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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!
We look forward to an even more robust discussion of Bronx issues in 2008!
Keep commenting and keep letting us know how we can do better.
Jordan Moss and the whole West Bronx New Network team

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Talk About a Fixer Upper ...

Front page of the New York Times Home section from Wed. features the incredible story of this mansion in Mount Hope and the brave family that is moving in and rehabbing it. (NYT photo by Christian Hansen)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Times City Section Cuts Reader Views

As if the City Section of the New York Times was not a small enough sop to readers looking for coverage of New York City issues, the Gray Lady is diminishing, and maybe cutting off altogether, even just the opportunity for Bronxites and other New Yorkers to write letters to the editor or opinion pieces for the section. In “A Note to Readers” last Sunday, the editors wrote that editorials and Op-Ed articles “that have been appearing on this page will no longer be published in this section. Letters will appear elsewhere in this section.” We are not told, however, where the editorials and op-eds will be published, if not in the section itself.

We called the number the Times provided and the person who answered the phone said that editorials and opinion pieces would be published occasionally depending on “interest.” Letters would be treated the same way, she said, even though the editor’s note implied they’d be published regularly elsewhere in the section.

Those who have lived in the Bronx a while might remember the struggle to simply get the City section delivered to Bronx homes instead of, or in addition to, the Westchester section. That took a letter writing campaign.

Maybe another letter-writing campaign is necessary to demonstrate to the Times that actually having an opinion about New York City issues and letting New Yorkers write back to offer their own views on important policy issues, is what a newspaper – particularly a section supposedly oriented toward communities – is all about.

--Jordan Moss and Dart Westphal

Thursday, December 27, 2007

‘Impact’ Expanded, But Do Results Last?

The New York Times reports that Operation Impact, an NYPD initiative that floods high-crime areas with rookie officers, has been renewed and expanded. In addition to several neighborhoods in Brooklyn, communities in all three precincts served by the West Bronx News Network — the 44th, 46th and 52nd precincts — are all getting Impact deployments.

The piece is a lengthy 1,530 words but doesn’t ask or even allude to the most obvious questions, namely:

-Do neighborhoods where Impact has resulted in lower crime rates maintain those lower rates after the contingent of Impact officers moves on?

-Is there a correlation between Impact and the overall decrease in city crime rates? Yes, crime rates — particularly homicide rates — are at a historic low. And yes, of course crime in neighborhoods with Impact deployments see a drastic reduction. That doesn’t necessarily mean the two are related.

There are no perspectives from neighborhoods that have already had Impact. Are they better off since Impact left, worse off, the same?

The 52nd Precinct is well acquainted with Impact, particularly in the community just above Fordham Road east of the Grand Concourse. This community has also been the site of a Model Block program several years ago, and several other police initiatives that differed in tactics but were similarly short-lived.

Citywide crime statistics, and even precinct-wide stats, are not very useful in judging whether the effects of Impact last in the sectors of a precinct where it operated. Analyzing sector-level crime statistics before, during and after Impact would be useful.

We’ll see if we can fill in some of these gaps in an upcoming issue of the Norwood News.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Real Help for Bronx Homeowners on the Way!

Opinion from Guest Blogger Gregory Lobo Jost
Nearly two years ago at a forum on the State of Homeownership in the Bronx, University Neighborhood Housing Program called on the City and bank partners to expand their pilot foreclosure prevention on 311 program citywide. Finally, in early 2008, thay day will arrive, and it will benefit Bronx homeowners (and their neighbors) tremendously.

Earlier this month, the Mayor, City Council and NEDAP announced the Center for NYC Neighborhoods (CNYCN), a new nonprofit entity that will "fund a major expansion and coordination of counseling and referral services, legal assistance, loan remediation, preventive outreach and education, training, research and advocacy around sub-prime lending and mortgage foreclosures."

The reason that this program offers real help for homeowners is not just that it streamlines the process onto 311, but that it provides resources for existing counseling agencies to expand their work, hire new counselors, and funds legal assistance for homeowners throughout the five boroughs. The $1 million from HPD and $1.8 million from the City Council will be the base of the organization's $5.3 million budget for its first year, with financial and philanthropic donations making up the remainder. These resources will allow counseling groups to take on more volume instead of turning people away who need the help. Instead of another hotline referring distressed homeowners to the same over-strapped groups, CNYCN will offer real assistance for New York's homeowners and neighborhoods.

For the Bronx, this assistance comes not a moment too soon. For years, the only homeowner counseling group in the Bronx had been Neighborhood Housing Services of the North Bronx, where one counselor had been responsible for foreclosure prevention for an entire borough. Recently, through a City Council earmark, the Neighborhood Initiatives Development Corporation (NIDC) took on homeowner counseling, but their counselor also can't handle the volume.

Thanks to CNYCN, more counselors will be on the way, placed at these groups and/or other organizations. In addition, UNHP's Eric Fergen will be leaving the Bronx where he has been performing outreach, intake and referrals for homeowners for the past two and a half years. A centralized system on 311 with adequate counseling resources on the back end will help fill the gap, especially for homeowners in the West Bronx where none of the counseling groups are located.

Importantly, the new center will also fund legal assistance throughout the City, including attorneys placed in the Bronx. They will help handle the volume of homeowners that were victims of predatory lending and other scams such as deed theft.

The Center for NYC Neighborhoods will hopefully put all of the pieces together quickly so that it can officially launch and operate in early 2008. Until then, Bronx homeowners can still call 311 for a referral to a counseling agency, but it could be difficult to receive assistance until the new counselors come in. If you can't get assistance from a local group, there is also a national hotline that may be able to help you (1-888-995-HOPE), although they don't provide legal assistance.

But help is on the way!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

News Roundup December 18

The Daily News has several interesting Bronx-related stories today.

First is this article about last week's rally and press conference at City Hall, at which residents, education advocates, and local elected officials gathered to demand a new middle school in Highbridge.

Next, this story is hardly a new one, but it's noteworthy nonetheless: Bill Egbert reports on the fact that opponents of the new Yankee Stadium project feel that many of the new facilities they are getting as part of the project can hardly be deemed "replacements" for parks destroyed to build the stadium: The article points out that there is a difference between new athletic facilities and new parkland.

And, 40 years after founding the Southeast Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO), Fr. Louis R. Gigante is retiring as president (he will continue to serve as chairman). Gigante will be replaced by Bronx resident Peter Cantillo.

Finally, check out this Highbridge Horizon online exclusive: After months of work, Highbridge resident José Gonzalez showed off the trailer for his documentary, "Highbridge: Past, Present, and Future". When finished, the film is slated to be a three-part feature tracing the history of the neighborhood from the 1600s all the way up to the present.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Dec. 17

Yesterday's Times looked at the deplorable living conditions inside 1277 Morris Ave., where tenants have been living for months without heat and hot water. The building was recently named and shamed by HPD as one of the city's most poorly maintained buildings.

Also in Sunday's Times, the wider implications of the foreclosure crisis. David Gonzalez reports that businesses on a Boston Road commercial strip are beginning to suffer, as homeowners cut their spending in a desperate attempt to keep up with spiralling loan repayments. More on the Bronx's subprime disaster here and here.

Cops have identified two men wanted for a string of violent bodega robberies, including last week's hold-up of a Davidson Avenue store, in which a 24-year-old man was shot and seriously injured.

