Rivera report: ‘Tech Hub,’ S.B.J.S.A. are key issues

Carlina Rivera during her first media roundtable earlier this week. Photos by Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | “Baptism by fire” is how Carlina Rivera described her initiation to the City Council.

In an interview with The Villager last Friday, Rivera, the new councilmember for District 2 — which includes the East Village, Union Square and Gramercy and runs up to Murray Hill — spoke about getting acclimated to her new job at City Hall. She discussed the committees she has been assigned to and her goals while in office. And she also weighed in on critical issues like the fate of the long-stymied Small Business Jobs Survival Act, the planned “Tech Hub” on E. 14th St. and more.

“The first 30 days have been baptism by fire, I guess,” she said. “It’s been intense.”

She has been busy with a flurry of meetings and hearings.

In addition, her first day in the City Council, was the day that the 51-member body elected Corey Johnson their new speaker, or leader. It also happened to be Rivera’s birthday.

“I turned 29 for the fifth time,” quipped Rivera, 34.

As for voting for Johnson, she said, “I knew I made the right decision. … I think Corey has shown himself to be someone who looks forward to collaborating and working with people.”

She underwent two days of training, which she called “the briefest lessons on everything you need to know. They go over land use, finance… . I felt good that I was on staff, otherwise it would have been overwhelming,” she said.

Rivera was referring to her stint as former Councilmember Rosie Mendez’s legislative director, during which time she learned the ropes of the City Council. After three terms in office, Mendez was term-limited at the end of last year.

Rivera noted that she is “on leadership,” meaning she is one of about 20 members who meet with Speaker Johnson on a regular basis to discuss the Council’s agenda.

In addition Johnson has appointed her chairperson of the Committee on Hospitals and co-chairperson of the Women’s Caucus. She is also a member of the Committee on Small Business, the Economic Development Committee and the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

“I was very, very happy. I got a lot of the committees I requested,” Rivera noted.

She did add that she’s concerned about the relatively small number of women — only 11 — in the Council right now.

“We are spread so thin,” she said. “Some committees have no women on them.”

In particular, advocates will be watching the Small Business Committee closely, hoping it will finally vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. For two decades, powerful real-estate forces and the powers that be at City Hall have essentially colluded to keep this bill from every coming up for a vote before the full City Council. The first step is for the bill to be approved by the committee, though.

“I’m going to be a strong advocate for the S.B.J.S.A.,” River pledged.

Advocates have blasted the appointment of Mark Gjonaj — who they describe as “a wealthy real estate owner” — as the committee’s chairperson. They note he has stated publicly he does not support the S.B.J.S.A. — and that he even opposes residential rent regulation.

However, Rivera said of Gjonaj (pronounced “joe-nai”) as the committee’s leader, “I believe he’s going to be good on small business.”

A Johnson spokesperson recently told the paper that it’s important to look at the whole committee’s composition. Namely, also on the committee along with Rivera are Bill Perkins and Diana Ayala.

“That’s a good committee,” he stated. “We’ll know soon who’s going to carry the bill; I think that will be more important. We’re going to have a hearing that we’ve been calling for for a long time. Everyone’s saying the bill’s not legal, but where are the specifics? If it isn’t legal, what can be done to make it legal? Let’s put it all on the table — what’s legal and what’s not.”

As for Rivera, she said she thinks a mix of different initiatives should be considered to address the issue, from restricting landlords from combining spaces to create extra-large storefronts, to creating “special zones” to keep out formula retail.

“I think we have to do multiple things,” she said.

In a subsequent media roundtable with The Villager and other local media on Monday, Rivera referred to something that Johnson previously told The Villager, and said she agrees: that the S.B.J.S.A. “is not a silver bullet.”

“We’re going to have to look at a 21st-century version it,” she said of the bill.

Meanwhile, the planned “Tech Hub” at the current P.C. Richard & Son site, on E. 14th St. between Third and Fourth Aves., is an issue Rivera will be taking a lead on in the Council, since it’s located in her district. To the chagrin of local activists and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the city recently certified the Tech Hub plan — but without committing to rezone or landmark the area to the south along Broadway and University Place. The certification starts the clocking ticking on the city’s seven-month-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

Speaking to The Villager last week, Andrew Berman, the executive director of G.V.S.H.P., said Mayor Bill de Blasio “won’t get everything he wants” on the Tech Hub unless he compromises and backs a rezoning, landmarking or some combination of the two. Asked if he meant Rivera would put up resistance, Berman said, yes.

Rivera said she has been watching Johnson and how he negotiated the large and complex land-use agreement for the St. John’s Partners project involving air rights purchased from Pier 40.

“I am confident that we are going to be able to get a true workforce center there,” she said of the Tech Hub, “and also protect residents of the community and put in the protections they need.”

Specifically, she wants a “digital-skills training center” at the location, and wants it to be as big as possible.

She noted she recently met with representatives of RAL, the developers of the Tech Hub building, which will be anchored by a group called Civic Hall.

“I certainly have my own asks,” she said, “that we have as much workforce space in the building as possible — and, in terms of Civic Hall, who’s going to be a tenant in there?

“I want it to look like something that reflects the community,” she stressed. “I want to see the person I see walking down Avenue D in that Tech Hub taking advantage of services. When we look at this particular industry, women and people of color are underrepresented. I want to make sure there are opportunities inside that building.”

Councilmember Carlina Rivera outside her District 2 office in the East Village on E. Third St. between Avenues B and C.

