Category Archives: Capital Budget

Seas Rise, Storms Surge, and NYC Presses Ahead with Waterfront Development Projects

Posted by Doug Turetsky, November 21, 2012

Long before Sandy slammed the city’s coastline, the Bloomberg Administration had been sounding alarms about coming threats to the city due to climate change. In well-known reports such as PlaNYC and through less publicized efforts such as the convening of scientists and risk management experts for the New York City Panel on Climate Change, the Bloomberg Administration signaled that it clearly recognized the significant impact global warming and rising sea levels could have on New York.

Photo credit: flickr/drpavloff

The Mayor’s March 2011 report Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan forecast the coming of storms like Sandy and the potential affects: “The rise in sea level and increased frequency and magnitude of coastal storms will likely cause more frequent coastal flooding and inundation of coastal wetlands as well as erosion of beaches, dunes, and bluffs.” A few weeks later, in an update to PlaNYC, the warnings were reinforced: “As a city with 520 miles of coastline—the most of any city in America—the potential for more frequent and intense coastal storms with increased impacts due to a rise in sea level is a serious threat to New York City.”

Yet even as City Hall grappled with these concerns it continued to put substantial resources into major development projects on the waterfront, rezoning sites as manufacturing declined— including some in prime areas for flooding, the so-called Zone A evacuation areas. Just one month before Sandy struck the city, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan by private developers to build a $500 million complex on city-owned land on Staten Island’s North Shore that would include the world’s largest Ferris wheel as well as a hotel and outlet mall. Part of the site sits in a floodplain.

An even larger development project is planned on the Coney Island waterfront, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Sandy. The city has rezoned the area to allow the development of hotels, housing, and a new amusement park, and has allocated more than $400 million for sewer upgrades, land acquisition, lighting, boardwalk and park improvements, and other projects to foster the redevelopment plan. On the Queens waterfront, the city is investing $147 million in the Hunters Point South project, which also sits in Zone A. Already under construction, Hunters Point South includes 5,000 apartments, a 1,100-seat school, and retail space.

To be fair, the Bloomberg Administration has taken steps to protect the city from the affects of rising sea levels and storm surges, following existing city building codes and Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines. But these guidelines may not be adequate in the face of storms with the fury of Sandy.

As Yale University’s Environment 360 Web site noted, “The storm easily overwhelmed many of the relatively minor adaptations that New York had already put in place.” For example, Brooklyn Bridge Park, where another large development project is planned, was created with what are called “soft edges.” These are supposed to help reduce the force of waves and accommodate rising tidal levels. While these edges may work in many instances, they were no match for Sandy, which swamped the park and sent water lapping at the structure housing the newly installed carousel.

In Sandy’s wake, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn are promising to ramp up efforts to protect the city and the city’s infrastructure from what many believe is the increasing threat posed by major storms. Speaking to a group of business and civic leaders, Council Speaker Quinn said, “We…must rethink the way we build in neighborhoods that were destroyed by the storm.”

Such rethinking takes time for evaluation and planning, time that some city officials and developers seem disinclined to take. Just last week, as many Staten Island residents and business owners continued to clear the rubble from Sandy—and mourned the loss of family and friends—the city’s Economic Development Corporation held a hearing to advance the Ferris wheel project on the North Shore.

The city can press ahead with waterfront projects like the one on Staten Island’s North Shore, as well as others throughout the five boroughs, before there is a clearer plan for the kinds of steps New York will take to minimize the danger from future Sandys. But doing so increases the risk that the next “superstorm” will exact an even higher price tag.

Despite Cut in Capital Spending, Mayor Plans to Build a New Jail, Renovate Others

Posted by Nashla Salas, June 15, 2011

Tough fiscal times have led the Mayor to propose a 20 percent reduction in planned city capital spending. That means less money for affordable housing construction, building new schools, or rehabbing city parks. Because of this, some New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that the Bloomberg Administration is still planning to commit more than $620 million in 2011 through 2015 to the construction of a new jail on Rikers Island, the renovation of jails in Brooklyn and Queens, and the closing of other facilities. What may make this even more surprising is that when the changes are complete, the system will have less capacity than it does now.

While the jail proposal has also been cut back—by nearly $115 million or 16 percent in the May 2011 Capital Commitment Plan compared with the September 2010 plan —some may question the need for it at all. Part of what’s driving the initiative is dilapidated conditions. Some of the structures being used on Rikers were only meant to be temporary. Another reason is to reverse a Giuliani Administration initiative that closed the jails near the borough courthouses and placed all inmates on Rikers Island. That proved to be a costly decision, ratcheting up overtime and other expenses in order to transport inmates to court dates.

As a result, the Department of Correction is going ahead with a jail renovation initiative which includes the construction of a new 1,500 bed jail on Rikers Island and reopening detention facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, in conjunction with reductions in the capacity of a number of other facilities. Because the initiative would remove more beds than are being added from the new construction, the city’s overall jail capacity would be reduced by nearly 3,000 beds.

