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CB 14 Returns for the First Time Back in Person

With the pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders now a memory of the not-so-distant past, on Tuesday, September 13, board members and scores of community activists packed the Knights of Columbus for Community Board 14’s first session since the summer recess. For newer board members, this was their first face-to-face meeting together after two years of convening virtually, which CB 14 Chairwoman Dolores Orr acknowledged, asking the entire board to stand and formally introduce themselves. As for the night’s agenda—from good news about Rockaway’s business boom, Mayor Eric Adams’ Cash For Guns Initiative, Gifted and Talented Programs coming to Rockaway, bike lanes on Mott Avenue and more, plus a lively public speaking segment—it was as packed as the room.

First up was Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, announcing her appointment to a state legislative commission, which will evaluate the relationship between LIPA and its subsidiary, PSE&G; analyzing how it ultimately affects energy rates for state residents. She also shared that the commission plans to explore more sustainable, cost-efficient sources of energy including solar, with the goal to ease tension not just on the power grid, but residents’ bottom line. In addition, Amato announced that in October, her office will be hosting a Narcan training, in which attendees will learn how to recognize signs of an opioid overdose and administer the overdose reversal drug, Naloxone. For more information, contact her Rockaway district office at 718-945-9550.

Next to speak was CB 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska, sharing some glowing stats gleaned from NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s economic report released this past Monday, September 12. “Rockaway saw steady business growth since 2000, with the number of businesses increasing by nearly 60% (459 firms) to reach a peak of 1,281 firms, including 481 new businesses in 2021. This was substantially greater than all of Queens, which was 43.8%, and NYC-wide, 28.5%. Almost 82% of the businesses on the peninsula were microbusinesses, defined as having fewer than 10 employees. As of 2021, retail trade accounted for the largest number of businesses, followed by health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services,” Gaska shared.

Regarding the peninsula’s population growth, Gaska stated that Comptroller DiNapoli’s report showed an increase of eight percent between 2010 and 2020, slightly higher than the aggregate growth in Queens (7.8%) and citywide (7.7%). Around the room at Knights, there were audible sounds of snickering and guffaws when Gaska commented, “Now, with all these new buildings going up in the east end with 10,000 units, you figure, conservatively, at least another 25,000 people are going to be living in Rockaway.”

Next to speak was CB 14 Chairwoman Orr, who shared that at a recent meeting with NYC community board chairs, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and various agencies, including the Department of Education, it was announced that Rockaway received two Gifted and Talented D.O.E. programs with 18 seats at P.S. 42 and P.S. 183. “I did beg for a third one. I said to them, ‘It’s been so long coming, even though there’s need all over, we’ve never had this before, and I think we deserve a third one.’ Let’s see what happens, but this is exciting news,” Orr said.

On the policing front, NYPD Chief Kevin Williams, the new commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens South, accompanied by 100th and 101st Precincts’ captains, introduced himself and shared their blueprint to avert crime on the peninsula.

“Overall, Rockaway had a good summer with over one million visitors. Considering the beach activity, we saw a substantial decrease in crime, though the 100th Precinct experienced a spike. Kudos to the women and men patrolling our communities every day. The largest issue continues to be vehicular theft. We keep warning people not to leave items in their car, especially cell phones, as it attracts thieves. Regarding person-on-person crimes, a lot were committed by people who knew their victims. Another pressing issue is illegal overnight truck parking. I think it’s going to be a mixture of towing, plus making sure that my officers are writing the appropriate fines,” Williams said.

The Chief then announced Mayor Eric Adams’ Cash for Guns-No Questions Asked Initiative, in which his office is giving $200 pre-paid cards and iPads for surrendered handguns and assault rifles, and $25 for rifles and shotguns. The next event will be on September 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Calvary Assembly of God (102-07 Rockaway Blvd) in Ozone Park. For more information about this and upcoming gun buy-back events, call 311.

Public speaking was next with Far Rockaway businessman, Jose Santana, reading from a letter signed by fellow merchants on Beach 20th Street, expressing their displeasure and anguish about the new bike lane on Beach 20th, between Cornaga and Mott Avenue. He stated, “Far Rockaway is looking more beautiful than ever, and it shows. However, this bicycle lane is a public hazard and nuisance. There was a gas rupture 200 feet away and it took a fire truck 72 minutes to get there. Elderly people and children are falling in this elevated bicycle lane. It is poorly constructed. Businesses are having problems loading and unloading their products. So much so, they are receiving parking tickets while they are unloading their products, as there is no rear side to get in. The difference between a life-saving situation could be this street as it’s a direct access point to the only hospital on the peninsula. The bicycle lane must go!”

Towards the end of the night, CB 14 voted on the motion to request the DOT remove the bicycle lane, and instead put commercial parking for loading and unloading only. The motion carried unanimously with just one abstention. After which, Gaska quipped, “You go to DOT with a problem, they say, bike lanes, speed bumps, or remove parking.”

The rest of public speaking was commandeered by representatives from The Audrey Lorde Project, advocating that the best use of Riis Beach Bay 1, (popularly dubbed, “The People’s Beach) would be to preserve the beach and area for the LGBTQ community. One of the speakers, who came with his young son, stated, “I came to show support for The People’s Beach, a cultural gym for the peninsula, in which our children are free to express their genders and sexuality.” Other opinions expressed include: “I would like to see it protected. I would not like to see it converted to a playground as rumored, because a playground is already in the area,” and “as a trans binary person, this beach has been a crucial location for my community. We need to have seats at the table to decide the beach’s future.”

CB 14 then concluded with a notice that they will be inviting the Army Corps of Engineers to address the erosion happening at Beach 149th Street, due to the rock jetty, which needs more work.

By Kami-Leigh Agard

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