Friday, October 31, 2008

Where I Have Been

I'm sorry I haven't been posting as much as usual. My industry (my real job) has been hit hard by this recession. It's not going to get better for a long time. There have been layoffs, though I've been spared. But the second my boss walks in on me uploading a picture of Dollar Chic, well let's just say the next day will be filled with stuff going on in Forest Hills because that's where I'll be all day everyday.

There are some interesting things going on. A new yogurt place next to NY and Company - more on that later. A 'yes' vote on the rezoning. A possible dog run in MacArthur Park. I don't like dogs, but they gotta run somewhere.

And plenty of deserved anger over the city council vote. Let's hope they all get thrown out. But like you, I've been so busy trying to enhance my value to my company so I'm spared during the next round of job cuts - and there will definitely be a next round - that I haven't had much time or energy to devote to the grand opening of Fox's. We don't get a chance to vote ourselves into a four year contract. We've got people gunning for our jobs every day.

And where was Bloomberg during this artificial debt-fueled run-up? A time when Wall Street salaries ballooned like dot-com stocks? Was this elected leader and business information mogul screaming about the inevitable crash? No, he was banning krispy kreme doughnuts and talking windmills on bridges.

He could have made a name for himself as the prognosticator - don't tell me he didn't know what was coming. But instead he used the city's incredible media power not to warn families about 4o1K catastrophes and investment bank foolishness, but to charge outer borough drivers to enter his part of the city. Twelve more years!

Anyway, stay tuned. Will post more, but a lot of it will have to be on weekends for a while.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Throw Them All Out - Every Single Goddamned One

First one to go is Melinda Katz who overruled the clear public will and voted to end the two term limit. I've supported Councilwoman Katz before but this is indefensible. A term limit vote should have been on a Spring 2009 ballot.

I've never been more ashamed of my city and my representatives. Gargarin, Delay, Shulman, Koslowitz, Cohen - pick one among yourselves and mount a campaign against Katz and the blog will do what it can to back you.

I don't want to hear Katz or Vallone say "But the guy in front of me wouldn't move so I had nowhere to go."

Bullshit. Take a stand for democracy. Leave office and go into the private sector for a term. Or grow a pair and run against an incumbent. Oh, that's right, incumbents always win - WHICH IS WHY THE PUBLIC VOTED FOR TERM LIMITS TWICE!

Don't even bother trying to rationalize it Councilmembers. Just admit you've got a great thing going and you didn't want to get a real job. As far as Bloomberg, today is one of the saddest days in City history without anyone dying.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Simchas Torah!

The alternate side of the street parking calendar - the only language that all New Yorkers know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chocolate Maltese and Candy Addabbo

Interesting piece on City regarding the hotly contested race in State Senate district 15, which might affect which party takes control of the whole kit and caboodle. Dems already control the Assembly and the Governorship.

District 15's Forest Hills portion encompasses roughly everything south of Exeter. So my car can vote, but not me. Here it the map PDF, but it's a biggie

I know very little about these two men - only that they both fought congestion pricing. If anyone in District 15 has an insight, please post in the comments.

The local political blog City summarizes the race:

To take control of the legislature's upper house, Democrats probably need City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr. to beat Maltese, who's served since 1989, and Councilman James Gennaro to oust Padavan, who has held his seat since 1973.

I briefly reviewed Addabbo and Maltese's websites and came across with a few initial impressions. Remember, I'm not voting in this one (I'm in the Huntley/Other Guy district) and don't know the candidates all that well, so please review the sites yourself.

From Addabbo's. Liked:
  • Worked with the MTA to provide better bus service along the QM15 and QM11.
  • Crafted the New York City Adopt-a-Park Law, which allows individuals, community groups, businesses and corporations to help in preserving our parks and supporting recreational programs.
  • Improved reporting on legislative budget additions including capital projects and member items.

  • Supports strengthening existing rent control and rent stabilization laws. (rent control and stabilization ensures higher rents across the board - should be eliminated today).

From Maltese. Liked:
  • Obtained a $75,000 grant that will allow Forest Park Senior Center to continue to provide vital assistance and services to seniors in Forest Hills and the surrounding communities.
  • Communicated directly to Commissioner Maura McCarthy and requested that a traffic light to be installed at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and 71st Place.
  • Joined members of the New York State Senate Task Force on Critical Choices to introduce legislation to increase penalties for illegal drag racing.
  • (Feb. 2008) State Senator Serphin R. Maltese (Queens) and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (Queens) today praised legislation passed today that will allow racing to continue at Aqueduct and ensure the surrounding community is involved in the process. (Aqueduct racing has been a lost cause for years. NYRA should have long ago put all its resources into Belmont which is a superior track but needs help. Should take same approach with the Big A as Bloomberg has with West Side Rail Yards - build new. Latest Video Slot controversy is latest boondoggle).
Who do you like today?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bonasera, It's the Don.

"Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But, until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day."

Mayor Bloomberg, in his quest for a third term which is growing uglier by the day, is calling in favors. From the New York Times:

Michael R. Bloomberg, who says he strictly separates his philanthropy from his job as mayor of New York, is pressing many of the community, arts and neighborhood groups that rely on his private donations to make the case for his third term, according to interviews with those involved in the effort.

“It’s pretty hard to say no,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the mayor. “They can take away a lot of resources.”

I'm proud of everyone who made it down to City Hall for those pointless hearings. Why they need public input to see if they should have a public vote is nonsense (did they have public focus groups to see if they should have the public input, to see if they should have the public vote?), but it was nice to see the amount of dissent. I think the tide has officially turned against him.

Not only is Bloomberg in real jeopardy of not getting the third term, his reputation has taken a huge hit since this fiasco began. I think the press if finally starting to realize, no matter how good of a mayor they think he is, when you thumb your nose at the people and make your own laws, there will be blowback.

If everyone really wants Bloomberg back, put the term limit to a public vote. But just remember, before the Wall Street bubble began in 2003 and he had to deal with same revenue worries every other NYC mayor has had, the mayor wanted to: cut garbage pickups in Queens to once a week while keeping it three times weekly in Manhantan; raise property taxes across the board 25% while doing nothing to address property tax inequity, and would rather the NYC lose the 2012 Olympics dollars than have the stadium in the most international borough in the world (which actually wanted it).

There's a bunch of other reasons why I wouldn't vote for him which I wrote about a few weeks ago, but the fact that he's taking such lumps for thinking he's above the law is so sweet. Unlike the Olympics or Congestion Pricing, this is one he might be remembered for.

Life Discovered on 72nd Rd

On the final frontier of the Austin Street business district, there's a sign of life.

72nd Rd. opposite Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, is the current home to a mish-mash of temporary looking businesses and terrible looking building extensions. However, through the clutter comes "Chick'N Green Cafe - Organic and Natural Salad Bar'.

According to the owner, who I spoke with briefly, it will "be like the ones in the city. Build your own salad, smoothies, and stuff like that." It is her only store and she expects a late November, early December opening date.

Whether this the first shot in battle to convert this Austin Street nether region to a hip block of stores catering to the non-Dollar Chic crowd is yet to be known. But we wish Chick n' Green all the luck in the organic world and only offer one piece of advice - sell good coffee and have a place to sit outside.

Weekly Valpack Critique

Mason Pharmacy - garbage.
Len Harris Electronics - garbage.
Rego Park Express Car Service - garbage.
Check Design - garbage.
Family Smile Dental - garbage.
The Martial Arts Studio - garbage.
Rainbow Carpet - garbage.
Kevin Ribakove Legal - garbage.
Binding Price Movers - garbage.
Family Foot Center - garbage.
LI Home Show - garbage.
Nutrisystem - garbage.
Vonage - garbage.
Sears carpet - garbage.
1-800 Got Junk - garbage.
Donate Your Car - garbage.
Closets By Design - garbage.
Verizon - garbage.
Direct TV - garbage.
Closet Factory (no exclusive on the closet category?) - garbage
And fittingly, at the end of the pack, Hemorrhoid Treatment Center - garbage.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

All for One

Looks like that Aimee Salon/Austin Fish Market stretch of stores is being marketed as one space. The banner stretches across all four available stores - which all coincidentally moved at about the same time. To use the hackneyed phrase of the moment, this could be a 'game changer' for the Eastern end of Austin Street. Let's hope for something good.

Happy Succoth Everyone!

Just wanted to wish you and yours a happy Succoth. Now you might be saying, 'wait, do you even celebrate Succoth'? I do when I'm parked in a Wednesday spot.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ode to Speaker Quinn

Today I hopped the turnstyle at the subway. My 30 day card had expired, but I made a deal with myself to extend it.

I got to the car and the meter read zero. I wrote a letter and put it in the orange envelope "Not guilty Your Honor. The time had expired, but I made a deal with myself to extend it."

My boss was looking for me at 3pm. When I finally got back to work I said "Get off my ass. My lunch hour - it's extended."

When the movie ended, I sat through it again. I told the kid whose seat I took, "Stand in the lobby, Junior, I'm extending this through another 'Beverly Hils Chihuahua'."

