Charter Revision is an important opportunity for the people of New York City to be able to change the basic rules that determine how our city is governed. This year’s Charter Revision Commission is considering several important proposals that may be placed on the ballot this November for the voters’ approval. As Borough President, I submit the following testimony on these proposed measures.
Land Use and Planning
In order to improve community engagement in the land use process, I agree with the Charter Revision Commission’s recommendation to “consider and solicit public feedback concerning a pre-certification engagement process to provide more time and an earlier opportunity for Community Boards and Borough Presidents to review and comment on applications that are likely to proceed through ULURP.”
Community input in land use decisions is crucial in ensuring that New Yorkers’ needs are met, and we must make the current process more inclusive. We must provide for a pre-certification public comment period to increase public input earlier-on in the ULURP process.
Further, the City’s Environmental Quality Review process is insufficient. More comprehensive reviews are needed of open space, schools, community facilities and potential displacement. All stakeholders should get more comprehensive facts on socio-economic impact when a re-zoning occurs.
Typically, an area between 5 and 10 city blocks (0.25-0.5 miles) from a project site is assessed for socio-economic impact of a rezoning by City Planning. It typically takes 500 residents or 100 employees directly displaced to trigger an assessment of socio-economic impact of a rezoning by city planning. I propose that a lower threshold of estimated displacement triggers a mandated requirement for a comprehensive socio-economic impact assessment. In doing so there would be better transparency in the calculation of what a community needs, such as a school siting, and whether or not the proposed zoning could meet those goals.
The benefits of codification of these important matters in the city charter cannot be overstated.
Additionally, the following land use and planning proposals ought to be considered in addition to those currently under consideration:
- In order to assure greater equity among the elected officials represented on the City Planning Commission, I recommend the Charter Revision Committee explore mandating that the Chair of the City Planning Commission be approved by at least 2/3 of the appointed Commissioners exclusive of the chair (i.e., 8 out of 12). Under this proposal, the Mayor would nominate a candidate prior to an anticipated vacancy. The sitting Commissioners would deliberate until the candidate was approved under supermajority decision. This would give the Borough Presidents and Public Advocate a greater voice in the ULURP process, and give the Chair greater accountability to all members of the City Planning Commission.
- When siting major facilities, such as jails or waste transfer stations, in separate boroughs concurrently, the charter must dictate unequivocally that each borough’s site must undergo a separate ULURP process, to avoid issues such as minimization of community input that is occurring in the jail siting process currently underway. For example, while I fully support the closure of Rikers’ Island, the current process is unacceptable. This charter revision will eliminate any need or perceived need for legal challenges due to perceived ambiguity by any parties.
- The CPC Borough Commissioner should have the ability to place a hold on certification of a borough item for 30 days if they believe additional consultation with CPC staff, the Borough President, the impacted community board or community needs to be conducted. This, too, puts power in the hands of our communities.
Much must be done to improve our planning and land use process as a city, and charter revision presents a unique opportunity for needed action.
Civilian Complaint Review Board
The New York City Police Department performs an essential role in our communities – preserving order, preventing crime, and keeping residents safe and secure. Most police officers perform their duties with respect for both the law and the people that they are serving. However, when officers do cross the line, we must ensure that they are held accountable. This is why it is important that New York City have a strong and independent Civilian Complaint Review Board that can hold bad actors accountable and help maintain the public’s trust in the vast majority of police officers that act professionally and responsibly.
The recent staff report of the Charter Revision Commission made recommendations to strengthen the CCRB and make the NYPD even more accountable to the public. I believe that these proposals are a strong step towards ensuring that New Yorkers’ voices are heard and that wrongdoers are disciplined properly.
The charter should ensure that the CCRB has the resources to do its job effectively. I support the effort to establish guaranteed funding levels for certain offices and agencies, including the CCRB. Setting the CCRB’s funding level at one percent of the NYPD’s budget will ensure that the CCRB will be able to conduct investigations as thoroughly as possible.
One of the largest failings of the CCRB as it currently exists is that the NYPD is not required to implement the discipline that the CCRB recommends when a complaint against an officer is substantiated. This results in disparities between what the CCRB recommends and what is implemented. In the first half of 2018, the NYPD only implemented the recommended discipline about half of the time when the board did not recommend “charges and specifications” (the most severe level of discipline).
The staff report proposed creating a non-binding disciplinary matrix to make discipline for violations clearer and more consistent, as well as requiring the police commissioner to submit a memorandum to the CCRB every time the discipline imposed is different than what the CCRB recommended. This transparency will help restore faith in the good women and men of the NYPD who work so hard to keep us safe.
Codifying and Preserving the Budgets of Borough Presidents’ Offices
The city planning, policy, and constituent services work done in borough president’s offices is crucial to the workings of our city, and these budgets must be protected in the city charter. Borough presidents’ budgets ought to be set with the current total allocation as a floor that shall not be decreased either in total for all borough presidents’ offices or for any individual borough president’s office. Increases should factor in any increases to the Department of City Planning’s Budget.
The only exception to this should be in fiscal years in which the overall City’s expense budget decreases. In the eventuality of a decrease in the City’s expense budget, decreases to the borough presidents’ offices’ respective budgets must not exceed the percentage decrease to the budget for the Department of City Planning for that fiscal year.
These borough-based government offices elected with a borough-wide mandate have the unique ability to simultaneously act as conveners, constituent services providers, policy hubs, planning departments, and watchdog agencies, and we must protect their budgets from further diminution.
Thank you for your consideration in these important matters.
Ruben Diaz Jr.
Bronx Borough President