Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Key controversy at LeFrak City

From the Daily News:

Orthodox Jewish tenants at LeFrak City in Queens claim they are being discriminated against because newly installed lobby doors only open with an electronic key — which they cannot use on the Sabbath, a federal lawsuit alleges.

Sulaymon Ibragimov and Murod Takhalov are suing the LeFrak Organization for alleged religious discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

“Halakha, the Jewish law, prohibits Jews from breaking or creating an electric circuit on the Sabbath, and during certain days of observance such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover,” according to the suit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

For a half century, tenants used metal keys to open the lobby doors, but a massive renovation project begun in 2012 has created new religious barriers for hundreds of Jewish families who reside at the 20-building complex in Rego Park, the class-action suit alleges.

The renovations included new lobby doors that open using an electronic key fob, which is also used to activate lights in the stairwell by using motion and sound detectors.

Ibragimov, 26, and Takhalov, 45, say they cannot use the elevator on the Sabbath or holy days as well, and the automatic lights also violate religious law for observant Jews.

How do they know that God doesn't want them to use electricity since the bible makes no mention of it?

Savvy squatter rents out pad on AirBnB

From the NY Post:

First she got herself adopted by a dying old man to hang onto his rent-controlled flat — and now she’s turned it into a hotel.

Maria DeTommaso not only refuses to vacate the two-bedroom apartment in Long Island City, Queens — for which she has no lease — but she’s advertising for paying guests through Airbnb.

“She can’t rent rooms. This is not a rooming house,” said Sugrim Outar, the landlord who has been fighting to evict DeTommaso since her adoptive dad, Nicholas DeTommaso, died in 2009.

Maria DeTommaso was 58 when she was adopted weeks before the death of Nicholas, a senile 85-year-old who paid $100 a month as the legal occupant.

The state ruled in 2013 that she was not entitled to the rent-controlled apartment, but she has fought to keep it.

Wow, that's a lot of bullets flying!

Attack of the drones!

From WPIX:

More concerns at JFK Airport after a series of midair drone sightings, making three over the weekend.

Two separate flight over JFK spotted drones flying too close for comfort on Friday, prompting warning’s from the Department of Homeland Security that would be terrorists could use drones to attack the public. Another was spotted Sunday near the Queens hub.

The concern among security officials is the possibility that recreational drones could dangerous side of the coin is the threat to commercial jetliners.

Senator Charles Schumer over the weekend called for tough FAA rules on drones, as well as geofencing software that could prohibit a done to fly higher than 500 feet, and keep it two miles away from any airport or sensitive area.

Both of those flights landed safely without having to take evasive action on Friday, and the drone sightings are being investigated by both the Port Authority and the FAA.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Barry Grodenchik: By the numbers

Barry Grodenchik CFB-07292015

Other information on donors of note:

Grodenchik, a multi-decade employee at Borough Hall with a single term in the New York State Assembly more than a decade ago as his only electoral experience, has raised more funds from other elected and former elected official campaign chests ($8,500) than all of his in-district contributions from the 23rd Council District ($8,297) combined.

Grodenchik's contributors are an example of how the Queens County Democratic Machine tries to bulldoze their way to a victory in what should be a competitive race for elected office. More than 40% of his significant contributions come from direct political connections, including elected officials, former elected officials, judges, political staffers, community board chairs and district managers (including some from Boards 8, 11 and 13 which is partially in the 23rd Council District), and, also importantly, those people whose organizations have benefitted from the purse strings of Borough Hall, where he has been a staffer for decades. And this doesn't even include developers or other businesses looking to get favors and approvals from Borough Hall.

Some examples:

The campaign chests of Liz Crowley and Mark Weprin each gave him $2,750, while Dan Garodnick, a Councilmember from Manhattan gave him $2,000 from his war chest. District Leader Martha Taylor, the co-leader with David Weprin for that area, gave him $250 from her abortive run for City Council in 2013, while Andrew Hevesi gave him $500 and former Assemblymember Jonathan Bing gave him $250 from his old campaign chest (still active) and $175, the maximum public match for an individual donation; Liz Crowley also gave him another $175.

