Tag Archives: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Mayor de Blasio reveals details of Vision Zero plan to put end to traffic fatalities


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice

The success of Vision Zero is in the hands of the city’s pedestrians and drivers, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Last month, de Blasio, together with the NYPD, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Taxi & Limousine Commission, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services, launched an interagency task force to implement his Vision Zero plan to prevent traffic related deaths.

The initiative aims to reduce traffic fatalities to zero within the next 10 years.

After the interagency group spent the past month developing new strategies to make city streets safer, de Blasio released his administration’s “Vision Zero Action Plan” Tuesday at P.S. 75 in Manhattan. A student from the school was struck by a vehicle two years ago and still suffers complications from the accident.

“We don’t accept a status quo in this town that leads to so many people losing their lives that we could have saved,” de Blasio said. “As a parent I know that particularly in this crowded dense city, the danger is lurking at all times for our children. That’s why we have to act, we have to act aggressively. We won’t wait to act because we have to protect our children; we have to protect all New Yorkers now.”

Since the beginning of the year more than 20 lives have been lost on city streets and last year there were 286 traffic fatalities compared to 333 homicides in the city, according to de Blasio.

The initiatives within the “Vision Zero Action Plan” include increasing enforcement against speeding, reducing the citywide “default” speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, and expanding the use of speed and red light enforcement cameras.

The plan will continue to develop borough-specific street safety plans, redesigning 50 locations each year, expand neighborhood “slow zones,” and enforce stiffer penalties on taxi and livery operators who drive dangerously. The interagency group is expected to continue overseeing and coordinating all the changes.

“A life lost is a life lost – and it is our job to protect New Yorkers, whether it is from violent crime or from a fatal collision on our streets,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said. “We are going to use every tool we have – and push to get the additional tools we need – to prevent the needless loss of life.”

Bratton also said the NYPD would focus efforts on speeding and failure to yield violations, which make up 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities in the city.

“But it’s about much more than speed bumps and issuing violations, it’s about all of us taking more responsibilities,” de Blasio said. “Our lives are literally in each other’s hands, our children’s lives are in each other’s hands. Today we begin the work to living up to that responsibility.”

 

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De Blasio takes on traffic deaths with ‘Vision Zero’ initiative


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

With 11 people, including seven pedestrians, killed in traffic accidents in just the first two weeks of the New Year, Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling for a stop to what he calls an epidemic.

De Blasio and his administration is launching an interagency working group, together with the NYPD, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Taxi & Limousine Commission, to implement a “Vision Zero” plan and make sure another life is not lost.

The mayor’s “Vision Zero” initiative aims to reduce traffic fatalities to zero within the next 10 years.

“Our top responsibility is protecting the health and safety of our people,” said de Blasio. “From tougher enforcement to more safely-designed streets and stronger laws, we’ll confront this problem from every side – and it starts today.”

De Blasio gathered with local officials, family members of victims of traffic fatalities and representative from the city agencies Wednesday to announce the working group at P.S. 152 in Woodside, just less than a block from where third-grader Noshat Nahian was fatally struck by a tractor trailer in December.

The working group will come together to implement the mayor’s plan by developing a report,  due to the mayor by Feb. 15 and released publicly, that will serve as a blueprint for the mayor’s “Vision Zero” plan for safer streets through the city.

The report is expected to have “concrete plans” to dedicate sufficient number of NYPD resources and personnel to prevent dangerous actions such as speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians; annually improve close to 50 dangerous corridors and intersections to “discourage dangerous driving;” greatly expand the amount of slow zones across the city; and pursue a traffic safety legislative agenda in order for the city to position red light and speed enforcement cameras based on safety needs.

“This will be a top-to-bottom effort to take on dangerous streets and dangerous driving,” said de Blasio. “We aren’t going to wait and lose a son, a daughter, a parent or a grandparent in another senseless and painful tragedy.”

De Blasio also said that as of Thursday, Jan. 16, speed cameras which have been installed on city streets will begin issuing tickets to enforce speed limits.

The NYPD will also be implementing additional and more severe enforcement against traffic violations, according to de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

Since taking office Bratton has increased Highway Division personnel by 10 percent and has a goal to increase the staff by 50 percent.

