Thursday, December 30, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Looking Back: 2010

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Blizzard of 2010

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The Year in Editorials

This year we offered commentary on a wide range of topics—some registered anger, others humor, sadness and joy. But regardless of the diverse subject matter, there is always one common thread at The Forum—it is our privilege to serve as your community newspaper.

For the last 34 years, you have counted on us to cover your neighborhood news, and we look forward to renewing your trust in us each and every year ahead.

We are grateful to both our readers and our advertisers for their continued support. It’s because of all of you that we look forward to coming to work each day.

Now we invite you to look some of the editorials we found most impacting for 2010.

January 28 Terrorist Should Face Military Tribunal

The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could cost the city of New York more than $400 million. We agree that there are reasons to take this trial out of the city. We need no more reminders. More that any of history’s recorded events—whether a triumph or a tragedy—September 11, 2001 is a day which can be made no more devastating.

Our objections lie in moving this trial from a military courtroom to a civilian one. We feel this decision best serves those to be tried rather than the victims of 9/11 or the people of New York who must face a trial that could loom dangerously over them for a long time.

February 4 When New Direction Means No Direction

Once again the world of politics in Queens is providing more head shaking, stomach turning material, this time from Congressman Gregory Meeks and state Senator Malcolm Smith. The two lawmakers are very involved in the New Direction Local Development Corporation, a local nonprofit organization, which does very little developing at all. It has been labeled a slush fund by critics...since funds have been coming into the charity and gone out in any direction but where they were supposed to have gone. Money was used for meals and entertainment and of course...for consulting fees.

Still have doubts about whether Queens has been tainted by more corrupt elected offiials? Perhaps the recorded announcement from the phone company at the charity’s listed number acts as an indicator—“I’m sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected. No further information is available.”

March 4 Bring It Back

Someone broke into the church at St. Helen’s in Howard Beach and took a chalice belonging to Fr. Rob Keighron in the middle of the night. I would like to use the editorial space this week to address the individual who stole the chalice.

The value of what you have stolen cannot be measured. It is indeed a treasure. You are not the first person to do something like this and unfortunately, you will not be the last. What you could be instead, is someone who is honestly sorry for having done something so thoughtless and so damaging; someone who now has the chance to make amends and to restore faith.

Wrap it up and leave it in the back of the church. Leave it at the doorstep of the rectory. Please just bring it back.

April 1 Beware of Blind Spots

A dangerous “blind spot” was revealed in the local news when three men were stabbed on a Manhattan train. Two victims died from their injuries and a third was seriously wounded. Their attacker left the scene without a trace and the subway station where the attacks occurred did not have a security camera.

Of the 4,313 security cameras that have been installed in the city, more than one-half don’t work because of mechanical difficulty. Mayor Bloomberg said, “...the MTA does not have enough money to provide the level of security...we should have.”

In addition, $93 million in budget cuts have resulted in unmanned token booths and a shortage of officers to patrol the stations, bridges and tunnels.

A system which is responsible for transporting more than five million New Yorkers every day is not secure and remains an attractive prospect for criminals and terrorists.

The MTA...must initiate and maintain whatever they must so that subway riders in NYC are not faced with deadly blind spots.

July 22 At What Cost Privacy

Governor David Paterson can best be described as shoddy and ineffective. But, to that description he also added irresponsible and dangerous, when he stripped the NYPD of a tool which helps them protect the good guys—us.

He signed off on State Assembly Bill A11177A/S7945 which mandates the eradication of a database containing the list of the names of individuals who were released without having legal action taken after they were stopped by police conducting stop and frisk operations.

While we do not favor the unfair infringement or any investigation based solely on the race of any law-abiding citizen, clearly common sense says we’ll all fare far better in a database than as a statistic.

August 26 And Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Grocery Shopping

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) released a report detailing that almost half the supermarkets in the city are guilty of numerous violations that seriously affect consumers.

The violations included inaccurate check-out scanners, lack of prices on individual items, taxation of items that are not taxable, improperly weighed foods and unavailability ofscales for customers. Queens’ area supermarkets, approximately 45% in total, don’t meet requirements.

We urge shoppers to hold their favorite supermarkets accountable for all policies with regards to pricing as well as date freshness and health issues.

September 2 Do Not Build It

As we draw near to the nine-year anniversary of September 11, the recollection of that day has recently become even more difficult for many as a result of the proposal to build a mosque within a stone’s throw of the hallowed ground where the Twin Towers once stood.

The Forum has already developed a stated position of opposition to this construction. This week we offer our editorial space to Jay Burke who lost his son Matthew in the attacks. thoughts race forward to...the day of 9/11 horror, the day my son, Matthew J. Burke,...was murdered as he sat at his desk. Nothing will ever erase the memory of that day.

His life and the lives of all those murdered that day must never, ever be forgotten, but remembered with love, dignity and respect.

Something which runs counter to the need for such the plan to build a mosque adjacent to ground zero. The placement of such a building is a symbolic insult to the victims, their families and the great people of this nation.

The desire to place this building less than 1,000 feet from the site of the worst tragedy in our nation’s history is...a conscious effort to demean and desecrate this hallowed ground.

It is ironic and sad to will probably be built before those buildings honoring our fallen at ground zero. It is time to stand firm in our beliefs, reaffirm our trust in the American dream...and speak out. We must not let our country be attacked from outside or undermined from within.

September 23 Forget the Text—Get This Message

A major nationwide effort has been launched to stop distracted driving. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has identified texting drivers as being 23 times more likely to crash or have near-misses as non-texters.

Another study by Car and Driver magazine...determined that an unimpaired driver tool approximately one-half of a second to brake, a legally drunk driver stopped the car four feet later than an unimpaired driver, while a driver reading a text stopped 36 feet later and another who was texting came to a stop 70 feet further than an unimpaired, non- distracted driver.

Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t e-mail and drive. Don’t talk and drive. Just drive.

Monday, December 27, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

New York to Lose Two House Seats: Slow Growth Rates Blamed

By Jason Barczy

The state of New York, and possibly the city, will lose some of its political muscle as the 2010 census count calls for New York to lose two seats in the House of Representatives.

U.S. Census Bureau director Robert Groves released the initial numbers from the 2010 census Tuesday, reporting the United States has grown 9.7 percent in the last 10 years to a population of 308,745,538.

New York grew by just 2.1 percent to a population of 19,378,102, putting it among the lowest five growth rates in the country and dropping its number of House seats from 29 to 27, tying it with Florida for the first time ever. The loss of House seats for New York leave the state with the smallest Congressional delegation it has had in 200 years.

“It’s not good when your state delegation gets smaller,” said Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens). “But I’m confident our city delegation won’t see any reduction. Since Queens is one of the fastest growing counties in the state it seems there will be the same number of representatives for the county.”

Weiner said that his offices are seeing a surge in growth for New York City and Queens has grown by five percent.

