Tag Archives: Jamaica Queens

Activist dishes dirt on Jamaica garbage

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



When Joe Moretti moved to Jamaica, Queens, back in November of 2010, New York City was about to experience one of the worst blizzards in its history. As more than a foot of snow covered the streets and sidewalks of his new neighborhood, Moretti was unable to see what really lay beneath. It wasn’t until the snow started melting months later when he saw that the piles of snow covered up piles of garbage.

“There was a vacant lot next to my building that always had a bunch of garbage all over the sidewalks around it and people would keep putting more. I started taking pictures and sending them to the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and 3-1-1 because I wanted it cleaned up,” said Moretti, who has now been living in Jamaica for almost four years. “As I started walking all around Jamaica, I kept seeing more and more garbage, so more pictures and more reporting to the [DSNY].”

Moretti even took to YouTube, and posted music videos about it. While the videos garnered some media attention, Moretti wanted to get even more attention on the problem.

“I thought, ‘How can I crank this up some notches?’” Moretti said.

And that is when “Clean Up Jamaica Queens” was born. “Clean Up Jamaica Queens” is a blog Moretti started in 2013 to highlight the worst problems in the area: garbage strewn in to vacant lots, sidewalks and streets. He uses harsh language and writes in a tone that many might find offensive, but at the end of the day, he gets his point across.

“That has helped to bring attention to this major problem in Jamaica. Everyone is now talking about the garbage problem, whether they are offended by what I say or not. People are starting to do something. At the end of the day we all want the same thing: a cleaner, safer and better community, I just happen to do it in a loud and different way,” Moretti said.

He posts pictures that he takes around the neighborhood and writes a few choice words for some of Jamaica’s elected officials.

“Our leaders have been completely useless on this issue and have failed to do anything. They need to make sure that all the laws on the books such as littering, uncovered garbage cans and household garbage in public garbage cans are enforced,” he said. “People here feel they can do whatever they want because there are no consequences. It truly is the Wild Wild West of Queens.”

The blog is not all negative though. While its main focus is to bring attention to Jamaica’s garbage problem, Moretti also takes the time to talk about the good.

“The best thing [about Jamaica] would be the inside of the former Loews Valencia Wonder Theater (now the Tabernacle of Prayer Church) on Jamaica Avenue, which is completely intact and the only one in NYC that has been preserved. It is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see,” said Moretti. “The homes in the Addesleigh Park section of Jamaica are also gorgeous. At one time many of the jazz greats lived there back in the days. People think Jamaica is all crap, but there are some beautiful homes here and especially in that section.”

In recent months, there have been plans to revitalize and beautify Jamaica. Earlier this month, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz revealed plans to install dozens of light posts along Jamaica Avenue to encourage nightlife. The Sutphin Boulevard Improvement District plans to replace awnings in front of businesses, and a new department store on Jamaica Avenue is in the works. All of these changes are great, Moretti said, but pointless if the trash issue is not handled first.

“If you are not going to clean up the area and take care of the garbage problem, all those things are just the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. I mean, what good does it do to put new signs or awnings up, when the community is filled with garbage?

How about cleaning it up first?” Moretti said.

As long as he continues to live in Jamaica, Moretti said he will continue to post on his blog and continue to shine light on the problems.

“There is this bizarre part of me that gets off in taking on the powers to be here in Jamaica. It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Moretti. “Will it ever be what it once was? Probably not. But it can be great in a different way.”



Center dedicated to police shooting victim Sean Bell closes

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo

The Sean Elijah Bell Community Center has officially shut its doors.

The community center opened in 2011 and offered day care, after school programs and other services to the Jamaica community. It closed officially on November 22, just three days before the anniversary of Sean Bell’s death, stemming from financial troubles.

“It’s a disappointment that the staff or the money wasn’t behind it,” said Mike Scala, a center volunteer. “I’m not sure why the support isn’t there at the level it needs to be.”

Bell was killed in a hail of police bullets in 2006 the night before his wedding to fiancé, Nicole Paultre. He and two friends were celebrating at Jamaica’s Club Kalua, but after leaving and getting into their car, an altercation sparked gunfire. Fifty shots ultimately ended Bell’s life.

Five officers present that night were acquitted of all criminal charges following the incident.

However, three resigned and another was eventually fired.

In Bell’s memory, his family and the community worked to open the Sutphin Boulevard center. Scala said there were many threats of closures, but various fundraisers kept them afloat until recently.

“There’s not a lot of understanding of what the situation actually is,” he said. “It’s always disappointing, frustrating. But I’m still optimistic that we can get it back.”

