Monday, February 28, 2011

Sewage in people's bathtubs

From the Queens Chronicle:

A bowl and bucket — that is what Sergio Gonzales has been forced to use as a toilet ever since a sewer backup at the Jamaica apartment building where he lives has crippled the water system, filling toilets and tubs with a putrid smelling brown liquid for eight days from Feb. 11 to 18.

“It’s murder. It’s terrible,” Gonzales said of the living conditions. “I have to spray the whole apartment and light incense because the odor is so terrible. I haven’t taken a bath in six days.”

Gonzales, a native of Colombia, has lived in a basement apartment at 88-22 Parsons Blvd. for 37 years and says he has never remembered a sewer backup lasting so long. He has plenty of air fresheners and cologne on hand to try and cover up the smell, but they hardly make a difference.

It is for that reason that he and his dog, a 6-year-old pug named Terminator Max confine themselves to a bedroom and wait for repairs to be made. Gonzales refuses to drink the water out of the kitchen faucet even if it appears to be clean, because he fears getting ill.

In the kitchen he has set aside a bowl and bucket, which he uses as a toilet, emptying the former into the kitchen sink and the later into a garbage bin outside. His real toilet has not functioned for nearly a week. Gonzales said the whole process has been humiliating.

Tree killers

From the Daily News:

More than 100 tree-haters were busted for arborcide in 2010, and the police have already issued 18 summonses this year, according to city and court records reviewed by The Post.

Incidents include a Christmas-night massacre of six saplings at the Playground of the Americas on Houston Street and a contractor who caused "major tree damage" to five honey locusts on Chambers Street earlier this month.

"Some of this is just outright abuse," said Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates.

Some of the worst and incidents include:

* An attack in Juniper Valley Park in Queens, where vandals removed 10 young trees and their 12 stakes last November. The trees and bike path were also sprayed with swastikas and racist graffiti in shaving cream.

* A Queens woman who stripped all the limbs off a grand Norway maple in front of her house on 156th Street last December.

A street tree costs the city $1,790 to plant, and tampering with its limbs can kill it, Croft said.

UFT is living large

From the NY Post:

In the city's funny math, you get only one teacher for the price of two.

The Department of Education pays about 1,500 teachers for time they spend on union activities -- and pays other teachers to replace them in the classroom.

It's a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung -- at full pay -- to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers.

With Mayor Bloomberg calling for thousands of teacher layoffs to balance the 2012 budget, critics say it's time to halt the extravagant benefit.

"In these tight fiscal times, it defies common sense to pay two different people to do one job," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog. "It's a waste of money."

That $9 million would cover the salaries of 198 new teachers at the current annual $45,530 starting pay

The DOE lets 40 experienced teachers collect top pay and fringe benefits, but work just one class period a day.

Under a contract agreement since 2003, the DOE excuses these veterans to work for the UFT -- currently 38 as district representatives and two as union vice presidents. The UFT pays them another salary, plus expenses.

From the Daily News:

As nearly 5,000 city teachers face the ax, their union shells out millions of dollars on feasting, boozing and partying, the Daily News has learned.

Free-spending United Federation of Teachers brass last year spent nearly $1.4 million for the UFT's 50th anniversary gala at the Hilton - complete with a movie, a book and a paperweight.

Records show they:

* Ponied up $514,000 to 16 separate caterers.
* Dropped $278,417 on the annual Teachers Union Day ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria.
* Bought $6,100 in gift baskets from a lower East Side candy store - and plowed $179,000 into training retreats at a Connecticut resort boasting golf, scuba diving and aqua aerobics.

In one amazing feat of spending, they shelled out $114,870 for annual "coffee supplies" at their five offices across the city - paying the Coffee Distributing Corp. on Long Island $324,000 over three years, records show.

And while most New Yorkers spend hours trying to find a parking space, the UFT rents 25 slots in Brooklyn's Renaissance Plaza Garage for members at an average annual cost of $75,000 over three years.

EDC paving paradise to put up a big box store

From the Courier-Life:

Mill Basin residents say the city’s plan to expand a shopping center built atop protected marshlands near the foot of Flatbush Avenue is not going to happen without a fight — and some argued it shouldn’t happen at all.

At a Feb. 18 meeting intended to get the neighborhood’s take on its plans for the Four Sparrows Retail Center between Kings Plaza and the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, environmentalists and Walmart opponents joined forces to shoot down the project — making it clear that if the city and developer Forest City Ratner Companies want to replace the cherished wetlands with big box stores, there will be a war on two fronts.

• Front one: Environmentalists and bird watchers want to prevent any development at the site, claiming that construction will destroy a borough treasure — a priceless city-owned wetland.

“The city says it wants to build something fabulous [on the wetlands],” nature lover Vivian Carter told residents attending the hearing at Kings Plaza. “But we have something there already, thank you very much.”

• Front two: The battle over which store — we’re talking about Walmart, of course — will be housed in the new shopping center.

“We’re completely opposed to bringing in a big box store,” Assemblyman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park) told city officials. “Local businesses in Marine Park and Mill Basin will go out of business with a big box store just down the street.”

Members of the Economic Development Corporation obviously hoped for positive feedback on the proposal to expand the small shopping strip to accommodate three more stores, more parking and more than 40 acres of parkland, but they got very little.

And it got ugly when the agency could not promise that a Walmart — either a controversial mega-store or one of the company’s newer, smaller versions — would pop up at the new center.

More coverage from A Walk in the Park

People with nothing better to do

From the Daily News:

A graffiti vandal needs two things that appear at first to be polar opposites - a secluded spot to throw up his tag, but then a parade of eyeballs to admire his work.

That seems to be the case for some of Queens' hottest spots for graffiti.

The corner of Queens Blvd. and 33rd St. by the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside was one such spot, logging 20 graffiti complaints last year, according to the NYPD's latest GraffitiStat report.