“I think Queens will be held harmless in the redistricting process,” Weiner said. “It seems there’s more than enough people to have the same number of congressmen and thankfully there’s a lot of people in New York City.”

New York has been losing seats in the House since 1950 when it had control of 45 seats. The state also lost two seats in 2000.

“By taking out two additional voices from the city and voices from the Greater New York area there has been a diminished representation in our government,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “The districts are going to have to cover more people and that is a problem.”

The elimination of which congressional districts is yet to be determined by the state legislature with most critics saying one will come from the western half of the state and one possibly coming out of New York City.

Beginning in February, the Census Bureau will release population and race breakdowns down to the neighborhood level for states to redraw congressional boundaries.

Addabbo credits the high cost of living in New York as the reason there has been a slow population growth.

“There are going to be less people able to adapt to the high cost of living,” Addabbo said. “There’s a segment of the population that needs a reduction in property taxes and it’s mainly our seniors and veterans but we should reduce property taxes for everyone.”

The entire Northeast saw growth of just 3.8 percent, the lowest in the country compared to double-digit increases in the South and West. Texas was the big winner, pick- ing up four seats in the House. Florida picked up two.

Ohio joined New York losing two seats while New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania each lost one. Michigan was the only state to see a net loss in population.

New York still remains among the top five most populous states in the country, ranking third behind California and Texas respectively. Overall, the country saw its lowest population increase since 1940, just after the Great Depression.

On December 14 results from the American Community Survey (ACS), which is vastly different from the Census survey, were released. The results provided a look at how New York’s racial makeup, along with income, education and housing has changed between 2005 and 2009.

“We’ve always been a county of immigrants and Queens County is the most diverse county in the state and probably the entire country,” Weiner said. “Its diversity is its strength and the economic engine that drives the county.”

According to the ACS, 47 percent of the population in Queens County is foreign-born—the second highest for a county in the country, next to Miami-Dade County. In Ozone Park, the Hispanic population is up and in South Ozone Park the African- American population has dropped by half; Caucasians are moving out of Rego Park and Asians are making their way into Forest Hills and Woodhaven. Maspeth and Middle Village’s population is primarily non-Hispanic whites. But, the survey notes that Hispanic occupancy is on the rise.

Queens also shares the longest commute for workers in the country, along with Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, at an average of 42.5 minutes.

“I think the borough is ever-changing,” Addabbo said. “We do live in the most diverse borough, in not only the country but in the world, and will have that kind of diversity for many years to come.”

Residents and Pols Vow to Continue Fight Against Meter Hikes

By Eric Yun

With New York City seeking ways to close its midyear budget deficits, a proposal from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to raise the rates on parking meters was met with resistance by local residents, business owners and politicians.

On Sunday, Council Members James Vacca (D-Bronx) and Diana Reyna (D-Brooklyn) held a press conference at the Ridgewood Memorial Triangle located at the intersection of Myrtle and Cypress Avenues. Calling the proposal “penny- wise and pound-foolish,” Vacca and Reyna promised they would fight the Mayor’s proposal and introduce legislation to prevent further hikes.

Meter rates were stagnant at 50 cents per hour for 17 years. In 2009 the rates were raised to 75 cents per hour. The current proposal would raise the price to one dollar per hour. At city munimeters, an hour of parking would cost three dollars, up from $2.50.

“This Band-Aid approach to the budget is unsustainable and empties the pockets of consumers and merchants, while the economy is still recovering,” said Reyna. “We are sending the wrong message when we continue to burden working fami- lies, who are watching where every quarter is being spent.”

Vacca and Reyna said motorists are being priced out of the city, which would be a huge economic blow for outer-borough communities like Ridgewood.

“Motorists are being besieged by overzealous ticketing, gas prices over $3.25 and registration fees that seem to go up every year,” said Vacca. “The City is simply giving drivers another reason to turn their cars around and shop in the suburbs, where parking is free and there’s no risk of tickets.”

And after shopping in Long Island or New Jersey, residents might wonder if they are better off living in those neighborhoods, Vacca said.

Herman Hochberg, the founding president of the Ridgewood Local Development Company and the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District agreed that raising parking prices could severely hamper small businesses.

“This isn’t Manhattan,” Hochberg said. “There are different people and a different culture here.” Without the amount of public transportation available, many residents of Queens are forced to take their cars to go shopping, Hochberg said.

Even with the protests over the fare hikes, Mayor Bloomberg can proceed through the Department of Transportation. In an attempt to curtail future hikes. Vacca and Reyna are co- sponsoring legislation that bars the city from raising prices more than 25 percent over any five-year period unless the City Council grants special authorization.

If that law were in place today, there would not be another hike until 2014, the Council Members said.

Many of the residents at the press conference seem resigned to the fact that the city will continue to make budget cuts that negatively affect them.

“The Mayor is raising everything,” said local resident Manny Ortiz. “They need to come up with a better solution.”

Teen Draws Communities Together to Donate Blood

By Eric Yun

Lisa Horner said she was shocked by the tremendous support she received at Saturday’s blood drive inspired by her daughter Carly Nieves, held at Christ the King High School (CTK).

Carly, a 14-year-old student at I.S. 73 in Maspeth who is battling leukemia needs frequent blood transfusions. But because of a shortage throughout New York’s blood centers, Carly is sometimes sent home without the treatment she desperately needed.

“When you’re told there’s no blood for her, it’s just devastating,” Horner told community members when she urged them to donate blood last month.

Despite hardships, Carly has finished her studies with honors at I.S. 73 and maintains a positive outlook on her life.

To help spread awareness about the need for blood donors, Carly and her mom teamed up with Christ the King Regional High School, the New York Blood Center and Friends of Karen to raise blood and funds for the cause.

Horner wasn’t sure what to expect at the drive, but the community and her friends came together to donate blood. “There are friends I haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years who came out to support us,” she said.

One of the biggest contributors to the blood drive were CTK students. Michael Michel, president of the school, said Carly’s sister, Juliana, a Christ the King pre-school student, first approached him about helping her sister.

“When you have a four-year-old girl ask, ‘Can you help my sister,’ it’s heart- breaking,” Michel said. “I wanted to do what I could to help.”

Michel said this was a great opportunity to get his students involved and
educate them about donating blood. More than 150 students turned out on Saturday; some donated blood while others volunteered their time. The school is hopeful that the first time experience for students will inspire lifelong participation.

“We need to get the young kids involved and educate them that donating blood is easy to do,” Michel said. The drive was such a success that there have been discussions about making it an annual event, Michel continued.

A total of 200 pints of blood were donated at the event and 54 people enrolled for the bone marrow registry. These contributions will help both Carly and the many others throughout New York City that need blood transfusions.

“There was a wonderful turnout for Carly’s cause,” Lisa Horner said. “I’m so grateful.”