A Bronx man who tried to murder his estranged girlfriend, but ended up killing her cousin who bravely came to her aid, will be sentenced today.

A TV anchorwoman, once of Bronx 12 News, was arrested over the weekend for allegedly punching a police officer in Chelsea. The New York Post, of course, loves these fall from grace stories - especially when the woman in question is beautiful. Today's front page effort is told with obvious relish.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Turf v. Grass Tussle Unearthed in Bronx

So, we've previously apprised you of the turf war that erupted on the Norwood News letters page about the synthetic turf field being installed in Williamsbridge Oval Park and in the near future at Harris Park.

Well, here's the latest from the Norwood News.

And New Yorkers for Parks has weighed in with this report on synthetic turf.

(Photo above, by Allison Grande, is of track and field under construction at Williamsbridge Oval. Synthetic turf will replace grass -- well, mostly dirt-- there when construction is complete next spring.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bronx BP Carrion Announces for ... Comptroller!

Some political observers predicted this, but it was a stunning political development nonetheless, when Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. announced at a breakfast this morning that he would be running for city comptroller rather than mayor.

This is a big Christmas gift with a giant red bow on it for current comptroller William Thompson, an all-but-declared mayoral candidate. Thompson has always spoken highly of Carrion going back to when Carrion was a Council member.

But whether this means Carrion supports Thompson is still a question mark. Carrion just did Thompson a big favor. What can/will Thompson do for Carrion?

The BP could of course still support Congressman Anthony Weiner and shore up his support among Jews and middle class whites, which would pose interesting questions for who he might support, if anyone, in the next borough president's race.

Let the jockeying begin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baez's Housing Bill Dead

A controversial housing bill is dead, says the Daily News, after its sponsors - Bronx Council members Maria Baez and Joel Rivera - climbed down amidst stern opposition and claims that the legislation would threaten affordable housing. The bill's defeat seems to have cleared the path for a different bill, the so-called Tenants Protection Act, which is supported by tenant rights groups and the majority of the City Council. A hearing on this bill is set for Dec. 17.

If passed, the Tenant Protection Act will allow tenants to sue landlords for harassment in housing court. (Anti-harassment legislation is needed, say advocates, because landlords are increasingly trying to force out long-term tenants so they can bring in new tenants with deeper pockets. Baez's bill would have allowed tenants to sue for harassment, but, crucially, it would have empowered landlords to sue tenants for the same thing.)

For more about these two bills, pick up the December issue of the Mount Hope Monitor (it's not yet online as we're having Web issues). The story's also going in tomorrow's Norwood News. Also, if you haven't already, read what Tom Robbins of the Village Voice had to say. Robbins suggests, among other things, that Rivera threw his weight behind Baez's bill because the real estate industry is helping to fund his (expected) run for borough president. There was also an earlier Daily News piece on these bills, and something on WNYC.

All of this media attention led off from a protest outside Baez's district office on Nov. 27 (pictured), which was organized by Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA). At the time, Baez's office issued a statement in which Baez said, "We are having a healthy discussion and debate about both bills."

With today's news, the debate, it would seem, is now officially over.

(Photo by James Fergusson)

No Real Victory on Water Yet

Opinion from Guest Blogger Gregory Lobo Jost:
While some think the deal struck between the City Council and DEP to hold off on the 18% mid-year increase on water rates is something of a victory, the situation is far from resolved. In exchange for taking the unprecedented mid-year increase off the table, the legislation introduced in the City Council yesterday would give DEP the authority to sell stand alone water liens. In the past, water liens could only be sold in a lien sale if there was also an outstanding tax lien. The council had been reluctant to authorize stand alone water liens in the past due to the many billing errors plaguing the water system. For now, the only victory than can be claimed is by DEP and the Water Board over the City Council.

Recent press on the issue continues to focus on the "deadbeats", especially Frank Lombardi of the Daily News who uses the term 9 times in his most recent article. To categorize every customer delinquent on their water bills with such language ignores the continued billing errors perpetuated by DEP, and the growing subprime foreclosure debacle where homeowners were not offered the best mortgage product they actually qualified for and were often the victims of fraud.

A decent victory on water rates will come when the focus of the debate moves from collections to DEP's ballooning expenditures. At a time when other City agencies are cutting their budgets by 2.5% across the board, DEP's capital costs continue to escalate without check, and the burden will continue to fall on rate payers.

The real victory will come when the entire way water rates are structured is changed. The current regressive-taxation system has rate payers footing the bill for capital costs and a rental payment to the City. While paying for the actual delivery of water as a utility makes sense, these other costs have nothing to do with the amount of water used in the City; in fact, DEP admits that as water use has dropped in the past 20 years due to conservation efforts, rates have had to increase to cover the gap.

Even more bizarre is that when water rates go up, DEP's collection rate goes down -- most likely since rates have gone up so dramatically (22%) in the past 18 months. DEP factors this into their equation for rate increases, meaning that when they need a 12% increase, they move to impose an 18% increase to cover the gap left by rate payers who will fall behind when their water bills go up so much.

For now, the next large increase will likely be postponed until July 2008. If the pressure doesn't change from focusing on collections to DEP's enormous expenditures, the effectiveness of the lien sales and shut-offs on collections will determine what the actual increase will be. With the mounting foreclosure crisis, this strategy will not prevent another large hike this coming year, and is no cause for victory.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dangerous Intersections

Three west Bronx intersections are among the most dangerous in the city for pedestrians, according to figures posted on Crashstat, a newly relaunched Web site published by Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that wants to see fewer cars on the city's streets.

Webster Avenue at East Fordham Road, East 167th Street at Grand Concourse, and East 183rd Street at Grand concourse, all make Crashstat's top ten most treacherous list. Webster at Fordham, for example, was the site of 99 crashes involving pedestrians. (Whether this is for 2007, a previous year, or over several years, isn't clear, but it's a useful tool all the same.) Also listed are dangerous intersections for cyclists.

There's also a zoomable map that highlights accidents hotspots. And you can search by borough for the number of injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists, in any given year from 1995 to 2005. Supposedly, you can search by community district too, but this feature isn't working (it's a beta site).

Thanks to Changing the Court for drawing our attention to Crashstat's relaunch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 10

Brilliant, bold, visionary - some of the adjectives to have been thrown Dan Doctoroff's way since it was announced last week that the deputy mayor is leaving the Bloomberg administration to head up Bloomberg L.P., his boss' gigantic media company. But, as John Desio reports in The Village Voice, not everyone holds Doctoroff in high regard. “I think that Dan Doctoroff is worse than Robert Moses,” Lukas Herbert of Save Our Parks told The Voice, a reference to Doctoroff's support of the new Yankee Stadium project which has swallowed parkland in the South Bronx.

A 26-year-old man was shot dead in Bedford Park on Saturday night.

A construction worker was killed, Friday, following an accident at a construction site in Tremont. (According to The Times story, the man's name wasn't immediately released because the authorities had yet to contact his relatives. The Times, having coaxed the name from the construction company's president, goes ahead and prints it anyway. Perhaps this is standard practice, but it's also a tad unethical, isn't it?)

Twenty-six people were injured in a fire in a Bronxdale apartment building, Sunday night. The blaze was started by sparking Christmas lights.

A Bronx firefighter, seriously injured in a fall in Highbridge on Nov. 18, has left hospital. More on the fire and fall here.

