Rosenthal Town Hall Addresses Rising Tax Bills, E-Bikes, School Diversity and More

Helen Rosenthal and several public officials answered questions.

By Joy Bergmann

Name your bugbear. Rats? E-bikes? Traffic scofflaws? Landlord harassment? Dog doo-doo? Homeless encampments? Transit accessibility? Screaming sirens? Gas shut-offs? Too-tall buildings? Small business struggles? Property assessments?

Representatives from over a dozen City agencies and Con Ed addressed these concerns and many more last Thursday evening at Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s fifth annual Town Hall held at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

The three-hour event started with the announcement of the four winners of this year’s $1 million in Participatory Budgeting awards.  “This year’s project competition was our most successful to date,” Rosenthal said. “3583 residents voted for their favorite community initiatives, about 500 more than last year.“ Projects receiving funds are:

Before hearing from the panelists, attendees received a 44-page booklet filled with detailed answers to frequently asked questions on topics ranging from sanitation to schools. So, before asking, “What about…” Rosenthal encouraged residents to review its contents for information about their particular issue. [And if it’s not in there, it may be covered in last year’s similar compilation.]

Rosenthal speaks to a constituent after the meeting.

WSR also requested that the real-time transcript that was captured and displayed on site for hearing-impaired attendees – using a new technology called CART – be made publicly available for constituents to review. We will update this story with a link if that file gets posted online.

Following is a sampling of the night’s discussion, edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.

Calling 311 is Important

Reps repeatedly emphasized the importance of calling 311 to make complaints.  Many agencies get their marching orders through the 311 system and prioritize their responses based on that data.

Uneven pavement, unsafe sidewalks: Call 311 for Department of Transportation [DOT] inspectors to assess.

Eternal sidewalk sheds: Call 311 for Department of Buildings [DOB] to send engineers that can approve shed removal and inspectors to ensure owners dismantle them.

Dangerous delivery bikes:  Call 311 with the name of the business to have DOT enforce the Commercial Bicycling laws; NYPD is also ramping up efforts against illegal E-bikes with throttles, seizing them and issuing summonses to restaurant owners.

Captain Seth Lynch talks with a constituent after the meeting.

After-hours, illegal and/or noisy construction: Call 311 to report any construction issues, especially construction happening outside of 7am-6pm weekdays that requires special permits. DOB handles all permits; Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] handles noise complaints.

Rat infestations: Call 311 for Department of Health and Mental Hygiene [DOHMH] deployment. Fun fact:  NYC has a “rat portal” that maps rat inspection data. Rosenthal announced that she had directed significant funding for enclosed trash containers at every playground in Riverside Park.

Canine feces scofflaws: Call 311 to get Department of Sanitation investigators in unmarked cars to catch the poop-ertrators in the act; provide typical time, location and description of the dog and human.

Idling, polluting vehicles: Call 311 for DEP to issue summonses.

Lakes forming in streets after rains: Call 311 for DOT to inspect if the road needs to be re-graded. If it’s a catch basin issue, DEP installs and inspects them.

Rising Property Assessments

Taxes, anyone?

Helen Rosenthal:  The Mayor and City Council have not raised property taxes, but the assessments keep going up and it means that homeowners – condos, co-ops, single-family – are getting priced out of our homes. What is the Department of Finance doing to address the assessment problem?

Sheela Feinberg, DOF:  Assessments are complicated, as many of you know if you read our “Notice of Property Value.” Part of what makes it complicated is that we’re dictated by State law about how we do our assessments, particularly for Class 2 properties such as co-ops and condos. We have to look at comparable buildings.

If any of you have specific questions about your assessments, you can contact Councilmember Rosenthal’s office or with me directly. One of the things we’re aware of with rising property taxes…

HR:  Property assessments. We have not raised property taxes.

SF:   In response to some of these rising costs, is that we have increased our exemptions eligibility for people who are for seniors and the disabled. We increased the income limit from $37,399 to $58,399 as a way to offset some of the increase in the assessments. We’ve also expanded our veterans’ exemptions programs.