The NYC Property Tax Fairness PAC gave Grodenchik $500. This Political Action Committee, which operates out of Albany, is run by David Weinraub, a partner of Brown & Weinraub, PLLC, listed as the 7th in a list of New York State's Top 10 Lobbyists in 2014 on the City and State NY website. In 2013, they also hired the former top aide and chief legal counsel to Sheldon Silver, Michael Boxley, who was convicted of sexually abusing a legislative staffer, as a principal in the firm.

Rosemary Vietor, VP of the Bowne House Historical Society, donated $1,000; the Bowne House received significant funding from the Borough President's office for its recent restoration.

Daniel Zausner, COO of the United States Tennis Association, donated $250; the USTA was given public parkland to expand their footprint in 2013, bullishly supported by the Borough President's office during the ULURP land use process.

The owner, Simon Pelman, family members and some employees, of the Union Plaza Nursing Home in Flushing - where Community Board 7 holds its meetings - gave Grodenchik $3,575 more than *all* of the developers and real estate contributions combined. Pelman owns and operates multiple nursing homes throughout Queens. He wrote a letter of support to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman during the trial of William Rapfogel, the former President of the Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty who embezzled $9 million and used much of the money to make campaign contributions, through straw donors, to win the favor of political candidates.

The largest real estate contributions were $1,000 from Christian Lee, the Principal of F+T Group, developers of the under-construction Flushing Commons on the site of the former Municipal Parking Lot, who received their approvals from Borough Hall; and Thomas D. Wong, a "retired" real estate broker from Maspeth, who contributed $1,175. Carl Mattone, President of the Mattone Group, made sure to drop him a small $250 contribution to remind him that they are still in the local development game.

The President, Wu-Hsing Liao, his family/employees, and the C.E.O. of Asia Bank, N.A., based in downtown Flushing, contributed $1,200 to Grodenchik.

Finally, the owners and family of Plaza College in Forest Hills, the Callahans of Douglas Manor and Whitestone, gave four contributions of $175 each totaling $700. Plaza College is interesting for several reasons: not only is it a small private college celebrating a century in operation next year, it has been run by the same family since its founding. More interesting are some of the people sitting on its Board of Directors:

  • Leo Fakler, Tommy Huang's architect in the 1980s and a favorite of Borough Hall
  • Marilyn McAndrews, a staffer for Community Board 7
  • Helen Sears, the former Councilmember for Jackson Heights and Elmhurst and now Deputy City Clerk, working in the basement of Borough Hall handing out marriage licenses
  • Al Pennisi - The President of the Queens Chamber of Commerce

Draw your own conclusions, folks!

Don't be fooled by Bill's affordable housing plan

From Capital New York:

Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to unveil a new aspect of his affordable housing plan in the coming weeks—a mandate that developers build a specific number of units for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers when they seek formal city approval to rezone land for their projects.

The plan, outlined to Capital in advance of its rollout by administration and City Council officials, would require builders to set aside 25 percent of their units for affordable housing. The average unit would be rented to residents earning 60 percent of the area median income—a calculation that currently equals $46,620 for a family of three.

The policy, known as "mandatory inclusionary zoning" or "mandatory inclusionary housing," would come with a second option—reserving 30 percent of all units at an average of 80 percent of the area median income, or $62,150 for a family of three.

The Department of City Planning, in concert with the local City Council member for a given development, would decide which option to choose—not the builder, the officials said.


Ah, someone's playing with numbers here. Affordable housing income thresholds are generally based on a family of four, not three, making this look like a better deal than it is. And by making this to apply only to new rezonings and not new buildings in all existing zones, what it means is that a whole lot of folks are going to lose their affordable apartments and get locked out of the more expensive "affordable" apartments in the new developments.

$62,150 for a family of 3 falls way above what most people who truly need affordable housing are making. And this is citywide, which means these income requirements apply whether you live in housing on the Upper East Side or in East New York. Which means increased gentrification of low income neighborhoods and more homeless families to fill up shelters.

