Your Home and Business After Hurricane Sandy: 3-Point Bulletin


The Importance of Evaluating Property and Making a Plan

A natural disaster can leave you and your business mired in financial uncertainty and insecurity. Assessing conditions, values, and assistance need is critical to both short- and long-term recovery. Below are important steps that every home or business should take in wake of a natural disaster.

Assessing Personal Conditions, Home, & Property

  • Evaluate your living conditions. If livable, stay with the property/home/apartment and find water and a source of food.
  • Find all insurance and any documents which have information regarding the value of the home, its content, and all relevant valuables. This will enable advanced living expenses extended by FEMA to be approved and expedited.
  • Contact FEMA via phone, internet, the nearest FEMA Disaster Center, or local, state, or county centers and provide them with as much information as possible.
  • Ask for an appraiser from FEMA or the respective insurance carriers to come for a site visit as soon as possible.
  • Contact your employer if possible. They may have set up help lines, can provide temporary services, or can extend compensation.
  • If all else is not possible, report to the governmental shelters and return to the homes regularly during allowed time frames

Assessing Your Business

  • As quickly as possible, recover financial records and establish a leadership command for communications to governmental agencies and the press.
  • Divide recovery efforts into employee help, governmental assistance, and private funding for business interests.
  • Evaluate loss, both direct and indirect, for recovery assistance.
  • Review if you have the business interruption insurance policy
  • As soon as possible, set up a separate communications line for employees and government agencies
  • Determine cash flow needs. If what is on hand exceeds business, review with internal CFO and COO if necessary.

Infrastructure Alert - August 9, 2012

 

After failing to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, Congress began its August recess on Friday with members of the House and Senate out of town until the second week of September. At the state level, Georgia voters shot down a one cent state sales tax that would have helped fund infrastructure improvements across the state.

On the Hill

On August 2, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 failed to survive a cloture vote. The bill would have imposed stricter networking standards on American utilities to prevent fraudulent access or cyber-terrorism. Although the stricter measures on critical infrastructure such as railroads, water treatment facilities, and power plants were loosened from mandatory to voluntary, the bill’s critics cited privacy concerns and new costs to businesses in their opposition. President Obama had penned a rare op-ed stressing the necessity of the bill.

On July 25, Congress passed the Sequestration Transparency Act, which would require the Obama Administration to detail specifically the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts that are scheduled to take place on January 2, 2013. If President Obama signs the bill, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would have 30 days to report its future sequester cuts to Congress. While most federal programs will experience mandatory cuts, the Highway Trust Fund may be exempt depending on the OMB’s interpretation of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has blocked the nomination of Michael Huerta to Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and indicated that he may object to approval of any nominations until next year. Huerta has been Acting Administrator of the FAA since last year. Sen. DeMint cited his desire to hold the vote after the election, as the nomination is to a five-year term.

In the seven months leading up to the August recess, Congress has considered a number of bills that impact infrastructure development, but only passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which reauthorizes surface transportation programs, leaving several infrastructure-related legislative priorities unresolved. While the House has passed H.R. 5972, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, and H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, the Senate has yet to vote on the equivalents. Additionally, neither body has acted on bills to reauthorize Coast Guard activities (H.R. 5887/S. 1665). Further, other infrastructure bills remain stalled, such as  H.R. 6026, the DREDGE Act, which would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Mississippi River to accommodate larger vessels traveling from the expanded Panama Canal. It is very unlikely that Congress will complete work on any major infrastructure legislation with the limited time remaining in the legislative year. Action on appropriations is expected to come in a six month continuing resolution, setting overall spending levels at those authorized by the Budget Control Act. As such, additional funding and major authorization questions will remain until the new Congress convenes next year.

At the Agencies

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) have reached a labor agreement for the representation of TSA’s 43,000 employees. The labor contract, which includes collective bargaining, will require a vote from TSA employees to go into effect. AFGE was elected by TSA employees in June and has been negotiating the terms of the labor agreement since. The terms of the agreement have not been released.

The National Petroleum Council (NPC), the federal advisory committee to the Secretary of Energy, released itsAdvancing Technology for America’s Transportation Future report. The report predicts that internal combustion fueled engines will still reign as the leading vehicular propulsion system in 2030. The NPC believes that vehicles powered by compressed natural gas, not electric batteries, will be the closest competitor to combustion engines, assuming the price of natural gas remains low. However, the report states that the lack of infrastructure supporting compressed natural gas engines would be a considerable barrier to their success.

In the States

New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering a plan that will reallocate $47 million in funds intended for work on roads and bridges within Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI) territory if a resolution is not reached quickly to allow important transportation work to proceed. The project to reconstruct 11.5 miles of Interstate 86 stalled when SNI leaders demanded “exorbitant” new fees for work within the territory and failed to negotiate with New York state.  In an effort to solve this dispute, New York has proposed allowing the SNI to take its fee from the more than $400 million in revenue the Senecas still owe the state relating to its three Western New York casinos. The work scheduled for SNI territory has a combined cost of over $40 million and would create hundreds of construction jobs. 

Georgia:The proposed transportation sales tax that we discussed in our last alert was voted down in nine of twelve multi-county regions. The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) was a one cent state sales tax that would have helped fund infrastructure improvements throughout Georgia. If passed, the tax would have provided $18 billion for road and transit projects in the state, including $6.1 billion going to the metro Atlanta area. Although advocates of the plan had hoped that the largely Democratic Atlanta region would provide a base of support for the tax, over 63 percent of voters voted against the referendum. 

Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Senate has passed a nearly $1.4 billion transportation bond bill to fund infrastructure projects throughout the state. The bill is aimed at maintaining and repairing the Commonwealth’s existing infrastructure and creating jobs throughout the state. 

Virginia: Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that Virginia has entered into a public-private partnership to construct 29 miles of HOV/HOT lanes on I-95. The construction will create 8,000 jobs and approximately $2 billion in economic activity. Two private companies have agreed to finance $854 million of the project’s estimated $925 million price tag in exchange for a 76 year concession period on the stretch of road. Virginia will maintain ownership of the infrastructure.  The construction will begin next month and is slated to be completed in 2014. 

 

Infrastructure Alert - July 24, 2012

On July 6, President Obama signed the transportation reauthorization bill, culminating a three-year stretch of bipartisan back and forth over highway and transit spending. Last week, the US Conference of Mayors released its annual U.S. Metro Economies Report which indicated American cities will become more congested, straining their transportation systems. At the state level, Georgia is scheduled to hold a referendum for a proposed one-cent transportation sales tax to raise revenues for future infrastructure projects.

On the Hill

On July 6, President Obama signed the bipartisan transportation bill. The law provides $100 billion in transportation spending for the next 27 months and also extends the federal flood insurance program for five years.

Significantly, the law as enacted is aimed at greatly enhancing the scope of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). TIFIA funding will be increased from $122 million to $1 billion, with the ability to lend up to $10 billion. The law expanded the program’s eligibility by eliminating a series of onerous requirements for project selection, including a substantial environmental requirement. The Department of Transportation Credit Council will now approve projects based on creditworthiness and the loans will be disbursed on a rolling basis. The transportation bill also creates the National Public Transportation Safety Program. The program will allow the Department of Transportation to put in place new federal safety requirements for mass transit.

In other federal news, last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report titled “Infrastructure Banks and Surface Transportation.” The CBO stated that an infrastructure bank could enhance investment in surface transportation projects by providing new federal subsidies in the form of loans to a limited number of large projects. The CBO also considered such large projects would have significant national or regional economic benefits. Proposals for infrastructure banks that had requirements for internal mechanisms to generate revenue, such as tolls, were considered potentially too restrictive for many potential applicants.

The GAO released a report last week indicating that while the federal government is making substantial progress in implementing the OMB’s cloud computing initiative, they are having problems implementing cloud services. The OMB policy, called “Cloud First,” requires that agencies utilize cloud services whenever a secure, reliable, and cost-effective cloud solution exists. Agencies have found implementation of cloud solutions to be difficult due to federal security requirements and certifying vendors.

On July 18, the House Natural Resources Committee approved HR 6082, a bill that would replace the Obama administration’s current offshore drilling plan with a more expansive strategy. The legislation would create a timeline for the lease of 28 specific areas over the course of the next five years, whereas the Obama plan only provides for 15 areas. According to a Congressional Research Service report released earlier in the week, 15 offshore leases over the course of five years would be the lowest allotment offered since 1980.

On July 19, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released the next installment of its ongoing series of U.S. Metro Economies Reports, providing 2011 economic output numbers for the nation's 363 metro areas in addition to the 2012 economic outlook. The report, prepared by IHS Global Insights, indicates that metropolitan areas will absorb the vast majority of the nation’s population growth over the next 30 years, taxing the nation’s infrastructure. The total urban population will increase by about a third, with some larger cities, such as Dallas, Atlanta, Tampa, and Denver, on track to grow by more than 50 percent. Population growth, in addition to rising congestion costs and exports, will place greater strain on transportation systems.

