Charter Commission is a Chance to Make New York’s Success Sustainable

Anyone who cares about New York City governance is now closely following the latest effort to update our local constitution, known as the Charter of the City of New York. A series of hearings in each of the five boroughs will soon be held where the public is welcome to participate in this important task. The Charter Revision Commission is an invaluable tool to implement new reforms to local government and, if properly utilized, can foster New York City’s growth and prosperity.

In fact, the Charter Revision Commissions holds a special place for me personally – it was the 1989 Charter Revision Commission, which abolished the Board of Estimate, and redefined the City Council, that inspired me to pursue an opportunity with the new Council early in my career. Years later, I had the privilege of serving as Vice Chair of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission.

Last month, the Real Estate Board of New York offered our testimony to the Charter Commission with specific ways to improve city government. REBNY recommends that the reforms include empowering the City Planning Commission (CPC), streamlining special permit processes and reorganizing Community Boards to better serve the city.

The Charter Commission should consider mandating a year-round schedule for Community Boards. A year-round meeting schedule would ensure that these Boards meet once a month with no summer recess. Community Boards are an essential lifeblood in our city, and extended periods without meeting can delay land use decisions and other business-related applications that are essential to driving economic growth. It is simply too important of a responsibility to take the summers off.

Second, empowering the CPC makes sense because it has always been an advocate for smart, sustainable growth and development. The Charter Commission should restore CPC’s ability to develop a capital budget, as was the case prior to 1977. CPC should also be empowered to make final determinations on all administrative land-use permits, which can include certifications, authorizations and special permits. This would allow for an expedited and more contextual process that would benefit the whole city – a win-win.

New York must redesign the way in which it designates landmarks and historic districts. The current process is burdensome, convoluted and an impediment to housing production in these designated areas. Of course, historic preservation itself is an important contribution to the quality of city life, however, the way this process is currently structured has curtailed the development of affordable housing. It has even contributed to economic segregation in certain neighborhoods where historic preservation has occurred.

These undesirable outcomes are the result of making landmark decisions in isolation from other public policy needs – but the Commission can fix that. REBNY recommends that the Landmark Preservation Commission should become a division of the Department of City Planning to ensure that preservation occurs in the context of broader citywide needs.

These common-sense solutions would significantly streamline various processes and empower critical committees to make decisions in the best interest of New York.

We appreciate the Commission’s thoughtful decision to defer the more complex proposed changes to the City Charter and allow for more time to give all proposals appropriate consideration. My own personal experience with the Charter Commission has had a big impact on my life and I want to thank the members of this year’s Commission for the time and dedication they are devoting towards improving our local government.