Councilman Andy King Suspended + Ballot Measure Explainer Part 3

LOCAL NEWS

  • The City Council passed several significant laws last week including: an animal welfare package featuring a ban on foie gras, a plan to reshape the city’s streets with bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian space, and a plan to overhaul the city’s commercial waste disposal system.

  • Mayor de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson have agreed to a $1.7 billion plan to rapidly add 250 new miles of protected bike lanes and 150 new miles of dedicated bus lanes to city streets.

  • Hundreds of people marched through downtown Brooklyn to protest NYPD violent tactics and the MTA’s crackdown on fare evasion. The surge of policing in the subway system is part of a broader criminalization of poverty in the city.

  • According to a report issued by a federal monitor, the Department of Corrections has not done anything to curb the violence and “hyper-confrontational” behavior of guards in New York City jails. This is despite promised reforms in the aftermath of a 2015 settlement.

  • More than 100 current and former employees of the NYC City Council have published an open letter demanding better protections for council staff. 

  • The NYPD issued its long-sought policy on the public release of body-worn camera footage, detailing how the department must respond to requests for footage from the public and the various exemptions that determine its release.

  • The owners of Industry City, a sprawling retail and manufacturing hub on the Sunset Park waterfront, are moving forward with their proposed rezoning, despite skepticism from a local councilmember and fervent opposition from neighborhood activists. The rezoning application was certified by the City Planning Commission on Monday. The rezoning seeks to develop more than 1 million square feet on the 35-acre, 16-building property, potentially adding new hotels, retail, and office space to an area once known for heavy manufacturing.

  • The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a permit to a private developer who plans to build a BJ’s, a gas station, and a parking lot over 18 acres of wetlands near Staten Island. Activists and local officials asked for a public hearing on the matter, which the DEC refused. 

  • In the two years since Governor Cuomo announced a program to help incarcerated people apply for clemency, he has not approved a single application, despite receiving over 200 appeals.

ELECTIONS

  • The City Council has voted to suspend Bronx Council Member Andy King for 30 days, and fine him $15,000, after a report substantiated claims that he misused public money, harassed aids, and retaliated against people who came forward. Chloe Rivera, who came forward as the 2017 complainant against King, called for him to be removed from the Council. 

  • The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York is already circulating a training for DAs on how to circumvent the bail reforms passed earlier this year by the State legislature.

  • During his failed presidential run, Mayor Bill de Blasio relied primarily on donors who have business dealings with the city, who were often wealthy and are rarely motivated by ideology.

  • Jay Jacobs, an ally of Governor Cuomo who is serving as the chairman of the New York State Democratic Party and a member of the State Public Campaign Financing Commission, is pushing a proposal that would disempower almost every third party in the state, including the Working Families Party. Jacob’s proposal would quintuple the number of votes that a political party needs to guarantee a spot on the ballot in the next election, moving the threshold from 50,000 to roughly 250,000. 

  • Tiffany Cabán is going to work for the Working Families Party.

  • State Senator Michael Gianaris (District 12, Western Queens) has signed on to a pledge to step down from his district leader position, in line with calls from a coalition of reformers in Queens to decentralize power within its county committee. Rep. Gregory Meeks and the Queens Democratic machine are planning to defend incumbents against potential reformist challengers in 2020.

In-Depth: Ballot Questions 4 & 5

Starting on October 26th (early voting is October 26th through November 3rd, and Voting Day is TOMORROW, November 5th), New Yorkers have been voting on five ballot questions that, if approved, will amend the City Charter. We covered Questions 12 and 3 in previous issues of The Thorn. This week we are covering Questions 4 and 5, which address a city “Rainy day fund” and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), respectively.

Ballot Question 4: City Budget (“Rainy day fund”)

This question contains four proposals related to the city budget. The first proposal would amend the City Charter to: “Allow the City to use a revenue stabilization fund, or ‘rainy day fund,’ to save money for use in future years, such as to address unexpected financial hardships.”

