Greening A Block An urban showcase of energy efficiency, pollution reduction, job development and community sustainability.
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Greening A Block Community Forum – 7/21/05

Village East Towers
170 Avenue C

Presented by
Charles Komanoff
Jeff Perlman
Lois Sturm

Download the slides from the presentation:
In English (PDF, 218 kb)
In Spanish (PDF, 223 kb)

Notables in Attendance (all of whom spoke/contributed to the discussion):
Margarita López – Council Member, 2nd District (includes Lower East Side)
Mary Spink – Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association
Cary Hirschstein – HR&A (contractors to NYSERDA “AMP” weatherization program)
Claudia Flanagan – municipal bond specialist, Candidate for City Council 2nd District
Carol Kostik – East River Environmental Coalition; Community Board 3 Con Ed Subcommittee
East River Environmental Coalition (EREC) members – Susan Steinberg, Carol Kostik (see above), Kenny Petricig, Pat DeAngelis, Lois Sturm
Nando Rodriguez – Open Road (Lower East Side youth environmental education program)
John Nettleton – Cornell University Cooperative Extension

A Report from the Event:
Some 50 people, most of them residents of the Lower East Side, packed the community room at Village East Towers on Avenue C and stayed for a 2-hour presentation and discussion of Greening A Block. The audience was attentive, enthusiastic and energetic. Probably half of those attendees spoke up with questions or comments, all of which were terrifically on point and made valuable contributions to the discussion.

The evening kicked off at 6:15, when Lois Sturm of the Neighborhood Energy Network introduced Council Member (and Borough President candidate) Margarita López. Margarita praised Greening A Block as a potential path for improving the environment in the community and decreasing the impact of the ConEd plant. She urged the community to keep an open mind about the project and pay close attention to the feasibility study now in progress.

After the Councilwoman spoke, Lois introduced Charles Komanoff (Charles) & Jeff Perlman (Jeff), who then launched into the presentation, which consisted of explanation and commentary on two dozen PowerPoint slides. (The slides are posted here in both Spanish and English.) Charles and Jeff sought and received comments and questions from the community throughout, most notably on:

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

  • many audience members use and like them
  • one woman said that she had trouble with some CFLs not lasting as long as expected
  • Pat DeAngelis from EREC expressed concern that CFLs don’t fit into many fixtures. Mary Spink and others commented that there are now many varieties of shapes and sizes of CFLs, though not all are commonly available in stores. Jeff emphasized that Greening a Block will deliver a wide choice of CFLs to residents’ apartments and enable them to try out different models to their satisfaction.
  • Charles & Jeff, when asked, confirmed that they use CFLs in their own homes. Charles has “one incandescent bulb – in my fridge,” all the others being CFLs. Jeff has a roommate who still uses incandescents in his own bedroom, despite prodding, but all of the lights in the common areas are CFLs.

Rent Increases for Tenants

  • There is great concern about landlords making building improvements through Greening A Block, and then citing the investments as an occasion to raise rents as Major Capital Improvements (MCI). Mary Spink and others emphasized that we need ironclad legal defense against this tactic.
  • Cary Hirschstein from HR&A, contractor to NYSERDA’s AMP (energy efficiency in multifamily buildings) program, made an impromptu explanation of the language within the NYSERDA contracts that expressly prohibits landlords from qualifying any subsidized improvements as MCIs.
  • Jeff explained our intent to set aside some of the Con Ed settlement fund as a legal defense fund against rent gouging.
  • Claudia Flanagan suggested that there be a template and process in place from the start, which tenants can use as defense against landlords who default on promises.
  • Susan Steinberg of EREC recommended that tenants be notified before the work begins that this work does not entitle landlords to MCIs.
  • Mary Spink reminded us that we need to stay neutral and include protections for landlords, too.
  • SUGGESTION: include improvements and explanation of non-MCI status into apartment leases, to be signed by both tenant & landlord. Ensure that language remains in the lease even when tenant changes.
  • BEWARE: Non-profit landlords are often no better.
  • Create a structure and system to keep track of tenants – many tenants have language barriers or just don’t know the rules. An organization/structure/system should inform them when they move in. And perhaps remind them annually.

Carol Kostik gave an overview of the Con Ed settlement and the role of Community Board 3 in dispensing settlement funds.

  • The Community Board 3 Con Ed Subcommittee is recommending that only $200,000 of the $2,750,000 fuel-switching fund be allocated to buy gas for the coming winter. (The minimum per year is $200,000, the maximum is $600,000.)
  • It is possible that little or none of this money will actually be spent, since the current price premium of natural gas over oil exceeds the maximum price differential specified in the settlement agreement. In fact, had fuel switching been permitted in the previous winters, Con Ed could have switched fuels for only 14 days in 2003-04 and 4 days in 2004-05. (The coming winter is the first time Con Ed is permitted to tap the fuel-switch fund, since the East River plant expansion was only completed this past spring.)
  • The money must be spent within 10 years or “we’re not sure what happens to it” (Carol Kostik & Susan Steinberg)
    • Upon hearing this, one audience member asked Charles & Jeff: “So, How soon can you start?”

Discussion of process with Con Ed

  • Does Con Ed have veto power if Community Board 3 decides to put money into Greening A Block?
    • Charles thinks Con Ed would not use this power, since the uproar from the community as well as the citywide environmental lobby would be too great.
    • The settlement allows alternative (non-fuel-switching) uses of the fund, as long as the uses are prudent; Greening A Block certainly is.
    • “But they’ve screwed us before!”
    • CONCLUSION: Jeff and Charles need to make a solid case that Con Ed won't seek to override a decision by Community Board 3 to re-allocate fuel-switch funds to Greening A Block.

Nando Rodriguez of Open Road spoke of training neighborhood high school-age youths, his students at East Side Community High School, as Greening A Block outreach staff and apprentices for energy audits and other project implementation tasks. He also emphasized the shared ethics of Greening a Block and Open Road.

John Nettleton gave a brief presentation on the biofuels program at Cornell Cooperative Extension:

  • They are seeking buildings for a pilot program to run residential boilers on 20% biofuel No. 2 heating oil.
  • Based on extensive testing to date, boilers running on biofuels are expected to have lower emissions of particulates and sulfur dioxide and to be easier to maintain at peak efficiency and reliability.
  • John would be happy to run one of the buildings on the chosen block on biofuel.

Other comments:

  • We need to make it clear how we can expand Greening A Block to more blocks (through financing, etc.)
  • Several people noted that 11th Street has been particularly burdened by the Con Ed steam expansion, with the street dug up and disrupted by installing expanded pipes. A resident requested that we consider her block.

Most attendees stayed until 8:00 pm, when the formal presentations ended. Many folks lingered for further conversation, and the room finally cleared out by 8:45.


2005, Greening A Block