Thursday, April 16, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

City Won't Compensate '07 Flood Victims


By Conor Greene

Many homeowners whose properties were damaged during the 2007 floods are livid that the city is claming it’s not responsible for their losses.

Comptroller William Thompson announced last week that the city has denied flooding claims filed by property owners and businesses in the wake of three torrential downpours in April, July and August 2007. The announcement came after an investigation by the city Department of Environmental Protection “found no basis for holding the city liable.”

“Unfortunately, DEP’s report and that agency’s findings leave my office with no alternative but to deny these claims,” said Thompson in a statement. “Under the existing law, we are unable to provide the relief that was requested in these claims. I deeply regret that we are not able to provide claimants with better news regarding this unfortunate incident.”

In its report, the DEP “indicted that the extremely heavy rainfall on those days overwhelmed the existing sewer systems in the affected areas.” Department crews “responded to the flooding in a timely manner and took appropriate measures to relieve the flooding conditions.”

As a result, victims such as Bruce Saffran of Forest Hills have been left with little recourse other than to file a lawsuit against the city. The torrential rainfalls in August 2007 sent four feet of water sweeping through Saffran’s ground-floor apartment on Yellowstone Boulevard, destroying virtually all of the family’s possessions.

“The city is letting us down tremendously,” said Saffran, who was forced to flee the apartment with his wife and young son after the water rushed into his apartment. To make matters worse, the bathroom sink and toilet overflowed at the same time, sending raw sewage into the home. “The floods poured through the lobby and came racing through the apartment, knocking furniture every which way. I was scrambling to get out, get my wife out, call 911 while carrying my son out literally upstream through water,” he said.

“This backup came from the sewers, so everything was covered with a layer of fecal matter. It was just a nightmare. You walk in and there’s nothing left,” said Saffran, who estimates the damages ran close to $100,000 – not to mention items that can’t be replaced, including wedding and baby photos. “We lost everything we owned, literally.”

Saffran said he “wasn’t shocked at all” by the city’s determination it isn’t at fault after receiving a letter from the DEP almost two years ago that denied any responsibility. However, he says the city installed a larger storm drain on his block within months of the flooding – which shows that officials realized the infrastructure wasn’t up to the task. “That tells me they knew there was a problem,” he said.

Since several individuals and business owners filed claims with the city seeking enormous amounts of money, Saffran suspects the city decided to simply deny all claims and deal with each individual lawsuit one by one. “I’m not trying to gouge anybody, all I want is to be made whole, and I made that clear from the get-go,” he said. “It’s not like I jumped on the back of a bus that had just rear-ended somebody.”

The city’s decision not to compensate flood victims was also met with criticism from local politicians including Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, whose district includes the hard-hit neighborhoods of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, and Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who called the city’s decision “callous.”

Crowley (D-Middle Village) said the neighborhoods “are still feeling the repercussions” of the storms and faulted the DEP for failing to ensure the horror faced by homeowners isn’t repeated in the coming months.

“Given that the [DEP] has yet to adequately address the infrastructure issues, these community members remain vulnerable to future disaster,” said Crowley. “With the raining season here, I share their fear of the potential impact of future storms. My constituents need to know that their tax money is going towards their security such as pipelines and sewage systems that will not collapse in the face of another storm.” She said the city infrastructure, which was designed in the 1920s, “does not come close to meeting the security needs of the community.”

Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said years of negligence by the city was to blame. “The city has known for years of inadequate sewer infrastructure and regular, widespread flooding, and the city must take responsibility for failing its most basic municipal obligations – to keep raw sewage from flooding into people’s home when it rains,” he said. “It is outrageous that the city will not only not fix this problem, but actually refuses to provide restitution for those who have had their homes damaged.”

Lancman, whose own home was flooded by untreated sewage, questioned why Mayor Bloomberg is “focusing all of his time on building baseball stadiums… but doing absolutely nothing for residents of Queens whose homes and streets are flooded when it rains.” He noted that the mayor didn’t use any of the federal stimulus money to upgrade the borough’s drainage system.

