I hope you have had a wonderful and restful holiday season!
As the year draws to a close, I want to take a moment to thank my staff for their hard work and dedication. This past year alone, my District Office worked on over 4,500 cases and served over 4,000 residents solving issues from traffic safety to tenant harassment.
You can read about all of our work in the detailed sections below, but a few are worth highlighting:
Two Stories from the District Office
One of my favorite stories this year was the case of two sisters who came to us for help with housing. After years of sleeping on the benches outside of Clinton Towers, they had found a substandard living situation nearby — and were now facing eviction. They turned to my office for help, and my staff helped them fill out paperwork for every available housing lottery. On the day of their eviction, the sisters got a call: they were offered placement in an apartment in Clinton Towers. It was a wonderful moment for that family, and a cheer could be heard from my district office up and down the block. (Note: only a slight exaggeration).
The Tenants' Association of a large apartment building contacted my office this summer when residents building-wide received thousands of dollars in retroactive charges, collection notices, and turnoff notices from ConEd due to defective meters in the building. My staff immediately got in touch with the Office of Consumer Services in Albany and with ConEd. As a result, ConEd removed the unmetered service charges from residents' bills, relieving them of thousands of dollars in inaccurate charges.
City Hall: Legislation and Policy
At our City Hall office, my hardworking staff found legislative ways to address concerns we heard from residents with hearings and legislation on tenant protections, worker protections, traffic safety, helicopter noise, public school parents’ rights, commercial taxes, and idling, among others. In response to these issues, the Mayor signed six of my bills into law, and the Council had a first hearing on 13 others.
As Chair of the Contracts Committee, my antenna is alert for procurement issues. When the Department of Education (DOE) signed off on a five year $1.1 billion computer contract in February, alarm bells went off. Working with Class Size Matters and Public Advocate Tish James, we convinced City Hall to pull the contract, rebid the work, and give the public much longer lead time (not just 1-3 days) to review DOE contract proposals. Just last week, we all got the good news that the DOE bid the work out for a total of $472 million — saving the City $627 million — and they've agreed to post these (and all) contracts a full month in advance of the public vote.
Get in Touch
If you think my office can help you, let us know — you will find the contact information for each staff member at the end of this message. My district office also has two social workers with experience working on senior issues and healthcare who are happy to help residents with SCRIE, DRIE, Medicare, and other social services available for seniors.
There will be many important issues to tackle in the upcoming year, including school rezoning and protecting tenants, and we are all ready to roll up our sleeves. I look forward to working together in the upcoming year.
Some of the team behind the 2015 Senior Food Bag Program (from left to right): Shula Warren from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer's office, Terry Kobel, Connie Kosner, Helen's Chief of Staff Marisa Maack, Helen, Rochelle Shereff, Hyacinth Brea, and Sarah Snook (November 11, 2015).
The Senior Food Bag Program is possible thanks to the hard work of a team of dedicated volunteers, some of whom are shown above. This year they packed and delivered 2,160 bags of fresh fruit and vegetables to seniors across the neighborhood. Thank you all for making the 2015 season a success and helping seniors access fresh fruit and vegetables.
I want to thank JASA One Stop Senior Services for their partnership that allows one of their social work staff to be placed in our District Office. Patricia Ulloa is available to provide senior services at my district office every Monday from 10am-2pm. Patricia is an incredible resource for seniors living in the district and can provide assistance on services such as applications for SCRIE, Lifeline, Medicaid and Medicare, and more. You can find more information on JASA OneStop here.
Voting for Participatory Budgeting at Amsterdam Houses (April 17, 2015)
What would you build or fix to make the Upper West Side a better place? I set aside $1 million of the New York City budget (your taxpayer dollars) for projects thought up and voted on by residents in a process called Participatory Budgeting (PB). In the 2014-15 PB season, residents suggested hundreds of ideas, and over 2,000 Upper West Siders voted on the final ballot; you can learn more about PB and the projects that won last year on my website. This year's PB ballot will be announced in early 2016, and voting week is March 21-27. Stay tuned!
