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Fortune: The Trump Administration Just Picked a Big Food Fight With New York City

August 15, 2017


From: Bloomberg
Aug 15, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is quietly going to war with his hometown’s calorie-counting obsession.

The U.S. threw its weight on Monday behind trade groups suing New York over what the government calls a “unilateral” plan to enforce a local 2015 calorie-labeling law at restaurants and food retailers in the city sooner than a thrice-delayed federal effort.

A provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that requires calorie labeling nationwide gave the Food and Drug Administration full control over when and how to enforce it, the government said. That means Bill De Blasio, New York’s Democratic mayor, can’t implement a local law starting Aug. 21, the U.S. argues. The FDA in May again delayed the federal law for a year.

“It’s pretty clear from the delay of the national law the day before it was supposed to take effect that the Trump administration has no intention of supporting menu labeling,” Colin Schwartz, a senior associate at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a phone call. Trump has signaled that he’ll “do whatever industry wants him to do,” he said.

The government argued federal law preempts the city’s effort, and it didn’t say that Trump was backing away from the labeling requirements altogether. But the president has promised to slash government regulations of business and has been critical of rules put in place by his predecessor that he says gum up the economy.

A hearing on the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit is set for Aug. 16 before U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero.

Calorie Labeling

Many restaurant chains across the U.S. already include calorie labeling on their menus voluntarily.

De Blasio’s office said in a statement in May that the city would focus on its own efforts in the name of public health, regardless of the FDA’s delay.

“While the Trump administration may disagree, knowledge is power, and that is particularly true when it comes to nutrition,” New York City Council Member Corey Johnson, chairman of the Health Committee, said in the statement. “People have the right to readily-available information regarding the food they consume and the effects it will have on their health.”

A message left at the Health and Human Services press office wasn’t immediately returned. DOJ spokeswoman Dawn Dearden declined to comment. A message left with de Blasio’s office wasn’t immediately returned. Osvaldo Vazquez, the attorney for the National Association of Convenience Stores, one of the plaintiffs, declined to comment.

New York in 2008 became the first city in the U.S. to require fast food and other restaurant chains to post calorie counts. In 2015, the city beefed up the law to include calorie information about prepared foods sold in chain convenience stores and grocery stores, as well as a requirement that the average recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories be displayed to give the labels context.

New York Fines

The New York law, which includes fines of up to $600 for failure to comply, applies to chain restaurants with 15 locations or more nationwide. It’s expected to affect about 3,000 restaurants and about 1,500 food retailer chains, the city has said.

The FDA in May extended the federal compliance date by a year to May 7, 2018, citing “the diverse and complex set of stakeholders affected by the rule and continued, numerous, and fundamental questions they raise regarding the final rule and its implementation.”

Federal law prohibits any state or municipality from imposing food-labeling regulation that’s not identical to labeling requirements established by Congress and the FDA, the trade groups said in their complaint. New York’s regulation isn’t identical because it takes effect immediately while the FDA “made a considered decision” to require compliance until May, the groups said in their request for an injunction against the enforcement of the city law.

Former President Barack Obama’s FDA in 2015 issued the first delay of the labeling law as part of an effort to expand the reach of the legislation. Congress delayed it again in 2016.The case is National Association of Convenience Stores v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 1:17-cv-05324, U.S. District Court Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

News

Bedford+Bowerery: Rat Repellant

August 11, 2017


By: SHANNON BARBOUR
August 11, 2017

In a city with as many rats as there are children, New York has taken on several methods of eliminating the pests from city streets, homes and sewers. Birth control, dry ice, and bait have all been employed to curb the ever-growing population. Just last month Mayor de Blasio declared a $32 million war on rats, which has already proven to be successful in the East Village. But rats aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and they’ve even been linked to a Bronx resident who was killed by leptospirosis this year. So last night, a few dozen New Yorkers scurried over to Midtown to attend the third annual Rat Academy and get schooled on all things vermin by a health department rat expert, Caroline Bragdon. Graduates of the talk, hosted by Council Member Corey Johnson, walked away with brand-new rat-proof garbage bins and two hours worth of rat facts. Here are 10 lessons we learned at Rat Academy.

