T&V asks teens about governor’s free CUNY tuition proposal

Interviews by Maya Rader

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed making tuition free at CUNY and SUNY colleges for students with households earning under $125,000. Town & Village asked students at Clinton High School for Writers and Artists if this would impact where they choose to go to school.

feb9-clinton-george

George Weathers III
“I feel that I would probably want to stay in the city or the state rather than go outside and spend more money. My parent does not make over 125 thousand dollars, so I would want to get the free education.”

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Neighbors still feel ‘steamrolled’ by plans for sanitation garage

Attendees at Monday’s meeting, including Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal (above right) expressed their concerns about the sanitation garage that’s expected to be be built at the CUNY Brookdale site. Photo by Daryl Baurer

Attendees at Monday’s meeting expressed their concerns about the sanitation garage that’s expected to be be built at the CUNY Brookdale site. (Photo by Daryl Baurer)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Almost 200 residents living in the area around the Brookdale Campus where a sanitation garage has been proposed expressed their frustration on Monday night when the Department of Sanitation and the Economic Development Corporation continued to move forward with the plans, hosting a public scoping hearing on the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

While some of the aggravation stemmed from the lack of notice for the recent hearing, as well as the location on East 17th Street and Second Avenue, an inconvenient venue for the many Waterside Plaza residents who wanted to attend, many residents were primarily concerned that plans for the garage were going ahead with little consideration for the community’s objections.

Terence O’Neal, who is chair of the Community Board 6 Land Use and Waterfront committee but who submitted his testimony at the hearing as an individual and not a representative of CB6, said he was frustrated that the draft EIS failed to mention any of the work the community board has done in looking at alternate sites and alternative solutions.

“While the working group from EDC is prominently mentioned, the city planner that the community board hired is glaringly left out,” he said. “When a community takes its time and energy and its own funding, it’s telling that the city agency doesn’t even mention the study. One would hope this oversight doesn’t reflect their opinion of the study and we hope our comments given tonight are taken seriously.”

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Op-Ed: St. Vartan’s Park should be considered as alternative site for sanitation garage

The Brookdale campus is the city’s proposed site for a sanitation garage. A firm hired by Community Board 6 has recommended Con Ed property. J.G. Collins however suggests a portion of St. Vartan’s Park. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The Brookdale campus is the city’s proposed site for a sanitation garage. A firm hired by Community Board 6 has recommended Con Ed property. J.G. Collins however suggests a portion of St. Vartan’s Park. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By J.G. Collins
Town & Village has recently reported on the alternative proposals that city and East Side public officials are considering for a garage that the Department of Sanitation (“DSNY”) has proposed to serve Community District Six.

In reviewing alternatives, it’s important to give due weight to those suggested by Community Board Six, Community District Six residents, neighborhood groups, and individuals who might propose viable options that officials have not have otherwise considered. Community Board Six has already offered wise alternatives by engaging a planning firm. But officials shouldn’t consider these (to be the “only” alternatives. Instead, they should welcome all practicable alternatives to best accommodate the required garage within District Six. (Local officials might even consider sponsoring a design exhibit, and perhaps even offer a small cash prize, for viable alternatives proposed by anyone wishing to take up the challenge.)

As an example of proposals that should be welcomed, consider the black-top and tennis court on the western portion of St. Vartan’s Park, between East 35th Street and East 36th Street, just east of Second Avenue. The space is nearly 70 percent of the 83,000 square feet the DSNY proposes to build, including the “Tunnel Entrance Street” that bifurcates the tennis court and the black top.

If a garage were built on the site of the St. Vartan’s Park tennis court and blacktop, Tunnel Entrance Street between 35th and 36th Street could be eliminated and made part of the building footprint. Alternatively, if traffic required, the street could be left open through to the Queens Midtown Tunnel entry and the street could be converted as an underpass with the garage built above it. (The underpass would be suspended and joined above a base built on the current blacktop and tennis court.)

