Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

City Entering Final Study Stages of Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan

Routes to Presented to Community in September

By Conor Greene

The city is moving forward with the long-anticipated and much-needed Maspeth Bypass Plan, which would reroute trucks off Grand Avenue and away from the neighborhood’s main shopping district. At an information session this week, officials vowed to have a return to the community in September with concrete proposals for the route. However, after years of waiting, that timeframe isn’t soon enough for some community leaders.

The Department of Transportation has hired a consultant to study specific engineering questions and issues that arose during the 2007 study conducted on the plan, according to Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy. The consultant and DOT will continue gathering data over the next three months so that proposed routes can be brought back to the community for approval later this year, she added.

“Tonight is about give and take with the community,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting in Martin Luther High School. The DOT will then return with proposals so “the community to decide what the best way to move forward is.” The route suggested by residents several years ago, which would force trucks to use 58th Street after exiting the expressway, will definitely be one of the proposals, said McCarthy. Other potential routes would be developed by the consultant over the next couple of months.

However, Maspeth businessman Tony Nunziato said the city has taken too long to implement the plan. He pushed for the timetable to be moved, something McCarthy said was unlikely. “It’s embarrassing. We’re talking year after year,” said Nunziato. “It’s really unacceptable… I really believe this has to be moved up… We know what the community wants. I’m not waiting another year. We have to address this.”

Robert Holden of the Juniper Park Civic Association said the DOT promised several years ago to at least install signs urging truck drivers to follow the proposed route as an interim measure until the bypass plan could be implemented. Although money was set aside for those signs, they were never erected, according to Holden. He vowed to organize a rally and block traffic along Grand Avenue if the plan is further delayed.

Throughout the session, which featured large poster boards showing the study area and route proposed by the community instead of a formal presentation, McCarthy sought to look forward instead of dwelling on the past delays. “I can’t speak to the past, I can only tell you where we are now,” she said several times. “I’m totally empathetic to the community’s feelings, but I can’t go backwards, only forward.”

She refused to say whether the timeframe has become unacceptably long, and chalked the delays up to the amount of time it took to hire the new consultant to complete the engineering study. “That’s a long wait… but we’re in a position now where we have a consultant on board and are nearing the end of data collection.”

McCarthy also refused to estimate how long it will take to implement the plan after a final route is chosen later this year, noting that it depends on what type of infrastructure work is needed. “If I was a community member I would be pretty annoyed also,” she conceded. “The community is right, they’ve been promised this for a number of years.”

The plan can’t be implemented soon enough for the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, whose leaders say truck emissions is having a negative impact on the local shopping area. “When the large trucks go up Grand Avenue, they emit black smoke that contains carbon, and people shopping are breathing this in,” said chamber President Jim O’ Kane.

Past chamber president Maryanna Zero noted that it’s an older community, and many of the senior citizens face dangerous conditions while crossing the avenue. “People are upset by it – they don’t like it,” she said of the overwhelming truck traffic. She added that the noise and fumes associated with the truck traffic has made it tougher to rent second floor apartment space and makes it impossible to leave windows open on summer days. “I think it’s a good start, but you will definitely need enforcement,” she said of the plan.

As a businessman, Nunziato understands the importance of moving goods by truck and says the idea isn’t to stifle that industry. “We’re not here to hurt the truck drivers – they have to make money,” he said. “We just need to let them know which route to take.”

Several local elected officials released statements this week reiteriating the importance of quickly implementing the plan.

“The Maspeth truck bypass is an important project that the community has been waiting on for far too long,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “It’s time for the [DOT] to move forward with this project to drastically improve the flow of traffic for this overburdened area.”

Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) said she has been pushing this issue since the late Frank Principe, who was a civil engineer, helped create a proposal on behalf of Community Board 5.

“A decade of pressure and lobbying by elected officials and community leaders is finally getting us results,” said Markey. “At long last, there is a sucessful end in sight to a decade of frustration about the city’s failure to implement a solution to the longstanding concerns about truck traffic through residential and retail areas of Maspeth.”

Man Pleads Guilty in Fatal DWI Hit and Run

Stole Running Vehicle Minutes Before Crash

By Conor Greene

A 28-year-old Middle Village resident has pleaded guilty to manslaughter for drunkenly mowing down two young pedestrians last February while speeding through the neighborhood in a stolen car, authorities announced.

Kenneth Guyear, of 64-02 72nd Street, pleaded guilty last Thursday to first-degree vehicular manslaughter and faces the maximum allowable sentence - between seven-and-a-half and fifteen years in prison - when sentenced on February 23.

In pleading guilty, Guyear admitted to killing 16-year-old Robert Ogle (right) of 62nd Avenue and Alex Paul, 20, of Cypress Hills, on Feb. 1, 2009. The pair was walking to the Ogle home after attending a nearby party and was near the intersection of 80th Street and 62nd Avenue when they were struck.

Guyear later confessed to stealing a 2001 Kia that had been left idling with the key in the ignition outside a deli on Woodhaven Boulevard near Alderton Street. After stealing the vehicle, Guyear drove at a high rate of speed through the residential area until he struck Ogle and Paul, who were just blocks from their destination. He was stopped near Dry Harbor Road and Woodhaven Boulevard a short time later by officers who were canvassing the area following 911 calls reporting the struck pedestrians.

Police immediately noticed a strong odor of alcohol on Guyear and took him to the 112th Precinct stationhouse, where an intoxilyzer test showed he had a blood-alcohol level of.126. Guyear also admitted to police to having drank five or six alcoholic beverages and taking two Xanax pills before causing the wreck.

“The defendant has admitted his guilt to a terrible and tragic crime and will serve serious prison time, giving him time to reflect upon his reckless actions that resulted in the untimely death of two young men,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “This case once again underscores the impact of a person’s decision to get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol.”

Following the tragedy, a bill pushed by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) that raises the penalty for leaving a running vehicle unattended was signed into law. The fine, which was just $5 at the time, has since been raised to $250.

Ogle was a junior at Brooklyn Technical High School, where his mother teaches foreign language. Robert Ogle played football at Brooklyn Tech until breaking his leg during his freshman year, and previously played with the Pop Warner Queens Falcons team. An aspiring journalist, Robert also had a part-time job at the New York Hall of Science. Paul lived in Brooklyn and had met Robert that night at a mutual friend’s party.

Robert’s father, Brendan Ogle, said he has been in contact with Brown’s office and is “satisfied” with the plea bargain. While there were more serious charges that could have resulted in a longer sentence, there was also the chance Guyear could have been found guilty of a lesser charge. “We have no control over that and at least this gives it closure,” said Brendan. “I am relieved that this chapter ended. I can just go on with my life.”

According to police sources, Guyear has a long history of arrests and had been sent to Rikers Island eight times before the incident in Middle Village. His past charges include stealing a motorcycle while drunk on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and for robbery and assault after participating in a robbery during which the victim’s ribs were broken. He attempted suicide while in jail following his arrest for the Ogle and Paul deaths.

A civil suit filed by Robert’s parents against Guyear is still pending.

Seller Beware: Wide Range in Prices Offered for Gold

Sellers Must Shop Around Before Parting with Jewelry

By Conor Greene

With the economy down and the price of gold up, many residents are turning to their old and broken jewelry for a source of some quick cash. However, if you’re not careful and don’t take certain steps, there is a good chance of being ripped off in the process.

In light of this trend, a local elected official is warning would-be gold sellers about one particular scam, in which a company called Cash4Gold often pays between just 11 percent and 29 percent of the current market price for gold. Local pawn shops are only marginally better, generally offering between 35 percent and 70 percent of the value.

