District 22 Candidate

Nicholas Velkov

Campaign Website: nickvelkov.nyc

NYC Campaign Finance Board – funds raised.

What Office/District are you running for and why? I am running to represent District 22 in the City Council because I have a unique set of skills that are urgently needed as we emerge from a once-in-a-century global pandemic. Our communities are experiencing severe physical and mental health challenges. If we fail to seriously address these realities, we will see a never-ending continuation of health crises.  As a yoga instructor for over 10 years, I can create inexpensive effective programs to dramatically improve individual-level physical and mental health. I can also make compassionate, progressive-minded decisions when forming the structures of our government. As a small business owner and community activist, I have learned the joy of collective benefit. When we as a community share and cooperate, we all experience happiness. I believe these particular skills are best suited for the present moment.
How long have you lived or worked in the District and how active are you in the community right now? I moved to Astoria in 2010 to open Yoga Agora, a community yoga studio. As a small business owner, I am deeply rooted in the local community. My small business is a community yoga studio that offers donation-based yoga classes. This allows us to be truly inclusive. I also am an activist who fights for the protection of public housing with the Justice For All Coalition and for the protection of public land for public use with the Western Queens Community Land Trust.
What is your current or most recent occupation? I am the owner of Yoga Agora.
What would you advocate for in terms of the future of Riker’s Island? We are currently using a network of city jails to detain deeply traumatized humans who might pose a danger to others. In recent years this network has shown sharp rises in physical injury and inhumane living conditions, most infamously on Rikers Island. City jails are deepening the scars of trauma and endangering everyone involved. In 2019, the city approved a plan to build four new Borough-based jails, which would only perpetuate this cycle of trauma. The Borough-based jails plan has some commendable goals such as significantly reducing the inmate population, improving living conditions, and more easily transporting visitors and lawyers. But building four simultaneous high rise jails in dense urban neighborhoods for $8.7 billion would be the largest city-run complex infrastructure project in modern history. Let’s save that distinction for something more elegant than jails.

To be clear, I support the Renewable Rikers Act. However, if I had the opportunity to start from scratch, I would propose a plan to close the existing jails on Rikers Island and replace them with a modernized therapeutic healing campus to treat individuals whose trauma is deep enough to require special supervision. We will have to build housing, medical facilities, and community centers on the island. We will also have to expand transit options to families and attorneys. But all of that would still cost less than the $8.7 billion price tag for the four proposed Borough-based jails.

What were your thoughts on the rezoning proposal at 30-02 Newtown Avenue in Astoria? The rezoning proposal at 30-02 Newtown Avenue perfectly portrays the flaws of the current NYC rezoning process (ULURP). In this project, 31 units are set aside as affordable which is required under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program. The question we all must be asking, however, is: affordable for whom? These MIH calculations are severely misguided. Affordable housing models have become tax shelters for wealthy developers.  We must abandon all MIH building proposals and pivot toward the creation of more social housing.
Do you think the rezoning process (ULURP) is working? If not, how would you change it? ULURP is a display of political theatre.  It is an embarrassing example of wasted time and money.  The change it needs is simple: give community boards the ultimate authority to approve or deny rezoning proposals.
Do you believe in member deference when it comes to rezoning? I believe community boards should have ultimate authority when considering land use proposals across the five boroughs. The respective councilmember and the rest of the body should defer to the decision of the community board.
Should the city council cut police funding? If so, by how much? Yes, our city police budget is too large.  We can easily cut $1 billion.
We must consider some important implications.  Our cuts must be made through the lens of public safety.  Many budget items, such as militarized weapons and surveillance equipment, can be eliminated immediately.  But we must restrain ourselves from eliminating any good humans who enter the NYPD with altruistic intentions.  We must also restrain ourselves from defunding any programs that create genuine improvements in law enforcement, such as the NYPD Office of Health and Wellness.  We must look for ways to reallocate funds away from programs that create community tension and invest instead in new programs, such as violence interruption and community-led safety, which will build peace in our neighborhoods.
Do you think non-citizens (including undocumented immigrants) should be able to vote in New York City elections? All non-citizens should be able to vote in New York City elections. In fact, I will  support all legislative items that aim to enfranchise our neighbors throughout the City. Non-citizens have been living in NYC and contributing to our local economies for generations. They have just as much of a right to affect change through their vote as any citizen.
How would you select community board members and is the current system working? Community Board members should be chosen by the community. The current system of appointment by the Borough President is flawed. Borough Presidents cannot realistically know the personalities of all CB applicants. The Board should be appointed by demonstrating local support and real life relationships in the actual community.
Are you an advocate for protected bicycle lanes in the district and, if so, where do you think they should go? As both an environmentalist and a bicycle commuter, I am a fierce advocate for protected bike lanes.  Every major avenue in District 22 ought to have one, as well as Steinway St., Crescent St., 21st St., and Northern Blvd.
What is your view on the transportation network in Queens? What would you do to improve it? The streets in Queens must be radically redesigned to improve the quality of life for all and repurposing parking spaces is the most vital component of my plan for the City. We will never be able to truly accomplish our goals of improving safety, prioritizing transit, and allowing for greener uses if we refuse to embrace a vision of our city transportation that is far less supportive of cars and a vision of our streets that supports these transformations is the way we move throughout the city. There will be, of course, inevitable pushback from drivers who will have to adapt to our changes. However, I will lead with transparency at all stages of the process. I will hold vision sessions which would allow the Council the opportunity to make their case of the proposed changes and allow for the community to voice their concerns. I would use that time to explain how this transformation of our streets would benefit all of us and NYC residents for generations to come-making it a safer place for all. I would also bring in experts in health, science, and city planning to convey the urgent need for significant reductions in the number of cars on our streets so the City can meet urgent climate change goals.