The center offered services such as resume preparation and job skill training, homework help, GED prep courses and more. They also allowed outside groups to use the space when needed.

The staff planned to start another after school program in January, but now Scala said he doesn’t know if that will be seen through. But hope remains that the “invaluable” site will reopen.

“I just hope more people understand that this is a valuable resource that everyone needs to come together and support it,” Scala said. “There aren’t many places like this in Jamaica.”



Jamaica residents, culture featured as ‘unsung greats’

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

The development of downtown Jamaica is no longer limited to new buildings and facilities. A website dedicated to revealing community art and neighborhood loyalty is making a buzz.

Queens Royalty, the site launched earlier this year, came from “a desire to counteract some of the negative perception of downtown Jamaica,” said Felicia Tunnah, executive director at the Jamaica Center BID, the group that sponsored the project.

“The idea is to celebrate the history but also celebrate the people who are here now and who are doing great things,” she said.

The Jamaica-centric site features residents, the “unsung greats,” and their stories, as well as photos of both local celebrities and community members. It also focuses attention on iconic buildings throughout the neighborhood, such as the landmarked Jamaica High School.

“They are our neighbors and loved ones, who always push forward and reach back. They are our elders and youth, who have experienced history and beckon the future,” the website’s description says.

Brian Tate, creator and producer, wanted a heavy emphasis on the area’s youth.

“Sometimes, the young people are seen as a problem. So I wanted to start there,” he said. “The youth aren’t a problem. They’re the future.”

Queens Royalty commissioned four acclaimed photographers – Barron Claiborne, Delphine Diaw Diallo, Russell Frederick, and Jamel Shabazz – to capture a mix of local artists, entrepreneurs, students, and families.

Tate said he wanted to make these people “a part of the story, to shape what the story is and how that story is told.”

“I think there’s a lot of love among the people in Jamaica,” he said. “It’s just having a vehicle for them to express that. It’s promoting a place from the inside out.”

To make the vision a reality, Tate and the BID partnered with Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, NYC Small Business Services, the Economic Development Corporation, Borough President Helen Marshall, the 165th Street Mall and Sutphin Boulevard BID.

Tunnah said the website is “a place for people to share their own stories and really just to continue the dialogue and celebrate what’s happening here.”

Visit www.queensroyalty.org to discover more and submit a story of your own.





Survey says overcrowding problem at Queens schools

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Queens schools are failing in at least one subject– classroom sizes.

Hillcrest High School in Jamaica ranked highest in the number of oversized classrooms, 400, and Bayside’s Benjamin Cardozo High School follows with 385, according to a recent United Federation of Teachers (UFT) survey.

More than 230,000 students citywide spent some of the first few weeks back to school in crowded classes, the study found. About 6,313 classes were overcrowded, up almost 200 from last year, but more than 1,000 of those classes were found in Queens high schools alone.

Overcrowding is a problem throughout the entire city school system, but “Queens high schools have been hit the worst,” the UFT said.

Class sizes around the city in grades 1 through 3 have now reached a 14-year high. Although they have not reached the classroom size limit of 32 seats, first and second grade has grown to an average of 24 seats per class, with 25 in third grade.

“It is time to take this issue seriously,” said Michael Mulgrew, UFT president. “All our students, especially our youngest children, desperately need smaller class sizes.”

Recently Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that under his administration New York City schools had improved outstandingly on the academic side.

During his time in office many schools were shuttered, but more than new 650 schools were created. Bloomberg said 22 of the top 25 schools in the state are from New York City, and none were on that list before his administration.

“After 12 years reforming our once-broken school system, it’s clear that our hard work has paid huge dividends for our students,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.

In fact, three Queens elementary schools, P.S. 46 in Oakland Gardens, P.S. 66 in Richmond Hill and P.S. 221 in Little Neck,  Richmond Hillwere named to the prestigious national Blue Ribbon award for excellence in education on September 24.

Despite the academic improvements, the UFT said children shouldn’t have to try to learn in overcrowded classrooms.

“Twelve years of Michael Bloomberg, and hundreds of thousands of students start the school year in oversize classes,” Mulgrew said. “There is no excuse for letting students stay in an oversize class.”



Jamaica street co-named for civil rights activist Jefferson Diggs

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Leroy Comrie

The late Jefferson Diggs was “someone who I, and many other elected officials in southeast Queens, could rely on to help us represent the community,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie.

On Saturday, Comrie, surrounded by family and friends, hosted a street co-naming ceremony in which he unveiled “Jefferson Diggs Way” at 88th Avenue and 178th Street, the corner where Diggs and his wife, Sonia Geder, lived for over 40 years.

