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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

September 3, 2021

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Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. On Wednesday night we saw something absolutely horrible, absolutely unprecedented, a storm of ferocity that none of us has ever experienced before. The worst part of all the many, many tragedies, the many types of pain that this storm left us in the wake, the worst part is that we've lost 13 New Yorkers, 13 good people, 13 people trying to live a good life in this city with the shock of this storm, losing these people, their families in mourning, the pain of their communities. I want to ask everyone to just take a moment, take a moment to think about these people and their families that are hurting right now. Let's have a moment of silence.

[Mayor de Blasio leads moment of silence]

Thank you. We saw a lot of pain as I went around the city yesterday, talking to people who've been through so much, there's a lot of pain. We also saw a lot of heroism. I want to thank all our first responders, our paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, and the folks from the Department of Environmental Protection, our Sanitation Workers, so many people did extraordinary things fighting back through the storm on Wednesday and into Thursday, and even now the work that's being done in the cleanup. Our first responders literally made hundreds and hundreds of rescues from cars, from subways, from basements, our colleagues at the MTA, I want to thank everyone who works at the MTA, the subway personnel, bus drivers, everyone. You also did heroic, really difficult work in the midst of something unprecedented. Neighbors helped each other. We know this is what New Yorkers do, and I think New Yorkers do it in a way that's an example to the whole country, always there for each other. 

We started Wednesday activating our flash flood emergency plan. We sent out alerts. We sent out Department of Environmental Protection crews, Sanitation did the extra cleaning, there was a focus on drains, but here's what we did not know, that we would have literally shocking and unprecedented rainfall. We had a one-hour period Wednesday night that set the all-time record for a single hour in the history, the recorded history of New York City, and no one projected that coming. We are now dealing with something inconceivable. We had set a previous record a few weeks earlier for the most rainfall an hour. This new record is much, much higher. So, it's not just that shocking and unprecedented events are happening, once in a century events are happening regularly. I mean, think about that. Things that we were told or once in a century are now happening regularly, but bluntly they're also getting worse. It is entirely different reality. And we all, and I want to speak on behalf of all city agencies here, we have to change what we do across the board. We have to change our entire mindset because we're being dealt a very different hand of cards now.  And it's not just us, we saw the destruction of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana. We’ve seen what's happening in the Southwest with unprecedented drought. We see what's happening with the wildfires in the West Coast. We all understand this is coming from a climate crisis, but also it is not just that the climate crisis is causing problems, it’s causing massive problems, stunning, brutal problems. Things that come on with a speed and ferocity we've never ever seen before, and we have to change everything. So, today is about those changes we will make. 

We need help as always from our colleagues in Washington, we always need help from Albany. We particularly need the infrastructure support from Washington, and there is real progress on that obviously, and that's going to be one of the big difference makers, finally having sustained support to continue to improve our infrastructure. We've done so much since Sandy, for example, to prepare for the kinds of storms like Sandy and for the impact on coastal areas. Now we're learning about a whole new kind of challenge that's going to need massive tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure, ultimately hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment. But in the meantime, there's a lot of things that we can and must do differently. Today I'm announcing the NYC Climate Driven Rain Response. We have to handle this differently because we've now been shown an entirely different situation. It is climate driven and that's crucial to put up front because it's not like the rain we used to know. It's just not. It's a different reality of speed and intensity that we now have to understand will be normal, and I hate saying that, but it's true. It is driven by climate change. It has created a new set of ground rules. We now need to meet that with a very different approach which I'll describe. We're going to in particular focus on a different kind of warning, a much more severe kind of warning and a much more severe set of actions, very physical actions, that bluntly will be a jolt to people and a shock to people that we even are talking about these things. But we have learned that we now have to introduce these into the equation.  

We're also going to be talking in this plan about the different things we have to do with basement apartments. We've been shown now a threat that is very different than anything we've known before in terms of the danger of this kind of sudden, massive flooding. And we have to look at a series of much bigger changes, which is why I'm launching a 30-day task force, explicitly experts in and out of government to come together very rapidly because time is of the essence, an Extreme Weather Response Task Force. We can say now that extreme weather has become the norm. We need to respond to it differently. It's even different than just a few years ago. We've got acknowledge that. So, a taskforce to show us a variety of strategies that we can put in place quickly as part of this response. Of course, we'll also be talking today about the relief we need to get immediately to homeowners and to business owners who are hurting right now and need help.

Let's go over these. First, again, new reality requires a new paradigm. The first time – on Wednesday evening – was the first time the national weather service in history determined that there needed to be a flash flood emergency in New York City, not the normal warnings we get, but on the Wednesday night they said, this is an entirely different thing. We need to answer that with the use of travel bands. Now travel ban is not something to do lightly. We've only done it a few times previously, particularly during massive snowstorms, blizzards. But unfortunately, what we learned on Wednesday night is a travel ban is the kind of tool we may need to use much more frequently, which would mean for example, that same morning or that day before telling people there is a chance that a travel ban will be activated, and once it's activated, people will have to leave the streets, get out of subways, et cetera, immediately. That is a very, very different approach, but it's the kind of thing we now need to put on the table. We also have to recognize that the idea of flooding being related to coastal areas is now antiquated, of course there are still profound dangers in the coastal areas, and that will continue, and we're going to have to continue to address that. But the worst tragedies we saw on Wednesday did not happen anywhere near the shoreline, and this is another reality we have to face, and this brings us to evacuation. We have historically thought of evacuation as something to do very, very rarely and only essentially in coastal areas. We've all seen those signs when you drive around the city, coastal evacuation route. Well, now we understand there has to be a different kind of evacuation for folks in basement apartments and in some other areas of the city as well. If we are seeing this kind of rain, we have to have an evacuation mechanism that can reach them. And again, this is a very forceful measure. It's not just saying to people, you have to get out of your apartment. It's going door to door with our first responders and other city agencies to get people out. Clearly, we also understand this kind of rain creates overwhelming conditions for our sewer system and the drains, which means even earlier and more intensive efforts to clear them in advance of a storm. This level of water, sewer systems, honestly, are not built to be able to handle. At least we can try and get ahead of it with maximum preparation, because we've now been warned that this kind of rainfall could happen again. 