On a recent afternoon, The Forum took a first hand look at the market residents face in order to get a better idea of how close local pawnshops and jewelry stores come to offering full market value for an assortment of old gold bracelets and pendants. To do this, a reporter took the items to Marlowe Jewelers in Howard Beach, where owner Dennis Croce determined that the jewelry was worth about $1,995.

While the reporter knew exactly how much the items were worth, he set out to six local buyers, playing dumb in order to see what kind of offers would be made. First up was Gold Rush, located at 105-14 Crossbay Boulevard in Ozone Park, just south of Liberty Avenue. After checking each piece of gold, the clerk offered just $1,125 for the jewelry. Likely based upon the expression on the reporter’s face, he quickly said he could make a much better price and punched some numbers into the calculator before offering $1,350.

Next up was Village Cash for Gold at 80-10 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven. The clerk immediately boasted that he doesn’t “play around” and makes fair offers. He came pretty close to the gold’s actual value, offering $1,700. However, the clerk looked like he expected a deal to be made, and it took a minor amount of insisting that the offer needed to be mulled over before the clerk handed the gold back to the reporter.

A few blocks down at Metropolitan Pawnbrokers, 92-16A Jamaica Avenue, the reporter encountered what would ultimately turn out to be the fairest offer of the day. The clerk, who was one of just two who asked where the male reporter had gotten the women’s jewelry, urged him to shop around and then come back with the highest offer, and said the gold was worth at least $1,900. He also advised not to tell other buyers what offers had been made prior in order to get the best price possible.

The fourth store visited was The Gold Standard on Austin Street in Forest Hills, where the clerk first offered $1,500 before upping the price to $1,650 – at least in the ballpark of the gold’s value. However, the reporter noticed that the scale there only read 85.5 pennyweight, while the jewelry actually weighted 86.7 pennyweight.

From there, The Forum headed to Ridgewood, stopping first at Gemelli Jeweler’s Fresh Pond Road store. Despite being a jewelry store that carries many expensive items, the girl behind the counter there offered just $1,385 before saying she could pay $1,400 at most. The last stop was Liberty Pawn Brokers on Weirfield Street, which offered $1,400.

The Forum’s look at the local gold buying industry comes after Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) released a study showing that Cash4Gold, which advertises on late-night television, is preying on cash-strapped New Yorkers through deceptive marketing, low payment policies and misleading return policies. Residents mail the gold in an envelope, and the company assesses it and sends a check in return.

According to Weiner’s study, Cash4Gold intentionally low-balls offers to customers and then, if a customer complains, increases the offer. Customer service agents are reported to receive a commission for keeping the payout low, the congressman added. As a result, Weiner has asked the Federal Trade commission to investigate the misleading practices and plans to introduce the GOLD Act, which would seek protect consumers.

“It’s time for the government to take a stand against predatory companies like Cash4Gold,” said Weiner. “There’s no reason to allow Cash4Gold to continue their policy of kicking struggling consumers while they are already down… Cash4Gold is using these tough times as a golden opportunity to fleece customers. These deceptive practices must end.”

On the local level, there are simple steps sellers should take to ensure they receive a fair deal, according to Marlowe Jeweler’s Croce, who says his store has seen more people getting rid of old jewelry in recent years. “It seems to me like every time there is a spike in gold on the up side, you get a rush of people,” he said. “I guess people are definitely following that trend, we get a lot more people paying attention to the price than a few years ago.”

He says the typical sellers are either older folks who need the money to squeeze by in these tough times, or younger people who don’t necessarily need the money but just want to get rid of old jewelry while the price of gold is still high. “Some older people tell me they can use the money to pay bills,” said Croce. “The older people are more sentimental, but have to pay the bills, while the younger generation, once they’re tired of it they don’t care [about holding onto old jewelry].”

Croce’s advice is to simply shop around and only go to reputable stores that are licensed. While there is no law regulating how much a store has to offer, there are other regulations that licensed brokers must follow. “If you don’t feel comfortable with the place, don’t use them,” he added.

Other tips include getting an offer without revealing the amount other stores suggested, and to try to sell plain gold that doesn’t include stones in order to get a clearer idea of what the jewelry is worth. “Shopping is the most important thing. If they shop around, they are usually going to come back to me, since I give them a fair number,” said Croce.

Officials Seeks Details on Removal of Vollies from 911 System

By Conor Greene

The FDNY is insisting that recent changes to the city’s 911 system concerning local volunteer ambulance companies is simply “clerical” and won’t have any impact on the ability to respond to emergency calls. Even so, local elected officials are looking into the matter to ensure that public safety isn’t compromised by the change.

The confusion over the situation began when the New York Post published an article claiming that the city’s 35 community-based volunteer ambulance organizations, or vollies, were kicked off the 911 system. However, according to the FDNY, the vollies were previously given access to the system “as a courtesy” but were never dispatched to respond to emergency calls.

“There are volunteer ambulances out there that previously had access to our system, but that was done as a courtesy,” said FDNY spokesman Steve Ritea. “They are not dispatched through our 911 system and never were. There is going to be no difference when the average person calls 911 for an emergency. The same pool of ambulances that would have been available to respond before this change can still respond. The change for the public is non-existent.”

In “very rare instances” such as during last year’s swine flu outbreak, the FDNY and vollies establish a mutual aid partnership, during which some ambulances not generally included in the 911 system are assigned to help respond to certain calls. “Before those ambulances are even put on that status, we will send them to one of our EMS stations to make sure they have the proper equipment and training,” said Ritea. He said that the total amount of hours during which mutual aid is utilized is only about 30 to 40 a year.

Still, local elected officials said this situation needs to be closely examined to make sure it doesn’t impact response time. “This is an issue that a lot of people don’t know a lot about, but it is actually happening,” said Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria). “Something of this magnitude should not be done without the input of the public and City Council.”

Vallone said the Council’s fire and criminal justice will look into the matter in the coming weeks. “To my knowledge, they were definitely able to log into the system… and now they’re not being given or sharing information with the FDNY in a way they did previously,” he noted. “The ramifications need to be seriously looked at.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who was recently named chair of the fire and criminal justice committee, was working Wednesday to find out more about this change, according to a spokeswoman, and agreed more information was needed about this issue.

“Given that 10,000 to 15,000 people are served by the volunteer ambulance services annually, the FDNY needs to provide us with clear answers as to why they came to this decision, and what the implications are,” said Crowley in a statement. “Over the coming days I will continue to reach out to the FDNY to get answers and to ensure that we are doing everything possible to keep New Yorkers safe.”

According to Ryan Gunning, chairman of the New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association, District 4, local vollies have been “dealing with varied response in their contacts with the FDNY” since October. He explained that FDNY EMS issued a command order in 2001 formalizing procedures for communication with vollies in “an effort to maximize system utilization of available resources.”

That order was revoked over the past year, without any notice to local groups, according to Gunning, who is also a president of the Glendale Volunteer Ambulance Corp. “So now that the FDNY EMS has rescinded this order, is it an effort to minimize system utilization of available resources?” he questioned. “Is this the right time? With the current economic crisis at hand, should we really be cutting off contact with the volunteers EMS sector?”

Gunning added that many local groups such as his don’t want to be added to the city’s 911 system, which could mean being dispatched to emergencies outside their area. “The volunteers only wish to have better communications between FDNY and the [vollies],” said Gunning. “We wish to be utilized better in local response within our communities and wish only to supplement, not supplant, existing resources.

Council Members Receive Committee Assignments

Ulrich, Koslowtiz and Van Bramer Support Reform Efforts

By Conor Greene

The City Council’s 51 members received their committee assignments – as determined by Speaker Christine Quinn – last week, with several local officials named to important positions. The assignments come at a time when a government watchdog group Citizens Union is pushing for the end of awarding stipends to committee chairs.

Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was assigned to six committees: civic service and labor, education, housing and buildings, public safety, transportation and waterfronts. He is beginning his first full four-year term on the City Council after defeating Democrat Frank Gulluscio in November. He served most of 2009 after winning a special election earlier that year to replace Joseph Addabbo, who joined the State Senate.

Ulrich was promoted by his party to the position of Minority Whip, which comes with a $5,000 stipend. Ulrich has pledged to donate that money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

“I am truly grateful for the trust and confidence that my colleagues have placed in me,” said Ulrich. “These committee assignments will allow me to better serve my constituents, and the communities within my district. At each hearing, I will be a voice for the needs and concerns of the people that I represent. And even though times are tough for many families, it’s important for them to know that someone is standing up for them at City Hall.”

Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) received a key assignment when she was named chair of the fire and criminal justice committee. Since taking office, she has been an active member of that committee, addressing issues including the city’s new “failed Unified Call Taking system,” which is used to dispatch crews to emergencies. She also fought against the planned closings of 16 fire companies, which was avoided when $17 million was restored to last year’s FDNY budget.

“I believe that the committee… is one of the most important with regards to the safety and protection of all New Yorkers, and it is an honor to serve as chair” said Crowley. “As chair, I will prioritize the protection and safety needs of all New Yorkers to ensure that, come budget time, these vital services are not compromised.” Crowley will receive a $10,000 stipend for heading that committee.

Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who is again representing the area after serving two terms on the Council before being forced out by term limits, was named chair of the consumer affairs committee, which also comes with a $10,000 stipend.

Newly-elected Council member Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), whose district includes parts of Maspeth, was named chair of the cultural affairs and libraries committee. The former director of Queens Library’s external affairs said in a statement that he has always been passionate about cultural institutions.

“They embody the vitality of this city, increase tourism and are an integral part of the economic engine that keeps New York the most dynamic city in the world,” he said. “I am keenly aware of how essential libraries are to the every day lives of New Yorkers, and I will fight to protect the invaluable services and programs that they provide.”

The assignments come as Citizens Union is calling upon the Council to cut in half the number of committees and ending the practice of awarding stipends to committee chairs. The CU is urging the 21 Council members who expressed support for ending the awarding of stipends on top of the $112,000 base salary to support this effort.

“The practice of awarding stipends needs to end,” said CU Director Dick Dadey. “They go to almost every member to increase their pay and help bring loyalty to the Speaker. Stipends drive up the number of unnecessary committees and strengthen the influence of the Speaker beyond what is necessary because she decides who gets them and how much they get. The use of stipends is a throwback to an older boss-drive system of government.”

According to CU, the 21 members who voiced support for reforming the system of doling out stipends include Ulrich, Koslowitz and Van Bramer. Crowley did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on her position on this issue.

The other Council members from Queens supporting the reform are: Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona), Dan Halloran (R-Bayside), Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Diana Reyna (D-Ridgewood).

There are 46 Council committees, subcommittees and task forces, with stipends totaling nearly half a million dollars annually, according to the CU.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Addabbo to Paterson: "You're Not a Leader"

Senator Slams Governor Over Aqueduct

By Patricia Adams

“It’s an absolute embarrassment.” That is how Senator Joe Addabbo described Gov. David Paterson’s failure to deliver on a promise made three weeks ago to finally name a Video Lottery Terminal operator at Aqueduct Racetrack. “If we judge the governor by the leadership decisions he makes he will not be judged well.”

And then there are the indecisions. The senator says that there is no reason in the world that the decision has not yet been made and he says at this point other action must be taken. “David Paterson is clearly not a person of leadership or decision. He’s in true jeopardy. He is in the process of tossing away 200 million dollars. It’s absurd.”

Now after eight months of waiting and procrastination, Addabbo contends there must be an alternative plan of action. “We are investigating any and all possibilities to settle this matter outside the governor’s office.”

The extreme urgency of the situation is further compounded due to the impending close of the state’s fiscal year—it’s slated to include the $200 million upfront money from the chosen VLT bidder. “Can you imagine if this deficit has to be applied to next year—it’s a state disaster in the making.”

According to Addabbo the governor is not paying attention; the consequences of his “fence parking” are presenting a grave danger to the financial health of the state. Widespread concerns from civic and community leaders throughout the Aqueduct community are being expressed in the form of letters, e-mail and phone calls to elected officials.

“We have to take action to address this issue outside of the governor’s office,” Addabbo stated. The senator says he will again speak to the Democratic State Senate Leader John Sampson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “They have to pressure the governor too—both sides of this decision have to force a decision.”

In the process to choose the vendor all necessary reports are in according to Larry Love, legal counsel to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. “All the information on these bidders is in. Their financials are in. The only thing missing is a decision.”

Love says the governor has put off the decision long enough and has to pick someone. “To be losing that kind of money—how foolish.” Pheffer maintains that she and Addabbo have been struggling with this process for what seems an endless time.

“We don’t know for sure that the vendor chosen will be the absolute perfect choice. But what we do know is that without any choice we are losing at least $1 million per day,” said the senator. And if Addabbo’s figures are on the money, the delay has already cost the state and the local economy almost $250 million in desperately needed revenue, since the last stall in the process ensued.

The Aqueduct situation was introduced for discussion at civic meetings this week in Ozone Park and again in Woodhaven. “The people here want answers,” Joe Addabbo told The Forum. “They’re certainly not being unreasonable—they—we all have waited patiently for far too long.”

To that end Addabbo says he will take action and will likely be joined by his colleague in the assembly and many civic and community organizations. “We’re in the process of having discussions about some plan of action for the very near future, and it could very well come in the form of a rally to be held at Aqueduct.”

As part of the trickle down-effect of the stunted process, an already struggling New York Racing Association has recently been hit with pollution violations for dumping manure into Jamaica Bay. The racing operator is recorded as having more than a dozen violations which could amount to fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The possible fines come on the heels of talk by NYRA about requesting a state bailout of about $30 million if a bidder is not chosen almost immediately to begin development of the property at Aqueduct.

Sen. Addabbo has stated that he is focusing on a tentative rally date no more than two weeks away.

Officials Urge Residents to Donate to Haiti Relief

As images of the devastation caused by last week’s earthquake in Haiti continue to spur New Yorkers to open their wallets and donate to the relief effort, local elected officials are urging residents to help in any way they can.

United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been especially active since the natural disaster rocked the nation of 10 million people. First, along with Senator Charles Schumer, she introduced legislation to temporarily waive tax deduction limits on all charitable contributions for relief efforts in order to provide a boost to donations.

“The tremendous damage in Haiti is horrifying and sobering for all of us as New Yorkers and Americans,” said Gillibrand. “The outpouring of support from individuals across the country is inspiring, but there is more we can do… I pledge that I, along with my colleagues in Congress and the Obama Administration, will continue to do everything we can to bring relief to the people of Haiti.”

To avoid falling prey to scams, the senators are urging donors not to respond to any unsolicited e-mails seeking donations, not to give personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions and to use online resources to verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations, instead of following a purported link to the group’s site.

In the days following the earthquake, Gillibrand also pushed the Obama Administration to provide temporary status to Haitians now living in America. This designation will allow Haitians to continue living and working here for the next 18 months, which will avoid forcing them to return immediately to their devastated country. Gillibrand also pressed the State Department to help orphaned children, prioritize orphanages in Haiti for assistance and ensure that Haitian-American parents fleeing the island can leave with their children.

Prior to last Tuesday’s earthquake, there were about 20,000 children living in Haiti’s 187 licensed orphanages, and the U.N estimates there was a total of 380,000 before the disaster.

Last Friday, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), State Senator Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) gathered with religious leaders and Red Cross representatives to urge New Yorkers to contribute to emergency relief funds established for the earthquake victims.

