Below is a re-post of my City Council office's 2021 Annual Report. For the original, click here.
As New York City begins its recovery from the pandemic accountability and transparency in government are of the utmost importance. Elected officials must be accessible and able to prove to New Yorkers that they are focused and working diligently to bring New York City back better than ever before.
Despite our physical office having to be closed, we have continued to serve you by phone and online. Our monthly newsletter never stopped, First Friday moved to Zoom, and we even held a virtual State of the District to keep residents informed. Just as we have done every year since I have been in office, we continue to report to you with a comprehensive list detailing over 100 issues we have worked with residents and local leaders to win over the last 7 and a half years and what we have still left to do.
As a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and even before becoming a new father, education has always been a top priority. When the Mayor promised “universal pre-kindergarten” and didn’t give us any seats we worked together to add more than 1,000 seats. When we were surrounded by new construction with children turned away from schools and no new budget for school seats I wrote the law to force transparency and won funding for 824 new school seats. We've invested $6.5 million in STEM education, rebuilt our schools, and are building new gyms and green roofs for schools. We've helped schools open safely during the pandemic, and launched a new French dual language pre-kindergarten. We carried legislation that we passed into law for students to offer LGBT support in schools and parents to put GPS tracking on every school bus. With the digital divide exposed by the pandemic, we introduced legislation to guarantee every student a laptop with digital textbooks that aren’t racist and outdated and even proposed desegregating online learning. We won funding for Summer Youth Employment and are fighting for Universal Youth Jobs. We’ve renovated a century-old library where I first got my library card and even built a new library on Roosevelt Island. As a student who was too ashamed to stand on the poor lunch line, we moved breakfast after the bell, won free school lunch, and now I am fighting to end youth hunger by serving dinner as part of universal after school.
Our recovery must be driven by jobs for one-in-five New Yorkers who lost them during the pandemic and raising wages for others. That starts with a universal Internet guarantee built on having won affordable high-speed internet for low-income New Yorkers. We will be growing jobs right here at a new biotech incubator at Rockefeller University that we’ve been working on since my first day in office. We also cut the ribbon on a new half-billion-dollar campus expansion of Rockefeller University and the brand new Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island.
In one of the wealthiest cities on the planet in a country where we pay farmers not to farm, hunger isn’t a question of resources, it is a question of information, which is why I continue to push my legislation to make government benefits barrier-free with Automatic Benefits. We can offer retirement accounts to workers who don’t have them at no cost to employers with Retirement Security for All legislation that Trump can no longer block.
When the pandemic shut businesses down, we fought for and won outdoor dining. I am proud to have co-sponsored the law to make outdoor dining permanent and even offer funding to help businesses retrofit for improved ventilation and accessibility.
Parks are more important than ever as we seek refuge from tiny apartments that weren’t built for a pandemic. Working alongside Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade we have now secured $874 Million for a resilient waterfront. This is on top of a $3.3 million renovation of Carl Schurz Playground, $1 million for a new pool and basketball courts at John Jay Park, a $2.9 million expansion of Sutton Place Park, $1.4 million in security cameras for hard to patrol parks, and having a new conservancy for almost every park. We even opened indoor tennis for free or low-cost year-round.
Affordable Housing & Over Development
As a lifelong tenant, I know that even with thousands of vacant apartments, the affordable housing crisis persists. We were able to build or preserve 1,000 affordable housing units in the neighborhood with 6,000 citywide as a land-use subcommittee chair. We’ve also won three rent freezes for one million rent-regulated tenants. When a whistleblower shared that real estate developers were getting billions in tax breaks without offering the affordable housing they promised I wrote the law to get hundreds of thousands of affordable homes back on the market. You can see what’s available and apply at HousingConnect.nyc.gov.
We continue to fight overdevelopment that is displacing rent-regulated affordable housing and threatening our communities. We managed to stop the march of supertall buildings for billionaires into residential neighborhoods by winning the first of its kind rezoning. Following that momentum, we closed the mechanical voids loophole in residential districts as we seek to make the voids illegal in commercial districts that include Billionaire’s Row. Then we beat the Jetson’s tower on stilts. I also wrote the law to turn down the volume on after-hours construction noise. After having their proposal for a tower that is illegal to build next to a park rejected 4 times, the New York Blood Center is back again with a proposal to build 334-foot tall commercial tower that would leave the only playground in the East 60s in shadows for much of the day and you must make your voice heard.
In New York City there are more homeless children in our shelters than single men, together with their families they make two-thirds of our homeless. That’s why I co-founded the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) getting faith-based organizations, nonprofits and City agencies together to build and support more services for the homeless in the neighborhood. Together we’ve opened supportive housing for women and children, a new supermarket style food pantry, and won a near-unanimous resolution in support from Community Board 8 to build a new Safe Haven, all within blocks of where I live and I couldn’t be prouder. With more vacant apartments than homeless families, I’ve proposed renting or buying vacant apartments to end homelessness for families.
Big money has had a stranglehold on politics leading to a corrupt government that has failed to serve the people, like saying it would do something about the affordable housing crisis while taking money from real estate developers. That’s why I think elected officials should follow my lead by refusing big money from real estate, corporations, and lobbyists and why I wrote the new full public matching campaign finance system that matches every small dollar you give with 8 public dollars so candidates can run the right way and win.
Our government was so corrupt when I started, that I had to write the laws to make it illegal for Council Members to earn outside income from people with business before them and to make the Speaker’s lulu slush fund used to buy Council Member loyalty illegal too. We amended the Charter not once, but twice, winning reforms at the ballot to pace the way on campaign finance along with term limits and urban planners for Community Boards, as well as limiting the revolving door for elected officials who become lobbyists. We even investigated the Rivington scandal.
We need to make it easier to vote. That’s why I authored laws to let you request your absentee ballot online and make sure it is counted which was finally implemented. I also wrote the law to let you register to vote online that was blocked by a corrupt Albany legislature.
You should know where your tax dollars are going which is why we’ve had participatory budgeting and why I wrote the law to put the budget online. I’ve even proposed $15 billion in fat to trim from the budget, savings we could use to fully fund nonprofits serving youth and seniors.
Public Health & Safety
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the first thing we did was try and help our City and state secure hospital beds which were in huge demand early on. We succeeded and were able to open 550 new hospital beds in the district. We were also able to launch a supply clearinghouse, and we continue distributing masks, sanitizer, and food. Over the years we've focused on public health with laws to take on Legionnaires' disease and make happy meals healthy, and we've worked to connect New Yorkers with the benefits they need automatically. We wrote the law to create the Office of Food Policy as we fight to adopt good food purchasing.
Getting around our district has improved immensely over the last 7 and a half years. Thanks to the vigilance of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney we finally opened the Second Avenue Subway. We also won new transit options including ferries, bike share, faster buses through Select Bus Service, and even renewed the tram. As part of Vision Zero, we invested in infrastructure to make our streets safer and launched a bike safety program that made it safer to be a pedestrian. We are now working to make the 59th Street bridge safe for pedestrians and cyclists to cross along with forcing the City to plow bike lanes and pedestrian intersections.
I believe in climate change and evidence-based governance. That's why I authored and passed a resolution making New York City the largest city on the planet to declare a climate emergency. The following year the Mayor adopted our ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles in parks. Through Grow NYC we have funded Fresh Food Boxes and green markets, to offer locally sourced sustainable farm-fresh produce to thousands of residents in the district. I spent years fighting to expand composting, only to see it canceled by the Mayor, and I am committed to working with you to bring it back. We can reduce the carbon footprint of dirty buildings, build green energy infrastructure right here like Renewable Rikers and offshore wind for a recovery that puts climate first.
Quality of Life
Cleaning up doesn’t just mean corruption in government, it also applies to the neighborhood. We’re fighting hundreds of miles of scaffolding, some of it almost old enough to vote, with legislation to force repairs so it comes down quickly. We even put a new, covered trash can on every corner and are working with Wildcat to keep streets clean.
Every moment I get to work for you is a pleasure. I am so grateful for your support and partnership in accomplishing so very much. Please let me know what’s most important to you? Share your priorities at BenKallos.com/survey-2021
Yours in service,
BY THE NUMBERS
Constituent Service Cases: 15,792
Introductions Authored: 137
Introductions Enacted into Law:42 (31%)
Resolutions Authored: 23
Resolutions Adopted: 9 (39%)
City Council Attendance (excluding Paternity Leave): 98.25%
Land Use Matters Adopted: 11
Rezonings to Stop Overdevelopment: 2
Lawsuits Against Overdevelopment: 2
Legislation Sponsored Adopted or Enacted:1,180 (65%)
Ben in Your Building: 65+
First Fridays & Brainstorm with Ben: 70+
Mobile Hours: Hundreds
Free Legal Clinics: Hundreds
Community Meetings: Hundreds
Event Registrations: 6,000+
Reusable Bags Distributed: 4,900
Participatory Budgeting Investments in Community: $10.3 million
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 824 New K–8 School Seats Secured for the East Side
- Adding More Than 1,000 New Pre-Kindergarten Seats for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island Along with Better Pay for Teachers
- Taking on Youth Hunger with Breakfast after the Bell and Free Lunch
- End Youth Hunger with Universal After School, Complete with Dinner
- Fighting for Universal Youth Jobs
- $6.5 Million Invested in STEM Education from Hydroponics Labs to New Laptops
- $5.9 Million for Green Roofs
- New Gym for Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Playgrounds
- New Gym Secure for P.S. 151 and P.S. 527
- $8.2 Million Building Retrofit and New Open Space for P.S. 77 and P.S. 198
- Reopening Safely During a Pandemic and Securing School Nurses
- Pandemic Exacerbates Need for Laptop for Every Child and Ending Racist Textbooks
- Desegregate Online Learning
- Rebuilding Award-Winning Public Schools
- New School for Children's Academy
- Launched Dual Language French Pre-Kindergarten
- GPS for School Buses
- Gender Sexuality Education Law Authored by Middle School Students
- Five Years of Public School Student Art Shows at Sotheby’s
- $2.5 Million Renovation for East 67th Street and Roosevelt Island Libraries
- Supporting Excelsior City and State University Scholarship
JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- Won Affordable High-Speed Internet for Low-Income New Yorkers
- Universal Internet Guarantee
- Opening Rockefeller University’s New Half-Billion Dollar Campus
- Rockefeller Incubator
- Opening and Collaborating with Cornell Tech
- Automatic Benefits Law, API and Study
- Retirement Security for All
- Outdoor Dining
- Proposing a Worker-Led Recovery by Raising Wages for Human Service Workers
IMPROVING AND CREATING NEW PARKS
- Secure $874 Million for a Resilient East River Esplanade
- Reconstruction of Carl Schurz Playground Completed
- $1 Million for John Jay Pool and New Basketball Courts
- $2.9 Million Expansion of Sutton Place Park
- Free Summer Tennis and Discounts at Sutton
- $1.4 Million for New Security Cameras in Hard to Patrol Parks
- James Cagney Place Recognized as Official Pedestrian Plaza
- Launching and Supporting Conservancies with a Quarter Million Dollars
- Play in Our Parks
- Revitalizing the Waterfront Management Advisory Board
FIGHTING FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND AGAINST OVERDEVELOPMENT
- Getting More Affordable Housing on the Market
- More than 1,000 Affordable Apartments Built or Preserved in the District
- 6,000 Affordable Homes Built or Preserved on City Land
- Rezoned Sutton to Stop Supertalls: Court Fight Continues
- Tower on Stilts Defeated
- Won Citywide Rezoning to Close Voids Loophole
- Won Three Rent Freezes and Three Historic Lows
- Lowering the Volume on After Hours Construction Noise
- Safer Construction with Law to Count Every Life
- Ending Downsizing of Seniors into Studio Apartments
- Protected Quiet Side Streets from Overdevelopment and Won Mandatory Affordable Housing for New Neighborhoods
- Reformed the Board of Standards and Appeals
- Protected Landmarks Citywide and Recognized for Preservation
- Opening New Free and Affordable Art Spaces with ChaShaMa
- Opening Up Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)
- Tenant Safety Protection Laws
- Blood Center
- Blackwell House Ribbon-Cutting
HELPING THE HOMELESS
- Co-founding the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services
- Welcoming Supportive Housing for Women and Children to the UES
- A New Food Pantry for the Upper East Side
- Opening a Safe Haven for Homeless New Yorkers on the UES
- House Homeless Families in Vacant Apartments Now
- Authored the New Public Campaign Finance System to Get Big Money Out
- Eliminated Outside Income and Legal Bribery
- Weakening the Influence of Special Interest Money in Politics
- Charter Revision 2019: All Five Questions Passed
- Charter Revision 2018: Won Term Limits for Community Boards and Urban Planners
- My Bills for Online Voter Registration and Voter Information Portal Improve Elections
- Absentee Ballot Tracking Implemented by the Board of Elections
- Opened the City Budget to the Public
- Focusing on Better Management
- Millions for the Community Voted for by Residents in Participatory Budgeting
- Demanded Answers on the Rivington Nursing Home Scandal
- $15 Billion in Contracts
- Fully Funding Non-Profit Human Service Providers
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
- Coronavirus: Opening New Beds, Expanding Testing, Securing and Distributing Masks, Serving Meals
- Police Reform
- Healthy Happy Meals Law Takes Effect
- Legionnaires’ Disease Prevention Law Implemented
- Creating Office of Food Policy & Fighting for Good Food Purchasing
- Emergency Prep Go-Bags
- Opening 2nd Ave Subway
- Select Bus Service for M79 and M86 with Automated Bus-Lane Enforcement
- Prioritizing Pedestrian Safety
- Bringing Bike Share to the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
- Ferry Service for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
- Bike Safety Program Gets Results with Safety Improving Over Five Years
- Won Dedicated Bike Lanes on Queensborough and Brooklyn Bridges
- Roosevelt Island Tram Approved for Another 50 Years
- Snow Plows for Bike Lanes and Pedestrian Intersections
- Declaring Climate Emergency
- Banning Toxic Pesticides
- Fresh Food Box
- Sale of Single-Use Plastic Bottles Banned in City Parks
- Composting on the Upper East Side
- Renewable Rikers Act Passes
- Fighting to Protect Climate Works for All
- Offshore Wind
QUALITY OF LIFE
- Inspect All Scaffolding to Keep Pedestrians Safe and Planning to Take Down Unnecessary Scaffolding
- A New Trash Can on Every Corner
- Cleaning up the Neighborhood with Wildcat Service
- Improved Quality of Life Enforcement
824 New K–8 School Seats Secured for the East Side
Since I ran for office, countless residents have shared that we don't have enough K–8 school seats, especially with all the new residential construction.
That's why I focused over the past six years on advocating for more school seats. As you may have read in the New York Times, when the City was unresponsive, I wrote two laws that required the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority to provide more transparency around where the city planned to build new school seats and how they determined need, and to share how many children apply and get denied entrance at their school of choice (Local Law 167 of 2018 and Local Law 72 of 2018).
In 2018, following the passage of the law, we won $92.85 million for 640 new school seats. Then, when the law went into effect, we won an additional 184 school seats. Thank you to the parents and community leaders who fought to reduce overcrowding in our schools, and thank you to the DOE, SCA and the Mayor for making this commitment. Now it’s our job to make sure the promise is kept and we see a school being built soon. For more information, read the coverage in Our Town and the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases
Adding More than 1,000 New Pre-Kindergarten Seats for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island Along with Better Pay for Teachers
The Upper East Side now has more than 1,000 pre-K seats, compared to just 154 seats in 2014. As you may have read in The Wall Street Journal, we secured these seats following the passage of Local Law 72 of 2018, and our constant advocacy as a community, including a rally with elected officials from all over the city. I’ve been proud to join the School Construction Authority, elected officials, real estate developers, and the workers who built the sites to open 90 seats at 1683 Third Avenue and 144 seats at 252 East 57th Street in 2018, and 180 seats at 355 East 76th Street in 2019.
With 900 new pre-k seats opening in total since I took office, I will continue working with the City so that every four-year-old in my district can get the benefits of pre-k without having to commute an hour away. Thank you to the parents and families who have worked with us to accomplish this. For more information on the ribbon-cutting for the pre-k center, read the press release and coverage by Patch, or watch it at BenKallos.com/videos.
One challenge since the beginning has been that teachers working for community-based providers were paid less than their counterparts at public schools, making our expansion more challenging. I was proud to advocate for and win equal funding for these programs.
It took five years for the DOE to fulfill its promise of Pre-K for all on the Upper East Side. Now as the City begins rolling out 3K, I am pushing for that program to come to our neighborhood too.
While we do not have any 3K seats physically on the Upper East Side yet, you are welcome to apply anywhere that does and it will help demonstrate need for our neighborhood. You can show your support for 3K seats in the district by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/3k
Taking on Youth Hunger with Breakfast after the Bell and Free Lunch
The New York Times covered how after years of advocacy with organizations like Lunch4Learning and Community Food Advocates, all 1.1 million children who attend New York City public schools now have access to universal free lunch. No child enrolled in a New York City public school should go hungry in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. That is why I authored and passed Local Law 215 requiring the Department of Education (DOE) to set a goal of ending youth hunger by providing dinner and to report on all school meals. We continue to ensure every one of our kids has the food they need, and recently won funding in this year’s budget for Breakfast After the Bell. For more information, check out the coverage on CNBC and in The New York Times.
