Thursday, December 4, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Katz Sends Residents Letter Explaining Her Term Limit Stance

Supported Mayor’s Bill Allowing Third Term

By Conor Greene

In an effort to explain one of the most controversial votes City Council members have cast this year, Melinda Katz recently sent a letter to constituents outlining her support for a bill allowing officials to serve a third consecutive term in office.

Katz (D-Forest Hills), who is running for the city comptroller position and would have been forced out of her current position on the City Council next year due to term limits, supported Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bill extending term limits, when it passed by a vote of 29 to 22 in October.

The decision by City Council members to provide themselves with the opportunity to serve a third four year term came after residents previously voted twice to maintain term limits. It was seen by some as a conflict of interest, with the mayor reportedly lobbying hard to gain the necessary support of council members.

The vote threw a wrench into many local races, including next year’s battle for city comptroller. Incumbent William Thompson has said publicly that he is continuing his mayoral bid, despite now having the option of seeking another term as comptroller. He has until July to decide which office he will seek.

That leaves the other comptroller candidates, including Katz, Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, also a Democrat, in a tough position. Due to the differences in the amounts candidates can raise and spend for the comptroller race versus a city council run, the candidates who are now council members must decide by January 10 if they will seek reelection to their current position.

Katz, who has already spent about $775,000 on her comptroller bid, voted in favor of the mayor’s bill amending the term limit law, and also voted against a bill introduced earlier that same day that would have forced a public vote on the council’s decision. At the time, her comptroller campaign manager, Erik Joerss, maintained that Katz is moving ahead with her comptroller bid.

“Bill Thompson has been very clear that he is running for mayor and we are running for comptroller,” said Joerss on October 29 when asked whether the term limit amendment, or the possibility that Thompson seeks reelection as comptroller, would cause her to instead seek reelection to her council seat. “Other than that, we are not going to get into hypotheticals,” he said.

In a statement, Katz said that she has “long been against term limits” and saw the mayor’s bill as a chance to “create more stability” in local government.” She said that a referendum “would create more confusion for New Yorkers and for candidates about just what offices they are eligible to run for.” When asked whether Katz was concerned about going against the will of residents who twice voted for term limits, Joerss said the statement addresses that issue and refused to provide additional comment.

Katz recently expanded on the reasoning behind her vote in a letter to constituents. She argued that “from a practical point of view, a longer time in office affects… the ability to see capital improvements through completion.” In addition, she notes that the earliest a referendum could be held would be March or April meaning the vote wouldn’t take effect until May, a timeframe that would “hold the future of our City government in limbo at a time when it is in most need of stability.” Katz also argued in the letter that the City Council’s job “is to pass laws whether they change laws enacted by referendum or legislation.”

She maintains that she has been against term limits since the start of her career in public service, writing letters in opposition to the two public referendums as a member of the state Assembly in 1993 and 1996. “My position then as well as now has been clear and has not changed,” she wrote.

So far, a handful of candidates have already emerged to succeed Katz in the 29th council district, which represents Forest Hills and Rego Park, including Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz, former assemblyman Michael Cohen, community board member Lynn Schulman, Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, Mel Gagarin and Bob Delay.

City to Unveil New Plans for Proposed Maspeth School

SCA to Present at January CB5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

After the first plan to build a large combined intermediate and high school in Maspeth was rejected by the local community board, the School Construction Authority will present revised plans to next month.

Despite the negative reaction the plan garnered when it was first presented earlier this year, a SCA officials told the audience at the November 25 Community Education Council 24 meeting that it will bring the revised plans to the City Council for approval, regardless of the reaction it receives from Community Board 5 in January.

The city first proposed building a 1,650-seat school at the former Restaurant Depot site at 74th Street and Grand Avenue to serve students in grades 6-12. In May, CB 5rejected the plan, which called for a 45,000-square-foot, four-story building. Concerns included the size of the building, whether it would be zoned exclusively for local children, and adding traffic to the already congested area.

At the November CEC 24 meeting in PS 58, Lorraine Grillo, executive director and chief of staff of the SCA said that “because of concerns we heard voiced very loudly from the community board, we went back to the drawing board.” The result is a scaled down version that would include seats for 1,000 students, she said. “We tried to come up with an idea that is both useful for the district and palatable for the community… Hopefully this time around, we get a different reaction.”

