Monday, March 31, 2014

High schools still graduating unprepared students

From the NY Post:

A stunning 77.6 percent of NYC public-high-school graduates who entered CUNY community colleges as freshmen last fall needed remediation in math, reading or writing, new data show.

Despite their high-school diplomas, the grads failed CUNY admission tests in one or more of the key subjects, officials told The Post.

The only good news: The number of unprepared city grads dipped a modest 1.7 percentage points from 2012, when 79.3 percent of entering students needed to bone up on basics.

In releasing the damning data, CUNY cited success with a pre-community-college program it started four years ago to tackle the flood of unready students.

“CUNY Start” takes mostly high-school grads who fail at least two admission tests. They agree to postpone enrollment for up to six months to focus on raising their skills. Upon completion, about 70 percent pass a test they failed before, and 48 percent become “fully proficient,” or college ready, ­officials said Friday.

The abundance of ill-prepared grads is cited as evidence that city schools have handed out credits like candy to push kids along and out.

Another scam: Green Dot Moneypak

From The Forum:

Police are urging the public to beware one of the latest scams that is growing in Queens, and throughout the city.

Frequently referred to as the “green dot money scam,” the crime often involves con artists, who claim to be from companies like Con Edison, making phone calls to residents and threatening people with service disruptions if they do not send funds immediately via a “Green Dot MoneyPak.”

The scam is not only limited to utility companies, police stressed: The unsolicited calls could be from anyone demanding money.

Last week, NYPD Inspector James Klein penned a letter to owners of businesses where the green dot cards are sold, asking for their cooperation in combating the crime that he noted often targets elderly and immigrant communities.

“This scam has netted criminals thousands and thousands of dollars, negatively impacting those who can least afford it,” Klein wrote.

In the letter, the officer asked owners to display a flyer in their store – particularly near the green dot cards – about the scam.

Queens Blvd airplane laser attack

From the Queens Courier:

The FBI is seeking help to identify the perpetrator behind a laser attack, which caused flash blindness and disrupted the vision of a Delta Air Lines pilot on Tuesday.

As the plane was approaching LaGuardia Airport to land just before 8 p.m., a green beam that came from Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst entered the cockpit twice, the FBI said.

The injured pilot continued to experience pain in his right eye for a while after the attacks.

“Laser incidents are often viewed as harmless. This couldn’t be further from the truth,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos said. “Our paramount concern is the safety of aircraft passengers, and we are asking anyone who knows anything to contact us.”

More Americans moving to New York

From the Daily News:

New York is still attracting those who yearn to breathe free — but now our immigrants are often American. The city’s population gains are due in part to “domestic migrants” who flock here, according to city records.

The push from other regions comes as arrivals of foreign immigrants have declined. The number of Americans who moved to New York City has increased from around 60,000 in 2000 to 80,000 in 2010, Joseph Salvo, director of the City Planning Department’s Population Division, said. These homegrown immigrants skew younger than the traditional non-American newcomers and tend to live in “non-family households,” either alone or with roommates.

“Aspiring young people are coming to the city, seeking out opportunity,” Salvo said.

Among them is Claire Bunkers, 21, an aspiring human rights worker, who moved here in 2012.

“There’s more opportunity here,” said the Santa Ana, Calif., native, who hopes to work at the United Nations. Bunkers, who lives in Ridgewood, Queens, first fell for big-city life at age 11.

“After the first time I saw New York, that was it,” she said. “It was the coolest place in the world. We stayed in a suite in a hotel. We ate Indian food.”

Bill wants everything built bigger

From the Huffington Post:

He has no objection to super-sized developments, a concept that seemingly flies in the face of his image as a leftist who hails from a Brooklyn neighborhood known for low-rise buildings and liberal politics.

"I hope people hear me loud and clear that the only way I can achieve my goals is if we are building and building aggressively," de Blasio said last month, saying he possessed a "willingness to use height and density to the maximum feasible extent."

De Blasio has vowed to pursue a policy of largely mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to set aside a portion of a building's units for poor and middle-class New Yorkers in exchange for authorization to build bigger and taller structures. Bloomberg only encouraged, and did not require, such measures.

The administration also wants to legalize some illegal basement apartments, change zoning rules in increasingly mixed-use neighborhoods, fight Albany for more rent-controlled apartments and direct $1 billion of city pension funds to the construction of lower-rent units.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rash of Howard Beach burglaries

From CBS New York:

A crime spree has left residents of Howard Beach, Queens worried – and homeowners and police have been taking extra precautions.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, Howard Beach residents said they feel they are under siege, with at least 10 break-ins in recent weeks. Five homes were targeted in as many days.

“They’re terrified. They’re locking their doors. They’re making sure that the alarm is on while they’re in their homes. They’re making sure that people watch them when they get into their cars,” said Joann Ariola, president of the Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association. “This is not how we live here in this community.”

The community has just been rebounding from Superstorm Sandy, and police said 10 homes have been broken into in the last several weeks. Two of them were occupied at the time.

Vacant homes just left that way

From Cleanup Jamaica Queens:

Our totally useless batch of local Jamaica leaders, who seem to busy being corrupt, trying to scam some money, doing something underhanded (Assemblymember William Scarborough, one of the latest) seem to never properly address the important quality of life issues that affect the majority of Jamaica residents. They seem to skirt these types of issues constantly to play act a homeless person (Councilman Ruben Wills), waste time changing the name of streets (the horrible crime ridden South Road to Tuskegee Airman Way) or a million other lightweight bullshit that has no bearing what-so-ever on quality of life issues in our community. They just refuse to address these issues, focus on them and come up with permanent solutions. Issues they never address or say anything about except if a reporter sticks a microphone in their face and they have to say something. Problems which are major quality of life issues that have been going on for a long time in our community. I mean if none of you are going to address these issues, what is the point of even having you in office, why waste our tax payers dollars if you are not going to better the community.