A Highbridge woman struggles to pay her rent.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 7

A cop has been indicted on first-degree manslaughter charges following the May shooting death of Fermin Arzu, an unarmed Honduran immigrant, in Longwood. More about the shooting here.

A detective assigned to the 44th Precinct is facing perjury charges.

Another Bronx "F" school is being zapped. This time it's PS 156. So far, then, four Bronx schools are for the chop, the others being
PS 79 on Creston Avenue in Mount Hope, and IS 216 and PS 220. More on the the closings here.

A Bronx charter school is in hot water after a audit revealed that administrators laid down nearly $68,000 on staff retreats to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

The Bronx is leading the way in snow leopard production.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 6

The Times takes a look at the 60-year-old Bronx Symphony Orchestra and a new system of arts funding that might make it more difficult for the symphony to continue.

I thought I had it good at Vassar College where the female to male ratio in the 1980s was 3:2. Well, here’s a story about a Bronx kid who is the ONLY male student Wellesley this year.

Parkchester native Pvt. Isaac T. Cortes, 26, who died in Iraq, is laid to rest.

River Park, which is next to a Bronx River waterfall at 180th Street and Boston Road gets new play equipment, a children’s amphitheater and more.

Speaking of the Bronx River, looks like Jose the Beaver has been busy doing some chompin’.

Council members, who get paid $112,500 a year discussed at a hearing yesterday how much outside work its members permitted and those lucrative additional stipends (which go to members who head a committee or subcommittee – which is almost all of them) known as “lulus.” Guess what? There’s not a heck of lot of support for doing things any differently. In opposing proposed changes, Bronx councilman Larry Seabrook said he “took an oath to serve, not an oath of poverty.”

And the Village Voice’s Tom Robbins takes a close look at two competing tenant harassment bills in the City Council. The one that is more favorable to landlords is sponsored by Council Member Maria Baez and Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera, both of the Bronx. The Mount Hope Monitor will have more on this when the upcoming issue hits the streets later this week.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bronx Pastor Katrina Foster Questions Barack Obama on Health Care

Rev. Katrina Foster, pastor of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, questioned Sen. Barack Obama about healthcare at last Saturday's Heartland Presidential Forum in Iowa, where grassroots community organizations from around the country participated in questioning several Democratic presidential candidates. Foster was part of a contingent from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. The event was organized by the Center for Community Change.

Big Money in the Bronx Fuels Tenant Anxiety

Cristina Alesci has this Highbridge Horizon exclusive about how several South Bronx tenants are feeling heightened anxiety since major investment firms took over their buildings in early 2007

News Roundup December 4

Today's New York Times has this story about Daisy Rochez and her three sons, who are trying to pick up the pieces in a Longwood shelter after losing their home -- and almost their lives -- in an August 15 fire.

There is controversy at P.S. 70, where the school's chess team will travel to this week's national tournament in Texas without their head coach, Jonathan Alejandro, who is under investigation by the school. Several parents have apparently rallied to Alejandro's defense.

Students from more than 20 Bronx high schools will compete in the Game Show Network's National Vocabulary Championship next week.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Dec. 3

Voice of America has this report on Hugo Chavez, and the nationally owned Venezuelan oil company CITGO, supporting Rocking the Boat and other Bronx nonprofits.

Last stop for the City Council gravy train? Acccording to the New York Sun, The Council is on the verge of grappling with an issue close to the hearts—and wallets-of its members. Long considered part-time legislators, Council members, who are paid $112,500 are permitted to hold other jobs, some of them quite lucrative. All but a few members also get stipends – known as “lulus” for payments in “lieu” of salary – for chairing committees and subcommittees. This should get interesting.

San Francisco has banned plastic shopping bags. The Big Apple might not be ready to follow suit but two Council members, Simcha Felder and Gale Brewer, are drafting a bill that would give tax credits to businesses for offering alternatives to plastic bags. Meanwhile Council Member Peter Vallone favors a different measure that would require stores to offer recycling of plastic bags. Guess who else supports this, according to the Sun? The plastic bag lobby. Yes, Virginia, apparently there is indeed a plastic bag lobby.

Pointing to a NYT article this weekend about State Senate Majority Leader Joe Brunio, Bronx State Senator Jose M. Serrano predicts that the tide might be turning in the Albany scandal wars.

It's Official -- Efforts to Extend Term Limits are Dead

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced today that the Council is abandoning all efforts to extend or repeal term limits, which currently limits all New York City elected officials -- Council member, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents and mayor -- to two 4-year terms. (It does not apply to the city's representatives to the state legislature or officials elected statewide, like the governor, the attorney general and the comptroller).

Here's Quinn's full statement:

After careful consideration and discussions with my colleagues in the Council, I have decided not to pursue a change in New York City's term limit law. I will neither support legislation nor will I seek or support a new referendum eliminating or altering term limits.

Over the last two years, the City Council has pursued an agenda of reform and democratization. We have strengthened our lobbying and campaign finance laws, increased transparency in the budget process and improved our constituent services by implementing CouncilStat. I believe that overruling the will of New Yorkers - who have voted twice in favor of term limits - would be anti-democratic and anti-reform.

While our City is certainly doing well, we still face many challenges. On education, jobs, housing and health care, working New Yorkers need our help. That means the Council and the Administration must focus our attention on these critical issues and not be distracted by a political debate over term limits - a matter that has already been settled by the voters.

I look forward to working with my colleagues over the next two years to make New York and an even greater place to live.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bronxites in Iowa

Now, here's a presidential forum that might have something to do with issues facing Bronxites. The Heartland Presidential Forum in Iowa, airing live tomorrow at 2:30 on C-SPAN (Cablevision channels 65 and 66 ) is being organized by grassroots groups around the country and will feature questions of the candidates from community leaders. The Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition has a crew out there, including the Rev. Katrina Foster of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church, who will be asking a question of Sen. Barack Obama.

In other news

A Times story about food banks that directly relates to our story about hunger in the northwest Bronx.

A beloved Parkchester soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Construction on the Cross Bronx Expressway is causing huge delays.

A gushing story about Borough President Adolfo Carrion's gains in attracting Bronx real estate investment. Here's a typical quote: "I really do hate politics," says Carrion. "But I love people, I love New York, and I love building a stronger, more beautiful city where people have opportunity."
There's more, the Daily News reporter writes: "At 46, [Carrion] looks like a movie star and could easily pass as Alex Rodriguez's better-looking big brother."

New in Norwood News

Fresh off the press, the new Norwood News is on streets and online now, just in time for the weekend. Here's a quick preview to whet your appetite:

A quartet of local teachers, all formerly of the Bronx New School (PS 51), are creating a new charter school in the northwest Bronx geared toward heavy community involvement.

Crime-weary residents in North Fordham reacted positively when 52nd Precinct Commander James Alles addressed some of their concerns at a recent community meeting at Our Lady of Refuge Church.

Two young men, one from Soundview, the other from Norwood, are being charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Knox-Gates resident Michael Santiago, who was shot in the back two and a half months ago and remains paralyzed.

Montefiore Medical Center, the largest private employer in the Bronx, announced its new president.

In our supplement, the first of two, there's a story about the state of hunger help in the Bronx and how soup kitchens are battling to keep food on the table despite waning assistance from the government.

Plus, a Foodtown lockout ends, local playwright Felix Leon dies, and why we need to pay attention to our youth.

There's a tree lighting tonight at 7 p.m. in Bryan Park, at East Fordham and East Kingsbridge roads. Read about this event and loads of other fun things to do in our Out & About section.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

News from Hunts Point!

