Thursday, February 17, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Burglars Hit Lindenwood: Two Apartment Buildings Targeted

Burglaries continue to plague Lindenwood residents, the two most recent incidents occurring late last week. Residents at the Southgate Apartments, located at 149-30 88th Street, say they observed a suspicious Hispanic male, approximately 5’8”, in his late 20’s around the building before leaving for work on Friday morning. Upon their return home, they discovered their apartment had been broken into. Police say that the burglar entered the premises from a fire escape. Among the missing items were a 32” flat screen TV, a computer system with a monitor and an X box game console.

An additional burglary was also reported last week at the Eastwood Apartments located at 89th Street and 155th Avenue. It is believed the suspects entered the apartment building using keys for the front door and then again at the apartment door because there were no signs of forced entry. An undisclosed amount of cash and jewelry was stolen from the apartment. Residents who spoke with The Forum and wished to remain anonymous said they believed the incident to be an “inside job.”

In total, police sources at the 106th Precinct confirmed that there were six separate burglaries in Lindenwood between January 15th and February 11th. Two of the incidents occurred at private homes and four were committed in apartment buildings in the area.

“We realize that the police are doing everything they can,” said Joann Ariola, co-founder of the newly formed Lindenwood Alliance, “but we have to do everything in our power to assist them with their investigation thorough observation and accurate reporting.”

Ariola said it is the intention of the Alliance to foster improved communications with the 106th Precinct and make residents more aware of things they can do to safeguard themselves and their property. To that end, the Alliance will have a host of guest speakers at their next meeting.

Expected to address Lindenwood residents are Claudia Filomena, Queens Director of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit and Capt. Thomas Pascale, Commanding Officer of the 106th Precinct. Also on hand will be Agent James Capozzi, a representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who will speak with residents about InfraGuard, a national program dedicated to sharing information and intelligence in order to combat terrorism in the United States. The group is a non-profit organization that is a public-private partnership between U.S. businesses and the F.B.I. InfraGuard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants.

The meeting will be held on March 14th at 7: 30 p.m. at the Rockwood Park Jewish center located at 156-45 84th Street with an entrance on 85th Street between 156th and 157th avenues. All residents are encouraged to attend.

New Strategy in Search for Carousel Operator

By David J. Harvey

The wheels are turning to get the shuttered Forest Park carousel open after more than two years without an operator. The Parks Department is drafting request for proposals that would link the historic carousel with another in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The request—expected to be released next month—will allow the new concessionaire running the carousel in Forest Park to run the traditionally more profitable carousel in Flushing Meadows near the Queens Zoo when the current vendor’s contract expires in 2012.

Two prior requests for a Forest Park carousel operator in January and March 2009 went unanswered until 2010, and even then Parks was unable to close the bid with their highest-rated applicant.

“We hope this offer will be more attractive to prospective bidders and result in a first-class operation for the public to enjoy,” Parks Department Spokesperson Patricia Bertuccio said.

Ed Wendell of the Woodhaven Resident’s Block Association (WRBA), who runs a Facebook page dedicated to the revival of the Forest Park carousel, welcomed the new proposal.

“People have been frustrated with [Parks] lack of creativity,” Wendell said. “I like this idea. From what I hear, they’re not real happy with the current vendor [at Flushing Meadows].”

New York One LLC, which operates the Flushing Meadows carousel, let its Forest Park contract lapse in 2008 and that carousel was closed.

A member of New York One LLC, and president of the Makkos Group, George Makkos, said he was unaware of the Parks Department plan to link the two carousels until he read a February 9 article in The Daily News. He said New York One LLC would make no decision on whether to bid on the offer until the request is released.

Meanwhile, the Forest Park carousel remains barbed and locked, sending “a depressing message,” said Wendell. “It’s been three consecutive years that it has been rotting and rusting.”

