Thursday, July 31, 2008

Final Ruling Against 9/11 Remains Transfer

Judge Alvin Hellerstein recently decided against the lawsuit raised by 9/11 families. The plaintiffs (WTC Families for a Proper Burial) want the city to move World Trade Center debris from the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island to a burial site. The judge said, “Not every wrong can be addressed through the judicial process. The grave harm suffered by the plaintiffs in this case is undeniable. But the jurisdiction of a court is limited.” Sad as it is to think that any human remains may have been overlooked during the exhaustive sifting process, the family’s request may be impractical now for financial and logistical reasons. However, couldn’t New York City make arrangements to set aside a proper burial area in the vicinity of Fresh Kills? The landfill won’t be a landfill forever.

#1 International Tourist Spot In USA Is NYC

The US Department of Commerce reports that New York City remains the top destination city for overseas travelers. Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and the rest still have nothing on The Big Apple. With the dropping dollar, foreigners now get more for their money when they travel to America. Happily for local businesses, they’re arriving here like never before. 7.6 million tourists visited NYC in 2006. A record 8.5 million tourists came in 2007. So far, 2008 is on pace to set a new foreign tourist record. “I Love New York?” How about “The World Loves New York!”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fare Beaters To Take Fair Beating

The MTA has raised the fare evasion penalty on buses and trains from $60 to $100. This is just the first increase in twenty years. It’s strange how hikes for these petty turnstile criminals come less frequently than the fare increases for New York's paying commuters. Maybe some crooks at the MTA are more sympathetic towards them.

Cops Go From Good Guys To Better Guys

NYPD misconduct complaints have declined for the first time in seven years. 7,559 complaints were filed with the Civilian Complaints Review Board in 2007. Though that number is lower than in 2006, the CCRB states that total complaints are still at historic highs. Whether that’s the fault of New York’s cops or a more sensitive citizenry is unknown at this time. We should all be grateful for the overwhelmingly professional manner in which today's police conduct themselves. Also, for the fact that we as New York City residents have recourse to take if we feel that our rights have been violated.

Pothole Problems Multiply

Be very careful when you walk or drive in New York City. Pothole complaints rose a jarring 71.5% in fiscal year 2008 up to 17,612 in number. Street grievances include “jagged holes,” manhole cover issues and catch basin problems. City officials claim the increase is directly related to Mayor Bloomberg’s new Street Conditions Observation Unit (Scout program). This initiative records quality-of-life issues on handheld devices for greater accuracy and response. True or not, we’ll see if next years’ report shows at least a 71.5 % increase in the number of plugged potholes.

Diplomatic Immunity Shouldn’t Mean Financial Impunity

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Queens) wants foreign diplomats to pay up or pay the price. Every NYC politician should support his position. For years, many foreign diplomats have ignored parking tickets and property taxes to the tune of $78 million! Gioia’s demanding they give us our due or face revocation of licenses, towing of cars, electricity shutoff and the like. He wants the federal government to withhold aid to foreign countries who owe New York City money. Why not? New York City is in the midst of another round of budget cuts. The US Supreme Court has ruled that New York City may sue countries that don’t pay property taxes. If the United States government won’t safeguard New Yorkers’ rights, we must take matters into our own hands.

The Jungles We Call Our Parks

A recent study found homeless people, junkies, pushers, illegal dumpers, prostitutes, chop shops and gangs residing or plying their trade in parks throughout every borough of New York City. According to testimony, numerous park workers have been “warned” not to go inside certain parks because they’re too dangerous. Have we been officially warned? Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe is seemingly unaware of the extent of the problems. He claims that his office doesn’t favor certain parks over others. Let’s see if that’s true by following the money. The city spends $10,694 per acre in Manhattan compared to just $2,104 in Staten Island. Keep in mind that parks in New York City’s upscale neighborhoods often receive large subsidies from conservancies or government-affiliated entities. They don’t need government funds as much as other parks do. So is this favoritism? Benepe says city parks are better cared for than ever before. There is loud debate on that. Even former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern admitted that some parks have been abandoned because of inadequate funding. Since 2002 under Mayor Bloomberg, the city has added 468 acres of new parkland to its existing 29,084 acres in 1,875 parks. It’s time that dollars were more equally divided for the care of all parks throughout our city. Furthermore, no parks should be abandoned to squatters or criminal types. Give them an inch and they’ll take an acre … or 29,804 acres. Our brave troops are not writing off land in Iraq. Our city government shouldn’t do it here either.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Ground Zero Is Still Near Zero

