Monday, January 31, 2011

Ackerman wants new VA hospital

From Douglaston Patch:

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-Bayside, is calling on the federal government to build a hospital for veterans in Queens, rather than redevelop the property at an existing extended care facility in the borough.

The congressman is urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to create a new full-service hospital at the site of the St. Albans Primary and Extended Care Center.

“I am concerned that the current St. Albans plan would be inadequate for the burgeoning needs of returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans,” the congressman wrote in a letter to Eric Shinseki, the U.S. secretary for Veterans Affairs.

Ackerman said he believed the VA’s “Enhanced Use Lease” plan, which would modernize the current hospital in St. Albans by leasing 25 acres of the site for private development, could be inadequate for local veterans.

Meeks under investigation

From the NY Post:

Rep. Gregory Meeks is the subject of a congressional ethics probe centered on his financial-disclosure forms, which have been rife with omissions, The Post has learned.

The investigation by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is ongoing even as the panel's leadership changed with the new Congress, a source told The Post.

The lapses in the Queens Democrat's annual financial filings include his failure to reveal at least one of his wife's sources of income -- a teaching job at Queens College, The Post has learned.

Monserrate denied by judge!

From the NY Post:

Broke and disgraced ex-pol Hiram Monserrate lost his high-powered defense lawyer this morning after a judge refused to let him use taxpayer money to pay his bills.

Manhattan federal Judge Colleen McMahon told the unemployed Queens Democrat that only a defendant who can afford to pay for legal representation gets to choose his lawyer.

She also called Monserrate's past relationship with lawyer Joseph Tacopina "absolutely irrelevant" to the rules governing the selection of court-appointed lawyers.

Tacopina -- who said he charges $750 an hour -- previously represented Monserrate on domestic-violence charges that got him booted from the state Senate after he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend.

Monserrate, who's currently charged with misusing more than $100,000 in "slush" funds while serving on the City Council, declined to comment after the court hearing.

When asked what he was doing to find work, Monserrate -- who never took off his tightly buttoned, black wool coat -- only raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

In recent court papers, Monserrate claimed he had $128,000 in debts and only $100 to his name.

Corrupt pols may lose pensions

From Capital Tonight:

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is proposing legislation that would strip public officials of their pension benefits if they are convicted of a felony.

Convicted ex-pols like Joe Bruno, Alan Hevesi and recently deceased Guy Velella all collected pension benefits despite corruption convictions.

DiNapoli’s bill also imposes a penalty of up to twice the amount of money a public official garnered as a result of a crime committed while in office and elevates Official Misconduct to a felony – which, in the case of the Senate and Assembly, would also result in the loss of one’s seat.

The state constitution does not allow retirement benefits of sitting public officials to be reduced, but they would be subject to the penalty of up to twice the amount they benefited from their crime.

Sounds like we need a change in the state constitution.

Nice to see Kew!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Car buried for benefit of Bloomberg's staff

From the Daily News:

A Manhattan man's car parked across the street from Gracie Mansion was buried under several feet of snow by Sanitation workers clearing parking spaces for Mayor Bloomberg's staff.

John Connolly, 63, a veteran magazine reporter and ex-NYPD cop, said he stepped outside to clean his vehicle on East End Ave. a day after Wednesday's snowstorm dumped 19 inches on the city.

But instead, he found an army of trucks from the city's Department of Sanitation pushing snow to the side of the street where he parked his 2010 Honda Accord.

"They scooped up the snow from where the mayor's people park and they pushed it to the other side of the street," Connolly told the Daily News yesterday. "I care because my car is buried under that snow."

A Sanitation supervisor told him that a crew would be back to plow around Connolly's gray sedan, which was packed in a mound of snow more than 4-feet wide and nearly 5-feet high.

When no one returned, Connolly said he offered a few men some cash to help dig the car out. The men refused, saying it was too much work.

Hmmm, I thought the green mayor's staff took mass transit or rode bikes everywhere. This is truly puzzling.

Last ditch effort to expand Travers Park

From the Wall Street Journal:

Residents of Jackson Heights are making an 11th-hour attempt to prevent an athletic field owned by a private school from being taken over by a developer.

The Garden School, which runs from nursery school through 12th grade, has been struggling financially and was in talks with the city to sell its 29,000-square-foot athletic field situated across from Travers Park on 78th Street.

However, trustees of the 87-year-old Queens school voted last week to reject the city's offer, choosing instead to consider bids from developers. The city wasn't offered the opportunity to make a counterbid.

According to local City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who was facilitating sale talks with the city, the Department of Parks & Recreation made an offer of $4.7 million for 20,000 square feet of land or $4.8 million for the entire field, with a clause allowing the Garden School to use the property during school hours.

At an emergency community meeting Wednesday night attended by about 150 residents, school officials said they wanted to work with the city but they were facing financial pressures to move quickly.

"Our first choice has always been a deal with the city with a park, but we don't want to put the Garden School at risk," said Arthur Gruen, president of the school's board of trustees.

Mr. Gruen said the school had received a bid of $5.4 million for a plan to build apartments on the field. He didn't identify the bidder, but said there was no deal yet. Other developers are also interested, he said.

The Wednesday meeting concluded with community members saying they would approach banks and foundations in an attempt to forestall an immediate sale of the property.

Once again: He's just like one of us!

Crowley in the clear

From the NY Post:

WASHINGTON -- The House ethics committee has found no connection between fund-raising by Rep. Joe Crowley of New York City and his vote on a financial overhaul bill.

The committee dismissed cases against Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) and six other lawmakers after finding no evidence that they appeared to give donors special treatment or access, or that contributions were linked to official actions.

The independent Office of Government Ethics, which recommends cases for further review, had asked for the ethics committee to investigate Crowley and Republican Reps. John Campbell of California and Tom Price of Georgia.

Please note: You do not own the street

From the Daily News:

A neatly shoveled parking spot has become a rare commodity in this winter of record snowfalls - and that's pitting neighbor against neighbor in a normally agreeable part of the city.