Parking and Traffic Issues Discussed at CB5

By Eric Yun

The year’s last Community Board 5 was used by board members as a chance to relax and enjoy a holiday party, but plenty of issues were still discussed.

Local elected officials, Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Assembly Members Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Representative Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) and Borough President Helen Marshall wished the community a safe and happy holiday season and New Years.

Crowley also told the community that as the Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee in the City Council she would con- tinue to fight against closing fire companies and against the FDNY proposal to charge fees for assisting motorists involved in crashes.

No Parking on Flushing Ave.

During the public hearings, William Grodnick, a member of the New York Army National Guard complained about the lack of parking on Flushing Avenue, 59th Avenue and 60th Street because of illegally parked tow trucks from American Auto Towing and Service located at 60-05 Flushing Avenue.

Residents voiced this complaint before. Last year, the Juniper Park Civic Association highlighted how numerous commercial vehicles block fire hydrants, driveways and crosswalks in that area of Maspeth.

Grodnick asked the board to help him contact authorities to clear the street because calls to 311 and the police department have gone unanswered.

“The parking is atrocious over there,” said Grodnick. “I come home from a hard day at work and I can’t find any parking.”

The owner of the company, who identified himself as Sammy, told The Forum that their trucks are parked legally, and the only driveways they block are their own.

However, local residents said the cars from the company are constant nuisances.

“They’re double parking all the time in front of my house,” one homeowner said. “I just want to live in peace.”

The Board asked Grodnick to assemble more facts and pictures and present them at the next Transportation Committee meeting.

Dangers on Mount Olivet Crescent

In other traffic related news, the board discussed changes to Mount Olivet Crescent between Eliot Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue. Repeated requests to install traffic lights at the intersection were finally heeded, but the Board said further analyses need to be conducted.

The problem, explained Vincet Arcuri, Chair of CB 5, is that cars speed down the downhill street towards Metropolitan Avenue to catch the traffic light. This has caused several accidents where drivers have hit side mirrors of parked cars or collided with other vehicles
travelling up the narrow street because they failed to yield.

One suggestion from the board was to make the street one way. However, J.P. DiTroia, President of the Fresh Pond Crematory located at 61-40 Mount Olivet Crescent, protested any changes to traffic regulations.

“Any disturbance of traffic would be a hindrance to the bereaved families,” DiTroia said.

Some suggestions include installing speed bumps along the street, but Arcuri feared speed bumps on a downhill road could lead to disastrous consequences.

World War II Factory Studied

During World War II, many of the small industrial factories around Queens were converted for war-time use. One site at 1127 and 1129 Irving Avenue at the edge of Ridgewood was used as a site for atomic bomb testing and manufacturing.

The Wolff-Alport Chemical Corporation extracted rare earth elements from monazite sand, a mineral found in Brazil, generating the radioactive byproduct thorium, according to
the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Health Department conducted a thorough survey of the area that was completed in September. The findings were presented at a public meeting held on December 13 in Manhattan.

CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano relayed the Department’s findings. The radioactive materials at the site are not a significant risk to the workers or the sur- rounding community, the Health Department said.

Friday, December 17, 2010

MetroCard Van Coming To Howard Beach and Ridgewood

In an effort to provide more accessible service for disabled and senior residents, New York City Transit offers a mobile outreach program designed especially to serve their transportation needs.

The van will set up on Wednesday, December 29, at the Howard Beach Senior Center located at 156-45 84th Street from 10 AM – Noon and then at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center located at 59-14 70th Avenue from 1PM - 3PM.

The MetroCard Mobile Sales staff will assist residents 65 and over and disabled customers in applying for Reduced Fare MetroCards. All customers may purchase and/or refill MetroCards; report a lost or stolen card; or have a damaged MetroCard replaced on-site.

Seniors applying for a reduced-fare MetroCard will need to bring at least 2 types of identification to the MetroCard bus: Medicare Card, Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, Driver License, or Non-Driver Li- cense.

For more information, please call Senator Addabbo’s Howard Beach (718-738-1111) or Middle Village (718-497-1630) district offices.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Christmas Comes Early

By Patricia Adams

Christmas came early this year for one South Ozone Park family, thanks to the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation and state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). Like so many other small business owners facing today’s economic difficulties, Susan DiLuca and her husband Giuseppe were devastated when they recently had to close Frank’s Pizzeria, the family business they owned and operated for 25 years on Sutphin Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue.

“We had a wonderful business. Our customers were like family after all this time,” said Susan DiLuca. But despite the fact they owned the building, the pizzeria was unable to cover the mounting bills. “Business started to drop because people were bringing their own lunch to work.”

In addition, she says there were many layoffs at the LIRR and things just continued to spiral downhill.

Beside the struggles at their business, the DiLuca family found themselves faced with yet another troublesome situation— the youngest of their four children, Emilia, just starting her freshman year at Adelphi, was going to have to leave college. The family tried everything to arrange for her tuition payments—parent loans for students, refinancing their home, applying for personal loans, even trying to get a job with the school for a discounted tuition—but nothing they tried proved successful. “We were at our wits end with no where to go. We put our other three children through college and we were heartbroken that Emilia would not have the same chance,” said Susan DiLuca.

But a phone call from the school to Senator Addabbo started the wheels in motion. After learning about the situation, the senator made a call to the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation to inquire about the groups scholarship program, which offers opportunities to disadvantaged students of Italian descent.

The DiLuca’s were asked to submit a formal request to the Foundation board for review and within a few days they got the good news. “Our scholarship program has helped many students who have financial difficulty,” said Mario Faulisi, president of the organization. “It was a pleasure to secure this year’s tuition for Emilia. She is a good student from a hard working family who deserves this opportunity.”

“There is no way to express what we feel about the way the Senator and the Foundation have helped us. My daughter is so relieved and happy that we just can’t believe it,” said Susan DiLuca. “We will never be able to express our gratitude to the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation for the help that they gave us. They made a dream come true. God bless them.”

“I am always so grateful to be a part of anything that helps out families in need, especially when it involves students and education,” said Sen. Addabbo. “We are all thankful for the help and good work that the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation does. They have stepped up here and provided a much deserved opportunity for this bright student who has a great future ahead of her.”

For Emilia DiLuca, her dream of becoming a teacher is now very much alive. “This is one of the best Christmas presents I could ever get,” says the 18-year-old. “I will be forever thankful to the Foundation and to Sen. Addabbo for all their help. My education will not be interrupted because of money and I can pursue my teaching career.”

And on Monday, when Emilia DiLuca went online to check her balance, the funds had been transferred into her student tuition account. She was going to keep her place in school. The date may have only been December 13, but to Emilia DiLuca it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Taking Back The Neighborhood: Lindenwood Alliance Gets Up and Running

By Patricia Adams

Howard Beach saw the debut of its newest community organization at the first meeting of the Lindenwood Alliance on Monday evening. The meeting was held by the co-leaders of the organization, Christina Gold and Joann Ariola, who explained the origin of the group and how they intend to serve the community.

