[MARINE PARK] Exit pole!

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By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

A new city law increases fines slapped on utility companies — such as Con Ed and Verizon — that don’t remove abandoned poles when they add new ones. Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park) introduced the legislation because of the staggering number of wooden poles in his district left to rot and fall over, including two in Gerritsen Beach that were tilted over at nearly 45-degree angles, he said.

“Utility poles are popping up all over the place. Not sure if you all notice it, but now I can’t help but notice them. Where a new utility pole was put up, they don’t take down the old one,” said Maisel during a Community Board 18 meeting on Feb. 15. “Some of our streets are beginning to look like palisades, one pole after another pole. We actually had in Gerritsen Beach, two poles that were leaning at 45-degree angles, and it takes quite a bit of effort to take down the poles that really are in bad shape.”

The city could previously charge a utility company $250–$500 for leaving in an unused pole, but the new legislation raises that fine to a minimum of $350 and a maximum of $750, and requires the city to notify the company 10 days in advance of getting fined if they don’t pull it out of the ground, according to Maisel, which he hopes will increase compliance.

“The greater the fine, the more likely people don’t want to pay it,” he said. “They will be more anxious to comply with the law.”

In addition to the increased fines, the legislation creates a system for following up and actually collecting the fines, which Maisel doubts happened much in the past.

“The city was not organized to bring this to the attention of the utilities. I don’t think anybody has ever been fined for it.”

Redundant utility poles have raised hackles in Marine Park a few times before, particularly when one lady’s beloved Linden tree had a brush with death after Con Ed inserted a new wooden pole right in its flower bed, but the utility company quickly came to the rescue and removed it.

And about six months after that, extraneous poles blocked the crosswalk signals at a few intersections in the neighborhood.

Verizon declined to comment, according to spokesman Ray McConville. A spokesman for Con Ed said the company will work with the city’s new legislation.

“We’re aware of the new legislation and will work with the city to achieve its objectives,” said Con Ed’s Bob McGee.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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[►VIDEO, CONEY ISLAND] The Fast & the Furious: MCU Drift

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

Time to make the donuts!

Locals with a need for speed played hooky and treated MCU Park’s snow-covered parking lot as their own personal racetrack during Winter Storm Niko on Thursday. Thrill seekers floored it and did donuts on the yet-to-be-plowed lot — the perfect way to spend the snow day, said one speed demon.

“It’s the best feeling in the world to put the peddle to the metal and spin around in the snow,” said Coney Islander Steve, who would not give his last name because he was driving his company’s truck. “I come here every year. A bunch of locals do. It’s just really fun.”

The car park has become a popular spot to drift in the snow in recent years, according to locals who grab friends and tear up the powder-covered pavement for hours.

Half a dozen trucks and drifters cruised the parking lot, spraying snow while plowmen worked around the roadsters.

“Yeah, we’re really not supposed to be here, but the guys who plow the parking lot give us a lot of leeway,” said Bensonhurster Milan Glosik, whose Jeep is outfitted with mud tires that let him rip through the slippery fluff. “It’s just a great open space. It’d be a shame not to.”

But the staff at MCU Park were not exactly pleased with the impromptu racing. It usually takes about four hours to clear the ballpark’s sprawling lot, but the donut-makers compound the task by compacting the snow, said one worker.

“It’s not so great for us trying to clear the lot because they’re compacting the snow and sheets of ice will form a lot quicker,” said a MCU Park worker who declined to give his name because he did not have permission to speak to the press. “But hey, I get the urge. If I wasn’t working, I’d probably join them.”

Video by Caroline Spivack

Video by Caroline Spivack
Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at mspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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[PARK SLOPE] For whom the bridge tolls: Brooklynites demand two-way fee on VZ — to keep New Jersey out

Note: More media content is available for this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Colin Mixson

Brooklyn Daily

They want to build a wall — and make New Jersey pay for it!

The Feds must once again charge Brooklyn-bound drivers traversing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge its famously exorbitant toll when a cashless collection system is put in place this summer — if only to ensure New Jersey commuters stay off Brooklyn streets, a Park Slope panel demanded this week.

Community Board 6’s district manager says that Jerseyites have for too long been clogging up Brooklyn highways and byways while en route to Manhattan, spewing exhaust and littering the streets thanks to a two-decade old law that allowed them free passage into the borough via the city’s longest span.

