“No One Wants to Take Mass Transit”

(p. A16) Across almost seven hours Thursday night [Aug. 25, 2022], the speeches grew in volume and intensity — a cacophony of New Yorkers brought together over Zoom to either praise or denounce one of the city’s most contentious transportation projects.

Transit officials held the virtual hearing to collect input on a tolling program to reduce traffic in Manhattan. But the meeting also provided the chance to swing at a favorite New York City punching bag: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway and bus network and would benefit from the proposal.

. . .

“No one wants to take mass transit. It’s not safe. Jumping turnstiles, shooting, looting, fighting, the list goes on,” Brendan Peo, a schoolteacher who lives in New Jersey, said during the hearing on Thursday. “The suggestion that more people will use mass transit instead of driving when conditions are like this in the subway is asinine.”

For the full story see:

Ana Ley. “Critics Abound at First Hearing on Tolls for Driving Into Manhattan.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022): A16.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 26, 2022, and has the title “At M.T.A.’s First Congestion Pricing Hearing, Critics Abound.”)

Illegal Entrepreneur “Vagabond” Works Hard to Please Customers

(p. 16) . . . nutcrackers, homemade brews that are not technically classified as to-go cocktails in New York, are still illegal, as is drinking in local parks and beaches.

. . .

Vagabond, who is in his early 30s, has kept his face and name out of articles for fear of getting into legal trouble. He said that he started selling cocktails for $10 to $15 in the park during the summer of 2020 — after his restaurant temporarily shut down — to support his family.

“None of the restaurants were open; the beaches were closed,” he said. “The only places to be were people’s backyards or the park.”

He said that nutcrackers were traditionally “really sweet, really harsh alcohol, and it’s just going to give you a buzz,” but that many sellers found ways to rebrand and shake up the colorful drinks during the pandemic.

Vagabond said that he puts a lot of thought into his cocktails, using specific liqueurs and infusing them with herbs like mint and basil, which requires extra time and effort.

Some people balk at the idea of spending $15 on a nutcracker. But as Mr. Lewis jokes about his drink, “I prefer the gentrified term — ‘craft cocktail.’”

He also said that in the nearly two years since he’s been selling the drinks, he’s never been stopped by the police.

. . .

Vagabond said that an article that featured him in 2020 gave him an uncomfortable amount of exposure.

“Within days of this New York Post article coming out, N.Y.P.D. was looking for my Instagram,” he said. “My worst fear came true. I got caught.”

After being let off with a warning, he decided selling in the park wasn’t worth the heightened risk and effort. Now, he said, he mostly just delivers drinks — occasionally catering events like birthdays and weddings.

“Some people think I just magically appear in the park and I’m just strolling along,” he said. “I think people miss how hard and demanding it is.”

Mr. Lewis also said that he’s hoping Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams will consider legalizing the work that nutcracker vendors do around the city.

“Don’t criminalize this, incorporate this,” he said. “I would rather pay a $200 license fee than a $200 fine.”

He said that he’s on cordial terms with the other people who sell drinks in Prospect Park — “there’s enough pie in New York City for everybody.”

The biggest obstacle he usually faces, he said, is the sheer labor involved in dragging the heavy bags of drinks through the park.

For the full story see:

Julia Carmel. “For Bottle Service With a Smile in a Brooklyn Park, He’s the Man.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 29, 2022): 16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 28, 2022, and has the title “Want a Nutcracker or a ‘Craft Cocktail?’ He’s Your Guy.”

New York City Hurt as Wealthy Residents Move to Miami

(p. A1) When roughly 300,000 New York City residents left during the early part of the pandemic, officials described the exodus as a once-in-a-century shock to the city’s population.

Now, new data from the Internal Revenue Service shows that the residents who moved to other states by the time they filed their 2019 taxes collectively reported $21 billion in total income, substantially more than those who departed in any prior year on record. The IRS said the data captured filings received in 2020 and as late as July 2021.

