Right to Counsel NYC Coalition & Council Members Introduce New Bill to Empower Tenant Organizing

**Release** April 18, 2019

CONTACT: Jake Sporn, jsporn@council.nyc.gov (Levine)
   Alyssa Figueroa, (201) 921-3249, alyssa@righttocounselnyc.org (RTC Coalition)

City Hall – Today, NYC Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa L. Gibson were joined by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition for a press conference announcing new legislation that would require the City of New York to work with trusted tenant organizing groups to engage and educate tenants about their rights. The bill would strengthen the City’s landmark Right to Counsel (RTC) by ensuring that all tenants know about the new RTC law, understand it, and use it as a tool to address housing issues.

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Health Chair Levine Calls to End “Flat Tummy” Tea Sales to Minors

*RELEASE* April 11, 2019
Contact: Jake Sporn, jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- City Council Health Chair Mark Levine has introduced legislation that would ban the sale of products such as ‘detox teas’ and ‘flat-tummy’ lollipops to minors in NYC.

The non-Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved products have greatly risen in popularity in recent years, in large part due to aggressive celebrity promotion on social media, headlined by non-other than influencers like the Kardashians. The new legislation seeks to both curb teen access to the potentially dangerous products, and raise awareness about the issue of their marketing tactics and effect on those struggling with eating disorders.

Citing safety concerns, Health Chair Levine’s legislation would make it illegal to sell products whose active ingredients include senna, a laxative; and saffron, an appetite suppressant, to those under 18 in the City of New York.

Said Harvard Medical School Professor Dr. S. Bryn Austin, “Dietary supplements sold for detox or weight loss are snake oil, plain and simple. Weight loss claims for these products are either outright sham or a result of adulteration of the products with potentially dangerous stimulants, laxatives or diuretics.”

“We need to call these products out for what they are: a dangerous scam,” said Council Health Chair Levine. “There’s no legitimate basis for a teenager to buy ‘detox’ teas--which are laxatives masquerading as a wellness health product--or ‘flat-tummy’ lollipops--which are candy-coated appetite suppressants. In the rare case a young person has a legitimate medical need, it should be discussed with their parents, their doctor or a certified nutrition expert. These products are not FDA approved and there are serious questions their effects.”

Detox teas are technically dietary supplements, meaning they aren't subject to pre-market screening by the FDA, however the federal agency has reported over 13 deaths from laxative tea abuse and cautions that those “with certain health conditions should ask a healthcare professional before using these products because they may be at increased risk for harmful side effects” such as dehydration, cardiac arrhythmia, and severe kidney damage. Consuming detox teas can even interfere with birth control according to Skinny-Teatox, a company that sells senna-based teas.

Health Chair Levine also said, “I’m hopeful this legislation will begin to call attention to this issue while also shielding minors from the threat dangers of relying on products like these. We need to step up and send a better message to young people about healthy nutrition, not dangerous shortcuts like ‘flat-tummy’ lollipops.”

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Upper Manhattan Street to be Co-Named for Former Community Activist & State Assembly Member, Marie Runyon

**ADVISORY** April 5, 2019
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Morningside Heights, NY – This Sunday, April 7th at 2pm, Council Member Levine will be unveiling “Marie Runyon Way” at the northeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive in Upper Manhattan.

Marie Runyon, born on March 20, 1915, was known for challenging Columbia University’s expansion plans in Harlem and Morningside Heights. Columbia’s College of Pharmaceutical Sciences was hoping to demolish the Columbia-owned apartment buildings as part of the university’s master plan to accommodate more students and replace antiquated facilities. She spearheaded her own protests, as well as rent strikes and legal action against the evictions and won most of her suits under rent control protections. In 1996, Columbia announced that it would no longer seek to evict the people still living in her building and in 2002, Columbia announced that a renovated building was being renamed Marie Runyon Court.

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Council to Pass First-in-the-Nation Bill Providing Relief to Sexual Abuse Survivors by Amending Birth Certificates

**RELEASE** March 28th, 2019
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- Today, the NY City Council is expected to pass legislation—initially opposed by the Administration—sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine that would require the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) Office of Vital Records to redact from birth certificates the name of physicians whose license has been surrendered, or revoked by the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC), which licenses and disciplines physicians.