In short, lack of leadership from top to bottom. In detail, consider these facts: The design competition was too long (over 17 months) in selecting a winner. – The winning design was not satisfactory from an architectural and security standpoint (replaced 28 months after being selected). – Memorial design plans have been highly disputed and overpriced despite forced cost-cutting. – The developer and the mayor’s feuding led to building delays until power was shifted from the developer to the Port Authority. – The proposed transit hub suffers from design flaws and higher than projected costs to complete. Engineers are working to save money, delaying the rest of the project as a result. – Insurance carriers delayed payments until May of 2007. – Though the WTC-site cleanup for remains was ended in May, 2002, additional remains were found later on. This justifiably slowed the rebuilding process so other remains might be located. In the long run, the buildings that finally replace the World Trade Center will be over-budget and overdue. This we can’t blame on Osama Bin Laden. That blame is ours. As New Yorkers, we’ve seen mismanagement of large building projects, time and again. Few stand up to complain. So we’ll wait, who knows how long. We’ll overpay, by hundreds of billions of dollars. But we won’t rise up as one to hold the guilty accountable. Maybe like the former troubled Wollman Rink project, we needed the “can do” attitude of a Donald Trump to manage this effort. Maybe we still do.

U.S. Hot Dog Hero Nips Nipponese

Nathan’s annual eating contest took place in Coney. Revised rules for 2008 cut the time limit from 12 minutes down to its original 10 minutes. As time expired, the two favorites had each swallowed 59 hotdogs and buns! In the first-ever tie breaker, last year’s weiner, Californian Joey Chestnut defeated six-time weiner, Japanese Takeru Kobayashi by downing five additional dogs first. That’s a weining total of 64 hotdogs! Eating contestants really do have guts! At Nathan’s current price of $2.95 per hotdog, Mr. Chestnuts’ recent meal would have cost $188.80 if ordered at Nathan's counter. Maybe that explains the appeal of eating in the contest as opposed to ordering at the counter.

MLB - Retire Ruth’s 3

Babe Ruth was the greatest player of any sport to don a sports uniform in New York City’s history. His bigger-than-life New York Yankees legend and many of his records have endured for well over 70 years since his retirement! Now, a new effort led by granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti is urging Major League Baseball to retire his #3 throughout the league. Baseball achievements aside, they cite his strong stance against fascism and racism as the reason he’s as deserving of the honor as Jackie Robinson and his #42. The Connecticut-based Ms. Tosetti is working tirelessly with researchers and historians to come up with more facts to supplement what’s already known about the Bambino. MLB spokesman Patrick Courtney said that all number-retirement efforts are “under advisement.” It doesn’t sound like MLB will be hitting one out-of-the-park for the Babe anytime soon. That’s a shame. He deserves the honor and respect. But then again, NOBODY hit them out like the Babe did. Ever. Contact MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Let him know what you think.

NOTE: Friends, family and many Latinos are also looking for the same respect for their greatest player, #21 Roberto Clemente.

Flea Market Flowers Turn Green

A lucky buyer at Manhattan's West 25th Street Flea Market purchased a picture of some ordinary looking flowers. Cost? $10. Unknown to the buyer (and undoubtedly to the seller), an original, hand-written, two-page manuscript containing the lyrics to “My Country Tis Of Thee” was used as part of the picture’s backing. It was found by the new picture's owner during restoration. Estimated value of the purchase now? $100,000. They say that "art is in the eye of the beholder." It seems that music may not always be limited to the ear.

Tunneling Towards Tomorrow

One day in 2015 (Scheduled end date but we all know it be later.), a Long Island Rail Road tunnel to Grand Central Station is to be completed. The first leg of that $7.2 billion LIRR tunnel was recently dug. The next section should be completed by the end of this summer. Both MTA chief Elliot Sander and Gene Russianoff of the Straphangars Campaign are happily on-board with the project. It's nice to see positive action below ground that will benefit New York City. It's much preferable to the typical head-in-the-sand, ostrich behavior by government agencies when it comes to obtaining favorable results.