“What is left now is an economic-biased travel decision which favors the ‘free’ flow of traffic from Staten Island to Brooklyn which passes through our district especially during the morning rush hour,” wrote Community Board 6 district manager Craig Hammerman in a letter to Gov. Cuomo. “Our highways are regularly congested.”

The current one-way toll for Staten Island-bound traffic dates back to 1986 when Islanders, claiming idling cars waiting to pay the Brooklyn-bound toll were causing too much pollution, convinced Congress to pass a law demanding the once-two-way toll be collected only when vehicles came to the Rock. That gave New Jersey drivers the ability to leap-frog into Manhattan through Staten Island and Brooklyn for free, bypassing the Verrazano toll by circling to the Holland tunnel when they head home to Monmouth County.

But this summer, the Verrazano is getting a cashless toll system — where cameras record license plates as drivers zoom by — making concerns about booth-induced smog a thing of the past, and creating an opportunity to start hitting Jersey drivers where it hurts, Hammerman argues.

It is a change people down in Bay Ridge have been demanding for years, according to local leaders.

“CB10 has consistently in the past few years voted in support of restoring two-way tolls,” said Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann. “We have backups at every single exit ramp in the morning.”

But Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge), who also represents all of Staten Island, vowed to oppose any measure to restore the two-way toll until he’s seen data proving that the change would decrease traffic and increase revenue, according to spokesman Patrick Ryan.

CB6’s letter to the governor requested a study to determine the effect of a two-way toll, but until then, the change will be a tough sell to Staten Island voters, according to Ryan.

“I think that with any constituency when you propose changing something that’s been in effect 30 years, all these theories come up that it’s going to be worse because of X-Y-Z,” Ryan said. “But if you can say ‘We’re going to get X amount of revenue we can use for this project,’ that makes it easier to discuss.”

Rep. and Trumpbuster Jerry Nadler (D–Gowanus), meanwhile, has been a longtime supporter of the two-way toll, but came under fire from constituents after he failed to bring back the two-way toll when the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats during the early years of Obama’s first term, according to one activist.

“The Dems had a veto-proof Congress and Nadler failed to do what he had promised his constituents,” said Carl Rosenstein, a Manhattanite who created a group called Trees Not Trucks to combat commercial trucking traffic caused by the one-way toll.

But ramming the change through Congress is more difficult than it seems, because it needs to be tacked onto more substantial transportation legislation, which didn’t materialize during the two-year window, according to Nadler’s district director Robert Gottheim.

But with the new toll technology and President Trump championing new highway infrastructure programs, Nadler sees both the will and a way to realize a two-way toll on the Verrazano on the horizon, Gottheim said.

“Looking forward, there’s a strong chance this can be done,” he said.

Cuomo’s office did not return requests for comment.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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St. Agatha School to close after 100 years, citing financial woes

See this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

They’re praying for a miracle.

Parents and students are scrambling to find a modestly priced Catholic school since the Diocese of Brooklyn announced it would shutter Sunset Park’s St. Agatha School after nearly 100 years due to dwindling enrollment and a lack of money. The academy’s modest tuition is a boon to low-income families in the nabe seeking a faith-based education, and it would be a real sin if it closed, according to one faculty member.

“A lot of parents can’t afford to send their kids anywhere else,” said a school worker who asked to remain anonymous because she did not have permission to speak to the press. “There is only one other Catholic school in the neighborhood, and for some of the families, it just costs too much — they just can’t afford it. And it’s cruel for the diocese to make this announcement now, because it’s the middle of the school year. It came as a shock to all of us.”

Last month, church officials announced plans to shutter the K–8 academy at the end of the academic year on June 30.

The diocese sets tuition rates and gives schools individual budgets for subsidizing students’ education. Tuition at St. Agatha is $3,949 per year, and operating the school costs $5,300 per student — a roughly $1,300 subsidy per pupil, according to officials.

But the diocese doesn’t want to pony up any more, in part because enrollment has shrunk from 178 to 144 over the past seven years.

“This school year, there are eight classes with less than 20 students,” stated a Jan. 10 letter informing parents of the closure. “The parish does not have the reserves to subsidize the school for the future, and the parish cannot subsidize the school at the expense of parish programs and ministries. To attempt to continue the school while further curtailing academic services and extra-curricular activities would be a serious disservice to your sons and daughters.”

