Thursday, March 18, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Mixed Response to Woodhaven Power Line Fire

No Response from 911, but Hero Neighbor Steps Up

By Conor Greene

When a stretch of power lines went on fire during Saturday night’s storm, Woodhaven residents were alarmed and frustrated when they were not able to reach a 911 operator, but pleasantly surprised by the efforts of an off-duty Con-Edison worker who lives nearby and didn’t hesitate to react to the dangerous situation.

The action started at about 6:20 p.m. near the corner of 90th Street and 86th Road, when Richard Fogel’s daughter told him the upstairs lights were flickering. He opened his front door and was “greeted by a wall of rather intense smoke” that blocked his view of the street. When the winds shifted, he saw that the “whole block of power lines was smoking really intensely” before the approximately 300-foot stretch of lines “erupted into flames.”

The chaotic scene drew many residents from their homes, including some who rushed to move their cars from beneath the wires, despite the obvious risk. “Lots of people called 911 - it was kind of pandemonium for a while - but not one soul got through,” said an outraged Fogel. “No even a message to stay on the line, no recording, connection, anything – just dead.”

Fogal figured the fire would go out once the lines broke and fell to the ground, but he was concerned about prospect of live wires sitting in deep puddles of water. After his unsuccessful 911 calls, Fogel contacted the 102nd Precinct directly and was told officers were aware of the situation. Cops finally arrived on scene at 6:46 p.m., but the officers immediately retreated to their patrol car and left after quickly assessing the scene, said Fogel. It wasn’t until 7 p.m. that the police took control of the situation.

“It was a busy night, so I can forgive the cops and fire department [which never came to the scene] but I cannot forgive 911,” said Fogel. “If they’re not there in an emergency, what the hell good is it? Never mind the storm damage, what if I was having a heart attack or there was a bank robbery? The point is, it’s a technology problem.”

However, there was one bright spot to the situation involving a neighbor who works for Con-Ed, which is a company that doesn’t normally receive praise from Queens residents. After retreating back inside his house minutes after the fire broke out, Fogel looked out the window and noticed a man wearing a yellow Con-Ed rain jacket standing in the street.

It turns out Fogel’s neighbor Jose Aldana was taking the trash out at about the time the power lines caught fire. For more than 20 minutes, he oversaw the situation and helped keep residents away from the dangerous wires until authorities finally arrived on the scene. “The guy dropped what he was doing and tried to keep people away,” said Fogel.

The residents “were extremely lucky to have such a dedicated resident volunteer his own time and put his own safety at risk to keep his fellow residents safe,” wrote Fogel in a letter to Aldana’s boss at Con-Ed. “To reiterate, [he] took the initiative to put his own safety aside… alone and in the pouring rain when no one else was available.”

After Con-Ed’s poor handling of prior emergencies, including the 2006 blackout, Fogel said it felt strange to be praising the company. On top of Aldana’s efforts, Fogel was complementary of the company’s response to the area the next day. “An army of them were out here, and everyone was back on the next day. They did the right thing here, and I’m going to give the cops and firemen the benefit of the doubt, as I’m sure it was a mess. But we at least deserved a police cruiser, as 40 minutes is a little long to respond.”

The city received the second-most 911 calls within a 24-hour period during the storm, with the amount of calls for help didn’t return to normal levels until Sunday morning, according to reports. The NYPD receives about 38,000 calls over a 24-hour period on a typical Saturday.

Storm Report: Damage Control and the Aftermath

By Patricia Adams

The storm that hit the city this weekend damaged cars, homes, roads and subway lines throughout our readership area. Coastal areas experienced hurricane-like flooding conditions and electricity outages.

The New York City Parks Department has labeled it as one of the worst storms of the past decade, based on volume of calls. As of Tuesday morning, Parks had received more than 3,000 phone calls citywide about emergency tree conditions through 311. More than 1,458 trees down, split, or uprooted, including more than 150 calls about trees down on houses, and hundreds of limbs hanging or down.

Brooklyn had the most recorded calls with 1,201, Staten Island with 908, Queens with 817, the Bronx: 258 calls and Manhattan with a total of 38 calls. Citywide there were more than 1,600 trees that suffered damage.

About 350 staffers were assigned by Parks to work exclusively on storm response including 36 forestry crews and 50 field managers. An emergency contingency plan was activated and private tree service contractors assisted in removing trees from houses, streets and sidewalks. Parks is now concentrating on trees that landed on homes, cars and playgrounds.

According to the Parks Department the hardest hit areas were in Southeast Queens especially at Bayswater Park and Brookville Boulevard. One tree fell on two houses at 126th Street and 104th Avenue and at King Park in Jamaica one of five surviving trees planted more than 200 years ago by Rufus King, in honor of the 13 colonies, was toppled during the storm.

