Thursday, July 1, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

2nd Annual Howard Beach Relay

The Forum Newsgroup

The annual Howard Beach Relay for Life took place on Saturday and Sunday at Charles Park and raised more than $165,000, making it the most successful Queens Relay event in terms of money raised.

More than 500 participants formed teams and ran various fundraising activities throughout the year. Team members gathered at the park over the weekend honoring survivors and remembering loved ones lost.

Rockin’ the Ribbon 2010 teammates Laura, Elizabeth and MaryEllen Jablonski founded their team in honor of mother Ginny Jablonski, longtime Howard Beach resident who lost her battle to melanoma in 2003.

This year’s honoree was Camille Lyons of Queens County Savings Bank who entered her second year as a survivor of bladder cancer.

Event Chair Phyllis Inserillo headed up the HB Relay Rocks team, which was the first Queens
team to reach the esteemed Purple fundraising level—bringing in more than $50,000.

Next year’s HB Relay event will be held on June 11th and 12th.

8th Annual Relay Celebrates Life, Rasies $150,000

By Tamara Best

Each person had a different story to tell. Each person recalled memories of loved
ones and in some cases their own struggle. Yet, each had one thing in common - the goal of eradicating cancer.

Despite being a humid Saturday with temperatures near 100 degrees, hundreds of people showed up at Juniper Valley Park for the eighth annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life. This year’s event was sponsored by Maspeth Federal Saving, Glendale Kiwanis, Panera Bread, Ridgewood Moose Lodge and
Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

More than 60 teams participated in the Olympic-themed event this year, with team Hikers of Hope leading the fundraising with $14,000. In all more than $150,000 was raised for cancer research.

"We started participating four years ago, we look at it as a celebration," said CJ Stock of Rays of Light. The team was formed in honor of Stock's husband, Ray, who has
been in remission for the past four years.

Stock, among many other participants, said the survivor's lap is their favorite part of the relay, which started at 4 p.m. Saturday and ended Sunday morning.

"Each time I walk, each step I take is for each person who helped me get here," said Leandra Navetta, a survivor speaker for this year's event.

For Darren Alloggiamento there is one thought that goes through his head as he takes his lap.

"I feel lucky," said Alloggiamento, who had a brain tumor that has been in remission for 16 years.

After the survivor lap, caregivers took a lap followed by relay teams, backed by theme music ranging from Lady Gaga to James Brown. In addition to relaying, participants spent the evening enjoying food, taking zumba lessons and raising funds through raffles and sales. Shortly after dark, the luminaria ceremony took place as candles in bags that lined the track were lit, in memory of those who died from cancer and in honor of those in remission. Teams walked around the track pausing along the way to read the names.

The Middle Village site was also selected to be part of “The Cancer Prevention Study,” which allowed people who have not been diagnosed with cancer to identify reasons, such as lifestyle choices, that may cause them to be diagnosed with cancer later in life.

Leslie Orlovsky, director of special events for area American Cancer Society, said for everyone involved it’s about the Relay motto “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.”

“I’m not a doctor, this is the only way I know how to fight back,” said Orlovsky. “I relay so one day my son won’t have to.”

Relay for Life facts:
  • Takes place in more than 19 countries outside of the United States
  • More than $2 billion has been raised since the first relay was held in 1985.
  • Relay For Life is the world’s largest not-for- profit fundraising event.

Three Groups Submit Aqueduct Bids

The Forum Newsgroup

Three bidders have emerged in the latest bidding war to operate video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct Racetrack.

After the Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s bid was denied in March, the New York Lottery opened up bidding again in June when six bidders met: SL Green Realty Group, Delaware North, Penn National, Empire City Casino Yonkers Raceway, Genting New York, and Clairvest Group.

The three groups that submitted bids on Tuesday were Genting New York, Penn National, and SL Green Realty with Hard Rock. The Clairvest Group ended up partnering with SL Green and Hard Rock’s group.Genting is the operator of Asia’s largest casino in Malaysia.Penn National operates over a dozen casinos and racetracks across the United States. SL Green is one of New York’s largest Realtors and is joined by Hard Rock, which operates restaurants and casinos across the world. Clairvest, once a part of Aqueduct Entertainment Group, is one of Canada’s
largest investment firms.

The Aqueduct racetrack is expected to generate over $1 million a day in tax revenue for New York and over $800 million a year for the winning bidder. Bidders are concerned about making a $300 million payment upfront and the possibility of a Shinnecock Indian casino outside the city in Suffolk county.

New York Lottery plans to recommend a winning bidder to Governor Patterson and state legislators by August 3.