Grillo explained that the process for building a new school begins when the SCA proposes a potential site. The proposal goes to the community board, which votes on it within its role as an advisory body. “Their vote is just a recommendation, however it very often influences the way the City Council vote,” she said. “We want to be good neighbors… so we go back and see if we can come up with something that will really be accepted.”

However, she indicated that the SCA is committed to moving this proposal forward regardless of the outcome of the January CB 5 meeting. “At that point, if we get a good recommendation – or even if we don’t – we will take this to the City Council Land Use Committee,” she said.

A big consideration for local residents, many who say the area is saturated with schools, is whether it would be zoned only for local children. However, Grillo made it clear that “zoning is not a conversation the SCA has.” That decision will ultimately be made by the city Department of Education.

James McClelland, chief of staff for Councilman Anthony Como, noted that he was involved in the efforts to ensure that the new school being built on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills was zoned locally. “It’s going to be a long fight to get it locally zoned,” he said. “It took us a long time to get those words, ‘locally zoned.’”

Councilwoman Elect Elizabeth Crowley, who will represent the area starting in January, said she is meeting with officials in hopes of securing local zoning. “I think it should be for our community,” she said. “We haven’t had high school seats [in Maspeth] going back to when I went to high school… I would be afraid to send my kids to Grover Cleveland."

NYPD Officer Charged in Brutal Road Rage Attack

Beat Man After Nearly Hitting Him on Queens Blvd, Says Cops

By Conor Greene

An NYPD officer is facing assault charges after allegedly knocking out a pedestrian who was angry that the off-duty cop nearly ran him over on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

Officer Jamel Dennis, 32, assigned to the Brooklyn North Narcotics unit, was arraigned on Monday night in Queens Criminal Court on second-degree assault charges, according to District Attorney Richard Brown. He is accused of violently beating 41-year-old Geoffrey Hollinden near the intersection of 109th Street two weeks ago.

According to police, Dennis was driving his 2006 Infiniti on Queens Boulevard on the afternoon of November 17 when he almost struck Hollinden. Enraged at nearly being struck, Hollinden hit the rear of the Infiniti as it passed him. Moments later, the six foot six inch officer got out of his car, grabbed Hollinden around the waste and pulled him across the boulevard.

When they reached the eastbound service lane, Dennis allegedly lifted Hollinden to shoulder height before slamming him into the pavement, knocking him unconscious. As a result of the attack, Hollinden sustained a head laceration that required five staples to close, along with cranial bleeding, a herniated disc in the neck and substantial pain that caused him to be hospitalized for three days.

Two days after the incident, Dennis arrived at the 112th Precinct, identified himself as an NYPD officer and said he had been in a traffic dispute with another man who pushed him, and wanted to know if anyone had filed a complaint in connection with the accident. The same day, Dennis allegedly pointed out a scuff mark on the rear of his Infiniti to an officer with the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau and said that was where the other man had hit the back of his car.

However, his involvement in the incident came to light because a witness wrote down Dennis’ license plate number after the alleged attack, said Brown. “As a motorist -and more so, as a police officer – the defendant should have known better than to allegedly take matters into his own hands and elevate a minor traffic dispute into a felonious assault,” he said.

If convicted, Dennis faces up to seven years in prison on the charges. He was released on his own recognizance and ordered back in court on January 15.

Animal Rescue Group Needs New Home


By Conor Greene

For nearly a decade, a local animal rescue group has used rented space in a non- descript building at JFK Airport to house some of the larger dogs it rescues. Now, after finding out their lease won’t be renewed at the end of the year, the group is desperately seeking the public’s help to raise money for a new building.

Bobbi and the Strays, a Queens-based no kill shelter that rescues dogs and cats, has used the space in JFK’s Vetport for about nine years, paying a modest monthly rent, according to founder Bobbi Giordano. For the past few years, the owners of the Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale have donated space where cats and smaller breeds of dogs are kept.