“No words can adequately describe the devastation and suffering that has struck the people of Haiti,” said Crowley. “In one day the lives of millions have been drastically changed forever… The earthquake has destroyed hospitals, schools and homes, leaving millions without food, water, basic infrastructure and medical assistance.

“The destruction is so bad that the Red Cross has run out of supplies,” continued Crowley. “Please join me in donating to the relief – donate whatever you can – no matter how small. If every Queens resident contributed just $1 each then we could raise nearly $2.3 million in relief of those who need it most. Everyone should take a moment to pray for those suffering in Haiti”

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) is also urging New Yorkers to donate to the Red Cross or other trusted charities. “The global community mourns the tragedy of such a catastrophic natural event, and we will work together to repair and rebuild Haiti,” he said. “We can help. We must help. We will help.”

Residents Get Help in Fight Against Rail Operations

Legislation Restricting Idling Pending on State Level

By Conor Greene

Glendale residents are getting some support from elected officials in their fight for changes to the way rail companies conduct business in residential neighborhoods, as legislation is being considered on the state level to help maintain the local quality of life.

Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) is working on having legislation written to address the residents’ concerns, which came to light last year through the efforts of Glendale neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold. According to a spokesman for Miller, there are two main points being considered for the legislation: a ten minute maximum idling time and mandating the use of cleaner fuels.

A third approach – banning the idling of locomotives within a certain distance of homes – also hasn’t been taken of the table, according to the assemblyman’s office. The bill, which would be based in part on similar legislation in Long Island, will be sponsored by Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) in the Senate.

"I understand people want to sleep at night and I understand that railroads need to run their business," said Miller. "We need to learn to co-exist. Working together we can find a way to defend our quality of life without disrupting business...This legislation won't solve every issue over night, but it is the first step toward a bigger solution."

News of the impending legislation came from Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), who updated residents at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting. “This is a tough issue – I’ll be real candid with you,” said Hevesi, adding that there tends to be a lot of finger pointing between agencies at different levels of government. “There is a gap in the regulations” which the new legislation would work to address. The good news, he said, is the tracks are owned by the MTA, which is at least “somewhat responsive to the state,” especially compared with other companies and agencies.

“What’s happening now is just inappropriate and shouldn’t be happening,” concluded Hevesi, promising to report back to the residents and board in several months.

Addabbo later described visiting one of the affected residents at 5 a.m. on a recent day to hear first hand the sounds coming from the rail yard, which is located along Otto Avenue. “It’s important for me to hear first hand the nuisance these residents are dealing with on a regular basis,” he said.

During the public portion of CB 5’s meeting, several residents spoke of the impact the rail yard has on their quality of life. Anthony Pedalino of 69th Place said the fumes and noise have become “unbearable” especially in the morning. He added that locomotives have idled outside his house on recent mornings from 5:15 to 5:45 and then again from 6:50 to 8:00. “We really need to keep the pressure on,” he said.

Parisen, who along with Arnold founded the group Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), reported that a series of five meetings dealing with specific rail-related issues and involving elected officials is planned. The first is scheduled for January 28 in Borough Hall and will focus on the transfer and transport of solid waste.

Parks to Solicit Phase One Reservoir Bids

Phase Two Plans to be Unveiled Next Month

The city Parks Department is expected to solicit bids for phase one of the planned improvements at Ridgewood Reservoir in the coming months, but didn’t make any major changes to the plan after hearing from officials at a recent meeting.

According to a statement released by Parks last week, phase one is expected to go out to bid within the next three months. Work in that phase includes replacing existing perimeter fencing around the reservoir’s three basins and upgrading lighting and pathways.

While no changes to the plan were made after a meeting held several weeks ago at the Borough Presidents office, the plan was previously altered in response to input from various local elected officials, according to Parks. Changes include preserving a stairway on the north side, facing access panels to lights away from the walkway and increasing fence height at areas where there are dangerous conditions on the other side.

However, other ideas reportedly raised at the recent Borough Cabinet meeting that have been rejected by Parks include raising the height of the perimeter fencing from four feet to six feet and preserving some of the 19th-century gates that are part of the decommissioned reservoir’s history.

The entire project, which might include filling in at least one of the reservoir’s three basins for construction of ball fields, is being funded by a $26 million budget allocation. The first phase is expected to cost between $7 million and $8 million, and Parks is currently “consulting sister agencies and the state regarding the three conceptual design plans… to ensure there are no regulatory issues with any of the ideas proposed for the site due to its history as a reservoir,” the spokeswoman wrote in a statement.

The three plans – one dedicated to passive recreation, one for active recreation and one combining the two options - are expected to be presented to the community at the end of February or in early March, according to Parks.

DOT Plans Meeting on Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan

The city Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting on Tuesday regarding the long-awaited Maspeth Bypass Plan, which would reroute truck traffic from Grand Avenue.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Martin Luther High School, located at 60-02 Maspeth Avenue. The scope and schedule of the upcoming study for the plan will be presented, and the community will have the chance to provide input.

According to the DOT, the two-phase study, formally known as the Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study, is exploring alternative travel routs for trucks, identifying problematic intersections and roadway configurations and assessing signs to reduce the impact of truck traffic on the local street network.

The study areas is bounded by Grand Avenue, the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

For additional information or to relay special needs such as interpretation and other accessibility requests, call (718) 286-0886.

Councilman Ulrich Sworn In

A crowd of well wishers, dignitaries and elected officials filled Scholars’ Academy School in Rockaway Park on Sunday afternoon for the Inaugural Activities of Councilman Eric Ulrich.

The ceremony began with an introduction by Brian O’Connell, principal of Scholars Academy, who was followed by a procession of the Breezy Point Catholic Club Pipe and Drum Band. The afternoon included a presentation of colors by the Air Force ROTC and performances by the Scholars Academy Band.

Community religious leaders Rabbi Marjorie Slome of the West End Temple Sinai Congregation and Rev. Bryan J. Carney of Saint Francis de Sales were both on hand to congratulate Ulrich and offer their blessings.

A host of elected officials were in attendance to congratulate the councilman including state Senators Joe Addabbo and Marty Golden, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Council members Elizabeth Crowley, Peter Koo, and Dan Halloran. Also in attendance were Mike Long, Chairman of the NYS Conservative Party and brother Tom Long, Chairman of the Queens Conservative Party.

Former City Councilman and close friend of Ulrich Hon. Thomas Ognibene acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the event and the Hon. James Oddo, Minority Leader for the New York City Council was the keynote speaker.

Judge John Ingram presided over the ceremony, administering the Oath of Office as the Councilman’s wife, Yadira Moran-Ulrich held the Bible for the swearing in. The oath was followed by remarks from Ulrich who first credited his supporters for his election.

“The voters of this district have placed their trust in me and I hold their trust in the highest regard. Over the next four years, I look forward to working every day to live up to the expectations that the people have placed upon me. While we have accomplished so much in such a short period of time, I realize that there is still plenty of work to do.”

Ulrich concluded his remarks citing his upbringing as playing a vital role in his political and personal successes. “My family instilled in me the values I have today: to be compassionate and kind to others, and that hard work and honesty is rewarded. Their sacrifices have opened the door of opportunity for me. And where I come from, when someone opens a door for you, you have an obligation to hold that door open for the next person about to walk through it. I have never forgotten what my family taught me, and I never will.”

The 24-year-old Ulrich was first elected to the council in a special election held in February of 2009 and will serve through his current term in 2014.

Waste Management Ripped for Lack of Updates on Transfer Station Plans

By Conor Greene

Unhappy with the lack of updates from Waste Management regarding the company’s plans for a new transfer station on Review Avenue, the chairman of Community Board 5’s Sanitation Committee ripped the company during last week’s meeting.

