BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
Frustrations aimed at the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) over their overnight enforcement policies came to a head during the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) meeting on May 16 at the Emanuel United Church of Christ.
The WRBA has repeatedly petitioned the DSNY to change its practice of issuing pricey overnight summonses to business owners along Jamaica Avenue for illegally dumped trash. In recent months, the WRBA has received numerous summonses over garbage found in front of the group’s headquarters, located at 84-20 Jamaica Ave.
“They ticket overnight because that’s when people bring their bags to the curb for pickup,” explained Gregory Mitchell of City Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office. “Unfortunately, there’s an issue that if people dump garbage in front of somebody’s business, the property owner can get a ticket themselves.”
The WRBA held a recent closed-door meeting with board members, elected officials and DSNY supervisors. According to WRBA Communications Director Alex Blenkinsopp, the DSNY officials explained that if they wanted a change in policy, they would need to petition their local city council member to change the regulations.
“When we were told by our city agencies to go to our City Council member because they’re not going to do anything about it, we realized this is a screwed up situation,” he said. “What are we supposed to do?”
Ulrich was considering changes in legislation back in October 2014 in the form of an “LS request” to investigate the feasibility of the proposed policy change.
“There’s really no way for us to legislate our way out of that problem,” Mitchell said. “We can change the law, but that’s not going to stop people from dumping garbage in the street.”
Blenkinsopp voiced his frustration over the situation to Mitchell. “It sounds like it took an awfully long time to find out we wouldn’t get any results from that process,” he said.
Assemblyman Mike Miller also voiced his displeasure over the situation.
“They don’t care,” said Miller, who participated in the aforementioned closed-door meeting with DSNY officials. “When we challenged them, they said, ‘That’s the way it is. This is the process. This is how we do it.’ It has to be changed.”
Miller explained that he has introduced legislation calling for a Citizen Review Board to deal with and discuss incidents such as wrongly issued summonses.
Mitchell proposed a follow-up meeting between WRBA board members and DSNY officials. He also mentioned that he would try to bring a DSNY supervisor to the next public WRBA meeting to address these concerns. In addition, he advised WRBA members to keep reporting incidents of illegal dumping to 311.
However, according to WRBA President Martin Colberg, the group once reported an illegally dumped mattress in front of their office, only to be hit with a pricey summons while sitting inside. Colberg said that he was considering installing security cameras outside WRBA’s Jamaica Avenue office to not only catch violators in the act, but to prove the group’s innocence to DSNY.
When asked if they could take their fight beyond City Council, Blenkinsopp explained that they have yet to receive a reply from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office regarding the matter.
“Back when he was public advocate, Bill De Blasio wrote a letter supporting a change in this law, but now that he’s mayor, he’s no longer responding to our reminders,” he said. “We can’t get the mayor to respond to his own previous policy decisions and to be consistent in his stance on this.”