Many new or returning residents have since moved in. But the total income of those who had initially left was double the average amount of those who had departed over the previous decade, a potential loss that could have long-term effects on a city that relies heavily on its wealthiest residents to support schools, law enforcement and other public services.

The sheer number of people who left in such a short period raises uncertainty about New York City’s competitiveness and economic stability. The top 1 percent of earners, who make more than $804,000 a year, contributed 41 percent of the city’s personal income taxes in 2019.

About one-third of the people who left moved from Manhattan, and had an average income of $214,300. No other large American county had a similar exodus of wealth.

Early in the pandemic, Sam Williamson, 51, a white-collar defense lawyer living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, first relocated to Utah, then to Long Island. After a return to the city, he and (p. A19) his family permanently moved to Miami last year when his law firm opened an office there.

“I love New York City, but it’s been a challenging time,” Mr. Williamson said. “I didn’t feel like the city handled the pandemic very well.”

. . .

Gergana Ivanova, 28, a clothing designer and social media influencer, said her decision to move to Miami was less about taxes. The pandemic made the downsides of living in New York City more noticeable, she said, including the lack of space in her tiny Queens apartment and the trash piling up on the sidewalks. She felt less safe walking around when the streets were emptier.

“It didn’t feel happy and positive like it used to,” she said.

. . .

The exodus to Florida was especially robust, and not just for the retiree crowd. In 2020, New York City had a net loss of nearly 21,000 residents to Florida, IRS data showed, almost double the average annual net loss from before the pandemic.

. . .

Zak Jacoby was the general manager of a bar on the Lower East Side when the pandemic hit. Throughout 2020, his employment status fluctuated with the city’s changing indoor dining rules, a stressful period that put him on and off unemployment benefits.

Mr. Jacoby, 37, flew to Miami in January 2021 to see a friend — and decided to stay permanently after getting a job offer at a local restaurant group. If there was another virus surge, he said, the state would be less likely to shut down businesses, giving him more job security.

“My mind-set was, Florida’s more lenient on Covid, and there’s going to be less regulation,” he said.

For the full story see:

Nicole Hong and Matthew Haag. “Exodus of New York’s Wealthy Leaves Lasting Costs in Wake.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 28, 2022): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Flight of New York City’s Wealthy Was a Once-in-a-Century Shock.” The online version of the story says that the print version has the title “An Exodus of New York’s Wealthy Has Left Lasting Costs,” but my National print version has the somewhat different title “Exodus of New York’s Wealthy Leaves Lasting Costs in Wake.”)

Lacking Government Approval During Pandemic, “State-of-the-Art Testing Machines . . . Weren’t Turned On”

(p. 12) The ethics manual of the American College of Physicians states that “the ethical imperative for physicians to provide care” overrides “the risk to the treating physician, even during epidemics.” Nevertheless, for most of human history, doctors often ran away in the face of widespread contagious disease.

. . .

When health workers stick around to treat patients, even at risk to their own lives, it is something to be celebrated, and the journalist Marie Brenner does just that in “The Desperate Hours,” an account of how workers at New York-Presbyterian, an academic health system, coped with the Covid surge in New York City beginning in the spring of 2020. The book details both medical heroism and corporate cowardice, prescient decisions and howling missteps, all against the backdrop of a swirling and mysterious pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 30,000 residents, not to mention 35 New York-Presbyterian employees.

Along the way we encounter some eye-opening anecdotes. Early on, New York City hospitals were faced with an alarming dearth of masks and a near rebellion by workers on the front lines. In response, New York-Presbyterian’s chief operating officer, Dr. Laura Forese, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, assured staff members that “masks would not be necessary” unless workers were in direct contact with infected patients. Though she was working off mistaken C.D.C. guidelines, it was “advice and regulation that countermanded every bit of common sense understood by public health officials since the Black Plague,” Brenner writes.