Meant to post this much earlier than now, but a new issue of the Hunts Point Express, a nonprofit paper edited by our good friend, Bernard Stein, is on-line with stories about a housing battle, about outlaws turned entrepreneurs, and on cleaning up the Bronx River and adventure on the East River. Check it out!

Oh, and have you noticed that we have a bit of a nonprofit journalism movement going on here in the Boogie-down Bronx at the hyper-local level? Where else have you heard of 4 nonprofit community newspapers in contiguous communities with populations of at least 125,000 each?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Nov. 28

The Bronx Criminal Courthouse, plagued by two years of delays and millions of dollars in cost overruns, is finally ready to open, according to the State Dormitory Authority.

Looks like there won’t be an effort to repeal or extend term limits.

Coca Cola rolls a fleet of hybrid electric trucks out of its Bronx Service Center.

Tenants protest Maria Baez's sponsorship of a tenant harassment law they say gives ammunition to landlords but prevents tenants from fighting back. Bronx Council member and majority leader Joel Rivera supports it, too. But Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the rest of the Bronx delegation support an alternate measure that puts more teeth in tenant protections.
This WNYC report says landlords fear frivolous claims will clog the court system.

And the Village Voice looks into $30,000 in campaign contributions to Adolfo Carrion by an elevator company that just got a $5 million windfall from the city to purchase air rights over its property to make way for a pedestrian bridge to the new Yankee Stadium.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Nov. 27

A Morris Heights man has been charged with murdering his mother and brother. Bronx freelancer David Greene has the story. More from the Associated Press.

Steven Safyer, MD, has been appointed President and CEO of the Montefiore Medical Center, according to a press release sent out today. Safyer is replacing Spencer Foreman who is retiring after nearly 22 years at the helm. The Norwood News wrote about Foreman's tenure and legacy earlier this year.

Westchester Square residents are angry, says the Daily News, following the Bronx Finance Department's move to the South Bronx. Also in the News, a look at how funding from the Bronx Initiative on Energy and the Environment has enabled a Bronx business to go green.

On the back of new testimony, lawyers for Michael Clancy, a former Parkchester resident who's spent the last decade behind bars for murder, are trying to win their client's release. The Bronx DA insists the case against Clancy remains solid.

Former students from PS/MS 218 are behind a movement to make sex education mandatory in middle schools and high schools.

The Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, based at the Harlem River Ecology Center in Roberto Clemente State Park, was profiled in today's Times.

Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, has started blogging for the the Huffington Post.

Morris Heights Man Confesses to Killing Mother, Brother

A Morris Heights man has confessed to shooting his mother and brother before chopping up their bodies and tossing the pieces into the Harlem River.

Police say Lamar Platt, 24, admitted to killing his mother Marlene, 45, and brother Nashan, 23, before dismembering their bodies inside the apartment they shared at 1610 University Ave.

One unconfirmed report stated the man used a small cart to wheel the body parts to a secluded section of Roberto Clemente State Park, before tossing what was left of his family over a fence and into the river.

A police source said Lamar's 63-year old grandmother became suspicious after she was unable to reach her daughter. A neighbor claimed she hadn't seen the two victims since Nov. 18.

Police arrived at the apartment sometime on Sunday, where one grim-faced detective recalled, "The walls were covered in blood." Police picked up Platt to took him to the 46th Precinct, where they held him all day Monday.

Early this morning, two pairs of detectives marched Platt (pictured center) out of the precinct station-house and into a waiting squad-car. Wearing a black leather jacket and matching NY Yankees cap, Platt turned his eyes to the ground as he passed the television cameras.

Detectives say Platt has been charged with two counts of second degree murder.

Police divers who searched the chilly waters late Monday were expected back today.

Text and photo by DAVID GREENE.

Monday, November 26, 2007

News Roundup November 26

Yesterday's New York Times featured a story about Katrina D. Foster, the beloved pastor of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church since 1994. Foster is in danger of being defrocked because she is in a same-sex relationship.

The Indypendent has this report on the South Bronx group "Youth on the Move," which produced a video documenting students' opinions about NYPD presence in their schools. The video, entitled "Our Schools: Safe or Not?" features interviews with New York City teenagers, many of whom suggest the students feel more criminalized than protected by the police presence. The article notes that "The video may be the only public record of how students feel about this force." Among those to be shown a screening of the video is Councilmember Maria Del Carmen Arroyo.

The New York Sun has an update on Assemblyman Michael Benjamin's battle to save the cupcake in Long Island schools. As you will see, the fight for just desserts isn't the only unusual aspect of this story; Benjamin manages to use the words "ticked" and "temerity" in the same sentence, only five words apart.

Former firefighter John J. Finucane has written a book entitled "Why Did the Bronx Burn?", which revisits the period during the late 1960s and 1970s when Bronx landlords frequently sought to unload unprofitable buildings by having them burned down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wanted: Aspiring Young Reporters

Call us biased, but we feel journalism is a powerful way to learn about and influence one's community. Young people rarely have had access to learning about journalism, especially considering the shortage of quality high school newspapers. This means the Bronx is not getting reporters trained at the grassroots into the pipeline of professional journalism.

We're working to change that.

Starting in January, the Norwood News, in conjunction with the Mount Hope Monitor, will run a youth journalism program for Bronx high school students in their sophomore, junior or senior years. (The program is made possible through a generous grant from the New York Foundation.)

Students will learn the fundamentals of reporting, writing, and photojournalism through classroom instruction and, most importantly, through hands-on reporting in their own neighborhoods.

Students will learn how neighborhoods work (or don't), who has power, who doesn't and why. We'll teach them about the First Amendment and how it applies to them and every citizen. And they'll learn how to record and edit audio and photo slide shows for the Web.

Best of all, students' work will appear in the pages of the Norwood News, as well the Monitor and the Highbridge Horizon. Participants will also contribute to a student blog created especially for this project. This program - the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative - will give youth a powerful voice in their own communities.

Classes will start in late January or early February and run on Wednesdays, after school, for 12 weeks. We're looking for students of all academic abilities, but students should be highly motivated, love to write, be naturally inquisitive, and care about what's going on in their communities. To request an application, e-mail James Fergusson, the program coordinator, at mounthopenews@gmail.com or call (718) 324-4998. The application deadline is Dec. 10.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Nov. 19

A firefighter was seriously injured yesterday after falling two stories while fighting a fire on Shakespeare Avenue in Highbridge.

News, in the Daily News, of a thriving Bronx business that brings festive cheer to the streets of New York.

James Calderon, a Bronx detective, was arrested last week on charges that he and others ran a drug dealing operation that stretched from the Bronx to Virginia. Cops latched onto Calderon after he tried to retrieve an impounded car from the 44th Precinct in Highbridge. Later, when cops searched the car, they found a kilo of heroin. Now, the Daily News has caught up with an ex-girlfriend who describes Calderon as an abusive drunk. Heroin? Violence? Police corruption? Sounds like something out of Ridley Scott's new flick, American Gangster, much of which, incidentally, while based in Harlem, was actually shot in the west Bronx. (Presumably, Harlem's new condos and upscale coffee joints grated with the gritty 1970s urban landscape Scott was trying to portray.)

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 70 percent of Bronxites now oppose the Mayor's congestion pricing plan, against a citywide average of 61 percent.