At the Agencies

The Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation announced the approval of $180 million from the Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to widen U.S. Route 1 through Fort Belvoir. Acting through an interagency agreement, the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division will complete the project in coordination with Fairfax County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Command at Fort Belvoir. The project will begin once all environmental requirements have been met.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a Notice of Intent that it will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate potential passenger rail improvements on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Washington, D.C., and Boston. The purpose of the NEC Future program is to define current and future markets for improved rail service and capacity on the NEC, to develop a plan to incrementally meet those needs, and to create a regional planning framework to engage stakeholders throughout the region in the development of the program.

On July 9,Amtrak released a new plan for a $151 billion redevelopment of the entire Northeast Corridor.  The plan is highlighted by high-speed rail travel, including 37-minute trips between Philadelphia and New York. Amtrak would improve existing tracks, signals, bridges, and power lines and also build a separate high-speed corridor between Washington and Boston to accommodate trains traveling at 220 m.p.h. From a cost benefit perspective, Amtrak claims that the project would create 40,000 construction jobs a year for a 25-year period and 22,000 permanent jobs. The high-speed segment between New York and Washington would be completed by about 2030, and the route between New York and Boston by 2040.

As the nation's pipeline industry and merchant electric power sector remain at odds over how to address the need to expand the infrastructure to ensure enough future delivery capacity, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is preparing to hold five regional conferences on natural gas-electric power coordination issues next month.

In the States

New York: On July 13, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that $9 million in flood mitigation and control grants will be awarded through the state’s NY Works program.  The money will be given to 23 counties to help restore and rehabilitate waterways that were severely impacted by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. In addition, New York State is providing $7 million in funding so counties can meet their 25 percent non-federal match requirements to be eligible for federally funded stream restoration projects through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

New Jersey: A report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, “Tracking State Transportation Dollars” was released on July 17 and noted that New Jersey infrastructure spending is increasingly being shifted from transit projects to highway expansion.  While New Jersey still allots 31 percent of its transportation budget to transit spending – compared with the national average of 20 percent – that figure is down almost 20 percent from the 50 percent spent on transit in 2004. Transportation advocates would like to see more money spent on maintaining existing roads and bridges, 50 percent of which are deemed deficient.

In more ranking news, CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business Survey” dropped New Jersey from 30th in 2011 to 41st in 2012.  The state was ranked worse than last year in six categories measured by CNBC, did better in only three categories. The biggest drop was in the “infrastructure and transportation” category, where New Jersey fell from 23rd to 41st. That category measures “the vitality of each state’s transportation system by the value of goods shipped by air, land and water” as well as “the availability of air travel in each state, and the quality of the roads.” Unsurprisingly, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadango has already questioned the validity of CNBC’s ranking system. For those wondering,CNBC declared that the top states overall for business were Texas, Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, and North Dakota, and the top five states in the “infrastructure and transportation category” were Texas, Minnesota, Georgia, Tennessee, and Nevada.

Georgia: On July 31,Georgia voters will decide whether to adopt a regional one-cent transportation sales tax that could potential raise billions of dollars to help pay for infrastructure projects across the state for the next decade.  Interestingly, the plan will be voted on in 12 regions throughout the state, each holding a separate regional election. The vote is all-or-nothing in each of the multi-county regions. If a majority in a region votes in favor of the referendum, it passes there — even if other regions defeat it. The metro Atlanta region has the most to gain by passing the referendum, as it stands to gain more than $8.4 billion between 2013 and 2022 to put towards infrastructure projects.

 Upcoming Events

On Wednesday, July 25 at 10 a.m. the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment will hold a hearing on “Integrated Planning and Permitting: An Opportunity for EPA to Provide Communities with Flexibility to Make Smart Investments in Water Quality.”

 

Infrastructure Alert - June 28, 2012

Last night the members of the Congressional Transportation Conference Committee agreed on a bicameral long term transportation reauthorization bill.  House GOP leaders now have until Saturday at midnight to approve the bill prior to the expiration of the current financing measure. The two year bill, which would provide $8.4 billion in funding each year, is similar in structure to a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate earlier this year.   Industry leaders have been particularly vocal in encouraging the passage of a multi-year bill as another short-term extension would leave many projects around the country in jeopardy.  Additionally, the transportation legislation will include a one-year freeze for government subsidized student loan rates.  Off the hill, the TSA allows an additional airport to hire private screeners and states continue to look for alternative solutions to meet infrastructure needs in a difficult economic climate.

On the Hill

Early this morning the conference committee released a new long term surface transportation bill. The bill (H.R. 4348) represents the first agreement on long-term transportation funding legislation since 2005.  Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said that this “tentative agreement establishes federal highway, transit and highway safety policy and keeps programs at current funding levels through the end of fiscal year 2014. Unlike the last transportation bill, which contained over 6,300 earmarks, this bill doesn’t include any earmarks. This bill also does not increase taxes.” Funding has been extended nine times over an almost four-year period since the expiration of the last federal highway bill.  The agreement came together when Republicans agreed to drop controversial provisions from the legislation, such as approval for the Keystone XL pipeline and the blocking of government regulation of coal ash.  In return, Democrats gave up on $1.4 billion for conservation and agreed to allow states more leeway in how they use money that was once mandated for landscaping, bike improvements and pedestrian walkways.

Capping off a particularly productive week for Congress, Senator Kyl (R-Ariz.) has said legislators agreed to put a one-year freeze on government subsidized student loan rates.  It is believed the transportation and student loan bills may combined and presented and voted on as a package.  If an agreement was not reached, federal Stafford student loans would have doubled on July 1.

Elsewhere, the House is continuing work on the fiscal 2013 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill.  A vote on the final bill is expected by the end of the week.  It is possible that certain levels in the appropriations bill will change based on the authorization bill being worked out by the conference committee.

According to Greg DiLoreto, the president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), U.S. infrastructure projects will probably keep their near-failing grade with the ASCE issues its next report on U.S. public facilities in 2013.  The current grade for our country’s infrastructure from the ASCE is a “D”.

At the Agencies

On June 22, Transportation Secretary LaHood announced that 47 transportation projects in 34 states and D.C. will receive a total of almost $500 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) 2012 program.  Applications for this most recent round of grants totaled $10.2 billion, far exceeding the $500 million set aside for the program.

On June 21 the Senate Commerce Committee questioned acting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator, Michael Huerta, who was nominated to the position by President Obama. The hearing included many questions regarding FAA’s delayed safety rules and overwhelming number of whistleblower complaints. Unlike other high-level U.S. political appointees, who serve only as long as the president who nominated them is in office, the FAA job has a five-year term.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has approved private airport security screeners for Orlando’s Sanford International Airport.  A program allowing for airports to hire private security screeners was included in the $59 billion FAA Authorization bill approved earlier this year.

Earlier this month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood awarded $37.5 million to the King County Department of Transportation to build new bus rapid transit lines as part of greater-Seattle’s new six corridor rapid transit system.  The new funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration’s Bus and Bus Facilities Grant Program.

In the States

Florida: On June 14 Florida Governor Rick Scott held a ceremonial bill signing at the Port of Miami for a package of transportation bills totaling more than $450 million and enabling the bonding of another $450 million.  Florida's 14 seaports handled nearly $149 billion worth of goods in 2011 – 50.4 percent of which came from South and Central American – and it is expected that this number will rise as a result of the widening of the Panama Canal.  $60 million is slated to go directly toward improving the ports while the majority of the funding is to improve Florida’s roadways.

New Jersey: Assembly Democrats are attempting to block Governor Chris Christie’s plan to borrow $260 million for transportation funding.  Although Christie’s original transportation plan called for a reduction in borrowing, due to budget shortfalls – partly caused by a recently instituted tax cut – New Jersey is planning on borrowing even more in 2013 than it did in 2012.  Assembly Democrats believe it is fiscally irresponsible to borrow money to pay for a tax cut the state might not be able to afford.  Even if the bill is ultimately passed, it would put more pressure on the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which has not been able to cover yearly payments on its existing debt.

New Jersey/Pennsylvania: New Jersey Transit has approved a rapid-transit bus route to connect heavily traveled southern New Jersey roads with downtown Philadelphia.  The $46 million project would let buses travel on highway shoulder lanes and the median for part of the trip.  The route could be in service as soon as 2020.

New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that $4.4 million has been awarded to 10 companies, municipalities, and other entities to enable more than 325 new electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations to be installed across New York State.  New York State's electric-vehicle charging stations are supported by a joint effort by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Demonstration Program and the U.S. Department of Energy. New York's transportation sector has considerable potential for energy efficiency. Transportation makes up about three-fourths of the state's oil consumption, and nearly 40 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week New York City’s Department of Transportation announced a plan to open bidding for the management of 80,800 parking spots across all five boroughs. While some critics are already drawing parallels to the disastrous sale of Chicago’s parking meters in 2008, New York City intends to retain the power to set rates and enforce penalties.  Further differentiating the plan from the Chicago plan is that NYC’s objective is not to structure an upfront payment.  In Chicago, it is estimated that motorists may pay a Morgan Stanley-led partnership at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what former Mayor Richard Daley got when he leased the system in 2008.  NYCDOT’s request for qualifications is open through July 31.

