Council examines City Charter’s fair share rules

Council held first oversight hearing on criteria established more than twenty years ago to ensure equitable distribution of public facilities. On April 12, 2011, the City Council’s Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses Subcommittee held the Council’s first oversight hearing to review the City’s Charter-mandated rules established to foster the equitable distribution of City facilities. Following the 1989 revision of the City Charter, the City Planning Commission promulgated the “fair share” criteria to encourage community consultation and establish a set of standards that City agencies must consider before siting or substantially changing existing City facilities. The fair share rules only apply when City agencies propose siting facilities that are operated by the City on city-controlled property greater than 750 sq.ft., or used for programs that receive certain levels of funding from City contracts.

Subcommittee Chair  Brad Lander acknowledged the challenges of siting essential municipal facilities, such as waste transfer stations and homeless shelters, but noted that twenty years after the creation of the fair share rules, facilities are still concentrated in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Lander argued that in some cases the fair share process served as “window dressing,” or had been circumvented entirely.

Lander specifically criticized the Bloomberg Administration’s handling of the siting of new homeless shelters and solid waste transfer stations. He noted that the Administration had recently proposed deferring funding for three new marine transfer stations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn that were part of the City’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan.  The “historic” plan, according to Lander, would have required Manhattan to “shoulder some of the burden,” but the delay in funding would ensure that low-income communities continued to bear the  brunt of the  City’s solid waste management burden.

Several Council Members expressed concern that some private facilities providing essential City services were exempt from the fair share rules. Bronx Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo stated that her district was overwhelmed by these private facilities, noting that there were sixteen private waste transfer stations in Bronx Community District 1 alone. Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., chair of the 1989 Charter Revision Commission, explained that the Commission proposed the process to force government officials to pay attention to the siting of City facilities and give the public “ammunition” when arguing against siting undesirable facilities in certain neighborhoods. Responding to the concerns of Council Members, Schwarz suggested that the Council could legislate stricter rules and apply the fair share process to all private facilities. A host of environmental justice organizations and community groups attended the hearing. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Eric Goldstein criticized the City’s use of private waste transfer stations, claiming that the fair share process did not apply to the siting of 59 privately operated facilities currently in the City. Goldstein also stressed the importance of the stalled marine transfer stations, and urged the Council to push the mayor to restore funding for these facilities. Brooklyn Community Board 6’s Craig Hammerman stated that there was no enforcement mechanism to ensure that a City agency adhered to the fair share criteria when siting a facility. Hammerman claimed that the only recourse to challenge an approved siting would be filing an article 78 petition. Hammerman, however, pointed out that a successful challenge would not reverse the decision, but only require the agency to provide additional written justification for the siting.

Council: Oversight Hearing – Over- sight: Fair Share after 20 years (April 12, 2011).

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