The 104th Precinct, which covers Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village, got the most number of graffiti gripes last year in the city: 800, up from 262 in 2009, even though spray paint complaints were down overall in the five boroughs.

Citywide, there were 9,850 graffiti complaints last year - an overall decline of 3% from the 10,162 of 2009.

The corner of Queens Blvd. and 33rd St., an industrial area in the 108th Precinct, suggests the kind of canvass that taggers prefer.

Vjay Ramgulan, 43, of Richmond Hill, is the superintendent of a beige-colored warehouse that takes up about 100 feet along both Queens Blvd. and 33rd St.

He came by the warehouse Sunday and found a fresh batch of tags on one of the warehouse walls. It wasn't the first time that it has been the target of vandals, he said.

"It's crazy. I don't know who does this," Ramgulan said. "Every time they come, I have to clean it. They have nothing to do so they spray paint the wall."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bloomberg's education statistics are damned lies

From the Wonkster:

For those of you who missed it over the holiday weekend, Sunday’s Post featured an illuminating look at how New York State dumbed down its standardized tests. Among other things she zeroes in on the time frame — 2007 to 2009 — details the extent of the changes that turned New York Sate into an academic Lake Woebegone and traces the changes back to then state education commissioner Richard Mills.

For example, Edelman finds that in 2006 sixth grader had to correctly answer 16 of 39 question to get a level two (out of a possible four) — the lowest level need to get promoted in New York City. By 2009, the students only had to get 7 questions right.

Edelman makes it clear that the test results provided a major boon to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who used the scores to good advantage in his narrow 2009 re-election victory.

Developer tax giveaways pretty ridiculous

From the Daily News:

Yankees star Alex Rodriguez will pay virtually no property tax for a $6 million apartment he is buying on the upper West Side.

Rodriguez will be billed around $1,200 this year in real estate tax for his 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom penthouse with spectacular views of the Hudson River. is it possible that tens of thousands of ordinary city residents struggle each year with soaring tax bills for their co-ops, condos and homes, while the Yankees' $33-million-a-year star gets to pay next to nothing?

Well, Rodriguez and many other well-heeled New Yorkers have learned to take advantage of a little-known tax abatement program that has existed for decades.

The politicians and real estate insiders call it the "421A" program. It grants as much as a 98% percent tax abatement for up to 25 years to condo owners in newly built housing.

The bulk of the 421A benefit has gone to luxury housing in Manhattan, though a few reforms by City Hall and the Legislature in 2007 at least required developers to build 20% affordable housing to qualify for the tax abatement.

This year alone, the 421A program will cost our city more than $900 million in lost revenues, the Independent Budget Office says.

That's money that could prevent layoffs of firefighters and teachers. That could fund senior citizen centers and pay for after-school programs.

You haven't heard much about this, but the 421A program ended in December for any new construction. But the city's powerful real estate industry is determined to get it renewed and even get it expanded. Its lobbyists are working feverishly behind the scenes to pressure Council and lawmakers in Albany.

WTC costs a lot more than expected

From the NY Post:

Developer Larry Silverstein has exercised an option negotiated five years ago requiring the city to rent 582,000 square feet in the second tower going up at the World Trade Center site, The Post has learned.

That's put the Bloomberg Administration in a funny position.

It's now got to make plans to occupy what will be some of the priciest real estate in Lower Manhattan, while it downsizes the government and gets rid of 400,000 square feet of unused office space elsewhere.

Under the deal struck in 2006, the city will pay Silverstein $56.50 a square foot when the building known as Tower 4 is ready for occupancy in late 2013.

From the NY Post:

The chronically over-budget transportation hub that's part of the massive Ground Zero rebuild will eat into even more taxpayer dollars than expected -- for the second time.

Port Authority officials yesterday hiked the cost of the ornate transit center -- which will house stations for PATH trains, 13 MTA subway lines, and a proposed JFK rail link -- by a staggering $180 million.

The change will bring the overall cost to $3.44 billion.

In 2006, officials put an estimate for the Santiago Calatrava-designed site, which would be the third-largest transportation hub in the city, at about $2.2 billion.

In 2008, that price tag went up to $3.26 billion.

Weiner's waste of time

Fewer broken windows means less crime?

From the NY Times:

Score one for the broken-windows theory, that largely hypothetical correlation between vandalism and crime. Overall crime in the New York metropolitan area has declined in the past six years. So has the number of broken windows.

Of the five million homes and apartments counted in 2009, windows were reportedly broken in 23,500, compared with 156,900 in the 4.8 million counted six years earlier, the Census Bureau said this week.

The number of boarded-up windows in all housing declined to 16,600 from 54,000, and the number of residences where windows were protected with bars fell to 159,500 from 901,900.

The contrast over six years was even starker among occupied buildings: 9,800 of the 4.5 million residences reported broken windows in 2009, compared with 48,300 of the 4.4 million homes six years earlier.

The survey results were compiled from direct questions asked of residents across the New York metropolitan area. “Boarded-up windows” were defined as having been sealed off to protect against weather or entry. “Broken windows” means at least several broken or missing panes.

When neglect turns to tragedy

From Project Woodhaven:

Here is the house in question -- the damage to the home was complete and total. And it was a tragedy waiting to happen as the home had been abandoned for over 15 years -- and it was being used as a hangout by teenagers. Repeated requests for assistance from the surrounding neighbors did nothing to help. We spoke to one of the neighbors today and they were extremely angry and frustrated -- they told us of the many times over the years they made complaints -- to the Police, to the Buildings Department, to the local Woodhaven Civic Organizations -- and the problem was never resolved. This is the result of neglect.

To an outsider, it's hard to tell after such a fire how much of this is damage and how much of this is lack of maintenance. But from neighbors we heard stories of rotting wood, debris, animals going in and out of the house freely -- and, of course, graffiti.

Here's where the story gets worse -- although the Fire Department managed to get the fire under control, unfortunately they weren't able to control the fire before it spread to the next house.

