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What Can the Night Mayor Do? The DIY Scene Discusses

Great turnout to support small cultural spaces in New York City !

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There’s a new (Night) Mayor in town, or at least there will be soon. On August 24, City Council member Rafael Espinal’s bill to establish an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Advisory Board was passed by the council, then signed into law on September 19, in a ceremony that included even Marky Ramone. In light of this, some wondered about what this “night mayor” would actually do. Last night, the soon-to-reopen venue Market Hotel was flooded with artists, partiers, community members, and politicians for a town hall on what the people want from the Office of Nightlife.

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Anti-Dance Law Repeal Supported By Everyone From de Blasio to Duke Ellington’s Family

the crowd on Thursday (photo: Cassidy Dawn Graves)

On August 24, the City Council passed Council Member Rafael Espinal’s Office of Nightlife bill, which would establish a “night mayor” and nightlife task force to mediate between residents, the government, and the nightlife industry. This was good news for the city’s nightlife operators, particularly smaller DIY spaces that currently have to wade through a web of complicated regulations with little to no assistance or funding. However, the Nightlife Office on its own would not solve everything. Not when dancing still remains largely illegal in New York City. Keep Reading »

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‘Office of Nightlife’ Bill Passes, Aims to Ease the Headache of Booze Pouring

Council Member Rafael Espinal and others at a hearing on the Office of Nightlife and cabaret law repeal in June (photo: Cassidy Dawn Graves)

Back in May, City Council member Rafael Espinal announced a plan to sponsor legislation that would create an “Office of Nightlife” and “Nightlife Advisory Board.” After a lengthy hearing and initial City Council approval, the latest version of the bill passed the council with a strong majority later today.

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City Council Passes Sweeping Tenant Protections

Credit: Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.

Yesterday the City Council passed a sweeping package of pro-tenant legislation long advocated by tenants’ rights groups, activists, and sympathetic city officials. One of the key organizations that lobbied for the legislation, the “Stand for Tenant Safety” coalition, held a support rally outside City Hall.

The main target of the new legislation is the widespread practice of “construction as harassment,” whereby landlords use invasive, unsafe, and sometimes illegal construction to drive out tenants. Typically the landlords are trying to get rent-regulated tenants out so they can charge market rents.

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Pols Condemn Hit-and-Run Drivers After Weekend Deaths of Two Brooklynites

City councilman Stephen Levin speaks during press conference.

“There is a no more senseless or inhumane action than to leave a body in the street,” declared city councilman Ydanis Rodriguez at a news conference earlier today at the Greenpoint intersection where 27-year-old Neftaly Ramirez was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver early Saturday morning.

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Nightlife Advocates and Politicians Want to Dance on the Grave of NYC’s Cabaret Law

(photo: Cassidy Dawn Graves)

Yesterday, hundreds flocked to City Hall to discuss the future of nightlife in New York City at a consumer affairs oversight hearing. It was the first of its kind in over a decade to address the city’s oft-decried cabaret law, which has been in effect since 1926.

“The City licenses bars, clubs, taverns, and discos that allow dancing,” states the City of New York’s official website. “A place that is open to the public and sells food or drinks must have a Cabaret License to allow customers to dance.”

And yet, there currently are only 97 of these licenses in effect. Considering there are thousands of bar and nightclub establishments in New York City where one might feel compelled to shake their hips, there is little wonder that City Council members Rafael Espinal and Antonio Reynoso called themselves both “young Dominicans representing north Brooklyn” and “dance outlaws.” Keep Reading »

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Bushwick City Council Rep Denounces Trump’s Latest Series of Executive Orders

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso speaks at a rally in support of the Right to Know Act in April 2016 (Photo: Kavitha Surana)

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso speaks at a rally in support of the Right to Know Act in April 2016 (Photo: Kavitha Surana)

On the heels of President Trump signing three executive orders “designed to restore safety in America,” City Council Member Antonio Reynoso is condemning the actions as “deeply concerning.” In a statement, he says it was “only fitting” that Trump signed the orders “while swearing in noted racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.”

