The Council took broad steps in 2017 to protect our environment and expand access to the City’s parks and recreation centers. The Council’s focus in this area included examining Hurricane Sandy recovery and improving oversight on tree maintenance.
Setting the Tone for Environmental Justice
Environmental Justice (EJ) is defined by the fair treatment and involvement of all persons, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, policies and activities, and with respect to the distribution of environmental benefits. However, because the City did not have a comprehensive law relating to EJ until this year, the Council passed legislation requiring it to create an Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group, conduct a study of EJ areas, and establish an EJ portal.
Increasing Access to Recreational Facilities
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has jurisdiction over recreational facilities such as beaches, pools, athletic fields, and recreation centers. However, budget gaps in past years triggered an increase in membership fees. To reverse this trend and make these facilities easily accessible to more residents, the Council passed legislation that establishes a discounted annual membership fee at DPR-run recreation centers for seniors, youths, persons with disabilities, and veterans of the armed forces. The Council also passed legislation requiring DPR to extend the length of the beach and pool season to one week past Labor Day and to install a walkway linking athletic fields to a public sidewalk if none had existed before, in order to provide for safe pedestrian access.
Additionally, Council Members who fund capital projects in parks have long complained about the lack of communication from DPR regarding the status of the projects they fund. This year, the Council passed legislation to require DPR to provide notice within 30 days to Council Members who allocated funding to a capital project whenever a change order is implemented that has a value greater than 10 percent of an original contract value greater than $500,000.
Supporting Better Tree Maintenance
Complaints regarding trees, and incidents or other problems resulting from trees, are some of the most common issues reported by city residents. The Council passed several bills regarding tree maintenance, including legislation that requires the DPR to post information on its website relating to the times, dates, locations, and work statuses of various tree maintenance activities including: tree pruning; tree stump removal; tree planting; tree damage repairs; and sidewalk damage repair resulting from City-owned trees. Additional legislation requires that, when DPR is engaged in tree removal on a street or roadway, they must post notices of the effective date of temporary parking restrictions at least two days before the start of those restrictions.
Learning Lessons from Sandy
This year, the Council passed legislation requiring the formation of a Hurricane Sandy Task Force that would review best practices that could be adopted in preparing for future natural disasters. The task force would also provide recommendations based off some of the challenges the City faced as it recovered from the costliest storm in its history, in order to avoid such situations in the future.
Enforcing Stormwater Management Practices
Governments that maintain a storm drain system must comply with the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, which is issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In 2015, DEC issued a new MS4 Permit to the City that significantly expands the City’s obligations to reduce the discharge of pollutants into the MS4 system. The MS4 system is responsible for carrying water from the streets to local waterways. When it rains in the areas that are served by an MS4 system, stormwater collects and flows across impervious surfaces including sidewalks, streets and parking lots, picking up pollutants such as oil, chemicals, and pathogens along the way.
Since 1990, large cities such as New York City have been required to obtain a state permit to discharge stormwater from MS4s, and since 1999, all urban areas have been required to obtain such a permit. Fourteen city agencies bear significant obligations under the new MS4 Permit, including the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which manages the city’s 7,500-plus miles of wastewater infrastructure. This year, the Council passed legislation that provides DEP with the legal authority to implement and enforce stormwater management practices that are needed to comply with the state-issued permit, including provisions relating to stormwater management and control of discharges into storm sewers.
Protecting Circus Animals
In an effort to protect our wider, global environment, the Council voted to prohibit the use of a wide variety of wild and exotic animals in circuses. Among the animals included in the ban are elephants, big cats, primates, and bears.