Currently, the City lacks the authority to roll-over revenue in such a dedicated fund. This is one result of the Financial Emergency Act (FEA) passed by the state in 1975 when the city was facing insolvency, and the state and financial elites stepped in to impose new fiscal controls and cut welfare programs. The FEA required that the City prepare a balanced budget in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and the City Charter reinforces these standards. GAAP principles mandate that, within a fiscal year, the City government only spend money that is brought in as revenue. GAAP does not consider money saved in a rainy day fund to be revenue, so, while nothing currently prevents the City from putting money into a rainy day fund, the City cannot spend that money in future years Basically, the City could put money into a rainy day fund, but they could not spend it. As a result, the City has not created a rainy day fund. 

It is worth nothing that creating a fund would also require changes to the FEA, which is State legislation. The FEA could either be overturned by State legislators or is set to expire in 2033. So, this ballot question is only the first step, and does not actually enable the City to create a rainy day fund on its own.

Fiscal watchdog groups like the Citizens Budget Commission have long supported the creation of a rainy day fund. The proposal is also supported by Citizens UnionCommon Cause/NY and New York Immigration Coalition.

Another proposal would set minimum budgets for the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents. In 2009, the Public Advocate’s office saw a budget cut of 40% after then-Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum opposed the Mayor and Council’s  term limit extensions. Similarly, Borough Presidents who stood with communities against the Council and the Mayor on controversial rezonings have also seen their budget targeted for cuts. The 2019 Charter Revision Commission argues that independently elected officials, such as the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents, should not have their budgets depend on the Mayor and Council. The proposal does not provide for an independent budget for the Comptroller, who is also independently elected.

The two other proposals are related to the financial information the mayor must give to the council for the budget process, essentially providing revenue estimates and budget modification notices sooner than is currently required. Presently, the Council relies on mayoral offices for essential budget information, and the 2019 Charter Revision Commission argues that requiring that the Council receive this information sooner will make the body more informed during budget negotiations with the Mayor.

Ballot Question 5: Land Use

Ballot question five contains two proposals. Both proposals adjust the timeline in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, commonly known as ULURP (pronounced you-lerp). To evaluate these proposals, it may be helpful to know some background information about ULURP.

ULURP was created in 1975 in an attempt to regulate and standardize how land use actions are reviewed and approved. A wide variety of land use actions are subject to ULURP, including, for example, rezonings; the purchase or sale of property by the City; and special permits to projects that vary from conformance with the City’s Zoning Resolution. ULURP was enacted, in part, to address concerns about large building and infrastructure projects that were developed without community input throughout the mid-20th century. Often helmed by infamous, unelected NYC power broker Robert Moses, the projects displaced thousands of residents. ULURP was an attempt to ensure that elected officials and residents had input into significant land use decisions. In addition to the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the City Council, ULURP outlines advisory roles for Borough Presidents and community boards. It also sets timelines and deadlines for each stage of the review process.

The two proposals in Question 5 adjust this timeline. Currently, the DCP is required to deliver a project summary to the affected Borough President and community board only after an ULURP application is officially submitted to the DCP. This official filing often occurs many months after pre-filing discussions (referred to as pre-ULURP) between applicants and DCP staff on how to shape the project for formal ULURP review. Community boards and Borough Presidents have complained that ULURP projects are often shaped in this pre-ULURP stage, leaving limited room for other input. The first proposal in this question would require DCP to give a ULURP project summary to Borough Presidents and community boards at least 30 days before the application is officially submitted to DCP, and made available for public review.

The second proposal in this question expands the time given to community boards to review ULURP applications. Currently, after DCP sends an application to community boards, the boards have 60 days to review the applications and give an advisory opinion. Community boards, which are composed of volunteers, have complained about having inadequate time to do research, hold a meeting, and develop official opinions. This proposal will extend the time allotted to community boards by about a month.

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