Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Liu knew of bad campaign donations

From the Daily News:

Embattled City Controller John Liu may have known some contributions to his mayoral campaign were fishy, court records revealed as a second member of his political circle was busted Tuesday.

That news surfaced as the widening federal probe into Liu’s fund-raising for the 2013 mayoral race ensnared his campaign treasurer, Jia Hou. The feds accused her of steering 40 fraudulent donations to the campaign through a coordinated subterfuge that used straw donors to duck campaign finance laws.

The complaint alleges that Liu fund-raising bundler Xing Wu (Oliver) Pan — the other member of the Democratic controller’s camp to be pinched — coached an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman to tell the candidate prior to a fund-raiser that this was his “event.”

Liu, the court papers quote Pan as saying, would “know what I meant” and understand that all the campaign contributions being collected at the event were really coming from the undercover agent’s “money.”

...City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Queens), a major Liu supporter and one of his top fund-raisers, said he should step down as controller if the insinuation that he may have known what was going on proves true.

“If he knew, he should consider resigning his position — if he knew,” Koo said.

Koo added that he saw Hou, whose family is close to the controller, a few days ago at a campaign function and she didn’t seem to know she was going to be charged.

The feds documented a flurry of instant messages that showed how Hou on July 14 of last year allegedly offered to reimburse one crooked donor. “Don’t worry about it,” she texted.

Hou also instructed campaign volunteers to “imitate the handwriting of campaign donors” to make their contributions look kosher, the court papers state. She is also accused of withholding potentially damning documents after she was slapped with subpoenas by government investigators last year.

Preserving the bungalows

From DNA Info:

"It's amazing to think you're in New York City and you have a beach community by the ocean," said bungalow owner Stephanie Samoy, president of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association, which has joined forces with the Historic Districts Council in a year-long effort to raise awareness of the community and plot the next steps to shield it from development.

The groups are promoting the bungalows as cheap alternatives to swanky summer homes in the Hamptons. Creative types also enjoy the fixer-upper appeal of the bungalows, which are mostly intact but warrant fresh coats of paint and new mouldings.
"It's a throwback to the early 20th century," Samoy added.

Samoy's association wants to save about 100 bungalows built largely in the early 1920s on Beach 24th, 25th and 26th streets, between Seagirt Boulevard and the boardwalk. Decades ago, they were summer homes for working-class New Yorkers, from electricians to train conductors, said documentarian Jennifer Callahan, who made the 2010 film "The Bungalows of Rockaway."

Warning issued to Greater Jamaica Development Corporation

From the NY Post:

The head of the Port Authority blasted a Queens nonprofit for failing to develop property that it bought with $2.7 million in taxpayer cash.

Patrick Foye said the PA, which paid for the purchase, would confiscate the property if the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. does not move swiftly to develop it, The Post has learned.

“I am deeply troubled by the lack of progress by the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. over the past 10 years at Jamaica Station,” Foye said. “The people of Jamaica deserve better.”

A Post investigation revealed last month that the PA gave Greater Jamaica $2.7 million in 2004 to buy a rundown market near the Jamaica LIRR and AirTrain stations and turn the site into an office building for JetBlue or other tenants. If nothing happened by the end of 2008, the PA was to get its money back or get the building.

Foye said that after a 45-day review — prompted by the Post exposĂ© — Greater Jamaica would get one last chance to develop the property. It uses the Sutphin Avenue building for meetings and rented a portion to a car service.

The PA also wants Greater Jamaica to conduct a competitive search for a developer by Aug. 20 and set up a timetable for the project. Construction must begin by first quarter 2013, or the PA would take the building.

A spokesman for Greater Jamaica said it was “cooperating fully with the PA and expects to have a developer in place within 180 days.”

Story of the uncivil property owner

From the Queens Chronicle:

A meeting of Community Board 12’s Land Use Committee regarding a vacant lot in Jamaica became so unruly, with the property owner not allowing anyone, including her lawyer, to get in a word edgewise, that she was booted from the gathering, the panel’s chairman said.

The vacant lot, which is owned by the Jamaica Estates Design Group and was represented at the meeting by managing member Athena Moriates and her lawyer, Frank Chaney, covers two addresses 178-06 90 Ave. and 90-07 178 St. Chaney did not return calls requesting comment by press time.

After the property was acquired in 2007, JEDG acquired the necessary permits to build, Sandiford said, but other than constructing a foundation, nothing has been done with the land in almost five years. During that time, the zoning changed, invalidating the original plans.

In June 2007, the Department of Buildings granted JEDG a permit for excavation and on Aug. 20 of that year a building permit was issued. The plan was to build a nine-story building totaling 26,609 square feet with underground parking. Eight thousand square feet would be used for a community facility, Sandiford said.

At that time the area was zoned R-6, which allowed for the construction of such a tall building provided that it had the required parking and the proper ratio of floor area to lot size, Sandiford said.

In September 2007, the city downzoned the area to R4-1, which only permits one- and two-family houses up to 35 feet high. Later that month, the Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order, but on Sept. 17, the agency rescinded it, according to Sandiford.

On June 12, 2008, the owner renewed the building permit and in December of that year the DOB approved a post-approval amendment to the old one. On Sept. 10, 2008, it issued a new permit to allow the development of a 38,468-square-foot seven-story building, even though it did not comply with the new zoning.

The permit lapsed, and the required amount of construction was not completed and the permits were rescinded.

In 2010 and 2011, the owner was negotiating to sell the property, even trying to strike up a deal with Queens College, but there were no offers, Sandiford said, and she could not get any kind of financing to push the project forward.

Everything old is new again

From the Daily News:

The bucolic farms of middle America are getting some stiff competition from the rooftops of New York City.

A growing number of commercial farms housed several stories high throughout the city are producing crops year-round — in many cases without even using dirt.

