Call Us → 212-616-5810

5/30/08 Affairs and Appointments

5/30/08 Affairs and Appointments

New York City

New York State

Public Hearings

The Challenge of Public Safety in a City of Eight Million: After Completing Important Overhaul of the Fire Code, Officials Confront another Collapsed Crane

Dominating New York City politics this week was the theme of public safety – or the lack thereof, as the collapse of a construction crane at an Upper East Side high-rise Friday morning killed two workers and left another in critical condition. 

Coming in the wake of a Midtown crane collapse that killed seven people back in March – and prompted the resignation of Buildings Department Commissioner Patricia Lancaster – Friday’s accident incited further demands for stricter government oversight of building contractors, including from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Representative Carolyn Maloney (who urged the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration to monitor city construction sites).  Commenting on why Friday’s collapsed crane had not been red-flagged in the citywide safety-check that followed the March collapse, Mayor Bloomberg explained that the crane had not been erected by the time the safety sweep was completed.

While Friday’s collapse renews the debate over construction regulation, City government this week successfully modernized other areas of public safety regulation.  On Wednesday, the City Council passed legislation to enact a more comprehensive Fire Prevention Code.  The first serious amendment of the Fire Code since 1913, the Council’s reforms align New York’s code with the International Fire Code, and puts New York in with other states and localities seeking to standardize fire safety regulations across the U.S.   Among other changes, the new Fire Code mandates the creation of a fire safety program for construction sites, and the appointment of a fire safety manager to ensure compliance with this program.  The new Fire Code is also cross-referenced with the new Building Code that the Council passed several months ago.

To those injured by Friday’s crane collapse and their families, an updated Fire Code will offer cold comfort.  At the very least, however, the Council’s ability to revise 645-pages of code – and to sync the revisions with the new Building Code – inspires some confidence in the capacity of City government to discharge sound public safety procedures.  This capacity will now be tested as the City seeks to prevent additional crane disasters.

Marriage Rights and EZ-Passes Symbolize Enduring Influence of Spitzerism

News on the State level this week concerned rights being recognized and privileges being withdrawn.  Governor David Paterson directed State agencies to honor all same-sex marriages that have been performed outside New York – effectively giving New York’s same-sex couples the same rights as traditional couples.  Governor Paterson’s directive puts New York near the forefront of gay rights in America; it also opens up the possibility of litigation between the Executive and the Legislature in Albany, as Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno announced that he was consulting with lawyers to determine whether Governor Paterson new policy oversteps his authority under New York’s constitution.

Joint parenting and next-of-kin status were not the only perks being disputed this week – so were E-ZPasses!  Claiming the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to be in violation of a no-compensation law by granting MTA board members a lifetime of free E-ZPasses and Metrocards, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo threatened to take the MTA to court to end this practice.  After vowing to defend its practice, the MTA abruptly reverse course and announced a curb on E-ZPass/Metrocard giveaways.  Under the new policy, board members can use their free tags and passes only in the course of official duties, such as traveling to meetings or public hearings.

From his offices on Lower Broadway, Mr. Cuomo applauded the MTA’s stricter policy: “You want the people on the board representing only the people of the state and not their own interests.”  The Attorney General had no comment on whether forcing board members to pay their own tolls will help the MTA resolve its biggest problem: a $5.5 billion capital budget gap.

Though affecting fundamentally different privileges, the actions this week of Governor Paterson and Mr. Cuomo did have one parallel: both invited comparison to the modus operandi of former Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.  Senate Republicans complained that Governor Paterson’s same-sex marriage directive smacked of Spitzerian unilateralism, usually evoking Governor Spitzer’s controversial executive order permitting illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses (an order he subsequently withdrew after sustained criticism).

As to Mr. Cuomo, his ability to grab headlines with a lawsuit charging improper compensation as a risk to ethical conduct – re-enacting on a far, far smaller scale what Attorney General Spitzer engineered at Wall Street investment banks – roused comments that he was “trying to be another Spitzer.” 

In other words, the Spitzer comparisons were invidious, reflecting the former Governor’s currently low public standing in the Empire State.   And yet, it seems plausible that a majority of New Yorkers support the policies that critics tar with the Spitzer brand – equal rights for already-married same-sex couples, restrictions on free EZ-Passes and MetroCards for MTA board members.  If this is indeed the case, then the impact of Spitzerism on New York State governance is persisting well-beyond the demise of Eliot Spitzer.

Crane Collapse on East 91st Street Kills Two and Leaves Major Damage

From the New York Times:

The collapse of a crane at an Upper East Side construction site on Friday morning killed two workers and severely damaged several high-rise apartments. And it left many New Yorkers pondering an unsettling question: This again?

Continue reading Times’ coverage of the crane collapse here and here

See Times’ photos of the wreckage here

City Council Passes Revised Fire Code – First Big Reforms since 1913 Will Match NY Code to National Standard

The City Council this week passed legislation to adopt more modern and comprehensive fire safety regulations.

With this legislation, New York City will join a growing number of states and municipalities across the country that have adopted fire codes based on the International Fire Code, a national organization of municipal code officials. The changes come after an extensive three-year Fire Code revision project to review and update fire safety standards throughout the City.

