Thursday, January 20, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Women Held Captive During Robberies

Police are seeking suspects in a series of armed robberies in Queens involving women in their late 50s and early 60s being held captive.

The most recent of three robberies linked to this group occurred near Marengo Street and McLaughlin Avenue in Jamaica Estates on January 14. At approximately 11:30 p.m. two men grabbed a 68-year-old woman and pushed her into her car. When she screamed, the two fled in a dark sedan.

The previous two robberies, occurring on April 14 and December 22, 2010, followed the same pattern, but the women, age 63 and 58 respectively, were held while two or three male suspects gathered their valuables and a female accomplice used their debit cards to withdraw cash at a nearby ATM.

The police said that while a firearm was either shown or threatened during each of the three incidences, no one has yet been injured.

The police released a sketch of one of the three male subjects and a video of their female accomplice as she entered a bank to withdraw money from the ATM as one victim was held in
her car. The other suspects were reportedly wearing masks.

The male suspect is described as a 5-foot 8-inch black man in his 20s, medium build, with a clear complexion. The female suspect, also in her 20s, is between 5 feet 3 inches and 5 feet 6 inches, 120 and 140 pounds, and has long curly black hair.

The police are requesting that anyone with information call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-8477, submit their tips on the Crime Stoppers' website at or text CRIMES
(274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

Teachers Dress in Black to Protest School Closings

By Jason Barczy

Teachers for P.S. 30 Ruby S. Couche Elementary School showed up to an educational town hall meeting on January 13 dressed in black to protest a New York City Department of Education (DOE) proposal phasing out the Jamaica school.

Teachers and parents, along with some students debated the proposal, sometimes angrily, and asked DOE Director of Public Affairs Lenny Speiller about the future of the school.

Third-grader Demir Rogers-Barker stood with her mother, Deshanna Barker, and said, “Everyday I walk out of this school, I feel like a new person.”

The DOE is proposing that Jamaica’s students and staff of P.S.30 andP.S.40 along with Richmond Hill High School and August Martin High School, be phased out. The Panel of Educational Policy will vote on the proposal during a public meeting at 6 p.m. on February 1.

In the case of P.S. 30, a new school would open in the building as early as September and begin enrolling kindergarten, first grade and second grade students.

“This school is amazing,” said 5th grade teacher at P.S. 30 Jamaal Williams. “We cannot close this school and at the end of the day the children and the staff have the ability to suc- ceed. This is a place of learning.”

According to the DOE, P.S. 30 has struggled for years. Last year, only 27 percent of students were on grade level in English and only 31 percent were on grade level in math. P.S. 30 earned an overall D grade last year on its Progress Report with an F grade for School Performance and C grades in both Student Progress and School Environment sub-sections.

“Those stats are pretty telling,” Speiller said to Jamaica resident Elaine Jackson when asked for specifics on why the closure was being considered. “The school has struggled for a while.”

It’s the same story for P.S. 40, which earned an overall D grade on its 2009-10 Progress Report and at Richmond Hill and August Martin high schools the graduation rates have remained below 50 percent for more than five years.

Richmond Hill saw modest improvement in the school’s graduation rate. It rose to 48 percent in 2009, but it remains well below the 63 percent citywide average. The New York State Education Department named Richmond Hill as one of the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” schools in the entire state.

At this point, the DOE has no specific plans for Richmond Hill but is developing an action plan that may include phasing the school out or simply replacing staff, changing leadership and introducing a new program.

“Closing schools should not be an alternative,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D- Howard Beach). “These are tough fiscal times for both the city and state and we have to make cuts because we can’t afford certain services anymore but we need to collectively do a better job to minimize cuts to education."

The DOE has scheduled a joint public hearing at P.S. 30 at 6 p.m. on January 27 where it hopes to hear an action plan put together by teachers, parents and school administrators on how to move P.S. 30 from a D to an A grade on its Progress Report.

“At one time this was an excellent school,” said State Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). “We’re going to do everything we can to make this right.”