Speaking at the media roundtable on Monday, however, Rivera did not indicate that the rezoning was a deal-breaker for her. Instead, she put more emphasis on getting more affordable housing in the area, since that was what many in the community previously wanted at the P.C. Richard site.

“We’re still negotiating additional community benefits” as part of the project, she said.

Asked if she would put her foot down on demanding the rezoning, she said, “I don’t see us getting to that point. … I don’t think it’s going to get to a ‘take-it-or-leave it’ deal.”

Told of Rivera’s position on the rezoning, Berman of G.V.S.H.P. said, “Councilmember Rivera made a clear statement during the campaign that she would use her leverage as a councilmember to condition her support for the mayor’s Tech Hub rezoning upon protections also being provided for the affected neighborhood to the south. She also stated that she agreed that without such protections, the Tech Hub would accelerate inappropriate development in the Village and East Village to the south. I think she knows that thousands of her constituents are looking to her to uphold that pledge.

“If the city remains firm in their stance and refuses to offer the necessary protections for the surrounding neighborhood,” Berman continued, “we will be urging Councilmember Rivera to make good on her pledge and to vote no on the Tech Hub rezoning until and unless the city agrees to the necessary protections for the neighborhood, and we will be calling on her colleagues to do the same. I am cautiously optimistic that we won’t get to that point, but we are fully prepared to call for fulfillment of that pledge, if needed.”

Regarding New York University, whose sprawl obviously affects Rivera’s district, the councilmember said she would like to see it site its new facilities elsewhere whenever possible, such as Long Island City or Downtown Brooklyn, the latter where N.Y.U. currently has its engineering school, for example.

“They could be looking at other neighborhoods,” she said, “to give them a boost — satellite sites in the boroughs.”

Queried if she had met with Andrew Hamilton, the president of N.Y.U., yet, she said no. Rivera has, however, already received official congratulations from Baruch and John Jay colleges and The Cooper Union, but nothing yet from N.Y.U.

As for public housing, she said, as everyone is now aware due to the ongoing media coverage, there is an infrastructure crisis that is not being addressed — specifically, the boilers.

“I spent the first two weeks taking calls, texts, e-mails from people living in public housing saying they had no heat, no hot water,” she said.

In general, she is a very strong supporter of creating new senior affordable housing, she said.

Asked if she had any comment on the recent flap at Community Board 3, where Chad Marlow resigned after the board’s chairperson, Alysha Lewis-Coleman, removed him as chairperson of his committee, Rivera said no. Basically, Marlow’s Transportation, Public Safety and Environment Committee was pushing a resolution on “alcohol density” — essentially, highlighting the negative impacts on a community’s public health caused by an oversaturation of bars, based on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Marlow, who had planned not to seek reappointment to the board in April anyway, was recently removed from the committee by Lewis-Coleman, who took over as board chairperson in January after Jamie Rogers resigned as chairperson after Rivera, his wife, became councilmember. Lewis-Coleman told The Villager that because Marlow had been planning to leave the board, she just decided to remove him earlier from his committee chairperson post.

“Mr. Marlow informed C.B. 3 before my appointment he would not be reapplying for another term,” she said. “I chose to fill the position sooner than later.”

For his part, Marlow suspects there were real-estate forces at work trying to block his resolution from being put up for a vote.

Rivera, while declining comment on the Marlow situation, said, “I’m going to look into this alcohol-density resolution. I know density and oversaturation has been an issue.”

At the same time, she said, it’s important that there is equal access to liquor licenses for all applicants.

“I want to make sure there’s a balance between commerce and community,” she said.

As councilmember, Rivera, who formerly served on C.B. 3 herself, will be able to make appointments to multiple community boards, including Boards 2, 3, 5 and 6.

Rivera proudly shared that she, along with Deputy Leader Laurie Cumbo, on Jan. 31 introduced the first piece of legislation in the Council in 2018 — to allow inmates to choose the gender of their doctor.

“I’m coming at it as a woman,” she explained.

In a major East Village story, Mayor de Blasio last year publicly stated that the city is interested in trying to get back the old P.S. 64 building, at E. Ninth St. and Avenue B. However, on Jan. 24, developer Gregg Singer, who purchased the old school in 1998 for about $3.2 million, filed a federal lawsuit, charging a “conspiracy” to block him from redeveloping the building. The suit names multiple defendants, including the city, Mayor de Blasio, the Department of Buildings, G.V.S.H.P, Berman as an individual, Mendez, Rivera and Aaron Sosnick, a member of the East Village Community Coalition, along with “John and Jane Doe 1-100.” Singer is seeking relief and also financial damages.

Asked about Singer’s new lawsuit and for an update on where things stand, in general, with efforts to regain the building for a community-oriented use, a Rivera spokesperson said she was unable to comment due to the litigation. However, Rivera, in the past, has been outspoken about wanting to return the building to community use, and also about wanting to sit down with Singer and all other parties and work out a solution.

Right before last year’s election, the New York Post’s Page Six broke the story that Rivera and her husband Rogers were living on the Lower East Side in subsidized housing intended for low-income individuals. The couple subsequently pledged to move out of the building – where Rivera had grown up — should she win election.

“We moved,” Rivera told The Villager last Friday.

“I spent my life in that building,” she said of her former Pitt St. home. It was like “extended family” for her, she said, though she wasn’t technically related to her fellow tenants. “I had people that aren’t blood [relatives], and they have taken care of me and they have seen me grow up from an infant.”

She said their new place is “just a block or so away” from their old apartment. And, yes, she said — it’s market rate.

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