Patricia Donovan, whose on 74th Street near Penelope Avenue in Middle Village was damaged in both July and August, was also upset but not surprised to learn that the city had rejected her $16,000 claim. She has no doubt the blame rests with the city and said she has dealt with flooding problems since 1996.

“I’m tired. I’ll move next time. I can’t stay here anymore,” she said. “It’s not worth it. It’s going to happen again and I’m really tired of it. I don’t see anything being done… I shake when a storm is coming. It’s a horrible way to live.”

Angela Runza, whose home on 78th Street in Middle Village sustained about $40,000 worth of damage, faces a different problem in the aftermath of the 2007 flood – her insurance carrier has dropped her, forcing her to switch to a much more expensive carrier. “I had raw sewage in my basement twice,” she said. “It was the most disgusting thing, horrible. It was the worst experience of my life. All my neighbors, everyone in my area had floods.”

After her house was flooded for the second time within a month, Runza says she checked with her broker before filing a second insurance claim and was told she wouldn’t be dropped by her carrier, Travelers Insurance. Nonetheless, she eventually received notice he was being dropped because she filed two claims within two years. “I wouldn’t have put the claim in for another $5,000” if she knew she would be dropped.

Runza said that she wasn’t aware that flood victims could turn to the city for help, so she wasn’t one of the nearly 1,150 Queens residents who filed claims with the city after the two major storms in the summer of 2007. However, despite Thompson’s announcement, she has no doubt that the city is responsible for the damages.

“I’m shocked, because at one of the town hall meetings they said they were responsible, and now they’re saying no,” she said. “How can it not be a city issue? To have raw sewage floating in people’s homes is disgusting. I really feel the city should do their part.”

Victims of the July storm had until April 15 to file lawsuits against the city, while victims of the August flood have until May 5.

Maspeth School Site is Contaminated

DOE, Crowley Downplay Findings

The Maspeth property eyed by the city for a new 1,100-seat high school is contaminated and will have to be remediated before construction begins, according to an environmental impact study conducted for the School Construction Authority.

The study, completed in February, showed that the former Restaurant Depot property at 74th Street and 57th Avenue contains “environmental conditions associated with the historic presence of nearby automotive service stations, dry cleaners, a salvage yard, manufacturing facilities and a former gas manufacturing facility.”

A further examination of the property last March showed “elevated concentrations of petroleum-related volatile organic compounds and tetrachloroethene” in soil vapor, along with “elevated concentrations of semivolatile organic compounds and metals” in the soil. As a result, measures including “proper management of excavated soils and appropriate health and safety measures” will be implemented during construction.

A DOE spokesman downplayed the findings and said “the soil conditions referenced… are common to urban construction sites” found throughout the city. “The Department of Education observes rigorous and very conservative standards in determining whether a site is suitable for school construction,” said Will Havemann. “We proposed the Maspeth High School site only after establishing that it will be completely safe for the building's students and staff.”

The building, which will include two separate 500-seat high schools and 100 seats for special education students, “will be equipped with a precautionary barrier system to ensure that no contaminants can enter the school building," said Havemann. According to the environmental report, “no significant adverse impacts due to the presence of hazardous and petroleum-contaminated materials would be expected to occur either during or following construction at the site” once those measures are taken.

Havemann said the project’s estimated $70 to $80 million cost includes the measures required due to the contamination.

The contamination was not mentioned during public hearings held over the past two years. On April 2, the City Council voted 38-10 to approve the Department of Education’s plan, despite the fact that local Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) voted against it. Crowley said this week that she received the report in February, and that the issue of contamination wasn’t raised during public hearings because it is “a given” that a former manufacturing site would have to be cleaned up.

“I will make sure as a councilmember that the site is clean if they do build a school there,” said Crowley. “I’m surprised this has gotten the attention it’s gotten. I don’t think people realize how contaminated the soil is in the city.” In a statement, Crowley said the “existence of toxic soil on industrial sites is a given” and the SCA must “purify the soil before they think about building a school on this property.”

However, while she is comfortable that the site will eventually be cleaned in accordance with legal standards, Crowley said that the environmental report issued “is too vague.” She wants the SCA to clearly spell out “The steps on how they are going to deal with any of the impacts… All they did was identify some areas that’s contaminated,” she said, stressing that she stands behind her vote against the project.