Drivers who live in Middle Village, Queens, have been using traffic cones, garbage cans and folding chairs to call dibs on parking spots that they've huffed and puffed to clear out. And they're not taking lightly to freeloaders who swoop in.

"I broke my ass to clean that space," said one man who plopped down two plastic garbage cans in the spot he dug out from 3-foot-high snow banks across the street from his house Thursday on 81st St.

"Let them do the same," the man said of people who take advantage of the labor of others.

Igor Magoc, 53, who has lived in Middle Village for 15 years, spent two hours Thursday digging out his space. He said he feels he should be the only one allowed to park in front of his house.

"We pay taxes, over $4,000 [a year]. It would be nice to legally have the space in front of your house," he said.

People may rightly feel territorial about their shoveled spots after an intense workout, but that doesn't mean they can claim it for their exclusive use, said Robert Sinclair, spokesman for AAA New York.

"I can sympathize with them. You dig out your car and when you come back you'd like your space back, but blocking it with some sort of obstruction is illegal," Sinclair said...

But just try telling the folks who've plowed and shoveled their cars free that the practice is illegal.

"I've seen arguments break out because of it," said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, an active community group in Middle Village.

Attempting to save parking spots is a perennial source of tension in the neighborhood, but this winter's repeated snowstorms have put a premium on spaces and ratcheted up the tactics.

"People get more possessive when it's in front of their house and they dug it out. It becomes personal," Holden said.

Holden got an email recently with a photo showing a garbage can on top of a car's roof - a gesture that the car's owner felt was in retaliation for moving the trash can and taking the cleared spot.

Okay, this has been going on for decades. People think they own the space in front of their homes. They even put garbage cans out when there is no snow to reserve their spots. You do not own the street. If you dug your car out, the person parking in "your" space did the same at some point. Get a grip and get over it.

Mike replacing marsh with mall

From the Wave:

If developers have their way and the city can cut a deal with environmental naysayers, Rockaway residents may one day have a new shopping destination just north of the Gil Hodges Marine Parkway Bridge in Brooklyn.

The plan is to transform a 15-acre swath of land near Four Sparrow Marsh in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, into a car dealership and retail center. The land lies just south of the present Toys R Us store and just north of the Belt Parkway interchange. It is also just north of the Four Sparrow Marsh, the habitat for many species of birds, some of them on the protected species list, environmentalists say.

Because of the proximity of the marsh, the plan has drawn criticism from local conservation groups.

While members of that area’s community board have warmed to the idea of a new retail center, some conservation groups are worried about the environmental impact of the proposed project on Four Sparrow Marsh.

The plan calls for a 110,000-square foot Cadillac dealership to be built next to Toys R Us on Flatbush Avenue. The project is scheduled to begin the city’s land use process this spring. Developer Forest City Ratner Cos. will oversee the project, breaking ground in 2014.

There are currently two proposals for the retail center. One would allow Forest City Ratner to erect two buildings for a total of 138,000 square feet of retail space for multiple tenants. The other calls for a single 127,000-squarefoot building with one tenant.

At issue is the 67-acre Four Sparrow Marsh, which is currently a nature preserve and the nesting site of several threatened species of birds, like the seaside sparrow. The project could hurt the amount and quality of water in the basin, said New York City Audubon’s Phillips. It could also disrupt the nesting of several species of birds, he said.

The plan “does try to buffer the development site from the natural area. However the buffers are pretty small and we think they are inadequate,” he said.

Under the proposed plan, Four Sparrow Marsh would also become officially mapped parkland overseen by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. It would remain off limits to the public as a nature preserve.

God knows we have too much nature in this city and not enough Bruce Ratner projects! Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg, for this wonderful project in line with your PlaNYC 2030 goals. Just like this one.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Expanding Kennedy may harm Jamaica Bay

From the NY Times:

The New York region’s two largest airports, already choked with crowds and delays, may need to be radically reconfigured so they can make way for vitally needed additional runways that would help accommodate a projected increase of almost 50 million air travelers per year within two or three decades, according to a new study.

The study, from the Regional Plan Association, calls for as much as $15 billion to be spent at Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airports. At Newark, all three terminals would have to be at least partially razed, then rebuilt; at Kennedy, part of Jamaica Bay might have to be filled to create space for one or more new runways.

The proposed expansions would amount to the most ambitious reshaping of any of the region’s major airports in several decades. They would require significant changes in the region’s airspace, a modernization of the system for controlling air traffic and at least one act of Congress.

If the proposals are accepted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, Newark and La Guardia Airports, they would surely encounter stiff resistance from local and national advocates for the environment, the report admits. They would also have to survive the political tug of war between the governors of New York and New Jersey, who jointly control the Port Authority.

The cost estimates are preliminary and vary widely depending on which of several options for expanding Kennedy would be chosen, according to the report. The authors laid out seven proposals for adding runway space at Kennedy, some of which would require filling in more of the bay than others.

Getting approval for that option would entail not only overcoming opposition from environmental groups but also changing the federal law that created the Gateway National Recreation Area, which explicitly prohibits expanding the airport into the bay.

18-story tower on Steinway Street?

From the Queens Gazette:

Steinway Street, “The World’s Longest Department Store”, has piqued the interest of a residential developer seeking to build an 18-story tower at the northwest corner of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue.

“This is quite a high density development,” Board 1 Zoning Committee Chairman John Carusone said at the January 18 meeting of Community Board 1. The unnamed developer has met with the zoning committee, Carusone said, and is proposing that one-third of the apartments be reserved as affordable housing units.

Carusone said the developer is also asking for a 300 percent increase in floor area ratio (FAR) over what current zoning allows at the location. “The FAR increase would really affect the area in terms of density, traffic and everything else,” he said.

Zoning regulations require developments to provide residential parking for 50 percent of the apartments but Carusone said that wasn’t the only consideration. “The real problem is commercial traffic on Steinway Street–that is more critical than residential parking,” Carusone said.

Bill would give inspectors easier access to buildings

From the Brooklyn Eagle:

A new City Council bill would allow the Buildings Department to seek court orders that would compel building owners and managers to let inspectors enter buildings suspected of having hazardous conditions and committing serious violations.

