NEWS AND ISSUES


May 2011 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

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

Seeking Justice for Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The decades-long, systematic cover-up of childhood sexual abuse by institutions and persons in a position of authority is well known. Yet New York State's antiquated statute of limitation laws have barred victims, who do not come to terms with what has happened to them until much later in life, from seeking justice. As a passionate advocate for the prevention of childhood sexual abuse as well as for redress and closure for adults living with its traumatic scars, I have long sponsored legislation that would create a one year window period to allow past survivors of sex abuse to come forward with claims regardless of when the abuse occurred. While this model has been successfully implemented in California, here in New York powerful institutions with even more powerful lobbyists have aggressively fought my legislation and kept it from even coming out of committee. On Wednesday, May 25th the Albany Times-Union ran an op-ed I wrote explaining New York's obligation to sex abuse victims and urging the Legislature to pass this fair and just legislation before the June 20th end of the 2011 Legislative Session. Please see my op-ed here

Opposing Senator Young's Dangerous J-51 Legislation

Cathy Young, an upstate Republican Senator from Jamestown and Chair of the Senate Committee on Housing and Community Development, has introduced a harmful and dangerous piece of legislation, S.4117-A , that would completely gut the landmark pro-tenant decision Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Properties, L.P. I am strongly opposed to this bill.

As you may recall, the Court determined in the Roberts decision that Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village's landlord had illegally deregulated thousands of apartments even though it was receiving generous tax benefits through the New York City J-51 tax abatement program. This was a crucial decision for tenants and prevented the elimination of much-needed affordable housing stock.

If this dreadful bill becomes law, property owners that received J-51 tax benefits would be given the option to repay the City the amount received plus 9% and waive the receipt of further tax benefits in exchange for being exempted from re-regulation of housing units that have been deregulated. This would completely undermine the Roberts decision and essentially reward owners for the improper deregulation of units.

In late April, Senator Young amended the bill to allow owners of buildings not affected by the Roberts decision, those that were constructed or substantially rehabilitated after June 30, 1974, and that received J-51 benefits, to repay New York City and restore their buildings to deregulated status as though they had never received J-51 benefits. This would reverse a 2010 New York State Supreme Court decision in Independence Plaza North Tenants' Assn. v. Independence Plaza Assocs. L.P., which upheld the rent stabilization of tenants at Independence Plaza North, a former Mitchell-Lama development.

I and my progressive Democratic colleagues in the Senate are fighting this bill and are doing everything in our power to prevent it from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. That said, Senator Young has already pushed the bill out of her committee. If the bill does come to the Senate floor, it will be evident that once again landlords have bought off the Senate Republicans to do their dirty work for them (this is a perfect example as to why we need Campaign Finance Reform in Albany).

Fortunately, this bill will never see the light of day in the Democratic-controlled State Assembly. This pointless, and quite frankly pathetically transparent, exercise by the Senate Republicans is yet another shot across the bow of tenants in an attempt to divert energy in a year in which tenants and their allies must fight with all our strength for the renewal and expansion of rent regulations before they expire on June 15, 2011.

Marking the Implementation of the Illegal Hotels Law

Last year, the New York State Legislature passed legislation signed into law by then Governor David Paterson that would clarify that Class A multiple dwelling residential buildings may only be used as long-term residential housing, and not as transient, "illegal" hotels. This law, designed to fight the proliferation of illegal hotels, was slated to take effect May 1, 2011. However, illegal hotel operators filed a lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction, threatening to postpone the implementation date of the bill. I am pleased to report that on April 30th, Judge Richard Sullivan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the preliminary injunction and thus the law did indeed go into effect as planned. This sensible and carefully-crafted legislation will finally enable us to effectively shut down dishonest operators, who create hazardous conditions for permanent residents and tourists alike, reduce our affordable housing stock, and undercut the legitimate hotel industry that is such an important part of our economy. I applaud all of the stakeholders who worked so hard to secure this incredibly important victory. If you believe your landlord has converted units in your apartment building into illegal hotel rooms, please call 311 and then report the complaint number you are given to Sarah Meier-Zimbler in my district office at (212) 633-8052 or sarah [at] tomduane.com.

Working to Protect Consumers and our Local Pharmacies

A number of constituents and neighborhood pharmacists have recently contacted me with concerns about health insurance companies that mandate or incentivize the use of mail order pharmacies. I have long shared this belief that local pharmacists are a resource for all consumers, especially the elderly and those with special needs or multiple diagnoses, who need immediate access to their medications, assistance in monitoring their prescription drug regimens and/or face-to-face interactions with highly-skilled professionals. Our independent neighborhood pharmacists are often patients' best advocates and health insurance plans that preclude their use do a disservice to these licensed professionals and their customers. I am a co-sponsor of Senate bill S.3510, which would preclude health insurance companies from the unfair and potentially dangerous practice of prohibiting the use of local pharmacies or imposing penalties on those who choose to patronize them instead of using mail order pharmacies. I will continue to advocate for the bill's passage so that all patients have the freedom to obtain prescribed medications at their local pharmacy.