More than two dozen residents were joined by representatives from the offices of local elected officials including Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Shirley Huntley. Councilman Eric Ulrich was on hand to offer support and to praise the organizers for their innovative approach to forming the group, and encouraged those present to spread the word and join the Alliance.

Gold led the discussion by informing those present that the Alliance was conceptualized by her and Ariola after the two first met at a meeting of the 106th Precinct Community Council several months ago and had a subsequent discussion about the problems facing their community.

The women, both Lindenwood residents, decided that they would take action to beef up neighborhood security after a sudden spike in crimes involving vandalism and auto theft. Gold further explained that her interest was sparked after a group of teens threw a bottle into her backyard during a family party. “The bottle landed a couple of feet away from a 2-month-old baby that was sleeping in her carriage,” Gold said. “After that I knew something had to be done.”

The Alliance will not function as a typical civic organization and instead will focus on the integration of community, elected officials and local police. “Our objective is to get everyone involved,” said Ariola, a life-long Howard Beach resident and activist. “The problems we are having here in Lindenwood are much like those around the city. The difference here is that we intend to do something about them.” Ariola went on to say that the expected success of the Alliance will come from the dedication of the residents and the cooperation of elected officials and the police.

Also in attendance at the meeting were representatives from Phoenix Security, the company that has been retained by the community since 2002 and offers a neighborhood patrol service. Debbie Velez of Phoenix and Pam Goldstein of Neighborhood Crime Prevention detailed their respective operations and how they serve to protect Lindenwood residents. The company has two patrol cars, one marked and one unmarked, patrol’s the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are hoping the formation of the Alliance will help to encourage residents who live in the areas private homes to participate in their program by agreeing to pay a fee to join. Inquiries can be made by calling 718.641.0100.

The Alliance will continue to meet on the 2nd Monday of every month at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center at 7:30 p.m. All are encouraged to attend and questions can be directed to Christina Gold by phone at 718.844.4743 or e-mail at or Joann Ariola at 347.233.4382

Grocer's Bankruptcy Worries Shoppers

By David J. Harvey

Area Walbaums and Pathmark Stores stay open despite debt

Residents are not likely to find shuttered doors at their local Waldbaum’s supermarkets either in Howard Beach or at others in Queens, despite the company’s growing debt.

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), which owns Waldbaum’s, announced on December 12 that it had filed for bankruptcy. In a press release, A&P President and Chief Executive Officer Sam Martin said the voluntary filing under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code was a necessary part of the company’s restructuring.

“Our customers can shop our stores with confidence, and our employees can continue delivering great value and service to our customers every day," Martin said.

He also said all stores would remain fully stocked and operating during the company’s restructuring efforts.

A&P opened its first shop in 1859 on Manhattan and owned 16,000 stores at its peak in the 1930s. The company now operates 395 stores under several names across the Northeast. Nearly 60 of those stores are Waldbaum’s, concentrated on Long Island with additional markets in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The Waldbaum’s stores in Howard Beach—one on Cross Bay Boulevard and another on 153rd Avenue in Lindenwood—are among sparse options for buying groceries in the area. The stores’ closure could impact quality of life for neighbors.

“I don’t know what we would do if this store closed,” said Mary Bartolomo, who has lived in one of the area’s co-op buildings for 30 years. “Many of us are seniors who don’t have cars and we are able to walk to the store. I hope they get what they need to stay open otherwise we’ll be in bad shape.”

A spokesperson for Howard Plaza, the management company that holds the lease for the Waldbaum’s store in the Lindenwood Shopping Center, said that Waldbaum’s has “no intentions of closing for business or vacating the location despite the bankruptcy announcement.”

A&P will maintain its assets under Chapter 11, unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy wherein assets are liquidated.

According to A&P’s bankruptcy claim, the company has debts totaling over $3.2 billion and assets of roughly $2.5 billion. Waldbaum’s share of the debt is nearly $900 million.

JP Morgan and Chase has issued A&P an $800 million loan related to the bankruptcy filing that will allow A&P to continue paying employees’ wages and other operating costs.

“We could not complete our turnaround without availing ourselves of Chapter 11,” Martin said. “It will allow us to restructure our debt, reduce our structural costs, and address our legacy issues.”

Despite assurances that stores will not be closed, the company has sold off properties during earlier restructuring measures. In September this year, A&P sold seven stores in Connecticut to Big Y Foods, Inc.

"The seven stores were clearly outside of our core markets and this transaction
helps advance our comprehensive turn-around strategy,” Martin said in a statement issued after the sale.

A&P also sold six Pathmark retail stores in September to Winstanley Enterprises, LLC. The six stores sold to Winstanley were in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Currently, A&P has 73 “dark stores” — closed locations the company has had trouble subletting or selling, according to the Wall Street Journal. The rent for these stores is projected to cost $77 million in 2011.

According to A&P spokesman Eric C. Andrus, the company will continue to analyze its store portfolio while in Chapter 11, as it has since announcing restructuring in October.
Andrus would not provide information beyond what is in the bankruptcy filings.

“Under Chapter 11, we must review every aspect of our business and we cannot speculate on what other actions may be taken to complete our financial and operational restructuring,” Andrus said in an e-mail.

As OTB Parlors Close Gamblers and Workers Cry Foul

By Jason Barczy

A dark, gloomy cloud not only washed over New York City on Monday but also the faces of bettors, horse racing enthusiasts and employees as the last of the NYC Off-Track Betting (OTB) sites closed.

The bankrupt NYC OTB closed its doors on December 8 after state Senate Democrats failed to gather enough votes to pass through legislation that would have rescued the nearly 40-year-old operation.

Joe Fazz, a 53-year-old court officer from Rego Park said it was a very sad day. He gathered all his betting slips from the past year and cashed them in at the NYC OTB parlor at 107-40 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

“This was an irresponsible decision,” Fazz said. “Employees are out of jobs two weeks before Christmas. I understand the money changers don’t care about that but it’s something that’s not lost upon the people.”

The Forest Hills location was one of the last three betting parlors that remained open. There were 54 in the city–including 17 in Queens–that provided customers a chance to cash in any winnings and close accounts.

Fazz and others came in to cash out for the last time. The parlor in Forest Hills was all but empty Monday afternoon with a couple senior citizens lounging at the site.

“A lot of senior citizens come out to these places to sit and relax just to get out of the house,” Whitestone resident and NYC OTB employee Arthur Kaplan said. “Now, those
people aren’t going to the track. People like that have no way of getting to the track; they came here because it’s local and in that sense it’s a shame. These people are going to suffer.”

The shutdown puts nearly 1,000 employees like Kaplan out of work and, according to Kaplan, could have a bigger effect on surrounding businesses.

