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:
- Technology upgrades at three UWS NYPL libraries: $200,000
- PS 166 technology upgrades:$250,000
- Tree guards and neighborhood beautification: $42,000
- Window replacements at Engine 74 firehouse (120 W. 83rd): $500,000
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.]
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.
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
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.
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