Tag Archives: Councilmember Donovan Richards

Rosedale library to close for nearly $1M renovation

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Queens Library

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The Queens Library is shutting down its Rosedale branch for a $895,000 renovation, turning a page in its history.

The library branch will close on April 17 for the revitalization of the building, which includes a new heating and air conditioning system as well as new ceilings and lighting.

The building update was funded from money allocated by Councilman Donovan Richards.

Starting on April 30, a mobile library bus will provide library service in Rosedale every Wednesday.



Queens pol has high hopes for Sandy Funding Tracker

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the office of Councilmember Donovan Richards

Sandy recovery money is now under close inspection, and one Queens pol wants accountability for every dollar moving forward.

In November, Councilmember Donovan Richards introduced a bill that would track all funds related to superstorm recovery via an online database.

Before former Mayor Michael Bloomberg bid adieu to City Hall in late December, he signed the bill into law, along with 21 others. It will take effect in late March.

Richards said new Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration will carry out the bill as it was intended, making sure local jobs are created and devastated areas are rebuilt stronger than before.

“De Blasio spent a lot of time with us during the storm, helping and bringing out supplies,” Richards said. “It’s not like we have to convince him we have a need.”

The Workforce Center recently opened in the Far Rockaway Queens Library branch is also equipped to prepare local residents for the rebuilding job opportunities.

“These things all tie into what we want to do,” Richards said. “Twenty billion dollars is going to come through New York City over the next few years. We want to make sure it’s distributed [equally].”

The Sandy Funding Tracker provides a funding summary, which gives an overview of all recovery money by funding type and funding details, broken down by borough and individual.

“You can see where this money is and where it’s going,” Richards said.

In addition to tracking federal funding, all contractors doing work locally are required to disclose everything from the wages they pay workers to the area from which they hire these workers. This is meant to encourage contractors to fulfill local hiring mandates.

The tracker also provides detailed information about projects and programs in each major category of disaster relief funds, such as Build it Back, the city-sponsored recovery program.

For more information and to see the website’s progress thus far, click here. The website will continually be updated once the law goes into effect.



Community members share vision for Laurelton, Rosedale library upgrades

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Queens Library

More room is coming to the Laurelton and Rosedale library branches and officials’ visions for the project is growing.

Councilmember Donovan Richards allocated $3 million for the two Queens Library reading spots to begin expansion and upgrade projects.

The Laurelton branch, currently 8,000 square feet, will double to 16,000 with the addition of a second floor.

“We’re really excited about that,” said Dave Wang, the Laurelton manager. “The community has a very high expectation and standard for the library. A lot of our residents depend on it.”

Wang hopes the additional space will allow the branch to offer more classes to the neighborhood; something that he said has been in demand.

“In Laurelton, there’s no community center. Everyone depends on the library,” he said.

Richards met with community members and library officials last week to discuss the visions for their respective branches.

“He’s been so supportive from the get-go,” said Joanne King of the Queens Library. “It’s really a wonderful thing for us to see.”

Roughly $1.7 million of Richards’ funds will get the Laurelton expansion off the ground, but $9.8 million is still needed for completion, according to library officials.

Rosedale will receive $1 million, but will still need $6.3 million, King said. The branch’s square footage will expand from 6,000 to 9,400.

Branch officials were able to share their hopes for teen and children spaces at last week’s meeting.

“This is only the beginning, but it’s a very big help,” Wang said.



Springfield Gardens celebrates the holiday season

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Donovan Richards

The holiday spirit is alive in Springfield Gardens.

The Christmas tree in Springfield Park lit up for the season on Wednesday, December 11 with residents and community leaders watching.

“This is a great event for the whole family,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards, who hosted the tree lighting along with the Parks Department, Friends of Brookville Park, Storm Rydaz and the Student’s Real Friends Network.

Holiday music played as children took photos with Santa and shared in the community Christmas celebration.

Holiday trees throughout the southeast community are lighting up. The Brookville Park tree was lit on Saturday, December 7.