Texas: Texas State Highway 130, which is currently under construction and will run between San Antonio and Austin, may become the first U.S. road to post a speed limit of 85-mph.  Texas passed a law last year allowing speed limits of up to 85 mph on newly constructed highways deemed safe enough for such high speeds.  Texas and Utah are the only states that even allow speed limits of 80-mph.

Virginia: Governor Bob McDonnell has recently recommitted to a series of public-private partnership projects, including the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, Interstate 64 on the Peninsula, Interstate 95, and possibly the Port of Virginia.  McDonnell’s decision to rely so heavily on the private sector stems from frustration with the state’s legislature.  The governor of Virginia has the power to circumvent the legislature pursuant to the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, which allows private entities to enter into agreements to construct, improve, maintain and operate transportation facilities. All in all, there are eight projects that are designated with "candidate" status for public-private partnerships and an additional 14 in the "conceptual" phase. Virginia is currently seeking public comment on these P3 projects.

New York Advocacy Association Position Papers

On April 27, 2011, the New York Advocacy Association (NYAA) testified at a hearing before the New York City Lobbying Commission.   The hearing focused on issues surrounding lobbying firms.  At the hearing, the NYAA raised several new issues for the Commission to consider.  Here is a link to download the NYAA's most recent position papers. To download the NYAA's testimony from the March 30, 2011, New York City Lobbying Commission Hearing, click here.

New York Advocacy Association Testifies at New York City Lobbying Commission Hearing

At this morning's New York City Lobbying Commission Hearing, Cozen O'Connor Member Ken Fisher testified on behalf of the New York Advocacy Association (NYAA).  The hearing focused on the differences between the City lobbying scheme and the State lobbying scheme.  Below is a link to download the testimony that the NYAA presented to the Commission.

Click here to download the NYAA's Testimony

JCRC to Host Seminar on Redistricting

Our friends at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York are hosting a seminar this spring on the redistricting process in New York.  The seminar, entitled "The Redistricting Puzzle: Working within the Legal Framework and Changing Demographic Realities," is split up into two sessions.   Both sessions will discuss the impact that redistricting will have on the politics and communities of New York.  Don't miss this informative event. To RSVP to either session, please click here.

Session I

The Shifting Sands of Redistricting Law: Unanswered Questions
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
9:00-11:30 AM; Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 767 Fifth Ave (@ East 59th Street)

To what extent should race and ethnicity be considered when developing a redistricting plan?  Some of the leading academics, advocates and decision makers will discuss the current state of the law and the role of the Voting Rights Act in the 2010 redistricting cycle. Speakers and program details to follow.  Presented in association with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, a New York Accredited Provider of Continuing Legal Education.  Non-transitional New York CLE credits will be granted for in-person attendance at this program.

Session II

The Shifting Sands of Population and the Electorate: Changes in New York
Thursday, May 5, 2011, 9:00-11:30 AM
Graduate Center City University of New York; 365 Fifth Avenue, Proshansky Auditorium

Soon, Census 2010 will report on the net gains and losses of New York’s population on a block-by-block basis. The data will likely indicate the need for regional, demographic and political shifts in the makeup of the districts. Population variances will shift the boundaries of virtually every district in New York.  Learn who’s up and who’s down from a panel of demographic experts analyzing the geographic, racial and ethnic changes of the general population, the registered voters and those regularly turning out to vote.Speakers and program details to follow.

Ken Fisher Interviewed by NY1 about New York City's Lobbying Laws

Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies Member Ken Fisher was interviewed by NY1 about the effect of the lobbying laws put into place by Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council in 2006.  Ken said that "what [lobbyists] do object to is unnecessary paperwork, busywork and kind of a gotcha game that has been written into the rules under the guise of reform."  For more about the impact of the City's lobbying laws, and video of the segment, see: http://www.ny1.com/content/news_beats/politics/135214/city-commission-to-examine-lobbying-limits--impact/.

What to Watch: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio talks Mayor Bloomberg, Wal-Mart on CityWide

On this month's episode of CityWide with Ken Fisher, Ken will be joined by New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.  This will be de Blasio’s second appearance on the program. Before becoming Public Advocate, de Blasio represented District 39 on the New York City Council for eight years.  CityWide airs on CUNY-TV (NYC cable channel 75) on February 16 at 10:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 11:00 PM.  Below are two clips from the interview.

Public Advocate de Blasio compares Mayor Bloomberg to past New York City Mayors.

Another clip from Ken's interview with Bill de Blasio after the jump.

Continue Reading...

"Rebirth" Premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Shortly after September 11th, 2001, filmmaker Jim Whitaker began working on a project that would serve as a living testament to honor 9/11 victims and hereos.  His documentary, “Rebirth,” focuses on the lives of those deeply affected by the tragedy. Five individuals, each coping with a unique hardship caused by the attacks, were interviewed annually on the anniversary of 9/11 from 2002 through 2009. As a counterpart to the emotional rebirth undergone by the heroes of the film, Whitaker used 14 time-lapse cameras placed around Ground Zero to document the physical rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. The result is a powerful film that both honors the victims of 9/11 and demonstrates the resiliency of the survivors.  

Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies has been honored to have served as government relations counsel to Project Rebirth.  Stuart Shorenstein, a member of Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, sits on the Board of Directors of Project Rebirth. In addition to being responsible for the film “Rebirth,” Project Rebirth has partnered with Georgetown University to help support victims of and first responders to major disasters in the future. 

On Friday, January 21, 2011, "Rebirth" premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews.  Afterwards, Justin Wineburgh and Stuart Shorenstein of Cozen O'Connor hosted a reception for the film. Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies is proud to be associated with "Rebirth" and believes that this film will be important to the public understanding of the coping process, and the gradual rebirth, of New York City and its citizens. 

More photos after the jump.

Continue Reading...

What to Watch: Ken Fisher interviews Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer on CUNY-TV's CityWide

 A new episode of CityWide with Ken Fisher will air on CUNY-TV (cable channel 75 in New York City) on Wednesday, January 19.  CityWide is a dynamic talk show for New Yorkers who care deeply about their city.  Continuing this season's trend of talking with people who make things happen in New York, Ken will be joined in the studio by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Mr. Stringer was a State Assemblyman for thirteen years before becoming Manhattan's 26th Borough President in 2006.  Ken and the Borough President will discuss a variety of issues, ranging from the current economic crisis to the City's response to the recent snowstorm.

Scott Stringer on what he would like to see happen during the last term of the Bloomberg administration:

  

See more of the interview after the jump.

Continue Reading...

My Interview With Carl Weisbrod Tonight on CUNY-TV

The fifteenth season of the public affairs television show CityWide, which I host, kicks off tonight with an interview with Carl Weisbrod, president of Trinity Real Estate, and formerly the president of the Dowtown Alliance and the City's Economic Development Corporation.

The show airs on CUNY-TV channel 76 (New York City only) at 11PM, and repeats Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 10AM. You can watch it anytime on the Internet here.

Carl is one of those people who make New York City happen. He has a great prespective on development.

Who Are The Angry Voters?

Our firm had an all-attorney retreat in Orlando over the weekend, and the keynote speaker was national pollster John Zogby. He had a number of important insights drawn from his current work and the trends in his book The Way We'll Be.  One point in particular which he mentioned caught my attention. According to John, there's a misconception that the folks defining themselves as Tea Party supporters are primarily from the lower economic strata, particularly those who have lost their jobs. To the contrary, his research indicates that they tend to be upper middle class, and their anger stems more from a fear that whatever socio-economic level they have achieved may be taken from them.

Three stories in the New York Times today resonate against that background.  The first is a report on the US Senate race in Pennsylvania, where Pat Toomey is perceived to have an edge over Joe Sestak primarily because he has been leveraging that fear. The second is about Tea Party candidates starting to poke at the Federal Reserve Bank. It illustrates that the anger is still in search of a target but it seems to me that the harder it is to explain something, the easier it is to assign it blame. Finally, Paul Krugman has a column today that makes the case that the two previous targets, health care reform and the stimulus, don't deserve the anger they've generated because the former hasn't really taken effect and the latter was too small to matter.

 

Cozen O'Connor Hosts Sampson, Klein

This morning, Cozen O'Connor hosted New York State Senate Majority Leader John L. Sampson and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeffrey D. Klein for a discussion regarding New York state's financial difficulties and the Senate Democratic agenda for reform.

 

Continue Reading...