Several city farms are looking for more rooftop space to grow their local food businesses. And swaths of Queens and Brooklyn with large expanses of industrial rooftops are prime candidates for the urban agriculture expansion.

“In dense cities like New York, there isn’t an enormous amount of vacant land,” said New School Professor Nevin Cohen, who specializes in urban agriculture.

But “there are thousands of acres of rooftop space in New York City potentially suitable for agriculture — with more than 1,000 acres in Queens,” he said.

Hope for Fat Boy

From the Queens Chronicle:

For the first time in the nearly 15 years that Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey has been working to conserve the “Civic Virtue” statue outside Borough Hall, Borough President Helen Marshall has said she will set up a meeting about repairing the structure that has fallen into disrepair, Carey said.

...Carey said this week that she was heartened by Marshall promising that she would set up a meeting with the district manager about preserving the statue, which has been badly damaged by the elements, as well as pigeon waste, after being outside for so many years.

Carey said one of her priorities is to find a nonprofit that might be able to take on the restoration fight, or potentially use its own funds to help fund the work. She noted that many residents want to see the piece preserved in part because it is one of the borough’s few public art works.

While others have called the work sexist, an art historian from Stony Brook University has also advocated for its preservation.

“I wouldn’t argue that politicians are wrong, or people are wrong, or stupid because they see this work as sexist in some way,” professor Michele Bogart, who lives in Brooklyn, said in a previous interview with the Queens Chronicle. “I would argue they’re not paying close enough attention to the work. They’re reacting in a knee-jerk way and haven’t bothered to understand the history of it.”

Bogart said the statue could be used to teach students and the general public about the history of the city and the borough, as it was commissioned by the mayor in 1909 and ultimately dedicated in 1922.

“Use the work as a vehicle to educate people on the complexities of art, the representation of male-female relationships, about Queens and the city,” she said.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fake IDs bought on Jackson Heights streets

From the NY Post:

It’s a passport to trouble — and it can be bought for just $260 on the streets of Jackson Heights, Queens.

In just one hour, The Post was able to buy a phony green card, Social Security card and New York state driver’s license from a stranger on a corner — all of which could serve as a gateway to obtain legitimate IDs.

The cards are frighteningly real — convincing enough to fool creditors, potential employers and security at buildings and even the airport.

Experts said the biggest fear is that these IDs are being bought by people who slipped past border crossings.

Koo opens mouth, inserts foot

From the Times Ledger:

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) is in hot water with some of his constituents over remarks made at a recent meeting, about downtown Flushing, but a community leader said some in the audience may have misunderstood what he was saying.

Koo was speaking to a perennially packed room during the 109th Precinct Community Council’s monthly meeting Feb. 8, when he said, according to audience members, that residents should stop complaining that downtown Flushing is dirty.

He also said that 99 percent of the signs in Flushing contain English, according to audience members.

His comments were enough to prompt several calls and a letter to the editor of TimesLedger Newspapers.

Wanda Beck, president of the Bowne Park Civic Association and past president of the 109th Precinct Community Council, was also at the meeting and was upset at the councilman’s comments.

Koo, who recently switched to the Democratic Party after being elected as a Republican, has admitted in the past that public speaking is not his forte.

His party switch also pissed off a lot of his Facebook friends...

Bloomberg outsources water tax collection

Hi Everyone:

While going over some corporate bills I noticed that payments to the NYC Water Board and NYC DEP are being sent to Pittsburgh, PA. for processing. I'm sure everyone is pleased that Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York are contributing to economic development and job creation in Pittsburgh.

For your convenience a redacted copy of the payment notice is attached.

Warren Schreiber

$13M YMCA promised by Bloomberg in 2006 now $25M and still not built

Remember all the fanfare 6 years ago over Arverne by the Sea, how it was supposed to transform Far Rockaway from the area full of crap that the city created over the past half century or so into a desirable, middle class community? Part of the plan back then was for a 30,000 sq ft YMCA.

Mayor Bloomberg announced the project November 9, 2006.

The plans for the YMCA call for the construction of a brand new 30,000-sq. foot, two-story building that will have supporting programs and services for 10,000 people. The YMCA plans to offer after school programs and youth sports, including extensive swim instruction and lifeguard training - both firsts for this beach neighborhood. In addition, more than 65,000 square feet of open space will be developed to accommodate the expected expansion of the facility as the community continues to grow. The new YMCA will employ approximately 30 full time employees and 125 part time employees.

“The principals of Benjamin Beechwood, LLC are thrilled at the continuing success of Arverne by the Sea and are excited about the upcoming Y that Benjamin Beechwood is developing that will provide fabulous new indoor recreational space, including a pool, to the Rockaways,” said Benjamin Beechwood LLC Principals Alvin Benjamin and Michael Dubb.

Well, that didn't happen.

Going Coastal reported in 2008 that work was about to start on the Y after the search for an additional $5M to build a bigger facility was halted.

In 2009, the following was published in the Wave:

Work began in earnest last week on the longawaited Arverne YMCA, which is being built at Beach 73 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, in the Arverne By The Sea development. Officials say that they hope to have all the piles driven and the building's foundation mapped out before the ground becomes too hard to work in. Then, the builders will come back in the spring to begin the construction process that should take a little more than a year.

That never happened, either.

In 2010, the Daily News reported that additional funding had been found, but that the cost of the project now required the building to be LEED certified, which would have further delayed construction.

Original plans were for a 30,000-square-foot community center. But after about three years of back-and-forth between the community and developers, the YMCA will now cost about $25 million and include two pools and a basketball court, Romski said.

"We're tired of the possibility. We want a reality," said Councilman James Sanders (D-Far Rockaway), who secured the $1.87 million that triggered Local Law 86.

But the city granted a waiver for the project allowing it to proceed. It didn't. A long-promised supermarket finally opened, though.