Crowley voted against the project after the DOE refused to grant priority admissions to neighborhood children. Instead, the DOE granted priority to students throughout District 24, which stretches from Long Island City to Corona and south to Ridgewood. However, many local residents opposed any school at that site because there already are two schools within two blocks of the property.

Some residents and civic members are now questioning why the DOE is still pursuing the property, considering the city might be forced to use eminent domain if a deal can’t be reached with the current owner. “It’s ridiculous that the city is wasting our tax dollars to use eminent domain to take a contaminated site when there are alternative locations available which… are more centrally located,” said Christine Wilkinson, a Juniper Park Civic Association executive board member.

Maspeth businessman Tony Nunziato said the City Council simply “didn’t do its homework” before approving the plan. “It tells you that from Deputy Mayor Walcott down, they just want to get this done on their timeframe,” he said. “They don’t want to do the work to find the right location.” He noted that the EIS claimed that the area can handle the influx of an additional 90 cars the city says the project will attract to the area each day. “It’s government at its worst, and they’re not looking out for the constituents.”

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA and a Community Board 5 member, questioned why the report wasn’t distributed to board members, discussed at hearings or available on the SCA website, where environmental reports on other projects can be accessed.

“We didn’t know it existed. We kept asking [about the impacts the school would have] and all along they had the report,” said Holden. “It’s amazing that Councilmember Crowley would minimize the impact and I’m shocked this wasn’t brought up at the hearings… The report contains alarming information about toxic contamination on the site. The entire public process on the Maspeth high school has been rushed and important information was withheld and covered up.”

The JPCA and another local civic group, Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together “are now contemplating legal action to protect the rights of residents living in the neighborhood,” according to Holden.

The EIS also left Dr. James Cervino, an environmental science professor at Pace University, with some concerns. He called the report “highly ambiguous and lacking scientific credit in its present format” because it lacks specific numbers showing how high the levels of toxic compounds are. Cervino, who advises Senator Frank Padavan on issues regarding schools built on toxic sites, said the public must be able to see for themselves exactly how high the levels are using “hard data.”

“What they’ve shown is, these really bad cancer-causing compounds are there, but we’re going to stick a pipe in the ground, hook up a Home Depot fan and vent the materials in the ground into the air above the roof,” he said. “They might be right, it might be within the acceptable limits, but let me see the numbers. Let the public decide… I wouldn’t send my kids to that school. Why isn’t the public being shown the numbers? It raises a red flag.”

Former City Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village), who lost his reelection bid to Crowley in November, issued a statement on Wednesday accusing Crowley of putting the community in danger by not raising the contamination issue during hearings.

“All children deserve a safe environment in which to learn and play. To withhold vital information about contaminants at a proposed school site is reckless and short-sighted,” said Como. “The results… should have been made public.”

Residents were also surprised that the SCA filed an application with the city Department of Buildings on April 3 – the day following City Council’s vote approving the plan – for installation of a fire alarm system at the proposed school. The application, which was disapproved, lists a SCA employee, Eftihia Tsitiridis as the property owner. Havemann was not able to provide information on the application by press time, and Crowley said that while the city is now legally allowed to buy property, she isn’t aware of any sale.

Hamilton Beach Woman Escapes Danger

By Patricia Adams

Editor's Note: The family referred to in this story have asked to have their names withheld because of concerns for their safety. Throughout the story we will refer to the family representative who was interviewed by the name of Ms. B.

On Monday afternoon at about 2 p.m., a 19-year-old resident of Hamilton Beach, walking over the bridge with her infant in a carriage, had just made the turn onto Russell Street when she heard a man’s voice say “Excuse me.” When the young woman turned around to see who was talking to her, she was met with a most unwelcome and dangerous situation.

According to the girl’s mother, Ms. B, a long time resident of Hamilton Beach, the man said “disgusting things of a very graphic sexual nature and began groping himself”. The man was described as being in his 30’s, about 5’5", heavy set with a shaved head, big nose and wearing denim pants and a t-shirt. Fearing for her safety and that of her child, Ms. B’s daughter started to run toward her home, less than one block away. She turned back to see if the man was behind her, but he seemed to have just vanished.