The Times looks at how City Harvest, an non-profit that combats hunger, is trying to alleviate the city's chronic food shortage. The organization, the paper says, is working with farmers to transport unwanted fresh produce - produce that would otherwise rot in the fields or be ploughed over - to poor city neighborhoods including the South Bronx.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Kiku Kids

Today was the last day of the Kiku (Japanese chrysanthemums) exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden. There was a Kiku for kids to at the Everett Children's Adventure Garden, complete with tea ceremony pictured here. (Disclosure: the kid in the foreground at right is my daughter, Devin).
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Friday, November 16, 2007

A Bronx View of Congestion Pricing

Miquela Craytor and I have been attacked and defended on Streetsblog for questioning Congestion Pricing in terms of how the money raised will be spent, particularly on improved transit for the Bronx, and how the impact of things like a potential park and ride uses at Yankee stadium will be mitigated. We wondered if there would be any money left over after the City got the #7 line extended in Manhattan and the express to JFK from Wall Street built.

Now comes Crain’s magazine for November 12-18 with a few updates. In The Insider column, Erik Engquist and Anne Michaud write under the headline “Higher tolls may block traffic plan” that “Insiders say the congestion pricing net revenue — money available for transit improvements — is now only $70 million a year” not the $100, $200 or $390 million advertised because toll increases will increase the discount, meaning people using toll bridges to Manhattan will “pay virtually nothing.”

And in a column about a possible fare hike, Greg David offers: “The Partnership for New York City and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff … (and Crain’s) want transit money spent on new projects that boost the economy – principally extending the No. 7 subway line to the West Side and linking downtown to Jamaica and JFK.” Apparently MTA chief Lee Sander would rather spend money on projects that “improve the current system” such as the Second Avenue Subway.

Be that as it may, the list of big ticket projects going forward in Manhattan that are starving the outer boroughs for resources, goes well beyond any of the above. Here’s Henry Stern’s take from a couple of years ago in his New York Civic e-letter:

….On the capital side, however, the MTA is wasteful beyond reckoning, with three unnecessary projects in Lower Manhattan alone. The $450,000,000 South Ferry subway station, replacing a station that has worked well since 1912, is one. The problem here is that you must leave or board the 1 or 9 train on only five cars, because the old station was built in 1912 as a local stop. For access, 10 is better than five, but the difference is not worth half a billion dollars, which is probably less than the sum the reconstruction will end up costing.

The second boondoggle is the Fulton Street station reconstruction. This will take at least a billion dollars, and it is minor rerouting of existing lines, with an arcade to the former World Trade Center. Yes, some work should be done here, but the whole nine yards is unnecessary.

But these exercises in extravagance pale when compared to the two billion dollars that the Port Authority plans to spend on a subway station to replace the one destroyed on 9/11. The station has already been replaced, at a cost of $320 million, and the new station is operating. Now it is to be torn down, and the mother of all subway stations will be built. The architect is Santiago Calatrava, of Spain, who is world-renowned for his work. But if the project is unnecessary, it would not matter if Frank Lloyd Wright himself were exhumed in order to design it …

I must also add to this list the $7 or more billion to build East Side Access for the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central, the howevermanybillion Moynihan Station for NJ Transit and Amtrak and the newly revived $8 billion Access to the Regions Core - building another tunnel from New Jersey.

Congestion pricing promises 21 buses and maybe two or three train stations on the Amtrak line (Coop City, Parkchester and Hunts Point) that we were promised when East Side access took the Highbridge yards (a major potential Bronx waterfront development site) for a big car wash. And yes, the Second Avenue Subway might reduce crowding on the old Lexington IRT helping some Bronxites. But if 1 million more New Yorkers are around by then, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs on the West Side and Downtown, who knows?

Near as we can figure, there are nearly $19 billion dollars in projects in line before anything like that replacement for the Third Avenue el that we were promised when they tore it down in the 1970s.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Highbridge Horizon Online

The most recent issue of the Highbridge Horizon is online. Articles featured in this issue include:

* An opinion piece condeming the bigots who recently hung a noose outside a professor's door at Columbia University. In this piece, I argue that the incident is anything but isolated, but rather part of a disturbing climate in which racists seem to feel increasingly emboldened to commit these acts.

* Seeking to channel inspiration from the past, local activists are demanding a new middle school be built in Highbridge.

* A local teen health clinic in Highbridge is one of several throughout New York City that lacks emergency contraception, according to a recent study by the Public Advocate's office.

* Last month, City Council speaker Christine Quinn introduced a bill she says will protect tenants from harassment at the hands of landlords.

Norwood News On-Line

The Norwood News is on-line with stories about a new district manager for Community Board 7, a play with roots in the tragedy of local youth violence, a North Fordham building where the drug trade is unabated despite the presence of video cameras, the postponement of State Sen. Efrain Gonzalez's trial, local reaction to the new school report cards, and much, much more.

Meetings tonight

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz is sponsoring a forum on health care this evening at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center. More information here.

Also, the capital plan for schools will be discussed at Community Education Council 10's monthly meeting tonight. More info here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Nov. 12

Busy week of newsgathering last week, so we didn't get as much up on the blog as we would have liked. But here's a couple of news items we meant to lead you to.

Norwood resident and freelance journalist Eileen Markey (formerly a Norwood News intern!) has two articles up at City Limits, one on the congestion pricing hearing in the Bronx and the other on the absence of schools in the city's armory plans.

Jarrett Murphy, investigations editor at City Limits (also a Norwood resident and Markey's husband) has this piece on Gov. Spitzer meeting with ethnic and community press editors a week and a half ago. We'll have a story on local reactions to the license flap in the Norwood News this week.

Another story you'll see in the Norwood News later this week is about the new controversial method of grading local schools. Here's the Times' coverage of the story (where you can also search for how your local school fared).

Also the Times takes a close look at Angelo Mozilo, head of Countrywide, the firm at the center of the subprime mortgage. Mozilo is a Bronx native who attended Fordham University.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dropout Crisis

The following was written by Tiara Williamson, a sophomore at Pablo Neruda Academy in the Bronx, who just finished a one-week internship at the Norwood News:

The graduation rate in New York City schools is sadly decreasing as the dropout rate is continuing to get higher. Statistics have shown that one-third (33.3%) of students who enter high school do not graduate. Fifty percent of the dropouts decided to drop out by the tenth grade, twenty percent decided to drop out by eighth grade, and three percent decided to drop out by the fourth grade. Studies have shown that White and Asian students have the highest graduation rates and the lowest drop out rates, 75.5 percent of white students graduate and 73.2 percent of Asian students graduate whereas 52.1 percent of black students graduate and 49.4 percent of Hispanics.

Some of the reasons teens decide to drop out of school are because they got married or pregnant, had drug or alcohol problems, they had trouble going to school and work at the same time, they didn’t like the school that they were in, they didn’t get along with some of the teachers or students, they weren’t getting good grades so they just gave up, or they didn’t feel safe in school.

When people decide to drop out they should really think twice about making that decision because it may seem like all fun and games at the time but in the long run it will not help you out. High school graduates make about two hundred thousand dollars more over a lifetime than high school dropouts and college graduates make about eight hundred thousand more than high school dropouts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In the midst of growing foreclosure crisis, water shut-offs are ill-timed

The New York City Water Board will meet Friday morning to discuss a proposal to shut-off water service to over 8,000 single family homeowners behind on their water bills. There are also reports that the Water Board is considering a mid-year rate increase of up to 18%.