The current tennis court and blacktop playing area could be replicated in a “sky park” on the roof of the garage and covered with netting, like the Sol Goldman Y rooftop play area, or permanently enclosed, like the “bubble top” play space above the United Nations School. The facility could be made accessible by an elevator and a stairwell.

St. Vartan’s Park has several advantages. First, it has minimal impact on noise and zoning because the area is not as heavily residential as either the Brookdale or the Con Edison sites. The north border, on East 36th Street, has no nearby residences as it sits above the the Queens Midtown Tunnel. East 35th Street, the southern border, is the rear side of St. Vartan’s Cathedral, as well as some apartment buildings, but traffic could be directed so that sanitation trucks never cross in front of them.

Second, the land is already “city-owned,” so the land to build a DSNY garage would come at no additional cost.

Third, construction of a DSNY garage on the St. Vartan’s Park site with a sky park on the roof would actually increase the footprint of the total park space on the site by the addition 3,500 square feet of “Tunnel Entrance Street.” It might be made into a “rain or shine” play area if it is enclosed.

Traffic for the St. Vartan’s Blacktop location is somewhat a problem, but not overwhelmingly so. South- and west-bound sanitation trucks could exit the garage behind St. Vartan’s Cathedral to avoid Queens-Midtown Tunnel traffic and the few residential apartments on East 35th Street. Northbound trucks would avoid tunnel traffic completely by exiting the garage at East 36th Street, where there are no nearby residential buildings, and turning left onto First Avenue to go uptown.

Ingress to a St. Vartan’s garage when the trucks return from their shifts could be limited to East 35th Street, but west of Tunnel Entrance Street (so that trucks don’t pass in front of the apartment buildings on the block) and to East 36th Street via Second Avenue, so as to minimize disturbance to neighborhood residents and the already heavy traffic on East 36th Street west of Second Avenue.

This traffic arrangement would keep sanitation trucks almost entirely away from the entrances to the St. Vartan’s “kiddy park” that would remain intact on the eastern

My Verizon FiOS renewal nightmare

Seth Shire in Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Seth Shire in Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Seth Shire
Obfuscate: To stupify or bewilder. To darken or confuse.
I am writing this article to bring to light my experience with the misleading business practices of Verizon FiOS. I am hoping to save other residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village from the problems I have had.
Two years ago, in May of 2012, I accepted a FiOS offer for TV, internet and telephone. The cost was $84.99 per month, with a two-year contract. Adding in taxes and other charges the monthly total came out to $94 and change. The service that I received was fine.

This past May, knowing I was at the end of my two-year contract, I called Verizon FiOS to see what kind of a deal I could make to continue the service. I spoke to a Verizon representative (I’ll call him Representative #1) who told me that I could have the same services, with a two-year contract, for $95 a month (not including taxes and other charges).

I asked Representative #1 if I could have a lower rate if I dropped some channels from my cable package. He told me that he could put me on a lower channel tier but that I would lose some sports channels. I was fine with that but emphasized that I did not want to lose CNN or TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  Representative #1 assured me that I would not lose CNN or TCM. I agreed to the two-year contract.

The next time I turned on my TV I discovered that I no longer had TCM.
I called Verizon, spoke to another representative (Representative #2) and had TCM restored, which meant going back to my original channel tier. I then said that I would take the deal for all my present services for $95 a month (as had originally been offered to me by Representative #1).

I was then connected to another representative (Representative #3) who said I could no longer have that rate because I had been “grandfathered” in for the $95 monthly rate and, since I had moved to a different tier, I could no longer go back to that rate. I explained that the reason I had moved to the different tier was because of incorrect information (the promise of keeping TCM) made by Representative #1. Representative #3 said something to the effect of “Oh that’s just human error” and that there was nothing she could do about it.
I asked Representative #3 what kind of a deal she could offer me. After putting me on hold for quite a while she came back with an offer. She said she would increase my internet speed and keep my present TV and telephone package if I took a two-year contract. She explained that my monthly rate would be $90 for the first year ($105 with taxes and surcharges). She said she did not know what my rate would be for the second year. I agreed to this deal as it seemed to be the best I was going to get and with the knowledge that I had 30 days to cancel it.