It’s very important to carefully read your “Notice of Property Value” when you receive it in January. There’s information in that mailing that includes ways to appeal your assessment and get somebody to come out and re-assess your property. You can do that through the Department of Finance, but must do so before March 15th of every year. Or you can do that through the independent Tax Commission and that deadline is March 1st.  After the appeal process is completed, you’ll see your final “Notice of Property Value” come out in June.

HR:  It’s a source of frustration. The assessments are making life difficult for middle-class people who live in this district who own their apartments.

Free Mental Health Services and Training Available

A resident asked that NYCHA staff, especially at Stephen Wise Towers on W. 90th Street, improve their approach when interacting with people with mental illness.

The NYCHA rep promised to discuss this with Wise Towers’ management.  A Department of Health and Mental Hygiene rep added that as part of Chirlane McCray’s Thrive NYC initiative, DOHMH has been working with NYPD and other agencies on co-response and training.

Anyone facing mental health struggles can receive free, confidential counseling 24/7 via talk, text or chat through the NYC Well program.

People seeking to learn how to be of better help to those with mental illness – whether it’s de-escalating a crisis or being a more effective advocate – may sign up to take a free, eight-hour training course in Mental Health First Aid.

Additional Subway Elevators:  Why Not?

Perhaps the most contentious exchange of the evening concerned the current and impending closures of B/C line stations for repairs and the MTA’s decision not to include the installation of accessible elevators as part of that work.

HR:  There’s no question in my mind that we could put some sort of elevator at both the 110th Street and 86th Street stations. I am deeply disappointed that you’re not using this opportunity to put those elevators in now.

The experts from the Transit Center even know specifications about the elevators that can fit in those locations. It’s not acceptable to say, “we’re doing a plan” when we have the opportunity right now. I mean, “a lot of zeros” [on price tag] well, who cares? We’re talking about residents of the city. And it’s going to be many more zeros if we wait until the [next] plan comes out.

I know you have firms under contract now to add elevators on the L line. There’s really no excuse for not doing it here.

Cate Cotino, MTA:  I hear what you’re saying. The stations at 72nd Street and 86th Street are part of the Enhanced Station initiative, a new type of program for us. One of the tenets is to close the station for a very minimal amount of time. The work that we’re doing now does not preclude future work at that station. This Enhanced Station initiative is to fix critical repairs that need to be done now.

HR:  I don’t think you heard me. I appreciate the position you’re in – it’s your first time on the Upper West Side:  Welcome!  Please, take back to [NYCT President] Mr. Byford that he’s wasting an opportunity and this community is outraged.

It’s a waste of good government resources. You’re opening it up. There’s no common sense answer. I’ve asked repeatedly for tours at those locations with an engineer to show me why they can’t put in an elevator. Time is ticking. Chairman Lhota promised me that tour at a meeting we had with him two months ago.

CC:  We need to follow up on that.

School Diversity

HR:  There’s going to be a change in the middle school admission process. What are the changes? What’s going to happen?

Ilene Altshul, District 3 Superintendent, Department of Education: The first definite change right now is we are moving to blind ranking. Previously there has always been revealed ranking for all the students when they rank their middle school choices.

Definitively, as part of the Chancellor’s Equity in Access Plan, is that all of the districts will be moving to blind ranking and we are [among] the last of three to actually take this on. That will be happening next year.

At the same time, we are hoping to move forward and foster an academic diversity plan within our middle schools. So we are discussing and presenting one scenario where we are looking at having 10% level one offers and 15% level two offers to students when they are selecting their middle school.

We’re hoping to get feedback on that scenario at this time to see how we should move forward. We have been engaging with families, CEC, all the principals within the district to get their input on this decision.

As far as timing, we will be making a definitive decision by the beginning of June.

HR: Our education district is the most segregated district in the city. I’ve worked very hard on this. The local Community Education Council and the Department of Education took some good first steps two years ago in order to desegregate our schools.

We have to do it at every level. We can’t stop thinking about this.

The plan that the Superintendent just laid out is a baby step, but it’s a baby step we have to take in order to improve the diversity problem in our district. I support it fully.

