Thursday, August 6, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Bloomberg Talks Transit During Queens Campaign Stop

By Conor Greene

Borough residents would have greater public transportation options under a plan unveiled this week by Mayor Bloomberg, marking his first major proposal of this year’s campaign.

The mayor stopped at the Glendale Diner on Tuesday to discuss the transit plan and other issues with supporters. The plan, formally announced on Monday, includes reopening shuttered LIRR stations in Glendale, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst, expanding the CityTicket program, exploring the use of light rail or street cars in western Queens and expanding ferry and commuter van service to link residents to mass transit.

“None of these things are things that people don’t know about or haven’t talked about before or haven’t done elsewhere, its pulling them all together and actually doing something,” said Mayor Bloomberg during the half-hour stop at the Myrtle Avenue diner, where he was joined by supporters including City Council candidate Thomas Ognibene and Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri.

“Building a superior mass transit system is critical to middle class New Yorkers and the future of our city. As our city grows, it becomes more and more important to have a system in place that is efficient, accessible and cost-effective,” said Bloomberg, adding that borough residents “deserve better and cheaper service.”

Other elements of the plan include electronic message boards alerting riders of the next arriving bus or train, gateless tolls at MTA bridges and tunnels, free crosstown buses on some Manhattan bus routes and reinstituting F train express service. “The whole economy is dependant on getting people where they need to go,” said Bloomberg. “We have to find ways to get people from Queens… to the central business district.”

For Queens, one of the biggest aspects of Bloomberg’s plan includes once again offering LIRR train service at three of the 10 stations shuttered in 1998. According to published reports at the time, the decision to discontinue use of the Glendale, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst stations, along with seven others, came because low passenger volumes didn’t warrant spending between $260,000 to $2.25 million needed to renovate each station.

When asked how projects requiring infrastructure upgrades would be funded at a time when ticket prices are rising and service is being reduced, Bloomberg indicated that increased fares would likely off set the costs. Conceding that “there’s always costs with everything,” he argued that the necessary infrastructure improvements would be “relatively little” since the tracks already are in place and trains already run through the area. “We would probably get enough extra revenues… to pay for operating costs.”

Ognibene, who has the mayor’s backing in his challenge to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), said the plan “has some great ideas for the city, especially Queens.” He specially hailed the idea of reopening the Glendale LIRR station, calling it a “great, great idea” that should have little negative impact on the community.

In response to a question about possible backlash from residents near the tracks, Bloomberg argued that “nothing in this city goes without somebody having a problem with it.” He noted that commuters from the suburbs favor having less stations in Queens but said he doesn’t “think we can afford that ‘let’s favor one group over another’” attitude. “We all have to make sacrifices in tough times,” he added.

Arcuri expressed hope that renewed focus on LIRR service in Glendale might lead to safety improvements the community has been seeking for years at various rail crossings.

Following the unveiling of Bloomberg’s transit plan, city Comptroller Bill Thompson, the likely Democratic nominee to challenge the mayor in November, issued a statement ripping the MTA’s performance over the past eight years and accusing the mayor of stealing old ideas.

“Under Mike Bloomberg’s watch MTA fares have gone up 50 percent, New York straphangers pay the highest percentage of mass transit costs in the nation, and buses and subways continue to be both dirty and unreliable,” argued Thompson’s campaign. “This plan is full of empty promises and stolen ideas such as CityTicket which was proposed by Bill Thompson in 2006 and 2009. As mayor, Bill Thompson will not only offer concrete plans to address our city’s transit issues, unlike Mike Bloomberg, he’ll actually execute them.”

The Thompson campaign also argued that Bloomberg’s four appointees to the MTA board “have never stood up for riders” and recently signed off without objection on eliminating many station attendants, and approved extensive service cuts before the state stepped in and bailed out the struggling authority.

Conversely, in a press release touting his transit plan, Bloomberg’s campaign noted that the mayor has identified $247 million in savings by cutting MTA waste and bureaucracy.

Rezoning of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale and Takes Effect

By Conor Greene

After years of watching as out-of-character developing threatened to destroy the area’s quality of life, community leaders breathed a sigh of relief this week as new zoning regulations finally went into effect for parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who said pushing the rezoning through the Department of City Planning and the City Council was a top priority since she took office in November, gathered on 83rd Street on Tuesday to announce that the plan is now law.