 

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Queens street vendors, businesses compete for customers


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photos by Johann Hamilton

While a bill that would regulate the number of mobile street vendors still sits in the state Senate, businesses remain frustrated as they continue to battle to keep their customers.

For the past few years, businesses said they have seen mobile street vendors growing to a point where pedestrians can find a handful on one block. They provide residents and visitors with an endless amount of handmade goods.

Yet, even as their popularity has grown there are also the questions of whether these street vendors affect larger businesses and if they should receive letter grades from the city’s Department of Health like restaurants.

Food vendors are licensed and inspected by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). According to the DOHMH, it attempts annual on-the-street inspections at each mobile vending unit and also conducts inspections after receiving complaints.

According to the DOHMH, records of inspections are available to the public by calling 3-1-1 and giving the food cart’s permit number or license number.

Mobile food vendors are subject to the Health and Administrative Codes, but do not receive letter grades.

State Senator Jose Peralta introduced legislation in 2011 to grade the food vendors the same way as restaurants in order to ensure the best quality for buyers and help remove vendors that sell goods illegally. The bill still sits in the Senate’s Health Committee.

“Whether buying a meal in a restaurant or from a mobile food vendor, consumers should know that what they’re eating has met certain health and safety standards,” said Peralta. “New York City street food is famous around the world. With a letter-grade system, our street food will also be known for its safety and cleanliness.”

Peralta’s office also continues to hear from local businesses about the growing number of vendors that cause them problems.

To sell or lease other goods and services in a public space, potential vendors need to apply for a General Street Vendor License from the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Potential vendors must have both a food vendor license and permit for their cart. DOHMH issues a maximum total of 5,100 different food unit permits and over the last few years, the number of applications for licenses have increased.

The Courier took to the streets to speak to some vendors and businesses in Bayside and Jackson Heights, two areas in the borough that have a large presence of mobile street vendors.

“I’ve been in this same spot for 16 years because it’s in my neighborhood,” said John Amanatidis, who owns a shish kebab stand on the corner of Northern Boulevard and Bell Boulevard in Bayside. “We do have problems with parking because sometimes people park in this parking lot while they get food here.”

Amanatidis’ stand and a hotdog vendor on Northern Boulevard are being accused of invading private property as their customers use the parking lot owned by CVS Pharmacy and Party City. According to the businesses, this has their potential patrons thinking twice about coming back.

“Business has been very slow because of the street vendor competition,” said Sonia Chawle, owner of Fine Indian Cuisine and Sweets in Jackson Heights. “It’s very different from how it used to be, and I think it’s like that for everyone who has a restaurant around here right now.”

Vendors say they are trying to make a living and do not want to harm the surrounding businesses.

“I put my cart here because it’s where I can make the most business,” said Aman Bachoo, who owns a halal cart in Jackson Heights. “That’s the same reason the restaurants are here too, so I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Even with the conflict between some vendors and businesses, some brick-and-mortar establishments find no problem with the presence of street carts.

According to one employee at Mita Jewelers in Jackson Heights, the jewelry vendors don’t affect business because they sell artificial items compared to the 22 karat gold jewelry available at the store.

“They have their customers and we have ours,” said Alfredo Herrero, manager of Nuevo Tacos Al Suadero. “They’re making competition but not that much.”

Rosendo Medina, a Jackson Heights resident who often eats at a vending cart called Tacos Del Carrito, said the food he gets from the vendors has a unique flavor that keeps bringing him back.

“Sometimes the food here is more delicious,” he said. “Restaurants hire chefs and they don’t know the seasoning. With restaurants you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for food.”

Food cart patron Steven James echoed the sentiment.

“Even if they [falafel stands] were farther away and more expensive, I would still go out of my way to find them, it has nothing to do with not wanting to give other places my business,” he said.

Additional reporting by Johann Hamilton, Benjamin Fang and Zachary Kraehling

 

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City agrees to reduce restaurant fines


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Zachary Kraehling

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a deal to reduce restaurant fines that may make the grade with owners.

The City Council and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said the joint agreement will reduce fines generated by violations of the city’s inspection system by $10 million per year.

“Restaurant letter grading was never supposed to be a way to generate additional fine revenue, especially since the Health Department discovered long ago that higher fines don’t by themselves result in better sanitary conditions,” Quinn said.

