City Council Unanimously Approves Union Square Tech Training Center

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

The New York City Council voted 45-0 yesterday to approve plans for the Union Square Tech Training Center, a 21-story complex at 124 East 14th St. The support of local City Council member Carlina Rivera was critical in clearing the way for the controversial tech hub.

The facility, to be built on a city-owned parcel that once housed a P.C. Richard & Son store, will be a partnership between RAL Development Services and the non-profit Civic Hall. The building will include a digital skills training center, flex-office space for startups and market rate office space for established firms.

Many local activists, especially those advocating for low-income communities of color, support the tech hub as a path to valuable skills training and high paying jobs for community youth. Others, including preservation activists, urged Rivera to vote “no” on the proposal if the city failed to add zoning protections to the blocks to the south of the development site.

Carlina Rivera in City Council chambers Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/NYC Council.

Carlina Rivera in City Council chambers Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/NYC Council.

Not long after yesterday’s vote, Rivera sent a lengthy email message to constituents and to supporters beyond the confines of her Council District 2. In the “Dear Neighbors” letter, she spelled out the results of her negotiations with the mayor’s office and city agencies to protect the surrounding neighborhood from more rampant over-development. These measures include:

  • An agreement to place 7 properties along the Broadway corridor on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s calendar.
  • A commitment from the city to begin “the process of establishing a protective zoning measure” south of 14th Street to regulate commercial development.
  • Stepped up outreach by city officials to educate tenants in rent stabilized buildings about their rights. Residents of District 2 will, according to Rivera, “priority status” with the city’s new Tenant Protection Unit.
  • A commitment from city agencies to help protect Merchants House on East 4th Street from the effects of any development on the neighboring lot.
  • A monthly meeting with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to discuss neighborhood preservation issues.

In a statement released yesterday, Rivera explained:

After eight months of intense negotiations with City Hall, I am satisfied that we are achieving the two most important goals our community needed from this rezoning. I am voting yes today for a Tech Hub that will bring true community benefits, tech education, and workforce development services that will finally give women, people of color, and low-income New Yorkers access to an industry that has unfairly kept them out for far too long. And I am of course voting yes with the knowledge that we achieved crucial protections for the neighborhood that I have lived in my entire life and seen change so much over the last 15 years… I believe these protections for the neighborhood are the first in a string of victories that will allow us to develop sensible zoning for livable streets, establish landmarking of precious historical sites, and ensure the small businesses we cherish prosper

Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was also quick to react even before yesterday’s unanimous Council vote. His organization has led a campaign, with other local groups, to link the tech hub with a rezoning on the blocks to the south of 14th Street. Here’s Berman’s statement:

The City Council’s deal approves the Mayor’s Tech Hub with just a fraction of a fraction of the protections the surrounding neighborhood needs and called for, and which Councilmember Rivera promised (as a candidate) to condition her vote upon. The approval of the Tech Hub will accelerate the transformation of the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods into an extension of ‘Midtown South’ and ‘Silicon Alley,’ which many developers and real estate interests have already begun to call them.  We are seeing 300 ft. tall office and condo towers going up in this area and 300 room hotels being built, which are completely out of character for these neighborhoods, with many more to come.  It’s a shame that the Mayor is so invested in protecting his real estate donor friends that he would not consider real but reasonable zoning protections for the area that would have prevented this kind of unnecessary development, and encouraged residential development that includes affordable housing.  It’s also a shame that our local Councilmember caved to the Mayor and broke a promise she publicly made to ensure that these real protections were part of any final deal. They’re not, and the deal approved today will do very little to protect this neighborhood.  It will do a lot to accelerate the kind of development which will fundamentally change the character of our neighborhood, and accelerate the exodus of current residents and small businesses.  But of course, as always, the Mayor’s campaign donors got a very good deal out of this.

Rivera pointed out that Community Board 3 supported the zoning changes necessary to build the tech hub and spelled out a number of community benefits it wanted to see represented in the project. The Council member said she advocated for these measures, among others, during her negotiations. They include: the establishment of a scholarship fund, access for the local community to a meeting space 52 times each year and a commitment to set aside 25% of the workforce training slots for qualified District 2 residents.

CB3 Chair Alysha Lewis Coleman said, “Community Board 3 is very excited about the coming Tech Training Center. Our youth need and deserve training for good-paying twenty-first century tech jobs. We are appreciative that the City responded to the CB3 priority to have a business incubator for our emerging entrepreneurs. We are excited for this important project to become a reality for our community.”

Rivera Votes “Yes” on Tech Hub at Committee, Says Negotiations Are Continuing

City Council member Carlina Rivera with Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

City Council member Carlina Rivera with Council Speaker Corey Johnson; July 18, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/New York City Council.

