BY JACKSON CHEN | City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and a panel of city agency representatives fielded concerns and worries raised by Upper West Siders during a town hall meeting on April 25.
With topics flooding in from online submissions as well as from audience members, Rosenthal at times joined the criticism of city agencies and their failure to address key challenges facing the neighborhood.
Inside the Center at West Park Presbyterian Church at 165 West 86th Street, residents fired off questions ranging from tenant harassment by landlords to dangers compromising pedestrian safety and the consequences of the recent controversial School District 3 rezoning.
During the open mic portion of the town hall, residents spoke up about a wide variety of challenges they face living on the Upper West Side, with the harassment of tenants — whether through unwarranted renovation construction or simply aggressive landlords — the most frequent complaint voiced.
Julie Hanlon, a rent-controlled tenant at 345 West 86th Street, said she and her neighbors have been targeted by chemical harassment through their landlord’s use of pesticides. After exhausting a series of suggestions made by Rosenthal, Hanlon pleaded with agency representatives on hand for solutions.
Following Hanlon, a West 93rd Street resident said a widowed neighbor was forced out of her apartment after living there for 50 years with her husband, in the wake of his death.
Rosenthal explained a package of tenant protection bills, known collectively as Stand for Tenant Safety, that she and her Council colleagues are working on. Some of those measures saw a lengthy hearing on April 19.
Patrick Wehle, the Department of Building’s deputy assistant commissioner for external affairs, said the issue of tenant harassment, especially through construction, was critically important to the department. As for any proposed changes to the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. time frame in which landlords are allowed to carry out construction, he said Council legislation would be required.
Residents also made numerous comments about threats to quality of life posed by pedestrian dangers in the area. Upper West Siders mentioned both vehicles making precarious left turns and cyclists running red lights as dangers, especially for the neighborhood’s large elderly population, some of whom complained of experiencing near-misses.
“One of the biggest problems that we think we’ve encountered is cyclists running red lights,” Levon Holley, the New York Police Department’s 20th Precinct captain, acknowledged. The precinct, he said, has issued 72 red light tickets and confiscated more than 30 electric bikes so far this year.
Regarding pedestrians facing close calls with vehicles, Rosenthal told the DOT’s deputy borough commissioner, Edward Pincar, that she was not pleased with the unresolved questions about cars making turns at the intersection of West 96th Street and West End Avenue.
“While crashes and injuries have gone down along the whole of West End Avenue,” she said, “at that corner of 96th Street, the number of injuries has gone up significantly.”
Rosenthal requested that DOT meet with her to discuss the dangers pedestrians face at the intersection and to reconsider the current traffic light configuration, to which Pincar agreed. Early last month, the councilmember was joined by members of Community Board 7 and other neighborhood residents in calling for safety improvements at that corner.
Some upset public school parents said they are not yet seeing the intended results of School District 3’s rezoning. That rezoning, affecting those schools located between West 59th and 122nd Streets, was aimed at reducing overcrowding and racial and socioeconomic segregation. With early enrollment numbers now in, Rosenthal asked the Department of Education for an update, especially regarding the prevalence of school waitlists.
According to Sadye Campoamor, the DOE’s director of community affairs, there are still waitlists — she pointed to a 30-student list at P.S. 9 at 100 West 84th Street, but added the numbers are still preliminary.
Public school students aren’t the only New Yorkers encountering waitlists, with roughly 250,000 prospective public housing tenants backlogged by the City Housing Authority. Brian Honan, NYCHA’s director of state and city legislative affairs, said the list is cleared on a first-come, first-serve basis, though priority is given to homeless families and to victims of domestic violence. He acknowledged that it is “not uncommon to wait six to eight years” for a NYCHA apartment.
In the current combative political atmosphere, Rosenthal also faced a question about intramural party affairs. An audience member asked why she and Public Advocate Letitia James, both Democrats, held a luncheon for State Senator Marisol Alcantara shortly after her victory in the State Senate’s 31st District given that she caucuses with the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, in Albany, a group criticized for working in tandem with the Republican minority and giving the GOP majority control of the Senate.
“My thinking is, hold your elected’s feet to the fire, so of course I’m going to help make that luncheon happen,” Rosenthal explained. “I will say without question that the IDC is beyond problematic. I think everyone, if they’re elected a Democrat, should be a Democrat.”
From there, Rosenthal faced the remainder of the evening addressing concerns raised by a crowd likely largely made up of Upper West Side Democratic voters.