Thursday, July 22, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Self Check-in Kiosk Unveiled at Broad Channel Library

By Eric Yun

Representatives from Queens Library and local elected officials gathered at Broad Channel Library on Wednesday to unveil a new automated self-check-in kiosk. The machine allows library visitors to return books at any time and is one of the first to be installed in the borough.

The kiosk was the last part of a complete renovation of the Broad Channel branch. “We want every library in the borough to have one,” said Thomas Galante, Queens Library CEO. The new technology, he said, will help cut down lines for the staff.

Having a 24/7 check-in kiosk will also help those who try to return a book just after the library closes. “It will help cut down the fines and fees of the customers,” Broad Channel Librarian William Schulz said.

The project was funded by City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who set aside $190,000 in last year's budget.

“I'm glad for the people in the community who depend on the library day in and day out,” Ulrich said. “This is taxpayer dollars well-invested right back to the community.”

Also present at the ceremony was Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). She reiterated her love for the libraries and promised she would provide funding in the future.

Genting Unveils Racino Plans

By Eric Yun

A casino at Aqueduct racetrack designed and built by Genting New York would be more than just “slots in a box.”

That was the message representatives from Genting gave to community leaders and members last Thursday as they presented their plans for the “racino” project at the Ozone Park racetrack.

The meeting, held by Community Board 10, was originally intended to include SL Green and Penn National Gaming, two companies that also submitted bids for the project. However, New York Lottery disqualified the bids, leaving Genting New York as the sole bidder.

SL Green and Penn National Gaming’s disqualification was just another setback in the seemingly never-ending search to find a vendor for the Aqueduct casino. This is the fourth time New York Lottery has attempted to find a bidder for the project, and many are hoping it is the last.

“I think the time has come for us to stop split- ting hairs and approve a vendor for a racino at Aqueduct,” Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) said in a statement before the presentation. “People have waited too long for this process to come to fruition.”

Complicating matters, however, is Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s (AEG) lawsuit against the state. AEG was awarded the rights to Aqueduct last year, but the state later rejected the group after a controversy arose about AEG’s finances and political favoritism. Last week, a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the Aqueduct process as AEG takes their motion to court.

Legal issues aside, Genting officials showed up to the meeting ready to show the community why they’re the best bet for the project. Genting had three set goals in their meeting: Inform the people who they were as a company, show off their plans for the casino, and listen to community questions.

Genting New York is a subsidiary of Genting Malaysia Berhad, the only casino company with an investment grade bond rating. They own and operate one of the world’s largest casinos in Malaysia and a Universals Studios resort in Singapore. JCJ Architecture, an award-winning firm for their work in casinos, which has previously designed the casino and raceway at Saratoga, created the designs. The building company is Tutor Perini, a company responsible for the recent $300 million JFK runway project and the Jamaica AirTrain station.

Genting’s proposal includes a state of the art facility with first-class amenities. The grand entrance will open up to a three-story atrium that features a digitized water show. Besides the 4,500 slot machines, they stressed that the project would have entertainment and dining for everyone. There will be a two-story food court, a 200-seat restaurant, and a high-end Chinese restaurant. There will also be lounges and bars throughout the casino.

“We want to create a great destination area,” Mike Speller, president of Genting New York, said. “We’ll be more than just slot machines.”

Jay Walker, spokesman for Genting, observed that there is gaming money available in New York City, but it escapes to casinos in Connecticut and Atlantic City. The company hopes to keep the money in the state by making the casino a tourist destination. The biggest hope is to create a working relation- ship with John F. Kennedy Airport to lure some of the 45 million people a year who travel there to make a stop at Aqueduct. Walker considers JFK their “biggest asset.”

“If we do it right, we’re just a subway ride away,” Walker said.

Genting also stressed the benefits the community would receive. Approximately 1,300 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs would be created from the project. Furthermore, they promised to spend money in the neighborhood: more than $30 million dollars will be spent locally to buy goods and services needed for operations, and one percent of net profits will be donated to the community.

Genting representatives promised if they are awarded the bid, they will work quickly and efficiently to finish the project. “We’ll build it fast; we’ll build it right,” Speller told the crowd.

How fast? The tentative time schedule has Genting opening the doors to Aqueduct six months after acquiring the bid. Final construction will be completed within 18 months.

Genting left residents and community leaders impressed with their presentation.

“I thought the presentation was excellent,” Elaine Holland, a community board member said, “I think they explained themselves real well.”

Community leaders present echoed the sentiment. “I was very encouraged,” Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said. Pheffer noted most questions were answered, but she had some public safety concerns.