Waste Management is planning to expand its transfer station on Review Avenue in Long Island City to allow it to increase the amount of trash it receives each day. However, the plan would require the company to place the trash on trucks and transport it about two miles to the rail yard on Rust Street in Maspeth. There, it would be loaded into rail cars to be shipped out of the area.

While the plan would allow Waste Management to sharply reduce the amount of miles trash is driven through city streets, it would require the approximately 1.5 mile trip from Review Avenue to Rust Street, a plan that has been met with strong opposition. Instead, residents and officials are pushing the company to either construct a rail spur on its property so the trash can be loaded directly onto train cars there or to purchase another nearby property and use the Newtown Creek to barge the trash from the area.

At last week’s CB 5 meeting, Sanitation Committee Chairman Paul Kerzner took an unorthodox approach to providing his update: frustrated with the lack of details from Waste Management, he simply read aloud an e-mail exchange between him and a company official. The official responded to his request for an update with a short messages informing him that Waste Management is “actively researching potential options” that would avoid trucking the trash to the rail yard.

In response, Kerzner wrote that the update was “just a bit skimpy for five months,” referring to the amount of time that has elapsed since he requested a status update. He added that he is “truly disappointed with Waste Management’s work product.” The company only said in response to that message that research is still ongoing and that a timetable will be provided once it is available, according to Kerzner.

In a statement to The Forum, a Waste Management spokeswoman said the company has formed a technical team that is studying potential solutions to concerns raised by the community. “It would be premature to speculate or comment further until our research is completed,” wrote Rachel Amar. “We will report back to CB5 as soon as we have concrete results. Waste Management will consult with the community before taking any action.”

Kerzner later told The Forum that he was prompted to call the company onto the carpet since months have passed since CB 5 overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution rejecting the company’s current plan and requesting that other alternatives be explored.

“It has been several months since this motion was made, and I think the board should have a status report,” he said. “I’m waiting for them to produce some results and I’ll be happy to hear what other proposals they have… I’m waiting and so is everyone else.”

102nd Precinct Welcomes DA Brown

Robbery Pattern Also Discussed at Monthly Meeting

By Patricia Adams

District Attorney Richard Brown paid a visit to the 102nd Police Community Council meeting on Tuesday night as part of his yearly plan to visit each of the Queens police precincts. The DA was given a warm welcome and began by informing those in attendance that violent crime was down by 10% in Queens.

Brown went on to say that the 80 homicides in Queens in 2009 represent a tremendous reduction over the last 15 years—in 1991 there were 361. He also cited large drops in stolen cars. “This doesn’t happen by accident. A lion’s share of the credit goes to the men and women of the NYPD,” Brown said. “Last year we processed 78,000 cases put on our doorstep.” Brown informed his audience that Queens was way ahead of the rest of the city in moving cases through the court swiftly.

Before leaving he invited anyone to visit the DA’s office of operations at the court house. “We will be happy to see any of you for a visit. Just don’t come in handcuffs,” he joked.

Increase in Pattern Robberies

Capt. Armando DeLeon says that despite a plunge in crime in his precinct—it’s down about 41% over the last two years—there has been a recent spike in pattern robberies. The captain reported that there have been 8 robberies of late, 6 of which targeted women.

“We are looking for an individual who is approximately 5’4-5’5 tall, who carries a silver firearm.” The bandit approaches his victims with the handgun demanding their money and credit cards. Before leaving, the bandit demands his victims to surrender their PIN numbers for any ATM cards he steals. Most of the occurrences have taken place in the southern and western parts of the precinct, near the Brooklyn border.

A burglary pattern that police believe originated in the Bronx is also being perpetrated upon residents living in the 102. “We have individuals who are working in tandem, posing as utility employees in these incidents,” DeLeon explained. “They are ringing bells and representing themselves as workers from the gas company, ConEd or a cable company. You let the pair of them in and as one is looking at the boiler, a meter or the cable box, his associate is taking personal belongings in the house.”

The captain advised residents not to open the door under any circumstances. “If someone comes to your home, immediately call the company they say they are representing. Do not trust the fact that they have ID,” DeLeon warned, “there’s plenty of phony credentials circulating around.”

Residents can be relieved that there is increased police presence on their
streets from Monday through Friday 12 Noon to 7 PM. The police officers have been reassigned from other precincts and placed along Jamaica Avenue from 80th street to 118th street. The assignment of these officers has been very helpful according to DeLeon. “We have already seen major results from their presence,” commenting on a recent altercation among students from Richmond Hill High School that was quickly put to an end and a cell phone thief who was apprehended by the additional officers.

Before concluding, Capt. DeLeon suggested that residents should wear whistles and blow them as hard and loud as they can if they are accosted or face any danger. “It may sound corny,” said DeLeon, “but it will get everyone’s attention and it could save you.”

Robbery Victim Thanks 102 for Swift Action

On January 4, resident Harpreet Singh was walking to his home on 123rd Street off 97th Avenue with a friend when the two were accosted by three men who jumped out of a waiting car. The men brandished guns, holding one to Singh’s head and demanding his money and wallet. “They put a gun to my head,” said Singh, “and took everything I had in my pockets. I was very, very scared.” But Singh said the only thing that made him feel better about the situation was that almost immediately after he called 911, Captain

DeLeon and Officer McCoy of the 102 Pct were by his side. “These guys are great and I know they will get whoever did this.” Singh said that the thieves used his credit card to purchase gasoline in a nearby station minutes after robbing him. Luckily, Singh suffered no injuries.

General Business

President of the community council, Maria Thomson also informed residents that the 102nd Precinct is offering free NYPD Security Surveys for homeowners within the precinct. To arrange for the survey call the precinct at 718.805.3217 and speak to Detective Ronald Agunzo.

Form letters were also available for anyone whishing to contact Douglas Sussman, MTA Director of Community Affairs to protest the proposed elimination of the Q56 bus line and the Z train from the elevated J line.

The 102 Precinct Community Council meets at 8 PM on the third Tuesday of every month at the Moose lodge located on 118th Street off Jamaica Avenue, across the street from the 102nd Precinct stationhouse.

Board Pushes for Changes to City's Plan for Opening of Metro Ave HS Campus

Community Board 5 has overwhelmingly voted in favor of three resolutions to be submitted to the city Department of Education seeking changes to the current plan for the opening of the new Metropolitan Avenue High School in Forest Hills.

At its meeting last Wednesday, the full board voted in favor of the three resolutions that are seeking: a greater share of the high school seats for students in District 24 (the facility will be shared with District 28); a second tier be created so that PS 91 students have the option of enrolling there if the district’s allotment isn’t filled by students from PS/IS 87 and PS/IS 113, which have first chance at the seats; and that the school be opened up to both 9th and 10th graders in its first year, instead of just freshman as currently planned.

The Metropolitan Avenue Campus, slated to open this fall, includes a 1,000 seat high school that will be split between District 24 and District 28. It also includes a second building serving students in sixth through 12th grades that is dedicated solely for District 28. Currently, District 24 students will occupy half of the 1,000-seat high school, or just 500 or the 1,400 total high school seats within the two schools. Instead, CB 5 is requesting that 700 seats be set aside for District 24 so it gets its fair share of class space.

The second resolution was the result of concerns that if 125 seats in each grade level were not filled by PS/IS 87 and 113 students, they would then be opened up to students throughout the entire district and borough. The board is seeking insurance that the seats will remain open to Glendale students who attend PS 91 until 6th grade and IS 119 through 8th grade graduation.

The third resolution is being pushed by the board due to the current classroom overcrowding crisis the borough is facing, especially at the high school level. The DOE argues that opening the school up one grade at a time – meaning it will only be filled to 25 percent capacity this fall – is the best way to set the school up for success. However, board members agreed that argument is trumped by the dire need to immediately provide more seats for students throughout Queens.

