Nearly a decade after Hurricane Sandy, NYC’s outer boroughs see ‘bare minimum’ investment

Justin Brannan, a New York City councilman representing Brooklyn, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Ida's toll on New York City, and how the city can brace itself for similar weather events in the future.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As Roby showed us, New York City was hit with historic rainfall and enormous flooding. At least a dozen people died in New York, most trapped in their flooded basement apartments.

    Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that the city will issue more evacuation orders in the future, sending first responders door to door and alerting basement residents.

    Justin Brannan is a New York City councilman representing Brooklyn. He is also the chairman of the city's Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts.

    Mr. Brannan, thank you very much for joining us.

    You remind us there is a lot of waterfront in New York City. And now that we are a couple days after this storm hit, what is your understanding of what happened? What hit Brooklyn and all of New York?

  • Justin Brannan, New York City Councilman:

    People forget that New York City is one of America's most hurricane-vulnerable urban centers.

    We have 520 miles of coastline. Four of the five boroughs of the city of New York are islands or connected to one. And, look, nearly 10 years later, after Hurricane Sandy, I'm still visiting communities that are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And that — it's going to be nine years come October.

    What has our city accomplished in those almost 10 years outside of Lower Manhattan? Very little. Unfortunately, the outer boroughs, we often get thoughts and prayers and mops and buckets, while it's all hands on deck and spare no expense for Manhattan.

    And that's what we felt really the other night. Our sewer system here is over 100 years old. Our sewer system did not fail on Wednesday night. It actually worked exactly as it was designed. However, it was designed 100 years ago. We weren't having storms like this 100 years ago.

    So it's very frustrating because we all feel like we have been sounding the alarm for a very long time, and no one is listening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is it that you believe should have been done specifically that would have helped people, for example, in these basement apartments that were hit with water they never expected to come?

  • Justin Brannan:

    Obviously, there should have been an evacuation program, like any other city, or like Louisiana has, like New Orleans has, where people in low-lying areas, people who live in basement apartments have to evacuate, have to be brought to shelter.

    That's what we need to be doing here, because we have a lot of — we have an affordability crisis in the city of New York. You have a lot of folks who are living in basement apartments. And these folks are of the most vulnerable people in our city. And they were basically left out there.

    And it was horrible. And that's why we saw the loss of life that we saw.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there — and what about going forward? I mean, is it your sense that now, finally, people are going to pay attention and are prepared to take the steps that are needed, not just evacuation, but other steps that could be needed to make New York more resilient?

  • Justin Brannan:

    We hope so.

    I mean, Judy, it's not like we're staring at a blank page here. We know what to do. It's not a matter of, what should we do, how do we do this? There are plans that have been put in place. Unfortunately, the glacial pace of bureaucracy is what we're up against. And time is just not on our side.

    There are plans in the outer boroughs, whether it's Staten Island, the Bronx, or Queens, and Brooklyn, but a lot of these plans, shovels are still not in the ground. And we're talking about almost 10 years since Hurricane Sandy.

    So, what we need to do is prioritize this stuff and expedite these programs, these plans to get this stuff done until the next one comes, because time is just not on our side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you have had several changes of leadership since Hurricane Sandy. You're saying not much or if anything has happened in much of the city?

    I mean, what's it going to take?

  • Justin Brannan:

    That's a great question. I don't know. I think the fact that we lost a life, we lost 12, 13 New Yorkers in the storm, that certainly should be a wakeup call, we would hope.

    I also think that we're just not going far enough. You have Hunts Point in the Bronx, for instance, which is really the epicenter of New York City's food distribution. The city has done just the bare minimum there, and they're basically blaming the cost on doing more.

    And we're hearing this time and time again when you get outside of Manhattan. You have 75 percent of essential workers live in the outer boroughs, live outside Manhattan. There's got to be a five borough approach. We have to look at the city holistically. None of this stuff happens in a silo. We have to start prioritizing what's going on in the outer boroughs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe that the people who live in New York understand now the urgency of this? I could ask this question about people across the country.

  • Justin Brannan:

    Judy, I do.

    I think that people have always understood it. I think that New Yorkers are tough. We just wish we didn't have to be so tough, right? It shouldn't be this hard. We need our leaders to listen. We need to stop the fighting. Climate change does not care about Democrat or Republican.

    Climate change is gaining on us. We're just not up to the task.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Justin Brannan, who is a councilman for the city of New York representing Brooklyn, thank you very much. And we wish you the best as you work to heal the city from all this.

  • Justin Brannan:

    Thank you, Judy.

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