Earlier this year, the group received the devastating news that the Port Authority plans to raze a series of buildings at the airport, including the one used to house two dozen pit bulls, rottweilers and other large dogs saved from the streets, city Animal Care and Control shelters and owners who no longer can care for them. Bobbi and the Strays has since kicked off a fundraising effort in hopes of garnering enough support to buy a building in the area.

“Everything we’ve looked at, we can’t afford,” said Giordano. “We’re at a standstill. The lease is up on December 31st, and I don’t know what is going to happen. We heard rumors there might be an extension, but we haven’t seen anything in writing.”

So far, donations large and small have been coming in from friends and other supporters of the group. A Halloween party at a local bar also proved successful, said Giordano.

If the group finds itself without a home for the larger dogs come January 1, they will be placed with local vets and with foster families. “I’m not giving them to another shelter,” said Giordano. “You get close to them, we spend time with them, and we have very good volunteers that put a lot into them.”

“We’re an absolute no kill shelter,” said Giordano. “We do home checks, take them off the streets, from nursing homes, from people who die, and look for homes for them, do their medical, spay, neuter, shots. We really go the extra miles.” Of course, even in their current situation, space is always an issue. “As soon as one goes out, another two come in, that’s just the way it is,” she said.

In their quest to raise enough money for a new building, Giordano said that any donation, no matter how small, is welcomed. “You can send a dollar, five dollars, that would really help. It’s a long way off, but if everybody in Queens sent in a dollar or two, we would have the money.”

In the meantime, volunteers and staff members have tried to keep the possibility they will be scrambling to find space for the rescued dogs out of their minds. “We rely heavily on that building – without it we would not be able to take in those animals,” said Laura Miller, who manages the shelter at the Vetport. “We save a lot [of dogs] by having that space there.”

Without that space, the group would have to immediately find a foster family for any dog it rescues, explained Miller. “Here, we can take them in right away… We need to raise the money. There is no other option in my mind. We’re on a mission and are going to raise the money.”

Anybody who wishes to contribute to the building foundation can mail a check directly to Bobbi and the Strays at PO Box 170129, Ozone Park, NY, 11417. For more information, check their website at bobbiandthestrays.

Broad Channel Volunteers Caught in Red Tape

DOT Inaction Delays Building Project

By Patricia Adams

For 103 years the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD) has served its immediate community and those surrounding it. Every year the department responds to an average of 550 calls for fire and ambulance emergencies. They average about 45 volunteers at any given time and for the last ten years they have been marching toward the future of their department– a new firehouse which will be constructed adjacent to the Broad Channel Athletic Club field on Cross Bay Boulevard.

Plans and action first taken to build this facility started ten years ago, and since, the Broad Channel volunteer corps and the entire community have done everything they can to ensure the success of the plan. The department acquired $2 million in support at the federal level from Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Hillary Clinton from a 2005 federal transportation bill. Although the BCVFD had their work cut out for them to raise 20 percent of the funds needed– $440,000- they put their noses to the grindstone and raised the funds.

“It’s sort of like applying for a mortgage,” organization President Ed O’Hare explained. “When we applied for the funding for the project we were told that we would need to raise 20 percent on our own. And we did.” In addition Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and state Senator Shirley Huntley both kicked in $100,000 each.

“Every 't' has been crossed and every 'i' has been dotted and at this stage of the plan,” said O’Hare. But at the very last step — getting the city Department of Transportation(DOT) to sign off on the deal — the department has run into the toughest obstacle in their decade long path—the red tape of bureaucracy.

Call, letters and e-mails have gone unanswered for months. Further communications with the mayor’s office have also gone without reply. (Please see letters to the editor “BCVFD Calls on Bloomberg for Answers”) “All we want is an answer,” stated O’Hare, “as to what’s holding up the application. We have met every requirement and there is no reason to stall us like this. Instead our efforts to better serve this community are being stymied by a city agency.”

O’Hare said he would understand if this was a question of money, but that is not the case. “This project is not going to cost the city one dime.”

There are many important factors about the new building, BCVFD volunteers contend, that make it so much more than just a firehouse. The new firehouse does not only offer a modern and safe storage and operational center for the department, it is a multi-use building which could conceivably incorporate a meeting hall for seniors, youth groups and other community organizations.