As foreclosures continue to climb, a coalition of nonprofit organizations that works with homeowners throughout the City plans to attend the little-publicized Water Board meeting Friday morning to demand a two-year moratorium on shut-offs for homeowners and to call upon Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to improve communication and collaboration with the homeowner counseling groups in resolving unpaid bills. The groups also oppose any additional rate increase that may be on the table.

The proposal to shut-off water service to single family homeowners who owe at least $1,000 and are at least one year delinquent comes at the same time as foreclosure rates in the City are skyrocketing. Many of the homes targeted for shut-off are in the same neighborhoods victimized by high rates of subprime lending and foreclosures.

Water rates have already risen 22% in the past 18 months, and are projected to rise another 11.4% this coming July, as the DEP’s capital costs continue to escalate on major projects like the Croton Filtration Plant being built in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

The coalition of organizations attending the hearing include the New York Mortgage Coalition, the Association for Neighborhood Housing Development, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica, CHANGER, Pratt Area Community Council, Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing, Neighborhood Housing Services of Staten Island, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, and University Neighborhood Housing Program.

The NYC Water Board meeting and hearing will take place Friday, November 9, 2007 at 8:30 AM in Room 123 of St. John's University Manhattan Campus (101 Murray Street).

Indicted Bronx Senator's Trial Postponed

Bronx State Senator Efrain Gonzalez's trial has been postponed yet again. Check out the web exclusive story from the Norwood News.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Something Fishy at 1055 University Avenue?

Highbridge Horizon Exclusive

By Tony Richards
Highbridge Horizon

The owner of a maligned local building may now be planning to push out dozens of tenants prior to selling the property.

The Highbridge Horizon has obtained a copy of a notice sent from Manhattan-based broker Triad Realty Group LLC to prospective buyers informing them that the six-story building at 1055 University Avenue—whose current owner, Highbridge Apartments LLC, is being sued by the city for failure to fix thousands of building code violations— is up for sale. The selling price is listed as $9.5 million.

The following sentence, from the “comments” section of the notice, particularly raises eyebrows: “Currently there are 50 vacant apartments. The owner projects to deliver the building with an additional 30 units vacated.”

Local housing advocates interpreted the reference to “an additional 30 units vacated,” as an indication that Highbridge Apartments LLC plans to push tenants out of their apartments. Jackie Delvalle, lead housing organizer for New Settlement Apartments, suggested the landlord could use a variety of means to force these tenants out, including pressuring them to accept buyouts or simply continuing to neglect repairs to the degree that the conditions of their homes remain untenable.

“This is a really good reason why the tenant protection act needs to be passed very quickly,” Delvalle said, referring to the Comprehensive Tenant Harassment Bill—legislation introduced on October 17 by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn that would make landlord harassment of tenants illegal.

In October 2006, Highbridge Apartments LLC was issued a court order to repair more than 1500 violations. In the roughly 13 months since then, tenants have lived with water leaks, collapsed ceilings, peeling paint, non-working toilets, and a variety of other hazardous conditions. The trial in the city’s lawsuit against Highbridge Apartments LLC is ongoing.

Juan Martinez, identified on the HPD’s Web site as the head officer and managing agent of 1055 University Avenue, did not return several requests for comment. Hamid Khan, who previously served in this capacity, was removed from day-to-day involvement in the property by the owners and shareholders of the building, Khan’s lawyer Howard Fritz said in September; Fritz said Khan had been removed in an effort to appease the city. Fritz did not immediately return requests for comment for this story.

Gregory Lobo Jost, deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) and a contributor to the West Bronx blog, said the language anticipating vacancy of 30 additional apartments is striking.

“We’ve never seen anything like that on a building for sale,” said Jost, adding he has been with UNHP for roughly 8 years.

When notified of the fax from Triad Realty LLC, a spokesperson for Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión referred to the document as “extremely concerning and something that must be looked into further."

"Housing and affordable housing are major issues not only in the Bronx but throughout the entire city,” the spokesperson said in a statement emailed to the Horizon. “We must ensure that landlords and developers follow both the spirit and the letter of the law. People have both the right and the expectation to live in a safe and secure building without fear of unwarranted eviction."

Write-In Candidates

In an effort to make Election Day seem a little less like token voting in Saudi Arabia or the former Soviet Union, Jarrett Murphy, Norwood resident and investigations editor at City Limits, offers this bit of advice about writing in candidates for office for those interested.

It turns out writing in is very easy. After you pull the lever open, you press the button over the left column of the ballot and slide open the door for the office you need (#2 for DA today), then write the name on the paper inside, and once you're done with all votes, pull the lever to the left to record them.

Correction: Election May Be 'Boring' but Not Nonexistent

Crotchety old reporters, and some not so crotchety or old, who say newspaper blogs are riddled with inaccuracies,would have some additional ammunition if they read my post last night about there being nothing to vote on the Bronx today. Relatively nothing, yes, but as I learned when I took my daughter to school this morning at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, the polls are indeed open. There is a ballot question about the water supply in Hamilton County and, in the Bronx's 1st Municipal Court District there is actually a contested election. Gotham Gazette has an excellent roundup of races throughout the city.

I'm sorry for the error. The last thing we want to do is discourage people from going to the polls, regardless of how significant or insignificant the races/issues are.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Boring Election Day

If you were wondering why you haven't been hearing about any elections going on in the Bronx tomorrow, it's because there are none. District Attorney Robert Johnson, a Democrat, is up for reelection but he is running uncontested in the general election, and he even scored the Republican and Conservative lines, as did his Queens counterpart, Richard Brown.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Grim Reaper Addresses Traffic Congestion Commission

Of all the speakers to testify at last night’s Bronx public hearing on congestion pricing, it is doubtful that any of them left a bigger impression than the Grim Reaper.

Well, okay, the mysterious entity donning the all-black garb and wielding the plastic axe was actually Mel Peffers, project manager with the organization Environmental Defense. Testifying before the city’s Congestion Mitigation Commission, Peffers said she was dressed as death itself to symbolize the thousands of lives lost due to diseases caused by vehicle pollution.

“You don’t have to be a health professional,” Peffers said, “to stand behind a tailpipe and know it is not good for your health.”

Peffers offered her support for the mayor’s congestion pricing plan, which would charge vehicles $8 to enter Manhattan below 86th street; she said it would reduce traffic from cars and diesel trucks.

Dinowitz Slams Bloomberg’s Congestion Pricing Plan

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-81st District), whose district includes Norwood, Kingsbridge, and Riverdale, blasted Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal at a Bronx public hearing last night.

Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan would involve charging vehicles $8 to enter Manhattan below 86th Street during standard weekday business hours. Leading off a list of both supporters and opponents of the plan to testify before the commission, Dinowitz said the toll-offset component of Bloomberg’s plan— which would subtract from the $8 toll costs for EZ-pass drivers at some bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan—showed an unfair bias towards out-of-state motorists as compared to those from the Bronx.

“If you look at the demographics of New Jersey and the demographics of the Bronx,” Dinowitz said, “it’s discrimination on many levels.”

According to Robert D. McFadden’s October 8 article in the New York Times, the toll offset would apply to: The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Triborough Bridge, and the Henry Hudson bridge.