The park’s original carousel burnt down in 1966, and despite city assurances that it would be restored quickly, it wasn’t until 1972 that the carousel was installed, brought south from its home in Massachusetts. The carousel has elaborate wooden figures carved over 100 years ago by artist Daniel Carl Muller. The day it opened, the park was filled with police—crime in the park had become rampant. The park was slowly cleaned up and in 1989, after years of wear, the city contracted artist Marvin Sylvor to give the horses, unicorns and occasional tiger a makeover.

Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey said she doesn’t know much about the Parks Department’s anticipated proposal but is eager for a qualified vendor to take over the carousel—a priority for CB9 since the early 1980s.

Carey said that thoughtful management and advertising could make the Forest Park attraction more profitable than the one in Flushing Meadows, because unlike Flushing Meadows, Forest Park is full of lush greenery through spring and summer. Additionally, she said, the recent renovation of the Forest Park band shell will increase traffic in the park.

“Everybody wants to see it operating and see someone who can maintain it that has an imagination and some talent in drawing people in,” Carey said. “We need to do something unique.”
“Maybe somebody needs to talk to Donald Trump,” she added with a laugh.

State Reports Show Area Schools Still Struggling

By David J. Harvey

Several Queens schools failed to make the grade at the beginning of this year when the New York State Education Department (NYSED) recently conducted evaluations in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). The reports, released on February 11, show that many schools are still struggling to get ahead of their students’ educational needs—and some are falling further behind.

The NYSED/NYCDOE Joint Intervention Team Report and Recommendations focus on several variables, including curriculum, teaching, leadership, professional development and district support.
The evaluations are sometimes terse and biting. At the end of each report is a space for the evaluators to include specific information that could support a recommendation for action from the District.

In the report on John Adams High School in Ozone Park, the evaluator wrote simply, “The Principal has not demonstrated instructional leadership and has not provided teachers with appropriate feedback or [professional development]. The pervasive nature of this lack of leadership has led to systemic failure.”

The report had previously noted that although staff provided substantial data on the school, neither the Principal nor the staff could identify causes for persistent under-achievement or a plan to address the deficiency.

John Adams High School has also seen a rise in “subgroups” performing worse than “all students”—minorities are performing worse academically than previous years, while the school as a whole is performing better.

John Adams principal Grace Zwillenberg told The Forum she could not comment without approval from the NYCDOE. Its press office did not return an interview request by deadline.

Along with John Adams, Richmond Hill High School and Grover Cleveland High School also continued to be ranked among the city’s lowest-performers. Grover Cleveland, it was noted, has actually improved, just not enough.

Despite the continued failure of these schools to meet minimum state educational and structural requirements, the evaluators did not explicitly recommend closing or “reorganizing” the schools.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo released a statement expressing mixed feelings on Tuesday.

“While I am concerned about the conditions mentioned in the report regarding the area high schools, I am pleased that the [evaluators have] recommended to keep the schools open,” he said. “I intend to work with the DOE to ensure that the best education possible is provided for the young students and their families. It is time to move ahead and work together to help these students achieve success.”

While the problems of the three schools vary in stark degrees, there was one section of
each report that nearly mirrored the others— there is little evidence of district support for these schools.

Federal Funds Requested for Blizzard Cleanup

By Eric Yun

The December 26 blizzard was more than just a nuisance. It could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The State Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) surveyed the area and found close to $30 million in damage and cleanup costs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested federal assistance from FEMA due to the December storms, but President Barack Obama must approve the request before any federal funds reach the state.
New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are requesting that President Obama quickly approve the funds. In a letter written to the President and Craig Fugate of FEMA, the senators stated, “Federal assistance is absolutely critical to helping New York State recover, and I respectfully urge your expeditious approval of this request.”

Besides the record snow amount, Schumer and Gillibrand noted the intense winds, ranging from 30 to 50 miles per hour, downed trees and eroded beaches. The conditions also created massive disruptions to the state and city’s transportation services.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) also said funding was necessary for the area.
“New Yorkers suffered enough during the holiday storm that left the streets of Brooklyn and Queens looking more like Siberia—they shouldn’t be forced to suffer again by footing the bill for the cleanup and recovery,” Weiner said. “President Obama should approve Governor Cuomo’s disaster declaration request as soon as possible.”

