Tag Archives: Councilmember Julissa Ferreras

Convention center and 25-story hotel headed for Corona


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of Fleet Financial Group

A convention center complex as big as a city block, with a 25-story hotel and apartments, may be coming to Queens. 

Fleet Financial Group plans to build a roughly 106,000-square-foot convention center, the largest in the East Coast, at 112-21 Northern Blvd. in Corona.

The $200 million real estate project also includes 292 river-view hotel rooms, 236 luxurious apartments, a shopping center and a high-class restaurant.

“That area is really booming. It’s going to be great for Queens,” said Fleet president Richard Xia.

The site is near Citi Field, where a major $3 billion redevelopment project, including a mega mall, is slated for Willets Point. It is also by the Grand Central Parkway, about two miles from LaGuardia Airport.

“People pass by, but they never stop here,” said Xia, who lives and works in Flushing. “It’s going to be something that will create a lot of jobs and, in the meantime, bring a lot more business activity to Queens.”

Fleet purchased the 1.67-acre property — currently the site of the DiBlasi Ford dealership — last month for $17 million, according to Xia.

The company is also in the midst of completing an 18-story Westin Element hotel, with a medical center, at 42-31 Union St. in Flushing.

Construction of the massive complex in Corona, dubbed the Eastern Emerald Center, would create nearly 3,000 jobs, Xia said.

Work is expected to start this June and end in 2017, though the proposal still needs approval from Community Board 3, the Queens borough president and the city.

The project has support from Queens Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Seth Bornstein and Queens Chamber of Commerce President Al Pennisi.

“It sounds like a really good idea,” Bornstein said. “We lack quality, large-scale space for events. It would really be a benefit to the borough.”

Pennisi said the city “could use more than one” facility like the Javits Center in Manhattan.

“[The Chamber] thought of this project,” Pennisi said. “It’ll bring conventions of all sizes into a modern facility. Everybody will benefit from it.”

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras and Victor Rodriguez, a Corona resident who owns a mini market near the proposed complex, hope the development will be a boon for the neighborhood.

“I think it’s good for us,” Rodriguez said. “It’ll bring more people here.”

But a local educator, who did not want to be named, said the slated site is near too many schools on an already accident-prone portion of Northern Boulevard.

“To have something of that magnitude, and all these people coming to town, I can’t see how that improves anything,” she said. “Money is good and people need jobs, but there are so many other things not fixed as is.”

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Corona to benefit from $800K Chase gift to Neighborhood Plaza Partnership


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Councilmember Julissa Ferreras’ Office

Corona Plaza has received a helping hand, along with other public plazas around the city,  to become cleaner, greener and part of the community.

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras gathered with local representatives, Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and residents on Tuesday to announce an $800,000 leadership gift from Chase to the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP).

The gift allows the DOT’s community partners in under-resourced neighborhoods to have the support to keep public plazas clean, green and vibrant for the communities.

“Because our community deserves the same kind of public amenity as any other, we have rallied around the Plaza Program and this site for more than five years,” said Ferreras. “The Queens Economic Development Corporation has forged a wonderful partnership with the Queens Museum of Art to provide countless free programs and events year-round to hundreds of local residents. Their donated time and energy has truly made Corona Plaza one of the best public spaces anywhere in New York City. We are delighted that, thanks to Chase, the excellent service NPP provides here will expand to our sister plazas in other parts of Queens and across the City.”

The NPP gives the community partners affordable, high-quality plaza maintenance and horticulture care through The Horticultural Society (The Hort) and The Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE NY). Together with Chase, the NPP helps create jobs and will work to make sure the DOT Plaza Program grows in all five boroughs.

The November 26 announcement included music from La Cumbiamba and activities from the Uni Pop-Up Library. Students from P.S. 16 in Corona spent the morning gardening and released ladybugs to show the “transformative power of neighborhood plazas.”

Ferreras also presented Edgar Gutierrez, store manager of the local Walgreens, with the “Daily Point of Light” award from the Points of Light Foundation for his volunteering and efforts to promote Corona Plaza.

“Corona Plaza is the perfect place to announce this visionary philanthropic gift from Chase, and to bestow a national award for volunteerism on Mr. Edgar Gutierrez – one of our many unsung heroes,” said Ferreras.

