The State legislature has been trying for years to keep its "member items" secret. Those member items are money that the Assemblymembers and State Senators give to their pet organizations each year and there is little or no oversight as to where the money goes. The total amount given each year is approximately $170 million, so this is no little story. The member items information was released last week only after the Albany Times Union sued the leadership for refusing to provide the names of the groups and the amounts they received to the public. The legislature lost and it placed the information on its websites in such as way that there was no way to search it by the name of the legislator or the name of the organization. While most of the money is provided to worthwhile organizations such as little league and arts groups, there is lots of hanky-panky as well. Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn, for example, gave $173 thousand to a senior citizens council that he founded and to a newspaper that supports him. We are trying to find the information for our three state legislators - Audrey Pheffer, Malcolm Smith and Michelle Titus. As soon as we get the information, so will you.
The Department of Transportation and the Department of Education has been working together to set up safe routes to and from every public school in the city. The DOT will post Traffic Safety Maps on its website next month and it will provide the maps to each school as well. The DOT says that it will provide upgrades anywhere the study found a problem nearby a school. Those upgrades include enhanced crosswalk signs, refuge islands and speed bumps.
Century 21 Esha Realty collected more than 200 coats in its successful Thanksgiving Coat Drive. The coats were all given to the needy in Rockaway. On December 8, the realty firm will conduct a "Toys For Tots" drive from 5 to 8 p.m. at 237 Beach 116 Street. Santa will help collect the toys and there will be activities for children.
One local resident spotted some Department of Transportation (DOT) workers measuring on Shore Front Parkway last week. When he questioned them about what they were doing, they told him that the were going to restructure the beachfront street and then change all those painted lines that have many motorists up in arms. They also added a disquieting tidbit. The city is planning to put Muni-meters the length of the northern side of the parkway as well as on both the curb and the island on Beach 73 Street and Beach 108 Street. While the word is that those meters would only be active during the summer month, the plan would severely limit the parking for those who live in Surfside and the Dayton houses. If that is true (and we are trying to find out if it is true), it would just be one more harassment of Rockaway residents by an uncaring city government.
The famous Harry G will once again host his "Doo Wop Spectacular" at Beach Channel High School in January. This year's concert, the fourteenth anniversary of the event that benefits the Susan G. Memorial Scholarship Fund, will be held on Saturday, January 27 at 7 p.m. Featured this year are Kenny Vance and the Planotones, The Devotions, Twin Gold, Earl Lewis and the Channels and Kid Kyle and his Kool Kats. Tickets are available at 516-244-3262.
Speaking of the Mayor and his friends, he will soon be appointing a new official position to be called "Food Policy Coordinator." The big-ticket job (it will pay more than $100,000 annually), will be filled by a person responsible for increasing accessibility to healthy food in low-income communities and for coordinating the policies of the 20 agencies involved in food service. If we know Bloomberg and the city, the food czar's first order will be to ban corned beef and pastrami as being unhealthy.
Several members of the City Council are attempting to change the tax-abatement program that was started more than 30 years ago to jump-start the city's slumping real estate market. Those abatements allow developers to build homes for middle class families who then get a break on their taxes for periods of up to 20 years. Most of the new housing in Rockaway falls under that plan, including the massive Arverne By The Sea project. Councilwoman Annabel Palmer from the Bronx, who is leading the charge against the tax abatements calls them "a giveaway to luxury housing developers." Palmer is calling for a total citywide ban on what she considers to be luxury housing. The Mayor is reportedly considering a change in the rules that would set up zones where developers could get abatements only if they agree to build "affordable housing" alongside the more expansive units. Nobody seems to know, however, just what the terms "luxury housing" or "affordable housing" really mean. As with many things, those definitions are in the eye of the beholder.
A Queens Supreme Court judge has backed the city's Parks Department in its policy of allowing dogs to be off the leash in "certain" parks during the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. We're not sure yet whether that means Rockaway's beaches, but we'll find out and let you know.
You can tell that our billionaire mayor has no idea of how the little guy really lives - even the little guys who work for the city. When a welfare officials told the mayor that many of the people who work for her had to rely on food stamps and handouts, Bloomberg said, "Well, if you want to sponsor higher taxes, we'll have more money [to pay them]. The bottom line is that the city only has so much money and there will always be some jobs that are entry level and don't pay enough." Perhaps the mayor should think about redirecting some of the millions of dollars he pays to his friends through the Department of Education and other city departments without even worrying about such minor things as bids and contracts. We have plenty of money for them, but not for the people who really make the city work.