By Daniel Katzive
New York State legislators representing Upper West Side districts got a chance to respond to community concerns about crime, rats, and housing at a Zoom forum on Tuesday.
The forum was hosted by the UWS Coalition of Block Associations and Community Groups. Participating were Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell and Linda Rosenthal, and State Senators Brad Hoylman, Robert Jackson, and newly elected Senator Cordell Cleare. Attorney Jerry Goldfeder also gave an overview of redistricting (although he skipped the fact that a sliver of the UWS has been sliced off and handed over to the Upper East Side.)
Crime was at the forefront of concerns raised by viewers and relayed by Coalition members moderating the forum. Both Senators Hoylman and Jackson pushed back on suggestions that the 2019 bail reform legislation has contributed to rising crime rates, with Senator Hoylman calling this a “classic confusion between causation and correlation,” and adding that he has not seen any data to suggest bail reform is responsible for increases in crime.
Senator Hoylman pointed out that the bail reform legislation only impacted non-violent offenses and misdemeanors (with violent felonies still subject to bail.) He also noted that crime rates have risen in pockets throughout the U.S. in the period following passage of bail reform, and not just in New York State.
Senator Jackson took a similar view, adding that he is willing to consider adjustments to the legislation but not a wholesale reversal of the reforms, noting “people are willing to listen but they are not willing to make a fundamental change….”
With a rollback of bail reform not seen as an attractive option, the officials emphasized proposals for increased spending for mental health interventions, medication, and services for homeless and formerly incarcerated people, as well as legislation highlighted by Assembly Member O’Donnell that would allow parole officers to more easily seek mental health help for parolees who might become a danger to themselves or others.
Cracking down on the supply of guns was also stressed as critical, with proposals for legislation aimed at interstate gun trafficking emphasized as well as legislation highlighted by Assembly Member Rosenthal to require “micro stamping” mechanisms for guns purchased in New York State. Micro stamping can help match spent shell casings to the gun which fired them.
Assembly Members O’Donnell and Rosenthal both spent time responding to community frustration with the plague of rats upon the Upper West Side. They noted plans for more virtual “rat academies,” where DSNY and DOH officials will offer guidance for community groups seeking to reduce infestations. Expanding the city’s composting program was also discussed as a way of reducing the quantity of food for rats in mixed garbage bags on the streets.
Affordable housing was another important theme in this meeting. Senator Cleare noted her concerns about the shrinking supply of rent-regulated apartments as older buildings are torn down, and all of the speakers emphasized the need to build more affordable units. Increased funding for financial assistance for renters and owners was also likely to be an objective in the State budget process now underway and scheduled to conclude on April 1.
You can watch the full forum here.
The UWS Coalition’s next monthly forum, on March 15, will focus on housing issues.