Dinowitz also said statistics often cited by local supporters of the congestion pricing plan, indicating that only 3.7 percent of Bronx workers commute to the Congestion-Pricing Zone (CPZ), were “misleading”; he suggested the percentage of Bronx residents who would be affected was much higher than that because Bronxites go to Manhattan for a variety of reasons besides commuting to work.

Dinowitz also expressed skepticism that the mayor’s plan is merely a pilot project, arguing the hundreds of millions of dollars the city would have to invest in cameras and infrastructure in order to implement the plan meant that congestion pricing was designed for the long haul.

Councilmember Oliver Koppell (D-11th District) said he supported the Mayor’s plan overall, but suggested several adjustments, including exempting seniors and the disabled from the $8 charge. He also shared Dinowitz’s disdain for the toll-offset component.

“I don’t know who thought of it,” Koppell said, “but it makes no sense whatsoever.”

Assemblyman Ruben Diaz. Jr. (D-85th District) said the congestion pricing proposal-- which encourages Bronxites to leave their car at home-- and the MTA’s proposal to increase subway fare-- which discourages them from taking public transit-- sent mixed signals and threatened to hit his constituents with a “double-whammy.”

Like several other speakers, Diaz also expressed strong displeasure with the scheduled date of last night’s hearing.

“I’m really not happy that somebody thought they could disrespect the Bronx by having this type of event on Halloween,” Diaz said.

The commission promised it would hold an additional Bronx hearing with the City Council before taking any decisive action around the issue.

Most Bronx Loans in Foreclosure are Less Than 2 Years Old

UNHP's recent analysis of foreclosure data for Bronx 1-4 family homes shows that the majority of loans going into foreclosure are less than two years old. For the first three quarters of 2007, 63%, 66%, and 64% of all loans going into default (having a lis penden filed) were made in the previous 24 months, respectively.

This data shows the extent of poor underwriting by lenders in 2005 and 2006, where clearly many loans were made in the Bronx without regards to the borrower's ability to repay. A good chunk of these loans could probably be considered predatory for this very reason, while others may just be bad loans. Based on research by a number of national groups, it's likely that many of these borrower's (often Black and Latino) qualified for better loans but were steered into mortgage products that maximized profits for brokers and loan officers.

It also is important to consider when thinking about solutions to the problem. Many proposals (including this one from the FDIC) call for freezing the introductory interest rates on so-called 2/28 and 3/27 mortgages, where a lower interest rate resets after the first two or three years to a higher rate for the remaining years on the 30 year mortgage. While this is not a bad idea and will help a percentage of homeowners, it will do no good for many Bronx borrowers.

Click here for a larger version of this chart, and more housing updates from UNHP.


Last night, Halloween night, Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin appeared on the Daily Show. He was interviewed as part of a tongue in cheek piece (Is there any other type on the Daily Show?) about the New York state ban on cupcakes in public schools.

Ex-Saturday Night Live performer Rob Riggle does the interview, which doesn't make Benjamin look too ridiculous as he talks about the merits of cupcakes. Benjamin is sponsoring a bill (A09446) that would make the cupcake New York's official state children's snack.

In the justification section of the bill, it says: "This bill would protect the cupcake from being banned at schools in New York. The recent ban in New York public schools will restrict fundraising capabilities for school activities that rely on cupcake sales and the presence of cupcakes at birthday parties."

This, of course, begs the question: what's the official state children's snack of New Jersey?

One thing's for sure, it's not cupcakes, which are banned in Jersey and California schools as well.

If you know the official state children's snack of any state, please let us and everyone else know by posting in our comments section. But first, watch the Daily Show video. Hilarious. I won't ruin it for you, but Benjamin ends the segment by discussing herpes with Riggle.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bronx Public Hearing Tonight On Congestion Pricing

The city’s Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission will hold a public hearing tonight at 6pm, at Hostos Community College, on Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan. The commission will take testimony from local politicians, and both supporters and opponents of the plan.

While open to public attendance, persons interested in presenting testimony have to fill out a form ahead of time. Those wanting more info on how to do this can call Andrea Miles-Cole at the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission: 212 383-7234

The Bronx hearing, similar to those held in the other four boroughs and White Plains, will be at Hostos’ Main Theater C, 450 Grand Concourse (149th Street).

Teaser for Highbridge documentary

Highbridge resident José Gonzalez is hard at work on the pilot for "Highbridge: Past, Present, and Future," a documentary he is making about the hidden history of his neighborhood. In the meantime, you can check out this teaser for the film right here.

BREAKING NEWS: Assembly Delegation Seeks Filter Plant Probe

Read all about it here.

Scary Thought for Section 8 Voucher Holders

It took years and years for new Section 8 vouchers to be issued in New York City, but many of the new 22,000 voucher holders are having a hard time finding an apartment in the hot rental market (2005 data showed the Bronx rental vacancy rate at a citywide low of 2.6%, and most vouchers are concentrated in the west Bronx - see the map). According to an article in the Times today, landlords posting availability of apartments often include the restriction, "No Section 8 or other programs."

Activists and organizers featured in the article claim the anti-voucher discrimination could be a mask for racial or class discrimination, while landlord groups claim the reason is the program’s "payment delays and other administrative problems." They are both right - the program has administrative problems, but not taking the vouchers is an easy and legal way to discriminate.

Part of the problem is that so many new vouchers were released at once into a tight rental market. Landlords in gentrifying neighborhoods won't take the vouchers since it won't maximize their rent increase strategies. In the neighborhoods of the west Bronx, rents are among the lowest in the City, leading to an extremely small number of vacant units. So while owners here generally accept the vouchers, there just aren't enough units to go around for all of the new voucher holders.

Councilman Bill de Blasio has introduced a bill to prohibit this type of discrimination - and laws like these exist in many other large cities and New Jersey. This could be a good idea if it's accompanied by changes made to the administrative side of the program improving the process for the landlords involved.

The worst part of the whole deal is that if a voucher holder can't find an apartment, the voucher is terminated; about 1,400 have been terminated so far this year. In this market of shrinking affordability, such losses make the situation even more dire.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Advocates of Congestion Pricing Argue It'll Help Bronx

Supporters of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal gathered today at the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse, arguing the mayor’s plan would benefit low-income Bronxites and allow for expansion of the city’s public transit system. The small group who turned out for this morning’s press conference included State Senator José M. Serrano (D-28th District) and representatives of several public-transportation- advocacy organizations.

Under Bloomberg’s plan, motorists would be charged $8 to enter Manhattan below 86th Street. Advocates of the plan said that a very small percentage of Bronx residents would feel the burden of this cost because the vast majority of those who work in the Congestion Pricing Zone (CPZ) commute there by public transit, not by private vehicle: Veronica Vanterpool, policy advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign—a group that works to reduce automobile use in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut—pointed to 2000 U.S. Census Data indicating that only 3.7 percent of Bronx workers drive alone to the CPZ.

But Vanterpool and others argued it’s not just that congestion pricing would not hurt Bronx residents—they said it would help these residents as well: Advocates said the funds generated by congestion pricing (or, specifically, by the Department of Transportation grant that would result when the proposal is implemented) could be used to relieve overcrowding of buses and subways.

“This is the only plan that has an ongoing funding stream for transit improvements,” said Noah S. Budnick, deputy director for Transporation Alternatives—a group that advocates for public- transportation- use in the city.