Helen at a Student Voter Registration Day event in her district (March 20, 2015). Credit: Sarah Batchu
Young voters (between the ages of 18 and 30) have the lowest voter turnout rate in New York City; a paltry 4% of this group voted in the 2009 general election. I coordinated an initiative with NYC Votes (part of the NYC Campaign Finance Board) to bring a day of civic engagement and voter registration to public schools called Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD). We brought civic education to over 3,000 students and registered over 2,000 of them to vote. You can learn more about the citywide event, about our event on the UWS, and my op-ed on the initiative. With the support of my colleagues in the Council, SVRD will go to over 50 schools in 2016.
Helen, Melissa Elstein, and neighbors clean up Upper West Side tree beds at Love Your Tree Day (May 2, 2015)
We're lucky to have a neighborhood full of trees, but sometimes our tree beds need extra attention. My office, the West 80's Neighborhood Association, Trees New York, and other environmental advocates hosted Love Your Tree Day, a two-part event to address this problem. In April we hosted a Tree Care Kick Off Event where I joined Caroline Bragdon (the Department of Health's rat expert) and Cheryl Blaylock from Trees New York to discuss caring for your street tree, and in May we held a Street Tree Bed Clean-up Day, where we beautified our neighborhood, one tree at a time.
Open Mic Q&A at Helen's Town Hall (April 27, 2015). Credit: Alana Cantillo
Thank you to the 350+ people who came out to my second annual Town Hall! Panelists from over a dozen agencies came to answer your questions, and the event was one hour longer than last year's to ensure we could cover even more ground. We were joined by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. If you missed the event, you can watch the video. You can also read the answers to the most popular audience follow-up questions from City agencies.
Helen talking to a constituent at her Open House (June 14, 2015)
In June my staff and I welcomed nearly two hundred people into our District Office for our Open House. It was a pleasure to see neighbors and have a chance to catch up.
Helen and Doe Fund Founder and President George McDonald announce additional daily garbage pickup on Broadway (January 23, 2015)
Many of you voiced concerns about increased trash and rats on our streets, so I allocated funds to the Doe Fund for an additional daily trash cleanup of the Upper West Side, and I introduced legislation that would require building owners with two or more rat violations to use rat-resistant garbage bins. You can read the bill language here.
Helen and tenant advocate Anne Cunningham at the 24th Precinct's National Night Out Against Crime event (August 5, 2015)
This year also included events we hosted to provide on-site city services:
- A Mobile Care Clinic that came to the neighborhood and offered free mammograms and clinical breast exams. Over a dozen women received potentially life-saving care free of cost
- A senior forum to hear from you about making the neighborhood more age friendly. We handed out free reusable bags and served light refreshments
- A Fall Daffodil Bulb Giveaway to plant in our neighborhood street tree beds and community gardens
- A flu shot clinic in my district office in partnership with Walgreens / Duane Reade
- Free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in an event sponsored by the FDNY Get Alarmed Program. The alarms included 10-year batteries and free installation. 100 people received free alarms before we had to start turning people away, but I'll hold another event like it in the Spring
- Free, monthly housing clinics where tenants and landlords can learn more about the Rent Freeze program (SCRIE and DRIE), navigating housing court, finding affordable housing, succession rights, and much more. In addition, the clinics offer to seek legal advice from housing lawyers free of charge. The next housing clinic is on Wednesday, January 6, 2016 from 6pm-8pm on the topic of non-primary residences. See the flyer for the full season. (These housing clinics started thanks to Anne Cunningham, pictured above!)
- A free dental van for students and their families at PS 75
- Chamber on the Go, a van offering services for small business owners from the Chamber of Commerce, which came to the neighborhood in February
- A Medicare Enrollment Awareness Event at B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue. Dozens of seniors came to learn about changes to Medicare taking place in 2016 and get connected to programs that help pay the costs associated with Medicare
- A "Know Your Rights" Co-op / Condo Conversion Forum held in April with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal. Over 200 residents came out to learn and participate in the conversation on issues around co-op and condo conversions. I was grateful to Kevin McConnell (Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue, & Joseph), Erica Buckley (Office of the Attorney General), Jeff Margolies (NYS Homes and Community Renewal), and Byron Munoz (NYC Department of Buildings) for their informative presentation
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carlo Scissura, Council Member Robert Cornegy, Helen, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board Ken Biberaj, West Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Andrew Albert, and head of external affairs for Google in New York William Floyd announce Chamber on the Go on the Upper West Side (February 9, 2015)
In October and November I held Council Member on the Corner events, and I got a chance to speak to dozens of you about issues that matter to you, including lost parking and late night noise from film shoots, the luxury condo development that will be built on Amsterdam between 68th and 69th with no community input, and overcrowding in local schools. I look forward to holding another Council Member on the Corner once the weather gets warm next Spring.
