SOUTH SLOPE – Council Member Carlos Menchaca hosted a Town Hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio last Thursday, December 14, at MS 88 located in South Slope, seven blocks away from the Mayor’s Brooklyn home.
Menchaca kicked off the meeting listing off recent successes in District 38 (Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights, and portions of Borough Park, Dyker Heights and Windsor Terrace), acknowledging community members who have helped with recent projects including the renovation of the Sunset Park Playground; the campaign to add a stoplight on Van Brunt Street; and the ID NYC program. Mayor de Blasio noted that Menchaca has been a leader in the identification card program, adding that 1.2 million New Yorkers now have an ID NYC card.
The Mayor then took the mic, summarizing his administration’s recent developments in Menchaca’s council district, including preserving and subsidizing affordable housing for locals. Subsidies help to keep residents in their communities and homes long-term, he said, allowing them to pay only 30% of their income in rent. He noted to date, 500 apartments in the council district have been preserved and subsidized, “with more to come,” as his administration continues to add more units as part of his plan to create 300,000 affordable apartments across the city.
Approximately 20% of the residents in District 38 live in rent stabilized housing, the mayor noted, with many of those in Sunset Park. He added the importance to protect rent regulation and to protect renters from landlord harassment and eviction. He lauded the recently passed Right to Counsel law which mandates universal access to free legal services for low-income tenants. “In this council district, in last two years, 1,273 residents in this district have received free legal services to stop eviction, stop harassment, and get repairs they deserve,” he stated.
The mayor then went on to discuss his goal to create “better paying jobs” and “more jobs that give people a good, stable income that families can live on,” with salaries starting in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. He said these jobs would be in the manufacturing, healthcare, film/TV/tech, and garment manufacturing industries, adding that his plan for the Made In New York campus will provide 1,500 permanent jobs at Sunset Park’s Bush Terminal while the nearby Brooklyn Army Terminal will create 1,000 high-quality, industrial/manufacturing jobs for the community.
As he did at the District 33 Town Hall Meeting in October, the Mayor promised that NYCHA will not be privatized, vowing to invest in NYCHA and improve the buildings for the 400,000 residents. He also noted that the Red Hook Houses received the “single largest award ever from FEMA” following Hurricane Sandy, and that the $550,000,000 the Red Hook Houses received is being put toward resiliency projects “to protect the community.” He also noted that the Red Hook Senior Center will reopen permanently in January 2018.
On the topic of education, the Mayor began by pointing out that the city has seen the “highest graduation rate we’ve ever had.” He noted that the district has seen more classroom space open up, stating since 2014, two full schools and six Pre-K centers have opened. He added that the council district’s budget currently allows funding for an additional 2,400 seats for students.
He then went on discuss his Universal Pre-K program, noting that four years ago in the council district, there were approximately 600 full-day Pre-K seats. Today, there are almost 2,600 full-day Pre-K seats. He then discussed his plans for a 3-K program, a free early childhood education program for 3-year-olds. The Mayor hopes this program will be available in every school district across the city by September 2021. “This will be 100% free and by 2021 it will be universal in the city,” he promised.
Regarding transportation, Mayor de Blasio praised the NYC Ferry System, noting that the service is growing rapidly, with the Rockaway Route making stops at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and the South Brooklyn Route stopping at both the Brooklyn Army Terminal and in Red Hook, which has long been in need of additional transportation options.
The Mayor also announced a $6 million grant for lighting at Bush Terminal Park which will allow the public space to stay open later for park-goers—doubling the amount of time the fields will be available to the public.
He concluded with a nod to Puerto Rico, noting “from the day the hurricane hit to today, over 300 New York City employees have gone to Puerto Rico to help” the people there, adding that his administration has “supported them in every way.”
Just shy of the one hour mark, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience. Concerns ranged from education to e-bikes, and from housing to the rezoning of Sunset Park. Acknowledging his district’s diversity, Council Member Menchaca took a few questions in Spanish and Chinese.