First introduced in 1913, the 645-page Fire Code governs the use of building safety systems like sprinkler systems and extinguishers, the permit and inspection process, fire-detection and extinguishing systems, and emergency preparedness and planning.

The new, improved Fire Code will:

  • Require more informative fire safety and evacuation plans. The requirement for the plans and for staff training will be extended to include mercantile and assembly occupancies;
  • Require the development of a fire safety program on construction sites and projects. A fire safety manager will be responsible for ensuring compliance with fire safety requirements;
  • Include a provision for rooftop access and elimination of rooftop obstructions. Additionally, firefighter access roads will be required in private developments; and
  • Clarify the existing requirement that fire safety systems in temporarily unoccupied buildings be maintained.

The fire code legislation emerged from the Fire and Criminal Services Committee, under the Chairmanship of Council Member Miguel Martinez. 

Read the Council’s press release on the Fire Code legislation here

Read Mayor Bloomberg’s comments on the Fire Code revisions here

Council Introduces Legislation to Reform Environmental Control Board

This week Speaker Christine C. Quinn – together with Council Members James Gennaro, Simcha Felder, David Yassky, Leroy Comrie and Thomas White – introduced legislation to reform the Environmental Control Board (ECB).  Among other things, the legislation would attempt to bolster ECB’s independence by moving it from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

The ECB was established in 1972 as a part of the Department of Environmental Protection to handle quality of life infractions.  It has evolved into the city’s second largest administrative tribunal that receives approximately 700,000 cases per year, including code enforcement and quality of life violations, and handles about 175,000 hearings a year, which are conducted in five borough offices.  In FY04, ECB collected $63,825,000 million in revenue.

Read details of the Council’s proposed reforms here.

Mayor Bloomberg Delivers Keynote at World Science Summit

Praises NYC Scientific Institutions, Criticizes Subsidies to Corn Ethanol, Tariffs on Sugar Ethanol, and Proposed Gas-Tax Holiday as “Political Science”

Read the Mayor’s keynote address here

Governor Paterson to NYS Agencies: Recognize Same-Sex Marriages from Other Jurisdictions (e.g. Massachusetts, California and Canada)

Read New York Times’ coverage of Governor Paterson’s directive here

Read Times’ analysis of Governor Paterson’s stance here

Read Times’ reporting on the reaction among lawmakers here, and among opponents of same-sex unions here and here

Cuomo to MTA: Rescind Free Transit Passes for Board Members

MTA to Cuomo: We’ll see you in Court…. Er, Actually We’ll Take Back the Passes

Read here Attorney General Cuomo’s letter to the MTA criticizing its policy of distributing free lifetime EZ-Passes and Metrocards to MTA board members as in violation of state compensation policy.

Read here New York Times coverage of Attorney General Cuomo’s successful effort to persuade the MTA to cease issuing free lifetime transit passes to MTA board members.  Read here for a Times’ description of the MTA’s new policy.

Governor Paterson Announces Federal Agreement to Issue Enhanced Drivers Licenses in New York State

Read details of the new drivers license plan here.

Schedule of Hearings in the New York City Council for the Week of June 2

Zoning & Franchises Tony Avella, Chair
Monday, June 2, 9:30 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Wednesday, May 28, 2008, in Room 5 City Hall

Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses Jessica S. Lappin, Chair
Monday, June 2, 11:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Wednesday, May 28, 2008, in Room 5 City Hall 

Planning, Dispositions & Concessions Daniel R. Garodnick, Chair
Monday, June 2, 1:00 PM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Wednesday, May 28, 2008, in Room 5 City Hall 

Transportation John C. Liu, Chair
Tuesday, June 3, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Clean Air Taxis: How Realistic Are the City’s Miles Per Gallon Mandate?

Housing & Buildings Erik Martin Dilan, Chair
Tuesday, June 3, 10:00 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Proposed Int 221-A – By Council Members Gerson, Arroyo, Koppell, Stewart, Brewer, Gentile, James, Martinez, Nelson, Recchia Jr., Vacca, White Jr. and Liu – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring protective devices for seniors and disabled persons who reside in multiple dwellings.

Education; Sanitation & Solid Waste Management Michael E. McMahon, Robert Jackson, Chairs
Tuesday, June 3, 1:00 PM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Recycling in our schools: Are we setting the right example? Int 752 – By Council Members de Blasio, McMahon, Jackson, Brewer, Felder, Fidler, James, Koppell, Liu, Martinez, Mealy, Palma, Recchia Jr., Sanders Jr., Sears and Lappin – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to school recycling. Res 1388 – By Council Members de Blasio, McMahon, Jackson, Brewer, Felder, Fidler, Gennaro, James, Koppell, Liu, Martinez, Mealy, Monserrate, Palma, Recchia Jr., Sears and Vann – Resolution urging the Department of Education and the Department of Sanitation to immediately implement school recycling

Land Use Melinda R. Katz, Chair
Wednesday, June 4, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: All items reported out of the subcommittees AND SUCH OTHER BUSINESS AS MAY BE NECESSARY