“Sadly it’s another case of Albany getting in the way of anyone having good elections in this state, or of Albany to fix the Board of Elections, give it back to the people and take it away from the party bosses.” – New York City Councilman Ben Kallos
“It’s interesting to see that the two people whose conduct was found culpable in Brooklyn lost their employment and yet the people involved in some of the other purges identified by the AG in Queens and Manhattan are still there. Why weren’t those people fired?” New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, a longtime critic of the city election board’s hiring system, asked rhetorically.
Not quite scapegoats, the two suspended Brooklyn clerks appeared to be more like settled-upon sacrificial lambs. A city Board of Elections spokeswoman recently described them both as “retired.” But in 2016, what they appear to have been doing was following orders.
To the relief of an Upper East Side community group, Gamma Real Estate’s tower won’t violate new zoning rules until at least next year. But there’s no guarantee that the developer won’t build beyond that.
An Upper East Side community group is claiming a small victory in its legal battle against a tower under construction on E. 58th St. But that victory, the developer counters, is nothing more than a mere coincidence due to the project’s construction timeline.
As The KCP Investigation continues into the city’s taking of fully paid off properties through the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), Third Party Transfer (TPT) program, KCP has been busy chasing down a number of of leads in trying to unravel the complex role of the government’s involvement. What follows is a few of these odds, ends and false leads with a brief explanation:
FALSE LEAD: 2017 CITY LEGISLATION PROMPTED THE FORECLOSURES
In 2017, the coalition Stand For Tenant Safety (STS) along with the City Council’s Progressive Caucus put together a legislative package of 11 bills, which passed the Council in August of that year.
Among these bills was City Council Member Ben Kallos‘ (D-Manhattan) bill, Intro. 0930, which expands HPD’s (TPT) program, allowing the city to foreclose and sell distressed residential buildings to pre-qualified third parties, and to include buildings whose owners have incurred large amounts of unsatisfied building violations.
The bill, although expanding the definition of “distressed” property, had nothing to do the seizure of more than 60 properties across Central Brooklyn in a single foreclosure judgement last September. The legislation does not go into effect until 2019, and even if it was in effect, would unlikely include the properties featured in KCP’s investigative series as these properties do not have the type of building violations detailed in the bill.
But others see an opportunity for reform at every level if the provisions pass.
City Councilman Ben Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has pushed for campaign-finance reform since he ran for office in 2013.
“I really think that the system has too much big money into it,” he said. He hopes the changes will increase participation, particularly with first-time candidates.
“It is not humanly possible for someone to run for mayor on small dollars,” he said. “And with this change, it is.”
The book provides historical research and photographs from various institutional archives in the City, which are placed alongside contemporary photographs of the neighborhood to show the progression throughout the years. Council Member Ben Kallos and the Department of Cultural Affairs provided funding for the project.
On Nov. 6, New York City voters will have the chance to limit the corrupting influence of large political contributions by voting “yes” on Ballot Question 1, a proposal from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission to lower donation limits and increase public matching funds.
New York is already one of the few cities that matches campaign contributions up to $175, a system that empowers normal citizens – who do not have thousands of dollars to spare – to financially support their preferred candidates. By doing so, it reins in the influence of big money in politics, and most candidates in New York City participate.
Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”
City Councilman Ben Kallos said the 8 Argus cameras will cost $336,000.
Kallos said he has always had concerns about cameras and how they might impact on a person’s privacy as well as how law enforcement uses them.
But said his constituents want them.
“No one objected during participatory budgeting,” Kallos said, referring to the process by which citizens have a say in how city money is spent. “People want them.”
He also recalled speaking with a police commander at an FDR pedestrian bridge earlier this year and witnessing the deterrence of cameras.
“Two people walked past us,’’ Kallos explained. “They said, ‘There’s security cameras there — let’s not go there.”
The cameras will link to the NYPD’s Domain Awareness System, the surveillance network of more than 18,000 inter-connected cameras — including those in the private sector — as well as law enforcement databases.
Council Member Ben Kallos, NYPD 19th Precinct Commander Kathleen Walsh, and representatives from the community gathered this breezy, but gorgeous morning alongside the East River at 63rd Street to announce the installation of high tech "ARGUS" security cameras on the East River Esplanade, and along East 86th Street. The cameras, which cost $35,000 each, utilize several cameras usually housed in a white metal box generally attached to light poles, are high definition, can see 360 degrees, and can be accessed by the NYPD on any type of device real-time. The installation of the ARGUS cameras is intended to deter crime, and to provide more far reaching and clearer imaging to help identify perps when a crime has been committed.
Owners of cooling towers are currently required to have them inspected quarterly and immediately have them cleaned if they show a certain amount of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' Disease. Cooling tower owners then must submit an annual report documenting the inspections and cleanings.
The new law would require inspection results to be submitted to the city almost immediately after they're received. It would also require the city to send electronic reminders to cooling tower owners of upcoming dates.
"As the Health Department issues violations to bring towers into compliance, many buildings with cooling towers are still failing to report the results of their inspections, leaving us to wonder if inspections are occurring at all," bill sponsor Councilman Ben Kallos said.
Since the city’s rollout of universal pre-k, Upper East Side pols have been critical of how few seats there are in the area. A WNYC report in 2014 found that just 123 pre-k seats were located in Yorkville, Lenox Hill, and Roosevelt Island, though some 2,118 four-year-olds lived in those neighborhoods.