Fines will be set in specific amounts for each violation under the new deal.

Approximately 60 percent of violations will be set to the minimum $200 fine, including low-level violations such as not properly storing sanitized utensils, which was an average of $295.

Formerly, any violation could result in a fine of $200 to $2,000, depending on the inspector’s discretion.

“Every [inspector] has their own opinion on it,” said Pasquale Fabiano, manager of Il Vesuvio restaurant in Bayside. “They should come in and tell you what’s wrong and if you don’t fix it, they should fine you.”

Fines for the two highest levels of critical violations will be reduced from $349 and $420 to $300 and $350, respectively.

Also, fines for basic operating errors, such as operating without a permit, interrupting a health inspector or failing to post the grading card will set owners back $1,000.

An eatery will not have to pay a fine if it received a violation for a structural irregularity, such as a sink, but can prove that it had never been cited as a problem before. However, the irregularity must be fixed.

“Fantastic,” said Ellen Laperna, manager of Bourbon Street restaurant in Bayside. “They’re doing their jobs, but of course you want the fines to be lower.”

Councilmembers will also introduce five bills to improve the inspection system.

The bills will develop an inspection code of conduct, require publication of detailed data on the restaurant inspection process, have DOHMH establish a consultative inspection process, establish a Food Service Establishment Advisory Board and create an Ombudsman office within the DOHMH to tend to comments and complaints to the inspection system.

“At this point, moving to fixed fines will help give the system more predictability, and even with reduced fines, the grading system will continue to encourage restaurant managers to prepare food safely,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

Additional reporting by Zachary Kraehling

 

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Bellerose residents demand mosquito help after years with no West Nile spraying


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of CDC

Bellerose residents say they live in a forgotten land when it comes to the city’s efforts to eliminate mosquitoes.

“You can’t go outside. You can’t make it from your car to your front door,” said Maria Donza.

The bloodsuckers are keeping residents on house arrest and even alert indoors, said Donza, who added she sits with a bottle of bug spray at home.

The city has not sprayed the area since before 2011.

Pesticide was scheduled for Bellerose in August 2011, but the order was eventually canceled, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) website.

The department recently targeted neighborhoods north of Bellerose, spraying parts of Bayside, Douglaston, Douglaston Manor, Glen Oaks, Little Neck and Oakland Gardens on July 25 and early the next day.

“Everywhere else in Queens has been mostly getting sprayed,” said resident AJ Sonnick. “I don’t understand why Bellerose has been forgotten.”

The 20-year-old said he was bitten four times in the 20 minutes he was in his backyard the other day.

“This is a beautiful neighborhood. It’s a great neighborhood to live,” Sonnick said. “It’s a shame that we just can’t sit outside.”

A DOHMH spokesperson said Bellerose has not been sprayed because no West Nile Virus activity has been detected there.

The virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can cause encephalitis and meningitis.

Insects carrying the potentially fatal virus were recently found in Auburndale, College Point, Holliswood, Middle Village, Pomonok and the areas north of Bellerose sprayed last week.

The pesticide is taken as a last resort in areas where there is a high risk of West Nile Virus transmission, the department said.

Catch basins in Bellerose have been treated with larvicide twice this season.

“Though there may be an increase in floodwater mosquitoes citywide, these mosquitoes do not transmit West Nile Virus,” the DOHMH spokesperson said.

However, State Senator Tony Avella said the city should take measures before Bellerose makes the infected list.

“Every year, we have deaths from West Nile Virus. Every year, it resurfaces,” he said. “So why don’t we do a much more proactive spraying to reduce that population rather than wait until it explodes on us?”

Mosquitoes “don’t know what a boundary is on a map” and can fly into new nearby territories, the legislator added.

The city urged residents to call 3-1-1 to report standing water, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Many Queens day care centers operating illegally


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Stock photo

A little known law may be keeping some Queens day care centers from operating legally, The Courier has learned.

Permits from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), a certificate of occupancy from the Department of Buildings and a fire inspection pass are needed for city child care providers who fall under certain categories. These include those who look after three or more kids unrelated to them either in a private home or institution for more than three hours a day, on a regular basis.

But a less familiar rule requires these centers also give written notification to local precincts and fire departments within five days of receiving certifications, the agencies said.