JFK's Longest Runway Reopens On Time and On Budget

Flights resumed on John F. Kennedy International Airport’s “Bay Runway,” the region’s longest and busiest runway, on June 28 after a four-month closing to reconstruct the runway, implement flight delay meas- ures, increase the width to handle the world’s largest commercial planes, and transform it into a state-of-the-art runway for the future.

The project was completed on budget and ahead of schedule, ensuring that airlines could function at full capacity as the busy summer travel season ramps up.

As the Bay Runway – last refurbished in 1993 – and its asphalt overlay approached the end of its lifespan, the Port Authority researched the available options. The agency’s planning aimed to increase the utility and efficiency of the runway and decrease the maintenance costs, all while providing tangible benefits for the customer.

The Bay Runway’s new concrete surface is expected to last 40 years, replacing the 13- year-old asphalt surface, which has a much shorter useful life. It will produce an estimated long-term savings of $500 million and while reducing the need for ongoing maintenance.

In addition, high-speed aircraft exits and access taxiways were part of the Port Authority’s delay-reduction program so planes can take off and land on the runway faster than ever before and so aircraft queuing could be reduced. These initiatives are estimated to reduce flight delays by 10,500 hours a year.

The $348.1 million runway project supports 2,500 jobs, including direct construction work, asphalt and concrete production, running aeronautical lighting and food services. A total of $15 million was obtained through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with the rest funded by the FAA and the Port Authority.

JFK handles 48 million passengers annually as one of the nation’s busiest airports, with the Bay Runway typically handling a third of the traffic.

Work began on the 14,572-foot long Bay Runway – the longest at JFK by more than 3,000 feet – in July 2009. On March 1, the bulk of the work commenced with the four-month closing to complete 10,925 feet of the runway. The runway reopened on June 28 with all navigational features. The remaining 3,647 feet of the runway work will be completed in two phases in the coming months.

Environmental considerations were integral to the project. Approximately 300,000 tons of asphalt millings was reused on the runway’s sub-base, taxiways and service roads. Much of the truck traffic remained on-site because of the proximity of the specially built concrete plants, speeding work and limiting congestion on area roadways. Additionally, a total of seven acres of installed turf grass for the project will help reduce erosion and improve filtration.

The Bay Runway – one of only three in the U.S. long enough to land the NASA space shuttle – used enough concrete in this project to fill the New Meadowlands Stadium to a height of 64 feet.

City Council Passes Budget

Ulrich Nets Almost $5 Million for District

By Patricia Adams

The New York City Council passed its budget on Tuesday evening, in response to the Mayor’s proposed cuts to various city agencies. The Council restorations were all geared on retaining services relating to the protection of children, the maintenance of public safety and keeping libraries open.

The budget passed by the council will restore more than 200 Administration Children’s Services (ACS) positions, as well as 3,000 preventive slots.

Library service, a long standing priority of local Council Member Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), will be preserved across the City at five days a week. The budget agreement between Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council also includes funding to avoid the closure of more than two dozen fire companies across the city.

Ulrich also announced funding for dozens of local community groups and programs throughout the 32nd District, along with 18 capital projects totaling $4.2 million. The councilman credited the city’s responsible budgeting and smart planning with help averting drastic cuts.

Remarking on the state budget Ulrich said, “Unlike Albany, the City of New York has once again passed an on-time, balanced budget, that does not include any tax increases.”

Capital projects funded within District 32 include: Installation of guardrails along Cross Bay Boulevard’s southbound approach to Broad Channel; Improvements at London Planetree Park, including a skate plaza, fitness equipment and refurbishment of the old basketball courts; Resurfacing and new fencing at the Rockaway Beach handball courts; Fifteen security cameras at John Adams High School; Sidewalk repair and tree planting throughout the district totaling $1.2 million.

Through discretionary spending allocations, funding is also earmarked for numerous community groups and programs that serve the district and borough including, SAT prep courses at six area high schools and sponsored family/social events. Additional funding was secured for technology projects for at least a dozen public schools in the district.

In all, Ulrich secured approximately $576,000 in discretionary funding to support local initiatives. This is almost double the amount of local funding the Council Member secured in last year’s budget.

New York City's fiscal year begins on July 1st and ends on June 30th.

City Council Passes 2011 Budget

With a vote of 48-1 the City Council passed a $63 billion municipal budget for fiscal year 2011 late Tuesday night.

“This year’s budget, in many ways, is reflective of what New York City is known for — resilience and perseverance,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). “I remain confident that after this year’s hardships, our City will emerge out of this down- turn fiscally healthier and stronger than ever.”