Council Member Levine was moved to sponsor this legislation after hearing survivor/advocate Marissa Hoechstetter’s story, as she unsuccessfully sought to have the name of the OB/GYN who sexually assaulted her while she was pregnant removed from her twin daughters’ birth certificates but was denied. Without a clear precedent for how to eliminate a physician’s name from the record, the Council Member’s office attempted to intercede on Ms. Hoechstetter’s behalf, but was told she would need an order from the State Supreme Court to have the doctor’s name stricken from her children’s birth certificates.

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Council Members Call for Stronger Enforcement and Stiffer Fines on Floating TV Billboards

**RELEASE** Monday, March 25th 2019
Contact: Jake Sporn, 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov (Levine)
              Jonathan Yedin, 917-589-7855 // jyedin@council.nyc.gov (Brannan)

City Hall, NY -- Today, NYC Council Members Mark Levine of Manhattan andJustin Brannan of Brooklyn announced they would be introducing legislation to dramatically increase the fine on advertising companies violating City law by operating barges equipped with large LED illuminated billboards. The bright LED screens on the barges--first seen in October of 2018 around New York Harbor and the two rivers leading into it--are 20 feet tall and 60 feet long, causing a nuisance to the surrounding communities and a dangerous distraction to drivers on the City’s highways.

Earlier this year, the New York City Law Department made clear in a letter to Ballyhoo Media, Inc., the company responsible for operating the barges, that the corporation is in violation of several provisions of the NYC Administrative Code and other laws. Specifically, the City’s Zoning Resolution states that, "no moving or stationary advertising sign shall be displayed on a vessel plying waterways adjacent to Commercial Districts and within view from an arterial highway," including the FDR, the BQE, and Henry Hudson Parkway.

Currently, the penalty for violating the City’s Zoning Resolution is up to $25,000 per daily violation. However, the maximum fine pales in comparison to the profits earned by these companies as the “pricing of a 30-second spot in a 2-minute loop on the boats is $55,000 in NYC,” according to Pivot Media Ventures, a Ballyhoo Inc. affiliate.

Council Members Levine and Brannan are seeking to quadruple the maximum fine to $100,000 per daily violation, in addition to calling on the NYPD to step up enforcement of the barges. The legislation will be introduced on Thursday, March 28th, and is co-sponsored by Council Members Carlina Rivera, Margaret Chin, Helen Rosenthal, Stephen Levin and Keith Powers. 

“Nobody wants to be walking along New York Harbor or the Rockaways only to be visually assaulted by a 1,200 square foot TV screen running commercials on loop,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “These barges are more than just an obnoxious eyesore, they’re a danger to drivers on the City’s arterial highways. Ballyhoo is in clear violation of City Law. Worse, they’ve even bragged to other markets about ‘running unimpeded in New York.’ We need the NYPD to step up their enforcement of existing laws and we need to increase the fines to the point that it's no longer economical for Ballyhoo to keep flouting the law. I’m proud to work with my incredible colleague from Bay Ridge, Councilman Justin Brannan to protect the sanctity of public waters.”

“At a time when every square inch of our world feels like it’s covered in advertisements, visual pollution is a real thing and our waterways should be off completely limits,” said Council Member Justin Brannan. “The New York harbor is not Times Square. A massive floating LED barge is not the same as the old crop duster flying over Jones Beach telling you to try the fried grouper special at the local seafood shack. These LED barges are not only ugly, obnoxious and illegal but they are dangerous to already often distracted drivers. Councilman Levine and I both agree that substantially upping the daily fines will make it financially crippling for these companies to break the law with these waterway advertisements.”

Said Council Member Keith Powers, “New York City’s waterways are not meant to double as advertising space. These billboard barges are operating against the law, and there must be clear consequences and better enforcement so they get that message. I thank Council Members Levine and Brannan for their efforts.”

“Waterfront Alliance commends Council Members Levine and Brannan for placing stronger regulations on the ad barge in order to better manage and preserve our waterways. While we celebrate the increased mixed use of our harbor, the visual pollution of the ad barge is an irritant for waterfront park-goers and a safety hazard for maritime users of our waterways,” Roland Lewis, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance.

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Washington Heights Community to Rally Against Amtrak’s Mistreatment of Northern Manhattan

**FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY**
MEDIA ADVISORY FOR: Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at 5pm
Contact: Erik Cuello, 212-928-6814

Washington Heights, NY -- A coalition of community members and elected officials will host a rally to protest Amtrak’s treatment of Northern Manhattan following the installation of a billboard on Amtrak property on West 155th Street and Riverside Drive in late February, and the spraying of pesticides which devastated a local community garden last fall.

