Friday, April 20, 2018

Contractor dumped lead contaminated soil near Middle Village school

Photo by Christopher Barca/Queens Chronicle
From the Queens Chronicle:

A $22 million sewer main project in Middle Village that was nearing completion suddenly stalled in December, and no one in the community knew exactly why.

There was some talk among area leaders that workers were transferred to another job site or that they had various problems digging into the ground.

But on Tuesday, Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) said the real reason for the project’s halting was much scarier.

“The Department of Design and Construction sent four representatives to my office on Friday and they told me the project stopped because of contaminants in the soil,” Holden said. “I asked one gentleman what were the contaminents in the soil.

“He said high levels of lead.”

As if that wasn’t a big enough issue, the lawmaker said that problematic soil that had been excavated during the Penelope Avenue sewer work is sitting in a yard leased by CAC Industries — the project contractor — across the street from PS/IS 128, a K-8 school in Middle Village.

The massive mounds of dirt had been sitting uncovered at the site, possibly for months, as a tarp wasn’t placed over them until this week.

And at both a press conference and Community Education Council District 24’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, Holden said the person who spoke about the high lead levels — a senior DDC project manager based in the immediate area — was contradicted by his colleagues over how dangerous the soil was and if it was covered.

The lawmaker added he visited the site last Friday and noticed the massive mound of soil was uncovered. But on Monday, he claimed, DDC Acting Commissioner Ana Barrio falsely told him it had been covered the entire time and that the agency project manager “misspoke” regarding lead levels.

DEP bribery scheme detailed

From NBC:

A former New York City Department of Environmental Protection employee was cuffed in a $165 million construction corruption scheme. Erica Byfield reports.

When it rains, it floods in Bayside

From NBC:

Residents in Bayside, Queens, says paving crews did such a poor job resurfacing roads that it now regularly floods when it rains. Roseanne Colletti reports.

LPC Chair resigns

From the NY Times:

The chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission announced on Thursday that she was stepping down from her post, after nearly four years of a sometimes tumultuous stewardship.

The chairwoman, Meenakshi Srinivasan, had faced fierce opposition to a set of proposed rule changes that critics said would weaken protections for historic buildings in New York City.

Those changes would, among other things, put the commission staff in charge of some types of landmarks decisions. Critics said that would remove decisions from public view and eliminate the chance for public comment.

At a commission hearing on March 27, an overwhelming majority of speakers voiced opposition to those rules; at least one speaker at the hearing called for the removal of the chairwoman, to loud applause.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another de Blasio fundraiser busted

From the Daily News:

A Queens construction magnate who has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns across the state made illegal straw donations to Mayor de Blasio and other candidates during the 2013 election to gain political favor, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Husam Ahmad, whose deep pockets have helped fill the war chests of de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and dozens of other elected officials, was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court for making false statements about the contributions.

He was also charged for his role in a massive corruption and bribery scheme that involved paying off a mid-level city official for inside information on contracts.

Ahmad — who until two months ago served on the board of the de Blasio-controlled Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York — leaned on HAKS employees to make political contributions at fundraising luncheons at the company’s 40 Wall St. office, prosecutors said.

The soirees — where finger food and sandwich wraps were served — were held for De Blasio, Joe Lhota and Bill Thompson, all mayoral candidates in 2013.

A HAKS administrative assistant would keep tabs on the employees’ donations, then Ahmad would reimburse them with year-end bonuses, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Federal and state laws prohibit an individual from reimbursing a donor for their contributions.

Council wants to go after AirBnB

From Crain's:

The City Council hopes to pump up a task force targeting illegal home rentals—a move that could deflate Airbnb.

Speaker Corey Johnson's response to Mayor Bill de Blasio's budget proposal calls for injecting an additional $2 million into the Office of Special Enforcement, an investigations unit that conjoins half a dozen city agencies and often enforces state statutes barring transient occupancy. Johnson's request would bring the team's budget to $6.8 million and could enlarge its staff to 47 employees from 27.

"The increase could add approximately 20 new staff and allow OSE to take a more proactive approach to enforcement," the document, released last week, states.

In most cases, state law requires that a permanent occupant remain on-site whenever paying guests stay in an apartment or house for fewer than 30 days. The state also passed a law in 2016 outlawing the advertising of arrangements that would violate this rule. Both have dug into the business of booking site Airbnb, though the San Francisco–based tech giant has said it works hard to keep its listings and rentals in compliance.

The council's redoubled effort against scofflaw rentals comes in the wake of a hotel industry–funded mail and TV advertising offensive slamming Airbnb for allegedly putting upward pressure on rents. It also follows a zealous campaign by the Hotel Trades Council—the union representing traditional hospitality workers—to elect council members supportive of Johnson's speaker candidacy and to lobby the Bronx and Queens Democratic machines on his behalf.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

DeBlasio cronies rake in dough for homeless housing

From the Daily News:

Twin brothers with identical eye-popping salaries have been double-dipping off their nonprofit that provides housing to the city’s homeless — even as their clients suffered poor service and have been blindsided by eviction notices.

Mark and Solomon Lazar, the sons of Joseph Lazar, a former political ally of Mayor de Blasio, each make $240,000 a year as the top executives of the Brooklyn-based nonprofit LCG Community Services. But their big checks don’t end there.

The city has paid millions of dollars to LCG Community Services to place homeless families in temporary housing since 2012. The city also awarded LGC a four-year, $10.9 million contract in 2015 to run a Brooklyn shelter.

Mark and Solomon Lazar, in turn, use LCG to pay millions of dollars to a for-profit firm, Razzal Hospitality and Management — which they own.

Razzal manages many of the properties where LCG places homeless families.

In 2016, LCG paid Razzal $2.7 million to manage part of its cluster-site housing — a controversial city program that places homeless families in private apartment buildings, according to the nonprofit’s most recent federal tax filing.

LCG also paid $1.94 million to the Lazar brothers’ private firm in 2015 and $1.4 million in 2014, records show.

Meanwhile, LCG clients who live in cluster housing sites in the Bronx have complained in a lawsuit about bad conditions in their units, including roach infestations, leaky toilets and broken appliances.

College Point hotel raises concerns

From the Times Ledger:

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined concerned College Point residents who are unhappy with a proposed hotel Tuesday afternoon.

Avella and community members denounced the plans to construct a six-story hotel at 14-61 127th St., the former site of a single-story building. The rally comes weeks after Avella wrote three letters to the city Department of Buildings expressing concerns that the hotel, located in an M1-1 zoning district, would be totally inappropriate. In his letters he pointed out that the traffic situation in College Point is already bad due to the narrow streets and there is already over-development in the area.

He said he has yet to receive a sufficient response from DOB, but the agency did agree that turning a one-story building into a six-story hotel should not be considered an “alteration” as the developer originally claimed.

Residents at the rally said the hotel would be totally out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. Avella and community leaders have held multiple meetings with the owner of the property in hopes of coming to an agreement on a better use of the land without success. Avella said at one point the developer agreed to an alternative use for the location but quickly changed his mind and went back to his plans for a hotel at the site.

There are only 2 reasons you would put a hotel in College Point and neither of them are good ones.