The proposed Union Square Tech Training Center took a big step forward Thursday, as the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises gave its approval. Once again, newly elected District 2 Council member Carlina Rivera was in the hot seat, under pressure from different factions in the communities she serves. The full Council is set to vote on the measure next Wednesday, Aug. 8.

The center at 124 East 14th St. would rise 21-stories on a city-owned parcel that once housed a P.C. Richard & Son store. The partners — including RAL Development Services and the non-profit Civic Hall — hope to create a digital skills training center, flex-office space for startups, market rate office space for established firms and a food hall.

While many people are convinced the center will offer desperately needed technical skills training for low-income local residents, others are fearful the new complex would only set off a new wave of over-building in the neighborhood. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has insisted on zoning protections in the surrounding area. While campaigning for office, Rivera promised to demand zoning provisions to preserve neighborhood character.

Since the Council generally follows the lead of the local Council member, all eyes were on Rivera Thursday. Just a couple of weeks ago, she threatened to vote no, saying at a Council hearing that local concerns were not being taken seriously by the administration. But this week that outlook changed. Rivera announced her support yesterday, but not before reading a carefully worded statement.  Here’s a part of what she had to say:

As I vote yes at this subcommittee hearing, I want to make it clear that I am doing this so that I can continue negotiations with the mayor’s office towards the possibility of reaching a deal that will satisfy all impacted communities before next week’s stated meeting. The mayor’s office came to the table with a set of proposals, and I appreciate their commitment to work with us. Over the next few days, I look forward to negotiations and getting to the point where I and stakeholders are satisfied. The fight to keep history is important and our vision for the neighborhood includes character and vibrancy for all generations to come.

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

In statements released after the vote, de Blasio administration officials singled out Rivera for praise. Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said,  “I thank (Council) Speaker (Corey) Johnson, Council Member Rivera and the entire City Council for their partnership.” James Patchett, president and ceo of the Economic Development Corp., said, “We thank Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Rivera for being such steadfast advocates for New Yorkers, and helping to deliver a project that will truly change lives.” 

GVSHP’s Andrew Berman, however, wasted no time in blasting the Council in general and Rivera in particular:

It is deeply disappointing that the Council would approve this rezoning without anything even remotely resembling the protections for the surrounding neighborhood that had been under discussion. This will turn Greenwich Village and the East Village into extensions of Silicon Alley and Midtown South, with more out-of-scale and out-of-character tech office buildings and condo high-rises going up in the area. Councilmember Rivera publicly pledged during her campaign that she would not vote for the Tech Hub without the comprehensive neighborhood protections which have been under discussion for more than two years. This falls very far short of that pledge she made to her constituents.

In February, Community Board 3 endorsed the tech hub and called for zoning protections in the area, but declined to issue an ultimatum to the city. A number of board members were uncomfortable with the idea of holding good paying jobs for disadvantaged youth hostage over what they saw as the separate issue of rezoning on 3rd and 4th Avenues. Here’s what Meghan Joye, chair of CB3’s Economic Development Committee, said yesterday:

I want to thank Carlina for her vote today that supports the CB 3 priority for a business incubator in our community and our support of training for our vulnerable youth for skilled  tech jobs. The tech training center will help our youth be prepared for the good paying jobs they deserve and provide much needed community benefits. I know that Carlina will continue to work with the community board and community for needed neighborhood protections.

There was also support for Rivera beyond the borders of District 2. On the Lower East Side, NYCHA tenant leader Aixa Torres (Smith Houses) publicly thanked her.

It would be extraordinary (and unfortunate for Rivera) if the de Blasio administration did not come forward sometime before next week’s vote with something to address over-development concerns in the area. As Crain’s reported, “The city has balked at the idea of reducing the potential for office space, though Thursday’s vote indicates that some sort of agreement with Rivera, who campaigned on the issue under the watchful eye of the preservation group, is likely.”

A spokesperson for Council member Rivera declined to comment regarding any deal that might be in the works.

Rivera’s Airbnb Bill Unanimously Approved By City Council

City Council member Carlina Rivera with Council Speaker Corey Johnson at a news conference July 18, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/New York City Council.

City Council member Carlina Rivera with Council Speaker Corey Johnson at a news conference July 18, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/New York City Council.

A bill sponsored by local City Council member Carlina Rivera aimed at Airbnb sailed through the Council yesterday.

The legislation, approved unanimously, would require home sharing firms to turn over information about their hosts to city regulators. It is illegal to rent most apartments in New York City for less than 30 days unless the host is present. The bill, which has the support of Mayor de Blasio, will enable the city to crack down on violators.

Critics of apartment sharing services say they have exacerbated New York’s housing crisis, making it easier for building owners to profit from short-term rentals. They argue that many apartments have been removed from the city’s stock of affordable housing as a result. Airbnb launched a ferocious PR campaign against Rivera and her Council colleagues.