This bill has now received the support of Community Board 10, serving Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

While the committee supports the bill’s concept, [Ann] Falutico said, the bill as written is flawed and needs clarification. She said it particularly needs specific and much clearer definitions of “immediately hazardous” conditions and “major violations.”

“We do not want inspectors entering homes for any willy-nilly reason, and there must be consistency,” said Falutico. “If the law does not pass constitutional muster for the issuance of warrants, it will quickly become irrelevant. We want this law to work.”

The bill also does not address urgent emergency situations that require immediate inspections without a court order, such as a complaint about a propane heater being used, she added. “Two visits, one mailing, and 10 days for [an] application for and [an] execution of a court order may be a wee bit too long to prevent an impending explosion. A rapid response is necessary.”

The bill requires the DOB, upon getting a complaint, to send an inspector. If twice refused entry, the owner gets certified mail requesting the inspection and a date for it. Without a reply within 10 days, and if the commissioner considers the situation to be of imminent danger or a major violation, the commissioner is required to seek a court order to enter the building.

Artist arrested for legally carrying knife

From the Daily News:

Manhattan artist John Copeland has carried a pocket knife since he was a boy.

That was until October, when the noted painter was busted on weapons possession charges for having an illegal gravity knife in his pocket as he walked home at about 3 p.m. along E. 3rd St.

A judge Wednesday tossed the charges - for which Copeland, 34, faced up to a year behind bars - after his lawyer explained to prosecutors he used it to cut canvases. Still, the artist is fuming.

An illegal gravity knife is a folding knife that can be opened, and locked open, with the flick of the wrist. Copeland said he once asked a detective if the knife he carried, a Benchmade Mini-Ambush, was legal.

"[He] tried to flip it open and wasn't able to," Copeland said.

Kuby said Copeland has no criminal history and didn't threaten to use it as a weapon but that cops descended on him after spotting what they thought was a knife in his front pants' pocket.

City planning to build in the water next

From the Gotham Gazette:

Vision 2020, New York City's plan for its waterfront, seems to offer something for every New Yorker: promenades along the shore, bucolic wetlands with lots of fish and wildlife, ferries and kayaks, industrial jobs, and new condos with waterfront views.

Looming behind the plan's picturesque images of clear skies and kayakers, however, are the waterfront views from prime real estate locations. Behind the frothy rhetoric designed to garner public support, Vision 2020 is really a business plan.

Overall the plan envisions parks and natural habitats. It also anticipates creating infrastructure that would allow industrial areas -- smaller than they once were -- to thrive. And it calls for new housing "for people of diverse income levels."

Public access, natural restoration, industrial and commercial development – all reflect the interests of those who own land on and near the waterfront. Public promenades and parks on the waterfront will be valuable amenities for luxury towers, as will the "panoramic water views of great beauty."

The few natural areas in the plan are to be in locations that are not prime targets for large-scale development such as Jamaica Bay and along the Arthur Kill on Staten Island. They will be preserved as museum-like exceptions along the 578-mile coastline that is being masterfully engineered for the fun and profit of humans. The industry and public utilities on the waterfront will be allowed to stay where they are, although the plan does not address the negative environmental impacts of these industrial areas on surrounding communities.

In short, the city’s long-term plan for the waterfront, a revised version of the original 1992 plan, continues the trend toward conversion of the coastline from a working waterfront to prime real estate. It is perhaps fitting that the main feature in The New York Times about the city’s waterfront plan appeared in the Real Estate section.

Even with construction stalled by the recession, the article said, "The groundwork is being laid for the next great phase of waterfront development in the city." Casting a covetous eye at the Queens and Brooklyn waterfront, Jeffrey Levine of Levine Builders told the Times, "It is a great opportunity to buy land and warehouse it for development."

The 2020 plan has one important new element –- the plan to literally dive in the water. At the waterfront alliance gala, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel introduced this new element by calling for development not just on land but in the water. Steel said, "The waterfront is the sixth borough" -- just as important as the other boroughs. City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden chimed in, saying, "The water is the heart of the city," a new territory to be explored. "Now is the time," she said, "to go from the water's edge into the water."

The plan envisions the waters surrounding the city to be so clean that people can swim, fish and boat in them. And it claims that more ferries and boat traffic are both possible and necessary.

Developers have sought for decades, to build out into the water using deep pilings and new buildings on piers. That also could be what going "into the water" means.

A recent show at the Museum of Modern Art proposed alternatives to address sea level rise that included salvaging waterfront real estate by essentially making it "waterproof." Is the waterfront plan helping to encourage such dubious and expensive?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sex offender also stole church funds

From the Queens Gazette:

A convicted child sex offender banned from an afterschool program at St. Mel’s Catholic School in Whitestone is facing new charges that he swiped a church checkbook and cashed checks totaling more than $7,000, authorities said.

Joseph Denice, 24, a registered N.Y. State Sex Offender, was removed from St. Mel’s after parents and lawmakers in Eastern Queens discovered he was working with young children at an afterschool program at the school.

Shortly after his dismissal, church officials received a phone call from a CapitalOne Bank branch advising them that a checking account was overdrawn.

According to a criminal complaint filed by the Queens District Attorney’s office, Denice admitted to investigators that he found checks on a desk in the church Religious Education Office in December and signed several over to an account held by his parents.

Bank officials said Denice wrote checks through the month of December totaling $7,707, the complaint states. Following his arrest last week, Denice said his mother had no knowledge of the scam and she believed she was depositing Denice’s paychecks, the complaint states.

Denice, a Level 1 N.Y. State Sex Offender, is facing grand larceny and related charges for the theft of church funds.

Safest areas are where legal gun ownership is highest

From the NY Post:

A middle-class enclave on the South Shore of the city's southernmost borough is the gun capital of New York, with 509 residents -- or about one in every 57 males -- legally packing heat.

The neighborhood is filled with single-family homes on 40-by- 100-foot lots and attached town houses, largely populated with conservative-leaning civil servants like cops and firefighters, as well as Wall Streeters.

"That's the quintessential group that owns guns for their home and family protection," said the area's city councilman, Vincent Ignizio.