End Youth Hunger with Universal After School, Complete with Dinner
As CBS 2 and the Daily News reported, I authored legislation with City Council Youth Services Chair Rose and Education Chair Treyger to guarantee every public school student universal after school. It is far less common for children to have a stay-at-home parent than it was a generation ago and far more common for parents to work late, with New Yorkers on average working some of the longest hours in the nation. In New York there are 584,597 children in K–12 schools who are left unsupervised during after-school hours. We know from research that after-school programming keeps young people positively engaged during the hours of 2pm to 6pm when they are most at risk of getting in trouble with the criminal justice system. Taken together with universal youth jobs, afterschool programs can help stop the schools to prison pipeline.
Additionally, any afterschool program is entitled to dinner paid for with federal funds. We could end youth hunger by guaranteeing that every child has all three meals a day, now that we’ve won breakfast and lunch. For more information, check out coverage from the Brooklyn Reporter, amNewYork, the Daily News, and CBS 2.
Help us win Universal After School by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/UniversalAfterSchool.
Fighting for Universal Youth Jobs
I am proud to share that after years of tireless community advocacy, we finally won a restoration of funding for the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) from 30,000 to 70,000. Just days prior, I worked with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to organize a virtual rally calling for the passing of our joint legislation establishing a universal youth employment program, alongside Youth Services Chair Debi Rose, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Members Carlina Rivera and Carlos Manchaca, United Neighborhood Housing, Chinese Planning Council and more. I told New York County Politics:
“At this point we can’t blame the virus anymore. Our city is making decisions and young people are paying the price.”
Since it was established in 1963, SYEP has provided employment and paid internships for youth ages 14 to 24, particularly those who are low-income. The program, which employed 80,000 youth at its peak, is invaluable and remains vital to the livelihood of tens of thousands of families in New York City. This was a hard-fought victory, and I intend to hold Mayor de Blasio accountable for his promise to fund 70,000 slots as we fight to guarantee every young person a summer job. For more information, see full coverage by New York County Politics.
$6.5 Million Invested in STEM Education from Hydroponics Labs to New Laptops
I’ve invested over $6.5 million in discretionary funding from my office to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education in our local public schools with new computers, smart boards and science labs. For our kids to be ready for the future, we have to invest in STEM courses that train them from an early age. Schools that have received or are set to receive these STEM upgrades include:
- P.S. 77 Lower Lab - $476,000 for mobile STEM carts, technology, laptops, and A/C.
- P.S. 151 Yorkville Community School - $143,000 for technology and laptops.
- P.S. 158 Bayard Taylor - $359,000 for technology and laptops.
- P.S. 183 Robert Stevenson - $1,502,000 for technology upgrades, laptops, AC, New Science Lab.
- P.S. 198 Isador Ida Straus - $460,500 for classrooms, technology, laptops, and A/C.
- P.S./I.S. 217 Roosevelt Island - $365,000 for technology and laptops.
- P.S. 225 Ella Baker - $175,000 for laptops.
- P.S. 290 Manhattan New School - $110,000 for laptops.
- P.S. 527 East Side School for Social Action - $190,000 for theater and technology.
- M.S. 114 East Side Middle School - $282,000 for laptops, technology upgrades.
- M.S. 177 Yorkville East Middle School - $178,000 for technology and laptops.
- Eleanor Roosevelt High School - $234,000 for classrooms, technology, and laptops.
- Manhattan International High School - $340,000 for technology upgrades and laptops.
- Urban Academy High School - $283,000 for technology and laptops.
- Vanguard High School - $135,000 for technology and laptops.
- Talent Unlimited High School - $150,000 for auditorium and technology.
- Life Sciences Secondary and High School - $175,000 for technology and laptops.
In October 2019, we cut the ribbon on a new $600,000 hydroponics lab for P.S. 183 that was funded with money I allocated after the project won Participatory Budgeting in 2017 with 1,514 votes. A special thank you to Principal Martin Woodard, PTA member and PB delegate Michael Ekstract for this project and to the teachers, staff, parents, and kids who will bring it to life. For more information on the new lab, read the release or watch the ribbon cutting at BenKallos.com/Videos
Last March, I also joined Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and students and school administrators at Eleanor Roosevelt High School to cut the ribbon on $212,000 worth of equipment and upgrades to the school’s library, including new LED lighting, new flooring, furniture and even new podcasting equipment. For more information on the new gym, read the release or coverage in Patch and Our Town. For more information on the new equipment and renovations, read the release or watch the ribbon-cutting at BenKallos.com/videos
$5.9 Million for Green Roofs
Without room to create more educational play space, we’ve been forced to look up. Following several participatory budgeting wins, we’ve allocated $6.04 million for green roofs at schools all over District 5 and helped secure an additional $4.4 million from the city, including:
- P.S./I.S. 217 Roosevelt Island – $1 million ($500,000 from Participatory Budgeting)
- P.S. 290 Manhattan New School – $2.02 Million ($500,000 from Participatory Budgeting)
- M.S. 114 East Side Middle School – $800,000
- P.S. 151 Yorkville Community School – $2,220,000 ($500,000 from Participatory Budgeting)
This will provide students an opportunity to be exposed to the future of energy and inspire them to look to careers of the future, as well as understand environmental protection.
New Gym for Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Playgrounds
It’s no secret that there's not much space for children to play and get exercise on the Upper East Side, let alone in schools. When parents and students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School came out advocating for new gym space, we got the Mayor's attention. As you may have read in Patch, a student-led petition on my website that got over 5,000 signatures, we secured $6.5 million dollars for a brand new, double-height gym. The new gym will occupy the 6th floor of a new pre-k center located at 355 East 76th Street.
New Gym Secure for P.S. 151 and P.S. 527
We worked with Mayor de Blasio and the School Construction Authority to find gym space for all of our public school students on the Upper East Side. As reported by Our Town, I have also successfully worked to arrange a deal with the Spence School so that when it opens its 54,000-square-foot athletics complex on East 90th Street, it will allow physical education classes for P.S. 151, the Yorkville Community School, and P.S. 527, the East Side School for Social Action. For more information on the new gym, read the release or coverage in Patch and Our Town.
$8.2 Million Building Retrofit and New Open Space for P.S. 77 and P.S. 198
Parents, students, teachers, and administrators have also been fighting for new playspace, and their efforts won $500,000 through participatory budgeting for a new playground at P.S. 77 and P.S. 198. For more information visit BenKallos.com/ press-releases
Reopening Safely During a Pandemic and Securing School Nurses
Throughout this past year, my office supported parents, teachers, principals and, most importantly, students as they expressed concerns with the city’s plan, or lack thereof, to safely reopen our schools. During that time, we advocated for an initial delay, along with phasing in students based on age, both of which were adopted for the Fall 2020 semester. I also proposed setting up remote learning centers throughout our city, everywhere from closed private and parochial schools to libraries, community centers and even empty storefronts for supervised, socially distanced learning.
Shortly thereafter, the Mayor announced the City’s Learning Bridges program, a remote learning plan to provide a place to go for up to 100,000 students in pre-K to 8th grade on days when they are not learning in-person, which I initially criticized in the New York Post for not having enough seats.
During several weeks beginning in September through to October 2020, New York City students who opted for in-person learning returned by age group until all grade levels reopened. Just as I feared, only 3,600 remote learning seats were available on the first day of reopening, a long shot from the initial promise of 100,000 and from the subsequent guarantee of 30,000 by the second week. Then, under a citywide mandate by Mayor de Blasio, all public school buildings were ordered to close on November 19th. Over the past couple of months, as the number of new cases remained low and more vaccines emerged, schools have reopened again. We hope that as accessibility to vaccines expands, nothing will deter a permanent reopening of schools in the fall.
When our kids do finally return to school for good, there will be a full-time nurse on campus to support students through the remainder of the pandemic. That’s all thanks to the parents, families, caregivers, and children at P.S. 290 Manhattan New School who launched a petition for the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DOE) of New York City to provide a stable and permanent school nurse. I reached out to the DOE to bolster their demands and continued to call attention to this need ahead of schools reopening, sharing with the New York Post my fear that a medical professional will not be present on campuses to perform proper diagnoses and other health services. The Community Education Committee of District 2 passed a resolution, and ultimately Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza announced in mid-August that the City would hire 400 new nurses to guarantee that every school building has a nurse.
Pandemic Exacerbates Need for Laptop for Every Child and Ending Racist Textbooks
With every single one of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students learning online partially or fully in the fall of 2020, the Department of Education estimated that there were still upwards of 77,000 students in need of internet-capable devices, despite repeated assurances from Mayor Bill de Blasio that “every student who needs one gets one.” Legislation I authored with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Borough Presidents Eric Adams and Gale Brewer, would force the city to give free laptops and tablets with Internet to all public school students and to report on the quantity, costs, distribution and demographics of students receiving devices.
Since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote learning last March, parents and students have expressed their inability to access to high-speed internet and a lack of adequate remote learning devices, allowing for the exacerbation of racial disparities in student engagement with remote learning. In April of 2020, the Department of Education spent over $269 million on 300,000 iPads, equipped with T-Mobile LTE for $10 a mobile. The number of devices distributed, the number of students who received devices, and the number actually used, remain outstanding. In September, the City Council even had to subpoena the Department of Education for remote attendance data.
The legislation would also mandate that devices come loaded with culturally responsive open digital textbooks. This comes on the heels of an opinion editorial that I wrote with Silicon Harlem’s Clayton Banks in which we proposed saving $84 million and rooting out racial injustice in the classroom by doing away with textbooks that too often perpetuate notions of white supremacy through a narrow focus on the achievements of white men.
For more information, read the press release or see coverage by the New York Post and WCBS.
Desegregate Online Learning
With at one point as many as three-quarters of New York City’s 1.1 million students going to school remotely over the past school year, the former Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus Co-Chair Council Member Robert Cornegy and I authored a letter demanding a desegregation of online learning, initially covered and then endorsed by the New York Post as an opportunity to “make remote learning into a winner for many kids.”
We proposed the creation of a new desegregated citywide school district to serve every student enrolled in all remote learning. The virtual schools within this new district would be organized around learning style, enrichment, and even common interest. Initial online diagnostics or results from remote learning earlier this year would help identify how students learned, so we can best match them with teachers and virtual classrooms filled with diverse groups of students who learned the same way. Enrichment programs like gifted and talented programs or those tailored to specific interests and remote learning styles could finally be offered to every student who qualified, with additional classrooms opened for students who may not have qualified or even known to take the test but who deserve the access and opportunity nonetheless.
Imagine the public education system we can create together, with the ambitious goal of taking on systemic racism and segregation, all while providing a historic opportunity for students of every race and ethnicity. There would be no more lotteries. No more geographic preference based on racist red lining. No more false constraints created by generations of disinvestment in communities of color. Parents and students could simply apply and be guaranteed a seat in the virtual classroom of their choice. Equal educational opportunities for all. For more information, read coverage in the New York Post.
Rebuilding Award-Winning Public Schools
Since I’ve been a council member, the School Construction Authority has rebuilt multiple schools in the district replacing facades, roofs, and windows. With many of these beautiful school buildings over a century old, it is important that we retain their historical character while modernizing them for 21st century education and meeting the challenges posed by completing construction without disrupting the school year. During my time in office, P.S. 158, P.S. 183, and P.S. 77/198 have all seen major over $69 million in renovations, with the first two winning historic preservation awards in 2019.
New School for Children's Academy
Children’s Academy is a K–12 nonprofit school serving children with speech and language delays on behalf of the Department of Education. I was proud to join them as we cut the ribbon on 50 new K–12 seats at their new location at 317 East 50th Street. We've worked closely with the school to ensure that parents and the school are reimbursed by the city in a more timely manner and most recently to get through the bureaucracy necessary to open a new educational facility. Thank you to Deborah Blenman-Green, Head of School, for welcoming my office to the ribbon cutting and for all the great work her team did to get the location open. If you or someone you know has a child receiving a special education and have not been reimbursed by the city please let me know so we can help get you paid at Education@BenKallos.com.
Launched Dual Language French Pre-Kindergarten
After an 8-month fight, I was proud to cut the ribbon in celebration of the very first French dual language program for pre-K students on the Upper East Side, which was covered by TAPinto, New York County Politics and Patch. The French dual language classes began on September 21st with seats for 36 pre-K students. The Department of Education is operating these classes using a side-by-side instructional model where it will have one Early Childhood-certified teacher who is fluent in French and who has or will work towards a bilingual extension, alongside a second Early Childhood-certified teacher.
Our fight first began in December of 2019 when I joined Community Education District Superintendent Donalda Chumney in a meeting at Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, during which dozens of parents expressed the need for a French dual language program. After the meeting, I worked with organizers to host a petition that more than 200 parents signed, pledging to send their children to the program. When I shared the results of the petition, the Department of Education (DOE) agreed to meet with the Francophone community on March 3rd, again at Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, where French-speaking parents from New York City, Canada, Africa, and even France itself made their case for a French dual language program to a receptive DOE. A week later, we announced the creation of the two French dual language classes at the pre-K center located at 355 East 76th Street. In November, after an 8-month fight, I was proud to cut the ribbon in celebration of the very first French dual language program for pre-K students on the Upper East Side, which was covered by TAPinto, New York County Politics and Patch. The French dual language classes began on September 21st with seats for 36 pre-K students.
Unfortunately, the City’s Department of Education recently bailed on operating the program after just one semester of classes, declining to extend and expand the program at a new site to save seats for students who may return for in-person learning. I joined parents, some of whom were left scrambling to secure spots in regular programs, in expressing my disapproval of the last-minute decision, which can affect the education of dozens of students. I told the Post:
“The faster we bring the program to more francophone families that need it, the better off the children will be.”
The same way I fought alongside the Francophone community for a year to win this inaugural dual language programming on the Upper East Side, I will fight until the programming is restored. If you are a parent who would like to see French dual language programming continue in public elementary schools in School District 2 serving the Upper East Side, join the fight at BenKallos.com/petition/french-dual-language
Parent advocates and I continue to apply pressure on the Department of Education to ensure GPS devices are installed on all New York City school buses, as is mandated by legislation I authored and passed. As reported by CBS 2 and PIX 11, the rollout of GPS devices on buses has been rough. The New York Daily News reported that the city’s Education Department promised parents could get real-time information by calling a hotline, but when parents got through to an operator, the Department still couldn't track the whereabouts of all buses. Nearly 700 buses reported delays on the first day of the Fall 2019 semester. As the 2020-2021 school year gets closer and the City grapples with the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, the DOE and the Office of Pupil Transport is sure to face new obstacles. However, it is my objective to see that the City is obeying the law as soon as possible and bring peace of mind to parents who just want to know where their kid is when something goes wrong.
The Department of Education has failed at every level to live up to its promise of getting the GPSs in school buses and continues to make excuses as to why it is still not done. I will continue to fight alongside rideshare app Via to get the city to finally offer parents an app that will show where their kids are in real-time while simultaneously improving bus efficiency. When schools closed due to the pandemic, the push to get GPS on school buses in time for the Fall 2020 semester became outranked by the need to guarantee a safe reopening, but we’re not done fighting and we will keep going until we can track all of our City’s school buses. See recent coverage of the issue from The City, CBS 2, Fast Company, Staten Island Advance and the New York Daily News, FOX 5, New York Post.
Gender Sexuality Education Law Authored by Middle School Students
The New York Daily News covered legislation authored by students from East Side Middle School and the Manhattan Leadership Council that I introduced and passed. This new law authored by middle school students is aimed at helping LGBTQ students in New York City schools who may be subject to bullying. The law expands the number of gender sexuality alliance clubs in schools by mandating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQGNC) training. Student testimony and personal stories were crucial in getting this passed, and I thank those who were brave enough to share their experiences. For more information on the law read the release or coverage in The New York Daily News.
Five Years of Public School Student Art Shows at Sotheby’s
As a lover of the arts, I am proud to have sponsored and hosted 5 annual Public School Art Shows at Sotheby's, where students got to see their own work hanging on walls that have also hung works of art by famous artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt. Unfortunately we were unable to host one in 2020 due to the pandemic, but hope to host it again in 2021.
The Student Art Show features hundreds of pieces of art by student artists from nearly a dozen public schools on the Upper East Side, with participants ranging from grade school kids to high school seniors. To see photos of the artwork, visit Facebook.com/BenKallos/photos
$2.5 Million Renovation for East 67th Street and Roosevelt Island Libraries
I kicked off 2020 by cutting a ribbon to commemorate the 67th Street Library’s reopening after much-needed improvements. We celebrated the 114-year-old building’s $2.5 million makeover, which included a new roof, HVAC system, façade, and technology upgrades. The event was personal for me, because this is the library where I got my first library card and checked out books for class research when I was in elementary school at Park East. Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson for providing the $1.5 million in funding that I requested and to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Public Library for the remaining $1 million.
This January, I joined Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright for a first walkthrough of a brand new, much larger Roosevelt Island branch of the New York Public Library, which replaces the former one-room branch. It will open for grab-and-go service on January 25. It’s exciting to see this project fulfilled as my office helped to allocate and retain $1.7 million in funding for it with Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Borough President and former City Council Member Jessica Lappin. As I shared with Patch:
“Roosevelt Islanders have always loved their public library and now they are going to love it even more.”
The new branch includes:
- A separate children’s area with glass doors and partition to uphold an outdoor feel;
- A teen area;
- A reading room for adults;
- 16,000 books to browse;
- 29 dedicated computer workstations or laptops for children, teens, or adults<
- A community room for programming;
- A landscaped entry area with an exterior book drop (which will not be accessible until the branch opens fully to the public);
- Outdoor bench seating that will also serve as a local bus stop; and
- An audio induction loop to help the hearing impaired.