IA:  Thank you for your support

NEWS | 32 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      Con Ed thinks they own the streets.

      311 is defective. The Precinct Sergeant gave me his cell when he heard about their runaround.

      • Sue says:

        Admittedly it’s been a few years since I last tried to call 311 – but EVERY TIME I tried – I got the runaround too. Never once was I able to fine out anything.

    2. Scott says:

      So much nonsense about e-bikes. We need statistics. Show me statistics that they’re more dangerous and I’ll listen. Until then, lay off. The record shows that the most dangerous cyclists by far are the boy-racers in Central Park. 2 deaths I can think of off hand.

      • For the Schwinn says:

        This is a really reactionary attitude. Wait until there are deaths to try to prevent deaths?

        If you’ve ever had a close encounter with an e-bike you will not feel the need to wait until the next time to try to mitigate their dangers.

        The educational initiatives can’t hurt either. You have riders who are often new to the country and marginalized within the community, and who may have language barriers and different cultural attitudes towards the pedestrian-cyclist-driver interface.

        But why wait when you can see dangerous e-bike behavior any and every day of the week?

        • Scott says:

          I’ve had plenty of close calls with $5,000 manual bikes operated by upper-middle class twits decked out in racing gear. I don’t see the cops confiscating their bikes because of their crappy behavior.

          Again, this isn’t about your impressions, or mine. It’s about making policy. But yeah, let’s just go with anecdotes about how you were scared once crossing Columbus Ave.

          • For The Schwinn says:

            Since we appear to agree on the need for greater enforcement of traffic laws vis à vis cyclists, can we also agree that this is not time to open a whole new frontier of pedestrian threats?

            And if you’re truly interested in making policy, you must also understand that allowing e-cyclists to break the law and threaten pedestrians in exactly the same way that manual cyclists do is not good policy?

            I was walking with a friend from out of town (Chicago, no burg) who remarked on how she found herself having to orient her field of vision in many more directions here on the UWS because of the cyclists coming from so many directions, some legally, others not. Justly spoken, as an e-cyclist approached from behind, on the sidewalk.

            I am a cyclist, mostly recreationally but occasionally as a commuting option. I support initiatives to promote cycling (SAFE cycling) all over the city. But it is insanity to ignore the very real threat that e-cyclists represent, and in particular the threat that overworked and underpaid delivery personnel represent, where they are economically incented by speed rather motivated by safety. Throw in a language barrier and a different cultural sensitivity, and you have a formula for pedestrian injury.

            You can be glib about fearful anecdotes about crossing Columbus Avenue (it was 96th actually), but anecdotes are the precursors to data. It’s all fun and games until it’s your mother getting mowed down by an out-of-control delivery guy.

      • Zulu says:

        Scott, I agree with you but now the WSR Anti-Bicycle Squad will fill this thread with 30+ comments on how bikes are evil incarnate and they have to be regulated, licensed, carry license plates, carry insurance, solve the homeless problem, cure cancer, come up with a formula that unifies Newtonian and Quantum Physics and a whole slew of other stuff that doesn’t make any sense.

        • Thor says:

          As a daily cyclist, I agree with you Zulu that mandatory helmets, licenses, registrations, insurance requirements, and traffic enforcement are all good ideas.

          Together we can make the UWS safer for all residents. Do it for the children! Even the children.

          • Zulu says:

            A recipe to obliterate ridership as shown in Australia. Which would be a completely opposite approach to the one taken in cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, a few cities in Germany, etc. where cycling as a means of transportation has been successfully introduced and thrived.

        • Cato says:

          “…but now the WSR Anti-Bicycle Squad will fill this thread with 30+ comments on how bikes are evil incarnate and they have to be regulated, * * * come up with a formula that unifies Newtonian and Quantum Physics and a whole slew of other stuff that doesn’t make any sense.”

          Well, how about if they just obey the laws first? Like stopping at red lights? I think most of us would settle for that.