That's right -- the good people who tried to do the right thing -- who tended to their property and raised the alarm numerous times -- who warned everyone that this could happen -- they had to have their worst nightmare come true -- and when this abandoned piece of crap went up in flames, it destroyed the upper two floors of their own home.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Daily News remembers Niederstein's

From the Daily News:

Six years ago, the German restaurant Niederstein's still served platefuls of bratwurst and Wiener schnitzel for its hungry faithful in Middle Village.

Today, a cowboy hat outlined in red marks the spot where Niederstein's stood on Metropolitan Ave., welcoming visitors to its fast-food successor, Arby's.

Longtime residents still shudder when recounting the loss of the 150-year-old local institution after its purchase by Arby's and demolition in 2005.

"That kind of ripped the gut out of us," said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. Since the the sandwich joint replaced one of Queens' most well-known eateries, he added, "Middle Village hasn't been the same."

Locals say the exit of Niederstein's - where generations gripped beer mugs while celebrating birthdays and weddings - symbolizes about a decade's worth of lost working-class hangouts in Queens.

The restaurant became a popular stop after funerals, too, given its proximity to multiple cemeteries. But it met its demise after a co-owner died. His slice of the property passed on to his estate and the land was eventually sold.

Oh well, there's always Zum Stammtisch, which the Times Ledger thinks is in Ridgewood...

Photo from Forgotten-NY.

There's an app for construction sites now

From the DOB:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith and Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri today announced the use of Quick Response (QR) codes on all Department of Buildings permits, providing New Yorkers with instant access to information related to buildings and construction sites throughout New York City. Similar to how a barcode provides information through a scanner, QR codes provide smartphone users with immediate access to data by scanning the displayed code with their device. By downloading a free application on a smartphone, New Yorkers will be able to scan the QR code of any construction permit and instantly learn details about the ongoing project – including the approved scope of work, identities of the property owner and job applicant, other approved projects associated with the permit, the complaints and violations related to the location and user will have the ability to click a link that will initiate a phone call to 311 to make a complaint. The Mayor announced the start of the program on Broad Street in Lower Manhattan, where he demonstrated the technology at an active construction site.

After scanning a QR code on a Department of Buildings’ permit, users will be brought to mobile version of the Department’s Buildings Information System, which provides permit and violation history for every building in the City. Users will be taken directly to the full project information screen for the individual project they want to review. Construction permits will have QR codes added to them as they are replaced at the 975,000 building and construction sites in New York City and all permits are expected to have QR codes by roughly 2013. Smartphone users can download a free QR reader by going to the app store on their device and searching for “QR” – a variety of free applications are available.

QR codes also will appear on after-hours variances and Place of Assembly certificates of operation. In 2010, the Department of Buildings issued more than 179,000 construction permits and 33,000 after-hours variances, which display basic information about projects and are required to be posted at job sites during construction operations. The Department issues permits for work involving boilers, concrete, demolition, cranes, electrical, excavations, general construction, plumbing, scaffolding and sidewalk sheds. Last year, 4,520 Place of Assembly certificates of operation were issued and/or renewed, and these documents provide basic details about how a particular space can be used.

By scanning the QR code on these documents, New Yorkers will learn more information about who is performing this work, including the addresses and telephone numbers of property owners and job applicants, which is typically a licensed architect or engineer or general contractor on the project.

Make it legal to hail non-yellow taxis?

From TLC:

You may have heard about the Mayor’s proposal to establish a new category of livery cars that can make on-street pickups outside of Manhattan just like yellow cabs do. It will give many New Yorkers another safe, reliable and convenient option for getting around. The program aims to improve taxi availability while bringing yellow-taxi-like amenities (e.g., metered fares, credit/debit card payment, easier-to-spot cabs) to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

The City wants to hear from residents about your experiences with taxis and car services and has a developed a brief online survey where your voice can be heard. Click Here to let us know what you think.

Where are the local electeds on this one?

From the Forum West:

A fight by residents in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to push the MTA out of the community could have a negative outcome for Maspeth.

The Brooklyn Paper reported last week that political rivals Councilman Steve Levin (D- Greenpoint) and Greenpoint district leader Lincoln Restler were both pressuring the MTA to abandon its Access-a-Ride depot at 65 Commercial Street. In 2005, the city agreed to build parkland at the site, but in the following six years, the MTA has yet to obtain a new property to store Access-a-Ride vehicles.

Now, the MTA is considering a site in Maspeth to relocate the Acess-a-Ride depot. According to MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, the proposed site is on the east side of 49th Street, between 56th Road and Galasso Place.

“We’re working with the Mayor’s Office, which has agreed to make the site ready for use as a depot,” Donovan said in an e-mail.

For a community that already feels overburdened by commercial traffic, the proposed site is worrisome.

Maspeth, like Greenpoint, has been fighting for more public parkland. Residents have fought an ongoing battle to convert the former St. Saviour’s property into a park. The community also deals with constant traffic congestion.

The Cross Harbor Freight Program could create more truck traffic in that area if the proposal goes through, and the expansion of Waste Management’s Review Avenue site will bring more garbage trucks through the neighborhood. The MTA also already has an Access-a-Ride depot on Maurice Avenue.

“As far as I’m concerned, if Brooklyn wants to create a park at Access-a-Ride’s present location, then an alternate site should be found in Brooklyn,” Daraio said.

Agreed. Brooklyn dumping on Queens. You gotta love it.

Unfortunately, the local electeds were not quoted in this article. Is anyone surprised? Well, this will be a very expensive relocation considering that the site requires remediation before anything can be put there. That's why it's been vacant for years.

Shore Road repairs may finally happen

From Douglaston Patch:

Douglaston leaders said they are frustrated that a project to upgrade a deteriorated stretch of Shore Road has been moving along at a “painfully slow” pace.

The road’s upgrade is estimated to cost $3.1 million and was originally scheduled to begin this October, Community Board 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld said.

