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Grassroots Bulletin

November Newsletter


Planning Commission Approves Midtown East Plan  

 

The New York City Planning Commission unanimously voted last month to approve Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial midtown east rezoning plan, an important step in what has been a long public-approval process.  Criticism of the plan has been voiced by landmark preservation groups and some public officials.  The rezoning now faces its final test in front of the City Council.  A vote appears likely this month.

The proposal rezones a 73-block area surrounding Grand Central Terminal to allow new state of the art skyscrapers that the administration says are necessary for the city to stay competitive with London and other world capitals.  In some locations, developers would be able to construct towers more than twice the size of current buildings. 

The rezoning raises questions of what the impact could be on the electric grid, steam supply and current natural-gas infrastructure.  An upsurge in construction means more street openings where critical energy infrastructure lies.  New building codes could require the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, combined heat and power and fuel cells.  And the prospect for an expansion of steam and natural-gas use by existing or new customers looms large.

Leading figures in the real estate industry and many construction unions support the plan.  But a broad array of Manhattan community boards and elected officials contend that the rezoning plan has been rushed and could overwhelm a neighborhood where streets are often already congested and subway lines overcrowded.

The City Council continues to hold public hearings on the plan and councilman Dan Garodnick - whose district includes much of the area around Grand Central - has emerged as a central figure in the debate.  Garodnick has suggested that the Council might be able to pass a pared down version of the plan this month leaving debate on the full plan for 2014.

But opponents say even the abbreviated version remains flawed and needs more scrutiny.

Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for mayor, Bill de Blasio and Joseph J. Lhota, have expressed support for the plan.

For its part, the Bloomberg administration continues to work to build support for the rezoning, recently announcing plans for a $100 million bond that would pay for improvements to subway stairwells and platforms below Grand Central.  The mayor has also floated proposals to create a public plaza south of Grand Central, pedestrian balconies along the Grand Central viaduct, a new train-arrival board and an updated entrance to Grand Central Terminal.



Federal CHP Plan Come to New York 

 

Last month the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) unveiled a New York-based Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Technical Assistance Partnership, one of seven regional CHP technical centers across the country. According to DOE, the New York partnership will help businesses and communities throughout the Northeast make cost-effective investments that save money and energy.
 
The CHP Technical Assistance Partnerships are part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to cut carbon emissions and double energy efficiency.  Last year, the president set a goal of 40 gigawatts of new CHP by 2020.  DOE says the centers will help develop the next generation of CHP technology and help strengthen U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, lower energy consumption, and reduce harmful emissions.

A CHP system provides both electric power and heat from a single fuel source.  While most power plants in the United States create steam as a byproduct that is then expelled as wasted heat, a CHP system captures the energy that would normally be lost in power generation and uses it to provide heating and cooling to factories and businesses.
 
There are already dozens of CHP units operating in Con Edison’s service territory with 61 in Brooklyn alone.  Almost all of the units run on natural gas and service large apartment complexes, hospitals, nursing homes, food-processing plants and wastewater-treatment facilities.  The New York center, according to DOE, will offer best practices for CHP project financing, management,  and technical site evaluations.   DOE hopes the center will help grow the CHP market for businesses, institutions, and industries throughout the country.
 
One example of a local project is the SEA Park East and SEA Park West housing developments in Coney Island.  The project will power 694 affordable apartment units and includes the installation of two 75 kW CHP units. The project will also use waste heat to supply domestic hot water.
 
A list of all CHP projects in New York State is available here. 


Governor Cuomo Highlights Progress Made Since Superstorm Sandy

Following Superstorm Sandy, Governor Cuomo established several commissions to review the state’s preparedness for future extreme-weather events and make recommendations on how New York can improve.  To that end, the NY Ready Commission was tasked with preparing the state’s networks, systems, and structures to withstand a major weather event while the NY Respond Commission was created to ensure New York’s ability to more effectively respond to natural disasters.

Last month, to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Sandy, Cuomo hosted an emergency preparedness conference attended by emergency first-responders, municipal officials and utilities to review the work of those commissions and provide training.  Discussions were held to focus on recommendations coming out of the commissions and attendees could take advantage of training.  The governor and members of his administration highlighted a number of changes:

National Guard Training
The commissions recommended that additional training should be provided to the National Guard for emergency response and power restoration. Governor Cuomo recently announced that the state is ready to deploy National Guard members who are trained to provide security, logistics, transportation, and communications to help rapidly restore power.

Regional Stockpiles
The state has developed nine regional stockpiles of critical equipment and supplies for rapid deployment. The Public Service Commission also supported this effort by commencing a proceeding to establish a stockpile of critically needed equipment and supplies for the mutual use of New York’s utilities during future natural disasters.

Fuel NY
Based upon the commissions’ recommendations, Governor Cuomo launched the Fuel NY Initiative to address gasoline problems including the loss of power at many gas stations - making it impossible to pump gas - and a gap in supplies to gas stations.

Consequently, the 2013-2014 Enacted Budget required gas stations within a half-mile from highway exits and hurricane evacuation routes in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County, and Rockland County – referred to as the “downstate region” - to install wiring that would allow them to connect to a generator. A "generator pool" was also established for stations to lease or rent a generator during an emergency, and grants were provided to assist with the associated costs.

In addition, the commissions recommended the creation of a back-up reserve to protect against disruptions in fuel supply. New York is in the process of creating the country’s first state-level reserve. The $10 million pilot program is located on Long Island with approximately three million gallons of reserve fuel. Despite its Long Island location, the reserve can be delivered to other parts of the state and will only be used to maintain adequate levels of fuel during an emergency.