“There’s a residual effect too because customers here would go to restaurants so they’ll lose business too,” Kaplan said. “Stores will lose business from people that come into this place.
NYC OTB was $228 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy in 2009."

The Senate voted 29-21 on the rescue plan, falling three votes short of the 32 needed to
pass the measure and the closure could cost the state upwards of $500 million in revenue. The failed rescue bill included concessions from NYC OTB, its unions and creditors along with cuts in statutory payments to state racetracks, which have long been cited as a main reason OTB was losing money.

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who sits on the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, voted in favor of the bill because he was concerned about the loss of jobs.

“It is truly unfortunate that there was not enough bipartisan support to save the approximately 1,000 jobs of the NYC OTB workers with a plan that would have cost the state nothing and actually would have resulted in cost savings and additional revenues,” Addabbo said in a statement released after the vote on December 7.

“As a result, we must now focus on dealing with the lost jobs, financial cost to the state upwards of $500 million, the negative impact on the thoroughbred and horse racing industry, and any detrimental effects this may have on Aqueduct’s racing future,” he said.

OTB’s were responsible for taking in 40 percent of New York’s racing handle, amounting to nearly $1 billion a year in bets on harness and thoroughbred horse racing.

OTB board Chairman Lawrence Schwartz said NYC OTB provided $700 million to the state and the racing industry from 2004 to 2009.

In an interview with WOR radio on December 8 Schwartz said, “NYC OTB is shut down and there is no plan to reopen it. You can’t switch it on and off. There have not been negotiations. The future is bleak if not finished.”

The New York Racing Association is working on a number of plans to make up for the shortfall of revenue it received from NYC OTB including opening up its own betting parlor at Belmont Park.

NYRA is offering free bus rides to the Aqueduct Racetrack from select NYC OTB locations across the city. The bus rides started on December 4 and will run until further notice. NYRA president and CEO Charlie Hayward also asked the state to consider allowing video streaming of its races online.

Local Shelter Expands Reach to Pets

By Jason Barczy

More and more pet owners in Queens are facing the difficult challenge of feeding and taking care of their furry loved ones during tough economic times.

Faced with average annual costs of more than $800 for owning a dog or a cat, according to Business Week. Owners are dropping off pets at overcrowded animal shelters and in some cases just abandoning them on the street.

However, one local food pantry in Richmond Hill is fighting to help pet owners alleviate some of the costs of owning a pet and prevent owners from abandoning their four-legged friends.

Elohim Community Development, at 87-47 111th Street in Richmond Hill, primarily provides food for hungry, low-income people. In response to an overwhelming need, it started offering food for dogs and cats a little over a year ago.

“When we started the program we had 12 or 13 seniors we were supplying and then the word got out,” said Anthony Miranda, executive director of ECD. “Soon it was phone call after phone call. There was a tremendous need.”

ECD, in its 11th year of existence, now feeds 75 to 90 cats and dogs on an average day as many of the pet owners who come to the pantry are senior citizens living on a fixed income.

Miranda said giving up pets due to economic constraints is a tragic occurrence and pet owners should look into any possible assistance first.

“When I was a kid all you had to do was call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and they would come pick your pet up,” Miranda said. “Now they don’t do that.”

ECD is open Thursday, Friday and Sunday and supplies food on an emergency basis through a 24/7 hotline. It is one of the largest multi-service food pantries in Queens.

The pantry relies solely on donations from companies, organizations and individuals to contribute much of the food it provides. More than 30 volunteers help out with its efforts.
But with many people and companies struggling in this economic climate, the pantry is seeing a decrease in monetary donations and volunteers, affecting its ability to provide food.

The Animal Relief Fund provides ECD with much of its pet food and delivers pet food to 61 pantries across New York City including 16 in Queens.

ARF is a non-profit corporation founded by New York attorney Susan Kaufman to help pet owners who are experiencing financial difficulties. It partners with the Food Bank For New York City and is supported by 20 pet stores and eight PETCO stores citywide.

“When the economic crisis hit New York I realized just how many people were unemployed and forced to make a choice between feeding themselves or their pets,” Kaufman
said. “I read about increased abandonment of pets and I made some phone calls and realized pet food wasn’t being distributed by anybody.”

In her second year of operation, Kaufman estimates she has distributed 300,000 to 350,000 pounds of pet food.

Anyone wanting to make a donation to ARF can send a check or money order to ARF Inc. at P.O. Box 1530 New York, NY 10028 or by email to

A donation of $25 can buy two cases of cat food and $50 will pay for three cases of dog food. A $75 contribution will provide 120 pounds of dry dog food and $100 can buy 120 pounds of dry cat food.

Donors can make financial contributions to the ECD through PayPal by going to To sponsor a canned food drive, they can call 917-418-7906 or e-mail

Mitchell Epstein contributed to this story

Blood Drive for Teen to be Held at CTKHS

A Middle Village teen is asking for the community’s help this holiday season to donate blood and give the gift of life at a blood drive held in her honor on Saturday, December 18, at Christ the King Regional High School.

Fourteen-year-old Carly Nieves was first diagnosed with leukemia in July 2003, at the age of seven. She was treated with two years of intensive chemotherapy at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

Unfortunately, after three years in remission, Carly suffered a relapse and was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells that normally fight infections.

The new diagnosis placed Carly in a high-risk category, which required an additional three years of intensive, high-dose chemotherapy.

Cancer patients like Carly require frequent blood transfusions because aggressive treatment often destroys healthy blood cells along with diseased ones. Red blood cell transfusions to fight anemia and platelet transfusions to control bleeding are often needed.

“When you’re told there’s no blood for her, it’s just devastating,” said Lisa Horner, Carly’s mother. “It’s not like you can just come back tomorrow.”

Despite the emotional, physical and psychological affects of her cancer, Carly has persevered and kept an optimistic outlook on life. She successfully completed her academic studies with honors.

Carly wants to bring attention to the plight of children with cancer and the need for blood and bone marrow donors. She and her family will also donate cash proceeds collecting at the blood drive to Friends of Karen, a nonprofit organization that helps the families of critically-ill children cope with the financial and emotional stresses of life-threatening illnesses.

The blood drive is hosted by the New York Blood Center and will be held at Christ the King’s cafeteria between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The school is at 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village.

Ridgewood Theatre Sold to Associated Supermarkets: Preservationists Want Interior of Theatre Saved

There are many architectural treasures that
deserved to be saved such as this angelic
cameo and muse on the ceiling of the
theatre's lobby, said Michael Perlman
By Eric Yun

The historic Ridgewood Theatre is on its way to becoming an Associated Supermarket, but preservationists and community activists are hoping to devise a plan to protect the theatre’s historic interior.

Preservationists won a major victory in January when the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the outside façade as a landmark. Afterwards, there has been a strong lobbying effort by groups including Friends of Ridgewood Theatre to hold public hearings and designate the interior of the theatre.

