2 Major Waterfront items! Write your testimony for City Council Hearing, Wed, 4/17/19, 1pm

UPDATE: Read our testimony submitted at this hearing here.

City Council Committee on Governmental Operations jointly with the Committee on Economic Development and the Committee on Transportation will hold a hearing on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 1:00pm, 16th Floor Committee Room, 250 Broadway, NYC. Bring 20 copies of double-sided testimony. Full details at bottom. The hearing is regarding:

  • Int 0982 - In relation to establishing an office of the waterfront.

  • Int 1512 - In relation to the establishment of a director of ferry operations.

Two major topics are up for discussion at that City Council hearing (a new Office of the Waterfront, a new Director of Ferry Operations that would move NYC Ferry from the EDC to the NYC DOT Ferry Division). We are seeking info on both topics and will update this blogpost as we know more. Here is what we know as of Sunday, 4/14/19, 10:45pm:

Will the proposed office of the waterfront reduce red tape?

Will the proposed office of the waterfront reduce red tape?

Office of the Waterfront

For a long time, all of us who specialize in NYC’s waterfront have wanted our waterfront planned, built, managed and permitted by people dedicated to the waterfront, by informed specialists. We all desired a higher level of competence, fewer silos, less bureaucracies to chase down, less red tape and a waterfront managed in a way that was more about water-dependent uses and accommodating to maritime users. PortSide has written multiple position papers and testimonies going back to 2006 about how NYC waterfront management could be improved.

The City Council is considering a proposal that looks intended to address all that and could improve things, so long as this Office reduces the silos and does not create yet another layer of red tape. The bill Int 0982 by City Council Member Deborah Rose of Staten Island has 45 co-sponsors. 

Official Short Summary:

This bill would establish an office of the waterfront, which would be responsible for coordinating among the various city agencies that handle matters related to waterfront use, supporting the Waterfront Management Advisory Board, and implementing the New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.

The proposed bill would require the Mayor to establish an Office of the Waterfront either as a separate entity, or within any mayoral department. The Director of this office would be appointed either by the Mayor, or by the head of the department in which it is placed.

 The director of the Office of the Waterfront would have the power and duty to:

1.      Coordinate and collaborate with City agencies responsible for matters related to waterfront use.  This includes, but is not limited to, issuing permits and disseminating information about the waterfront to the public. 

2.       Liaise with state and federal agencies involved in the waterfront permitting process and provide applicants with information on federal and state permitting requirements. 

3.      Serve as the primary point of contact for all applicants regarding waterfront use and assist applicants in filing applications

 4.      Serve as an advocate for the waterfront within city government

 5.      Manage and implement the New York City comprehensive waterfront plan (published pursuant to section 205).

 6.      Assist the waterfront management advisory board. [The Waterfront Management Advisory Board advises the administration on NYC waterfront and waterways matters and provides guidance to the Department of City Planning on the development of the decennial Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.]

 7.      Perform other relevant duties as the mayor may assign.

 8.      Report within 18 month of the establishment of the Office, and annually thereafter, on the activities taken to fulfill these duties; on issues affecting commercial, recreational or other use of the waterfronts; on recommendations for addressing such issues and on other related matters.  The report is to be submitted to the mayor the speaker of the council and posted on the city’s website.


New York City Council’s link to the full Plain Language Summary

The Waterfront Alliance newsletter supporting the proposed Office of the Waterfront legislation.

Our questions about the proposed Office of the Waterfront:

How is this new Office to interact with the authorities that govern large waterfront parks such as the Hudson River Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governors Island? We mention them because they are large, have long histories of being unfriendly to water-dependent uses (the focus of Int. No. 982) and, in some cases, of being unresponsive and lacking transparency — AND they are not part of NYC’s government.

In addition, there is also the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) which manages a lot of waterfront and is responsible for much waterfront planning, and whose bailiwick now also includes resiliency. They are an authority outside the structure of NYC government with little accountability to the public and little transparency, and they are legally constructed in such a way as to be immune to FOIL requests. Will the EDC be subject to this new Office of the Waterfront, or will they continue as more of an independent actor?

Lastly, would this Office of the Waterfront make the Waterfront Advisory Board more communicative, more transparent? They have never responded to any of our requests to become a member of the board or get information. We are not alone in that experience.

Students from the Red hook neighborhood school, ps 676, taking a portside field trip on nyc ferry.

Students from the Red hook neighborhood school, ps 676, taking a portside field trip on nyc ferry.

Comments about the proposed Director of Ferry Operations

Int 1512 seems to be missing some context. Which commissioner shall appoint this position?

After reading the following clause in Int. 1512 and getting Sunday late-night emails from Waterfront Alliance, we understand the following to mean putting NYC Ferry withing the NYC DOT.

The commissioner shall appoint a director of ferry operations. Such director shall:

(1) maintain and operate the ferries of the city, including such ferry services established pursuant to an agreement between the city and a contracted entity as such term is defined in section 22-821 of the administrative code;

The trigger for this item is surely Comptroller Scott Stringer’s recent call for DOT to take over the NYC Ferry. The backstory to his position is reported by the new media oufit The City here and here and in many other media articles.

PortSide NewYork has long advocated for greater NYC use of ferries, and we see much to be praised about the current NYC Ferry system. We have a close working relationship with NYC Ferry staff which works for Hornblower. We are located just yards from their Red Hook/Atlantic Basin dock. The NYC Ferry is an asset to PortSide programming, we use it in multiple educational ways for field trips, and it supports our programs by bringing us visitors. It is an asset in many ways to our community of Red Hook, though we are concerned by the very low ridership by NYCHA residents and the very low awareness that this ferry exists that we find amongst those residents, eg, we think they may not be riding due to lack of awareness, not lack of interest. If they are not aware of the service, they also cannot apply for the jobs; which is a shame since the hiring has been admirably inclusive with many more women and people of color hired than normally work boats in NY harbor.

Hornblower works for the EDC since the NYC Ferry system is planned and built by the EDC, and the docks are managed by the EDC as well. We have found the ferry management at the EDC to be resistant to suggestions. As stated above, the EDC is an authority outside the structure of City government, a structure that allows it to be unresponsive to community demands, media requests and able to walk away from community promises. Full disclosure, a home in the form of building space for PortSide is one of those unfulfilled promises. We believe that something as important to the City as a major ferry network should be run by an accountable, transparent City agency. Additionally, consolidating all ferry functions in one place, the DOT as proposed by Int. 1512, makes sense to avoid duplication and competition, share expertise, maximize purchasing power, and maximize opportunities to link all City ferries into one network.

Official Hearing info

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 1:00 P.M.
16th Floor Committee Room, 250 Broadway, NYC

The hearing is regarding:

  • Int 0982 - In relation to establishing an office of the waterfront.

  • Int 1512 - In relation to the establishment of a director of ferry operations.

Bring 20 copies of double-sided testimony

For questions about accessibility or additional accommodations please contact Nicole Benjamin (NBenjamin@council.nyc.gov or 212-482-5176) at least 72 hours before the hearing.

For all other questions about the hearing, please contact Emily Forgione (EForgione@council.nyc.gov or 212-482-5466).