NEWS AND ISSUES


March 2011 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:

Fighting to Save Our Senior Centers

I am strongly opposed to the proposal in Governor Cuomo's Fiscal Year 2011-2012 Executive Budget that would result in a reduction of $25.2 million in Title XX funding for New York City senior centers and effectively force 105 of them to be closed. This would be devastating to the elderly New Yorkers who rely upon these centers for meal programs, activities and companionship, which are critical for their well-being and prevent their premature institutionalization.

A similar cut was proposed last year in former-Governor Paterson's Executive Budget but Senate Democrats, along with our colleagues in the Assembly, were successful in securing a full restoration of this Title XX funding in the adopted Fiscal Year 2010-11 budget. I and my Senate Democratic colleagues are again fighting for these vital funds to be fully restored. This year, in a fractured Senate, we can not do this alone. To succeed, the Senate Republican Majority and the Independent Democratic caucus must also strongly advocate for this funding. Earlier this month, I joined the other members of the Senate Democratic Conference in sending a letter to the Senate Majority and Minority leaders urging them to work collaboratively to ensure that the elimination of Title XX discretionary funds is not included in the final enacted budget.

I appreciate all the constituents who have reached out to me on this important issue and I will continue working with individuals, advocacy organizations and legislative colleagues to overturn this devastating cut.

Standing United with Our Teachers and Students

On March 4, I joined the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), parents, administrators, school advocates, and my colleagues in government at a press conference opposing Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to lay off more than 4,600 public school teachers. I believe that this dangerous and unnecessary proposal is designed to ram through ill-conceived changes to gut a collectively bargained tenure system for teachers.

Indeed, at the Mayor's urging, legislation (S3501B) was introduced and passed in the New York State Senate that would end strict seniority-based layoffs. I oppose this legislation, which appears unlikely to pass in the Assembly, and I am working with Governor Andrew Cuomo, my colleagues in the Legislature, and other stakeholders to develop a better system for evaluating teachers and making staffing decisions.

Ultimately, we need to work together to support our teachers, foster their professional development and reduce class sizes so we can more effectively educate our children. That is why I joined 19 of my Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Governor Cuomo requesting that taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers be kept at their current level to lessen the cuts to critical services like education, Medicaid and public safety (see item below).

I will continue to work with all stakeholders to preserve and expand the great elements of New York City's public education system as well as to fight for greater investment in those areas that need improvement.

Advocating for Shared Sacrifice

I recently joined New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera and 19 of my other Democratic Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to maintain the personal income tax level for the wealthiest New Yorkers. We must ensure that middle class and low-income New Yorkers do not bear the sole burden of the sacrifices necessary to get us through these difficult economic times.

Continuing to Seek Full Restoration of Health Care on Manhattan's Lower West Side

As we all learned on March 10, St. Vincent's Hospital, the Rudin Family and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (NS-LIJ) have agreed upon a redevelopment plan for the former-St. Vincent's Hospital site that would include a stand-alone 24-hour emergency room and medical complex in the O'Toole building on the West side of Seventh Avenue.

While this represents an effort to restore health care on Manhattan's Lower West Side, I share the belief of my colleagues in local government that this facility must not be another Urgent Care Center, and that the best replacement for St. Vincent's remains a full service acute care hospital and a 24-hour emergency room.

On March 11, I joined New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and New York State Assembly Members Dick Gottfried and Deborah Glick in writing to the top executives at St. Vincents, Rudin and NS-LIJ to emphasize these concerns and seek answers to many important questions raised by the proposal. Please see a .pdf of our letter here.

Calling for a Comprehensive Plan to Rid Our Schools of PCB Contamination

Nearly three years have passed since dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were discovered in P.S 199 on West 70 Street and a number of other New York City public schools. While much progress has been made in remediating contamination at a few select schools, it is unacceptable that there is still no comprehensive, City-wide plan to address this problem. The Bloomberg administration's intransigence is particularly disturbing in light of clear evidence of PCB leakage from light ballasts in schools built or substantially renovated between 1950 and 1978.

On February 18, I joined U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and other elected officials in sending a letter (attached) to Mayor Bloomberg calling on the City to immediately implement a plan to eliminate PCB contamination in all potentially-affected public schools and specifically to remove and replace all affected light ballasts within two to five years. While the City subsequently announced its intention to replace these ballasts, it said it would do so within ten years -- an unjustifiably long time period during which young children and other members of affected school communities will be exposed to this dangerous toxin. I will continue to work with school stakeholders, advocates and elected officials to expedite PCB remediation and ensure that our school environments are safe.

Securing Community Stewardship of Green Spaces Bordering Bike Lanes

Since I learned late last year that a landscaper commissioned by the New York City Parks Department had removed plantings area residents had put in a protected bike lane medianfs tree pit, I and my staff have been working with the Parks Department to ensure that green space bordering bike lanes can be planted and maintained by members of the community. Toward that end, last month I convened a meeting with Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro, representatives from the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and a number of community members who had expressed concern about this issue. I am pleased to report that the Parks Department and DOT agreed that, going forward, planting in the tree pits along protected bike lanes will be permitted, and the Parks Department will provide information to community gardeners to ensure that appropriate plants are selected.

My office hosted a meeting with all of the community boards in my district whose protected bike lanes include tree pits to discuss the logistics of planting this season. Each community board will be responsible for coordinating the planting in its community district and thus I urge those who interested in such efforts to beautify their neighborhood to contact their community board for more information on how to participate.

Fighting on a New Front to Protect NYS from the Dangers of Hydrofracking

As you may recall, an Executive Order signed last December by former Governor Paterson and maintained by Governor Cuomo requires the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to reissue a draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on high-volume hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in horizontal wells and subject it to a public comment period in early June. The latter move effectively delays all fracking for natural gas in horizontal wells in New York until at least early summer, and gives me and my colleagues in the State Legislature time to advance legislation that ensures that the State comprehensively addresses the threats posed by fracking.

Unfortunately, a separate, interstate regulatory authority-the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)-has proposed its own woefully inadequate natural gas development regulations much sooner, potentially enabling fracking to occur before New York has done its due diligence. Furthermore, these regulations, which affect some of our state's most ecologically sensitive areas, could conflict with those that will be developed by the DEC based on the findings of the SGEIS.

The DRBC is accepting comments on its draft regulations, which can be found on the Commission's website, until 5pm on April 15, 2011. I encourage you to join me in calling for a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin or, in the worst case scenario, a postponement of the promulgation of regulations until New York State finalizes its plan to regulate this dangerous type of drilling. Comments can be sent to Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, NJ 08628 or submitted online at http://tinyurl.com/drbcregs.

Taking my Case for a West Side Bus Garage to The New York Times

As I noted in my last report, I continue to advocate for a much-needed bus garage on Manhattan's West Side to house not only New Jersey Transit buses that use the Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal but also other commuter and charter vehicles that currently clog our streets.

After The New York Times ran a March 1 story titled, "Concern Voiced on Parking for Buses Near 9/11 Memorial," I sent a letter to the editor stating that "The traffic congestion crisis brewing in TriBeCa, which is bracing for a swarm of tour buses when the 9/11 memorial opens in September, only underscores the need for a designated bus garage on the West Side of Manhattan." Please see my complete letter, which appeared in the Sunday, March 6 edition of the Times, here.


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