The City’s Department of Design and Construction, also in attendance at the ribbon-cutting, broke ground on the $7.8 million project in October of 2018. I am glad to see its completion at a time when residents need it most. For more information on the ribbon-cutting at the Roosevelt Island Library visit visit BenKallos.com/press-releases. See coverage by Patch and Time Out New York and the Rooseveltslander.
Supporting Excelsior City and State University Scholarship
I am proud to have supported the Excelsior Scholarship. Students whose families make $125,000 per year or less now qualify for free college tuition at all City (CUNY) and State (SUNY) two- and four-year colleges in New York State as long as they live in-state. When I ran for office in 2013, one of the "fresh ideas" for which the New York Times endorsed me was providing a debt-free higher education for CUNY students where the City would forgive student debt for every year the student remained in New York City after graduation, so that the taxes from their increased income would pay for their education and more. For details on the Excelsior Scholarship, visit HESC.
JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Won Affordable High-Speed Internet for Low-Income New Yorkers
In 2013, I promised to secure affordable broadband for low-income New Yorkers from our Internet franchisers. In 2015, when Charter Communications sought to merge with Time Warner Cable, I joined now-Attorney General Tish James in testifying at hearings and advocating for the Public Service Commission to require any company acquiring Time Warner Cable to help bridge the digital divide by providing low-income residents with low-cost, high-speed broadband Internet.
In March of 2017, I fulfilled my promise as we announced Spectrum Internet Assist, a new low-cost, high-speed broadband program, alongside James and Charter Communications. I believe this initiative will help close the digital divide by providing nearly one million people with affordable high-speed Internet access for the first time.
Spectrum Internet Assist
$14.99 per month for 30 Mbps downloads and 4 Mbps uploads, email and more.
No contract, no cost for modem and no activation fees.
Eligibility: Families with children in public schools who receive free or reduced-cost lunch & Seniors (over 65) who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Expanding access to broadband has been essential for the City’s education system in the fight against coronavirus. In April of 2020, in collaboration with Silicon Harlem, I reached out to Charter Communications and a week before remote-learning began, they announced that Spectrum will offer free broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription with installation fees waived. Learn more at Corporate.Charter.com/newsroom. If you plan to act on this offer, be sure to request this free offer along with Spectrum Internet Assist.
What we won from Spectrum became the template for the state, and Altice Advantage internet and Spectrum are available to those living in the service area by visiting AlticeAdvantageInternet.com.
For more information read the release, see the coverage in DNAinfo, West Side Spirit, NBC 4, or NY1.
I joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to announce the release of a new white paper titled “Bridging the Digital Divide for Every New Yorker with a Universal Internet Guarantee.” The report notes how a reliable high-speed Internet connection has become a basic need for every New Yorker for remote learning, working from home, virtual socializing, and more. This need has become especially acute amid a deadly pandemic that has placed severe limitations on people’s ability to safely gather in-person. I spoke with Gotham Gazette about how to address this challenge:
“A revenue-first approach to the internet, whether through a franchise or a kiosk, is not the model we should have...We should have a model that prioritizes connectivity.”
To deliver truly Universal Broadband, we need several fixes at once. We could start with rezoning to require affordable through Internet Mandatory Inclusionary Internet, just like we required affordable housing with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. We could offer incentives for 5G providers to offer affordable access. We can require cable providers to expand affordable Internet offerings we already won to every single low-income New Yorker. And if the providers won't do it, we can take over their networks and do it ourselves by establishing a Municipal Broadband network. We can upgrade existing infrastructure by speeding along the conversion of old payphones into free Internet kiosks and add WiFi to bus stops. We can even open up the city government’s wireless network to the public.
The pandemic has shown us the importance of giving every public school student who needs one a laptop with affordable broadband in the home to eliminate the homework gap and give a whole new generation a real chance at equity. Where all else fails, for those we still haven’t reached in low-income communities of color, we must invest the millions promised by the Mayor in businesses owned and operated by women and people of color to spur innovation and connect every last New Yorker.
Over the years, Borough President Adams and I have both been vocal about the City’s and private sector’s failures to provide Internet access to the communities that need it most, and we see our new report as a comprehensive roadmap for achieving universal Internet access in New York City. For more, read our press release at BenKallos.com/press-release or see coverage by Kings County Politics and Gotham Gazette.
Opening Rockefeller University’s New Half-Billion Dollar Campus
I joined Rockefeller University in opening the Stavros Niarchos Foundation-Rockefeller River Campus and cut the ribbon with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, and Rockefeller University Executive Vice President Timothy O’Connor. The $500 million research facility contains 160,000 square feet of both bio-medical and bioscience laboratories, which fits sleekly along the river-edge of their campus, rather than towering over the community. This will help New York City compete with cities like Boston and states like California for jobs in this field. Rockefeller University boasts 25 Nobel Laureates in the fields of medicine and science, which I must finally admit is more than my alma mater, the Bronx High School of Science, which has 8 (the most for any high school in America!). It has been exciting to see this project advance from when it came before me at the City Council in 2014, to the groundbreaking in 2015, to joining university officials in 2017 as they lowered large sections of the building on to the FDR from a barge in the East River overnight.
As part of this project, we formed a public-private partnership between my office and the University, that included a $15 million investment in the East River Esplanade from 63rd Street to 68th Street, which Rockefeller University will maintain in perpetuity.
I consider this world-class institution a true asset to the Upper East Side, the city, state, country and world at large. For more information on the new building, read the release or read the commitment letter from the University at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
On my first day as an elected official, New Year's day 2014, I met with the Rockefeller University. I can still remember the frosted grass on their lush campus crunching under my feet. At the meeting they proposed building a new Life Sciences Campus over the FDR with a promise to invest what would become $15 million in rebuilding the Esplanade from 62nd to 68th Street, the first investment of its kind in generations. They shared that they would be moving Nobel Laureates who were using antiquated academic labs into the new proposed life sciences building. I asked what would happen to the old space and if we could create a new biotech incubator?
We've been working together in the seven years since that day on a new biotech incubator to retain top talent and grow jobs right in the district, and I am proud to share $9 million in funding from the city to do just that. Rockefeller University will convert 26,000 square feet of academic research labs into the Tri-Institutional Translational Center for Therapeutics, an incubator for commercial life sciences, which will serve as the first of its kind on the Upper East Side. This new facility will also seek to convert the scientific potential of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine into local high-growth companies. Read more in Upper East Side Patch.
Opening and Collaborating with Cornell Tech
It was a historic occasion for Roosevelt Island as I joined City leaders and residents, including former and present mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, as well as Governor Cuomo, at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of Cornell Tech’s energy-efficient campus on Roosevelt Island. The state-of-the-art facility was made possible in part by a generous donation on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg’s charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies. The campus will not only take part in critical technological advancements, but it will also create hundreds of new jobs on Roosevelt Island.
By diligently working with community organizers and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, my office ensured that the construction project was done by barge and stayed on track without harming the Island. Cornell Tech will grow jobs and educate the next tech leaders right on Roosevelt Island, making sure the next big thing is “Made In New York”. Cornell Tech is now in the process of attracting millions in investment on Roosevelt Island and in New York City. Since Cornell Tech opened, they have collaborated with my office on a number of events, including the "Ignite My future Initiative" and the Launching of the TCS $50 Million Investment in Cornell Tech to Advance K-12 Digital Literacy in New York City Schools. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
Automatic Benefits Law, API and Study
No one should go hungry, lose their home, or go without healthcare in New York City, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. We are a City with hundreds of programs designed to help those in need.
As you may have read in the New York Times, over the past four years, I worked with experts in the Federal government, academia, non-profits, and the private sector to advance legislation and research the regulatory framework to legally provide benefits automatically, so New Yorkers get the benefits they qualify for. In our work, we have secured millions in funding to research Automatic Benefits policies and even helped make the software necessary freely available to the public. In December of 2017, the City Council passed a measure to study the feasibility and possible effectiveness of implementing my Automatic Benefits legislation.
The city’s study was completed in 2018 and proved that my Automatic Benefits legislation could save taxpayer dollars by taking advantage of the legal research, grants, and software that we’ve already secured for the city and this plan. The study has spurred a systematic review of various benefits access initiatives within different City agencies or offices, thereby creating an opportunity to streamline processes. In 2019, the City’s first-ever Benefits Screening API was released, allowing for better access to the 30+ social service benefits that are available to residents. Later this year, we’ll have the information we need to eliminate the bureaucracy, and unnecessary hurdles that prevent our poorest from accessing and keeping the assistance they need to be lifted from poverty. For more information read the BenKallos.com/press-releases, read the reports on Benefit Access from the city, or check out coverage in the New York Times.
Every New Yorker deserves the right to retire, but two-thirds of workers aren’t participating in retirement plans, largely because their employer doesn’t offer one. As reported by ABC 7 and the New York Daily News, I rallied with Mayor de Blasio and Council Member I. Daneek Miller at City Hall in support of Introduction 888-A. This legislation, which I authored, would automatically enroll New York City residents to volunteer into a retirement savings program through their private-sector jobs, if their employer does not offer a retirement savings plan. As reported by WCBS 880, the program would be administered by the City of New York and would not cost anything for businesses to run. By default, residents would see 3% of their paycheck deducted, and they could change that rate or opt-out entirely at any time. However, automatic enrollment has been shown to encourage individuals to save more.
Following the rally, dozens of supporters from AARP crowded into the City Council Chambers to testify in support of this legislation. I have been fighting to implement a plan like this since before I was an elected official. I helped craft the Retirement Security for All platform for Bill Samuels’ EffectiveNY when I was the executive director of the good government and policy group. In the Council, I first announced this plan with the Mayor back in February of 2016, with the support of Public Advocate Tish James. However, when Trump entered the White House, his chief advisor Steve Bannon made it his top priority to fight plans like ours. The U.S. House passed and the President signed Joint Resolutions 66 and 67 to roll back the Obama Administration’s regulations intended to make it easier for states and municipalities to offer retirement savings plans. But they didn’t make it illegal. Now we are working to make the plan a reality.
Thank you to Mayor de Blasio for taking this issue on and working to get it passed into law. We hope that with the Biden administration in office, we can finally make this happen for New Yorkers. For more information read my op-ed in Crain's New York and coverage from Gotham Gazette.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, in September of 2020, I introduced two bills to help small businesses stay open and keep them afloat as New York City fought through the worst period resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The first bill creates a low-interest, small grants and loans program that would provide restaurants with up to $250,000 in funding to make restaurants compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The funding could be used for infrastructure changes, ventilation improvements, as well as other public health upgrades to assist those who are at greater risk for developing serious complications from the coronavirus. The second bill would streamline the process for restaurants to obtain or renew a sidewalk-cafe license and would also allow for licenses to be transferred should an establishment undergo a change of ownership.
This legislation is especially beneficial for small businesses given Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement that the City’s “Open Restaurants” program, which emerged in response to the pandemic and allows businesses to use street space for outdoor dining service, will be extended year-round and made permanent.
The process to obtain a sidewalk cafe permit takes months and involves a vote by the local community board and the entire City Council. This process can often get expensive and cost a small business a lot of money. With these two pieces of legislation, we aim to give small businesses the helping hand they need by saving them time and money on sidewalk cafe licenses and circumventing ADA-compliance lawsuits. For more information on the bills, read the release or see coverage by the Wall Street Journal.
Proposing a Worker-Led Recovery by Raising Wages for Human Service Workers
As the Daily News reported, I proposed legislation that would facilitate a worker-led recovery by raising wages for 200,000 human service employees who work at non-profits that are contracted to the city.
New York City provides services to millions of youths, seniors, homeless, and veterans in poverty through human service nonprofits whose government contracts ironically pay workers poverty wages. Per my legislation, the Comptroller would work with the human services sector to determine the average wage or adopt a collectively bargained wage for new contracts. Once prevailing wage rates are adopted, the city would be required to fully fund wage increases as part of new contracts, modifications, or renewals increasing overall funds to non-profits providing vital human services.
“We need to actually invest in paying our Black and Brown human service workers and women of color a prevailing wage so that they can afford to live in the city,” I told the Daily News.
Currently, we are operating in a system where social workers, case managers and other human service professionals, sometimes even with advanced degrees, earn significantly less than building services workers or security guards at the same organization. Pay is so low that 60% of those working in the human services sector were utilizing or had a family member utilizing some form of public assistance benefit, such as Medicaid or food stamps. This is because some of the job titles that have benefited most from prevailing wage laws served predominantly blue-collar workers who are mostly male, exacerbating the gender pay gap.
It is time for the City to finally pay these service providers and their workers the wages they deserve. For more information, see coverage by TAPinto the New York Daily News.
IMPROVING AND CREATING NEW PARKS
Secure $874 Million for a Resilient East River Esplanade
I am proud to announce that we recently secured another $284 million for the East River Esplanade that will run from 94th Street to 125th Street in East Harlem. This adds to more than half a million for repairs that we've previously secured. As I shared with Patch:
“I'm troubled by the fact that the work that was funded on the [Upper] East Side has already been completed, and much of the work that was funded over the last seven years for East Harlem still hasn’t started.”
Over the summer of 2020, a section of the East River Esplanade collapsed and resulted in a sinkhole near East 76th Street. Although the City Parks Department quickly repaired the sinkhole by November, I have no doubt that another would have eventually sprung up without a plan in place for major renovations. I am glad to know that our calls did not go unheard by the City. Thank you to my co-chair Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, Council Member Diana Ayala, Community Boards 8 and 11, Friends of the East River Esplanade, CIVITAS, and countless others for their advocacy and support.
As the New York Daily News reported, we are connecting the East River Esplanade at 60th Street to Sutton Place Park South as we continue to expand parkland in our district in support of a 32-mile contiguous park around the island of Manhattan—the "Green Ring." The Mayor announced $100 million in funding in 2017 and unveiled designs last year. This project will connect a combined 1,000 acres of open space in both directions on the East River Esplanade and create a new greenway by adding additional acres of park space. Soon my constituents and I will finally be able to run, bike, or walk the entire length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem.
We have now secured a total of $874 million dollars for the East River Esplanade:
- $21 million on Esplanade-wide site inspections at E. 125th to E. 60th streets
- $69 million on repairs between 118th and 124th streets
- $25 million on repairs and improvements to E. 117th to E. 114th streets
- $28 million on reconstruction of Pier 107
- $187 million on repairs between 94th and 107th streets
- $1 million from my office in 2017 for irrigation from 96th to 90th Streets.
- $35.5 million on repairs and improvements to E. 94th to E. 90th streets on the Upper East Side
- $35 million for renovations from 90th to 88th Streets funded in 2014 with work started in 2017 for 2018 completion.
- Opened the 90th Street Pier in 2016 to the Public.
- $313 million to rebuild John Finley Walk and the FDR Drive.
- $500,000 from my office in 2016 to renovate John Finley Walk following recommendations of CIVITAS from 84th to 81st.
- $1 million secured from Brearley to renovate the overhang above John Finley Walk following recommendations from CIVITAS from 83rd to 82nd.
- $16 million to rebuild the crumbling stairwell from 81st to 78th streets opened in 2017.
- $1 million secured from the Hospital for Special Surgery for a master plan from 78th street with irrigation, planters, and noise barriers from 72nd to 70th streets with maintenance in perpetuity.
- $1.25 million from my office in 2016 for irrigation and planters from 70th to 68th.
- $15 million secured from Rockefeller University in 2014 for 68th to 62nd streets with work completed in 2018 on a seawall, new design, irrigation, noise barriers, and maintenance in perpetuity.
- $22.3 million on repairs and improvements to E. 63rd to E. 62nd streets.
- $4.6 million to rebuild Andrew Haswell Green under the Alice Aycock sculpture with accessibility, game tables, seating, and a new lawn opened in 2017.
- $29 million in public-private funding secured as a community benefit from Memorial Sloan Kettering to build Andrew Haswell Green Phase 2B from 61st to 60th streets.
- $100 million in funding in 2016 from the Mayor with completion slated for 2022 to connect the Esplanade from 61st to 53rd streets.
Soon my constituents and I will finally be able to run, bike, or walk the entire length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem.
Reconstruction of Carl Schurz Playground Completed
As Patch reported, in late 2020 the $3.3 million in renovations to the Carl Schurz Park playground funded with $2.5 million from my office and $750,000 from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are now complete. While it was cute to see my daughter playing on the same equipment as I did 30 years ago, my 2-year-old daughter and every other child deserved a new playground and now they have it. Thank you to the Parks Department for working with us to get this done within a year and to East River Esplanade Co-Chair Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for joining me to officially open the new playground.
Upgrades to the playground include a reconstructed spray shower, swings, new play equipment for children ages 2 to 12, accessible ramps that connect to Catbird Playground, game tables, benches, plantings and pavers. We’ve been working on this project since long before I had a child and I am happy to finally welcome it to the neighborhood. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-release or read coverage in Upper East Side Patch.
$1 Million for John Jay Pool and New Basketball Courts
A nearly $1 million investment in John Jay Pool brought upgrades to this highly trafficked public swimming spot on 77th and Cherokee. I joined Parks Department officials to cut the ribbon at John Jay Park's outdoor pool where the pool filtration system was replaced with a new state-of-the-art system that improves reliability and reduces energy use for years to come. For more information on the pool’s reopening, visit nycgovparks.org/parks/john-jay-park-and-pool.