Prior to the implementation of the renovation plan, the city’s jail capacity totaled about 19,400 beds, including 16,400 in Rikers Island-based jails and a total of 3,000 in four facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx. When the renovation plan is finished, capacity will stand at about 16,550.The planned overall reduction would bring capacity more in line with the jail population, which has decreased from a daily average of more than 14,500 in 2003, the peak over the past decade, to 13,362 last year.

The largest project in the plan to renovate Rikers Island is a new 1,500-bed jail at a cost of about $563 million. Also included is a new 800-bed annex to the Rose M. Singer Center ($4.4 million), which is set to open in the next two months. This facility houses detained and sentenced female adults and adolescents. The new beds will partially offset the reduction of thousands of older beds at the 10 current Rikers jails. Many of the older units were meant to be temporary, have been costly to maintain and are overdue for closure. One of the oldest facilities, the 1,194 bed James A. Thomas Center, has already been closed.

While all the capacity changes will occur in the Rikers Island facilities, the plan also calls for reopening jails in Brooklyn and Queens which have not housed inmates since 2003 and 2002, respectively, although their beds were still counted in the system’s capacity. Improvements to the Queens facility total about $550,000 in elevator replacement work. Renovation of the Brooklyn House of Detention will cost $3 million, but a previous proposal to increase its capacity has been dropped. It is expected that the Brooklyn House of Detention will reopen by the fall and the Queens House of Detention will be reopened in the spring of 2012.

While the Rikers Island renovations have drawn little public attention, there have been mixed reactions to the plans to reopen the Brooklyn and Queens facilities. Advocates and families of those arrested have complained of the inaccessibility of Rikers Island and prefer that inmates be housed in borough facilities near their homes. On the other hand, residents near the Brooklyn facility have in the past complained that reopening a jail in their neighborhood will stifle development.

City’s Capital Plan Grows: More Projects, Some More Spending

Posted by Ana M. Ventura, November 9, 2009

A number of fiscal mavens have voiced concerns in recent months that the city’s capital budget is too big and unaffordable. These concerns have not escaped the notice of Mayor Bloomberg, who has sought to reduce the amount the city spends on debt service—the interest and principal the city pays to borrow money for capital projects such as building schools, fixing roads, and buying fire trucks—by scaling back the city’s 10-year capital plan.

So it may come as a surprise to many observers that the city’s latest Adopted Capital Commitment Plan, which covers four years, has grown by hundreds of projects and millions of dollars. The Adopted Capital Commitment Plan, released in September, presents information on how much the city has appropriated in the current fiscal year and next three years for capital projects and a timeline for committing those project funds. This latest plan adds $708 million (adjusted for capital funds made available in 2009 but now pushed into the new plan) and nearly 700 capital projects, compared to the prior plan released in conjunction with the Mayor’s Executive Budget last spring. As in past years, the largest shares of capital funding go to school and environmental projects.

The city’s four-year capital plan allocates $38.4 billion for projects. Included in the plan total is $1.5 billion allocated at the request of the City Council and $680 million by the Borough Presidents. Roughly 80 percent of the funding comes from the city, with the remaining $7.8 billion coming from federal, state, and private grants.

These funds support nearly 7,400 projects (including school projects that are itemized separately in the city’s financial management system). The Adopted Capital Commitment Plan includes 941 new capital projects and drops 244 projects that were part of the prior plan. The new projects include 390 sponsored by the City Council and 108 sponsored by the Borough Presidents. Out of all the new projects certain types were among those most commonly added: there are 123 new citywide equipment purchases and 101 new parks and recreational facilities projects.

Nearly half of the plan’s total budget—$19.0 billion—is scheduled to be committed in fiscal year 2010. The rest of the funds are expected to be committed over the next three years: $6.9 billion in fiscal year 2011, $5.6 billion in fiscal year 2012, and $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2013. While the total for 2010 appears comparatively large, it is actually bulked up by previously authorized funds. Because some types of capital projects frequently fall behind schedule, the level of funds authorized by the Mayor’s budget office typically exceeds the expected commitments by about 35 percent.

Roughly $7.1 billion in capital funds were transferred, or rolled, from fiscal year 2009 into the new plan. Most capital funds rolled from a prior fiscal year tend to be allocated to the next year, as is the case under the new plan. But some of the funds rolled forward are also allocated to later years of the Capital Commitment Plan. Largely because of the funds rolled forward from 2009, the new plan is roughly 25 percent bigger than the prior $30.6 billion four-year plan.

But if you subtract the rollover funds, the latest plan still provides $708 million more (2.3 percent) than the prior plan. Almost all of this increase comes from additional city funding; about 1 percent of the $708 million comes from other sources.

Despite challenging economic times and recent actions by the Bloomberg Administration to curtail long-term city-funded capital spending, the city’s capital program continues to expand moderately.