When she reached home, the frantic young mother told her sister what had happened. Getting into the car immediately, they searched the area to no avail.

Ms. B said she notified police immediately. “They were here in record time. They searched the area and found nothing.” She said that police informed her that if they had caught the man the only action they could have taken was to give him a summons for disorderly conduct.

The woman said that police told her they would not have been able to arrest the man unless he had exposed himself or actually touched her. “The thing that really eats at me is that I have told my daughter over and over, never to walk along the boardwalk. I always said to stay on the street because people are around.”

Now Ms. B says she is very concerned over the fact that this could happen again to someone else who might not be lucky enough to get away. “Let’s face it. If a man could come up to a woman with a baby carriage and say these things to her, there has to be something drastically wrong with him.”

She further urges anyone who sees a man fitting the description to call the police right away. “I believe this man lives right here in our neighborhood. Years ago everyone knew everyone here, but now, with all the new houses being built and sold, we have a lot of new people.”

“I want to make my neighbors aware of what happened here today,” said Ms. B. “Let them know that there could be this type of predator in our midst. I would hate to have anything like this happen again. Not to anyone.”

Ms. B said she strongly believes that the man could resurface in Hamilton at any time. “Look at the way this happened. You think this guy just came from out of nowhere? I am sure he wasn’t just hanging out in broad daylight, with no jacket, no car, nothing, waiting for a victim to pass by,” she said with resolve. “I believe he saw my daughter coming over the bridge and went out to get her. He’s sick and if he’s living somewhere around here, he’ll be found.”

Anyone seeing a man who fits this description is urged to call police immediately. The number for the 106 Precinct is 718-845-2211.

NYRA Selling Vacant Land

By Patricia Adams

Residents in the Centerville area who live adjacent to vacant properties owned by the New York Racing Association received letters from David R. Malts & Co. on March 25, informing them that NYRA “has decided to liquidate certain assets that are not part of its core business strategy.” The letter also informed residents that they had to remove any structures, fences, pools or items stored on the NYRA property.

The letter indicated that David Maltz & Co. would be conducting an auction of the land on May 13th. David R. Maltz & Co. Inc. is an auction company that specializes in sales that are debt related. Since those letters were sent out to residents it appears the auction date has changed. According to the auctioneer's website, it is to take place at the racetrack on June 10th.

The 64 tax lots are all located in the Centerville area and are presently vacant land. All are zoned R4 which allows only for residential development. According to the auctioneer, lots/assemblages Range from 2,000 - 75,000 Sq. Ft.

At the Community Board 10 meeting two weeks ago, NYRA Vice President Liz Bracken and NYRA's Community Relations Manager, Joanne Adams, were present, but provided little information as to on how local residents whose properties abut the lands to be sold could participate in the auction. The Board requested that such information be provided.

The land now in use by the Ozone-Howard Little League is not among the parcels to be sold. The Little League will continue to operate on the NYRA owned land it uses.

Lots reported to be included in the planned sale are lots 1,7, and 129 on Block 11535; lots 18,21,22,25,26,and 27 on Block 11551; lots 30,21,35,36,37,39,41,85, 91, 94, 95, and 100 on Block 11552; lots 7, 16, 30, 38, 40, and 42 on Block 11555; lots 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 19, 23, 25, 30, 32, 33, 35, 38, 45, and 60 on Block 11559; lot 11 on Block 11560; lots 1, 3. 5. 8, 12, 22,35, 36, 37, and 122 on Block 11561; lots 140, 152, 153, 157, 175, 179, 188, 200, and 202 on Block 11562.

Some community residents maintain they were not aware until now that NYRA intended to sell off the 64 surplus lots it doesn’t utilize. But the sale of the parcels has been brought up at the Ozone Park Civic Association meetings as well as at the Community Board and other area meetings many times over the last few years.

According to NYRA Chief Administrative Officer John Ryan, “The New York Racing Association has been wanting to sell these properties for years.” NYRA had sought approval to sell them in 2005 as part of its effort to stave off bankruptcy proceedings, but that sale did not advance.

