Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

PS 232 Gets Half Million from CM Ulrich

Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens) stopped by this month’s PTA meeting at PS 232 in Lindenwood, where he presented $500,000 in funding earmarked for a new science lab. Dozens of excited parents and children, along with school officials joined in the celebration when the school was presented with a check for the largest allocation this year to a school within the 32nd District.

“It is very important our children have all the resources and tools they need to succeed,” Ulrich said. “Education is a great equalizer in our society, and this money will go a long way towards opening doors of opportunity for our young people.”

Planting Memories

A tree planting ceremony was held on Sunday by the children and families of Reach for the STARS and their families, in honor of their teacher Miss Frances and in memory of her husband Robert A. Foerderer, who passed away in January.

Rob was an integral part of the STARS community and his sudden death shocked the community and the families of STARS.

A touching dedication offered by the organizers explains the symbolism of the tree that was planted in Charles Park:

Each leaf represents the lives you have touched--your family, your friends and the
children we love. May the branches of this tree offer you the strength and support to move forward with hope. And when it’s in bloom remember Rob with a smile and know, we thank you, we love you and you are not alone.

City Uses Craigslist to Spot Illegal Apartments

By Eric Yun

That great deal on the apartment that seems too good to be true probably is. That was the message given by the city Department of Buildings (DOB) after its undercover sting of several illegally converted apartments throughout the city.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri announced the results of their effort to crack down on the converted apartments. Earlier this summer, undercover investigators from DOB posed as potential tenants responding Craigslist postings. A total of 62 apartments were inspected, with 54 apartment owners receiving violations and 33 properties vacated. In Queens, eight properties were vacated out of the 23 apartments inspected. Mayor Bloomberg praised the “new, cre- ative way to stop some unsafe conditions.”

Community leaders have been asking the city to crack down on illegally converted apartments for years. Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association—sick of seeing illegal basements and single rooms rented in his neighborhood—had several conversations with Commissioner LiMandri about sending undercover agents to Craigslist listings in April.

“Agents have big problems getting access into buildings. On Craigslist you’re inviting them,” Holden said.

It’s extremely hard for inspectors to check a suspected illegal apartment. According to the DOB website, a property vacated in the undercover operations in Howard Beach, 156-25 76th Street, has received 11 complaints for an illegal basement dating back to 2001. Inspectors repeatedly failed to gain acess to the apartment, and the complaints were closed. An apartment at 64-15 60th Avenue in Maspeth has a similar story. It has received complaints dating back to 2006, but inspectors were denied access to the apartment.

Illegally converted apartments can result in deadly consequences. “Fires in illegal con- versions and occupancies have cost firefighters and tenants their lives," said Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano. "These conditions can make it nearly impossible for victims to escape a fire and can make it extremely challenging for firefighters to get to victims in a fire. The FDNY strongly supports efforts to crack down on a problem that puts the lives of so many in jeopardy.”

The most common reason a property was vacated was the lack of a second exit, which can pose serious risks in the case of a fire or other emergencies. Other violations included illegal gas, electric or plumbing and rooms without proper windows or ventila- tion. Fines for these violations range from $6,000 to $25,000.

There are many negative aspects illegally converted apartments bring to neighborhoods. “If a one family house becomes a two family house, that’s a 50 percent increase in the community,” Betty Braton, Chairperson of Community Board 10 said. This increase leads to extra garbage on the streets, more cars on the road and overcrowded schools.

Craigslist is just the “tip of the iceberg” if the city wants to truly crack down on illegal apartments, said Holden. There are other websites that allow classified ads, and some
real estate firms promote illegal apartments. Holden recalled that he and members of JPCA went undercover to an open house and the real estate agent offered renting the basement—which would have been illegal—as a benefit to buying the house.

Cracking down on the illegal apartments has been an ongoing problem for many years in Queens. The latest effort from Mayor Bloomberg and the DOB is welcomed by the community, “The question is, will it continue?” Braton wondered.

Turner Denies Young Dems Campaign Finance Allegations

By Eric Yun

There are plenty of esoteric rules and regulations governing political campaigns, and it can quickly get hectic for newcomers. Republican candidate for Congress Bob Turner is discovering this fact after allegations arose about improper finance reports to the Federal Election Committee (FEC).