The hearings never came to fruition, and the theatre, which has been closed since 2008, was sold to Associated Supermarkets franchisee Tony Guzman. According to published reports, the president of Associated Supermarkets Harry Laufer expects the store to open in approximately six months.

Now, preservationists want to work with Guzman to creatively adapt and preserve the architectural treasures inside.

“In many cases country wide historic theatres were creatively reused, and in many cases, working with the architectural remnants instead of demolishing them were more feasible and saved the owner money,” said Michael Perlman, chair of Friends of Ridgewood.

The three-story, 53,238-square-foot Ridgewood Theatre was opened in December 1916 during World War I and was one of the nation’s longest operating theatres. Designed by famed theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb, the interior of the building entails Greek mythology and features angelic muses and original detailing designed by Lamb on the balconies.

There were also several historic movies shown at the theatre. When it opened, the theatre played vaudeville shows, and the first all-talking movie, the 1928 film Lights of New York, was among the first theatres to show the movie.

While Perlman would have loved to kept the theatre completely intact and show movies, he thinks there are several ways Guzman can preserve the theatre’s history and build a successful supermarket.

“Its history should not be abandoned,” said Perlman. “It should be built upon as a marketing incentive.”

It might sound easier to demolish the interior of the theatre to build the supermarket, but Perlman notes that there are several grants and low-interest loans that are available to Guzman if he decides to restore the building. Perlman also hopes the upper floors of the theatre can be used for community and performance arts groups. Allowing others to use the theatre has the potential for supplementary income from rent and community goodwill that would be better than any advertising campaign.

Perlman wants to secure a meeting with Guzman to discuss his ideas. He noted that if Guzman had any plans to change the exterior façade, he would have to meet with preservationists and get city approval. Therefore, it could be beneficial to develop a plan to restore the theatre from the project’s outset.

“I can’t imagine anyone taking a jackhammer and gutting the interior [of the theatre]. It would tear the heart out of many preservationists and residents borough wide,” Perlman said.

Conspiracy Plot Foiled

A wrongfully imprisoned Rockaway woman was cleared of armed robbery charges after an investigation lead to charges of perjury against her ex-boyfriend.

Seemona Sumasar, 35, called authorities last year and claimed her ex-boyfriend, Jerry Ramrattan, raped her. To escape the charge and discredit Sumasar, authorities said Ramrattan created an elaborate ploy to frame her for an armed robbery.

Ultimately, her ex-boyfriend’s alleged deceit cost Sumasar six months in a Nassau County jail.

According to the criminal complaint, Ramrattan solicited Rajive Mohanlal, under threats to his family members, to call police and claim Sumasar and another individual robbed him at gunpoint.
Mohanlal complied and called police in September last year, authorities said. He told police that Sumasar and another individual, later identified as Vishwanaut Bandhu, robbed him. He further told police that Sumasar “racked” a black gun during the robbery, causing a bullet to fall to the ground.

When police officers investigated the scene of the alleged crime, they recovered one live round.

Mohanlal also gave false testimony to a Queens County grand jury on October 20 and testified that Sumasar and Bandhu committed the alleged robbery, according to the criminal complaint.

On December 2, Mohanlal allegedly informed a detective that his grand jury testimony was false and Ramrattan had threatened his family. He was arraigned and charged the following day with first-degree perjury, fifth-degree conspir- acy, fourth-degree tampering with a witness and third-degree falsely reporting an incident. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Ramrattan, the alleged mastermind of the plot, was apprehended and charged this past Monday with the same charges.

Sumasar, a single mother, told WABC reporter Sarah Wallace that her time in jail caused her to lose the restaurant she owned in Richmond Hill.

“The defendant is accused of hatching an intricate and sinister plot to extract vengeance against the woman claiming that he had raped her by framing her and having her falsely charged with armed robbery....” said District Attorney Richard Brown. “The defendant’s brazen attempt to seek retribution was not without consequences. She has suffered serious fi- nancial hardships, as well as emotional distress.”

Man Convicted of Rape of Ex-Girlfriend

Luis German Yunga
An Elmhurst man accused of savagely raping and disfiguring an ex-girlfriend was convicted Friday in Queens Criminal Court.

Luis German Yunga, 43, invited the victim, whose name was witheld by police, to his house in May 2008 to discuss financial issues, according to trial testimony. When she arrived, Yunga asked to resume their relationship, and when rebuffed, took a knife and slashed her face. Yunga then forced her to remain at his apartment for several hours and said that if she contacted police he would kill her daughters, aged eight and four.

Three months later, Yunga went to the victim’s three-family residence. Although initially refused access inside the building, a neighbor unwittingly let him enter.

Yunga forced himself into the family’s apartment and stomped on his ex-girlfriend’s head and back until she lost consciousness. He then proceeded to rape his victim in the presence of her eight-year-old daughter.

When officers from the 110th Precinct responded to the daughter’s frantic 911 call, Yunga jumped out of the apartment’s window, but was quickly apprehended in front of the house.

The jury, after eight hours of deliberation, convicted Yunga of first-degree rape, first-degree burglary, first- and second-degree assault, first-degree unlawful imprisonment and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

“The defendant changed his ex-girlfriend’s life and that of her young children forever two years ago,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, “and while the physical scars of what occurred will be with her for the rest of her life, hopefully this conviction will provide her with some small measure of help in overcoming the trauma she and her daughters experienced during the assault on her.”

Sentencing has been scheduled for December 23, 2010.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Suspect Sought in Shooting of Livery Cab Driver

A livery car driver was critically wounded Friday night after his passenger shot him multiple times at the end of a $12 ride in South Ozone Park.

According to reports, Trevor Bell, 53, picked up the passenger at the headquarters of Big D Car Service on Merrick Boulevard, where he had worked for the last eight months. After driving him to his destination at 122nd Street and Sutter Avenue, Bell’s passenger fired multiple shots, one which hit Bell’s neck critically wounding him.

Police responded to the 911 call, and EMS rushed Bell to Jamaica Hospital where he is in critical condition.

“I came out and saw the guy bleeding,” Wilson Ramones told the New York Daily News. “I got closer, I could hear him screaming, he was saying ‘help.’”

The investigation on the shooting is still ongoing, and the police have released a surveillance video taken from the cab moments before the shooting.

From the surveillance tape, the suspect has been identified as 22-year-old Shawn Peace. Police warn that Peace is considered armed and dangerous.

Bell ended his shift at 7 p.m. on Friday night, but with the Christmas season approaching, he stayed late to gain some overtime, his boss said.

Working as a cab driver can be very dangerous. “It’s one man against the world. Every person that enters your car is a stranger,” said Fernando Mateo, head of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, according to the Daily News.

Mateo made further headlines at a press conference on Saturday in front of Jamaica Hospital.

“Profile your passengers. It’s very important,” he said. Mateo claimed the vast majority of crimes against cab drivers are committed by black and Hispanic. As a Hispanic man with a black father, Mateo told the New York Post his remarks were not racist.

