Invoking a decades-old legal requirement for public access at Trump Tower, dozens of New Yorkers and Harlem’ City Councilman Mark Levine convened inside the skyscraper today for a climate change teach-in spanning jobs, energy efficiency, and public parks.
The action, organized by Climate Works For All, a coalition project of ALIGN and other community and labor organizations, was intended to raise awareness about how Donald Trump’s policies and real estate practices harm the environment and the public. The teach-in called on President Trump to confront climate change instead of slash the US EPA’s budget and unravel the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule.
Harlem Councilman Mark Levine, WE ACT for Environmental Justice Executive Director Peggy Shepard, ALIGN Campaign Director Daisy Chung, and King of Glory Tabernacle Chaplain Veronica Dingwall led a lesson about how upgrading the energy efficiency of buildings like Trump Tower can help combat climate change by reducing the city’s carbon emissions, while creating jobs and saving money.
Attendees also got a crash course from Michelle Young, founder of Untapped Cities and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, about NYC’s complex Privately-Owned Public Space (POPS) law, an obscure area of real estate law that protects valuable public space in a city increasingly threatened by private development trumping public parks.
Teach-in participants offered flower seeds to private security to beautify the neglected space and highlight that the austere garden is a violation of Donald Trump’s commitment to continually maintain the space for the public’s benefit. Plants have the added benefit of symbolizing the need to offset or reduce the carbon emissions caused by the energy-intensive and wasteful Trump Tower.
The luxury skyscraper uses more energy per square foot than more than 90% of large buildings in New York City, making it one of the most wasteful buildings in the city. “Donald Trump’s claim that climate change is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese is not only a lie: it is downright dangerous, especially for communities on the frontlines of climate change. His political agenda is no excuse to waste energy and needlessly pollute the air that New Yorkers breathe,” said Daisy Chung, Coordinator of Climate Works for All and Campaign Director of ALIGN.
New York City’s parks and public spaces are not just a luxury in a dense city of 8.5 million people, they are essential to livability…
“New York City’s parks and public spaces are not just a luxury in a dense city of 8.5 million people, they are essential to livability,” said Harlem City Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Parks and Recreation. “Years ago Donald Trump agreed to share this space with the City he claims to love so much, making this the perfect place for us to educate the public, and President Trump, on the significant dangers posed by global climate change.”
“Trump may love pink marble and gold paint, but his ‘premier’ building exemplifies how he’s wasteful and full of hot air. We’re here to beautify the place,” said Jonathan Westin, Director of New York Communities for Change. “New York City can create many thousands of good jobs by requiring dirty buildings like Trump Tower to upgrade their energy efficiency.”
“It’s clear that Donald Trump has a lot to learn, so we came to Trump Tower to teach him about issues that matters to us and working families,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN. “Making buildings more energy efficient is a win-win: cutting down on wasted energy protects the environment and creates good jobs in a city of vast inequalities. We also wanted to let the president know that New Yorkers value our public spaces, so he can’t cut corners like this anymore.”
The Public Garden in Trump Tower
Participants held the teach-in at the fifth floor garden in Trump Tower, which is required by city zoning law to be accessible to the public seven days a week from 8 am to 10 pm. Private security and NYPD attempted to shut down the teach-in but their efforts were blunted when Samuel B. Cohen, New York City civil rights attorney, read them the NYC zoning code. Public access to the garden was temporarily blocked by security, but was reopened when they were reminded that this action was a violation of NYC zoning code.
Mr. Trump agreed to create the public garden in a 1979 agreement with NYC in exchange for a zoning variance to build an additional 20 stories on the tower. The agreement netted Mr. Trump an estimated $530 million in profit, but the president has violated the public space requirement on several occasions by closing the garden at intermittent times without justifiable cause and neglecting the space. In August 2016, Donald Trump was fined $10,000 by the NYC Buildings Department for illegally removing a public bench at Trump Tower.
“There are over 500 privately-owned public spaces in New York City. While many are out of compliance, none may be more egregious than the one in Trump Tower.” said Michelle Young. “We need to hold Trump Tower and Donald Trump accountable to the legal standards for public space in New York City, particularly due to the hundreds of millions of dollars of development bonuses he has received in exchange.” NYC has 525 POPS that offer a total of 80 acres of public space throughout the city.