. . .

Yet state-of-the-art testing machines at New York-Presbyterian weren’t turned on because the leadership was waiting for the government to approve their use. When doctors and nurses complained, the communications office attempted to throttle them and even threatened them with demotions or dismissal. It is part of what Dr. Steve Corwin, New York-Presbyterian’s chief executive, calls “a failure of imagination on our part.”

The book has its share of heroes who buck the strictures of the system to speak the truth about what was coming (or had already arrived). No one was more heroic than Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, an infectious-disease modeler at New York-Presbyterian who raised the alarm about the pandemic in February 2020 but was largely ignored.

“This is going to be historically bad, rivaling the medical consequences of 1918, but far exceeding it in terms of global financial impact,” he warned his colleagues. “If we get through this, it will be the sort of thing that we will tell our grandchildren about.” Yet when Hupert showed his projections at a planning meeting, the medical school dean told him, “I think we will be all right.”

. . .

Compounding the disaster was that little guidance was coming from executives on how to navigate the crisis, including how to potentially ration beds and ventilators (which fortunately did not come to pass). “The amount of moral damage they did to a lot of people while they get paid millions of dollars is disgusting,” a critical-care physician says bitterly.

For the full review, see:

Sandeep Jauhar. “Plagued.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 3, 2022): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 19, 2022, and has the title “Facing Death During the Pandemic.”)

The book under review is:

Brenner, Marie. The Desperate Hours: One Hospital’s Fight to Save a City on the Pandemic’s Front Lines. New York: Flatiron Books, 2022.

Regulations Hurt Immigrant Home Cooks in Gig Labor Market

“In the kitchen of her apartment in Green point, Brooklyn, Juliet Achan stirs up dishes from her Surinamese background.” Source of photo: online version of the NYT article cited below. Source of caption: print version of the NYT article cited below.

(p. B1) Several days a week, Jullet Achan moves around the kitchen of her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, stirring up dishes from her Surinamese background: fragrant batches of goat curry, root vegetable soup and her own take on chicken chow mein.

She packages the meals, and they are picked up for delivery to customers who order through an app called WoodSpoon.

“Joining WoodSpoon has made a huge difference during the pandemic, giving me the flexibility to work safely from home and supplement my income,” Ms. Achan said in a news release from the company in February.

However, in the state of New York, there are no permits or licenses that allow individuals to sell hot meals cooked in their home kitchens. And WoodSpoon, a three-year-old start-up that says it has about 300 chefs preparing foods on its platform and has raised millions of dollars from investors, including the parent company of Burger King, knows it.

“It’s not legally allowed,” said Oren Saar, a founder and the chief executive of WoodSpoon, which facilitated the interviews with Ms. Achan and other cooks. “If someone is on our platform and they’re selling food they cooked in their own kitchens, that’s against our platform policy. But, to be completely honest, we think that those rules are outdated.”

Ms. Achan said she had become aware from her own research that cooks were not allowed to sell foods cooked in their homes, but said she continued to do so. “The food needs to be prepared in a clean kitchen, and it needs to be done correctly,” she said. “I’ve been cooking for my family for years, and that’s how I prepare meals for my customers.”

. . .

(p. B4) Legislation was introduced last year that would allow individuals to sell hot meals from their own kitchens, but it is still pending.

Mr. Saar said WoodSpoon, which started in 2019, couldn’t wait for the laws to catch up when the pandemic hit. “With Covid and all of the people who were reaching out to us to work on the platform, all of the people we thought we could work with, it was not right for us to wait to launch,” he said.

He estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the chefs on the platform are using licensed commercial kitchens, meaning the bulk are not. He said WoodSpoon helped home cooks obtain the proper permits and licenses, provided safety training and inspected the kitchens, but ultimately the onus is on the individuals selling on the platform to follow the proper rules. A spokesman later added in an email that the company was working to make commercial kitchens available to its chefs.