“The day care centers are kind of off our radar. For safety reasons, we’d like to know where they are,” said Special Operations Lieutenant Daniel Heffernan of the 111th Precinct.

According to Heffernan, about 26 centers in the Bayside-based precinct are legally licensed with the city. The precinct’s list is still being updated, but only eight were registered with police as of press time.

“We know there are others out there who have not reported to us,” Heffernan said.

Gary Poggiali, the precinct’s community affairs officer, said he suspects businesses that are providing under-the-radar services in their private homes are trying to make an extra buck in a bad economy.

“There are people who don’t realize they have to contact us,” he said. “They’ll think, ‘I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m taking care of two kids. Why don’t I take care of four and make money?’ But we have to know what’s going on in our community.”

The Courier reached out to several Craigslist ads that were offering day care services for multiple children in private Queens homes. A woman running an at-home center in East Elmhurst said she was “working on” obtaining a permit but was still watching many children without it at the time of the call.

She said the certification was “coming any day now” and added she would spike up prices when it arrived.

According to a DOHMH spokesperson, the department inspects centers it receives complaints about within 24 hours and shuts down those found to be running improperly. But home-based providers are regulated by the state, not the city.

There are 472 permitted child care centers in the borough, the spokesperson said. It was unclear how many were also registered with the NYPD and FDNY.

The process to do so is simple, police said. It involves filling out a short form and providing a copy of the city permit at a local precinct.

Heffernan said enforcement became stricter after a California daycare shooting in 1999 killed one person and injured five others, including three kids.

A two-month old baby girl was also reportedly found dead in an alleged illegal day care in Elmhurst in November 2012.

“This is a very big safety issue,” Heffernan said. “If you’re a parent, would you want to put your kids in a place that’s unlicensed? I wouldn’t.”

 

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Mold spawns health concerns in Sandy flood zone


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

DSC_0128w

Homes that withstood Sandy’s rushing water and brutal winds may now be susceptible to another hazard — mold.

According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) flood-damaged homes may have already seen extensive mold growth located under floor tiles, wallpaper and carpeting. The Department of Buildings (DOB) has plans to raze roughly 200 homes in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island that were damaged during the storm, reports said. According to a DOB spokesperson, while the decision to condemn badly damaged houses is based on structural issues, dangerous mold growth is not being taken into consideration.

“[The DOB is] evaluating the structure and stability of buildings,” said the spokesperson. “Mold is a health issue.”

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who has remained outspoken about the lack of government resources sent to badly damaged areas, called for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the DOHMH to perform daily air and water quality tests throughout those regions to ensure there are no chance of health risks to the community.

According to Goldfeder, residents have expressed concern over the harmful side effects associated with exposure to mold, sewage leaks and air pollutants.

Retired firefighter Steve Orr’s home was inundated by three feet of water during the storm. Busy assisting residents in Breezy Point and the Rockaways, Orr did not begin repairs on the soaked walls of his home until this past Sunday.

“I didn’t think the mold issue was that big for me, but friends kept saying I needed to take care of it,” said Orr. “The more I heard, the more worried I became.”

Orr, who called the extent of the mold damage in his home is a “seven on a scale of one to 10,” said the government should test for possibly dangerous molds and other threats.

Dr. Robert Mittman, an allergist from Bayside, said mold spores can cause a plethora of sinus issues, including allergies and asthma that could grow uncontrollable. Those not allergic to mold are still at risk for pneumonia and other respiratory conditions like COPD.

Those with illnesses such as cancer and the AIDS virus whose immune systems are diminished and unable fight off infections, are at an incredibly high risk.

“It’s a toxic, toxic issue and [mold] is very hard to get rid of,” said Mittman.

Eradicating mold and salvaging an infiltrated structure requires dehumidification within the first 24 to 48 hours, said Mittman, something very few residents were able to accomplish.

“It’s very hard to get rid of mold at this time,” said Mittman. “The best case scenario is not moving back there and to have the house ripped down completely and rebuilt.”

Many divided over Plan B availability in schools


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Voyagers 1w

Though Plan B, also known as the “morning-after” pill, has been dispensed at select New York City high schools since January 2011, its availability was not widely reported until recently.

The pilot program, which also provides birth control to students, started with five schools then expanded to nine more at the start of the 2011-2012 school year, said New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) spokesperson Veronica Lewin.

