Tag Archives: Bob Friedrich

Op-ed: Seven-point plan


| oped@queenscourier.com

BOB FRIEDRICH AND EASTERN QUEENS UNITED

Last week, a convicted killer escaped from the state-run Creedmoor Psychiatric facility in Bellerose, where he was being held for observation.

This is a serious concern to the civic leaders of this community and other nearby community organizations.

Creedmoor is located in an area of single family homes and is very close to Glen Oaks Village, a co-op community of 10,000 residents. It is situated across the street from a children’s playground in Alley Pond Park, one of Queens’ largest parks.

The escape was also brazen for the ease in which it was accomplished. Exchanging clothes with a visiting friend was enough to allow a convicted killer to walk out undetected and into the neighborhood.

The stunning failure in security by the State Office of Mental Health has been a sore point with community leaders for many years.

The state has consistently failed to provide adequate funding to properly secure this large institution and as a result, numerous incidents have occurred which has put a strain on the already over-burdened local police precinct.

The time has come for real and serious action. Community leaders and local elected officials are calling for a full investigation and a security plan of action in which all stakeholders in the community must be involved.

Eastern Queens is a wonderful part of the city and is fortunate to have an active and vocal group of civic associations that seek to protect the quality of life of the communities they represent.

These civic associations represent thousands of folks that live along the tree-lined streets that surround Creedmoor. We are confident that elected officials, affected agencies and other community organizations will work together to resolve the security issues plaguing the Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital.

Responding to this breach in security at Creedmoor, a coalition of more than a dozen civic presidents have issued a seven-point plan of action, which you can read below:

1. A full investigation of this incident.

2. Adoption of a comprehensive security plan for the entire Creedmoor campus that would prevent a recurrence of a similar incident in the future.

3. NYS Office of Mental Health must provide the resources to fund a proper level of security.

4. Disclosure and transparency as to the type of individuals being housed at Creedmoor.

5. A Community Notification Protocol to provide immediate alerts of dangerous situations.

6. A similar review and assessment of security at nearby Zucker-Hillside Hospital.

7. The inclusion of nearby civic associations and other stakeholders in the outreach and development of a security plan.

 

Jerry Wind, president of the Bellerose Hillside Civic Association

Bobby Sher, president of the Bell Park-Manor Terrace Co-op

Michael O’Keeffe, president of the Creedmoor Civic Association

Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village Co-op

Michael Castellano, president of the Lost Community Civic Association

Bruno DeFranceschi, president of the North Bellerose Civic Association

Judith Cohen, president of the North Hills Estates Civic Association

Richard Hellenbrecht, president of the Queens Civic Congress

Angela Augugliaro, president of the Queens Colony Civic Association

Jim Trent, president of the Queens County Farm Museum

Mo Ishmael, president of the Queens Village Civic Association

Frank Toner, president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association

Rhonda Kontner, president of the Royal Ranch Homeowners Association

 

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‘Landmark’ tax relief on the way for co-op and condo owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Co-op and condo owners left in the lurch after state lawmakers originally closed the year’s session without passing key pieces of legislation will not be forsaken for long, officials pledged.

The Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reached an agreement on “landmark” tax relief legislation that will be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“In the short term, the city has issued tax bills for the current fiscal year based on the current tax abatement rates,” Silver said. “When the legislation is signed into law as promised by the governor, we anticipate that the new lower rates will be effective retroactive to July 1.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them “high and dry” last week after lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one-, two- and three-family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement. Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc., also counted his potential losses, saying his community would lose out on about $1 million.

But local elected officials said co-op owners need not worry about tax increases in the near future. The abatement, which expired June 30, will be continued until the State Legislature reconvenes later this year to pass a new plan, they said.

Assemblymember Ed Braunstein said it was “highly likely” the legislature would also pass his bill, which would increase abatements for middle class co-op owners from 17.5 percent to 25 percent this year and over 28 percent in three years.

“Co-op owners should be encouraged that relief is right around the corner,” Braunstein said.

Meanwhile, co-op and condo community leaders said they remain hopeful for a more permanent, long-term fix on annual valuation spikes.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

Still, a proposed “8/30” valuation cap — which would have limited property tax increases to 8 percent per year or 30 percent over five years — was not passed, and Friedrich said he does not expect a solution to be reached for another year.

“I am optimistic, but actions do speak louder than words,” he said.

Pols argue over whose co-op/condo legislation is best


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A coalition of co-op and condo owners in northeast Queens had one message for its elected officials after arguments erupted over whose bill was best: no more lip service.

“What you see is the dysfunction in Albany. This isn’t a Republican-Democrat issue. It’s about homeowners who don’t want to be pushed out of their homes,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. and cofounder of the President’s Co-op Council.

The Council — which represents about 100,000 co-op shareholders — joined close to one dozen elected officials and more than 900 concerned Queens residents at North Shore Towers on April 12 to rally for action against the city for another year of property tax spikes.

While Friedrich said a solution could not be reached without the cooperation of state lawmakers, some electeds — with pointed fingers — turned the meeting into a heated political debate.

“There’s been a little too much lip service tonight. I sat here and got madder and madder as I listened to every speaker,” said Senator Tony Avella. “We had an opportunity last year, and we blew it because of politics on both sides of the aisle.”

Currently, there are three bills on the table in Albany on how to address the issue, which Avella said is a clear sign of disconnect between state leaders who he said may each be pushing for their own legislation to pass.

“It’s not that the Republicans don’t want to move the bill to address this — it’s which bill should they support? Which one gets passed? This has to stop. I don’t care if it’s my bill or somebody else’s bill, but this has got to stop. We’re not working together,” he said.