At no point was an environmental or public review held with community input regarding the installation of the billboard, which has fundamentally altered the skyline of the neighborhood overnight.

Where: West 155th Street and Riverside Drive
When: Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at 5pm
Who: City Council Member Mark Levine, Community Activists

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UWS Council Members, Transit Experts to Host Congestion Pricing Town Hall

**FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY**
MEDIA ADVISORY FOR: Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 at 6pm
Contact: Jake Sporn 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Upper West Side, NY -- As a potential congestion pricing plan continues to develop in the state budget process, Upper West Side Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine are hosting a Town Hall with a panel of transit and environmental experts to hear from community members about their concerns regarding the transit system and thoughts on congestion pricing.

Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Nick Sifuentes will be giving a presentation on what congestion pricing is, how it would work in NYC, and how it could improve the MTA’s NYC Transit system. Also present will be Julie Tighe of New York League of Conservation Voters and Manhattan Borough NYC DOT Commissioner Ed Pincar.

Where: John Jay College, 524 West 59th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues
When: Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 at 6pm
Who: City Council Members Mark Levine & Helen Rosenthal; Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Julie Tighe, Executive Director of the NY League of Conservation Voters; Ed Pincar, Manhattan DOT Commissioner.

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Council Members Call for City-Funded Lawyers to Protect Small Businesses from Eviction

*RELEASE* March 12, 2019
Contact: Jake Sporn, 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- Today, Council Members Mark Levine, Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers, Helen Rosenthal and Diana Ayala announced they would be introducing legislation this week to protect small businesses in New York City by guaranteeing them an attorney in eviction proceedings.

Over the past several years the number of commercial evictions in NYC has steadily risen, according to data from the City Marshal’s office. Between 2017 and 2018 alone commercial evictions climbed from 1,720 to 1,841. Though the first two months of 2019, there have already been 349 commercial evictions.

The staggering commercial eviction rates are fueling the city’s retail vacancy crisis. According to a 2018 survey by real-estate firm Douglas Elliman, approximately 20% of all retail space in Manhattan was vacant or about to become vacant, well above the 5% vacancy rate economists say is healthy.

This has also driven the number of retail workers in Manhattan to plummet for three straight years by more than 10,000, losing more jobs since 2014, during a period of strong and steady economic growth, than during the Great Recession.

The new legislation is modeled after a Council Member Levine’s tenants Right to Counsel legislation that guarantees legal aid to residential tenants facing eviction. Since 2013 as the number of tenants with legal representation has more than doubled, the number of evictions in NYC has fallen by 37%.

“Our neighborhoods are hemorrhaging mom and pop stores at an increasingly alarming rate,” said Council Member Mark Levine, lead sponsor of the new bill. “These stores are the fabric and soul of our communities. With the rate of small business evictions rising for the third year in a row, we need to address this issue before the storefront vacancy crisis gets any worse. We’ve seen what happens when we give residential tenants an attorney in an eviction proceeding--they win. It’s time to extend that right to struggling small business owners. No merchant should have to face a legal battle with their landlord without the benefit of an attorney.”

“For years our neighborhoods have continued to struggle with staggering small business eviction rates as rents climb ever higher. But this bill will ensure that owners have a fighting chance in these proceedings with representation guaranteed by the City of New York. If we are going to end the crisis of vacant storefronts, we need to give our friends in the small business community the tools they need to survive, and I encourage my fellow Council Members to support this important legislation,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.

Said Council Member Keith Powers, “Right to Counsel is a landmark law that demonstrates New York City’s commitment to supporting tenants – a commitment that we should extend to our small businesses. With this new legislation, small businesses that are under threat throughout the city will have the resources to fight eviction. I commend Council Member Levine for his continued work to provide legal aid for those in need.”

“Small businesses helped to build New York City, and they continue to play a critical role in providing goods and services, and employment. On the Upper West Side, we have seen a number of small businesses close, and our community has really felt this loss. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of Council Member Levine’s legislation guaranteeing commercial tenants an attorney in eviction proceedings. At the very least it offers commercial tenants a fighting chance to continue their lease arrangements, and for businesses to stay in their local communities,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

"I am proud to join my colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation that will guarantee legal representation for small businesses facing eviction. Small businesses contribute to our city's vibrancy, diversity, and economic growth — and they must be equipped with the resources necessary to fight the shady tactics that are driving commercial evictions," said Council Member Diana Ayala.