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Newly Signed Law Will Help Keep OId Folks Homes From Becoming Rich Folks Homes

(Photo: Kavitha Surana)

(Photo: Kavitha Surana)

It’s too late to save Rivington House, the former HIV treatment facility that a non-profit nursing home operator unexpectedly flipped to a luxury developer after the city quietly lifted a deed restriction. But a bill signed into law today should do something to prevent buildings designated for community use from becoming luxury condos.

The new law requires the city to maintain a searchable online database of properties with deed restrictions, and forces developers who want to have them lifted to inform their local City Council member, community board, and borough president. The law requires the mayor, a specially formed committee, and the Department of City Planning to review any such requests, and approve them with the mayor’s personal sign-off only if they’re deemed to be in the city’s best interest. While there had been talk of requiring the city’s stringent Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in such scenarios, the new law stops short of that.

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5 Ways New Yorkers Can Fight the ‘Shocking Turn’ Our Country Has Taken

(Flyer via office of CM Stephen Levin)

(Flyer via office of CM Stephen Levin)

You might have noticed that since the election, stories of hate crimes and swastika sightings have been everywhere. But the increase isn’t simply due to a greater public interest in issues like police brutality and racially-motivated violence– hate crimes themselves have actually been on the rise. And quantifiably so: in the first 10 days after Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 867 “bias-related incidents” across the country. (And yet, the government itself has no reliable way of tracking hate crime. “That’s because reporting of hate crimes is voluntary, not mandatory,” CNN reported yesterday.)

As New Yorkers, we live in one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the nation, so we might think that hate crimes only happen in rural America, and are therefore not our problem. Unfortunately, that’s just patently false. Back in November, Governor Cuomo said that the “ugly political discourse” of the campaign trail has only gotten worse, having transformed into an all-out “social crisis” of hate crime and intolerance. “This fear and this anger, misdirected, seeks an enemy,” he said. “It seeks a target and that target has become people who we see as different than ourselves.” Recently, Cuomo launched a Statewide hotline for reporting “incidents of bias and discrimination.” According to the NYPD, hate crimes have been on the rise in the last year right here in New York City– as of November 13, 328 had been reported since the start of 2016. (As Gothamist noted, that’s a 31.5 percent increase since 2015.)

Ok, that’s a little overwhelming. So how can we even begin to respond to awful garbage like this?

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The Future of ’80/20′ Affordable Housing Hangs in the Balance: Can 421-A Be Fixed?

(Photo: C Ceres Merry)

(Photo: C Ceres Merry)

You may not have realized it, but the city has been in the midst of a “developocalypse” since January, when the state’s 421-a program expired. For decades, the program had fueled development by excusing building owners of property taxes for up to 25 years so long as they devoted at least 20 percent of their units to affordable housing. Earlier this month, it was announced that the stalemate that brought on the developocalpyse, or at least that’s how developers understood it, was over. As the state legislature now mulls over whether to approve the reauthorization of 421-a, City Council members are seeking ways to fix it, and make sure the program fulfills its original mission of creating affordable housing.

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Electeds Aim to Keep Community, Non-Profit Spaces From Becoming Soulless Condos

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer with Councilmember Margaret Chin,  New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, and other members of the NYC Council (Photo: Courtesy of Manhattan Borough President Brewer's office)

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer with Councilmember Margaret Chin,
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, and other members of the NYC Council (Photo: Courtesy of Manhattan Borough President Brewer’s office)

As the ongoing drama surrounding the Rivington House intensifies, elected officials urged the City Planning Commission this morning to make deed restriction changes subject to the city’s strictest approval process. On the steps of City Hall, officials reiterated the importance of making deed restriction changes more transparent and accountable.

