Tag Archives: Richmond Hill Economic Development Council

Queens small businesses burdened by fines, says de Blasio


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's Flickr

Queens small businesses are suffering because of excessive fines from city agencies, while Manhattan is left practically untouched, according to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Fine revenue from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and Department of Health (DOH) on Queens businesses has risen by $54 million between fiscal years 2002 and 2012, de Blasio said at a Tuesday, February 25 press conference. The public advocate alleged the city had continued to inconsistently fine business in the outer boroughs, particularly Queens, to drive revenue for the city in what he called “shocking, clear patterns.” It was from disproportionate fines on small businesses, he said, that the city had continued to make money as part of budgetary plans.

“It’s time to stop balancing the city budget on the backs of small business,” he said.

The announcement is part of a push by the public advocate’s office to show the discrepancy between how Manhattan businesses were treated in comparison to other areas of the city.

Richmond Hill, where de Blasio delivered his address, was one of the hardest hit areas in the city, he said. Because many of these business owners work long hours, and more than the traditional five days, going to court and fighting fines is nearly impossible for them.

Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, said the city had consistently picked on the immigrant communities.

Andy Jarbandhn, a business owner on Liberty Avenue, said he had gotten hammered with fines from DCA on matters he had never been informed of. Jarbandhn said he had racked up thousands of dollars in fines because of issues he tried to remedy — only to be hit with a follow-up fine.

“It seems we’re being led down a dark alley where we have no idea what the rules are,” he said.

The data provided by de Blasio’s office shows a major spike in fine revenue beginning with the economic downturn from 2007 to 2008. The public advocate said these “ill-gotten gains” were to balance the city budget at the expense of uninformed business owners.

 

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Board of Elections leaves Bengali off ballot


| tcullen@queenscourier.com


Translators and appropriate documents will be at voting stations with large Bengali populations this November, a Board of Elections (BOE) official said, after it was announced the language would not be an option on this year’s ballots, much to the chagrin of officials and residents.

The BOE’s vendor, Election Systems & Software LLC (ES&S), had “significant technical difficulties” changing its voting system, said BOE spokesperson Valerie Vasquez. BOE staff met with ES&S and determined the changes — and the needed for state certification — would not be feasible by this November, she said. The vendor is continuing to work on making the changes ready for elections in 2013.

Ballots are required, under the federal Voting Rights Act, to have the native languages of an area’s population where five percent of eligible voters have below average English skills. Census data released last year showed an increasing number of Bengali residents in the borough and thus required by law to be used on ballots in select areas.

Other prominently spoken languages in the borough, including Spanish, Chinese and Korean, will not be affected by the difficulties, Vasques said.

Materials and personnel will be provided to Bengali-speaking voters, she said, to remedy the difficulties some may face when casting their ballots.

“The Board has taken important steps to address the language community’s needs until ballot placement can be achieved, and continues to reach out to community representatives through an established working group,” she said. “Steps planned include a translated candidate name list for use by voters, as well as a sample ballot poster for the November general election, together with translated posters, other written materials and signage.”

This is not enough to some, however, as politicians and community members spoke out soon after the announcement, demanding something be done to ensure the legal requirements are enacted.

“Data released a year ago told us what we already knew in our area of Queens County – that a significant segment of the population speaks Bengali (also known as Bangla), Punjabi, and Hindi,” Assemblymember David Weprin said. “It is not enough to provide interpreters or translated materials. Asian-Indians in Queens are covered under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and anything less than full compliance is an injustice.”

Queens has a number of South Asian populations that will be affected by these changes, including Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Queens Village and Jackson Heights.

Vishnu Mahadeo, a Richmond Hill advocate originally from Guyana, said in the past the BOE had not taken responsibility to help Bengali voters.

Mahadeo, who heads the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council and is a coordinator with the BOE, said he has tried in the past to get interpreters hired for Bengali residents, predominately in South Ozone Park, and for Punjabi and Hindi residents in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.

The problem Mahadeo says he’s run into, however, is a miscommunication between the BOE and the community. Many residents have been under the impression that citizenship is required to work for the BOE. All that is required, Mahadeo said, is proficiency in a language and permanent residency.

Weprin, who pushed for multi-lingual ballots in the Legislature, expressed disappointment the language would not be available to Bengali-speaking voters.

“Our practice should be to provide ballots in the languages of the Asian Indian communities to encourage voter participation, not fall short of our promises to accommodate these populations,” Weprin said. “This is a very important election and voter suppression simply can not be tolerated in our Democracy.”

Bengali ballots should be released for elections, Weprin said, or other options needed to be taken.

“We must stay on top of this issue and demand this mandate be implemented,” he said. “Otherwise we will have to consider other options to ensure the Board of Elections complies with this law.”

Resisting rezoning Richmond Hill


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Ed Wendell.

While some local leaders laud the city’s plan to rezone Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, one local business organization said it would negatively impact and cap the growth of the community.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, plans to rezone stem from concerns raised by Community Board 9, local civic organizations and area elected officials who say that existing zoning — which has remained unchanged since 1961 — does not closely reflect established building patterns or guide new development to appropriate locations.

Therefore, the Department of City Planning is looking to rezone 231 blocks of Richmond Hill and Woodhaven to reinforce the predominant one- and two-family homes that are characteristic of the community, while redirecting new residential and mixed-use development opportunities to locations along the area’s main commercial corridors near mass transit resources.

“The whole idea of rezoning is to keep neighborhoods stable, safe and healthy,” said Andrea Crawford, chair of Community Board 9. “It’s about maintaining the character of the neighborhood. If you start to tear down the single family and two family homes to put up larger, multiple dwellings, the infrastructure can’t support it, and the school system can’t support it. It makes the area so overly-dense that the neighborhood spills out onto itself. It explodes at the seams.”

The plan also deters expansion in a neighborhood that already struggles with lack of space and overcrowding, said Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA).

“Through a residential point of view, expansion takes away parking, and it cripples our services, crowds our schools, and creates more garbage and noise,” he said. “You do not want areas currently zoned for two-family homes to suddenly spring up with large apartment buildings. That’s a no-brainer.”

Wendell said many of the neighborhood’s problems frequently get tied back to overcrowding, including increased noise, fights, garbage and lack of parking.

“We are absolutely in favor of anything that would help cut down on overcrowding,” he said.

Still, Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, said the plan would limit the capacity to build in the neighborhood — subsequently keeping families from growing.

“The community keeps expanding,” he said. “How can you reduce the capacity of the community? The community board needs to review the census data and make it relevant to the zoning.”

Mahadeo said he has a petition with over 2,000 signatures from residents who do not want to be “down-zoned.”

But Crawford said “it’s not down-zoning anything.”

“It’s zoning to correct the neighborhood,” she said, adding that the majority of people against the plan are landlords looking to tear down homes to put up large apartment complexes. “There are many people who live here and support it. They bought into a neighborhood, and they wanted a specific style of the neighborhood. We’re not saying don’t allow for larger structures. We’re saying it has to be sensible, and this does reflect what is necessary and what is allowable.”

The Department of City Planning is currently conducting community outreach meetings on a proposal prior to initiating the formal public review process, which can take up to seven months. The city agency will speak to residents on January 21 at WRBA’s monthly meeting.