        • Mollie says:

          They are a problem and should be licensed and regulated like cars. But our dear mayor loves to jump the gun and change things before actually putting things in place first. So we have idiots on bikes texting and making calls. And we have Amsterdamn Ave down to ONE LANE with the bikes and double parked delivery trucks. So yes, the anti-dangerous bike lane people are going to come out cause these bike lanes are ruining the upper west side.

          • Zulu says:

            Dear Mollie,

            I made a few corrections on your post. I hope you don’t mind.

            “So we have idiots on [cars] texting and making calls. And we have Amsterdamn Ave down to ONE LANE [because] of double parked delivery trucks. So yes, the anti-dangerous [car] lane people are going to come out cause these [car] lanes are ruining the upper west side.”

            I took the liberty to switch a few nouns and added a conjunction based on the depressing fact that so far this year 33 New Yorkers have been struck and killed by cars/trucks. So I naturally assumed that when you said “[…] these bike lanes are ruining the upper west side.” you were referring to cars. Yes, naturally.

      • Sid says:

        It’s similarly ridiculous that there is not a sentence about cars under pedestrian safety. Cars and reckless drivers pose literally the biggest risk to pedestrians by a long-shot over bikes and ebikes.

        I’ve written to Rosenthal’s office about reckless driving and extremely dangerous driving and have never gotten a sufficient reply.

        • reed says:

          Each party needs to take responsibility. Pedestrians continually walk across the street even with the ‘DON’T WALK’ sign. Many times a guardian will actually push a stroller or have a dog on a long leash and ignore the ‘DON’T WALK’ warning and to top it off on a cell phone. Their irresponsible behaviors put not only children, their pets at physical risk but also a driver of car who follows the rules of the road.

          Ironically several years ago I was going to a pro-bike meeting in order to testify. As I crossed the intersection at West 106 Street and Columbus Avenue a bike illegally went through the red light going in the wrong direction and stroke me to the ground. initially I thought I might be having a heart attack…I called 911 2X and after 30 minutes no one showed up. I had clearly stated to 911 that a bike had knocked me to the ground and that I had difficulty breathing. I went to the meeting and told the bike representative that I could not support their cause….the advocate’s reponse was again irresponsible and demonstrated to our group that they do not have follow the rules of the road. Afterwards I went to ER and clearly I had damage to my cuff and now after 3 years I have lost muscle and will lose the mobility with my one arm.

          Even though I had reported the ‘hit and run’ to the police the situation was not taken seriously nor did our Council Member respond in a meaningful manner.

        • Cato says:

          Sid is right. We should eliminate pedestrians from Manhattan once and for all.

      • ST says:

        Saw an e bike roaring down the Columbus last night, and not in a bike lane. First it was speeding. Second and more distressing, it was nosier than a motorcycle. Very noisy. So NY state won’t regulate motorcycle noise, like CT for example, and now we sre going to have this? Speeding noise-makers?

    3. Sherman says:

      I wish the UWS had another choice besides Helen Rosenthal.

      • dannyboy says:

        i agree.

        HR deflected my suggestions for the WEA redo.

        I later sent her some documentation and explained that the blood was on her hands.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        yes, Sherman, i sure wish we could have City Council elections.

        What’s that? We just did, and Helen Rosenthal got almost 90% of the vote?

        • Sherman says:

          What percentage of voters actually voted in this election?

          You’re mistaking apathy for support.

      • Cato says:

        “I wish the UWS had another choice besides Helen Rosenthal.”

        It did. Twice. We call them “elections”. (Four times, actually, if you consider two primaries and two general elections.)

        Your fellow citizens (including the ones in rent-stabilized apartments!) chose her. No Electoral College here!

        (Oh, how bitter.)

        • ST says:

          I refused to vote for HR both times. My name for her is “Useless Helen” because she and her whole office are all talk and no action. My observation of her at public events is that she always blows in late like she is a rock star disrupting the meeting by blowing kisses and greeting people with Cheshire-Cat smiles, then she takes advantage of whatever photo op or little public stand that will make her look like she is actually doind something, followed by a quick and early exit. We on the UWS ate being disserved.