Last school year, 567 students received Plan B at the pilot schools, she said.

One school dropped out of the program, but the emergency contraception is still available to any student at 13 high schools as part of the Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health (CATCH) program, which aims to prevent teen pregnancy.

There are no plans yet to expand it, said Lewin.

Four schools in Queens are in the pilot: John Adams High School in Ozone Park, VOYAGES Preparatory High School in Elmhurst, Newcomers High School and Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City. “Schools were selected based on their community pregnancy rates and availability of other services in the neighborhood. The principals were also supportive of the program,” said Lewin.

According to the Health Department, in New York City more than 7,000 young women become pregnant by age 17, 90 percent of which are unplanned.

Plan B must be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It is available without a prescription for women 17 and older. Those that are younger need a prescription for it, but it is offered free or at a low cost to all teens at some area health clinics. According to Planned Parenthood, Plan B can cost from $10 to $70.

Before the pilot, the morning-after pill had been available to students at privately-run school based health centers, said Lewin.

All of the city’s public high schools already have a mandated Condom Availability Program, where each school must have a Health Resource Room with free condoms. Parents can opt their children out of that program by signing a form.

An opt-out form was also sent home to parents for the Plan B pilot, said Lewin, and about one to two percent of parents have signed it.

Some students at the Queens high schools offering Plan B were well aware that it was available and had received the opt-out form, but others were hearing about it for the first time on Monday, September 24.

“[I learned about Plan B] right now. The class talked about it during government,” said Alondra Payan, a 16-year-old senior at Queens Vocational and Technical High School. “I think it would be better if there was an age restriction. There are kids that are 13, 14 here and they are going to be sexually active because now they think that because of the Plan B it’ll be safe.”

“I found out when it was posted in the newspaper last year,” said Mary Paguay, also a student at Queens Vocational. “If the parents don’t return the opt-out form any child is able to get it. I feel it’s sort of bad because you don’t have the parent’s permission but if the child is in need of it then they probably would want it.”

Some critics are afraid that if it is handed out to teens for free or without parental permission, it will be used as a regular birth control method; others are concerned that it will lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

The Health Department’s website stresses that a condom should be used to protect against STDs, and that using ongoing birth control, such as the pill, is the best way to prevent pregnancy.

 With additional reporting by Sweetina Kakar

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

TODAY’S FORECAST

Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Winds from the SSW at 5 to 15 mph. Friday night: Partly cloudy with a chance of rain after midnight. Low of 73. Winds from the South at 5 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 20%.

EVENT of the DAY: First Fridays, Summer in the Garden

The Noguchi Museum continues its summer practice of extending hours and offering free admission on the first Friday of the month. Visitors can explore the galleries and enjoy a cash bar in the outdoor sculpture garden. This Friday will feature Center of Attention, an extended conversation around a single work in the collection at 6 pm, followed at 7 pm by the film “My Playground,” a documentary about movement, tricking, freerunning, and parkour –a sport in which participants go from one city to another as quickly and efficiently as possible. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Some Queens residents call on city to spray for West Nile Virus

Residents of eastern Queens are calling on the city to take a more active role in combating West Nile Virus in their neighborhoods. Read more: CBS New York

Queens gas station attendant beats drunk man to death for vandalizing cash machine

There was another killing at a New York City gas station on Thursday, but this time the victim was a drunk who made the mistake of tangling with an attendant who boxes and idolizes Rocky Balboa. Read more: New York Daily News

Vacant lot in Queens used as a trash heap

A massive mound of garbage that looks like it belongs in a landfill fills a residential lot in Jamaica, Queens. “It’s just a dumping ground. The rats have increased, the rodents,” says neighbor Crystal Bonds. Read more: NY1

Undrafted Queens product Machado signs with Rockets

Scott Machado, the former Iona College point guard who went undrafted despite leading the nation in assists, agreed to a partially guaranteed, three-year contract for the league minimum with the Houston Rockets Wednesday night, he told The Post. Read more: New York Post

FDNY adds nine Names to 9/11 Memorial Wall

The Fire Department added nine names Thursday to the memorial wall for deaths related to World Trade Center illnesses. Read more: NY1

Obama makes case for 2nd Term: ‘Harder’ path to ‘better place’

President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term on Thursday night, making a forceful argument that he had rescued the economy from disaster and ushered in a recovery that would be imperiled by a return to Republican stewardship. Read more: New York Times

Market milestone: Stocks return to late 2007 level

he last time the stock market was this high, the Great Recession had just started, and stocks were pointed toward a headlong descent. Read more: AP

Biz owners blast sweetened beverage ban


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Is it the new Prohibition?