The rezoning, which seeks to prevent overdevelopment on more than 300 blocks roughly bounded by the Queens-Midtown Expressway, Woodhaven Boulevard, Mt. Carmel Cemetery and Fresh Pond Road, was approved by the City Council on July 29. According to City Planning, the new zoning takes effect immediately, but was subject to a mayoral veto for five days.

Joined by Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden and CB 5 Land Use Committee Chairman Walter Sanchez, Crowley told reporters that years of unchecked development has “really hurt property values” and “brought down the quality of life” on affected blocks. She said it was a “painstaking and long” process that began years ago.

“For far too long, overdevelopment has been plaguing this community,” said Crowley, adding that fighting it has been “one of our greatest challenges.” While the formal rezoning rocess began in 2006, she said civic leaders ere calling for it years prior. “Protecting ur neighborhood’s character, the very aesthetic of our low density community, has remained a priority of mine since before taking office.”

Giordano called the occasion “a big day for us locally” and noted that the new regulations will help prevent one-family homes along quiet blocks from being converted into multi-family units. “We were getting very overcrowded” as a result of such projects, he said. “We are looking to preserve the beauty of these neighborhoods for as long as we can, and one way to do it is to reduce the size of the buildings you can build here,” said Giordano.

Like others present, Giordano expressed some frustration that the process took so long to complete. “I think some studies moved ahead of us but today is our day,” he said.

Holden called it a “great step forward” but stressed that the fight against over-development is long from over. Also frustrated by the amount of time that has passed since volunteers began going door to door to collect data on each neighborhood, Holden recalled kicking the effort off on May 20, 2004. “We have finally downzoned most of the area,” he said. “This is a good step forward but we are going to have some development.”

Sanchez, of Maspeth, said the rezoning is “probably one of the greatest accomplishments a community board can make” in its advisory role. “We said let’s take the bulls by the horn and try to be proactive against overdevelopment,” he said, adding that the community still needs additional protections to prevent units from being divided. “There is a lot of work to be done. The one-family designation is very important to us.”

While recognizing the delays that held the process up, Crowley boasted that the proposal went from getting the community board’s approval to being officially adopted in “record” time. “I think you have a lot of frustration here for not being a priority for City Planning,” she said.

At this point, only projects in which the entire foundation is completed are allowed to proceed under the previous zoning, which had been in place since 1961. The majority of the next plan replaces the old zoning “with newer, lower density and contextual zoning districts to more closely reflect the existing built form of the neighborhoods,” according to City Planning. Queens District of City Planning John Young told CB 5 that this particular effort is “very complex” and will eliminate a developer’s ability to tear down a one-or-two family home and replace it with a large multi-family building.

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden noted that more than 4,200 borough blocks have been addressed “with finely grained contextual rezonings to protect the borough’s lower density neighborhoods from out-of-context development.” She said this effort will “bring comprehensive zoning protections to three of the most appealing communities in the city.”

One of the largest rezonings to date, this plan builds upon contextual zoning changes for 180 blocks in Middle Village and Glendale adopted in 2006, added Burden.

Aqueduct Bidder AEG May be Community Favorite

By Patricia Adams

As the state closes in on awarding the contracts for the construction and management of the proposed racino at Aqueduct Racetrack, bidders have been presenting their formal plans to the Albany powers that be. The Aqueduct Entertainment Group, LLC (AEG) has, according to some close to the bidding process, emerged as a lead contender for the coveted project.

Comprised of several partners, AEG was formed for the express purpose of bidding on, winning and building a world class gaming and entertainment destination. Included in the group are GreenStar Services Corporation, for development, construction and overall coordination; the Navegante Group, as the gaming developer and operator; the Darman Group, Inc. and Empowerment Development Corporation, as co-developers and minority and women-owned business coordinators; Siemens, as technology partner; PS&S, to lead the architectural, engineering and environmental effort; and CleanPower, an environmental firm, who will employ Green Building Strategies. Levine Builders will provide construction management services.

The company will be chaired by Richard Mays, a former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice and nationally known attorney. “The collective experience of our team and the offer that we have presented the State of New York, is one that we believe that no other bidder can top,” said Richard Mays.