Putting the Brakes on Rogue Cyclists

Ulrich Proposes Bike Registration

By Eric Yun

New York City is undeniably going to great lengths to promote biking. The city Department of Transportation (DOT) said cycling has doubled since 2005. But, many, including Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), worry that cyclists may be too prone to abusing the rules of the road.
Ulrich believes a simple way to curtail reckless cyclists is bicycle registration. Under his tentative proposal, adult bicycle owners would be required to register their bicycles and display some form of identification.

“[The proposal] came as a result with several meetings with constituents—many who are senior citizens—concerned about public safety,” Ulrich said. “I want to protect the well-being of people who share the road.”

Ulrich said his constituents are concerned about their safety because they feel most cyclists don’t follow traffic laws. “Traffic laws are broken every day in the city, and the person keeps on pedaling,” Ulrich said. “Every day across the city, bikes are directly or indirectly involved in an accident, and there is no way to identify them.”

“The city bends over backwards to accommodate bicycle riders, but yet we don’t accommodate the needs of everyone else on the road,” Ulrich continued.

Since Ulrich unveiled his plans to the New York Post last Thursday, the criticism has been swift.

Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s biggest advocacy group for public transit and bicycles, is already gearing up for a fight.

In an e-mail sent to Transportation Alternatives members, Paul Steely White, executive director of the group, blasted the “draconian” plan and wrote: “This misguided proposal is a waste of city’s resources and does nothing to improve safety, cycling or the city.”

Transportation Alternatives started a campaign against the proposal and is urging concerned cyclists to let Ulrich know how they feel about bicycle registration.

“Practically speaking, bicycle registration would criminalize bicycling, waste valuable city resources and erect yet another obstacle for those seeking to ride a bike,” White wrote in the e-mail campaign. “It would do nothing to improve safety or enforcement. … There are sufficient traffic laws on the books, covering drivers, cyclists and commercial cyclists. What’s missing from the equation isn’t an ID tag, it’s the NYPD’s participation in enforcement.”

Transportation Alternatives also noted that the most dangerous vehicles are still cars.

“According to the DMV, in 2009 there were 75,539 automobile crashes in New York City, less than 4 percent of those crashes involved a bicycle,” White wrote.

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, said requiring bicycle registration would actually decrease safety.

“Studies have shown as more cyclists ride bikes, it becomes safer to ride. We want to encourage people to ride bikes. Don’t create unnecessary red tape,” Samponaro said. “We feel strongly that the solution to [reckless riders] is NYPD enforcement. Cyclists already need to produce a proof of ID when they’re stopped and ticketed.”

If Ulrich really wanted to stop lawless bikers, he should be in contact with the local police precincts to step up enforcement, Samponaro said.

Local community groups acknowledge there are problems with the city’s current bicycle rules and riders, but are mixed in their support of bike registration.

One possible local ally for bike registration is Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9. In the past, she has proposed regulations charging cyclists for parking on city bike racks. Carey could not comment specifically on Ulrich’s proposal because it hasn’t been presented to the board, but on a personal level, she said she agreed something should be done.

“[Cyclists] endanger people on the sidewalk, people on the street and drivers of automobiles. There needs to be some guidelines,” Carey said.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said he hasn’t had many problems with bikers in Middle Village, but he has heard occasional complaints about people riding on sidewalks and riding through Juniper Valley Park harassing pedestrians. “Obviously the problem in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn is much worse,” he said. “In principal, something needs to be done as long as it doesn’t become a bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.”

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, feels bike riding is useful for the community. “Generally speaking, most of us think [biking] is a good activity health wise. If they’re riding bicycles, they’re not driving cars, reducing pollution and congestion,” Giordano said.

Giordano’s biggest problem with bicycles is that narrow streets such as Myrtle or Central avenues make it nearly impossible to install bike lanes, and passing cars must cross the double yellow line into oncoming traffic. “It’s not easy [to bike] here. We don’t want them on the sidewalk, but very often, that’s the only place they feel safe.”

Ulrich, however, said many of the criticisms are unfounded. No bill has been formally been introduced or drafted because his office is still trying to feedback and perspective from various groups including Transportation Alternatives, he said. A meeting has been planned between Ulrich and Transportation Alternatives, and Ulrich said he wants to hear every side before proposing legislation to the Council.

Bicycle registration won’t waste city resources either, Ulrich said. “When the bill is drafted, it’s not going to cost a dime. It will be a one-time, free registration.”

