May 2008 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

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

Introducing Legislation to Improve MTA Access for People with Disabilities:

In April, Assemblymember Micah Kellner and I introduced two bills to reform the way that the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) responds to the needs of transit riders with disabilities. One bill (A10734-A/S7817) creates the MTA Riders Council for People with Disabilities, a 14-member appointed council representing riders who use NYC Transit, the Long Island Rail Road, and Metro North systems. The Council will have a non-voting seat on the MTA Board and will monitor all aspects of the MTA and make recommendations as to how to improve services for people with disabilities. The second bill (A10420/S7348) requires daily inspections of elevators, escalators, bus lifts, and other accessibility features in MTA facilities and establishes documentation requirements and oversight for their repair.

The list of reasons for this legislation is endless. For example, even the new, improved subway announcements &ndash let alone the old garbled ones &ndash are hard for the hearing impaired to understand. Platform gaps on the LIRR threaten the safety of the visually impaired and wheelchair users. The recent closure of station agent booths in the subways has only worsened the situation for disabled riders who are able to overcome other obstacles to access that system. The MTA needs to hear from people with disabilities, learn from their experiences, and ensure that accommodations are implemented and functioning.

Assembly Member Kellner shepherded A10734-A to passage in that body on Monday, May 12, and I look forward to carrying S7817 and S7348 to passage in the Senate.

Advancing State Quality Certification Trademarks for rBGH-Free Milk:

On May 14, I introduced legislation which would require the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to issue certification trademark quality seals for New York State milk and milk products that are free of the Monsanto Corporationfs synthetic Recombiant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). In addition to the legislation, I introduced a Senate resolution calling on the United States Congress to mandate to the FDA to completely ban the use of synthetic rBGH hormones in the U.S. dairy industry. Please see my press release.

Calling on HMOs to Cover Necessary Prescription Drugs:

On Sunday, May 18, I joined New York State Senators Jeff Klein and John Sabini at a press conference announcing the release of Senator Klein's report entitled, For Health or Money? This comprehensive analysis of New York area HMOs' life threatening restrictions on "single source drugs" reveals how big insurance companies are denying or restricting access to these medications for which there are no generic alternatives &ndash many of which are used to treat conditions that disproportionately affect minority communities. Please see the press release on Senator Klein's website, which details which HMOs offer the most barriers to single source drugs, as well as legislation we are proposing which would require insurance companies to cover all medically necessary prescription medications approved by the FDA.

Proposing Major Reform of Rent Board System for Rent-Regulated Apartments:

On Friday, May 2, I presented testimony at the New York City Rent Guidelines Board in which I outlined key features of legislation that State Assemblymember George Latimer and I are introducing to revamp the method of establishing rent adjustments for rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments in New York City and suburban counties.

Under our "Rent Board Reform Bill," New York State's four Rent Guidelines Boards would be restructured and renamed simply "Rent Boards," discarding the euphemism "guidelines." Among other things, the bill changes the boardsf composition from two tenant, two landlord and five public members to three each; expands qualifications for public members; requires City Council approval of mayoral appointments to the city rent board, and requires County Legislative approval of County Executive appointments to suburban rent boards; eliminates the City board's use of the misleading, one-sided Price Index methodology in favor of the suburban method whereby boards consider current Income & Expenditure data; ends the 7.5 percent statutory rent increases plus fuel and labor pass-alongs for rent-controlled apartments, placing them under jurisdiction of New York City, Nassau and Westchester County rent boards; and repeals the statutory vacancy bonus which allows landlords of rent-stabilized apartments to increase the rent by a minimum of 20 percent every time an apartment turns over, instead authorizing the rent boards to adopt an annual vacancy allowance of up to five percent, which can be imposed only once in a calendar year.

While the changes in our Rent Board Reform Bill are significant, they are far from radical. Rather, they are common sense reforms that are long overdue. They will make the system for establishing rent adjustments for rent protected apartments in New York State more evenhanded, simpler, and easier to understand and enforce.

I am introducing this bill with the support of The Real Rent Reform Campaign (R3 Campaign) a new working group composed of all the umbrella tenant organizations and many local groups in New York City and the suburbs. I hope I can count on my constituents' support for the Rent Board Reform Bill as well as the R3 Campaign's other priority legislation that seeks to win repeal of Vacancy Decontrol, protect Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 buildings, and restore home rule over rents and evictions to the New York City Council.

Testifying on the Rise in HIV/AIDS Among Young Men of Color Who Have Sex with Men:

On Thursday, May 1, I submitted testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Health's Oversight Hearing on the rise in HIV/AIDS among young men of color who have sex with men (MSM). Recent statistics have shown a disproportionate rise in HIV/AIDS diagnoses among this demographic, with a troubling high number of these young men unaware of their HIV status. My testimony highlighted the innovative work that community-based organizations are doing around the city, while pointing out that increased equality in access to health care and explicit sex education for all young people are essential if we are to turn back this dangerous trend.