After a similar law was enacted in San Francisco, the New York Times reported, Airbnb listings fell by half.  Companies will face a $1,500 penalty for each listing they fail to disclose.

Airbnb unsuccessfully argued that the law would hurt “the little guy,” struggling New York City residents who use the service to earn a little extra money. The firm also accused Council members of being beholden to the hotel industry. Following the vote, spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said:

After taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the hotel industry, we’re not surprised the City Council refused to meet with their own constituents who rely on home sharing to pay the bills and then voted to protect the profits of big hotels. The fix was in from the start and now New Yorkers will be subject to unchecked, aggressive harassment and privacy violations, rubber stamped by the City Council.

Rivera countered, “Yes, sometimes it’s the common New Yorker. But many times, especially in my district, these are landlords who are taking rent-regulated units out of the housing stock because they’d rather get a lot more money per night.” She added, “This bill is about transparency and bringing accountability to billion-dollar companies who are not being good neighbors.”

 

Swimming Lesson: How to Fight Summertime Summonses

Photos by Emil Cohen/New York City Council.

Photos by Emil Cohen/New York City Council.

City Council member Carlina Rivera and New York Chief Administrative Law Judge Fidel F. Del Valle spent some time at the swimming pool yesterday. The visit to Dry Dock Playground on East 11th Street wasn’t recreational. They were kicking off a series of public events meant to give local residents the tools to deal with summertime summonses.

Del Valle serves as commissioner of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). Yesterday’s outreach event, “OATH School at the Pool,” offered information on fighting typical warm-weather summonses, such as open container, late night noise and, yes, urinating in public violations. The idea is to demystify the sometimes confusing court hearing process.

OATH has prepared a video to help educate the public about city-issued summonses. You can watch it here.

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Airbnb Could Face Big Fines Under Bill Proposed By Council Member Rivera

Carlina Rivera during an unrelated tenant rally at City Hall last week. Image via CM Rivera's Twitter.

Carlina Rivera during an unrelated tenant rally at City Hall last week. Image via CM Rivera’s Twitter.

On Thursday, local City Council member Carlina Rivera plans to introduce legislation aimed at Airbnb.

If the proposal becomes law, the home sharing firm would be fined $25,000 for each apartment listing it fails to disclose in quarterly reports to the city. Airbnb and similar firms would be required to reveal addresses, host names and contact info in filings with the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement.

Rivera told Politico she hopes to schedule a hearing on the proposal right away. “To be clear,” she explained, “this bill is not going to punish the operators — it’s going to mandate consequences, financial consequences, that apply only to Airbnb, not the operators, if they do not hand over the info that we’re requiring.”

Screen shot: some of Airbnb's Lower East Side listings.

Screen shot: some of Airbnb’s Lower East Side listings.

Rivera and many of her Council colleagues believe Airbnb rentals are depriving local residents of apartments which would normally serve as rent stabilized housing. State law prohibits most short-term (less than 30 day) rentals unless the owner is present.

Airbnb has launched an aggressive campaign against the bill, arguing that the “deep pocketed big hotel industry” is behind the legislation, and that there could be internet privacy concerns. An Airbnb spokesperson claimed that the legislation would hurt, “seniors who share their space to avoid economic hardship while living on a fixed income; millennials who have opened their doors to pay off student debt; and families of color who share their home to stay in their home amidst rising rents.”

Council Member Rivera Holds Community Resource Fair April 28

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Coming up on Saturday, April 28, City Council Member Carlina Rivera is hosting a community resource fair with Grand Street Settlement. There will be free blood pressure screenings, information about affordable housing applications, information about volunteer opportunities, etc. The event takes place from 1-4 p.m. at Grand Street Settlement’s main building, 80 Pitt St. You can RSVP by emailing District2@council.nyc.gov, or by calling 212-677-1077, ext. 107.

Council Candidate Rivera Endorsed By Squadron, Niou

Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera's campaign.

Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera’s campaign.

Carlina Rivera, a candidate for City Council in District 2, has picked up two significant local endorsements. She’s won the support of State Sen. Daniel Squadron and State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.

Rivera is running in September’s Democratic Primary to replace her former boss, Rosie Mendez. The sitting Council member is prevented from pursuing another term due to term limits. District 2 includes some sections of the Lower East Side below East Houston Street, and it covers the East Village, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay.

In a statement, Squadron said, “Carlina Rivera has worked for years as a champion for the Lower East Side. Her experience and commitment to our community will make her a strong representative for the Second Council District. I am proud to endorse her, and I look forward to working with her as a colleague in government.”

