NEWS AND ISSUES


August-September 2011 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

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

Working Together to Prepare for Hurricane Irene

While I understand that preparations for Hurricane Irene – including mandatory evacuations in certain parts of my district – were a hardship for many people, I fully supported the aggressive precautions implemented by the Bloomberg Administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and am relieved that the storm ultimately did not inflict significant damage on Manhattan. Prior to the storm, I joined other elected officials and community boards in notifying constituents about the anticipated weather conditions, mandatory evacuation zones and the location of the nearest evacuation centers, the planned MTA shutdown and other hurricane preparedness information.

New York City has already made adjustments to its hurricane emergency response based on lessons learned from Irene and I hope that individual New Yorkers can benefit as well. New York is vulnerable to future tropical storms, hurricanes and Nor'easters as well as other natural and man-made disasters. Always remember to keep water and other provisions, flashlights, first-aid kits and other supplies in your home for use during emergencies as well as a "go bag" for you, your family and pets, which you could take with you if something were to happen and you had to leave at a moment's notice. I would also ask that you check on your neighbors – particularly those who are elderly and/or mobility-impaired – during such disasters. You can download New York City Office of Emergency Management "Ready New York" guides that offer tips and information designed to help New Yorkers prepare for all types of emergencies at http://tinyurl.com/readyguides.

I encourage those who were motivated by the storm to get involved in disaster preparedness efforts to join their local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), an organization of trained and certified citizen volunteers organized to provide auxiliary support to the emergency response efforts of the New York Police and Fire Departments. Call (718) 422-8585 or email cert@oem.nyc.gov for information on how you can join.

As you may recall, in late 2010, I was joined by New York State Assembly Member Dick Gottfried in submitting testimony to the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force ("the Task Force"), which had issued a draft report assessing impacts of impending sea level rise on the State's coastlines and recommending protective and adaptive measures. I was pleased that the Task Force's final report was amended to recognize the exceptional measures that may be necessary to protect New York City's coastal infrastructure and communities, and Irene only underscores the urgent need for these measures to be implemented.

Releasing an Updated Guide to Health Care Services

Since St. Vincent's Hospital closed in April 2010, my office has been compiling and updating a guide to primary care providers that have increased capacity to serve the hospital's former patients and outpatient providers that have absorbed services formerly provided by St. Vincent's. I have heard from a number of constituents that finding the new providers and locations for these ambulatory services has been a challenge and I hope this document will be of assistance. This list has evolved over time and was substantially revised in August 2011 as a number of providers that had temporary offices in the O'Toole building established permanent homes in the community. You can download a .pdf of the latest version of this list by clicking here. You may also request a hard copy from my District Office at 212-633-8052.

Recommending Conditional Approval for NS-LIJ's proposed Center for Comprehensive Care

On September 22, I joined New York State Assembly Members Deborah Glick and Dick Gottfried, U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in submitting testimony before the New York State Department of Health Public Health and Health Planning Council regarding North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's ("NS-LIJ") Certificate of Need Application for its proposed Center for Comprehensive Care ("The Center") to be located at the former St. Vincent's O'Toole Pavilion. While I will continue to strongly advocate for the reestablishment of a full service hospital Manhattan's Lower West Side, NS-LIJ's proposed facility, including a 24/7 free-standing Emergency Department capable of treating more than 90 percent of the conditions seen at the former St. Vincent's emergency room, would provide key services for the community, and more than other provider has proposed. In the tradition of St. Vincent's, The Center will serve all patients regardless of ability to pay, and it promises to facilitate patients' access to the continuum of health care services available in the community. Nonetheless, I and my colleagues expressed serious concerns that we believe must be satisfactorily addressed in order for us to support the application's approval. Please see a .pdf of our testimony here.

Charting Progress of the M15 Select Bus Service

Ten months after the M15 Select Bus Service (SBS) was introduced by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority-New York City Transit (NYCT), my office conducted a three-week study to assess its implementation and identify outstanding concerns. The study found that while many early glitches have been resolved and riders are generally pleased with the new bus service's speed, there are still issues DOT and NYCT must address. The most prominent problem is peeling, obstructed or missing signage at SBS stops explaining how the system and its ticket machines work. Such instructions are vitally important, since riders who do not purchase a ticket before boarding are subject to a $100 fine. Both DOT and NYCT have been responsive to previous concerns regarding the M15 SBS that I and other are elected officials have raised, and I will continue to follow up with them to ensure that remaining problems are likewise fixed. You may download a .pdf of my "M15 Select Bus Service Progress Report" by clicking here.

Supporting Our Unions

There has been a recent flurry of activity by unions that are fighting to achieve fair and just contracts for their members, and I have been proud to stand with them. Unfortunately, many employers continue to ignore the needs of their workers.

On July 12, I joined members of Local 802, American Federation of Musicians and the American Guild of Music Artists (AGMA) in a rally protesting the New York City Opera's decision to leave its home at Lincoln Center for a limited season at scattered venues, and its contract proposals for its musicians and singers which would eliminate such provisions as employment guarantees, vacation pay and instrument insurance, and would significantly reduce health care coverage. I have long been a strong supporter of Local 802 and AGMA because one of the most important ways to support the arts is to support the artists. Union members have already made millions of dollars in concessions. While I sympathize with City Opera's dire financial straits, I truly believe that management, working with its unions, can find a way to both protect its employees and preserve the strong, vibrant company which Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia famously called "The People's Opera."

