Governor Vetoes Measure That Would Have Given Residents a Stronger Voice in BPCA Decisions
More than a year of concerted effort by Lower Manhattan community activists and elected officials reached a disappointing turning point on the evening of November 21, when Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed a proposed law that would have expanded the number of board seats at the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA)—the unelected agency that governs the community—and set aside a majority of those seats for residents of the neighborhood. Currently, two of the seven BPCA Board members are required to be neighborhood residents.
The bill, which had been passed by both houses of the New York State legislature (the Senate in May, and the Assembly in June), would have amended the Public Authorities Law, which governs the operations of the BPCA. The amended law would have given residents a stronger voice in matters that have become increasingly urgent in recent years, such as affordability for both renters and condominium owners, and the looming expiration of the master ground lease in 2069.
The Governor released a statement explaining her veto of the bill. “My administration is committed to good government that is responsive to the needs of communities served by the State’s agencies and authorities. However, this legislation presents risks to the effective administration of BPCA,” she wrote. “This bill could give rise to increased conflicts of interest, which would impede the Board’s ability to manage its business affairs in an orderly manner. The bill also restricts the Governor’s ability to appoint, upon advice and consent of the Senate, the candidates whose experience and qualifications make them best suited to serve on the board in a manner beneficial to the Battery Park City community. For these reasons, I am constrained to veto this bill.”
A second proposed law that addresses the expiration of Battery Park City’s master ground lease and has passed both houses of the State legislature awaits the Governor’s decision.
Under the current terms of the ground lease—which stipulates that homeowners, landlords, and developers do not own outright the land they occupy, but instead lease the acreage for a limited time, in exchange for “ground rent”—possession of all the real estate in Battery Park City reverts to the Authority when the master ground lease expires on June 18, 2069, unless the terms of this lease are modified or extended.
Long before 2069, however, many condo owners may be forced from their homes by provisions in their buildings’ ground leases called “fair market value resets” (FMVs), which will hike annual ground rents at pre-specified intervals to six percent of the value of the land on which each building sits, as if that land were being sold for development, rather than leased. (If enacted, these provisions could increase the common charges for such units by more than $10,000 per month.) In the meantime, condominium owners are also being subjected to a subtler form of financial hardship, as their value of their homes decreases with the approach of the ground lease expiration.
These concerns spurred local leaders to seek reform of the BPCA, by legislating a requirement for residents to comprise a majority of the Authority’s board. The most recent iteration of this push was led by State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who sponsored the bill to expand the BPCA’s board from seven to nine members, and compel the Governor, who controls the BPC, to appoint residents to those newly created seats. He was joined in this effort by the Battery Park City Homeowners Coalition, an alliance of the 18 condominium buildings in the community. Also supporting this campaign has been Community Board 1, which enacted a series of resolutions in the past year—first, supporting the proposed legislation, and then urging the Governor to sign it.
Since the bill was passed by the State legislature six months ago, it has languished, awaiting action by the Governor. On Monday afternoon, she called for the measure to be sent to her desk for consideration, a move that customarily begins a ten-day period in which the State’s chief executive can choose to sign or veto such a law. This development briefly stirred optimism among the many leaders who have lobbied and campaigned for the law since the autumn of 2021. That hope turned to dismay on Monday evening, when the Governor, without explanation, vetoed the bill just hours after formally receiving it.
Senator Kavanagh responded by saying, “I am very disappointed by the Governor’s decision. This legislation would have strengthened the voice of residents in matters affecting their daily lives, while ensuring that the Board would be able to maintain the necessary experience and expertise.”
He added, “I will continue to work with the community and my colleagues in government to push for the voices and best interests of Battery Park City residents to be reflected in the Authority’s governance.”
Pat Smith, president of the Homeowner’s Coalition, remarked, “it is very disappointing that this Governor, who received more than 70 percent of the vote in Battery Park City, should offer no explanation as she turns her back on the people of this community and their elected leaders. Governor Hochul called up the legislation so she could veto the bill.”
Justine Cuccia—a founder of the grassroots organization Democracy for Battery Park City and chair of Community Board One’s Battery Park City committee—vowed to continue the fight, saying “we are not giving up on the demand for resident representation on the BPCA board. But in the meantime, Governor Hochul can address our concerns voluntarily. She doesn’t need legislation to prevent what’s left of middle class, seniors, and fixed-income homeowners in Battery Park City from being forced out of their homes by ground rent and real estate taxes. Negotiate with us!”
This was a reference to the ongoing demand by the Homeowners Coalition that the BPCA undertake good-faith negotiations to resolve issues related to the costs that are widely perceived to be making the neighborhood financially unlivable for all but the wealthiest residents.