Turner is challenging Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) in the 9th U.S. Congressional District, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

The Queens County of Young Democrats (QCYD) pounced on a request for additional information the FEC sent to Turner’s campaign and filed a formal complaint letter outlining alleged missing information from Turner’s campaign finance reports.

Among the complaints from the QCYD, Turner has not reported anything other than rent as campaign expenditures. They questioned why newspaper ads, staff salaries and other expenditures were not listed with the FEC.

“I am worried that Mr. Turner is not in compliance with clear, well-understood campaign finance rules. Knowingly and willfully violating these rules is a crime,” wrote Costa Constantinides, President of QCYD.

Turner’s campaign con- tends these allegations are simply not true, and, according to files from the FEC website, Turner’s campaign does have listed ex- penditures for more than just rent. “All our campaign expenditures have been filed with the FEC and any question by the FEC will be re- sponded to in a timely basis,” said Matt Turner, spokesman for the Turner campaign.

The initial request for additional information from the FEC, according to Turner’s campaign, involved missing addresses on personal checks donated to the campaign. The FEC has given a deadline of October 26 to respond, and Turner said the campaign would comply with that deadline.

“To suggest we’re ignoring the FEC is ridiculous,” said Matt Turner, adding that this is just a smear campaign run by Weiner and the QCYD to escape a debate on real issues.

Editorial: Traffic Control Needed

Some of you may remember that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) conducted a preliminary review of seven U.S. Congressmen back in May.

One of them was Congressman Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic County Chair who represented neighborhoods including Jackson Heights, Woodside and East Elmhurst.

By August, the field was narrowed down to just three congressmen and a full review was recommended by the watch-dog agency— oh and yes, one was Joe Crowley.

While some Crowley supporters may be concerned with the results of the investigation—despite recent criticisms of the OCE as being “overly aggressive”—perhaps the same supporters need be equally concerned about remarks made at a press conference in Maspeth on Monday, when it became clear that Crowley might have lost his mind.

A seasoned politician who has held public office since 1987, Crowley offered up a quote to NY1 television that put him at the center of the circus taking place inside the office of Assembly member Marge Markey.

After an announcement by Markey that the Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking to change a traffic pattern in Maspeth and will take steps to stop trucks from taking shortcuts to Brooklyn along Grand and Flushing avenues, Joe Crowley responded to reporters questions with the following: “Things don’t happen overnight even if we want them to happen overnight and I can understand the frustration...”

You’re right Joe, things don’t happen overnight. But if you are going to come into a community where residents have been plagued with dangerous truck traffic and pedestrian deaths for more than ten years, then your definition of overnight best be somewhere less than the last 3,650 days.

And if as you say, you can understand the frustration, then you can imagine how frustrated the residents are about the fact Marge Markey has done nothing about the situation for the last ten years she has been in office. But we don’t need to say anything about Markey - she summed her position up nicely in a quote at the same press conference. Speaking about the DOT’s future plans for the Maspeth Bypass, Markey said, “I don’t know what they’re coming up with, it may be a series of one way streets. I don’t know...” Well Marge, this is one of those rare occasions
when you got it right-- you don’t know.

Another question is why would you call a press conference if the agency that supposedly is putting these meas- ures into effect isn’t even present? The answer to that is quite simple—the press conference was a political ploy to benefit Markey, staged by the party with the hopes of returning another out-of-touch incumbent to office in November’s election.

Marge Markey is just one more example giving more deserving incumbents a bad rap. We urge all of our readers to take a good look at the messages your elected officials are sending you. They are the only voting guide you’ll ever need.

People in Maspeth are rightfully worried about getting run over by trucks. Hopefully a plan proposed nearly a decade ago by two Maspeth residents and volunteers will finally save them. But who will save the rest of us, forever in danger of getting run over by political traffic?

Howard Beach Columbus Day Parade 2010

More than 15,000 spectators lined Crossbay Boulevard for the 6th Annual Howard Beach Columbus Day Parade. A sun-filled day served as the backdrop for professional parade floats, marching bands and a host of dignitaries, schools and organizations that made their way from 157th Avenue to a stage and red carpet area at the end of the parade route at 164th Avenue, where a two hour show entertained the crowd.

Parade honorees this year were female Grand Marshal Tracy Catapano-Fox, President of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association, male Grand Marshal Joseph Sciame, President/Chair of the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee NY, Inc. and Italian American Businessman of 2010, Joseph Evola, owner of Gino’s Ristorante and Pizzeria in Howard Beach.