Most proceeds generated from the planned sale are to go toward NYRA's debt, including an outstanding IRS bill estimated to be around $25 million and a state tax bill for back taxes in the amount of $1.4 million. A small portion will be set aside for capital improvements.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he is seeking information from NYRA as well as Gov. Patterson’s office concerning the upcoming auction. “What we have to realize here is that the residents of this community will have to deal with whatever is built here for a long time,” Addabbo said. “That mandates that we carefully review every detail now.”

Following a meeting with NYRA last week, Sen. Addabbo has requested a map to physically see the layout and contends that he will push hard for current homeowners to have the first shot at purchasing adjacent properties. “Certainly we want to see people who live here have an opportunity to buy land parcels that are connected to their homes and not have developers come in and take that away from them.” Maps of the area and the lots planned to be sold was provided to Addabbo, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, and Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton by NYRA at later meeting with NYRA President Charles Hayward and other NYRA staff.

Sen. Addabbo also stated that there are problems with some parcels of land because they could “disappear” as a result of a slated city project, 411B, which will serve to widen streets in the area. “There are parcels included in the auction package, such as some on Bristol Street, that could be lessened by at least a third of their size due to their physical location when 411B begins.”

According to the senator, although 411B has been talked about for nearly 15 years it will definitely come to fruition, and when it does there are lots on certain mapped, as yet unconstructed, streets that run right through the center of the project. All of the lots NYRA plans to sell are located within the HW411B project area.

Addabbo isn’t the only elected official that is promising constituents a watchful eye. State Assembly member Audrey Pheffer says she plans on closely monitoring NYRA’s sale. Stressing the importance of keeping residents informed, Pheffer said, “This process must be run in an extremely open fashion. The residents must know exactly what to expect. She said that because the properties in question are all subject to zoning restrictions, all new construction would have to be similar to existing structures throughout the area.

NYRA has indicated that it will provide more information as soon as it becomes available.

Op-Ed: It's a Dog's Life!

By Phyllis Taiano

If all goes according to plan, Middle Village canines will soon have a safe place to run freely, play and socialize at Juniper Valley Park.

The park is the result of growing interest in the Middle Village area for the creation of an area to let dogs run freely. There is obviously a demand for the dog park, and the public has really stepped up in order to help achieve this goal. There has been a large turnout in meetings and the unprecedented support for the Juniper Valley Park Dog Association. Members of nearby dog parks have been in attendance to provide feedback and consultation.

The fenced-in park proposal has been reviewed by the membership and the overwhelming support for the area currently being occupied far and away surpassed that of the other two or three areas under consideration. Now that the planned dog park has won the support of dog owners and non owners alike, there's still another hurdle: paying for the park.

Volunteers have stepped up to offer their contractor abilities for building benches that will surround the trees, while others are signing up for clean up days, or planting flowers. Local pet-related businesses have also jumped in to help plan local pet events together. In conjunction, The Juniper Valley Park Dog Association is currently planning fundraisers to help offset the costs for building and maintaining our park.

The JVPDA is working diligently in structuring the park appropriately. Our dog park will be a help, not a hindrance, to those who'd rather not be around dogs. Proper fencing and barriers will segregate the dogs from areas of the park being used for other activities like baseball games and children's recreational activities and heavy pedestrian traffic. The fenced-in park will be separated into two areas: one for dogs under 20 pounds and another for dogs of any size.

Dog parks share one common purpose; to provide an area where dogs can run free from restraint---legally and safely. A dog park may also provide their only chance to interact with other dogs and people. And because a well-socialized dog is less likely to develop behavior problems such as aggression and excessive barking, an outdoor club for canines may help reduce associated neighborhood conflicts. While dogs are busy socializing with each other, owners are doing the same, creating a sense of community and camaraderie. As one more bonus, our dog park filled with users and their dogs is a great crime deterrent within the city park system.

On Monday, April 20th at 7pm at Juniper Park - Brennan Field, the JVPDA and the Juniper Valley Parks Committee will be meeting to discuss the location for our park. Perhaps we will come to know our new dog park as the “pets and people park!” It’s another way we’ll keep that sense of “community” alive and well in Middle Village.