Captain Marlon Larin, Helen, and Detective John McDonnell of the 24th Precinct at National Night Out Against Crime (August 4, 2015)
National Night Out Against Crime is an annual event to recognize the importance of community and local police precincts working together to keep neighborhoods safe. This year I recognized three officers for their excellent work: Detective Cordell Cheatham of PSA 6, Detective John McDonnell of the 24th Precinct, and Officer Joshua Vincek of the 20th Precinct. These officers have served the community for years, and we're lucky to have them.
If you tried calling 911 from Riverside Park or Riverside Drive earlier this year, you may have had a difficult time trying to explain your location to the operator. That's because 911 calls along the West Side of Manhattan were regularly bouncing to a New Jersey operator, with people on both ends of the call not realizing what had happened. I worked with 24th Precinct Captain Marlon Larin to bring the issue to Verizon and NYPD Inspector Richard Napolitano. As a result of our collaborative efforts, 911 calls are no longer bouncing to New Jersey. Learn more in coverage from DNA Info.
P.S. 9 Principal Kate Witzke, P.S. 9 Pre-K Teacher Nancy Stitham, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Helen, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer at P.S. 9 on the first day of school (September 9, 2015)
The first day of school is a big day for kids and their families, and this September Mayor Bill de Blasio came to the Upper West Side to talk about the expanded Pre-K program, which now has enough full day seats for every four-year-old New Yorker. (Fun fact: 65,504 children registered for opening day of pre-K – more students than in the entire school district of Boston!) If you're interested in learning more about the pre-K program, you can do so here.
Helen, Community Liaison Sean Fitzpatrick, and Volunteer Rita Genn stand with donations from the office's Scarves, Hats, and Gloves Drive (December 18, 2015)
Thanks to the generosity of Upper West Siders, my office collected over 2,500 scarves, gloves, and hats this December! My staff and I delivered them to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, which distributed the scarves, gloves, and hats to the homeless and other people in need.
Helen speaks about construction as harassment at a press conference with Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Ben Kallos, Rosie Mendez, Margaret Chin, Antonio Reynoso, and Corey Johnson, and tenant advocates (September 30, 2015)
When filing for permits to do gut renovations on residential buildings, landlords sometimes falsely declare the building unoccupied, which allows them to skip safety measures and create an unpleasant and potentially dangerous situation for tenants. In September I joined several colleagues to introduce a package of bills to protect tenants experiencing construction as a form of harassment. Council Member Corey Johnson and I introduced a bill (Int. 944-2015) that would require the Department of Buildings (DOB) to list a building’s occupancy status on its construction permits and online. It would also increase penalties for falsifying permits and make inspection fees the responsibility of the landlord who falsified a permit. You can read more about the issue in The New York Times and Chelsea Now. You can learn about all of the bills in the package here. (Those of you able to attend the West Side Tenants' Conference in October may remember the presentation on construction as harassment that I gave alongside Shafaq Islam of the Goddard Riverside Law Project, Jeffrey Margolies of the New York State Tenant Protection Unit, and Council Member Mark Levine.)
In a Council committee hearing in April, construction workers on City-funded projects described experiencing racism and sexual abuse on the job, in addition to wage theft. In October Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and I introduced a bill to protect construction workers on City-funded projects. It would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to create a list of preferred contractors, which takes into account construction conditions and incidents of wage theft. It would also require HPD to track construction conditions by developer and contractor, and it would create an ombudsperson position within HPD to respond to such construction conditions. You can learn more about the issue in the New York Daily News, City & State, and Labor Press.
Helen speaks at a rally with Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, and housing advocates about combating the illegal practice of converting apartments into hotels (October 30, 2015)
In October the Council Committee on Housing and Buildings had a hearing on legislation by Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, and myself to curtail illegal hotels, or the use of apartments as hotel rooms. Airbnb made clear they have no interest in preventing their users from breaking New York City law, which takes housing off the market, provides unregulated and potentially unsafe conditions, and incentivizes warehousing and landlord harassment.
