2016-09-21 / Features

CB 1 Returns For New Season

By Thomas Cogan

The first Community Board 1 cabinet meeting of the new season was held on September 8 at Kaufman Astoria Studios, with CB1’s District Manager Florence Koulouris presiding.
The first speaker was Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Peter Fortune of the 114th Police Precinct. He presented a long and largely positive crime report and brought news of a new law enforcement innovation, an effort to deploy patrol officers better in the neighborhoods. Joseph Marziliano, of the office of external affairs for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, followed him to bring news of the Zika virus up to date. Department of Sanitation Superintendent Luigi DiRico of Queens West district announced that he would have additional snow removal equipment at his disposal this winter and that at the moment he is attentive to collecting trash from the many Metropolitan Transportation Authority construction and repair sites.  
A Department of Environmental Protection representative gave a presentation on the problem of kitchen grease in public pipes.
Fortune said he had to tend to further business and couldn’t stay long, though he managed to cover a lot in the time he allowed himself. He began by saying the 114th had “an excellent summer,” as crime, especially the violent sort, was significantly reduced. While felonious assaults had been on the increase, the rate turned downward as the summer progressed, the Commander said. After noting an armed robbery that led to the shooting and wounding of one of the victims, he said that citywide and locally, shootings actually have been in sharp decline, adding that in local public housing there has not been a shooting in all of 2016 thus far. Burglaries were down in 2015 and have fallen at a comparable rate this year.
There is an undeniably unhappy statistic involving rapes, which have increased from one to four during the year. Grand larceny auto was down but grand larceny in general was up greatly, especially in the form of identity theft. A subset of that is what the Commander called “mailbox fishing,” where perpetrators manage to get first-class envelopes out of mailboxes and select the ones that apparently contain checks. The checks are then “washed” repeatedly with white-out or some such means of erasing, until they are virtually blank. Much higher fiscal amounts are then written on them and the original check-writer’s bank account is raided for available funds.
Deputy Inspector Fortune said a precinct report on drug-dealing would be issued in the following week. He said open-air dealing is now obsolete and newer trade methods are harder to foil. Another matter was the Neighborhood Policing Program, a citywide initiative to be launched at the beginning of October. It seeks to situate officers in neighborhoods on a permanent basis, thereby phasing out rotating duties.  Sectors will be fewer in number and officers will become more familiar with local merchants and citizens and they with them. The Commander called it “the return of the beat officer.”
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Joseph Marziliano had a Zika virus update. He reported the known fact that Zika’s greatest threat is to pregnant women. In the battle to keep these virus-bearing mosquitoes from increasing and multiplying, the department has been treating the city’s catch basins with a larva retardant, which he said is not a chemical, but a bacteriological product. Health agents are also trapping mosquitoes and separating the Zika species (which may differ from Zika species in Florida and South America) from other trapped pests.
Superintendent DiRico said there would soon be additional sanitation truck service on Sundays. The increase in snow removal equipment in the coming winter will include smaller plows that are able to go into narrow areas unreachable by the standard plows on big trucks. Besides preparation for winter, a current task is one of cleaning up at the many MTA worksites, particularly under railroad trestles.
Sara Baral of Partnership for Parks talked about playground maintenance in Astoria and elsewhere, citing repairs to comfort stations and other amenities. What she said moved Koulouris to say that local parks are “getting better every day.” CB1 Board Member Fran Luhmann-McDonald was quick to disagree, though the thrust of her complaint was about the roadway medians at LaGuardia Airport. The airport is currently beleaguered anyway by the vast repair and replacement project that is ongoing there. Norman Chan, Parks Superintendent in much of Western Queens, said the dead and dying trees on those medians were planted when the medians had been converted from solid concrete structures, so they have always had a precarious existence—made worse, Luhmann-McDonald said, because they have been struck frequently by vehicular traffic. Better they should be removed altogether, she said.
Frank Fontana, Queens DEP Coordinator, returned to the topic of catch basins by saying that the agency’s crews are required to maintain and repair all 48,000 of them within the next year—a radical change from the three-year period formerly allowed. Damaged basins must be fully repaired within a period of nine days, he said. He introduced Bruce McDonald, also of the DEP, who informed his listeners in the room that 60% of back-ups in the city’s sewers could be traced to an overload of grease within the pipes.  The overload is the result of careless disposal of kitchen grease that comes from both residential and commercial sources. He showed what he was talking about by passing around some stomach-turning photos of grease overload, jamming the pipes or bursting through manhole covers into the street. According to Fontana, DEP inspection units must instruct food manufacturers, restaurateurs and residents to put cooking grease into containers large and small and dispose of it in the garbage, for sanitation vehicles to carry away.

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