Warnings do not seem to do much good when it comes to swimming in the oft-deadly Atlantic Ocean. The first Rockaway drowning of the beach season took place last Tuesday, when a 14-year-old Mill Basin youth tried to show off for his friends by wading up to his shoulders in the raging waters of Riis Park. The fact that he could not swim and that the lifeguards were long gone for the day did not deter him or his friends. He was pushed out to sea and then pulled under by the tide and even a long search and rescue mission on the part of the NYPD and FDNY could not recover his body. There is a pattern to the drownings. The great majority of them occur when lifeguards are not on duty and there are few Rockaway people involved. Perhaps that is because Rockaway residents understand that the beach can be a dangerous place.
Only three companies submitted bids to run the lucrative video lottery terminal Racino at the aging Aqueduct Racetrack in nearby South Ozone Park, down from six companies that took part in the original bidding process, which was tainted by politics and is now under investigation by both state and federal agencies. It seems two things pushed the others away. The first is the fact that it cost $1 million just to bid and that money was not refundable. The other has to do with the fact that the federal government recently recognized the Shinnecock Indians as a legitimate tribe, which makes them eligible to open a real casino, with slot machines, blackjack, roulette and all the other major games, on the tribal land at the far eastern end of Long Island.
Now that the Rockaway ferry has ended its two-year run, the small group of regular riders will have to find another way to commute to Manhattan. The ridership, averaging 160 riders a day, was far short of the 300 daily riders needed to keep the service going. While everybody talks about the importance of a commuter ferry service, few actually used it regularly, perhaps because it best served those who live in Breezy Point or Neponsit and work in the financial district. For anybody else, it was a long trek from home to work, possibly longer even than the express bus service to Manhattan, which is thriving.
The New York Times has likened Rockaway to the Hamptons. In a food section story, the Times wrote, “A summer within city limits? Before you call it crazy, consider the Rockaways, the sandy sliver of a peninsula in Queens beyond Kennedy Airport. Rockaway Beach’s refuse-free waters have long lured day-trippers who pour out of the A train (an hour from Midtown) hungry for Rockaway Taco, a Baja-style shack with an organic veggie stand, espresso bar and Italian ices. The beach community also has a 40-footwide boardwalk, a dedicated surfer scene and some vestigial ambience for the working-class Irish resorts that once boomed there. It’s a little like Biarritz, by way of McSorley’s.” It goes on to quote local realtor Maureen Walsh, who says that “People in Rockaway hate when others discover it,” but says that there are great summer rentals. She cites a Victorian house with a deck, porch and outdoor shower for $2,600 a month. “That barley pays for a pool shed in the Hamptons,” the Times article concludes.
A number of Breezy Point parents are up in arms because of a Department of Education ruling that children who live more than five miles from their school will no longer automatically receive free bus service. Most of the children who live in Breezy Point, a gated community at the far western end of the Rockaway peninsula, attend PS 114, St. Francis de Sales or the Scholars’ Academy. “There is no public transportation from Breezy Point, the nearest is in Roxbury,” Ellen McCarthy told the Daily News recently. That forces many of the children to walk along the dangerous State Road, which has no sidewalks for most of its length. A DOE spokesperson says that the cuts in bus service were necessary because of severe cuts in state aid to the city schools. The spokesperson added that parents can still apply for a multipurpose variance.
Many locals are shaking their heads over a court of appeals decision that will soon force the state to begin setting up 1,500 assisted living apartments for the mentally ill in communities around the city. You can bet that Rockaway, with all its vacant apartment stock, will quickly become one of the major targets of the state’s attention. While we can understand the right of the mentally ill to live in the least restrictive environment, we also understand how placing the mentally ill in private apartments around the peninsula will destabilize some of the communities to which they will move. The promise of advocates that the adult home residents will be able to care for themselves – to clean, shop, prepare meals and all the other things that one must do to live independently – seems shallow promise when seen in the prism of those who live in the adults homes at the present time.