If you are interested in volunteering and being a part of the JVPDA, volunteers should be dog lovers who are willing to pitch in to keep our park fun and a healthy environment for our dogs and uprights! We have occasional meetings and will be hosting events at the park. Become a volunteer. It’s a great way to give back to the park that we enjoy with our four-legged friends.

For general information, e-mail Joe Pisano, President of JVPDA, at For volunteer fundraising efforts: or Information in regards to general dog park volunteering:

Editor’s Note: Since there has been some opposition to creating a dog run in Juniper Valley Park and concerns over its proposed location, Community Board 5 will hold its Parks Committee meeting at Juniper Valley on Monday evening.

What do you think about the group’s efforts to create a dog park? Comment below or write to us at

HB Columbus Day Foundation Joins Relief Effort for Italian Earthquake Victims

On April 8, Council Member Tony Avella, Chair of the Italian American Caucus of the City Council, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall to call upon New Yorkers to assist with Italian Earthquake Relief Efforts.

“First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the countless number of victims of this unfortunate natural disaster. Early reports indicate that as many as 30,000 people may be homeless in the hardest hit city of L’Aquila, whose many structures date back to medieval times. At this point in time, the Italian people truly need our assistance in providing relief and I encourage all New Yorkers to help in the many relief efforts being undertaken by the many Italian American organizations that have gathered here today,” stated Council Member Tony Avella.

Joining the councilman were Council Member Vincent Gentile; Mario Faulisi, president of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation (HBCDF); the Grand Lodge of New York of the Order Sons of Italy (NYSOSIA); and a host of other Italian American Organizations including, the Order Sons of Italy in America; National Council of Columbia Associations and the Italian American Network on the steps of City Hall.

“We must really begin to work quickly to get these people the help they need,” said Mario Faulisi. “Our organization is counting on the support of the Howard Beach community and all other communities to help end the suffering of these disaster victims.” Faulisi says that although his Foundation is largely focused on youth and education, times like these mandate that everyone join together in order to help the best way they can.

According to Faulisi, the HBCDF is raising funds through solicitation and word of mouth but a more organized plan is in the works, so that a benefit of some type can be planned. “The most difficult thing is trying to put together an event in a hurry so that we can get the much needed relief to these people. We are committed to extending our hand to them and we ask that you each do whatever you can both monetarily and also by praying for the injured and the homeless.”

Donations can be mailed to: The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation 163-33 Crossbay Blvd. Howard Beach, New York, 11414

Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation President, Mario Faulisi (far left) joined Councilmember Tony Avella at City Hall for a press conference last week.

American Cancer Society to Host First Annual Relay for Life in Howard Beach

On June 13th and 14th, the American Cancer Society (ACS) will host its first Annual Relay for Life in Howard Beach at Frank M. Charles Memorial Park.

Relay for Life is a unique celebration which honors survivors and remembers all those whose lives have been touched by cancer. The basic premise of the relay is that teams of 8-15 people take turns walking or running around the track through the night.

The event will be co-chaired by Howard Beach residents Melissa Fochetta and Phyllis Inserillo. “We are very excited to help the community organize this event for such an important cause, said Fochetta. “It is a great way to come together for everyone’s good and to have some fun.”

There is a festive atmosphere which prevails as team members camp out on the surrounding grounds for the duration of the event, enjoying music, food, fun, entertainment and activities while building camaraderie with fellow teammates and participants. Money is through team commitment fees and individual donation goals of $100 per person, to be secured from family, friends, companies or corporations.

All money raised helps support ACS programs in research, education, advocacy and service—locally and nationally. The ACS is recognized as the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem. ACS seeks to continue its work to prevent cancer, save lives, and diminish suffering through research, education, advocacy, and service.

Co-Chairs Inserillo and Fochetta have been working for more than three months along with a liaison from the ACS, John Link, to get community involvement to a peak. "Everyone I have approached has been more than willing to give. It may be time, space at their business establishment, or money but their really opening their hearts. And that’s what Relay is all about.”