The second part relates to basement apartments. We know the basement apartments create a whole set of particular challenges. We are now going to be speaking, going forward, to people who live in basement apartments, specific messages, specific cell phone alerts, telling people about the vulnerabilities they face in these kinds of rain events. Again, with that door-to-door evacuation as a necessary tool, which we can activate when needed. But it's the very act of telling people, we are going to prepare to evacuate you from your apartments so that people are in the mindset early. We hope, of course, with tools like evacuations and travel bans to not have to use them, ultimately. But by telling people it's a real possibility and by putting the structure in place, we're going to both prepare people, but also have a tool we can use rapidly if we get a report at this kind of escalation coming. And we're going to have to assume the escalation, because with all the good efforts made to project weather, we now understand that this kind of radical sudden change in weather is beyond the understanding, beyond the reach of any of our typical measuring tools. Things are happening that projections can't track with accuracy or consistency, which means we have to assume the worst in a way we never had before, that storms will move faster, that they will be much more severe, there'll be much more sudden that they will set records regularly. It's a very different mindset. This is what we're going to do, particularly focused on folks in basement apartments, to change the paradigm. We also want to emphasize anyone in a basement apartment if you're in any danger at all, call 9-1-1, and never wonder if your documentation status will be asked. It will not be. Never wonder if there'll be any threat to the place that you live in. If you call because you're in danger, we want to save lives. We're not here to make people vulnerable. We want to save lives. So, people should be assured if you call 9-1-1, that is just about protecting you and your family and nothing else. 

Third part – Extreme Weather Response Task Force. We're going to have government officials who work in all the different areas, consulting with outside experts. We're going to put together a new set of protocols and policies by Climate Week, and that is by the September 26 week, that makes clear that, tragically, these extreme incidents are now the new normal. And so, we're going to have to have an entirely different set of tools, but also a profoundly different set of responses when we see these kinds of incidents coming. And we're going to have to work on the long-term policies to do everything we can to change the foundational reality, which will take years, but we have to start now. In the meantime, this city – and I saw it yesterday – I admire the homeowners, the storekeepers who are out there, immediately cleaning up, doing everything he could to get back to normal. I want you all to know, Sanitation Department is going to be there for you today and through next week – you'll hear from the Commissioner in a moment -- to clear away any refuse and help people get back to normal as much as possible. I also want everyone to know that alternate side parking is suspended through the weekend. And for everyone out there, homeowners, small business owners who have suffered a real blow here, we want to get financial help and all forms of help to you right away. There's going to be a variety of tools that are made available, direct financial aid for homeowners and business owners, legal assistance, anything that we can get to people quickly to help them, our Small Business Services department is going to do. We're going to work closely with the federal government, the State. I want to thank President Biden, who issued a federal emergency declaration. And I want people to know that the three levels of government are working together to speed that aid and get it in people's hands. 

Those are some of the updates I want to give. I now want you to hear from our Emergency Management Commissioner Johns Scrivani, who is going to give you the latest. We've obviously been watching a variety of situations – the roads, which thank God are better now; subways, which have come back. He'll give you an update on where things stand today, and then we'll turn to our Sanitation Commissioner Ed Grayson. But first Emergency Management Commissioner John Scrivani.

Commissioner John Scrivani, Emergency Management: Thank you, sir. As the Mayor mentioned, we experienced devastating effects from the storm, including the loss of life and significant personal property damage. I think all of us across the city know someone that's been impacted by this severely. I just wanted to give you a quick update on what we're doing and what we have done. So, we’re working around the clock to make sure that New Yorkers have the resources they need. Yesterday, we stood up a virtual disaster assistance center to provide resources to impacted individuals. You can access this by going to 3-1-1, or -- I-D-A. We're also, later today, standing up in each borough in-person disaster assistance centers and that information will also be available through our website or 3-1-1. We've have the Emergency Operation Center, will remain active 24 hours a day, seven days a week until we transition. We’ve activated our de-watering damage assessment task forces and the tow truck task force to pump water, assess damage, and tow vehicles. As of now, the NYPD and our support agencies have towed over 1,300 cars. We've de-watered hospitals, government buildings, and personal property, people's homes. There were over 1,000 buildings reported with damage so far through 3-1-1, and our Buildings Department is in the process of assessing each of those locations. So, please, call 3-1-1 to report your damage to your home business or to the street. We have assisted several healthcare facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, and adult care facilities to restore services. And we're working very closely with the Red Cross to provide housing assistance and clean up kits across the city.