When the basketball court at John Jay Park fell into bad condition, Upper East Side dad Greg Davis, whose two sons play basketball at the park, wouldn’t take no for an answer. Over the course of four years, Greg Davis had nearly perfect attendance at more than 40 monthly First Friday meetings with me from 8am to 10am. Each month, Greg shared with me the work he and my staff had done: several 311 requests and direct advocacy with Community Board 8 and the Parks Department. Greg succeeded in getting improvements done by the Parks Department, with newly painted playing lines, a smooth playing surface, and three new polycarbonate backboards with shooting squares and nets. Read the release on the new courts at BenKallos.com/press-release, watch the announcement at BenKallos.com/videos. You can also read the coverage from Upper East Side Patch.
$2.9 Million Expansion of Sutton Place Park
The new Sutton Place Park is open! The long-awaited opening was attended by dozens of children and families, and members of the Sutton Area Community and Sutton Place Park Conservancy. The new park, which came at a total cost of $2.875 million, was built atop a deck over the F.D.R. Drive on what was once a private garden. It connects two small parks at 56th and 57th Streets, adding some 10,000 square feet of park space.
The new green space is the result of a collaboration between the Parks Department and 1 Sutton Place South, which subdivided its private garden in order to provide more park space for the community. I am proud of the work my office did to push the construction of this park along, but we must thank those who fought for years to make this happen. For more information on the new Sutton Place Park, check out the release at BenKallos.com/releases or read prior coverage in Our Town.
Free Summer Tennis and Discounts at Sutton
The Queensboro Oval now has expanded summer programming for the public and more affordable drop-in hours. The new programming began Father’s Day 2019 to mark the beginning of a more accessible Oval for all New Yorkers. The change comes after years of our advocacy alongside my fellow elected officials and Community Board 8. The Parks Department listened to our concerns that the prices at the tennis club were expensive and that public access should be the top priority when awarding the next contract.
Some of the victories we won for the community include:
- An expansion of the summer public access season from 10 weeks under the old contract to 22 weeks of FREE tennis for anyone with a tennis permit from the Parks Department for $10 for youth, $20 for seniors, or $100.
- $10 walk-in rate hours for six hours a day during the Winter Season.
Free and $10 per person programs for Youth and Seniors during the Winter Season.
My advocacy to fix this issue involved supporting a rally at the space in 2016 organized by Community Board 8 members Susan Evans and Peggy Price. I also wrote a letter to the Parks Department in which I raised several concerns and testified before the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) and the Parks Department. Now that Parks has awarded the new contract and listened to many of my requests on behalf of residents. For more info on the tennis program, visit nycgovparks.org/parks/queensboro-oval/facilities/tennis
$1.4 Million for New Security Cameras in Hard to Patrol Parks
As the New York Daily News reported, at the request of neighborhood organizations and residents, my office allocated $1.5 million funding for the City to install security cameras in hard-to-patrol public spaces along the East River Esplanade. The locations for the cameras were chosen in consultation with community organizations and the NYPD following a positive vote by hundreds of residents in Participatory Budgeting. Locations of new security cameras:
Hard-to-Patrol Parks - $160,000
- 64th Street and FDR Drive to cover pedestrian bridge and Andrew Haswell Green - $35,000
- FDR Drive at 65th Street and 68th Street to cover East River Esplanade - $90,000
- 70th Street to cover the East River Esplanade - $35,000
- $177,000 for five cameras in Sutton Place Pocket parks
Transit Hubs - $141,000
- 83rd Street and 2nd Avenue to cover Q subway station
- 86th Street at 2nd Avenue to cover Q subway station
- 86th Street at 3rd Avenue to cover 4/5/6 and Q subway stations
- 86th Street and Lexington Avenue to cover 4/5/6 station
Quality of Life Hotspots - $35,000
- 75th Street and 1st Avenue to cover local quality of life hotspot
The cameras are linked directly to the 19th Precinct using fiber optics and the innovative ARGUS system with the intention to provide immediate police responses to criminal activity. In fiscal year 2020 additional cameras were funded:
- $171,000 at there transit and traffic hubs
- $398,000 to cover 7 additional entrances to parks in the district
- $172,000 to cover 3 sites within the 23rd Precinct
- $285,000 to cover 5 additional locations in the Upper East Side
For more details on the new cameras along the East River Esplanade and on East 86th Street be sure to watch the press conference at BenKallos.com/videos and read coverage from Patch.
James Cagney Place Recognized as Official Pedestrian Plaza
Six years ago when I was elected, I promised I would protect as much open space as possible on the Upper East Side. This is why I was proud to officially designate James Cagney Place, which has been closed off from traffic since I was a boy, as an official Pedestrian Plaza!
Thank you to Community Board 8 Members Rita Popper and David Rosenstein, R-Y Management, and the Department of Transportation for their partnership in making this happen. The Plaza now holds great events including a New Year’s Eve Fun Run. You can even watch the tree lighting and sing-along that I attended with Assembly Member Dan Quart. For more information on the work that went into accomplishing this, read the release or read the coverage in Our Town and Patch.
Launching and Supporting Conservancies with a Quarter Million Dollars
There is less park space per resident on the Upper East Side than almost anywhere else in the City, which means we need to invest in and care for every inch. I’ve been proud to help fund or support numerous conservancies, including for:
- Sutton Place Parks ($70,000 since 2015)
- East River Esplanade ($58,500 since 2014)
- St. Catherine’s Park ($60,000 since 2014)
- John Jay Park ($52,500 since 2016)
- Upper Green Side ($36,000 since 2015)
Over the last five years, we have worked with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to activate our neighborhood's parks. We have done so by holding dozens of events dedicated to entertaining families and children. With Family Days, Skate Nights, 12 Movie Nights, 7 Jazz in the Park events, and my personal favorite, 14 Shakespeare in the Park, we have successfully gotten residents out of their apartments with their families and into our neighborhood parks for special events. I am proud of the work we have done to get our parks activated again and will continue to work to improve and expand programming. For information on office activities in our neighborhood parks, visit BenKallos.com/Events
Revitalizing the Waterfront Management Advisory Board
As sea levels rise and New York City continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, we need to do as much as we can to protect our City from the dangers of climate change. In 2016, legislation I introduced to revive the Waterfront Management Advisory Board became law. This legislation reconstituted the board's role, ensuring it plays an important part in advising New York City on how to best revitalize and protect our 520 miles of shoreline. Under the new law, membership to the board is expanded to include more diverse voices, as well as every level of government. Read the law and release with the full list of benefits, and coverage by SiLive.com or Downtown Magazine.
FIGHTING FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND AGAINST OVERDEVELOPMENT
Getting More Affordable Housing on the Market
For the people who think that they can build their way out of the housing crisis with market-rate condos, the New York Times and The Atlantic recently shared that of all the condos built since 1995, half of them are sitting there empty. For those who have an oversimplified understanding of economics or who believe we just need to have supply exceed demand, it’s time to face the reality that developers would rather leave their condos empty than make anything affordable for everyday New Yorkers.
I supported Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing. But those units are only offered through a lottery involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of people for each one. Being able to afford to live in our great city shouldn't just be a matter of winning the lottery.
Worse yet, I learned from a hero and whistleblower, Stephen Werner at HPD, that more than 50,000 units of affordable housing might be getting billions in city subsidies while charging market rates. Working with him, ProPublica, and his union the Organization of Staff Analysts, we authored legislation to force landlords to register every city-subsidized affordable unit and to let middle-class and low-income New Yorkers apply for hundreds of thousands of units of existing affordable housing. As you may have read in the Wall Street Journal, this became Local Law 64 of 2018.
Recently, New York Times reported on an estimated 2,500 apartments that will be up for re-rental on the NYC Housing Connect website in the coming months thanks to Local Law 64, which I wrote with now-Public Advocate Williams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Now that the law is in effect, you will be able to set up a profile on the new Housing Connect that will match you with hundreds of thousands of affordable housing re-rentals.
Since I’ve been in the City Council we’ve built or preserved more than 1,000 units of affordable housing in the district (ANCHORwhich you can see in the next article), as well as overseeing more than 6,000 affordable units citywide. We are doing everything we can to build and protect affordable housing in our city. You might be surprised to learn that affordable housing is available for individuals making as little as $23,880 and families of five making as much as $202,620.
To view available listings, visit the new Housing Connect website. If you haven't made an account on the new site yet, sign up today.
More than 1,000 Affordable Apartments Built or Preserved in the District
Over the years I have supported the construction or preservation of more than 1,000 units of affordable housing in my district. This year we announced the completion of 313 new affordable apartments on Roosevelt Island.
In 2021, it was my pleasure to cut the ribbon on 35 units of affordable housing by Ben Shalom Passive House with a building on East 86th Street. We also welcomed 11 more units of affordable housing within a Fetner building on East 94th Street.
In 2020, Patch reported on an affordable housing ownership opportunity I had the pleasure of working personally on and pushing through the council. I worked with developers to reduce costs for coop owners to allow residents the opportunity to own in comparison to what was initially proposed. The 10 newly constructed cooperative apartment units at 1402 York Avenue were offered to eligible buyers who qualified as low-income households, with estimated sales prices ranging from $23,972 to $64,437. The $9 million project came together as a result of my partnership with HPD’s Inclusionary Housing program.
As Patch reported during the summer of 2020, 313 units of mixed-income apartments came back on the market on Roosevelt Island. My office hosted an information session with New York City’s Housing Preservation Department’s (HPD) to educate the public on how to apply. The units were offered to residents earning 40, 50, 80, 130 and 165 % of the area median income. Classified by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development as very-low income to middle income.
In July of 2019, L+M Developments announced it would be purchasing a portfolio of 2,800 New York rental apartments that were set to age out of affordability requirements. Thanks to a deal brokered with my and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s support, two-thirds or 1,800 of these apartments, including more than 600 on Roosevelt Island were preserved as affordable in exchange for tax breaks for L+M and Invesco the two companies that made the buy. These apartments had been developed under New York State’s Mitchell-Lama affordable-housing program but many had left the program and were no longer subject to rent restrictions.
In May of 2019, I worked with Extell Development and HPD to build 28-units of affordable housing starting with incomes of $36,858 for individuals to $96,800 for a family of six (at 70% to 80% of the area median income. The properties are located on 1768 Second Avenue at 91st Street across the street from his district office. The new buildings also offer private childcare on the ground floor operated by Alef Bet Preschool.
In August of 2018, I collaborated with supportive housing organization Win and construction companies RiverOak & Azimuth Development to open up a seven-story building located at 316 East 91st Street, which contains 17 one- and two-bedroom apartments dedicated for homeless women and children. That same year in May, I also partnered with Urban Pathways to open the Howard Amron House, an 11-unit building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That facility houses formerly homeless individuals and offers residents supportive services like case management to encourage independence and wellness.
In February of 2018, Kallos worked with Azimuth Development and HPD to open a 21-unit residential building located at 321 East 60th Street in the Lenox Hill section of Manhattan. All of the units in the building are 100% permanently affordable to low-income households earning at or below $53,440 annually.
Whether we can help you apply for one of these new affordable apartments or connect you with 2,500 new re-rentals coming this summer, I am committed to fighting the affordable housing crisis. Sign up today for an account on Housing Connect 2.0, the city's new website that was built in part in response to my legislation, Local Law 64, and as always, let me know if you need help at BKallos@BenKallos.com.
6,000 Affordable Homes Built or Preserved on City Land
As chair of the Land Use Subcommittee on Planning Dispositions and Concessions, I had the opportunity to help create and preserve six thousand units of affordable housing. My favorite part of the committee was asking developers to share where residents watching at home could get jobs as part of their local hire requirements.
During my time chairing the committee, we:
- Exposed high subsidies on affordable housing properties that almost had to pay the Mansion Tax
- Took on the homeless crisis by sponsoring legislation to mandate a 15% homeless set aside for all subsidized affordable housing
- Questioned whether low wages on city-subsidized projects was making the affordable housing crisis worse and introduced legislation to pay construction workers better
- Stood up for small businesses and secured affordable storefronts to support mom and pop shops
- Pushed for real affordability for local residents by consistently raising concerns that developers were receiving government subsidies to build housing set for incomes that would gentrify low-income communities of color
- Introduced legislation to force affordable housing developers to disclose their relationships with politicians
According to the New York Post, I was “asking too many uncomfortable questions about the mayor’s affordable-housing and tax-break deals.”
For more information, see coverage in the New York Post and Politico.
Rezoned Sutton to Stop Supertalls: Court Fight Continues
After years of out-of-control, out-of-scale over-development, I wanted to put residents over real estate, and we did. In late 2017 we accomplished what many described as impossible. We won the first of its kind grass-roots community rezoning in this City for the Sutton Area.
With the invaluable help of the committed members of the East River Fifties Alliance, we stopped the march of super-tall buildings for billionaires from 57th Street into the Sutton Area. The rezoning initially removed the grandfather clause and will protect the Sutton Area East of First Avenue from 52nd to 59th st. from future supertall towers by limiting zoning lot mergers, limiting the width of towers, and forcing most of the air rights to be used in the base of a building.
We were able to accomplish this thanks to the support of residents like you. Heroes like Herndon Werth and Charles Fernandez stood up to buyouts and threats from billionaires. Leaders like Dieter Seelig, former President of the Sutton Area Community got us started and Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Jessica Osborn, and Lisa Mercurio put countless volunteer hours into ERFA.
Following our historic rezoning the Board of Standards and Appeals grandfathered the building despite all the illegal conduct of the developer. When we appealed the BSA ruling asking the courts to uphold the law, they refused. We continue to fight in court with a motion to reargue and have already filed for an appeal.
Though the fate of this one building remains in question, as parts of the matter remain to be decided in court, if it were not for the rezoning we accomplished more than one other supertall would be up by now and more could be on the way.
Join the fight against overdevelopment at BenKallos.com/petition/StopSuperScrapers
We won! When we first saw the “Jetsons” building at 249 East 62nd St., which was a 32-story building that turned out to be 510 feet tall because of a 150-foot void, we led a citywide rezoning to stop empty spaces in buildings. No sooner did we do that than the developer took the walls off to create a second loophole for buildings on “stilts.” Now the plan for the “Tower on Stilts” has been scrapped, too. I told Our Town:
“While it’s a win for the community, it doesn’t stop the next developer from coming around and trying the same loophole.”
Thank you to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Keith Powers, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and everyone who supported us in doing the right thing and stopping this tower on stilts from taking up space that could be used to house real New Yorkers. For more information, see coverage by Our Town.
To support us in the fight against voids, sign our petition at BenKallos.com/CommercialVoids
Won Citywide Rezoning to Close Voids Loophole
We won another victory against supertalls by strengthening and passing a zoning text amendment addressing empty spaces in buildings that are used to prop up apartments to give billionaires better views. The City Planning Commission also committed to exploring minimum lot size for non-residential projects. As reported by Curbed, this commitment comes in response to my advocacy with Borough President Brewer, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, and Carnegie Hill Neighbors.
As I said to Curbed:
“The BSA’s explicit approval of this tactic has given developers looking to evade zoning regulations a new tool. If it is broadly realized that simply slicing off a portion of a zoning lot can insulate a development from certain zoning regulations, the sky will literally be the limit to the at-will sculpting of zoning lots that serve no legitimate purpose.”
We called on City Planning to ban “gerrymandered” lots that enable developers from slicing off tiny slivers of land to abuse loopholes that otherwise would trigger zoning and height caps. One example is 180 East 88th Street, where the developer created an unbuildable zoning lot to exempt the building from the residential height restrictions it would otherwise have to follow. I sent a letter to City Planning asking them to move forward with this issue following the passage of the Mechanical Voids amendment, and am pleased that they have committed to doing so. Read coverage on this in Curbed.
During February of 2019, I toured nearly every Community Board in Manhattan to share the importance of a proposed zoning text amendment from the Department of City Planning to stop super tall buildings that use empty voids to gain height solely to build apartments for billionaires.
Advances in construction technology combined with a real estate market incentivizing apartments for billionaires led to buildings like 432 Park, which got 25% of its super tall height by exploiting the mechanical voids loophole. Voids are large spaces in a building meant to house mechanicals, but when abused are mostly empty and used to add height to the building because they currently do not count as zoning floor area. Rafael Viñoly, who designed 432 Park, also proposed 249 East 62nd, which has a base of 12 stories and 150-foot mechanical void to raise up 11 stories above. Another proposed building, at 50 West 66th Street, uses a 161-foot mechanical void to reach a height of 775 feet.
Proposed Solution to Discourage Mechanical Voids:
- Discourage Tall Voids: Voids taller than 25 feet will count as zoning floor area.
- Discourage Clustering to Pad Building Height: Voids within 75 feet of each other will count as zoning floor area.
- Prevent Voids in Mixed-Use Residential Buildings: Non-residential mechanical space will be subject to the same 25-foot limit if non-residential uses occupy less than 25% of a building.