Encouraging Participation in LPC's Hearing on the Proposed Mulry Square Fan Plant

As you may know, MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) is planning to construct an emergency ventilation plant at Mulry Square (Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue South). While none of us wants to see a ventilation facility at this historically significant location, NYCT has established that it is needed for public safety reasons and that an above-ground structure at 61 Greenwich Avenue is unfortunately its most practical and cost-effective option. As a result, I and the West Village's other local elected officials, Manhattan Community Board 2 (CB2), neighborhood organizations and concerned residents have focused on ensuring that the facility is as contextual to the Greenwich Village Historic District as possible.

Over the past two years, NYCT has made efforts to include the local community in the ventilation facility's design process; however, last May it presented a "final" design to CB2 that is inappropriate for the historic district in which it is to be located. CB2 swiftly passed a resolution detailing objections and recommendations, and I and other local elected officials urged NYCT to heed CB2's well-reasoned request for design changes.

After considerable follow up and a meeting with local elected officials and CB2 last December, NYCT made some concessions. Perhaps most significantly, the agency agreed to honor our request that it present the ventilation facility design at a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) public hearing. While LPC does not have authority over NYCT since it is a state agency, this hearing will allow for the rigorous review and expert advice of LPC's commissioners to help ensure a contextually appropriate design that befits this historically significant neighborhood.

The Mulry Square project has been calendared for the LPC hearing on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, beginning at 9:30am at 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North. I encourage all residents concerned about preserving our neighborhood's special, historic character to come out and make your voices heard.

Compelling Duane Reade to Remove Illegal Video Billboard at 72nd & Bway

On April 29, I joined New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, New York City Councilmember Gale Brewer and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in a meeting with the executives from the parent company of the new Duane Reade drugstore at West 72nd Street and Broadway in an effort to negotiate the immediate removal of that store's unsightly and illegal video billboard. Many neighborhood activists had been planning to join elected officials in a protest outside the store this following Sunday. I am pleased that following that meeting, Duane Reade recognized that its sign was not only illegal but also distracting and out of character with our neighborhood. By acceding to the unwavering voice of our community and agreeing to permanently disable the sign, Duane Reade has demonstrated its desire to be a good neighbor, and I am optimistic that we will have a productive relationship moving forward.

Testifying in Support of a Far Broader Scope of Work for NYU's Core Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement

On May 24, I submitted testimony at the New York City Department of City Planning's (DCP) hearing on New York University's (NYU) draft scope of work for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for NYU's Core Project. I certainly appreciate the role NYU plays as an economic, cultural and intellectual engine for our City. Yet I am quite concerned about the impacts of the particular expansion NYU seeks to undertake, which would add approximately 2.5 million gross square feet of new uses to its core campus in historic Greenwich Village and for which it is seeking numerous discretionary actions, some of which would open the door for even greater development and change than NYU has proposed . I noted, however, that there would be no point in my saying in a different way what Manhattan Community Board 2 (CB2) has already said in its exhaustive and articulate testimony on this matter. I would be hard-pressed to add or subtract from such a well-reasoned and well-researched document, which may be accessed here. Thus, I urged DCP to ensure that the scope of work for NYU's Core project DEIS is expanded to study the impacts and alternatives CB2 has so capably detailed.

Thanking All Who Completed the St. Vincent's Community Health Assessment Survey

May 13, was the last day for community members to fill out the St. Vincent's Community Health Assessment Survey, which was created and distributed by the Lower West Side Health Needs Assessment Steering Committee and the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in order to learn how the closure of St. Vincent's Hospital has affected area residents' health care.

In the end, over 1,600 residents of the neighborhoods that St. Vincent's Hospital formerly served filled out the survey, which will be used to enhance the quantitative data that the Steering Committee has been collecting, reviewing and analyzing. I want to especially commend and thank CB2 for its leadership in disseminating the survey, which was available in English, Spanish and Mandarin, and was distributed online as well as in hard copy though many of our community institutions. I also want to thank Hudson Guild, The Caring Community, Greenwich House, the New York Immigration Coalition, VillageCare, public school parents and many other stakeholders who worked to get this survey to the public and particularly those who lack easy internet access.

The results of this survey, along with other qualitative data that has been collected and the quantitative data which is being processed by the Steering Committee, will be instrumental in helping us ensure that our community's health care needs are met. I thank all those who took the time to participate.

Applauding the Port Authority and Neighbors for Two Successful Alice's Garden Clean-Up Days

For nearly a year, I have been facilitating negotiations between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) and community organizations to ensure that Alice's Garden, a small strip of Port Authority-owned green space between 33rd and 34th Streets, and 9th and 10th Avenues, becomes a community garden. The garden was tended by its namesake, Alice Parsekian, until her death last year but has been locked to the public ever since. The Port Authority is currently reviewing a formal proposal to add Alice's Garden to the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA) lease, which includes other small strips of Port Authority-owned green space. In the meantime the Port Authority agreed to open the garden for a series of Clean-Up Days, the first two of which took place on April 16 and May 14, when I was pleased to join in the effort. In both cases, an impressive number of area residents turned out to transform the garden in a matter of hours. I am grateful to the Port Authority for its cooperation and I applaud the volunteers for their hard work. I look forward to future Clean-Up Days and ultimately to Alice's Garden being a public space for all to enjoy. Special thanks to Kathleen Treat of HKNA, Shanti Nagel and Joe Restuccia of Clinton Housing Development Company and Sarah Meier-Zimbler from my office, for their exceptional work on this project.


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