At the event’s Kick-off Party, hosted by Lenny’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, Inserillo challenged Howard Beach to raise 100K for the charity event. “I chose that figure,” said Inserillo, “because I want Howard Beach to make this the most successful first Annual Relay Queens will have ever had. Our community is made up of amazing people who far surpass expectations, no matter what the task,” she said. “Unfortunately cancer touches all of us in one way or another. This event and the thousands more taking place across the country will help ACS continue to stem the tide against this disease.”

Howard Beach will step into high gear on Friday, May 1st when residents and business owners “Paint the Town Purple.” The event committee is asking the members of the community to hang something purple on their homes, cars and businesses.

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation has promised to decorate the trees lining the center median of Crossbay Blvd. with lights and purple ribbons. All along the boulevard, merchants are encouraged to do “something purple.”

The day will culminate with a “Candle Relay” in the parking lot of St. Helen RC Church located 157th Avenue between 83rd and 84th street. The event committee is asking everyone in the neighborhood to assemble there shortly before 8p.m.

To form a team or get involved with Paint the Town Purple and the Relay For Life please visit their website at email Phyllis Inserillo and Melissa Fochetta John Link at the American Cancer Society can be reached directly at (718) 263-2225 ext. 5538.

Queens Still Getting the Shaft!

Of all the myriad charms of the Queens Boulevard corridor, perhaps the best-kept secret is its terrific access to public transportation. Most of us, when outsiders find out where we live, have heard the same retort: “That's so far away from the city!” But for those who want and need easy access to Manhattan's office towers and entertainment options, the subway is right there, an express train never far away, ready to whisk riders to Midtown in 20 minutes or so. Trains are frequent, and $2 is a small price to pay to get around. A monthly MetroCard costs $81, which isn't half bad to get from Point A to Point B ad infinitum. Think about how much more a car would cost—and how much more of a hassle it would be.

But change is coming, and Obama voters might be unpleasantly surprised to learn that change isn't always good. For one thing, as of the end of May — just weeks away, really — a single ride is jumping to $2.50. Fifty cents doesn't sound like much, but when you consider that's a hike of 25 percent, it sounds more than a little worse. Monthly fares are rising even more, to a jaw-dropping $103. Prefer to take the Long Island Rail Road? I prefer the cheaper, more-frequent, not-much-slower subway, but some people here swear by it, and for their trouble, they'll be paying about 23 percent more.

When these increases were just a rumor, a rider-advocacy group ran ads suggesting that for $103, your dank, dirty subway station should include a sauna and Pilates classes. You may not get luxury services for your extra cash, but at least you'll get something, right? After all, more money should pay for more stuff. Well, if that's what you're expecting, you don't know the MTA very well. Actually, you'll get less—much less.

The G line will no longer run all the way to Forest Hills, though Queens-to-Brooklyn commuters know it rarely does now despite being advertised as such. It will instead end at Court Square in Long Island City. Extending it just one stop farther to Queens Plaza would have made transferring far less painful, but seemingly nobody at the MTA thought of that. Riders on the J and Z will lose express service, making the long trips common on that line even longer.

One of the best things about the subway is how often it arrives, but weekend wait times will increase to 10 minutes—and that's the stated time, not how often the trains will really come—on pretty much every line running through our neighborhoods. Meanwhile, night owls will find themselves waiting a soul-crushing 30 minutes for trains between 2 and 5 a.m.

Whenever the MTA moans about financial woes, which is almost all the time, I can't help but think back to less than two years ago, when the agency announced a budget surplus of about $1 billion. Did we ever figure out what happened to that money? Not even the Yankees, who open their massively overbudget new stadium in the Bronx today, can squander so much of New Yorkers' money with so little accountability. Sometimes I'm almost inclined to feel sorry for these people, what with their convincing claims of lackluster state support, but then I remember that $1 billion. Works every time.

There's some concern that Central Queens residents are disproportionately getting the shaft with these new cuts, but I'm not so sure—everybody will have to deal with steep fare increases, service is getting cut nearly everywhere, and $2.50 from Forest Hills to Wall Street is still a better deal than $2.50 from East 86th Street to East 42nd Street. Just thank your lucky stars the MTA hasn't discovered tiered pricing yet.

But whether or not we're second-class citizens, one thing's for sure: We're still getting the shaft.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website Queens Log on to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.