Council Member Eric Ulrich’s district which covers Howard Beach, parts of Ozone Park Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Rockaway was especially hard hit by the storm. “We have experienced severe rain and high winds throughout this city, but my district has been hit extremely hard,” said Ulrich. “My office has received a number of calls from Hamilton Beach and Woodhaven during and after the storm, and we are dealing with each constituent on a case by case basis. I am asking all of my constituents to report any property damage to 311 and to report continued power outages, should they re-occur, to Con Edison as soon as possible.”

As of early Wednesday morning 26,000 customers remained without power. Thousands of company support personnel continue to work around the clock to help the crews that are addressing the most destructive rain and windstorm to hit New York City and Westchester in decades. Utilities from Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky and Massachusetts are assisting Con Edison’s crews. All Queens and Brooklyn customers affected by the storm have been restored.

Tree Totals Car in Howard Beach

By Olivia Dibs

Despite the damage done to their car, the Clancy’s of Howard Beach are thankful that no family members were anywhere near the vehicle they had parked just minutes before a tree came crashing down on it outside their home on 100th Street off 156th Avenue.

Helen, Jerry and Jennifer Clancy had been at a party and arrived home about 8 p.m. They settled in to watch TV in the living room and shortly after heard a crashing sound from outside. “Our neighbor rang the bell and said ‘I think we have trouble,’ said Helen Clancy. One glance outside the open door led to the shocking discovery. The tree in front of the Clancy house had been uprooted by the fierce winds, taking four cement flags off the sidewalk with it, crushing the rear end of Jennifer Clancy’s car.

“My daughter just parked the car five minutes before [the tree fell], so I just thank God she wasn’t in the car,” said Helen Clancy. Although the car has been totaled, she’s keeping a positive attitude about the situation. “It’s just a car, and the tree fell on the car, not the house. And nobody got hurt.”

Residents on the block were frustrated with the closure of their street but the Parks Department was unable to take immediate action to remove the toppled tree because of the electrical wires tangled in the branches.

Helen Clancy maintains that everyone she has dealt with at both the Parks Department and Con Edison has been “very helpful.” “I don’t know how helpful the city is going to be as far as the cement work in front of the house, but everyone’s ok and with a little help, this will all be over soon.”

Bid for JVP Dog Run Hits Dead End

By Conor Greene

The push for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park has hit a road block after three proposed locations there were rejected by a Community Board 5 subcommittee. With no viable locations having been identified within the Middle Village area, the board has suggested the new Elmhurst Park as a possibility.

At last week’s CB 5 meeting, Dog Run Subcommittee Chairwoman Kathy Masi reported that the three proposed locations in Juniper Valley Park – near the area along 80th Street and Dry Harbor Road dedicated for passive recreation, between the soccer field and track in the western portion of the park, and behind the roller hockey bleachers – had been rejected earlier this month.

“Basically, we had opposition from all over the place, including residents, community groups and civic associations,” said Masi of local reaction during a December visit to the sites, an event she called “one of the worst experiences” she has had during her years of community involvement. “It was just not a nice situation – I was embarrassed by the behavior of all sides,” she added.

The community board eventually voted to send a letter to Community Board 4 about the possibility of setting aside space in Elmhurst Park, which is under construction at the former gas tanks site on Grand Avenue near 74th Street. Part of the thinking behind that idea is since the land is still “in the process of being dug up,” it would be easier to construct on there, said Masi.

On Tuesday, CB 4 District Manager Richard Italiano said he hasn’t received the request yet and would have to run it by his full board before commenting. A spokeswoman for the City Parks Department said the agency is open to considering proposals for dog runs provided a committed group agrees to maintain the area and a funding source is identified to fund creation and upkeep of the facility. “Once these precursors are in place, Parks can consider the feasibility” of a specific site such as Elmhurst Park.

Still, the idea of using space within the six-acre Elmhurst Park didn’t set well with some board members including Manny Caruana. “I can’t believe we would choose to put dogs where we put people. There isn’t room for both there,” he said. An informal straw poll of the board showed that about two dozen members, or roughly half the group, were in favor in general of having a dog run in CB 5.

In an interview Tuesday, Masi stressed that the letter to CB 4 is merely a suggestion. “From what I got, it didn’t look like they had open arms, and that’s okay,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to impose something on someone, so if they don’t want it, fine.”

There are other issues to hammer out on top of finding a suitable location, including a plan for funding both construction and ongoing maintenance of the dog run, according to Masi. “Looking for a dog run [location] was a little premature,” she said. “Part of this is my fault; I assumed they knew what they were doing.” She has since provided the group with information on forming a nonprofit organization, but in her view “nobody’s done anything else expect come to meetings and say they want a dog run.”