In addition the building will be completely green following an ecofriendly design plan and following a proposal to use solar power to operate. The original design plans for the 10,000-square-foot building have been modified to raise the building by 3 ½ feet making it a qualifier for the 500-year floodplain FEMA designation.

This building could act as a triage center, OEM operational headquarters and an evacuation center for hundreds of people under catastrophic circumstances. If necessary a helicopter could be landed on the adjacent athletic field since it is a private field. But all the perks for the communities served by the BCVFD now hang in the balance as a total breakdown in communication between the department and the city seem to define the present situation.

The volleys say they will continue to pressure the city and solicit the help of local officials who they say, are also baffled by the city’s lack of response. “We need answers,” said Ed O’Hare, “we need them now and we plan to get them.”

Above is a rendering of the proposed 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose firehouse and community center. The facility will include four bays for emergency vehicles, an office, state of the art dispatch center directly tied to city emergency calling systems, and a large community meeting facility.

Ridgewood "Teen Bash" Canceled Due to Concerns

By Conor Greene

For the second time in as many months, a party aimed at attracting underage teenagers has been shut down following complaints from the community.

Postcards featuring a scantily-clad woman advertising a “Teen Bash” on Saturday, November 29 at Marsel Lounge, 618 Fairview Avenue in Ridgewood, were found littering the streets surrounding Grover Cleveland High School, according to the Juniper Park Civic Association.

The civic association alerted Community Board 5 of the party, which informed officers at the 104th Precinct and officials at the State Liquor Authority and Department of Consumer Affairs. While Marsel Lounge notified CB 5 earlier this year that it was applying for a license allowing it to serve wine only, police say the premise currently doesn’t have license to serve any alcohol.

Last Friday, Marsel Cullhaj, who runs Marsel Lounge, posted the following message online stating that the party at 618 Fairview Avenue was canceled: “This is Marcel. The party at my lounge is cancel!!! No whore party will happen here!!!! The one that rented the place come in 4 more info and get u deposit back!!! Take the fliers down!!!”

Cullhaj did not respond to a message sent to his e-mail address seeking additional comment on the situation. An officer from the 104th Precinct’s Community Affairs Unit met with the person who owns the property and rents it to Cullhaj, and warned him that the building would be padlocked under the city’s nuisance abatement law if parties attracting underage drinkers are held there in the future.

There have been no prior complaints field with the precinct regarding this particular establishment, but there were about a dozen complaints on file with the city’s 311 line, said police. “This concerned us because the community was getting nervous about it and doesn’t want it to turn into a problem location,” said Officer Tommy Bell. “The owner seemed reputable and said he would look into it.”

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, said that officers from the 104th Precinct spoke with the owner, leading to the cancellation of the event. “Certainly it’s something we need to be concerned about,” said Giordano of these types of events aimed at local high school students. “When we know it is going to take place, we need to take whatever action we need to make sure either it doesn’t happen, or if it does, it’s controlled.”

A similar but apparently unrelated event was advertised in early October for a Metropolitan Avenue restaurant called Metronome. After one party there resulted in issues including scores of drunken partygoers spilling into local residential area, a second event was canceled due to pressure from local officials, police and civic groups.

“It’s more of a recent issue in my memory,” said Giordano of these types of events, which are often advertised online. “When you have a little place like Fairview Avenue and it is being advertised to the extent it is, you don’t know what you are going to get. It’s very easy for them to get out of control.”

Kathy Masi, a member of CB 5 and the Glendale Civic Association, was one of the local community leaders who contacted the precinct about the party. She credited Christina Wilkinson of the JPCA for bringing the issue to the foreground. “It was very wise of her to reach out to everyone. Not many people put everything else aside and step up to the plate like that,” said Masi.

She noted that these types of parties, including the one held at Metronome, are run by outside promoters who rent out different bars and lounges. “From what I understand, they kind of bounce around,” said Masi. “It is not that this particular location has this regularly.”