Many are skeptical that the diocese is as hard-pressed as it is implying and instead believe the body wants to make a quick buck renting the space to the city’s overcrowded School District 15.

“The diocese is just interested in the money. They don’t care about the students and the fact that this school is a historical pillar in the community,” said Sunset Parker Juliana Rivera, whose son and daughter attend St. Agatha School. “They’re probably going to rent the building out to a public school and collect rent.”

If that’s true, it wouldn’t be the first time. Officials shuttered the beloved Bishop Ford High School, a 52-year-old Windsor Terrace Catholic academy, in 2014 and rented the space to Mayor DeBlasio’s universal pre-K program.

But there is no ulterior motive behind the St. Agatha closure, a diocesan spokesman said.

“There aren’t any plans for the property at this time,” said Vito Formica. “The decision to close the school was not made with haste. This was carefully reviewed and it is the finances that led to this decision.”

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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[DOWNTOWN] Closed borders, bodegas: Yemeni workers protest ‘Muslim ban’

Note: More media content is available for this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

Talk about bodega heroes!

Yemeni deli workers protesting President Trump’s “Muslim ban” went on strike on Thursday and flooded Borough Hall Plaza, carrying flags from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen — and plenty of Old Glory. They were showing their dedication to the American dream, said one business owner.

“We are here to stay. We are the fabric of our communities, our city, and our country. People depend on us and our businesses, and we deserve to be here, our families deserve to come here, and we deserve respect.,” said Ahmed Abboud, who closed his Bay Ridge bodega earlier in the day and came down with his brothers and staff.

President Trump’s order suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocks citizens of the seven countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days, except legal permanent residents.

Demonstrators packed in hours before the 5 pm kick-off, chanting “No ban, no wall, NYC for all” and “We stand together.” The rally began with an Islamic prayer followed by remarks from a slew of local pols and community activists urging solidarity.

“We are all Muslim today,” said Borough President Adams. “You have the right to your American dream. And to be part of what America stands for. And this sends a loud and clear message.”

Many at the rally said they have been in the U.S. for decades. But some were newer arrivals who came a few years ago fleeing political instability — only to jump out of one frying pan and into another.

The section of Bay Ridge jokingly called “Bay Root” for its sizable Middle Eastern community was a ghost town Thursday afternoon. More than a dozen Fifth Avenues businesses went dark for the rally, many of which with signs plastered in their storefront that read, “Refugees and Immigrants are welcome here. No Muslim ban. No border wall. Our communities stand tall.”

Taking a hit at the cash register was worth it to make a statement, one store owner said.

“I don’t even care that this is costing me,” said Hussein Bahar who co-owns a bodega with his brother in Sunset Park. “This is too important not to. How can I stay at home and not come out and defend myself? The people need to know we are upset.”

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at mspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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[COURTS] Here’s why El Chapo isn’t being held in Brooklyn

Note: More media content is available for this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Max Jaeger

Brooklyn Daily

Brooklyn can’t hold El Chapo.

That’s the message the Feds sent when they decided to keep slippery Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in a Manhattan lockup rather than a Brooklyn jail — even though he’s standing trial in Downtown Brooklyn’s federal court on a blockbuster, 17-count international drug-trafficking indictment.

Then again, Sunset Park’s Metropolitan Detention Center — where El Chapo would likely have stayed had he been kept in the Borough of Kings — may not be the best place for an escape-artist who bribed guards to roll him out of Mexican jail in a laundry cart and later escaped another south-of-the-border lockup via a mile-long tunnel, according to an ex-con who did time in the Brooklyn detention center twice and said the jailhouse is full of security holes.

“For the New York dudes that did time there, they always spoke very highly — it’s sweet, wide open,” said Seth Ferranti, a jailbird-turned-author who did a pair of two-week stints in Brooklyn while in transit between prisons in the 1990s. “It’s a lot of activity of people coming in and out — so there’s a lot of hustling.”

Contraband, that is.

That was back in the rough-and-tumble ’90s, but the high-security behemoth is apparently quite accommodating, even nowadays.

Notorious convicted cop-killer Ronell Wilson knocked up his guard after multiple trysts while doing time in 2013, and Brooklyn Federal judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered a formal investigation into the Sunset Park slammer after determining Wilson was “permitted to treat the MDC as his own private fiefdom.”

