December 2006 • New York’s 66th Assembly District In Action • ISSUE 38
I am grateful for your support and I am gratified to have the opportunity to continue representing our city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. As we begin a new year and a new session with a new administration in Albany, I am hopeful that we will pursue a more progressive approach to governing. There are a myriad of issues that still confront us, but with a fresh perspective – and for the first time in 12 years, a partner in the executive branch – I am certain that we will see great change.
The recent news that my Women’s Health and Wellness law was upheld by a unanimous vote of the New York Court of Appeals signals that the continued attacks on reproductive freedom can be repelled. In the end, I firmly believe that one’s health choices should not be dictated by the religious views of one’s employer, particularly when the employer is a hospital, university or social service agency with some religious affiliation.
While there have been challenges to reproductive freedom over the last decade, most people assume that this issue has been limited to the right to abortion. But the growing fight is over access to contraceptives as well. For example, it is becoming all too common for individual pharmacists to refuse to fill certain legal prescriptions, such as contraceptives, because of their religious beliefs. This is a troubling and unacceptable trend.
During my next term, I pledge to remain vigilant on all of the issues that touch on our individual freedoms. New York must, and I am confident that it will, lead the way for the entire nation.
Again, my thanks for the confidence you have shown in me.
PROMOTING ARTS IN EDUCATION
Programming in the arts is an important part of children’s education and has been shown to increase academic achievement and self-confidence. Through programs in visual arts, music, literature and poetry, and dance, students are introduced to different art forms and provided with a more well-rounded education. While one would think that arts education would be paramount in New York City, “the arts capital of the world,” unfortunately, it is not.
Though the city supports Broadway theatres and the city’s major museums and art institutions, the city unfortunately pays too little attention to art education programs, as well as smaller arts organizations. As a result, school-based arts programs are severely underfunded. When such programs do exist in schools, they are very limited and often are provided by outside groups who may provide wonderful programming, but are not able to provide a comprehensive arts program for every school. Too often, the responsibility of funding and promoting adequate programming is left to parents, with mixed results.
In some schools, parents have been able to mobilize, leading to wonderful results. For example, the parents of students in Public School 3, located in the West Village, have worked hard to create and support an innovative arts curriculum for students. In a model collaborative effort, a teacher/musician led P.S. 3’s eight-year-old students in composing, performing and recording original music with their parents. The whole process was documented in a stunning film by a P.S. 3 parent.
In addition to debuting at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, the documentary was shown as part of a fundraising event for P.S. 3’s arts programming.
Though efforts like this are very important, it is likely that few other schools have the resources to duplicate such efforts, depriving many students of an adequate arts education. In addition, it is highly inappropriate that funding for public school-based arts programs is so restricted that parents must contribute significant time and money to ensure that their children receive an adequate arts education. Requiring parents to raise large sums of money to do what the city ought to be doing is unfair and misguided.
It is time for the city administration to realize that support of the arts and the provision of a good public school education require adequate investments in school-based arts programs. I am hopeful that a new administration in Albany will also place the appropriate emphasis on both arts and education so that parents are no longer required to contribute their own resources to ensure an adequate and well-rounded education for their children.
RED LIGHT FOR DANGEROUS TRAFFIC PROPOSAL
As a life-long resident of New York City and an avid walker, I remain a staunch advocate for an urban landscape that facilitates and values the safety and movement of its countless pedestrian commuters. Recently, I have been disheartened by the apparent lack of concern on the part of various City and State agencies for the very pedestrians that their own development has encouraged. At a time when there is a clear policy in place toward encouraging residential development throughout the City, it is completely mystifying to me why such little consideration is being given to the safety of an ever growing number of pedestrians.
The neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan will continue to experience a large portion of this growth. Commensurately, every effort must be made to introduce adequate pedestrian safety measures to address these heavy influxes of residents and tourists. Shockingly, in the case of the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) Route 9A project, slated to begin construction in the Spring of 2008, exactly the opposite has been done. The Route 9A project is a large-scale State highway project that, when completed, will revamp the stretch of West Street between Chambers Street at the north end and West Thames Street at the south. Recent plans for the project have revealed an extremely troubling proposal for the addition of two left-turn lanes from southbound West Street onto Warren Street. Currently, the intersection at West and Warren is one of the slightly less dangerous intersections for pedestrians looking to cross the highly-trafficked and pedestrian unfriendly West Street. However, it is by no means adequately safe in its current condition and it certainly cannot afford to be further compromised by the addition of these turning lanes.
Crossing West Street is a dangerous endeavor for any pedestrian, but is particularly risky for children and senior citizens. Located in close proximity to PS/IS 89, PS 234, the Hallmark senior residence, and busy ballfields, these intersections present increased difficulties for the children and senior citizens who must frequently cross West Street throughout the day. The addition of these turn lanes at what is already a highly dangerous, heavily congested intersection that is lacking in adequate crossing time, is as misguided an approach to pedestrian safety as I have ever seen. Even the NYSDOT’s own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for the Route 9A project plainly states the agency’s understanding that the addition of these left turn lanes will increase the already elevated accident rate. Recommending any proposal that will essentially increase accidents and pedestrian injuries is unconscionable.
I recently joined with members of the community and other elected officials to call for the elimination of these turn lanes from the Route 9A plan. I also met with City and State DOT, along with other elected officials and community representatives, to express my serious concerns with this dangerous proposal. Hopefully, this meeting will mark the start of an open dialogue with the various agencies responsible for the implementation of the Route 9A project. There simply must be alternatives to the left-turn lanes at West and Warren that do not compromise the safety of residents and visitors. Additionally, in order to address the current, inadequate safety measures in place along West Street, I have requested that the First Precinct assign additional crossing guards to this intersection as well as the intersection just to the north at Chambers and West Streets.
I will continue to oppose transportation projects that threaten to prize the efficiency and expediency of vehicular movement over the lives of pedestrians, especially vulnerable members of our community such as children and senior citizens. Pedestrians are truly some of New York City’s “green” commuters, reducing environmental pollutants by walking and utilizing mass transit. Simultaneously, they contribute vitally to the vibrant neighborhood street life that makes New York City such a wonderful place to live. We must take every measure to value and protect these pedestrians and should never jeopardize their lives and safety by allowing risky proposals, such as the one at the intersection of West and Warren, to be given the green light. I, along with other elected officials, will continue to fight alongside the community to ensure that this severely misguided proposal does not become a frightening reality.
|GREENING OUR COMMUNITY|
By providing shade, trees lessen the urban heat island effect, helping to block heat buildup by reducing the heat that is radiated from hard surfaces like concrete, stone, and metal surface. Due to the key role that greenery plays in the carbon and oxygen cycles, trees also help improve air quality both on a local and global level. For example, the addition of just 1,500 trees in New York City would remove more than 77,000 pounds of air pollutant and reduce stormwater runoff by 6.9 million cubic feet over twenty years. Trees also help to absorb and muffle unwanted sound, improving our quality of life.
Unfortunately, the city continues to lose trees both to development and to the survival challenges present in our urban environment. Most trees in residential areas of Manhattan are found in relatively small tree pits located between curbs and sidewalks, where they must contend not only with limited amounts of soil, but also with pollution from passing cars, debris and the bumps and bruises caused by car doors and bicycles. In order to survive and thrive in this difficult environment, trees need regular attention.
Working With Others
Since block and neighborhood associations, co-op boards, and individual residents and businesses are most familiar with the trees on their blocks and in their neighborhoods, they are uniquely situated – and most often do – take the lead in neighborhood greening efforts. By serving as the “eyes and ears” for trees in their community, they can alert the appropriate parties when a tree appears to be ailing or is in distress. In addition, neighborhood stakeholders are most familiar with the greening needs of their community and can work together to request street trees, plant flowers, and clean tree pits.