Following my election in 2014, I've held numerous public meetings on over development and invested member item funding into community-based non-profits focused on preservation and planning to address the issue. In June 2017, I wrote to the Department of City Planning (“DCP”) to close “loopholes” such as mechanical voids. In October 2017, I joined Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts (“Friends”) for a meeting with DCP to share their research and proposal. In January 2018, Mayor de Blasio committed to closing the loopholes at a town hall that I hosted in response to a question from Friends. In July 2018, Friends and I joined Borough President Gale Brewer and LANDMARK WEST! to form a borough-wide coalition to close the loopholes. On January 25, 2019, DCP wrote to Brewer and I with a proposal to close mechanical voids in residential districts and a promise for a new proposal governing commercial districts in the summer. This is supported by Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, State Senators Liz Krueger and Jose Serrano, Assembly Members Richard Gottfried, Harvey Epstein, Daniel O'Donnell, Dan Quart, Robert Rodriguez, and Rebecca Seawright, and City Council Members Diana Ayala, Keith Powers, and Carlina Rivera. The City Planning Commission (CPC) certified the residential application on January 28, 2019, marking the beginning of a public hearings process at Community Boards and Borough Boards, which will conclude on March 8, 2019. CPC will take public testimony at a citywide public hearing that will tentatively be held on March 13, 2019.
As Crain's and City Limits reported, the text amendment had public hearings in Community Boards around the City. Many Community Boards approved of the text amendment for their area including ways to improve the text that I support.
Join the fight against super tall with mechanical voids and sign the petition at BenKallos.com/commercialvoids
Won Three Rent Freezes and Three Historic Lows
Over the past seven years I have rallied alongside tenants from around New York City calling on the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) to roll back rents or issue freezes for all 1 million rent-stabilized tenants. In 2014, we won the lowest rent increase in history at 1%. In 2015, we won the first-ever rent freeze from the RGB, and in 2016, we won a second consecutive rent freeze from RGB. In 2017 through 2019, we were able to win another historic low increase of only 1.25% and 1.5%. In 2020 another rent freeze was accomplished during the height of the pandemic.
These were huge victories that translate into real savings in the pockets of everyday New Yorkers. They are only a small respite for tenants who lived through far-too-high increases over the previous 20 years when rent has outstripped inflation by 14%. The increases were particularly burdensome during the Bloomberg Administration when rent increased significantly despite the economic recession. We need a rollback to correct for these increases so the more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments continue to be affordable for the residents living in them. With the pandemic further exacerbating economic conditions for New York City renters there is no more adequate time for a rent roll back than right now in 2021.
The Wall Street Journal has even reported that the numbers support our cause. Join our fight BenKallos.com/petition/RentRollBack
Lowering the Volume on After Hours Construction Noise
A new law I authored to limit the amount of noise in New York City went into effect in January 2020. As Fox 5 reported, noise has been New York City’s top 311 complaint for years. Construction at all hours of the day and morning and sometimes night is something too many New Yorkers are familiar with. In 2017, The New York Times covered what was then a bill to require the city to respond to noise complaints about nightlife and construction within two hours or on a subsequent day within an hour of the time of the complaint. The law is designed to increase the likelihood that inspectors will identify the source of the noise, issue a violation, and restore quiet. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or additional coverage in the New York Daily News.
Safer Construction with Law to Count Every Life
From 2015 through 2017, a record 33 construction workers have been killed on the job in New York City, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Buildings (DOB) does not count all of them, especially non-workers who are injured. The New York Daily News reported on the Construction Safety legislation I introduced, which recently became law. Under Local Law 78 of 2017, construction companies will be forced to report on all details surrounding injuries and deaths at construction sites or face fines up to $25,000. We must count every injury and every life, so that we will know the who, what, where and why to help make construction in our city safer. For more information, read coverage in the New York Daily News or watch NY1.
Ending Downsizing of Seniors into Studio Apartments
We rallied together with tenants to demand a moratorium on Section 8 Downsizing, a policy that was pushing seniors and disabled New Yorkers into smaller homes. Since then, we have won a huge victory, successfully ceasing HPD’s downsizing of elderly couples and families from one bedroom to studio apartments. Learn more at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or see coverage in the Observer.
Protected Quiet Side Streets from Overdevelopment and Won Mandatory Affordable Housing for New Neighborhoods
When the Mayor’s housing plan called for adding height to the contextual height caps that protect the East Side’s quiet side streets, I opposed the measure with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Senator Liz Krueger, so developers wouldn’t tear down rent-stabilized buildings to get more height. The Department of City Planning heard us and agreed to protect the midblock.
As amended and passed by the City Council, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (MIH/ZQA) requires new affordable housing to be built whenever developers are given additional height or density to build in Manhattan.
In ZQA, I fought for and won:
- No height increases in R8B districts, protecting the quiet midblock with a 75-foot height cap on the East Side.
- Reduced height increases, bringing the maximum R10A increase from 50 feet to 25 feet with different heights for narrow and wide streets of 210 feet and 235 feet.
- Protected seniors from being squeezed into 275 square foot micro-units.
- Protected the Sliver Law, which prevents towers narrower than 40 feet wide from being erected.
In MIH I fought for and won:
- Housing for lower-income New Yorkers at 40 percent of Area Median Income (AMI): $31,000 for a family of three.
- An additional option for 20 percent at 40 percent of AMI.
- A requirement that HPD track, register, and monitor new affordable housing as would be required by Introduction 1015, legislation I authored.
Learn more at BenKallos.com/MIH-ZQA
Reformed the Board of Standards and Appeals
Legislation I authored designed to reform and improve the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) became law in 2017. In the past, developers have been able to circumvent city zoning laws that restrict building forms, use, height and density by using the BSA as a rubber stamp. The changes and variances have been approved by the BSA despite objections from local Community Boards and elected officials. I am proud of this legislation for how it changed the way that applications, decisions, notifications and staffing are done. It has also improved transparency at the BSA.
The BSA is a five-member body tasked with reviewing requests for variances and special permits related to affordable housing and city planning in the zoning law. The legislative package included nine bills and featured bipartisan support from sponsors such as Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, Minority Leader Steven Matteo, Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-29), Donovan Richards (D-31) and myself. For more information on the legislation, read the coverage by Queens Chronicle, Sunny Side Post, Staten Island Advance, and the Commercial Observer.
Protected Landmarks Citywide and Recognized for Preservation
After marking the 50th anniversary of the landmarks law during my first term, the law came under attack, first with a proposal to remove hundreds of buildings from protection without review, and then with legislation that would have created a five-year moratorium incentivizing historic communities to be razed. In response and in opposition, we forced the Landmarks Preservation Commission to review each and every site in the backlog, and while a version of the counter-legislation did pass in 2016, after my advocacy it was amended to remove the moratorium and add more time. Read my statement at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
As a result of the work I have done in order to preserve buildings in our City, I was honored to receive a Grassroots Preservation Award from the Historic Districts Council (HDC). I have great respect for HDC because of the work they do to keep New York quintessentially New York. HDC has been a valuable partner while I have been in office, contributing to our fight for historic preservation. In the more than six years since I took office, I have worked with HDC on more issues than we ever could have expected, including:
- Protecting the First Avenue Estates’ landmark status from appeal;
- Stopping the Landmarks Mass De-calendaring;
- Fighting Introduction 775, the bill that would shorten the landmarking timeline and institute five-year landmarking moratorium;
- Protecting the Sliver Law, Mid-Block, and Historic Districts from MIH/ZQA;
- Landmarking the Wooden House at 412 East 85th Street;
- Authoring and passing into law reforms to Board of Standards and Appeals that will make it harder to have laws that protect landmarks waived for developers;
- Landmarking First Hungarian Reformed Church of New York
- Landmarking The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York Headquarters
For more information on the latest landmarks, visit BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
Opening New Free and Affordable Art Spaces with ChaShaMa
With a blight of empty storefronts, I have partnered with nonprofit arts organization ChaShaMa to turn empty storefronts throughout the city into art spaces. We cut the ribbon on a new art space at 340 East 64th Street in the spring of 2019, featuring work by young immigrant artists. Additionally a performing arts rehearsal space at 403 East 91st Street with two rooms, which may be booked separately has been generously provided by Eli Zabar. Read more on the gallery’s opening at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
Opening Up Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)
As PIX 11 reported in 2017, the landlords of more than 538 privately owned public spaces or (POPS) that are attached to 329 buildings must now provide the amenities they promised or face steep fines for not following the rules, thanks to legislation passed by the council that I helped to author. The specific law I authored requires additional signage at all POPS, detailing amenities and hours of operation, as well as a website where the public can find more information and complaints can be registered. The current list of real POPS in within our city is now published for the public. To learn more about the legislation we passed to achieve this read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or coverage by the Wall Street Journal.
A package of legislation totaling 12 bills, one of which I authored, aimed at stopping landlord-tenant harassment in New York City became law in 2017. Whether it is unreasonable construction noise or safety violations by landlords putting tenants at risk, this is a pressing issue in our City that needs to be stopped. My legislation, Int. 931, would force landlords and property owners to actually respond to the violations and summonses they are given by the City for failing to make repairs, or else face the threat of foreclosure on their properties. For far too long some landlords and building owners have neither fixed recurring problems on their properties nor paid the fines that come with those violations, leaving tenants in unsafe conditions sometimes for years on end. With my bill, we can finally hold landlords accountable. For more information on my bill and the rest of the package of legislation, read the Stand for Tenant Safety release and coverage in City Land.
The New York Blood Center is once again working to expand its footprint on the Upper East Side. After being rejected by the neighborhood at least four separate times over the last decade including once under former Council Member Jessica Lappin, the New York Blood Center is strengthening efforts to build an 18 floor facility on East 67th Street.
Since talks began in late 2020 regarding construction of a new building for the Blood Center my office has updated residents on the progress starting with the public scoping session that was held in December to assess the environmental impact that the Blood Center’s proposal for a 334-foot tall tower would have on sunlight in St. Catherine's Park, and we invited you to make your voice heard at the session.
Since then, we’ve learned that the proposed building would include biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratories, which are considered high-containment research laboratories intended for the study of highly infectious pathogens. As a frame of reference Covid-19 is considered BSL2. In 2016, the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) noted significant risks associated with these kinds of labs, including the potential for accidental outbreak, which could severely harm residents in the surrounding area.
This information, revealed after the scoping session, raises new concerns about safety and the potential impact of this proposal on quality of life. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and my office have reached out and are working to ensure that there is accuracy and transparency with the community in this planning process.
In December, Community Board 8 voted 16–1 to oppose the project and, as TAPinto reported, nearly a dozen residents joined me at my monthly First Friday meeting to express their concerns for the project. All of them supported the Blood Center increasing its height and density threefold within its existing footprint but had concerns about the impact that increasing the size of the project tenfold would have on the Park across the street.
I want to hear from you on whether you support, oppose, or have a suggestion to improve the proposal. Please share your position at BenKallos.com/petition/BloodCenter
Blackwell House Ribbon-Cutting
As Patch recently reported, I was proud to cut the ribbon on the newly renovated Blackwell House alongside Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) President and CEO Shelton Haynes, Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judith Berdy and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright. The Blackwell House is incredibly rich with history as the sole surviving building on Roosevelt Island that dates back to when the island was still privately owned by the Blackwell family. During that time, from the late 17th century until 1828, the island was mostly farmland.
The renovation of Blackwell House is a project that I have been waiting to get finished for over six years, dating to before I took office when former Council Member Jessica Lappin allocated funds back in 2007. Once I became Council Member, I had to fight for the funding every year as the former Speaker tried to take it back and reallocate it since it could not be spent just yet. The awarding of the money had been held up for roughly eight years due to executive changes at RIOC and the City’s Offices of Management and Budget and Department of Cultural Affairs. We also spent years pushing agencies to spend the money and get the renovations underway.
Ultimately, I was able to join RIOC and the DCA in contributing $364,000 to the $2.9 million put forth for renovations, which include the installation of new partitions, stairs, ceilings, doors, trimming, a new heating and ventilation system, as well as electrical, plumbing and fixtures. It is also now equipped with an ADA-compliant access ramp that provides access next to the newly upgraded front porch.
There is no reason this type of project should take 13 years to finish but we are happy to have it completed and available for residents to enjoy. As Contracts Chair, I’ve been working to get these projects done faster. Roosevelt Island really is a diamond in the crown of our City so having this piece of history finished and ready to be experienced by the public will do a lot for the Island once in-person contact is encouraged again. Watch my statement at the ribbon cutting at BenKallos.com/Videos, read the press release at BenKallos.com/press-release or see coverage by Patch.
HELPING THE HOMELESS
Co-founding the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services
The City’s homelessness crisis continues with 55,000 homeless as mid-July. The faces of our homeless crisis are 18,918 are children, 14,195 parents, 12,933 single men, and 4,481 single women. In 2016, I launched the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) with Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, Department of Social Services (DSS), community and faith leaders and service organizations.
We hope to get every unsheltered person living on the street the help they need. If you see one of our City’s most vulnerable on the street, please call 311 or use the NYC 311 App (Android/iPhone) to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” They will ask where you saw the person, what they looked like, and offer a report on whether the person accepts our city’s offer of shelter, three meals a day, health care, rehabilitation, and job training. By connecting our dedicated nonprofits and religious institutions with city services, ETHOS is really making a difference. Watch NY1 press coverage of the launching of ETHOS in 2016.
Welcoming Supportive Housing for Women and Children to the UES
One of the best ways we can take on the homeless crisis is by building supportive housing. That's why we supported WIN in the construction and opening of 17 apartments on East 91st Street across the street from where I live. In 2018 I also had the pleasure of cutting the ribbon on an 11-units of supportive housing at the Howard Amron House operated by Urban Pathways. Learn more about Urban Pathways and the new WIN facility from the release, or watch the ribbon cutting, or read coverage in Patch.
For more information on ETHOS, visit BenKallos.com/homeless
A New Food Pantry for the Upper East Side
In late 2020, I cut a ribbon welcoming the new Urban Outreach Center on the Upper East Side dedicated to feeding and caring for residents in need, alongside members of the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS), including Avenue Church NYC Senior Pastor the Rev. Beverly Dempsey, Urban Outreach Center Executive Director the Rev. Jordan Tarwater, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, and Commissioner for Homeless Services Steve Banks.
As amNY reported, the site located at 1745 First Avenue features a supermarket-style food pantry allowing individuals the comfort of choosing from available foods just as if it were a regular supermarket, which we know adds dignity and a sense of normalcy for people receiving fresh produce and other supplies from the food pantry. For more information, read the release or see coverage by ABC7, AMNY, New York County Politics and Patch.
To donate to or volunteer at Urban Outreach Center, visit uocnyc.org
Opening a Safe Haven for Homeless New Yorkers on the UES
As CBS 2 News and Curbed reported, I was proud to stand alongside Community Board 8 in support of plans to open a safe haven site with 88 low-entry beds for homeless residents in our community. The decision to bring this resource to our neighborhood would not have been possible without the work of my partners in the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) and co-founders Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. In January of 2021 plans for building the safe haven passed multiple votes in Community Board 8 with overwhelming support, demonstrating the coalition of residents that understand why this is needed and will be an addition to our neighborhood.
The planned safe haven will be on a block zoned for manufacturing and heavy commercial use. The old Art Farm building at 419 East 91st Street will be renovated to accommodate seven floors, recreation space, and a private garden rooftop. Goddard Riverside, which is already the homeless outreach provider for the Upper East Side, will operate the site which will serve both men and women. A full cohort of services will be provided including case management, housing assistance, wellness groups, medical and psychiatric care and three meals a day plus snacks. Once operational in late 2021, there would be staff and security in the building 24/7, with security on the street from a minimum of 8AM to 6PM.
My office has been working to bring a resource like this to the neighborhood for the last seven years in order to be able to help get homeless individuals living on the street into housing. I am proud to have the support of the local clergy via the Reverend Beverly Dempsey, Pastor at Avenue Church NYC here on the Upper East Side. Just as important, it gives me great joy and hope for the future to have the support of teenage students Ahana and Dale at East Side Middle School, just steps away from where the safe haven will be located. For residents who have mentioned security concerns I can say that the site will be bringing security to a street that does not have it right now all while helping homeless individuals off our streets.
Safe Haven beds offer a lower barrier to entry than shelters and are a critical tool in helping homeless off the street, with a preference for homeless in the neighborhood. They are a critical tool that outreach workers can offer chronically homeless people in a neighborhood with fewer restrictions that mirror more independent living, along with a bevy of on-site and referral services including assistance with daily living skills, psychiatric and medical care, medication management, substance abuse counseling and more. The beds are prioritized for chronically street homeless adults and they can be helpful in getting them off the street. See coverage in CBS 2 News, Curbed and Upper East Side Patch. For more information, visit BenKallos.com/press-release.
House Homeless Families in Vacant Apartments Now
As you may have read in AMNY, New York is not dead, but tens of thousands of apartments here are empty. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to house every New Yorker experiencing homelessness. As a city, we have a moral mandate to permanently house our homeless now. We can do so by creating tens of thousands of affordable housing units in existing empty apartments, including in our tallest buildings and wealthiest neighborhoods. No matter what neighborhood we live in, we can all welcome unhoused New Yorkers onto our block and into our buildings.
More than 16,000 children wake up in a city shelter every day. Just over 10,000 families account for a 30,000 person majority of those living in shelters. With over 15,000 vacant Manhattan rentals and 4,100 vacant condominiums dating back before the pandemic, we now have more vacant apartments than homeless families. The city should buy these vacant condominiums and secure long-term leases on vacant rental apartments to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless. Opening up space in family shelters would then allow single adults experiencing homelessness to utilize buildings currently used as family shelters, enabling social distancing and providing greater privacy than the dormitory-style shelters, where the majority of single adults currently reside, sleeping in rooms with many people close together.
