Unprecedented Citywide ANC Virtual Discussion Provides COVID-19 Pipeline to Mayor, Council

Unprecedented Citywide ANC Virtual Discussion Provides COVID-19 Pipeline to Mayor, Council

by Larry Janezich

A new initiative in the form of virtual conferencing for all ANC commissioners citywide provides a forum for comment feedback to city officials on the city’s response to COVID-19.

The unprecedented virtual conference is the brainchild of former Chair and current Vice Chair of ANC6B, and current City Council a Large candidate, Chander Jayaraman.  The first of the meetings – hosted by Jayaraman and current ANC6B Chair Brian Ready occurred March 25.  Fifty ANC Commissioners from across the city participated on the Zoom platform.

That meeting’s theme was “Keeping Communities Strong in the Face of COVID-19”.  Jayaraman, who has nearly two decades of experience in emergency response management, presented key tips that could be used to help keep neighborhoods and local businesses strong during the crisis. Then followed a general discussion to share concerns and strategies for the ANCs to provide support for their communities.

The result of the first meeting was a memo which was forwarded to the Mayor and to members of the Council last Friday.  Some of the requests and needs raised in the memo included:

A request for daily updates on numbers of COVID-19 cases confirmed by Ward and the current rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations. (Subsequently, this morning, the Mayor announced Ward data would be included in daily updates.)

Temporary relief from quarterly sales tax and property tax for small businesses.

Relief for small business owners who pay themselves out of business revenues, but are currently ineligible for unemployment benefits.

A need to address residents’ concerns about the potential for spread of COVID-19 among construction workers and to clarify what guidance has been given private contractors.  (DGS has issued COVID-19 Guidelines for Construction Sites but concerns remain regarding how they will be enforced and to what degree they will be adhered to.)

Immediate relief for the child care community to avoid permanent closures.

Support to establish and coordinate more food banks.

The memo also named some strategies communities are taking including creation of neighbor check-ins for the most vulnerable residents, development of food collection and preparation efforts, creation of neighborhood volunteer networks, and mutual aid groups to help neighbors.

After submitting the memo to the city officials, Jayaraman said he heard from two council members.  CM Charles Allen said he was looking forward to reading the memo, and CM Robert White expressed a desire to be involved in the next meeting. Jayaraman invited him to open up a second virtual conversation which occurred last night.

According to Jayaraman, White reviewed the memo produced by the first meeting, acknowledging specifically the concerns about construction workers.  He also said deferring property taxes was not an option given the city’s need to pay its own bills in April, and that the city would consider continued relief for small businesses.  The city has received 4,000 requests for the $25,000 grants afforded under the $25 million fund established by the city council, a number that if equally proportioned would provide only $6500 to each.  He said he would consider a concern of co-host Brian Ready regarding the set of people – recent hires, small business owners, and others – who are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Jayaraman said a theme common to both meetings was the risk posed by lack of virus protection standards for construction workers as work on projects continues unabated.  With hundreds of large sites he doubts that DCRA inspectors will be able to monitor conditions on work sites.  He noted that NYC halted all non-critical construction, excluding hospitals and low-income housing.

Ready, Chair of ANC6B, credited Jayaraman’s outreach effort, saying the virtual meeting is “a forum for all commissioners across the city to discuss the challenges and concerns they are having. The things they’ve seen give us a better understanding of what the landscape is like for parts of the city.”

Jayaraman said, that the virus has been a unifying force for the city and the virtual meetings show how the amplified unified structure of the ANC can be a voice for the communities.  He sees an opportunity for the city’s Office of ANCs to set up a structure to tap into the ANCs’ opinion on major issues in the future.  The general consensus, he said, is that the meetings are helpful and should continue weekly throughout the crisis.  He says he is considering other ways to add value to the meetings such as inviting city officials to present, and suggested a presentation on the impact of the virus on the homeless, for example.  The next meeting will be Monday April 6 at 8:00pm, where one of the questions to be decided is whether to let the press listen in on the meetings.

Jayaraman said, “The virtual meeting is a great opportunity to bring together elected officials closest to the community to express concerns and discuss what’s working and to share that with our leaders as we move forward together through this crisis.”

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