Larry Roman who serves as Vice Chairman of Greenstar Services Corporation explained some of the projects details. “Our vision is to build a complex modeled after seven communities in New York. We’re going to build New York City, not “Sin” city.” Roman clearly stated, that while he has the utmost respect for other companies involved in the bid, it is AEG that has the local New York community the most to offer.

Citing the fact that his group has already secured all of their subcontractors, something other bidders haven’t even approached, Roman went on to say, “We are totally prepared for this project. We’re turning into the stretch while our competitors have not even gotten out of the gate.” Five Star Electric located in Ozone Park will serve as the electrical sub contractor. The local shop has access to more than 1,200 union electricians.

If AEG holds up to their promises, it may very well be that they are the group best suited to help the state rebound from the projected revenue lost in a collapsed deal with last round bid recipient Delaware North, back in March of this year.

Community leaders and residents agree that one attractive aspect of the AEG deal is the deadlines they say they’ll conform to upon getting the bid. Andrew Frank, the Managing New York partner for Kreab Gavin Anderson, the overall coordinator for AEG, explained its commitment to a timeline. “If this bid is awarded by mid September, AEG will have 1,200 machines up and running by April 1, 2010 and another 2000 machines by June 15th , at which point the second floor will be complete.” When all else is said and done the group say they will be in a position to provide revenue to the state by the upcoming April.

The construction partners in AEG have a track record for timely completion. According to those at the heart of this decision process, reliability and expeditious construction are extremely important. “We can’t afford another bad deal,” said Senator Joe Addabbo. “We’re really looking hard.” Addabbo did not say who his choice would be but he was definitive about one of the bidders. “Right now we are looking for the best developer. I don’t know yet who that is until we see everything. But what I do know is that we do not want Deleware North.”

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer expressed her concerns over hundreds of millions of dollars the state has lost since the last bid failed and says that she and fellow legislators will scrutinize all bidders to make sure the community is protected. “Each bidder has a different plan for the VLT’s and for Aqueduct,” Pheffer said, adding, “now we’re making sure they can live up to their claims.”

The proposed Casino and Raceway plan from the Aqueduct Entertainment Group would feature a LEED Certified Sustainable Casino and Racetrack with 4,500 VLT’s in seven different “neighborhoods.” The project will also host quality retail shops and restaurants set among the theme of the seven different neighborhoods. One such themed neighborhood incorporated into the design plan is a section modeled after of the Lower East side of New York and will feature a famed Kosher Deli.

In addition the AEG plan includes the Aqueduct Racing Museum and community meeting space. Those who use public transportation will find an enclosed, elevated walkway from the subway station and a bus drop-off. A parking garage will house 2,400 cars. To finish off their proposal, AEG will build a 300-room destination hotel, a banquet and conference center and a 2,500-seat entertainment center.

Officials Quickly React to Possible Post Office Closings

Howard Beach, Ridgewood Among Locations Eyed

By Conor Greene

After announcing that 53 post office stations across the city were being considered for closure, including branches in Howard Beach and Ridgewood, the United States Postal Service has reduced that list to 14 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens.

Faced with a sharp drop-off in business, in part due to e-mail, the USPS initially announced that nearly 700 branches nationwide were being studied for possible closure. Under that plan, 16 Queens post office branches were in jeopardy, including Station B on 159th Avenue in Howard Beach and the Fresh Pond Road branch in Ridgewood.

Other area offices that were being considered under the plan included Astoria, Long Island City, East Elmhurst, College Point, Jackson Heights and Corona. Word of the potential closures quickly spread to local officials who vowed to fight back against the plan.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) blasted the USPS for basing its analysis on the number of other post offices within a five-mile radius and for failing to discuss the closure plan with local community leaders. The USPS now says that no final decisions regarding closures will be made before October and the public will be given the chance to weigh in on the plan before then.

“New York is a city of neighborhoods and at the center of each community is a post office,” said Weiner. “The USPS is mailing it in if they think we will stand by while they shut us out of essential services New Yorkers rely on." After the USPS announced the scaled back plan, Weiner added: “The way the USPS has released information in dribs and drabs, it’s no wonder that they have been losing business. If their intention was to raise alarms, what they’ve really done is raise questions about their management.”