There has been speculation whether leaking water mains or an underground spring caused the deterioration. Heavy rainstorms have caused damage along Shore Road, preventing it from draining properly.

The city’s Design and Construction Department will repair, repave and reconstruct up to a total of 3,700 feet of road along Shore Road as well as West Drive, Beverly Road and 36th Avenue, Seinfeld said.

But a plan to address storm water runoff along the roadway must be addressed by the city’s Environmental Protection and Transportation departments before its remediation can begin, Schmidt said.

Community leaders first noticed damage to the road in the early 1990s. A 150-foot section of the road along Little Neck Bay’s western side near Bay View Road has collapsed, while another portion near Manor Road is deteriorating.

Seinfeld said the project is budgeted for fiscal year 2012, but the logistics of the project must first be determined.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weiner, Ferreras not Fat Boy fans

From the Daily News:

Rep. Anthony Weiner and City Councilman [sic] Julissa Ferreras, Chair of the Women's Issues Committee, are holding a presser tomorrow to push the city to sell the controversial statue "Triumph of Civic Virtue" on Craigslist to raise funds.

I think they should be more concerned with the budget crisis, health care, eminent domain abuse, etc. rather than getting cheap publicity. But hey, since this is tweeder Queens, I expect nothing less from them. We'll see this covered extensively in every Queens weekly paper next week.

Tweeders have been at this a long time

From the Times Ledger:

Kudos to Dr. Richard Lipsky, representing Willets Point United, on the letter he wrote about Community Board 7’s behind-closed-door antics (“CB 7 has much to answer for in it approval of Willets Point project,” Feb. 3).

Lipsky’s letter regarding the Willets Point debacle was déjà vu to me. The same tactics were used against the community and myself by CB 7’s chairman when we insisted CB 7 take a vote to keep Ft. Totten parkland and they refused.

The borough president at the time, ironically, was Claire Shulman. President Bill Clinton sold Ft. Totten to the city for $1. It was Shulman’s role to develop the 169 waterfront acres. She appointed developers, people who receive monies from her for their nonprofit agencies and hacks. Shulman also appointed Adrian Joyce to sit on the committee, represent the community and head the Ft. Totten Redevelopment Committee.

The people who were protesting the closed door meetings were told people appointed by Shulman were “representing the community.” Yet when we, the people who live near Ft. Totten, asked to sit in on the meetings, we were told by her counsel that a “vote was taken” and it was unanimous “not” to allow the community into the meetings.

We organized, protested and eventually went to CB 7 to testify. When I submitted my testimony to Gene Kelty, he immediately tore it up. There is usually one community officer at the CB 7 meetings, but I made the mistake of informing the office that I would testify that night. There were six uniformed officers from the local precinct, and as I was reading my testimony two officers came up and attempted to pull me away from the microphone.

This did not deter me at all, and in fact it made people join our plight and eventually the meetings were open and Ft. Totten became parkland. If we had not continued the pressure, St. John’s University would have built 300 dorms there, affecting our community with more traffic and less parking spots.

The letter written by Lipsky was a reminder of the tactics used by Shulman and her cohorts. These secret meetings and using underhanded tactics to prevent the community on speaking out against an issue is politics as usual. It is time for term limits on community boards or the eradication of all community boards. From my experience, many do not represent the community but developers and borough presidents or their members are aspiring politicians and use community boards for their résumés.

It is time for the FBI, city Department of Investigation and any other investigative organization to step in and take a good look at these done deals and anointed hacks.

Joyce Shepard

Transit priorities backward?

From Crains:

The city's poor public transit service outside Manhattan could threaten the explosion of economic growth experienced by the outer boroughs in recent years, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Center for an Urban Future.

As the fastest-growing sectors of New York City's economy, such as health care and education, continue their expansion in the outer boroughs, fewer residents there are commuting into Manhattan for work, the report says.

While the number of Brooklyn commuters traveling to Queens for work shot up 32% since 1990, Brooklyn commuters traveling into Manhattan increased only by 13%, according to the research. And more Bronx residents are now traveling to Queens and Westchester country for work than ever before. Meanwhile, people on Staten Island are either staying in their borough or commuting to Brooklyn or New Jersey in greater numbers.

But the city's Manhattan-centric transit system, much of which dates back to the early decades of the 20th century, makes it hard—and sometimes impossible—for workers to travel easily between the outer boroughs. The result is climbing commute times and lost job opportunities for many residents.

I have an idea... let's build a 2nd Avenue subway and a bunch of bike lanes. That will solve the problem.

Asian women targeted for attack in Sunnyside

From Sunnyside Post:

Another mugger is targeting Sunnyside and Woodside women.

In the past two weeks, three young Asian women have been followed from the 52nd Street subway station, pushed to the ground and have had their personal property stolen, said Sgt. David Porter, who spoke at the monthly police precinct 108 meeting on Tuesday.

All three muggings have occurred between 11:30 pm and 1:30am on either a Friday or Saturday night.

The police have yet to get a description of the man/men, since the women were approached from behind, before being knocked to the ground.

This latest wave of muggings is similar to what occurred last month in the heart of Sunnyside when five women were followed from the 40th Street subway station and mugged by 16-year-old Damari Morris, from Brooklyn. In that case, too, Asian women in their 20s were among the victims. The victims’ cell phones, iPods, mp3 players and cash were taken.

Queensbridge Park wall will finally be repaired

From the Queens Chronicle:

After years of bureaucratic back and forth, a single city agency has been named responsible for fixing the seawall in Queensbridge Park, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens and Manhattan) said Tuesday.

During a meeting with city officials, it was decided that the Parks Department would be taking the lead on mending the collapsing promenade, which has been rendered unusable to residents for nearly a decade.

According to Maloney, Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe said his agency was working on removing lead paint which had fallen into the park from the Queensboro Bridge. After that project is completed, he will begin to repair the seawall, which continues to collapse into the East River.