“We are ahead of the regulators, but as long as I keep my customers safe and everything is healthy, there are no issues,” Mr. Saar said. “We believe our home kitchens are safer than any restaurants.”

When asked if WoodSpoon would remove any chefs it knew were cooking from kitchens in their homes, Mr. Saar demurred, saying, “It was a good question.” He noted that many of WoodSpoon’s cooks prepared and sold foods on social media and competing food platforms, like Shef.

For the full story, see:

Julie Creswell. “Illegally Delicious. Probably.” The New York Times (Monday, April 18, 2022): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 10, 2022, and has the title “The Home Cooks (and Start-Ups) Betting on Prepared Meals.”)

E-Mobility Devices Offer Consumers “Lower Virus Risk” and More Convenience Than Public Transit

(p. A9) A boom in electric-powered mobile devices is bringing what is likely to be a lasting change and a new safety challenge to New York’s vast and crowded street grid.

The devices have sprouted up all over. Office workers on electric scooters glide past Manhattan towers. Parents take electric bikes to drop off their children at school. Young people have turned to electric skateboards, technically illegal on city streets, to whiz through the far corners of New York.

Though many of these riders initially gave up their subway and bus trips because of the lower virus risk of traveling outdoors, some say they are sticking with their e-mobility devices even as the city begins to move beyond the pandemic.

“I use the scooter for everything, it’s really convenient,” said Shareese King, 41, a Bronx resident who deleted the Uber app from her phone after she started running her errands on an electric scooter.

Electric bikes, scooters and other devices are in many cases made for urban life because they are affordable, better for the environment, take up little, if any, street space for parking and are just fun to use, said Sarah M. Kaufman, the associate director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.

For the full story, see:

Winnie Hu and Chelsia Rose Marcius. “As Personal E-Mobility Spreads, Safety Challenges Grow.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 28, 2021): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. [sic] 8, 2021, and has the title “As E-Scooters and E-Bikes Proliferate, Safety Challenges Grow.”)

Bans on Natural Gas for Cooking and Heating Could Most Hurt Low-Income Citizens

(p. A13) This week, New York City moved to ban gas hookups in new buildings, joining cities in blue states like California, Massachusetts and Washington that want to shift homes away from burning natural gas because it releases carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.

Instead, developers in New York City will have to install electric heat pumps and electric kitchen ranges in newly constructed buildings.

. . .

But the gas industry is fighting back and has lobbied in statehouses across the country to slow the shift away from gas. It argues that gas appliances are widely popular and still cost less than electric versions for many consumers. Opponents have also warned that a rush to electrify homes could strain power grids, particularly in the winter when heating needs soar, at a time when states like California and Texas are already struggling to meet demand.

Karen Harbert, president and chief executive of the American Gas Association, an industry group, said efforts to disconnect homes and businesses from the extensive network of gas pipelines would make it difficult to supply those buildings with low-carbon alternatives that might be available in the future, such as hydrogen or biogas.

“Eliminating natural gas and our delivery infrastructure forecloses on current and future innovation opportunities,” she said.

The question of whether to use natural gas in homes has become part of the culture wars, pitting climate activists against industry and other interest groups. Some chefs and restaurant owners have argued that they won’t be able to cook certain dishes as well without gas.

. . .

In a statement, Bill Malcolm, a senior legislative representative at the AARP, said the group had “supported legislative and regulatory initiatives allowing customers to continue to use the fuel of their choice to heat their homes and cook their food.” He added: “Outright bans on certain fuel options would run contrary to that choice.”

. . .

For now, natural gas remains the dominant fuel in much of the country, heating nearly half of American homes. Electric heat pumps, by contrast, satisfy just 5 percent of heating demand nationwide.

. . .

Experts have warned that as more homeowners go electric, gas utilities will still have to pay to maintain their existing network of pipelines, which could mean higher costs for the smaller base of remaining customers, many of whom may be low-income.