Fast forward to 2011, and we have this:

Melville-based Racanelli Construction Co. has been picked to build a new 36,600-square-foot YMCA complex at Arverne by the Sea in Queens.

Racanelli’s won the project with a bid of $17.35 million, according to a company statement.

The facility will include an indoor swimming pool, locker rooms, conference rooms, multi-purpose rooms and gymnasium, as well as fitness, exercise and aerobic rooms.

As part of the project, Racanelli is performing extensive site work on the 2 1/2-acre property, consisting of providing 100 parking spaces, enclosed children’s playground, Little League baseball field, outdoor sitting areas and landscaping. Manhattan-based Donald Blair Architects is designing the YMCA project, scheduled to be completed in March 2013.

Which conflicts with the statement currently on the YMCA's own page:

The project is scheduled to be complete by June 2013.

Here's what it looks like today:

What is the over/under for this actually being built, on time and without another drastic cost increase?

LIC apparently not a place for teens

From the NY Times:

THE third wave of gentrification is just now being felt in Long Island City, Queens. Artists and other creative types colonized the area’s warehouses several decades ago, followed by a burst of high-rise development aimed at singles and couples who wanted a lower-cost alternative to Manhattan.

Now apartments that can accommodate families are in demand, and buildings on the drawing board or under construction will have playrooms as amenities, along with gyms and rooftop spaces, area brokers say.

“We’re just seeing the infancy, no pun intended,” said David J. Maundrell, the president of brokerage firm, which has many listings in the area. “By the time the child is ready for preschool, there will be many options for them, and they can grow and stay in the community for 10 years.”

So, when the kid hits junior high, it's off to greener pastures?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Eagle Theater marquee demolished

"Is there no sense of preservation?

I would think that the new nameless public square in Jackson Heights would be an improvement to the neighborhood, not lead to destruction of our institutions. Could not the Eagle have been rehabilitated? Why wasn't the community warned of this demolition?" - Anonymous

Answer: Because it's in Queens.

Monday morning photo caption fun

Hey folks, it's the last Monday of February, which is as good a time as any to caption this photo.

Was the podium really necessary?

Maspeth multi-use mayhem

"On 65th Place in Maspeth just south of the Ridgewood Apartments, they are building apartments on top of what is Hill Pharmacy, Tony's Deli and a liquor store. Could you check it out as to whether this addition is legal? I live up the block and god knows what the quality of person will be renting these new apartments and that there will be more stress in finding a parking spot." - Anonymous

Well, if by "legal" you mean was it approved by DOB, then yes, it's legal. It's been shut down for safety violations but permits were just reissued last week and work may proceed. Question is, will each store soon have 2 apartments above it, or is it just 2 duplex apartments total stretched across 3 addresses? There are only 3 off-street parking spaces provided for somewhere in the back. How do the businesses continue to operate with all the racket and vibrations happening above?

Sidewalk protection for co-op and condo owners

From Douglaston Patch:

State Sen. Tony Avella, D-Bayside, and northeast Queens co-op owners are calling on the city to include co-ops and condos in its program to inspect sidewalks damaged by trees.

Currently, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation will inspect to determine whether a sidewalk has been damaged by a tree.

If the agency finds significant damage, it will enroll private homeowners in a program in which the city would repair the sidewalk for free.

But co-op and condo owners are not eligible for the service and are frequently left to repair the damage themselves.

Avella has proposed a bill that would codify the city’s tree program, which is currently just a policy, into law as well as extend it to co-ops and condos.

“Co-ops and condos are individually owned, so why should they be treated differently?” Avella said. “The city should pay for it. It is, after all, the city’s fault. We’d go a long way to save co-ops and condos some money since they are always hard pressed financially.”

Lake Vernon still in limbo

From the Queens Chronicle:

Nestled between a Department of Education office and a Con Edison building on Vernon Boulevard, hidden behind graffitied plywood fencing, is an enormous abandoned lot with a water-filled hole which Community Board 2 says people have dubbed “Lake Vernon.”

The lake has a million-dollar view — or in this case, multi-million-dollar view — that was originally intended for the residents of a massive development project called “River East.” The project, at 44-02 Vernon Blvd., was to have included two 29-story towers and smaller properties accommodating nearly a thousand apartments, according to published reports.

But the project has long since stalled and its developers are mired in foreclosure litigation, according to a spokesman for Durst Fetner Residential, which owns a $32 million note on the project. CB 2 would like the city to take over.

In its Fiscal Year 2013 request to the Borough President’s Office, the board wrote that the site is “a serious threat to the safety and quality of life to all those who live and work in close proximity.”

CB 2 would like the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to seize control of the site, with the ultimate goal of transforming it into affordable housing.

Yes, we need more affordable housing paid for with taxpayer-funded corporate welfare.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Boardwalk coming back, but not the sand

From the Daily News:

The Rockaway Beach boardwalk — battered by Hurricane Irene — will be fixed in time for the summer season, Parks Department officials said Wednesday.

But local activists are pushing for a long-term beach replenishment and protection program, worried the shoreline will be whittled away by future storms.

“The sand is not only for recreation, it’s protection for our neighborhoods,” said John Cori, who formed Friends of Rockaway Beach last year. “It’s the first line of defense during a storm.”

The group has started a “Demand the Sand” campaign, urging people to contact elected officials and get them to focus on the issue.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is slated to dredge the East Rockaway Inlet for navigational purposes in the near future, there is no current funding to transport the sand to eroded beaches.

What will happen to Peninsula Hospital next?

Owning condemned property is really no fun

From the Daily News:

A Queens businessman is suing the state for the money it still owes him after taking his Maspeth property through eminent domain eight months ago.

The state Transportation Department bought Sass Sheena’s 43rd St. lot and commercial building in June to demolish it and make way for the new Kosciuszko Bridge, which will replace the current aging structure.

