Archive for the tag 'bill de blasio'

Photos of the staging area at the Fountain Avenue landfill. (Source: GooseWatch NYC)

Photos of the staging area at the Fountain Avenue landfill. (Source: GooseWatch NYC)

Another day, another animal in the cross-hairs of the wildlife gestapo.

In the wacky world of wildlife preservation, we’ve seen battles rage over swans and cats in the past few weeks, and now concerns are being revived about the annual plans to round up and euthanize Canada geese.

The latest comes from GooseWatch NYC, an advocacy group that since 2010 has been sounding the alarm on the city’s annual goose culling. They say that members have spotted USDA Wildlife Services agents, which the city and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey contracts to manage the swan population, setting up a staging area at Canarsie’s Fountain Avenue Landfill (which has been folded into the wildlife refuge and is in the process of $20 million ecological restoration). Trucks with the USDA logo were photographed, along with kayaks, crates and corral gates used to round up the birds before carting them off for lethal gassing.

Such culling usually happens around this time every year, as Canada geese go through their molting period, hampering their flying ability and making them easier to capture.

The group is outraged, as they are every year, especially since the area is now part of the wildlife refuge. They also say that, following the 1,000 goose culling over the last two years, there are just a few dozen remaining in Jamaica Bay, suggesting that the agency seeks total annihilation and not just population control.

“It’s now obvious that the USDA intends to kill every last Canada goose they can at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a supposed safe haven for these creatures,” said David Karopkin, GooseWatch NYC’s founder, in a press release. “There is no need to kill these birds. It’s obscene and tragic, and the public has a right to know what our government is doing.”

The annual goose slaughters began in 2009 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The population reduction is being done to reduce collisions with jets at local airports, including JFK airport, located adjacent to the wildlife refuge, although critics say alternate methods, including radar upgrades, could do the trick more efficiently.

GooseWatch is also taking issue with the current mayor, who they say is walking back his campaign promise to seek out more humane ways to manage the population and reduce air strikes.

“Mayor de Blasio committed to put every approach on the table and work with independent experts and animal advocates, but now instead we’re learning that the cruel and ineffective goose removals will continue in NYC this summer, and perhaps for years to come,” said Karopkin.

A petition has been launched to end the lethal culling of geese in New York City. Another group, Friends of Animals, is planning a protest outside of the Port Authority’s headquarters (225 Park Avenue South) on Thursday, June 26, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The head of the New York City Office of Recovery and Resiliency is getting behind the Bloomberg-era plan to replace the Riegelmann Boardwalk’s wooden slats with concrete, saying that concrete fared better in Superstorm Sandy.

Recovery chief Daniel Zarrilli testified before the City Council last Thursday, telling them that the choice of concrete was a “sound” decision since it performs better in storms.

He added that the de Blasio administration will continue to replace the wooden boards with concrete going forward.

Bloomberg made the decision to replace the boardwalk with concrete after instituting a citywide ban on tropical hardwood in public projects, the material the boardwalk, as well as other fixtures like benches, have historically been made of. It has been fought for several years by locals who want to see the iconic wood stay, and they even filed suit against the city in 2012. Several compromises were sought, including using alternate wood materials, plastic and a combination of all three – although the city made clear its preference for concrete.

But the announcement that the new administration will stick with the plan because it performed well in Sandy is sure to be challenged by critics. In the wake of the storm, locals said that the concrete allowed sand to pile up on the boardwalk, and also served as a less effective buffer protecting the community from the flooding. They also say the concrete accelerates erosion and is less effective at drainage during storms.

The two councilmembers whose districts overlap the boardwalk, Chaim Deutsch and Mark Treyger, both support using wood.

Source: formulanone/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio won a victory in Albany early this morning when both houses of the state legislature gave the green light to lowering the New York City speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.

