYCHA housing,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The disrepair of this aging infrastructure is well documented. This funding is critical for the New Yorkers who live in these buildings.”

The state set aside $100 million for NYCHA last year, the first state investment in years. But the money was controlled by the state, not the city and NYCHA.

SURVEY SHOWS NYCHA TENANTS WAIT YEARS FOR REPAIRS

Mayor de Blasio last year had set aside $100 million a year in city spending for NYCHA upgrades to leaky roofs and other big infrastructure projects and had hoped the state would match it, which it did not.

The $500 million the Assembly proposes for NYCHA is part of a $2.5 billion, five-year affordable housing plan to be unveiled Friday. The NYCHA spending would be on top of the $100 million the state agreed to spend last year.

NYCHA, in consultation with the state, would control how the money is spent, an Assembly official said.

The plan also rejects Cuomo’s push, opposed by Mayor de Blasio, to require an obscure state board to sign off on all city affordable housing projects funded with tax-exempt bonds.

The Assembly would set aside $50 million for homeless shelter upgrades, including enhanced security.

There’d be $250 million over five years for repairs and improvements at Mitchell-Lama properties, $500 million over five years to build 6,000 supportive housing units statewide, and $44 million for rental subsidies for domestic violence victims.

Heastie (D-Bronx) said the overall plan will “help families remain in their homes and expand affordable housing programs.”

“The housing crisis is affecting so many New Yorkers,” he said. “Near-record numbers are homeless, and still others are living in housing in desperate need of repair.”

Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland said the $2.5 billion, five-year program would be funded with existing money in the state budget.

The overall plan “details the Assembly’s priorities for housing capital” and will be subject to negotiation in the state budget talks with Cuomo and the Senate, Whyland said.

In addition to the housing plan, the Assembly’s budget proposal to be unveiled Friday rejects Cuomo‘s attempt to shift $485 million in CUNY costs on to the city and seeks to boost education aid to localities by $2.1 billion, more than twice what the governor has proposed.

It will also include a call to raise taxes on millionaires while expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor and extending middle class tax cuts due to expire in 2017.

Cuomo and the Senate Republicans rejected the idea of raising taxes this year. Cuomo has proposed small business tax cuts while the Senate earlier this week unveiled its own proposal to cut income taxes for the middle class by 25% by 2025.

The Daily News reported on Wednesday the Assembly Democratic budget proposal will also include an anti-poverty initiative they say would make it easier for welfare recipients to become self-sufficient.

Cuomo in January proposed a $20 billion homeless and housing plan, half of which would be to create and preserve 100,000 units of affordable housing statewide.

The other $10 billion, $2.6 billion of which is for new commitments, would be earmarked over the next five years to combat homelessness, including the same 6,000 units of new supportive housing the Assembly Dems are now seeking.

Budget talks among state leaders have been heating up in hopes of having a new spending plan in place by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.

NYC OFFICIALS DETAIL PLANS FOR PRIVATE-SECTOR RETIREMENT SAVINGS PROGRAM

February 26th, 2016

City and state

BY SARINA TRANGLE

About a month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans for the nation’s first city-run retirement savings program for private sector employees, several city officials and AARP members joined him in praising the proposal as a pioneering move.

De Blasio and his colleagues outlined plans for the so-called Security for All New Yorkers program Thursday, about a month after he called for creating a retirement savings program during his State of the City address.
“We’re going to be the first city in the country to create a retirement savings program because our people need it right now,” de Blasio said Thursday. “She [my mother] was working for Polaroid Corporation for the last decade or more of her career, and she called up one day in her retirement, and she said, ‘I got a letter and my pension has been canceled’ … Social Security, thank God, provides something, but it doesn’t provide – in many people’s cases – enough resources, certainly not in a city with the kind of costs we have.”

The city’s proposal is indeed novel. It is so new that it actually cannot move forward until the federal Department of Labor extends to cities the authority that states already have to manage a retirement system for private employees. The mayor estimated the city could get the federal OK on needed regulation changes this year. At that point, he said the City Council would revisit the legislation it has already drafted, hold hearings and ideally send him a bill to sign this year. Once legally authorized, the de Blasio administration anticipates spending another 12 to 18 months implementing and opening Security for All New Yorkers.