Tough Times for MTA But Chair Promises Progress

MTA Chair and CEO Jay Walder has a daunting task: moving the MTA forward at a time of deep economic stress and political uncertainty. As veteran of Dick Ravitch's MTA turn-around in the 1980s, Walder is haunted by the specter of the 1970's when the system approached collapse as a result of the dramatic drop in fair receipts associated with the City's loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

At an Eco-partner breakfast of the New York League of Conservation Voters this morning, he argued that their had been two transformational moments for the MTA. The first was establishing and then funding and then implementing a series of five year capital plans to modernize the system, with the result that miles per subway car between breakdown had gone from about 7,000 to well over and 100,000, and graffiti has almost disappeared. Riders now expect and demand a functioning system and ridership is up a million and a half people per day. Some of that is population growth but that's the corollary. Better mass transit makes the City a more attractive place to live.

The second transformative moment was the introduction of the Metrocard, which changed riders' relationship with the system and helped the agency become more customer oriented.

Walder sees the opportunity now for a third wave, using technology to improve service and the perception of service. Count down clocks and service status boards will start to sprout. Bus lanes that function because of enforcement through bus-mounted cameras will be tested in Manhattan shortly.

In the meantime, he's orchestrated 3,500 layoffs saving $500,000,000 per year and is implementing a whole host of behind the scenes productivity improvements. Relations with the TWU are still a sore point, but some small movements from both sides may set the framework for greater cooperation.

Tags:

Carrion Carries On

The New York State Association for Affordable Housing hosted Adolfo Carrion at a breakfast this morning. Carrion is the former Bronx Borough President who served as the President's first Urban Policy adviser and has now become the Regional Director of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (headed by former NYC HPD Commissioner Shaun Donovan and under President Clinton by Andrew Cuomo).

It was somewhat of a homecoming for Carrion who joked that it took a half hour to get from his table to the podium because of all of the folks he knew who wanted to say hello. He also apologized to the group for meandering a bit which he attributed to not feeling well.

He told the audience generally that he was part of an effort to put the UD back in HUD, meaning a focus on development in urban areas. He also said that he was interested in the local job because the Secretary was empowering the regional offices to try and leverage federal programs both within the agency and by partnering with other federal agencies on strategies such as transit oriented development and green buildings.

During the Q&A he acknowledged that New York's high cost of construction tends to shut out New York developers from federal programs such as Section 202 senior citizen housing. He expressed the hope that some of these issues, including raising FHA debt limits, could be addressed after the election or in the new Congress.

Court Strikes Local Immigration Rules

More than four years after we became involved in the case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the vast majority of a July 2007 opinion striking down Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s immigration-related ordinances as preempted by federal law. The Court found that Hazleton’s ordinances, which sought to punish the local employment and rental of housing to undocumented aliens, interfered with the federal government’s interests in regulating immigration.


After finding that the plaintiff’s had standing to sue, a threshold issue forcefully challenged by the city, the Third Circuit concluded that Hazleton’s attempts to regulate the employment of undocumented immigrants within its city limits were impliedly preempted because its provisions stand as an obstacle to the purposes of the federal immigration scheme. Specifically, the Third Circuit found that:


• Hazleton’s ordinances fail to strike the requisite balance between enforcement and avoidance of discrimination;
• Hazleton imposes on employers greater verification requirements than federal law; and
• Hazleton’s ordinances create a separate and independent adjudicative system for determining whether an employer is guilty of employing unauthorized aliens, which provides considerably less procedural safeguards than the federal system.


The Third Circuit found troubling Hazleton’s very decision to establish an alternate employer sanctions system at all. In the words of the Court:


If Hazleton’s ordinance is permissible, then each and every state and locality would be free to implement similar schemes for investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating whether an employer has employed unauthorized aliens. […] A patchwork of state and local systems each independently monitoring, investigating, and ultimately deciding – all concurrently with the federal government – whether employers have hired unauthorized aliens could not possibly be in greater conflict with Congress’s intent for its carefully crafted prosecution and adjudication system to minimize the burden imposed on employers.


The Third Circuit also ruled that Hazleton could not compel its residents to use a federal pilot employment verification system known as E-Verify. E-Verify, the Court found, continues to have serious reliability problems, and Congress has authorized it only as a purely voluntary program.
Finally, Hazleton’s employment-related ordinance was found preempted because it imposes stricter verification requirements with respect to independent contractors and casual hires. Hazleton sought to mandate that all employers verify work eligibility for these workers, while federal law does not.


As for Hazleton’s efforts to outlaw the rental of residential properties to undocumented immigrants, the Third Circuit found that it was expressly and impliedly preempted by federal law. The Court found that Hazleton could not equate a simple landlord-tenant relationship with the criminal act of “harboring” absent an affirmative effort or intent to conceal anyone from federal immigration authorities. Notably, at oral argument, Hazleton argued that the ordinance did not preclude undocumented aliens from living in Hazleton, but only from renting there. The Court stated that “[a]lthough the federal government does not intend for aliens here unlawfully to be harbored, it has never evidenced an intent for them to go homeless.”


In essence, the Third Circuit summarized its conclusions as follows:


It is, of course, not our job to sit in judgment of whether state and local frustration about federal immigration policy is warranted. We are, however, required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by Congress.


Cozen O’Connor was lead private counsel for the immigrants, landlords and a coalition civic organizations, in cooperation with several civil rights organizations. Amici briefs in support of our position were submitted by numerous private and governmental groups, including law enforcement associations, city governments across the country, the U.S. and more than a dozen State Chambers of Commerce, labor union coalitions, religious organizations, U.C. Berkeley and Columbia Law Schools, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
 

Happy Primary Day

For most candidates and their supporters, it will be a happy day as their efforts reach their climax. Once the polls close, that sense of purpose, determination and exhaustion-driven excitement will fade for the losers. For some of the winners, party nomination is tantamount to election. Others will just mark this as round 1 and start to gear up for November.

For one small group, the 9PM closing time will mean that their work just begins. This is the small group of election lawyers and operatives who will scrutinize the vote for irregularities in the hopes that an adverse outcome can be challenged in court and a new primary election ordered (do-overs are not allowed in general elections).

Today marked the inauguration of a new paper ballot/scanner system in New York City.  Widely used around the country, it involves the voter marking an oval next to their preferred candidates names and then feeding the sheet into a scanner which keeps running totals.

Others have already written about the cramped layout and small print size. I certainly found the ballot hard to read and as a former Brooklyn Democratic Party Law Committee Chair, as well as a former candidate for public office, I have more than passing experience with the mechanics of voting. I also was extremely uncomfortable with the prospect of the helpful Board f Elections workers possibly getting a glimpse of who I had voted for as she helped me feed the ballot in and had it pop out somewhere in the back. Said election lawyers above will undoubtedly be all over these issues.

Here's one more for them. At the top of the three voting columns in my area were headings identifying the offices below as either Public Offices (such as Attorney General or US Senator) or Party Positions (such as Delegate to the Judicial Convention). The middle column was headed Public Office but also included the position of State Committee Member. This is, however, a party position, not a public one (See Election Law 2-100pdf.). Might an entire election be challenged over this? Possibly, but only if one were to argue that it caused voter confusion sufficient to have affected the outcome.

 

Tags:

New York Governor Signs Three Employment Bills

Our Labor and Employment Group Just Issued this Alert! entitled: New York Governor Signs Three Employment Bills." We hope you find this information beneficial and informative.

The first enactment establishes a test to determine if a construction industry worker is an independent contractor or an employee, and is entitled “The New York State Construction Industry Fair Play Act.” Click here for the full story.

Tags:

Ward Wows ABNY

Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward gave a bravo performance before a packed Association of Better New York breakfast this morning at Cipriani's 55 Wall Street hall. With the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center approaching this weekend, he took the opportunity to lay out the turn-around of the construction logjam there and to tout the progress made in the past two years.

In particular, he noted PANYNJ's new construction management and procurement systems and the determination to have the Memorial plaza open by next year's tenth anniversary, which in turn was made possible by the remarkable engineering plan to build the transit center from the top down. You can read about these features here.
He also touted some real business successes, in particular the selection of the Durst Organization to invest in and lease 1 World Trade Center, and a letter of intent with Conde-Nast to be its anchor tenant. Most surprising to the crowd was his effusive and apparently sincere praise for the person he called his partner, Larry Silverstein (he even did a Silverstein impression and worried he had gotten it right).

For those paying close attention, Ward also articulated a fundamental shift in thinking about Ground Zero. A Harvard Divinity School graduate, and as a former executive of the Port someone who knew many of the folks killed on 9/11, Ward clearly acknowledged the importance of the site and the sensitivities involved. But just as clearly, he stated that this was a vibrant 24/7 commercial and residential neighborhood and needed to be seen as such. As he put it, the same Memorial plaza where families and visitors come to remember will also be the lunchtime park of nearby workers and evening meeting place for them and residents. Capturing this was the idea of dropping the name Freedom Tower and referring to the new building "by its address", 1 World Trade Center.

