2001-11-24 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

Jim Dwyer has been writing for New York City dailies for a long time. He was with Newsday for a while, but he now writes for the New York Times, the big one, and the "newspaper of record."

Dwyer has been in Rockaway many times and has a good handle on its various communities. That is probably why he had no trouble writing his lead in a Metro Section piece about the prayer service in Rockaway last Sunday.

"Long before September 11," he wrote, "at least a house or two on any street in the Belle Harbor section of Rockaway was likely to be flying a United States flag. Even more visible, though was the unofficial flag of the Rockaways, with its motif of bright red lettering on white, a rigid sign on unbending poles: No Parking, Sat. Sun. Holidays, May 15 to September 30.

"If Rockaway’s no-parking signs are not exactly a message telling outsiders to get lost, no one would mistake them for a ‘welcome to our beach’ either."

Rockaway has been discovered by both the national and international media because of the crash.

And, while none of the coverage actually came out and said that parts of Rockaway excluded "certain types of people," lots of code words were used.

Dwyer’s piece in the Times was the first to address it directly.

I was sitting in the Sunset Diner on Sunday morning, getting up my energy for my daughter’s wedding later that evening. Because I was alone (my wife and the others were doing the hair and nail thing prior to the big event), I was more tuned in to the conversations around me than I might normally have been had I been with somebody else.

The four people (obviously two couples) in the booth across from me were Hispanic, well dressed, obviously well educated.

They were discussing a couple that had perished in the crash, and how much they would be missed by their extended family.

One of the men got up to go to the men’s room. When he got back, he made an observation that caused me to think about what he had said.

"Look around," he told the others. "Do you see any Hispanics? Do you see any other minorities? I wonder what kind of community Belle Harbor really is."

His question made me think. There are few minorities living in Belle Harbor, fewer in Neponsit and none in the Breezy Point area.

When I got home and opened the Times, I found Dwyer addressing the same question.

"Manuel Rivera, 31, who lost three friends in the crash, said that it made him consider visiting the place, the Rockaways, that he had never heard of before," Dwyer writes. "He does not know what to expect.

"I was thinking about seeing it, to be close to where my friends died, said Mr. Rivera, a janitor. I hear that it is not like Washington Heights, that it has a beach and big houses. Tell me, are there any Latinos there?"

The answer, of course, is "very few."

Articles such as Dwyer’s question Rockaway’s very core beliefs.

Most of you who read my rants on a regular basis know that the parking regulations bother me very much.

My ire with those regulations is both personal and a question of ethics.

The rules force me to pay $75 a month to rent a driveway because I rent an apartment rather than own a home with a driveway. That driveway is several hundred yards from the entrance to my building. While those who own homes simply have to park in their driveways and walk into their homes, those who rent often have to walk blocks to get home. When I first moved to where I now live, I had to park at the Beach Club and walk five blocks to get home during the summer months.

That is real discrimination.

On the other hand, I do not believe that the discrimination is based on race, religion or ethnic background.

Although minorities are not prominently represented among those who live in the west end, I do not believe that the posting of those signs provides a "sign" that the west end attempts to exclude minorities from living there.

I believe that the signs that Dwyer writes about exist for two reasons.

First of all, the rules were put into effect years ago, by politicians who are no longer with us. As far as I can ascertain, the rules were in response to complaints by west end homeowners to the way their property was treated by the down-for-the day (DFD’s) who urinated on their lawns, left beer bottles on their property, used their outdoor showers as bathrooms and generally raised hell with their homes.

They believed that they had a genuine right to restrict parking on "their" blocks and the politicians responded.

Secondly, they believed as well that the beach at the end of the block that they lived on was indeed "theirs," for their pleasure only. They did not want the DFD’s crowding "their" beaches, making noise, listening to loud music, leaving behind garbage and generally causing problems for the residents.

Were they right? Yes and no. Those who were around when the rules were implements tell me horror stories about people defecating in their outdoor showers, urinating on their lawn, drinking at their cars all night long. I do not think they are lying about that.

Right or wrong, there is a solution. Allow only Rockaway residents to park on those blocks during the summer months.

I have been told by experts that there is a hand-held EZ Pass reader. Since the vast majority of Rockaway residents have the EZ Pass module on their cars, police could check the cars parked on the blocks that are now off limits to parking. Those who are Rockaway residents could then park with impunity. Those who are not would be fined $100 or even towed.

I would go even so far as to say that residents who wanted on-street parking during the summer could be charged a $100 fee. That would allow for the purchase of the hand-held EZ Pass readers.

I respect the problems that the west end homeowners had with DFD’s. I respect even more the problems of those who rent in the west end and cannot find parking during the summer months.

There are those who tell me that the parking regulations are a matter of safety, that fire apparatus cannot get through the streets.

How is it then, that they can get through the streets during the winter, when parking is allowed, but not during the summer?

It is time for our politicians to address this issue. There are residents who need help. They might not be homeowners, but they contribute mightily to the community just as much as those who are.

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