Under the city’s plan, workers at businesses with at least 10 employees would automatically be enrolled in Security for All New Yorkers and have a portion of their salary taken out through payroll. Employees could opt out of the city’s initiative or alter how much is deducted. Their accounts would transfer as they changed jobs.
Neither the city nor private businesses would contribute to the accounts, and businesses that already offer retirement savings programs could not drop theirs to enroll in Security for All New Yorkers. Once the system is approved, the city plans to establish a board to oversee management of the accounts, which would then be invested like public pensions are. Although employees would not be afforded any guarantee that their earnings would not be lost, de Blasio stressed that research shows savings is a safer option.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James highlighted statistics showing New York City residents are poorly prepared for retirement. Currently, 43 percent of working New Yorkers have access to a retirement savings plan. And of those who have saved, 40 percent of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 set aside for retirement.

“To successfully save for retirement, New Yorkers should have an easy-to-use savings mechanism, something that helps them take care of the future in the midst of their busy lives,” Mark-Viverito said.

When asked why he was not working within federal parameters and pushing for a state system, de Blasio said not all cities share the same goals as their state government.

“We obviously are a very large city with the capacity to reach our people, and we want to do that as quickly as possible,” de Blasio said. “And we think it’s important that cities have the opportunity to do it. Now remember there are some states – many states, in fact – where their state governments do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of their cities.”

The people mover: A Q&A with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

February 12th, 2016



Ray LaHood, a retired Republican congressman who is not afraid to work with President Barack Obama or to praise Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has built a career on amiability with Democrats and tells the tale in his recent book, “Seeking Bipartisanship: My Life in Politics.” One of the few Republicans selected for Obama’s Cabinet, LaHood served as the secretary of transportation in Obama’s first term and has continued to work in that realm as a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper and as co-chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Transportation Reinvention Commission in 2014. City & State’s Jeff Coltin talked with LaHood about relationships in Congress, raising the gas tax and the Tappan Zee Bridge project. The following is an edited transcript.

C&S: You’ve been somewhat critical of Obama for not staying committed to the bipartisan ideals that he ran on in 2008. Do you think that is something our next president would easily be able to change?

RL: You have to work at bipartisanship. And the way you work at it is by building relationships with people and by building friendships with people and using those relationships and friendships in a way that can enable you to either get legislation passed or resolve issues or tackle some of the big problems. Relationship building and friendship building, these are things that take time. It’s not something that you can do overnight. One of the advantages that some presidents have had is the fact that they’ve had relationships with members of Congress. It depends on who gets elected. If one of these people gets elected that’s served in Congress and knows people and has relationships, they have a huge, big head start. If somebody gets elected that really doesn’t know who the leaders are and has never really had opportunities to meet them, develop relationships, then it will take some time to do that.

C&S: Are you supporting a candidate in the Republican primary?

RL: I am, I’ve given money to Jeb Bush and I believe he’d be the best opportunity for Republicans to win back the White House. He was able to tackle, during his eight years as governor, some big, big problems in the state of Florida, which is a very diverse state. I like his position on immigration. We need to solve the issue of 12 million illegals living in our country, and it needs to be done in a comprehensive way. We need to tackle the issue of tax reform, which I think Gov. Bush obviously knows something about. And I also think we need somebody who’s going to keep this country safe – that’s a big issue for Americans. I think Jeb Bush offers the kind of experience of working in a bipartisan way in solving big problems in Florida, and I think he has the ability to do it in D.C. also.

C&S: The governor is considering and actually moving on some really big infrastructure projects. Do you think New York is a leading state on transportation issues, or do you need to see more action?

RL: Gov. Cuomo is a leader on transportation and infrastructure. I think he’s now putting his money where his words are. He talked a lot about improving transportation infrastructure when we were at the Department of Transportation; we were intimately involved in the Tappan Zee Bridge and we’re supportive of that project being funded, in part, at the federal level. I like the approach that Gov. Cuomo took in respect to LaGuardia; again, public-private partnership, not just relying on state or federal government, but also on private dollars. I like his approach on the Gateway Tunnel project. He’s probably set the standard as a state that’s a real model for tackling big infrastructure problems and doing it in a way that reflects that it requires not just public money, but private money, too.

C&S: Cuomo’s proposed Penn Station revamp is using, in large part, private money – and leveraging private money was one of the recommendations given by the MTA Reinvention Commission you co-chaired in 2014. Do you think that’s the best way to get long-stagnating projects to happen?

RL: There’s not near enough money in Washington or in the state of New York. You have to find the resources wherever you can, either from private dollars or from foundation money. Gov. Cuomo has been very creative in his approaches to tackling big infrastructure projects and funding them.

C&S: The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement is going to cost some $4 billion. How important are massive infrastructure projects like that to the state and the whole region at large?