Bill calls for storm fund tracking, accountability

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Donovan Richards

One Queens pol wants to track storm recovery funds, promote accountability and avoid any potential of fraud for people still recovering from Sandy.

A new bill introduced by Councilmember Donovan Richards will monitor where the billions of federal, state and local dollars for superstorm recovery are being spent.

“The tracking bill will ensure contractors who accept public money for Sandy work, disclose the wages they are paying and where they hire workers,” Richards said.

The bill received 36 co-sponsors in the City Council, giving it a veto-proof majority.

All contractors will be required to disclose everything from the wages they pay workers to the area from which they hire these workers. An online database will track where and how the funds are spent.

Federal recovery grants recently amounted to $1.34 billion, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently tacked on an additional $104 million to repair low-income housing, according to various media reports.

“It has been over a year since Sandy, and many families are still looking for support to rebuild their communities,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who supported the bill. “The funds the city is allocating need to be spent wisely, and creating an online database will ensure those who are most in need will receive it.”



JFK Airport workers rally for fair wages

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Dave Sanders SEIU 32BJ

David Harrison has worked as a skycap at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport for three years, and is struggling to live with his $4.15 hourly pay.

Four days a week, Harrison helps passengers with their bags from the curb to their respective ticket counters. He relies heavily on tips from these incoming travelers, but said those decrease as the vacation season winds down. On a slow day, he said he gets roughly $30 to $40 in tips. He uses his pay to cover transportation to and from work, his cell phone bill and any household items.

Harrison, who works for American Airline service contractor Alstate Maintenance in JFK’s Terminal 1, said that overall, he is being underpaid. In a complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office, he and other Alstate skycaps allege the contractor violated the state’s minimum wage law for tipped employees.

The state requires employers pay tipped employees $5.50 an hour.

At JFK, Alstate also employs terminal and cabin cleaners, and wheelchair and baggage agents at Terminals 1, 4, 7 and 8. All workers allege the contractors have violated their pay rights.
Alstate workers, elected officials and members of local union SEIU 32BJ gathered at JFK on Thursday, November 7 to call on the airline and terminal operators for better treatment.

Harrison, who receives about $80 a week outside of tips, said that when a baggage cart breaks, they are forced to pay about $40 out of pocket for repairs. Once, he asked a supervisor for assistance in the fix, but was ignored. Additionally, skycaps allege they must frequently assist passengers in need of wheelchair assistance when a chair agent is not available.

These agents receive the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Skycaps don’t get paid any extra to assist with wheelchairs.

“We’re doing two jobs, and we’re not getting paid right for one,” Harrison said.

He added that fellow skycaps have “worked chairs all day, and they don’t make anything in tips.”

“I can’t have workers in my district working for poverty wages,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards.

Richards added his office has received reports that airport workers have experienced intimidation and harassment from their employers when they try to stand up for themselves.

“We just want what’s right for us at the end of the day,” Harrison said.

Alstate Maintenance could not be reached for comment.



$50G allocated for the Doe Fund to help clean up Merrick Boulevard

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

The “offensive to take back Merrick Boulevard” has begun.

Councilmember Donovan Richards has allocated $50,000 for the Doe Fund to work through the district, beautifying its trash-ridden streets.

The Doe Fund is a nonprofit that helps formerly homeless, incarcerated and/or troubled individuals achieve self-sufficiency by providing transitional work, housing, life skills and more.

Its hope is to break the cycle of homelessness, addiction and criminal recidivism.

The Doe Fund’s flagship program, Ready Willing & Able, currently cleans more than 150 miles of city streets every day as a transitional employment opportunity for participants.

Now, the crew has come to Laurelton and two people will work Fridays and Sundays, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., on Merrick Boulevard from 219th Street to Francis Lewis Boulevard.

“Certain days, it looks like a pigsty on this boulevard and it does not reflect the beauty of this community,” Richards said.

“I want to be very clear that although I’m funding this program, sanitation still has a job to do – to ensure storeowners are keeping their storefronts clean,” he added. “We are not going to subsidize you being lazy.”