Avella’s own bill, which he called the “best solution,” would create a new property tax class — called Class 1A — for co-op and condo owners. He said the bill would provide the same protections that exist for Class 1 properties, capping any single yearly tax increase at 6 percent and 20 percent over a five year period.

An earlier law put forth by Assemblymember David Weprin would propose similar provisions, classifying co-ops as Class 1 and capping increases at the same percentage, while other legislation by Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymember Ed Braunstein would see co-ops paying only 75 percent of their legal fees in a successful certiorari suit. They said the law would also stabilize assessments for two years following a successful challenge, capping spikes at 3 percent to prevent the necessity of an additional proceeding.

Councilmember Mark Weprin fired back, saying each elected official was in fact “working hard” together to create a solution by this year.

“With all due respect, you’re the one who hasn’t been to most of the meetings,” Weprin said. “This is a very delicate situation, but to say that people here are just giving lip service is just nonsense. This is not about whose bill we’re going to sponsor. We’re all trying to solve a problem here, and I think we’re all open to whatever solution we can get adopted that will save co-op owners. That’s the goal here, and that’s why I took a lot of offense.”

Senate and Assembly officials have only until the end of June this year to agree on one single bill and have it passed by both Houses, Weprin said. While the City Council is not directly involved in the legislation process, Weprin said councilmembers have an upper hand in trying to get the mayor on board.

“I’ve seen bills drafted, signed and passed in 12 hours. We just have to work together,” Weprin said. “I thought [the meeting] was a good case of democracy in action.”

Tree maintenance at root of problem


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Bob Friedrich

If a tree falls in Glen Oaks Village, and no one assumes responsibility for clearing it, does it cause damage?

Homeowners in the eastern Queens co-op are irritated over what they feel is a lack of effort by the city to clear dangerous tree roots and repair damaged sidewalks.

Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village, the largest garden apartment co-op in New York, demands the city take action.

New legislation, initiated by Friedrich and reinforced by Senator Tony Avella, would modify the current law that forbids residents from pruning street trees — ones located between the sidewalk and the road — holding the city responsible for damage done within co-ops by falling branches.

According to Friedrich, Hurricane Irene incurred over $59,000 in damages to Glen Oaks Village, ripping out roughly 100 trees and flooding several residents’ basements.

Since the storm, Friedrich said he has asked the city to remove the visible stumps and turned-up roots – something they promised to do within 90 days of the hurricane, according to Friedrich. He says the city has yet to take action.

“I refer to this area as ‘Queens, the forgotten borough,’” said Friedrich. “If you drive through Manhattan, you see all the resources they have. Bike lanes and trees. We can’t even get our curbs repaired. The city is inattentive to the needs of people in Queens.”

According to Friedrich, the city is accountable for repairing sidewalks damaged by trees during storms when it occurs in front of a single-family home. Friedrich feels this is an “issue of fairness and equality,” as according to him, residents of co-ops are responsible for paying higher taxes.

“The city has been doing an abysmal job and we’re really fed up,” said Friedrich. “We need them to step up to the plate.”

Friedrich added that many of Glen Oaks Village’s residents are senior citizens, vulnerable to falls and at risk of tripping over lifted tree roots.

According to a representative from the Department of Parks and Recreation, the city removes hanging limbs, dead trees and tree debris located on public property, including public sidewalks.

While property owners are responsible for sidewalk maintenance, owner-occupied, one-, two-, and three-family homes with sidewalks affected by the roots of curbside trees are eligible for free repair under the Parks Department’s Trees and Sidewalks program.

Since the program began in 2005, more than $18 million has been allocated to fixing over 9,200 trees and sidewalks throughout the city, including nearly $9 million to repairing damages in Queens.

 

Residents rally against redistricting at public hearing


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Christina Chang sat calmly in the front row of the hearing room, unshaken by the raging crowd surging behind her. In her hands she held a homemade, neon sign that read “Minority Votes Should Count.” She wore a crisp white T-shirt stenciled with the word “MinkWon.”

It means “civil rights” in Korean.

Representing her group, MinkWon, part of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy (ACCORD) — a non-partisan, pan-Asian association reflecting community interests — Chang came to stand for the strength of her neighborhood and the voice of her people.

Residents and officials crammed into a hearing at Queensborough Hall on Tuesday, February 7, combating the redistricting they feel has divided their neighborhoods and diminished their voting power. Based on population transfers noted in the 2010 Census, redistricting resulted in Queens Democrats believing the procedure was an effort by Republicans, who represent the majority in the state Senate, to pit seat holders against one another.

“Allow the public to speak first! This is a public hearing!” yelled Bob Friedrich, founder of Eastern Queens United, which advocates for maintaining unity among ethnically-diverse neighborhoods.

“This is one of the most important meetings we’ve ever had,” said Borough President Helen Marshall, quieting the rowdy audience. “Minority votes should count. We’ve got to make sure the lines are drawn properly.”

Local government officials took to the microphone to state their opinions to the audience and members of the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), which held the hearing.

Senator Michael Gianaris referred to the recent redistricting as “disgraceful manipulation” and a “vain attempt to deny minorities a vote.” Armed with maps of Hempstead and Westchester, Gianaris indicated areas of high minority populations and their dissection.

“[This redistricting] is more than just the fragmenting of communities. The procedure and product has been taken as borderline racism,” said Councilmember Ruben Wills.

Freidrich hopes that LATFOR will redraw district lines, reuniting ethnic communities.

If they fail to do this, Freidrich says he will consult the governor, who intends to veto the plan, according to spokesperson Matt Wing.