The plan to close Station B, which would have forced customers to use the branch at Cross Bay Boulevard and 160th Avenue, was blasted by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton.

“The post office near Coleman Square… is a vital lifeline for our area. Without this post office, residents would have to travel a great distance to access postal services,” the councilman said in a statement. “The lack of adequate transportation in the area, combined with the significant distance to the nearest alternative post office… would place an undue burden on residents.”

Braton recalled a similar fight to keep Station B open nearly a decade ago, and urged local residents to use that branch to justify its continued operation. “Station B serves a need for people in Howard Beach for whom it is difficult to get to Cross Bay Boulevard,” said Braton. “A number of years ago the Postal Service tried to close Station B. At that time the effort was stopped because the community rallied together to ensure that Station B was used [enough] to stay open. It looks like once again we need to make a conscious effort to ensure that all of us are using it.”

In Ridgewood, having two branches is necessary in order to serve the demands of the community, which includes a large immigrant population that uses the UPSP, said Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano. “I think that considering the size of the Ridgewood population, having two post offices is probably necessary, since you’re talking about considerably more than 60,000 people living here,” he said. “To have two branches doesn’t seem like a waste. Myrtle is always packed and I’m told that Fresh Pond Road, for a portion of the day, is very busy.”

Despite a 2-cent increase in the price of stamps and cost saving measures including staff cuts, the USPS is facing a loss of as much as $7 billion this fiscal year. In response to declining revenues, Postmaster General John Potter has asked Congress for approval to reduce deliveries from six days a week to five.

The Postal Service was added to the Government Accountability Office’s list of troubled agencies, which determined, “Every major postal policy, from employee pay to days of delivery, to the closing of postal facilities must be on the table. Without major changes, the day will soon come when the Postal Service will be unable to pay its bills.”

Last year, the number of pieces of mail delivered fell 9.5 billion to 203 billion items. That number is expected to drop by another 28 billion items this year. While the list of branches eyed for possible closure has been reduced, USPS officials said as many as 300 more locations could be added.

Fake Bomb at LGA Leads to Three Hour Evacuation

A Greenwich Village man brought before Queens Criminal Judge Lenora Gerald for arraignment Saturday evening has been ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.

Scott McGann, 32, is accused of causing a bomb scare at LaGuardia Airport early on Saturday morning resulting in the evacuation of thousands of early morning travelers for more than three hours. Flights were disrupted and car and pedestrian traffic at the airport built up and clogged all access roads. Would-be fliers used their cell phones to contact friends and family, advising of delays. Others just resigned themselves to the wait, stretching out on grass beds or sidewalks.

Concourse C which serves United, United Express and American Eagle, stayed closed while investigators opened a criminal investigation at the scene.

An outline of charges state that when McGann appeared at a security checkpoint at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B around 4:50 a.m. on Saturday morning, a United Airlines ticket agent noticed he was wearing a back pack and sweating profusely. Law enforcement officials say that he also appeared to be intoxicated.

When McGann was asked for identification, but he refused to answer questions. While talking, the agent was made aware that a suspicious package was attached to the bottom of McGann’s backpack.

Realizing what was happening, McGann allegedly reached for and grabbed what appeared to be a trigger device with a red button attached to a wire. He pressed the red button until a Port Authority police officer grabbed his hand and tackled him, removing the trigger device and grabbing the package attached to the backpack. According to published reports, the officer felt what he believed to be sticks of dynamite.

The NYPD bomb squad arrived at the scene and searched McGann’s bag with Port Authority Police. The device was actually a mock bomb made from cylinders and batteries wrapped together and taped up.

According to the boarding pass in his possession, McGann was slated to fly to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport before connecting to flights that would eventually take him to Oakland, California.

Although the main terminal was reopened shortly before 9 a.m. delays continued throughout the day. Travelers tried to get back to their terminals, many forced to carry their own bags, but were met with extended flight delays; some were rescheduled for next day flights or left to deal with stand-by status.

Two months ago, McGann was arrested following a bizarre incident. He entered the criminal courthouse at 346 Broadway in lower Manhattan and grabbed a stack of papers from a lawyer, attempting then to run from the building. He also has a 1992 arrest for bringing a gun into a high school. He moved to New York in 2006 and has been arrested several times for quality of life crimes including unauthorized vending.

