Council will also vote on Reauthorizing the Lien Sale Program and Reforming the Commuter Van Industry

City Hall – Today, the New York City Council will vote on legislation to enhance and establish reporting requirements for citywide public art initiatives and cultural institutions. The Council will also vote to establish reporting requirements for economic development tax expenditures, and to reauthorize the lien sale program. In addition, the Council will vote to reform the commuter van industry, and to implement secure procedures for the disposal of agency electronics. Finally, the Council will vote on allowing the sale of plants and flowers during the Asian Lunar New Year.

Enhancement of Data Reporting for Citywide Public Art Initiatives and Cultural Institutions

The New York City Art Commission was created in 1898 by the New York City Charter. The Commission is responsible for oversight of all designs for works of art, architecture, landscape architecture and street furniture proposed to be erected on or above city property as well as the conservation of the City’s art collection.

Introduction 1276-B, sponsored by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, would require the New York City Art Commission to submit to the Mayor and the Speaker a report detailing the number of submissions received by the Commission, the number of submissions acted upon, the membership of the Art Commission, a summary of the methods and procedure used to determine the approval or disapproval or rejection of submissions and any other information the Commission deems relevant.

“City art programs are a valuable tool in engaging constituencies and creating collaborative opportunities among our communities,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This package of legislation will help to ensure that New Yorkers are kept up to speed about our public art programs – from capturing data on program funding and participation to enhancing reporting on the art displayed around the City. These bills will also help to remind us of the remarkable creativity and artistry throughout New York City. I thank Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy Van Bramer and Council Member Laurie Cumbo for their work on these initiatives.”

The Cultural Institutions Group (CIG) includes any cultural institution that is in the CIG as determined by the Department of Cultural Affairs. Members of the CIG are located on City-owned property and receive significant capital and operating support from the City. Members operate as publicly-owned facilities whose mandate is to provide cultural services to all New Yorkers.

Introduction 865-B, sponsored by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, would require the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) to report data on the CIG organizations’ performance for the previous fiscal year. Data could alternatively be reported in the Mayor’s Management Report. Included in the data would be total visitor attendance, the number of free or reduced-price visits, the total attendance of public school students through school-organized visits, the number of partnerships with public schools, the total number of free admission hours, the number of programs related to the cultural institution’s mission or discipline and targeted to a general audience and the number of programs targeted or designed to reach specific groups of people.

Percent for Art refers to the law that requires that one percent of the budget for eligible City-funded construction projects be spent on artwork for City facilities. Currently, the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) oversees a panel of individuals who participate in the selection process for upcoming artist commissions. This bill would codify the panel selection process into law.

Introduction 1290-A, sponsored by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, would require an advisory panel to recommend eligible works of art in a project administered by DCLA in the Percent for Art program. The bill would require that the panel be comprised of members who are knowledgeable about public art, about the project, and about the community in which the project will be located. The panel would also include, but not be limited to, at least one representative of the Borough President’s office of the borough in which the project will be located, at least one representative of the City Council Member in whose district the project will be located, and at least one representative of the community board for the community district in which the project will be located. These representatives would be non-voting ex-officio members.

“Today we passed the largest package of bills ever in the history of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, and the first reform to the Percent for Art program since it was created under Mayor Koch. These pieces of legislation will bring more transparency and accountability to the public art process and strengthen the programs that help make our city the cultural capital of the world,” said Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Chair Jimmy Van Bramer. “These bills will increase community input in the Percent for Art program by requiring community members to sit on Percent for Art panels, requiring the DCLA to collect data on who receives commissions, and mandating that outreach to artists is conducted in multiple languages. They will also strengthen Percent for Art by increasing the amount of money that can be spent on these important public projects. This package also contains legislation requiring reports from the Arts Commission and the Cultural Institutions groups, bringing more transparency to the institutions that literally shape the face of our city.”

Introduction 1295-A, sponsored by Council Member Laurie Cumbo, would require the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) to publish on its website information about all works of art in the Percent for Art program. DCLA would also be required to publish on its website aggregated demographic information about the artists whose works of art are in the Percent for Art program, to the extent such information is provided to DCLA.

The law that created Percent for Art was passed in 1982 and has not since been adjusted or amended to reflect inflation. This bill would update funding amounts to be consistent with the current rate of inflation.

Introduction 1296-A, sponsored by Council Member Laurie Cumbo, would provide that at least one percent of the first 50 million dollars of capital funds appropriated by the city for a capital project are allocated for works of art. Currently, at least one percent of the first 20 million dollars of capital funds appropriated by the city for a capital project are allocated for works of art. This bill would raise the threshold for the expenditure for works of art for any capital project from 400,000 dollars to 900,000 dollars. This bill would also raise the threshold for expenditures for works of art in any fiscal year from 1.5 million dollars to 4 million dollars.