For the next steps, later today, in partnership with the Department of Social Services, we will be opening those disaster assistance centers in each borough. You'll be able to access housing services, financial assistance and counseling, social services, and mental health support, just to name a few. We're going to continue to coordinate the center and inter-agency response, including damage assessment, pump out operations, debris removal, support New Yorkers in assistance and restoration services. Later today, you will continue to see our Buildings Department folks doing damage assessment. And, tomorrow, we will start doing assessments with the federal government and New York State. We're going to continue to hold these inter-agency meetings with the local state and federal agencies, as well as our partners and elected officials until we get through this. We’re going to be deploying those coordinated teams throughout the week and as long as we need to. And, as mentioned, earlier, alternate side of the street parking will be suspended through September 8th. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner. Now, I want you to hear from our Sanitation Commissioner, I always say, Sanitation does amazing work. The men and women of Sanitation Department don't get enough praise and appreciation. After Sandy, I remember how they – literally, the care and the concern they showed to people all over the city who were dealing with so much pain, just helping them clear away all the things that reminded them of the tragedy and helping them move forward. And kindness that Sanitation workers showed, people really appreciate it. Well, here again, after this tragedy, Sanitation workers are out there now in-force, helping people clean up, helping move their lives forward. I want you to get an update now from our Commissioner Ed Grayson. 

Commissioner Edward Grayson, Department of Sanitation: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Yes, we are out. We have all staff employed, all available personnel is going to be rotating. Unlike a snow snowstorm, we remain on three shifts when it comes to extra debris removal instead of splitting our force in half. We'll be working around the clock, because, at some point in time, as we fill up the trucks, we need to empty them. So, it's a different level of operation in comparison to a snowstorm of trying to assist the homeowners as they place it out. The main message for today is we are committed to working around the clock throughout — throughout the weekend, into next week, as long as it takes to be there for the communities impacted and to remind all residents to number-one, be safe while you're handling the material that you're going through as you decide what has to come out of your home [inaudible] you can to remediate, not only just first the de-watering and the water damage, but then start to bring the material out. And to remind all the New York City residents to place it out. And to — we're going to say this, we're working around the clock. You'll see us out there and you have to get it out. I know that that's a lot. 

In times like these, one of the most challenging things is trying to make peace with the loss of your personal possessions. We had already areas of the city that had the tragedies of the human loss, and there are countless victims now who have to go through what they feel is their loss as they look to the remnants of their basements of personal property. We want to be there for them. We fully committed to the operation of that. The key message is safety for them as they're handling the material, getting it out to the curb and to know that DSNY will be out there en-mass, helping in those areas. And we know now, too, as well, this morning, we're working in about 17 community boards on storm operations of some sort. We know that that is not the full picture, because people will be bringing it out. They will go down, they will come home from where they were, they will find new material, and we understand that. And we're looking to work with all of our local partners. We've been contacting all the local community boards and community leaders to say, we're here to remind the resident residents what to do, and we're committed to that response throughout. Thank you, Sir.

Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner. Again, thank you. Please pass on my, thanks to all the men and women of sanitation who are really helping people deal with this very, very difficult time. Thank you. Now, someone else has done extraordinary work, helping out his neighbors. And I was with him yesterday in Brooklyn. I want you to hear from one of our members of the City Council, who really went out there, helped people personally to clean up, took me around to stores where store owners had seen huge losses. Totally hands-on in his approach. I want to thank him for that, but also we were able to show the store owners how the City could help them, and give them immediate answers, and immediate response. And I know that was so important to them. I want you to hear from soon-to-be Borough President of Brooklyn, and still-Council member, Antonio Reynoso.


Mayor: Thank you, Council member. I think you're right. New York City — we have led the way in the response to COVID. We’ve got to lead the way in response to this extreme weather and we're going to do things very differently. And thank you for being such a powerful part of the response yesterday. I want to tell you thanks to you and our Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris, who was with us being out there, directly helping businesses. But I really appreciated your hands-on approach. And I know those businesses are going to need lot of help and we're going to stick with them every way through. And thank you again, thank you for being there for them.

Everybody, I want to just give you another update. Got a clarification here — I had said alternate side parking through the weekend, but, in fact, because of Labor Day and because of Rosh Hashanah, it's all the way through Wednesday suspended. So, the first day there's alternate side parking again is Thursday, September 9th, almost a full week. So, again, you did not need to move your car until Thursday, September 9th. And speaking of Rosh Hashanah, coming up, of course, Monday evening, we saw something really powerful in the last few days, a group of rabbis who want to send a message to the community at this important time of year, a time of celebration as the new year begins, but also a time for reflection on how we can protect the community, save lives, help each other. A group of trusted and respected rabbis from Far Rockaway and from the Five Towns put together a striking video to get the message across about how we need to fight COVID together, how we need to get people vaccinated. I think it makes the message really clear. I want to show it to you now.


Mayor: You know, it's been a year-and-a-half we've been fighting this battle and I've seen many appeals to people to really understand how important it is to protect each other. This is one of the most powerful and moving to me. It says it all. And I want to thank all the rabbis who participated. They're doing such a great service and particularly at this crucial time of year. So, everybody, you heard the message and it's a way to celebrate the new year together in safety and peace. Everyone, get vaccinated for the good of all. And I want to say to all the members of the Jewish community at this special time of year, Shana Tovah

And with that, we are going to turn to our indicators as always. And first, how appropriate the number of doses administered to-date. This has really been consistently rising. This is such good news, 10,779,690 doses administered to-date. Also importantly, we are now approaching in that group of young people, that 12- to 17- year olds, we’re getting close to the two-thirds mark already. School's still a couple of weeks away and almost two-thirds of 12- to 17-year-olds have gotten at least one dose. A lot is happening in the right direction on vaccination, but we've got a lot more to do. Number two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19 — today's report, 112 patients, 37.61 percent positivity rate. Hospitalization rate per 100,000 — and then, again, we see some, some good trend line here on — today's number, 1.26 per 100,000. And then, new reported cases on a seven-day average, 1,526 cases. I’m going to finish with a few words in Spanish and go back to the response to the horrible rain and flooding we saw on Wednesday. 