Bronx resident Sandy Noel, administrative assistant for Walter E. Houston--member of Community Board 4 and president of the 167th Street Business and Professional League-- said these improvements were much needed: “I’m on the trains all day,” Noel said, adding that her daily commute from Claremont Parkway and Washington Avenue to lower Manhattan often takes several hours because several trains and buses that are filled-to-capacity pass her by.

The congestion-pricing supporters further argued that public transit expansion would particularly help low-income Bronxites, since wealthier New Yorkers tend to use public transporation less frequently.

Their support for reducing vehicle traffic from the Bronx to Manhattan having been voiced, the advocates were asked by a reporter about congestion going in the other direction—specifically, traffic that will be generated when new parking-lots are built in the South Bronx as part of the Yankee Stadium project.

Serrano suggested that the forthcoming construction of the new Yankee Stadium Metro North station would encourage fans to take public transportation to Yankee games rather than drive cars.

“That way,” Serrano said, “they can drink more beer at the games, I guess.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Serrano and the Politics of Spitzer's Drivers License Plan

Talk about team players. State Senator Jose Serrano has been one of the most outspoken legislative supporters of Governor Spitzer's plan to provide driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, even going on CNN to serve as Lou Dobbs' punching bag.

Spitzer scaled back the plan over the weekend, making new enemies out of his staunchest immigrant supporters. Serrano is disappointed, but he refuses to take issue publicly with his fellow Democrat. According to Liz Benjamin at the Daily Politicker, Serrano was one of those invited to breakfast with Spitzer yesterday.

And while he differs with Spitzer's shift on the issue, he wouldn't be drawn into a public fight, lest it give ammo to Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno in his all-out war with the governor.

"I let him know that I can't change my position, I won't change my position," Serrano said. "But I'm not going to bash the governor. I'm not going to engage in a public fight. That's exactly what (Senate Majority Leader Joseph) Bruno wants us to do.

Bronx News Roundup October 29

A young Highbridge woman was one of two people murdered last Thursday at an apartment building near E. 170th Street and Grand Concourse. Ludmily Rosado, 20, of 103 W. 165th Street, was fatally shot in the head, as was Daniel Newton, 34, of Manhattan. A third victim is in critical condition. No arrests have been made.

Patrick Arden of Metro News reports that nearly half of the 27-plus acres of “new parkland” the city has promised as part of the Yankee Stadium project really isn’t new—it is already-existing parkland that is being renovated. To paraphrase Bill Clinton: “I guess it depends on what your definition of ‘new’ is.”

Could a new charter school soon be opening in the South Bronx? On Friday, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) approved the application of Green Dot Public Schools, the largest charter-school operator in Southern California. Green Dot is partnering with the United Federation of Teachers on the charter school plan, which must now be approved by the state Board of Regents.

It’s official… almost: In deciding on their new manager, the New York Yankees picked Joe Girardi over Don Mattingly, thereby selecting a former catcher who won three rings as a Yankee over a former first baseman who won zero rings as a Yankee. Girardi will reportedly accept the position.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Stories in the Monitor

The next print edition of the Mount Hope Monitor will hit the streets in early November. Here’s a taster of what you’ll find inside:

Following Death of Principal, P.S. 209 Teachers and Parents Look to rename School in her Honor
Community Leaders Balk at Plans for Hotel on Jerome
Mount Hope Housing Company to Benefit from Citgo Grant

All the above were written by students of the NYCity News Service, which is run out of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Nadia, Amy, Joe – thanks a lot.

Also, check out this opinion piece by Greg Fuchs, a regular contributor to the Monitor. Fuchs would like to see a weekly Greenmarket in Cedar Playground, and a plaque erected to celebrate the playground's importance in the history of the hip-hop movement.

(UPDATE: We're having some technical issues. If the above links take you through to a blank page, click on switch region at the top of the page, select New York, and then choose West Bronx News Network.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pardon Our Appearance as We Remodel

As regular readers of this blog will note, we're tinkering with its look. Please comment in the next couple of days as we try various templates, etc. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Oct. 24

The case against two cops from the 44th Precinct, who allegedly beat a man outside a Yonkers bar in September, could be falling apart after the injured man failed to pick them out in a police line-up, says the Post. More on the attack here.

Mayor Bloomberg wants to make each and every borough responsible for handling its own trash, but his plans took a setback yesterday when Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver stopped a key vote. It's now looking unlikely that a recycling transfer plant will be built in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, at least in the foreseeable future. That's bad news for the Bronx. As Assemblyman Ruben Diaz told the Times, "There’s still going to be thousands of trucks and tons of garbage coming into the Bronx that isn’t from the Bronx."

In yesterday's Daily News, there was more on the alleged drug deal inside Our Lady of Refuge Church in North Fordham. CBS also picked up the story. Also in the Daily News was this story about community opposition to affordable housing, and a profile of Mount Hope Housing Company by former Norwood News intern, Heather Appel. Mount Hope celebrates its 21st anniversary at a gala this evening in the northeast Bronx.

We missed this at the time, but here’s a Bronx Times’ article on University Woods, a four-acre wood in University Heights that’s routinely named "the city’s worst park." The story follows on from Greg Fuchs’ opinion piece in the August/September edition of the Mount Hope Monitor. For more about the park check out Friends of the Woods.

Ok, so this has nothing to do with the Bronx, but readers may be interested to hear that the Guardian, Britain's left-leaning broadsheet, has launched a new Web site called Guardian America. It's an attempt to pick up more American readers, and, no doubt, more advertising revenue, too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Turf Battle at Oval

Any of you living in Norwood will have noticed the bulldozers in Williamsbridge Oval. The reconstruction of the field and track is under way.

It would appear to be too late for an argument about whether the synthetic turf field is the best idea or not. Nonetheless, just such an argument has erupted on the Norwood News letters page. It started with this letter from a member of the Bronx Greens, who believes there are safety and health risks of the material.

But William Crain, a City College professor, wrote in a Times op-ed that the rubber granules that simulate dirt are made of hazardous materials. Here's an excerpt:

For starters, synthetic turf contains highly toxic chemicals. The tiny rubber granules that contribute to the turf’s resiliency are primarily made from recycled tires. Because these granules often lie on the turf’s surface, children and athletes come into frequent contact with them.

Junfeng Zhang, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, has found that the granules contain worrisome levels of zinc and lead, as well aspolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are likely to be carcinogenic. Some preliminary research by others suggests that it might be difficult for these toxic chemicals in the granules to get into the body through skin contact, ingestion or inhalation, but more research is needed.

Meanwhile local park advocates like Annette Melendez wonder where the Greens were during several community meetings about the Oval rehab work.

It's an interesting issue and one we're certain to hear more about, as more and more synthetic fields get installed around the country. But as we look out our office windows at the Oval construction here at the Keeper's House on Reservoir Oval, we can only surmise that any consensus on this issue will probably not come until the Oval's new carpet is laid down and open to all next spring.

Monday, October 22, 2007

School Budget Boost

The City and New York City are getting more aid over the next four years, starting this year. Here's a look at the numbers from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity:

2007-2008 State Education Budget and Reform Act
School Aid Increase:

Over the next 4 years: $7 billion in total school aid, out of which $5.5 billion is foundation aid.

This year (2007): $1.76 billion total, $1.1 billion in foundation aid.

New York City
Over the next 4 years: $3.2 billion total, $2.2 billion foundation aid.

This year (2007): $710 million total, $470 in foundation aid (ultimately reduced to $258 million for inflation and other adjustments)

We want to hear your thoughts on how that money could be best put to use.