Meanwhile, Maloney said she is in discussions with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to get permission for the city Department of Transportation to fund a portion of the estimated $12 million repair as part of environmental work required by the DEC after DOT construction on other parts of the waterfront was completed.

Since 2003, politicians and city agencies have been talking about repairing the wall — finding funding, making plans and even contacting the Army Corps of Engineers. However, like the crumbling seawall itself, these plans sank into a river of bureaucracy, leaving Queensbridge residents with a 200-foot-long gaping hole where an esplanade once was.

Goodbye character, hello 99-cent stores

From the Daily News:

Bargains abound at the 99-cent store that opened on 37th Ave. last fall, replacing the Cavalier Restaurant in Jackson Heights.

But locals gripe that the deals are a poor substitute for what the Cavalier had provided - a place where friends met for the familiar faces and unique atmosphere that was a part of the community for half a century.

Some refuse to patronize its discount replacement, still longing for the Cavalier's neon signs and camaraderie.

"I get a sinking feeling in my stomach," said filmmaker Celeste Balducci, 53, who has lived in the area for nearly 25 years. The 99-cent shop doesn't "add anything to the neighborhood - no personality, no charm," she said.

It's a common refrain nowadays in Queens.

When locals lose sites that defined their neighborhoods, experts contend, their sense of place drops.

The transformations aren't all negative. Queens has gained many ethnic eateries, for example, that have become the pride of their communities.

But the last decade alone has seen so many deeply rooted establishments close - including the Cavalier - that some worry Queens is losing its identity.

Worse, those spots are being replaced with unexceptional offices, banks or chains, leaving a homogeneous look.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Avella calls for Willets Point oversight hearing

From Tony Avella's op-ed in the Daily News:

As a former member of the City Council, I - along with many of my colleagues - was concerned that the use of eminent domain in this instance was an abuse of the process. Eminent domain should only be used to take private property for a specific public benefit not, as in the case of Willets Point, to turn the property over to a private developer who will make millions. Where is the public benefit?

I voted against the project for this reason and other deficiencies in the proposal. Unfortunately, the Council sided with the mayor and approved this land grab.

Following the city's approval, Willets Point United, a group organized by area business owners, hired a traffic consultant, Brian Ketcham, to review the city's environmental review of the impact this massive project would create. It was discovered that the city, in order to mitigate very serious traffic congestion issues, had proposed the creation of several ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway.

The city had argued in the environmental review that the ramps were the linchpin of the project, primarily because the development was estimated to generate 80,000 car trips a day. Without the ramps, the Willets Point development would overwhelm local streets and would be environmentally unmanageable. Nowhere in any of the environmental documents was there a scenario whereby the project in whole or in part could proceed without these crucial ramps.

However, the ramp design is faulty, and necessary approval from the state Department of Transportation has not been forthcoming.

As part of public comments, EDC had promised that eminent domain would be used only as a last resort, and it would not be used prior to the approval of the ramps. Well, despite the unresolved ramp issue, EDC is moving to condemn family-owned businesses.

In essence, EDC, stymied by a difficult state and federal approval process, is looking to make an end run around this impasse and create an entirely new project - one that has never been properly reviewed by the Council.

In my view, this is a complete violation of the land use review process and requisites that the Council approved in 2008. EDC alleges that the ramps are not necessary for the first phase of the project, a phase that encompasses 20 acres and will include, according to EDC, a retail corridor, hotel and housing. But since no study was done on this partial development, the assertions of EDC are without merit or credibility.

There is simply no way that the city can argue that the first phase does not need these ramps. As a result, the only credible alternative is for the Council to demand a new environmental review and a completely new land use application to determine if what EDC is arguing has any validity. The public must have an opportunity to comment on this new plan.

The city is facing a severe fiscal crisis, with huge budget cuts and layoffs that appear to be unavoidable. In this fiscal environment, putting aside all the contradictions and bad faith coming out of EDC, can the city now afford to spend billions of dollars to buy out local businesses? Even if the city is successful in this land grab, development is years off and will probably take decades. In the interim, jobs will be lost and the city will lose the tax revenue from all the businesses that it will have forced to close.

$100M to advertise Medicaid?

From the Huffington Post:

New York spends more than $100 million marketing Medicaid to the state's low-income and poor residents.

A new Health Department study shows that most of that money is illegally misused by HMOs who utilize the funds to steal patients from competitors, rather than attracting the uninsured.

"Marketing costs are largely spent by health plans to attract members of other plans," the study finds. "They do not focus on enrolling the uninsured."

The New York Post reports that health officials are using the data to suggest that the $113.6 million subsidy should be cut from the budget.

About 84 percent of the state's Medicaid-eligible residents are already enrolled in the program.

Headscratcher of the day


Why is Dutch Kills Civic Association publicly opposing the Queensboro Bridge renaming while the Queens Civic Congress sits silent? This one is a no-brainer!

AEG subpoena fight cost state big time bucks

From City Hall:

Senate Democrats spent tens-of-thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to quash subpoenas issued by the state Inspector General’s office seeking information about the conference’s role in the Aqueduct Entertainment Group scandal, according to Senate expense records.

On April 1, 2010 Senate Democrats cut a check for $29,300 to the Manhattan criminal defense firm Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly LLP—a payment Senate Democratic spokesperson Austin Shafran confirmed was used for a lawsuit to block the Inspector General’s subpoena requests, though the State Supreme Court ultimately rejected the suit. All of this came less than a month after the Paterson administration, under a cloud of scandal, shut down the AEG contract.

Shafran insisted the funds were used for official Senate business, and not to shield individual members from potential legal fallout.

In October, the Inspector General’s office released a scathing report that found several high-ranking Democratic senators, including now-Minority Leader John Sampson, Malcolm Smith and Eric Adams, among others, had acted improperly in initially helping AEG win a multi-billion dollar racino bid.