Wilkinson, secretary for the JPCA, said there types of events have no place in bedroom communities such as Ridgewood or Middle Village. “Allowing it to happen opens up the door to a host of other problems, so it’s best to nip this in the bud before if mushrooms out of control,” she said. “It’s sad that they thought they could brazenly advertise this event and that no one would notice or care.”

Conditions Worsening at Grand Ave Project

Juniper Civic Wants Truck Bypass Implemented

By Conor Greene

The dangerous conditions along Grand Avenue in Maspeth continue due to construction of a city project intended to make the area safer for pedestrians, including school children, according to the Juniper Park Civic Association.

As previously reported, the city Department of Transportation has begun a project under its Safe Routes to School Program to combine two triangles at Grand and Flushing avenues into one larger green area. However, construction has caused traffic to back up along the avenue, a situation the JPCA says is acerbated by the city’s refusal to first the Truck Bypass Plan. Under that plan, truck traffic would be rerouted to Rust Street.

This week, the civic association issued a press release detailing damage caused during construction, including a lamppost that was knocked over after being struck several times by passing vehicles. On December 2, a truck ran over the crushed lamppost, which way lying on the ground and apparently had exposed live wires. As a result, the traffic signal at the intersection lost power, causing a huge traffic backup.

“The DOT needs to divert trucks off Grand Avenue immediately before someone gets hurt or killed at that corner,” said JPCA Secretary Christina Wilkinson in the release. “The DOT and CB 5 were sent photos after each stage of the destruction of the lamppost, but no corrective action has been taken.”

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the DOT said the project is expected to improve safety in the long run. “Safety measures around schools are a top priority and the construction is part of those efforts,” said Nicole Garcia. “Construction will end in the coming weeks, and we expect there to be an adjustment period as motorists get used to the new traffic pattern, which we believe will improve safety.” She added that variable message signs have been posted to alert trucks to the construction.

However, regarding the Truck Bypass Plan, Garcia said that the department continues “to make progress on the plans to implement a truck bypass plan at a later date.” Permanent signs redirecting trucks will not be installed until improvements are made to the Maurice Avenue interchange, which would be the new route. The DOT is currently assigning this interchange study to a designer.

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, stressed that the group is not against the Safe Routes to School Program, but instead felt that the truck bypass plan should have first been implemented. “By not planning properly, DOT is turning what was a traffic headache into a nightmare,” he said.

City to Decide Soon on Maspeth Cell Tower

Proposal Calls for Antenna on House Roof

By Conor Greene

After more than a year of fighting, residents will soon find out if the city will allow a property owner to place a cellular antenna on top of a 72nd Place house in Maspeth.

The final public hearing on the proposal by Omnipoint Communications was held two weeks ago at the Board of Standards and Appeals, and the board, which votes on projects requiring variances from the existing building code, is expected to make its decision on December 16.

The proposal calls for placing a fifteen-and-a-half foot cellular tower on the roof of 53-20 72nd Place, which is owned and rented out by Joseph Wroblewski. In all, the structure would rise 45 feet above street level. It would be disguised as a flag pole with an American flag on top, and would have a diameter of 32 inches. The house is adjacent to Frank’s Deli, which the Wroblewski family has owned for nearly 60 years.

The original proposal called for a structure rising more than 54 feet above street level, but was met with a great deal of backlash from neighbors and local elected officials. Several months ago, Omnipoint unveiled a proposal that featured six foot high panels instead of the large antenna. However, Wroblewski, fearful of again alienating neighbors, reportedly refused to sign that contract. That plan wouldn’t have needed BSA approval.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, sent a letter to the BSA informing the agency that the local board had voted overwhelmingly against the proposal, even with the lower flagpole. He said it is “hard to say” what the likely outcome of the board’s vote will be. “I have T-Mobile service, and when I was standing outside [the proposed location] I used my cell phone and got good reception,” he said, echoing sentiment among residents that the new antenna isn’t really needed.

He noted that according to Omnipoint’s application, a key issue is improving cell reception inside homes and other buildings. However, some residents say that is not necessary because many Maspeth residents are property owners and have land lines.

Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth)has also argued that point as she has helped lead the fight against the plan. In testimony to the BSA, she claimed the Omnipoint hasn’t looked into using other locations in non-residential areas and noted that T-Mobile’s website claims that Maspeth already receives the company’s highest levels of reception.