Many of those gun-toting residents practice their aim at two private gun ranges on the island, and many also head upstate to unload.

"There are a lot of hunters," said longtime resident Guido Cadunzi, a gun-safety instructor.

The well-armed area is also one of the city's safest. The 123rd Precinct has seen a 27 percent decrease in major crimes over the past 10 years, and there were just two homicides there in 2009 and 2010.

Queens: #1 in NYS foreclosures

From the NY Post:

Queens foreclosure filings are the highest in the state.

According to the latest filings figures from the New York state court system, while foreclosures have dropped dramatically across the state since Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told lawyers they had to certify that the filing papers are accurate by signing an affirmation, Queens residents are still under the gun.

Prior to the judge's requirement, Queens foreclosures were running at about 10 percent of all state filings, averaging 85 a week.

Since the October declaration from the chief judge, filings have averaged almost 100 a week. In the week ended Jan. 9, the 119 foreclosure cases filed in Queens accounted for 70 percent of all filings in the state.

Cemusa needs to get with the shoveling program

From Fox 5:

There is a contract controversy between New York City and the company that is supposed to clean the snow from local bus stops.

The city has a contract with a company that builds and maintains bus stops. The company pays the city for the rights to supply the shelters and earn advertising dollars in return. But part of the contract includes snow removal, but the snow keeps piling up in front of many bus stops.

Several feet of snow barricade the bus shelter, not just in Queens, but at bus stops across the city. It's a situation that' not just dangerous. It's in violation of the city's contract with a company that has a contract for the bus shelters. One city councilman is calling on the company to do its job or face a formal inquiry.

Domenic Recchia says, "I believe millions could be refunded back to the city because they're not living up to their contract, but more importantly, who is overseeing it, what's going on, and maybe they don't want the contract anymore."

According to the contract, the company is supposed to shovel three feet around the bus shelters to people can get to the bus. Footprints show where people have to make a path through the snow, just to get to where they're going. It's been a common complaint at the city's blizzard hearings. They're supposed to clear shelters within four hours after the snow stops. But time and again, they have failed.

The company could be found in breach of contract with the city. The contract earns the city $1.4 billion.

Who's really to blame for the RKO Keith's?

Here we go again...

To the author of this article:

You do a great disservice in “reporting” on the fight to save the RKO Keith’s Theater by not doing your homework as to A) to the true unfolding of events as to how they occurred and B) disseminating inaccurate information that is then taken at face value because of your position as a “journalist” for the Baruch College Journalism program.

While the spirit of the Facebook group shows great concern and empathy for our ruined treasure, the often-times wrong info that is carried by that site (as well as some of the people that you interviewed) completely confuses the point as to WHY the building is still standing.

To simplify matters:

1) The entire interior of the building was granted New York City Landmark status in 1984. This includes ALL INTERIOR SPACES, including the auditorium, grand foyer, ticket lobby, lounges, mezzanines, promenade and the like. Also, the full interior AND exterior were placed (and remain today) on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

2) Former Borough President Donald Manes abridged the designation at the old Board of Estimate (which could overturn landmark designation, as the City Council can today) shortly thereafter when his successor, Claire Shulman, was his deputy-Borough President and representing him at the meeting. Shulman lobbied other members of the Board of Estimate at the behest of her boss Manes to scrap the full designation in favor of only the ticket lobby and grand foyer being protected. Had the landmark designation not been voted on by midnight of a certain date by the Board of Estimate, the entire interior designation would have remained permanent.

3) After two years, the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theater, Inc. requested the restoration of the full interior landmark designation. Over 3,500 petition signatures were sent to Mayor Koch, then-Borough President Shulman and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was subsequently discovered that Tommy Huang had driven a bulldozer up the east staircase of the grand foyer, damaging the landmarked portion of the building.

4) The destruction Huang perpetrated on the rest of building had no rhyme or reason in terms of an actual demolition plan. He damaged as much of the interior ornament and building fabric as possible as to make the re-designation of the full interior of the building as a landmark impossible. It seemed clearly that his intent was to destroy the entire interior of the building, thumbing his nose at the authorities, the community and the government in order to show that he was the boss.

5) When confronted by supporters of the restoration of the theater and creative adaptive re-use into a performing arts / conference center in 1986, BP Claire Shulman refused to support the redesignation. When she was questioned at a later date over the possibility of pursuing punitive damages against Huang, her response was “Hasn’t he suffered enough? He hasn’t been able to build on the site…” for a number of years.

6) Tommy Huang was NOT going to build a movie complex at the RKO Keith’s. In fact, in the original deed when it was conveyed to him by RKO, he was prohibited from showing movies in the English language at the site for 25 years. This was to stop any competition between RKO, which still operated other theaters in the metropolitan area, and any other movie operator who might buy the building. The prohibition is expiring this year.

7) Contrary to your article, Tommy Huang or his shell corporations owned the building until its sale to Boymelgreen. He NEVER filed for bankruptcy and used the shell corporations to remove personal liability for himself. In fact, within a year or so of purchasing the building, he had flipped the property from the Farrington & Northern Development Corp. to Henry & John Associates (Henry and John are his sons). At one point, I believe he even made his own mother the legal owner of the building, which would make her responsible for the debts and violations that he incurred over the years.

These facts – and many, many more not discussed here – tell the true story of what has happened to the “Penn Station” of Queens.

This building, more than any others that were destroyed or compromised, was what galvanized preservationists throughout the borough to make sure something like this would never happen again.

Most importantly, he could not have accomplished the destruction of this theater – and get away with it – without the help of other accomplices, including former Borough Presidents Donald Manes and Claire Shulman. Most importantly, Shulman could have intervened with the building or reversed the landmark designation to include the entire interior (at a time when the Borough President’s power was substantially more than today, as their power was limited after the 1989 Charter Revision). She made a conscious choice not to intervene, but it’s more than that; she truly was implicitly involved in the destruction of the building. Her refusal to listen to her constituents and other elected officials in the race to save the RKO Keith’s – and her actions during the past three decades at other preservation flash points throughout the borough – clearly revealed her agenda for Queens.