 

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Jackson Heights, Corona community marches for safer streets after traffic deaths


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

It was the final straw, and now the Jackson Heights and Corona communities are saying no more.

Family members of traffic accident victims, local elected officials and community members gathered Tuesday night to set off the inaugural action known as “Three Children Too Many.”

The group marched down Northern Boulevard, then 82nd Street, stopping to make statements about traffic control and give performances along the way. They then gathered on 79th Street and 37th Avenue to rally and remember young local lives that were cut short.

“You cope with this kind of thing and you feel terrible, sad, angry, but then there’s a tipping point,” said Laura Newman, one of the organizers of the march and resident of Jackson Heights. “We actually have to make it stop.”

Just a month before three-year-old Olvin Jahir Figueroa was fatally struck by an alleged drunk driver, Jackson Heights resident Luis Bravo, 19, lost his life in a hit-and-run in Woodside. In December of last year, 11-year-old Miguel Torres was killed as he tried to cross the street heading to school on Northern Boulevard.

In April Councilmember Daniel Dromm led the push to bring more slow zones to Jackson Heights, focusing on the side streets that meet Northern Boulevard.

“Three Children Too Many” calls on mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to choose a police commissioner who will make sure law enforcement for vehicular crimes is strongly enforced and demands more traffic calming zones, continued traffic safety education for local children, and action facilitators to lead the community towards greater safety.

“Safety is (Department of Transportation) DOT’s top priority and the agency participated in [Tuesday’s] event to highlight our shared goal of making streets safer for everyone using them,” said DOT spokesperson Nicole Garcia. “We also have been in touch with the local community, including the march’s organizers and elected officials to get feedback, share education materials and discuss ways to enhance safety at this intersection and the surrounding area.”

The agency is also looking at the signal timing at Northern and Junction Boulevards to determine if adjustments can be made, said Garcia.

Michelle L. Kaucic, community coordinator of the DOT’s Safety Education and Outreach, said the community needs to continue advocating for change and must also spread the word of not drinking and driving. The community and DOT need to work together to make the streets safe as possible, said Kaucic.

At the end of the march, participants held a moment of silence and a candlelight vigil honoring Olvin, Luis, Miguel and other victims, as family members spoke.

“Safe streets are not a luxury, it’s what we deserve,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who lost two of her best friends 20 years ago to a fatal traffic accident involving a drunk driver. “After losing several of our mothers, fathers, children and friends to fatal traffic collisions, we simply cannot tolerate to lose one more.”

 

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Queens incumbents sweep re-election bids


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

LIAM LA GUERRE AND MELISSA CHAN 

All Queens City Council incumbents slid back into their seats after Election Day, some very comfortably, while others overcame contentious races.

In District 32, which pitted Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich against Democrat Lew Simon, the race came right down to the wire. Ulrich was eventually declared the winner with 53 percent of the vote to Simon’s 47, but the challenger has not yet conceded defeated.   

In another contentious race, incumbent Elizabeth Crowley of District 30 won 59 percent of the vote against political newbie Craig Caruana, who took 41 percent. Caruana gained support following an endorsement by mayoral candidate Joe Lhota and a fierce debate with Crowley.

Popular Democratic incumbents Peter Koo of District 20, Karen Koslowitz in District 29 and Mark Weprin of District 23 easily won their re-election bids this year after facing off with third-party candidates.

Koo swept his opponents — Evergreen Chou, Martha Flores-Vasquez and Sunny Hahn — by obtaining nearly 80 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count. Koslowitz beat Jon Torodash, who ran on the Civic Virtue line, by more than a 90 percent margin.

Weprin, a contender for City Council Speaker, beat back a late challenge from retired police captain Joseph Concannon by taking 84 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

Concannon, who was running under the Reform Party, began a pointed bid against Weprin on August 8, with numerous police union backings, soon after the incumbent voted in support of two controversial police oversight bills in the Council.

South Queens Democratic incumbents Ruben Wills of District 28 and Donovan Richards of District 31 also dominated their races.

Wills won more than 95 percent of votes over his challenger, Mireille Leroy, while Richards, who won a special election less than a year ago, took about 92 percent of votes.

