Unions, contractors, and developers call for public benefit corporation to replace DOB. On May 6, 2008, the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee heard testimony from the acting Commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings, Robert LiMandri, and the public on a dozen proposed local laws aimed at improving safety at construction sites in the City.
Council Member Jessica Lappin sponsored Intro 760 that would give Buildings the power to order a site owner to hire an independent safety monitor, at the expense of a site owner, to work exclusively at construction sites with repeated safety violations. Council Member Tony Avella sponsored an even stricter measure, Intro 697, that would allow Buildings to deny permits to developers who repeatedly violate building codes and zoning laws. Council Members Miguel Martinez and Letitia James sponsored Intro 761 and 759, respectively, that would require contractors to post signs in at least nine languages at all construction sites to inform workers of their right to report unsafe conditions via a new anonymous construction industry whistleblower hotline, separate from 311. Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito sponsored Intro 688, which would require Buildings to register all general contractors for new buildings. Lastly, Intro 763, sponsored by Council Member Annabel Palma, would add all “housekeeping” violations, such as excessive debris and broken safety fences, to the Building Code’s list of immediately hazardous violations.
LiMandri testified in support of Lappin’s proposal, claiming that overall safety would improve by having a safety monitor assigned to high-risk, problematic construction sites. The proposal would also allow Buildings’ 400 inspectors to visit other sites.
However, LiMandri testified against Avella’s Intro 697, claiming that enforcement efforts should focus on contractors, who actually obtain permits, rather than developers, who generally do not. In addition, LiMandri did not rule out the signage proposals, but took issue with their hotline aspect. LiMandri stated that while he understood that the hotline was designed to address the problem of immigrant workers afraid to utilize 311 because it may raise questions regarding their immigration status, he told Council that the hotline would compromise the concept behind 311, which was “to have a single number” for all municipal inquiries and complaints. Lastly, LiMandri expressed reservation regarding the housekeeping proposal because it was too broad in scope.
Louis J. Coletti, CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, Gary Labarbera, President of Teamsters Local 282, and Steven Spinola, President of the Real Estate Board of New York, claimed that requiring the owners of construction sites to pay for independent safety monitors would privatize what should be a government function. Further, they shared concerns raised by LiMandri over requiring all general contractors to register, arguing that it would not contribute to construction site safety. Lastly, they agreed with LiMandri on the housekeeping proposal.
Coletti, Labarbera and Spinola also proposed that Buildings be replaced with a new public benefit corporation, to be named the New York City Construction Safety and Standards Authority, modeled after the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988. According to Labarbera, the new authority would be funded by permits, fees, and fines—all directed at increasing the size of its work force and providing better pay and training for those employees. Labarbera stated that the new public benefit corporation was necessary because the construction industry has “lost patience” with decades-old arguments over how to provide Buildings with the structure, resources, and independence it requires.
Member Martin Dilan, closed the hearing without a vote, noting that all of the proposed bills require modifications. The next hearing on the matter is set for mid-June.
Council: Public Hearing on Int. 0511- 2007, Int. 0547-2007A, Int. 0688-2008, Int. 0697-2008, Int. 0718-2008, Int. 0753-2008, Int. 0754-2008, Int. 0758-2008, Int. 0759-2008, Int. 0760- 2008, Int. 0761-2008, Int. 0763-2008 (May 6, 2008).