Parents Weary of DOE Co-Location Plan

By David J. Harvey

Parents and politicians gathered in the auditorium of the Queens Metropolitan Expe- ditionary Learning School (MELS) on February 9 to offer public opinion on a city Department of Education (DOE) plan that many said was a “done deal.”

The DOE proposed “co-locating” the inaugural class of the new Maspeth high school in the MELS building for the 2011-2012 school year. The building, known as Metro Campus, also houses the Metropolitan High School and a special education school.

The Panel for Education Policy is expected to vote on the proposal on March 1. If approved, the freshman class of the Maspeth high school would begin a year early—the school’s own building at 54-40 74th Street won’t be complete until 2012—and students would be co-located at MELS.
The public hearing was mandated by law, and there was a sense in the room that the plan was moving forward despite opposition.

“We could have this auditorium filled, and everyone can say their piece and it’s still going to happen,” Community Education Council District 28 member Kathryn Thome said.

At the meeting, community representatives spoke briefly, often through prepared statement, before opening the floor to public comment. Some speakers, like CEC 28 Vice President Emily Ades, received roars of applause from the more than 100 attendees.

Ades read a statement on behalf of CEC 28, which said: “It is our belief that the long term goal of excellence in the three schools currently housed here at the Metro Campus will be compromised for the short term goal of opening Maspeth high school one year earlier. The incubation is not in the best interest of the children, families and community.”

The public comment period lasted more than two hours and speakers expressed concerns of bullying—delivered quietly by MELS students Kierra and Sasha, the meeting’s first public speakers—and concerns that the DOE had already made a decision.

While the town hall meeting was scheduled to record public opinion prior to a vote, some parents said that the Maspeth high school was included as a choice on the high school application in the MELS building was evidence that a decision was made.

But according to DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, schools that are still awaiting votes get included on the high school applications every year, because high school selections must be submitted this month—before the vote on Maspeth High School’s placement.

“It was included in the list because we need to give parents adequate time to choose a school,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said. “The vote is on placement, not whether the school will open.”

Several speakers were also concerned about student’s health and safety, complaining about the lack of operational cameras and missing doorknobs, understaffing of security guards and the fact that the school has only one nurse for nearly 700 current students. At capacity, the building will house almost 2,000 students.

MELS opened this year with grades six and seven, and will eventually serve grades six through 12. Next year, with the inclusion of the Maspeth high school, students would still occupy less than two-thirds of the building’s capacity. Despite the empty space, many parents were concerned that the new Maspeth high school’s own building would be incomplete next year, and they would find themselves overcrowded in the 2012-2013 year.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who serves as the Queens representative on the Panel on Education Policy, sat silently in the front of the auditorium for much of the meeting. Outside, away from still jeering parents, he said that in his three years on the panel, every proposed school building has opened as scheduled. He said he was concerned to hear about the Metro Center’s existing problems and he planned to report what parents had been saying about the buildings faults.

On the topic of co-location he said that “the school being imposed on is always going to take offence, they feel like they’re losing property and resources. But we ... have an enormous need for seats in Queens. This is an opportunity to serve 200 children.”

“I would not support this if it was for more than one year.” Fedkowskyj added. “We don’t want to impact other students. Based on the educational impact statement, based on the seat capacity in this building, there seems to be sufficient space.”

At the tail end of the public comment section, a supporter and founder of the Maspeth high school spoke on behalf of the students who would be residing in the Metro Center for the next year. She said that the students face overcrowding elsewhere, and that each parent would support the co-location if they were on the other side.

CEC 24 President Nick Comiani was one of few speakers other than the DOE repre- sentatives that expressed approval for the co-location, adding that CEC 24 had voted to support the proposal.
“I’m in favor of the school coming in if it’s done right,” he said. “This school is growing, they’re teaching a certain curriculum and it’s important not to let one school interfere with the other, but you have enough room for one year to give these kids one floor and a different administration.”

