NEWS AND ISSUES


July 2007 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

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

Albany Update:

The 2007 Legislative Session ended in the late evening of June 21st. While Senate Democrats helped negotiate and pass a flurry of important bills early the Session, including workersf compensation reform, human trafficking legislation and ethics reform, unfortunately agreements on key issues such as campaign finance reform, public authority reform, congestion pricing, judicial pay increases and a whole host of other issues failed to be reached before time ran out.

Economic development reforms and job creation are perfect examples of where Albany failed us. Job creation in New York lags far behind the rest of the country. Upstate job growth is practically nonexistent. Everyone acknowledges it, yet we were unable to agree on a job growth strategy, Article X legislation, Empire Zone and IDA reforms, and Power for Jobs reform to jump-start economic development in any region of the state.

The Democratic Conference's "Brownfields Shovel-Ready Site Program" would have allowed the State to purchase and clean up dozens of contaminated sites in economically poor neighborhoods, thus allowing businesses to develop the properties to generate quality jobs and affordable housing.

The Paid Family Leave Act is another issue that we should have been able to find common ground on and for which I will continue to fight. Allowing workers to contribute 45 cents a week from their paycheck as insurance against needing to take paid family leave and then giving that employee the right to take up to 12 weeks paid leave from work for care of a newborn or elderly parent is sensible social and economic policy. When workers are able to focus on their jobs and not worry about their families they are more productive.

I also hope that my proposal to expand the Tuition Assistance Program for undergraduate and graduate students will be part of the discussion during next yearfs budget negotiations. As we work with the Governor to overhaul our Statefs public universities, colleges and community colleges, we must stay true to the mission of SUNY and CUNY. That means providing every student with the opportunity to earn a college degree. TAP expansion is essential to fulfilling that mission. Of course tuition reductions or elimination are always a goal for me.

While we made progress in Medicaid reform and school aid reform, we also missed opportunities to make sweeping changes to our state government and level the playing field for public and political participation. We couldnft agree on campaign finance reform, Senate rules reform, expanded Conference Committees, public authority reform, redistricting reform or MTA reform.

We all understand that New Yorkers are being overwhelmed by local property taxes, and although I support lowering actual property taxes with special attention to progressive policies related to income and age, thatfs why I voted in favor of the rebate check for homeowners as part of the overall budget. But we must also come to terms with the root causes of high property taxes. That means reducing mandates, such as Medicaid costs on county governments, with the state having the courage of its convictions in covering Medicaid costs, and finding regional savings for local governments.

I was also disappointed that an agreement could not be reached on the Healthy School Act and the Dignity for All Students Act. These two measures would protect our children, promote healthy eating habits, and prevent harassment and discrimination in our public schools. Among other disappointments was the failure to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the Safe Harbor Act and further reforms of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

It appears likely that a special Senate Session will be called for July 16th, at which point we may address some of this unfinished business. I will keep working with the Governor and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass sensible, progressive measures that bring positive change to the lives of all New Yorkers.

Fighting the Planned Demolition of the West Side Highwayfs 72nd Street Exitfs Off-Ramp:

As you may know, on July 8th, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) prepared for the demolition of the West Side Highwayfs 72nd Street off-ramp by blocking the exit. I am deeply concerned that, without proper mitigation, demolishing this off-ramp will exacerbate the overall traffic flow on the Upper West Side to an intolerable degree.

Last month, I joined my Upper West Side colleagues in sending the attached letter to DOT, which not only restates our opposition to the closure of the off-ramp, but also urges DOT to implement a series of traffic improvement measures to diminish expected adverse effects. We also strongly recommended that DOT suspend demolition of the off-ramp and leave it blocked for a period of time to gather real, not projected, data on the effects of a closure. Responding to the request in our letter, DOTfs Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione joined us on a June 29th walkthrough of the area surrounding the 72nd Street off-ramp. We pointed out sites of particular concern in terms of pedestrian safety and traffic congestion along West End Avenue, Riverside Boulevard and intersecting streets. We succeeded in convincing DOT to repave West End Avenue along certain sections to ease the passage of cars; evaluate the establishment of turn signals and leading pedestrian intervals at dangerous intersections; add visible signage to inform drivers of proposed regulations; and generally heed most other requests we made in our letter. Unfortunately, however, DOT remains unwilling to keep the highway exit blocked for a period time to study the effects on traffic. I continue to believe, as the community does, that DOT needs a study period to truly understand the effects of this off-ramp closure and will continue to urge it to suspend demolition.

In a separate strategy, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and I sent a letter requesting that the New York State Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conduct a security analysis on the impact of closing this exit. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has also raised the potential emergency response implications of this closure, and we will continue to pursue this critical issue.

I will be sure to update the community on any progress made in suspending demolition and mitigation efforts.

Curbing Landlord Intrusion Into Tenant Privacy:

On June 28th, I submitted testimony before the New York City Council's Housing and Buildings Committee urging passage of New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick's proposed legislation to regulate the use of intrusive, electronic access systems by landlords.