Joining Community Board 2 (CB2) in Finding Solutions for Overcrowding in Our Schools:

On May 8, I was pleased to attend CB2's public hearing on solutions to overcrowding in our neighborhood schools. Much progress has been made since the last CB2 public hearing in January, in part due to the diligent efforts of Keen Berger, parents of P.S. 41, and many other advocates. As many of you know, the New York City School Construction Authority has committed to create a new, locally-zoned elementary school at 17th Street and Sixth Avenue, and on May 16, the New York City Department of Education released an outline of its strategy for addressing enrollment, school construction and school distribution in School District 2 elementary schools. Although much work still needs to be done, this is a very positive step.

Opposing the 'Hudson Square North' Rezoning:

On April 23, I submitted testimony at the New York City Planning Commission's Public Hearing opposing the proposed rezoning of five and one-half blocks between Barrow and Clarkson Streets west of Hudson Street from M1-5 to M1-5/R7X.

Calling on the DOT to Expand the Safe Streets for Seniors Upper West Side District:

As a member of the Lincoln Square NORC Advisory Council, I signed onto a letter from the Advisory Council to New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, urging the agency to expand the Safe Streets for Seniors Upper West Side district to include West End Avenue from W 82nd Street to W 61st Street, a dangerous stretch of roadway that is a serious detriment to senior citizens' quality of life in our community. Please see the attached letter.

Addressing the Detection of PCBs at P.S. 199:

I was dismayed to learn that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected at a number of schools throughout our City, including P.S. 199, located at 270 West 70 Street, where PCBs were found in the cafeteria's air and a soil sample from outside the building following a recent window replacement project. On April 10, I sent a letter (attached) to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the New York City Department of Education (DOE), and the School Construction Authority (SCA), expressing my concerns and exhorting them to follow seven steps to mitigate the current situation and to safeguard against future exposure. In addition, on April 23, 2008, New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, New York City Councilmember Gale Brewer and members of my staff met with representatives of DOHMH, DOE and SCA to urge that every effort be made to guarantee the safety of our children. I and other elected officials representing districts in which students may have been exposed to PCBs will continue to work with the agencies to improve communication, to fortify and implement the safety measures already codified by law that protect New Yorkers from PCB exposure and to establish more rigorous environmental regulation warranted by revelations of the toxin's prevalence.

Seeking New Safe Havens:

The West Side Crime Prevention Program (WCPP) recently reached out to my office to help promote its search for new Safe Haven Project locations-shops and restaurants that display a bright yellow sticker announcing to children who are in trouble or afraid that people inside are ready and willing to help. As you may know, the ongoing transformation of the Upper West Side of Manhattan has driven out many small and localized businesses, resulting in the loss of many designated Safe Havens. I and many of my Upper West Side colleagues are sending a letter to businesses from West 59 Street to West 125 Street to encourage them to become Safe Havens. In addition, I encourage you to help WCPP identify shops and restaurants that you patronize and believe would make good Safe Havens. Contact WCPPfs Safe Haven coordinator, Annemarie Legendy at (212) 866-8603 or with any suggestions.

Advocating for Safer Streets for Pedestrians:

On May 1, I moderated the long-awaited Pedestrian Safety Town Hall along with Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. The event, which was also co-sponsored by Congress Member Jerrold Nader, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, was a resounding success. More than a hundred Chelsea and Clinton-Hell's Kitchen residents came out to voice their concerns before representatives of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the New York City Police Department, Transportation Alternatives, CB4, and the New York City Department of Transportation, represented by Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Special thanks go to members of CB4, who originally requested that we put together the Town Hall, Commissioner Sadik-Khan for taking time out of her incredibly busy schedule to listen to the concerns of our community, and the staff at the elected officials' offices who worked so hard to make the event such a success. We will keep you updated as we follow up on the issues raised at the Town Hall and work toward making Chelsea and Clinton-Hell's Kitchen safer for all pedestrians.

Rallying to Save Local Small Businesses:

On Saturday, May 3, I joined a host of organizations and elected officials in rallying to protest the anticipated closure of eight small stores on Ninth Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets in Chelsea because of soaring rents. These are some of the last longtime, local businesses on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea and to lose them all in one fell swoop would be tragic indeed. Some have been on the block for more than thirty years serving neighborhood residents, including the tenants at Robert Fulton Houses across the street. I want to thank Miguel Acevedo, Gloria Sukenick, Andrew Berman, Lynn Kotler and the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club for organizing this rally to advocate for businesses that know our faces, and that worked to improve and serve this community long before the gentrification and development pressures that are a common feature of today's Chelsea.

As I told NY1 News in a segment that ran all weekend, unfortunately, in terms of the law, there aren't very many protections for small businesses, but public will and public outcry will win out in many cases. The turnout at the rally showed that people in our neighborhood feel very passionately about saving these businesses, and I look forward to continuing to working alongside my colleagues, Community Board 4, community organizations and other neighbors to ensure that the building's owner offers reasonable renewal leases so that they are able to stay.

East Side Alliance Public Forum:

The East Side Alliance, a networking partnership of organizations, agencies, institutions, law enforcement, businesses, elected officials and community groups working to identify community concerns and create workable solutions, will hold a community forum on Thursday, May 15, at the New York University Palladium Building. The forum, of which I am a co-sponsor, serves as an opportunity to learn about the Alliance's efforts to improve communications between community members and area methadone providers.

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