For the full story, see:

Brad Plumer and Hiroko Tabuchi. “Gas vs. Electric Stoves Join Partisan Battlefield.” The New York Times (Friday, December 17, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 10, 2021, and has the title “How Politics Are Determining What Stove You Use.” The online version says that the New York print edition had the title “Gas vs. Electric Stoves on a Partisan Battlefield.” My National print edition had the title “Gas vs. Electric Stoves Join Partisan Battlefield.” Where there is a slight difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Return of New York City Oysters Are a Hopeful “Symbol of Resilience”

(p. A10) The restoration of New York Harbor has reached a new milestone as 2021 draws to a close: 11.2 million juvenile oysters have been added in the past six months to a section of the Hudson River off the coast of Lower Manhattan, where they are helping to filter the water and creating habitats for other marine life.

. . .

. . ., in addition to the ones being introduced, wild ones are being found on the bottoms of piers off the West Side of Manhattan and in the Bronx.

. . .

. . . the oysters are a symbol of resilience, and a rare hopeful sign amid ominous news about New York waterways in the age of rapid climate change.

If they grow big enough, the oyster reefs can even play a role in dissipating wave energy, helping to protect the city’s shorelines from storm surges and flooding in extreme weather.

. . .

The researchers at the River Project will track the oysters and their effect on the water. They run a small, free aquarium at Pier 40 that is designed expressly to educate the public about the abundant marine life in the area.

One very special oyster, named Big, lives under the pier. At 8.6 inches and 1.9 pounds, it was believed to be the biggest oyster found in New York Harbor in a century when it was discovered in 2018.

For the full story, see:

Karen Zraick. “11 Million New Oysters. Want to Eat One? Maybe in 100 Years.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 11, 2021): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 10, 2021, and has the title “11 Million New Oysters in New York Harbor (but None for You to Eat).”)

Bloomberg Will Donate $750 Million to Support Charter Schools

(p. A19) American public education is broken. Since the pandemic began, students have experienced severe learning loss because schools remained closed in 2020—and even in 2021 when vaccinations were available to teachers and it was clear schools could reopen safely. Many schools also failed to administer remote learning adequately.

Before the pandemic, about two-thirds of U.S. students weren’t reading at grade level, and the trend has been getting worse. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation’s report card, show that in 2019, eighth-grade math scores had already fallen significantly.

Teachers understand the severity of the problem, and many are doing heroic work, yet some of their union representatives are denying reality. “There is no such thing as learning loss,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, head of the Los Angeles teachers union, in an interview with Los Angeles Magazine this past summer. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience.”

What nonsense. How about reading, writing and arithmetic, the critical skills we are funding schools to teach?

Instead of giving students the skills they need to succeed in college or in a trade, the public education system is handing them diplomas that say more about their attendance record than their academic achievement. This harms students, especially those from low-income families. When and if they graduate, they will try to find work in an economy that values knowledge and skills above all else, and their old schools will say to them: “Good luck!”

. . .

We know what works, because we can see it in real time. Success Academy’s network of 47 public charter schools is serving New York children whose families predominantly live below the poverty line. Their students are outperforming public-school students in Scarsdale, N.Y.—the wealthiest town on the East Coast and the second-wealthiest town in America—by significant margins. Yet a statewide cap on charter schools is blocking Success Academy from expanding.

. . .

Today there are long waiting lists for charter schools across the country, but mayors and governors aren’t getting the support they need from Congress and the White House to open new charter schools. To begin meeting the demand for charters, Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to create seats for 150,000 more children in 20 metro areas across the country.