Niou, who was recently elected to serve Lower Manhattan, said, “I am thrilled to give Carlina my support… Having spent years as a community advocate, Carlina is prepared to hit the ground running and advocate for the Lower East Side and its surrounding communities. I am confident Carlina has the knowledge, experience and energy to take on this challenge, and I look forward to working with her to deliver real results for Lower Manhattan.”

Other candidates competing in the primary include Jasmin Sanchez, a community activist who worked for Squadron; and Mary Silver, an attorney active in local education issues.

Rivera was previously a staffer in Mendez’s office and worked for Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), the housing advocacy organization. She’s a lifelong resident of the Lower East Side. She’s also been endorsed by State Sen. Brad Hoylman, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and, of course, Rosie Mendez.

City Council Candidate Carlina Rivera Reports $176,000 Campaign Fund

Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera's campaign.

Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera’s campaign.

Next week we’ll have a pretty good idea how the 2017 campaigns for City Council are shaping up. On Tuesday, candidates must file finance reports with the city covering the past six months. One candidate in District 2, which covers the East Village, isn’t waiting for the filings to become public.

Carlina Rivera announced last night that she has raised $176,000, including $76,000 in private funds. This means Rivera is just about finished fundraising for the Council race. The spending cap for Council campaigns is $182,000. The city offers a six-to-one match for the first $175 in donations from local residents. A press release from Rivera’s campaign noted that she has “one of the largest small donor bases in the city” and that her filing, “demonstrates that she is the clear front-runner in the open–seat primary to replace Councilwoman Rosie Mendez.”

Rivera is Mendez’s legislative director and has been endorsed by the three-term City Councilwoman. Mendez is barred from running this year due to the city’s term limits law.

According to the Campaign Finance Board, two other candidates have filed to run in the District 2 primary this coming fall. They include Jasmin Sanchez, a community activist who has worked for State Sen. Daniel Squadron; and Mary Silver, an attorney active in local education issues.

District 2 includes Gramercy Park, Kips Bay and East Village, but also a few pockets below East Houston Street on the Lower East Side. Buildings in the neighborhood currently represented by Mendez include the Vladeck Houses, Masaryk Towers and 210 Stanton St.

 

Local Political Club Endorses Carlina Rivera For City Council in 2017

Carlina Rivera on Stanton Street, 2013.

Carlina Rivera on Stanton Street, 2013.

The next City Council election isn’t scheduled until 2017, however, one Lower East Side contender took an initial, but important, step toward running over the weekend. Carlina Rivera sought and received the endorsement of CoDA, the progressive political club covering Council District 2.

Rosie Mendez is serving her third and final term as Council member in an area covering a sliver of the neighborhood below East Houston Street, the East Village and Murray Hill. Rivera is Mendez’s legislative director. She previously worked for Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), the housing advocacy organization, and was a member of Community Board 3. Rivera currently holds a volunteer elected position, that of district leader in the 74th AD (Part A).

During an endorsement meeting on Saturday, the lifelong Lower East Side resident said of the community, “It’s where I went to school. It’s where I made my closest friends, and it’s where I fell in love (Rivera was married to fellow neighborhood activist Jamie Rogers last year). Needless to say, I know how precious the LES is. It’s everything to me, absolutely everything.” She promised to help lead the battle for tenant rights, for the survival of small businesses and for the sustainability of public housing. “I’m a fighter,” said Rivera. “I plan to work hard every single day.”

An official announcement regarding the Council campaign is likely months away. CoDA’s endorsement, however, is significant. It means Rivera will be able to count on the organization as a political base, following in the footsteps of Rosie Mendez and Margarita Lopez (who served as LES Council member from 1998-2005). A potentially crowded field is expected to compete for the District 2 seat.

CoDA weighed in on other campaigns this past weekend. The club decided it won’t make an endorsement in the April 19 special election to replace Sheldon Silver in the 65th Assembly District. Alice Cancel, the Democratic nominee, was fighting off a flu bug and did not attend. Rosie Mendez spoke on her behalf. Yuh-Line Niou, who’s running on the Working Families Party line, did make an appearance. She faced a withering series of questions from club members (we’ll have more about this in an upcoming story regarding Niou’s candidacy). Nydia Velazquez (7th Congressional District) and Carolyn Maloney (12th Congressional District) both received CoDA endorsements.

The organization also selected new leaders. Jamie Rogers and Marquis Jenkins were elected co-presidents. Rogers, owner of Pushcart Coffee, is also a member of Community Board 3.

 

My LES: Carlina Rivera

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This month, we are featuring Carlina Rivera, a community activist and lifelong LES resident.  This story originally appeared in the March 2013 version of our print magazine.

 

What do you do?

I manage programming at Good Old Lower East Side, serving and organizing seniors around the issues affecting their quality of life everyday. GOLES is an amazing nonprofit that does a little bit of everything in the name of social justice. I’m also a member of the community board.