After concerns earlier this week that Senate Republicans could prevent the bill from coming to a vote, it passed overwhelmingly in both houses and has been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The measure is a key item of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to make streets safer and eliminate traffic deaths citywide. Several of the initiative’s proposals require approval from state lawmakers, including speed limits and the installation of speed cameras.

The idea was first floated by the mayor earlier this year, but received a tepid response from lawmakers. It became increasingly politicized, with Senate Republicans threatening to block it from coming to a vote as retribution for de Blasio’s calls for returning that legislative body to Democratic control. Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican representing Staten Island, suggested as recently as yesterday afternoon that he would oppose the measure if it did not fold in his proposal to require stop signs be installed around all city schools.

Ultimately, de Blasio and traffic safety advocates won out in a down-to-the-wire vote during the season’s final legislative session in the capital. The bill was passed 106-13 by the Assembly in a late night session, while the Senate took it up early in the morning, passing it 58-2.

An earlier version of the bill called for the speed limit to be reduced to 20 miles per hour, but was quickly squashed by legislative leaders.

Photo by Erica Sherman

Locals are finally beginning to see the benefits of the Build it Back program after the de Blasio administration promised to ramp up its efforts last month, but remain cautiously optimistic as the program moves forward.

Residents hard hit by the storm stated at last week’s Sheepshead Bay – Plumb Beach Civic Association meeting that several people in the area have begun receiving reimbursements and construction agreements. The group’s president, Kathy Flynn, noted that her own application has moved forward and she has a meeting with her appointed design team this week, while others in the group relayed progress reports from their neighbors, including two who are in the post-design phase, and another whose home is in the process of being raised.

“They’re not the bad guys anymore,” Flynn said before the group. Still, Flynn noted that, although there appear to be improvements, they’re taking a wait-and-see approach toward the program.

It’s a stark contrast in tone from several months ago, when frustrated residents tore into city officials for the lack of progress or clarity on the situation. At one point, members of the group chastised a Department of Buildings liaison who came to speak about new zoning regulations in the wake of Sandy, but ended up serving as a proxy target on which to vent Build it Back frustrations.

Progress isn’t just being seen in our neck of the woods. City & State reported on Thursday that 61 construction projects are underway with Build it Back funding, and 254 reimbursement checks totaling $4 million have been disbursed. Additionally, 10,309 homes have been inspected, 4,808 people have had an “option review meeting,” and 1,872 applicants are ready to move forward with the program.

It still falls far short of the approximately 20,000 applicants to the program, but it represents significant strides from where the program was in March. At that time, only six construction projects were underway, and only $100,000 in reimbursement checks had been mailed.

De Blasio promised an overhaul of the program upon appointing a new director, Amy Peterson. That announcement was followed by the release of an internal report on Sandy recovery, which recommended getting 500 construction projects underway and 500 checks in the mail by the end of the summer. De Blasio said at the time that he would seek to meet the report’s goals.

Are you a Build it Back applicant? Are you seeing better results since Peterson’s appointment? Share your experiences in the comments section.

Ariel Jasper is leading the fight to legalize ferret ownership. (Photo by Vanessa Ogle)

by Vanessa Ogle

There are dog people. There are cat people. And, now, there are ferret people.

For the first time since 1999, New York City is considering reversing a ban on ferret ownership in all five boroughs. Though ownership is legal throughout the rest of the state, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani enacted a citywide ban, which the Bloomberg administration defended.

But that hasn’t stopped residents from secretly owning ferrets.

So Sheepshead Bay resident Ariel Jasper, 23, was excited when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office. De Blasio, who seeks to ban horse drawn carriages from city streets, has already earned a reputation from animal rights activists as a more compassionate mayor for animal rights than his predecessors.

“Growing up, I had an interest in ferrets,” Jasper told Sheepshead Bites. “They were adorable.”