When I lit my cigar at the Met, I told Madam Butterfly "The law said smoking was allowed here in 1955, and I'm extending it."

Joba Chamberlain threw 10 pitches right by me. He asked the ump why I was still at the plate. The umpire said "He's decided to extend the at bat as long as he wants."

I extend these things and get away with it. I make my own laws - and just change the ones that inconvenience me, just like our City Council.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Rezone

Daily News and Cubed have pieces on a proposed rezoning of Austin Street. The proposal would institute height maximum of 40 feet on the south side of Austin street and around 70 feet for the north side. The map of the proposed zone is above with my height maximums in black.

I've read the proposal and it's a lot to go through. It appears like a good thing. I'll try to get a better understanding of if throughout the week, but here are some initial impressions;

It's not a downzone as there are only a handful of existing buildings that would be in violation of the proposal, and they have been around for years. Even the Baharstani boxes on 72nd Ave would be fine.

The plan spends a great deal of time on the area between Yellowstone and 70th rd. between Austin St. and QB. This leads me to believe that the Heskel Hotel plan, now collecting dust, spurred the rezone plan in the first place.

The News reports

"Local officials and residents, worried that the western part of Austin St. near Yellowstone Blvd. is especially vulnerable, have been lobbying for the zoning changes"

Ironically, one of only buildings in violation of the rezone is in that area - Gerard Towers, which I would guess was behind the rezone in the first place. The rezone guarantees the views of the higher floors of those facing all sides, but Northside GT residents 150 feet and below might get blocked. Everyone else's views are saved. I don't know why else they would spend so much of the proposal on the western end, which already has tall buildings.

The proposal does what it's supposed to do. A lot of work has gone into it and it keeps the tall buildings on Queens Blvd and the four story ones on Austin St. I don't like the banning of automotive uses, as downtowns in nice areas have gas stations too. If GM goes out of business, does that mean that HB Cheverolet cannot be bought by another auto retailer? You don't want that huge lot vacant for too long I assure you.

Down on the East end, one patch of stores would actually be upzoned, as the Natural Market structure and its surrounding tenants (King Wok, Q-Thai, C-town, etc) are zoned C1-2. It's a restrictive commercial zone in which lowrise stores have to meet the "local retail needs of the surrounding residential neighborhood". The new zone would allow housing or commercial (maximum of 40 feet).

I'm not a city planner and these are only the impressions of someone trying to put a quick post up on their lunch break. If you have better knowledge of the rezone, please feel free to comment. But at first glance, it's a nice, well thought-out, plan that guarantees no really tall buildings on Austin Street. One only has to look at the Park Lane Towers in Kew Gardens to know how quickly one of these can go up where you least expect them.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Atlas Growing

As emailed to me, Atlas Park signs its newest tenant - hip urban women's clothing store Mango.

With stores on Michigan Ave in Chicago, Market St in San Francisco, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Century City in Los Angeles, and NYC's own Soho, this Barcelona-based powerhouse has found its second home in Queens (there's another one in Flushing).

Yet another payoff for the aggressive marketing of Hemmerdinger's Atlas Park and potentially another lost tenant for Austin Street.

However, I was at the street fair on Sunday and it was so packed, it was tough to walk - so there's no question Austin Street is still a major draw. Why the much less populated Atlas Park is winning upscale tenants over Austin Steet is beginning to reek of poor marketing. Maybe it's time for Leslie Brown to call out unrealistic landlords and open their eyes to what's going on elsewhere - Atlas Park, Metropolitan/Woodhaven, Flushing, Queens Center Mall, etc. I've got an upcoming post on Dollar Chic, which is one of the worst store openings on Austin Street in years.

And if that's not enough, while I was away, it looks like we've got competition within our own family, according to the Daily News. The article's thesis is that Metropolitan Ave. is passing Austin Street in terms of cache.

Never one to pass up taking a shot at Austin Street in favor South Forest Hills, our Civic Leader states:

Likening Metro to a "small-town Main St.," Forest Hills civic leader Barbara Stuchinski said these changes will strengthen the local economy while maintaining its friendly style.

"It's a more inclusive neighborhood area - the way Austin St. used to be when I was a teenager, which is 60 years ago," Stuchinski said.

Your Forest Hills 72 Dining Recession Guide

Then: AJ's pizza.
Now: The Family Restaurant pizza.
Quality Difference: Tiny. AJ's not nearly as good since Sal left in the middle of the night.
Price Difference: 20% or $4 per pie.