Three Queens legislators ran uncontested in both the primary and general elections. Julissa Ferreras of District 21, Danny Dromm of District 25 and Jimmy Van Bramer in District 26 were all automatically re-elected.

 

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New Jackson Heights plaza to help revitalize neighborhood


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy the 82nd Street Partnership

A new Jackson Heights community plaza is bringing color and flowers to an area where two recent daytime murders left business owners and residents concerned for their safety.

The 82nd Street Partnership and Councilmember Julissa Ferreras announced the formation of the temporary 90th Street plaza under the No. 7 train at the intersection of 90th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

“Considering that two murders recently occurred in this area, the reclaiming of this space could not come at a better time,” said Ferreras. “What our community desperately needs right now is to feel that we can work through whatever issues arise and be more united for it.”

In September, Ever Orozco, 69, was fatally stabbed by Steven Torres, 22, after taking his wife to her routine doctor’s visit on 90th Street. A few days later, a 33-year-old man was found dead with gunshot wounds to his head and neck just a block away.

The temporary plaza, which currently features colorful tables and chairs, is just a taste of one of the many things the new Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District (BID) would bring to beautify and create a cleaner and safer community.

After getting feedback from the community, the BID will present the community vision to the Parks Department in hopes of getting the capital funding to renovate the plaza space and install permanent tables, chairs and planted flowers.

“It’s a visual improvement but it’s also a social improvement, because it makes that space a social space and it puts more eyes on the space,” said Seth Taylor, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership. “The important piece here is that this is an example of the type of work the BID is looking to do along Roosevelt Avenue, this is a scaled down version.”

A before photo of the plaza. 

If the community votes to accept the Jackson Heights-Corona BID by the end of this year, then it would be up and running by the time a permanent plaza could be installed and it would serve as the city’s maintenance partner of the space. The BID also hopes to work with local cultural institutions to curate art and cultural events in the plaza.

“The formation of the Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District would greatly assist our community in taking a major step in the right direction,” said Ferreras.

The 82nd Street Partnership will host the 90th Street Plaza Visioning Day on Sunday, November 3 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the plaza where community members can come and give their ideas for a future permanent space. The Uni, a pop-up reading room, will also be present at the site on Sunday. For more information visit www.CleanerSaferRoosevelt.org.

 

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Fund to help family of toddler killed by alleged drunk driver in Jackson Heights


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Councilmember Julissa Ferreras

A family and community are left mourning three-year-old Olvin Jahir Figueroa after he was fatally struck by an alleged drunk driver while crossing a Jackson Heights street with his mother.

According to police, on October 11 at approximately 9:50 p.m. the toddler was crossing the corner of Junction Boulevard and Northern Boulevard with his mother after visiting a nearby market, when a white 2011 Acura struck him. The 35-year-old driver then stopped and drove the toddler and his mother to New York Hospital Queens in Flushing where the toddler was pronounced dead.

The driver, Gilbert Echeverria, was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated, police said.

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras gathered with family, residents and members of the local church on Monday, October 14 to hold a candle light prayer vigil for Olvin.

“As a new mother with a baby boy of my own, I know what it is like to have so many hopes and dreams for your children,” said Ferreras. “Olvin’s parents will never get to see him attend his first day of school or see him graduate. He had his whole life ahead of him.”

The councilmember lost two of her best friends close to 20 years ago to a fatal traffic accident also involving a drunk driver at the same intersection.

Ferreras has set up a donation fund at TD Bank to help Olvin’s family with burial expenses. The account number is 4283969885. Checks should be made payable to the “Olvin Jahir Figueroa Burial Fund.”

 

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Pol’s staffer under investigation for alleged ties to group raising money for biker


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Screenshot via YouTube/Michelinman900

A local politician’s staff member is under investigation for her alleged involvement with a group raising money to free one of the bikers indicted in connection with the assault of an SUV driver.

Ivettelis Rodriguez, Councilmember Julissa Ferreras’ district manager, was trying to raise money via her Facebook page to get Robert Sims out of jail, according to published reports.
Screenshots of Rodriguez’s posts from a Facebook name “Bandolera Ryderz LdyStickey Pro,” shows her on motorcycles, supporting a group to raise money to get Sims out of jail and also shows Rodriguez at her district manager job, reports said.