I called back later and spoke to Representative #4. I said that I thought it unfair for me to commit to Verizon for two years when they were only committing to me for one year (the $90 monthly rate, for only one year). Representative #4 said my rate for the second year would be $114 per month, but that there would be discount deals available. She recommended that I take the $90 per month deal for now and that I call back in a year because there would always discounts available.
So my 30-day trial period ticked by (it is funny they call this the “30-day worry free” guarantee, considering what transpired). On the 31st day I received an email from Verizon telling me that my bill was now $185.  I called Verizon and spoke to Representative #5. I explained that my contract was for $90 month ($105 with taxes and surcharges). To my incredible frustration, Representative #5 told me that I had no contract at all!

When I explained about the $90 rate for one year with a two-year contract that I had been given (by Representative #4) and the increase in internet speed, Representative #5 said that no one would have given me that deal. When I recounted how Representative #4 said I should call back in a year to see what deals were available for the second year, Representative #5 claimed that they no longer negotiated with customers.
When I asked why my bill was $185 she said it included charges from May to June. When I explained that I had already paid my bill for May to June she gave me an incomprehensible explanation and told me that, going forward, my monthly bill (with taxes and surcharges) would be around $150! Representative #5 went on to tell me that she thought the deals that Verizon FiOS made for new customers were too good. She also told me to be a more careful consumer and get things in writing. Lesson learned.

To sum up: Representative #1 gave me incorrect information, which caused me to make a change to my plan. Representative #3 said that because I made a change in my plan I was no longer eligible for the $95 per month rate on a two-year contract. Representative #4 gave me a two-year contract with a monthly rate of $90 ($105 with taxes and surcharges) for the first year. Then I received a bill for $185. Representative #5 denied that I had any contract at all. She also said that Representative #4 never made me the offer that she had, in fact, made to me, and to which I had agreed.
Fortunately, here in Stuyvesant Town (and, I believe, in Peter Cooper Village also) we have choices other than Verizon FiOS. I am sure that Verizon has benefited enormously from selling services to residents of our community. This is how they showed their appreciation to me.

At the end of June I switched my telephone, TV and internet over to RCN. RCN has been a pleasure. Their internet is fast and the TV and telephone work just fine. The price for all three is reasonable. Instead of having to deal with a different customer service representative each time I call, as was the case with FiOS, at RCN I deal with one customer service representative. He returns calls and emails and is committed to customer satisfaction. The RCN technician who came to switch me over to RCN was the nicest, most patient and hardest working technician I have ever seen.

I would like to hear from other tenants who have had trouble with Verizon FiOS.
I can be contacted at seth@townvillage.net.

Editor’s note: Town & Village contacted Verizon FiOS regarding Shire’s customer service experience. Below is the response from company spokesperson Lee Gierczynski:
“Mr. Shire contacted Verizon to renew his FiOS services at end of his contract and wanted to retain the same pricing and products. Verizon made every attempt to keep costs/products similar yet current service offerings required changes which would have slightly increased his pricing.
“Due to a service order processing error, the pricing and products did change beyond what was discussed with Mr. Shire, which resulted in his dissatisfaction. Subsequent calls to Verizon did not resolve these issues, and Verizon is further reviewing the order.”

Seth Shire is a professor at CUNY Queens College during the summer and Queens College and CUNY York College during the fall. He also sometimes writes news articles and film reviews for Town & Village.
 