Helen speaks on CNBC's Squawk on the Street about increased funding to combat illegal hotels (July 20, 2015)
We face a severely limited housing supply, and the situation is made worse by landlords who use residential apartments as hotel rooms. Upon my and Council Member Jumaane Williams' urging, the City allocated an additional $1.2 million annually to combat illegal hotels for Fiscal Year 2016 (which started July 1 of this year), and in December the Mayor allocated an additional $2.6 million annually to combat illegal hotels. It's remarkable that a $25 billion corporation thinks it can chose which laws to follow — and because they won't follow NYS law, taxpayers have to pay the price of enforcement. You can learn more about the issue from a segment I did on CNBC's Squawk on the Street.
Last year national and international press focused in on the issue of apartment buildings with separate entrances based on rent status, or "poor doors." The Upper West Side has two such buildings, 40 Riverside Boulevard and 1 West End Avenue, both of which received tax subsidies in exchange for providing affordable housing. While a New York Times editorial said that poor doors were a small price to pay for more affordable housing, I replied in a letter to the Times that it was a false choice: we can have affordable housing and still allow all tenants, market-rate and affordable, access to the same entrance and same amenities. In June of this year, the City banned poor doors, and I am grateful to Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo for making that change possible. You can learn more about the ban in The Guardian and Fast Company.
Council Members Antonio Reynoso, Carlos Menchaca, Mark Levine, and Helen call for stronger rent regulations at the Rally to Save One Million Homes (May 14, 2015)
Updates for rent-regulated tenants:
- In May the Department of Finance (DOF) sent letters to over 5,700 low income seniors and people with disabilities announcing they would reduce or remove their Rent Freeze (SCRIE / DRIE) benefits. Several colleagues in the Council and I called for a moratorium on the change until DOF provided more information, including the increased rent cost for each tenant and a possible appeals process. DOF then shared that they had mistakenly allowed some tenants to receive Rent Freeze benefits who didn't qualify; while these tenants met the requirement of a low income, they spent less than a third of their income on rent. However, low income tenants who are seniors or people with disabilities have much higher medical costs than the rest of the population and cannot afford to pay higher rent. Thankfully, DOF agreed to grandfather these tenants into the program.
- In June rent-stabilized tenants had a huge victory: the Rent Guidelines Board made history by freezing rents for rent-stabilized tenants with one-year leases, and voting for a 2% increase on two-year leases.
- Last week the New York State HCR had a public hearing on a large proposed increase to Maximum Base Rent for rent-controlled tenants. This would be a high burden for tenants, and I was honored to testify against the proposed increase on behalf of our longtime residents who cannot afford it. You can watch my testimony in this 3-minute video.
Our neighborhood has seen important traffic safety improvements this year.
Helen kicks off the first day of a Car-Free Central Park north of 72nd Street with Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver (not pictured), Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Member Mark Levine (June 29, 2015)
Monday, June 29th marked the first day of a permanently car-free Central Park north of 72nd street. I will continue to work towards a fully car-free Central Park. Learn more from CBS 2 News and Streetfilms.
Helen speaks to a DOT worker at a press conference announcing over 1,000 miles of bike lanes in NYC (September 22, 2015). Credit: Jaclyn Jablkowski (NYC DOT)
In July the Department of Transportation implemented pedestrian safety enhancements for the Lincoln Square "bow tie." Changes include left turn restrictions, signal timing, signage and clear painted markings, shortening the length of road pedestrians have to cross, and extending the protected bike lane.
Bike New York President and CEO Kenneth Podziba, Helen, Council Member Ben Kallos, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, and Casey Ashenhurst from WE Bike NYC paint a new bike lane at a press conference announcing over 1,000 miles of bike lanes in NYC (September 22, 2015). Credit: Kate Hinds (WNYC)
The Department of Transportation (DOT) presented their plan to bring a northbound protected bike lane to the Upper West Side, most likely on Amsterdam Avenue. You can view the presentation here. The next step for the plan is another Community Board 7 Transportation Committee meeting, which should happen early in the coming year. The northbound bike lane will be an important step to improving street safety, especially since Citibike came to the Upper West Side this year.