It also means that developers will seek rezonings with higher density in order to cover the affordable housing requirement. So instead of an R6 zone, they'll ask for an R7.

Anything to appease developers while making it appear as though you're helping the downtrodden, right Bill?

City lays off fining small businesses

From the Daily News:

The city is polishing its relationship with small businesses, dramatically cutting the number of tickets issued to mom-and-pop stores.

After years of complaints from small businesses, the number of violations doled out by the city has plummeted over the past 18 months, and the total fines raked in have been cut in half, Mayor de Blasio announced Friday.

The number of violations dropped from a whopping 19,409 in fiscal year 2014 — which included the last months of Michael Bloomberg’s regime — to 11,923 in fiscal year 2015, which just ended.

At the same time, the amount of revenue the city has collected from fines fell from $32.5 million to just over $15.7 million, officials said.

Seriously slobbish in Flushing

"Broadway LIRR station eastbound, Station Road. Drug/beer/party location...and trash." - The Flushing Phantom

Gazette has interesting definition of "columnist"

The Queens Gazette published an "article" about how their "columnist" John Ciafone, was featured recently in New York Magazine. Both links look like ads to me and not editorial. But whatever. Here are some shots of his new digs in a building renovated by Broadway Stages last year.
Before - 2nd floor office above check cashing biz (above) and now in his luxurious first floor suite - of course with ample signage (below)
That's a great use of discarded campaign posters!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Alligator may be roaming Flushing Meadows

From Eyewitness News:

Another roaming reptile may have been spotted in New York City, this time in Queens.

Saturday morning, the NYPD took to Twitter with photos showing officers on the hunt for an alligator reportedly seen in Flushing Meadow Park.

The search revealed no sign of the elusive gator the police named 'Jaws'.

Car wash workers ripped off

From DNA Info:

A group of car washers is accusing its Jamaica employer of paying less than the minimum wage and cheating workers out of overtime.

The workers, who filed a lawsuit against A.J.A. Car Wash at 107-05 Merrick Blvd. in Brooklyn Federal Court Wednesday, said they are seeking back wages which they estimate add up to $400,000.

“I generally worked six days a week for over 70 hours a week but the boss doesn’t pay us any overtime,” said Miguel Yax, 34, who has worked at A.J.A. Car Wash for more than 15 years.

According to the lawsuit, Yax, who in 2009 was making $4.75 an hour, currently gets $7 an hour.

Other workers, the lawsuit claims, are paid $6 an hour.

The lawsuit also says that the car wash sends workers home without pay on rainy days and does not divide tips equally among the employees.

Unfilled potholes cost taxpayers a bundle

From Crains:

New York City should be quicker to repair potholes, which have cost taxpayers $138 million in settlements over the last six years, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Thursday.

Mr. Stringer released an analysis that showed that the Belt Parkway had the most pothole claims involving vehicles over the six-year period —706— and Broadway was the street with the most pedestrian trip-and-fall claims at 195.

"If you happen to drive on the Belt, please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers," Mr. Stringer joked at a news conference in Greenwich Village.

Mr. Stringer said it took an average of 6.7 days for the Department of Transportation to complete a pothole work order in the first four months of fiscal year 2015, nearly triple the 2.4 days it took in the previous year.

Indictments in construction workers' deaths

From the Daily News:

Two construction managers are facing homicide charges in the death of a Queens hardhat who was crushed by a collapsing wall at a Meatpacking District work site, the Daily News has learned.

Wilmer Cuevas, 49, and Alfonso Prestia, 55, have been indicted for allegedly refusing to shut down the Ninth Ave. site April 6 after an engineer assigned to observe the work warned them it was too dangerous, police sources said.

The engineer’s fears were realized just moments later when a portion of a wall collapsed onto a pit 20 feet below street level — killing 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo.

“There was a life that was lost,” Moncayo’s brother-in-law Tobias Espejo, 35, told The News. “If this was an accident and they didn’t take responsibility, they are responsible.”

Cuevas, of Sky Materials Corp., and Prestia, of Hartco Consultants Corp., have been indicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and reckless endangerment, sources said.