Notably, $118,000 in subsequent payments to Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly were made by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in June for individual legal services for Senate members. Shafran said the shifting nature of the case led Senate Democrats to pay the firm at first out of government funds and later out of campaign funds.

Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly did not return a request for comment about the firm’s role in the case.

Bloomberg budget talk full of hot air

From City Hall:

During his budget address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would have to layoff more than 4,000 teachers, close 20 firehouses, shutter one-third of its senior centers, and eliminate more than 16,000 child care slots.

But budget analysts who know the process say those cuts are just theater, and are not likely to pass.

“The mayor wants to eliminate 20 fire companies again, but the City Council has always successfully gotten it back,” said Nicole Gelinas, a budget expert with the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. “The things that get the most public attention, and that people get most outraged about, they’re not huge budget items, and they’re things that politically just won’t happen.”

Gelinas added, “The mayor’s just playing bad-guy.”

Last year, for example, the mayor proposed a budget that would eliminate 8,500 teachers and 4,300 non-uniformed city positions. Those reductions did not come to pass.

The cuts he has called for in fiscal year 2011 are also scaled back considerably from what they were in November, aided by an “eye-popping” $2 billion windfall in revenue on the business tax side. The increase came from the recent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, as well as cuts to the capital gains tax, analysts said.

And the increase led the mayor to what some say is a questionable precedent: filling up a purported $1.86 billion gap in federal and state education funding with the city’s own money.

“It’s hard, when you find $2 billion in new revenue, to go with your hat to the state and say ‘I need money,’” said Citizens Budget Commission analysts Maria Doulis.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

3 Council women stand in the way of EDC oversight hearing

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Put simply, the legislature was snookered by EDC and the city when it abdicated its land use oversight role by approving a project that lacked any specificity-or, better yet, even a developer. The money quote comes from former land use committee chair, Melinda Katz: "Well, just so it's clear, my issue in the last hearing and this one is clearly that if we do the ULURP process first, it takes the New York City Council out of the process as we move forward. It historically is not done that way. Historically we do the RFP first, the developer is chosen, then you do the ULURP process..."

Having given the mayor carte blanche in 2008, there is little the council can now do to oversee what actually does get put into those 62 acres at the Iron Triangle-a Walmart, perhaps, or an unwanted developer like Related. Now, however, EDC has unwittingly provided the council with a way out of its self imposed dilemma. By going back on its pledge to hold off on any eminent domain use until the Van Wyck ramps were approved-and initiating a new development scheme not previously vetted by SEQR at the same time-EDC has opened the door to a city council revisit.

But opening the door apparently does not insure that the council will actually walk through it-and our efforts are foundering because of the reluctance of some council members to re-open the Willets Point can of worms.

Who could be doing that? I know there are a lot of candidates. But let's look at the role of 2 of them.

From the Queens Tribune:

Ferreras has sought to act as an intermediary between all parties throughout the process. She said she may call a hearing into the EDC’s handling of Willets Point, though has not decided entirely.

“I am very strongly leaning towards a hearing if it’s going to answer some questions,” Ferreras said. “But there may not be any need if the questions are answered prior.”

Ah, the Willets Point council person thinks she will get straight answers from EDC. What a crock.

From the NYC Council:

Karen Koslowitz chairs the Committee on Economic Development, where she leads the council’s effort to foster economic growth, create jobs and improve quality of life.

Prior to her election in 2009, Koslowitz served as Deputy Borough President under Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, where she represented a county of 2.2 million residents in the most diverse county in the United States.

In other words, Karen's committee would have oversight. Will her past ties to the borough president's office cause her to drop the ball on this?

And then of course, there's Chris who not only never met a development project that she didn't like, but is the mayor's lapdog.

Time to call in the Feds in order to get a fair shake.

City rents out condemned beach club to Hollywood

From NY1:

For nearly 100 years, a lucky few rented the 41 cottages that line the water. But last September, the Parks Department, which owns the land, forced the residents off the 45-acre site so it could make way for a public park.

There are few details about the upcoming park, except that it will be built in stages.

The agency has sealed the site to the public, and insists it is readying the space, though former residents are not so sure.

"I think it's a little hypocritical," said former Cedar Grove resident John Murphy. "They said they're going to open it up to the public, and obviously they're not doing that. But private concerns can actually use it, and I think that's very wrong."

The state is still considering whether to give the area historic designation, which would force the city to preserve some of it.

Removing Hiram was quite costly

From the Daily News:

The state Senate paid a whopping $376,464 for legal help to expel Hiram Monserrate after he assaulted his girlfriend, the Daily News has learned.

That's the tab a Park Avenue law firm charged taxpayers last year to help lawmakers - who have dozens of in-house lawyers at their beck and call - to decide whether they had the authority to boot Monserrate for his crime.

"That's a lot of money to spend on a bad guy," quipped state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn).

Golden, who was among the most vocal critics of Monserrate, said the Democrats who controlled the Senate at the time could have used one of their more than 150 in-house staff lawyers to do the work.

"That, in and of itself, is a crime," Golden, an ex-cop, said.

Accountant wins license plate jackpot

From the NY Post:

In a stunning security lapse, the federal General Services Administration mistakenly shipped nearly three dozen license plates marked "U.S. Government -- For Official Use Only" to a humble Queens accountant, The Post has learned.

The foul-up is part of a troubling pattern of lost license plates at the agency, which handles plates for every federal office except the military.

"I don't know how it happened. Mistakes can happen, but I guess in this day and age, you want to be careful," said Antonio Guadagnino, who received the package, addressed to him, via UPS at his small Astoria office.

"If they ended up in the wrong hands, they could be used to get into secure places. Not everyone is so honest," added Guadagnino, who said that he never held a federal contract and that his business consists mostly of personal income-tax returns.

Unsure of what to do with the plates, he handed them over to state Sen. Michael Gianaris, whose district office is in the same building.

But, Gianaris said, the GSA didn't appear overly concerned.

"The reaction we got was that this was business as usual," he said.