This is no casual marketing ploy to avoid the stigma of politics which might be viewed as an impediment to marketing the office and retail space under construction. Rather, in the context of the Conde-Nast lease, it marks an effort by the Port to link the Financial District's future to the new media neighborhoods of the Flat Iron District, SoHo and Tribeca, a bold planning initiative from a staid regional infrastructure organization.

 

 

 

AG debate tonight

With the primary elections quickly approaching -but competing for attention with the new school year and the Jewish holidays- voters may finally start paying attention. For those following the state Attorney General race, tune in tonight to a Democratic candidate debate live on NY1, sponsored by the Network of Bar Leaders and Common Cause, to be held at the Times Center at 6:30.

My mailbox is receiving a daily dose of flyers from various candidates, mostly reinforcing narratives that were crafted months ago and staking out positions that have little to do with the office. Special recognition to any reader who forwards a mailing that discusses how the Attorney General candidate will change how the office administers a very large part of its operation, representing State agencies. I'm betting there won't be one question about it tonight either.

Cyber - Identity Theft: Our Children At Risk

Our Global Insurance Group Just Issued this Alert! entitled: "Identity Theft: Our Children At Risk." We hope you find this information beneficial and informative.

Interviewing for your first job as a teenager is as exciting as it is intimidating. Thoughts of what to do with your first paycheck consume your mind as you rehearse your best do-you-want-fries-with-that smile. The interview proceeds flawlessly, and you start to count the dollar signs as you await the job offer. But, imagine your surprise when you are informed that you did not get the job because your background check revealed that you are more than $75,000 in debt and five years behind in child support payments for your 11-year-old child—a terrifying thought considering you are only 16 years old. Click here for the full story.

Tags:

ON VACATION

New posts after Labor Day, or before if the muse strikes. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Tags:

Bloomberg for Sestak

Mayor Mike Bloomberg went to Philadelphia today to support Democrat Joe Sestak's bid for the US Senate from Pennsylvania. David Bronston and I were there.

Sestak defeated Arlen Specter for the Democratic party nomination after Specter switched his affiliation from Republican to avoid a party challenge from the right. He's in a tight race with Pat Toomey.

Both the Mayor and the candidate mentioned that they had not met until today, and that Bloomberg had greeted him by saying that they didn't agree on every issue. Although he touched lightly on issues where they did agree, and more heavily on Sestak's management experience gained moving up the ranks to his retirement rank of three star Admiral, the Mayor seemed most enthusiastic when he talked about Sestak acting from political conviction and not convenience.

He took several shots at legislators who "lead from behind" by jumping on the issue of the day whether they care about it or not. It seemed that he admired Sestak's willingness to give up his Congressional seat to take on a Senator to change parties solely out of self preservation. Of course, he did acknowledge that he himself had some experience with Republicans, Democrats and Independents, having been all three at some point in his life.

EXCLUSIVE Brad Lander on Charter Legislation

The Charter Revision Commission, as predicted, has decided to pass on major changes to the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedures for this year. But political nature abhors a vacuum and City Council Brad Lander may try to fill it.

Since his election last November to the Brooklyn Council seat previously held by Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Brad Lander has established himself as among the more influential of the new Members. He was alread known to many of the Members for his advocacy of reform of the 421-a tax incentive program for new residential development, and upon entering the Council, helped organize a new Progressive Caucus which he co-chairs. Reflecting both his planning experience and his political savvy, Lander was named to chair the important Land Use Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses. In addition to oversight of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (and their designations), the subcommittee reviews decisions about where to locate City services from new courthouses to sewage treatments plants to City offices. Sooner or later, almost every commissioner will find themselves in need of his nod.

Recently, he told a group of planning professionals from the Institute for Urban Design that he was looking at land use areas of the City Charter which the Council could amend without having to go through a public referendum. Under the law, the Council can make changes to the Charter (such as extending the terms limits law) that don't "diminish" the Mayor's power, sometimes referred to as the balance of power. If the charge does infringe, such a a requirement to submit commissioners' appointments to the Council for advice and consent, it can only be done by referendum.

I followed up with him and he outlined three areas of interest, two of which are under his committee's jurisdiction. The first is "fair share" a provision which in theory obligates the City to consider the cumulative impact of siting decisions on a particular community. The second is Section 197-a of the Charter which authorizes community boards to sponsor their own non-binding neighborhood plans. Both have been criticized as being without teeth and the Environmental Justice Alliance(.pdf) has been campaigning for them to be strengthened. The 197-a portion would fall under Mark Weprin's Zoning subcommittee.

The other area of interest is the designation of landmarks and historic districts. Currently, a property is "calendared" in the discretion of the Commission. Once calendared, any significant alterations are delayed by the Buildings Department to give LPC a chance to decide if it wants to go through with designation. That can complicate development and financing for owners, who express frustration that such calandaring may have occurred decades earlier. Advocates, on the other hand, are dissatified that  they can't always get an up or down vote on what they consider important buildings. Lander will use his subcommittee's oversight authority to try and put more transparency and structure to the process.

Sustained Sustainabilty Effort At ConEd

ConEd released their 2009 Sustainability Report. The full report is only available on the web, with a "condensed" version available in print. By going digital, ConEd says they saved-

86,168 gallons of water

9,882 pounds of solid waste

180 million BTUs, the amount of energy used by two homes in a year

28, 432 pounds of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of taking three cars off the road for a year.

Of course, the real reductions come from upgrading their systems. The company reports that their greenhouse gas emissions plunged 36 percent, or by about 2.4 million tons, between 2005 and 2009.

Cyber Security Alter

Lest one question the severity of the evolving challenges in our rapidly growing cyber world, President Obama has crystallized it succinctly: (1) "cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation;" and (2) "America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity." In other words, President Obama has declared cybersecurity to be a national security priority.
 

Our firm has just posted an alert.(pdf) on "The White House's 'Progress' Report on Cybersecurity: There's a Long Road Ahead." We hope you find this information beneficial and informative.

Bloomberg Statement on Lower Manhattan Mosque

The Mayor chose Governors Island as the venue to speak out against religious bias in the wake of the lower Mahattan mosque controvery. Here's the release from City Hall:

MAYOR BLOOMBERG DISCUSSES THE LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION VOTE ON 45-47 PARK PLACE

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Father Alexander Karloutsos from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Rabbi Bob Kaplan from the Jewish Community Council, Reverend Brian Jordan from the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Rabbi Irwin Kula from the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership-CLAL, Reverend Jim Cooper from Trinity Church, Reverend Les Mullings from the Church of the Nazarene, Imam Shamsi Ali from the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, Reverend T.K. Nakagaki from the New York City Buddhist Church, Cara Berkowitz from the UJA Federation and Matthew Weiner from the Interfaith Center of New York Join Mayor on Governors Island, Where the Dutch who Founded New Amsterdam – the Earliest Religiously-tolerant Colonial Settlement in America – First Lived

High resolution photos can be downloaded from the Mayor’s Office Flickr Page at www.flickr.com/photos/nycmayorsoffice/

The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered on Governors Island:

“We have come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We’ve come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that, more than 250 years later, would greet millions of immigrants in the harbor, and we come here to state as strongly as ever – this is the freest City in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

“Our doors are open to everyone – everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants – by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

“We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.

“On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.

“Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue – and they were turned down.

“In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies – and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

“In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion – and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780’s – St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

“This morning, the City’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to extend landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship.

“The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right – and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

“The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – as important a test – and it is critically important that we get it right.

“On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’

“The attack was an act of war – and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights – and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

“Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation – and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.

“The local community board in Lower Manhattan voted overwhelming to support the proposal and if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire City.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.”

-30-

Contact: Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958

 

Third Way for the Internet?

In response to some recent court decisions, the Federal Communications Commission has edged towards a "Third Way" of regulating Internet providers. Our partner, David Bronston, just published an analysis of this approach(.pdf) in the New York Law Journal.

NY Court of Appeals Selection Panned

James Gardiner has published a law review article(.pdf) panning the method of selecting New York State Court of Appeals judges. After a trial lawyer named Jacob Fuchsberg came close to defeating the then Chief Judge through a self-funded campaign, and the following year was elected to the Court, the State Constitution was amended to create a judicial nominating commission with the Governor limited to selecting only from among applicants found to be qualified. There's a good discussion of how the process has played out and the judges who emerged from it here.

Gardiner's argument isn't an attack on the nominating commission itself. Rather, he faults the commission for selecting mostly from lower court judges who themselves were products of an elective system. The article abstract is after the jump but the key concept is:

"Although New York’s current method of selecting Court of Appeals judgess was designed to be wide open and based entirely on merit, the selection process, as it has actually evolved in practice, is neither. It has instead degenerated into a fundamentally closed competition among a very small number of sitting judges of the intermediate state appeals court, making it a process not of judicial appointment, but of judicial promotion. Worse, unlike appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which draws from essentially the same lawyer population, few appointees to the New York Court of Appeals have previously distinguished themselves in arenas other than judicial service on lower state courts. Whereas Second Circuit appointees overwhelmingly have significant prior accomplishments in legal practice and executive branch service, the judges of the New York Court of Appeals are distinguished mainly for having worked their way up through the state judiciary."