“I am deeply disappointed with the behavior my staffer, Ivettelis Rodriguez, has exhibited,” said Ferreras. “Her statements and behavior are not in any way indicative of my beliefs, nor is it an accurate reflection of the high standard of personal conduct to which I hold my staff. I am currently working with the City Council to launch a full investigation into the matter.”

The Facebook page has been taken down.

The SUV and the group of motorcyclists were both on the Henry Hudson Parkway on September 29 when, according to reports, one of the bikers and the vehicle bumped, which may have set off the altercation.

In a YouTube video, the SUV can be seen slowing down and then running over biker Edwin Mieses Jr., paralyzing him, according to reports. The driver, who had his wife and toddler in the car, reportedly has claimed he felt threatened by the surrounding motorcyclists and that’s why he accelerated.

After the SUV hit Mieses, police said several of the motorcyclists chased the car, slashed its tires and did other damage to the vehicle. When the driver stopped, some of the bikers pulled the man from his Range Rover and assaulted him.

Sims, according to reports, was indicted on Thursday, October 10. Two other bikers were indicted by a grand jury the following day.

At least seven motorcyclists, including an undercover detective from Queens, have been charged in connection to the incident. Police are still seeking several others for questioning.

-With additional reporting by Cristabelle Tumola

 

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Some small businesses won’t back BID in Jackson Heights, Corona


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photos By Angy Altamirano

Some business owners are saying no to the expansion that would bring a business improvement district (BID) to the Jackson Heights and Corona area for fear of losing what makes the community diverse.

The 82nd Street Partnership, a non-profit group promoting the current local BID covering four blocks and over 160 businesses, announced in March it would be extending all the way through 114th Street as part of Councilmember Julissa Ferreras’ New Deal for Roosevelt Avenue to form the Jackson Heights-Corona BID.

Members and supporters of the Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance, created to put a stop to the plan for the BID, rallied at Corona Plaza on Sunday, September 8. According to members of the group, they fear the BID will get rid of the small businesses that make up Roosevelt Avenue, push out the immigrant community and raise rents. The group later marched to Ferreras’ office on Junction Boulevard.

“This movement is no longer just a Roosevelt Avenue small business owners’ movement, it is a movement of the community,” said Freddy Castiblanco, owner of Terraza 7, a Jackson Heights bar, who is looking for an open communication with local leaders and politicians. “Roosevelt Avenue is mega diversity. We can’t allow the standardization of projects like the BID. We are here to say no to the whole process of gentrification and expulsion of our diversity.”

Yet, according to Seth Taylor, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, most of the opposition is coming from the community not having the right information on the BID.

“There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there and that seems to be driving a lot of the fear,” said Taylor. “It’s our job that everyone has all the information they need so they can make an informed decision.”

The BID plans to become a community-driven effort including property owners, businesses, residents, public officials and other stakeholders.

“This is really a small business survival strategy,” said Taylor. “This is an opportunity for the small businesses on Roosevelt avenue to make an investment that goes right back into the neighborhood.”

To date, Taylor said they have held seven public meetings, seven steering committee meetings and dozens of one-on-one meetings with business owners. More meetings are planned for the coming weeks.

BIDs have proven to be successful in other neighborhoods — for example on Fordham Road in the Bronx and Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, and especially in immigrant communities — said Taylor.

“We are asking people to keep an open mind, to take time to learn the facts and to voice their concern so we can find a way to work together to invest in our neighborhood and improve quality of life for everyone,” he said. “We want to remind everyone that this is an initiative that will only happen if there is wide spread support of the small business community.”

Ballots for the BID will be sent out in the mail in October and decision making will be done by a board of directors that represents the diverse area and community members.

“The current problems on Roosevelt Avenue hurt everyone, including our working and immigrant community and small businesses,” said Ferreras. “This is why I believe a business improvement district is a solution to this problem.”

For more information on the BID, you can visit www.jhcoronabid.org.

 

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Potential plans for Corona Plaza released


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of The RBA Group

Corona residents and business owners got a first look into the future of Corona Plaza.