DA Richard Brown said, “The defendant is clearly a very troubled young man. As a result, the Court has directed that he be examined to determine whether he has the capacity to understand the proceedings against him and assist in his defense. Pending the results of said examination, the defendant is being held without bail. His next court date is August 6, 2009.”

If convicted, McGann could face up to seven years in prison.

The Forum Newsgroup/photos by CHARLES ECKERT

Out of Control Livery Cab Injures Pedestrians at Parade

A livery cab driver lost control of his car and plowed into a street festival at the Ecuadorian Parade on Sunday. More than a dozen people were taken to New York Hospital Queens and Elmhurst Hospital to be treated for back and leg injuries. Two people were burned with grease from food stands and several others got minor burns from chemical that leaked from the crashed car.

The wild scene unfolded when the car plowed through several food booths at the fair on Junction Boulevard and 37th Avenue shortly after 1 P.M. When the car came to rest, a propane tank wedged underneath had to be removed by NYPD Emergency Service Unit.

The Lincoln Town Car tore through three tents along the street, sending charcoal and shish-kebobs flying through the air. A vendor preparing fruit at a juice stand said she saw the car coming and heard screaming. “It was very fast,” she said, “and very scary.”

Police say the 59-year-old driver remained at the scene and will not face charges.

Con Edison Launches Smart Meter Program

Also: Crowley Pushes to Ban Unsightly Meters in Front of Homes

By Conor Greene

Three years after blackouts crippled sections of western Queens, Con Edison has finally launched its smart meter program, which is intended to help head off future incidents. At the same time, a local council member is pushing legislation that would prohibit the installation of utility meters in front of residential buildings.

Con Ed is kicking off its smart meter installation in an 8.3-square-mile swath in the Long Island City area, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest during the 2006 blackout. Since the blackout, Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) has pushed the company to upgrade its infrastructure with technologies such as the smart grid system, which fully digitizes the power grid by expanding communication between the consumer, the regulator and the power plants.

“The 2006 blackout showed that Con Ed’s infrastructure was totally inadequate for the 21st Century, leaving residents to wonder if the lights will go off whenever the temperature creeps up,” said Gioia, who is running for public advocate after serving on the City Council since 2001. “We need an investment in new technology that can help prevent blackouts and make the system greener and more energy efficient – just like cities like Boulder and Austin have already done.”

The smart meter is part of the larger smart grid system, which utilizes digital communication to better regulate a station’s power output out based on need. The smart grid harnesses the latest in information technology while also helping to green the environment, noted Gioia. “New Yorkers were long due for an upgrade, and it’s right that Con Ed start this program in Long Island City,” he added.

According to a year-long study by the U.S Department of Energy, consumers in the smart meter program saved 10 percent on their power bills, and cut their power use by 15 percent during peak hours. Participants in the study were given electronic meters which got signals from their utility company when power prices were high, along with computer software allowing them to remotely change their power usage.

The blackout of 2006 primarily affected about 175,000 residents of the four neighborhoods included within the Long Island City network. It also caused losses of tens of millions of dollars for business owners, heavy airport delays and brutal conditions due to a heat wave sweeping over the area. Con Ed initially claimed that about 1,600 customers were affected, as the company counted multi-family buildings as one person. It later changed its estimate to reflect actual individuals after coming under heavy criticism.

According to Con Ed, the $6 million smart grid pilot program will test how various technologies support efforts to modernize the electric grid. About 1,500 customers will receive smart meters under the pilot program, and by the end of the month Con Ed will file proposals with the Department of Energy requesting $375 million in stimulus funds to expand the program. The money would help pay for more than 40,000 additional meters.

“New York City will be a model showing how smart grid technologies can work together in dense urban areas,” said Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke. “Smart grids will change the way we manage the grid, and can change the way customers manage their energy usage. Our vision is to identify grid innovations that can be reliable and cost effective, and provide increased flexibility for customers in the way they make energy choices.”

In other news involving electric meters, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) has introduced a City Council resolution calling on the state Public Services Commission to ban the installation of utility meters in front of residential buildings throughout the city.