'Tis the season for the return of "Irish travelers"

"There are at least two bogus roofing companies preying on seniors, especially women, in the Middle Village-Maspeth area.

They use one scam... approaching the target homeowner and say they were working on a neighbor's roof nearby and noticed that the target homeowner has a serious roofing issue. The phony roofer goes on the roof sprays a (non-waterproof) silver paint, usually taking an hour and a half and then gives the homeowner a ridiculous bill, in this case $2,250. The scammer then offers to lower the bill to $1,950 if the homeowner pays cash. Which she did.

Of course the scammer gives a bill that's pre-printed and appears to be legit. However the company name turns out to be bogus including the license number, phone and address.

The scammers have used company names such as "Halliday Painting Roofing Waterproofing" McGavin and possibly Thompson. They have been known to use Irish and Scottish accents. Their trucks are new and look impressive, a dark grey capped pickup and a red pickup, both with out of-state plates.

If anyone sees these trucks operating in the area please call 911 and try and get a license plate. Also please call the Juniper Park Civic Association (718) 651-5865 if you know other victims or attempted scams.

In the case pictured the senior could not climb a ladder to check on the work. The scammer promised in writing to seal and waterproof roof and flashing, clean gutters and guaranteed the job for 7 years. None of the work promised was actually done, in fact the bogus roofer spray painted perfectly good shingles." - Robert Holden

Apparently this is a yearly occurrence.

These folks are known as "Irish travelers". If they approach you, call 911.

Clothing bins not always charitable

From DNA Info:

Metal bins for used clothing can be found on sidewalks across the city, but their placement is often illegal and they're being installed faster than the city can remove them.

For-profit companies that put out donation bins similar to those of charities including Goodwill and The Salvation Army have the Department of Sanitation removing dozens of collection points, with 57 hauled off in the past nine months, up from 30 removed in the city's previous fiscal year, running from July 2012 to June 2013.

Brooklyn had the most bins removed of any borough, with 33 pulled. Eleven were hauled away from the Bronx, 4 were taken from Queens and none were removed from Manhattan, according to the Sanitation Department.

The sale of used clothing and other textiles is a multimillion dollar business, with companies sending them internationally for resale or to companies that use them for insulation and furniture padding.

When residents complain about clothing bins on sidewalks or private property, Sanitation workers tag them with stickers warning their owners the containers will be hauled off if they're not moved within 30 days.

The companies SpinGreen, USAgain and Viltex place used clothing bins in the city and don't claim to be charities, but some nonprofits said donors are being duped.

“They take away money from charitable organizations,” said Mauricio Hernandez of Goodwill New York. “People usually believe that they are supplying some sort of charitable organization, while they are often giving money to an entrepreneur.”

Squadron dead wrong on park funding

From the Daily News:

State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn) has introduced controversial legislation — supported by Mayor de Blasio — that would force certain park nonprofits to allocate 20% of their budgets from private donations to other parks — a means, he says, to help address the inequity.

Squadron’s “Neighborhood Parks Alliance,” would form partnerships between a “well-financed” conservancy and less fortunate parks.

Under the plan, a “poor” park would perform tasks like gathering signatures from local residents, establishing its own conservancy group. It also would need a commitment from the city and local lawmakers to maintain the current level of public financing.

This well-intentioned but deeply misguided law shows a clear lack of understanding of the enormous problems facing our vast but resource-poor park system. Relying on what, in reality, are a few conservancies to deliver the tens of billions of dollars in capital needs, and another three quarters of a billion dollars annually for maintenance and operation, is deeply misguided.

Squadron testified Thursday that he thought his proposal could generate approximately $15 million dollars annually; in other words, enough to build a few bathrooms.

Another unfortunate consequence of this conversation is that it is detracting from the real issue — that our elected officials refuse to fund parks as an essential city service.

The administration needs to take responsibility by dramatically increasing the parks budget and ensuring the funds are distributed according to need — not on politics or private interests — while demanding accountability from an agency that is in desperate need of reform.

We need to attack the very system that allows and encourages this enormous disparity and discrimination in the first place, not invite more.

Until these things happen, nothing will change.

The full op-ed can be found here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Council Members none too happy with Viverito

From Capital New York:

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is facing her first widespread fight with members, nearly three months after winning the job.

The burgeoning discontent has been prompted, most recently, by the speaker's appointments to the body's "budget negotiating team," or BNT.

Several members, including some of her allies in the Progressive Caucus, are furious they were left out of the group, and recently held a conference call to air their concerns, multiple sources told Capital.

Other members are upset they were not informed directly by the speaker or her aides about the makeup of the team, which reviews the city's budget and determines the Council's priorities before it is adopted on July 1.

Mark-Viverito promised to be more approachable and inclusive than her predecessor, Christine Quinn, who was often criticized for ruling the Council with a heavy hand. But between the delayed consultation over the paid-sick bill, which members learned about from the media, and the new appointments to BNT, some of her colleagues are growing skeptical of that campaign commitment.

Several of the members interviewed for this article said they felt Mark-Viverito, so far, has been less inclusive than her predecessor.

A reasonable facsimile thereof

Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Queens County Savings Bank, 75-44 Main St
From Brownstoner Queens:

When the Queens County Savings Bank main branch, at Main Street and 76th Avenue, was constructed in 1953, it was meant to be a replica of … Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In fact, it has a Liberty Bell model in the lobby, minus the famed crack.