Before 2012, Corona Plaza, located on Roosevelt Avenue between National and 104th Street, was a busy area filled with trucks, traffic and no open space. After the Queens Economic Development Corporation (EDC) partnered with the Queens Museum, Councilmember Julissa Ferreras and other local groups, the plaza became an open public space allowing residents and visitors to sit down and relax.

Although the public space was expected to be temporary, in March the Department of Transportation (DOT) met with the community to introduce first plans and designs for keeping and improving Corona Plaza as a public space.

During this meeting the public gave its input as to what they wanted to add to the plaza and picked the best initial design from three options.

“We want the community to feel like this is their spot and they helped build it,” said David Strauss, director of external Affairs and Capital Projects of the Queens Museum, which has been working close with the community to receive continuous, direct input.

The DOT and design firm The RBA Group met with the community for a second time on August 24, during the plaza’s one year celebration, to debut two options of the first renderings of the future Corona Plaza.

“We really wanted that second meeting to be outside and allow the people to come up and give their input,” said Prerana Reddy, director of public events at the Queens Museum. “I feel like we’re hearing the same things over and over, so it feels like we got it. People were excited about it.”

Some of the ideas that were included in the renderings were plaza seating, bicycle racks and corrals, a stage for cultural performances, green area, benches, additional trash cans, signage, improved lighting for security, utilizing the space under the No. 7 train for storage, an information/storage kiosk and a drinking fountain.

“Corona Plaza is a vision that the community and I had shared for several years,” said Ferreras. “Since its creation, it has only continued to attract more and more visitors who are seeking a place to meet friends, enjoy a cup of coffee and take in the rich diversity that is our district. As additional plans for the plaza continue to unfold, it is my hope that Corona continues to thrive and becomes a must-see destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike.”

The DOT and design firm will now present the renderings to the city’s Public Design Commission in the next couple of months. According to Reddy, the earliest the community will see the new plaza would be by 2015.

 

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$3.5M in payouts on table for Willets Point business owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A pooled $3.5 million in payouts is on tap for some Willets Point business owners who agree to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of January.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sent letters earlier this month to 90 auto shop owners in the Phase 1 area of the Willets Point development site, alerting them of the extra millions now on the table.

Shop owners who relocate by November 30 will be given a payout equal to one year’s rent, city officials said. Those who leave between December and the end of January will receive a payment equal to six month’s rent.

Under the payment plan, if a business owner who currently pays the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development $2,000 a month in rent leaves by the end of November, he or she would get $24,000.

The new pooled funds are on a first-come, first-serve basis, city officials said, and are added onto the $9 million in relocation aid already offered.

The EDC, which has said the entire Phase 1 area must be vacated before environmental remediation can begin, has been urging shop owners to relocate since this February.

Only one has left the Phase 1 site so far, an EDC spokesperson said, but two others have struck relocation deals and others are in “serious negotiation.”

Plans for the larger $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point include cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land and eventually constructing housing units and a mega mall near Citi Field.

“I think we’re getting pushed out,” said Tommy Cohen, who owns ACDC Scrap Metal. “We don’t have a choice.”

Willets Point United said on its website the deal is “fool’s gold and is little more than a bus ticket out of town for these immigrant Hispanic business owners.”

About 120 people attended a city-hosted informational meeting in Corona last week to discuss the new payouts and additional free services.

Representatives were available at booths to talk about relocations, business loans, job and education training.

There are still ongoing talks between the city, developers and Willets Point shops, said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area. These include possibly relocating the affected businesses as a group.

 

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New Corona school building to ease overcrowding


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

A new school in Corona is set to ease the burden of overcrowded classrooms in the area.

According to the Department of Education (DOE), P.S. 330, currently located within a building at 86-37 53rd Avenue in Elmhurst, will move into a brand new location at 111-08 Northern Boulevard just in time for the beginning of the school year next week.

“This is a fantastic new building, and we’re confident that P.S. 330 will deliver well for its students there,” said DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia.

P.S. 330 opened at the initial building in 2010 in order to lighten overcrowding in District 24 elementary schools. The school currently serves 220 students in kindergarten and first grade, but is expected to open more than 400 seats once it makes the move.

The new building will continue to alleviate overcrowding in Corona and is also located in an area closer to where 84 percent of the students currently live, the DOE said.