She’d been eager to stop the ban but didn’t feel that the Bloomberg administration would have been receptive. In early January, after de Blasio took office, she launched a Change.org petition that now has more than 380 supporters. Now Jasper, a master’s student at Brooklyn College, is the frontlines activist to overturn the ban and credited with prompting the change at City Hall.

On Tuesday, officials from the Health Department confirmed they would support lifting the ban.

Ferrets, though commonly misidentified as rodents, are actually part of the weasel family. They have a lifespan of between five and nine years and they have the same bite incident as a cat or dog.

“We allow very powerful dogs in our society,” Jasper said. “I don’t understand the double standards.”

Jasper feels that with ferrets—like all animals—it comes down to responsible pet ownership.

“You never leave any child unsupervised with any animal,” she said.

Her only concern about the legalization of ferrets revolves around impulsive pet store customers.

“Ferrets have an initial cuteness,” she said, but adds that they shouldn’t be purchased on a whim. “They need space and they require special care. They are not cage animals.”

Legalization could take place anytime between June and December. And when it does, Jasper plans on owning a ferret.

“Once everything’s legal,” she said.

Sean Henry (Source: electseanhenry.com)

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative earlier this month to dramatically shrink the number of families living in the city’s homeless shelters, but a challenger to embattled State Senator John Sampson, Sean Henry, who spent his early years homeless, said the plan doesn’t go far enough.

The mayor unveiled several new proposals to help crack down on homelessness. The flagship of those proposals is an $80 million rental subsidy program that would move families living in homeless shelters into affordable housing, with a portion of the rent covered by the program.

But that program will only help 800 of the tens of thousands of homeless families living in shelters, Henry said, and does not go far enough to address the problem.

“It’s great that Mayor de Blasio understands that shelters are not the solution, but we need to be identifying and helping more than just 800 families a year when more than 12,000 families are staying in shelters every night. We need to greatly expand the proposed program so we can immediately help the thousands of families in need right now,” Henry said. “The goal should be to end homelessness completely. The funding as it stands now will not reach that goal.”

According to the candidate’s website, Henry is a Chicago native who faced homelessness as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Army in 1995, and attended Southern Illinois University. He moved to Brooklyn in 2000 to earn a master’s in Public Administration at New York University.

As a former homeless youth who worked his way up to serve as special assistant to the deputy commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services, Henry appears to be staking a large part of his campaign on an anti-poverty message, a strategy that could earn the attention of potential constituents. While the district includes a broad swath of Sheepshead Bay, it also includes all of Canarsie and East New York, and a portion of Brownsville – areas with high rates of foreclosure and unemployment.

It also stands in stark contrast to the allegations against State Senator John Sampson, who was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

Here’s Henry’s press release in full:

State Senate Candidate Sean Henry Calls for Even More Funding For Rent Assistance Programs

Henry, an advocate for homelessness prevention who was homeless as a teen himself, believes Mayor de Blasio’s program needs much more funding to fix the homelessness issue in NYC

Brooklyn, NY – State Senate Candidate Sean Henry, who grew up homeless and has dedicated his life to preventing homelessness, today said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to increase funding for rental assistance programs, while well intentioned, does not go far enough to help homeless families.

“It’s great that Mayor de Blasio understands that shelters are not the solution, but we need to be identifying and helping more than just 800 families a year when more than 12,000 families are staying in shelters every night. We need to greatly expand the proposed program so we can immediately help the thousands of families in need right now,” Henry said. “The goal should be to end homelessness completely. The funding as it stands now will not reach that goal.”

On May 19, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to create a new program to subsidize rent on an apartment so families could move out of city shelters. Over four years, it would be an $80 million program with the city and state splitting the costs. The mayor said the program would serve roughly 800 families each year by giving them a three-year subsidy on their rent.

The program is much smaller than its predecessor, called Advantage, which Henry worked on while at The Department of Homeless Services (DHS). In its last year, roughly 5,000 people exited the shelter system under the Advantage program. When it was defunded in 2011, it led to a large number of families returning to shelters.