The first question asked in Chinese came from a delivery man concerned about the crackdown on e-bike riders. De Blasio pointed out that the law currently allows New Yorkers to own an electronic bicycle but doesn’t allow them to ride it in the city. He acknowledged that many riders use the e-bikes for their jobs, faulting the business owners who require that their employees use the electronic bikes even though they are illegal. While the NYPD will begin to “enforce the law in January,” the Mayor stressed that “penalties will be applied to business owners,” not the employees, adding that deliveries can still be made using cars and regular bicycles, “but the electronic bikes are not safe and are not legal.”
Later in the Q&A session, another community member asked that de Blasio clarify with the NYPD that pedal-assist bicycles are legal and should not be a part of the crackdown.
A community member asked the Mayor about legislation on street vendors. The Mayor said he had hoped to get a piece of legislation completed by this month addressing a number of issues including the number of permits issued, enforcement, and geographical locations for vendors, but the “legislation put forward did not reflect these issues,” he said. He added that the new year will offer a “fresh opportunity” to revisit this issue, with a new City Council that will “work on a vendor bill that will address concerns of vendors and surrounding neighborhoods.”
An undocumented CUNY graduate asked the Mayor if he plans to bring back the Dream Fellowship, a program that provided partial scholarships to immigrant students. “We need to find resources to make it happen. Much of our attention last year has gone into legal services to protect people who were potentially going to be deported. The fellowship was a great program and worked really well,” the Mayor responded, promising to look into ways to fund the program again in the future.
One community member asked the Mayor, in Spanish, “If New York City is a sanctuary city, why do we still have ICE in courthouses?” The Mayor responded by saying, “We do not allow ICE into city schools or city hospitals. The NYPD does not ask documentation status of New Yorkers…. The city has been very clear and consistent about this. Why is ICE in the courts? I think it’s a mistake. We do not run the courts. The state of New York runs the courts. I think the state of New York should end the practice of allowing ICE to come into the court buildings. It discourages people from participating in the criminal justice system…. The city of New York made a commitment that if New Yorkers are facing deportation, that we will provide legal support to stop families from being torn apart. That’s a very high level of commitment by a city to address a mistake made by the federal government.”
A mother from the Red Hook Houses, whose son was diagnosed with high blood-lead levels, asked the Mayor about the city’s failure to test for lead in public housing developments. “It wasn’t handled right,” the Mayor bluntly stated, adding that the required inspections had already stopped by 2014 when he entered office. “Our administration came in and did not know inspections were not being done,” he said, promising assistance to any child that needs medical help as a result of the lack of testing. He then referred the concerned mom to the Health Commissioner for further information.
One community member’s question, “What happened to the light rail?” elicited a series of “boos” around the room. The Mayor, visibly annoyed by this response, said, “I want the most transportation options I can get in the city,” noting that NYC’s population will reach 9 million people soon, and while the subways are overcrowded, the recently launched NYC Ferry Service is doing very well. To accommodate all the commuters, the Mayor said the city needs to add more select bus service and expand the Citi Bike program, among other solutions.
The Mayor said looking at other cities around the country, it is clear that a light rail system can be added to communities, but “subways can’t. Look at the Second Avenue subway,” a project that took decades to add just a few additional stops to the underground system. “Given the number of jobs being created, this is a smart place to do it,” he said of the BQX‘s 14 mile route along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront that will connect Sunset Park to Astoria. “It’s going to connect 400,000 public housing residents living along that line. We’re going to keep moving it forward,” he concluded above several groans from the crowd.
The District 38 Town Hall wrapped up at 10:30pm, with the remaining attendees, as well as de Blasio and Menchaca, appearing tired and ready to go home by the end. You can watch the entire two and a half hour meeting here.
Check out BKLYNER’s list of Mayor de Blasio’s upcoming Town Hall Meetings in Brooklyn here.