Helen discusses Cooper's legacy at the street naming of Cooper Stock Way (June 3, 2015). Credit: Jen Chung for Gothamist
We also honored young Cooper Stock, who was killed in a traffic crash last year, with the unveiling of the street name Cooper Stock Way on 97th Street and West End Avenue. I am grateful to Cooper's mom, the Calhoun School, Transportation Alternatives, and the NYPD for creating a day of educational street safety workshops for Cooper's classmates, and I am grateful to the press for spreading the day's message about the epidemic of reckless driving. You can learn more from coverage by NY1, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, CBS 2 News, Pix 11 News, DNA Info, and Gothamist, and you can learn more about challenges to safe streets in my West Side Spirit op-ed.
Restaurant and store owners attend a delivery cyclist forum held by the NYC Department of Transportation and sponsored by Helen's office (October 8, 2015)
In October my office and the Department of Transportation (DOT) held a forum for restaurant and store owners who employ delivery cyclists. Over 75 people attended, and DOT gave an informative presentation on the rules of the road for cyclists and distributed accessories like bike lights, reflective vests, and bells to make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
In January Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Jill Abramson, Dana Lerner, and I were on a panel about street safety hosted by the West Side Spirit and moderated by its Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope. Among other things, we discussed the shortage of school crossing guards; if you know anyone who might be interested in the job, please encourage them to apply. You can learn more about the forum from press coverage in the West Side Spirit, Gothamist, and the Observer.
Helen, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Members David Greenfield, Mathieu Eugene, Brad Lander, Ben Kallos, and Vanessa Gibson rally for more funding for crossing guards (April 8, 2015)
The City faces a serious shortage of crossing guards. In March 2015 a child was hit by a car while leaving school on 77th and Columbus, an intersection where I had asked for a crossing guard since September 2014. One way to address this problem is to do whatever we can to attract more applicants to the job. That starts with giving crossing guards full-time, year-round work and healthcare. In April I joined my colleagues on the steps of City Hall to call for more funding in the City's budget for crossing guards, and in June I met with officers from the NYPD to discuss crossing guards near Upper West Side schools. While they agreed to increase the number of crossing guards assigned to our area, they have not yet been able to fill the positions.
A new school opened on the Upper West Side this year: the West End Secondary School. The District 3 school will serve grades 6-12 and started with 6th grade this year. The school is housed in the old Beacon School building. The building is leased, and during public hearings, a representative for the landlord assured the public that renewing the lease would not be an issue. However, the landlord is no longer negotiating a reasonable renewal lease, and the School Construction Authority (SCA), with my support, is considering eminent domain to resolve the issue.
Helen delivers computers donated by an anonymous donor to the High School of Arts and Technology (December 15, 2015)
For years the High School of Arts and Technology had no computers. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous offered a few dozen computers, monitors, keyboards, and mice, and I connected the donor to the school. The kids will now have the "technology" promised to them in their school's name.
Quality of Life
Helen, Council Member Mark Levine, and advocates speak about legislation for people with disabilities (August 13, 2015)
Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities continue to face barriers to the City's civic and cultural life. I announced three new bills (co-sponsored by Councilman Ritchie Torres) to help people with disabilities: 1. require an ADA coordinator at every City agency, 2. require publicity materials for every event held or sponsored by the City to include accessibility information, including a contact name and deadline for additional services needed, and 3. install hearing loops in spaces where City government meetings are held for the public. In October the bills had a hearing, and it was the first City Council hearing ever to have a hearing loop, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, and CART services to accommodate people with hearing loss, people who are deaf who use ASL as their first language, and people who are deaf who use written English as their first language. You can learn more about the bills from two infographics by my office and in coverage by WCBS 880 and Politico.
Film shoots seem to be taking over our neighborhood. While they offer a great source of revenue and jobs, they also disrupt the daily lives of residents ranging from loss of parking, blocked streets, and general disruptions from noise and lights at all hours. My office is in touch with the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, which issues the film permits, about being more cognizant of holidays (we had film shoots over Yom Kippur that required moving cars during the holiday, for example), proper notice for those who do need to move cars, and being mindful of not overburdening any one particular area. My office was also able to secure a moratorium on film permits for an address, 194 Riverside Drive, that experienced 19 location permits in 2015, 11 of which were concentrated in the last four months of the year. You can learn more about the issue in my recent op-ed in the West Side Spirit.