Masi also said that the group advocating for the dog run has shrunk considerably after members found out that installing a dog run would mean the end of off-leash hour privileges in Juniper Valley Park. Currently, dog owners can allow their pets to run free in the park during certain early-morning and late-night hours.

For a location to be deemed appropriate, it would likely have to be in an out-of-the-way area not near homes. Masi said that while some advocate have pointed to the run in Forest Park as a possible model, she found that area to be “disgusting” during several visits there. “I would never advocate to have that situation in Juniper Valley Park,” she said. “Of every run I’ve looked at, the really nice ones have private funding.”

At this point, it appears the push for a dog run has hit a dead end, unless the dog run group can come up with a funding plan and an appropriate location is agreed upon. “I’m willing to see this to the end, but I’m not sure where the end will lead,” said Masi. “We’ll wait to hear from CB 4, and then decide what the next step will be. Hopefully by the next meeting we will have something to discuss and the dog run people will have their ducks in order.

Glendale Couple Forms Local CSA Group

Residents Can Buy Shares of Fresh Produce

By Conor Greene

Area residents will have the option of purchasing fresh, locally grown produce directly from a Long Island farmer this summer through a new community supported agriculture group founded by a local couple.

Under the CSA arrangement, members pay an upfront fee at the start of the season, and then receive allotments of goods such as fruits, vegetables, eggs and flowers throughout the summer. Along with community gardens and greenmarkets, CSAs are becoming more popular throughout the city as people pay more attention to the food they consume.

“After two years [with the Brooklyn group] we learned a lot, but we live in Queens and looked around the neighborhood and said there needs to be more, so let’s try it,” said Kevin Burns, who is launching the effort along with his wife, Kimberly Ferstler. “The farmer takes the lead - they know what they can grow – and we do a little administration and set up the memberships, they do the planting and harvesting and bring it to us.”

Through their connections with the Greenpoint CSA, Burns and Ferstler were able to reach an agreement with Garden of Eve farm in North Fork. “Getting to know the farmer is a big part of it,” said Burns. “If you know the farmer, you know your food and have greater confidence in it… By the middle of the season, we do very nicely with the distribution and the shares are very generous.”

The couple is hoping to have between 30 and 40 members in the first year, which will run from June 12 to Thanksgiving. Full shares of organic vegetables cost $540, while a half share runs $280, and neighbors are allowed join together and split their bounty. Shares of fruit, flowers and eggs are less expensive, and a mega combo that includes all four categories is also available.

Part of the process has been educating people about how CSAs operate, but so far the idea has been warmly received at local civic meetings, said Burns. “Some had heard about them before, while others needed a little clarification on how it works.” There is also an educational component to the group, as the weekly selection often includes produce that members aren’t accustomed to. “You may get items that are new to you, but we explain what it is, how to cook it and provide recipes,” said Burns.

That’s also part of the fun, added Burns, as the group receives a list of available goods a few days before the farmer drops it off, but never knows exactly what they will receive. “It’s seasonal, so you get a sense [of what’s coming] and you learn to eat seasonally. It’s an adventure,” he said.

Typical deliveries include squash, broccoli, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes. “There’s no guarantees [about the options], but when there’s a plentiful harvest, it gets to us,” added Burns. “Compared to what you get in the market, shipped halfway around the world, there is a world of difference.”

So far, the biggest challenge has been coming up with a drop-off location where the food can be picked up by members each Saturday. The couple encountered issues with using local parks or businesses for distribution, so for the first year the items will be handed out from their Glendale home. “I think one of the bigger issues, which is why the library couldn’t [host the group] is liability,” said Burns, adding that he hopes the City Council will consider a law allowing CSAs to freely use public parks for distribution.

For more information, check

Board Backs Metropolitan Ave School Plan

By Conor Greene

The city’s plans to build a 600-seat school at the former Rite Aid site on Metropolitan Avenue was overwhelmingly backed by Community Board 5 members at last week’s meeting, albeit with some specific requests.

Despite backing the project, some members of the advisory board were unhappy with the lack of specific details provided by the city Department of Education. “We really didn’t see any plans at all for the site… so I’m giving this recommendation kind of blind in many respects,” said Walter Sanchez, chair of the board’s Land Use Committee. However, “I really don’t feel the board should object to a school there,” he added.

Under the current plans, the city School Construction Authority would build a new K-5school serving 600 students in hopes of easing overcrowding in District 24, which is home to the city’s most overcrowded schools. Three board members – Manny Caruana, Sylvia Knappi and Chairman Vincent Arcuri voted against the proposal.

