2018-01-31 / Front Page

The State Of The Borough

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz gave her State of the Borough speech on the morning of Friday, January 26, at the Tony Bennett Concert Hall in Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School in Astoria. The venue was appropriate given Katz’ musical background. Recovering from knee surgery, she was still able to give a lively overview of where Queens has been and where we are headed in her next term as borough president.

Katz acknowledged the sponsor of the event, jetBlue, and thanked the FDNY Color Guard, noting it has been less than a year since the city “lost one of our Bravest in the line of duty, firefighter William Tolley of Ladder 135, Engine 286. He was a well-loved, 14-year veteran killed in the line of duty while fighting a fire at a Ridgewood apartment building.” She asked for a moment of silence in his honor.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to our sole sponsor this morning, jetBlue. Let’s give New York’s Hometown Airline a big round of applause.

Thank you to the FDNY Color Guard as well for the presentation of colors. It’s been less than a year since New York City lost one of our Bravest in the line of duty, firefighter William Tolley of Ladder 135, Engine 286. He was a well-loved, 14-year veteran killed in the line of duty while fighting a fire at a Ridgewood apartment building. Please join me in a moment of silence as we remember and honor Firefighter Tolley and his tremendous sacrifice.

We’re joined by so many distinguished people today, including elected officials, commissioners, business and civic leaders. Let’s please welcome State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and three of our Queens giants – our District Attorney, Judge Richard Brown, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr. and former Borough President Claire Shulman.

I know our other elected were already recognized, but I truly need everyone to understand that all we have done in this borough could not have been accomplished without the tremendous partnerships we all share. It’s hard to thank all the elected individually during speech like this, but please know how much I value our partnerships.
Thank you especially to the Community Board chairs, district managers and members, who all continue to do an extraordinary – sometimes thankless job – for the people of Queens. To serve on a Community Board is a significant commitment of time and energy. Let’s thank them for their service.

In my first term, we made a concerted effort to move the Boards toward a healthier balance between long-time experience – which is why we shouldn’t have term limits for community boards – and fresh perspectives. Over 30 percent of all my appointments in the last four years are new. That’s 249 individuals who began serving, for the first time ever, on a Community Board. Let’s give them a very warm welcome.
Thank you also to the strong young women who led us in the pledge of allegiance and singing of the national anthem this morning. Young people like Faatiha Aayat and Wendy Lin represent so much of what is good in Queens – the hopes of all families for the very best opportunities and the very best futures for our children.
-Where the significance of where we’re from is far outweighed by our determination and our dreams for where we want to go.
-Where even though we may celebrate our trademark diversity of now over 200 languages and nearly 190 countries – and despite indefensible comments to the contrary – we also respect and help maintain one another’s dignity, because we know that, at our core, we still have that much more in common than we do different.
Queens… is 2.3 million people, nearly half of whom were born abroad.

I stood before you here, one year ago, on the wake of the inauguration of a new administration in the White House.
One year ago, despite tremendous uncertainties and fears about the future, especially after shocking executive orders out of the gate, we tried to give the benefit of the doubt.
One year ago, I unequivocally assured all those who chose to put faith in our Borough and in our country: Queens has your back.

But this past year has challenged every single person in this nation to reevaluate what it truly means to be an American and what that means to us… as individuals.
 Whether we value the legitimacy of women’s experiences – and believe her – for speaking truth to power and against what “he said”.
 Whether we oppose and speak out against federal agents who show up unannounced at our public schools, at our courthouses and at our hospitals.
 Whether we stand together in unity to not only denounce hate in all its forms when it’s easy, but to draw the line with legal consequences against actions of hate.
 Whether we defend DREAMers from unjust deportations… because they are our families’ children, our neighbor’s children, our children. The 21,000 DACA-eligible individuals in Queens grew up as American as my own kids, and they ask for nothing more than to be law-abiding citizens in the only country they know to be their home.

 Whether, as Americans, we resist the rapid spread of fear.
 Whether we still seek out the truth.
 Whether we exercise local power against increasingly authoritarian policies.
 Whether we vote.