Pols ask city to hold off on plans for sanitation garage

East 26th Street approximately where garage would be built (Photo by Lou Sepersky)

East 26th Street approximately where garage would be built (Photo by Lou Sepersky)

By Sabina Mollot
Last week, East Side elected officials made a last ditch effort to the Bloomberg administration to see if the city would hold off on plans for the Brookdale Campus sanitation garage. Via letter, the politicians argued that while there is no plan in place for the parcels of property set aside for development on both sides of the intended garage site, the city has still been moving along in getting needed approvals to get the garage built.
The local politicians, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, reached out to the Department of Sanitation last Wednesday with a letter asking to “table this proposal until a comprehensive plan for the entire site, and more clarity regarding the many issues that have been raised, are provided.”
The many issues referred to are the concerns of residents at nearby Waterside Plaza, East Midtown Plaza and Kips Bay about impacts on air quality and increased traffic on nearby streets due to the expected steady steam of garbage trucks in and out of the garage as well as various safety issues related to the site itself. The fact that the street is in a flood zone was also cited by the community.
It was following a land swap between the city and CUNY that the school’s Brookdale Campus, located on First Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, was fated to become the site of a sanitation garage that will be built in 2020. The deal is attached to a plan for a new hospital to be developed on the Upper East Side.
However, the garage aspect has been consistently blasted by East Side residents and politicians. Along with the aforementioned reasons, many feel the surrounding neighborhood, better known as Bedpan Alley due to all the medical and science facilities, is simply not the appropriate location for a sanitation garage.
Additionally, with the garage not expected to be ready for use until 2020, Hoylman, Kavanagh and Garodnick said there seemed to be no reason for the city to rush the plan along, other than the fact that Bloomberg will no longer be in office.
“We are conscious and we know they are conscious of the change in administration,” Kavanagh said. “Clearly this proposal is something that came out of the current administration.”
Recently, the Department of Sanitation produced renderings of the garage, which it has presented to the Public Design Commission for preliminary review.
While the pols wrote they “have no issue” with the DSNY continuing work on the requirements on the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Reform Procedure), there’s been “little effort,” they continued, “made in addressing our concerns.”
When asked about the letter, Kathy Dawkins, a spokesperson for the department, told Town & Village that work on the project was not about to be put on hold.
“The Department does not intend to consider slowing down the process until there is a determination on uses for the portion of the site not required by DSNY,” said Dawkins.
“Our analysis will assume that the neighboring parcels will be developed. The required air, noise and traffic analysis will be part of the EIS (environmental impact statement) and address all traffic concerns — vehicle and pedestrian — as well as air quality and noise issues.”
As for the renderings of the garage, Dawkins said they weren’t available at this time since the designs are preliminary. “It is anticipated that the renderings will be available early next year,” she said.
On the DSNY’s response to the letter, Kavanagh said he didn’t want to comment, though he did reiterate a point in the document to say the plan should include information about the non-garage space at Brookdale.
“We feel very strongly that if this is going to be done rationally, it has to be done in the context of the overall site,” he said. “It doesn’t seem rational for a city agency to not consider what another agency might do on the same block.”
(See the full letter to the DSNY.)

T&V film critic to have his own film screened at Coney Island Festival

Seth Shire Photo by Sabina Mollot

Seth Shire
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Stuyvesant Town resident Seth Shire, who pens the weekly film reviews for Town & Village, usually with a focus on independent films and documentaries, will have a documentary of his own shown at the upcoming Coney Island Film Festival.

“Mad Santa,” a shortie at eight and a half minutes, is a series of interviews and other footage taken of Scott Baker, a sideshow performer/theater actor and during the holiday season, Santa Claus at Bloomingdale’s.

Shire, who, when not seeing or writing about films, teaches sociology classes at CUNY’s Queens College, met Baker at the department store last year when he too was working there. He was teaching then too but worked during the Christmas season at Santaland as head elf. It was there that he learned, from Baker, that Bloomingdale’s was the right place to be Santa.

