New York Officially Scraps Airtrain To Laguardia, Pitches More Buses Instead
Plans for an AirTrain to Laguardia Airport were officially scrapped this week, The New York Times and others report. The train had been pitched by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015, and the cost grew from $450 million to $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion. But it was scrapped by Governor Kathy Hochul this week, after she accepted recommendations from a panel of transit experts who were tasked to look into the project in 2021.
The panel recommended a much cheaper option: speeding up the existing bus lines and adding a fleet of electric shuttles for about $500 million. According to a Port Authority press release, recommendations include a new bus pick-up and drop-off area at the airport and a dedicated lane for a new fleet of shuttles to the subway.
Bank Failures Renew Public Bank Push
Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, both known for lending to the highly-speculative cryptocurrency industry, crashed this week and were overtaken by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The takeovers have renewed calls for public banks, as well as for more scrutiny of risky lending. SVB was the preferred lender to many tech startups; while risk is baked into the venture model, many companies had dubious models that never made sense on paper.
Signature was also under fire from tenant advocates for years for lending to predatory landlords. Yet, a New York City Department of Finance spokesperson told Gothamist that $60 million of the city’s assets are in Signature Bank. Public Bank NYC, a coalition fostered by New Economy Project, has been pushing since 2018 for the city to put its assets in a public bank to provide community control over city investments. A bill currently in the state legislature could make that a reality.
NYCHA Seeks Bailout
The New York City Housing Authority, which already has a $40 billion backlog for repairs, is now facing a gap of $466 million in its operations budget due to rent arrears, commonly referred to as late rent. While New York City tenants received over $2.5 billion of federal funds to pay pandemic back rent, NYCHA tenants received none of that money because they were deprioritized by the Cuomo administration.
Now elected officials are asking the state to make it right by chipping in its own money: legislators will propose to add $389 million to the state budget to cover some of the lost rent, The City reports. NYCHA says that about $339 million of the rent arrears it’s facing would have been eligible for federal Emergency Rental Assistance. “We are hoping to correct policies by the previous administration that unfairly singled out subsidized tenants,” Assemblymember Grace Lee told The City.
Biden Approves 199 New Oil Wells In Alaska
The Biden administration says that Conoco Phillips can go ahead with a plan to drill oil in Alaska’s Natural Petroleum Reserve, federally-owned land in the state’s North Slope region. The company, based in Houston, will drill 199 wells, along with miles of roads and pipelines, according to the Houston Chronicle. The paper says that the project could release 239 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses over 30 years.
According to Inside Climate News, the project called Willow is “within a protected area that is home to millions of migratory birds,” as well as a caribou herd that a nearby village of 500 people uses as a food source. While Native groups had different views on the project, leaders in the Native village of Nuiqsut had complained for years about an increase in respiratory illness that they linked to Conoco’s drilling, Inside Climate News reported. A Change.org petition opposing the project has 3.7 million signatures.
New York City Mulls Library Cut
In addition to major cuts to education and health, a preliminary budget released by New York City Mayor Eric Adams in January would make cuts to public libraries amounting to $13.6 million this fiscal year and $20.5 million the following year, according to an analysis by the city comptroller. With that in mind, New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman toured three of the library branches that opened in 2020, including two in Brooklyn and one in Harlem, near the historic Harlem River Houses.
The city council will put forth its budget before April, and the Mayor’s executive budget will be released sometime that month. The city council has historically fought to add money back to the library budget, the president of the Queens Library Guild told the New York Times. City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who sits on the board of the Queens Public Library, told the Times, “I can’t tell you how passionate I am about making sure that our libraries are intact.” A final budget agreement is typically reached before July. Public libraries have been the focal point of increasing attacks from right-wing agitators in recent years, including protests against Drag Story Hour in New York City.
This article is part of The Weekly Wrap, a newsletter rounding up stories that explain the problems oppressing people in cities and elevate the solutions bringing us closer to economic, environmental and social justice.
Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.