RL: What infrastructure does is it creates jobs for the people that build the infrastructure, but it also creates economic development opportunities. When you build a bridge, you’re building a corridor of economic opportunity! When you build a roadway, that’s a corridor of economic opportunity. All along these large infrastructure projects, you see businesses locating, you see jobs being created. Not only jobs for the people that are building the infrastructure, but the jobs that are being created as a result of the infrastructure being there. Infrastructure is a win/win in terms of jobs, economic development, economic opportunities, and nobody understands that better than Gov. Cuomo and he’s really laid out a really big, bold New York.

C&S: On the national level, you’ve constantly pushed for Congress to raise the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements. Can you explain to New Yorkers, who pay the most for gas in the continental United States, why you think this is so important?

RL: The big pot of money that built all of the bridges in New York and the big pot of money that built the infrastructure in New York over 100 years was the Highway Trust Fund. And the Highway Trust Fund is a pot of money that has not been replenished for over 20 years. Everything in America has increased over the last 20 years except the Highway Trust Fund. And if we really want to have the opportunity to do big projects like what’s going on in New York, you need a big pot of money, and that’s the Highway Trust Fund. That can attract private dollars, and that can attract state dollars, but frankly, it’s broke because we haven’t raised it. It hasn’t kept up with inflation, and we should raise it, and we should get back in the business of helping governors and helping mayors fix up their infrastructure. America’s one big pothole because we haven’t had the money to really fix up our roads and bridges and the way to get back to that is to raise the gas tax and replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which will be an attraction for more private dollars.

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Mayor de Blasio to Propose Streetcar Line Linking Brooklyn and Queens

February 5th, 2016

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By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM

In a major reimagining of the New York City waterfront, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to propose a streetcar line that would snake along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens, a 16-mile scenic ride that would be his administration’s most ambitious urban engineering project to date.

The plan, to be unveiled on Thursday in the mayor’s State of the City speech, calls for a line that runs aboveground on rails embedded in public roadways and flows alongside automobile traffic — a sleeker and nimbler version of San Francisco’s trolleys.

By winding along the East River, the streetcars would vastly expand transportation access to a bustling stretch of the city that has undergone rapid development — from the industrial centers of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to the upper reaches of Astoria, Queens — but remains relatively isolated from the subway.

For Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat focused on social reform, the plan also represents a shift to the kind of ambitious Robert Moses-style planning that New Yorkers more often associate with his predecessor, former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who made transportation a hallmark of his tenure.

The streetcar system, which would realize a long-held fantasy of the city’s urban planners, is expected to cost about $2.5 billion, significantly less than a new underground subway line, city officials said on Wednesday.

Its operation, however, remains far-off. Under the plan, construction would start in 2019, after studies and community review; service would begin several years after that, perhaps not until 2024, officials said.

Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, acknowledged “some significant engineering challenges when you are putting a modern system like this in a very old city.”

But Ms. Glen said the city’s existing transit network no longer met the needs of a metropolis whose commuting patterns have shifted significantly in the last two decades. A streetcar route, she said in an interview, offered a novel and practical fix at a time when federal money for infrastructure is scarce.

“The old transportation system was a hub-and-spoke approach, where people went into Manhattan for work and came back out,” Ms. Glen said. “This is about mapping transit to the future of New York.”

Streetcars are a staple of European capitals, and have arrived in cities like Atlanta; Portland, Ore.; and Toronto. But they have failed, until now, to catch on in New York, where the Bloomberg administration rejected a proposed line in Red Hook, Brooklyn, as being too expensive.

The de Blasio streetcars would travel about 12 miles per hour, with a trip between Greenpoint and Dumbo in Brooklyn lasting around 27 minutes, less than current routes on buses and subways. Barriers could physically separate the streetcars from automobiles along some portion of the route, although officials said those details would be determined later.

The cars would directly link Brooklyn and Queens, two boroughs that can be difficult to travel between without a detour into Manhattan. And though an exact route has not been made final, the system would most likely serve growing commercial centers like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Long Island City, Queens. About 45,000 public-housing residents live a short walk from the route, the administration said, a priority for Mr. de Blasio, who has focused on combating inequities.

Because the cars would operate on city streets, the project is not expected to be subject to state approval — meaning it would not require the blessing of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who last year was quick to quash a major State of the City proposal by Mr. de Blasio to build lower-cost housing over train yards in Sunnyside, Queens. (Mr. Cuomo said the yards, which are partly controlled by the state, were not available.)

The neighborhood review process for the streetcar route could be onerous, given the vast distance it would travel. But Mr. de Blasio can expect support from major developers, including Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management, whose residential conversion of the Domino Sugar refinery on the Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn is set to open soon. Mr. Walentas, who has both clashed and collaborated with the mayor, has championed the streetcar plan, helping to pay for a study on its feasibility and cost.

