Vacca weighs in on DOB commish’s resignation

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The recent resignation of NYC Department of Buildings commissioner Patricia Lancaster has created an opportunity for Councilman Jimmy Vacca. 

The councilman is calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to bring in a more effective replacement for Lancaster while looking to overhaul the city agency with a new initiative.

“I have probably had more fights with Buildings than any other agency in the city,” Vacca commented. “On a near-daily basis, my staff and I must log onto the department’s online database to double-check the work of inspectors and examiners.”

Vacca is hoping to change that with a new Building Fellows initiative. 

Modeled off of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, the Building Fellows initiative would ask graduates and professionals with a background in architecture and engineering to dedicate a limited number of years to the DOB in exchange for free graduate study at CUNY and the opportunity to experience the intricacies of the city’s building industry on the ground level. 

“The Building Fellows program would allow the city to draft a team of inspectors and examiners firmly dedicated to safe building practices and responsible zoning, reforming a long-neglected agency from the inside out,” he said.   

The past six years have been a constant struggle for Vacca, who’s consistently fought with the city agency over their substandard work.

First as the Community Board 10 district manager, and now as an elected official, Vacca has continuously battled with the DOB over the agency’s inadequate attention and irresponsibility when addressing new projects.

Lancaster resigned on April 22, after several fatal construction accidents occurred over the past four months – a number which exceeded those who died during the entire 2007 calendar year.  A fatal crane accident in March put a spotlight on the DOB’s construction-site monitoring.

While Mayor Bloomberg first criticized the DOB, saying no one should be satisfied with the agency’s recent conduct, he later reversed his statement after Lancaster resigned, praising her work and calling construction a dangerous, complicated business.

Vacca has said he feels the agency never really met its potential under Lancaster’s leadership.

Vacca cited numerous occasions when there were projects approved in error, complaints never investigated and stop-work orders that failed to stop work in his district.

The problem became especially severe when a building boom sparked overdevelopment in the area.

“None of that was the fault of any one person,” Vacca asserted, “but despite the implementation of new technologies and a non-stop stream of press releases announcing major progress, the department is still nowhere near the point where it can be trusted to regulate the construction industry and keep New Yorkers safe.”

Vacca said he hopes that Mayor Bloomberg will recruit an effective reformer who is able to make systemic changes to not just the protocol, but the attitude, of what he feels is a long-neglected agency in need of quick changes.

At the same time, he is looking for more sweeping reforms throughout the agency. 

“Now more than ever,” Vacca said, “we need to restore faith in the ability of the Buildings Department to regulate development, enforce our zoning laws, and keep New Yorkers safe.”

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