The issue, in part, is due to how School District 2 stretches from the Upper East Side through the southern tip of Manhattan.
“That is obviously a problem,” said City Councilmember Ben Kallos, “if a seat in the Financial District is being counted toward a child in East Harlem.”
Councilmember Keith Powers said the boundaries of school districts should probably be revisited.
When your pre-k is three miles away, he said, “it creates false expectations for the school system when you have school seats available, but they’re so far for families.”
Since last September, hundreds of seats have been added at Third Ave. and E. 95th St., as well as on E. 57th St. and E. 82nd St. Next fall, a fourth pre-k is expected to open on E. 76th St. with another 180 seats — bringing the total of new seats to more than 450 in two years.
The new $7.8 million library will be fully ADA accessible and feature computer work stations, a reading area, a teen area, a children's room and a multi-use community room for events. The project will also result in exterior improvements such as new plantings, a book drop and a bench area that will double as a bus stop.
Funds for the project were allocated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Ben Kallos and former City Council Member Jessica Lappin.
The sidewalk shed was one of nearly 8,000 around the city and was one of the city’s oldest. It was scaffolding like these that prompted City Councilman Ben Kallos to introduce a bill last November that aimed to require scaffolding to be taken down within six months of it having gone up. Kallos argued that some property owners opt to keep the sheds in place for extended periods of time to put off making costly facade repairs. In 2016, the Department of Buildings (DOB) found that the city was home to nearly 2,000 “dormant sheds” where repair work wasn’t being carried out on building facades that posed safety hazards. Even the DOB headquarters at 280 Broadway in Manhattan has had a sidewalk shed around it since 2008.
"We thought the problems in the building were dangerous, but the landlord ignored us and there is no mechanism to get them to fix the issues," Velkov said. "The city said that they couldn't do anything and the landlord could just revoke the lease – we just don't have any rights."
Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson Book stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, said she is being forced out of her store in Manhattan and will have to relocate.
"We are being replaced by chains," McNally said. It would've helped to have the non-binding arbitration and mediation."
Councilman Ben Kallos, (D-Manhattan) a co-sponsor of the bill, decried the spread of chain stores.
"New York City doesn't need another Starbucks or a bank – it's the last thing we need," Kallos said. "Instead, we get empty storefronts and there are vacancies everywhere. We need to save small business in this city instead of having darkness."
"As the public media station for the New York metropolitan area, WNET is proud to partner with Council Members Kallos and Powers to provide this public service to the community" Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of WNET, said in a statement.
Funding will cover live streams for the community board's next 12 full board meetings. The full board makes the final vote on resolutions that have been passed by community board committees. Resolutions span a wide range of issues such as housing, public safety, business licenses and transportation.
WNET employees will attend the meetings and stream them using professional camera and sound equipment.
Kallos and Powers decided to fund the live streams at Community Board 8's request, a spokesman for Kallos said. The streams will be publicized by Kallos and Powers on social media, the spokesman said
Even before the hotly anticipated hearing even took place, protesters gathered on the steps of the city Education Department headquarters to call for improved service, and Council Member Ben Kallos (D-UES) led a press conference at City Hall in support of legislation to improve bus service.
Families said problems with bus service are ongoing, despite the city’s efforts.
"I still don't know what happened," Kaiser said, referring to the first day of school for her kids. "And I would have loved to have had GPS on our bus that day to have an answer to that question."
Soon she may get her wish. Councilman Ben Kallos introduced a bill that would require all school buses to have GPS and an app that would make that information available to parents.
"This is not an expensive problem to solve," Kallos said. "This is something that buses have solved, garbage trucks have solved, and Uber, Lyft, and every other ride hailing program in the country has solved."
Right now two-thirds of all school buses are equipped with GPS but schools and parents don't have access to that data.
"And so the big difference that this bill would make is ensuring that parents can follow that GPS real-time data and see where the bus is and where their children are," said Randy Levine of Advocates for Children of New York.
City council members are proposing a slew of new bills to address the long-standing problems. One bill co-sponsored by more than a dozen members would require all buses to use GPS tracking, another would create a bill of rights for riders, and another would require the education department to report average travel times for students. Tucked into a bill sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos is a call for the city to also consider the use of transportation to encourage school integration.
Kallos, who is also behind the legislation to require location trackers, said the city has already allocated funding for the devices in its budget.
“The city just needs to do it. It’s already paid for,” he said. “It is most important for parents and caretakers… so that no one has to worry where the bus is or their child is.”
He also proposed a new Office of Inspection independent of the Department of Buildings and the Housing and Preservation Department, which he said play conflicting roles since they both approve new construction and development and are also charged with enforcing housing and construction codes. In line with his role as the city’s chief fiscal officer, Stringer also pushed for reforms to the capital budget, which funds infrastructure projects in the city. He said it should be transparent enough so the public can identify the cost of specific projects and be informed when those costs change.
Several other City Council members also weighed in on proposed charter revisions.
Council Member Ben Kallos, also co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, proposed a citizen “Bill of Rights to free higher education, affordable health and mental health care, and, access to parks, libraries, public transit and affordable internet.” He stressed that any revisions to the charter brought about through a ballot referendum should go through further changes only after being presented to voters again. He pushed to give the Council and borough presidents the ability to make appointments to mayoral boards that have land use authority and said the charter should be amended to allow city residents to propose legislation and be heard before the Council. “Our City’s Charter is truly a living document,” he said in a statement, “but it is up to us to make sure it remains alive.”