But red tape has held up his $2.8 million payment — money he said he needs to pay off bills and invest in a new business.

Sheena bought the building and a school supply company operating there in 2001. He later sold the company and lived off rent payments from his commercial tenants.

“At this point, I have no income,” said Sheena, 49, who is married with four kids. “It’s just one big mess that I got into.”

Sheena filed a lawsuit last month claiming the state is required by law to expedite payment.

The state has instead put the funds into a special comptroller’s account, according to Sheena’s attorney, Michael Rikon. Property owners must petition the state Court of Claims for access to the account, a costly and lengthy process, Rikon said.

Will Turner's district stay or go?

From the NY Times:

Many in the political world expected that Mr. Turner’s seat would be on the chopping block, under the political equivalent of the last-hired, first-fired principle.

But it appears Mr. Turner’s prospects of preserving the district, which stretches from southern Brooklyn to southern Queens, are improving.

Just last week, he went to Albany and made his case before Dean Skelos, who, as the Republican majority leader of the State Senate, is a crucial figure in drawing the new lines. He told Mr. Skelos what he had done in Washington during his time there and expressed his desire to keep the position. Mr. Skelos, in turn, offered encouragement — but no promises.

What is helping Mr. Turner’s chances, according to people monitoring the discussions in Albany, is the symbolic power of his victory to the party nationally.

Mr. Turner defeated David I. Weprin, a scion of a Democratic family in Queens, in a race in which Democrats mobilized some of their biggest names and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mr. Turner turned the race into a referendum on the policies of President Obama.

The lot by Halloran's office - part 2

"Avella got the inside of the lot cleaned up. Let's hope Halloran gets the outside cleaned up. Nice of the owner to put no trespassing and private property signs, did they have to leave the graffiti?" - Anonymous

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Addabbo wants barrier to go

From the Forum:

With one traffic change already in the books, a local politician has shifted his attention to another transportation issue.

State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is asking the Department of Transportation (DOT) to remove the traffic barrier on Liberty Avenue that prevents people driving on Cross Bay Boulevard from turning onto that avenue.

This comes after news came out last week that DOT changed parking regulations on the north side of Rockaway Boulevard between Cross Bay and Liberty avenues. It removed a rush hour regulation and a no standing sign and extended the metered parking hours.

Now Addabbo says that he wants to remove the barrier because, although it was put in about two years ago to improve driver and pedestrian safety, it has affected the businesses directly behind it, causing those places to lose customers and some to even close down. Addabbo said that he wants to work with the DOT on keeping that area safe for pedestrians and drivers while keeping those businesses in mind.

“I was never happy with what the DOT did, respectfully,” Addabbo said. “Those stores have suffered.”

The store owners affected by the barrier backed Addabbo’s thoughts.

Illegal Ridgewood club shut down

From the Times Newsweekly:

Law enforcement sources said that Sgt. Eric Turbetsky and P.O. Milton Reyes of the 104th Precinct responded to a 911 call regarding an incident outside the Scorpion Café lounge located at 792 Onderdonk Ave. near Putnam Avenue.

Upon their arrival, police noted, the officers spotted a male in front of the location bleeding from the head. The man’s injuries were not considered serious.

Soon after the officers came to the scene, authorities stated, members of the club shut off the lights and drew down gates in an apparent effort to appear closed. When Reyes and Turbetsky initially attempted to gain access to the location, police noted, they were denied entry.

Moments later, the club’s owner—identified by police as Dan- Nicky Dianconescu—allowed the officers inside. Upon entering the establishment, the officers found patrons inside and located a pair of “joker poker” slot machines, each of which contained currency.

Reportedly, the officers also determined that the entrance to the club had been locked from the inside, a violation of the fire code. Additional violations of State Liquor Authority regulations were also observed, and the club was closed down, police noted.

Conventioneers not keen on Aqueduct

From the NY Times:

Trade show and hotel executives have complained that the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is too small since the day the long, black-glass building opened in 1986 on the West Side of Manhattan.

Attendees at the National Retail Federation annual convention in January 2010 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. It is one of the busiest in the nation but is too small for some shows.

But now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and a Malaysian conglomerate are proposing to replace the Javits Center with the nation’s largest convention hall on a site 12 miles away in Jamaica, Queens, industry executives are not so sure it is a smart move.

Conventioneers and other visitors come to New York expecting to see Broadway shows during their down time, eat in famous restaurants and shop on Fifth Avenue, trade show managers and hotel operators say. None of that exists at the relatively remote Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, where the Malaysian company, Genting Group, hopes to build a 3.8-million-square-foot convention center and 3,000 hotel rooms and enlarge its existing gambling hall.

More to the point, they add, Aqueduct is a 60-minute subway ride from Times Square. They fear that some conventions, trade shows and conferences will decide to go elsewhere.

Meng upset at being called Chinese

From the Daily News:

Assemblywoman Grace Meng said employees of a Boston Market in Flushing repeatedly referred to her as “la china” during a January visit to the chain restaurant.

“Whether they were trying to be racist or not — it’s not appropriate,” said Meng (D-Flushing). “I was the only customer in there.”

Meng, who has a basic knowledge of Spanish, confronted the workers after paying for her dinner, but they only shrugged.

“They should know better. I felt very disrespected,” she said.

The recent spate of intolerant fast-food employees, such as the Papa John’s cashier who put “lady chinky eyes” on a patron’s receipt, made the situation even more agitating, Meng said.

“Some kind of trend is going on in the city,” she said. “I think the employers need to take a more active role.”

Looks like someone is easily offended and/or wanted a cheap headline. La China means "the Chinese woman" in Spanish. It's not a slur. If she understood Latino culture, she wouldn't be so upset. Maybe the workers aren't the ones needing sensitivity training.