Genting did mention security concerns during the meeting. “Security is the first thing we talk about,” Walker said. “If patrons don’t feel safe, they don’t come.” However, Pheffer said more work has to be done, specifically, the working relationship Genting might have with the NYPD.

Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) also had public safety concerns. “It is the obligation of the vendor to ensure the security of patrons and the surrounding community,” he said. Addabbo wants more information on the personnel that will be used so the casino can refrain from depending on the 106th Precinct. Addabbo noted that from the beginning of the process, he and other leaders “reiterated the concerns of the community, which were public safety, traffic and jobs. Genting did a fine job in their first step” to address these issues.

Another major issue was Genting’s reliance on the MTA. “In light of the recent MTA service cuts, it is unclear whether or not Genting will be able to rely on an already overburdened public transit infrastructure,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said, “The A Train is already bursting at the seams and bus service is wholly inadequate. I’m concerned the MTA won’t be able to provide the level of service the company is counting on.”

Pheffer also had concerns about the MTA. “We would need to work with the MTA to make the Aqueduct station operational,” she said, “A little more should be done with other forms of transportation like express bus services.”
While there are still many things to be worked out, most people seem set to move forward with the process. New York Lottery hopes to send a recommendation to the Governor and state legislature by August 3.

“It’s about time we determine a vendor,” Miller said.

Tough Times Lead to Vacant Storefronts

By Tamara Best

Since the economic downturn began, “for rent” and “for sale” signs have become more common as small business owners close their doors. Jamaica Avenue, one of the main streets for commerce throughout Queens, has been hit especially hard. According to a new study, one in five stores on the avenue—Woodhaven’s commercial hub—are vacant.

The study, conducted by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), looked at 10 of the busiest streets in different areas of the borough. On average, the borough had a vacancy rate of 12 percent. Areas from the survey included portions of Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park, Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Austin Street in Forest Hills and Myrtle Avenue in Glendale. The vacancy rates in Glendale and Forest Hills were among the lowest, at eight percent and seven percent respectively.

“Small businesses are the backbone of New York City’s economy, and they have borne the brunt of our nation’s recent downturn,” Weiner said.

According to the study, a total of 206 storefronts were closed of the 1,716 surveyed, with 73 stores vacant on Jamaica Avenue alone. (See sidebar for statistics on the other areas surveyed). Other neighborhoods surveyed included Rockaway, Astoria, Flushing, Bayside, Jamaica and Sunnyside.

Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Center, said that the lack of access to resources can hinder business on major commercial strips.

“With the economy, it affects all parts of business so people are hesitant to start businesses because they can’t get the capital,” he said. “Small businesses need improved access to capital in addition to counseling.”

However, he noted that despite the vacancies, the local economy remains solid.

“The overall economy in Queens is relatively stable,” he said. “There has been growth in immigrant communities and we believe that small business can compete with the proper access.”

Bornstein said that in tough economic times, landlords must also change the way they rent space to tenants.

“Some landlords hold out, thinking they will get top dollar,” he said. “A smart landlord doesn’t keep a space vacant for a year— it’s bad for everybody for when businesses come in and out.”

Bornstein said landlords need to be more realistic about what they can get for their property and focus on finding tenants with good credit and a solid plan to grow their business.

Maria Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation and the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, said that business owners that can afford it should think beyond renting.

“There’s nothing like owning your own building because you don’t have to worry about the rent as much,” she said, adding that the current economic downturn could allow potential owners to buy property at a reduced value. “A lot of people in Woodhaven have sustained themselves that way.”

Thomson said it is also important for local business associations to promote their commercial strip as being vital to economic prosperity during and after the recession.

Weiner said that, “helping small business owners get back on their feet should be our number one priority.”

In an effort to help small businesses recover, Weiner is proposing a five point plan: tax breaks for small businesses that offer health insurance, tax breaks for new hires, greater access to capital small business loans, a five minute grace period for drivers with an expired parking meter and a mobile van to handle permit violations.

Thomson also said that residents purchasing goods in their neighborhood can help more businesses stay open.

“Stay local, the shopping is more personal,” she said. “That way your avenue and your community will flourish.”

Gov Signs Bill Reducing NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Database

By Eric Yun

Last Friday, Governor Paterson signed a bill that will reduce the number of people the NYPD can store in its “stop and frisk” database.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D- Brooklyn) and Senator Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), prevents the NYPD from storing the name and address of people stopped and questioned by the police, but not charged with a crime. Previously, anyone who was stopped and questioned by police could have had their name, address, gender and ethnicity stored in the database.

Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly both opposed Governor Paterson's decision. “This was an effective investigative tool we've been forced to surrender for no good reason,” Police Commissioner Kelly said to the Wall Street Journal. “Without [the database], there will be, inevitably, killers and other criminals who won't be captured as quickly, or perhaps ever,” Kelly said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Critics of the bill say the legislation will ham- per the NYPD's ability to solve crimes. Kelly estimated that over 170 crimes were solved because of the database.

Stu Loeser, spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, told The New York Times, “We're disappointed that police officers will be denied an important tool they have been using to solve crimes and prevent others.”

Proponents of the bill claim the database infringed on the civil liberties and privacy of innocent civilians.

“In a democracy there are times when safety and liberty find themselves in conflict,” Governor Paterson said in a statement, “From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the interment camps during WWII to the Patriot Act, we have experienced moments where liberty took a back seat. And each time, hindsight made our errors clear.”

New York City Comptroller John Liu applauded the legislation in a press release. “In our free society, there is simply no justification for the police to keep such a massive database of millions of individuals who haven't done anything wrong. The shame of it is that 90 percent of the innocent people in this database are people of color,” he said.

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D- Howard Beach) voted in favor of the bill. “I supported everybody's rights,” he said, “Our justice system is innocent until proven guilty.”

Addabbo does not foresee an increase in crime because of the bill. He would, however, support its repeal if crime does increase. “If I find it increases crime, I'll be one of the first senators to introduce a bill to repeal it,” he said.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) supported the bill. “I felt it was a duplication of process. Police already keep a written form with the information,” he said.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) released a statement criticizing the bill. “As categories of crime continue to rise throughout the City, the NYPD needs every available tool at its disposal to keep our streets safe,” he said. “With the stroke of his pen, the governor has effectively taken away an invaluable resource that has undoubtedly helped make New York the safest big city in America.”

Assembly Members Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) and Margaret Markey (D- Maspeth) did not immediately respond by press time to a request for comment. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) declined to comment on the legislation, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Missing Teen

Iris Villanueva,19, was last seen on July 11th at a store on 92nd Street on Woodhaven Boulevard. Villanueva is 5’3, 180 pounds with brown eyes and red, curly hair.

Anyone with information should contact Detective Harrington at (718) 805-23200 of the 102nd Precinct.

Health Department Reports High West Nile Levels

With high levels of the West Nile virus detected across the city, the Health Department is conducting mosquito control spraying in some neighbor- hoods to stop the spread of the virus.

“Warm standing water is the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, so with the three heat waves that we’ve already had this summer, it is vitally important to make sure standing water is reduced to help prevent mosquito breeding,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner.

According to the city Health Department, unusually high levels of the virus were found in mosquitoes in Staten Island, Queens Brooklyn and the Bronx. At this time no human cases have been detected.

Locally, spraying was conducted this past Tuesday in parts of South Jamaica, Rochdale Village and Springfield Gardens. The area sprayed was bordered by Merrick and Farmers boulevards to the east, Linden Boulevard to the north, 140th Street to the West and North Conduit Avenue to the south.

The commissioner recommends that residents 50 and older take special precaution and encourages everyone to wear repellent at night.

Control efforts will continue for the rest of the summer and residents can find out when their neighbor- hood is being sprayed by registering with Notify NYC at or by calling 311.

Ways to reduce the risk of West Nile in your area:
  • Use an approved insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (not for children under three), or products that contain the active ingredient IR3535.
  • Make sure windows have screens, and repair or re- place screens that have tears or holes.
  • Eliminate any standing water from your property
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
Source: NYC Health Department

Religious Groups, Non-Profits to Receive Security Grants

By Tamara Best

Eighty non-profit and religious groups in the city considered to be high-risk potential targets will receive more than $5.8 million in security grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

"Over the years, these grants have proved to be vital resources in protecting our religious and cultural institutions," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) who is a member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. "Worshipers, museum goers, and hospital visitors expect and deserve a safe environment, and this funding will go a long way towards ensuring their security."

The grants are being made available through the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Nonprofit Security Grant Program, with the city receiving a 40 percent increase from last year. In Queens, nine Jewish institutions received nearly $700,000 this year. Since the program began in 2005, approximately 300 New York City area non-profits have received nearly $23 million in funding.

Local politicians and community leaders said that the funding provides much needed re- sources to help keep their communities safe. "The terrorist threat against schools, places of worship, and other 'soft targets' is very real and we have an obligation to protect them," said Rep Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan). "Last year’s attempted bombing of two synagogues in the Bronx is a clear example that we must do more to protect high risk institutions.”

Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said that the funding is particularly helpful to the Jewish community.

"For Jewish institutions in my district and throughout the country, the terrorist threat is real, ever-present and an enormous financial burden in these difficult times," he said adding that the funds will help make synagogues, yeshivas and community centers more secure.