 I was previously a supporter of judicial elections, particular when I was a Democratic Party official involved in candidate selection, as I thought that community ties were important and that they provided better access for underrepresented groups such as people of color and women. Over time, I lost confidence in that system as it appeared to me not to be designed to put the best people on the bench. In other words, its not that the election system can't produce great judges, its that its not set up to increase the odds. I don't recall a single Federal Court clerk, law professor, or big firm partner seeking to be elected judge in Brooklyn during my tenure, although these backgrounds are typical of Federal judges. Gardiner's point is that Court of Appeals judges are now mostly drawn from the more limited background state judge pool.

Recently, I was appointed to the Association of the Bar's Judiciary Committee, which evaluates candidates for both elected and appointed positions.

Tip of the hat to Rick Hasen for posting the Gardiner article.

Continue Reading...

DEM AG II: Legal Issues

As previously reported, we attended the Crain’s debate yesterday featuring the five Democratic candidates for NYS Attorney General (if you go to that post, clicking on any of the candidate’s names the first time they are mentioned will take you to their campaign web sites). Some of the issues discussed deserve further attention.

First, the dog that didn’t bite. In addition to having jurisdiction to regulate certain industries (such and coop and condo plans and charities) and to bring certain types of enforcement actions, the Attorney General is also head of the Law Department, providing the attorneys who defend state agencies in Court and who defends the constitutionality of state laws and actions. This is a major part of the office’s work, but it didn’t get a single mention from any candidate or from the reporters, possibly because the Attorney General has limited discretion on which cases to handle or what to do with them, and he rarely makes news in this capacity. However, the work done is critical to government’s functioning and the candidates ought to be talking about whether they think the quality of the lawyering could be improved. While the AG can’t make policy, like any lawyer he can advise his clients when to settle and when to fight, giving them standing, in the campaign at least, to talk publicly about whether they think any agency has been out of line.

Some of the discussion at the forum was whether Rockefeller Drug Laws reform is still an issue or whether it is just being used today as a political talking point. So too NYPD’s stop and frisk policies. All of the candidates supported the recent data base purge law although Kathleen Rice seemed least enthusiastic about it.

The most interesting insight into the candidates thinking process was a question about expanding the Martin Act. This is a powerful statue giving the Attorney General both criminal and civil jurisdiction over “deceptive trade practices.” Prior to Eliot Spitzer, it was used primarily to regulate condo and coop plans. His deputy, now candidate Eric Dinallo, dusted it off to go after Wall Street houses and others, greatly expanding Spitzer’s reach.

Eric Scheiderman and Richard Brodsky both support expanding the law to allow institutional investors to be able to sue under the law. They pointed to both Wall Street shenanigans as well as crooks like Bernie Madoff and felt that institutional investors like pension funds should not have to depend on government to go after wrongdoers. As legislators, they want to be proactive, so they propose passing a law.

Interestingly, both Sean Coffey and Eric Dinallo-who actually have direct experience with these large fraud cases-were opposed. Coffey has earned millions of dollars bringing claims under the federal securities laws and Dinallo, as noted above, drove the Spitzer use of the Martin Act. Their opposition stemmed from analysis as lawyers of the implications of such an expansion. Both felt that federal law and New York common law were strong enough tools. Coffey worried that court decisions in private cases could undercut the Attorney General’s position and Dinallo observed that the law imposes strict liability; intent to break the law is not required and such a statute could be unfairly deployed if allowed in private lawsuits. I thought their answers were thoughtful and sounded right to me. More important, I thought they approached it in a careful way that you would want an Attorney General to use. Ms. Rice basically ducked on the issue.
 

DEM AG Candidates Debate

Stuart Shorenstein, David Bronston and I attended the Crain's breakfast this morning which featured a debate among the five Democrats seeking the position. I guesstimated the crowd at only about 200, including the five tables occupied by the respective campaigns. Although several of the candidates alluded to it being a business audience, much of the audience was political consultants and government relations folks. I didn’t see any major real estate figures or even the leadership of the RSA or REBNY.

David thought all of the candidates came across as smart and articulate and that each could handle the job. He noted that Richard Brodsky and Eric Schneiderman both struggled to distance themselves from the Albany mess. On the politics, he noted Kathleen Rice’s natural constituencies as a woman and as a Nassau County elected official, as well as press speculation that she has the tacit support of Andrew Cuomo. David noted that Sean Coffey had good presence and was running the hardest against Albany.

Stuart observed that across the board the candidates had all given a nod to Eric Dinallo for the work that he had done under Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, especially for effectively using the state’s Martin Act to assert jurisdiction over business activities. He thought that Coffey gave a strong presentation.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss their comments on the Martin Act and a couple of other issues that came up. In terms of overall presentation, I thought all of the candidates made a good case for their vision of the office, except for Brodsky, who seemed to think it was a kind of statewide Assembly Member. He’s the only one who didn’t claim significant experience as a lawyer. Coffey distinguished himself by opening with an Albany reform agenda including a number of specific proposals. Schneiderman was clearly comfortable reciting his list of accomplishments on progressive issues. Rice spoke about her experience in law enforcement and I could sense that she took the responsibility of having had to make tough decisions seriously, although she wasn’t as facile on some of the political curve balls that Erik Engquist of Crain’s threw out. Dinallo, of course, could point to having been in the office but I thought he focused a bit too much on how to get things done rather than what needed to be done.

 

Minerva Update

As we previously reported, efforts are underway by Green-Wood Cemetery to have the City adopt a "197-a plan" pursuant to which protection of the scenic view corridor from the Statue of Minerva on Battle Hill to the Statue of Liberty would become City policy, informing land use and permit proceedings. Last Thursday, the land use committees of Community Boards 6 and 7 held a joint public meeting on Battle Hill and each recommended unanimously that their boards sponsor the plan. The boards will schedule votes on the proposal at their September meetings.

"Rebirth Preview 2010" to be shown at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site

Here’s an announcement from Project Rebirth, an effort with which Cozen O’Connor has been involved for many years. Our partner, Stuart Shorenstein, sits on the board.

"New York, NY, July 22, 2010 – Reflecting significant progress in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, Project Rebirth has produced “Rebirth Preview 2010” an update of the four minute piece that has been viewed by over 950,000 visitors at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site in downtown Manhattan. Planned for public release in 2011, the Project Rebirth feature length documentary will chronicle the strength of the human spirit coping with disaster: the aftermath of September 11, 2001. “Rebirth Preview 2010” provides audiences an experience of the film, and a reflection of the spirit of the project, which honors 9/11 and the resilience of first responders and victims in the face of trauma and loss.

Along with 14 time lapse 35mm film cameras that have been recording the minute by minute rebuilding of Ground Zero, film maker Jim Whitaker has conducted interviews with – and followed the journeys of – nine people over the seven years following the attacks. Proceeds from Project Rebirth’s documentary will be reinvested to endow the Project Rebirth Center, which is being developed jointly by new media teaching and learning experts from Columbia and Georgetown Universities. The Project Rebirth Center will serve as a resource for professionals and volunteer organizations to meet the urgent need to improve specialized training, care and support needed during and for the years after major disasters.

We invite you to watch “Rebirth Preview 2010” at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site at 20 Vesey Street in New York City" Details here. 

WSJ NY Editor on CityWide tonight

My guest tonight on CityWide is Mitra Kalita, the Senior Deputy Editor of The Wall Street Journal's new Greater New York Section. She discuss the ways in which the newspaper business has dramatically changed, the competition and shares what financial reporters are saying about the NYC economy. The show airs on CUNY TV Channel 75 (New York City only) at 11:00 PM, and repeats Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 10:00 AM. Its available on the Internet here or you can see excerpts here.

 

The View from Battle Hill: Green-Wood Cemetery and the Statue of Liberty

Green-Wood Cemetery is currently petitioning the Bloomberg Administration to adopt a policy that the view corridor between Minerva and the Statue of Liberty should be preserved under Section 197-a of the City Charter.

Green-Wood’s Battle Hill is the site of the Battle of Brooklyn where, in August 1776, American soldiers were locked in a fierce fight with British troops. Minerva, sculpted by Frederic Wellington Ruckstall (1853-1942), was commissioned by Irish immigrant Charles M. Higgins, owner of “Higgins’ American India Ink” company, as a memorial to the brave patriots who gave their lives in that Battle. She directly faces Liberty Island as a salute to the Statue there.