Prior to the pandemic, New York City paid $3.2 billion a year on costly shelter beds and commercial hotels. We pay far more to shelter families than it would cost to supplement their rent and provide them with a permanent home. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, it costs over $6,000 per month to provide shelter for a family with children, and approximately $3,900 per month to shelter a single adult, and those costs will rise this year to accommodate Covid-19 public safety measures. Meanwhile, the average length of stay in shelter has only gotten longer. According to last fiscal year’s reporting, families with children average 443 days at a shelter and single adults average 431 days—despite the thousands of vacant apartments waiting for renters.
New York City needs to be bold and start using these empty apartments to house our homeless. For my full proposal, read the op-ed at AMNY.
Authored the New Public Campaign Finance System to Get Big Money Out
For more than a decade, I have been fighting to get big money out of New York City politics. Finally, in the spring of 2019, the City Council passed Local Law 128, which I first authored and introduced in 2016. This law expands the new campaign finance laws that were overwhelmingly adopted by 80% of the voters on November 6, 2018, from only matching 75% of contributions to matching them at 89.89%.
The legislation follows Local Law 1 of 2019, which I also authored. That law applied Ballot Question #1 from the 2018 election to the Public Advocate election. The results of the election demonstrated that the new system works. As reported by the Gotham Gazette, my legislation has flipped how campaigns are financed upside down, big money no longer makes up three-quarters of campaign cash and has been replaced by small dollars that now make up almost two-thirds of campaign cash. For the first time, a candidate won citywide office with a pledge not to take real estate money.
The evidence shows that increasing to a full match of every small-dollar will decrease big money and bolster small dollars in elections. In addition, in a system where every small-dollar is matched, big money, such as PAC money and lobbyist money, that is not matched is far less valuable. By passing this legislation, City government is taking a big step in the fight against corruption and even the appearance of it. For more information on this legislation, read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
Join the fight to get big money out of New York City politics at BenKallos.com/BIGMONEYOUT
Eliminated Outside Income and Legal Bribery
When I ran for office, I promised to work for you full-time without taking money on the side from private employment as a lawyer. I also promised to work for you, not the Speaker of the City Council, foregoing the common practice of receiving tens of thousands in personal income called a “lulu” for being a Committee Chair, which the Daily News has long called “legal grease.” Forty-seven council members were offered a stipend of between $5,000 and $25,000 for serving as committee chairs or other leadership roles. 34 council members made a pledge to Citizens Union as council candidates in 2013 to limit stipends to the Speaker and Minority Leader. Despite their pledges, only 10 members refused the money in 2014 and for their entire terms, with two more joining in 2015. I kept my pledge, and the Daily News saluted my integrity, calling me a “hero.” Most importantly, I wrote the law that made outside income and lulus illegal so that going from now on, all city elected officials work exclusively for their constituents.
Weakening the Influence of Special Interest Money in Politics
New York City’s model campaign finance system was protected and improved by a package of legislation the Council passed into law in December of 2016, as reported by the New York Daily News and the Gotham Gazette.
We passed the following key laws:
- Closing Campaign for One New York Loophole (Law 181 of ’16, co-prime sponsor) – by limiting contributions to nonprofits controlled by elected officials and disclosing donors.
- Quelling Special Interests Dollars (Law 167 of ‘16) – by ending the practice of matching funds bundled by lobbyists and special interests with public dollars.
- Early Public Fund Payments (Law 168 of ‘16) – to help campaigns that take public dollars get on the ballot and reach voters.
- Better Debates (Law 169 of ‘16) – by only including campaigns that are spending money to win.
- Save Paper and Money on Voter Guide (Law 170 of ’16) – by allowing voters to opt-out of receiving mailers.
- Same Day and Online Registration Advocacy (Res. 1061 of ’16) – to pass state constitutional amendment
Charter Revision 2019: All Five Questions Passed
On November 5, 2019 all five questions on the ballot, which I had testified in favor of and advocated for were adopted by New Yorkers with more than 70 percent of the vote. Now that the five ballot measures have passed, the City Charter has been amended to make the following changes.
QUESTION 3: Two Year Revolving Door Ban For Elected Officials & Citywide Office Dedicated to Contracting with Women and People of Color.
QUESTION 4: Budget Independence for the Public Advocate and Borough President
QUESTION 5: Early Involvement for Community in Neighborhood Planning
Over the entire process, I proposed 72 recommendations for amendments to the Charter, 16 of which were included in the City Council Report to the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission, with 9 of my recommendations included in whole or in part by the Preliminary Staff Report. On May 9th, I submitted a final fifteen recommendations on ethics, city budget, land use, elections and redistricting, and empowering the offices of the Public Advocate and Borough President.
I am particularly proud to have recommended questions 3, 4 and 5, which will all help improve our City’s government. Question 3 bans high-level officials in City government from lobbying the City for two years after they have left government and cements into law the existence and funding for the office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE). Questions 4 and 5 empower the Public Advocate's Office as well as the offices of the Borough Presidents to be able to stand up to the Mayor by funding them separately. These two questions also empower Community Boards through early ULURP notices and update the way our City’s budget is submitted by the Mayor as well as set up a rainy day fund for our City. For more information on the 2019 Charter Revision, visit Benkallos.com/charter2019
Charter Revision 2018: Won Term Limits for Community Boards and Urban Planners
In 2018, I supported and advocated for the passage of all three ballot initiatives posed before New Yorkers. I am proud to have helped push them through. I testified multiple times before the Commission appointed by the Mayor, focusing on:
Getting Big Money Out of Politics by
- Lowering Contribution Limits by More than Half - lower limits citywide from $5,100 to $2,000, boroughwide from $3,950 to $1,500 and for City Council from $2,850 to $1,000.
- Making Small Dollars More Valuable - every small dollar below $250 for citywide and $175 for all others will go from being matched with public tax-payer dollars at a rate of 6 to 8.
- Matching More Small Dollars - only a little more than half of small dollars are matched, requiring candidates to seek millions in big dollars from special interests to fill a gap that can be smaller by matching 75%.
Improving Community Representation with
- Term limits of 8 years for Community Board members starting in 2029
- Urban Planners for Each Community Board
- Standardize Online Applications and Reporting
Thanks to the Charter Revision Commission many of the recommendations I made were placed on the ballot to restore a democracy of, by, and for the People. Ballot Question 3 imposed term limits on Community Board Members and gave community boards the ability and resources to hire urban planners and planning professionals to strengthen their voice and equip them with the expertise they need to stand up to developers. Term limits are crucial for democracy. I am glad we have them on the federal level for president and I know on the local level they will help get more New Yorkers involved. My advocacy for this measure goes back to before I was in office when I was a member of Community Board 8. In the City Council, I introduced Int. 585 of 2014 with Council Member Daniel Dromm to establish term limits for the boards, and I am pleased that New Yorkers have supported this measure on the ballot. For more information read the release at BenKallos.Com/Press-Release
My Bills for Online Voter Registration and Voter Information Portal Improve Elections
In the 21st Century, democracy should be just one click away. CBS 2 and New York 1 covered my legislation to allow residents of New York City to register to vote entirely online. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia offer different forms of online voter registration and now New York City is one of them.
Furthermore, following problems at the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) in the 2016 presidential primary, the City Council passed my Voter Information Portal legislation into law. This comes more than ten years after I launched VoterSearch.org, the portal to allow any voter to look up their voter registration status, poll site location, and voting history. It also allows voters to track the status of an absentee ballot from request to submission, ensuring that even if someone can’t physically vote at a poll site, they can still know their ballot was counted. We must still work to remove state limitations on my bill, Local Law 238 of 2017, to expand access to online voter registration in New York City. Learn more about this law by reading the release or see coverage by WNYC and the New York Daily News.
Absentee Ballot Tracking Implemented by the Board of Elections
A month before the 2020 Presidential Election, the BOE finally implemented my absentee ballot tracking system to inform voters when their absentee ballot application is received, when the ballot is mailed out, and whether their completed ballot was accepted and how to fix it if it was not.
I recently told : “Voters want certainty around their ballot and the absentee ballot tracker will provide that, [so] I am grateful that the Board of Elections finally saw it fit to do their jobs.”
I proposed this in 2015 when I authored a law to require the BOE to provide voters with absentee ballot tracking from their request, to when it gets mailed, and when it gets received. After the BOE mandated mail-in (or absentee) voting as an option in response to the pandemic, the need for an absentee ballot tracker became undeniable.
Even with those improvements, the New York City’s Board of Elections remains deeply flawed. As you may have read in Gothamist, I was the only Council Member to speak on approvals of two Commissioners of the deeply broken Board of Elections. I used my vote to secure promises from both candidates that they would:
- Reduce long lines
- Fix broken voting machines
- Expand the number of early voting sites
- Take on patronage at the Board of Elections
- Support the implementation of laws I authored to enfranchise voters, including:
- Local Law 238 of 2017 to provide online voter registration, and
- Local Law 65 of 2016 that would have provided tracking of absentee ballots from request, to mailing, to receipt by the Board of Elections. (Since our conversations, the tracker has mostly been implemented.)
State law mandates the number of early voting sites in any county, which does not take into consideration the population density of that county. With only 7 sites required and a current 16 early voting sites for all of Manhattan, each serving 100,000 people, and only one site for the Upper East Side and Harlem, it’s no wonder why residents have complained of blocks-long lines at the polls. As I recently told WCBS, New York state must update the early voting law to require early voting sites for specific numbers of people.
Instead of waiting for the BOE to initiate the change, this month, as Gotham Gazette reported on how legislation I introduced to create a temporary poll-site task force that would examine measures to improve access to poll sites and to make them more efficient. The task force would be responsible for studying the functioning of poll sites in the 2020 elections, the cost of running them, and the possible effects on the health of voters, and would recommend locations and the number of sites for future elections. For more information, read the release or see full coverage by Gotham Gazette.
Opened the City Budget to the Public
In late 2017, the way New York City spends its budget got a lot more transparent with legislation I introduced and passed which requires all documents that pertain to New York City’s budget to be released to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and posted onto their website. Since being elected, I have advocated that every New Yorker should be able to see how every penny of their tax dollars is being spent. The open budget law (Local Law 218 of 2017) requires budget documents that previously were excluded from being published online to be published and available for download and in a machine-readable format. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases
Since I took office, I have argued that the city needs to use the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) effectively and transparently so that New Yorkers can judge for themselves how well our city is being managed. As the Wall Street Journal reported, I warned that the “bar was being set too low” in the MMR on important issues like public safety, public health, or helping homeless people off the streets. After three years of work on this issue as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, we have made significant progress. In late 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Operations announced that agency rulemaking and agency spending would now be more transparent and accurate in its reporting. The Citizens Budget Commission supports my assertion that New Yorkers should have details on how their tax dollars are being invested in improving our city. The Mayor’s administration had made a commitment to continue to work together on getting our management reporting and the city back on track.
Millions for the Community Voted for by Residents in Participatory Budgeting
Since taking office I have taken part in the Council’s Participatory Budgeting (PB) initiative. PB is a hyper-local process in which residents directly decide how to spend part of their Council Member’s discretionary funds. During the last seven and half years winning projects have been allocated $6,405,000 and we have also spent 11,639,000 on the many projects that over the years have come in second, third or fourth place. Through PB our community has gotten the chance to decide how tax dollars are spent. PB is grassroots democracy at its best. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. And it results in better budget decisions - because who better knows the needs of our community than the people who live there? Learn more at BenKallos.com/PB
Demanded Answers on the Rivington Nursing Home Scandal
As the former chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, I held a series of oversight hearings, covered in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, in which we investigated and got many answers about what really happened at the Rivington nursing home. After deed restrictions were lifted, the property was sold and set to become luxury condos. By questioning City Hall officials under oath and in public, we got a detailed account of what went wrong and passed a law to prevent it from happening again. Now, as the Daily News covered, the City is putting deed restriction modification applications through a new review process that includes greater community input.
In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in June of 2020, I identified more than $15 billion in possible cuts and savings for the city budget, including $10 billion that could be gained by ending deals with and exemptions for developers, as the New York Daily News reported.
In the letter, I suggested the following as areas for potential savings in the City’s budget:
- Recover billions in real estate tax exemptions from developers who broke their promises ($10 billion, $5 billion in tax revenue and $5 billion in savings)
- Recoup funds from emergency pandemic procurements ($2.5 billion in potential savings)
- Recognize heat, light, and power savings ($176 million in potential savings)
- Recognize savings from reductions in sanitation and snow to save composting (potential savings of $126 million and spending of $24.5 million for net potential savings of $101.5)
- Recognize savings from canceled and reduced demand on city services ($84.5 million in potential savings)
I also suggested eliminating wasteful spending by:
- Defunding the NYPD and reinvest the savings in communities harmed by over-policing ($1 billion in savings)
- Not registering non-essential pending contracts ($1 billion in potential savings)
- Cutting consulting contracts and bring the work in-house ($375 million in potential savings)
- Stopping the use of racist materials in the classroom by dropping white-centric and eurocentric textbooks in favor of free open education resources ($84 million in potential savings)
If you or someone you know has a tip on an unnecessary or excessive city contract, please email Contracts@BenKallos.com.
To read my full letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, visit BenKallos.com/press-release or read coverage in the New York Daily News.
Fully Funding Non-Profit Human Service Providers
On the day before Thanksgiving 2020, nonprofits on the frontlines of this pandemic who are struggling to feed the hungry shared the devastating impact of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s retroactive and prospective cuts of tens of millions of dollars. Recently, the hearing on cuts to nonprofits was held in the Committee on Contracts, chaired by me and joined by dozens of providers and residents who are struggling through the holiday season. In April, Mayor de Blasio’s Executive Plan cut indirect funding by nearly 40% to $34 million under the guise of a “right-sizing,” assuring providers that reimbursements from that fiscal year would be completed. Human service providers are now in trouble, having already spent funds expecting this reimbursement, which was reduced to 10% of contract value or 60% of actual costs, and they must continue through this pandemic without the city paying for indirect costs as promised.
As you may have read in the New York Daily News, months prior in August, I joined 20 council members to demand the restoration of these funds by letter. Then, in September, I joined the Human Services Council, Borough President Gale Brewer, council members and providers to lead a rally demanding a restoration of these funds.
Mayor de Blasio said he would support our nonprofits working on the frontlines to help those in need and it is time to pay up. For more information on this issue, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-release
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
Coronavirus: Opening New Beds, Expanding Testing, Securing and Distributing Masks, Serving Meals
Since the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in New York City, my office has been doing everything in our power to help residents survive Covid-19. Coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 New Yorkers. At the height of the pandemic, our City was in desperate need of personal protective equipment and space to treat infected patients. My office was one of the first in the City Council to transition to working remotely on March 13th, 2020, and we quickly pivoted our priority to opening beds in the district including 350 beds at Coler Hospital on Roosevelt Island and 200 beds at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side. Ultimately, we were able to secure 550 beds, which is half as many beds as we received from the federal government when the U.S.N.S. Comfort docked in New York City harbor for a month.
From the beginning, my office pushed for increasing testing capacity. As reported by Our Town, we even teamed up with Dr. Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell to help cut red tape and develop new Covid-19 testing. We even launched mobile free testing for Roosevelt Island.
We initially established an email clearing house to secure personal protective equipment such as face masks, face shields and gloves to help health care professionals at local hospitals. James Patchett, President and CEO of New York City’s Economic Development Cooperation, the agency that the Mayor tasked with securing the City's PPE even recognized our efforts.
Once we secured sufficient masks, we began working with neighborhood and tenant associations as well as institutions of faith to distribute masks and sanitizer. I will continue to work with community partners to distribute even more over the next few months. Please contact my office if you would like to help distribute masks at BKallos@BenKallos.com
As the Wall Street Journal reported, last fall I introduced two bills to help small businesses stay open and keep them afloat as New York City fights through the economic fallout of Covid-19. The first bill creates a low-interest small grants and loans program that would provide restaurants with up to $250,000 in funding to make restaurants compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The funding could be used for infrastructure changes, ventilation improvements, as well as other public health upgrades to assist those who are at greater risk for developing serious complications from the coronavirus. The second bill would streamline the process for restaurants to obtain or renew a sidewalk-cafe license and would also allow for licenses to be transferred should an establishment undergo a change of ownership.
This legislation is especially beneficial for small businesses given Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement that the City’s “Open Restaurants” program, which emerged in response to the pandemic and allows businesses to use street space for outdoor dining service, will be extended year-round and made permanent.
What most New Yorkers don’t know is that the process to obtain a sidewalk cafe permit takes months and involves a vote by the local community board and the entire City Council. This process can often get expensive and cost a small business a lot of money. With these two pieces of legislation, we aim to give small businesses the helping hand they need by saving them time and money on sidewalk cafe licenses and circumventing ADA-compliance lawsuits. For more information on the bills visit BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
In June of 2020, the New York City Council took its first steps towards meaningful police reform by passing a package of legislation that included a ban on chokeholds and kneeling on a person's neck. These are all bills that I sponsored last term and sponsored again this term:
- The Right to Record (Introduction No. 721-B) by Public Advocate Williams codifies your right to film police activities, prohibit interference or threats to those recording, and provide a private right of action.
- Ban on Chokeholds (Introduction No. 536-B) bans and criminalizes the use of restraints that restrict the flow of air or blood by compressing another individual’s windpipe or arteries on the neck, or by putting pressure on the back or chest, by police officer making an arrest. This would cover chokeholds, as well as maneuvers like placing a knee on a person’s neck. Any officer found guilty of using such a restraint could be found guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
- Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act (Introduction No. 487-A), would provide civilian oversight for surveillance technologies used by the New York Police Department (NYPD). The Department would be required to issue a surveillance impact and use policy about these technologies, including a description and capabilities, rules, processes and guidelines, and any safeguards and security measures designed to protect information collected.