The Queens County Savings Bank at 75-44 Main Street was erected from 1952-1953 and opened February 15th, 1954. It was considered by locals to be the center of a then expanding village. In 1954, it won a building award by the Queens Chamber of Commerce as part of its annual competition.

Addabbo wants member items back

From the Times Ledger:

While most legislators are busy haggling over pre-kindergarten funding and campaign finance reform in the state budget, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) has renewed his bid to secure money for Queens nonprofits.

Addabbo said he met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month and urged him to institute an alternative framework for distributing state funds to community organizations, schools, senior centers and neighborhood projects after the executive curtailed lawmakers’ access to member items in 2010 amid a spate of scandals involving the so-called member items.

The state budget once included a lump sum for generic aid to schools, corporations, municipalities or nonprofits, which legislators would direct to local initiatives.

“I said, ‘Governor, I don’t mind that you took it away from me ... but you never replaced it and now I have senior centers, veterans posts, after-school programs suffering,” Addabbo said, before listing organizations that he once directed funding to that have since closed due to a lack of money, including the Queens Multi-Service Center in Glendale, which provided case management for seniors, and the Forest Park Senior Center.

The senator has reintroduced a bill he drafted last year that would maintain the money once funneled through member items, but continue barring legislators from controlling it by having the state vet organizations and award financing through grant applications.

No senators have signed onto the bill and it does not have a sponsor in the state Assembly.

An unholy alliance

From the Daily News:

The developer slated to build two apartment buildings alongside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine hired a firm with alleged past mob ties and a deadly safety record to demolish a one-story metal shed on the church grounds in Morningside Heights.

The Brodsky Organization tapped Brooklyn-based Breeze National Inc., a firm formerly headed by alleged Luchese crime family associate Toby Romano Sr., who was convicted in 1988 of bribing a health inspector to overlook violations at an asbestos removal job.

The firm, which has logged several safety violations and had two of its workers killed on the job, is now headed by Romano’s son, Toby Jr.

“I think it’s an inappropriate choice of a demolition company to be working in our neighborhood,” said Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Morningside Heights), whose district includes the site and has not supported the Cathedral’s latest development scheme.

Breeze National was booted off Columbia University’s West Harlem expansion project in 2012 after worker Juan Ruiz was killed and two others were injured during the demolition of a W.131st St. warehouse. The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration slapped Breeze National the firm with a $9,800 fine, which the firm settled for $4,900 last September.

The demolition firm hauled Columbia to Manhattan Supreme Court later that year, seeking payment for its work and damages for alleged defamation.

Airplane noise and runway plans announced

From the Forum:

Queens residents living around the borough’s two airports may not have to suffer through the same kind of noise they have in the past for much longer, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week directing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to launch a multifaceted approach to addressing the issue that has long plagued area denizens.

As part of the governor’s request, the Port Authority will also be stepping up the review of noise data with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The agency has said its overall goal is to address noise concerns while supporting growth at JFK International and LaGuardia airports, which annually generation billions of dollars in economic activity and wages and support hundreds of thousands of regional jobs.

“Airport noise is rightly an important concern for residents of Queens, the Bronx, and Nassau County, and that is why I am directing the Port Authority to open a full and thorough dialogue with the impacted communities while also pursuing a noise study to better address the issue,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will listen to local residents and ensure their input is used to make both JFK and LaGuardia airports better neighbors.”

The initiative to mitigate noise includes the Port Authority commencing community roundtables with FAA officials and community representatives in April for both airports. The gatherings will also include elected officials and will be held on a regularly scheduled basis.

From the Times Ledger:

Washington has given the Port Authority the go-ahead on a plan to rehabilitate a runway at JFK Airport, but those in adjacent neighborhoods opposed to the construction said they intend to appeal the decision.

The Federal Aviation Administration told the Port Authority March 10 it found no significant environmental impact from the agency’s plan to widen and extend runway 4L/22R 728 feet closer toward Idlewild Park in order to build federally mandated safety zones at either end of the tarmac.

“Given your desire to implement this project in the very near future,” the FAA wrote, the Port Authority should make a public notice of the decision “as soon as possible.”

The PA, which is planning to begin construction next month and wrap up near the end of 2015, published a notice in a Queens weekly newspaper last week of the FAA’s decision and a link to the website where it will be available until mid-May.

Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the environmental-steward group Eastern Queens Alliance, has been skeptical of the proposal since its inception. In an area that has long been beleaguered by low-flying planes, she said, even a slight increase in airport noise has to be taken in context.

“They say their model shows it’s not a significant impact, but in a community already overburdened by noise, to say a little bit more is not going to impact you doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “We are not happy with the decision. We have 60 days from March 14 to file an appeal and we’re really going to be moving in that direction.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

From Wiggles to scribbles

"The nude ladies are gone but in their place comes another vice, vandalism. Gives Rego Park a bad image either way." - Anonymous

I'm sure Karen Koslowitz and Melinda Katz will get right on this...

105th Precinct may get split

From the Times Ledger:

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) this week applauded the dedication of Borough President Melinda Katz after she named the creation of a new police precinct to cover the northeastern part of the borough as one of her top budget priorities for the 2015 fiscal year.

The creation of a 116th Precinct was included in a list of budget priorities that was unanimously approved by the Borough Board at a budget meeting earlier this month. The new precinct would split the 105th Precinct in half and take over the southeastern part of the area to alleviate some of the stress.