“Over the past 12 years, we’ve created over 125,000 new school seats,” said Puglia. “As we put up brand new, state-of-the-art buildings around the city, we’re meeting the needs of our schools and communities.”

Once P.S. 330, at its new location, completes its expansion and reaches its full capacity in the 2015-2016 school year, it will serve 570 to 630 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Because overcrowding is a serious issue in my district, I could not be happier to have P.S. 330 opening its doors this September,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras.

In April, Ferreras established the Educational and Overcrowding Improvement Task Force. The task force was created to help improve the communication between the DOE and parents, as well as ease the overcrowding issues in Community Education Council Districts 24 and 30.

“These efforts, combined with plans for the construction of five additional schools in my district, will undoubtedly improve the overcrowding issues our local schools are currently experiencing,” said Ferreras.

According to the DOE, it will work with the community to figure out the best use for P.S. 330’s original building.

 

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USTA gets OK to expand Tennis Center, pledges $10M to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) has agreed to pledge more than $10 million to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as part of a deal struck with the City Council.

“This deal was a long time coming,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras. “I can say with confidence that we will all benefit from this expansion.”

USTA officials needed the council’s final vote to go through with the $500 million plan to expand the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at the park by 0.68 acres.

They agreed to commit to ongoing community outreach programs, create an annual job fair for Queens residents and give 5,000 free Arthur Ashe Day tickets to Queens kids.

The more than $10 million pledged by the USTA would go toward public safety enhancements at the park, Ferreras said.

“There are still details that we are currently working on and we will work on as a community for weeks to come,” she said.

The plans include hiring more local residents and preventing cars from parking on the grass.

But many in the borough remain opposed to developers taking city parkland.

The USTA was not originally required to give back any land lost in the project. But officials ultimately agreed to transfer ownership of two parcels of parkland the USTA has been renting to the Parks Department.

Park advocates criticized the plan as giving back land that was already accessible to the public.

Ferreras said the project would create $750 million in revenue annually and provide thousands of jobs.

 

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Op-Ed: School buildings need adequate funding


| oped@queenscourier.com

BY COUNCILMEMBER JULISSA FERRERAS

Long before I was elected to office, I was the Beacon Program director at P.S. 19 in Corona, known at the time as the most overcrowded school in the country. My years of work engaging our neighborhood children helped me understand the effect of school building conditions on their academic performance.

Because their classrooms were overcrowded, the students received less attention to their individual learning needs and more distraction readily intruded upon their focus. I’ve since learned that overcrowded schools are only part of a bigger problem. Chronic underfunding of our school buildings has left too many of our children learning in less than adequate environments.

Cutbacks in school facilities funding over the years have led to widespread school overcrowding and crumbling schools across aging school buildings in many of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. More schools can relieve the overcrowding, but appropriate funding for their operation and maintenance is necessary to keep them all in good, working order. Our children deserve to learn under the best possible conditions in the greatest city in the world.

I’m proud to say I’ve launched an Education Task Force with the help of Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the School Construction Authority and our community partners to not only improve communication between our schools and parents, but also advocate for better funding of our school facilities and develop long-term solutions.

New York City spends a smaller percentage of its total education budget on building maintenance and operations than most other large school districts in the country, and the percentage of the city’s education budget dedicated to facilities keeps shrinking by millions of dollars, according to a report published in early May by 32BJ SEIU. The union represents 5,000 public school cleaners and handypersons.

According to that report, there are thousands of open building code violations in hundreds of school buildings across the city. As these violations are repaired, the number of building code violations changes, but there seems to be a constant and exorbitant number of them left unaddressed. I worry that in overcrowded schools, the large student populations place an overwhelming demand on dwindling resources and supplies, exacerbating school conditions at a rapid pace.

When toilets don’t work or the heat doesn’t stay on, we place an undue burden on our children and it falls disproportionately on poorer neighborhoods. These are basic things that any one of us would take care of in the privacy of our own home, and the city needs to give the same priority to these issues at our children’s schools. This should increase the urgency of our endeavor.