Paul Graziano,
Flushing Resident

Thursday, January 27, 2011

MTA still incompetent during snow

From Fox 5:

The MTA left passengers on the N line stranded in Brooklyn after it decided to shutdown service in the height of the snow storm on Wednesday night.

It turned into a six hour ordeal for people trying to get home in Brooklyn from Manhattan.

Carriage horses illegally forced to work after storm

Dear friends:

This morning, Mayor Bloomberg declared a "weather emergency" after 19 inches of snow fell in NYC. He stated, "Clearing the streets remains our number one job - and to do that, motorists should please, please refrain from driving."

So when I received Elizabeth Forel's email (see below) stating that carriage drivers were out on the streets, I wondered how the ASPCA could have possibly allowed them to leave their buildings this morning, given the Mayor's announcement, the dangerous conditions, and the law, which clearly states that horses should not be working under these conditions.

At 3:45 p.m., I went up to 59th St. As soon as I emerged from the subway, I saw a carriage driver unloading one group of tourists from his carriage and reloading it with another. I also saw the water trough in Grand Army Plaza buried under snow.

I called the ASPCA and asked if the carriage drivers were allowed to be working today. The agent assured me that they were not. I informed her that I was standing right next to one. She said that she would send an officer.

In spite of five solid years of activism by many animal advocacy organizations and individuals, conditions for the carriage horses appear to be just as bad now as ever before. And, instead of using their considerable power and influence to ban horse and buggies from midtown, the ASPCA continues to enable it:

See you in the streets.

Donny Moss

But the good news is that at least we have an unenforceable tethering bill!

City drops ball on Travers expansion

From the Daily News:

The city has low-balled itself out of the running to buy a rare half-acre parcel of open space in Jackson Heights that could have expanded a popular park, the Daily News has learned.

The cash-strapped Garden School was in talks to sell its yard to expand nearby Travers Park. But the school's board of trustees voted down the city's offer at a meeting last week, fearing a lengthy city acquisition process, officials said.

The decision paves the way for developers to move in.

Michael Rakosi, vice president of the 87-year-old private school's board of trustees, said the city was always Garden's first choice. But the cash-strapped school can't afford to wait for the city's check to clear.

"If the city would come with a check today, we would sell today to the city," he said. But "it would be a year or 18 months before we'd get any money [from the city] - if we can get any money."

The nursery-through-12th-grade school is in tough financial straits after enrollment dropped, he said. It needs the money immediately to pay off loans and stay open, he said.

The city offered $4.7 million for 20,000 square feet of land or $4.8 million for 29,000 square feet with a clause allowing Garden to use the property during school hours, according to Dromm's office. The city made the offer on Jan. 14.

But it could take up to two years for the city to acquire the property, said Parks Department spokeswoman Trish Bertuccio.

Rakosi said the city's bid was about 15% less than offers from four developers interested in putting residential projects on the site - and there was no guarantee a city deal would go through. No contracts have been signed.

It's interesting how this city moves mountains to acquire property when it benefits developers but when communities need open space they play the old game of "oh well, we tried our best." If the city can rip land out from under unwilling sellers and pay legal costs for years when they take them to court, then the city can pay a little more to acquire property from a willing seller for a public purpose. If we didn't have a billionaire despot in charge, that's what would happen.

What's with Halloran these days?

From the NY Times:

But the more that investigators look into Mr. Halloran’s story, the more mystifying it becomes.

Mr. Halloran said he had been visited by two supervisors in the Transportation Department and three workers in the Sanitation Department. But the two transportation supervisors did not back up his story in interviews with investigators, according to two people briefed on the inquiries. And Mr. Halloran has steadfastly refused to reveal the names of the sanitation workers. the days since Mr. Halloran first made his explosive accusations, he has revised his account.

In an article that appeared in The New York Post on Dec. 30, he said the workers had been told “to take off routes” and “not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner.”

“They were told to make the mayor pay,” Mr. Halloran said in the article, “for the layoffs, the reductions in rank of the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank and file.”

More recently, the councilman has said the workers were not explicitly told to take part in a slowdown, but were subtly informed there was no need to rush while clearing the snow.

In a letter published in The Chief-Leader, which focuses on municipal labor issues, Mr. Halloran seemed to feel conflicted about all the uproar. In the letter he defended his original assertions about the slowdown, but also suggested it might have been small in scope, involving “a few bad apples.”

If your story changes, then you're probably not being honest. Then there's this:

In 2008, Mr. Halloran sternly criticized the city’s Buildings Department after it cited him for building a bathroom in the basement of his home without obtaining the required permits...

Then, last month, he requested a building permit for a $60,000 project to add a second floor onto his Cape Cod-style home. On Jan. 3, the Buildings Department denied the request, saying it would make the house too big for the area’s zoning.

The timing of the permit was unusual, given the recent financial difficulties faced by Mr. Halloran and his wife, Cynthia.

In January 2010, Wells Fargo began foreclosure proceedings on their home. In November, Ms. Halloran, a registered nurse, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, seeking to wipe away $116,521 in credit card debt, while retaining a 2005 Jaguar and their home.

Her debts include $14,777 owed to Home Depot, $29,000 on three Chase credit cards and $58,000 on two American Express cards. The couple has an annual salary of $166,660, according to bankruptcy records and Council salary rules.

Mr. Halloran’s spokesman, Steven Stites, said that the couple was in the process of a divorce, though no public court records have been filed, and that they planned to sell their house.

Bottom line is if you're going to shoot your mouth off making accusations, you better not have an army of skeletons in your closet.

Welfare cheats busted

From the NY Post:

Five former Brooklyn residents were charged with welfare fraud and grand larceny after falsely claiming they still lived in the borough so that they could collect city Medicaid benefits for years, authorities said yesterday.

The two couples and one woman -- who collected a total of $114,000 in Medicaid benefits -- also hid ownership of homes and other assets on applications for Medicaid, which is earmarked for poor people, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office said.