- Display of Badge Numbers (Introduction No. 1962-A) requires officers to display their shield number or rank designation at all times when the officer is performing their duties with private right of action if an officer refuses.
- Disciplinary Matrix (Introduction No. 1309-B) creates a “disciplinary matrix” with a recommended range of penalties for each type of violation.
- Early Intervention (Introduction No. 760-B) expands categories of information included in the NYPD Early Intervention System to include information on types of arrests, incidents of excessive force, and ongoing disciplinary proceedings.
- Supporting the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R. 4408) (Resolution T2020-6256) urging the United States Congress to pass The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R. 4408) sponsored by U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries. If made law, this bill would make the use of chokeholds a civil rights violation. This would enable federal authorities to hold accountable police officers who use the deadly technique.
Healthy Happy Meals Law Takes Effect
As featured on NBC 4, a law I authored to make kids’ meals in New York City healthier went into effect in April of 2020. From the iconic McDonald’s Happy Meal to a kids’ meal at your local diner, all 24,000 restaurants in New York City with kids’ meals on their menu will now be required to make water, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice the default beverage. Although parents can still order whatever they want for the kids, testimony from McDonald’s demonstrated that implementing this change resulted in half of kids' meals including a healthy beverage.
Obesity is an epidemic in New York City and according to NYC Health, with 1 in 5 kindergarten students entering school already obese. The American Heart Association recommends that children limit consumption to one or fewer 8-oz sugar-sweetened beverages per week. Moreover, according to the New York Academy of Medicine’s testimony, their scientific research shows that a “12-oz serving of regular soda [in a kids meal can contain] more than 9 teaspoons of sugar. An average 8-year old would need to walk 70 minutes, or the distance between City Hall and Time Square, to walk the calories off.
Under this law, parents can still choose soda or any other beverage, but healthier options will be “the new normal” and what is displayed in menus and advertisements. Changing the default meal option would have a positive impact on reducing caloric intake and obesity in children. For more information on the law going into effect, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases or check out coverage in the New York Post.
Legionnaires’ Disease Prevention Law Implemented
In 2017 an elderly woman died and six others were sickened as a result of a Legionnaires Disease cluster in my district. Thanks to a law I co-sponsored in 2015 we knew where the cooling towers were in order to test over 100 and clean them to prevent anyone else from getting sick.
In 2018, WNYC found that 20% of the cooling towers—over 1,000—in the city were not being inspected every 90-days as required. To correct the problem which I later found to be even more widespread at 44% of the cooling towers, I authored and passed Local Law 76 of 2019 which will require buildings to notify the city after every 90-day inspection and if they fail to do so, the Department of Health can immediately issue a violation and send out an inspector to keep us safe and prevent the spread of this deadly disease. For more information, read the release or press coverage from WNYC.
Creating Office of Food Policy & Fighting for Good Food Purchasing
In one of the wealthiest cities in America, or even the world, there is no reason anyone should go hungry. Gotham Gazette recently reported on the passage of my bill, co-sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson, that codifies the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy who will be responsible for coordinating initiatives among relevant agencies, conducting outreach to key stakeholders and promoting efforts that increase equitable access to nutritious food. Read more about my initial proposal in National Geographic, or see full coverage of the bill’s passage in Gotham Gazette.
In 2011, the City Council passed Local Law 50, authored by now-Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The law sought to force the purchase of locally grown food by forcing vendors with the city to report on their efforts to buy local. Borough President Brewer found that few if any vendors were reporting on local food purchasing. Borough President Brewer testified at the hearing, reiterating that the expansion of access to healthy and delicious foods will increase economic development for our city and noting that the law is “only as helpful as the Administration’s directive to agencies and vendors that buying from New York state farms is a New York City priority.” We received a lot of expert testimony including from the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, which recommended mandating food agencies to provide sourcing information, incentivizing reporting on local food procurement data and implementing penalties for a failure to report. We will continue to push forward with strengthening the effects of Local Law 50 and our overall goal of local food procurement. Learn more about how I’ve worked to build a healthier and more environmentally friendly city in Edible Manhattan.
Between our annual hurricane season and unpredictable natural events that can occur from time to time, it is imperative that New York City residents are able to equip themselves with proper emergency preparedness tools to use at their disposal should they need them. That’s why my office has partnered with the City’s Department of Emergency Management and a host of local elected officials to offer virtual safety presentations and three free Go-Bag giveaways so far.
I joined Governor Cuomo, MTA Chair Prendergast, MTA Capital Construction President Horodniceanu, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, and Building Trades President LaBarbera to cut the ribbon on the 86th Street Second Avenue subway station. As reported by WABC 7, I also had the privilege of welcoming the New Year in 2017 with an inaugural ride with Governor Cuomo, other elected officials, and residents who had to live through the construction. After many years of construction and constant press conferences led by Congress Member Maloney to keep the progress on track, I am proud to finally have it open.
Select Bus Service for M79 and M86 with Automated Bus-Lane Enforcement
The M79 was an award-winning bus line, having the dubious honor of winning the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign Pokey Award in 2014 for the slowest speed with a 3.2 mile per hour crawl, slower than the Hawaiian lava flow. According to BusTurnaround.NYC, the M79 now averages 4.3 miles per hour, slower than most people walk. That is why in 2016, following great results from Select Bus Service implementation for the M86, I requested this service for the remaining crosstown routes in my district including the M79. In May 2017 I was proud to launch the M79 SBS.
Part of the work we have done to improve bus service includes working to get new buses for our neighborhood. In 2017, the Upper East Side received 79 new buses serving the M15, M101, M102, and M103 routes, as reported in Our Town. After years of advocacy and analysis of BusTime data, I identified the issue of “missing buses” with the help of BetaNYC, BusTurnaround.nyc, and TWU Local 100. I brought the issue to the attention of the MTA at a meeting convened by Senator Liz Krueger, where the MTA shared that bus lines based out of the Tuskegee Depot in my district were among the oldest in the system, leading to more frequent than usual breakdowns. The MTA agreed to prioritize these buses for replacement with new buses that are equipped with WiFi, USB charging, “next stop” screens, and pedestrian safety measures. For more information on our new buses, read our press release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or read coverage in Our Town, DNAinfo, or Upper East Side Patch.
As we worked to improve bus service we noticed that blocked bus lanes were a consistent problem riders shouldn't face delays because a truck or van is blocking the bus lane. As of October 2019, cars parked on M15 lanes will be captured on cameras mounted on the buses. Drivers blocking the Select Bus Service Route will be fined. The fines begin at $50 for a first violation and go up to $250 for a fifth violation and each subsequent offense.
Prioritizing Pedestrian Safety
Soon after taking office, we launched a "Livable Streets" program to promote safety for drivers, pedestrians, and bikers alike. We asked 60,000 families in my district to identify dangerous intersections and streetscape improvements and compiled responses into two reports on Livable Streets, highlighting our Dangerous Intersections and proposing Street Improvements, as covered by the Daily News. Following the report, the DOT and NYPD also released a Vision Zero Borough Pedestrian Safety Plan for Manhattan. They included priority corridors on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Ave, as well as intersections from my report: Lexington Avenue and East 86th Street, 2nd Avenue and East 79th Street, East 75th Street and 1st Avenue, East 62nd Street and 1st Avenue, 3rd Avenue and 57th Street, and 2nd Avenue and East 53rd Street.
To make our streets even more accessible for everyone, after hearing from seniors and disabled members of the community who couldn't cross the streets because sidewalk ramps were inaccessible for walkers and wheelchairs, I introduced legislation that would require landlords to fix crumbling curb cuts to ensure the 889,219 New Yorkers with disabilities and nearly one million residents 65 or older can cross the street safely.
To make the district even safer, my office worked with the MTS Community Advisory Group (CAG), fellow elected officials and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make safety improvements to the intersections surrounding the Marine Transfer Station site, agreeing to adjust signal timing on the intersections on York Avenue. Leading Pedestrian Interval Signals (LPIS), where the walk sign shows before cars get a green light, have been installed at 19 of the intersections. This will allow pedestrians on these corners the opportunity to enter the crosswalk before cars begin to turn. Leading Pedestrian Interval Signals (LPIS) were installed along York Avenue at the following streets: 65th, 68th, 70th, 71st, 74th, 75th, 76th, 78th, 80th, 81st, 82nd, 83rd, 84th, 85th, 86th, 87th, 88th, 89th, and 90th. You can help improve our streets at BenKallos.com/livable-streets
Bringing Bike Share to the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
As a candidate to be your Council Member, bike share for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island was one of my first campaign promises. The program was also the first resolution we passed together through Roosevelt Island Residents Association and Community Board 8. The Roosevelt Islander was first to identify a higher volume of requests for CitiBike from residents on Roosevelt Island than anywhere else in New York City.
During my first term, we worked with Citi Bike to open 25 stations on the Upper East Side in my Council District. Thank you to the hundreds of people who provided feedback, online and in person at community forums, working with the Department of Transportation and my office to find the right place for each station to benefit local businesses and residents. I wanted bike share users to be as safe as possible, so Citi Bike provides a monthly 90-minute bike safety class at my office with the offer of a free day-pass or an additional month on an annual membership.
As Citi Bike rolled out throughout the city, leaving out Roosevelt Island, I have worked and negotiated with multiple owners of Citi Bike to pursue this expansion while eliminating costs to the Island. We also secured permission from the New York City Department of Transportation and found a willing partner in Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation to help push the effort forward. It is great to see the years of work finally paying off as in June of 2020 we cut the ribbon on the first Citi Bike stations to be installed in Roosevelt Island. For more information on opening visit BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or watch Coverage by NY1.
You can find a Citi Bike dock near you at member.citibikenyc.com/map
Ferry Service for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
Following years of advocacy dating back to my first campaign, I am proud that we now have NYC Ferry service on Roosevelt Island and in the Upper East Side. The Soundview route runs from East 90th to East 34th to Stuyvesant Cove and Pier 11 by Wall Street for a 32 minute ride. The Astoria route runs from Roosevelt Island to LIC to East 34th to Brooklyn Navy Yard to Pier 11 by Wall Street for a 37 minute ride. I've been proud to reactivate our waterfront and add this transportation option that has boasted 14.9 million riders since its inception. The ferry service is perfect for visiting the City’s parks and attractions and commuting to and from work. For more information on the launch, see the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or visit Ferry.nyc
Bike Safety Program Gets Results with Safety Improving Over Five Years
Over the past five years we've seen meaningful reductions in traffic injuries and deaths. That's because we've focused on identifying dangerous intersections, investing in safer street infrastructure, education of bike riders, the distribution of safety equipment, and increased enforcement.
Since then, we have doubled bike lanes from just First Avenue and the 90th & 91st Street pair to include protected lanes on Second Avenue, 70th & 71st Street and 77th & 78th Streets in 2017, parking-protected bike lanes from 68th to 59th Street on Second Avenue in 2018. We also created safe crossing across the entrance to Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge with new bike lanes and crosswalks installed in 2019. The Second Avenue protected bike lane now stretches uninterrupted from 125th Street to 43rd Street. For more information on the bike lane improvements, watch the press conference or check out coverage from PIX 11 and ABC 7.
The NYPD traffic data 17th and 19th precinct report Year to Date (YTD) as of December issued 2,472 summons to bicycles and 19,012 moving violations to vehicles. These were predominantly for improper turns, disobeying a traffic control device, for red lights, not yielding the right of way to pedestrians among other violations.
Following an expansion of the Upper East Side’s safe streets network, coupled with an increase in education, safety equipment, and enforcement, bike safety from 30th to 97th streets on Manhattan’s East Side continues to improve as a result of a program led by Council Members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers.
Since the launch of the bike safety program in 2014, the number of collisions involving cyclists has reduced each year, and fewer pedestrians and cyclists are injured in collisions. as covered by CBS, NBC, Our Town, amNY, and most recently Patch.
Won Dedicated Bike Lanes on Queensborough and Brooklyn Bridges
As you may have read in the New York Times, I am proud to share that the City will be implementing a request from cyclists and pedestrians alike to close a lane on the Queensboro Bridge and reserve it for cyclists that Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and I have been supporting. This comes after years of our joint advocacy alongside community organizations for more space on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. In a long-awaited victory lap, I told Streetsblog:
“This is a moment to say we did it. Bike riders from Manhattan and Queens, rejoice. We won. It is good that the mayor heard the call and acted.”
Thousands of New Yorkers bike, walk, and run over the Queensboro Bridge each day. The bridge has nine lanes for car traffic, yet only a narrow path along the northern edge of the bridge is open for cyclists and pedestrians to share, causing conflicts, congestion, and in the age of COVID, dangerous crowding. As the Manhattan council members whose districts border the bridge, and whose constituents depend on this critical inter-borough connection, Council Member Van Bramer and I called on the city make more space for bike and foot traffic by opening the South Outer Roadway as a pedestrians-only lane, even offering to cover the cost of the project.
In an op-ed for AMNY, we also addressed the safety improvements that our proposal would require and “pledged to use some of our discretionary capital funding to help install fencing along a new South Outer Sidewalk.” A day later, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg began working with our offices to move forward with the plan. I am proud to see the changes are finally underway.
Thank you to Transportation Alternatives, Bike New York, StreetsPAC, environmental activist Charles Komanoff and all of the other advocates who have rallied with me over the years in this push to make our bridges a space for people, not just cars. For more information, see coverage by the New York Times and Streetsblog.
Learn more about bike safety at BenKallos.com/BikeSafety
Roosevelt Island Tram Approved for Another 50 Years
After more than 20 years of operating on interim agreements, the City Council approved a 50-year franchise agreement between the City of New York and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC). The agreement was approved for two 25-year terms, granting the City the authority to negotiate with RIOC to continue operating the unique aerial tramway from Tramway Plaza on Second Avenue in Manhattan over the East River onto Roosevelt Island. As the Village Voice and Roosevelt Islander blog reported: “The Tram” has been managed by the State through RIOC since 1995, despite a bureaucratic quirk. The new agreement settles past issues that forced interim agreements to become the norm by allowing for the continuation of advertising on the interior of the cars and stations but prohibiting advertisements on the exteriors of the stations and tram cars. It is clear now that the Roosevelt Island Tram is here to stay and after 20 years of needless bureaucracy, we’ve protected it. To find out more about this deal read the release or coverage in the Roosevelt Islander or the Village Voice.
Snow Plows for Bike Lanes and Pedestrian Intersections
As Streetsblog recently reported in January of 2021, when the pandemic caused balloting for Participatory Budgeting (PB) to be cancelled we still listened to advocacy from residents who emailed us leading me to team up with Council Member Keith Power to fund two snow plows for bike lanes and pedestrian intersections.
However, due to needless bureaucracy and red tape the City won't use my money to purchase equipment. Worse even, the City has not made plans to produce funds for the plows, the absence of which left bike lanes completely unswept for days in December. As I told Streetsblog:
“It’s a $94-billion budget and the fact that the city can’t find $30,000 to buy a plow attachment to keep cyclists safe is a joke.”
This is the definition of government not working the way it’s supposed to and it has to change. For more information, read coverage by Streetsblog and Patch.
I believe that climate change is real, caused by humans, and that it is up to us to do something about it. That's why I authored and the City Council passed a resolution declaring a Climate Emergency, making New York City the largest city to do so as part of an international movement. The declaration was covered in the Huffington Post, CNN, The Hill, Gotham Gazette, The Nation and Patch. You can also watch my interview with the online news station, Cheddar.
Other cities around the world have already declared a climate emergency, making it important that the most populated city in the nation also declares a climate emergency. The more cities that declare a Climate Emergency, the harder it will be to deny the reality of climate change. The Council has also already taken a major step toward saving the environment by passing the Climate Mobilization Act, which will dramatically reduce the city’s carbon emissions from buildings.
Prior to passing the resolution Council Member Costa Constantinides Chair for the Environmental Committee and I joined Extinction Rebellion NYC and 60 activists from 350 Brooklyn, Indivisible Nation Brooklyn, and One Queens Indivisible for a rally on the steps of City Hall that you can watch at BenKallos.com/videos. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases or see coverage in XRebellion NYC and AM New York.
Following a rally on the steps of City Hall, dozens of experts and children testified in favor of legislation I authored to ban toxic pesticides that can cause cancer from being sprayed in our city’s parks where children play. As CBS 2 New York reported, on the day of the hearing the Black Institute published a report accusing the Parks Department of environmental racism after it found that cancer-causing pesticides were sprayed much more frequently in parks in communities of color. Some of the activists who joined us for the rally and hearing included “Rev” Billy Talen of the Stop Shopping Choir, former Kindergarten teacher Paula Ragovin, and the students from P.S. 290 who originally called for this legislation.
A month later, as AM New York reported, Community Board 5 has officially endorsed my bill to ban glyphosate pesticide use in City parks. Even though many countries have partially or fully banned glyphosate for its link to cancer, Monsanto's Roundup (a glyphosate product) is the City’s most heavily used herbicide. I am happy to speak at your local community board meetings in support of ridding our parks of this chemical and I encourage other community boards to consider passing a resolution in favor of this bill. All families should be able to enjoy our city parks without having to worry that they are being exposed to cancer-causing pesticides. Support this legislation by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/Petition/BanToxicPesticides. For more on this issue, see coverage from the CBS 2 New York and New York Daily News and The Guardian.