The plan calls for the closing of up to 30 sen- ior centers and layoffs for at least 2,000 municipal workers and reduction in library hours. However, the new plan includes no tax increases and $36 million to prevent any fire engine companies from closing.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice committee, applauded the city’s de- cision not to close any of the fire engine houses that were on the chopping block.

“When we started this fight, 62 fire companies were on the chopping block – now all will remain open,” said Crowley. “The City has negotiated a budget that will restore the $37 million to keep our fire companies open. Thanks to the efforts of firefighters, elected officials, community leaders and thousands of New Yorkers from every borough, we won this fight for our fire protection.”

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) also said she was happy with the outcome.
“Considering how bad everything was, the Mayor and the council did a good job,” she said. “I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was. The process this time was won- derful and I’m most proud about being able to restore funds to the area of seniors and children’s services.”

The lone councilmember to vote against the budget was Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn). The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Traveling MetroCard Van Visits Ozone Park Senior Center

The Forum Newsgroup

Dozens of happy seniors met up with MTA MetroCard van outside the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services Ozone Park Senior Center on Tuesday afternoon.

The two hour visit was arranged by Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens) and provided the senior travelers with convenient access to discounted public transit

“It is difficult for many of my constituents, especially those in their golden years, to make the necessary trip to apply for and receive discounted MetroCards,” said Ulrich, whose intentions were to bring the service to the neighborhood center so that eligible residents can take advantage of the discounts.

Local senior Caroline Darienzo, was one of many happy customers. “It makes it so much more convenient. I’m so glad they do this. I like to have a MetroCard because you never know when you will need it.”

Debra Hoffer, project director with Catholic Charities also praised the program. “Having this here is an invaluable service. Some of our seniors have difficulty traveling, so this is a great convenience being able to get a MetroCard right in front of the senior center.

Under the program the reduced fare for seniors is $1.10.

Illegal Apartments Continue to Plague Neighborhood

By Tamara Best

Residents in Maspeth and Middle Village and are not happy about what they perceive as a growing trend in their neighborhoods— illegal apartments.

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a call from neighbors that are complaining from problems from illegal basements and single room occupancy,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, who addressed resident concerns during the group’s meeting last week.

Housing advocates estimate there are about 100,000 illegal apartments in New York City with the numbers continuing to grow.

Across the city, homeowners often rent out portions of their homes to earn extra revenue. However, some of the spaces may not be legal.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development makes separate designations on whether portions of a house can be considered a separate dwelling. Basements are classified as having at least one half of its height above curb level, while a cellar has at least one half below curb level. The DHPD states that neither in a multiple dwelling can be occupied unless they meet minimum requirements and the approval by the New York City Department of Buildings.

However, the rules for private dwellings are completely different. Cellars can never be rented or lawfully occupied while basements can only be rented if they meet certain requirements. Despite the possibility of criminal and civil sanctions, both are still being rented across the city, with areas of Queens having a high concentration.

“There’s money involved and people don’t stop and think what could happen,” Holden said. “The more we get the word out about this the more people will realize that it is not a good deal.”

Holden and residents assert that illegal apartments create quality of life issues for the neighborhood.

“I personally am not aware of illegal apartments but I have to assume that there are some,” said Lorraine Sciulli, Vice President of the JPCA and a resident of Middle Village. “Because many times we have far more cars on the street, given that I live on street with one family homes.”

Sciulli added, “It’s definitely a negative impact because you have a high turnover. I have to think that the apartments don’t attract the best people because it’s a transient situation.”

Aside from increased traffic and the possibility of higher crime, illegal apartments cause serious risks in the event of an emergency.

In November 2009, three men in Woodside died after a fire broke out in a basement that had been converted into four one-room spaces.

Many illegal apartments often do not have the appropriate amount of exits or other measures such as smoke detectors or sprinklers. As a result they can become a deathtrap in the case of a fire.

“People who choose to live there are gambling with their own lives,” Holden asserted.

However, cracking down on illegal apartments is not so simple.

Upon receiving complaints about illegal apartments, inspectors visit the site and leave a form if they can’t make contact with the owner. If they are denied entry twice, the case is considered closed, allowing landlords and owners to continue to illegally rent the property. Additionally, obtaining warrants to go into the properties is a rarity which furthers hinders access.

Holden has been in touch with Commissioner Robert LiMandri from the Department of Buildings who has communicated that he is putting together a team to better combat illegal housing and address the problem in the area. A spokesman from the city Department of Buildings said that more than 1,100 vacate orders were issued last year, a large number of which were in Queens. Still, he conceded that a large number of illegal dwellings still exist.