The only board member voting against the three resolutions was Chairman Vincent Arcuri, who had pushed for the three requests to be contained within a single resolution. The DOE did not respond last week to a request for comment on the board’s requests.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Candle Blamed for Apartment Fire

Four-Alarm Blaze in Kew Gardens Injures Five

By Conor Greene

Fire officials say an unattended candle is to blame for a quick moving fire that gutted several apartments in a Kew Gardens apartment on Monday afternoon.

Four firefighters and one civilian suffered minor injuries in the fire, which broke out around 11:45 a.m. in a second floor apartment at 84-70 129th Street. The fire quickly spread to the third, fourth and fifth floors and went to four alarms by 12:15p.m. before it was brought under control at 1:11 p.m., according to the FDNY.

As crews worked to keep the fire from spreading to the building’s top floor, two police officers who were on duty outside a nearby school raced to the scene and helped evacuate a woman and her young daughter. Initial reports indicated residents were trapped inside due to heavy smoke, but fire officials say an “aggressive attack” kept it from spreading.

“We saw the woman stepping out onto the fire escape, and that’s when I proceeded to jump over the fence, climbed the fire escape… grabbed the baby and walked them down,” Sgt. Kevin Bishoff of the 102nd Precinct told reporters. He teamed up with Officer Johnny Becerra to help the residents escape the blaze.

“It went to four alarms,” FDNY Deputy Chief James Didomenico said at the scene. “We were able to stop it on the fifth floor. It did not get to the sixth floor through an aggressive attack. Had it gotten to the sixth floor and possibly gotten into the cockwall it could’ve been a major, major fire and much worse than today.”

On Tuesday, debris from the destroyed apartments was piled in front of the building, which was charred and boarded up. A notice was posted on the door ordering some residents to vacate their apartments, while tenants in other parts of the building were allowed back inside.

Shamin Naz, who has lived in the building for 21 years, said that she and her family were very lucky on the day of the fire. “I was at the hospital with my daughter for an examination,” said Naz. “I got a frantic call from my brother saying the building was one fire.”

Naz immediately began trying to get in touch with her other children to make sure they had left the building. “When I was able to contact them I felt so lucky. For the other people who were trapped, I just say thank God no one died. The apartments, they can be put back together. No one died.”

The Red Cross is providing assistance to the up to seven families left homeless by the fire.

Ridgewood Theater and PS 66 Approved for Landmark Status

By Conor Greene

Two distinctive buildings in Ridgewood and Richmond Hill were approved for landmark status by the city on Tuesday, paving the way for the historic structures to be protected from future redevelopment.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted on Tuesday in favor of granting landmarking designation to both the Ridgewood Theater on Myrtle Avenue and PS 66 on 102nd Street in Richmond Hill. The vote marks the last major hurdle for both applications, which now need approval from the City Planning Department and City Council.

The Ridgewood Theater, designed by noted architect Thomas Lamb, was hailed as the longest continuous operating movie house in the nation until it was suddenly closed in 2008. Before then, it had provided entertainment for nine decades since opening in 1916.

Michael Perlman, who spearheaded the effort to have the theater landmarked, said Tuesday’s vote was the result of several years of lobbying by a number of volunteers. “This is another chapter for this gem’s long and distinctive history,” he said. “These theaters are few and far between, so we have to retain the best of the past for a more promising and thought-provoking future.”

The building’s current owners plan on using the ground floor for retail space with several movie screens on the second floor, according to Perlman. They have also indicated a willingness to preserve the theater’s distinctive lobby and as many of the historic details as possible.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley testified in support of both applications at Tuesday’s hearing. “Preserving the history of our neighborhoods is a key component to taking pride in it,” she said. “It is important for future generations to understand their history, and take pride in it and preserving this innovative and striking structure will do just that.”

She added that the theater landmarking “goes hand in hand” with the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s recent approval of the Ridgewood North Historic District, which features turn-of-the-century homes known as the Gustave Mathews flats.

Public School 66, also known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, is a three-story, red brick building built in 1899. Built when much of Richmond Hill was still farmland, it was expanded seven years later and still features arched windows and a six-story tower. It was one of three identical schools constructed in anticipation of an influx of residents to the area as a result of transportation improvements, the subdivision of farmland into lots for residential development and the consolidation of Queens with New York City.

“The school is a remarkable survivor from a time when Richmond Hill was transitioning from a farming community into a residential neighborhood,” said LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney. “It remains one of the most distinctive school structures in Queens.”

Crowley, who has made historic designations one of her priorities, said the school “has been a staple of Richmond Hill for over a century.” Last October, she led the effort to have 109th Street in Richmond Hill as “Nancy Cataldi Way” after the outspoken preservationist who launched an unrelenting campaign to save the area’s Victorian homes before her untimely death in 2008.

Designed in the Victorian Eclectic style, the PS 66 stand out thanks to its tower, which used to contain a bell used to call children to school from neighboring farms and properties. It also features gabled dormers and large entablatures featuring floral ornament. Its design is attributed to Harry S. Chambers, the school’s superintendent and architect for the Town of Jamaica.

The school was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2003 in honor of the former First Lady’s passion for literacy and historic preservation, and continues to serve as a grammar school.

Boy Nearly Killed in Highland Park Stabbing

Two Teens Charged with Attack on 12-Year-Old

By Conor Greene

Police have now charged both a Brooklyn teenager and his girlfriend with the near-fatal stabbing of a 12-year-old in Highland Park on Saturday night. The attack occurred while the three were allegedly smoking pot in the vicinity of the park.

The victim, Luis Martinez, was rushed to Jamaica Hospital in serious condition after a motorist spotted him alongside the Jackie Robinson Parkway. He was treated for multiple injuries, including four stab wounds to the torso and the back and two stab wounds to the chest. In addition, both his left internal and right external jugular veins were cut, causing extreme blood loss. He underwent reconstructive surgery and his condition was upgraded on Tuesday from critical to stable.

Initial reports indicated Martinez had been thrown from a moving vehicle, but police now say he was stabbed about a dozen times by 15-year-old Wayne Henderson of Ridgewood Avenue in East New York and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Carina Parache of Norward Avenue in East New York. Police say the attack occurred after Henderson and Martinez got into a brief argument that quickly escalated into attempted murder.

Police initially only charged Henderson in the attack after questioning and releasing Parache. Henderson was arraigned on Monday in Queens Criminal Court on charges of second-degree attempted murder and first-and-second degree assault.

However, on Tuesday night, authorities announced that Parache will face the same charges because she stood by as the attack took place and then kicked and stabbed Martinez before fleeing the scene with Henderson.

The pair was taken into custody by officers from the 104th Precinct shortly after the attack. Both are being charged as juvenile offenders and face up to then years in prison if convicted. Henderson was ordered held on $250,000 bail and is due back in court on January 25, while Parache was awaiting arraignment as of Wednesday morning.

“The 14-year-old defendant is accused of taking part with her boyfriend in a senseless but deliberate attack on someone they once called a friend,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “This is a sad case of young children throwing their lives away by allowing a verbal argument to escalate into deadly violence. Fortunately, the victim will survive but all three will carry the emotional scars of that night for the rest of their lives.”

Officials Want More Metro Ave HS Seats for Glendale Students

By Conor Greene

As the Metropolitan Avenue school complex gets closer to its anticipated opening this fall, the battle over who gets to occupy the building is continuing with officials pushing for more seats for students in the Glendale area.

On Monday, members of Community Board 5’s Education Committee agreed to present three resolutions to the full board regarding the new complex, with features a 1,000 seat high school to be shared between District 24 and District 28, along with a 1,000seat 6-12 school dedicated solely for District 28.

