Debating Housing and the 2nd Ave. Line

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:03

David Garland and Ben Kallos talk about how they would address major Upper East Side issues

With the general election just days away and the city waiting to exhale, Our Town sat down with the two candidates vying for the Upper East Side City Council seat - which is set to be vacated by Jessica Lappin - to talk about the issues that affect residents in the fifth district.

Democrat Ben Kallos slow-cooked his career; he started with a law degree and worked in the voting rights sector and on Community Board 1 before becoming chief of staff for Jonathan Bing, the state Assembly member who served in the 73rd District from 2003 to 2011. From there, Kallos, age 32, tried his hand as chief of policy in Mark Green's 2009 bid for Public Advocate. Bill de Blasio defeated Green in a runoff election. After serving as director of the good government group New Roosevelt, Kallos declared his candidacy for the fifth district.

Republican David Garland, 43, took a shot at unseating longtime State Senator Liz Krueger in 2012 and came out no worse for wear with almost 30 percent of the vote. He's built his City Council race on staunch opposition to the East 91st Street marine transfer station and though he knows he's in a tough bid on the heavily Democratic Upper East Side, he thinks that a political change is just what the district needs.

Garland believes his consulting experience in the private and government sectors make him an ideal candidate and has campaigned full-time since he announced in May. He's raised enough money to qualify for matching public funds and has picked up the endorsements of Assembly Member John Ravitz and Community Board 8 Chairman Nick Viest, among others.

How would you fight the marine transfer station on 91st Street?

David Garland: This is going to blow a hole in the budget. Estimates range from $360 million dollars, but nothing ever costs what they originally project. Chances are this thing is going to end up costing half-a-billion dollars to build. We could convert the entire fleet of dump trucks to natural gas for less than that. This would actually be a better solution because then they wouldn't be producing any emissions, even driving to a transfer station.

Another thing is increasing our recycling capacity. In [New York] everybody wants to improve upon our recycling capabilities and we haven't done it. I think that's one piece of it but it's not going to be enough. I think one of the biggest arguments, in addition to the borough equity argument, is the truck emissions. I think conversion to natural gas for these trucks not only solves that problem but goes a step further.

Ben Kallos: The reason I ran was to stop the dump. I'm still the only one providing a plan. The first part is to work with the existing coalition. I'd also work with the elected officials like Carolyn Maloney and Liz Krueger, who have endorsed me, as part of a larger coalition because it can't be just one person who can stop this. It's about recycling. New York City's at 15 percent, we can get to 75 percent recycling like many other cities and we can drastically reduce our waste so that we can leave this waste landfill model that doesn't belong here or any other residential neighborhood.

I will stand up to whomever is the mayor and make sure they do not build a marine transfer station in this residential neighborhood or any other because they don't belong here.

Where do you stand on affordable housing for seniors on the Upper East Side?

Kallos: There was a time where the Upper East Side was not so ritzy or glitzy or expensive to live, and they came here and they made our neighborhood what it is. They fought crime, they improved quality of life, and now the response we're giving them is to tell them downsize? That's wrong. A person who builds their home here deserves to live here as long as they wish and we shouldn't be pushing them out.

We're already taking action and again, working with a strong coalition of strong Democrats, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, our Manhattan Borough President Elect Gale Brewer and others from all over New York City to fight the downsizing and make sure that any senior or disabled New Yorker can remain in their affordable housing unit that they deserve.

Garland: A big portion of our community are seniors and they've been in their homes a number of years. Some of them live in Mitchell-Lama homes, which is for middle-income/moderate income housing. We need to find a replacement for that program as it gets more phased out.

The 421A tax abatement has been a great tool, but I think we need to up that and we need to find a portion of that that is dedicated to seniors as well to provide them some additional options in the new hosing construction projects that are going up. SCREE [break out] has been a great tool, I think we need to enhance that and make sure that they have proper funding because there's going to be more and more as baby boomers retire and get older.

What would you do to mitigate the impact of the 2nd Avenue Subway Project?

Garland: It's a little hard to get a sure count of the impact on small business along that route, but a good guess is probably 25-30 percent of the businesses have closed, or shuttered or moved to a different location, so that's been a huge impact along the corridor. The communication issue has been critical, they've opened an office along 2nd Avenue with a resident liaison, a small business liaison, that's been helpful. I think communication and transparency, the MTA has come a long way in terms of improving that and really working along side with the residents of the community.

But I think more can be done because we still have three years to go. There was an effort to make tax relief for the small businesses along that route, and that was vetoed by [Governor] Paterson, I think we can revisit that issue for these last few years to provide a little bit of relief for small business along there. Some of them have been there for decades and they're really struggling. I've talked to a number of them and they need a little bit of help, just to get them over the final hump. I think long term they all realize that it's going to be great for their businesses to have this additional transportation route so close.

Also, just making sure there's strong enforcement on the restriction of construction hours. Bloomberg as coordinator of the task force has really came down hard on that and they've been adhering pretty well to that but we want to make sure that continues.

Kallos: I had a chance to work with Assembly Member Jonathan Bing and we drafted and introduced legislation to support businesses along the 2nd Avenue subway construction to keep them open. As my opponent mentioned, it got vetoed by Governor David Paterson, and we were all incredibly disappointed but we kept fighting for it and as the next city council member I would reintroduce it as a city bill.

Additionally I'd propose a five-point plan to address many of the concerns that residents have shared with me about their quality of life along the 2nd Avenue subway construction. Some of that plan has already come to fruition. We've launched, that I built, which allows constituents to suggest locations for better lighting along the 2nd Avenue subway construction and that was to address certain safety concerns and lighting concerns. Improving outreach by expanding the information available about the community outreach center on 2nd Avenue to include information on and locations of open local businesses as well as quality of life information and policy. Improving blasting notifications by offering regular text message notification and upping the number of emails to send out as far in advance as possible so that residents can plan around the blasting schedule.

We'd like to require an environmental study of the construction's impact on air quality, noise, traffic, transit and ways that damage can be minimized for families in the surrounding areas. This would compliment the original EIS drafted prior to construction when the completion date was slated for 2014, so this isn't going to slow construction, but what it will do is say, "hey we can see the construction, we can see its effect, and this is how we can fix it for our district and the next district that's going to get the construction."

What separates you from your opponent?

Kallos: I grew up in the Upper East Side and know our neighborhood is a great place to live, while my opponent has compared it to a "war zone." I know that with good plans and the right leaders, we can solve the challenges facing our community. I also have detailed ideas that I'm already putting into action to improve education, keep our neighborhood safe, fight the dump and protect seniors - along with a record of public service and standing up to those in power to improve our neighborhood and our city.

Garland: We have been sold a bill of goods by our elected officials and my opponent seeks to carry on their legacy. The single most pressing issue for our district is the dump at 91st Street. Yet we've been represented by officials who first say they oppose the dump and then undermine their message by standing side-by-side with dump proponents, stripping their original message of its teeth.

My opponent seeks to address our school-overcrowding problem by putting interim classrooms in empty office spaces. He also opposes charter schools. I want to put children first in any education policy decision. I want to take advantage of the underutilized synagogues and churches in our district, which are already properly equipped with classrooms, gym and cafeteria facilities, to alleviate the overcrowding in the district schools.

These kind of sensible solutions are based on my years of public and private experience. I will ensure the best interests of our district are fought for and represented.