“Illegal conversions are a serious problem and we respond to thousands of complaints each year,” said Sclafani. “Structures built in Queens are more easily converted than apartments in Manhattan. Education is the best key to preventing another tragedy.”

Holden suggests that a key part of fighting illegal apartments in the area and elsewhere is targeting sites online, such as Craigslist, where many basement apartments are listed.

Still, Holden said it’s up to more than just city agents to fight the problem. Residents have to be proactive in fighting illegal apartments and encouraged then to call 311 if they have any complaints and later follow up to see what is being done, Holden said. “It’s our community, our block, don’t just sit there and take it.”

JPCA Tackles Crime, Trash Trains and West Nile

By Tamara Best

Crime, the transporting of trash through the area and preventing West Nile virus were key discussions at the Juniper Park Civic Association meeting held last week.

Crime in the 104th Precinct

Crime is up 34 percent for the year, according to Lt. James Lombardi of the 104th Precinct. Felony assault is up 65 percent for the year, of which nearly half of the assaults are domestic related. Grand larceny continues to plague the 104, with Toyota Highlanders and vans popular targets. Lombardi said the precinct has received intelligence that the vans being stolen are being used in South Jamaica as dollar vans. There is some good news however, as robberies and burglaries are on the decline.

The civic association recognized Lt. Lombardi with the 2010 Community Service Award for his work.

Garbage Train

Ashley Pillsbury, legislative director for Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), gave an update on legislation aimed at changing the way trains haul waste through the area. Of the four bills, Pillsbury said two are alive and well.

Bill 10819 requires that anytime the MTA enters into a lease agreement with another company, that they insert terms and conditions up to set environmental standards about how waste is carried while on their line. Bill 10176 spells out requirements for how waste must be covered, before it can leave a waste transfer station. Both of the bills are in the rules committee, which is the last step before a bill reaches the floor for a vote. Pillsbury said she is confident that they will be voted on before the end of the year.

Two other bills, one dealing with emergency response and the other with penalties, will not resume discussions until next year due to their committees not meeting.

The first bill would create an enhanced penalty structure for companies not adhering to environmental standards when hauling waste. The second would require a shipping company to pay a municipality anytime an emergency response is called to where a hauler is shipping waste.

West Nile concerns

With the start of West Nile virus season here, John Zuzworsky from the Department of Health spoke to residents on the importance of being vigilant against the virus.

“People have stopped being worried and that is not good,” he said.

To help protect homes from breeding mosquitoes Zuzworsky and the department advise residents to dump out anything that has standing for water. Zuzworsky said that water that stands for four days or more provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Residents should also make sure that windows and doors have screens and make repairs to any leaky faucets or broken screens.

Jamaica Avenue El to Get Facelift

By Eric Yun

The Jamaica Avenue elevated tracks are finally in line for repairs after years of complaints from residents. The MTA has planned a 30-month program to fix structural damage and paint a three-mile stretch from Cypress Hills to 130th Street.

The repairs will include fixing or repairing support hangars at stations, column bases, and other structural damage that is found, according to MTA NYC spokeswoman Deirdre Parker. Dirt, rust, and loose paint will be removed and painted. The contract is expected to be awarded in November.

Community leaders and elected officials have advocated for repairs on the elevated tracks for years. Store owners along Jamaica Avenue, which serves as one of the area’s main commercial strips, feel the rust-covered tracks hurt their business. Furthermore, falling debris from the tracks has become a safety hazard for citizens in the streets.

"The repainting of the J train is an important win for the communities of Richmond Hill and Woodhaven," said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). "With a plan to complete the renovation by 2012, the MTA has made a strong commitment to the future of Jamaica Avenue. This renovation will not only serve as a vehicle for economic growth in the area but will create a safer environment for residents and shoppers."

Last August, Crowley, State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, held a press conference on Jamaica Avenue calling on the MTA to make the repairs.

"This project is long overdue and much needed,” Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “The merchants and residents along Jamaica Avenue have been livingwith this eyesore for too many years, and this project will make one of the area's main commercial districts much more inviting to business owners and shoppers. I am happy that the MTA has made this commitment, and my office will continue to work with them to see this through to completion."

Thomson is thrilled that repairs are in line. “It’s going to be a wonderful psychological lift. It’s way overdue, and I’m extremely happy,” she said.

Thomson does have some concerns about the long term project. “It’s 30 months of construction and painting. We have to make sure it is done carefully and in a logical way so it doesn’t affect our businesses.” She is confident that careful planning between the MTA and Woodhaven businesses will allow business to operate as usual.