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Council Plows Ahead On Snow Bills

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A city snow plow clears the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn on January 27, 2011. A city snow plow clears the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn on January 27, 2011. (Douglas Q. Smith/WNYC)

The flakes have stopped falling, but the City Council hasn't forgotten the Bloomberg Administration's botched response to the December blizzard. The Council approved seven pieces of legislation on Wednesday designed to improve the city's planning, preparedness and response to emergency winter weather.

The bills create new rules for city agencies including the Department of Sanitation and the Office of Emergency Management, and came after 30 hours of public hearings held by the council in all five boroughs. In spite of opposition to the council's initial proposals, a spokesman for the mayor said the administration has worked with the council and now supports the bills.

"New Yorkers should deserve and expect a prepared city government," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, "and that's why we're putting in new standards and requirements about preparedness."

Under the legislation, the Department of Sanitation would need to develop borough-based snow removal plans, which would also be reviewed by local community boards. Those plans would be made public and would specify what is defined as a primary, secondary and tertiary street.

Bronx City Councilmember James Vacca, chair of the council's Transportation Committee, said he pushed the city be clear about those designations.

"People on tertiary streets should know we're here to help, and help is on the way. You're not going to be left stranded again," said Vacca.

During the December blizzard, the sanitation department gave daily updates about the progress of snow removal based on these primary, secondary and tertiary designations, but never made public which streets fell into what category.

Another bill would require sanitation to create a registry for snow removal volunteers that could help people that are physically unable to shovel the snow on their own. It was the first piece of legislation to be introduced by Councilmember Peter Koo of Queens, who said this new law will help residents help each other.

The new laws also require the city's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to publish an annual report reviewing the city's snow response to snow in the previous year. OEM would also need to create formal protocols for responding to weather emergencies, including when to request additional aid from the state or federal government.

Other bills would require the city to create a system to notify New Yorkers of disruptions to government services, like garbage collection, parking rules and transportation services, to improve the 311 system when there's high call volume and create a new communication system to notify people of disruptions to city services.

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