Helen speaks at a rally against tour helicopter noise with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Council Members Carlos Menchaca (not pictured), Margaret Chin (not pictured), and Paul Vallone (not pictured), State Senator Daniel Squadron (not pictured), and advocates (November 12, 2015)
Since my first week in office, I've heard complaints from residents about relentless helicopter noise and the impact it has on their quality of life. In fact, it's an issue that resonates far beyond the Upper West Side; helicopter noise impacts everyone who lives, works, or uses public parks along helicopter tour routes citywide (and across the Hudson). In November we had a first hearing on two bills sponsored by Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Margaret Chin, and me to ban the noisiest tour helicopters. You can watch the hearing here and learn more about the issue from coverage in the New York Daily News, DNA Info, the West Side Spirit, and New York Business Journal.
Several residents on Columbus Avenue between 93rd and 94th contacted my office about overnight truck delivery noise from Gabriela's restaurant between midnight and 5:30am. In August my staff arranged for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to investigate, and they issued noise violations to two delivery trucks. We met with the restaurant's management, and they agreed to change their policy. Gabriela's contacted all their delivery companies and requested that deliveries arrive only after 8am. Now residents on that block can get a good night's sleep every night of the week.
Right now over half of all City-contracted human services workers (health care services, early childhood education, etc.) earn less than $14 an hour. Due to their low income, many human service workers are eligible for the same services they provide in their professions, such as food stamps and homeless shelters. My November Contracts Committee hearing was about raising wages for workers who provide city services through human services contracts. While the Mayor added funding to bring wages for these workers up to at least $11.50 an hour, I believe we need to raise all city workers' wages to $15 an hour. You can learn more about the hearing in coverage by the Gotham Gazette.
Helen calls on New York City to divest from fossil fuels at the Global Divestment Day Rally (February 13, 2015)
New York City and State pension funds together invest over $8 billion in companies that mine, drill, and produce fossil fuels. The value of these companies is highly dependent on their untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas, but governments around the world are acting to keep fossil fuels in the ground to prevent climate catastrophe. In other words, due to worldwide pressure and government regulation, it is financially responsible to divest from fossil fuels. In September, Environment Committee Chair Costa Constantinides and I sent a letter to the City's five pension boards calling on them to study both phasing out of fossil fuel investments and investing in renewable energy companies. In November, I joined forces with State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz, who are leading the issue at the State level, to ask both the City and State comptrollers to divest our pensioners' retirement savings from fossil fuels in an op-ed that ran in Crain's.
Helen and public health, environmental, and animal rights advocates rally for Meatless Mondays (January 22, 2015)
In January Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson and I introduced a Resolution calling on New York City to recognize Meatless Mondays. By going meatless one day a week, a 15% reduction of saturated fat intake, we can eat healthier and put less pressure on the environment.
When the City decided in 2013 that all of its vehicles should run on biodiesel blends (clean diesel with 5%-20% biodiesel, usually made from vegetable oil), school buses were left out. I introduced legislation to require all New York City school buses to run on B5 biodiesel, or fuel with 5% biodiesel.
Helen recognizes the District 3 Green Schools Group with a Proclamation at City Hall (April 16, 2015)
The District 3 Green Schools Group is an all-volunteer organization of public school parents who promote sustainability in our local public schools, and I was proud to honor them in April with a Proclamation at City Hall. Their composting pilot program in 2011 was particularly successful: they reduced landfill garbage by 85%, and the Department of Sanitation used their pilot to expand the program throughout the City.
In New York City it is illegal to idle your vehicle for more than 3 minutes on most streets and more than 1 minute in a school zone, but the law is rarely enforced. Many of you have expressed your frustration with idling vehicles to my office, and my staff has spent several dozen hours trying to get the City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to enforce the law — without much success. Council Member Donovan Richards and I introduced a bill to allow for citizen enforcement of idling vehicles. Our bill would require DEP to create and monitor an online portal where anyone could upload video of idling vehicles, and it would allow DEP to use that video as evidence to issue a summons and for the uploader to receive up to 50% of the fine collected by the City.
Landmarks & Land Use
Helen and Erika Peterson and Josette Amato from the West End Preservation Society (WEPS) celebrate the historic district designation of the West End Avenue-Riverside Drive Ext. II (December 2, 2015)
In June the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the Riverside-West End Historic District Ext. II, and in September the Council passed it into law, adding 344 new buildings to the historic district. While I was disappointed LPC chose to drop 20 blocks of Broadway from consideration, and wrote to LPC in May and in June urging them to reconsider, the designation is a hard fought victory years in the making that will preserve the character of the Upper West Side.
