New York City

Rafael Salamanca on his biggest land use issues

New York City Councilman Rafael Salamanca talks Amazon, homelessness and jails.

Rafael Salamanca, Jr.

Rafael Salamanca, Jr. William Alatriste for the New York City Council

As the Land Use Committee chairman, New York City Councilman Rafael Salamanca would have expected to play a major role in the discussions around Amazon building a new office in Queens. Instead, he won’t. City & State caught up with the 2018 City & State 40 under 40 rising star in December to talk about Amazon, his plan to house more homeless families, and what he’s doing about jails in the Bronx.

The City Council, and you as land use chairman, won’t have much of a say on the new Amazon office. How are you feeling about it?

I know that this Amazon deal promises thousands of good-paying jobs, and it has great potential. But the reality is that the state and the mayor’s office completely circumvented the Democratic process that was created for this very purpose, which is the review the land-use of city-owned land. When we go through ULURPs (the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), this is an opportunity for the council and the community to have a say-so, and really negotiate in good faith the best deal possible for the community. And it’s unfortunate that the mayor and the governor’s office totally circumvented this process. So it’s disheartening, to say the least.

Have you heard from your constituents. How do they feel about the deal?

I spoke to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. He and I are going to do a tour soon of the site. I haven’t spoken to any of his constituents, and I’m pretty sure that, when we do a tour, we might run into individuals. But what I’ve been following on social media and the press, people are highly upset. What I do see a lot of on social media is the need for public transportation infrastructure, the masses of people waiting on line to hop on a train in the morning to get to work.

The City Council is suing the City Planning Commission over a proposed real estate development in Manhattan in Two Bridges. It seems like a similar situation to Amazon, where the council feels like they should have had a role in the deal.

You’re absolutely right. The Two Bridges project is so frustrating. For City Planning to say this is a minor modification? That’s insulting. How can doubling the size of a project be minor modification? Adding an extra, what, 1,000 units? That’s a huge project. I’ve had a conversation with City Planning Chairwoman Marisa Lago about it, and I just respectfully disagree with their decision.

You’re pushing a bill to have any residential development getting city subsidies set aside 15 percent of units specifically to house homeless New Yorkers.

Right now, (the Department of Housing Preservation and Development) requires a 10 percent homeless set-aside. But it’s not codified into law. There’s been quite a few developments in my district happening, and the last few projects, I’ve been able to negotiate a 15 percent homeless set-aside. And of course, there’s pushback from the city, but we’ve been able to get it done.

You know, 63,000 individuals slept in a homeless shelter bed last night. And 23,000 of those are children. There has to be a way to figure out where to put these families that are ready for independent living, put them in permanent housing. I think that’s what this bill can do.

The de Blasio administration just adjusted plans to build a jail in Lower Manhattan. You’ve been a critic of City Hall’s plan to build a South Bronx jail. Is there any chance that plan could get changed?

My fingers are crossed. I hope that the project can be changed. I had conversations with the administration, and I know that they’re still moving forward with that Bronx location.

I have the Barge in my district (The Vernon C. Bain Center, a city jail on a barge). And I also have the Horizon Detention Center (a city jail for juveniles). I’ve been aggressive reaching out to the mayor saying the barge is an annex of Rikers. If you’re serious about closing down Rikers, you can start with the barge while you’re still mayor. Like today.