Diggs was most notably a strong voice in the civil rights movement, where he organized and participated in sit-ins at the local Woolworths and Kress department stores. He was one of the first black reporters for the New York Daily News and served in the office of then-Manhattan District

Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and later as an administrator at the Human Resources Administration.

“He was an intellectual who used his background as a journalist to bring an unique perspective to the issues being discussed and explain what could be complicated matters in ways someone hearing about them for the first time could understand,” Comrie said.

Diggs later became an aide to then-Councilmember Archie Spigner and Comrie, and was well-known in the southeast Queens community as “enthusiastic and highly respected.”

“He helped to improve the quality of life for many residents and I am pleased to have been able to honor him with this street co-naming,” Comrie said.

Diggs is additionally a founding member of the Elmer Blackburne Democratic Club and a member of the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club, as well as Community Board 12, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the Black American Heritage Board and the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP.



Holliswood Hospital closes

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Health care in the borough continues to flatline one facility at a time, with Holliswood Hospital the latest to shutter its doors.

The 127-bed private psychiatric hospital in Jamaica closed on Monday, August 12 due to financial troubles, said a hospital official. Current patients will begin to be discharged, and after an estimated one to two weeks, the site will close permanently.

After Holliswood shuts off the lights, nearly 400 employees will have to look for work elsewhere, according to the borough president’s office. Some already have replacement jobs, but others do not, said hospital security guard Leroy Walker.

Walker, who has worked at the center for eight years, said the staff was informed on Friday, August 2 that the facility will close in less than two weeks.

“Then they were handing everybody pink slips,” Walker said. “[Management] isn’t looking out for us over here. I’m really heated about the way they treated us.”

Holliswood Hospital will let 376 employees go, including nurses, mental health technicians, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, pharmacists, psychologists and more. The largest single group consists of 58 registered nurses, said the borough president’s office.

Starting in April, Holliswood began negotiating with PSCH, Inc., a local nonprofit provider, to receive interim financing for the facility. However, the parties were unable to resolve “certain substantive deal terms and terminated negotiations” in late July, according to hospital officials.

Without additional funds, the facility “did not have the financial resources to keep the hospital open.”

This is the sixth hospital to close in the borough in the last decade following Parkway, St. John’s Queens, Mary Immaculate, Peninsula and St. Joseph’s.

“We live in one of the largest cities in America, and we continue to see hospitals closing,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. “This is not only a burden for the patients, but for the people who love and care about them.”

Every patient currently in the facility is to placed throughout the communities they come from. Case managers and physicians are continuing to work with individuals to “make sure that every patient receives appropriate and continual care,” said Gay Hartigan, vice president of Holliswood’s corporate entity.

Now, Marshall said, it is a question of how to keep the borough’s remaining hospitals and health care centers sustainable.

One factor that likely contributed to Holliswoods’ closure was trouble with the reimbursement rate for care. Before announcing an official closing, officials began slowly letting people go, Walker said.

“We certainly believe this adds to what I have called in the past and continue to characterize as a medical crisis in Queens County,” Marshall said.



Sheraton coming to Jamaica

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Andrew Levenbaum, P.E.

Downtown Jamaica development is under way with the official announcement of a Four Points Sheraton hotel headed to the area.

After the economic downturn of a few years ago, development and investment interest is at long last picking back up, said Laurel Brown, executive director of the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District (BID).

“There is a lot of untapped potential down here. We’re seeing people latch onto that,” she said. “Having Sheraton invest in Jamaica just underscores exactly what we’re saying.”

The 150-room hotel is expected to go up on 94th Avenue near 147th Street, one block away from JFK International Airport’s AirTrain and the Long Island Railroad transportation hub. Groundbreaking is projected for later this year or early 2014, according to Andrew Levenbaum, P.E., the architect for the project.

Community leaders hope that the addition of a well-known name such as Sheraton will bring fliers as well as a more diverse crowd to the area.

Simone Price, executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard BID, said it also had the potential to elevate interest for other businesses to plant roots in Jamaica.

“People always want to see someone else come into the district first,” she said. The Sheraton “will be a great launching pad.”

Price added the hotel will give southeast Queens its first meeting and event space as well as job opportunities.

The BIDs and the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) are still in talks with various businesses in hopes of getting them to lease space in the area, Brown said.

CityRib, a new Manhattan-based barbecue eatery, is slated to open in the neighborhood as well. Brown said the high-end restaurant will give residents and visitors a different option in a community dominated by fast-food chains.