On March 2nd, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it added the Gowanus Canal to the Superfund National Priorities List. For decades, the community has demanded that the canal and surrounding land be completely cleaned in order to provide housing, including senior and affordable housing, parkland and recreational opportunities. I am confident that the Gowanus Canal will be a priority for the EPA and they will use the full weight of their authority to remediate the site comprehensively and expediently. I have been assured that the EPA will adhere to the highest and most complete standards of remediation and will utilize the most up to date monitoring systems to assess and avert any hazard to the community during the clean-up process.
I call upon the EPA to commence clean-up activities as soon as possible and not delay remediation due to lengthy legal battles with responsible polluters. Of the local residents, business leaders and community activists that I have met with, all agree that we cannot continue to ignore this heavily polluted waterway.
I again urge the City to continue moving forward with the planned rezoning of the Gowanus Canal area. The EPA has made it clear that its proposed remediation for the area will be dependent upon the final use of the land. Land that is zoned for mixed or residential use will be required to achieve a higher standard of clean-up.
A successful clean-up of the Gowanus Canal will tie together communities, provide open space for a variety of recreational uses, and create a safer environment for all.
In addition, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has begun the upgrade work on the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel and wastewater pumping station. If you’ve been near the canal lately, you may have seen a large black pipe on the surface. The pipe is part of the Oxygen Transfer System being installed to help maintain dissolved oxygen levels in the canal while the flushing tunnel is shut down for two years of necessary work. The pipe will be lowered into the canal to a depth of two feet below mean low water within the next few weeks. Real-time monitoring of the system will help ensure the system is working properly and identify any potential problems. DEP does not anticipate any issues because they have used similar systems before, including English Kills in Newtown Creek. Operation of this system is scheduled to begin in August.
It has been an interesting and exciting year for Brooklyn Bridge Park.
On March 23rd, I was joined by Governor David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin, BBPDC President Regina Myer and hundreds of community residents to mark the official opening of Pier 1. While there have been some well documented issues, we can all agree that it is beautiful and was (almost) worth the wait.
Earlier in the month, the City and State announced a Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) that will help to expedite the completion of the park. The proposed modifications include a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and the State to create a not-for-profit entity to manage the development and operation of the park. As part of this agreement, the City will provide an additional $55 million in capital funds for park construction and, equally as important, local control of the park.
The proposed not-for-profit organization, known as the Brooklyn Bridge Park Operating Entity (BBPOE), will be responsible for the planning, construction, maintenance and operation of the park. The new entity will have a 17-member board representing the community, state and city. The mayor will appoint 9 members, the governor will appoint 4 members (of which two must be from the community), and the State Senator, Assemblymember, Borough President and the City Council will each have one appointee on the board. There will also be a Subcommittee on Alternatives to Housing (SAH) that will explore potential alternative revenue sources to the planned residential developments on Pier 6 and John Street.
I understand some of the community’s concerns about BBPOE. I have some of my own. Those concerns, however, are allayed by the accountability this board will have as compared to the current operating entity. Senator Squadron and I made the decision to ask for “veto” power over the new board’s approval to develop residential housing on the John Street and Pier 6 development parcels. We did this to guarantee that a transparent, comprehensive and meaningful process will be undertaken by the Subcommittee on Alternatives to Housing.
I applaud the city for its commitment to provide the funding for the park and its willingness to listen to the community’s call for year-round recreational opportunities, such as the skating rink, an indoor recreational facility at Pier 5 and the floating pool. I look forward to a new partnership with the city to build this much needed park. I believe this partnership will usher in a new era of cooperation and community participation to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
There are many community leaders and elected officials to thank, including my predecessor, Eileen Dugan, and former State Senator Marty Connor, for their vision and hard work. I would like to single out BBPDC President, Regina Myer, for special praise. When she first started, the only advice I gave her was, “Build the park.” And build the park she has.
I look forward to seeing you in our wonderful world-class park this summer and beyond.