Henry also knows what it’s like to be homeless. As an older child and teenager, Sean suffered from chronic homelessness due to the separation of his parents and the lack of job opportunities and economic mobility that his parents faced. These experiences with homelessness and poverty would later inspire Sean to enter public service and be a candidate for public office.

Henry started at DHS as in 2003 as a Program Manager. In 2005, Sean was promoted to Director of Homelessness Prevention Services and Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner where he partnered with community-based organizations to provide an array of homelessness prevention and income equality services. Sean left DHS in 2011 to provide consulting services to Hudson Guild, a nonprofit organization providing community-based services such as senior services, children and teen services, an arts center and a mental health clinic.

Photo: GREAT NEWS!! PO Rosa Rodriguez who was critically injured in the arson on April 6th opened her eyes yesterday for the first time and saw her children and gave them a thumbs up as they were talking to her. Please continue to keep Rosa and her family in your prayers as she continues to fight!!

Rodriguez (Source: Facebook)

Rosa Rodriguez, the police officer critically injured in a Coney Island fire allegedly set by a bored teen, returned home Monday after more than a month in the hospital.

Daily News set the scene:

There were pipes and drums, applauding police officers, and big shots such as Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton cheering her on.

But what brought a smile to Officer Rosa Rodriguez’s face was the sight of her darling daughters with matching police caps on their heads and big smiles on their pretty faces.

Amy Tavarez, 11, and her 9-year-old sister, Abby, were a sight for Rodriguez’s sore eyes Monday as she was released from the hospital more than a month after nearly being killed by a deliberately set fire.

Dressed in her police jacket and still attached to an oxygen tank, a tearful Rodriguez clutched a bouquet and whispered “Thank you” repeatedly as she was wheeled out of New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell hospital.

Rodriguez was in a coma for two weeks after the fire, and doctors said she faced a 50 percent chance of surviving.

Her partner, Dennis Guerra, didn’t fare so well, succumbing to his injuries several days after the fire.

Rodriguez is reportedly raring to get back on the beat, although doctors note there’s still quite a bit of recovery in her future.

Newsday reports:

“We are delighted,” said Dr. Palmer Bessey, associate director of the hospital’s burn center.

Bessey said it was hard to say if Rodriguez would return to police work.

“I think physically she can, and the issue is what it will do to her own sort of confidence and ability to sort of not be a little bit afraid,” Bessey said.

Rodriguez has a “fabulous” attitude about recovery and tries to push herself a little further every day, Bessy said.

The fire that put Rodriguez in the hospital and killed her partner took place April 6 at 2007 Surf Avenue. Sixteen-year-old Marcell Dockery was arrested, with authorities claiming he confessed to lighting a mattress on fire in the hallway because he was bored. Dockery’s lawyer has since said that the confession was coerced, and he has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

(Source: Sheepshead Bay’s Randazzo’s after the flood)

New York City, New York State and New Jersey may have to compete for more than $1 billion in promised Superstorm Sandy relief that the federal government is now looking to redirect to victims of other natural disasters.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is considering sending off $1 billion of an as-yet unspent $3.5 billion in Sandy relief funds to other parts of the country that are dealing with their own natural disasters. This decision could leave New York City short of funds at a time when there is a renewed effort by local politicians to pick up the pace on programs like Build it Back, potentially throttling the program just as it’s poised to hit its stride.

When Superstorm Sandy hit, Congress set aside about $60 billion in 2013 for Sandy aid. More than $15 billion went to HUD for distribution on the local level to help relief efforts and get people back in their homes. Since then, about $10.5 billion has been spent, leaving $3.6 billion still available, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reports:

HUD officials recently briefed members of Congress on a proposal that would create a national resiliency competition to more widely distribute about $1 billion to $2 billion of the remaining Sandy aid to areas that have recently suffered disasters. It would be the first time HUD held a national competition for federal disaster money. The contest would reward projects that make communities more resilient against future disasters, according to people familiar with the plans.