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish] 

With that, let's turn to our colleagues in the media. Please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.  

Moderator: We'll now begin our Q and A. As a reminder, we're joined today by Commissioner Scrivani, by Commissioner Grayson, by Small Business Services Commissioner Doris, by Dr. Mitch Katz, and by Dr. Andrew Wallach, Chief Medical Officer for Ambulatory Care. The first question for today goes to Juliet from 1010 WINS. 

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I was wondering, do you already have, or would you create a database for basement apartments so that if emergency crews have to go door-to-door, they know where they have to go, or which are actually inhabited? 

Mayor: Yes, Juliet. We have a lot of information, but there's more to put together, which is one of the things this task force needs to work on. We need to have an absolute accounting of all of them, and then we can apply these door-to-door techniques if we need to, if we tell people early, prepare for evacuation, but we actually then have to go the next step to a full evacuation – we've got to have a clear database to work from, and certainly begin with knowing the areas, which we do know where they are prevalent. So, this is some of the work we have to perfect now. This was not something we thought of previously, when you thought of evacuation in a storm. It's now what we have to do. Go ahead, Juliet. 

Question: Yeah, and when people are evacuated, if it comes to that, where do they go? Where do you place them? Do you open schools, hotels? What would be the plan for that? 

Mayor: This is exactly the thing we have to work through because it's a new reality. Now, we have an in-place shelter structure, meaning in an emergency, not the shelters we think of day to day that are in use all the time. But in an emergency, schools can be converted into shelter spaces, a variety of other public buildings. We saw that during Sandy. That plan is operational at all times, and this is something Emergency Management has available. God forbid, we ever have to use it, but it is in all parts of the city available. So, we have spaces, if we need to do that, but we're going to have to develop that plan specifically to address folks who live in basement apartments. Because again, most of the thinking previously had been directed to coastal areas.  

The next is Andrea Grymes from WCBS. 

Question: Hi, good morning, Mr. Mayor. I just had a question about infrastructure and what can be done in the very short-term. Yesterday in particular on 183rd Street in Jamaica, most of the residents were saying, this is what happens, not to this extent, but it always floods when it rains. What can be done? What can you tell New Yorkers who are concerned about the next storm, which may be just days from now? What can the city do in the short-term? 

Mayor: Well, Andrea, I want a very good question. I want to separate it into two parts. The long-term, and parts of Queens that were affected are exactly an example of this. Years ago, early in the administration, we committed $2 billion to reworking the source systems in Southeast Queens, and actually creating sewer systems in some places that really didn't have modern sewer systems. And a lot of that work has been done, some of it is continuing. But even with that, our Commissioner for Environmental Protection, Vinnie Sapienza, who's an extraordinary leader, said even with the most up-to-date sewers, after $2 billion is being spent, this kind of rain, that kind of accumulation of one hour is more than even the most modern systems can often handle. So, we have to understand, yes, we must invest massively in infrastructure all over the city. And this new federal support is going to allow us to do things we never could do before, but we also have to recognize we're constantly racing against higher and higher standards, and we're going to have to do our best to meet them. But sometimes, you know, the power of nature will surpass us.  

What we can do now, I think is less about, can we make an infrastructure fix in days or weeks? No, we know we can't, but what we can do is move people if we need to, when you have a coastal storm, obviously things like temporary barriers we can put up, that kind of tool works. But from what I'm seeing with this situation, with the basements, our best bet in the short-term is to change the entire concept and have an evacuation plan because this water moves so suddenly and fiercely, there's not a way to protect each and every apartment from that. The way to handle it is to prepare people for evacuation, and if necessary, sound the alarm, give the order and send our first responders out to evacuate. Go ahead, Andrea. 

Question: [Inaudible] task force. I know you said that they're going to report back to you by the week of September 26th. Realistically, when will this whole plan go into effect, in terms of the new warning system, in terms of getting people out of apartments or homes that are vulnerable for the next storm? 

Mayor: Very important, Andrea. So, first of all, whatever comes out of that task force that we can implement immediately, we will, right at that point. I'm sure some of the solutions would be the kinds of things we can do immediately. Some will take long-term investment, but whatever we can do immediately, we will, in terms of – if I got a warning, there was a hurricane off, you know, five days from now or a week from now, I would implement this piece of the plan immediately to say, we're going to start talking early on about the potential of travel bans and the potential of formal evacuation, depending on where the storm is expected to hit or the nature of the storm. And we would organize our first responders for that purpose. And I think also in communities where it's important for local people to be involved – getting community-based organizations involved in the evacuation effort early to educate people and prepare people. So again, evacuation, historically, is considered an absolute rarity – travel ban, absolute rarity. These are now tools that we have to be able to use more frequently and more quickly, but that's something we could do even immediately if we had to.  

Moderator: The next is Chris from the Daily News. 