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Speaker Johnson, Health Chair Levine Call for Answers on City’s CBD Policy

*RELEASE* March, 5th 2019
Contact: Jake Sporn, 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- In response to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) recent decision to stop the sale of cannabidiol (CBD) as a food additive in New York City, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Health Chair Mark Levine, and Council Member Robert Holden have written the attached letter to DOHMH.

Said Council Health Chair Levine, “CBD is legal in most states, doesn't get you high, and has even been approved for some medical uses by the FDA. At a time when we are finally moving away from prohibition of marijuana, this is a step backwards, and DOHMH has yet to offer a substantive explanation about why such a drastic step needed to be taken now. My office is in the process of drafting legislation to legalize and regulate the sale of CBD as a food additive, and I look forward to having a full public airing of this issue.”

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With Congestion Pricing on Horizon, Manhattan Council Members Renew Call for Residential Parking Permits North of the Central Business District

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 28, 2019
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Manhattan, New York -- Today, City Council Members Mark Levine & Helen Rosenthal, co-chairs of the Manhattan Delegation, and Council Members Keith Powers & Diana Ayala, renewed their call for the City Department of Transportation (DOT) to create a residential parking permit (RPP) system in Northern Manhattan, covering all areas north of 60th Street through Inwood, as designed in their legislation introduced last year, Int. 848-2018.

Neighborhoods in the northern half of Manhattan increasingly face the crowding and congestion of suburban commuters leaving their cars on local streets in order to transfer to the subway--a problem that will be severely exacerbated with congestion pricing on the horizon.

The bill, introduced by Council Members Levine, Rosenthal, Powers, and Ayala seeks to address this problem by requiring DOT to designate specific areas and neighborhoods where a residential parking permit (RPP) system would be implemented, and to determine the days and times when permit requirements would be in effect. Under the proposed law, DOT would be able to reserve up to 80% parking spaces on designated residential blocks for people who live in the neighborhood, leaving the remaining spots for non-residents. The legislation also specifies that no RRP zone would be implemented on streets zoned for commercial or retail use. While 85,000 parking spots in commercial areas across the City are metered, 97% of on-street spaces are free, disproportionately benefiting 27% of New Yorkers who use their cars to get to work.

The program is designed to give local residents priority for on-street parking in residential areas and to discourage park-and-ride commuters. New York is one of the only major cities in America that does not have some version of an RPP.

In addition to this legislation, the bill’s sponsors are calling for the following protections to be implemented in the rules-making process, including requirements that DOT:

  • Hold public hearings with community boards before implementing RPP in a neighborhood;
  • Ensure permits are only issued to individuals holding a New York State driver's license and whose primary residence is in NYC;
  • Ensure permits are attached to specific license plate numbers; and
  • Limit the number of permits issued to one per licensed driver.

“As momentum continues to build for the creation of a desperately needed congestion pricing program to fund public transit, now more than ever, the City needs to address the prevailing issue of suburban commuters dumping their cars in our neighborhoods, only to transfer to the subway on their way downtown,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “Whether you live in Washington Heights or the Upper East Side, parking in Manhattan is an incredible challenge. With congestion pricing finally on the precipice of becoming reality, we can’t afford to continue as one of the only big cities in America that doesn’t have a residential permit system--this policy is long overdue and urgently needed.”

“As we prepare for the implementation of congestion pricing, we must ensure that neighborhoods surrounding Manhattan’s central business district do not become parking lots for drivers seeking to avoid a toll. Residential permit parking will help us do that, and is a long overdue step toward a more sensible street policy for New York City. Municipalities across the country have implemented such a system, and I am proud to work with Council Members Levine and Powers on this issue,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

“As the city engages in next steps on congestion pricing to ease traffic and fund the deteriorating subway system, this is a timely opportunity to secure residential parking permits for residents,” said Council Member Keith Powers who represents parts of the Upper East Side. “Permits will ensure residents have first priority as parking spots outside the proposed zone become more valuable. Thank you to Council Member Levine for a continued focus around traffic and parking.”

“Undoubtedly, congestion pricing will reduce traffic in Manhattan’s Central Business Districts and bring the city much-needed revenue to improve our transit system. However, the plan is likely to exacerbate the prevalence of suburban commuters parking their cars in Northern Manhattan neighborhoods. In order to mitigate this influx, DOT must implement a residential parking permit system that will prioritize our city’s residents first,” said Council Member Diana Ayala.

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