They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

One couple, Fouad Fouad, 47, and his wife Nevertity Ibrahim, 39, previously lived in a Dyker Heights apartment, Hynes' office said. But in late 2005, the couple bought a home in Milltown, NJ, for $273,000 and moved there.

Despite that, after receiving a recertification form from the city Human Resources Administration that had been mailed to their old address, the couple claimed they still lived in Brooklyn, and that their only income was the $300 per week Fouad said he earned as a taxi driver, the DA said.

In reality, the couple also had income from two rental properties they owned in South Amboy, NJ, the DA said.

Prosecutors said the couple would travel to a Staten Island hospital for treatments that included a broken rib by Fouad, and a high fever by their child. Between early 2006 and late 2010, the couple claimed $71,704 in Medicaid benefits to which they were not entitled, an indictment charges.

The other married couple, Tau Sing Chow, 47, and Yue Hao Zhou, 37, allegedly collected $26,449 in Medicaid benefits for themselves and their two kids from 2006 until 2010 by falsely claiming they still lived in Bensonhurst after moving into a $120,000 home in Philadelphia in 2006, authorities said. Chow had also applied for welfare benefits in Philadelphia but was turned down because of his $30,000 in income as a supermarket chef, prosecutors said.

City willing to pay $175 million for a park over the BQE

From Architect's Newspaper:

A new park design is moving forward in Southside Williamsburg, thanks to a plan to cap the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) trench running through the neighborhood. Brooklyn Councilwoman Diana Reyna first proposed the idea in 2005, arguing that building a cohesive park in the area would help remedy health issues affecting local children, including asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Early last spring, Brooklyn-based dlandstudio was selected to research strategies for building atop the trench.

“The kids who play there have to play by a six-lane highway,” said dlandstudio principal Susannah Drake. As for Southside Williamsburg’s existing park areas, Drake said, “They’re not well-equipped, they’re disconnected, and they’re often difficult to get to.” Drake and her team spent the better part of 2010 helping Councilwoman Reyna drum up support for the plan from community organizations and government agencies, relying on scientific evidence about noise and air pollution to gain public and private interest. The team is drawing upon several California studies that linked the proximity of major highways to asthma rates, and spurred state legislation prohibiting construction of schools within 150 feet of heavily trafficked arteries. According to dlandstudio, there are five public elementary schools and two junior high schools within the general vicinity of the proposed park area.

As part of a Phase 1 to be carried out over the next two to five years, the new decks require approval from the city and state departments of transportation, both of which have already expressed support. “Many of the moves we identified in the first phase can be done right now and without much money,” said Drake, who has been given an estimated budget range of $85 to $175 million for the full scope of the project. But some of the park’s components—a large community center, for instance—could be completed at a later date, once the initial groundwork has been laid and more public and private funding secured.

So the Bloomberg Administration can get a $175M park done in Brooklyn but are balking at the price of a much smaller project in Jackson Heights?

Congestion pricing is back

From Fox 5:

New York City officials are reportedly considering a plan to charge motorists up to $10 to enter lower Manhattan on weekdays.

The NY Daily News reported on Wednesday that "traffic pricing" as some insiders are calling it is similar to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2008 plan to charge $8 to drive at certain times in specific areas of New York City.

The plan which was rejected by the Assembly, charged drivers entering below 60th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. the fee.

There is no formal proposal in place for the new pricing plan, reported the paper.

Money raised could be used to help plug the MTA's maintenance gap.

From the Daily News:

Now, backers call it "traffic pricing" - and want to build support among outer borough and suburban lawmakers before proposing a specific plan.

"The MTA needs a sustainable funding source," explained state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn), who's rounding up colleagues. "This has to be on the table."

One idea would reduce the payroll tax on businesses outside Manhattan - which could win backing from suburban lawmakers.

"Everybody out in the suburbs hates the payroll tax, so the idea of 'feathering' the tax could be helpful," said one person involved.

"This has to be a regional effort. It has to enjoy regional support," the source added.

Driver fees could also reverse some of the MTA service cuts that eliminated two subway lines and 36 bus routes last year, and help plug the system's $10 billion long-term maintenance gap.

They could also delay the 7% fare hike scheduled for a year from now, backers hope.

While Gov. Cuomo has not taken sides on the idea, Bloomberg aides have been working on it behind the scenes for months.

"The key is devising a proposal that would win broad support across the five boroughs, the entire region, and in Albany," said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is the Queens Library being shortchanged?

From WNYC:

The Queens Library, one of the city's public libraries experiencing the budget squeeze, is taking an unprecedented step in its 104-year history and has stopped buying books.

Queens Public Library CEO Tom Galante said he doesn't want to upset bookworms, but late last year, Mayor Bloomberg asked the library to cut $4.5 million from its spending. As Galante saw it, the library board faced a choice: trim hours and staff as it had been doing for the past two years, or do something that goes against the very idea of a lending library and stop buying books.

Queens has consistently received less money per visitor than the other two library systems. From 2007-2010, the city spent on average $5.89 per patron in Queens, and $6.76 and $7.86 per patron in the Brooklyn and New York systems, respectively. A third more was spent per New York user than per user in Queens, on average.

Response to this Daily News article:

Bloomberg doesn't see past the Upper East Side

From the Daily News:

Mayor Bloomberg crowed Monday that city streets have never been safer - day or night - for women, but some skeptical New York ladies suggested he take a walk in their neighborhoods.

At a tour of a Queens school Monday night, the mayor proudly declared: "People don't remember 10 years ago. They've really already forgotten when you couldn't walk the streets."

The mayor boasted about female safety after Rabbi Yaakov Bender, the dean of Yeshiva Darchei Torah School in Far Rockaway, thanked him and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly for keeping the streets safe.

But at a community meeting the mayor later attended in Far Rockaway, Beverly Champion didn't second the sentiment.

She complained to the mayor about crime in housing developments, saying, "I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen it as worse." Champion said she doesn't feel safe walking around with her purse and laughed when told what the mayor had said earlier about crime.

"He's not telling the truth," she said. "He just takes the reports that they give him, but he doesn't know."

Even women with tony Manhattan zip codes called the mayor out on his comments.