Mayor: Chris, are you there? Great. There we go. We heard him. Chris, can you hear me?  

Question: Yep. Can you hear me?  

Mayor: There you go. Go ahead. 

Question: Thank you. I wanted to go back what it is about now two weeks or so, when Hurricane Henri was about to hit New York. The night before you declared a state of emergency, you urged New Yorkers to not leave their homes and you dedicate an entire media briefing to storm preparations. I'm wondering why didn't you do anything similar ahead of Ida, even though the National Weather Service warned already on Tuesday, that the city was at a high risk of significant flooding and flash floods.  

Mayor: Chris, the information we were getting was that we have the kind of event that the normal warnings would be sufficient, and we oriented ourselves that way. We did not, we did not get an alert that said you're going to have massive, unprecedented rain on Wednesday night. We obviously would have answered that with a whole different approach.  What's clear here is that the kinds of information and alerts we're getting simply aren't sufficient for what we're dealing with now. We need to now change our paradigm. So, in a situation like this, even with what was originally three to six inches for the entire day, which would not have been extraordinary and some very localized flooding, which would also not have been extraordinary, even with that, from now on, I'm going to put into motion, the more intense warnings, including the potential for travel ban and evacuation. We are now going to be putting that on the table, depending on how we get information to you – the day before or the morning of – and alerting people that we're going to get very forceful. If we see any evidence of this kind of escalation. We did not have that kind of warning, but what we're going to do from now on is assume much worse than we've ever assumed before. Go ahead, Chris. 

Question: But, to follow up on that – beyond travel bans and the evacuation plans during future storms, do you have anything actionable on updating the city sewer and drainage infrastructure? We saw during the storm, how they quickly became overloaded and water just started spilling out into the subways in the streets. Your Stormwater Resiliency plan is calling for a 10-year period. Do you think that needs to be speeded up at this point in order to address these issues? 

Mayor: Unquestionably. We're now seeing even just in the course of 2021, we're seeing weather events we'd never seen before. I mean, the fact, look, again, it is shocking that a few weeks back, we set a new record for the most rainfall in a single hour in our recorded history, but what's more shocking is the new, new record on Wednesday was much, much greater than what we saw during Henri. What we saw from Ida was a whole other reality, even beyond what we thought had been a new record just two weeks earlier. This stuff is galloping forward. So, Chris, we're going to make massive infrastructure investments on a scale we've never made before, as fast as humanly possible. Of course, the only way that works is if everything that's happening now in Washington actually comes to fruition and the money is moved as quickly as possible. And then we're going to have to deploy everything the city has got and private contractors to keep updating sewer systems everywhere, but it will be a race against time. There's no question. And I know, because infrastructure takes years, that what we’re going to have to do in the meantime is acclimate people to things they have not seen before. Like mandatory evacuations, like travel bans, that will become unfortunately a norm, not a very, very rare exception.  

Moderator: The next is Gloria from NY1. 

Question: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Good morning. I want to get a little more detail on this basement apartment plan that you are talking about. I believe you were administration a couple of years ago announced a pilot program to make many of these dwellings legal. We know that the program hasn't been as successful and that many of these apartments are still illegal conversions. How does the city plan to reach many of these tenants who – many of them may be undocumented, many of them may not speak English. And as you mentioned at the top, many of them are afraid to reach out for help because they worried that their landlord is going to get in trouble or that they're going to get in trouble or worse get evicted. How do you reach these people? 

Mayor: Gloria, it's an incredibly difficult situation. I think you said it exactly right. We have an illegal basement problem, and then we have a problem that so many people end up in the legal basements are fearful to communicate for fear that they might be evicted, or worse in their mind deported. And it's just an extraordinarily challenging set of circumstances. You're absolutely right that we tried a pilot approach on basement apartments. You were kind, we saw a little progress. We didn't see anywhere near the progress we’d hoped for. It turns out that trying to make an illegal basement apartment up to code is very difficult physically, very costly and takes a lot of cooperation with the homeowner. It's – we're really in a tough situation. And this is now – I asked our Deputy Mayor Vicki Been last night for her best estimates, and she's really studied this: at minimum. It's over 50,000 apartments could be substantially more. And at minimum it's 100,000 people. And I definitely think that could be substantially more, but even take the minimum estimates by the City, this is an incredibly tough problem. So, the task force we're putting together, one of the issues we're going to have to work on is, again, as the earlier question cataloging, as specifically as possible each and every apartment, or at least the areas where they're predominant and really getting the geographical zones right, working with community organizations to do some of that communication so it's trusted messengers in all the appropriate languages, and then over time trying one-by-one to fix these apartments, but it would be a very costly and challenging endeavor that will take a lot of time. So, I think again, if we communicate, if we can really convince people that they will not be evicted, that they will not be put in a harm because of documentation status. At least we have the opportunity then to get people to safety when a situation like this occurs. Go ahead, Gloria. 

Question: If we can stay on, on this basement apartment detail, I'm curious about how this city is going to possibly reach these tenants in a situation like this. We're still in hurricane season, as you said, the next storm could be around the corner, and it's very clear that the city is not prepared. I know you said there was a historic amount of rain that fell in a historic amount of time, but when, and if, the city gets a proper plan in place, how are they going to be reached? And how are you going to make sure that people actually get out? I talked to a lot of people yesterday who said it just happened so fast, they didn't realize that it could get so bad? 