1. The rat map should be your new best resource when apartment hunting or deciding if you should eat at that C-rated restaurant. And yes, there are “uptown” rats and “downtown” rats.
2. Rat droppings apparently look like multivitamins. Gross.
3. Those stray, gnawed chicken bones you see on the street aren’t from a toddler who dropped their snack. Nope, they’re from hungry rats.
4. One of last night’s attendees said he found a rat in his toilet and gets nervous when using it now. Which is why you should always close your toilet lid and install one of these pipe flaps.
5. Rats are climbers, so keep the windows closed and the fresh air and rats out. Oh, and mind your strollers.
6. If you were thinking you could hop in your car and drive away from a rat infested apartment, you’d be wrong. Rats love to bring snacks and kick it inside warm vehicles.
7. Making their homes uninhabitable, a.k.a. burrow harassment, is one of the best ways to evict rats from an area. Try packing their burrows with landscaping pebbles to trap them inside for a less gory solution.
8. If there’s a hole the size of a quarter, a rat can shimmy through without a problem. Mice only need a dime-sized hole.
9. According to Bragdon, pets don’t scare away rodents and they surely can’t keep up with their rapid breeding. (These rat-hunting dog owners might disagree.) Even predators don’t do much to eradicate them– the city is hesitant to bait in areas where there are large populations of hawks that could be secondarily poisoned.
10. There’s no known magic-bullet rat repellant, so put the pepper away. Bragdon didn’t mention the mint-scented trash bags that the city spent $5.6 million on last year, but experts have questioned their efficacy as well. Plus, putting a baited trap near a food source will only do so much, since rats will just go to the better food.

News

DNA Info: City Council Votes to Raise Price of Cigarettes to Minimum of $13 a Pack

August 10, 2017

By: BEN FRACTENBERG
August 10, 2017

The City Council passed legislation to raise the price of a pack of cigarettes to at least $13 and ban their sale in pharmacies.

Wednesday’s vote came nearly four months after Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council members announced the plan to hike the cost of cigarettes and limit the number of places they can be sold.

“As someone who struggles personally with tobacco addiction, I know firsthand the grip that this substance can have on our lives,” Councilman Corey Johnson in a statement. “I also know that together, we can loosen its grip and win the battle against Big Tobacco.”

The legislation will now head to the mayor’s desk for his signature.

Officials said during the April announcement that their goal was to reduce the number of smokers in the city by 160,000 in three years.

The plan also includes regulating e-cigarettes and cutting the more than 8,000 retailers licensed to sell cigarettes in half.

More than 30 council members voted for the bill, while nine opposed it.

Retail industry advocates slammed the legislation, pointing out the negative economic impact on small business owners.

“Our retail members share the goal of preventing underage tobacco use, have worked hard to prevent such sales and it has worked,” said Jim Calvin, president of the NY Association of Convenience Stores.

“These measures will destroy the business investment of retailers who have been leading the effort to prevent youth access to tobacco products, and the result will be lost revenue, lost jobs and an increasing number of sales in unregulated and illegal settings.”

News

Daily News: Cigarette smokers must shell out at least $13 as City Council raises minimum price per pack

August 9, 2017

By: KERRY BURKE and JILLIAN JORGENSEN
August 9, 2017

Cigarettes will be pricier and harder to find after the City Council passed legislation Wednesday to hike the minimum price of a pack to $13, cut the number of tobacco sellers and ban the sale of smokes in pharmacies.

The mayor — who rolled out the plan with members of the Council in April — is expected to sign the legislation, which the Health Department has said could cut the number of smokers by 160,000 by 2020.

The minimum price for a pack of cigarettes will increase from $10.50 to $13. Though many retailers in the city already charge that much or more, the average price of a pack in New York City is $11.23, according to the Health Department, meaning plenty of people will be paying more.