Reps from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the detention center, say they have tightened security.

“In order to mitigate life-endangering consequences of dangerous contraband introduction for both staff and inmates, including cellphones, weapons, and narcotics, BOP has deployed a number of new strategies and enhanced existing practices,” spokesman Justin Long said.

But even if the jail’s guards were impregnable, the ground it sits on is not.

Feds crowed that El Chapo will “face American justice in a city that’s foundation is bedrock,” during a press conference announcing his extradition to the U.S.

That’s true for the Manhattan lock-up — but Sunset Park sits atop a squishy mix of dirt and rocks deposited there by a glacier 15,000 years ago — not the tough-as-nails bedrock that Manhattan sits on, according to a local geologist.

“Manhattan bedrock extends into Brooklyn, but that’s up more toward Flatbush Avenue Extension,” said Brooklyn College chief geology lab tech Guillermo Rocha.

The earth beneath Brooklyn’s jail at Second Avenue and 30th Street — a two-minute walk from the Gowanus Bay — is all “sediment and boulders,” he said.

A judge recently ruled that the kingpin could physically come to the Kings County courthouse, which will likely require the temporary, partial closure of the Brooklyn Bridge while U.S. Marshals transport him to and from trial.

Reach deputy editor Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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[►AUDIO, PODCAST] Pledge of a grievance! Beep says all community board meetings should begin with a hand over the heart

See this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Juliane Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

It’s his pledge to make them pledge!

Borough President Adams is imploring members of Brooklyn’s community boards to put their hands over their hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance before every meeting — a ritual embraced by Southern Brooklyn panels but not their neighbors to the north.

“I think that at every gathering, public gathering, you should recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I think it’s a continuation of how we can show a great respect to the country,” Adams said, reacting to a story published by this paper the very same day showing that Southern Brooklyn community boards alone recite the patriotic affirmation.

Adams said he is strictly pro-Pledge, but respects the rights of his community boards to decide if they recite the Pledge or not, claiming he’ll simply send a letter informing members that they have a very good opportunity to do so before each meeting but not demanding that both North and South get in line.

“There won’t be any threats, it’s a reminder for those who are not aware,” he said. “I just don’t want any board to say, ‘Hey I was not aware.’ ”

Still, if it were up to him, he’d want the Pledge recited before every meeting.

“If I was in charge, or had the decision, I would say the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said, “I think it’s important to do so.”

Adams added that he believes in the freedom of choice, and that each board would be allowed to make up its own mind, (or minds, as it were).

“Each community board must make their own decision and that’s what’s great about this country,” he said. “There is no one way of showing one respect for the country or one way of showing even some respect for the county.”

The Beep conceded that there are, in fact, two Brooklyns with different lifestyles and beliefs — presumably one where Brooklynites wake up every sunny morning and sing “I’m Proud to be an America,” and another featuring a community of like-minded free-thinkers happy to live in a utopian bubble.

“Particularly when you look at Southern Brooklyn, the high number of firefighters, police officers, ex-military — we still have the Memorial Day Parade that’s done in Southern Brooklyn — so there’s a different energy and a constant reminder about the whole theme around the public displaying of patriotism,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that Northern Brooklyn is not as patriotic, they may not do as many public displays of their patriotism.”

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[GERRITSEN BEACH] New greenway coming to Gerritsen Beach

Note: More media content is available for this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

Gerritsen Beachers will soon have a spiffy new pedestrian pathway along the neighborhood’s namesake avenue.

The Parks Department plans to lay down asphalt along Gerritsen Avenue between Florence and Channel avenues — just next to the ball fields — by next fall. It will be a serious improvement over the existing sidewalk, and people are bound it enjoy it — once the weather warms up, according to the vice president of local do-gooder group Gerritsen Beach Cares.

“I think it’s a lovely idea. It is set back, so people can walk and enjoy the parkland without being right on the sidewalk, which is a mess,” said Mary Douglas. “Right now, in this time of year, I don’t see anyone walking on it right now — I’m sure people will make use of any improvement.”

The Parks Department plans to finish up the first part of the path between Seba and Florence avenues by August. The second leg of the project — which Community Board 18 unanimously approved during a Jan. 11 meeting — will run form Florence Avenue to the entrance of PS 277, providing a direct connection to the baseball fields.