The Council District 5 Fresh Food Box began as a pilot program between my office and Grow NYC back in the spring of 2016, and it is now a fan favorite for residents. Over the past five years, the program has served hundreds of residents looking to get locally grown farm fresh vegetables at an affordable price.
The Fresh Food Box is held at my district office on Thursdays between 3:30pm and 6:30pm. The program allows you to place your order and pay just $14 (cash, credit/debit, SNAP/food stamps, greenmarket bucks) and pick up a bag of farm-fresh produce the following week.
GrowNYC's Fresh Food Box Program lets customers benefit from fresh farm-to-table produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, with the flexibility of week-to-week purchasing. Sign-ups begin every year in June and the season runs through November. Learn more visit grownyc.org/greenmarketco/foodbox
Sale of Single-Use Plastic Bottles Banned in City Parks
As the Verge reported, in February of this year, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order officially implementing my proposed ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles in city parks, beaches, and even Trump's golf courses. City agencies will also no longer be able to purchase single-use plastic bottles. We were joined by local student organizers of the global climate strike at the signing of the executive order.
Before it was repealed by the Trump administration, President Obama’s ban of the sale of plastic bottles in National Parks resulted in waste reduction of as much as 300 tons. We can't risk the next Mayor overturning this order just like Trump did to Obama, so please join me in calling on the City Council to pass my legislation into law by signing and sharing my petition at BenKallos.com/Petition/BanTheBottle
Composting on the Upper East Side
Compost On-the-Go is a program we launched several years ago with GrowNYC’s zero waste initiatives funded by the NYC Department of Sanitation. Compost On–the-Go increases access to food waste composting for New Yorkers in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan. As the New York Times reported, getting residents to compost has been really tough, so when the program was fully active these drop-off sites were conveniently located near many public transit and are staffed by friendly compost coordinators ready to accept fruit and vegetable scraps as residents head out to start the day. For more information, see coverage in the New York Daily News.
Due to the pandemic, the program remains suspended. The situation is similar on Roosevelt Island where we are still fighting to bring back composting as it was suspended as a result for the pandemic.Right before the pandemic I had allocated $90,000 for a new industrial grade composting machine to help residents on Roosevelt Island compost more efficiently. I recently joined the Save Our Compost campaign to push the City and Mayor to restore this organization's budget in order to keep them up and running helping green New York City.
With New York City committed to closing the crumbling facilities on Rikers Island by 2027, I recently joined Council Member Costa Constantinides, WE ACT for Environmental Justice and so many others to celebrate our victory in passing the Renewable Rikers Act, requiring the city to study how building renewable resources paired with battery storage on the island can tie into the city’s long-term energy plan to phase out fossil fuel-fired power plants established as part of the Climate Mobilization Act.
Fighting to Protect Climate Works for All
We marked the five year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy by joining Climate Works for All, which aims to fight climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of our city's number one polluter, our buildings, which contribute to 70% of emissions. Under Climate Works for All, we would:
- Mandate Energy Efficiency Retrofits in New York City's Largest Buildings
- Install Solar Energy on Rooftops of New York City’s 100 Largest Schools
- Replace New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Boilers with Combined Heat and Power Systems
- Upgrade New York City’s Energy Distribution Systems by Investing in Microgrids
- Fix Leaking Natural Gas Lines
- Expand the Green Jobs - Green New York Program in New York City
For more information read the release or watch the press conference at BenKallos.com/videos
More recently, in October of 2020, I was proud to join ALIGN and NYC Environmental Justice Alliance for the launch of the Climate Works for All coalition, which offers a road map to create 100,000 jobs in the climate industry as we strive to meet the City’s 2050 climate goals.
“The answer my friend is blowing in the wind,” was sung as I led more than 150 New Yorkers, community groups and environmental justice leaders on the steps of City Hall in thanking Mayor Bill de Blasio for his commitment to power 100% of City operations with renewable energy. We also urged him to ensure that offshore wind power plays a major role in achieving that goal. I am proud to have stood next to organizations like the Sierra Club, the Center For Working Families, and NYPIRG to ask for more renewable energy to benefit NYC. Watch the press conference and sing along, or read more in our release or the Sierra Club.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Inspect All Scaffolding to Keep Pedestrians Safe and Planning to Take Down Unnecessary Scaffolding
In 2019, The New York Times reported on the shocking 1,400 buildings around the City with sidewalk sheds that aren't up because of ongoing construction but because they have failed to fix façade issues for which the Department of Buildings has issued a whopping $31 million in violations that have gone unpaid.
Since I was elected we've been working to pass legislation I authored to force landlords to make repairs and get sidewalk sheds down as well as force the city to inspect every sidewalk shed so they never fall on anyone else. In 2017, the City Council held a public hearing on my original scaffolding bill (Int 1389). This hearing was a pivotal step in getting the City to reform the laws governing the use of scaffolding. Under my bill, which is still undergoing changes and updates, landlords would have up to 90 days to fix dangerous facade conditions and an additional 90 days for owners to fix dangerous conditions upon extension. After the 180 days, the city would step in to do the work to correct the dangerous condition and bill the owner for all the costs. For more information on the bill see coverage in The New York Times, PIX11, FOX 5, New York 1.
In 2019, after the death of a pedestrian in midtown due to a falling piece of a building, Fox 5 covered my criticism of the fact that we are still inspecting building facades with centuries' old techniques such as binoculars, telescopes, and even feeling bricks with our hands. As reported by Fox 5 and the New York Post, this led to the City Council hearing legislation that I am co-prime sponsor of which would study the use of drones for facade inspections.
In December of 2019, the Department of Buildings adopted many many of the reforms I have been pushing for when it announced facade inspection reforms doubling their façade inspection team staff, adding more frequent and thorough inspections of buildings, and following my legislative proposal for the city to make repairs and bill the owner for the most hazardous conditions. You can read more in Crain's New York and The City.
As reported by ABC 7, my legislation which I continue to push would regulate how our City is using scaffolding. It would also make sure that the nearly 350 miles of scaffolding covering New York City's sidewalks are safe and not at risk of falling. As reported by New York Daily News and Gothamist under the current laws, scaffolding is self-certified for safety by the contractors who install it, without any independent inspection by the city’s Department of Buildings. Under my legislation, scaffolding would be required to undergo safety inspections by the Buildings Department every six months at the expense of the building owner with fees escalating to incentivize the scaffolding to go down.
A New Trash Can on Every Corner
We have cleaned up the Upper East Side with 284 new large trash cans covering 104 intersections, which I purchased with $154,780 in initiative funding from my office back in 2017. These new cans supplement the 38 I purchased in 2016 with $20,710 in initial funding as part of a successful pilot with the East 72nd and East 86th Street Neighborhood Associations. The East Sixties Neighborhood Association (ESNA) joined prior participants in requesting an expansion. The large cans feature a smaller opening designed to keep trash from spilling over onto the street with reports from the pilot of a decrease in litter and rodents. In addition to these efforts alongside DSNY, I continue to work to get a Business Improvement District (BID) organized that will help keep the streets clean in perpetuity. Learn more about the cleanup efforts by reading the most recent press releases on the 284 trash cans, watching the press conference or WNBC or reading coverage in the Patch and DNAinfo.
In fiscal years 2019 and 2020, my office allocated an additional $152,375 to replace missing and damaged trash cans and to ensure every street corner in my district that needed a trash can received one. I promised to replace every small wire trash can with a new large trash can, so if you still see the wire cans in your part of the neighborhood please request your new large trash can by emailing me at BKallos@BenKallos.com.
Cleaning up the Neighborhood with Wildcat Service
We are power washing the neighborhood block by block with Wildcat Cleaning services. Starting with East 86th, 79th, 72nd Streets and even Second Avenue. I even rolled up my sleeves and took the opportunity to lead the power washing crews at a few of the sites to help get the job done.
As part of our cleanup initiative, we have been able to win twice a day garbage pick up from the Department of Sanitation in areas that need it. We have bought hundreds of new domed trash cans to keep the streets litter-free. We also continued to work with Wildcat as they swept up streets, tree pits, and bike islands. They have been able to successfully remove old plastic bags that were stuck in tree branches.
Part of my plan to keep the neighborhood clean involves starting a Business Improvement District (BID) along the East 86th Street business corridor. This would mean that parts of the district near 86th Street would get more needed attention and help with cleaning. Our work to get the BID continues as area businesses join the list of participants. Learn more at BenKallos.com/bid
To have your street power washed, contact our office at BKallos@BenKallos.com and for more information on our cleanup initiative, visit BenKallos.com/cleanup
Improved Quality of Life Enforcement
As reported by the Daily News more than $1.6 billion in quality of life violations are in the process of being collected by the City after legislation I introduced became law and went into effect. Environmental Control Board (ECB) or quality of life violations are issued to owners who do not clean or shovel sidewalks, leave out excessive trash, or engage in noisy construction before or after hours. Prior to this package of legislation becoming law, many of the fines would go unpaid or paid as a “cost of doing business.” Prior to my law going into effect, we offered an amnesty program through the Department of Finance to pay any outstanding violations without penalties or interest. This new law ensures that bad actors change their behavior or face the consequence of losing their license. For more information read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
- Prohibiting Outside Income (Law 20 of ’16) – The City Council now works full time for the people without the influence of other sources of income.
- Eliminating “Legal Grease” (Res. 980 of ’16) – Former Speakers used to reward Council Member allies with payments in lieu of compensation, or “lulus,” a practice that the Daily News called “legal grease.” My resolution banned it from the City Council.
Campaign Finance Reform
- Full Public Match Campaign Finance System (Law 128 of ’19) – raised the cap on public funds received by participating candidates to establish a full public match, further limiting the impact of “Big Money” in local elections.
- Getting Big Money Out of Politics (Law 1 of ’19) – making question 1 of the 2018 Charter Revision (8 to 1 match) effective for all special elections prior to 2021.
- Closing Campaign for One New York Loophole (Law 181 of ’16, co-sponsor) – by limiting contributions to nonprofits controlled by elected officials and disclosing donors.
- Quelling Special Interests Dollars (Law 167 of ‘16) – by ending the practice of matching funds bundled by lobbyists and special interests with public dollars.
- Early Public Fund Payments (Law 168 of ‘16) – to help campaigns that take public dollars get on the ballot and reach voters.
- Disclosing Conflicts in a Timely Manner (Law 211 of '17) - by requiring candidate to disclose within 25 days of filing to get on the ballot.
- Better Debates (Law 169 of ‘16) – by only including campaigns that are spending money to win.
Affordable Housing and Tenant Protection
- Affordable Housing Applications, Tracking, and Enforcement (Law 64 of '18) - centralized applications, waitlists, tracking, registration of units, and enforcement for all city-subsidized affordable housing.
- Stand for Tenant Safety in Buildings in Large Buildings (Law 153 of '17) - tenant protections from slumlords in large buildings.
- Stand for Tenant Safety Quality of Life Protections (Law 152 of '17) - any quality of life violation may be counted towards establishing a distressed property for transfer from a slumlord to tenants or a responsible owner.
- Students Admissions Tracking (Law 72 of '18) - counting every child who applies, is rejected or accepted, enrolls, and attends for every school.
- School Seat Need Transparency (Law 167 of ’18) – the basis for school seat need must be disclosed in order to ensure proper planning.
- End School Hunger (Law 215 of '17) - set goals and report on participation in breakfast, breakfast-after-the-bell, lunch, snacks, and supper.
- Students with Disabilities Services Transparency (Law 17 of ’20) guarantees that students with disabilities receive necessary services by increasing reporting from an annual basis to three times a school year.
- LGBT training and GSA (Law 231 of '17) - LGBT training for teachers to support GSAs.
- School Transportation Transparency (Law 33 of ’19) – bus routes for parents ahead and test runs ahead of the school year to avoid bad routes.
- GPS on School Buses (Law 32 of ’19) – GPS for parents and schools to track buses.
- Happy Healthy Meals (Law 75 of ’19) – children's meals must offer water, 100% juice, or milk as the default options on the menu.
- Office of Food Policy (Law 41 of ’20) – establishes the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy to oversee multi-agency food policy and promote access to healthy food.
- Cooling Tower Inspection Reporting (Law 76 of ’19) – landlords must report every 90-days during the cooling season in time to stop the spread of Legionnaires' Disease.
- Water Tank Inspection Electronic Filing (Law 85 of ’19) – water tank inspection and cleaning filings must be done online.
- Automatic Benefits Study (Law 60 of '18) - to provide human services such as Medicaid, SNAP, rental assistance and more automatically using existing government information.
Quality of Life
- Catching Scofflaws (Law 48 of ’16) – Information added to all quality of life violations will help identify who is responsible and collect fines.
- Stopping Repeat Offenders (Law 47 of ’16) – City agencies that issue quality of life violations are now required to deny, suspend, or revoke licenses and permits for unpaid fines or repeat offenders.
- Turning Down the Volume on Construction Noise (Law 53 of '18) - by half, eliminating requiring noise measurement from within a home, inspection at times when the noise is likely to occur, and the power to issue a stop-work order.
- Counting Every Life on the Construction Site (Law 78 of '17) - count every injury and every life, at construction sites, or face fines up to $25,000.
- Crane Modernization (Law 3 of '18) - retire cranes after 25 years to prevent equipment failure and collapse.
Protecting Neighborhood Planning From Overdevelopment
- Application Requirements (Law 103 of '17) - for developers to show why zoning laws should not apply to them with fines of up to $15,000 for knowingly falsifying information.
- Financial Expertise (Law 102 of '17) - provided for the city with a state certified Real Estate Appraiser to review and analyze developers' financials.
- Protecting Neighborhood Plans (Law 101 of '17) - by designating a coordinator at City Planning Commission to defend the city's plan from unnecessary variances.
- Reporting on Variances (Law 104 of '17) - including the number of pre-application meeting requests, number of applications, number of variances approved or denied, and the average length of time for decisions.
- Map to Prevent Rezoning by Variance (Law 105 of '17) - with an interactive online map of all variances and special permits granted since 1998.
- Opening Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) (Law 250 of '17) - signage for POPS indicating amenities with 311 listed for complaints, a website listing POPS, and increased violation of up to $10,000 for repeat offenses.
- Online Voter Registration (Law 238 of '17) - register to vote online with a digital signature.
- Voter Information Portal (Law 65 of ’16) – Will empower voters to track an absentee ballot, find poll site location, view ballots, and verify registration status and that votes were counted.
- Pro-Voter Law Expansion (Law 63 of ’14) - requires 25 city agencies to provide voter registration forms and assist individuals with completing them, so everyone gets registered.
- Online Voter Guide (Law 43 of ‘14) - saving the environment and money, while increasing access to information in off-year uncontested elections.
- Save Paper and Money on Voter Guide (Law 170 of ’16) – by allowing voters to opt-out of receiving mailers.
- Same Day and Online Registration Advocacy (Res. 1061 of ’16) – to pass state constitutional amendment.
- Teens on Community Boards (Res. 115 of ‘14) – opens community boards to our best and brightest 16 and 17-year-olds
Transparency in Government
- Online Budget (Law 218 of '17) - place all city budget documents online.
- Open Legislation (Res. 184 of ’14, co-sponsor) – as part of the Council’s rules reform process, I provided language requiring posting legislation online and public engagement.
- Open Mapping (Law 108 of ’15) - standardizes address and geospatial information so Open Data has location information.
- Law Online (Law 37 of ‘14, co-prime sponsor) – puts our city’s law online for you to search, download, and read.
- City Record Online (Law 38 of ‘14) – public notices from the city, previously published in a daily newspaper, are now online and fully searchable so you can learn what is happening in your community.
Coastal Resilience for Climate Change
- Reforming Waterfront Management (Law 96 of ’16) – resuscitates an advisory board for advocates, experts, and all levels of government to use and protect over 500 miles of shoreline.
- National Women’s History Museum (Res. 354 of ‘14) – supporting Congress Member Maloney’s successful passage.
As my first term wrapped up City and State created “a comprehensive ranking of the best – and worst – members of the New York City Council.” There are 51 Council Members that represent New Yorkers in the City Council who were rated on attendance, the number of bills introduced, the number of bills passed and even how responsive each office is to the press and to constituents. I am proud to report that whether it was best overall attendance, or bills introduced and passed into law, my office and I consistently ranked among the best as the top 5 Council Members for my first term. This year, I continued to be ranked as one of the City’s best council members. Read the complete list and story by City and State.
City and State’s Power 100 and Non-profits and Manhattan
I was honored to be recognized by City and State as one of the 100 most powerful Manhattanites in 2019, as they wrote:
"This Upper East Side reformer has carved out a niche as a fierce advocate for increased government transparency and bolstering the city’s campaign finance system. This year, Ben Kallos has been grabbing headlines for his push to implement larger matching funds for political candidates, a measure that was approved on the 2018 ballot. The second-term councilman is also a champion of education, affordable housing and public health – and he invites constituents to engage him in conversation."
Nonprofits are vital to getting New York City residents the services they need. As Chair of the Committee on Contracts, I get to work closely with non-profits and see better than anyone else how important the work they do is. That is why I have been committed to making sure nonprofits get paid on time by the City and that MWBE’s get their fair share. In late 2019, City and State recognized my work in this Committee by placing me in the top 20 powerful figures in New York City within the nonprofit sector. Thank you to City and State for recognizing the work and giving nonprofits the recognition they deserve. For more information read City and State.