It is more important than ever that we be counted, whether on election days at the polls, or in the upcoming 2020 United States Census.
Another Census undercount in New York is not an impossibility. But we have so much at stake here in Queens: federal resources for infrastructure, for health services and for our schools, representation by our local elected officials, and more.
As such, I will convene a committee this year comprised of leadership from the borough’s diverse communities, across faiths, civics, races, genders, and cultures. It will be called the Queens Complete Count Committee, and it will be charged with strategizing and maximizing participation in the Census count in 2020.
Because if we want our fair share, we can’t afford to just be reactive. We must be proactive, and we must be counted.

It was my deep honor to serve as president of this great borough for the past four years. Together, working with many of you, we shared many great achievements in my first term:
 Public confidence in the Queens Library is now restored, thanks to the reforms through best practice governance measures and ensuring fiscal accountability. Long-delayed capital projects were brought back on track and even completed, including the libraries in Queensboro Hill, Elmhurst and Kew Gardens Hills.
 The revitalization and smart growth of Downtown Jamaica is well underway, thanks to millions and millions of dollars through the Jamaica NOW Action Plan and from the Governor’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
 Full recovery from Superstorm Sandy is now finally within reach. By this June, all 3,600 Queens residents affected by the October 2012 superstorm will return home, and the community is more resilient than ever, with a fully-restored Boardwalk along Rockaway Beach.
 We’ve seen an 8.8 percent increase in jobs since 2013. We hosted 50 job fairs at Borough Hall in my first term, connecting over 1,100 job seekers to real jobs.
 The long-awaited citywide ferry service – the one that people said would never be done – is now done. Queens has four ferry stops along its waterfront, and for $2.75, you can get to Astoria, Long Island City, and even the famous beaches of the Rockaways.
 Dozens of people with physical disabilities have received brand new, hi-tech wheelchairs through Wheelchair Charities, Inc. that offers precious mobility to those who are

wheelchair-bound... all thanks to the tremendous generosity of people like Hank Carter, a Queens native and Bronze Star recipient from the Vietnam War.
 Veterans no longer have to travel to Downtown Manhattan for their benefits, thanks to the opening at Queens Borough Hall of the very first satellite office of the New York City Department of Veterans Affairs.
 The first Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Queens is now fully funded – as I promised a decade ago – with completed designs. Construction will begin this year in Elmhurst Park, and Queens will pay the tribute deserved to those soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.
 Pre-K is now universal everywhere in the City of New York. This was a tremendous deliverable by Mayor de Blasio, and I was pleased to work closely with him and his staff to help mushroom enrollment in Queens from 3,600 in 2013 to over 20,000 today.
 Under my youth program launched last year, 277 civic-minded volunteers from a dozen schools collectively planted nearly 1,200 flowers and cleared out over 3,000 pounds of leaves and garbage, beautifying neighborhood streets and parks throughout the borough. Cleaning up and getting our kids on the right track of community service – a win-win.
 77 classroom trailers were successfully removed from Queens schools. That’s 38 percent removed for good, bringing the students into real, permanent buildings alongside the rest of their schoolmates.
 Katz Cradles expanded the citywide Safe Sleep Initiative to non-public hospitals in partnership with First Lady Chirlane McCray. In addition to the public hospitals, the free portable cribs are now available at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and Flushing Hospital Medical Center.
 Throughout the borough, we now have Know Your Rights and Resource Fairs available. Particularly in light of the increasing climate of fear, we’re tripling our expense budget for these workshops to enhance support for the organizations already stretched thin, and equip more and more communities with the tools to exercise their rights and resources.
 Also in my first term, tourism in Queens has surged. In 2016 alone, international and domestic tourists spent $8.5 billion in Queens, second only to Manhattan. That generated over $1 billion in tax revenues for the city and the state. [[in addition to helping the businesses, their employees and their neighborhoods]]]
 The film and television production industry, which creates thousands of jobs and economic activity, has been a huge driver for tourism and economic development. The City’s tax incentive program for the industry in turn has attracted substantial investment toward building new stages and expanding capacities at major studios like Kaufman Astoria right across the street, and Silver Cup down the block.
 The iconic New York State Pavilion is now saved. We brought it back from the dead, recovered its original brilliance of “American Cheese Yellow”, and have secured over $16 million in public funds toward the full restoration of this historic, architectural marvel.