“Scott didn’t like Macy’s because it was like a factory with six Santas,” said Shire, also noting that the kids would get rushed there. “At Bloomingdale’s, they took their time with the kids,” said Shire. Though there was also a weekend Santa, Shire soon noticed that Baker took special care to bring the magic of the holiday to the kids, especially those getting older and more skeptical about whether to believe in Santa.

The title of the film, explained Shire, is that Baker “is an eccentric character. He’s not angry. He’s a performer.”

When not in character as Kris Kringle, Baker has been delighting audiences for years at Coney Island’s Sideshow by the Seashore with acts like light bulb eating and sticking a screwdriver up his nose.

When Shire asked him how he did his screwdriver trick, the response was, “It’s not a trick.” Apparently, Shire learned, “You do have a lot of empty space in the back of your nose.”

When filming Baker for “Mad Santa,” much of the time, Shire found that he didn’t have to ask questions or do anything, really, other than let his subject be himself. One particularly interesting moment, at Santaland, occurred when a European woman, in broken English, said, “I want my baby to go down on Santa.”

“She kept saying it,” said Shire who was later told about it by Baker. “I would just film anything that seemed interesting. I always had my camera with me.” Baker’s responses with those who wanted to take pictures with him earned him a loyal following though. “There’s a group of firemen that show up every year to take their picture with him,” said Shire.

Baker, meanwhile, told Town & Village, he considers himself a “showman,” rather than a carnie, since he has

The subject of "Mad Santa": Scott Baker in character Photo courtesy of Scott Baker

The subject of “Mad Santa”: Scott Baker in character
Photo courtesy of Scott Baker

never after all worked at a carnival. He began his sideshow work at Coney Island after organizers there invited him to do so in the mid-1990s when Baker was working at nightclubs throughout the city as a magician. For his sideshow routine, he has about 40 acts, including the light bulb eating. When doing this, he favors the clear, 25-watt variety. “I usually do 100-watt bulbs, but I’m on a diet,” he explained.

When it’s not sideshow season, Baker does some theater work. One job included a 12-year run in the Broadway show “Oh! Calcutta!” He also has worked in Vegas, sharing stages with bands like The Coasters and The Platters for his magic act. But for the past 12 years, when it’s holiday season, Baker has been Santa at Bloomingdale’s. He’s also been Santa at other stores and at private parties before that.

In some ways, the Santa routine is similar to the sideshow one, noted Baker, in that, “They’re both exhausting. You have to keep your stamina up or you lose character.” Both experiences though are about “magic and miracles and ideally spreading joy and happiness.”

Along with “Mad Santa,” Baker will be involved in two other films at this year’s Coney Island Festival. One, “Rehearsal,” focuses on him as he prepares for a magic act. Another, “Welcome to Madness,” is a horror movie he wrote and starred in.”

He’s actually a festival veteran, having been featured in a film called “Mr. Dangle,” shown at the first Coney Island Film Festival ever, just a week after 9/11.

“Mad Santa” is the first film to be directed by Shire since he studied film at New York University, and this is his first piece to be screened at any festival. Prior to his teaching work with CUNY, Shire worked for years in film post production, a job which required quite a bit of editing. Films he’s worked on include “Get Shorty” and Martin Scorsese’s “Casino.” He still does some post-production projects today and is currently involved with a film called “Wish You Well,” staring Ellen Burstyn, and which is based on the novel of the same name. Over the summer, he did reception at RZO, a firm that does accounting and financial management of artists’ tours. Clients there include the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.

“If you’re going to work for an accountant, it’s the most glamorous job you can have,” Shire joked, after having once picked up the phone to find himself talking to Mick Jagger. In his writing for this newspaper and for his classes, he also often interviews filmmakers and other performers. Recent interviewees for his classes were Stuy Town documentary maker Doug Block and Saturday Night Live alum Colin Quinn.