Donald Trump’s Cost to New York City
The president’s NYC penthouse comes at a public cost. Securing Donald Trump’s residence has snarled traffic on 5th Avenue and created headaches for nearby businesses. The Secret Service recently announced plans to rent two floors in Trump Tower for $3 million per year. Overall, housing the president and his family in Trump Tower is estimated to cost NYC taxpayers $500,000 to $1 million per day. A reimbursement mechanism from the federal government to NYC has yet to be established. Mr. Trump’s frequent trips away from DC have local governments and small businesses struggling to pay for the cost of his visits.
“I don’t know which is more insulting, that New Yorkers have to foot the bill for this president’s lavish lifestyle, or that he won’t let us into a garden that he promised to the people of New York,” said Veronica Dingwall, Chaplain and Peace & Justice Coordinator at King of Glory Tabernacle Church. “He’s living here on our dime, and violating the terms of his own real estate agreement. I think he’s disrespectful to New Yorkers.” The president’s lifestyle has been described as a “logistical nightmare” by veteran Secret Service officials largely due to unprecedentedly high taxpayer costs.
Trump Tower, The Energy Hog
According to a Climate Works For All report, Trump Tower uses more energy per square foot than almost any other large building. The report gave Trump Tower an “F” grade for its energy-wasting practices, which contributes to climate change. The city’s largest buildings, primarily high-end residential and commercial buildings in Manhattan, are often also the most opulent. High-end condo associations at 838 5th Avenue and 101 Warren Street are among the most energy-intensive buildings in the five boroughs, and apartments at 101 Warren rent for $90,000 per month.
“New Yorkers aren’t only saddled with Donald Trump’s exorbitant security costs; Trump Tower is also one of the city’s biggest energy wasters and the emissions from this energy contributes to climate change,” said Rachel Rivera, who lost her home in Superstorm Sandy. “If President Trump really cared about the everyday American, he would consider how the reckless energy waste of his properties put homes like mine underwater.”
Buildings account for nearly 70% of NYC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making energy efficiency a major policy platform for the city to confront climate change. Establishing stringent energy efficiency standards for all NYC buildings would reduce the city’s emissions by an estimated 80-90% in concert with a greening electric grid. These GHG savings help to fulfill Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious 80×50 climate change objective to achieve an 80% reduction of the city’s GHG emissions by 2050.
In addition to the environmental benefits, city-wide energy efficiency requirements could save the average utility payer approximately $1,000 per year on energy costs and create an estimated 10,000 jobs per year.
“The President wants to be a job creator? Instead of risking all of our futures by investing in outdated, climate polluting industries, we need to prioritize creating jobs for frontline communities that also solve our climate crisis. I know a lot of workers who would be happy to get a job making Trump Tower energy efficient,” said Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder and Executive Director at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
Protecting Public Space Under Trump
The public garden in Trump Tower is a microcosm of the fight over public space playing out in the early days of Trump’s presidency. President Trump is actively pursuing the privatization of public lands across the country to open up public space for oil and natural gas extraction. The administration’s methods of opening up public lands could cost taxpayers millions of dollars while creating windfall profits for private companies.
The rollback of legal safeguards is already underway: Congress voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule last month and President Trump is expected to sign the resolution. The repeal of the rule means coal companies will be able to dump toxic mining waste into streams. Conservationists have also warned that the president may strip National Monuments of their designation, which would further diminish public access to parklands and dilute environmental safeguards. The President has also threatened to unravel the Clean Water Rule, which is expected to trigger a protracted environmental fight.
His attempts at privatizing public space for private profit at the taxpayers’ expense are unacceptable and set an incredibly dangerous precedent. We’re here today to remind Mr. Trump that there are longstanding laws that protect parks for people that should be taken seriously.
“President Trump’s policies toward public land are not all that different from real estate developer Trump’s practices, which we can see here in this sad-looking, roped off garden,” said Harlem Councilman Levine . “His attempts at privatizing public space for private profit at the taxpayers’ expense are unacceptable and set an incredibly dangerous precedent. We’re here today to remind Mr. Trump that there are longstanding laws that protect parks for people that should be taken seriously.”
The president’s actions have been met with a barrage of legal challenges. “Donald Trump entered office with more lawsuits pending against him than any past president, and it seems that he is determined to remind us that he flaunts the rules and law in all aspects of his businesses.” said Samuel B. Cohen, noted New York City civil rights attorney.