Mayor: Yeah, Gloria, we've never seen anything like this, so I want to be really straightforward. All of us in public service, we're trying all the time to deal with every conceivable problem, but sometimes we literally see something we've never seen before. And I've known of course, about the history with these apartments and some of the challenges, but the notion of this kind of flooding with this kind of impact on people – I've never seen that or heard that before. This is a new reality I'm facing, and certainly my colleagues and we've got to, now, immediately implement the pieces we can. So, we went from something that wasn't afflicting us to now, something that's a clear and present danger, and we have to instantly change our approach in the ways we can now while working on the bigger solutions.  

So, for example, the cell phone alerts, we have the ability to send a very powerful cell phone alert to all New Yorkers. That's a tool we can use, even if the primary focus is to reach folks that live in the basement apartments, that's a tool we can use. Clearly again, we know our lives departments are, we can send first responders door-to-door. We can start working immediately with community organizations that have the lay of the land, and the relationships, and the trust to start educating people. It's going to have to be done quickly and created – building the plane as we go down the runway in this case, but we can do some things right now that could make a real impact and save lives.  

Moderator: The next is Elizabeth Kim from Gothamist.  

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. 

Mayor: Hey Elizabeth, how are you? 

Question: I’m good. I have a very practical question which is, for renters or even homeowners who don't have insurance, is there some kind of hotline or application process in which they can apply for financial or federal disaster relief? 

Mayor: I'm going to turn to my colleagues. Obviously, Commissioner Scrivani might have a sense of this. And Commissioner Doris might have a sense of this. So, you said two categories –homeowners and renters, and folks, particularly that don't have insurance. So, we certainly urge anyone who needs help, want to find whatever help we can. And there's the federal emergency effort reaches lots of different kinds of New Yorkers. But in terms of those two categories, Commissioner Scrivani or Commissioner Doris, can you help on the specifics?

Commissioner Scrivani: Yes sir, I'll take the homeowner piece first. As I mentioned in my comments, we do encourage those folks to really reach out to 3-1-1, or if they have the ability to go to the website, That's I-D-A. That's where we're going to begin to get your information and get you connected with services. We are working with our State and federal partners at those locations to make sure that we get all the services that folks need. So again, please have those folks reach out to 3-1-1, or go to And then when we have our physical centers open in each borough, people can go there and get the same services. That should be open later today. And we will be messaging that through our website.

Mayor: And both commissioners, do you have a sense if there's something particularly available for renters, as opposed to homeowners? Either one of you?

Commissioner Scrivani: Sir, I don't have that off the top of my head, but we will follow up.

Mayor: Elizabeth, we will follow up with that. And then the other piece of the question about people without insurance, I want to particularly take that over to the Small Business side for just a quick moment with Commissioner Doris. Because yesterday in Bushwick, we met business owners who had insurance and some who didn't. But where they do have insurance Commissioner Doris, talk about how Small Business Services can help a store owner who has insurance to make sure they get the actual support they deserve from the insurance company?

Commissioner Jonnel Doris, Small Business Services: Thank you, Sir. So, if you call our hotline 8-8-8-SBS-4-NYC, we help with our emergency response unit. We help those small businesses look at their particular insurance policies, make sure that whatever they're covered for they're receiving. And we do work with the State also, Department of Financial Services, to make sure that these businesses are to getting what is stipulated in those particular policies. So, we just encourage folks also with legal support we have, free legal support for those particular businesses that need it, as well with this aspect. So again, the major thing is folks need to just call us at 8-8-8-SBS-4-NYC, and we will help them walk through that.

Mayor: Thank you very much. Go ahead, Elizabeth. Elizabeth?

Question: And my second question is on basement apartments. I know that there's been a push to try to legalize those dwelling units so that there could be more affordable housing. I'm wondering whether now the City wants to rethink that, rethink that policy in light of the dangers?

Mayor: Well, it's a great question, Elizabeth. I would say again, we know at least 100,000 people and there's a strong possibility it’s a lot more, living in those apartments. We need places for people to live, obviously. We need them to be safe. Some apartments can be made safe. But it is, and I said it's a challenge logistically, legally, financially. I think what we found, we did try a pilot project. We had a little bit of success, but not anywhere near what we wanted. So, we have to figure out a way forward. It may be a painstaking way forward that takes a long time. I don't think it's realistic to say let's just have no one live in them because I don't know where all those folks are going to end up who need a place to live. But of course we need people to be safe. This is a really, really tough problem. It's a really tough one. It's going to take a while to sort out. But I do believe we can create a structure in the meantime that for these extremely unusual weather events, that we can protect people from them with a very different kind of alert and a very different kind of evacuation approach.

Moderator: The next is Henry from Bloomberg.

Question: Hello, Mr. Mayor. How are you doing today?

Mayor: I'm doing okay, Henry. How about you?

Question: I’m doing okay. Is there any sense of how much sewage has been poured into the adjacent waterways as a result of this storm?

Mayor: Let's see if – let me just hold that question a second to see if we can quickly get Commissioner Sapienza to join us so that will just take a second. Henry, if we will just take a moment, hopefully can get them online quickly, because I don't have that answer. But why don't you talk about anything else you want to raise while we see if we can get the Commissioner?

Question: Well, the reason I ask that question is to determine, you know, how safe it would be to go into the water during the Labor Day weekend? That's one issue I have. The other question I have is, has there been any thought – New York has a long way to go before it becomes a world leader in this kind of effort. If you go to the Netherlands, you'll see residences and buildings with vegetation on roofs and all kinds of drainage strategies, playgrounds that can be turned into catchment basins for a water collection. Does the City have any kind of contingency infrastructure plan to gather up water and divert water in the same way that the Netherlands has been doing for decades?

