Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Addabbo to Paterson: "You're Not a Leader"

Senator Slams Governor Over Aqueduct

By Patricia Adams

“It’s an absolute embarrassment.” That is how Senator Joe Addabbo described Gov. David Paterson’s failure to deliver on a promise made three weeks ago to finally name a Video Lottery Terminal operator at Aqueduct Racetrack. “If we judge the governor by the leadership decisions he makes he will not be judged well.”

And then there are the indecisions. The senator says that there is no reason in the world that the decision has not yet been made and he says at this point other action must be taken. “David Paterson is clearly not a person of leadership or decision. He’s in true jeopardy. He is in the process of tossing away 200 million dollars. It’s absurd.”

Now after eight months of waiting and procrastination, Addabbo contends there must be an alternative plan of action. “We are investigating any and all possibilities to settle this matter outside the governor’s office.”

The extreme urgency of the situation is further compounded due to the impending close of the state’s fiscal year—it’s slated to include the $200 million upfront money from the chosen VLT bidder. “Can you imagine if this deficit has to be applied to next year—it’s a state disaster in the making.”

According to Addabbo the governor is not paying attention; the consequences of his “fence parking” are presenting a grave danger to the financial health of the state. Widespread concerns from civic and community leaders throughout the Aqueduct community are being expressed in the form of letters, e-mail and phone calls to elected officials.

“We have to take action to address this issue outside of the governor’s office,” Addabbo stated. The senator says he will again speak to the Democratic State Senate Leader John Sampson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “They have to pressure the governor too—both sides of this decision have to force a decision.”

In the process to choose the vendor all necessary reports are in according to Larry Love, legal counsel to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. “All the information on these bidders is in. Their financials are in. The only thing missing is a decision.”

Love says the governor has put off the decision long enough and has to pick someone. “To be losing that kind of money—how foolish.” Pheffer maintains that she and Addabbo have been struggling with this process for what seems an endless time.

“We don’t know for sure that the vendor chosen will be the absolute perfect choice. But what we do know is that without any choice we are losing at least $1 million per day,” said the senator. And if Addabbo’s figures are on the money, the delay has already cost the state and the local economy almost $250 million in desperately needed revenue, since the last stall in the process ensued.

The Aqueduct situation was introduced for discussion at civic meetings this week in Ozone Park and again in Woodhaven. “The people here want answers,” Joe Addabbo told The Forum. “They’re certainly not being unreasonable—they—we all have waited patiently for far too long.”

To that end Addabbo says he will take action and will likely be joined by his colleague in the assembly and many civic and community organizations. “We’re in the process of having discussions about some plan of action for the very near future, and it could very well come in the form of a rally to be held at Aqueduct.”

As part of the trickle down-effect of the stunted process, an already struggling New York Racing Association has recently been hit with pollution violations for dumping manure into Jamaica Bay. The racing operator is recorded as having more than a dozen violations which could amount to fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The possible fines come on the heels of talk by NYRA about requesting a state bailout of about $30 million if a bidder is not chosen almost immediately to begin development of the property at Aqueduct.

Sen. Addabbo has stated that he is focusing on a tentative rally date no more than two weeks away.

Officials Urge Residents to Donate to Haiti Relief

As images of the devastation caused by last week’s earthquake in Haiti continue to spur New Yorkers to open their wallets and donate to the relief effort, local elected officials are urging residents to help in any way they can.

United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been especially active since the natural disaster rocked the nation of 10 million people. First, along with Senator Charles Schumer, she introduced legislation to temporarily waive tax deduction limits on all charitable contributions for relief efforts in order to provide a boost to donations.

“The tremendous damage in Haiti is horrifying and sobering for all of us as New Yorkers and Americans,” said Gillibrand. “The outpouring of support from individuals across the country is inspiring, but there is more we can do… I pledge that I, along with my colleagues in Congress and the Obama Administration, will continue to do everything we can to bring relief to the people of Haiti.”

To avoid falling prey to scams, the senators are urging donors not to respond to any unsolicited e-mails seeking donations, not to give personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions and to use online resources to verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations, instead of following a purported link to the group’s site.