The city also plans to spruce up the park with new benches and freshly planted trees and shrubs, according to information from the Parks Department.

State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Gerritsen Beach) is providing the $500,000 necessary for the project, according to information from the Parks Department.

The new path will benefit everyone who lives nearby, said the chairwoman of Community Board 18’s parks committee.

“The Parks Department has really come up with some really spectacular plans for the parks, and it’s always a struggle trying to find money to put in,” said Nancy Walby. “And our elected officials in our area in particular have been really great supporters of the parks projects.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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[TRANSIT] Express N tunnel will shut for one year of emergency repairs

See this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will shut the express subway tunnel between 36th and 59th street stations for a full year starting in spring of next year to repair rusted beams that are at risk of collapsing, according to members of Community Board 7.

Storm water has corroded the so-called “T beams” that support the tunnel, and workers must replace the buttresses between 40th and 58th streets, according to board members familiar with the plan.

The shutdown will be an inconvenience for straphangers, but the work is critical, because the tunnel is in such bad shape, according Community Board 7 transportation committee chairman Zachary Jasie, who met with transit officials on Jan. 10 and gave a report during the board’s Jan. 18 general meeting.

“This is work that needs to be done — that’s the bottom line. There’s profound deterioration of the center support structure of the tunnel for these 18 blocks. There is no choice in the matter, because it’s going to cave in on itself,” said Jasie.

A spokesman for the authority denied that the agency is telling community board members that the tunnel is in such bad shape.

“Unbelievable. Where do you guys get this stuff, or do you just make it up along the way?” said agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz. “The tunnel is NOT on the verge of ‘caving in’ as you so eloquently state, and there is no danger to our customers.”

Over the years, street-resurfacing projects on Fourth Avenue have raised the roadbed in such a way that rain water now runs into subway grates instead of sewer drains — and that errant flow has rusted underground beams, said Jasie.

As part of the tunnel work — which is set to run from May 2018 to May 2019 — transit workers will also install new drains and raise the sidewalk vents to prevent water from spilling into the subway, according to community board members.

Work will take place eight blocks at a time in four-month intervals and will require the city to close a lane of Bay Ridge-bound traffic, said Jasie. The Department of Transportation has agreed to place traffic agents along the construction to help drivers navigate the roads, he said. N trains will run on the local line during the year-long project, according to Jasie.

Locals are concerned that the lengthy construction will place strain on the R line and result in sluggish service, but one community leader emphasized the need for the decaying line’s repairs.

“This is 100-year-old infrastructure we’re dealing with,” said Daniel Murphy, chairman of Community Board 7. “This is sorely needed.”

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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[BRIGHTON BEACH] This Trump wall in Brooklyn mysteriously cracked on Inauguration Day

Note: More media content is available for this story at BrooklynDaily.com.

By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

The cracks are already starting to appear.

On the same day Donald Trump took the oath of office, a six-foot wall bearing his surname was mysteriously damaged in Brighton Beach. Hopefully, it’s not an ill omen, a manager for the cooperative housing development said.

“The irony is not lost on me,” said Igor Oberman, general manager of Trump Village West, who confirmed the crack appeared today. “I certainly, as a proud American, hope that this is not going to show how the administration will be run.”

The wall — built by The Donald’s developer dad Fred in the 1960s — separates a W. Fifth Street parking lot from Trump Village Shopping Center, where developer Cammeby’s International plans to erect a 40-story residential tower and retail center. National Grid is also doing work in the area to clean up toxic sludge left behind by a gas plant that once operated near the lot.

The ongoing construction is negatively impacting residents’ quality of life — and likely to blame for the crack, according to another Trump Village manager.

“They have this thing, I don’t know exactly what it’s doing, it’s just pulverizing or digging but banging into the ground. It’s really loud, it shakes,” said Chris McCreight. “Residents told me on the 16th and 17th floors, they can feel vibrations.”

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing National Gird as it performs the clean-up work, according to a spokeswoman from National Grid.

Contractors are monitoring the noise and vibrations, said a Cammeby’s International spokeswoman.

“The construction team is currently driving piles to prepare the foundation for the new building that will be constructed on the site. This process will occur on and off over the next couple of months. To ensure that it is completed with the utmost attention to safety, air quality and vibrations are being vigorously monitored,” said developer rep Christa Segalini.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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