Mayor: It's nascent, I think is the truth. We've looked with admiration and I know the previous administration did as well, at a lot of the work that's been done in the Netherlands. And there's pieces of the approach or kindred approaches. The Blue Belt in Staten Island could be argued to be one of those approaches, which did farewell during this storm. You know, a lot of the new surfacing of roads and parks is with a different kind of surface that's able to take the water in instead of just brush it away and cause more of the flooding. There are a variety of measures, but they're nowhere near the kind of amazing comprehensive approach we see in the Netherlands. I think this is very much, a lot of the shape of things to come. I think we have to do more and more of that, but it's going to take years. We have to be honest about the fact that all of this is going to take years. Again, you take the Sandy example, a $20 billion resiliency plan. A lot of which has been put in place and is working. But this kind of challenge is over a much broader area and it's going to take rethinking a lot of our work and tens of billions or hundreds of billions of dollars over time. But I do think it's directionally where we're going to end up going more and more. Let me see if we have Commissioner – not yet? Okay. So we owe you an answer, since I can't give you that answer, we'll see if you have any other quick thing. And Henry, and I'll get folks back on the question of what happened with the sewage overflow and what it means for beaches this weekend. Did you have something else, Henry?

Question: No thanks. Go on to the next person. Thank you very much.

Mayor: Thank you.

Moderator: We have time for two more for today. The next is Jeff Mays from the New York Times.

Question: Hey, good morning, Mayor. Thank you for taking my question.

Mayor: Hey, Jeff. How you doing today?

Question: Good, good. I wanted to ask, so in May the City released this analysis of flooding that was caused by rainfall. And you know, in part of that plan, you know, determined, you know, that the City would see an increase in these sort of extreme rainfall situations that we saw on Wednesday. And part of that plan, you know, the goal was to improve the flash flood response, including, you know, messaging people living in basement apartments about the danger and outreach. But that plan wasn't supposed to take effect until 2023. So, you know, I know you've said, you know, this is a storm the city hasn't seen before. But you know, we've had warnings of this type of rainfall that was to be expected. And yet the City still didn't plan to have these sort of warnings in place by 2023 when we know your term ends at the end of this year. So, I'm wondering, you know, what do you say to that? The fact that, you know, some of this was known, some of these claims were out there, but yet something as serious as the basement apartment issue wasn't expected to be addressed until after you left office?

Mayor: Well, clearly we have to change that. I'm not a fan of – I respect the good work that went into the report, but I'm not a fan of anything that takes that long to implement. And my colleagues will attest you on that. I'm constantly trying to get agencies to speed up their timelines. But this is a different reality. We got to understand the difference between the real and honest challenge of property damage, versus threat to human life. The discussions that we've had previously – it’s one thing to say, we got to watch out for apartments. We obviously care about everything. We care about property damage. What we saw now was a whole different reality, a level of rain that you could say we expected increases, yes. But this was literally unprecedented in our entire history. And again, much more than even what we saw two weeks earlier that we thought was a big deal because it was the new record. This is astounding, how much more it jumped up. And it created a threat to life, not just property, to life on a level we've never seen before. So to everyone who put together that report, I want to be fair. They were dealing with the facts as they knew them. This is a new deal we're dealing with now, a new reality. And we now have to assume almost exponential change, that if we could see two records set in two weeks, that there's something else coming after that. And therefore, much more radical response. We can't physically change the entire city overnight. It's going to take a long, long time. So, we have to take the very muscular approaches that we have, the very forceful approaches like mandatory evacuation, like mandatory travel ban, and use those in ways we never had before, because events are just changing the paradigm constantly. Go ahead, Jeff.

Question: Thank you. You know, this is not the first time a vision has been laid out to reduce sort of storm water flooding and reduce carbon emissions. You know, there's been talk about green roofs, modernizing the sewers, drainage, banning new gas infrastructure, the list goes on and on. But it feels like some of these plans are not moving fast enough. Is there any way, can you give me a few things, you know, one or two things that you can do immediately in your remaining months as Mayor to speed up some of these solutions that have already been proposed?

Mayor: Absolutely. So the gas, ending natural gas connections and fossil fuel connections is legislation we intend to pass this fall, working with the City Council. Obviously we've been working to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built right now. That work will continue in the next few months. There's a variety of sewer projects and infrastructure projects that we're speeding right now. Obviously, everything that's happened in Southeast Queens over years, that we've invested in, we want to keep speeding those up. And the message to the commissioners of agencies involved has been look for how we can speed all these infrastructure efforts up. That's been going on now for quite a while. So, I intend to use the next month to find every way to speed all of them. I think each of them is different. The efforts to stop fossil fuels are very much about the bigger fight against climate change. Things like green roofs are very helpful, but the big infrastructure that takes substantial time is where we'll see some more improvement, put a huge amount of investment in the budget. We want to drive it. And we have been able to shave a lot of time off. That's part of why we fought for things like Design-Build and Albany so we could shave time off projects. We were able to succeed in a lot of cases, winning those changes in Albany. We're going to keep doing all of that. But that's not going to help us if there's a hurricane in a week or two. So, that's where these other emergency measures are what we're going to need in the meantime.