“As bargain cigarettes are forced to increase prices, we speculate that premium brands may increase their prices too to maintain separation from the lower tier of the market,” Department of Health spokesman Christopher Miller said.

Tobacco products other than cigarettes will be hit with a 10% tax that will go to public housing

“As someone who struggles personally with nicotine addiction, I know firsthand the grip that this substance can have on our lives,” said Councilman Corey Johnson, the health committee chair and sponsor of the minimum price and tax bills. “I also know that together we can loosen its grip.”

Cigarettes will also become harder to find in city stores — outlawing their sale in pharmacies means no more picking up a pack at the local Duane Reade. And another bill will cut by half the number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco products — there are about 9,000 today — over 10 years, the city says by attrition. That will extend to e-cigarettes, thanks to legislation that calls for treating them the same way as regular cigarettes.

“I support this 150%, and I’m saying this with a cigarette tucked behind my ear,” Camar Albert, 26, a client associate for a wealth management firm, said in the Bronx. “We’re killing ourselves slowly.

Christopher Wilson, 48, who works in construction, said “the higher the price, the better” — even though he, too, is a smoker.

“Brother, I smoke very hard, but the fewer places you can buy them, the better,” he said. “I support the price increase. Normally, I smoke 20 for the day but if the price goes up I’ll be lucky to smoke 10.”

That tracks with what Michael Davoli, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said usually happens when availability goes down and price goes up.

“What we know is if you make it harder for people to find tobacco and harder for people to get tobacco, and at the same time making it more expensive to purchase tobacco and limiting the places where you can use tobacco, you drive down smoking rates,” he said.

Nine Council members voted against the bill to boost the cost of cigarettes, many citing concerns it would disproportionately burden low income New Yorkers who haven’t been able to kick the habit.

And a coalition of convenience and grocery stores, bodegas and newsstand operators slammed the bills.“These measures will destroy the business investment of retailers who have been leading the effort to prevent youth access to tobacco products, and the result will be lost revenue, lost jobs and an increasing number of sales in unregulated and illegal settings,” said Jim Calvin, president of the NY Association of Convenience Stores.

Bronx resident Raymond Flores, 42, agreed — and suggested an alternative. “They should actually lower the prices so people don’t buy bootleg cigarettes and then get caught,” he said.

News

Pix 11: Lawmakers raise minimum price of cigarettes, slash number of tobacco sellers

August 9, 2017

By: ALIZA CHASAN
August 9, 2017

The City Council took a major step toward snuffing out smoking habits Wednesday.

Lawmakers passed legislation designed to hike the minimum price of a pack by $2.50, slash the number of tobacco sellers and ban the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies. The bills are waiting for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature.

The seven bills are designed to make it harder to access tobacco products and reduce the number of smokers citywide.

“New York City has driven smoking rates to historic lows and protected our communities from secondhand smoke,” said American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network spokesperson Michael Davoli. “Once enacted, these seven bills will once again put New York City in the forefront of protecting its residents, workers and visitors from putting their lives and health at risk.”

Here’s a breakdown of the bills:

1. Minimum tobacco price and non-cigarette tobacco tax: The bill would increase the minimum price of cigarettes from $10.50 to $13. It would also establish a 10 percent tax on all non-cigarette tobacco products.
2. Retailer cap: This bill would cut the number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco products in half
3. Tobacco-free pharmacies: This bill would stop pharmacies from selling cigarettes or tobacco products. Some pharmacies have already taken this step on their own.
4. Retail license fee increase: This bill would raise the licensing fee for selling cigarettes. It would nearly double from $110 to $200.
5. Electronic cigarette license creation: This bill would require sellers of e-cigarettes to get a license
6. Smoking Policy Disclosure: This bill would require rental apartment buildings, co-ops and condo buildings to create a smoking policy
7. Prohibit smoking in multi-dwellings: This bill would prohibit smoking in the common areas of buildings with fewer than 10 units.