Recently the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board, citing an enormous budget deficit, voted to cut many vital services. Most of us rely on public transportation to commute to work or school, go shopping and visit doctors. Easy access to public transportation is one reason the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn are so attractive. Local bus service which transports our seniors and so many students stands to be eliminated completely while other bus lines are set to experience service cuts or be rerouted. I know we must examine every available funding option to solve the problems facing the MTA. Here are some of my solutions:
I introduced Assembly Bill 10345 which would transfer federal stimulus funds from the MTA’s capital budget to its operating budget. This measure would give the MTA sufficient funding to avoid many service cuts as well as layoffs. The federal government has agreed to this plan, but is waiting for a go-ahead from the MTA.
I introduced Assembly Bill 3957 and Senator Squadron has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, which would allow New York City to create and implement a residential permit parking system. The funds generated by the passage of this legislation would be spent solely on improving mass transit in our City.
In January, I organized a rally at the corners of Smith and Union Streets to protest the MTA’s proposal to cut our bus service. Joined by all the area’s elected officials and concerned community members, we made our views known—“Hands off the B71!”
At a public hearing, I submitted testimony once again calling on the MTA to explore all avenues to prevent these disastrous cuts.
I have urged the MTA to take full advantage of its real estate assets. For example, the MTA sold their Atlantic Yards property for less than half of its appraised value of over $200 million. The MTA leased property at 370 Jay Street has sat vacant for far too long. Presently, it is an eyesore, an under utilized piece of prime real estate. If the MTA has no use for the building, they should end their lease now.
I acknowledge the role the State has played in short-changing the City’s mass transit system. Now is the time to stop pointing fingers and save our system. I will continue to fight for all of us who rely on public transportation.
From January to June, the state legislature meets in Albany to introduce and consider legislation. Most importantly, the Assembly, Senate and Governor must pass a budget that maintains health, education, transportation and other necessary public services while in a challenging economic climate. In the upcoming weeks, I will continue to work diligently to put New York State on the road to fiscal recovery. In addition to addressing New York State’s current budget crisis and my work as Chair of the Assembly Election Law Committee, here are some of the bills I have been working to advance.
Ensuring Quality and Continuity of Public Education (A.10580)
I introduced legislation in response to the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) current policy of closing or significantly reorganizing schools that are not meeting certain DOE criteria. While I recognize that many of our public schools need to achieve higher goals, I have concerns that in these school closures and reorganizations, students with special needs often fall through the cracks. The bill I authored, A.10580, would ensure that students be placed in a new school with services appropriate to the student’s needs, before the existing school could be approved for closure or significant restructuring.
Providing Equal Opportunities for Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (A.4093)
One important goal of mine in the Assembly is to eliminate barriers that prevent minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBE) from competing for government contracts. Many MWBEs have stated that statutory bonding requirements prohibit them from competing for public projects. Small companies often do not have the assets and the record of experience required by bonding companies; however, they cannot bid on a public project without bonding. This bill would enable small, certified minority and women-owned businesses to gain experience with larger projects. It will benefit contracting agencies as well as the targeted businesses by creating a larger pool of qualified contractors and subcontractors available for public works projects.
Improving Bicycle Safety (A.2842)
New York City has over 200 miles of marked bike lanes, with nearly 1,000 additional miles of planned bike lanes. It is estimated that over 200,000 New Yorkers bike daily; however, cycling is still far too dangerous in our city. To improve bicycle safety, I introduced A.2842 (and Senator Eric Adams has proposed a companion bill in the Senate) which would create a mandatory surcharge for vehicles standing or parking in a designated bike lane. All funds collected would be designated to the New York City Department of Transportation’s Bicycle Safety Outreach Program, which makes our streets safer for both cyclists and motorists.
Giving Us a Voice on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board (A.7137B)
On December 31, 2009, a provision expired that had allowed two representatives of riders and transit workers to be members of the 17-person MTA Board. I was successful, along with my Senate colleague Martin Milave Dilan, in introducing and passing legislation into law that continues the membership of these rider and union representatives on the MTA Board. Although these board members cannot cast votes on MTA proposals, they are consulted and involved in MTA deliberations. It is critical that these interests are represented on the MTA board, especially when so much is at stake.