For the full commentary, see:

Bloomberg, Michael R. “Why I’m Backing Charter Schools.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 1, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Users of “Free” Public Housing Wi-Fi Do Not Know How to Keep It Online

(p. 30) After months of back and forth, NYC Mesh got the greenlight to put a hub on the 24-story public housing tower in Bed-Stuy, along with two other developments in the Bronx and Queens. Four other small providers, including Silicon Harlem, were selected to wire up 10 other NYCHA developments. As part of Phase One of the Internet Master Plan, to which the city will direct $157 million, NYC Mesh installed free public hot spots around the exterior grounds of the projects; the other companies must provide residents access to Wi-Fi in their apartments for no more than $20 a month.

. . .

But the people who use the free hot spots in public housing or the family shelter in Brownsville don’t know how to fix the equipment or where to request a repair or report an outage on Slack. Indeed, all but one of the hallway routers in the shelter have been out for the last couple of months, and a number of new ones at the Bed-Stuy tower keep going offline.

For the full story, see:

Bliss Broyard. “Meet the Warriors of Wi-Fi.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 18, 2021): 30.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 16, 2021, and has the title “‘Welcome to the Mesh, Brother’: Guerrilla Wi-Fi Comes to New York.”)

New Regulations Pushed by Union Allied with de Blasio Will Limit New NYC Hotels

(p. A8) Mayor Bill de Blasio and other New York City leaders are pushing a controversial plan to drastically restrict hotel development, a move that the mayor’s own experts fear could endanger the city’s post-pandemic recovery and cost billions in lost tax revenue.

. . .

The Council is expected to approve the plan in time for Mr. de Blasio to see it become law before he leaves office this year. Once it is in place, developers fear that few, if any, new hotels would be built.

. . .

“We flag that to continue with this proposal could be seen as contrary to economic recovery principles and sound planning,” Marisa Lago, the director of the planning department, wrote last year in the memo to City Hall.

But Mr. de Blasio’s views hew closer to those of another group: the hotel workers union that endorsed his 2020 presidential campaign, pouring $440,000 into ads to bolster his ill-fated candidacy.

The union, the Hotel Trades Council, has long pushed to limit the construction of new hotels, which are often nonunion. Its calculation has been that limiting the development of such hotels, which typically offer less-expensive lodging than existing full-service hotels, would tend to increase hotel room prices generally and bolster the higher-end hotels where many of its workers are employed.

. . .

In most of the city, developers are free to build hotels in areas that are zoned for such use. Under a special approval process, building hotels would become far more challenging, said Moses Gates, vice president of housing and neighborhood planning at the Regional Plan Association, an influential nonprofit planning group. No other type of routine development currently gets the kind of scrutiny that Mr. de Blasio is proposing for hotels, he said.

“Hotels would be the only common land use which would always need City Council approval to be built, no matter what,” Mr. Gates said.

. . .

The Hotel Trades Council’s support of a special permit process for new hotels may seem counterintuitive, since it is effectively opposing the growth of jobs in the industry that it represents. Union hotel jobs in New York City provide one of the few pathways to the middle class for workers with no college education.

“Labor generally is in favor of employment and of growth, but especially jobs in their own sector,” said Harry C. Katz, a professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University.

But mid-market hotels that serve middle-class tourists are hard to unionize, union and industry experts say. If citywide special permits are adopted, as is expected, the hotel union would most likely use its political leverage to pressure Council members to only accept new hotels that use union labor.

For the full story, see:

Dana Rubinstein and J. David Goodman. “A Plan to Limit New Hotels in New York Meets Resistance.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 28, 2021): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2021, and has the title “A $7 Billion Mistake? New York Seeks to Curb New Hotels.”)

The research co-authored by Stone and mentioned above was described in:

Stone, Brian, Jr., Evan Mallen, Mayuri Rajput, Carina J. Gronlund, Ashley M. Broadbent, E. Scott Krayenhoff, Godfried Augenbroe, Marie S. O’Neill, and Matei Georgescu. “Compound Climate and Infrastructure Events: How Electrical Grid Failure Alters Heat Wave Risk.” Environmental Science & Technology (published online in advance of print on April 30, 2021).