Queens business owners are against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban of large sweetened beverages, reasoning that it would put a cap on their rights and water down sales.

Proprietors told Councilmember Julissa Ferreras this as she scanned four businesses near her East Elmhurst office, engaging them about the ban’s potential effects, in an event organized by the New Yorkers for Beverage Choices coalition on July 19.

“I think he [Bloomberg] is trying to approach obesity in the ways that he is being advised and I just think this one is ill-advised,” Ferreras said while standing in front a small deli.

The store is run by Rocio Galindo, a mother of three originally from Mexico, who said she put all her money into opening the shop last year and fears the proposed restriction could discourage patrons from shopping at her store.

“She put every egg in this basket to be able to survive,” Ferreras said, translating for Galindo.

If passed, what’s being called as the “soda ban” will halt the sale of sugary bottled and fountain drinks, such as teas, sodas and sports drinks, above 16 ounces in every store and restaurant with letter grades, movie theaters, sports venues, delis and food trucks and carts.

Diet sodas, calorie-free drinks, and drinks with at least 50 percent milk are exempted from the regulation.

“Although obesity is caused by a myriad of factors, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that a significant contributor to consumption of extra calories over the last three decades is the over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” said The Obesity Society, which commends the mayor’s initiative. “Calories from sugar-sweetened beverages are empty calories, because they are typically devoid of nutrients other than simple sugar.”

But members of the coalition and store owners argue that the prohibition is simply an abuse of power.

“The last time I checked this is a still a democracy,” said Miguel Reyes, a store owner. “This is not Russia; this is not Cuba, where government can tell you what you can drink or what you can do.”

“There is no research that links beverages directly to obesity,” said Liz Berman, a member of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices and president of Continental Food and Beverages. “Obesity is a very complex problem. It takes nutritional education, exercise and having the right choices.

The soda ban is just one of the mayor’s moves to shrink the city’s waist line.

Five years ago Bloomberg banned trans-fat in restaurants and a city-funded study released on July 17 proved it made the city healthier.

The city recently launched “Shop Healthy NYC,” a voluntary program to encourage stores to display health food prominently, and “Cut the Junk,” a plan to teach locals that cooking at home is healthier and less expensive than dining out.

However, what really bothers Ferreras is that the mayor’s proposal does not ban sugary drinks from stores across the board.

Supermarkets, bodegas, and pharmacies such as 7-Eleven or Rite Aid will be able to sell the huge drinks.

“It’s going to hurt me,” Abel Ahuatl, an immigrant store owner said. “I feel like some are going to come only for a sandwich, let’s say, and they are going to the bodega to get their drinks.”

There will be a public hearing about the soda ban in the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) offices in Long Island City on July 24.

However, the mayor doesn’t need a public vote for the ban, just approval by the DOHMH to set the ban in effect.

 

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

DOH to begin spraying for West Nile Virus Monday

Starting Monday, the city Health Department will be spraying parts of the five boroughs to fight the West Nile virus. Helicopters will spray larvicide on marshes and other non-residential areas of Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx. Read more: [NY1]

Hallets Point project could break ground as early as fall 2013 

A proposed, billion-dollar residential and retail project on a desolate stretch of Astoria’s waterfront could break ground as early as fall 2013 — much to the delight of local community leaders. The Hallets Point project, which would create about 2,200 units of housing in seven residential towers, a supermarket and a park along the East River, is expected to begin the city review process within the next few months, a project official said. Read more: [New York Daily News] 

UPDATE: Reports: deadly Queens SUV shooting erupted over woman 

A dispute at a city nightclub – reportedly over a woman – seems to have sparked the execution-style killings of three men in Queens. The New York City Police Department says at least 63 shots were fired at a Jeep Grand Cherokee Saturday morning on 144th Avenue in Springfield Gardens. Three men who were inside were killed, a fourth was injured. Police say the gun may have been an AK-47 assault rifle. Read more: [NY1] 