"This is not a time in our nation's history to be screwing around with federal identification. What would happen if they wound up in someone else's hands, someone who thought he could profit selling them -- or worse?"

Bikeholes prove they aren't environmentally friendly

From the NY Post:

A nonprofit group that espouses cycling as an eco-friendly substitute to cars in the city is not so friendly to trees -- faxing thousands of sheets of paper opposing a bike-registration proposal to the city councilman behind the push.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich said he got the reams of faxes from Transportation Alternatives, accusing him of a "hateful attack against every New Yorker who owns a bike now or might ride in the future."

The Queens Republican called it a tremendous waste of paper -- especially from a group that considers itself environmentally friendly.

"Transportation Alternatives promotes itself as a champion of environmentally friendly causes, yet they inundated my office with 4,840 paper faxes -- 99 percent of which came from people who don't even live in my district," Ulrich said. "These kinds of tactics are anything but 'green' -- they're just wasteful."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ceding City Council authority was a stupid thing to do

City Council Speaker Emeritus Peter Vallone Sr. – City Council Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions Hearing, October 17, 2008:

"It took many, many years for the United States Supreme Court to declare the Board of Estimate unconstitutional and to say that only the City Council, only the City Council, has jurisdiction over land use. And while the Administration may propose, as it does a budget, this Council has to dispose." …

"So now you have a situation where they're asking the Council to say yes, you have land use power, but we will – the Executive Branch – we will make this so much better." …

"I can't believe that the Council would say to the Administration oh, hey, okay, take over. You're – forget our jurisdiction. You take it over 'cause you know better than us."

Testifying and making lucrative land deals for some (but not all) of his clients was stressful, so Pops partied...

Photo from Queens Campaigner

So why are we building more?

From the Daily News:

The collapse of the housing market has cast a shadow across the city in hundreds of unfinished and decaying apartments, condos and houses.

Derelict and unsafe, these eyesores have blighted neighborhoods, drawing rats, squatters and junkies. They drag down property values and enrage residents who feel helpless.

As of last month, the Buildings Department recorded 682 stalled sites across the city: vacant lots, empty foundations, concrete skeletons of half-built luxury condos, boarded-up single-family houses.

New York Building Congress president Richard Anderson doesn't expect much will change: "If the trend continues, there will be hundreds and hundreds of sites in limbo for years to come."

Concentrations are high in neighborhoods where the rush to gentrify collided with the collapsing market - hipster Brooklyn, the trendy lower East Side, Riverdale and Kingsbridge in the Bronx, Staten Island's North Shore and foreclosure-plagued Southeast Queens.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall's spokesman calls Southeast Queens "the epicenter of foreclosure in the state."

The fallout has been scores of abandoned homes and complaints about "lack of security fencing, drugs, prostitution and squatters."

Typical is the boarded-up house at 120-06 194th St.

"It attracts crime," said neighbor Ron Miles. "You've got people taking the copper piping out."

For a time one derelict made the house his hangout. "It was scary," said Yolanda Stowe. "He used to be outside naked in the morning."

Botanic Garden kicks seniors to the curb

From the Queens Tribune:

Seniors who enjoy the use of Queens Botanical Garden for planting vegetables and flowers believe they are being “financially extorted,” after being told they will now have to pay $150 for plots that were always free.

In January, QBG notified Senior Garden members of the introduction of the annual fee to use plots which were free to them for 45 years.

In addition to the new fee, seniors will also have to pay a membership fee which increased from $30 to $45 as well as $1 for parking each time they use the garden’s lot.

Although the Senior Garden will be phased out over the next year, QBG Deputy Director Patty Kleinberg said seniors are more than welcome to join the Family Garden, which will debut in 2012.

Ultimately, the Garden is not trying to get rid of seniors, added Kleinberg, but rather is trying to expand the use of the garden to a broader range of people in the community.

Kleinberg also asserted that once QBG transitions the Senior Garden into the Family Garden, the non-profit group will be eligible for various additional federal grants that will help it develop programs for more members of the community.

Sounds like the Flushing elders are being kicked out in order to benefit a more vibrantly diverse clientele.

Feds deny relief to Brooklyn, Bronx & Queens

From NY1:

President Barack Obama declared Friday that New York State was a "disaster area" following December's blizzard, allowing certain areas of the state to get federal recovery money.

Staten Island and Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk Counties will get federal aid to repair damage from the blizzard of December 26-27, 2010.

The declaration paves the way for the city to get reimbursed for the money it had to spend for snow removal and emergency measures, including overtime, equipment rental and temporary labor during the blizzard.

The state's application also sought funds for the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, but those petitions were denied.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he appreciated the money, but felt the other boroughs also deserved to be on the list.

Welcome back

From the Daily News:

It's the coldest day of the year in New York City, around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but John Leguizamo doesn't mind.

The 46-year-old actor, whose third solo show on Broadway, "Ghetto Klown," begins previews Monday, is just excited to walk around his childhood neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens.

After all, it has been 11 years since the fast-talking actor, best known for his movie roles in "Carlito's Way" and "Summer of Sam," has returned to the predominantly immigrant community that raised him until the age of 19 and inspired much of his self-reflective work like "Ghetto Klown."

"I moved to Jackson Heights from Bogotá, Colombia, when I was 3½," says Leguizamo, who now lives with his wife and two children in the West Village. "I don't know how much is reality and how much is imagination, but I remember coming from a really bright, sunny place with a lot of white buildings and colorful attractions to this dark and cold area. But, in time, I grew to love it."

"This neighborhood formed me," he says through teeth that neither Hollywood nor Broadway ever bothered straightening. "It was a transitional neighborhood. People were just trying to make it and get out as fast as they could. But this was where I developed my sense of humor and discovered what I liked and didn't like."

"We used the word 'rumble' a lot back then," says Leguizamo as he strolls toward the 89th St. park where he used to hang out with friends. "There were a lot of gangs and they were always fighting over honor or something like that. They'd use chains, nunchucks and switchblades, but no guns."

