Crime and violence continue to plague the Redfern public housing complex in Far Rockaway. Two teens, one 13 years of age and the other 15 years of age, were recently charged with a murder at the Redfern Houses shortly after the New Year. On January 22, a teen was stabbed repeatedly on the arm, in the rear of 14-20 Redfern Avenue, by a young man wearing a blue hoodie sweatshirt. Police canvassed the area, but could not find the assailant. In addition, 23 residents were busted at the Hammel Houses in Rockaway Beach on drug charges. That is the third major drug sweep in Hammels in the past two years, and the beat goes on. What we find strange is the reaction of the black leadership in Far Rockaway, from the elected politicians to the leadership of the NAACP. A town hall meeting was held in Far Rockaway two weeks ago. On the agenda were "reforming the juvenile justice system, alternatives to detention, improving child welfare services and the like. Not a word about black-on-black crime, juvenile violence, guns or drugs. Nothing is going to change until the black leadership faces head-on the issue of crime and violence in its own community and the impact that crime has on the community as a whole.
We are waiting with bated breath for the new "Flood Zone" maps that were redrawn in December by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). You remember them from the Hurricane Katrina fiasco (You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie). We understand that the new maps added large chunks of Rockaway to the flood plain, making the homeowners in those areas responsible for obtaining flood insurance in order to keep their mortgages. Some locals, we have been told, have already received notification from their mortgage-holders that they have 30 days to get the government insurance or default on their mortgage. The insurance, which can cost from hundreds of dollars a year to thousands, depending on location, can only be obtained from government programs. Jonathan Gaska, the District Manager for Community Board 14, told us that he is awaiting the maps and that he'll keep us on top of the story.
The question of the additional money needed to add extra lanes to the pool and enclose the gymnasium at the planned YMCA at Beach 73 Street continues to confound locals and the developers as well. Gerry Romski, a spokesperson for the Arverne By The Sea development, which is tasked with funding and building the Y, says that he is currently working through design and regulatory issues and hopes to begin construction at the end of the spring. He recently told The Wave that building a nine-foot deep pool in an area with a high water table has become a minor, but not insurmountable problem. What about the new money? It's still a possibility, Romski says, but "it doesn't seem likely."
Department of Education officials tell us that PS 42 in Arverne will soon get a $40 million make-over, with a new wing that would add 400 seats to the overcrowded building. Locals tell us that the money was funded through the offices of State Senator Malcolm Smith and Assemblywoman Michelle Titus and was coordinated by the Title I Parent's Action Committee at the school. Construction is slated to begin in January of next year. The new building should be ready for students in June of 2011.
By the way, Rockaway will be getting an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but it probably won't be at the new YMCA. The new building for the Torah School For Girls (TAG) on Beach 6 Street will reportedly include a gym, an Olympic sized swimming pool and multiple play decks. It is unlikely that the Orthodox community, which will build the new school, will make those facilities available to the remainder of the Far Rockaway community.
The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court has ruled that the Sean Bell case should remain in Queens. Defense counsel for the three cops accused of shooting and killing the Far Rockaway man had hoped to move the trial from Queens to an upstate venue, where the chances of acquittal are always much better. The court's order, however, left some wiggle room, giving the defense lawyers the right to reopen the question after the completion of the jury selection process. The lawyers for the cops have argued that the three cannot get a fair trial in Queens, because of the notoriety of the case. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who fought the move, said, "Today's decision reflects that which we said all along, that a fair and impartial jury can be selected from among the 2.3 million residents of Queens County." On Thursday of last week, the lawyers for the defendants took another expected turn in the wake of being turned down for a change of venue. They requested a trial by judge rather than a trial by jury - a little-know tactic that probably will give them more of a chance to beat the charge. Judges traditionally rule on the law and the facts, while juries often vote on their gut feelings and beliefs.
The percentage of Army recruits with a high school diploma dropped last year, continuing a trend that has worsened since the start of the war in Iraq. While the Army's goal is 90 percent high school recruits, the percentage last year dropped to just over 70 percent. The Army says that all of its recruits are "qualified," but that it looks for "high-quality" recruits - those who have high school diplomas and who score in the top half of the military's qualification tests. From 2004 to 2007, however, the percentage of highquality recruits fell to 45 percent from 67 percent.
When the MTA took over the five private bus companies two years ago, there was lots of conjecture that service, which was already bad, would become even worse. The fact is, the service has improved to the point where the ridership of those routes previously run by Triboro Bus, Green Bus and Jamaica Bus, is up more than ten percent since the takeover, a sure indication that service on those routes has improved.