Fresh Direct deal's collateral damage

From the Daily News:

Fresh Direct’s government-subsidized move to the Bronx could spell the end to one Queens businessman’s American dream.

Gus Kaloudis, 36, poured his life savings into the New York Deli in Long Island City when he bought it three years ago. The busy eatery seemed like it would be a dependable cash cow since it was the only nearby lunch joint for Fresh Direct and other workers in the industrial area.

But when news hit that the online grocer would pack up and move to the Bronx in 2015, Kaloudis, a father of three, knew his livelihood was in jeopardy.

“How would you feel if 50% of your customer base disappeared,” he said in between ringing up customers at his Borden Ave. deli.

“I haven’t been able to catch my breath.”

He doesn’t know how he will stay afloat without Fresh Direct drivers, corporate staffers and vendors stopping by his store every day for their morning newspaper or a pack of cigarettes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Busted for stun gun import

From the Forum:

Police found 7,200 electronic stun guns this month in a Ridgewood store and arrested the manager who had displayed some of them for sale, the Queens district attorney said.

Xiao Zhang, 43, manages the store Top Choice Trading Inc. at 47-38 Metropolitan Avenue and was arrested on Feb. 6. She is charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The district attorney’s criminal complaint alleges Zhang had boxes of the stun guns stashed above the store in Ridgewood. She also told employees to display a box downstairs on the show floor, the D.A. said.

Zhang, who was responsible for receiving and storing shipments at the store, said the shipment came from China and when it was held up by customs, she followed up to get it released, according to the complaint.

The manager was arraigned on Feb. 7. A Bronx narcotics detective testified that he checked one of the stun guns and said they were operational.

Illegal cabs take tourists for a ride

From CBS 2:

CBS 2 sent an employee into Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy Airport Wednesday with a small camera. Seasoned travelers said they are hustled by illegal livery drivers quite frequently.

“You always see them waiting for people to come out — people who don’t speak English that they can con,” Jeannie Stiles said.

Tuesday night, 37-year-old livery driver Bhupinder Singh offered a family a ride, which was illegal. Not knowing, they got in.

Right after the car pulled away, Port Authority officers in an unmarked car tried to pull it over.

Police had been watching Singh, who had been busted five times at JFK. When police tried to stop him, Singh allegedly trapped the family in the car. With police in pursuit, 17-year-old Aldo Sosa, who was in the front seat, grabbed the steering wheel and the car eventually crashed into a guard rail.

Once the car crashed, Singh was arrested. However, the question remains: Why isn’t there more enforcement against such drivers?

City rewards Douglaston while crapping on College Point

From the Times Ledger:

The city will be digging up streets in College Point as part of a long-term plan to upgrade the area’s sewer system and prevent pollution from flowing into Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek. To make the construction more palatable, the city has offered to help restore coastal wetlands and put in a kayak launch, according to a plan from the city Department of Environmental Protection.

But a study from the department indicated those wetlands will be in Udalls Cove in Douglaston instead of the coastal areas of College Point, which flabbergasted James Cervino, a scientist and wetlands expert who is also the environmental adviser and a member of Community Board 7.

“I couldn’t believe that,” Cervino said during a presentation to the board’s Environmental Committee. “We need it more.”

The report listed several reasons why the city deemed the College Point coastline unworthy of money. Some parts are under the Whitestone Bridge and the water’s edge is populated with manufacturing buildings, difficult to access and not owned by the city, the report said.

“Therefore, the potential for great ecological benefits can be enhanced by a more robust cumulative wetland restoration that is proposed for a nearby site at Udalls Cove,” DEP said in a report.

Illegal hotels could be legalized by state

From the Daily News:

Tenants of an infamous uptown hotel the city has been trying to close for years averted tragedy earlier this month when the building caught fire - prompting efforts to shutter it.

The early morning ground floor blaze at the Days Hotel on W. 94th St. on February 2nd unnerved city leaders who maintain it's an illegal hotel lacking proper fireproofing and means of escape for the hundreds of people inside.

The electrical fire at the hotel - where former Gov. Paterson infamously used campaign cash to meet up with a mistress -- took 60 firefighters 30 minutes to get under control.

While the FDNY considered the fire to be minor, City Hall officials said it served as a reminder of the importance of attacking the long-standing problem of illegal hotels before a real tragedy strikes.

Officials claim a proposed state bill would legalize some of the more than 200 city hotels without requiring them to implement tougher fire safety regulations.

“(The) fire is a reminder why proposed state legislation to allow a whole new crop of unsafe hotels to proliferate would be so dangerous. We need to be more vigilant, not look the other way - which is precisely what some operators and their lobbyists in Albany want,” said Mayor Bloomberg’s state legislative affairs director Micah Lasher.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

South Jamaica house firebombed?

From WPIX:

A fire broke out early Thursday morning at a home in South Jamaica, Queens, and fire officials are calling it "suspicious."

The fire started at 3 a.m. at a home on 145th Street and Rockaway Boulevard, which is ironically located right near the local fire department.

At one point, the flames were so intense that a woman was trapped on the second floor of the home with her kids, and was forced to toss her baby out of the window. Two bystanders were there to catch the baby and complete a heroic rescue.

Three firefighters and six residents were taken to Jamaica Hospital, where they are currently in stable condition.

Fire officials are currently investigating the cause of the fire. There were reports that a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the front door of the home, but those reports are unconfirmed.

Suh declines GOP's offer

From City and State:

A top choice for Queens Republicans to run in the newly created Asian-American Senate district in Flushing has decided not to run after briefly considering the position, according to sources familiar with his decision.

The potential candidate, Edward K. Suh, is a Korean-American assistant district attorney in the Queens County D.A.’s economic crimes division, where he has worked since 2006.