Still, his remarks were met with resistance from leaders like City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to call Detective Balfe at the 106th Precinct Detective Squad at 718-845-2260.

PS/MS 207 Says Merry Christmas to Troops

Keeping in the holiday spirit and remembering our troops abroad, PS/MS 207 teamed up with Operation Ho-Ho-Ho from out of Point Breeze’s Volunteer Fire Department in Breezy Point. The school collected over 2000 travel sized toiletries items to be shipped to American troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Pictured l to r: Ms. Deidre Roberts, PS/MS 207 paraprofessional and committee member for Operation Ho-Ho- Ho. She is pictured with some of students who devoted their time to the project, Luca, Thomas, Vittorio and Kayla

Taking Out the Trash: Ulrich Funds New Litter Baskets

By Eric Yun

Tired of overflowing trash and illegal dumping in Ozone Park, residents have been clamoring for the city to help clean the area.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) allocated over $18,000 in this year’s fiscal budget to install 35 new trashcans along 101st Avenue. On Tuesday morning, Ulrich was joined by Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty to unveil the new black litter baskets.

The new bins will discourage illegal dumping of household and business trash and improve the quality of life for residents and business owners along the avenue.

“We are doing everything we can to keep Ozone Park clean. These new trash cans will raise the profile of one of the district’s main shopping strips,” said Ulrich.

Ulrich and Doherty said the new design of the baskets, which has a lid with a narrow opening, are designed to prevent large bags to be illegally dumped. These baskets, they stressed, are for litter—not household or business waste.

“The trash cans will improve the environment here and make it a better to come live and work in this community,” said Doherty.

Along with the new bins, Doherty promised a zero tolerance policy and improved enforcement from Sanitation Police.

“We need to educate people, and the education will be a summons,” Doherty said.

Breakfast with Santa

The DiCandia Family hosted the 25th Annual Christmas Breakfast for the International Society of Sts. Cosma and Damiano on Sunday morning at Roma View Catering. Every year, the Society celebrates the Holiday season by holding the traditional breakfast for its members and their children.

In addition, the Society provides toys for less fortunate families in the area and also provides many toy donations at hospitals for children.

Pictured from L to R: Doreen, Jacob, Santa, Joseph, Joseph Sr., and Juliet DiCandia and Annabell the Clown.

Celebrating Christmas

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation sponsored their annual Christmas tree lighting on Saturday at St. Helen’s. Hundreds of visitors stopped by for pictures with Santa and shopping selections from a wide variety of Christmas items, fresh baked goods and other holiday novelties.

City Unveils Plans to Rezone Woodhaven, Richmond Hill

By Eric Yun

Neighborhoods throughout Woodhaven and Richmond Hill are attractive for developers seeking to build out of character apartment buildings and condos that loom over the block. Residents, however, have been pushing for City to rezone the neighborhood to prevent these behemoth structures, and they may soon get their wish.

The two neighborhoods are popular destinations for new families. Public transportation is plentiful with the J/Z train running above Jamaica Avenue and 18 bus routes serving the neighborhoods. Also, with three major commercial strips—Jamaica Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and 101st Avenue—many residents don’t need to travel far for their shopping needs.

Zoning resolutions for the area have remained unchanged since the original rules were passed in 1961. The city originally made the zoning for the neighborhood extremely flexible because it anticipated a much larger population for the city.

As Woodhaven and Richmond Hill grew, the majority of the neighborhood was characterized by one- and two-family houses, which the residents now are seeking to protect. The Department of City Planning rezoned 140 blocks in Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill in 2005, and since, Community Board 9 has been lobbying for the department to rezone the southern portion of Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.

City Planning has listened, and for the last year, officials have been studying rezoning the neighborhoods. The preliminary study conducted by the department was presented to the community last Wednesday night at Emmanuel Church of Christ in Woodhaven. Another meeting will be held on December 15 at Royal Indian Palace in Richmond Hill at 118-06 Atlantic Avenue.

There are three major goals for the 248-block rezoning of the community, according to John Young, Queens Director of City Planning: protecting the neighborhood’s character, promoting higher density residential and mixed-use development along wide streets and near mass transit and reinforcing commercial districts to support economic development.

“The existing zoning does not reflect the character of the neighborhood,” said Brendan Pillar, City Planner. “We saw opportunities to refine the zoning there to closely reflect what’s there and ensure future developments are in line with the existing character.”

Woodhaven and Richmond Hill currently only have two zones: R3-1 and R5. Under the proposal, R3A, R3X, R4, R4A, R4-1, R4-B, R5D and R6A zones would be added.

The existing R3-1 zone allows for one- or two-family detached and semi-detached homes with a maximum building height of 35 feet. All building types are allowed on R5 zones with a maximum height of 40 feet.

Zones R3A, R3X, R4A, and R4-1 similarly called for one- or two-family detached and semi-detached homes with various differences in maximum and minimum lot widths and heights. Zones R4B, R4, R5D and R6A allows for all housing types.

The majority of the changes in Woodhaven occur north of Jamaica Avenue to Park Lane South from Dexter Court to 101st Street. In Richmond Hill, the changes will occur mostly south of Atlantic Avenue to 103rd Avenue from 102nd Street to the Van Wyck Expressway.

There was some contention that the city is acting too late. One resident complained that by waiting too long, the character of South Richmond Hill has already been destroyed. Out of character buildings already erected will be allowed to remain due to a grandfather clause in the resolution.

However, most residents were happy the process was starting. “This is a great step forward,” said Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Woodhaven Greater Development Corporation. “We are in jeopardy of losing the character of our community. We need to save what we have.”

The next steps for the proposal include the second public meeting at Richmond Hill on December 15. Afterwards, City Planning will refine the recommendations and finalize the zone proposal. Then, under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure outlined in the City Charter, environmental reviews, Community Board approval, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall approval, City Planning approval and City Council approval must be met. This process will take approximately one year.

Nickel and Diming Continues: City to Hike Meter Rates

The city’s proposal to raise rates at parking meters throughout the city, the second time in the last two years, has residents and elected officials voicing their displeasure.

The City Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin making changes in January as part of the city’s plans to close the budget gap. Meters that used to cost 75 cents per hour will rise to one dollar per hour, and parking spaces that cost $2.50 per hour will become $3.00 per hour.

Queens has more than 17,000 parking meters.

Many community activists are worried these changes will hurt small businesses around commercial strips.

“This appears to be déjà vu all over again,” said Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “This will really hurt small mom-and-pop stores on Jamaica Avenue and deal a painful blow to local commercial strips across New York City.

Residents who depend on their cars can expect to pay more for parking and, as the plan is being implemented, get more tickets.

“This is a petty decision that will hurt average New Yorkers, like Woodhaven residents, who have to park on the street in order to go about their daily lives,” said Edward Wendell, President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA).