Fallen Angel In The Apple

The Metropolitan Museum of Art reported that a 15th century sculpture fell from a wall and broke into several pieces. The terra cotta work of art of St. Michael the Archangel was done by Andrea della Robbia for the church. The wings were broken off but it’s believed the piece can be restored. The museum is now inspecting the moorings of all of it’s art works. Maybe a little prayer after closing would help too.

Guns Gone AWOL

According to City Comptroller William Thompson, “an alarming number” of guns and rifles seized in crimes regularly disappear from the NYPD, at least for awhile anyway. Recently, 94 (29%) of 325 weapons were reported missing. Most were eventually found but should they ever have been lost? Thompson takes shots at the police department’s poor records system. In response, the NYPD said it’s purchasing a $28 million record system to better handle this problem. Will the City Comptroller likewise raise an issue about the high cost of this computer system??? Even a part-time employee with a handheld computer could do a better job, don't you think?

NYC Homeowners Taxes On The “Up” Escalator

The average city homeowners’ property tax will rise by $171 this year. Local real estate taxes are expected to add $13.78 billion to the city’s coffers. By far, this is the largest source of income the city generates. With billions in cash and the law behind them enforcing collection, it’s doubtful this political gravy train will change direction any time soon. To those who believe that New York City officials are spending every penny they gather wisely, rejoice. To everyone else, start saving up a bit more for next year’s levy and keep smiling, lest someone think you're unhappy about the increase.

Monday, July 28, 2008

New York Means New Jobs

Over the past year, the NYC metropolitan area added 39,800 new jobs. Fortunately for us, 92% of those jobs were right in our five boroughs. The Big Apple's growth rate was five times the national average. This, despite only registering a meager 1% growth rate; the lowest since 2004. So says the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite the weakening national economy, New York City remains the city that never sleeps … on the job.

NYC Spends $65 Million For Reservists’ Pay

Since September 11th, over 2,000 city employees have been called up by their country to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. At present, 488 of our city’s brave sons and daughters are on duty overseas. We’re grateful for their honorable service. When municipal workers become serving reservists, the city foots the bill. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens) is calling upon the Federal government to reimburse New York for the expense. It’s a reasonable idea that’s unlikely to happen; and perhaps it shouldn’t. New York City’s burden is likely in proportion to other municipalities across the country. Maybe we should look into the city’s bloated budget to cut waste rather than reaching out for a handout during a time of war. Yes, New Yorkers are special, but we must remember that we're AMERICANS first ... except of course for all of the illegal aliens throughout our five boroughs.

World Trade Center Tragedy – Part II

Nearly seven years after September 11th, the Port Authority says it needs time to calculate how late and over-budget the rebuilding effort is. This is a disgrace and insult to millions of New Yorkers. Those who have had authority over the years should be held accountable for their inaction. To his credit, after only two months on the job, new Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward seems to acknowledge this. He intends to get something done. Perhaps he can accomplish what his predecessors and others could not. Unfortunately, we’re years away from knowing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Drinkers Downing Alcohol And Their Tips

Bartenders throughout New York City are reporting that tips are getting worse in direct connection with the economy. The National Bartenders Association says many mixologists are reporting a decrease of up to 30% in tips. Most bartenders work for tips alone so this economic downturn is hitting them a bit harder than most. For some, it’s enough to drive them to drink … if only they had the extra cash to do so! So be a bit more generous in the future, tipplers. Skip the "one last drink for the road," be safer and instead, be a bit more considerate of your bartender with the extra bucks.

Partnership Between People And Technology

There are several groups in Manhattan that employ hardware and software to keep streets safe and clean. One is a non-profit group called The Union Square Partnership. Its members voluntarily walk through the Union Square neighborhood with a handheld ComNET computer (Computer Neighborhood Emergency Tracker). It records things like uneven pavement, graffiti and even stray voltage from lampposts. The info they collect is uploaded into the ComNET computer system which prepares lists of problems. Other Partnership members can then address these problems more quickly. Sounds like a good idea ... while at the same time, taking us one step closer to an Orwellian future.