The event also played host to a number of dignitaries including Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate, State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Eric Ulrich and Assembly member Audrey Pheffer.

Republican gubernatorial kicked off his downstate campaign by participating in the days festivities.

The parade is organized by the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation which is already in the process of planning next year’s event.

9/11 First Responders Bill Passes House Vote

Nine years after 9/11 terrorist attacks and with mounting evidence of the serious health risks first re- sponders suffered breathing in toxic fumes, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the James Zardoga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Wednesday by a vote of 268-160.

“After a nine year wait, the House of Representatives finally did the right thing. This is the day we repay our debts to the 9/11 heroes. This is truly a gratifying moment,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- Kew Gardens) in a statement.

The bill will provide health care coverage to first responders and individuals directly impacted by the terrorist attacks. The next obstacle for the bill is to pass a full Senate vote.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a chief sponsor of the bill, issued a statement commending the House and promising she’d do whatever possible to pass the bill in the Senate.

“This should not be a partisan issue. We have an undeniable, moral obligation to pass this legislation and provide care to the thousands of heroes and survivors who are suffering, dying, and waiting for us to deliver the care they need,” said Gillibrand. “It’s time to seize every opportunity, pass this legislation, and keep our promise to the heroes of this country who came to our rescue on 9/11.”

In July, the bill did not receive enough votes to pass, which lead to the much-publicized outburst on the House floor from Weiner.

New Maspeth Truck Routes Unveiled

By Eric Yun

After ten years and numerous accidents and fatalities, it appears that there will be changes to truck routes in Maspeth. But is it too little too late?

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D- Maspeth) held a press conference Monday to announce the City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plans to change Grand and Flushing avenues from a through truck route to a local truck route. What Markey might not have expected, however, was a group of protestors who questioned why it took so long for anything to be done.

Trucks have been a nuisance to the community for a decade, and in March, elected officials asked the DOT if they could change the route designation for Grand and Flushing avenues. Under the current designations, trucks that are not making local deliveries and originating from other boroughs or Long Island can cut through Maspeth on Grand and Flushing avenues.

The amount of trucks passing through Maspeth has become a quality of life issue with serious consequences. Trucks have killed numerous pedestrians in the area, most recently, eleven-year-old Freddy Endres.

It appears the DOT has listened. In an e-mail sent by Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy, the DOT plans to change Grand and Flushing avenues to Local Truck Routes. After a review from the city’s Law Department and public hearings, the rule will go into effect. The tentative time frame for this process is two and a half to three months.

“Please note that changing the truck route from ‘Through’ to ‘Local’ will continue to allow trucks to cross from Brooklyn into Queens (or Queens into Brooklyn) to make deliveries,” McCarthy wrote. “However, the local truck route designation will require that trucks traveling through Brooklyn and Queens to their final destinations would need to use the highway system.”

Markey hailed these new developments as a “great first step” in eliminating the truck traffic in Maspeth. “Everybody knows that big trucks don’t belong on local shopping streets. They kill retail business and they pollute the air,” Markey said in a press release. “They also create hazardous conditions for pedestrians, especially seniors and children.”

Changing Grand and Flushing avenues to local truck routes won’t solve all the problems Maspeth residents have with trucks. The DOT is also continuing to study the Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study.

The Maspeth Bypass Plan was conceived a decade ago by community activists Frank Principe and Tony Nunziato. Instead of allowing trucks to roam through residential and main commercial district of Maspeth, the plan calls for trucks to be diverted around the town’s industrial areas. The first phase of the DOT study has been completed, but the second phase is still ongoing.

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) hopes this announcement is the first step of fully im- plementing the Maspeth Bypass Plan, which would “improve the quality of life for our residents.”

Likewise, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) believes this will greatly improve the quality of life for residents. The plan makes sure that “Maspeth isn’t used as a doormat for other communities to make deliveries,” she added.

While this may be a victory for residents, there are many who feel their elected officials have acted too late. A group of about a dozen local residents attended Monday’s press conference to express their displeasure with the amount of time that has passed since the issue was first raised.

The slow implementation has left Markey with blood on her hands, said Lorraine Sciulli.

Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), said Markey was “dangling a carrot” for constituents prior to Election Day, when she faces a challenge from Nunziato. “We came up with this recommendation in 2003,” Holden said.