“The placement of utility meters by corporations such as Con Edison in front of houses has been a serious concern with many residents and community organizations of Queens, and understandably so,” said Crowley. “Given that we have the technology to check utility meters from afar or digitally, it is no longer necessary to mandate the unsightly placement of these boxes in front of residential buildings. Making these utility meters less visible would be a benefit to the aesthetics and character of our neighborhoods.”

The state Public Service Commission has exclusive regulatory authority over gas and electric utility companies. Crowley argued that these meters would not be accepted in front of residential buildings in other boroughs. “Would you see dozens of these unattended and entangled wires and these big rusty meters on the front of a brownstone in Brooklyn or in Manhattan? No. The people of Queens deserve better,” she said.

Raising the Bar in Forest Hills: New Shops Signal Economic Recover

By Steve Tiszenkel

It’s all over! You can start making irresponsible purchasing decisions again — this economic downturn, the Great Recession, is nearing an end. We know this because Barack Obama tells us so.

“In the last few months,” the president said in a much-anticipated speech last week, “the economy has done measurably better than we thought—better than expected.” A lofty statement, this “better than expected,” and according to President Obama, the credit belongs to President Obama’s controversial economic stimulus package, which “put the brakes on the recession.”

Break out the overpriced champagne. Not only are things not entirely so bad as you might imagine they could be, but for the next three-and-a-half years, we’ve got a president who promises to keep things going in a sensible, non-backwards direction.

Now, skeptics — if, indeed, there are any skeptics left after such an encouraging report — might question whether a lack of backsliding really constitutes forward motion, if the fact that not quite as many people have been losing their jobs in the past couple of months is truly good news. But I respectfully disagree. There’s solid evidence that things are getting better. I refer not to the Gross Domestic Product report that spurred President Obama’s announcement, of which I can make neither heads nor tails — after all, I got a C in Macroeconomics during my freshman year of college, not exactly one the finer moments of my four years of secondary education. But I got A after big fat A in sociology, so sociology is what I’ll have to use.

Back in school, Professor Gary Alan Fine instructed our entire 300-level class to leave the leafy confines of our suburban campus, park ourselves on a city street of our choice for a couple of hours and observe. Only then, he instructed us, would we really be able to get a sense of the neighborhood we’d picked, of its economic status, where it had been and where it was headed. With Professor Fine in mind, I give you Exhibit A for the recovery: 71st Road in Forest Hills. By now, Forest Hills’ recent retail struggles have been exhaustively documented. Storefronts continue to stand vacant months or even years after their previous tenants closed up shop. Worse, when new businesses do move in, they’re almost invariably more downscale than their forerunners. My favorite example, which I cannot cite enough in this space, remains when Value Depot closed, lay dormant for about a year, and reopened as Value Depot.

But on 71st Road, there are suddenly signs of life. It’s not that new businesses have replaced old — that happens all the time, in good times and bad. It’s what kind of businesses have moved in. Dollar stores, cheap hair salons and chintzy prom-dress boutiques are now a thing of the past on this modest little block—in the past few months, the street has sprouted a gleaming Italian bakery that’s been winning raves, an immaculate pet groomer, and most recently the coup de grace: an adorable organic market. This isn’t your older brother’s Forest Hills. No, these are the kinds of businesses that work themselves into the fabric of Park Slope — but Park Slope in the more innocent age of 2006, not Park Slope last week.

And it’s not just 71st Road. The new restaurant on 70th Road whose smart exterior and terminating punctuation I’ve long admired even as it spent months sitting empty — this would be the eatery known as aged, period — is now open and looks to be phenomenally popular despite mixed reviews. A new toss-your-own-salad shop, clean and sophisticated, is farther east on another side street. And somehow we now boast not one but two hookah bars, both filled with Sprite-drinking, flavored-tobacco smoking young men and women who look exactly old enough to smoke but exactly not old enough to drink.

Until the former Radio Shack on Queens Boulevard gets a new tenant, until the depressing string of vacant stores on the east end of the Austin Street strip fills up, until Continental Avenue’s Twin Donut finally opens and then closes and then opens again as a tapas bar—only then can we say we’ve made it through this unfortunate moment in history. But for now, we can settle for better than expected.