In 2006, the development wave threatened to block the view, but a nearby project was modified to avoid this and the slope below Battle Hill was rezoned with lower height limits. However, the industrial areas of Red Hook, at the bottom of the slope, currently do not have height limitations.

As explained in stories in the Daily News (I'm not seeing it online, but it ran in the Brooklyn section) and the online Post (their local affiliate the Brooklyn Paper had it first), protection of the view corridor would enhance recognition of both the Cemetery and the harbor overall as a, historic and cultural tourism destination.

Community Boards 6 & 7 will have a joint meeting to consider the proposal on July 22, 2010 at 6PM at Green-Wood.


 

Does Schneiderman Hit & Run Have Legs?

Apparently not.

The up-to-now insiders race to succeed Andrew Cuomo was jolted Tuesday night by a report that a car in which Attorney General candidate Eric Schneiderman had sideswiped another car and then left the scene. The story was first teased by NY 1 and then reported extensively by NY1 – not surprisingly because the car hit belongs to the station’s executive editor and the accident occurred as Schneiderman was leaving an interview with the station.

First day stories in the Times, News and Post were fairly straightforward reports repeating the NY 1 account and adding the Schneiderman campaign’s insistence that he hadn’t realized there had been damage to the other car. It also emerged that the driver was the 22 year old niece of US Supreme Court nominee Elaine Kagan. Politicker NY had early non-reaction reactions from the rival candidates saying that they needed more facts.

I didn’t see anything in the Times or Post this morning. The News has a second day story quoting the victim as well as rival candidate Kathleen Rice (whose fundraising was featured in the Times) basically saying that Schneiderman should have left a note. The News has an editorial to the same effect although they chose not to award the otherwise respected State Senator their Knucklehead Award. Unless there’s a pile on from advocates –the PBA or MADD or someone like that- I think the story goes away until the fall when the Republican candidate, SI DA Dan Donovan can raise it, IF Schneiderman wins the Dem primary.
 

Times In Depth Look At Stop And Frisk

The New York Times had an important piece earlier this week exploring the uses and abuses of the New York City Police Department's "stop and frisk" efforts, which have dramatically increased over the last few years. The NYPD argues that this is a critical crime prevention and fighting technique, while others argue that it is excessively deployed, with little oversight and limited effect on crime, while fraying community relations. The Times offers a good survey of anecdotes and experts but the core is an analysis of who gets stopped where and what the outcomes are.

For me, there were two sets of statistics that jumped out. On the one hand, the percentage of stops was roughly the same as the percentage of crime (for example, the 10 highest crime precincts had 22% of the crime and 24% of the stops. For the 5 lowest crime precincts, it was 2% and 4%). On the other hand, only 5% of the stops in the high crime areas led to arrests (7% in the low crime precincts).

The story is particularly timely as the Governor decides whether to sign or veto legislation sponsored by Sen. Eric Adams which would require the NYPD to expunge the names of those stopped but not arrested from its database.

EDC RFP Do Re Me

The Economic Development Corporation has three Requests for Proposals pending, one for Mart 125 in Harlem, and two in the Bronx: Bathgate and near the Hub at 149th Street. If my recollection is correct, its the second time around for MART 125, but this time EDC has specifically identified the non-profit with which the developer needs to partner. The notices call attention to the availability of the FRESH program to encourage markets carrying fresh food at both the Bathgate and the Hub locations. Query whether the Bronx Borough President and Council delegation will insist that tenants pay higher-than-minimum wages, and if so, the effect on the bidding. This was an issue at another Bronx development site not too long ago.

From the announcement:

Mart 125 Site Redevelopment RFP >
NYCEDC is seeking proposals for the purchase and redevelopment of a 10,000 square foot site at 260 West 125th Street in Manhattan, commonly known as Mart 125. Responses to this RFP must comply with current zoning and incorporate the following uses: (a) 12,000-14,000 usable square feet of cultural space (“Cultural Space”) to be operated by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and ImageNation Sol Cinema; (b) 800 gross square feet for a ground floor visitors center to be operated by NYC & Company; and (c) 2,500 gross square feet for a café and/or retail establishment(s), with a preference for local business operators. The remaining floor area may be used for other commercial uses.


Bathgate Industrial Site RFP >
NYCEDC is seeking proposals for the disposition and development of a vacant industrial property located within the Bathgate Industrial Business Zone in the Bathgate section of the Bronx. The Site represents an excellent development opportunity for industrial businesses and developers looking for a larger development site, proximity to highways and public transportation, as well as availability of a local workforce in surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, the Site is located within the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (“FRESH”) program area, and proposed industrial uses of the Site may include a wholesale produce or meat market – which may be associated with a grocery store.


Hub at 149th Street RFP >
NYCEDC is seeking proposals for the disposition and development of two parcels located within the Bronxchester Urban Renewal Area in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. The sites are prominently located near the Hub, which is one of the Bronx’s busiest commercial and retail corridors and in close proximity to mass transit. Additionally, the Site is located within the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (“FRESH”) program area, making it eligible for zoning and financial incentives to facilitate the construction of a full service grocery store. The permitted uses under the Urban Renewal Plan include public and semi-public uses (i.e., community facilities, educational facilities, etc.) and commercial uses (i.e., full-service grocery store, retail, etc.).

 

Party blogs seem pooped

Although its uncontested candidate for Governor has a sophisticated and up to date website, the official site of the New York State Democratic Party is a placeholder announcing that, “A Whole New Site is Coming.” Its been that way for weeks, although in theory this is the most important year for state Democrats since every statewide office –including both US Senate seats- is up this year, as well as control of the State Legislature.

The Republican Party site is fully developed, except for one thing: four months before the election is doesn’t offer any clue as to who the statewide candidates are. That’s because parties are prohibited from spending their own funds in primaries, and the Republicans have them for Governor and for each of the US Senate seats, having left their convention in disarray. Oddly, the site doesn’t promote the party’s uncontested candidate for Attorney General, Dan Donovan, or Comptroller candidate Harry Wilson.

Rounding out the major parties, the Working Families Party has a well-designed page, but the most recent Blog post is from May and the most recent News post is from February. Whether that’s a lack of interest or a deliberate omission –given on-going investigations, which have caused Andrew Cuomo to delay accepting the party nomination- is a matter of speculation.

The Independence Party site’s last post is from June 5th, touting its statewide slate, but its front page offers a definite nod to its Facebook presence. The Conservative Party web presence is pretty basic, focuses on its basic platform and the state legislature, with no mention of its statewide candidates.

Regardless of whether the parties are united or optimistic, one would think that their gubernatorial vote total would be on the top of their minds. Only parties whose candidate gets 50,000 votes are entitled to an automatic ballot position for the following four years, and the higher the vote, the more prominent the ballot position.
 

 

Mayor Announces Governors Island Board

A few months ago, the Governor and Mayor agreed to transfer Governors Island from an ESDC subsidiary whose appointees were half from the City and half from the State (with chairmanship rotating between the two sides periodically) to a new entity with the Mayor appointing a majority of board members. City Hall has just released the new lineup (full text after the jump).

Chaired by non-profit executive and former Deputy Mayor Ronay Menschel, the Bloomberg appointees indicate that the project has his attention, as they include First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris, DM Dennis Wolcott, CPC Chair Amanda Burden (who will eventually have to decide the Island’s future zoning, currently low-rise residential) and EDC president Seth Pinsky.

Rounding out the list are Doug Blonsky, the head of Central Park; Liz Berger from the Downtown Alliance; David Saltzman of the Robin Hood Foundation; and Carl Weisbrod, head of Trinity Real Estate and former EDC President. If my recollection is correct, Carl was part of an Urban Land Institute exercise in the 1990s evaluating potential uses for the Island and has had an eye on it ever since.

David Paterson’s appointee is Jeffrey Lynford, a private equity investment manager. The local Assembly Member –also known as Speaker Sheldon Silver- appointed his chief of staff Judy Rapfogel, signaling how important the Island is to his lower Manhattan residents. He played a key role in securing operating funding for the Island last year. Going forward, that will be a City responsibility, but State capital funding will be necessary given the scope of the Island’s infrastructure needs. State Senator Dan Squadron appointed Mark Costello, a lower Manhattan resident and private attorney. Rounding out the roster is CB#1’s chair, Julie Menin, representing CB#1.

 

Continue Reading...

Charter Commission Meeting Monday

The New York City Charter Revision Commission will hold a meeting on Monday, July 12th at 6PM in the Surrogate's Court, 31 Chambers Street, Manhattan. At the meeting, the Commissioners will discuss a to-be-released staff report recommending areas on which they may want to focus, especially term limits but also the balance of power as between the Mayor and the other elected officials and possibly land use procedures. As I had previously predicted, on-partisan elections will probably not be on the ballot this year. Crain's has a good report and Commission Chair Matt Goldstein was on NY 1 Wednesday night.