A 2003 document submitted to the JPCA and New York City Trust did indeed give alternative suggestions to ease truck traffic in Maspeth, and converting Grand and Flushing Avenues to local truck routes were discussed.

Noting that the DOT did not send any officials, Holden called this typical Queens polit- ical grandstanding. Many in the group held protest signs reading “Shame on You, Marge,” referring to Assemblywoman Markey.

“The last person in the world that should announce this is Markey. While in office over 11 years she’s collected millions in taxpayer money and did absolutely nothing while the Maspeth was overrun with deadly truck traffic,” said Holden. “This announcement is nothing more than a repackaged pre-election scam.”

“Nothing was done,” said Nunziato. “The politicians did nothing.”

Calm Our Traffic

Sick of cars and trucks speeding down 60th Street, members of the Maspeth West End Block Association (MWEBA) held a protest at the corner of 60th Street and 60th Road.

Members of the block association have been fighting to have something done for over two years. They hope to get a speed bump, all-way stop signs or a traffic light installed to slow drivers.

“It’s a very congested area,” said Kathy Hamilton, president of MWEBA. “A lot of cars speed down 60th street.”

Nearby children from PS 153 have to cross the street to get home, and without any traffic regulations, it can become a dangerous situation.

Hamilton said a traffic study was conducted in 2008 at the request of Community Board 5, but the study occurred in August. If they had waited until school was in session, Hamilton believes, the study would have recognized the concerns of the parents.

JPCA Grades City on Storm Response

By Eric Yun

A week after a macroburst left a pile of trees and cracked sidewalks throughout Middle Village, residents attended this month’s Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) Town Meeting to get answers to pressing questions: when is the neighborhood going to be cleaned up and who is going to pay for it?

With assistance from Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), JPCA President Robert Holden, gathered local elected officials and city and state agencies to inform the community how the clean up was progressing and the steps homeowners should take. Representatives from City Parks Department, City Comptrollers Office, Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) and State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) were present.

One city agency that was not represented by top officials was the NYPD. Deputy Inspector Keith Green and Officer Tommy Bell were at the meeting to represent the 104th Precinct, but Holden wanted someone from One Penn Plaza to answer questions about the lack of police presence and the order to send home 18 police officers from Middle Village after the storm.

“We want answers why this happened,” Holden said. “NYPD is ducking us.” Holden believes a Level 3 or Level 4 emergency should have been called for Middle Village. A Level 3 emergency would have brought cops from neighboring precincts to the area. A Level 4 emergency would have brought cops from all over New York City.

Without those designations, Middle Village was left to handle the aftermath of the storm with little police presence. Many residents at the meeting noted they did not see any police officers that night.

The NYPD wasn’t the only department given a failing grade by the JPCA. In a vote held at the meeting, the city OEM and Mayor Bloomberg received an F grade for their storm response. Verizon and the Parks Department received a grade of D.

FDNY and Con Edison, however, were commended for their storm response and received top marks.

To address one of the most important issues for residents, Michael Aaronson, Bureau Chief of Law and Adjustment from the NYC Comptroller’s office told the community how to file claims with their office if residents chose to do so. The most important thing residents need to remember is to file the claim within 90 days. It is also recommended that any and all documentation, especially photographs, be retained.

There was some concern over how quickly claims would be resolved. One resident complained that a prior claim took countless phone calls and more than two years before he was reimbursed.

Although the storm occurred over a week ago, there are still plenty of dangerous areas that need to be cleaned. “There are big limbs hanging by a bark,” Holden said. Phil Sparacio from the Parks Department discussed these issues and told residents the Parks Departments plans to clear Middle Village.

Sparacio said the department’s first priority on Thursday night and Friday was to clear the major metropolitan streets. On Saturday and Sunday they worked with Con Edison to clear debris that was affecting power. On Monday and Tuesday they worked to clear all streets of trees and brush piles. In the next couple of weeks, they hope to remove brush piles and trees that are still blocking sidewalks or on homes.

The Parks Department understand there is much more work to be done, and Sparacio “understands the frustration” of the neighborhood. He reiterated that the department is taking the situation very seriously. All emergency contractors were activated after the storm, and they have requested and received help from adjoining counties in Westchester and Nassau.

Cleaning up Middle Village is going to be a long, hard and expensive process. There might be some relief if the area is declared a disaster area. FEMA and State OEM officials have begun a preliminary assessment of the damage the storms caused, and if the designation is made, federal and state funds could be given to help.