News

Crain’s: City Council votes to raise cost of cigarettes to $13 a pack, ban pharmacy sales

August 9, 2017

By: WILL BREDDERMAN
August 9, 2017

The New York City Council voted Wednesday to impose new taxes and regulations on an array of tobacco products, to bar their sale in pharmacies and to curb the sale and use of electronic cigarettes.

The package, which has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, will raise the price floor on a pack of cigarettes to $13 from $10.50, and smokeless tobacco and shisha packages to $17 from $8. Retailers that sell individual cigars would have to charge at least $8.

The legislation will also establish a new 10% tax on loose tobacco, cigars, cigarillos and tobacco-laced shisha, and direct the revenue toward public housing. Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson, who sponsored several of the bills, argued the danger of tobacco use justifies the hikes.

“Tobacco use kills an estimated 12,000 New Yorkers a year,” said Johnson, who chairs the council’s Committee on Health. “This is unacceptable.”

The new laws will also raise the cost of a cigarette retail license from $110 to $200, and bar the sale of tobacco products from pharmacies. The drug-store chain CVS stopped selling tobacco on its own three years ago.

The bills also include statutes establishing a new parallel licensing system for e-cigarette retailers, and caps the number such stores at half their current density—but allows the decrease to occur through attrition. E-cigarette dealers will not be able to sell other tobacco products.

Finally, another set of bills will outlaw the use of e-cigarettes in the halls, lobbies and other shared spaces of apartment buildings with fewer than 10 units. Vaping in the common areas of larger buildings is already illegal. Bronx Councilman James Vacca, who sponsored the legislation curtailing indoor e-cigarette use, defended his bill even though studies have not yet shown second-hand e-cigarette vapors to be as dangerous as smoke.

“I will err on the safety of the person who does not want cigarette smoke of any type in their presence,” Vacca told Crain’s.

Critics have pointed out that raising taxes on tobacco results in more black-market sales. Perhaps half of all cigarettes smoked in New York City are smuggled from places where taxes are lower.

But opponents have found little traction in the City Council, forcing them to resort to efforts beyond traditional lobbying.

The law firm Gerstman Schwartz Malito LLP, representing the New York Association of Grocery Stores, just penned a letter to the council accusing it of violating open meetings rules in the passage of the vaping legislation. The letter alleged that because a bill that added the term “electronic cigarettes retail dealer” to the city administrative code passed the Committee on Health on Tuesday simultaneously with the legislation establishing new regulations on such dealers, the committee must have held a previous secret meeting to arrange and ensure the passage of both measures.

Had such a clandestine meeting not taken place, the letter insisted, there would have been no way of guaranteeing both laws would pass—and the regulations could not take effect without the new terminology getting added to the city code.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and council attorneys dismissed the claims as baseless. They maintained that both bills passed through normal, permitted and fully transparent processes in full compliance with open-meetings rules.

News

Chelsea Now: Leery Locals Say Something’s Off at Target Site; City Agrees

July 27, 2017

By: WINNIE McCROY
July 26, 2017

The dust went flying and so did the fur, at a Midtown West construction site currently in its excavation phase.

Locals say XIN Development is not doing enough to clear the air and control the noise at the future home of a luxury apartment building with a Target store on the ground floor.

“As soon as excavation started several weeks ago, we had dust pouring out into the street, with three machines working simultaneously, but only one hose man. But when we spoke to them about it, they just said they were within DOB [New York City Department of Buildings] guidelines,” said Tom Cayler, president of the 517-525 W. 45th Street Tenant Association.

XIN Development, the US arm of Beijing-based Xinyuan Real Estate, secured permits from the DOB in May to start excavation work at 615 10th Ave., between W. 44th and 45th Sts. The full-block project came with a $108 commercial loan from Bank of the Ozarks, who also provided a $27M bridge loan in January 2016 to help Xinyuan purchase the former Speedway gas station for $57.5M.