Suh has been part of major economic crime prosecutions in Queens over the past several years, including a $13 million identity theft ring bust known as “Operation Swiper” in October last year, where 111 individuals were arrested. At the time, Queens County D.A. Richard Brown called it “the largest identity theft takedown in U.S. history.”

Reached by phone, Suh said, ”I never seriously considered running,” but added he was “flattered” to be thought of as a good candidate.

Now here's something you don't want to see every day

"The yelp photo for Crown Fried Chicken in Jamaica is a horrible accident photo..." - Nick Normal

And the review:

dine on succulent southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, all while watching the amazing carnage outside. Seated safely behind bullet proof glass and steel reinforced brick walls, you'll eat your wonderful (and wonderfully priced!) chicken dinner and watch other people destroy their automobiles. It's kinda like dinner theater, but WAY better, and cheaper too!
my personal favorite.

PS don't park on the street!! ;-)"

Too funny.

FDNY vehicle mystery

"Why is an FDNY truck parked overnight in a private driveway? Is this legal? It's happening at 31st Drive and Astoria Blvd." - anonymous

Forest Park ponies will ride again

From the Daily News:

Both historic carousels in Queens will be spinning again by the spring, city parks officials promised Tuesday.

The city is close to sealing a deal with a concessionaire to operate the Forest Park Carousel and the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Carousel.

“We received responsive proposals and will have more information once a proposal has been selected,” the agency told the Daily News in a statement. “We expect to have an operator in place to open the carousel this spring/summer season.”

The news was hailed by historians and civic leaders who have been fighting to get the city to reopen the Forest Park Carousel, a hand-carved wooden treasure.

The city has searched in vain for an operator since the 100-year-old amusement was shuttered at the end of 2008.

Valerio Ferrari, president of Central Amusement International LLC, showed up for a site visit for prospective bidders last month.

Insiders said the company, which created Luna Park at Coney Island and Victorian Gardens at the Wollman Rink in Central Park, is the odds-on favorite to get the concession.

Queensboro Bridge shedding parts

From CBS 2:

Campbell said he couldn’t believe it as a big rusty bolt dealt his Mercedes a triple blow, striking the windshield once, and then twice.

The bolt stayed on the roof as he pulled over and he kept it as a piece of evidence.

“If it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t know what it was because it could have been anything hitting the car,” Campbell said. “Once I learned what it was, I was more concerned that hopefully that wouldn’t happen to anyone else.”

Campbell directed Carlin to the spot on the bridge where city inspectors could be seen pointing straight up on Wednesday afternoon.

A closer look at the bridge showed 40 brackets and bolts in one small section as well as a space where one was missing. And it appears that bolt may have fallen from the part of the bridge that supports the subway, reports CBS 2′s Sean Hennessey.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vallone opposes shelter; supports development

From the Daily News:

Community opposition has torpedoed a proposal to turn a western Queens motel into a full-time shelter for homeless families.

Elected officials and local leaders had urged the city to reject Housing Solutions USA’s proposal to transform the Westway Motor Inn into an around-the-clock shelter. The facility straddles the border of Astoria and East Elmhurst.

The city Department of Homeless Services announced Friday that the agency has no plans to change over the facility.

“The Westway is just not the proper location for a homeless population,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). “The area surrounding it is made up of one- and two-family homes.”

The former hot-sheets motel has been a shelter for years, much to the dismay of the community, local leaders said. Families in need of emergency housing are currently bused to the facility in the evening and they leave in the morning, city officials said.

“This has been an issue for as long as I can remember,” Vallone said. “The solution may be to have somebody buy it and tear it down.”

Vallone said he is working with a developer interested in building homes on the site.

Jet Blue's sign fight

From the NY Post:

JetBlue wants to light up the New York skyline with its iconic blue logo — but it must first clear layers of city red tape before taking off.

The airline, which will move its corporate headquarters to Long Island City next month, plans to erect a 40-foot lighted sign on the rooftop of its new building at 27-01 Queens Plaza North.

“When complete, it will be easily seen from the east side of Manhattan across the river,” JetBlue said.

But JetBlue’s proposal must be reviewed and approved by two community boards, the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and mayor.

Board 2, while backing JetBlue’s sign request, voted against the zoning resolution anyway, claiming it would allow more signs and billboards to be erected atop other buildings in Queens Plaza without its review.

“We don’t want the honky-tonk look,” said Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the LIC area, gave JetBlue his full endorsement.

Shark fin products to be banned in NYS?

From the NY Times:

On Tuesday, legislators in New York State announced a bill that, following the example of Western states, would ban the sale, trading, possession and distribution of shark fins, possibly as of 2013. California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington are enacting similar bans that were passed last year, while Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia have legislation pending.

The bill in New York is sponsored in the Assembly by Alan Maisel, Linda B. Rosenthal and Grace Meng, who represents the heavily Asian district of Flushing, Queens, and is the only Asian-American in the Assembly. Identical bills are expected to be introduced in both houses of the Legislature.

Ms. Meng, the daughter of immigrants who worked in and owned Chinese restaurants, said at a news conference in Manhattan on Tuesday that she “loved shark fin soup.”

“This is going to be a huge adjustment for the community,” she added, “but it’s important to be responsible citizens.”

More city-sponsored corporate welfare

From the Daily News:

Manhattan Beer Distributors will receive tax breaks worth nearly $24 million from the Industrial Development Agency to buy and renovate four parcels of land in Hunts Point. The company expects to add at least 25 jobs at the site within three years of opening its new headquarters, in 2013.

Overshadowed by a food fight over $83.5 million in tax breaks and grants for Fresh Direct at the Harlem River Rail Yards, the smaller package calls for Manhattan Beer to spend $60 million on land, renovations and equipment.