Friends of Greenwich Street’s “Tribeca Trees” program is a terrific model for other block associations and community groups who would like to increase the greening of their neighborhood. Through this program, the group works to raise money for tree plantings, recruit volunteers for planting and tree care, find suitable locations for new trees and hosts a website containing lots of helpful information, including a checklist that groups can use in assessing the suitability of a site for tree planting. Their website is http://www.friendsofgreenwichstreet.org.
Another excellent resource for people wishing to be more involved in increasing the number of and caring for trees in their community is Trees New York. This nonprofit organization provides workshops on tree pruning, planting and tree care, as well as general information and technical assistance on these topics. Their website, www.treesny.com, is a wealth of information, providing instruction on the process for planting a tree in New York City, as well as charts comparing the merits of different types of trees and tree guards.
The Tree Planting Process
There are two ways you can get a street tree planted in New York City. First, any property owner may request that the Parks Department plant a tree, free-of-charge, on their sidewalk. Since only property owners may request a tree, neighborhood groups or building residents must work with owners to get trees planted and trees are planted by the city on a first-come, first-served basis. The first step in this process is for the owner to fill out a Street Tree Request Form from the Parks Department. Groups wishing to get a tree planted must begin work immediately in order to turn in their application by December 31st, the deadline for consideration for planting during the next planting season, which runs from March 15 to May 15. Any applications received after this date will not be considered for planting until the Fall planting season, which is from October 15 to December 15. You may call your local community board for more information or the Parks Department’s Street Tree Planting Office at (718) 760-6794. In addition, the Parks Department’s website, located at www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/trees_greenstreets/street_tree_plant.html provides detailed instructions and application forms for tree planting.
A second option for tree planting is for groups to purchase a tree and hire a landscaper to plant it, a process which costs between $500 to $800 per tree. In order to plant a tree, an individual or group must first complete a free permit application from the Parks Department and have the planting location inspected by their Manhattan Forestry office. As above, the Parks Department provides further information by phone and on its website, including a list of approved tree species. You can even add a tree if there is currently no tree pit at a location, but you will need to apply to the Department of Transportation for a permit and pay for the costs of creating the tree pit. It is important to note that any trees planted within a sidewalk become the property of the city after the landscaper’s one year guarantee expires.
Although trees and other greenery have a host of positive benefits for the larger community and environment, neighborhood residents and businesses realize the greatest benefits from greening. For this reason, I encourage community members to take the initiative to talk to your neighbors and work to increase the number of trees in your neighborhood. If you need assistance in this effort, my office stands ready to help you and can be contacted at (212) 674-5153.
VICTORY FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH
On October 19, 2006 the New York State Court of Appeals upheld my landmark Women’s Health and Wellness Act (WHWA). The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2003, promotes early detection and prevention of certain medical conditions affecting women, including breast cancer and osteoporosis. In particular, the law decreases the age at which insurance companies must cover baseline mammograms from age 50 to age 40 and requires insurance companies to cover earlier osteoperosis screenings for women with certain risk factors. In addition, women who are unable to meet the deductible for mammograms are provided either a supplement in order to do so or are provided an alternative, low-cost mammography. Finally, the law mandates that any insurance plan providing prescription drug coverage also cover contraceptives.
The Court of Appeals ruling resulted from a challenge to the contraception provision of the law by religious groups. The Court found that, unlike “religious employers,” which WHWA exempts because they serve mainly religious purposes, the plaintiffs were largely social service agencies that provide services to and employ people of many different faiths. The Court of Appeals wisely held that granting the broad religious exemption argued by the plaintiffs would leave too many women outside the statute and compromise the law’s purpose, which is to increase access to health care for all women.
Insurance coverage must meet the special needs of both men and women and must not be denied based on arbitrary and unfair factors. The Court’s decision helps ensure that women’s access to healthcare cannot be abridged based on the religion of their employers.