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Mark-Viverito Wants More Community Input in Rezoning Plans

By Jeff Mays | February 11, 2016 6:03pm
 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called for the city to improve its community planning process and to begin reforms designed to shut down Rikers Island during her second State of the City address.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called for the city to improve its community planning process and to begin reforms designed to shut down Rikers Island during her second State of the City address.
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New York City Council/William Alatriste

THE BRONX — The city needs to keep better track of the commitments it's made to neighborhoods involving infrastructure, schools and housing as it moves forward with its controversial rezoning process, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Thursday.

Mark-Viverito's "Neighborhood Commitment Plan" comes after community boards across the city rejected Mayor Bill de Blasio's rezoning changes that are part of his plan to create of preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. 

Local officials have said the plan, which is under review by the City Council, doesn't guarantee enough affordability but they feel their opinions are being ignored.

City planning should start from the ground up and "infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions," Mark-Viverito said in her second annual State of the City speech.

"This process presents a critical opportunity to discuss real neighborhood concerns and needs — from school overcrowding and pedestrian safety to sewers and public transit," she added. "If we make a promise to a community, we should keep it."

The hour-long speech, held at the Samuel Gompers Campus in The Bronx, also focused on criminal justice reform and sketched a pathway to close Rikers Island.

Mark-Viverito proposed that the city clear thousands of old warrants for people who have stayed out of trouble for years.

"Old warrants for minor, non-violent offenses have hung needlessly over too many people’s heads for far too long," she said.

The city will also increase outreach to let people know they have outstanding warrants and "provide them with more opportunities to address their situation the right way — without spending a night in jail."

The City Council will also propose legislation to create an inspector general for the Department of Correction, similar to the one the Council authorized for the NYPD.

Mark-Viverito also wants to create video visitation so that loved ones can connect electronically with incarcerated relatives to help reduce recidivism.

At the same time, the City Council will launch an independent commission chaired by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to examine additional reforms to the criminal justice system.

"The Commission will create a blueprint for justice for New York City," she said. "It will recommend ways to continue to reduce pre-trial detention rates, and assess moving adolescents and those suffering from mental illness off Rikers in the short term."

Of the 70,000 people sent to Rikers each year, only 16 percent are sentenced to prison, she said.

Lippman said after the speech the review would be the "most comprehensive" ever done on Rikers: "Rikers is a symbol of what's wrong with the criminal justice system."

The commission will have community members and experts and will not utilize city resources.

The ultimate goal of the proposals is to "explore how we can get the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality," Mark-Viverito said.

In the crowd was the mother of Kalief Browder, who spent three years on Rikers starting when he was 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, a charge that was eventually dropped.

Browder committed suicide last year at the age of 22 after years of suffering abuse and living in solitary confinement on the island.

"It was not one failure which led to his death; it was generations of failures compounded on one another," Mark-Viverito said. "It is time to take our criminal justice system out of the shadows — and finally address the institutional racism which has plagued it for far too long."