In the days following the earthquake, Gillibrand also pushed the Obama Administration to provide temporary status to Haitians now living in America. This designation will allow Haitians to continue living and working here for the next 18 months, which will avoid forcing them to return immediately to their devastated country. Gillibrand also pressed the State Department to help orphaned children, prioritize orphanages in Haiti for assistance and ensure that Haitian-American parents fleeing the island can leave with their children.

Prior to last Tuesday’s earthquake, there were about 20,000 children living in Haiti’s 187 licensed orphanages, and the U.N estimates there was a total of 380,000 before the disaster.

Last Friday, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), State Senator Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) gathered with religious leaders and Red Cross representatives to urge New Yorkers to contribute to emergency relief funds established for the earthquake victims.

“No words can adequately describe the devastation and suffering that has struck the people of Haiti,” said Crowley. “In one day the lives of millions have been drastically changed forever… The earthquake has destroyed hospitals, schools and homes, leaving millions without food, water, basic infrastructure and medical assistance.

“The destruction is so bad that the Red Cross has run out of supplies,” continued Crowley. “Please join me in donating to the relief – donate whatever you can – no matter how small. If every Queens resident contributed just $1 each then we could raise nearly $2.3 million in relief of those who need it most. Everyone should take a moment to pray for those suffering in Haiti”

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) is also urging New Yorkers to donate to the Red Cross or other trusted charities. “The global community mourns the tragedy of such a catastrophic natural event, and we will work together to repair and rebuild Haiti,” he said. “We can help. We must help. We will help.”

Residents Get Help in Fight Against Rail Operations

Legislation Restricting Idling Pending on State Level

By Conor Greene

Glendale residents are getting some support from elected officials in their fight for changes to the way rail companies conduct business in residential neighborhoods, as legislation is being considered on the state level to help maintain the local quality of life.

Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) is working on having legislation written to address the residents’ concerns, which came to light last year through the efforts of Glendale neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold. According to a spokesman for Miller, there are two main points being considered for the legislation: a ten minute maximum idling time and mandating the use of cleaner fuels.

A third approach – banning the idling of locomotives within a certain distance of homes – also hasn’t been taken of the table, according to the assemblyman’s office. The bill, which would be based in part on similar legislation in Long Island, will be sponsored by Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) in the Senate.

"I understand people want to sleep at night and I understand that railroads need to run their business," said Miller. "We need to learn to co-exist. Working together we can find a way to defend our quality of life without disrupting business...This legislation won't solve every issue over night, but it is the first step toward a bigger solution."

News of the impending legislation came from Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), who updated residents at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting. “This is a tough issue – I’ll be real candid with you,” said Hevesi, adding that there tends to be a lot of finger pointing between agencies at different levels of government. “There is a gap in the regulations” which the new legislation would work to address. The good news, he said, is the tracks are owned by the MTA, which is at least “somewhat responsive to the state,” especially compared with other companies and agencies.

“What’s happening now is just inappropriate and shouldn’t be happening,” concluded Hevesi, promising to report back to the residents and board in several months.

Addabbo later described visiting one of the affected residents at 5 a.m. on a recent day to hear first hand the sounds coming from the rail yard, which is located along Otto Avenue. “It’s important for me to hear first hand the nuisance these residents are dealing with on a regular basis,” he said.

During the public portion of CB 5’s meeting, several residents spoke of the impact the rail yard has on their quality of life. Anthony Pedalino of 69th Place said the fumes and noise have become “unbearable” especially in the morning. He added that locomotives have idled outside his house on recent mornings from 5:15 to 5:45 and then again from 6:50 to 8:00. “We really need to keep the pressure on,” he said.

Parisen, who along with Arnold founded the group Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), reported that a series of five meetings dealing with specific rail-related issues and involving elected officials is planned. The first is scheduled for January 28 in Borough Hall and will focus on the transfer and transport of solid waste.

Parks to Solicit Phase One Reservoir Bids

Phase Two Plans to be Unveiled Next Month

The city Parks Department is expected to solicit bids for phase one of the planned improvements at Ridgewood Reservoir in the coming months, but didn’t make any major changes to the plan after hearing from officials at a recent meeting.