"This morning, the GDP revealed that the recession we faced when I took office was even deeper than anyone thought at the time. It told us how close we were to the edge," Obama said. "But the GDP also revealed that in the last few months, the economy has done measurably better that we had thought - better than expected."

The stimulus and recovery bill, along with other measures taken by the administration, Obama said, "have helped us put the brakes on the recession," pointing to efforts to help homeowners, spur lending for families and small businesses, tax cuts and extensions to unemployment benefits.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website, Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

Off-Duty Cop Charged wtih Pulling Gun on Bouncer

An off-duty NYPD officer is facing menacing, drug possession and gun charges after allegedly threatening a bouncer who refused him entry at an Ozone Park nightclub.

Trevor Herpaul, a four-year veteran of the force, was arrested outside Mingles nightclub on 101st Avenue early Sunday morning. He became enraged when the bouncer denied him entry because his attire didn’t comply with the bar’s dress code. He flashed his NYPD identification before returning to his vehicle and grabbed a 9mm Ruger, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.

Herpaul returned to the club entrance and pointed the gun at the face of bouncer Ricky Singh, asking “Now you think you’re bad?” At that point, Officer Joshua Czyz of the 102nd Precinct arrived at the scene and ordered Herpaul to drop the weapon. As Officer Czyz and Officer Justin Smith placed Herpaul under arrest, the Ruger fell to the ground. It was later found to be loaded.

Police allegedly later found marijuana from the floor of Herpaul’s 2003 Lexus. He was charged in Queens Criminal Court with menacing and harassment, both in the second degree, and issued violations regarding his gun license and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Herpaul is assigned to the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn and lives in Queens.

Father and Son Die in Water Tragedy

A father and son who shared their mutual love for the water died over the weekend after the wave runner they wer aboard crashed into a dock in a Lawrence waterway.

Roopnarine Gopaul died at the scene on Saturday around 5:15 pm, his son Christopher passed away at the hospital early Sunday morning.

Gopaul was described by family members as a devoted father and not one to be careless. He came to New York 20 years ago from Guyana and settled with family members in Richmond Hill until 9 years ago.

The father of two lived with his wife Renuca, daughter Kayla and son Christopher in their home in South Jamaica.

Michelle Singh, a niece, said it was her family that Gopaul lived with when he first came to the states. “He was always careful.,especially about driving things. He didn’t even have so much as one ticket.”

Police say the accident happened after Gopaul apparently lost control of the watercraft. They are still investigating the accident but criminal charges do not seem likely.

Gopaul was the eldest son in a close-knit family of seven children and was remembered as a family member who “would always be there.”

According to state law operators of personal watercraft are required to hold a boating safety certificate, obtained after passing an eight-hour boating safety course. It’s also required that operators slow to no more than 5 mph if they are within 100 feet of a dock.

It is not yet known how fast he was going or whether Gopaul had a certificate. They have impounded the craft for a safety test.

Family members would not release information about services because of privacy concerns.

West Hamilton Volleys Get Life-Saving Equipment

Local Attorney Donates Suction Units in Memory of Kevin Delano

By Patricia Adams

Friends, family, elected officials and members of the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Corps gathered at the firehouse on Wednesday afternoon for a special dedication. Just over a year ago to the date, one of the department’s “favorite sons”, Kevin Delano, passed away after a lengthy battle with leukemia. The career Delano was so devoted to began in 1971, as soon as he was eligible to join the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department and over the years, he worked his way up to be named chief of the department.

“After Kevin died,” said local attorney Marge Centrone, “I thought that somehow his name should forever be associated with the department he loved so much.” To that end, Centrone donated the money for the purchase of two suction units to be place aboard the departments rescue vehicles.

A plaque with Delano’s name is mounted to the portable life-saving units that will be used to remove blockages from airways of emergency patients. “These units would really make Kevin happy,” said former department Chief Jonah Cohen. “It’s very fitting that they should bear his name and that such a great friend of the department, Marge Centrone, is responsible for this.”

Among others who praised Delano for his work and commitment, as well as thanking Centrone for her generous donation were state Senator Joe Addabbo, Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer and WHVFAC Chief Bruce Stock.

Roseann Delano attended the ceremony honoring her husband with son Kevin Jr.