Cop guns down pit bull when responding to domestic dispute call at a Queens home 

An NYPD detective shot and killed a pit bull when it charged at him while the officer was responding to a domestic-violence call at a Queens home, police said. While the detective was at the house on 112th St. near 107th Ave. in Ozone Park, the dog ran toward him and the officer pulled out his weapon and fired once at the canine, police sources said. Read more: [New York Daily News] 

Lawsuit accuses Qns. neighbor of scaring away home buyers — so they could snatch it up on the cheap

That’s a hell of a way to bring down the price of a home. A Queens couple are accused of being the neighbors from hell, scaring away potential buyers of the home next door just so they could snatch it up on the cheap, according to a lawsuit filed last week. Ozone Park homeowners Charles and Karen Neglia say their neighbors, Guido and Milagros Florentin, are spreading lies to keep rival buyers at bay. Read more: [New York Post] 

West Nile spraying in Queens this week


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Courtesy of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

With summer in the city comes humidity, mosquitoes and the threat of West Nile Virus.

To help fight the spread of the virus, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will apply larvicide by helicopter to locations throughout Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island beginning today.

The locales are marshy, non-residential areas that are natural breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

In Queens, areas of Alley Pond Park, College Point and Edgemere will be targeted.

Last year, the city saw 11 cases of West Nile, five in Queens.

A Queens woman passed away in March from what the family said was complications from West Nile. The city’s health department is investigating the report.

To help reduce the number of mosquitoes breeding on residents’ property, the health department said to eliminate standing water, clean your gutters and clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs and keep them empty or covered when not in use.

The marsh areas inside Alley Pond Park, the abandoned Flushing airport bounded by the Whitestone Expressway to the east, 20th Avenue to the north, 130th Avenue and Ulmer Street to the west and Ulmer Street and 28th Street to the south and Dubos Point and Edgemere Park bounded by Norton Basin to the east, Mott Point to the north, Grass Hassock Channel to the west and Beach 65th Street, De Costa Avenue and Almeda Avenue to the south.

The spraying began today at 6 a.m. and will last until 7 p.m.  The schedule will be repeated tomorrow and Wednesday.

Pol: Inspect, grade food markets too


| brennison@queenscourier.com

A local politician wants to make sure supermarkets are making the grade — 24 hours a day.

Senator Tony Avella has proposed that the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene be given jurisdiction over food markets in the five boroughs, an authority only the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets currently has.

Currently, the state’s agriculture department conducts inspections of food stores, from smaller retailers to supermarkets. Inspectors from the Department of Agriculture & Markets routinely examine sanitary conditions, food preparation procedures and storage conditions at food markets.

“I mean part of the problem is that the city has no jurisdiction over supermarkets. I mean obviously the state doesn’t have the proper number of inspectors,” Avella said. “When there is a complaint, there is the issue of a timely inspection.”

There are approximately 115 food inspectors who have jurisdiction over more than 28,000 markets.

Avella brought up the example of the Hillside Avenue Halal Market that had received numerous complaints. One of the complaints was that meat and poultry was being delivered in an unrefrigerated truck, but since the deliveries came at night, there was no way for the Department of Agriculture to find out — no inspections after 5 p.m.

“[The city] makes night inspections, and they can have quicker response time. Why not have the city have some jurisdictions,” Avella asked.

Under the proposal, the city and state would have concurrent jurisdiction.

Avella also said giving the city jurisdiction would stop restaurants from classifying themselves as food markets to evade the city health inspectors.

Currently, the city’s health department inspects and hands out letter grades to restaurants. Avella said expanding the letter grades to markets may be something that is discussed in meetings with the city.

“I think it’s a real consumer issue. This will make sure [markets] are following the code,” Avella said. “There is the opportunity for more routine inspections to make sure it is safer for everyone. I think it’s a no brainer”

Restaurant graders get graded


| brennison@queenscourier.com

The graders are getting graded.

The city council recently surveyed restaurant owners throughout the city, reviewing the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) inspection process of eateries in the five boroughs.

“I am troubled by the wave of complaints the council has received from restaurants — even the ones that get “A’s” — about the fairness and inconsistency of the food safety inspection process,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“We are just trying to survive here,” said one Bayside restaurant owner, displaying an “A” in the front window.