Associate Rabbi Elie Weinstock of the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan said the funding is important for maintaining security. "The Kehilath Jeshurun/Ramaz community is grateful for all of Congressman Weiner's efforts in helping keep our children and families—together with all New Yorkers—safe."

New York City will receive approximately 31 percent of the national funding, with the state receiving a little more than $6 million.

Organizations that qualified for the current grant program were eligible to receive up to $75,000 funds that can be used to train security personnel and install security measures such as surveillance cameras, barriers and controlled entry systems. On average, grant winners are awarded $73,000 and the funds should be received within the next three months.

The UASI program was created after Weiner pushed legislation in the Judiciary Committee in 2004. The Department of Homeland Security does not release the specific list of grant recipients due to security reasons.

Senate Passes Bill Aimed at Sex Offenders

New legislation unanimously passed by the state Senate is aimed to prevent employers from hiring registered sex of- fenders.

“Our primary objective must be to keep our children safe from dangerous predators,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “This legislation reduces the risk of exposing new victims to sexual abuse by keeping known offenders from spending extended time alone around children, like at martial arts or dance and music schools, in addition to our local schools, daycare facilities and camps.”

Under the legislation, those listed on the New York State Sex Offender Registry or the Statewide Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment are prevented from holding jobs that require a significant time spent around children.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) introduced the bill in the Assembly after learning that a registered sex offender was working at a karate school in Glendale. “Extending the background check requirement to other child-oriented fields benefits the whole community,” he said. “It gives parents the peace of mind of knowing their child is safe, it guards sex offenders and abusers from potentially committing another violation, and it reduces the risk of creating new victims of sexual abuse by prohibiting known offenders from interacting with children.”

A vote on the bill is pending in the Assembly. “This is great news for parents and children across New York,” Miller said. “Getting this through the Assembly and signed into law is my first priority.”

Security, Stink Trains, Budget Reform at CB5

By Tamara Best

The July meeting of the Community Board 5 focused on concerns over keeping the city safe, garbage trains continue to emit foulodors and the budget crisis in Albany.

Securing NYC

Special Agent James Capozzi, of the FBI spoke about a program aimed at strengthening national security through intelligence sharing and training.

Since 1996, the FBI has implemented Infra-Guard, a program whose sole goal is to protect the nation from another terrorist attack like 9/11.

“It was god awful and it can’t happen again,” Capozzi said. “We don’t know where they’re going to next,” he said. “Maybe New York, maybe not, but we’re a high priority target.”

Capozzi said the thorough information sharing and help from the public is crucial to protecting critical infrastructure such as food, banking, finance and transportation systems among others. “In essence things that can ruin the economy or government,” he said.

“We need to make these partnerships ahead of time,” he said. “We can’t protect what we don’t own.”

The program currently has 37,000 members across the country with free membership and weekly web broadcast in addition to local training events. “You help us connect the dots, you never know what you’re going to tell us,” he said.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, raised concerns that law enforcement does not respond fast enough when called about suspicious behavior.

“[Calling] 911 isn’t working,” he said, adding that the program should consider implementing a hotline or make a suggestion that they city establish one.

Businesses interested in getting involved have to complete a membership application which includes a records check by the FBI. For more information contact to get involved Infra- Guard at

Stink Train Battle Wages On

During the open forum, Mary Parisen, co-chair of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, and several elected officials expressed frustration over recent legislation regarding garbage trains being derailed.

“Our elected officials have stood with us to remediate the problems our community has had,” Parisen said, adding that the organization is receiving help on the city and state level from legislators to combat the issue. “We ask everyone to support us on this.”

During a Senate session at the end of June, Addabbo spoke on behalf of citizens living with the impacts of the trains. The legislation would create a set of standards for how solid waste containers have to be covered.

Some senators opposed the legislation, arguing that the trains already have sufficient covering. However, Addabbo, who attended the meeting, said that he will work with other elected officials until some legislation is passed.

“I’d love to get some of the senators who voted no come down here and smell that,” he said.

Haley Myers from the office of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) said her boss is committed to helping the residents impacted by the trains. “We now know exactly what we’re dealing with now and will push the legislation,” she said.

Budget reform

In addition to the garbage trains, Addabbo expressed frustration over the budget, saying that this year’s process highlights the need for reform.

Under his plan for budget reform, the governor would not be able to pass the budget through extenders, which are sections of the budget presented for a vote one at a time. With extenders, the Senate is given the option to vote either yes or no, with no room for discussion on desired changes.

“We’re basically passing the governor’s budget,” Addabbo said of the current budget deadlock in Albany.