According to a statement released by Parks last week, phase one is expected to go out to bid within the next three months. Work in that phase includes replacing existing perimeter fencing around the reservoir’s three basins and upgrading lighting and pathways.

While no changes to the plan were made after a meeting held several weeks ago at the Borough Presidents office, the plan was previously altered in response to input from various local elected officials, according to Parks. Changes include preserving a stairway on the north side, facing access panels to lights away from the walkway and increasing fence height at areas where there are dangerous conditions on the other side.

However, other ideas reportedly raised at the recent Borough Cabinet meeting that have been rejected by Parks include raising the height of the perimeter fencing from four feet to six feet and preserving some of the 19th-century gates that are part of the decommissioned reservoir’s history.

The entire project, which might include filling in at least one of the reservoir’s three basins for construction of ball fields, is being funded by a $26 million budget allocation. The first phase is expected to cost between $7 million and $8 million, and Parks is currently “consulting sister agencies and the state regarding the three conceptual design plans… to ensure there are no regulatory issues with any of the ideas proposed for the site due to its history as a reservoir,” the spokeswoman wrote in a statement.

The three plans – one dedicated to passive recreation, one for active recreation and one combining the two options - are expected to be presented to the community at the end of February or in early March, according to Parks.

DOT Plans Meeting on Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan

The city Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting on Tuesday regarding the long-awaited Maspeth Bypass Plan, which would reroute truck traffic from Grand Avenue.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Martin Luther High School, located at 60-02 Maspeth Avenue. The scope and schedule of the upcoming study for the plan will be presented, and the community will have the chance to provide input.

According to the DOT, the two-phase study, formally known as the Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study, is exploring alternative travel routs for trucks, identifying problematic intersections and roadway configurations and assessing signs to reduce the impact of truck traffic on the local street network.

The study areas is bounded by Grand Avenue, the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

For additional information or to relay special needs such as interpretation and other accessibility requests, call (718) 286-0886.

Councilman Ulrich Sworn In

A crowd of well wishers, dignitaries and elected officials filled Scholars’ Academy School in Rockaway Park on Sunday afternoon for the Inaugural Activities of Councilman Eric Ulrich.

The ceremony began with an introduction by Brian O’Connell, principal of Scholars Academy, who was followed by a procession of the Breezy Point Catholic Club Pipe and Drum Band. The afternoon included a presentation of colors by the Air Force ROTC and performances by the Scholars Academy Band.

Community religious leaders Rabbi Marjorie Slome of the West End Temple Sinai Congregation and Rev. Bryan J. Carney of Saint Francis de Sales were both on hand to congratulate Ulrich and offer their blessings.

A host of elected officials were in attendance to congratulate the councilman including state Senators Joe Addabbo and Marty Golden, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Council members Elizabeth Crowley, Peter Koo, and Dan Halloran. Also in attendance were Mike Long, Chairman of the NYS Conservative Party and brother Tom Long, Chairman of the Queens Conservative Party.

Former City Councilman and close friend of Ulrich Hon. Thomas Ognibene acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the event and the Hon. James Oddo, Minority Leader for the New York City Council was the keynote speaker.

Judge John Ingram presided over the ceremony, administering the Oath of Office as the Councilman’s wife, Yadira Moran-Ulrich held the Bible for the swearing in. The oath was followed by remarks from Ulrich who first credited his supporters for his election.

“The voters of this district have placed their trust in me and I hold their trust in the highest regard. Over the next four years, I look forward to working every day to live up to the expectations that the people have placed upon me. While we have accomplished so much in such a short period of time, I realize that there is still plenty of work to do.”

Ulrich concluded his remarks citing his upbringing as playing a vital role in his political and personal successes. “My family instilled in me the values I have today: to be compassionate and kind to others, and that hard work and honesty is rewarded. Their sacrifices have opened the door of opportunity for me. And where I come from, when someone opens a door for you, you have an obligation to hold that door open for the next person about to walk through it. I have never forgotten what my family taught me, and I never will.”

The 24-year-old Ulrich was first elected to the council in a special election held in February of 2009 and will serve through his current term in 2014.

