The Civic Scene: Avella-backed bills would have protected Queens homeowners

By Bob Harris

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) lost his bid for mayor and will vacate his seat, which he has held for the past eight years. Avella is a populist who came from the civic groups in College Point and north Flushing.

We worked together in the Queens Civic Congress and the groups that preceded it for decades. Avella had proposed a number of bills from 2006-09 which he believed were good for Queens but which were never passed because he was not part of the establishment.

Here are some of his proposals I think would have benefitted Queens:

One bill sat in the Council Government Operations Committee. It would have replaced the current partial public campaign financing system with a full public funding system known as Clean Money, Clean Elections. It has proven successful in Connecticut, Maine, Arizona, Oregon and New Mexico. This law would have made it possible for a diverse populace to run for office, campaign spending to decrease, reform legislation to have passed and lobbyist and pork barrel spending to have decreased.

Another bill would have prohibited outside employment for Council members, making the position full-time. A building permit moratorium would have prohibited the city Department of Buildings from issuing permits for construction which would not be in compliance with a pending zoning proposal in a community when a neighborhood was about to be downzoned.

An interesting bill was the Council review of the city Board of Standards and Appeals, but it never got out of the Council Housing and Buildings Committee. This bill would have created a Council review appeals process of certain decisions.

Another bill Avella could not get out of the Government Operations Committee was the BSA voting amendments bill. It would have required all variances of zoning laws and special BSA permit decisions a two-thirds majority of the quorum present and voting.

To help community activists preserve their neighborhoods, the BSA membership expansion amendments bill would have expanded the size of the BSA to 13 members with eight additional members. The new members would be appointed by the borough presidents, public advocate, city comptroller and Council.

Another of Avella’s bills concerning the BSA was the BSA financial analyst bill. Membership would have required that the City Charter be amended so one of the members of the BSA be a financial analyst with professional qualifications and at least 10 years’ experience. A financial expert might prevent speculators from getting around zoning laws.

A bill would have asked the state Legislature and governor to amend the Municipal Home Rule Law so a mayor can no longer monopolize the charter revision process and prevent individuals or the city from placing a referendum on the ballot.

The increased penalties for illegal conversions bill never left the Housing and Buildings Committee. It is an issue many concerned civic leaders are aware of. The state Legislature and governor should work to amend the administrative code of New York to make a felony the illegal conversion or alteration of property on which a serious injury or fatality occurs. These illegal conversions are a big problem in Queens.

There was a proposal for a seizure of trucks violating truck routes. This resolution would have asked the state Legislature to amend the vehicles and traffic law to allow for the forfeiture of a truck if the driver has been convicted of three violations of city truck routes within an 18-month period.

A resolution to have the city register deed-restricted properties could have helped maintain the residential quality of many neighborhoods. Some deeds contain covenants restricting the use of houses for commercial activities. This bill would have required the city to register these covenants so homeowners could prevent commercial usage of residential property.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: While we go to hospitals to get well, too many people develop infections and some even die.

The AARP March bulletin said 1,200 separate practices were recommended to prevent infection, but narrowed down by the American Hospital Association. They are washing hands, wearing sterile gowns and gloves and protecting patients with sterile drapes and dressings and antiseptics. This was developed by a team from Johns Hopkins University.

More from Around New York