The three resolutions call for 200 additional seats in the high school for students in District 24 so the two districts would more evenly split the total number of new high school seats. It also asks that a “second tier” be created so that priority shifts to students in PS 91’s zone if the 125 seats in each grade level currently assigned to District 24 aren’t filled from students in the PS/IS 87 and PS/IS 113 areas. The third resolution asks that the high school be opened to both ninth and tenth graders in its first year, instead of just freshmen as proposed.

The resolutions were expected to be voted on by the full CB 5 membership at its monthly meeting this past Wednesday. Check next week’s Forum West for an update on the vote.

In December, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) wrote to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein asking that a secondary zone be created limited to District 24 students to ensure the area doesn’t lose part of its 125 seat allocation. “The people of Glendale and Middle Village are in dire need of high school options and those families just outside the local zone should be given preference… before the school opens up to the rest of Queens,” she wrote.

Two weeks later, Crowley wrote to Klein to request that “immediate action” is taken to alleviate “dire overcrowding” in District 24. She proposed that the new Maspeth High School, which won’t be ready until 2012, be opened up in the available space at the Metropolitan Avenue complex, since that facility won’t be filled to capacity for several years. Once the Maspeth High School is complete, the students, teachers and administrators would simply move to the new building.

“As I understand, the [DOE] plans to incrementally ‘grow’ the two new schools located on the Metropolitan Avenue Complex,” wrote Crowley. “During the first years these schools are open the building will be at approximately 25% capacity. I believe we can take immediate action to alleviate the overcrowding of Queens high schools without sacrificing the level of education… If we act now to put together a school leadership team and have the administration for the Maspeth High School to start teaching children as early as the fall of this year.”

The issue of only opening the next high school up to one grade at a time has been met with criticism from some officials and parents due to the current situation. “The DOE’s argument that new schools do better when grades are phased in does merit consideration, but our Queens high schools are massively overcrowded, so delaying utilization of 1,000 new high school seats for many years can’t be in the best interested of our Queens high school students,” Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who is a CB 5member and the Borough President’s appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, told The Forum.

The DOE said last month that parents and officials had several weeks to comment on the proposed zoning boundaries. The department didn’t immediately return a message for comment on the zoning proposal or the plan to open the school only to 9th grade, and Crowley’s office didn’t receive a formal response to either December letter.

The overcrowding situation in Queens has forced a number of high schools to operate on split sessions. According to Fedkowskyj, Francis Lewis is at 175% capacity on five sessions, Forest Hills High School is at 160% capacity on three sessions, Cardozzo is at 150% capacity on three sessions, and both Grover Cleveland and Newtown are at about 120% capacity while operating on multiple sessions.

At Monday’s meeting, attendees including D24 President Nick Comaianni suggested the three requests be submitted to the DOE as separate resolutions to prevent them all from being rejected at once. “Taking seats away from Forest Hills to give to us is not happening,” he said. “The reality is, Forest Hills will fight tooth and nail for those seats.”

MTA Reportedly Considering Nixing M Train Line

V Line Would be Rerouted to Metropolitan Avenue

By Conor Greene

Western Queens residents and officials are anxiously awaiting official word from the MTA on the future of the M train following reports the agency is considering eliminating the line and rerouting the V train to Middle Village.

The MTA is not commenting on the rumors, which were reported this week in amNY and various transit blogs. A spokesman said Wednesday that MTA officials are “reviewing the package of service reductions that was adopted by our board in December, but I cannot speak to any individual cuts or restorations to services on any of the lines individually as the process is going.”

According to the reports, the MTA would eliminate the M line, which currently terminates at Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village. The service reduction package contained within the MTA’s doomsday budget adopted in December already includes cutting M service to Brooklyn. The M line would be replaced by the V line in northern Brooklyn through Ridgewood and Middle Village.

In response to the rumors, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said she hopes the service reductions don’t unfairly impact Queens commuters. “Clearly, the MTA needs to be reminded that the people of Western Queens need transit too,” she said in a statement to The Forum. “While the MTA brainstorms a makeover for its doomsday cuts, I hope they will consider sharing the burden with Manhattan riders rather than continually eliminating options for the Queens riders.”

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, said his Transportation Committee is looking into the situation. He noted that the V line currently provides greater overnight and rush hour service than the M train. “During rush hour you can wait for three trains from lower Manhattan before you get an M,” said Arcuri. “We’ll have to analyze it. I would hope they wouldn’t adjust the schedule down if it went that way.”

According to the MTA, a series of public hearings would be held once any official decisions are made regarding service changes. “We’re a few steps out before anything takes place,” added the spokesman, Aaron Donovan. “Now that we have a little more time to evaluate the cuts, we’re taking a closer look at them.”

Residents Warned to be Alert Following Burglaries

Following a rash of residential burglaries over the past month, Assemblyman Mike Miller is urging residents to take steps to ensure their homes aren’t easy targets for criminals.

Miller (D-Woodhaven) is reminding his constituents to take simple but important precautions such as leaving a light on when you’re not home, having your key ready as you approach your door, covering and locking windows and using a chain bolt when opening the door to strangers. While on vacation, residents should set automatic light timers and have mail and deliveries stopped.

“These tips are essential to protect you and your family,” said Miller. “By staying alert and implementing these simple suggestions, we can work together to make our community safer.”

The reminder comes after a number of home invasions were reported in December within the confines of the 106th Precinct, specifically in Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and South Richmond Hill. Officers of the Community Affairs Units of the 104th Precinct and 102nd Precinct, parts of which are within Miller’s district, say their areas have not seen a similar spike in homes invasions over the past month.

Among the reported burglaries were five incidents in the area stretching from Aqueduct Race Track to 130th Street and from Rockaway Boulevard to the North Conduit. In one case, a 123rd Street homeowner awoke to find two burglars inside his house. One fled the scene, but the other was arrested after the homeowner confronted him.

Later last month, it was reported that police have arrested nine individuals in connection with the burglaries. Arrests were made throughout the neighborhoods that were hit hardest by the burglaries.

Residents can have a crime prevention survey of their home conducted for free by contacting the precinct at (718) 845-2223.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Some Area Libraries Slated to Close on Weekends

Budget Woes Force Queens Library to Reduce Hours

By Conor Greene

Starting next month, fourteen Queens Library branches will only be open from Monday through Friday, with weekend hours eliminated due to budget constraints. The effected locations include Ridgewood, Kew Garden Hills, North Forest Park and Ozone Park.

According to a release issued by Queens Library, the decision was necessitated by reductions in city and state funding over the past two years. “Reducing service hours is a painful course of action,” said Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante. “Queens Library has been in a hiring freeze that began in 2008. At this time, we are forced to reduce our service schedules as our workforce has been reduced.”

The other libraries to be closed on weekends beginning February 1 are: Arverne, Astoria, Baisley Park, Court Square, East Elmhurst, Lefrak City, Queensboro Hill, South Hollis and Windsor Park. All other locations will maintain their current service levels, including from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition, Queens Library at Central in Jamaica is open on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Many services are also available online at

News of the service reductions didn’t sit well with local elected officials, some of whom successfully fought against a similar plan last spring. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who represents Ridgewood, said that keeping educational services running effectively for families will be a top priority in the upcoming budget discussions.

”It is disappointing that the Queens Library – with the largest attendance in the country – has to suffer weekend hour reductions after the City Council worked tirelessly to restore funding to keep hours open and to provide much needed upgrades,” said Crowley, who led a rally in April in front of the North Forest Park branch as a result of planned reductions at that time. She also provided $800,000 in funding for renovations at the Ridgewood branch, which are currently in progress, along with $400,000 for upgrades at the Glendale branch.

