2016-01-13 / Front Page

CB2's McSweeney Discusses Amnesty Program

By Thomas Cogan
At the January meeting of Community Board 2, former board member and now City Clerk of New York Michael McSweeney was welcomed back, so he could discuss an amnesty program.  It has nothing to do with immigration but instead is an alert to individuals and groups in the city’s communities that their activities may include lobbying and that their investment in it might make it mandatory for them to report to the city as lobbyists.  The rest of the evening’s several parts included the new bicycle lane on Queens Boulevard that is hailed by cyclists as life-enhancing but criticized by others as an impediment, high-handedly created.  Other matters were also brought up, including development of the Montauk Cutoff, an old and disused section of railroad track deep in Long Island City; and the question of what is to be done about the old Paragon Paint factory on Vernon Boulevard.

McSweeney said the city’s lobbying law defines lobbying as the attempt to influence specific functions, including any determination in regard to local legislation made by either the mayor or the City Council or by a considerable range of city agencies, boards and commissions.  The attempt to obtain discretionary funding from the City Council or influence the council or mayor in passing new laws would be examples of lobbying, as would the attempt to influence investment decisions made by the city’s pension funds or retirement systems. 

A pamphlet issued by the lobbying bureau of the City Clerk’s office and available to the public says there are many activities that in the eyes of the law are not considered lobbying—as examples, media transmission of news items, editorials or advertisements or an appearance before an agency in an adjudicatory proceeding.

Thus having separated possible lobbyists from those who are exempt, the pamphlet explains when the former are by their activities engaged in lobbying and when not.  There is also the monetary reporting threshold or “combined compensation and expenses with respect to NYC lobbying in a calendar year,” which currently is $5,000 per year for those who are not architects or engineers and $10,000 for those who are.  Those exceeding the threshold must register as lobbyists and those who fail to report such excess are liable to be fined. 

Here’s where the amnesty comes in.  Organizations engaged in reportable lobbying activity after December 10, 2006 but currently unregistered can register between now and June 30 without liability, as can organizations that have never registered or filed reports on the Web site, e-Lobbyist.  Further information is available from Office of the City Clerk, Lobbying Bureau, 141 Worth St., New York, NY 10013-4313; telephone 212-669-8171.  The Web site is www.cityclerk.nyc.gov; the help desk email is lobbyist_helpdesk@cityclerk.nyc.gov.  

At public comment time, Jim Condes of Woodside warned his audience that, as he had many times already, he would condemn Access-a-Ride as irresponsible toward the aged and infirm whom it is supposed to serve.  He said he complained in writing to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras but got no reply, and his faith in Public Advocate Letitia James didn’t seem strong either.  Patrick O’Brien, chairman of Community Board 2, told him the matter of Access-a-Ride was moved up for faster consideration in the board’s annual review of capital and expense budgets in November.

Many came to the front of the room at Sunnyside Community Services to praise the installation of a bike lane on Queens Boulevard between Roosevelt Avenue near 49th Street and 73rd Street.  Its carefully separated paths in both directions on the boulevard’s service roads are each to the left of motorized traffic, with the bike path separated by a green strip between it and the traffic flow.  One speaker, Nick Johnson, called it “a mind-clearing experience” and said the advocacy group People for Bikes called this first phase of a longer route one of the finest bicycle paths in the United States.  Josh Weitzner, who identified himself as a bicycle messenger for the past 11 years, said it might well protect him from any more of the serious injuries he’s suffered previously while biking in traffic.  Bob Mileti, a Rego Park resident who said he is a bus, subway and bicycle rider, also praised the separation of bicycles from cars, trucks and buses.  But another speaker, a resident of Big Six Towers, along the boulevard east of 58th Street, called the bike lane an impediment to pedestrians, while Carol Terrano, board member and Woodside resident, said it was built at the expense of residents in the vicinity of Queens Boulevard.  Chairman O’Brien said the bike lane is a fluid issue, with many details still to be worked out.

Another public comment speaker was Gil Lopez of the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, which he said would soon be five years in place on lower Skillman Avenue, beside the Long Island Railroad tracks.  He said the Montauk Cutoff, a section of track 0.69 of a mile long and covering four acres, includes the “ranch,” which, among other things, is a community garden.  He is concerned about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and what it might do.  The MTA has control of the cutoff and one of its tracks runs through Smiling Hogshead.  Dorothy Morehead, of the board’s environmental committee, said a group is working hard to save the cutoff for the populace, though she added that the result “won’t be all things to all people.”  She suggested that eventually, interested community organizations will be situated in railroad cars along that short stretch of track.  She also said that while the MTA will retain the cutoff, it needs federal permission to decommission trackage that had been operable.

Imani Brown, of the Queens office of Citizens Committee for New York City, told the meeting that neighborhood grants of as much as $3,000 are being made available to groups working on community-building projects, such as gardens, tenant organizing and school recycling drives.  Those not used to writing grant proposals should get in contact with grants@citizensnyc.org and also look at www.citizensnyc.org.  The telephone number is 212-822-9563.  

O’Brien announced that there would be an extraordinary meeting Wednesday, January 20 to consider a Board of Standards and Appeals application for 45-40 Vernon Blvd., the Paragon Paint Building, and the grand plans for redeveloping it and the area adjacent to the Anable Basin on the East River.  The meeting will be held at Academy for Careers in Film and Television, 1-50 51st Ave., fourth floor auditorium.  He also called for a moment of silence for Al Volpe, board member, who died December 9 at the age of 90.  O’Brien said the board should try to get a section of a street in Woodside named after him. 

A consumer affairs application and a BSA application were quickly dealt with.  The former, a renewal application for an unenclosed sidewalk café with 15 tables and 30 seats at Sean Og’s, 60-02 Woodside Ave., was approved unanimously by a raised-hands vote.  The BSA application was made by Blink Fitness, seeking to be a physical culture establishment within an existing commercial building, at 50-02 Roosevelt Ave.  A BSA application required a roll call vote.  The result was the same, unanimous approval.




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