Members of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton said they have voluntarily tried to clean the boulevard themselves but “it’s a stretch,” and they “appreciate” the Doe Fund’s presence.

Richards hopes to gradually extend the program through his district and also spruce up the area’s “green streets” and regulate parking – all with the hopes to enhance area business and improve overall quality of life.



Build it Back program extended until Oct. 31

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

The deadline for the city’s Build it Back program has been extended to October 31.

Build it Back, a federally-funded program to assist those whose homes, offices and other properties were damaged by Sandy, was originally set to be capped off on September 30. The extension came after a great influx of new customers over the last two weeks and as recently as last weekend, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations (HRO).

During this time, the program received more than 3,600 new registrants.

As of Tuesday, October 1, Queens homeowners and renters signed up for Build it Back totaled close to 10,000, the most in all five boroughs, said Peter Spencer of the HRO.

“With the thousands of individual complications people find themselves facing, we need a variety of resources,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards. “There is no one fix for every situation. People are still realizing the extent of the damage that Sandy has done.”

To sign up for Build it Back, visit nyc.gov/recovery or call 3-1-1 and ask for NYC Build it Back.



Councilmember Richards refuses bribe to support liquor store near Springfield Gardens school

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

A would-be business owner was recently busted for attempting to bribe a southeast Queens pol, according to officials.

Tarsem Singh applied to open a liquor store on North Conduit Avenue, right across the street from Springfield Gardens High School. The proposal was heavily opposed by Councilmember Donovan Richards and the Springfield Gardens community.

“Our children need to come outside their school and see something of the beauty that represents this community,” Richards said outside the proposed location at a May press conference.

A source confirmed Richards as the subject of Singh’s bribe attempt. The two met in June, along with Singh’s business associate, to discuss Richards’ opposition.

The meeting was captured on a security camera, and Singh was caught trying to pass cash to Richards, according to the Department of Investigation (DOI).

That same day, Richards reported the incident and the DOI began its investigation.

“Our communities and children aren’t for sale,” Richards said.

Throughout the investigation, undercover agents met with Singh and associates Davinder Singh and Rajinder Singh. The three offered agents $2,500 in exchange for the councilmember’s support, which was to be the subject of an upcoming hearing before the State Liquor Authority.

Before the hearing, Davinder texted the undercover investigator and said, “Call the Liquor Authority. We are counting on you,” according to the DOI.

Davinder and Rajinder, both of Ozone Park, were arrested on Friday, September 13. They are charged with bribery, a felony, and giving unlawful gratuities, said the DOI.

DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said the councilmember’s “prompt report allowed the DOI to investigate swiftly and shut down the scheme.”

“When I was elected, I promised my constituents that I would carry myself with the utmost integrity and that I would do whatever was needed to protect our quality of life,” Richards said.

This is the second time in four months that a City Councilmember reported a bribe offer to the DOI, said Hearn.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer received a bribe offer in April. He too rejected the offer and reported the incident to the DOI.

“Clearly, the good news is that there are public officials unwilling to sell their offices,” Hearn said.



Stringer wants to create Sandy Audit Bureau if elected comptroller

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Manhattan Borough President and City Comptroller candidate Scott Stringer announced a plan to create a Sandy Audit Bureau within the Comptroller’s office if elected.

The Sandy unit, a team of “professionals and experts,” would track the incoming $15 billion in federal aid and ensure the post-storm recovery money is spent “wisely and efficiently.”
Stringer said when that amount of money comes in, there must be a “laser focus on every single dollar.”

“Nine months after Sandy, the winds have subsided but we still have to confront the challenge of protecting our shoreline communities from the next great storm,” Stringer said. “The Comptroller’s office is uniquely positioned to serve as the city’s watchdog over all Sandy-related funds.”

Furthermore, Stringer plans to provide an online resource, The Sandy Tracker, that will allow residents to follow how the city is spending storm-related dollars. In the event of fraud or abuse, there will be an established 24-hour hotline for taxpayers to report any instances of the sort.