Councilmember Karen Koslowitz (D- Forest Hills), who attended the meeting, drafted a letter to Chancellor Cathleen Black asking for a written statement form the DOE that the co-location will last only one year. Council members Elizabeth Crowley, Andrew Havesi and Mike Miller co-signed the letter.

Community Board 5, which held a meeting the same night, agreed to draft a letter in favor of the co-location as their last order of business. Fedkowskyj, a Board member, voted in favor of the resolution.

MELS Co-Directors Pat Finley and Damon McCord said that while they are prepared for the new school to join them next year—and joked that they are prepared for everything—they insisted on not mak- ing any judgments on whether the co-location was positive or negative.

“Our opinion is less important than what was expressed tonight,” said McCord. “The leadership is just one tiny part, the people it really affects are parents, students and teachers.”

Forest Park Senior Center in Danger

By Eric Yun

Forest Park Senior Center, which has been a staple in Woodhaven for 31 years, is facing a budget shortfall that may lead to closing the center this July, said Executive Director Donna Marie Caltabiano.

“To survive a whole year without funding is not going to happen,” Caltabiano said. Forest Park Senior Center survives solely through discretionary funding, and as the state and city continue to cut services to bridge their budget deficits, senior centers like Caltabiano’s are in a perilous situation.

Last year, after a contentious state budget fight, Governor David Paterson vetoed the legislature’s member items last July. This left Caltabiano, who depends on funds from Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), with a significant amount of her funds missing for this year.

And the city funds are beginning to decrease as well. Caltabiano said the Borough President’s office has indicated they could not fund the center, and discretionary funds from City Council Members like Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) have decreased.
The center was originally founded by the late Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, and he made sure he got the necessary funds, Caltabiano said. Now, she feels the center has been neglected.

“We’ve been a viable organization for 31 years, but now we feel slighted. We’re being let down by our elected officials,” Caltabiano said.

The state legislators understand Forest Park Senior Center’s troubles and is doing what they can to help.

“We’re fighting for member items,” said Miller, who replaced Seminerio in 2009. “Seniors are important to me, and I don’t want any centers closing.”

Member items, sometimes derided as pork spending, are critical to the district, Miller said. “They fund our senior centers, our after school programs, our veterans and other community improvements,” he continued.

Miller is also fighting to have Title 20 money—discretionary funds given to New York City historically used for senior centers and initiatives—remain dedicated to seniors. Governor Andrew Cuomo has hinted that Title 20 money would not fund seniors this year, Miller said.

In the State Senate, Addabbo will be fighting alongside Miller for member items and Title 20 money.

“I share [Donna Marie Caltabiano’s] con- cern. If we’re not given the opportunity to get member items to centers that need it, not only Donna’s but other centers are in danger,” Addabbo said.

There are several ways Addabbo says can be used to fund senior centers, like the one at Forest Park, without raising taxes and fees for the middle class. First, Addabbo said the state finance department has done a poor job getting allocated funds sent to the center.

According to Caltabiano, the $65,000 the senior center was allocated in last year’s budget still hasn’t arrived.

Another proposal from Addabbo is to aggressively collect money owed to the state in the form of back taxes, liens and violations. Addabbo said there are “hundreds of millions, maybe billions” owed to the state, and at least aggressively collecting the principal could help the budget.

“Our seniors have seen centers closed, their meals cut and have not had their Social Security COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment] raised. How much more can we hurt them?” Addabbo asked.

Over the next few weeks, Miller and Addabbo promised to fight to get the funding they needed to help resident seniors and other community groups.

Forest Park Senior Center has faced budget problems before, but Caltabiano fears her center is in serious trouble. “This year feels like this is it,” she said.

Maspeth Truck Routes Slowly Undergoing Changes

By Eric Yun

“This should have happened ten years ago,” Tony Nunziato, Maspeth resident and activist, said about trucks rumbling through residential areas and clogging streets as they cut through Maspeth to avoid the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the Long Island Expressway. The neighborhood’s residents, led by the late Frank Principe, have been clamoring for changes in truck traffic for years.