He envisions a proposal where the existing DOT bicycles unit handles the costs and riders can go to and download applications for free. “It’s not going to tax people for riding a bicycle,” Ulrich said.

Enforcement and responsible cycling would increase with registration, Ulrich said. By holding cyclists accountable, bikers would be more responsible and “think twice before blowing the stop sign or a red light,” he said.

Ulrich also argued that people hit by bicycles could actually identify the offending cyclist and file a complaint report with police.

“This is not a punitive measure, and I’m not against bicycles,” Ulrich said. “I applaud people who ride bicycles; it’s good exercise and good for the environment.”

But Ulrich believes bicycle registration is necessary to keep everyone safe and accountable. “This is the right thing to do. There is a totally unfair, double standard enforcing traffic laws. And nobody is above the law.”

Jewish Monument Planned on Chaplains Hill

By Jason Barczy

Last Thursday, at the Kew Forest Jewish War Veteran Post, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) announced legislation calls for the construction of a memorial honoring the 13 Jewish chaplains who gave their lives in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The memorial would be installed on Chaplains Hill in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which honors men and women who gave their lives in combat. Currently, Chaplains Hill has three monuments saluting the Christian religious men in the military, but none that recognize Jewish chaplains.

“These chaplains who served their country so honorably deserve this memorial, just like those of other faiths,” Weiner said. “I believe there will be strong support for this resolution in Con- gress, and I look forward to the day when I can stand with my colleagues and see this memorial unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery.”

Weiner was joined by representatives of various Jewish War Veterans groups from throughout Queens, including Seymour Weber, a member of Kew Forest Post 250 and a World War II veteran.

“I think it’s very, very important that we not be forgotten. It is so important we’re there as much as anybody else,” Weber said. “We served the best we could do for the United States of America.”

Jewish chaplains have served in the Armed Forces since 1862, and there are currently 32 rabbis on active duty. According to the U.S. Army, about 1,800 soldiers identified themselves as Jewish in 2009.

“The service of these chaplains goes beyond just providing religious service in the field,” said Jason Katz, a member of the Jewish Chaplains Queens County Council and a Vietnam War veteran. “They serve as a means for the troops to sit down and talk with people in uniform who understand their way of life and are very, very helpful.”

Weiner sent a letter to his colleagues last year to introduce the resolution and within two months, 23 members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors.

Weiner said that sometimes the recognition of creates controversy, “but in the case of the Jewish chaplains in the military, for literally generations, they have been providing service and in many cases dying in action and there has been no recognition as best as we can tell be- cause no one thought of it until relatively recently.”

The memorial to honor Jewish chaplains would join a 1926 monument honoring 23 World War I chaplains, a 1981 memorial dedicated to 134 Protestant chaplains and a 1989 memorial for 83 Catholic chaplains. All memorials erected in Arlington National Cemetery require a joint concurrent resolution by Congress, and the Jewish Chaplains Council said they have raised all the funds needed to construct the memorial.

Mayor Bloomberg Delivers State of the City Address

Announces Plan to Increase Taxi Service in Outer Boroughs

By Eric Yun

Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered the annual State of the City address at St. George Theater on Staten Island on Wednesday.

Bloomberg outlined his agenda for 2011, and said the city needed to continue reviving the economy, balancing the budget and modernizing the government. The mayor pledged to not raise taxes, despite pressures on next year’s budget that will be greater than ever.

“We can look back, and continue funding a government operating system that was built for another era,” said Bloomberg. “Or we can look forward and continue rebounding, continue growing, continue forging ahead and leading the nation. But we cannot do both.”

Bloomberg wants to revitalize many areas in the city including Queens, as the city cannot survive if New Yorkers move. “In Queens, shovels will go into the ground at Hunters Point South, where we’ll begin to transform long vacant land into a new middle-class development fueled by $2 billion in private investments that will create 4,600 jobs,” he said.

Cultural centers like the Queens Museum of Art will also receive funding to build new facilities. Bloomberg said that although money is tight, it is important to invest in the city’s cultural infrastructure.