The company intends to build a 29,000-square-foot Target retail store, with seven stories on top featuring 82 units of residential housing (with four large apartments on the top floor). By July, they had filed permits for the mixed-use condo and began excavation for the foundation.

Once the dust started flying, neighbors began contacting Community Board 4 (CB4), elected officials, the DOB, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to complain, with the city’s 311 Service Request Map indicating that about 25 complaints were submitted in July alone from residents adjacent to the site.

“I personally try to avoid walking near the construction site on Tenth, but I inevitably have to bike past it on my way to the Greenway, and have smelled and seen what feels like toxicity in the air,” said Chana Widawski, co-chair of the West 45th/46th Street Block Association. “Neighbors that live closer share daily photographs of the billowing dust; their vantage point indicates minimal dust abatement measures. Some of the restaurants have even had to close outdoor seating because of it.”

Local residents have reported that construction work on the site begins at 7 a.m. every weekday and goes on until almost 6 p.m. at night (after CB4 rejected XIN’s requests to work seven days a week). But Cayler said that their single hose man disconnects from the fire hydrant at 4 p.m., letting the dust fly where it may, creating problems.

Apparently, the DOB and DEP agreed. On July 11, the DOB inspected the site and issued two violations, one for concrete work that ran contrary to approved plans, and another for high vibration readings. And the next day, July 12, inspectors from the DEP issued a violation for “failure to control dust.”

“Frankly, whenever you make complaints as a citizen, no pun intended — you just hold your breath that some inspector will show up and see what you see,” said Cayler. “So last week when the DEP issued a violation for work outside of the scope, I was just like ‘Thank God!’ For these guys, until the DOB or DEP shuts them down for a couple of days, they could care less. We have to assume they are going to continue to be this way until elected officials put pressure on city agencies to get a stop work order and clean up their site.”

“My office has been in direct communication with XIN Development to ensure they take steps to minimize the impact that this construction project has on the community,” said Councilmember Corey Johnson in an email statement to this publication. “Developers have a responsibility to mitigate the impact of construction on the community, especially dust created during the summer months when air quality suffers most. While I appreciate that XIN Development has taken steps like installing sound deadening blankets to reduce noise and more personnel to spray down dust to address these issues, we will continue to work with our city agencies to ensure their compliance.”

In a July 19 letter to DOB Manhattan Borough Commissioner Martin Rebholz and DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza, CB4 District Manager Jesse Bodine expressed the “sincere concern and frustration with the lack of environmental mitigation plans” at the site, and urged them to put all current excavation permits on hold for the location.

Bodine spoke of a year of good-faith talks with XIN Development, during which time CB4 repeatedly highlighted the communities’ concerns regarding the environmental impact the project would have on neighboring schools and residents. XIN Development had “repeatedly stated the project would meet city regulations and work with the agencies to follow best practices,” but Bodine, in his July 19 letter, expressed disappointment with the current mitigation efforts, saying, “This was not done and it is clear that only the bare minimum in terms of mitigation is being done currently.”

After noting site visits by representatives from the DOB, DEP, and NYPD, who reported minimal mitigation techniques, and pointing to violations issued by the DOB and DEP, the CB4 letter noted they “do not believe that work on the site should continue until XIN Development and its contactor enact a complete alternative mitigation plan that addresses dust, air quality, noise and vibration and that plan be reviewed by the enforcing city agencies, the elected representatives, and the community.”

In a July 20 email, Hana Kolarikova of XIN Development said the company is taking measures to minimize the impact on the community, assuring that “we have had several visits from DOB and DEP’s representatives and if a violation was found, it was cured immediately.”

On the recommendation of the DEP inspector, they installed sound-deadening blankets on the two sets of chain link gates to deal with noise decibel readings exceeding the allowable range. They spoke to the excavation company about the dust issue, and added another hose man.