Changes are on the way. A public hearing on the city Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposal to convert Grand and Flushing avenues from “through” routes to “local” routes was held at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting.

The new route designation would force trucks without local deliveries in Queens and Brooklyn to use the highways. Under the current “through” route designation, trucks can avoid the congested highways and cut through Maspeth, even without a local delivery.

The new designations had unanimous support within the community.

“Everyone is aware of the problems the trucks cause in our community,” said Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth). Congested streets, noise pollution and noxious fumes plague the community.
“[The trucks] do not belong on our local shopping streets,” Markey continued.

Nunziato, who has been fierce critic of Markey—and former challenger to her Assembly seat—agreed getting trucks off the streets in critical for Maspeth. “If we can convert Times Square in three weeks to a pedestrian walkway and bicycle paths, then why can’t the people of Maspeth have their liveli- hood and health?” he asked. Reiterating that he and Frank Principe devised the Maspeth Bypass Plan—designed to route truck traffic away from residential areas of Maspeth to the
more commercial districts—a decade ago, Nunziato said the plan “should have been done a long time ago,” and it was time to “make sure we get what we deserve.”

Jim O’Kane, former president of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, complained about “that black smoke” trucks emit, polluting the neighborhood. He also noted that many of the senior citizens around the area are intimidated by large trucks thundering down their streets.

Also favoring the proposal was Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “I support this proposal by the DOT to prevent trucks from using Maspeth streets as through streets. For far too long, we have been burdened by these trucks that are destined for other boroughs, and they’re using our borough as a doormat,” Crowley said.

Markey stressed that this change is not a “panacea” for Maspeth’s truck problems. Many trucks would still be on the roads making local deliveries. However, she gave the community great news when she announced the DOT would release the results of “Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study” and propose different ways to implement the Maspeth Bypass Plan. In the meantime, the public hearing at Community Board 5 was the last step to change Grand and Flushing avenues from through to local truck routes, and it is seen as an “interim” step before the larger Maspeth Bypass Plan is completed.

The DOT’s open house on the matter will be held at Kowalinski VFW Post, at 61-57 Maspeth Avenue, on February 23 at 7:00 p.m.

Drug Counseling Center Looks for New Location

JNS wanted to purchase 752 Onderdonk Avenue (red arrow), but is now looking at 919 Wyckoff Avenue (A).

By Eric Yun

Last November, Community Board 5, despite some misgivings, approved a proposal from JNS Counseling Services to open a drug counseling and rehabilitation center at 752 Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood. However, JNS could not complete the purchase of the property, which forced them to look for a new site.

Ertuania Jorge, program director for JNS, presented the new proposed location, 919 Wyckoff Avenue, to board members at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting.

The new location is accessible from the L train and is the same size (2,500 square feet) as the previous location. “The good thing is the owners are willing to sell,” Jorge said.

JNS Counseling—an outpatient counseling serv- ice that does not give prescriptions—already operates a site in Brooklyn, and works closely with local doctors and police to counsel drug addiction and DWI infractions.

One board member, who voted against the plan in November, said the new location is more appropriate. She was worried that 752 Onderdonk Avenue was too residential for a counseling center, but the new location is a more commercial area with a pharmacy and car center nearby.

There were some concerns about the location’s proximity to P.S. 239. Jorge countered that their patients would not be loitering around the area and noted that a much more complex counseling center is already also nearby.

“Out of my experience, it’s going to hurt the community in any way,” Jorge said.

The proposal will go to the board’s Health and Human Services Committee. If the committee approves the proposal, it will be brought to the full board for a vote at the next meeting.

School Safety and Street Fairs Discussed at CB5

By Eric Yun

The week before Christmas, Lillian Sheridan’s husband and son were clipped by a car at the corner of 79th Street and Penelope Av- enue. Fed up with the dangerous intersection, Sheridan is pushing for an all-way stop sign there.