Attracting people to New York is also a big priority. Bloomberg said he is pushing for federal immigration reform that would allow the next generation of entrepreneurs into the city. He also intends to enhance the city’s academic institutions to attract leaders in education and medicine.

Bloomberg also announced a proposal to allow livery cab drivers to make on-street pick- ups outside of Manhattan.

“Why shouldn’t someone in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island be able to hail a legal cab on the street? Ninety-seven percent of yellow cab pick-ups happen in Manhattan or at the airports – even though 80 percent of New Yorkers live outside of Manhattan,” Bloomberg said.

A new category of livery cars would be created under Bloomberg’s proposal that would provide all city residents a safe, reliable and convenient way to hail cabs. “Because whether you’re standing on 42nd Street in Manhattan or 42nd Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn or 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens, you ought to be able to hail a cab,” he said.

The city is facing tough times, Bloomberg conceded, but he is confident the city will bounce back as it has always done. He described the state of the city as “strong, united, determined and ready to meet any challenge. Today, tomorrow and forever.”

Railroad Eyesore Cleaned

By Eric Yun

The New York and Atlantic Railway tracks above Otto Street and Ridgewood along Joseph Mafera Park have blighted Glendale with years of litter and graffiti-covered rail trestles.

After numerous complaints, Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) teamed up with the Long Island Rail Road to clean the railway.

“People should not have to live with gang graffiti in their neighborhood and I am proud to announce that the graffiti along the rail trestles has been painted over,” Miller said.

Community groups like Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions have organized similar clean-ups in the neighborhood. At the most recent clean-up, Crowley commended the community for past efforts.

“Sometimes small changes make big differences and I am pleased that the LIRR, New York and Atlantic Railway and the [Department of Sanitation] are stepping up their efforts to join local residents in cleaning up our community,” she said.

According to Miller, Painting over the graffiti is just the first step.

“We are still working on fixing many more issues with sanitation to increase the frequency of trash pick up and vermin eradication under the trestles,” he said. “We have begun working with organizations for the homeless that have agreed to house any indigents who are living in the area.”

Anyone witnessing trash dumping, graffiti spraying or any crime related to the train trestles is asked to notify Miller’s office at 718-805-0950. If a crime is in progress, call 911.

Relief From Diesel Soot in Glendale

By Eric Yun

Local residents surrounded by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the Long Island Expressway and Fresh Pond Rail Yard breathe in toxic air emissions daily. The cocktail of fumes increase residents’ risk for cancer and respiratory problems including asthma and emphysema. The number of children hospi- talized for asthma in Queens is more than triple the national average, according to the city’s Health Department.

Now, at least one form of emissions—diesel soot—could be decreased significantly.

The city’s Department of Small Business Services and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) submitted two grant applications to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would replace antiquated diesel engines on trains operated by CSX, New York and Atlantic Railway and the Long Island Railroad with more efficient models.

Glendale resident Mary Parisen has been fighting to improve rail traffic and emissions for several years. She and Laura Zimmer started Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES) to lobby for changes in how rail companies operate locally and have been in constant contact with EDC and rail companies. They were both thrilled about the progress the grants showed.

“This is a significant step in the right direct,” said Parisen. “We have dreamed of and advocated for a US EPA grant application for new locomotives that will replace old, polluting 1978 LIRR equipment and reduce harmful diesel emissions in our neighborhood. Today we see this dream becoming reality.”

According to the submitted grant applications, repowering the locomotive fleet will reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 76 percent annually and particulate matter emissions by 62 percent annually.

All the major rail companies operating through Fresh Pond Rail Yard have come together to reduce emissions. CSX offered their support and matching funds of $750,000 to complete the project. Waste Management, which transports trash through the station, has pledged $1.4 million in support. New York and Atlantic also promised funding to help the project.

The grants also have strong political support. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman James Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee, and Councilman James Gennaro, who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee, sent a letter to the EPA support the grant.

“The repowered locomotives will leverage advanced and proven technologies to provide significant air quality improvements for the individuals who live and work in and around rail facilities in Kings, Queens and Bronx Counties,” the statement said.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler also wrote to support the program.