I have also voiced my support for the approximately 16,000 New York State Verizon Communications employees whose contract expired on August 6, 2011 and who are at risk of losing job security, pension, health and other benefits critical to these middle class working people. On July 25, I sent a letter to Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg and President and COO Lowell McAdams urging the highly profitable company to begin bargaining in good faith with the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to achieve a reasonable contract that protects middle class jobs and ensures continued high quality service to the public. On August 10, I joined striking Verizon workers on the picket line in front of Verizon's headquarters at 140 West Street and I continue to stand with them in their struggle for a fair contract. In these difficult times, it is particularly important for profitable corporations like Verizon to invest in New York, to protect and expand middle-class jobs, and to act as responsible corporate citizens.

I should also note that as Village Voice employees' contract expired on June 30, 2011, I stood ready to join them in a picket line following a planned walkout. Fortunately the walkout was not necessary as negotiations between management and UAW Local 2110 led to a fair new contract, including the preservation of health benefits, which members unanimously approved. This is evidence that honest, open negotiation benefits all parties.

It has always been my belief that a unionized workforce and a collective bargaining process are beneficial for both employers and employees. I will continue to work with my union brothers and sisters for safe conditions, fair compensation and benefits, job security and a stronger labor movement.

Supporting Stronger Governance of City-Aided and Supervised Limited-Profit Housing Companies

On September 13, I delivered testimony before the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) regarding its proposed amended rules governing City-aided and supervised limited-profit housing companies. While I made a number of additional suggestions, as a whole, the package of proposed changes will strengthen the governance of these housing companies to facilitate the preservation of this precious affordable housing stock for current and future generations of moderate- and middle-income New Yorkers. East Midtown Plaza, in CB6, is among the housing developments that will be subject to these new rules if they are adopted. Please see my testimony here.

Introducing Legislation to Ban the Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in New York's Horseracing Industry

As the Belmont Race Course opened its gates for its Fall season earlier this month, I announced that I am introducing legislation banning the use of performance enhancing drugs, including the widely overused diuretic Lasix (Furosemide), on any horse participating in a New York State sanctioned horserace. Critics contend that the drug, which prevents the incidence of bleeding in horses, has weakened the racing breed and caused horses irreparable harm. Use of Lasix had been banned in New York until 1995, but then the New York State Racing and Wagering Board succumbed to pressure from the horseracing industry. We ban all other athletes in every other sport from taking performance enhancing drugs both for their safety and to maintain the integrity of their sports. Yet we embrace the idea of dispensing Lasix to horses so they won't have a nosebleed or develop blood in their lungs during a big race. This is unacceptable. Please see my press release here.

Expressing Concerns about NYCHA's FY 2012 Draft Annual Plan

On August 24, I submitted testimony to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) on its Fiscal Year 2012 Draft Annual Plan. As the State Senator representing seven NYCHA developments, I have significant concerns about certain aspects of the plan, particularly those relating to delays in maintenance and a lack of transparency and accountability. Please see my testimony here.

Seeking a Rent Reduction to Save St. Mark's Bookshop

As you may be aware, the owners of the beloved St. Mark's Bookshop have asked their landlord, Cooper Union, to lower their rent from its current $20,000 per month rate in order to keep their business afloat in the current economic downturn. As one of the few remaining independent booksellers in New York City, the loss of this neighborhood institution would be an enormous blow to our community. Thanks to efforts spearheaded by CB3 member Joyce Ravitz and other patrons of St. Mark's, a petition urging Cooper Union to lower the store's rent has attained more than 35,000 signatures as of this writing, and the matter has garnered significant attention in local media outlets. I, as well as other local elected officials, have written to Cooper Union urging the institution to grant this much-needed rent reduction. The final decision rests with the Executive Committee of Cooper Union's Board of Trustees, and I am hopeful that they will make the right choice in this matter.

Demanding Responsiveness from the Developers of the Former St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital

Over the past several years, my office has addressed numerous complaints about serious quality of life issues at the former St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital, which has sat empty since 2007. This summer, I received a letter from the Chetrit Group, who owns the property, indicating that it will begin developing the site in the near future. On August 18, my office convened a meeting with the Chetrit Group, representatives of the local block association (HK5051), CB4, the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association, and other local elected officials regarding the developer's plans to convert the former hospital into two large residential buildings. My staff and other representatives voiced concerns about the upkeep of the building site and compelled the developer to provide a contact person for the construction project, who will distribute regular updates, provide notification when after hours work is expected to occur, and attend monthly block association meetings. In addition, the developer committed to increase its rodent abatement efforts. I will continue to monitor the actions of the developer and work with area residents to ensure that the development proceeds as smoothly and transparently as possible.

Denouncing DOT's Plan to Relocate Bolt Bus to 24th Street and 8th Avenue

After hearing news reports that the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) planned to relocate a Bolt Bus stop from a location in Manhattan Community Board 5 to 24th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) without any community input or consultation, I called the DOT Commissioner to demand that the plan be put on hold. I stressed that such a plan must not be implemented before it is presented to CB4, and I also requested that DOT provide the Board with a list of alternative locations that it considered, and the criteria for selecting this location, which I strongly believe is inappropriate. I have long advocated for a bus garage on Manhattan's West Side to house this and other types of buses that clog our city streets and disrupt pedestrians and businesses. It is appalling that DOT would present such a change without seeking community engagement, but I am grateful that DOT heeded my, CB4's and other stakeholders' concerns and delayed any relocation until proper consultation has occurred.


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