Even though there are signs that the national economic crunch is easing, we are now feeling it more intensely than ever in New York State.
Every level of state and local government is facing the challenge of how to manage to provide the most essential public safety, health, educational services from a reduced public pocketbook.
As the Legislature and the State Administration grapple with the agonizing challenge before us this year, all of us are working hard to balance this austerity with the need to provide New York children, seniors and those in need the most basic human services.
I am also committed to continuing support at the highest possible level for community organizations that provide vital services in our local neighborhoods.
As we continue other work in Albany, I am hopeful that 2010 will be the year that the Child Victims Act of New York is adopted by both houses of the Legislature. This law would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes and expose active pedophiles and those who have shielded them. With support for the bill continuing to build in the Assembly, it is now progressing in the Senate where it is sponsored by Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson.
Big Trucks off Grand Avenue
There are hopeful signs that, at long last, this will be the year that we get a commitment to move dangerous truck traffic out of the main commercial area of Grand Avenue.
Everybody knows that big trucks don’t belong on local shopping streets. They kill retail business; they create hazardous conditions for pedestrians; and they pollute the air. It is important to do everything possible --- as soon as possible --- to reduce truck traffic on Grand Avenue.
Getting those big trucks off this street has been the community’s goal for more than a decade. Frank Principe and Community Board Five developed a Maspeth Bypass Plan a decade ago to reduce dangerous truck traffic through the heart of the community.
We have now been notified that the long-awaited “Maspeth Bypass” may finally be implemented by the city Department of Transportation (DOT).
A decade of pressure and lobbying by elected officials and community leaders is finally getting us results as the city has announced a timetable for completing its engineering analysis of alternatives for the bypass, including the Community Board Five proposal. The city will present a final plan to the community in September. In October, the agency will make a final recommendation of a plan for implementation.
With community frustrations over the long delay in resolving the long-standing threat to the community posed by the dangerous truck traffic, I joined other elected officials and civic leaders at a press conference on Grand Avenue earlier this year to suggest a change in the designation of the street south of 69th Street to a “Local Route” for truckers. This is something the city can do right now to reduce the number of big trucks that cut through the heart of Maspeth on their way to other boroughs and the DOT has promised to give us an answer to the proposal this spring.
But changing the designation of the street immediately to make it a local route for truckers will require more than signs if it is to be successful; the regulations must also be vigorously enforced. It’s up to the Police to catch truckers who violate the ban and make sure they are fined.
To help do this I am sponsoring a bill in the Assembly that will permit the City to place cameras at key intersections --- like Grand Avenue and 69th Street --- and make it possible for the police to track down owners and operators and fine them when they break the law.
In these tough economic times, it is important that we do everything we can to help neighborhood businesses survive. Getting trucks off this street now will make a difference to Maspeth and I join with my colleagues in asking the Department of Transportation to support the request we are making --- and to enforce it.
Sunnyside Gardens Park
Cleaning up and beautification in Sunnyside is a year-round effort and I was delighted to join Ciaran Staunton and volunteers from the Friends of Sunnyside Gardens Park on a recent Saturday as they continued to improve the Barnett Avenue frontage of the park.
This area has been a major dumping ground for years so Ciaran and his neighbors from Sunnyside Gardens and Phipps Houses decided to clean it up and add plantings to help improve the area to complement the major renovation of the park that is now nearing completion.
These residents love their community and their volunteer efforts, supported by the Sanitation Department and the Department of Transportation, set an outstanding example of how citizens are prepared to come forward in these tight economic times to pitch in and make their neighborhood greener and cleaner.
Queens Library Lobby Visit
Preserving support for library services at the Queens Public Library in these challenging economic times was the Number One topic when this group of borough residents met with me in Albany recently. From left are: Kendra Hoaas, Tatyana Magazinnik and Karen Keys.
I was pleased to join Congressman Joseph Crowley and my friends from Maspeth Town Hall at their annual St. Patrick’s Day event in March at St. Adelbert’s Church. From left is Bob Reilly, myself, Eileen Reilly and Congressman Crowley.
As the NYC Off-Track Betting Corporation seeks to bring financial stability to its operations, I strongly objected to a proposal its leader made at a January public hearing that would significantly expand its business by placing free-standing betting kiosks in local stores and restaurants where they could be easily available to youngsters. The proposal was withdrawn.
I was proud to join the community twice this year in objecting to a plea by a developer to get a hardship exemption that would permit him to proceed to build an out-of-character high rise building at 39-35 27th Street in Dutch Kills even though it is no longer legal under the new zoning for the area.
The community, supported by Community Board One, the Dutch Kills Civic Association and most local civic groups, convinced the city to rezone the area to protect the low-rise, mixed residential-commercial neighborhood from continuing assault by developers who had been exploiting the old zoning to build out-of-character, too-tall buildings on low-rise residential streets.
More than a dozen developers, including the owner of this property, rushed to avoid the new, more-restrictive zoning and beat a deadline so their out-of-character buildings could be legally grandfathered. This developer failed to qualify by the deadline and is asking the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to permit him to proceed anyway. In my testimony I pointed out that the developer was well aware of the intent of the new rezoning and the time constraints he faced for his project. The “hardship” he cited in his appeal was entirely of his own making as the city repeatedly stopped work on the project because of unsafe working conditions and damages his project inflicted on neighboring buildings.
We are protecting Dutch Kills for its residents and future generations. We must not let an irresponsible developer circumvent the new zoning that the community worked so hard to achieve.
A garbage disposal plan that threatened to add hundreds of additional big trucks every week to the streets of Maspeth has been altered and the change is a welcome development for the community.
Waste Management’s agreement with New York City calls for the company to receive municipal waste from six community districts in Western Queens at a facility on Review Avenue in an industrial area of West Maspeth, containerize it and ship it to out-of-state landfills by rail.
With no direct rail connection at that location, Waste Management planned to use city streets to transport the garbage to the Maspeth Rail Yard, a mile and a half away, raising safety and environmental concerns. Now, the company has submitted a new plan that will utilize private roadways along the Long Island Rail Road tracks to carry the garbage to a newly activated Blissville Rail Yard, eliminating the need to use city streets.
There have been long-standing concerns about what is already excessive truck traffic in and throughout the commercial and residential streets of Maspeth. No one was pleased about a plan that was going to add hundreds of additional truck trips to our local streets when the Review Avenue facility of Waste Management begins to operate at full capacity over the coming years. This change eliminates that threat.