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Wake-up call

Local government, hot on your tail


"Just make it happen!  No excuses!"

The orders of drill instructors are unambiguously persuasive and bone-chillingly absolutist. They are like primal screams that compel compliance without the burden of moral authority. They can paralyze our faculty of independent thought, numb our judgment, take our willpower into their custody, seize the harness of our instincts, suspend our autonomy and supersede our "inalienable rights.”  

Even the constraints of natural law.

"Flap your arms to take flight through windshear and electric storms and soar from your condo in an outer borough to the Azores. Simulate a parachute landing by the power of fantasy, conjure a duty-free shop and bring me back some Cuban cigars! That's a direct order!"

A way must be found. You cannot appeal a mission, especially if it is impossible. That's true if you're a soldier. It's true if you're a taxpayer. 

When the primal scream comes in the form of a mayoral executive order or a City Council local law, for instance, it would be easier to convince the Law of Gravity to suspend its inexorability by allowing suicide jumpers off the Brooklyn Bridge to re-think, undo and reverse their leap halfway down to doom, than to circumvent a Sanitation Department Delta Force summons for a petty recycling oversight.

Even the most progressive government gets its way by brute force. They are just a wee more elegant going about it. And though we technically have means of redress, it is inescapably obvious that the fix is in. "You can't fight City Hall.” If it is their pleasure to dehumanize or bankrupt us by their policy decisions, we may chase our tails and spin our wheels and entertain the illusion of justice until the return of the Hale Bopp comet, but citizens will always lose to the government.  

Often humiliatingly.

We get decibel intoxication from the primal screams of our "leaders.”

Local Law 97, an enlightened idea with a dumbass rollout, is a "clear and present danger" to co-op and condo owners, even more than is their collective carbon footprint. City government, a gargantuan slouch at defending civic integrity and public safety, has directed its stewardship to the ozone layer.    

Enacted in 2019, it is designed to cut down fossil-fuel emissions that heat, cool and power most buildings with the goal of making NYC carbon neutral by 2050.  That is sound and responsible, but too complicated to stand on those merits alone. Greenhouse emissions are choking us, but so is government's grip around the throats of many residents.

The government is virtue signaling. The virtue is real. But the signal is weak.

Compliance will be relatively feasible for schools and hospitals, for instance, but it will financially crucify many marginal homeowners. For them, the terms are unrealistic, arbitrary and punitive. Most of them are cash-strapped and many are retirees with sparrow-sized nest eggs.  They are not anti-environmentalists, climate-change deniers or conspiracy theorists. They are not kooks or equipped to be survivalists.

Most of them simply want a less draconian timeframe for implementation and enforcement of Local Law 97, which was promulgated without foresight or concern for "small-scale homeowners who were left out of the thought process completely,” according to City Council Member James Gennaro.

According to Warren Schreiber, board president of a co-op in Bayside, Queens, individual unit owners would be hit with around a $25,000 liability and maintenance costs to shareholders will go up 30 percent. The estimated cost of converting the co-ops at Glen Oaks Village is $50 million, according to Bob Friedrich, the president of its board of directors, who calls his development "the last bastion of affordable housing.”  

They have 96 oil and gas-run boilers in perfect condition that will cost $10,000 per unit to replace. Starting next year, the development would be fined $394,000 every year until 2030, when they would jump to $1,500,000 annually for 20 years. In 2050, it would be $38,000,000.  Whether or not the AP Stylebook approves, I put that amount written in numerals, not words, as a stark image of its severity.

It is a Hobson’s choice: to pay what you don't have or to voluntarily evict yourself because you cannot pay it.

The NYC Accelerator program will, in theory, help property owners find grants and low-interest loans, but Friedrich, an accountant, notes "that's a recipe for disaster and many co-ops have already maxed out their debt. You add debt and you are creating financial instabilities.” And Accelerator will not even assume the debt of mandated energy audits.

An energy consultant paid $100,000 by Glen Oaks Village estimated that every household would owe over $8,100 just to replace the boilers and meet code requirements by 2024.

Proposed legislative efforts to either exempt low-income owners, seniors and certain kinds of properties, or to delay the requirements and implementation of Local Law 97 have either been shot down or not taken off altogether. Homeowners for a Stronger New York has been seeking property tax breaks for impacted owners.   

Back in February, Council Member Vickie Paladino introduced a bill to delay the start of enforcement to 2031 which would have shown some mercy to many of the impacted residents, many of whom are on a fixed income. This is a common-sense and compassionate solution that protects the original purpose of the legislation.  

Gennaro, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, Resiliency & Waterfronts, has found no interest on the part of the overwhelming majority of the Council, to make the law more flexible or lenient. 

At a rally a few weeks ago, Brooklyn City Council Member Sandy Nurse said, "We need to ensure that there are no loopholes." It was a radical primal scream. She wants no loopholes in the nooses around middle-class necks. The law does, however, admit to at least one aperture.  City-owned buildings, including NYCHA housing, are exempt.

We cannot put our heads and pretend that serious and timely measures don't need to be taken to preserve the environment. After all, global warming would make the sand too hot. We must weigh the costs both economically and in the currency of our perpetuation. "Electric resistance heating (in 2017) was around three times more expensive than gas heating in NYC,” according to nyengineers.com, which noted that some sources estimate the current cost at 2.5 times more.

And the low-energy elephant in the room is the fact that there is already insufficient electricity capacity to meet current demand, which will multiply exponentially to correspond with projected future need.

Local 97 is a grim, unyielding, soulless and cold-hearted law.


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