Among the board’s stipulations are that a 16 foot wide driveway be built around the perimeter of the school, which would replace the vacant pharmacy on the site, to prevent buses from causing traffic backups along Metropolitan Avenue. “We believe it is vital that provisions be made for providing space within the property exterior,” wrote CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano in a letter sent recently to the SCA.

The board is also requesting that the school be zoned so that it draws from neighborhood children currently attending PS 153 and PS 71, which are both currently overcrowded.

“Unfortunately, presentations to our board lacked specifics related to youth demographics in the area, and the specifics of overcrowding in nearby schools, justifying the need for this multi-million dollar project,” wrote Giordano. “Our inquires indicate that the overcrowding at nearby PS 153 impacts approximately 300 children, and that PS 71 in Ridgewood, while not as overcrowded, may be able to have a library and gym if this new primary school is build.”

The city has already agreed to Community Education Council 24’s request that the facility be built so that it can be converted to a K-8 building in the future if needed. The board has asked that an “appropriate size” gym be included in the final plans.

Sanchez also noted at last week’s CB 5 meeting that he would like the board to be presented with detailed drawings so that members can provide additional input.

Following the vote, Arcuri said he voted against the plan because “once again, SCA and DOE have failed to present demographics to prove the need for this school and to show where students would be coming from. That should be the first presentation by DOE,” he said. “We have down-zoned most of our district, yet we continue to come up with more classrooms.”

In response, board member Dan Creighton said he think “we owe it to our children to have schools that are the proper size” and include amenities such as a proper size gym and science labs.

There was also the feeling that it doesn’t matter in the end what board members and the community say to the city. “The point is, they don’t really care about the community board’s opinion one way or another,” said Vernon McDermott. “They feel they can put it through with or without us.”

Break-in Attempt Foiled at Community Federal

A S.W.A.T. team assembled inside the lobby of Community Federal Savings Bank located at 89 - 07 Jamaica Avenue in the early morning hours Saturday to move in on four bank thieves who were stuck in the ceiling of the bank. The four men were arrested after trying to gain entrance to the bank vault through the roof. Several duffel bags of what was presumed to be currency and valuables taken from the bank were recovered by police after they were tossed onto the street by the bandits before they were apprehended.

Madeline Conti Cancer Fund Holds Successful Fundraiser

By Patricia Adams

Howard Beach residents came out in full force on Saturday evening for the 2nd Annual Benefit Gala for the Madeline Conti Cancer Cure Fund (MCCCF) held at Roma View Catering. The fund was started by Howard Beach resident Angela Tuccio in memory of her mother, Madeline Conti who passed away on September 1, 2006 after a 16 month battle with lung cancer.

As president and founder of MCCCF, Angela has worked tirelessly to support the research and work of Dr. Jonathan Gerber who is a physician-scientist in Hematology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. His research is in the cutting edge field of cancer stem cells which give rise to and maintain the growth of various cancers. These same cancer stem cells are highly resistant to most current treatments and are often responsible for recurring disease despite favorable response to initial therapy. It is commonly thought that cancer stem cells must be eliminated in order to finally realize a cure for cancer.

Dr. Gerber’s research specifically focuses on blood cancer or leukemia. His work is aimed at improving our understanding of leukemic stem cells and identifying novel ways to target them. It is the hope that this work will lead to more effective treatments and ultimately, cures for leukemia. The research is expected to apply to many other cancers as well. The doctor received his undergraduate degree in Biology from the Johns Hopkins University going on to earn his degree in medicine from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He has remained at Johns Hopkins where he is working to complete a fellowship in hematology where he is expected to stay upon completion of the fellowship.

A proclamation from the office of state Sen. Joe Addabbo was presented to Dr. Gerber for his outstanding research accomplishments and his dedication to the cure of cancer. “I had the pleasure and the privilege of participating in the care of Madeline Conti for whom this Foundation is named,” said Dr. Gerber. “Madeline exemplified the spirit and heroism of patients with cancer. Angela has similarly exemplified the devotion and tireless support of caregivers.” He went on to praise Angela Tuccio for harnessing her efforts in support of research so that other families facing cancer may find help through their suffering.

Angela Tuccio moved the audience with touching words of praise for Dr. Gerber and his wife Linda, describing the incredible support the doctor and his wife extended in Madeline’s care, often spending hours on the phone delivering help and advice in addition to making recommendations to Madeline’s doctors in New York.

The Foundation presented a check in the amount of $40,000 to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Care Center at John’s Hopkins for the continuance of Dr. Gerber’s Research. For more information about the fund, visit their website at