The 105th is one of the largest precincts in the city, covering Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Bellerose, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park and Floral Park. Lawmakers and community members have fought in the past for funding that would divide the precinct’s responsibilities to reduce response times over such a large coverage area.

“The sheer size of the 105th Precinct and the lack of resources that all the precincts in New York City are currently facing presents a very good case for the creation of a new police precinct to better address the rising population in Queens,” said Avella, who has been pushing for the split since his time in the City Council.

Avella introduced legislation in 2011 that called for the division of the 105th and 109th precincts, which covers the northern areas of the borough in Flushing, East Flushing, Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechurst and Bay Terrace. His bill would have split the 109th into two precincts, one dedicated strictly to Flushing and another to take over the remaining area.

Though the NYPD is a city-run agency, Avella’s office said the Senate does have the power to amend its administrative code and call for the split, but the bill would most likely need support from the City Council before being voted on in the Senate.

While the item included in Katz’s budget priorities speaks only of the 105th, unlike Avella’s legislation, the senator said he is still pleased to see that the proposal is finally making progress among other city leaders.

It takes almost 10 minutes to get an ambulance

From the NY Post:

Fire Department ambulances take 9 minutes and 22 seconds on average to arrive at medical emergencies from the time a call is first placed to 911, new city data shows.

It’s the first time that the city has been able to measure response times from the time a call is placed rather than from the time a call is assigned to the FDNY or NYPD dispatcher.

The previous measurement put ambulance response times to life-threatening medical emergencies at 6 minutes and 45 seconds — a nearly 3-minute difference that alarmed City Council members.

“I’m troubled by the new numbers I’ve seen,” Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee Chair Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens) said Thursday morning at a budget hearing at City Hall. “Nine minutes and 22 seconds for life-threatening emergencies is too high.”

More people contracting TB

From the Queens Courier:

A Hillcrest High School student recently exposed to tuberculosis is receiving treatment and recovering from the potentially deadly bacterial infection, officials said.

The Health Department tested 170 students and six staff members who might have been at risk at the Queens school Tuesday as a precaution.

“Given that the person with TB is receiving treatment, there is no health risk to students or staff currently at the school,” a department spokeswoman said.

Tuberculosis cases are on the rise in the city for the first time in a decade, health officials said. They increased 1 percent from 651 in 2012 to 656 in 2013.

Most people infected were foreign-born, living in Flushing, western Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn, according to the Health Department.

Officials said 19 out of 100,000 people have contracted the disease in Corona, Woodside, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Maspeth and 15 out of 100,000 in Flushing.

“Many are likely infected in their country of origin and developed TB after entering the U.S.,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said.

Watch the Willets West press conference

I know that I covered this already, but I enjoyed Ben Haber's rant at the end of this video so much that I wanted you all to see it.

And at ~10:55, Melinda Katz, Leroy Comrie and Barry Grodenchik get read the riot act as well.

Fun times!

[Provided by LoScalzo Media Design LLC; copyright 2014.]

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NYC schools are pretty segregated

From Crains:

New York state has the most segregated public schools in the nation, with many black and Latino students attending schools with virtually no white classmates, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles looks at enrollment trends from 1989 to 2010.

In New York City, the largest school system in the U.S. with 1.1 million pupils, the study notes that many of the charter schools created over the last dozen years are among the least diverse of all, with less than 1% white enrollment at 73% of charter schools.

"To create a whole new system that's even worse than what you've got really takes some effort," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project and an author of the report.

He and his fellow researchers say segregation has the effect of concentrating black and Latino students in schools with high ratios of poor students compared with the statewide average. Black and Latino students who attend schools that are integrated by race and income level perform significantly better than their peers in segregated schools, the authors note.

The study suggests that New York's segregation is largely due to housing patterns, but that it could be mitigated through policies intended to promote diversity.

Rock climbing gym opens in spite of bribery charge

From LIC Post:

The owner of the Cliffs at LIC, a gigantic indoor rock-climbing center located on 44th Drive, reopened today after being shut down by the Building Dept. in October for not having a valid Certificate of Occupancy.

“I feel the world has come off my shoulders,” said Mike Wolfert, the owner of the Cliffs. “They put us through an intensive audit.”

The Cliffs had its grand opening last October, but was shut down just three weeks later. Therefore, Wolfert said, when he reopened today it felt like a grand opening once again – especially after the climbers began to scale the walls.

The Cliffs, located at 11-11 44th Drive, features more than 30,000 square feet of climbing space — including walls that tower up to 60-feet high. The center also has a gym, which is fully equipped with strength-training equipment and cardiovascular machines.

However, the past year has certainly been no party for Wolfert.

He had planned to open in May but complications with the building department — including his arrest for allegedly bribing a building inspector – delayed the opening.

However, when he did open in October an anonymous complaint was filed that alleged the Cliffs had violated city zoning laws. While that complaint was unfounded and dismissed, it led to a building inspector coming to the facility and reporting that he did not have a valid Certificate of Occupancy.

All of the delays — from May through March — have cost Wolfert about $500,000, he said.

So did he bribe the guy or what?

No sidewalk café permit for Nonna's

From the Queens Courier:

The City Council unanimously struck down a controversial bid for a Whitestone sidewalk café Wednesday.

Owners of Nonna’s Pizzeria & Trattoria wanted to wrap an outdoor sitting area around their 22-30 154th St. Italian restaurant.

But a handful of neighbors said the proposal would bring excessive noise and take away parking spaces.

Lawmakers said the sidewalk is also not wide enough and too close to residential homes.

“The impact of this victory should ensure all future applicants make every effort to address the concerns of the community board and neighboring residents,” Councilman Paul Vallone said.