Mr. de Blasio, a self-proclaimed political ideologue, has acted more attentive of late to his mixed reputation as a manager, which could be a vulnerability as he looks ahead to a re-election campaign in 2017. His State of the City address is expected to include a plan for quicker trash pickup and a smartphone payment system for the city’s parking meters.

Transit has never been a passion for Mr. de Blasio, and while the mayor earned praise from transportation advocates for his Vision Zero safety plan, he was criticized after casually suggesting that the city tear out the open-air pedestrian plazas in Times Square.

On Wednesday, his embrace of the streetcar idea yielded positive reviews, even as some transit experts complained about wanting more details.

“The more mass transit we have, the better off we are as a city that is growing,” said Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In his book, Mr. Ravitch said, the plan was “brilliant.” He added, “Not everybody’s going to ride bikes.”

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Time to Step On the Gas

February 5th, 2016

by Tom Allon

Cities — like the human body — are machines that need proper maintenance and repair.

New York City, the greatest metropolis in the world, looks great on the outside. There are gleaming luxury high-rise buildings, shiny new neighborhoods and energetic tourists everywhere.

But looks are deceiving.

Beneath the surface, there is urban rot. Our schools are in disrepair and built for the 19th century, not the 21st century. Our subways are antiquated, overcrowded and are becoming more unsafe. Our roads and bridges are barely hanging on.

In short, the infrastructure of our beloved town, like an 80-year-old who never exercised and smoked, is beginning to crumble. We do not have the money, the will or the foresight to make this an urgent cause.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is doing his best to become a modern-day Robert Moses, has feverishly announced a hodgepodge of new ideas throughout the state to upgrade our decrepit transportation system. His eagerness to do long overdue makeovers of Penn Station and LaGuardia airport are commendable. His call for more capital funding for the MTA – forcing the Mayor to kick in the city’s fair share – is also very necessary.

But the pundits are asking: where will the money come from for these multi-billion dollar construction projects? Who will pay for the unsexy work of modernizing our transportation hubs and the system that transports millions of people to work and school each day?

Well, there’s an answer right in front of our noses, but no elected leader dare utter it because it contains a dirty three-letter word: “gas tax.”

Because of the worldwide collapse of the oil market, New Yorkers are now paying barely $2.00 per gallon for gas, almost half as much as its one time peak. There are many reasons to believe this is the new normal.

I am not an economist, but I know that even a 25 cents per gallon tax on gasoline would give our elected leaders a bountiful supply of funds to begin the important work of rebuilding New York. This kind of user tax will not be onerous because all drivers know that the price drop in the past 18 months has been an unexpected boon.

But, of course, any mention of raising taxes is a third rail in politics. Even staunch Democrats like Governor Cuomo know that raising any kind of tax will evoke the ire of a big slice of their voters.

Nonetheless, it’s time to think big. If Robert Moses was able to build more than a dozen bridges, hundreds of public housing projects and thousands of acres of parkland almost a half century ago, we can rise to the occasion and fix our city’s crumbling infrastructure.

Like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Governor of New York must articulate a comprehensive and well-thought out plan to justify this kind of a tax to help fund the bold projects on the table. He must give a realistic budget and timeline for each. He has to carefully explain the cost-benefit analysis so citizens can feel proud that every time they fill their car’s gas tank they are contributing to a better future for our kids and our City.

Here’s one example: if the MTA was able to replace the antiquated subway circuit system, our underground transportation would become 30 percent more efficient. That means more subway cars, shorter waits for commuters and fewer overstuffed cars. Let’s hear Cuomo and the head of the MTA detail what this will cost, how the gas tax can fund it and a reasonable timeline to accomplish these goals.

I would hope that Mayor de Blasio would join this crucial effort but so far he has not shown much interest in transportation and infrastructure. This is unfortunate because one important way to combat inequality is to give all city workers access to efficient transportation so they can get to their jobs as fast and comfortably as possible.

On a national level, our next president should also recognize how vital the rebuilding of our transportation grid has become. We should be world leaders in implementing bullet trains and modern mass transit; yet each year that passes we see China and Japan and Europe modernize their systems while we lead lives of quiet desperation.

It may not be as sexy as fighting crime or terrorism or trying to help the homeless and build massive amounts of affordable housing, but strongly committing to rebuilding our infrastructure will create new jobs, help our economy and make us all proud New Yorkers.

Let’s feel the fierce urgency of now and get those shovels in the ground.

Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, was a Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor. He can be reached at tallon@cityandstateny.com

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