“Since Sandy, the Rockaways has seen an increased flow of resources dedicated to addressing post-storm issues,” said State Senator James Sanders. “Merely having these resources, however, is not enough. There needs to be a system of accountability.”

Sanders, Councilmember Donovan Richards and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder joined Stringer during his announcement on Tuesday, August 6 and reiterated their endorsements for Stringer’s candidacy.

“Every penny that was raised for Sandy victims and every government dollar that was spent during the relief and recovery effort must be accounted for,” Goldfeder said.
Richards said his constituents simply want “a hand up, not a hand out.”

“This is a common sense bureau,” he said. “During our recovery, accountability and transparency are extremely important.”



Community wins fight against liquor store near Springfield Gardens school

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

The southeast Queens community has successfully shut down a proposal to put a liquor store mere steps from Springfield Gardens High School.

The shop was set to move into a new building on North Conduit Avenue, right across the street from the high school. Councilmember Donovan Richards, State Senator James Sanders and the community rallied against the proposal and won the fight when the New York State Liquor Authority rejected the proposal in June.

“I’ve seen what alcohol can do to a child’s life,” said resident Cookie Kojak. “We want to make sure this is it and [the owners] don’t try again.”

According to state law, a liquor store cannot open within 200 feet of an educational facility. The liquor store itself, located inside the new shopping mall-style building, would have exceeded that distance.
Regardless, the site’s close proximity to a high school left the community feeling uneasy.

“The environment which [the students] occupy has to promote their development, not deter it,” Richards said.

He added that establishing a liquor store in this area is an “abomination” and doesn’t depict “who we are as a community.”

“Developing young minds and constructing them into leaders is very crucial,” Richards said.
Once the neighborhood high school’s dismissal bell rings, hundreds of students flood Springfield Boulevard and North Conduit Avenue. Officials worried with such a great number of minors walking around, some of them could wander into the proposed liquor store.

In another case, Richards said, a minor could have the opportunity to pay somebody of age to buy them liquor from the nearby site.

Platinum Realty, owners of the building, let Gurmel Singh, the hopeful liquor store owner, sign a lease to set up shop. But since the liquor authority stepped in, their plans have been squashed.

Community leaders and local officials hope to instead use the building for more educational purposes, such as a library or “some sort of tutoring center,” Richards said.

Platinum Realty and Singh did not return requests for comment.



LIPA instituting Sandy fixes

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Nearly nine months after Sandy, LIPA facilities are still coming back online.

During the storm, five of the energy company’s substations on the Rockaway Peninsula took on water damage, shutting down the area’s power and leaving residents in the dark until repairs were made.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Nick Lizanich, LIPA’s vice president of operations.

He explained that at the peninsula’s substations, LIPA worked on immediate restoration, which required both temporary and permanent mitigation. He added that in some cases, it can take over a year to order and receive the larger pieces of equipment that were damaged.

Lizanich detailed those issues at a tour of the Rockaways’ substations on Wednesday, July 17. Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder and Councilmember Donovan Richards attended to see the repairs so far firsthand.

“LIPA is doing a good job ensuring the elected [officials] are in the loop. Communication was the biggest issue we had during Sandy,” Richards said. “To their credit, they’re taking steps forward.”

In Far Rockaway, LIPA’s substation was inundated by roughly three to four feet of water. Lizanich said workers could not get in for several days, but mobile equipment and mobile substations were brought in to temporarily distribute power. But he pointed out that while “there was power on the street […] no customers [were] attached to it because their homes weren’t safe.”

“There’s a lot of room for improvement in that entire process,” Lizanich added.

Now LIPA is monitoring the fixes and working on turning temporary repairs into permanent ones.

“I think prior to Sandy, LIPA sold us a lot of smoke and mirrors. The storm made it clear there were holes in the system,” Goldfeder said. “But now to see real equipment, real plans and new notification systems is a great thing.”

However, despite visible changes, Goldfeder said “we have a long way to go.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction,” Richards said.



Libraries get funding to expand

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photos by Maggie Hayes

Ten-year-old Darius Barnes was upset when he learned his local Laurelton library might be closing.