Council Member's campaign workers charged with fraud

From the Daily News:

Three former campaign workers for Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo were officially charged with fraud Wednesday.

Betty Julien, Elbin Lopez and Luis Vargas were quietly arrested Tuesday night — eight months after being accused by the elected official of forging signatures for her reelection petitions.

The trio of hired staffers were fingered by the Councilwoman after volunteers for her primary challenger, Julio Pabon, noticed names such as Derek Jeter Jr. and Kate Moss on the rolls.

“I thought this was all behind me,” said Lopez, 49, looking dazed as he left the courtroom.

Arroyo, who went on to win both the primary and general elections, was nearly booted from the ballot for lack of legitimate signatures.

A staggering 81% of the 3,339 signatures filed by the campaign were deemed invalid.

After accusations of fraud were filed against Arroyo by a lawyer for Pabon’s campaign, the councilwoman claimed she and her mother, Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, were the first to notice page after page of forgeries in the petitions.

“We have concluded that they falsified these documents,” Arroyo said during a Board of Elections hearing in July. The Councilwoman added that the only thing she thought she was guilty of was “trusting people too much.”

Feds investigating Scarborough

From the Daily News:

The FBI raided the Albany office of a Queen state assemblyman Wednesday morning.

Assembly William Scarborough, a Democrat, told reporters the feds and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office are probing whether he abused his Assembly travel expenses.

Scarborough, first elected to the Assembly in 1994, insisted he’s acted legally.

The FBI raided his home in Queens, his district office, his Albany office and his Albany hotel room.

He said they took his records and his smartphone.

The veteran lawmaker in 2012 led the Assembly in putting in for travel expenses known as per diems — $33,986 worth.

Assemblyman William Scarborough led the chamber in putting in for travel expenses.

He has regularly been among the per diem leaders in his chamber.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bag tax revisited

From CBS New York:

It gives new meaning to the four letter word “tote.” New Yorkers will have to shoulder the burden of bringing their own bags to a vast array of supermarkets and department stores — or pay a 10-cent fee for each and every bag — paper or plastic — under sweeping recycling legislation being considered by the city council.

“We could save approximately $10 million a year if we could significantly reduce the amount of plastic shopping bags we use on an annual basis,” Deputy Sanitation Commissioner Ron Gonen said.

Though the $10 million savings means a lot in these tough budget times, the legislation is meant to decrease the burden on landfills and the sanitation system.

Asked to charge consumers the carryout bag fee would be markets and bodegas; street vendors selling fruit, vegetables and general merchandise, and retail stores, including clothing, drug and department stores.

Exempt are restaurants, bags for medication at pharmacies, and liquor stores, Kramer reported.

The exemptions really make no sense. A package of meat bought at a supermarket is likely to leak. A pair of pants purchased at a department store is not.

Hold that bus!

From PIX 11:

The race is always on to get to our train and, eventually, then the bus or another subway.

A missed connection means the difference between being on-time and being late.

The MTA is testing a system at the Coney Island-Stillwell Terminal in Brooklyn. The new lights signal to bus drivers on the Coney Island-bound B36 and Spring Creek-bound B82 buses that the trains at the end of the line in Coney Island have arrived.

The Transit Agency says the new lights are being used during the late night and early morning hours because those times have the longest waits.

“These new holding lights will make certain that late night riders won’t miss the bus after they leave the train, helping to create as seamless a trip as possible,” said President MTA Bus President Darryl Irick.

Other locations are being considered at other transit hubs in Queens and Brooklyn.

Laughing all the way to the bank

From Crains:

Real estate scion and former governor Eliot Spitzer is selling a big portfolio of apartments his family owns on the East Side in a deal that could fetch $145 million or more.

Mr. Spitzer has put 144 rental units at the Corinthian, a huge apartment tower his father Bernard Spitzer began building in the mid 1980s and finished in 1987. Robert Knakal, chairman of the brokerage firm Massey Knakal Realty Services, is marketing the apartments and confirmed the units were on the market.

“The market for any type of property today, but especially residential assets, is spectacular,” Mr. Knakal said. “It’s a great time to take advantage of it.”

The 57-story building, at 330 E. 38th St., is one of Manhattan’s largest residential towers, with 863 units, and a distinct columnar facade that provides the apartments inside with curving bay windows that offer sweeping views of midtown. The Spitzers sold most of those apartments in the years immediately after they constructed the tower, but when the city’s sales market slowed by the late 1980s, they decided to hold on to 144 units and convert them to rental properties.

The family has held onto the apartments, which are scattered throughout the tower, ever since.

Having lost a tightly-fought bid for city comptroller last year and with his father in his 80s and in poor health, the deal is also a sign that the younger Spitzer has begun to take a more active hand in steering the family’s real estate business. In December, he acquired a prime development site in the Hudson Yards for $88 million.

The sale of the Corinthian apartments could be a way for Mr. Spitzer to raise capital for future acquisitions or help finance the purchases he has made.

Reform pol doesn't care who gives him money

From City and State:

Another progressive whose TIE fundraising appears to be incongruous with his politics is Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who, like Johnson, was selected as a freshman by his borough colleagues to be a co-leader of their respective delegations. Menchaca ran as a reformist insurgent against Sara Gonzalez, whom he vilified as a tool of “Manhattan millionaire developers” for receiving support from Jobs for New York, the Real Estate Board’s independent expenditure arm. But soon after taking office, Menchaca accepted $1,500 in TIE funding from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, which is essentially run and funded by the same major property owners who spearheaded Jobs for New York.