So he calls himself a "Ghetto Klown", talks about gangs in the area and says it was full of people who couldn't wait to get out. According to some people, this other Jackson Heights doesn't exist and its all about the food. I'm guessing Mr. Leguizamo didn't grow up in the garden apartments...

Monday, February 21, 2011

CB7 upzones homes without owners' consent

From the Queens Chronicle:

With support from the area’s city councilman and little community opposition, Community Board 7 approved plans on Monday to enlarge the former White House restaurant in Whitestone, that would increase space for a catering facility and parking.

New owner Joe Franco, who formerly operated the popular Caffe on the Green at the Clearview Golf Course in Bayside, bought the Whitestone facility at 10-24 154 St. in December. He needs to change the zoning to R3-1 with a commercial overlay from its current R2A.

The area is now zoned for single- and two-family homes, but the restaurant was grandfathered in prior to the zoning restrictions. At Monday night’s meeting at the Union Plaza Care Center, CB 7 member Frank Macchio noted that a majority of the block is already commercial.

Franco wants to enlarge the parking lot and has purchased vacant property behind the restaurant and the adjacent building. No changes will be made to the facility next door, but the long-neglected yard will be transformed to accommodate up to 120 cars there and on stackers in the cellar. There will be valet parking.

Thirty-three parking spaces are required under the zoning, so developers believe there will be little chance of patrons taking up space on neighborhood streets.

Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) spoke in favor of the proposal, noting that Franco has promised to relinquish the restaurant’s cabaret license. “Nobody should stand in the way of responsible development,” the councilman said. “I’ve seen the plan and am comfortable with it.”

He said the restaurant, which has been in operation since 1956, is falling apart. “This is an opportunity,” Halloran added. “It will improve the quality of life in the area.”

But state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who used to represent the area when he was a city councilman, sent a statement opposing the project. While in the council, Avella successfully led the campaign to downzone many areas in Queens. “This application would upzone an area the community and I sought to protect,” Avella said.

He also questioned the “questionable business practices” that led to Franco’s loss of the city franchise at Caffe on the Green.

Paul Graziano, an urban planner who worked with Avella on zoning changes, spoke against the proposal Monday night. He questioned why a variance wasn’t sought for the parcel rather than a zoning change.

NY1 has great coverage of this.

Pedro a really, really big spender

From the Daily News:

Former Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada was a one-man employment agency while in office, racking up a $1 million payroll over his final six months at the State Capitol.

Our Glenn Blain reports:

The scandal-scorched Espada, who was tossed by voters last September, spent more on staffers than any other senator -- by far.

"That is such a waste of taxpayer money," said Citizen's Union Executive Director Dick Dadey. "And for the Democratic leadership to be complicit in giving him that amount of staff is just outrageous."

Espada's 50-person staff included more than 20 "community outreach" and constituent liaison workers who made as much as $60,000 a year, new disclosure forms show.

It also included former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon, who earned $150,000 a year.

How did it get to this point?

From CBS:

Dozens of families in Upper Manhattan were suddenly homeless Friday night after their apartment building was deemed too dangerous to live in, reports CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez.

With barely a moment’s notice, dozens of Inwood residents living in a dilapidated building found themselves carting their belongings on the street.

The Department of Buildings evacuated 552 Academy St. after discovering the building in deplorable condition, sighting more than 1,000 open housing code violations.

And guess what? We're gonna pay for it.

Buckle your seatbelt, Bloomie!

From the NY Post:

Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg should have allocated extra money to fix potholes a little earlier.

Wouldn't you know it -- somewhere in the East 70s, between Lexington and Park avenues, his SUV struck a monster pothole.

"I was trying to read my speech before I got to the place I had to give it, and it bumped me so much everything fell right off my lap," Bloomberg recalled yesterday.

Someone understands the role of the press!

Dear Mr. Larry Mendte,

Would you please do a seminar for publishers of Queens weekly papers? They need to understand what their purpose is. You seem to get it. They don't. As evidenced by this....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Truth comes out at Keith's vote

From the Queens Chronicle:

It was deja vu all over again at Community Board 7’s monthly meeting Monday as members OK’d plans for the redevelopment of the derelict RKO Keith’s Theatre exactly five years to the day of the last approval.

In a vote of 24-10, following a hearing at the Union Plaza Care Center, members agreed to a revised plan for the site, which includes a lot more housing units and less parking spaces. The new owner, Patrick Thompson of Manhattan, bought the decaying structure at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Main Street last May for $20 million and expects the project to cost $160 million.

Jerry Rotondi, acting president of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theatre of Flushing, noted his group got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places and supported its full interior designation as a city landmark in 1984. But, Rotondi pointed out, “Claire Shulman, acting for her mentor, corrupt Borough President Donald Manes, lobbied to have the designation abridged to just the ticket lobby and grand foyer,” he said.

The landmarking reduction was later supported by Shulman, when she was borough president. The lobby and foyer are the only significant parts of the theater remaining.

Protecting both is the main focus of Rotondi’s group now. He also recommended that a museum element be incorporated into the final design “that celebrates the important and rich theatrical history that included live performances by some of the greatest show business icons in 20th-century America,” he said.

265-lb man kills 8-lb chihuahua

From the NY Post:

A hulking 265-pound Jerry Melendez, 33, allegedly took his rage out on his defenseless eight-pound dog on February 10, striking him with enough force to fracture his skull and causing a hemorrhage to his left eye.

After the heinous assault in Ridgewood, Melendez rushed five-year-old Spotty, to a private animal hospital where doctors desperately tried treating him for seizures and head trauma. They were left with no choice but to euthanize the pooch, whose injuries were just too severe.

Veterinarians notified the ASPCA and a necropsy later determined Spotty sustained blunt force impact.

Melendez, was charged with one felony count of animal cruelty yesterday.

He faces up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.