The unified approach displayed in this grant process was always a major goal of CURES. “In an era of scarcer resources, everyone has to work together on practical, focused planning and action that create a better life today and a sustainable future for the city, business and residents,” said Zimmer.

“CURES’ leaders have been advocating for public-private partnerships that pool their resources to make freight rail improvements and develop freight transportation alternatives,” Parisen said.

If the EPA approves the grant, the repowering would begin in May and take approximately two years to complete.

Community Angered by Rezoning Proposal

By Eric Yun

Angry parents joined together at IS 119 in Glendale to protest the city Department of Education (DOE) proposal to rezone the school, a move they say would force children to cross busy streets and destroy the character of local neighborhoods.

The DOE’s Division of Portfolio and Plan- ning intends to redraw the schools’ enrollment boundaries after changing the facility to a K-8 school. IS 119 will begin expanding next year, and a new zone for kindergarten stu- dents must be created.

While creating the zone, Portfolio said it wanted to rezone the southern portion of the district to alleviate overcrowding and balance enrollment across the district. This means the current zones, especially for PS 113, 91, 68, 88, 239, 71, 81 and 305, would shift slightly. Students already in the school are not affected, and students with an older sibling attending a rezoned school will be given preference to keep the family together.

But generally, the parents who attended the meeting voiced their displeasure with the proposal.

“Kids should not have to cross a busy block to go to school,” said Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association. “Don’t split up a community just because Portfolio says you have to.”

Under the proposal, many kids who could have walked a few blocks to nearby PS 88 would now have to walk over 10 blocks to PS 91. Along the way, they would have to cross busy streets like Central Avenue.

Patricia Crowley, a member of Community Board 5’s Education Committee, agreed rezoning would destroy close-knit communities. “It’s wrong to come into a neighborhood and split it.” Patricia Crowley also argued parents were not given proper notice about the changes.

Portfolio officials at the meeting said they were following proper protocol, and the public meeting was designed to get community input. However, Marge Kolb, president of the District 24 Presidents’ Council asked why only one meeting was being held. All schools affected by the rezoning should have a public community meeting, Kolb said in a statement read by Jo Ann Berger at the meeting.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village) also joined parents protesting the proposal. “Far too many school zones are being affected. It’s hard for the community to really understand the impact of these changes,” she said.

Councilwoman Crowley and others pleaded for patience. Two additional schools, including one planned for the former Rite Aid site on Metropolitan Avenue, are scheduled to open within the next two years, and additional rezoning would have to occur.

“Why not zone PS/IS 119 as proposed and leave other schools’ zones intact for the next year to see what way things shake out?” said Kolb. “PS/IS 119 could also be used next year for overflow kindergarteners for a number of area schools while the impact of the Rite Aid school is worked out and demographic numbers are looked at more closely.”

Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24 (CEC 24), said reaching a compromise on rezoning might be better than rejecting the proposal outright. Comaianni said the DOE could simply cap kindergarten admission rates, and force stu- dents zoned for a school attend the school of the department’s choice.

CEC 24 will vote on the proposal at their next meeting on January 25 at 7 p.m. at IS 73, 70-02 54th Avenue, in Maspeth.

Scary Shooting After CTK Basketball Game

By Eric Yun

Instead of celebrating Christ the King High School men’s basketball victory over Bishop Loughlin Memorial on Friday night, head coach Joe Arbitello feared for his life as gunfire erupted outside the Brooklyn school as he was walking to the team bus after the game. Ultimately, five teens were shot.

“I was scared. I didn’t know where [the gunfire] was coming from,” Arbitello told the New York Daily News.

Christ the King defeated Bishop Loughlin 69-57 Friday night, but after the game an argument broke out near the school. Police said five teens, ranging from 17 to 19 years old were shot. None sustained life-threatening injuries and were transported to Kings County Hospital in stable condition.

According to the Daily News, the argument was sparked by a $250 Louis Vitton hat.

Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) said this was a random act and no Bishop Loughlin or Christ the King students were involved. She is concerned about safety at future sporting events.

“I would like to hold a meeting with the leaders and basketball teams of both schools to discuss methods for security and protecting the students, as well as protecting the community and all visitors during and after basketball game nights,” she said.

The police released surveillance footage from Bishop Loghlin of four suspects. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477) or on