Jimmy Van Bramer, who served as the library’s director of external affairs before winning November’s election to represent the 26th District on City Council, echoed the sentiment that the reductions are not acceptable. “I have long been an advocate for strong, well-funded neighborhood libraries,” said Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). “It is unacceptable for any library to close and I will work tirelessly with my colleagues and the Queens Library to enhance library services all across my district.”

In the Ozone Park area, Councilman Eric Ulrich agreed that the hour reductions are disappointing. However, he said residents must be realistic given the economic climate and should be prepared for further budget cuts that could impact a variety of city services. He noted that one branch was picked from every City Council district and reminded residents they can travel to other local branches such as Howard Beach or Richmond Hill for Saturday service.

“I’m very disappointed, however I do believe this is just a sign of the times,” said Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who recently provided $1 million for capital improvements at the Ozone Park, Howard Beach and Broad Channel branches. “While we certainly want every library to be open six days a week, given the economic situation the city and state is currently in, it is just not feasible or sustainable to keep every library open six days a week… We have to make very difficult decisions, and these are not decisions that people are going to be happy with but will have to accept them because of the position we’re in.”

Queens Library is an independent, not-for-profit corporation serving a population of 2.2 million residents. With a record 23 million items in circulation for fiscal year 2009, the library has the highest circulation of any public library system in the nation and one of the highest in the world. For details, visit or call (718) 990-0700.

Governor to Legislators: Let's Decide on Aqueduct Redevelopment

Paterson Vows Decision by Week’s End

By Patricia Adams

Gov. Paterson says he won’t wait beyond this week to choose an operator for the video gaming facility at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Paterson announced his intentions to reporters at a New Year’s open house at the Governor’s Mansion. "What I am probably going to do in the next week or so is to pick one myself and try to publicly persuade them to embrace this decision."

According to the proposal, Paterson and the leaders of the Assembly and Senate must all agree on a VLT operator. But the lawmakers have been in a stalemate for months over which of the bidders will be chosen to run the long anticipated Racino.

Paterson blames legislative leaders because they have not been able to reach a decision, while the lawmakers blame the governor for the stall in the process. Critics of the so-far failed project have much to hang their hats on. Beginning with a collapsed deal after making an initial selection of Delaware North back in October 2008, the state has continued to fall further into deficit. The expected revenue loss without a deal is $1 million per day.

Senator Joe Addabbo says he has made repeated requests to the governor’s office to make a choice. “Aqueduct is not a priority to this governor,” Addabbo said in an interview with The Forum. “There is no rational reason why a decision has not been made.” Addabbo says his criticism is based on the fact that lawmakers have had all the necessary information on bidders for six months. “We have every piece of information on the bidders to make a decision. We can’t get started without some type of decision.

Addabbo says he is frustrated over the fact that so much revenue has been lost during the standstill and that many jobs would have been created long ago to help the local economy. “The legislature must make a decision and move forward. Whoever the vendor is, we will work with them to provide the best plan for the state and most importantly for the community that surrounds Aqueduct.”

Sate Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer shares some of the senator’s concerns. “His [Paterson’s] decision is what we’ve been waiting for.” Pheffer says that although the governor, the Assembly speaker and the senate president must agree on a choice, with a preference by the governor the three heads of state will have something concrete to talk about. “What this is really about,” said Pheffer, “is agreeing on a vendor and then working to make sure they are good neighbors to the community.

No matter where opinions weigh in on the decision, one thing is for sure — every day of delay costs the state a tremendous amount of revenue. With the governor’s promised deadline within days, those who have been involved in the process hope the end is in sight.

“After a decision is made,” said Addabbo, “The winning bidder will have up to 90 days before an actual payment to the state is made.” That amount of time says the senator is dangerously close to the end of this fiscal year. “We included the $200 million dollar upfront payment from the winner in the state’s deficit reduction plan we passed in December. We need that money before the end of this fiscal year.”

Concerns at NYRA continue to grow and the agency warned last month they may not have the capital to run the Belmont Stakes in the spring if they do not start receiving revenue from the VLTs. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has since launched an audit of NYRA whom official say they hope will comply.

Ulrich, Fellow Republicans Sworn in by Bloomberg

Republicans Hold Most Council Seats in Decade

By Patricia Adams

City Council member Eric Ulrich was among 5 Republican minority caucus members sworn in by Mayor Bloomberg last Wednesday. Following the ceremony, Minority Leader James Oddo, Council members Eric Ulrich and Vincent Ignizio and Councilmen-elect Dan Halloran and Peter Koo took an oath of office presided over by the office of the city clerk.

The “GOP five” asked Bloomberg to preside over the swearing in and the mayor accepted, congratulating the Republicans on their historic membership increase—two more Republicans were elected to the council than last term; the council now has more Republican members than it has had over the past ten years.

"I would be shocked if you guys didn't make an enormous contribution," Bloomberg said at the ceremony. “We’re going to work together. Not as Republicans, not as Independents, not as Democrats, but as New Yorkers.”

Councilmember Ulrich said he was looking forward to working closely with his Republican colleagues and the rest of the council in the upcoming term. “I am honored to have been given the opportunity to serve my community,” Ulrich said. “I think with the increased minority presence in the council we will have great success in advancing common sense legislation and policies and help the council strive for more bipartisan leadership.”

The entire city council was officially sworn in on January 6.

Barbara Sheehan Returns to Court

The defense team for Barbara Sheehan returned to court on Tuesday, this time appearing before the new judge in the case, Justice Richard Buchter. Following the departure from the case of Justice Arthur Cooperman, defense attorney Michael Dowd seemed more optimistic about his client facing trial presided over by Buchter.

“I feel that with Judge Buchter she [Barbara] will get a fair trial. He’s a reasonable man and I know he will keep an open mind.” Although it is unlikely, Dowd is still hopeful that Butcher will overturn a decision by Cooperman which prohibits the introduction of expert testimony as part of Sheehan’s defense.

The controversial decision was made by Cooperman in November, two months before he officially resigned from the bench at the end of the year. Attorneys for Sheehan say their case was derailed by Cooperman’s decision to exclude testimony from psychologists in the field of domestic violence; and that it will be very difficult to present an accurate picture of the situation to the jury without the benefit of expert testimony.

Sheehan is scheduled to return to court on February 24. She faces murder charges in the 2008 shooting death of her husband, Raymond. No date has yet been set for trial.

Teacher Busted in Online Sex Sting

A 27-year-old Brooklyn high school teacher has admitted to attempting to arrange a sexual rendezvous with a person he met online and believed to be a 14-year-old girl.

Alexander D. Kravitz, of 2107 East 7th Street in Brooklyn and a teacher at William E. Grady Vocational High School in Brighton Beach, pleaded guilty on Monday to first-degree attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor. He is expected to receive 90 days in jail and five years’ probation when sentenced on February 24 and will be forced to surrender his state teaching credentials and computer and register as a sex offender.

“This case underscores the crucial importance of Internet surveillance initiatives by law enforcement to protect our children from sexual predators and should serve as a warning to parents to closely monitor their children’s Internet access and activities,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “It is particularly disturbing that the defendant in this case was a teacher who is entrusted to look out for the well-being of children.”

According to the charges, an NYPD vice detective was operating in his undercover persona as a 14-year-old girl from Queens between Nov. 13, 2008 and Jan. 7, 2009, during which time he received numerous instant messages from the defendant, who was using the screen name EVRYDAYGURLS. The defendant’s messages were sexual in nature and, on at least two occasions, included live video of him masturbating.

Kravitz was arrested when he appeared at a pre-arranged Queens location for what he believed would be a sexual encounter with the 14-year-old girl with whom he had been instant messaging. He was taken into custody after approaching a female undercover police officer and identifying himself as the person from the online chats.