In order to be selected to create a work that is part of the Percent for Art program, artists must apply to receive the commission to create the work of art.

Introduction 1297-A, sponsored by Council Member Laurie Cumbo, would require the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) to engage in outreach and educational efforts to inform the public regarding the opportunity to submit works of art for the Percent for Art program. Outreach and education would include information sessions in each borough and the development of written materials containing information on the submission and selection process for works of art in the program. DCLA would be required to make these materials available to arts and cultural organizations, community-based organizations and colleges/universities, and to make them available in the seven most commonly spoken languages in New York City, as determined by the Department of City Planning.

“The 35th Council District, which I proudly represent, is home to artists of all backgrounds whose inspirational work continues to explore different ideas, perspectives, and societal issues. My legislation – Intros 1295, 1296, and 1297 – is an opportunity to diversify participation within the Percent for Art program and expand our city’s investment in artists who can transform public spaces into canvases that will showcase their creativity and beautify our neighborhoods. This unprecedented increase in the Program’s 35-year history is momentous and an incredible victory for our city. I want to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy Van Bramer and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl for their continued advocacy and support towards the cultural enrichment of all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo.

Tax Expenditure Evaluations and Lien Sale Program Reauthorization

Economic development tax expenditures are tax breaks that aim to promote economic development by creating jobs, encouraging investment in commercial real estate, and promoting investment in equipment and training. With the goal of ensuring that these are being awarded in an effective and fiscally responsible manner, the Council established the Task Force on Economic Development Expenditures. The Task Force was designed to improve the Council’s oversight of the City’s nearly $2.8 billion in economic development tax expenditures and recommend a systematic process for evaluating them. This legislation stems from the work of the Task Force and will provide the public and lawmakers a greater understanding of the impact of these tax breaks.

Introduction 1281-A, sponsored by Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Dan Garodnick, would require the Independent Budget Office (IBO) to review and evaluate economic development tax expenditures identified by the Council on a schedule set forth by the Council. For each economic development tax expenditure reviewed and evaluated, the IBO would submit to the Council and post on its website a report providing an analysis of the effectiveness of the tax expenditure and whether the tax expenditure is achieving its intended goals, whether those goals are still relevant, and recommendations for future evaluations.

“Budget cycle after budget cycle, the effectiveness of the city’s tax incentives remain unknown to the public,” said  Committee on Economic Development Chair Dan Garodnick.  “It is our duty to make sure that New York City allocates its economic development resources effectively, and is not simply throwing away money. This law will help us evaluate what is working and what is not.”

The New York City Lien Sale Program acts as an enforcement mechanism to improve property tax compliance and ensure the equitable contribution to essential municipal services. It incentivizes property owners who have become delinquent on property taxes and certain municipal charges to engage and communicate with the City so that a solution can be reached, either by paying off their debt or entering into a payment agreement before the lien sale. This legislation recognizes that the Program must also be administered in a transparent, fair, and flexible manner.  The bill reflects the recommendations of the Lien Sale Task Force.

Introduction 1385-A, sponsored by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, would reauthorize the City’s tax lien sale program for another four years. In addition, it would allow greater flexibility with payment plans for property owners, expand notification and communication requirements, mandate greater data collection and reporting on the impact of the lien sale, and allow emergency repair charges of at least $1,000, that had remained unpaid for at least one year, to trigger lien sale eligibility for non-owner occupied one-, two-, and three-family homes.

“Until now, we have been limited in our ability to measure how effective tax incentives are for growing New York City’s economy,” said Committee on Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. “We now have a solution: a standardized process to continuously evaluate economic development tax breaks. The Task Force on Economic Development Tax Expenditures collaborated for months with experts and stakeholders to create a standard by which to determine the effectiveness of these $2.8 billion in tax breaks. Our bill, Introduction 1281-A, will improve the Council’s oversight of these programs and help guarantee that the public is getting the best bang for its buck.  I am proud of the Task Force’s work and its diligence in creating a process that other municipalities can now model.”

Reform of the Commuter Van Industry

Commuter vans, also known as “dollar vans,” provide affordable transportation in underserved areas. Approximately 350 commuter vans are licensed, but a thriving ‘shadow’ system involving hundreds of vans operates outside of the City’s regulatory regime. While licensed commuter vans fill much-needed gaps in the transit system, the prevalence of unlicensed commuter van and their involvement in a number of serious crashes presents serious enforcement challenges for the City and threaten the business models of legitimate operators.