For more than 17 years, city parking meters were 50 cents per hour. In the spring of 2009, the city changed to the current 75 cents per hour with little fanfare or notice, causing many confused residents to receive parking tickets.

“I hope the DOT at least has the decency this time to post signs informing everyone of the change,” Wendell said.

Politicians are not pleased with these new changes. James Vacca (D-Bronx), Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, promised to fight parking rate increases.

“Once again, the city is digging into the pockets of the little guy to balance its budget, with nor regard for the middle-class communities that are fighting to stay afloat,” Vacca said.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), also a member of the Transportation Committee agreed. “Talk about a lousy Christmas gift! People won’t even be able to go shopping without the city nickel and diming them at every turn.”

Residents in Woodhaven are gearing up for a fight. WRBA officials are planning to work with local elected officials and community organizations to oppose the plans. Last year, when rates were raised, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn), State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Thomson and local business owners held a press conference on Jamaica Avenue.

Renewed Hope for Park at Former St. Saviour's Site

By Eric Yun

Community activists have been fighting endlessly to get the former St. Saviour’s church site in Maspeth converted into public parkland, and they are seeing some positive signs as the city has entered into negotiations with the property owner to purchase the site.

Bob Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a “last ditch effort” to persuade the city to acquire the site for parkland.

Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner, wrote in a response that “the Parks Department is actively engaged with area elected officials including Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley in an effort to secure funding for the purchase of all or a portion of the St. Saviour’s site.”

Benepe also said that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) has contacted the developer about the site.

Owner Maspeth Development LLC, led by Scott Kushnik, has made several efforts to recoup its investment by developing or selling the property. Kushnik, recently received approval from the city Department of Buildings to construct warehouses on the site, located at 57th Road and 58th Street in industrial West Maspeth.

Kushnik did not respond to a request to comment, but this week he told the New York Daily News, “Even if we develop the site, the door is open, this isn’t a lost cause.”

The new developments have made the park’s supporters dig in to save the site. Crowley’s office contacted the owner and started the process to open negotiations with Parks and DCAS.

“We’re trying to accumulate funding while at the same time making sure the city process is moving forward,” said Lydon Sleeper, Chief of Staff for Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Politicians have acquired more than $2 million to convert St. Saviour’s to parkland. Borough President Marshall has pitched in more than $1 million, and Crowley allocated $500,000 in last year’s budget. The money, however, is likely not enough to buy the site, but there are some revenue streams that could be coming. In 2008, the city and state reached an agreement to bring the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant to federal compliance. In the agreement, $10 million was allocated to fund environmental benefit programs.

A public vote was held by the City Parks Foundation to determine what residents around Newtown Creek desired. One of the final projects considered was converting the St. Saviour’s site into parkland. A vote was held on December 1 and 2, when more than 700 participants expressed their preferences. Activists in Queens are hoping enough people supported the St. Saviour’s project.

Community activists are hopeful that something can be done to save the site, and in a perfect world, re-erect the church that members of the Juniper Park Civic Association negotiated to be dismantled and saved. The church that stood at the site was minutes away from demolition before the group was allowed to dismantle and store the building until a new location could be acquired.

“We are counting on our elected representatives to secure this historic site as public parkland and restore it as a green oasis,” said Christina Wilkinson, President of the Newtown Historical Society, “Maspeth needs more open space, not more warehouses.”

“[The site] is one of the most historic locations in Queens County because it was where the first settlers landed,” said Holden. “It’s a very historic property, to put a warehouse there would be a crime.”

Maspeth Federal Holds Annual Tree Lighting

Maspeth residents kicked off the holiday season with the annual tree lighting event at Maspeth Federal Savings Bank on Friday night.

The long-standing tradition provided plenty of entertainment for children in the neighborhood. Entertainment was provided by the Song and Dance Group and free raffles were held. Prizes included a bicycle.

“The bank is happy to hold this yearly event for the community. The kids get to meet Santa who gives them presents,” said David Daraio, Assistant Vice President of Maspeth Federal Savings.

Santa Comes to Woodhaven

By Eric Yun

On most Saturday afternoons closing half of Jamaica Avenue would be an annoyance for drivers, customers and small business owners. But exceptions are made when Santa comes to town, and it becomes a fun event for the entire community.

Organized by the Woodhaven Business Improvement District (BID), the annual “Welcome Santa to Woodhaven” parade was held on Saturday afternoon. Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Woodhaven BID, has helped organize the event for more than 20 years.

“We write to the North Pole and get Santa to come, and it’s a fun, fun event for the kids,” Thomson said.

Participants started at 96th Street and marched west on Jamaica Avenue to Dexter Street. Afterwards, children had the opportunity to take pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause.

“The parade was very fun. My daughter loved it,” said resident John Hernandez. “It’s good to participate in community events.”

The festive event brought out people from their businesses and homes with smiles. “It’s very nice. So beautiful,” said one resident who took a break from shopping to watch Santa and the children march by.

Judge Orders City to Restore School Bus Service

A state Supreme Court judge ruled on Monday that the city must restore yellow school bus service to more than 3,000 seventh and eighth grade students in Staten Island and parts of Queens.

The city and the Department of Education (DOE) cut school bus vouchers for certain seventh and eighth graders in an effort to save money. Parents, joined by Staten Island Council Members and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), sued the city to restore service for their children.

Most seventh and eighth graders receive student MetroCards for bus service, but certain variances were made for communities where there were no adequate modes of public transportation. The city decided to eliminate these variances for this fiscal year.

Supreme Court Justice John Fusco ruled that the city was wrong in cutting bus service.

“This court is aware of the painstaking work involved in reaching the decisions that affect the citizens of this city, whether those decisions are received with applause or anger," Fusco wrote in his ruling. "However, not all decisions are given the deliberation the State of New York require, and that is what occurred herein. Budgetary decisions that affect pupil education cannot be made on assumptions without a factual basis to support those assumptions.”

Fusco was sympathetic to the DOE, but ruled they did not adequately investigate all the factors when making its decision.

Ulrich was pleased with the court’s ruling. “Some people say you can’t fight City Hall and win, but they're wrong,” he said. “Yesterday’s ruling was a tremendous victory for the parents and children of Rockaway. The judge’s decision concluded what we already knew—that the City made this cut without regard for the safety and welfare of the children.”

“I am eager to see if the incoming Schools Chancellor will use her business acumen to prevent misguided cuts like these in the future,” Ulrich added.

The city is filing an appeal to the court’s ruling. “In determining that these students must be provided yellow bus transportation, while 7th and 8th graders throughout the rest of the City are not, the Court ignored both the law, the record and equity,” the city Law Department said in a statement, according to NY1.

The city is seeking a stay in the ruling, which would mean buses still could not transport seventh and eighth graders, until the appeal is heard. A decision on the motion is expected in the next few days.