Community Board 14 opened its first meeting of 2022 on Tuesday, January 11, promptly at 7:15 p.m. Held online via WebEx, it was attended by more than 90 people.
Despite some technical glitches, the meeting moved along at a brisk pace.
Speaking first, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz noted a variety of accomplishments and initiatives her office has undertaken in the two years since she became DA.
She stated their approach is to provide equal justice both “for defendants and for victims.” Katz cited the case of a World War I veteran whose remains were recently found buried in a Queens backyard. Katz and her team were able to prosecute and bring to account the man’s murderer from 45 years ago.
She noted success in reducing present day crime by going into areas like the Redfern Houses and “getting to the drivers of crime out,” prosecuting them for gun violence, narcotics possession etc.
She also noted that in any community “the first time they see a DA, they should not be thinking we’re coming to get them.” So she has been speaking with community leaders and program organizers and working with youth and residents to strengthen the community.
The DA’s office initiatives outlined include successful gun buyback programs, creating special hate crimes, worker protection and housing protection units and a community connection division so residents can directly report, for instance, suspected cases of human trafficking
Next, City Councilwoman Joann Ariola addressed the meeting. Now starting her second week in office, she announced her Rockaway office, located 114-12 Beach Channel Drive, is now up and running, and she has retained several members from former Councilman Eric Ulrich’s staff. Office hours are weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with plans to open one weeknight ‘til 7 p.m., with staff on call to contact over the weekend.
In her first 100 days, she will be meeting with community and business leaders. Ariola has also set up seven district Covid testing buses, notably at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club, the Arverne YMCA, and in front of the Broad Channel Library. Another site is planned for Breezy Point.
Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska spoke next, following up on a letter to the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission recommending that Rockaway remain as one Congressional District rather than be split. The Commission’s latest plan reflects the one district idea.
Gaska reminded all the deadline to apply or re-apply for board membership is February 16. Applications can be filed online at www.queensbp.org.
His office is also compiling a list of young people who would be interested in shoveling snow if needed for seniors and others in need and can receive community service credit for the effort. Those interested can contact 718-471-7300.
Gaska noted the Department of Sanitation is taking applications for provisional workers to clear snow from crosswalks and catch basins at $20 per hour.
Chairperson Orr added especially with the extreme cold weather, anyone without heat should call 311 directly.
Orr stated she has received two responses to her request to Rockaway’s federal, state and city elected officials to provide written reports on “what they’ve accomplished and what challenges they see for 2022.”
A representative noted highlights from State Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson’s ten-page report. These including securing funding for a Challenge Preparatory Charter School culinary arts program and also funding for community resources for Ocean Bay, Hammels and Carlton Manor, and for a food storage facility operated by the Queens Defenders. He has also co-sponsored bills for disaster preparedness, tuition assistance and mold reduction in city housing.
Next, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato reported the establishment of a commission to prevent childhood drowning, the passage of Fred’s Law, which requires hospitals to allow individuals with disabilities to have a support person accompany them, and legislation to make the NYC’s Housing Preservation & Development more accountable. 2022 goals include preventing toxic dumping in Jamaica Bay and elimination of the Cross Bay Bridge toll.
A representative for Congressman Gregory Meeks gave an oral summary of funding secured for New York overall. While noting it was appreciated, Chairperson Orr requested that the congressman’s next report focus more specifically on benefits going to Rockaway.
The majority of those scheduled for the meeting’s Public Speaking portion addressed their opposition to an alleged expansion at the Surfside buildings along Shore Front Parkway near Beach 105th Street. Though no formal plan has yet been put forward, members of the Surfside Tenant Association (SHAFT) are already fighting to keep property owner ALMA Realty from putting up additional structures in addition to the three 12-story buildings already there.
Many speakers pointed out this would put additional burdens on the peninsula’s weak infrastructure, citing poor roads and rail service, sewage and storm protections and one hospital. They also gave examples of ALMA’s poor management of the current property, pointing out non-working elevators and electricity, lack of heat and hot water, security and fire safety issues and overflowing garbage. Despite numerous outreaches, residents say these issues have not been resolved, leading them to ask how “if the current owner cannot take care of the existing property, how will they manage a large new addition?”
They noted that a similar plan proposed by ALMA was shot down in 2014. The dozen or so speaking on Surfside residents’ behalf requested the Community Board to reject any future expansion plan.
Next, Christine James of the Bringing Back Rockaway community group stated she was seeking help in cleaning up the area under the Rockaway Freeway from Beach 84th Street to Beach 108th. She noted many local school children walked underneath this covered area every day. Later, 100th Precinct Community Affairs Officer Victor Boamah asked to be put in touch with James as he may be able to help provide youth volunteers.
Deputy Inspector Carlos Fabara, commander of the 100th Precinct, then gave a recap of the previous year. He noted, “We had a fantastic 2021. We were down in six of the seven major crime categories and actually were at the lowest level for the 100th.”
Fabara reported crimes such as gun violence were down to the lowest level in a decade, with others such as petty larceny, minor assaults and domestic violence were also down. “We had 827 arrests last year, as compared to when we were up to over 2,000 in 2015-2016.”
The last speaker, Chief Operating Officer Jason Pierre, advised Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School is now recruiting students from Pre-K though 5th Grade. The school, using the former St. Mary’s parochial school site off Beach 19th Street, is tuition free. Student applications will be picked by a lottery held in April.
Peninsula Prep is seeking teachers, even skilled previous residents who have moved back into the area. Interested students and potential teachers can apply at www.peninsulaprep.org.
Army Corps of Engineers Dan Falt, recently promoted to oversee all projects in the district, gave updates on Rockaway storm protection progress. Falt noted a new project manager would replace him soon. Noting, however, his nearly nine-year involvement in the effort, and that he is also a peninsula resident, Falt stated he will still be keeping a close eye on the project.
Falt reported jetties are now finished on Beach 107th Street and crews have moved on to Beach 98th Street. Work will be finishing within two weeks at Beach 102nd Street, with crews moving over to Beach 92nd Street.
Falt said the construction schedule for five additional groins to be built uptown is still to be determined. Contracts have already been awarded for sand replenishment from Beach 9th to Beach 149th, as well as for crossovers for Neponsit and Belle Harbor beaches.
Focus is now shifting to Jamaica Bay where building eight pumping stations, each situated on ½ acre of land, is in the preliminary stage. Once final sites are decided on, the process of acquiring the needed land can begin. Falt also fielded Board member’s questions.
A motion was passed to accept CB 14’s Nominating Committee’s recommended election slate consisting of current members.
The Correspondence Committee reported letters have been drafted to new Mayor Eric Adams and new school’s chancellor David Banks to request keeping Scholars’ Academy’s previous admissions policies, including giving preference to siblings of students already in the school.
Chairperson Orr asked Manager Gaska to reach out to the FDNY for official comparison data on whether new speed humps along Shore Front Parkway impeded firefighters racing to the recent apartment fire at Dayton Towers.
Gaska also noted that unbeknownst to the Board, the old Peninsula Hospital site has been sold to a new developer, so “we don’t know how much plans may have changed.” Inquiries are underway.
A final motion was accepted to send a letter requesting the MTA to expand their outreach to the homeless during very cold winter days. It was noted that currently two to three homeless persons per car can currently be found sleeping on the A train.
The meeting was finally adjourned at 9:31 p.m.
By Dan Guarino
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