Town Hall in a Squall

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:06

Upper West Siders brave a downpour for a rapid-fire meeting with city agencies and officials

Upper West Side How do you address dozens of questions put to you and representatives of city government from Upper West Side residents in just two hours? The short answer is, you don't.

Despite a number of empty seats at Council member Helen Rosenthal's recent town hall meeting ? likely due to the rain, which was coming down in horizontal sheets last Wednesday ? enough residents attended that not everyone got a chance to speak.

Her office received about 90 questions from residents ahead of the meeting, distilling them down to just 20, which she directed to about 16 representatives of city government who attended. Rosenthal then opened the floor up for a question and answer session where another 30-plus people lined up to speak, about a dozen of whom weren't able to air their grievances before the 8 p.m. cut off time.

Rosenthal later told the West Side Spirit she believes the town hall was a great success, even though only half of the 150 people who RSVP'd showed up. Still, she said, a lot got done and she plans to hold more throughout her term.

"After we answered the questions that had come through our website we devoted an hour to answering questions from the audience, but couldn't get through everyone," said Rosenthal. "We took their questions down and we're going to get back to them with the answers."

State Senator Jose Serrano (D, WF-29), who had just driven back from Albany, was on hand to announce that the Senate had passed a measure that would allow New York to increase the number of speed cameras in the city. He praised Rosenthal's efforts on behalf of constituents.

"She brings an activist's mentality to the job," said Serrano. "She cares deeply about progressive issues."

Rosenthal said she's thrilled that so many residents in her district are actively involved in the democratic process.

"I'm excited that so many Upper West Siders are engaged and want to be a part of making sure that city government is responsive to our residents," she said in an interview. "It was a great day for participatory democracy." ------ West 95th Street shelter

Rosenthal called a decision in April by city officials to halve the number of residents at the emergency shelter ? known as Freedom House ? a "win for the community."

"I will not rest until we eliminate that homeless shelter," said Rosenthal. "There's no reason we need an additional homeless shelter, we're well beyond our fair share on the Upper West Side." ------ Con Edison bill increases

Answering a question about why residents' utility bills have seen an increase despite no change in usage, a representative of Con Edison said the company's billing rate hasn't actually increased and won't for another 2-3 years. Rather, he said, residents are seeing higher bills ? some have reported a $40 increase - due to the increase in the price of natural gas.

The Con Edison representative also said they've embarked on an education campaign to inform their customers about gas leaks. If you smell a gas leak in your apartment, he said, leave the premises and call 1-800-ConEd (1-800-752-6633). He also reported that the utility company is replacing 65 miles of gas lines throughout the city. Lastly, there's a ConEd Leakmobile prowling the streets with gas-detection technology aimed at preventing gas leak explosions like the one that claimed eight lives in in East Harlem in March. ------ K-Connect

A DOE official said the department is waiting for the end of the current enrollment cycle before revisiting the K-Connect kindergarten enrollment program, which residents have linked to long waiting lists particularly at P.S. 75, 87 and 199. ------ 606 West 57th Street

Despite approving a 1,189-unit residential apartment building on West 57th Street after concessions were won from the developer, Rosenthal said she's "deeply troubled" by the rate of development in the area, and will be working with other City Council members and the administration on sensible development guidelines aimed at mitigating the impact on neighborhood schools. ------ Primary Day voting

The quality of some responses from city officials elicited wry laughter from residents. While fielding a question about the possibility that Primary Day, June 24, could be made into a professional development day so students could avoid the crush of voters at public schools, Ben Goodman, from the Dept. of Education's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said, "Regarding this specific issue we're aware of the safety concerns and we're working with our colleagues both at the NYPD and the Board of Elections to address them."

Residents waited a tick for Goodman to continue. When he did not, guffaws ensued. "Really? That's it?" asked one resident.

A colleague of Goodman's took over with a slightly more satisfying answer, which was that the DOE believes the issue needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis as not all schools believe Primary Day voting is a safety concern.

Rosenthal said her office would forward to the DOE a list of schools that have expressed their safety concerns with Primary Day. ------ Succession rights in Mitchell-Lama program

A representative from the Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development said his office is currently reviewing succession guidelines for New Yorkers who wish to pass their Mitchell-Lama apartments on to relatives and loved ones, specifically as the policy pertains to LGBT rights. The last proposal, he said, included some narrowing of what relationships would be considered for succession and HPD saw a certain amount of backlash on that proposal during the public review process.

"At this point, we do not have a timeline for the release of a new set of proposed rules," said the HPD representative. "We really want to get this right and we have a new commissioner who is going to be involved in the reconsideration of this policy." ------ Composting on the Upper West Side

One resident asked a representative from the Dept. of Sanitation whether Upper West Siders could participate in the city's pilot composting program, even if their building isn't enrolled. The representative said in order for the compost to be picked up by the city the building would have to be enrolled, but compost can be dropped off at any of the green markets sponsored by Grow NYC. ------ Did we miss anything?

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