Meanwhile, many nearby residents are left wondering about potential long term health impacts from living near so many towers. The company has argued that there are no known health dangers associated with cellular antennas, and the federal government has concluded they are safe.

Teacher Fired Over Relationship Sues City


By Conor Greene

A 37-year-old city school teacher and her 19-year-old model boyfriend have suddenly been cast in the spotlight since the Ozone Park couple’s relationship was first reported last week by a daily newspaper.

The teacher, Gina Salamino, is suing the city, claiming she was improperly fired from her job as a second-grade teacher at Public School 121 in Richmond Hill. She argues in court papers that her boyfriend Joshua Walter, then 17-years-old, didn’t attend a single class during the 2006-07 school year because he was traveling the world as a model for Hugo Boss.

The pair first met in 2002, when Walter was 12, according to court records. They ran into each other again in 2006 at a party, and began attending movies together, exchanging hundreds of phone calls, and spending nights at her Howard Beach apartment, authorities say.

Officials began investigating the relationship in 2006 after receiving a tip that Salamino was seen kissing a much younger individual. The couple now lives together in Ozone Park with their young child.

A former neighbor in Howard Beach told the Daily News that she assumed Salamino’s house guest was a family member. “I thought it was a nephew or something,” the neighbor said. “He was young, and he looked like a kid.”

Despite his experience around the world as a model for Hugh Boss, Walter apparently didn’t appreciate the media attention brought upon the couple. Last week, after the story broke, Walter angrily confronted reporters and cameramen stationed on the public sidewalk across the street from the couple’s home.

“Leave me alone. Understand that? Leave me alone,” he yelled wildly while crossing the street to the cameras. “You want to see assault? You want to see assault?” he yelled at an Inside Edition reporter. “Get the f--- outta here! Find someplace else to take pictures.” As a result of the violent outburst, officers from the 106th Precinct were called to restore order. Officers left after speaking with Walter in front of the house, and no charges were filed.

According to the city Department of Education, the fact that Walter didn’t physically attend classes at Bryant High School in Long Island City is irrelevant, since he was enrolled there while Salamino was teaching within the city school system. “I’m tapping that a-- and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he reportedly told officials, according to a report by Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.

On a video posted on YouTube, Walter said he is a “regular guy,” despite his high profile modeling career, which has landed him in the pages of magazines around the world. “I like to eat, I like to watch sports, play sports, know what I mean?” he said. “Chill with my girlfriend, know with I mean?”

In her lawsuit against the city, Salamino’s lawyers argue that her firing “was irrational and not based on adequate or substantial evidence in the record.” She reportedly told an investigator that claims she engaged in sexual misconduct are “ludicrous” even thought Walter’s name remained on the enrollment list for Bryant High School.

Sonny's Collision: First Eco-Friendly Auto Body Shop in NYS

By Patricia Adams

It used to be that “green” was the color of money and while that still holds true today, the concept of green has far more reaching implications than it’s association to cash. The term that is more familiar in today’s society is “going green”, and it’s a term of global consequence.

In virtually every industry, talk of “going green” is all the rage, considering the troubles with our planet’s environment that are so highly publicized. While many people still feel skeptical about global warming, it doesn’t take too much convincing that the huge population of the Earth is taking its toll on our planet.

In addition to the growing number of individuals who share these grave concerns, business owners in every industry have realized the importance of minimizing their contributions to pollution. They are consistently making the wise choice to become environmentally friendly while also serving the growing number of consumers who feel the responsibility to patronize businesses that are just as concerned as they are.

At Sonny’s Auto Collision in Richmond Hill, it was the “absolutely right move” to go green according to owner Frank Shiavone. Long known for their state of the art equipment and reliable service, Sonny’s is the first auto body repair shop in the state of New York to make the environmentally friendly transition by becoming a green shop.

Shiavone says that making the tremendous investment in converting his shop was a decision he reached fairly quickly after reviewing all the details. But going green wasn’t easy and came with a price tag of close to $100,000. “The basic premise of what “green” means in terms of this industry is the use of waterborne paints which contain less Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).”