Introduction 570-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, would remove some unique restrictions relating to record maintenance and authorization renewals that do not apply to any other sectors regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission and are not connected to safety, merely creating additional burdens on small business owners. The requirement that commuter van services renew their authorization with the Department of Transportation (DOT) every six years and that such services provide DOT with public support statements (petitions) during their initial application would be removed. Additionally, commuter vans would no longer be required to carry evidence of prearrangement or passenger manifests.

“Commuter vans are a major source for transportation in my district, and in many other communities across the City,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams. “They fill the gap in transportation starved areas. Unfortunately, commuter drivers often get painted with a broad brush, and are accused of infractions that legal drivers are not committing. These bills are about making sure people have the legal opportunity to operate commuter vans, while also stepping up enforcement, and ensuring passenger safety.”

Introduction 860-A, sponsored by Council Member I. Daneek Miller, would limit the number of commuter van licenses to 735, provided that the TLC could increase the number of available licenses upon a finding that there is a need for additional vans in an annual study. In such study, the TLC would review safety in the commuter van industry, in addition to the demand for commuter van service.

Introduction 861-A, sponsored by Council Member I. Daneek Miller, would set the minimum civil penalty for a first violation involving the operation of a commuter van to $1,000. Currently, the maximum penalty is $1,000, with no minimum. The civil penalty for a violation involving the operation of a commuter van service without the required authorizations or license would be raised from a range $500-$1,000 to $1,000-$3,000 for a first offense and $1,000-$2,500 to $2,000-$4,000 for subsequent offenses within two years. The bill would also clarify existing law to make clear that operation of any vehicle as a commuter van punishable by a fine of $1,000-$2,000, imprisonment of up to 60 days, or both.

“Since I can remember commuter ‘dollar’ vans have been a part of everyday life for residents of Southeast Queens. These businesses try to provide a service that the MTA is not, and because they were poorly regulated, it has created an unsafe environment for commuters and drivers alike,” said Committee on Civil Service and Labor Chair I. Daneek Miller. “After much advocacy, I have been pleased to see increased enforcement on Parsons Boulevard and Archer Avenue by the 103rd Police Precinct and Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the bills we will be passing today will support those efforts by deterring van drivers from breaking the law and developing ways we can make the industry more efficient. I would like to thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Jumaane Williams, and my colleagues in the Council for supporting these bills.”

Secure Disposal of Agency Electronics

Increased reliance on technology-based platforms in the everyday operations of city agencies has created a need for guidance on the secure disposal of machinery holding sensitive information. The following bill provides for such procedure to be put into effect.

Introduction 1052-A, sponsored by Council Member James Vacca, would require any city agency disposing of electronic equipment that is capable of storing information when powered off to ensure that all of the information is erased before it is disposed. Disposal includes transferring equipment to another agency when that equipment has confidential or sensitive information that is not relevant to the work of the agency receiving the equipment.

“With ever increasing threats to our personal information, it is critically important we create procedures to insure that data is properly secured,” said Council Member James Vacca, Chair of the Committee on Technology.  “Before this legislation, there were no requirements that City agencies wipe the data that exists on office supplies hardware. Disposed hard drives therefore created a potential security risk as a treasure trove of data available to anyone with eventual access to the item. Names, phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers and other sensitive data could have been easily stolen from these devices.  My legislation will require all office devices that store data to be properly wiped before disposal, which will greatly improve the information security of New Yorkers.  I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito for her support of the important piece of legislation.”

Sale of Plants and Flowers During the Asian Lunar New Year

During the time of Asian Lunar New Year, many New Yorkers sell, and purchase plants and flowers in celebration of this cultural tradition. Current law requires that any person who sells items on the street to obtain a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs. In recent years, individuals selling flowers and plants for Asian Lunar New Year have been ticketed and arrested for vending without a license. In recognition that this cultural tradition is important to a large population of New York City residents, this bill creates an eight day allowance for this practice during the Asian Lunar New Year.

Introduction 1061, sponsored by Council Member Margaret Chin, would amend section 20-458 of the Code of the City of New York to create a one-week exemption of the requirement to secure a general vendor license for the sale of flowers and plants on the day of Asian Lunar New Year, as defined in section 19-163 of the Code, and during the seven days prior.

“With the passage of this legislation, flower sellers looking to serve their customers during the Lunar New Year holiday will be able to do business without the fear of heavy fines or even arrest,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “Whether you are one of the thousands of Asian Americans who celebrate Lunar New Year or a member of any other community, this targeted piece of legislation sends a message of fairness, and above all, common sense. I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito, Majority Leader Van Bramer, and Council Members Menchaca, Lancman, and Ferreras-Copeland for their support of this bill.”