“The people treat [Penelope Avenue] like NASCAR,” said parent Beth McArdle.

Sheridan and McArdle brought their concerns to the Community Board 5 meeting last Wednesday. Sheridan has also started an online petition at which has already garnered 91 signatures.

Many of the comments on the petition noted that something must be done before a fatal tragedy occurs.

“Cars speed down that road to make the light on 80th Street, and they don’t have a care in the world when it comes to the children,” Sheridan said. According to Sheridan and McArdle, the problem has intensified since P.S. 49 has expanded to include grades six through eight two years ago.

McArdle noted that no new safety studies or implementa- tions were conducted after the expansion, and the problem would become worse as more students are admitted since the school is not yet at capacity.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) has been a big supporter of improving safety at the inter- section. In September 2009, she sent a letter to the city Department of Transportation (DOT) after complaints from residents about safety on Penelope Avenue and 79th Street. On January 10, 2011, she sent another request to the DOT after learning about Sheridan’s incident.

She urged the DOT to study safety at the area, “especially during school arrival and dismissal times,” and implement a traffic light or stop sign in the area.

Queens DOT representative Nathan Gray reported that the department is looking into the request. Some problems, such as cars making illegal turns, can be mitigated by police enforcement, and he has reached out to the 104th Precinct, he said. It is up to the school to decide if there should be a crossing guard at that location, and the DOT is studying if other safety measures such as a stop sign or traffic light should be installed.

Ridgewood Street Fair Stirs Debate

Seven street fairs were approved by Community Board 5, but it wasn’t without debate. The board initially presented the seven street fairs as one vote, but after some dissent, amended the proposal and held a vote for each fair. At issue was a street fair run by the Federazione Italo-Americana di Brooklyn and Queens in Ridgewood. It is scheduled to shut down Fresh Pond Road between Woodbine Street and Menahan Street for four days from September 8 through September 11.

Several Ridgewood residents on the board, including Paul Kerzner, president of the Ridgewood Local Development Corp., said shutting down Fresh Pond Road for four days is an “imposition” on residents. The residents also noted that Fresh Pond Road is one of Ridgewood’s few roads running north and south aside from Forest Avenue.

Other board members, including Bob Holden, argued that the festival should not run on September 11. As the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks, Holden said the 104th Precinct would be stretched thin at various commemorative events along with their normal duties. Holden argued the police would not have the time or the resources to watch over the fair.

Board Member Lucy Dolce, organizer of the fair, said, “Every penny goes back to the community.” She stressed the importance of the fair to help seniors and after school programs in the area.

Vincent Arcuri, chair of Community Board 5, also defended the fair and spoke about the Italian heritage it supports. He said the fair has been a staple in the community for 16 years.

The vote on that fair passed by slim margins, 19-16. The six other street fairs passed unanimously.

Community Board 5 will recommend allowing all seven street fairs; the city’s Community Affairs Unit will make a final decision in the coming weeks.

Final list of recommended street fairs within Community Board 5:
  • Sunday, April 17, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Wyckoff Avenue and Fresh Pond Road sponsored by the Ridge- wood Local Development Corporation
  • Sunday, May 22, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Metropolitan Avenue between 73rd Place and 79th Street sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Glendale
  • Sunday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Grand Avenue between 65th Street and 72nd Street sponsored by the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, Maspeth Lions Club and Maspeth Kiwanis Club
  • Sunday, August 7, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Forest Avenue and Fresh Pond Road sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Glendale
  • Thursday, September 8 through Saturday, September 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday, September 11, from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fresh Pond Road between Woodbine Street and Menahan Street sponsored by the Federazione Italo-Americana di Brooklyn and Queens
  • Sunday, September 18, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Wyckoff Avenue and Fresh Pond Road sponsored by the Myr- tle Avenue Business Improvement District
  • Sunday, September 25, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Grand Avenue between 69th Street and 72nd Street sponsored by the Maspeth Lions Club and Boy Scouts of America