“I didn’t want it to close,” he said. “The library has helped me.”

Barnes goes to the library after school, where he has been able to do homework and projects, as well as take courses in Mandarin with the site’s manager, Dave Wang.

When the budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year was initially proposed, library funding was set for across-the-board cuts. Ultimately, the cuts put the Rosedale and Laurelton libraries at risk of closure. The community and the City Council responded and were able to take the cuts out of the budget altogether.

Additionally, Councilmember Donovan Richards allocated nearly $3 million in extra funding to expand his district’s libraries.

“This library is my second home,” said Ruth Wright, 11, at the Laurelton site.

Wright, just as Barnes, visits the library after school and said not only has it given her a place to do homework, but also has given her the opportunity to meet new friends.

“Cutting funding to our libraries is the same as cutting funding to our youth,” Richards said.

Libraries are the central parts of the neighborhoods, he said, and these allocated funds will kick off a long-term project of expanding and improving the Laurelton, Rosedale and Rockaway libraries.

“Learning is the key. That’s what this library is about,” said Dwight Johnson, president of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton. “This is what we need in our community.”

Richards’ goal is to allocate $3 million a year for district libraries. He said the Rosedale library will take $7 million to fully expand and complete and $11 million for Laurelton.

“The idea is to give young adults a safe place where they can congregate and grow, with the latest technologies – this gives them a reason to stay in the libraries and off the streets,” he said.

Security cameras to be installed in Far Rockaway NYCHA complexes

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Big Brother is watching in NYCHA complexes across Far Rockaway.

Security cameras are set to be installed in various housing projects, intended to curb violence, particularly gun violence, in troubled areas.

“I’m tired of hearing the stories – our seniors and our children not being able to play outside because they’re afraid of getting struck by a stray bullet,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards.

After the City Council passed its budget, Richards allocated nearly $2 million for closed-circuit security cameras in the Ocean Bay Houses and Beach 41st Street Houses.

“Public housing is regularly left underfunded with no real consideration given towards necessary improvements,” Richards said. “You have to prioritize where you want your budget money to go. I felt that was an area that needed it the most.”

Carleton Manor will also receive funds for community room upgrades for residents to enjoy, Richards said.

The camera design will be finished within eight to 10 months and installation is expected within a year-and-a-half.

Richards’ predecessor, current State Senator James Sanders, allocated funds for security cameras in the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway during his tenure. Richards said that since then, it is “like day and night.”

“I can’t remember the last time I heard of a shooting in that development,” he said. “I want to make sure they’re carrying that across the board. Make sure our children and seniors and their families are safe.”

“If you’re walking, you’re on camera. They look at blind spots. No matter which way you run, you’re going to get caught,” he added.



Queens pols hopeful about Build it Back Sandy recovery program

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

NYC Mayor's Office Flickr/ Photo by Spencer T Tucker)

Federal money is here.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new plan to distribute $648 million for New Yorkers trying to rebuild more than seven months after Sandy.

The Build it Back program offers four options for homeowners as the city shifts its focus to long-term repairs in the wake of the storm. Homeowners can use a city contractor to make minor or moderate repairs, rebuild their homes based on a city model, be reimbursed for out-of-pocket payments or sell their home to the city, which will then redevelop the site.

Affected city residents can begin applying next year and will be contacted by a program specialist, Bloomberg announced.

The city included homeowner reimbursements in the plan at the behest of elected officials, who made their case in April.

Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, whose own home was damaged by Sandy, said he is hopeful the project will be a success.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the chances of this program’s success,” he said. “I’m very excited that the federal funding is going to be put to use. However, I want to make sure that the money goes to the families who need it most.”

Councilmember Donovan Richards said the plan offered enough options for homeowners dealing with damages, and ensures the money will go to the right people.

“With the thousands of different situations people find themselves in, we need a variety of resources,” he said in a statement. “There is no one fix for every situation. This is why I am very happy about the new Build it Back program. I believe this is a big step in the right direction of a comprehensive recovery effort.”