The IRT Powerhouse on 59th street and West End Avenue is being considered for landmark status. I'm proud to support the designation, which would preserve a monument to the New York City subway system and a part of the legacy of famed architecture firm McKim, Mead, & White.
I have heard from countless Upper West Side residents and members of the Community Board on their frustration around the inadequate ability for public input and lack of transparency from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) particularly when developers are asked to make changes to their building proposals. Right now it's the policy of the LPC to require developers modifying landmarks to present their plans in front of the local community board, but under a different commissioner, that policy could easily change. In May I introduced a bill that would make that policy law. In addition, it would require developers to inform the community after they make significant changes to their plans (significant changes would include a change in footprint, increase in height, or a significant change in the exterior design elements or materials). I am grateful to the Community Board 7 Preservation Committee and the West End Preservation Society for their support on this bill.
Helen gives testimony at a presentation on the proposed expansion of the American Museum of Natural History (November 12, 2015)
In November the American Museum of Natural History gave a presentation of their expansion plan led by the architect, Jeanne Gang, and key Museum staff involved in the design and planning of the new space. I support the educational mission of the addition and re-design of space and look forward to the public review process.
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
Helen co-chairs a joint NYCHA-Contracts hearing on NYCHA repairs (October 1, 2015)
In October I co-chaired a joint Contracts / NYCHA hearing on the need for contracting accountability and transparency for NYCHA repairs, in light of leaking roofs at King Towers in Harlem. During this important oversight hearing, we learned how truly opaque NYCHA has been in their contracting process. Because NYCHA is an "Authority," they believe they do not have to follow the City's procurement rules for disclosure. They are not sharing their poor reviews of contractors who completed less than satisfactory work with other agencies nor are they subjecting themselves to the standards required of typical city agencies who contract out. This means that bad contractors could be continually getting jobs at NYCHA or other agencies. I look forward to further tackling NYCHA transparency and accountability with Council Member Ritchie Torres, Chair of the Committee on Public Housing.
Helen, League Commissioner Andrew Blacks, and a team from the Positive Influence Basketball league (August 24, 2015)
Helen at the face painting station at NYCHA Family Day at Harborview (August 15, 2015)
Positive Influence is a terrific outlet for teens in public housing, and I'm delighted to fund their activities, the NYCHA jobs panels, and the NYCHA Family Day events. "NYCHA Family Days" bring the community together and are a lot of fun. This year events included a live band, dancing, face painting, great food, popcorn, and a water slide!
Helen and NYCHA families at the American Museum of Natural History (March 28, 2015)
I also funded two Family Days for Upper West Side NYCHA residents to go to the American Museum of Natural History this spring. The day included free breakfast, lunch, and transportation to and from the Museum. As you can see, the kids and I had a lot of fun!
Legislation Passed and Signed into Law
Helen and Mayor Bill de Blasio (April 20, 2015). Credit: William Alatriste for the New York City Council
The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) has a shockingly low rate of women firefighters: less than a half of one percent. Meanwhile, 13% of San Francisco's firefighters, 15% of active duty U.S. military, and 17% of New York police officers are women. In June the Mayor signed into law my bill, co-sponsored with Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, requiring the FDNY to publish online the demographics of people applying to become firefighters. We expect this information to help us to better understand the barriers to entry for women and minorities. In November, the FDNY graduated one of its most diverse classes of recruits, with 4 new women firefighters and 52 new black firefighters. It's a start.
Mayor Bill de Blasio Signs Helen's FDNY Admissions Demographics Reporting Bill into Law (June 2, 2015). Credit: William Alatriste for the New York City Council
Nearly 40% of New York City's jail population at any given time are in jail because they cannot afford bail. Due to backlogs in court hearings, New Yorkers who cannot afford bail may sit in jail for months or even years. Even relatively short stays in jail can wreak havoc on the lives of detained men and women, who could lose income because they cannot go to work, be unable to care for their children or other family members, miss school, or lose their place in a homeless shelter. In October the Mayor signed into law my pre-trial detainee reporting bill, which requires the City to post reports online with detailed information about inmates' bail amounts, length of incarceration, severity of alleged crime, and the correlation of crime to incarceration, by borough. This bill enables policymakers to know who is incarcerated so they can get people out of jail if they shouldn't be there. Transparency is the first step to securing fair treatment for these individuals, and the first report will be available online by July 2016. You can read more about the bill and the package of criminal justice legislation in the New York Observer and CityLab.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signs Helen's bill on Worker Cooperatives (March 18, 2015)
Worker cooperatives are a business model wherein every employee owns a share of the business and plays a role in the decision making. New York City has over 20 worker co-ops in various sectors — bakeries, child care, cleaning services, web design, and more — and these businesses provide better hours, higher wages, and more job security for their workers compared to the traditional business model in their industry. In March the Mayor signed into law my bill requiring the City to report on the number of city contracts awarded to worker cooperatives and the number of worker cooperatives that received assistance from the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS). You can learn more from a story in Labor Press.