CEO Simon Bergson said the project will allow the firm to grow without leaving the Bronx, where it set up shop in 1979. Manhattan Beer is currently based on Walnut Ave. in Port Morris.

Manhattan Beer currently operates distribution sites in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Wyandanch on Long Island and Suffern in Rockland County. It plans to shift routes from Brooklyn to Queens and the Bronx.

Its new headquarters will boast 620 jobs after three years, with 528 relocated from Walnut Ave., 67 relocated from Brooklyn and 25 new, according to the New York City Economic Development Corp. EDC President Seth Pinsky heads the IDA.

Manhattan Beer will pay its new full-time workers $29,400 a year on average, plus benefits, according to IDA documents. The firm threatened to look for property outside the city when it requested public benefits.

Sick of filming in LIC

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Welfare money used to gamble

From NBC:

Tens of thousands of New York welfare dollars have been accessed from ATMs in liquor stores, strip clubs and even Atlantic City casinos, an I-team investigation has found.

The I-team sifted through records of more than 7 million ATM withdrawals in which money was obtained using an Electronic Benefits Transfer card or EBT card.

The cards have essentially replaced traditional food stamps and are supposed to be used by New York's neediest for basic necessities like groceries and diapers.

EBT cards can also be used to access designated amounts of cash via ATM.

The I-team found more than $95,000 withdrawn in Atlantic City over nearly two years, much of it in casinos like the Trump Taj Mahal, Caesar's Palace and The Borgata.

Aside from casinos, the I-team found thousands of dollars withdrawn from ATMs at addresses tied to liquor stores and strip clubs. The most popular strip club for food stamp withdrawals was a gentleman’s club call "Perfection" in Woodside, Queens where welfare recipients hit the ATM 15 times totaling more than $1,000.

Here's Johnny!

From the NY Post:

Liu cheerfully admits: “The city is spending more money than it takes in.” But he won’t admit that the biggest reason is public-worker pensions and health benefits, which cost $16 billion a year. He’s mum about health benefits and on pensions insists everything is great.

He insists that new public workers don’t have to make any of the changes that Gov. Cuomo has suggested: working longer, contributing more or shifting to private-pension accounts. Instead, Liu claims we can fix the pension crisis with some housekeeping — saving money on fees to the managers who invest the city’s pension funds and getting better returns on those investments.

Cutting fees is fine. But chasing higher returns usually means taking greater risk — meaning taxpayers, who guarantee pension benefits, could pay even more in the future.

Nor does either move come close to solving the problem.

Liu wants to gamble with pension money in another way, too — by increasing the pension funds’ role as a political slush fund. The city already puts $1 billion in pension-fund money into “economically targeted investments” — such as “affordable” housing. Liu would expand such investments to small businesses — likely minting campaign donors interested in this cash.

His other big idea is taxes — raising them for people who make more than half a million dollars a year. In his speech, he said “equality” is just as important as economic recovery.

Yet the “top 1 percent” pays 43.2 percent of city income taxes, on earnings that comprise 33.8 percent of city incomes. If a few of these taxpayers leave town, New York would end up losing money, thanks to the tax hikes.

Resorts World restaurant serves shark fin dishes

The dining menu at Genting Palace at Resorts World includes:

Shark's Fin and Prawn Dumplings in Superior Soup
Superior Shark’s Fin Abalone, Scallop and Fish Maw
Shark’s Fin Soup with Crab Meat

From Huffington Post, re: President Obama's recent visit to San Francisco, where he chowed down on Shark's fin soup:

The big problem with Great Eastern is that it serves shark fin soup, which is the product of what is widely considered one of the cruelest animal treatment practices on earth, shark finning. Shark finning is also doubly illegal in San Francisco; it's banned by both California and federal law. Critics have been quick to note that Obama himself signed the Shark Conservation Act into law last January.

From Stop Shark Finning:

Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark's fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks either starve to death, are eaten alive by other fish, or drown (if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water).

This post is not about Obama (who should have done his homework about where he was visiting, but probably just ate what was handed to him in order to be polite during a photo op). Rather, this post is about the electeds that pushed for the Resorts World project and continue to push for an expansion of the casino and a convention center, built and run by Genting, who apparently supports shark finning.

Do you electeds also support shark finning? Why do you support an entity that does? Why hasn't this practice been banned in New York? Governor Cuomo, are you going to do something about this?

Party's over, pal

From the NY Post:

City zoning can be taxing, and one Bronx pol is about to find that out the hard way.

Democratic State Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s law firm, on a residential street in Morris Park, has run afoul of zoning codes and will now have to pay thousands more in property taxes, the city said.

After a Post inquiry last week, the Finance Department looked into whether Klein’s firm was being taxed at the appropriate level, and found it wasn’t.

So the Finance Department will reclassify the building as a commercial property. Its former residential classification carries a lower tax rate.

Pricey pension pandering

From the NY Post:

Bowing to union pressure, legislators are proposing a sweeping pension bill that would allow thousands of state and city government workers to retire early with full benefits — at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to taxpayers, The Post has learned.

The early-retirement push clashes with Gov. Cuomo’s drive — backed by Mayor Bloomberg — to scale back pension costs.

The Assembly measure would allow public employees, including city teachers, to retire with full benefits at age 55 with 25 years of service.

Many public employees have to work at least 27 or 30 years before earning full retirement benefits. Others have to work until age 62 to qualify.

The bill’s sponsors admitted it would increase the state pension system’s cost by $167 million and boost city pension costs by tens of millions of dollars.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Developers buying politicians

From the NY Times:

...the trial is tantalizing for where its tentacles extend — linking political corruption in Westchester to that in Brooklyn, and touching on the curious fashion in which real estate developers pursue their chosen game.

Important details are shadowed in pretrial murk. Ms. Annabi stands accused of taking bribes to cast deciding votes for two large developments in Yonkers. But in the largest of these developments, Bruce Ratner’s 81-acre Ridge Hill project, prosecutors have not said how much money was forked over.