Power Vacuum in Albany

Tuesday, the State of New York used the third most electricity ever, according to the Independent System Operator, the entity which coordinates the transfer of power throughout the state and regionally. With no relief in sight to the heat wave in New York City, Con Ed has announced voltage reductions. At the moment, capacity is stretched but appears adequate. The immediate problem is the risk of transformer or feeder breakdown.

Although power generation may be adequate for today, there is a consensus that additional generating capacity will be necessary. In the 1990s, New York substantially deregulated the power business, uncoupling power generation and distribution. The theory was that competition would drive prices down, and would bring fresh capital to the construction of new plants. It’s probably time for a thorough review of how that all worked out.

One step New York took to facilitate new plant construction was the adoption of what is know as Article X, which was intended to consolidate and facilitate the permit process. It immediately became controversial because of a perception that it was being used to shove plants into communities of color less able to muster resources to resist such efforts.


In 2003, Article X expired. Since then the Legislature hasn’t mustered the energy to revise the law. With energy use on the rise, and significant constraints because of climate change concerns, this is an issue that requires thoughtful leadership. Both Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson ran out of juice trying to push the legislature along. A new Governor in January will have another chance. If –and we hope not- there a power failures this summer, that could provide the spark to act.
 

Tags:

Cool New MTA Video For Infra Fans

The MTA has a new video on its YouTube channel showing work on the project connecting the Jay Street A/C/F station in Brooklyn with the nearby R/N station. The project(.pdf) has been going on for several years and should be completed in 2011. The clip interviews MTA employees on the job literally walking through the construction site, interspersed with renderings of what is to come.

Some might argue that in a time of service cutbacks, the MTA shouldn't spend a nickle on promotional video, but I think its money well spent. First, it gives the public some idea of why the streets above are torn up. Second, the only way to secure adequate funding for large public works is to engage the public and educate them as to both the purpose and complexity of such projects.

A citizen initiative to do that is InfrastructureUSA.org, created by television and documentary maker Steve Anderson. The website invites the public to post photos and video of their favorite infra, whether a new windmill or a dilapidated bridge. There's a blog, snap polls and links to other resources. Worth checking out.

Campaign public finance in 2013? Don't bank on it.

The United States Supreme Court has granted a stay(.pdf) preventing the distribution of public matching funds in the Arizona gubernatorial election, pending their decision to hear an appeal from a 9th Circuit opinion upholding the law. Some commentators think it’s likely that the law will be declared unconstitutional as the appellate court decision was pretty firm and the Court didn't need to intervene -in the middle of the campaign- unless there was support for reversing.

The basis of the appeal is an attack on a section increasing public campaign subsidies when a self-funded candidate exceeds a certain spending threshold. The theory is that the statute has a chilling effect on the political speech of that self-funded candidate who might be afraid to spend money for fear of giving their publicly-funded opponent a boost.

This could very well doom the New York City Campaign Finance Law, or at least the section that bumps up the matching funds provided by the Campaign Finance Board when a non-participating candidate spends above certain levels. If another Mike Bloomberg emerges in 2013, candidates for Mayor may have to cast their nets more widely to be competitive. Of course, the Mayor's $105 million campaign barely held its own against his less well-funded opponent Bill Thompson.

The key New York provisions are after the jump (emphasis added).

Continue Reading...

For a happy 4th of July try Governors Island with Rosanne Cash

Happy Independence Day! For those who may have forgotten what the fuss is all about, I recommend reading out loud the Declaration of Independence  which lays out the basic case for throwing off the King’s yoke as well as laying out key principles that are fundamental to the American idea.

For those of us in New York City today, a great place to enjoy the beautiful weather is by visiting Governors Island. This former military base is now open to the public for recreational, educational and cultural activities. It’s accessible by free ferry from the Battery Maritime Building in lower Manhattan and from Pier 6 at the foot of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Any weekend is a great time to go to the Island for a picnic, or to tour the national monuments or see the artworks on display, but today you can also enjoy a free concert by singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash at 2PM. It’s sponsored by Trinity Church and the Governors Island Alliance (with which I am involved). We'll be there, so look for me on the lawn.

Recently, the Governor and the Mayor entered into an agreement transferring control of the Island from an Empire State Development Corp. subsidiary to a new entity to be controlled by the City. The agreement reflects both Mayor Bloomberg’s enthusiasm for the adaptive re-use of the Island, and the State’s present dire financial condition. Let’s all hope that this is a step forward(.pdf) for the Island’s momentum.
 

Tags:

Land Use on Charter Commission Agenda?

The New York City Charter Revision Commission has concluded its round of issue hearings, having moved from term limits to non-partisan elections and the role of various elected official, like the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents, to the City's land use approval process.

There is certainly no shortage of ideas(.pdf) for reforming the Charter, but some believe that it will be difficult for the Commission to come up with comprehensive reform by the end of the summer.

At this point in time, I'm guessing that the Commission will focus on terms limits because of the widespread dissatisfaction when the Mayor and City Council made themselves eligible for a third term last year without a public referendum, and on non-partisan elections, a boost to Republican and Independence Party, which supported the Mayor and which recently got some traction in California. The more complicated issues, like including reform of the use of Community Benefit Agreements(.pdf) in winning public approval, can wait. However, there's likely to be another Charter Commission next year, and the year after and the year after. Unlike California, New York is not very hospitable to public referenda. There are virtually no provisions for citizen initiated votes at the state level. In New York City, the Charter can be amended by popular vote, except that no petition-suggested question can appear on the ballot in a year when a Charter Commission has offered amendments. So there have been numerous commissions over the last decade to block votes on subjects such as moving Yankee Stadium and mandating smaller class size.

BQE Path to Growth Won't Be Through My Backyard

The New York State Department of Transportation has started public outreach on plans to rebuild or replace a section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that runs along the edge of Brooklyn Heights, including a section that extends into the air off a cantilever. That engineering feat was imposed after Brooklyn Heights residents beat back a proposal by Robert Moses to have the highway go through the historic neighborhood in the 1950s. His spirit lives on, however,  as one scenario, described by State DOT as the "worst case" would have required the demolition of a stretch of the north Heights, including  the house in which my wife and I currently live. We were not thrilled with this prospect.

Facing a situation similar to that of the protagonist, Arthur Dent, I brushed off my copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and reminded myself of its soothing suggestion: DON'T PANIC.

Sure enough, local officials vowed to stop condemnation of homes in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. DOT soon beat a hasty retreat. Having apparently determined that they have had to relocate 300-400 families, as well as raze 80 commercial properties, they have taken this concept off the table.

DOT will study other options, including the alternative of tunneling under Brooklyn Heights from Atlantic Avenue to the Brooklyn Bridge. While that might have some additional short term costs, on a life-cycle basis there could be real savings as well as opportunities for waterfront revitalization. I have long been an advocate of replacing the Gowanus Expressway with a tunnel for the same reasons. That alternative (.pdf), conceived by the Regional Plan Association, is currently under consideration. The RPA suggested a Brooklyn Heights bypass some years back, but it didn't attract much attention. State DOT has been aware for decades that the cantilever needed major repairs. It would have made sense to accelerate their planning and throw construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park into the project when it was done, but the State missed the opportunity.

 

Transit Oriented Development

The Urban Land Institute has a new report out arguing that reducing the amount of miles driven every year is absolutely critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. They urge a smart growth (although that phrase seems to have faded somewhat in the jargon fad pool) strategy of bringing people closer to where they work, shop and play. Another word for that is density.

City policy is already moving in that direction, with a goal of 'driving' density to areas near subway stops. That may be problematic for under-served areas, such as Queens, where bus is the major form of mass transit. The MTA is now experimenting with bus rapid transit, to address this need.

 

New York City- the friendliest place on earth

Who could disagree with Mick Dundee's 1986 characterization?

Richard Mason: New York City, Mr. Dundee. Home to seven million people.
Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee: That's incredible. Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth.

Since then, the City has grown to almost 8.4 million people. Currently, New York is the 14th largest city in the world, looking only within the City limits, just behind Jakarta, Indonesia and Kinshasa in the Congo. Of course, different countries have different approaches to drawing boundaries, so if you include the metropolitan suburbs, we move up to number 5. But even within city limits, the population is projected to grow to 9.1 million by 2030.

One of Mayor Bloomberg's accomplishments has been the creation of PlaNYC 2030, a comprehensive strategy to accomodate this growth while at the same time reducing the city's greenhouse emmissions by 30%, to mitigate the impact on climate change. This strategy was developed under Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff at the peak of the real estate market and Wall Street boom. The collapse of the economy heralded by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 meant that Bob Leiber, his successor and himself a former Lehman Brothers executive, had far fewer resources with which to work. Now Leiber has returned to the private sector, and Rohit Aggarwala, who developed the Mayor's sustainability team has left the state. One of the key questions facing City Hall is whether the Administration will continue sustainability as a focus, move more towards basic job creation, or try to fashion a new way of trying to do both. A lot may depend on who fills those shoes.