Senator Charles Schumer said yesterday that he will fight any attempt to take money away from the region’s aid relief.

“We will fight to ensure that every one of New York’s needs are met before a national competition sends a single Sandy relief dollar elsewhere,” Schumer said via Bloomberg News.

And Schumer isn’t the only one who said that he will fight this possibility. Bloomberg News writes:

Representative Michael Grimm, a New York Republican whose district includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, has been in “constant contact” with Donovan [the Secretary of HUD] to stress his district’s needs, said Nick Iacono, a spokesman for the lawmaker.

Grimm and other Congressional representatives sent a letter yesterday to HUD’s Secretary Shaun Donovan asking for more information about the proposed reallocation, The Journal reported yesterday.

The letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan was signed by 13 members of the House of Representatives. They expressed “concern with the lack of consultation and briefing between HUD and members of the House and their staff on this issue.”

The announcement comes at a time when city officials are paying renewed attention to relief efforts. Initiatives like the Build it Back program, which had been in a lull until recently, have become the center of attention. The program is partially funded by HUD money and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has recently announced intentions to repair the homes of all those who qualify, rather than just the financially neediest applicants – greatly increasing the estimated cost of the program.

The Journal reports:

In the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has set an ambitious goal of getting 500 Sandy-damaged homes rebuilt by the end of the summer; currently only nine homes have started construction. City officials have said they need $1 billion in additional federal money for the Sandy recovery, and even more to complete a city resiliency plan.

“We’re working closely with HUD and our federal partners to ensure that we have the resources to fully recover and rebuild. It’s vital that funds get to the NYC homeowners and public housing residents who need them,” a city spokeswoman said in an email.

De Blasio has criticized HUD’s decision. “The legislation was passed to serve the needs of people in New York and New Jersey who were devastated by Sandy. And it was about both getting people back on their feet and providing the resiliency we need for the future,” de Blasio said via the Daily News.

The feds, however, expressed puzzlement at the reaction, saying that the bill authorizing the $60 billion aide package explicitly stated that a portion of the funds could be redirected to other disaster zones, and that the Sandy region should never have relied so heavily on the third and final round of funding. The Journal notes:

Federal officials said the city and states have overestimated their remaining needs. They said local representatives shouldn’t have expected the third round of funding to provide a significant infusion of new funds based on how the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill passed in 2013 was written.

In the three years covered by the Sandy aid bill, 208 major disasters have been declared by the federal government. A person familiar with the proposal said 48 states would be eligible for the national competition, along with Puerto Rico, District of Columbia and 18 other areas including New York City and Joplin, Mo., which was hit by a tornado in May 2011.

A portion of the third round of funding would also likely go to Rebuild by Design, a regional resiliency competition that HUD launched with much fanfare. Secretary Shaun Donovan, a former New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development commissioner, is said to have been inspired by his work under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had a propensity for holding competitions to generate excitement around government work.

Source: Wikimedia Common

Source: Wikimedia Common

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled details of his hotly anticipated overhaul of Superstorm Sandy recovery operations yesterday, committing the administration to getting 500 Build it Back checks in the mail and 500 construction projects kicked off before the end of the summer.

In addition to getting the long-delayed aid to some of the 20,000 homeowners in the Build it Back system, the plan calls for expanding the eligibility of those seeking aid, including eliminating priority levels so that income is no longer a cause for disqualification from several Build it Back recovery options.

“We’ve laid out a blueprint to provide critical financial relief to homeowners and directly engage communities in the rebuilding process—all while continuing our work to ensure a stronger and more resilient New York,” said de Blasio in a press release.

The New York Times reports:

Under the new rules, about 4,000 more residents than initially planned will be eligible to receive compensation from the government for repairs they have already performed on damaged homes. Hundreds more will be eligible to receive the full value of their property if they decide to vacate.