The Coney Island Film Festival is set to take place from September 20-22. The festival will feature many new films as well as the 1970s-era film “The Warriors,” about a gang in Brooklyn. “Mad Santa” is scheduled to be shown on Saturday, September 21 as part of the afternoon program that begins at 5 p.m. A Saturday screening pass, which includes all screenings that day except for “The Warriors,” is $15. Admission to that film, which is an event held as a fundraiser for Coney Island USA, is a donation of no less than $12. A Sunday screening pass is $10 and includes all screenings that day. Opening night party is $25. Full festival pass is $50 and includes opening night party and all screenings except “The Warriors.” Individual screenings are $7. The venue is Sideshow by the Seashore, 1208 Surf Avenue in Brooklyn. For more information, http://www.coneyislandfilmfestival.com.

A version of this article ran in Town & Village’s print edition on September 12.

 

 

Watersiders campaign against sanitation garage

Residents worried about onsite fuel tanks

Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal Photo by Brightsmith

Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal
Photo by Brightsmith

By Sabina Mollot
Along with extra traffic from garbage trucks and noise from construction, residents living near 25th Street and First Avenue, the site of a planned Department of Sanitation garage, are now saying they are also concerned about safety due to the presence of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel, which are expected to be stored at the property.
Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, which has been opposed to the garage plan, said this week that she was concerned about the potential for explosions due to an accident or arson. Meanwhile, she said tenants at Waterside have compiled around 300 letters in opposition to the garage, based on a form letter prepared by the WTA with their own comments added. The public comment period on the project ended on Wednesday. At some point after comments are reviewed, the Department of City Planning will issue a final environmental impact statement.
Though the letters mention more than one reason for their stand on the city project, which was first announced last year, the fuel tanks, said Handal, “are a very serious concern. It poses a security risk.”
She noted how she recently strolled down to a similar facility located at 57th Street around 10:30 in the evening, also where fuel tanks are stored, “and there was no security guard and the doors were wide open. A fire could break out or an explosion from fumes, from something purposeful or someone doing something careless.”
Handal said the issue was raised at the last public scoping meeting, which took place on June 25, but she hadn’t gotten a response.
As for whether or not any fumes or odors could be a nuisance to Watersiders, Handal said it would depend on what the winds are like that day. The garage, which is now located on CUNY’s Brookdale campus, is also in front of the main entrance/exit at Waterside, the 25th Street footbridge over the FDR Drive. Traffic there, where the SBS bus stops, is also a concern to residents, said Handal, since trucks are expected to start leaving the facility each day before 6 a.m.
The Department of Sanitation has said early on the 135-foot-high facility would accommodate space for 170 DOS trucks and 145 other vehicles, including those owned by department employees over a total of 108,600 square feet.
The WTA, like the garage’s other detractors, has also attempted to argue that the garage is also just out of place for a neighborhood that’s better known to residents as Bedpan Alley due to all the hospitals and other medical facilities, including the City Office of the Medical Examiner.
Another neighbor of the Brookdale campus, the East Midtown Plaza co-op complex, has also made this argument in recently submitted written testimony.
Jerry Fox, president of the co-op board, said residents at EMP have also had concerns about future weather-related floods and outages in the area, including at the garage site. “Where are you going to put those fuel tanks?” asked Fox. “You can’t put them on street level. If it floods, you’re going to have major problems.”
In response to the residents’ concerns, DOS Public Information Chief Keith Mellis said safety was a top priority with regards to the fuel storage and there was also a plan for noise mitigation.
“All fueling operations will meet stringent local, state, and federal regulations and will be regularly inspected to ensure not only the safety of our workers but of the overall community,” said Mellis, “just as we have done over the years at all DSNY facilities citywide.”
He added that the building would be staffed “24/7, providing security at all times, and the garage will be designed to meet flood risk standards. In our continuing effort to work with the community to minimize any inconveniences, a noise mitigation plan also will be implemented during construction.”