 And the annual Katz Concerts series now brings free outdoor music to neighborhood parks across the borough, including the “Only in Queens Summer Festival” that brought headliners like R&B singer Ginuwine and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer George Clinton to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

As part of the achievements just listed, one of the distinct privileges of this job is allocating public funds across collective priorities for our future. After all, if it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens.
In 2018, we will begin to see the fruits of our investments made in recent years. I fully expect more groundbreakings and more ribbon-cuttings on these investments. We’ll continue keeping project managers and contractors on course, marking milestones when made, and unveiling the physical fruitions of tax dollar investments into our future.
In my first term, we allocated nearly $300 million for capital projects throughout Queens.
Naturally, over a third of that total investment went into our schools and libraries. $41 million into 354 Queens schools, across K-12. In fact, in the last four years, I have allocated funds to upgrade technology in every single elementary and junior high school in Queens. An additional $23 million for new construction and upgrades at the five CUNY institutions based here in Queens. And another $46 million for renovations and expansions across 20 of our neighborhood libraries.
Another third of the total capital investment – nearly $100 million – went into 57 parks. Thanks to Commissioner Silver’s ambitious three-year deadline for each capital project, we can expect to unveil upgrades at dozens of our treasured parks throughout the borough, including Big Bush Park, Kissena Corridor Park, Laurelton Playground, Mauro Playground, Roy Wilkins Park, and so many more. Commissioner Silver is here, thank you for your work.
The remaining third of our capital went to various additional priorities that serve our great City, including: $25 million into capital upgrades at our cultural institutions; $22 million into our hospitals and health centers, especially to increase access to culturally-competent primary care services in medically underserved areas. The largest awards went to community-based healthcare facilities, including the expansion of the Joseph Addabbo Family Health Center in Arverne and the brand new construction of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Downtown Flushing; $17 million into NYCHA and HPD projects, including housing for seniors, LGBT homeless youth, DV survivors and low-income single mothers; $8 million into the Police and Fire Departments, including upgrades to firehouses, many of which are over 100 years old; Argus security cameras throughout the borough; and a new mobile command substation in Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the police department.

So with all these investments, what we’ve actually been doing in Queens is setting a roadmap and building the infrastructure for the future, of where we want the borough to be by the beginning of the next generation, by at least 2030.
Queens is the borough of growth, and the borough of families, and with that we must make sure to have the infrastructure to support our families.
The most critical for our future is our schools. In fact, we have over 283,000 students enrolled in our schools. That’s larger than the entire population of Newark, Des Moines, even Buffalo.

Bursting at the seams are our elementary schools at 116 percent, and our high schools at 113 percent. The most overcrowded high school in the city? Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, greater than 200 percent of its maximum capacity.
Our schools, as a whole, borough by borough, are also the most overcrowded in New York. Most other boroughs are below capacity, but we exceed capacity at 108 percent.
To be frank, our schools haven’t kept up with the growth of our families. While we are the most overcrowded, we are also the most underfunded.
Queens receives the lowest amount of funding per pupil than every other borough. So we have the most kids, but get the least amount to educate per kid.
To stay competitive and meet the growing demand, we’ve been busy building up our schools. The School Construction Authority – whose head Lorraine Grillo is here with us today, hi Lorraine – recently dedicated over $1.9 billion dollars (the largest capital investment among the five boroughs) to create 18,632 additional new school seats in Queens by 2020. Let’s thank the SCA for working vigorously for Queens.