Waste Management Ripped for Lack of Updates on Transfer Station Plans

By Conor Greene

Unhappy with the lack of updates from Waste Management regarding the company’s plans for a new transfer station on Review Avenue, the chairman of Community Board 5’s Sanitation Committee ripped the company during last week’s meeting.

Waste Management is planning to expand its transfer station on Review Avenue in Long Island City to allow it to increase the amount of trash it receives each day. However, the plan would require the company to place the trash on trucks and transport it about two miles to the rail yard on Rust Street in Maspeth. There, it would be loaded into rail cars to be shipped out of the area.

While the plan would allow Waste Management to sharply reduce the amount of miles trash is driven through city streets, it would require the approximately 1.5 mile trip from Review Avenue to Rust Street, a plan that has been met with strong opposition. Instead, residents and officials are pushing the company to either construct a rail spur on its property so the trash can be loaded directly onto train cars there or to purchase another nearby property and use the Newtown Creek to barge the trash from the area.

At last week’s CB 5 meeting, Sanitation Committee Chairman Paul Kerzner took an unorthodox approach to providing his update: frustrated with the lack of details from Waste Management, he simply read aloud an e-mail exchange between him and a company official. The official responded to his request for an update with a short messages informing him that Waste Management is “actively researching potential options” that would avoid trucking the trash to the rail yard.

In response, Kerzner wrote that the update was “just a bit skimpy for five months,” referring to the amount of time that has elapsed since he requested a status update. He added that he is “truly disappointed with Waste Management’s work product.” The company only said in response to that message that research is still ongoing and that a timetable will be provided once it is available, according to Kerzner.

In a statement to The Forum, a Waste Management spokeswoman said the company has formed a technical team that is studying potential solutions to concerns raised by the community. “It would be premature to speculate or comment further until our research is completed,” wrote Rachel Amar. “We will report back to CB5 as soon as we have concrete results. Waste Management will consult with the community before taking any action.”

Kerzner later told The Forum that he was prompted to call the company onto the carpet since months have passed since CB 5 overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution rejecting the company’s current plan and requesting that other alternatives be explored.

“It has been several months since this motion was made, and I think the board should have a status report,” he said. “I’m waiting for them to produce some results and I’ll be happy to hear what other proposals they have… I’m waiting and so is everyone else.”

102nd Precinct Welcomes DA Brown

Robbery Pattern Also Discussed at Monthly Meeting

By Patricia Adams

District Attorney Richard Brown paid a visit to the 102nd Police Community Council meeting on Tuesday night as part of his yearly plan to visit each of the Queens police precincts. The DA was given a warm welcome and began by informing those in attendance that violent crime was down by 10% in Queens.

Brown went on to say that the 80 homicides in Queens in 2009 represent a tremendous reduction over the last 15 years—in 1991 there were 361. He also cited large drops in stolen cars. “This doesn’t happen by accident. A lion’s share of the credit goes to the men and women of the NYPD,” Brown said. “Last year we processed 78,000 cases put on our doorstep.” Brown informed his audience that Queens was way ahead of the rest of the city in moving cases through the court swiftly.

Before leaving he invited anyone to visit the DA’s office of operations at the court house. “We will be happy to see any of you for a visit. Just don’t come in handcuffs,” he joked.

Increase in Pattern Robberies

Capt. Armando DeLeon says that despite a plunge in crime in his precinct—it’s down about 41% over the last two years—there has been a recent spike in pattern robberies. The captain reported that there have been 8 robberies of late, 6 of which targeted women.

“We are looking for an individual who is approximately 5’4-5’5 tall, who carries a silver firearm.” The bandit approaches his victims with the handgun demanding their money and credit cards. Before leaving, the bandit demands his victims to surrender their PIN numbers for any ATM cards he steals. Most of the occurrences have taken place in the southern and western parts of the precinct, near the Brooklyn border.

A burglary pattern that police believe originated in the Bronx is also being perpetrated upon residents living in the 102. “We have individuals who are working in tandem, posing as utility employees in these incidents,” DeLeon explained. “They are ringing bells and representing themselves as workers from the gas company, ConEd or a cable company. You let the pair of them in and as one is looking at the boiler, a meter or the cable box, his associate is taking personal belongings in the house.”