Menchaca also took $1,500 from John Ciafone, a Queens lawyer and property owner who was listed on Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s Worst Slumlord watchlist in 2011. De Blasio returned two large contributions from Ciafone when it was revealed that he was a donor, but Menchaca is apparently untroubled by or unaware of whom he is accepting from.

John Ciafone’s wife is Gina Argento, the CEO of Broadway Stages, a large television and film production studio and sound stage company in Brooklyn and Queens. Argento and her brother Anthony Argento are prolific contributors to political campaigns, and each gave $1,500 to Menchaca’s TIE committee.

Last year the Argentos applied to have a subsidiary company, Luna Lighting, receive a license to operate as a trade waste business, which would allow the company to cart demolition and construction debris from worksites. As the Argentos have ownership interest in many industrial sites that they would like to repurpose for other commercial uses (for example, the Knockdown Center in Maspeth), owning their own demolition hauling company would provide vertical integration to their business. The city’s Business Integrity Commission issued a harsh denial of the Argentos’ application, citing a history of illegal carting by Luna Lighting, and also misrepresentation by Anthony Argento of his arrest record.

Furthermore, Anthony Argento was shown to have over $1 million in federal tax liens against him, as well as his business. As of April 2013 Argento owed the Internal Revenue Service more than $600,000. This information was all published by the city and is a matter of public record. One imagines that Menchaca or his staff must have done some cursory analysis of who was giving him money. Or perhaps the Argentos have papered the city with enough contributions that their questionable business practices do not raise the eyebrows of even the most progressive elected officials.


"Today's reformer is tomorrow's hack." - Meade Esposito

The Birdman of Flushing

Indeed, there's more to New York than NY. There's also this guy. I hope he had food, otherwise, this scene would be extra creepy.

Photo by the Flushing Phantom

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

RKO Keith's mystery sign

"Is NYC the Keith's real owner as suggested by this placard?" - The Flushing Phantom
Hmmm. The permit for the sidewalk shed was indeed applied for by HPD. But ownership still appears to be private as per ACRIS.

Killing wildlife hasn't made flying safer


When a flock of Canada geese collided with US Airways flight 1549, forcing Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to ditch the plane in the Hudson River in 2009, the threat that wildlife poses to aviators exploded onto the national stage.

Since then, ridding New Jersey’s airport runways of animals has become daily business for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Since 2008, the agency has killed nearly 6,000 animals, mainly birds, that have congregated in areas it deemed to be a threat to aircraft safety at Newark Liberty International and Teterboro airports.

The problem is, these efforts are having no significant impact. The birds, it seems, don’t know that they are supposed to be scared away.

An analysis of Port Authority and Federal Aviation Administration data by The Star-Ledger shows that though the agency has expanded its wildlife management program considerably since 2009, wildlife collisions with aircraft at New Jersey airports have not declined.

Though most wildlife strikes do not cause any issue, several planes arriving or departing from New Jersey airports typically do sustain damage each year.

An aircraft at one of the Port Authority’s New Jersey airports collides with an animal, typically a bird, about once every two days — a figure that has remained virtually unchanged every year since 2008, the year before the Flight 1549 crash.

During that time, however, the number of animals — from European starlings to foxes to the threatened American kestrel — killed by the Port Authority has skyrocketed. In Newark, for example, just 10 animals were killed by the agency in 2008, while 1,267 were killed two years later.

Hipster hot tub!

Located at Wythe Ave and Rutledge Street in Williamsburg. That sure looks safe! And why would we be forklifting a hot tub to the roof of a warehouse, anyway?

Little Bay Park soccer fields need work

Dear Parks Department,

Attached are photos of the Little Bay soccer fields. As you are aware, the CYO uses these fields for soccer programs that benefit the children of the surrounding communities. We have been trying for years to get these fields repaired and or replaced, let alone maintained.

Several years ago the fields were plagued with contaminated soil (placed there by the Parks Department in an attempt to raise the level of the field) which contained dirty diapers, used syringes, as well as other contaminants. Last year, we had to deal with large rocks and pockets of holes all over the fields. Now this! We understand their is money to replace at least one field if not both. In the interim, this is what our community and our children have to deal with. Your assistance in re-mediating this field ASAP would be greatly appreciated. As you are aware soccer season is fast approaching and practices have already been scheduled.

Mind you, this is a soccer field that is scheduled to be used by over 600 community children beginning this week. The wood chips and the tire groves that are over 6 inches deep should not be here.

Thank you,
Alfredo Centola
Malba Gardens Civic Association
Community Activist

Don't renew your CitiBike membership!

From the Daily News:

Over the 10 months since Citi Bike debuted, more than 97,000 riders forked over $95 for a yearly permit to pedal the blue bikes.

In exchange, they have gotten lousy treatment from a mismanaged company that is going broke and planning to ask for either a rate hike or taxpayer support.

Under Mayor Bloomberg and now Mayor de Blasio, the Department of Transportation has been ineffectual in forcing Bike Share NYC to get its act together.

DOT refuses, for example, to voice anything but muted criticism, despite knowing how badly the secretive bicycle rental agent is performing.

The company’s monthly reports, filed with the city and made public for the first time by the Daily News, certify its failures:

When curbside rental docks break down, the company must repair 99% of the inoperable stations within 48 hours. It August, it reported getting to just 64%.

In January, Bike Share NYC reported fixing just 50% of docks in 48 hours, and taking care of just 37% of vandalized bicycles within 96 hours, compared with the 98% the contract demands.

Plainly, New York has ceded control of an expanding mode of street transportation to a troubled, unaccountable monopoly.