But even with the new seats, the borough with the largest land mass will still remain the only borough over capacity, especially in our elementary and high schools.
To meet the needs and keep up with this growth, Queens must have a greater share of the City’s budget for our schools. There should be more parity in per pupil spending across the city by increasing our share. I’ll be working closely with the administration to get even more than the 18,632 seats already heading our way, because as we look to where we will be and where we want to be by 2030, it’s clear we need more, and our families deserve more.
Queens is focused on building the foundation and infrastructure for the opportunities of tomorrow. That includes adequate amount of school seats but also, in the borough of growth, that includes technology.
Tech jobs, on average, pay more and are growing at a faster clip than jobs citywide. But in tech jobs growth, Queens has lagged behind other New York innovation districts, with 10 percent growth compared to 28 percent growth citywide.
One of the biggest potentials for New York’s future tech hub is here in Western Queens, a dynamic mixed-use community where workers can live, ideas can synergize, and businesses can thrive. It’s already helped make New York City’s bid for Amazon even more competitive, and part of the top 20 cities under consideration for the major online retailer’s new HQ.
Long Island City’s skyline is practically unrecognizable from a decade ago as cranes scrape the sky. Phase One of Cornell Tech’s $2 billion campus on Roosevelt Island opened just last fall. New apartments are far outpacing other markets, with over 14,000 new residential units in the past ten years, and another 19,000 in the pipeline. Emerging commercial projects are beginning to catch up to the residential boom, transforming former warehouses into creative work spaces amidst rising multi-million square feet of office hubs.
With strong institutional anchors like JetBlue Airlines, CUNY Law and LaGuardia Community College, a wealth of local talent, and a rapidly growing residential population, we have the best inherent assets to foster innovation.

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But it’s not just growth for the sake of growth. It’s about equitably growing the share of jobs, and that includes training locally and employing locally.
So 18 months ago, I commissioned a study – the Western Queens Strategic Tech Plan – to create the city’s leading tech ecosystem and ultimately, jobs. It’s a roadmap for fostering equitable growth. It means highly attractive incentives for tech, new spaces ranging between 375,000 and 675,000 square feet, and up to 4,500 new tech jobs.
By leveraging Western Queens’ ample space for growth and its projected development, and by working closely with great partners for our future like EDC, we are steering our borough into the competitive lane of the digital age.
Ten years ago, most families dreamed of moving out east to Long Island, or maybe Jersey. But today, the future is not in the suburbs. The future is in Queens.
While preserving our neighborhoods and our communities, we’re leading the way in the City of New York. The future that we are creating here in Queens is one of urban neighborhoods for families, and our planning and investments reflect that vision.
The culmination of our efforts will be shown within the next few years. But to really see the returns on public investments and their long-term impacts… we need to look out beyond today.
So where will we be in 2030? First of all, when I’m 64 in 2030 and our beloved Mets have clinched their – oh, I don’t know – how about clinched their sixth World Series Championship.
Ok, dreaming aside, if I had my way:
 By 2030, I’d like Queens to be the first borough to end homelessness among veterans. With nearly 50,000 veterans, more vets call Queens home than any other borough, and too many of them are still in need of housing.
 By 2030, I’d like to see health care available for every single veteran – and this includes mental health services – and I’d like them treated, free of charge, at any New York hospital that receives public funding, regardless of insurance coverage.
 By 2030, I’d like to see all NYCHA housing have a percentage of units specifically set aside for grandparents who are the sole caretaker of their grandchildren.
 By 2030, I'd like to see a professional, branded tourism campaign for Queens run by an independent marketing team with NYC and company. Queens has increasingly become a global destination for entertainment, culture and tourism. Our identity is unique, and the international campaign would be charged with sharing our story around the world to boost tourism here to unprecedented levels.
But that’s just some ideas, if I had my way. And they’re the right things to do.
But the reality of what we will see – the seeds of investments and efforts we planted over the past four years that will yield a stronger infrastructure and future for our growing families – the reality of what we will actually see by 2030, is even more amazing. Picture what’s ahead:

2018 Queens State of the Borough Address | page 8 of 9
 By 2030, “Temporary Classroom Units” are now relics of the past. All remaining 124 units have been successfully removed, and Queens schools are officially trailer-free. And, for the record, we saved two of them just for nostalgia, and placed one on display at the Queens Museum, and the other one right next to the old 7-train outside of Borough Hall.
 By 2030, there is free 3-K for every toddler, not just in Queens, but citywide. It’s universal, it’s high quality, and it’s changed the game for millions of working families.
 By 2030, the Queens Libraries have several expanded, renovated, or even brand new libraries now open to the public, including the ones in Hunters Point, Rego Park, Corona, Laurelton, Arverne, Glendale, South Hollis and Far Rockaway. They are hi-tech anchors for the growing families of their communities.
 By 2030, we have thousands of affordable housing specifically for seniors. They’re staying independent, raising grandchildren and remaining active in the communities they’ve known for decades.
 By 2030, that Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park that we talked about? We’re commemorating the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Memorial.
 By 2030, the new NYPD 116th Precinct is up and fully operational, better serving the families of Rosedale, Laurelton, and Springfield Gardens.
 By 2030, there is now one continuous, protected bike lane throughout Queens, as part of the boroughwide bike plan that enhances safety for all pedestrians, cyclists and motorists on our roads, and that allows greater carfree access between communities.
 By 2030, the QNS Rail, previously known as the LIRR's Lower Montauk branch, is now an activated commuter line that runs 8.5 miles from Jamaica, through Maspeth and over to Long Island City.   [[who’s gonna pay RR fare to go from Jam to LIC?]]]
 By 2030, the LIRR stations in Elmhurst, Long Island City and Willets Point are now fully operational and reliable for daily commuters. • A reliable MTA.
 By 2030, the Willets Point transit hub features a modern, three-station complex with seamless transfers between the 7-train, LIRR and the AirTrain to LaGuardia.
 By 2030, the $8 billion overhaul of LaGuardia Airport is long complete, with one centralized, cohesive terminal, 3,200 parking spots in the West Parking Garage and a 30-min train ride to and from Midtown. By 2030, even the citywide ferry stops at LaGuardia.
 By 2030, the $10 billion overhaul of JFK Airport is also complete with one unified, interconnected layout, a retro, world-class TWA Hotel, and a one seat ride between Manhattan and JFK. And best of all? No traffic.
 By 2030, Willets Point is now home to tens of thousands of new housing units and – wait for it – not ten, not 20, not 50, but 100 percent of them are affordable on this 61-acre parcel of previously untapped land. And it’s funded by the professional soccer stadium at Willets Point[[does that exist now??]], and we’re getting ready to host the 2034 World Cup.   [[[and they’re all riding the 7777????]]]]
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 By 2030, the Rockaways is where everyone wants to be. With a reconstructed Bayswater Park, a fully restored Sunset Cove Park, and a new waterfront park at Beach 88th Street, it’s more resilient than ever before.
 By 2030, Downtown Far Rockaway is now a vibrant, reinvigorated “village”.
 By 2030, Sunnyside Yards… well, we’re still talking about it.
 By 2030, the New York State Pavilion is an illuminated, fully-restored structure, featuring an open-air performance space under the Tent of Tomorrow. When lit up every night, the brilliance from the Observation Towers is visible from miles away, and in 2030 is emblematic of just how far the World’s Borough has come.
My parents, just like so many, many others today from around the world, chose to make Queens the place where they would start and raise their family. My parents, just like Tony Bennett, chose to make Queens the place, where they would devote their entire lives, to expand opportunities in music, culture and the performing arts. And my parents, just like many of you, chose to make Queens the place they called “home”.
Because even in the early 50’s when my parents first came to Jackson Heights and then settled in Forest Hills, they recognized the tremendous potential of Queens and all the gifts it had to offer the city, the country, the world.
And when I put Carter and Hunter to bed every night in the very same bedroom that I grew up in, I’m confident that we are building here something better, something brighter, stronger for the future generations that we may never even get to meet.
Today, the narrative of Manhattan and Brooklyn as being the economic engines leading New York has changed. Queens has changed that narrative with our innovation, our ambition, our drive, our grit. And a little bit of our Queens attitude.
It’s been an extraordinary honor to serve the people of this great city for over two decades. I am humbled by the opportunities afforded me to help shepherd this great borough in my first – and now my second – term.
Together, we’ve all brought Queens so far. And so much more remains to be done. But with a shared vision – our vision – New York’s greatest potential, opportunities, and future are all here. And in 2030, when I’m 64, we’ll be able to look back fondly to today, and how, together, we built our tomorrow.

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