Green Deadline For Hybrid Taxis May Be Dead

Yellow taxi fleet owners must replace their vehicles every three years; individual owners every five years. New York City’s October 1st deadline for fleet owners to purchase hybrids is in peril. An estimated 2,500 of the city’s 13,227 taxis are scheduled for replacement this October. Unfortunately, cab owners claim there aren’t enough hybrids to go around (Reportedly only 20% are available nationwide.) and that they’re not as safe as their Crown Victorias. With hybrids, cabbies are estimated to save $5,000 a year. Cab drivers are being hit hard enough because of rising gas prices. Government officials should give taxi owners some additional time to convert their vehicles or work with the automakers to secure the needed hybrids. Common sense and compassion from any government is rare. Both may be needed more now than conservation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Coney Rides Thrill But Can They Kill?

Walter Reiss, an amusement-safety consultant hired by the New York Post, thinks that several rides are so dangerously unsafe, he'd immediately padlock the fairground owned by Joseph Sitt. In particular, he mentioned the Swingout ride, the Ring of Fire and the Scrambler. Glen Geren who owns these rides says his rides were recently inspected and approved twice by NYC inspectors and once by his insurance company. A spokesman for Sitt claims all of the permits are in place. It's hard to say who's right and who's wrong when there are "experts" on both sides. The question now is, will YOU be daring enough to go on these Coney rides as someone’s “Coney Island Baby” and will you become someone's “Coney Island Body?”

Transit Becoming A Sub-Way To Commute

NYC Transit defines a delayed train as one that’s more than 6 minutes late to its terminal. In April, there were 4,117 officially reported delays. That’s up 44% compared to April 2007. The reasons for delay include 1. Track work 4,117 2. Riders holding doors 918 3. Guard-light trouble 833 4. Unruly passengers 819 5. Fire/smoke 695 6. Signal trouble 600 7. Sick riders 591. It should be noted that ridership is up from last year. Admittedly, the system will never run 100% on time. Nevertheless, service can and should improve. Significant deterioration of New York’s trains means that NYCTA President Howard Roberts has some explaining to do … and not of the fast-talking or passing-the-blame variety either.

Eating Out Is A Bit Healthier – This Year

The Greenwich Village KFC/Taco Bell “rats running around the store” video caused quite a stir last year. In February 2007, the New York Health Department began cracking down on eatery violators. 678 food establishments were closed between February and April 2007. This year during the same period, only 291 were closed; a 57% decrease. At this point, it’s unknown whether it was the restaurant owners or the rats that wised up.

Waterfalls In New York Waters

Whether in February, 2005 you felt that “The Gates (saffron colored fences throughout Central Park designed by Christo and Jean-Claude)” was public art or litter, it was a resounding success with NYC residents, tourists and local business. Encouraged by the money and financial impact of that cultural event, the city unveiled Olafur Eliasson’s, “The New York City Waterfalls” project almost three weeks ago. There are actually four sites varying in height from 90 to 120 feet. They’ll be on display only until October 18th. These waterfalls will likely inspire awe and art appreciation from the masses once again. Being that this is New York City, couldn't arrangements be made to maintain even just one water tower beyond the scheduled closing date? After all, we squeezed the Wall Street Bull into downtown Manhattan. Can’t we make some arrangements for a New York Niagara year-round? It's beautiful enough to consider the thought.

Lofty Hopes For The High Line

Abandoned and elevated railroad tracks stretch 1.5 miles from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street on the west side of Manhattan. Where some looked and saw only urban decay and neglect, others, like the Friends of the High Line, envisioned a park in the sky. What beauty can come from empty train tracks, you say? Well, the High Line park will include lawns, a forest-like canopy of trees, wildflowers, a metal catwalk to permit strolls above and beneath trees and an open-air viewing frame enabling pedestrians on the sidewalk below to see New York’s newest “green” project above. An unique floating oasis in a city of steel and stone. Later this year, the first part of their $170 million dream becomes reality. The balance of the park will be completed in 2009. Judging from the architect’s drawings, this will be a unique and welcome improvement to the neighborhoods beneath it.