Protecting Consumers from Dangerous Chemicals (A.7602A)
I am proud to report that the Assembly recently passed A.7602A—a bill that I authored to prevent children and animals from ingesting deadly antifreeze. Ethylene glycol is a sweet-tasting, aromatic and highly toxic chemical commonly found in antifreeze that is responsible for poisoning household pets and even humans. This bill requires any engine coolant or antifreeze that contains more than ten percent ethylene glycol also contain a specified amount of denatonium benzoate, a bittering agent. Arizona, California, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington State already have laws on the books to deter antifreeze ingestion. Let’s make sure New Yorkers and their pets are also protected!
Encouraging Energy Conservation (K 1109)
I led the effort in the Assembly to include New York State in an international action, called Earth Hour, to promote energy conservation and draw attention to climate change. Initiated by the World Wildlife Fund, International Earth Hour encourages individuals, schools, organizations, businesses and governments to pledge to turn off unnecessary lighting for one hour, at 8:30 pm on Saturday, March 27th. I passed legislative resolution K1109 to officially declare International Earth Hour throughout the state of New York. For more information, visit https://www.myearthhour.org/home.
The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative
The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is a 14 mile off-street recreational path for cyclists, pedestrians and runners that will connect Greenpoint to Sunset Park.
Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI), a non-profit organization founded in 2004, is responsible for planning and coordinating the development of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The idea for this wonderful project was conceived by Columbia Waterfront residents Brian McCormick, Milton Puryear and Meg Fellerath in 1998. When they started, New York City officials could not envision a 14-mile greenway along Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront. Now the Greenway is recognized as an essential public health and sustainable transportation resource that will shape the future development of Brooklyn’s waterfront.
After ten years of building support, planning the project, and securing funding, the Greenway is poised to become a unified New York City capital project. In 2008, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed to sponsor the federal funding, coordinate the master plan, and build the Greenway. BGI has used three successive rounds of funding from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, each sponsored by the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, to work with its partners to complete the conceptual planning for the entire route, as well as publish design principles and a stewardship plan. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has also been a supportive partner of the Greenway by generously providing additional space for the pathway.
Earlier in the spring, NYC DOT conducted a series of workshops to solicit community input on routes and designs. It was co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, along with the Regional Plan Association. For those of you who missed the workshops, there will be another series later in the year where preliminary route and design presentations will be presented for community feedback.
In addition to all of the amazing work they have accomplished to make this dream a reality, BGI sponsors numerous events throughout the year. In July, they are holding the second annual 40-mile “Brooklyn Waterfront Epic Ride” which goes from Greenpoint to Far Rockaway. Details on these events will be available on their website- www.brooklyngreenway.org. I am proud to be a supporter of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, including providing funding for the Greenway to traverse through Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Recently, I had the opportunity to offer testimony outlining my recommendations to the New York City Charter Revision Commission. The New York City Charter is an important document creating the basic form and administration of city government—for example, the Charter includes provisions that affect community boards, our most grassroots form of democracy in the City. Current law allows the mayor to appoint a commission to review the charter, hold public hearings in each borough and issue a report of its proposed amendments and revisions which eventually are placed on the ballot for the voting public to approve or disprove.
I strongly believe the charter revision process must not be rushed—the charter is too important and too much is at stake. In my testimony, I called on the commission to extend its process beyond the current artificial deadline of November 2, 2010 to November 2012. There are many issues that should be addressed by the Commission— term limits, the roles of the Borough Presidents and the Public Advocate, and the land use system, to name just three. These are serious issues that necessitate an open, thoughtful and deliberate process.
In addition to presenting my ideas to the Commission, I also support Assembly Bill 10172-B, which would require the Commission to allow more time for participation from the community. This bill lays out a clear process for the Charter Revision Commission to follow, giving commission members and the public more opportunities to fully understand a proposal before it goes on the ballot. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to take up this bill so that it may become law before the November 2nd deadline.