The captain advised residents not to open the door under any circumstances. “If someone comes to your home, immediately call the company they say they are representing. Do not trust the fact that they have ID,” DeLeon warned, “there’s plenty of phony credentials circulating around.”

Residents can be relieved that there is increased police presence on their
streets from Monday through Friday 12 Noon to 7 PM. The police officers have been reassigned from other precincts and placed along Jamaica Avenue from 80th street to 118th street. The assignment of these officers has been very helpful according to DeLeon. “We have already seen major results from their presence,” commenting on a recent altercation among students from Richmond Hill High School that was quickly put to an end and a cell phone thief who was apprehended by the additional officers.

Before concluding, Capt. DeLeon suggested that residents should wear whistles and blow them as hard and loud as they can if they are accosted or face any danger. “It may sound corny,” said DeLeon, “but it will get everyone’s attention and it could save you.”

Robbery Victim Thanks 102 for Swift Action

On January 4, resident Harpreet Singh was walking to his home on 123rd Street off 97th Avenue with a friend when the two were accosted by three men who jumped out of a waiting car. The men brandished guns, holding one to Singh’s head and demanding his money and wallet. “They put a gun to my head,” said Singh, “and took everything I had in my pockets. I was very, very scared.” But Singh said the only thing that made him feel better about the situation was that almost immediately after he called 911, Captain

DeLeon and Officer McCoy of the 102 Pct were by his side. “These guys are great and I know they will get whoever did this.” Singh said that the thieves used his credit card to purchase gasoline in a nearby station minutes after robbing him. Luckily, Singh suffered no injuries.

General Business

President of the community council, Maria Thomson also informed residents that the 102nd Precinct is offering free NYPD Security Surveys for homeowners within the precinct. To arrange for the survey call the precinct at 718.805.3217 and speak to Detective Ronald Agunzo.

Form letters were also available for anyone whishing to contact Douglas Sussman, MTA Director of Community Affairs to protest the proposed elimination of the Q56 bus line and the Z train from the elevated J line.

The 102 Precinct Community Council meets at 8 PM on the third Tuesday of every month at the Moose lodge located on 118th Street off Jamaica Avenue, across the street from the 102nd Precinct stationhouse.

Board Pushes for Changes to City's Plan for Opening of Metro Ave HS Campus

Community Board 5 has overwhelmingly voted in favor of three resolutions to be submitted to the city Department of Education seeking changes to the current plan for the opening of the new Metropolitan Avenue High School in Forest Hills.

At its meeting last Wednesday, the full board voted in favor of the three resolutions that are seeking: a greater share of the high school seats for students in District 24 (the facility will be shared with District 28); a second tier be created so that PS 91 students have the option of enrolling there if the district’s allotment isn’t filled by students from PS/IS 87 and PS/IS 113, which have first chance at the seats; and that the school be opened up to both 9th and 10th graders in its first year, instead of just freshman as currently planned.

The Metropolitan Avenue Campus, slated to open this fall, includes a 1,000 seat high school that will be split between District 24 and District 28. It also includes a second building serving students in sixth through 12th grades that is dedicated solely for District 28. Currently, District 24 students will occupy half of the 1,000-seat high school, or just 500 or the 1,400 total high school seats within the two schools. Instead, CB 5 is requesting that 700 seats be set aside for District 24 so it gets its fair share of class space.

The second resolution was the result of concerns that if 125 seats in each grade level were not filled by PS/IS 87 and 113 students, they would then be opened up to students throughout the entire district and borough. The board is seeking insurance that the seats will remain open to Glendale students who attend PS 91 until 6th grade and IS 119 through 8th grade graduation.

The third resolution is being pushed by the board due to the current classroom overcrowding crisis the borough is facing, especially at the high school level. The DOE argues that opening the school up one grade at a time – meaning it will only be filled to 25 percent capacity this fall – is the best way to set the school up for success. However, board members agreed that argument is trumped by the dire need to immediately provide more seats for students throughout Queens.

The only board member voting against the three resolutions was Chairman Vincent Arcuri, who had pushed for the three requests to be contained within a single resolution. The DOE did not respond last week to a request for comment on the board’s requests.