By the end of summer, the mayor said, the city planned to have started construction on 500 new homes and to have mailed out 500 reimbursement checks for previously performed repairs. As of Thursday, only 30 residents had received the payments.

The report, titled “One City, Rebuilding Together” and which can be read in full here, also calls for reassigning Department of Buildings inspectors to support Build it Back efforts, offering relief from city water bills for vacant homes, and providing tax relief to Sandy-impacted residents, among other proposals.

Aside from just doling out money and getting projects underway, the city is developing a plan to house residents displaced by recovery construction at their homes.

Several proposals are also being pushed to increase coordination and communication, including the appointment of borough directors and locally-based Build it Back staff.

Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island and is chairman of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, praised the report but noted that residents need to see action, not proposals.

“I understand that this administration has only been in place for a few months, but the reality is that it has been 18 months and counting for residents struggling to rebuild and get back on their feet,” said Treyger in a statement. “The bottom line is that this recovery will ultimately be judged not by announcements and presentations, but by action on the ground in communities still feeling the impact of the storm. We must make sure that local residents and organizations are included in this process so they have an active role in the rebuilding of their own neighborhoods.”

Conservation groups, meanwhile, criticized the plan for focusing too much on recovery, and not enough on protecting coastal communities from future disasters.

A home in Seagate after Sandy. (Photo by Erica Sherman)

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced the formation of a Sandy Oversight Unit this morning, with its first task slated to be an audit of the Build it Back recovery program.

Stringer is targeting the program in the wake of headlines earlier this year that noted money has been distributed and construction started in only a handful of cases nearly a year after Build it Back’s launch, despite nearly 20,000 homeowners on the wait-list.

The unit will be looking to see if the Housing Recovery Office – the program that oversees Build it Back – has set goals and timetables for the delivery of services and established procedures to reduce the backlog of applications. It will also look at the quality of the service and review fraud prevention procedures, with a focus on the Single Family Program.

The Oversight Unit will draw from the Comptroller’s Audit, Contracts, Budget and Policy Units, with an overall goal of reviewing how federal aid has been spent, making recommendations to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, monitoring the progress of Sandy projects and proposing policy recommendations for managing the financial tracking in future emergencies.

To aid the review, Stringer is holding Town Hall meetings across Sandy-stricken neighborhoods to hear from residents about the problems they face. The following locations and dates have been set:

  • April 30 in Breezy Point from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Bay House, 500 Bayside Drive, Breezy Point, NY
  • May 6 in Coney Island from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Coney Island Hospital, 2601 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY
  • May 20 in the Rockaways from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 348 Beach 71st Street, Arverne, NY
  • May 28 in Staten Island from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Olympia Activity Center (OAC), 1126 Olympia Blvd., Staten Island, NY

Mayor Bill de Blasio is already seeking to increase the efficiency of the program, announcing today that his office has completed a report that will kickstart the process, getting money out to homeowners faster. Details of those reforms will be made public later today.

Meanwhile, the mayor is also seeking to slash the property tax bills of 1,500 city residents who have rebuilt or repaired their homes since Superstorm Sandy. He announced yesterday that his office is pushing for support in Albany to provide a property tax credit for Sandy victims.

Construction and renovations to a home can trigger a higher assessment value, even if it’s solely for Sandy recovery. The bill would allow the city to grant partial property-tax abatement to nullify the higher assessed value from those repairs.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

To be eligible, homeowners would have to meet three criteria. First, the city had to reduce the valuation of the homeowner’s property in fiscal year 2014 from the value in 2013 because of Sandy damage. Second, the city would have had to increase the assessed value of the property for fiscal year 2015 compared with 2014. And, lastly, the 2015 assessed value of the building must exceed 2013′s.

While the city controls its property-tax rate, the Legislature and governor must approve special abatements like this.

The mayor has six weeks to gather support and pass the reforms before city property tax bills are delivered.

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