"He's a bit off the mark," said Carson Demmons, 26, of NoHo. "I've lived in neighborhoods where I wouldn't give it a second thought during the day, but it was a whole different story at night. You still need to keep your wits about you."

Bloomberg's boasts did get some support - from women who live in his neighborhood.

"Yes, it has gotten better," said upper East Sider Theresa Ackerly, 43. "This nabe changed a lot. Back in the '80s, there were a lot of gangs. Mayor Bloomberg is doing all right in terms of crime."

Winter walk in Little Neck

Click photo for story

Beware of fake Pillow Pets

From the Daily News:

U.S. marshals have seized thousands of bunnies, frogs, ladybugs and monkeys stashed in a Queens warehouse.

They are guilty of impersonating Pillow Pets, the plush folding animals held dear by children - and parents who say they're the only things that get their kids to nap.

The counterfeit pillows will remain in custody while lawyers for Pillow Pets seek punitive damages against Concord Toys International, which makes the made-in-China fakes.

Brooklyn Federal Judge Eric Vitaliano signed an injunction restraining Concord from manufacturing any more of the knockoffs and expressed concern about possible danger to any kid cuddling up to the creatures. "This is particularly troubling given the potential that [Concord's] products may pose a potential public health risk," he wrote in a court order.

CJ Products, the maker of Thumpy Bunny, Squeaky Duck, Ms. Lady Bug and Silly Monkey, among others, filed suit under seal recently in federal court so the counterfeiters would not be tipped off to the coming raid. Private eyes hired by CJ tracked the bogus pillows to a Flushing Ave. warehouse on the Brooklyn-Queens line, where marshals seized 17,000 items.

Bike lane backlash reaching fever pitch

From the NY Post:

Mayor Bloomberg conceded last night that his administration hasn’t done enough to consult with communities about bike lanes after irate residents of the Rockaways heckled a top Transportation Department official who extolled their virtues at a town hall meeting.

"Bicycle lanes are one of the more controversial things, obviously," the mayor said following the outburst at the Bayswater Civic Association.

"Some people love ‘em and some people hate them... It’s probably true that in many of these cases we could do a better job and we’re going to try to do that."

The meeting was proceeding routinely, dominated by local issues such as school closings and flooding, when Michael Gliner, a printing company owner, asked whether the bike lanes installed last summer on the main thoroughfare of Beach Channel Drive could be relocated.

Maura McCarthy, the Transportation Department’s Queens Borough Commissioner, responded that numerous neighborhoods were getting bike lanes and "Rockaway is one place we’re very proud to have put them in."

The boos that ensued from the crowd of about 250 were so loud that the moderator felt compelled to warn, "We will not have any of that at this meeting."

From the Brooklyn Paper:

Two former top city officials — including an ex-Transportation Commissioner who emphasized car travel over bikes during her tenure — have emerged as the principal leaders of the opposition to the city’s controversial Prospect Park West bike lane.

One day after the Department of Transportation announced last week that the lane has improved safety for drivers and cyclists, two members of the city’s old guard — former Sanitation Commissioner Norman Steisel and former Transportation boss Iris Weinshall — struck back, claiming that the agency fudged numbers to make the lane appear more successful than it is.

“We’re skeptical,” said Steisel, whose group is called Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes. “They’ve been opportunistic about the way they’ve used their numbers.”
Mac Support Store

Steisel said that current Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is so driven by her passion for bicycles that she may be “pushing facts so hard that they don’t paint a proper picture of the truth.”

From the NY Post:

Two city councilmen are pressing Mayor Bloomberg and his bike-lane-loving transportation chief to require that any new bicycle lanes go through the same exhaustive public review as other road changes.

Staten Island Councilman James Oddo, the Republican minority leader, said plans for new bike lanes should undergo the city's lengthy environmental-assessment process, or the city should allow other, more minor traffic changes to bypass the review.

Oddo and Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-SI) penned a letter last week demanding an explanation from Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, an avid cyclist and bike-lane proponent, of why the lanes don't require the scrutiny.

"The creation of bike lanes and the removal of vehicle travel lanes represent a major reordering of Department of Transportation priorities that may affect the environment and appear to qualify" for a formal environmental review, the letter reads.

Oddo told The Post, "To add one left-handed turning lane [on Staten Island], it's taking us eight to 12 years, yet there have been all of these bike lanes installed without any bumps in the road. How is that possible?"

From the NY Post:

The NYPD is "sick" of brazen bicyclists -- and has started a major campaign to slam the brakes on riders' out-of-control behavior.

Early this month, the police began a ticket blitz targeting bike scofflaws by handing out a slew of summonses to riders who refused to follow basic traffic-safety laws, sources told The Post.

In just the first two weeks of January in Manhattan, cops handed out nearly 1,000 tickets charging wayward riders with breaking the kind of laws many seem to constantly ignore: going the wrong way, running lights, making illegal turns and riding on the sidewalk.

"Bicyclists should travel like vehicles and must obey the same laws," said a police source familiar with the crackdown. "The department and the people are sick of it."

The sources said that bike riders -- including messengers and pedicab drivers -- had better get used to the hardened approach toward violations.

"It's from now until forever," a source said. "There is no set time."

The NYPD did not have the exact number of bicycle tickets written out in Manhattan over any other two-week period, but sources are sure they broke a record in early January.

"It's an all-time high," one high-ranking source said.

In addition to 979 Manhattan tickets, 315 were issued in Brooklyn and 167 were doled out in Queens.

Sources said that lawbreaking by cyclists has become the top quality-of-life complaint in some neighborhoods.

From the NY Post:

Not long ago, a confidant of Mayor Bloomberg's cornered me with a blunt question: "Can you figure out what his third term is about?"

I paused before offering the only thing I could think of: "Bike lanes?"

"Thank you very much," the frustrated Bloomy backer answered. "That's exactly my point."

Jerry Seinfeld made a successful TV show about nothing, but governing has to be about something. A year into his third term, even strong supporters wonder if Bloomberg has a clear focus.

It must be more than sailing through ribbon cuttings and gimmicks like splashing white paint on rooftops and streets to call yourself "green." Trips and speeches around the country definitely do not qualify.