The City of New York and the Department of Education must allocate sufficient funding to address these problems in our school buildings. School cleaners and handypersons need the right resources and manpower to keep school buildings operating. And just as years of advocacy by parents, students and community organizations got the city to cut the timeline in half to remove toxic PCBs from public school lights, we must focus as a community on the improvement of our children’s school buildings and give them the learning environment they deserve.

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras represents the 21st Council District encompassing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. She is the Chair of the Women’s Issues Committee and is a member of the Committees on Parks and Recreation, Civil Rights, Consumer Affairs, Economic Development, Finance and Health.

 

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Council enacts paid sick leave law with veto override


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

In a 47-4 vote, the City Council enacted the New York City Earned Sick Time Act Thursday, overriding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the legislation.

The bill will eventually give paid sick leave to approximately one million New York employees who do not currently have it, and will protect them from being fired for taking a day off when they or their family members are ill.

“I was fired earlier this year when I got the flu and I took one sick day off. I have four children and it was very difficult to be out of work and have no way to support my family,” Emilio Palaguachi, a member of Make the Road New York and an Elmhurst resident said in a statement. “I’m so happy to know that, once this law goes into effect, what happened to me will not happen to any other worker in New York City.

Beginning next April, businesses with 20 or more employees will be required to give at least five paid sick days per worker. Starting in October 2015, businesses with 15 or more workers will have to do the same.

After opposing the original bill, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped broker a new deal and the Council passed the Earned Sick Time Act 45-3 on May 8.

“New York has traditionally been at the forefront of creating safe, fair working conditions for its people and I am proud for my colleagues to join me today in confirming this legacy,” said Councilmember Gale Brewer, the bill’s lead sponsor.

“This will greatly enhance the quality of life for the hundreds of immigrants and hard-working single mothers living and working in my district and throughout the city,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras.

New York joins several other cities across the country in adopting sick time policy, including Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, according to Make the Road New York.

 

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Pols ask FTC to investigate global nutrition company Herbalife


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Rosa Kim

They come to this country looking for a better life, but promises of quick cash often allegedly go unfulfilled.

Officials throughout the U.S. have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Herbalife, a global nutrition company which has been accused of operating an “abusive” pyramid scheme targeting minority groups.

“Herbalife seemingly goes after largely poor, minority and immigrant groups that lack financial literacy and are often desperate to escape poverty,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who has seen a handful of Herbalife shops appear in her district only blocks from each other. “Many of their recruitment tactics focus on targeting new immigrants who have come to New York in search of the American dream.”

In a letter to FTC Chair Edith Ramirez, Ferreras explained her concern about the impact Herbalife is having on the Latino community, both in her district and across the country.

Herbalife provides nutrition, weight-management and personal care products such as shakes, vitamins and protein bars. The products are sold through independent sellers or distributors who recruit others into selling.

According to Ferreras’ letter, recruitment begins when individuals are asked to join groups billed as nutrition and wellness clubs. Within these clubs, Herbalife allegedly takes advantage of members who have little to no business experience, luring them with promises of large profits and minimal work. Distributors for Herbalife must purchase the merchandise, lists and marketing material out of their own pocket.

Jose Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation, wrote a letter to the FTC claiming that in these “get-rich-quick schemes,” distributors appear to lose money instead of making any profit. He said concerns about Herbalife boil down to whether distributors make money by selling products or by recruiting others to sell.

Noticing signs of consumer harm in her district, Ferreras has asked the FTC to conduct a thorough investigation and protect individuals.

“If Herbalife is acting illegally by making false income claims to vulnerable Latinos in my community, then they need to be held responsible,” said Ferreras. “We cannot and will not stand back while Herbalife takes advantage of my hardworking constituents.”

An Herbalife spokesperson said it is “disappointing” that Ferreras did not reach out to the company before contacting the FTC.

“Had she done so, we would have been able to correct her misconceptions and explain how nutrition clubs work as a positive contributor to her district,” said the spokesperson. “We would also have described for her how Herbalife has helped to change people’s lives over the last 33 years by providing the best nutritional products and an excellent income opportunity to individuals around the world, including within her own district.”

According to the Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York, there are no recorded complaints against any Herbalife stores or distributors in the area.

Along with Ferreras and the Hispanic Federation, California Congressmember Linda Sanchez has asked the FTC to investigate Herbalife.

 

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