All of which brings us to the role of the politically wired developer, whose projects are catnip to politicians. No prosecutor has implied that Mr. Ratner or his aides played a corrupt role. In Brooklyn, where he has a 22-acre development known as the Atlantic Yards, he was mentioned in the corruption case last year that toppled a Brooklyn Democratic power, State Senator Carl Kruger. Prosecutors called Mr. Ratner “Developer No. 1.” In Yonkers, he appears in Ms. Annabi’s indictment as “Developer No. 2.”

After I wrote last month of Mr. Ratner’s entanglements, several left-liberal sorts, not least former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, wrote to object that I had besmirched a fine fellow. The developer is a patron of liberal causes. He has set aside a significant number of apartments in his Atlantic Yards project for working-class tenants.

Much of this is true, as is this: Mr. Ratner wrangled $726 million in subsidies and benefits from the city and state, and he fights for even more by the week. (He was the developer of The New York Times building.) His willingness to tuck affordable apartments into his gleaming towers is perhaps a reasonable political tradeoff rather than a testament to his character.

Mr. Ratner relies, too, on phalanxes of former top officials to make his case. The less polite might call them fixers. So he hired Bruce Bender, a former top City Council aide and south Brooklyn Democratic power, as his senior vice president, and put Scott Cantone, a former Giuliani aide, in another post.

We're still paying for Bloomberg's negligence

From the Daily News:

Gail Radvin waited nearly an hour for an ambulance after she suffered a heart attack in her Forest Hills apartment while her daughters frantically dialed 911, the lawsuit says.

Radvin, 73, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, a half hour after an ambulance arrived, according to the lawsuit filed in Queens Supreme Court.

The lawsuit is among a handful of wrongful death claims — most filed in Brooklyn and Queens — accusing the city of a woeful response to the Dec. 26, 2010, snowstorm.

Hundreds of city residents have already collected payouts for damage done to their cars and homes by snow plows.

That "vital communications system" isn't so vital

From the Daily News:

TWO YEARS after unveiling a $549 million public-safety wireless data network that the NYPD and FDNY have been slow to embrace, the Bloomberg administration tried and failed to sell it back to its builder.

Bloomberg aides approached the defense giant Northrop Grumman last year about purchasing the system, dubbed the New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN), and then leasing it back to the city.

Since its launch in 2009, NYCWiN has attracted far fewer users than its capacity, and the system is costing more than $38 million annually to maintain, documents obtained by the Daily News show.

The city made the offer during negotiations on a new five-year contract for Northrop to service the system, a spokesman for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications confirmed this week.

But the company rejected the concept and opted instead for another $200 million contract just to maintain the system for the next five years.

So why would City Hall want to sell a network it has trumpeted as assuring vital public-safety data in case of another natural disaster or terrorist attack?

Well, officials are reluctant to admit it, but its public safety agencies aren’t exactly embracing NYCWiN.

So we're being microwaved by city-owned towers for nothing? Who got rich off this contract?

Cost of crapper increases by $300,000

I don't have the time or the resources to thoroughly investigate or get quotes from people about matters of concern. So I appreciate when the mainstream media picks up on an issue I present and takes it a step further.

Here's the Daily News:

The comfort station at Elmhurst Park — the former site of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks — was originally quoted at just under $2 million in July 2010. The city has since raised the price tag to nearly $2.3 million. And parkgoers continue a scramble to find places to relieve themselves nine months after the park opened.

Nice. I wonder maybe if I drag my feet getting work done, will I make more money, too?

It's who you know...

From the NY Post:

Deputy Mayor Patti Harris’ stepson enjoyed a meteoric city career, with nine raises in nine years, before he quit his $175,000 job last August and got a pretax $57,803 payment for unused vacation days, The Post has learned.
Michael Lebow is the son of Harris’ husband, MTA board member Mark Lebow.

Soon after Harris became Mayor Bloomberg’s top deputy, Michael, then 27, was hired by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication at $115,000 a year to help launch the 311 call-in system.

He’d dropped out of Washington University and held IT gigs at Bloomberg LP and Rudin Management. His first job required six years’ experience for those without a BA.

“It’s actually rare to find a tech person who didn’t start working in the field as a young student,” said City Hall spokesman Stu Loeser.

But an ex-DOITT worker griped: “No one knew exactly what he did, but it was ‘Hands off . . . He’s Patty Harris’ stepson.’ ”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bocce players can't figure out why new court is so expensive

From the Times Ledger:

The board voted to support the construction of a bocce court in Bowne Park, between 29th and 32nd avenues and 155th and 159th streets, but had reservations about the costs and timeline for the project.

The city Parks Department’s plan to add a new bocce court next to the one that already exists is slated to cost $507,000, which initially made board members scoff.

But Parks made it clear the money will also go toward refurbishing the old court, repaving the plaza around the courts and adding extra amenities, including benches and picnic tables, according to the department.

And in what CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said could be a potentially costly repair, Parks will add a ground fire hydrant to provide water for both the bocce courts and nearby vegetation.

“If anyone knows plumbing work and hydrants, it’s going to be costly,” he said. “It’s not just for a bocce court, there is other ancillary stuff here.”

Nevertheless, the board wanted to ensure Parks was spending the money wisely and asked the department for a detailed construction plan.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) also wanted to make sure that Parks did not waste any cash, since he partially funded the project.

“An extra bocce court will be a good thing for Bowne Park and I’m proud to have helped provide one,” he said in a statement. “But nothing comes cheap through city government. I’m pressing for Parks to make this happen as affordably as possible.”

Watch the video and ask yourself why a "state grant" was needed on top of $500K from the City budget for a bocce court. Notice how the guys playing can't seem to figure it out, either.