What would qualify is a push that ties together the loose ends of the first two terms and secures the city's progress and his legacy. So far, there is no vision or energy for that closing argument.

But nature abhors a vacuum, so failures are defining City Hall. The snow disaster, the $80 million CityTime ripoff and citizen reports that the Bloomies are fudging data to defend unpopular policies help explain the mayor's 37 percent approval rating.

He said recently he hoped to be considered "the greatest mayor ever," but time is running out to make the kind of gains that could stand history's test.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

USDA suggests expanding slaughter to other species

The USDA is considering a number of ways to reduce bird strikes at Kennedy Airport. Although Canada geese were the cause of the Miracle on the Hudson crash, the fact is that there have been bird strikes with 72 different species over the years. So what to do? Well, one proposal that apparently is seriously being considered involves killing at least 6 more species other than Canada geese.

From the Bird Hazard Reduction Program Executive Summary, page 11:

Alternative 4: Add Off-Airport Lethal Bird Hazard Management to Current Bird Hazard Management Program

This alternative would enable WS to recommend and conduct lethal bird hazard management projects at off-airport sites. It does not include activities to reduce or relocate the Laughing Gull colony. Species which may be targeted for off-airport management actions within a 5-mile radius of JFK under this alternative include Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Double-crested Cormorants, blackbirds*, crows*, Rock Pigeons, and European Starlings. This alternative would also include efforts to reduce the resident Canada Goose population within 7 miles of the airport. Work in the 5-7 mile radius around JFK would be conducted as needed to augment resident Canada Goose population reduction efforts in the 5-mile radius around JFK. Efforts to reduce the resident Canada Goose population could include the use of lethal methods at Rulers Bar Hassock, Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue Landfills in Gateway NRA. Egg oiling/addling/puncturing could also be used on Mute Swan nests in Gateway NRA.

*There are more than one species of blackbird and crow in the NYC area.

The mass murder is just one of the options, but it is a possibility. If you want to comment on the published plans, write to:

State Director
USDA APHIS Wildlife Services
1930 Route 9
Castleton, NY 12033-9653
Phone: (518) 477-4837
Fax: (518) 477-4899

Written comments can be sent to the above mailing address or sent by fax to the number listed. For full consideration in the final SEIS comments must be received by FEBRUARY 28, 2011. When faxing a comment, please include a mailing address. A copy should also be mailed to ensure that a complete version of the text is received.

Morning fire in Woodside

From Fox 5:

Firefighters battled a 2-alarm house fire at a three-story row home in Woodside, Queens on Tuesday morning.

The FDNY says one firefighter has been injured. The extent of those injuries is not yet known.

The department says 25 units and 106 firefighters responded to the scene at 37th Avenue and 68th Street. They got the call of a fire on the first floor at 6:45 a.m.

The fire was under control pretty quickly. There was extensive damage to the upper floors of the building.


NYPD seeking Astoria rapist

From the Village Voice:

Here's a sketch of a rapist who attacked a 19-year-old woman at about 12:30 a.m. last Thursday, January 20, at 26th Avenue and Second Street in Astoria, just south of Hellgate Park. He approached her from behind, pushed her to the ground and sexually assaulted her. She fought with him and he fled, taking her purse. She was treated at a local hospital and released. The guy is described as 5-7, 150-160 pounds, wearing a North Face-type windbreaker, dark pants, and dark sneakers.

Cleaner energy coming to Queens

From the NY Post:

State utility regulators today OK’d the installation of a giant new power plant in Queens.

NRG Energy Inc. will build the generator on the site of its existing plant, which is within the 600-acre Con Ed property on the northern edge of Astoria.

NRG will shut down its existing generators on the site, which were installed in 1969 and put out 600 megawatts of power.

In their place, the company will install a new generator capable of churning out 1,040 megawatts.

The extra power will be enough for 320,000 new homes, NRG says.

Although the new $1.4 billion plant will be much bigger, every year it will put out just 12 percent of the pollution of the existing plant, NRG says.

The first phase of the new plant will come on line in 2013, and the entire project will be finished by 2015.

On top of this, you can start to kiss your incandescent bulbs goodbye.

Now you see it...soon you won't

In Brooklyn, the DOB makes developers take down eyesores that don't comply with zoning. In Queens, you pay a little fine and keep on building...

Courtesy of Pardon Me for Asking.

What's killing us

From the Times Ledger:

New Yorkers are living longer than average Americans. Bayside has the city’s lowest death rate and more than 88 percent of births in Elmhurst and Corona were to foreign-born women.

The city Department of Health said the life span for New Yorkers at 79.4 years for men and 82 years for women is more than a year longer than the national average.

The Health Department imparts these and other exhaustive statistics in its 112-page annual report “Summary of Vital Statistics.”

The 52,881 deaths recorded in New York City in 2009 — the most recent year for which statistics are available — were the fewest since the department began keeping statistics in 1900 and at a time the city is growing.

The 12,212 deaths in Queens were the most in any borough after Brooklyn, which had 15,790. Deaths totaled 8,666 in the Bronx, 9,868 in Manhattan and 3,764 in Staten Island.

Queens led the city in deaths from stomach cancer, meningitis, aortic aneurysm, chronic lower respiratory disease, accidental poisoning by psychoactive substances, motor vehicle accidents and accidental falls.

But Queens recorded a decrease in deaths from emphysema, pregnancy, childbirth and puerperium, complications of medical and surgical care, kidney cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Girls gone wild at Wendy's

From Fox 5:

A fight broke out at a Wendy's in Queens Village, leaving one of the workers seriously injured on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. The disturbing scene from inside the Wendy's was captured on video and posted on YouTube. In the video, you can see the cashier get pummeled to the ground by teenage girls.

A Wendy's employee told Fox 5 that it started with one and all of them jumped in and punched her. The worker said it all began when the group started fighting and throwing food. She was behind the counter when her friend walked over to try and stop them, the worker said.

Two of the teens have been identified by school officials as students at Martin van Buren High School, which is just down the block.

And we wonder why we lose all our teachers to Long Island...