The city could fine Bike Share NYC, but that would deepen its ills. Or the city could try to boot Bike Share NYC, but that would likely bring the bikes to a halt pending arrival of a new operator.

That’s why Citi Bikers — who have been vocal about the system’s hassles online — must take matters onto their own handlebars. We suggest using the Twitter hashtag #fixcitibike to convey the message: no upgrades, no renewals.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Still no plans for Neponsit Health Care Center

From The Wave:

Waiting might be the new pastime in Rockaway. Residents wait for sand replenishment, for Build It Back to get started, for a new boardwalk, insurance payments, building permits, and so on. With all this waiting, it’s easy to overlook a soaring symbol of idleness – the Neponsit Health Care Center, closed since 1998.

Nearly sixteen years after it was abruptly closed on orders from the Giuliani administration, the beachfront property sits unused and decaying but costing the city plenty.

The Neponsit property, located at 149-25 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, is maintained by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), and it pays a lot of money for it to sit idly. The various buildings aren’t being used but HHC says it pays $266,000 annually for security and basic repairs to the property. When asked about Sandy damage, HHC made no mention of flood damage but said that “the property sustained significant damage to the guard booth and fencing as a result of Hurricane Sandy.” The cost for repairs: $139,000.

Even though it is has been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars every year into the crumbling eyesore, HHC says it has “no plans for a new structure or new use of the property.”

A covenant in the deed for the land says that it can only be used for a park or a public health facility and this can only be changed by an act of the state legislature.

Many ideas for the land have been presented at various meetings. A hearing was held in November 2006 as HHC wanted public comment on a plan to turn over the facility to the City of New York and opening the site to the development of single family homes. This idea received mixed reviews. Some community members offered alternative suggestions such as a hotel, a school and a rehabilitation center for “Wounded Warriors.” Following the hearing, the HHC vote to turn the property over to the City was postponed indefinitely and the buildings continue to go unused. The carrying costs continue as well.

The land can only be used as a park or health facility, so naturally, the city wanted to develop it into homes.

Pan Am Hotel reopens as a hostel

A fan on Facebook recently brought to my attention that the Pan Am Hotel on Queens Blvd in Elmhurst has a new website, and is apparently being run as both a hotel and hostel. People on a budget will be able to afford to visit New York and the property has found a similar use to its previous incarnation. Sounds like a win-win, especially considering that the entire block was up for sale and at one point there were fears of a humongous crap pile being constructed in its place.

Post-apocalyptic scene beneath the J train

Hi QC,

Talk about an eyesore (and maybe a lung sore)!
Have you seen what is left of a food factory distributor that burned about 2 years ago.
The burned out hulk remains untouched it seems since the fire. If you are on the Crescent Street platform of the J train you are right above it.
Anybody know what is planned for this? Why does the community have to see this and possibly be exposed to who knows what when the wind blows? When it rains, what toxins are leached and where?
Thanks for your coverage of local news.

Joe L

Joe, I don't know what the answer is. Usually, the FDNY/DOB orders the building to be demolished. I'm not sure why this one was left in this condition for so long. - QC

If you liked Frest Hlls, you'll love Jcksn Hgts!

I don't know which is more amusing - that this is considered by the City to be an effective ad campaign, or that this poster was found across the street from the Grant Houses in Harlem.

I can't wait to see how they mangle "Corona".

Junk cars removed from Jamaica lot

From Cleanup Jamaica Queens:

For a long time now, I have been complaining and filing reports on a vacant lot at 104-74 165th St that has had over 15 cars in various conditions, many without plates, but all I kept hearing was "Private property, we cannot just go in there" (this from some officers at the 103rd when I first reported this), "It is a sanitation issue", "We will get to it", "We need to do a long term investigation", "My mother is sick", "I have hemorrhoids", nothing but a bunch of dumb ass excuses.
But in flew Jamaica's "The Untouchables" (Officer Sgt. Cedillo, new to the 103rd precinct and his SWAT Team), who also did some investigating, but managed to have this whole area cleaned up within a couple of days. The lot is actually owned by a very shady Albert Basal of Plaza Homes, Inc on Hillside Avenue (, but an individual, who lives a few doors down from the vacant lot, was doing illegal auto repairs in this lot and Mr. Basal had no idea this was going on, at least that is what he told me. Anyway, "The Untouchable" gave Mr. Illegal Auto Repair 24 hours to remove the cars. And just like magic, they were gone. But is was not magic, it was something unknown to many, a mysterious thing called DOING YOUR JOB.

Another big kudos to Sgt. Cedillo and crew, who managed to do something within a few days, that others could not do in months.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Protest against Flushing Meadows megamall

Senator Tony Avella hosted a Press Conference today with residents, small business owners, park users, civic groups, legal advocates, community members and petitioners in support of the lawsuit that was recently filed challenging the give-away of 47+ acres of Queens parkland worth $ 1 Billion to build the "Willets West" mega-mall.

The groups met Senator Avella at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 114th Street in Corona. Everyone then marched down, chanting “Parks are not for sale,” to a close by location on Roosevelt Avenue, overlooking the proposed site for the Mega-Mall, which is currently the CitiField Stadium parking lot.

“We stand here today to say NO to park giveaway for a billion dollar development in the City of New York,” stated Senator Tony Avella. “Community members who have gathered here today all represent many different neighborhoods throughout the entire borough of Queens, all of whom are extremely upset over the Willets West mega-mall proposal. This was a true Bloomberg era back-door policy which slipped under the radar and had virtually no community input. How can we allow such a blatant parks land grab? And without any required review or oversight. The city should be ashamed for allowing this to pass despite stern and outspoken community opposition. I am proud to stand here with these groups to say STOP. Stop the illegal land grab, stop the illegal taking of our parks.”