Moderator: Last question for today goes to Arthur Chi’en from FOX-5.

Question: Hey, good morning, Mr. Mayor. Good morning to everybody on the call. Honored to be last.

Mayor: Good morning, Arthur. How are you today?

Question: Doing great, sir. Thank you, dry. My first question is on mass transit. New York City Transit this morning is still working on disruptions to the subway system caused by the storm. Can you assess for us how things stand today? And from your perspective, what does the TA need to do to address this new normal as you've defined it?

Mayor: Yeah. Arthur, great question. I'm going to turn in a moment to Commissioner Scrivani on just the exact update on the state of play with the subways, but, but I think what's clear is first of all, we all have to work together. City, State, MTA, we all have to work together. We've got infrastructure problems that are all interrelated. It's important for us to do that. Second, we need the resources on a vast scale to fix the MTA. The stimulus money, really important, the infrastructure money that we're hoping to see in full measure, really important, but we also need congestion pricing. It is more urgent than ever. And we still have a lot of work that needs to happen. And I keep urging the State and the MTA to speed this up in every conceivable way. And the federal government can do more to speed this up because congestion pricing will bring us the regular revenue to constantly make improvements, which is what's going to be needed for the future of the MTA. So, this is a big part of the agenda, to try and speed all those pieces. In terms of the exact current state of play right now, go ahead, Commissioner Scrivani.

Commissioner Scrivani: Yes. Thank you, sir. So, from the MTA, there are only partial suspensions on the five and six line and they are having delays on the two and four. But what we encourage people to do is to know before you go. So, if you do go to, they are constantly updating their site with any specific changes that are coming up as they continue to do their restoration. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Arthur.

Question: And my second question is for you and maybe Dr. Katz. Some private preschools say they're taking their direction on masks from the Department of Health, the City's DOH, which they say is telling them that it's encouraged, not required. Given that you've spoken, so clearly and Dr. Katz and Dr. Chokshi, everybody's spoken so clearly on why there's a universal mask mandate for public schools. I just wanted to verify, is that the message the City's DOE is sending out? That it's not universally required? And if that's the case, [inaudible] that on this particular policy?

Mayor: I'm going to start and turn to Dr. Katz and I – we're going to follow up with you Arthur, because this is a really important issue. When you say preschool, look, if it's the kids who are part of our pre-K and 3-K of course, they wear masks. And that's been very successful. A lot of parents weren't sure, would kids be able handle it? They handle it beautifully. We're going to keep that going. Some preschools obviously have much younger kids where maybe a kid can wear a mask, or maybe they can't because they're just too young and it doesn't work. So, I want to be careful about the definition. But in terms of our message to preschools that are not the City sponsored ones or the City-run ones through DOE, Dr. Katz, can you speak to that? All I know Dr. Chokshi would normally be the expert here, but can you offer anything on that?

President and CEO Mitchell Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals: Yes, sir. Thank you so much. So yes, our strong guidance and is – and requirements is that all children over the age of two years old be masked. As the Mayor has alluded, less than two and masks are not recommended because of fear of choking risks for very young children. But all children over the age of two should be wearing masks. And we will clarify and make sure that the guidance people are getting makes it clear that that's a requirement. Thank you, sir.

Mayor: Arthur, does that hit the note there?

Question: So, even for private pre-K programs that are two, three years old, the City's guidance should be clear that masks aren't mandatory, should be mandatory?

Mayor: That's – I want to be careful. That is my understanding, but I want to make sure we get this right. And we'll get Dr. Chokshi to answer this, and we'll put it out publicly today as well, Arthur. Because what I want to see is to be clear to Dr. Katz's point, the youngest kids, I understand why it may not work. But for children over two, we want all of them wearing masks. And we'll make sure we're very, very clear about our ability to legally require that or what exact wording we're using. I want that to get out there really, really clearly to all of these sites so parents know. And thank you for raising the question, it’s very helpful.

We had a previous question, everyone, that we'll just wrap up on two quick points. Henry asked about, would beaches be safe this weekend and specifically about sewer overflows and what it might mean for beaches this weekend? Our Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Vinny Sapienza has joined us now. Vinny, I know you may still be assessing the situation, but as of this moment, could you tell everyone about the extent of the sewer overflows and what it might mean for our waterways and beaches for this weekend?

Commissioner Vincent Sapienza, Department of Environmental Protection: Sure, Mayor. And Henry, to your question, our wastewater treatment plants can treat up to 3.8 billion gallons of wastewater a day. We did exceed that on Wednesday night and so there were some overflows of sewage into local waterways. We don't have a number on that. But the Health Department did issue a couple of swimming advisories for the Staten Island beaches, and they're continuing to do assessments. But currently the other bathing beaches that are run by the Parks Department are open.

Mayor: Okay, thank you. And, let's make sure Vinny and our team here at City Hall that we keep putting updates out to the public on that as we get more information. Everyone as we conclude today, again, this city's been through so much with COVID. A year and a half, on top of it dealing with a storm like the other night. The amazing resiliency and strength of New Yorkers. The compassion of New Yorkers comes through every single time, literally every single time without fail. So, thank you to everyone who has been out there helping each other over these last couple of days and throughout the whole larger crisis of this year and a half. And everyone, this is one of the weekends in the year where people look forward to getting a little bit of a break. I want to wish everyone a safe, safe Labor Day weekend in every sense. Safety from COVID, safety in every way, a healthy and happy Labor Day weekend to all. Thank you.


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