Communications
The commissions concluded that effective communication is a critical component of responding to an emergency situation. In order to provide timely and reliable information, the state launched a, www.StormRecovery.NY.gov, to direct New Yorkers to services using social media and mapping for up-to-date information on emergency-recovery resources.

In addition, the state recently received sign-off from the federal government to launch NY-Text. The Federal Communications Commission approved New York’s request to utilize the federal Wireless Emergency Alert system to provide location-specific text messages before, during, and after emergencies.

Vulnerable Populations
To ensure first responders, outreach workers, and healthcare and human services personnel are prepared to serve vulnerable populations who need assistance, New York created the Evacuation of Facilities in Disasters System (NYS e-FINDS). NYS e-FINDS is a statewide emergency tracking system that provides real-time access to patient locations for hospitals, nursing homes, and adult care facilities overseen by state entities.     


A Conversation with New York State Senator Andrew Lanza

Senator Andrew J. Lanza was elected to represent Staten Island’s 24th New York State Senate District in 2006. As a former New York City Council member, prosecutor, accountant and business owner, Senator Lanza brings extensive public and private experience to the Senate.

Senator Lanza and his wife Marcele, a NYC Public School Teacher, have three children, Olivia, Abigail and Andrew Jack. They reside in the town of Great Kills.

During his tenure in the City Council, Lanza established himself as one of Staten Island’s most effective leaders, standing up for the best interests of the people of Staten Island.

Senator Lanza currently serves as Chairman of the Senate Cities Committee and Co-Chair of both the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Senate Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery. As Chairman of the Senate Cities Committee, Senator Lanza shepherds legislation that affects large cities across the State, in particular, the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg’s legislative agenda. He is uniquely positioned to ensure that such legislation not only improves the quality of life in New York City, but also reflects the needs and best interests of Staten Island. As Co-Chairman of the Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery, Senator Lanza is charged with developing the short and long-term plans that will help Staten Island and other communities get back on their feet. 
 
Lanza also serves on the Senate Committees on Civil Service & Pensions; Codes; Education; Finance; Insurance; and Judiciary. His position on the powerful Finance Committee allows him to play a significant role in reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget and developing the Senate’s priorities for the state budget.

Senator Lanza has brought the fight to reduce the high property taxes which hurt families, seniors and businesses on Staten Island to the Senate. Because higher taxes force families and jobs to leave Staten Island, Lanza voted against the historic tax hikes in the City Council and introduced legislation there to repeal the entire tax increase. Senator Lanza is continuing that fight in Albany. He has sponsored tax relief legislation in the Senate and has opposed budget proposals which do not adequately reduce taxes for Staten Island residents. He also authored legislation which would cap property taxes in New York City to provide relief to middle class taxpayers and seniors living on fixed incomes.

You Co-Chair the Senate’s Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery.  With the recent one-year anniversary of the storm just behind us, what work has the group done so far?

The Senate Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery was charged with three major jobs:
1) Identifying the communities most in need of recovery assistance;
2) Developing short and long-term plans to help these communities get back on their feet; and
3) Reviewing the rebuilding and storm planning policies to remove roadblocks and ensure better storm-preparedness in the future.

We toured each of the hardest hit communities, hosted roundtable discussions and met with hundreds of community, private-sector and government stakeholders to determine the best approach  for rebuilding and resiliency in each community. Since then, we’ve developed legislative solutions and worked with Governor Cuomo to implement programs that help homeowners and business owners rebuild smarter, safer and stronger than before.

As Chairman of the Senate Cities Committee, you sponsor legislation that would permit the City of New York to simultaneously bid public works contracts with utility interference contracts, a practice commonly referred to as “joint bidding.”  Con Edison strongly supports the bill.   Can you talk about why its so important?

As the Senate sponsor of this bill, I strongly support it. Throughout my years in public service, I have always fought to make New York a better and more affordable place to live and raise a family.  Joint bidding reduces costs for the City, its residents, utilities, and utility customers. It also speeds construction and reduces the inconvenience to the general public and businesses while leveling the playing field for contractors. Expanding this authority is critically important now as the City continues the massive rebuilding that is necessary as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

2014 will be a big year with all state legislative seats and the Governor up for re-election.  As we head into the fall, what issues do you anticipate rising to the top?

I think the people of New York are most concerned with taxes, jobs, the economy, public safety and education. New York has one of the highest tax burdens in the Country which hurts our economy and makes it difficult for middle class families to make ends meet. Over the past few years I’ve consistently fought to reduce taxes and tolls, eliminate burdensome regulations, create incentives for new job opportunities and cut government waste. We need to put more money back in to the pockets of hardworking New Yorkers and bolster our economy so that New York remains an attractive place to live and do business. 

Beginning in 2014, New York City will have its first new mayor in 12 years. How will the transition impact New York City? What will be the most pressing issues for the new administration?

With New York continuing to rebound from the Great Recession, jobs, taxes and public safety remain at the forefront of New Yorker’s minds. Many of my constituents have expressed concern about the drastic increase in property taxes over the past decade, and are desperate for a solution. New York’s high tax burden hurts our City and State economy and makes it difficult for residents to make ends meet. The new Mayor needs to focus on cutting taxes and attracting new businesses. I thank Mayor Bloomberg for his service to our City and for leading New York towards healing and success in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
 


 

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