West Side Waste Plant Plan Passed

Mayor Bloomberg finally got state approval to build an $80 million trash-transfer facility near Gansevoort Street on the Hudson River in Manhattan. Construction is slated to begin in 2010. The station will process 128,000 tons of metal, paper, plastic and glass for shipment to the recycling plant in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This is the final piece to Bloomberg’s overhaul of New York City’s Solid Waste Management Plan. Mayor Rudy Giuliani initiated the city’s trash mess when he closed the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. To his credit, Mayor Bloomberg has intelligently dug us out of the garbage around us. City residents can all breathe a bit easier once again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Free E-ZPasses For MTA Members Now In The Past

MTA Board Members are no longer entitled to free travel passes for life. New York State law mandates that members serve “without salary or compensation.” The passes were finally determined to be "compensation." Under tremendous pressure from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and others, the board unanimously voted 12-0 to repeal their own privilege. Surprisingly though, one member abstained and two others were no-shows. Current members may retain the passes for “official use” only. One might accurately predict that board members will be "officially" working outside of the office just a bit more in the future.

Charter School Grades Off The Charts - BUT

Charter schools offer parents much needed choice; particularly in bad neighborhoods. These schools receive public funds but are privately run, generally outside the full jurisdiction of the Board of Education. Many feel dollars are better spent in schools like these rather than by offering parents school vouchers. Most importantly, charters seem to work here. For example, students in New York City’s charter-schools did significantly better than students in the city’s regular public schools. In grades 3 to 8, math proficiency scores were 84.9% for charter students vs. 70.5% for students in the same district and 74.3% citywide. In English, charter students were at a 67.1% proficiency level as compared to 53.6% for others in the same district and 57.6% citywide. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of students are not in charter schools. It’s New York City’s responsibility to ensure the best possible education system for kids. Even with the positive results charter and magnet schools seemingly deliver, test scores highlight the fact that New York City is still not teaching many of our children to effectively read and write. School choice or not, those who are responsible for teaching our children are failing us all if over a third of our students can’t even read well. We need city government and Board of Education officials to make the grade NOW with whatever resources they have at their disposal NOW. If not, many of our children won’t be able to fulfill their aspirations in the future; the same future where these same city and Board of Education officials will be comfortably retired ... retired on the pensions that we’ll be paying them.

Paris We Ain’t

It only happens on TV. Sex in our city is nothing to even make the evening news. Just 11% of New Yorkers had more than one sex partner last year. 89% of us were either faithful … or did without. Only 5% of married partners reported having an affair. 36% of gay lover-boys claimed five or more sex partners but didn’t wear condoms consistently. All of these statistics were released in the city's Health Department annual report. No, this isn’t Swingtown, USA any longer. Perhaps that’s a good thing for religious and social reasons. Perhaps though, New York has become the Lying Capitol of the world!

Murder Up In Metropolis

New York City’s murder rate has risen 8% in 2008. The NYPD reports over 200 so far this year. Robberies and rapes are up too. Overall however, crime in NYC has dropped 3%. Play nice New Yorkers. Tourists from tiny towns across America don’t want to see blood or bodies in their vacation photos.

Naked Cowboy Can Seek Mars Millions

Blue M and M shouldn’t be seen on a large NYC billboard impersonating a city cowboy-crooner. Manhattan federal court Judge Denny Chin’s decision permitted Time Square’s “Naked Cowboy,” Robert Burck to sue Mars Inc. to sue Mars Inc. for compensatory and punitive damages to the tune of $4 million. So far, Mars has not melted in Burck’s hand.

Friday, July 11, 2008

IKEA Maybe Not Such A Great IDEA

Everyone loves IKEA stores and the products they sell. I've purchased items from them myself. That is not the problem here. The issue is that four years ago, the city sold an historic Red Hook "dry dock" to be used as a parking lot for IKEA’s newest store. Now, a study conducted by SUNY’s Maritime College has determined that New York City badly needs seven new graving docks to accommodate larger ships … docks just like the one it carelessly included in the land deal. It will cost NYC taxpayers an estimated $1 billion to build what we already had. The city defends itself by saying it used data from a 1991 study to make their 2004 decision. That’s a defense? Did IKEA really need waterfront property to open in Brooklyn? The Port of New York currently has 18 dry docks; four being the larger graving docks. With better city planning and common sense, we should have had one more dock on that list.