Helen, Shafaq Islam (then at the Urban Justice Center, now at Goddard Riverside Law Project), and James Versocki of the NY State Restaurant Association discuss Helen's OATH bill on MNN's Represent NYC (April 24, 2015)
Every time someone challenges a violation issued by a city agency, like a health department or building code violation, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) tries the case. Nearly half of these violations get dismissed by the OATH administrative judge. That's a waste of time and money for the City and for the individual or small business that incorrectly receives a summons and wastes a work day in court. It also begs the question, why are so many violations dismissed? Were these violations inappropriately written, or could the defendant afford a lawyer able to argue his way out of a valid violation? In June the Mayor signed into law my bill that requires OATH to regularly issue data on its cases, including its rate of dismissals and analysis of the reasons behind the dismissals. I hope this will lead to fewer unnecessary health violations for restaurants and a better understanding of why fines for some building violations get paid without the problem ever being fixed. I recently hosted an episode of Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN)'s Represent NYC to talk about these issues with Shafaq Islam, then at the Urban Justice Center and now at the Goddard Riverside Law Center, and James Versocki of the New York State Restaurant Association.
I was proud to co-prime sponsor a bill along with Council Members Jumaane Williams and Corey Johnson calling on the State to extend rent stabilization in New York City. Most people don't know that rent regulation must be renewed every three years, and it was due for renewal in June 2015. Thankfully, Albany continued to recognize the ongoing housing crisis and extended rent regulation in the City.
Helen, Council Members Daniel Dromm and Margaret Chin, and advocates rally against Governor Cuomo's proposal for State receivership of struggling schools (March 12, 2015)
All parents of public school children have the right to "opt-out" of high stakes testing, but many don't know it. They might not even know there is a Parents' Bill of Rights that already exists through the NYC Department of Education. In March Council Member Daniel Dromm and I passed a resolution calling on the DOE to distribute the Parents' Bill of Rights to all public school parents at the start of every school year and to include information about parents' right to opt out of high stakes testing. You can read about the bill in Chalkbeat and hear the story of one sixth-grader who opted out of standardized testing in a story in the Columbia Spectator.
Helen speaks out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at a rally at City Hall (April 27, 2015)
In April the Council adopted my resolution against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and fast-track approval from Congress. While the President ultimately passed the bill, I am proud that our City announced loud and clear that our local laws should not be subject to the bottom line of major corporations and that the American people deserve to know the contents of such important legislation before it is voted on. The resolution received the support of several organizations, including the Sierra Club, Democracy for America, United for Action, and Communications Workers of America.
Helen at a press conference on the steps of City Hall (January 22, 2015). Credit: William Alatriste for the New York City Council
Last year the income cap to qualify for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) was raised to $50,000 — but only for two years. The higher cap was set to expire (or "sunset") in 2016, impacting 13,000 older and disabled New Yorkers who can use the higher SCRIE / DRIE cap to stay in their homes. Council Member Andrew Cohen and I sponsored a resolution to remove the sunset provision from the SCRIE and DRIE programs, which the Council adopted in May. On the same day the Council adopted my resolution to expand the Senior Citizen Homeowners’ Exemption (SCHE) program and Council Member Jumaane Williams' resolution to expand the Disabled Homeowners’ Exemption (DHE) program.
In March the Council also adopted my resolution in support of a New York State Assembly bill that would provide rent relief for rent controlled tenants.
Our office will continue to work hard for residents of the Upper West Side and throughout the city. Please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com, and see below for staff contact information.
Here's to the beginning of a new year!