Fighting for Borough Equity Without Park Alienation:

During the final weeks of the Legislative Session, my fellow West Side State Legislators and I have worked relentlessly to fend off an intense, ugly misinformation campaign by the Bloomberg Administration to get Legislative approval for a waste transfer station on the Hudson River Parkfs Gansevoort Peninsula. The Mayorfs tactics only increased my diligence in making my colleagues aware of the facts. My efforts included conversations with peers and Senate Leaders, formal briefings with colleagues and the Senate Majority Leaderfs Counsel, written correspondence on the topic, and an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate. Although the Bloomberg-backed legislation ultimately passed in the Senate on Monday, June 18th, my efforts succeeded in delaying a Senate vote for more than a week, and persuading seven of my colleagues join me in opposing this misguided proposal.

Fighting for a Better East Village/Lower East Rezoning Plan:

On June 26th, I delivered testimony to the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) at its Public Scoping Session regarding the proposed East Village/Lower East Side rezoning plan. While I am pleased that DCP has acted to preserve our neighborhood from inappropriate and out-of-scale development by initiating this rezoning, I echoed CB3fs concerns that DCP lower allowable heights and densities along Houston Street and Avenue D, expand its Inclusionary Zoning provisions, and add two at-risk regions into its study area.

Alerting the State Attorney Generalfs Office to the Trump SoHo Development:

Following the NYC Department of Buildingsf (DOB) approval of permits for the Trump SoHo condo-hotel at 246 Spring Street, my office requested a meeting with the State Attorney Generalfs office to raise concerns about the development. Although the proposed building will legally operate as a transient hotel, its ownership structure will be that of a condominium, and as such, its offering plan must be approved by the Attorney General. Along with representatives of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, my staff shared a number of concerns?in particular that (1) precautions must be taken to ensure that restrictions regarding the use of the condo-hotelfs units are clear to investors, and that (2) the prior marketing of the development as permitting residential use is taken into account. The Attorney Generalfs office assured us that the restrictive declaration filed with DOB would be incorporated into the developmentfs Condo Offering Plan, and that any future advertisements that falsely pitch the development as available for residential use could result in penalties.

Fighting Against the Rent Guidelinefs Board Proposed Rent Increases:

On Tuesday, June 19th, I submitted testimony to the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) at its last public hearing on this yearfs proposed rent increases of 2 to 4.5% for one year and 4 to 7.5% two year leases. I urged the RGB to instead freeze rents on all apartments, lofts, hotels, rooming houses, single room occupancy (SRO) buildings and lodging houses.

Calling for a Moratorium on Mitchell-Lama and Affordable Housing Buyouts:

With New York State losing affordable housing at an alarming rate, my Senate colleagues Martin Connor, Liz Krueger, and I held a news conference with housing advocates and residents of state and locally aided developments to call for a moratorium on Mitchell-Lama and other affordable housing buyouts, as well as a temporary state commission to evaluate the loss of existing units in these affordable housing programs.

Seeking Meaningful HIV Information and Treatment for Sexual Assault Survivors:

Please see my statement regarding my staunch opposition to a Senate bill that would require HIV tests for defendants accused of sexual assault. While well meaning on its face, the bill failed to address numerous issues related to the health and safety of victims, including the fact that testing the defendant for HIV will not enable the victim to know whether she or he acquired the virus.

Honoring a Local Champion of Disability Rights:

I recently sent a letter to residents along East 4th Street urging them to support the co-naming of the block between 1st Avenue and Avenue A as Freida Zames Way, in honor of the late disability rights champion. Ms. Zames, a resident of the street, relentlessly fought for equal access for all disabled individuals and led a life filled with professional and civic accomplishments, despite her nearly lifetime struggle with polio. I urge Community Board 3 to join me in efforts to memorialize this local heroine and to support a resolution in favor of this co-naming.

Donate Your Old Cell Phones:

Have an unused cell phone and battery that you were planning on discarding? Instead of throwing them away, please donate them to the Secure the Call Foundation. The Foundation converts your cell phone into a free 911 emergency phone, which may be used to contact emergency services, even without a carrier plan. These phones are then distributed to individuals who need them by police departments, Sherifffs offices, battered womenfs shelters, neighborhood watch groups, community service organizations and senior centers. Even defective cell phones are welcome. Cell phones may be sent free of charge to the Foundation by visiting www.donatecellphone.org and printing a prepaid postage label. Remember, the donations are tax deductible and donors may print a donation acknowledgment receipt right from the website. For more information on the program, and to learn how organizations can also participate in the collection effort, please call 1-888-88DONATE.

Energy Saving Tips on How to Beat the Heat:

With high summer temperatures driving energy consumption, Con Edison recommends a number of energy saving tips to help people stay cool. On days with extreme temperatures, Con Edison will have extra crews available to respond to any service problems. Customers are urged to call 1-800-75-CONED or contact the company on its Web site at www.conEd.com promptly if they are experiencing any service difficulties.

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