“They confirmed that they added another water cannon, so there are two of them now and we requested they added the second man, which they confirmed they would do,” said Kolarikova. “Finally, we have five line-drilling machines onsite. We only run one or two at a time and each machine has a water hose connected to it, so there is no dust being generated by this operation.”

Kolarikova said that there are now no open DOB violations, adding that they were still looking for additional actions they could implement to improve the situation. She also noted that the project was a month ahead of schedule, saying, “Hopefully, we can finish sooner and expose our neighbors to the construction work for a shorter time period.”

News

DNA Info: Hundreds Protest Trump’s Proposed Transgender Military Ban in Times Square

July 26, 2017

By: BEN FRACTENBERG
July 26, 2017

MIDTOWN — More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered at the Times Square military recruitment center Wednesday to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed transgender military ban.

Trump announced the ban on Twitter Wednesday morning, writing that the military needed to focus on victory and “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

But protesters countered that a ban would infringe on transgender people’s civil rights.

Yael Leberman, 24, said she had three brothers who served in the Israeli military, where transgender people serve openly.

“To say trans people can’t contribute to the military is bullsh–t,” said Leberman, who is gender nonconforming. “It’s just bullsh–t.”

Vietnam veteran Christopher Countey, 70, said he was angered Trump made the announcement on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman integrating the military.

“He’s a coward because he avoided the draft by getting a note from a corrupt doctor,” Countey added.

“He’s a traitor because he and his campaign have colluded with an enemy of this country to influence the democratic process.”

The announcement came while the Senate was in the midst of voting on Affordable Care Act replacement plans.

City Councilman Corey Johnson said he thought transgender people were being used as “scapegoats” to distract from Trump’s failures in office like not yet being able to repeal the ACA.

“This is not just an attack on trans service members,” Johnson said. “This is an attack on the entire United States military by this president.”

News

DNA Info: Councilman Corey Johnson Talks About His Arrest During Health Care Protests

July 20, 2017

By MAYA RAJAMANI
July 20, 2017

Local Councilman Corey Johnson, who was was arrested in Washington Wednesday protesting efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said that being HIV positive compelled him to demonstrate with dozens of others outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.

“I’m very open about the fact that I’m HIV positive, and I’m lucky that I’m a City Council member, so I have good health insurance,” Johnson told DNAinfo New York on Thursday after returning to New York. “But there are millions and millions of people who would be immorally affected by a repeal.”

Johnson, chairman of the Council’s health committee, whose district includes Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, the West Village and parts of Flatiron, SoHo and the Upper West Side, was among at least 155 people arrested during the demonstrations Wednesday.

“It’s always a little scary to get arrested, but… when you’re doing it for a cause you believe in, it’s empowering at the same time,” he said. “We were peaceful, told our stories and complied with the Capitol police when they asked us to.”

Facebook videos show the politician chanting outside McConnell’s office before being led handcuffed into a police vehicle outside the building.

Police cuffed Johnson around 4 p.m. Wednesday and released him from custody around 9 p.m., he said, noting it was the fourth time he has been arrested for civil disobedience. He returned to New York City about 1:45 a.m. Thursday, his spokesperson said.

Many of the protesters in D.C. yesterday were HIV and AIDS activists — though “not exclusively,” he noted — and the number of people who occupied Senate office buildings Wednesday “shows how much is on the line.”

“[People] can’t lose their Medicaid, they can’t not have access to life-saving medication and health insurance coverage,” he said. “For a lot of people, this is life and death.”

News

New York Post: Councilman arrested after protesting outside Mitch McConnell’s office

July 20, 2017

By: MICHAEL GARTLAND
July 20, 2017

City Councilman Corey Johnson was arrested Wednes­day outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s DC office.

Johnson (D-Manhattan) was held briefly for what he said was “an act of peaceful civil disobedience” against the ObamaCare repeal effort.

“I and hundreds of others with pre-existing medical conditions . . . occupied the offices of Republican senators and demanded that they immediately cease all efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” wrote Johnson, who is HIV-positive.