    4. Reed says:

      The school district is segregated for one primary reason: the housing patterns that has been reinforced by CB7 and our political representatives. Young children should be able to go to their local schools and at the same time be given every educational opportunity in order to become productive and healthy citizens.. A child needs to be given an equal chance to excel and to achieve higher testing scores, but this is not evident within this school district. The burden should not be on the Board of Education, but it should be on all of the Council Members within CB 7, the CB 7itself and our Borough President. Low income and supportive housing is continually forced into Manhattan Valley and sadly this includes not only very young children at risk, but their families as well. By intentionally or unintentionally developing Manhattan Valley as a primary place for such housing one is actually creating an environment that offers less opportunity as demonstrated by the poor testing schools of the PS 145 elementary school on West 105 Street.

      The West 108 Street garage project is an example of the lack of true concern for people in need. The Borough President, CB 7 and all of the Council Members would not have a healthy or even a meeting with the general Manhattan Valley community to identify and discuss what a large scale development would have on the neigbhorhood schools. Two crucial issues: the environmental and educational impact. were never seriously discussed by our representatives. In fact they were ignored. CB 7 demonstrated poorly run meetings that set up a series of situations that did not allow the public to discuss concerns that may impact on our student population. Questions were ignored and many times meetings were manipulated to present very little time to even ask a question. Our Borough President refused to meet with the general public on this project. Educational impact is an important issue in Manhattan Valley due to a high poverty level and with so many children with special needs.

      I am thankful that our Board of Education is seriously looking into this matter. I suggest that we as a community to identify and discuss the very roots of this problem: sure it’s segregation, however we need to look at the housing patterns within Community Board 7.

      • Parker says:

        Very well said.

      • Jay says:

        So, replacing a parking garage with housing for elderly people has created a negative educational environment for the neighborhood? What have you been smoking?

        • Reed says:

          Facts and stats reinforce what I had stated. Geography/location regarding affordable housing has a direct impact on the community in many ways including educational opportunity for our children. Please research the organizing in Conn. called ‘OPEN COMMUNITIES ALLIANCE’…this group had been addressing the issues that I brought up for discussion and the Governor of Conn. has been working with this organization.

          A small statement from this group:

          “Where you live affects your access to opportunity — and this can be mapped.”

          “Opportunity mapping is an analytical tool that deepens our understanding of “opportunity” dynamics within regions. The goal of opportunity mapping is to identify opportunity-rich and opportunity isolated communities. With a basic understanding of the geography of opportunity we can then better determine who has access to opportunity resources and how to remedy opportunity inequality. Here is what opportunity looks like in Connecticut (map)”

          The NYT has been following this issue for a number of years and the ACLU has taken housing steering into isolated communities to court.

          Yup, I’m a smokin’ against discrimination.

          • Jay says:

            Ahh.. I think I understand what you are saying now. You’re saying that diversity has a negative effect on children’s learning capabilities. I think I will stop trying to understand the mental gymnastics you are going through to justify your backwards mentality.

    5. Stef Lev says:

      Always late LR!! You were on the Community Board and should have seen this coming!!

    6. Wendy says:

      Don’t trust much of DSM-5 ? n.b. Women & Madness by Phyllis Chesler. What @ just plain mean folk; e.g., who play raucous musics with a door open; or, until @ 2:30 a.m.? Any of the $25million for Thrive …reaching clients ? Pity : the Thorazine shuffle. STOP E.C.T.. There’s a book with photos , for teaching [teenagers ?] some social skills.

    7. Bz says:

      Just curious..why doesn’t the FDNY budget pay for new windows for Engine Co.74?

    8. Barbara says:

      It is outrageous to allow work on the subway stations without installing elevators. Our neighborhood has elderly, handicapped and many parents and caregivers with young children in strollers. An elevator is essential for many people to use the subway. None exist at 86th street. The plan should not be allowed to move forward without the inclusion of elevators for those in need.

    9. Barbara says:

      Outrageous that elevators are not included in the plans to improve the subway stations. The upper west side has many elderly, handicapped, and parents and care givers with young children in strollers. Elevators should be a first priority for those in need of them. 86th street station has no elevators. The plans should not be allowed to proceed without including elevators.