But revamping the entire system involves much more than that. “Not only did we eliminate and dispose of all other paint,” says Shiavone, “we installed new air filtration systems, compressors compatible with the water based paints that also circulate clean air and then completed the other phases of the conversion.”

Already sporting the most highly-rated spraying booths in the industry, USI Italia, Sonny’s now uses ultraviolet curing body fillers and primers to reduce the use of solvents, energy efficient sodium lights, has installed multi-stage dust filters and ceiling filters to trap particles that would normally escape through the roof into the air and also uses only biodegradable soap to wash the cars. Also incorporated into the shop is a high-pressure wash system that uses minimal amounts of water and is filtered before running off in drains.

Typically, the consumer won’t notice much of a visible difference as the auto industry has been using water based paint for new vehicles for over twenty years. The new “green” paints can deliver the same perfect matched color systems to repaired autos.

If you have any doubt about the benefits of the green conversion, stop in at Sonny’s and ask Frank if you can see his spray booths. What you’ll find there is a virtually immaculate setup, free from dust and filler residue. The most obviously absent component however---the smell of paint. There simply isn’t one.

“I am not at all surprised to see the positive reactions of our customers when they learn about the steps we have taken,” said Shiavone. “They are a lot more concerned with the environment than many people realize.”

If you would like to learn more about the shop and the services they offer you can stop located at 106-12 Atlantic Avenue or call (718) 738-6721.

Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation Announces Christmas Plans

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation has gained much notoriety from the community for hosting the annual Columbus Day Parade and also for bringing holiday lighting to Crossbay Boulevard for the first time in the history of the commercial strip.

Beginning in 2006, the Foundation spent over $42,000 when it draped the boulevard in lights, erected a 30-foot tree at Starbucks and lit almost 50 trees along the center median. In 2007, for the Second Annual lighting the Foundation hoisted a 40 ft tree and lit the center median with 32 trees spending approximately $33,000. The tree was wrapped in close to 4,000 multicolored bulbs and dressed with jumbo assorted ornaments. The Foundation also hosted a Christmas Show both years, featuring entertainment that included performances by local talent.

But this year , President Mario Faulisi says the Foundation will be limited to lighting the trees along the center median but they will not erect a big tree or host a Christmas show. “Over the past couple of weeks, we have received many calls from people in the community asking about our plans to light this year’s tree. For that reason,” Faulisi continued, “it was a very difficult decision to go through this year without the big tree and the Christmas show, but it was the only decision our board could make.”

A total of 80 percent of money raised by the Foundation was committed to charitable institutions and scholarships this year as a result of the Foundation being awarded their 501c(3) not-for profit status. “This designation is the primary reason that we were unable to cover the costs of lighting this year,” said Faulisi. “We have grown tremendously since we started and we were very fortunate to achieve the not-for-profit status so quickly.”

Because of their new tax exempt status the Foundation will now be able to increase the number of individuals and groups they can help and greatly increase the amount of money they can raise. “Because of the 501c(3), all of our contributors can now write off their donations.”

Faulisi contends that out of nearly 180 merchants on the boulevard, only about 17 made contributions to the Foundation. “Unfortunately the community will have to do without the tree this year. It’s not what we wanted to see happen but hopefully now the merchants on Crossbay will realize how important their participation is to support the lighting program and the residents who patronize their establishments.”

The Foundation’s Board of Directors will spend the early part of 2009 designing a program specifically to cover the costs of the lighting for the holiday season. “We hope to find a way to get many more merchants involved,” said Foundation Treasurer Angelo Gurino. “If we can get everyone operating a business along the boulevard to make a small yearly contribution in support the tree, we can continue with the annual program.” Gurino said that if the expense is spread out over a couple of hundred people as opposed to less than two dozen, it’s a viable solution even in the tough economy.

Other possibilities to raise money specifically for the holiday season include residential participation and corporate sponsorship. “The bottom line here,” said Faulisi “is that the tree and the decorations are obviously very important to the neighborhood. The Board is going to put in whatever time it takes to try and work something out so that participation is greatly increased and we can all bring the community what it wants and needs.”