He said that despite the grade, he has had to pay violations twice over the past year.

“The way they change the rules, I had to hire a guy just to make sure everything is perfect. I know they are trying to look out for the customer, but they should be more worried about places that have ‘B’ or ‘C’ ratings.”

Starting in July 2010, the DOHMH made it a requirement for restaurant owners to post the letter grade results of their sanitary inspection.

The questionnaire was open from January 10 to January 31. More than 1,000 restaurants participated in the survey, which was available in seven languages.

The 42-question survey will cull data from restaurateur’s experiences with the inspections.  Questions ranged from “To what extent has the letter grading system had an impact on the health and safety of food establishments in New York City?” to “How might the DOHMH improve its inspection process?”  The study will provide the city council insight into how restaurants are affected by the inspection system.

The New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) supported the “important initiative,” distributing the surveys to thousands of restaurants throughout the city.

“It’s time we have an independent assessment of the city’s letter grading system because it is failing New York City restaurants in many ways,” said Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of the organization’s New York City chapter.

The grading system is intended to bolster aptitude toward being as clean as possible, but many restaurant owners believe that the frequency of inspections and number of fines received are becoming increasingly unfair.

Inspection cycles are individual to each restaurant, based on its pattern of cleanliness, according to the DOHMH. Some inspections are based on customers’ complaints or re-inspections from prior violations.

The public has overwhelmingly come out in favor of the grades — more than 90 percent approved of the program, according to a summer poll by Baruch College — but the city council said they wanted to make sure restaurants were being treated fairly.

The survey results will provide a foundation for an oversight hearing later this year, where the council will further explore the inspection process and possible areas for reform.

Additional reporting by Bob Doda

Food carts may get letter grades


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

One Queens politician is aiming to make choosing the right food cart as easy as “A, B, C.”

Senator Jose Peralta, who represents Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Woodside, recently introduced a bill that would require local health departments across the state to evaluate and assign a letter grade to mobile food carts. The legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, would invoke a similar rating system to the one performed on restaurants.

“The idea is that whether buying a meal in a restaurant or from a mobile food vendor, consumers should know that what they are eating has met certain food standards,” said Peralta. “Food carts already have to undergo inspections, and this would be bringing some transparency to it and bring a powerful incentive to vendors to make sure that their operation is neat and clean. Being able to post on ‘A’ on your cart is an awfully good marketing tool, so at the end of the day, it is good for consumers and it is good for businesses.”

If the bill passes, mobile food units will be given an “A,” “B” or “C” – with all lower grades considered failing marks – and vendors will be required to post their grades in front of their carts. All units that receive lower than an “A” will also be re-examined no less than seven and no more than 21 days from their initial inspection. Carts that receive an “A” will be evaluated at least once a year, with a “B” leading to an inspection at least once every nine months, and a “C” requiring a check-up every three months.

“I think the bill is a good idea,” said Giovanni Pucha, a Flushing resident who regularly visits food carts. “I’ve seen vendors when they serve food, and sometimes they handle money and then they touch the food without gloves and without washing. That kind of stuff is unsanitary and I wouldn’t want to buy food from a cart like that. Hopefully this law will implement cleanliness and vendors will be better about it. If I saw an ‘A’ on a vendor, I would feel more comfortable going there.”

According to a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), inspection records of carts are available to the public by calling 3-1-1 and providing the mobile unit’s permit number or the vendor’s license number.

“The Health Department inspects mobile food carts and trucks to promote compliance with food safety regulations,” said the spokesperson. “These inspections check for virtually the same food safety requirements as those required of restaurants and carts and trucks are issued violations for not meeting regulations. Letter grading of mobile food vendors would require a number of considerations that are quite different than restaurants. A corresponding scoring system for food safety and sanitary violations that carts receive is not in place at this time. The Health Department is a considering ways to better let the public know that a cart or truck has been inspected.”

As part of the legislation, a vendor who is displeased with their grade can request another inspection for a fee of up to $250.

Despite the possibility of increased fees, vendors appear supportive of the bill.

“Most mobile food vendors want letter grades, just like restaurants receive,” read a statement by the Street Vendor Project, a membership-based group with more than 750 active vendor members. “The vast majority of them sell clean, delicious food and they want to be recognized for that.”