In a statement released after the press conference, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer argued that changes to deed restrictions (which limit how a property can be used) should have to be approved via the city’s Uniform Land Use and Review Process (ULURP), which requires multiple city agencies to sign off on certain projects. “We lost Rivington House because the deed restriction change was managed by the wrong agencies in a bad process. The best way to fix this is to handle these land use changes the same tried-and-true way we’ve handled other meaningful land use changes for years, with transparency and public input.”

Some background on the issue: 45 Rivington, a former schoolhouse turned nursing home, was subject to a deed restriction established in 1992 that limited the building to non-profit usage. Although Allure Group, the nursing-home operator that took over the building in 2014, is a for-profit organization, it was understood that the building would remain as some kind of medical facility for the neighborhood’s many seniors.

But last year, the city controversially lifted the non-profit deed restriction and failed to set down any conditions for the building’s use. The building was then sold to private developers, who plan to convert it into luxury condos. Predictably, the outcry has been significant.

Last week the city’s Department of Investigations released a report accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration of incompetence and finding a “complete lack of accountability within City government regarding deed restriction removals.” Furthermore, the report found that the Rivington House’s deed restriction removal was handled by a number of agencies that weren’t directly in charge of determining land usage. Yesterday, the Neighbors to Save Rivington House, a community activist group, said in a statement that “the fact that the deed restrictions were lifted without any notice to our electeds or Community Board 3, and that there was NO chance for community discussion and comment is scandalous.”

City Council member Margaret Chin and President Brewer agreed that it was problematic that the deed restrictions were lifted in a manner that completely escaped pubic notice and that lacked any formalized process. In a letter to the City Planning Commission, Brewer and Chin proposed legislation that would create a searchable database of properties with city-imposed deed restrictions, and called for a codified, “public and transparent process” for the lifting or modifying of the restrictions. The pols are also seeking “a more formal process for lifting deed restrictions on formerly city-owned property.” This way, local community boards, borough presidents, city council members, and members of the public could be informed and react quickly. Chin has already introduced this legislation to City Hall in May.

However, Brewer and Chin stated in their letter that while “these steps are necessary,” they “no longer believe they are sufficient.”

“Rather than sticking with a broken system that took Rivington House from the community, or creating another system from scratch, it makes sense to utilize a proven process that for decades has guided thousands of land use changes,” Council Member Chin said in a statement at today’s press conference. “By making deed restriction changes subject to ULURP, we will introduce transparency and public input to an inconsistent process that has failed to protect and preserve significant community assets, such as Rivington House.”

Under ULURP, projects involving certain changes such as rezoning, transfer of city property, and adjustments to the city map must be approved by multiple agencies, including the revelant community board, the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and the mayor’s office. In their letter to the City Planning Commission, Brewer and Chin invoked a section of the New York City Charter that gives the commission power to determine, with the City Council’s support, what can and cannot be subject to ULURP, meaning that deed restriction removals could very well fall under its jurisdiction as well.

The elected officials urged the Planning Commission to adopt this proposal and present it to the City Council to prevent future losses of community-relevant buildings such as the Rivington House.

Correction: The original version of this post misstated the term Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for Universal Land Use Review Procedure.

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Bushwickers Are Making a Community Plan Before Developers Make It For Them

Antonio Reynoso speaks at the Bushwick Community Plan open house (Photo: Nicole Disser)

Antonio Reynoso speaks at the Bushwick Community Plan open house (Photo: Nicole Disser)

A slew of city agencies and elected officials are asking Bushwick residents for direct input on how best to handle the rapid change that’s consuming the neighborhood.

“We’re here to make sure we give the people the opportunity to make a decision on what their neighborhood’s going to look like in the future,” City Council member Antonio Reynoso told the crowd at a Monday meeting at Ridgewood Bushwick Youth Center. Among the areas of concern: population growth, demographic shifts, the loss of affordable housing, an influx of luxury housing, private interests, and businesses that cater toward the moneyed. In other words, gentrification.

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