Future Of Queens Discussed At Astoria Civic Meeting
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and state Senator Mike Gianaris had the chance to review accomplishments, as well as challenges that Queens has been facing and will continue to face in the near future.
Simotas was the first to speak about her primary concern of residents who may freeze this winter.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Simotas who described her bill that calls for a moratorium on utility companies for shutting down the heat during the winter months. “They’re finding it harder and harder to pay.”
Simotas encouraged attendees to get informed of the many programs that are designed to assist in home utility costs. “It’s not just seniors, or the disabled. You can call HEAP, or get on a deferred payment plan, there’s even a hotline for help and advice,” she said.
Gianaris focused his remarks on a gloomy economic forecast saying, “The last time I was here, I called the economy sick, but getting better.”
Gianaris was referring to the state’s ten billion dollar budget deficit that was resolved without raising taxes.
“Services were cut to the bone and right now we’re looking for additional revenue because it’s hurting people,” he said.
John Pellitteri, a resident of Astoria for 68 years was concerned that money raised by the state lottery was not being invested into the education system. He asked, “Can the state make [the] New York Lotto Commission accountable that this money goes to education?”
Simotas mentioned that $10 million was recently invested into the education fund from proceeds that came from the Aqueduct Casino and Gianaris explained that in practice the lottery is simply part of the pool of resources that is divided between competing needs in the budget process.
“But, put basically,” said Gianaris, “the lottery should add to state aid, rather than merely replace it for other needs.”
Gianaris discussed a few hopeful reasons to believe that a better economic forecast is on the horizon. The senator was the lead sponsor of the Film Industry Tax Credit that he accredited with bringing in much needed business to Silvercup Studios, Broadway Stages and Kaufman Studios.
“Sometimes we complain that the streets are closed, but hundreds of jobs were created,” said Gianaris who added he believes in diversifying the economy with pockets of industry that are distant from the volatility of the financial sector and remain insulated from the flux of Wall Street.
Vallone struck a different tone at the meeting. As chair of the Public Safety Committee, Vallone felt it was pertinent to discuss quality of life issues directly.
“There’s a fake exterminator near the Ditmars area that talks his way into your house and asks you to leave your bedroom while he fumigates the place,” he said.
Vallone was referring to “a scam artist who snookers you out of your house and robs the place while you’re gone”, in the words of a concerned resident at the meeting. “There’s a long line of scammers trying to get into your home.”
Vallone also discussed the contentious future of the abandoned high-dive pool in Astoria Park. Many residents consider it an eyesore, he said. The 74-year-old high dive has been closed since 1980. Vallone said he has been working with the city Department of Parks and Recreation Commission to encourage the transformation of the derelict facility into a performing arts center.
Vallone also mentioned the success of the Astoria Skate Park that once came under heavy criticism from community members who recently came to thank him for his advocacy of the project. The park is a safe place where “kids can go and do something outdoors in a safe environment rather than be in front of a computer all day,” said Vallone.
All three elected officials had remarks about hydrofracking, a controversial process of harvesting oil from the earth by pumping caustic chemicals deep underground. Simotas said that a hydrofracking moratorium, meant to delay the construction of hydrofracking facilities across New York was lifted because it did not pass the GOP senate.
“We were waiting for advocacy groups to see if there is a safe way to carry out this process, but with benzene and other chemicals involved, can we do it safely?” Simotas asked.
In a retort, Vallone described the state’s plan for a one-mile buffer zone from New York City. He said that it is simply not enough and has been advocating for a seven-mile exclusive zone from the geographic borders of New York City where hydrofracking would be banned. “I wrote to the governor and said if you mess this up, if anything happens, you must pay,” he said.
Gianaris believes it’s a bigger policy issue and assured the crowd that “whatever the state may come up with will not harm New York City or the drinking water”.
Paul Havatzis, president of the Astoria Civic Association, made his closing remarks by asking Simotas which toys did she recommend as gifts for children for the holidays. She was also asked about which toys to avoid.
Simotas responded with a sympathetic nod and described crib bumpers as the number one product to avoid or replace immediately. “The design is a suffocation hazard for small children,” she said and encouraged the audience to dispose of them immediately.
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