Mr. Geoffrey Croft of Parks Advocates stated, “Quite simply, this deal was an abuse of power. Mayor Bloomberg has so far been able to successfully seize the power from the old Board of Estimate which enabled the project to bypass ALL legal approval process. No official vote from anyone except the Mayor who gifted OUR public park away to one of the City’s most successful developers. No More! This is public parkland, this is not a dispute. It does not belong to Bloomberg or the developers – it belongs to the people of the City of new York and it must be protected. The parkland was never alienated. The City simply does not have the right to seize this parkland for these non-park purposes without the consent of the State Legislation. Parks belong to the People, NOT to private corporations.”

Mr. Richard Hellenbrecht, President of the Queens Civic Congress stated, “The Congress strongly opposes any further alienation of parkland in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The Willets West mega mall proposal is yet another gross overreach of the former Bloomberg administration. The mall will not only remove public space that is used for numerous events like circuses and disabled sports, but would create competition to nearby malls and especially harm local mom and pop stores, already struggling to stay in business.”

Mr. Michael Gruen, President of the City Club of New York added, “The City Club is very pleased to participate in this important case and to underscore that great parks are currently under grave threat in the borough of Queens and throughout the City, not just Manhattan. We must do what we can to stop the shopping mall!”

Mr. Paul Graziano, a longtime civic leader from North Flushing and co-founder of Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, stated his steadfast opposition to the proposed mega-mall on parkland.

"This project represents everything that's wrong about development in New York City," Graziano said. "When billionaire friends of former Mayor Bloomberg can pervert the land use process in order to steal over 40 acres of our parkland for private commercial development - without so much as a public hearing - it is our duty as citizens and taxpayers to stop what will clearly be a terrible scenario should this be allowed to proceed. This park is the backyard, the recreational space for tens of thousands of people every weekend. While this particular part of the park is used for parking, it is also used for many other park purposes during the year. The city should be spending money helping Roosevelt Avenue merchants revitalize their commercial district, rather than giving away a piece of our public parkland valued at over $1 billion dollars."

Mr. Marty Kirchner from Queens Neighborhoods United further explained that, “The construction of a massive commercial retail center on public parkland is the anchor piece of an expansive developer-led urban overhaul of the immigrant neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing. Flanked by the simultaneous rezoning of commercial corridors near the expected site of the mall, and the proposed formation of a large-scale Business Improvement District along Roosevelt Avenue, the sprawling Willets West mega-mall and its related development projects will cause such dramatic rent hikes and traffic congestion as to permanently displace ethnic small businesses and immigrant working families from the surrounding area.”

Mr. Benjamin Haber, a long time parks activist, stated “Today’s New York Times reports Mayor de Blasio’s appointment of Mitchell Silver as the new Commissioner of Parks. He described Mr. Silver as a visionary who shared his commitment to making sure that parks work for all our people. Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Mayor. Bill de Blasio now has the opportunity to distance himself from Bloomberg’s abysmal record and to not contest the pending lawsuit that would require compliance with ULURP and legislative approval for park alienation.”

All of the speakers, including Senator Avella, are petitioners in a pending lawsuit filed against the City of New York which seeks a declaratory judgment to invalidate approvals already granted to the project. The lawsuit also seeks a declaratory judgment for a permanent injunction to prevent the construction of a megamall on City parkland without respondents having obtained required State legislative authorization and without respondents having obtained any zoning for this un-zoned park area.

The petitioners named in the lawsuit also include not for profit organizations, taxpayers, businesses in Willets Point and on nearby Roosevelt Avenue, as well as individuals who are user of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and whose residences overlook the portion of the Park at issue; all of whom stand against the mega-mall project.

Senator Avella concluded, “We now call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to tell us if he really meant what he said during his campaign because once you take away this park land, you can never bring it back again. By allowing developers to build a mega-mall at this location, the City will also take away countless jobs, as they have already started doing at the nearby Iron Triangle with respect to auto shop tenants, and cause a tremendous burden on the local mom and pop stores in the area. PARKS are simply NOT FOR SALE.”

The Queensway dream continues

From the Forum:

The Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land rolled out a new series of design concepts in anticipation of the group’s upcoming public workshops in Forest Hills and Richmond Hill.

The group announced its second round of community workshops earlier this month as part of the QueensWay feasibility and planning project with hopes of engaging the public in plans to transform an abandoned 3.5-mile stretch of railway into a 47-acre linear park and cultural greenway. A series of preliminary design concepts were released this week, showcasing the QueensWay team’s site analysis and ideas contributed by area residents during recent months.

Each of the early design concepts showcased greenery separated by sprawling walkways for Queens residents to peruse. The Friends of QueensWay spokeswoman said the group hoped it would influence a positive dialogue as the QueensWay feasibility and planning study progresses past its early stages.

I admire this group's enthusiasm and persistence (half a million dollars from TPL helps) but is this a realistic portrayal of what a park in central/southern Queens would look like? Identify where the money for building and maintaining this fantasy is expected to come from and then the community could actually have a meaningful dialogue about it.

Troublesome timber

Somehow I don't think that this Onderdonk Avenue homeowner owns that telephone pole in their front yard or appreciates the fact that it's leaning at a dangerous angle.

That well-manicured lawn sure is pretty come springtime, and it's a shame that it will be obscured this season. Plus, who would want to work on their garden when there's the threat of a Looney Tunes-type incident occurring?