Then: Bann Thai delivery.
Now: Mr. Tong's delievery.
Quality Difference: Medium. Bann Thai is not as good as it used to be, but still very fresh.
Price Difference: 40% or $20 per order.

Then: Bonnelle Bakery.
Now: Entemanns.
Price Difference: 75% or $6 per order.
Quality Difference: Large. But $14 for a pound of cookies is not in the budget.

Then: Natural produce.
Now: Trade Fair produce.
Price Difference: 50% or $10 per order.
Quality Difference: Huge. Might have to switch back.

Then: Sushi Oh!
Now: Stop and Shop Sushi Counter.
Price Difference: 50% or $12 per order.
Quality Difference: None. Stop and Shop Sushi is the best deal around.

Total savings: $52.

Ethan Allen Surrendered

According to city records, looks like the Ethan Allen building has been purchased by an Asian company with a headquarters on Canal Street. Document were filed on behalf of Green Forest Managment with an agreement with The Bank of East Asia. I don't know if the Bank of East Asia is just financing the deal or want to open a large branch there.

Currently TBOEA has branches on Canal Street, Brooklyn, Flushing and California, Hong Kong, China, the UK, and Southeast Asia.

While some might lament the possible arrival of another bank, I'm not. No, it's not Whole Foods, but it's not Skillz Nightclub either.

Here's the document ID if anyone knows how to read it and can better explain what it means:

Three Weeks Ago

When I last posted:

The Dow Jones Average was at 11059. Today it's at 8080.

The Mets were in first place.

John McCain led in the national polls.

"Milkshake" by Kelis topped the pop charts.

A dance craze called "The Macarena" swept across the nation.

Television viewers across the land fell in love with Arnold Drummond and waited on the edge of their barcaloungers for his next run-in with The Gooch.

But now I'm back and the world has changed - as has Forest Hills, slightly.

We'll get to it all. But we'll start with one shout out to Newsday the biggest media so far to run an opinion piece against Bloomberg's ugly power grab. Read it here. Excerpts:

"These are rich men toying with the purchase of the public will. Never has the city seemed so nakedly for sale.

. . .It's been said before that we are a country of laws, not men. It's time to stand down, Mr. Mayor."

I'm going to stay on the term-limit thing because the public will must be presented in the infuriating absence of a referendum. I've waited patiently for eight years for Bloomberg's term to end - or "sunset" as they annoyingly say - and the mayoralty should be fairly passed to another worthy successor. JFK resurrected wouldn't have a chance against a billionaire incumbent in a local race. It is the very reason term limits were enacted in the first place - well, that and the election of David Dinkins.

I'll label the posts in the title because I know a lot of you aren't interested. But the headline is we're back and we'll get to all the happenings.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bloomberg's Third Term

I will be back in a few days (sorry for the formatting problems), but I had to get in my two cents on Bloomberg announcing his intentions to skirt the law and run again. I knew he would break his word - he always does - but this time it's more underhanded than usual .

In what should have been done via public referendum/vote – but is now too late – Mayor Bloomberg is skirting the law to stay in power. And he’s doing it in the most unseemly way possible – by circumventing the public and striking a deal with Councilmembers who also are clinging to their power. He’s especially tied to Speaker Quinn, who will wash his back if he washers hers. It’s disgraceful.

There are so many things wrong with this, let’s try to address each one. Let’s start with media coverage:

Bloomberg can’t do any wrong in the media’s eyes and that is terrifying to anyone who knows what always happens under these conditions. The Daily News called his skirting the law to stay in power “gutsy”. They’re for it. The Post says “Go for it Mr. Mayor – New York needs you.”

But the fix was in. Back in August, the New York Times reported Bloomberg “has also met quietly with the publishers of the city’s three biggest newspapers to gauge whether their editorial boards might endorse tweaking term limits to 12 years.”

How about putting it on the ballot? The editorial boards of newspapers are more important that the public's will?

But it shouldn’t be a surprise. Mayor Bloomberg is absolutely brilliant at managing public perception. His accomplishments are most noticeable in the nicest areas of New York city – where the journalists live – but the rest of the city hasn’t seen any improvement. Are you better off than you were eight years ago?

Of course, the pitch is that since we’re in such tough economic times, that Bloomberg is just the right guy to hold down the fort. Whoa, wait a second. This is the same guy who, when this meltdown started really percolating, was talking to the world about putting windmills on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Are you telling me that this man – whose company specializes in financial information, who has friends in the highest places on Wall Street – didn’t know what was going down? That he used his bully pulpit for fighting trans-fats? That’s leadership?

So since some billionaire named Ron Lauder changed his mind and now wants another billionaire to be our Mayor, we should all be thrilled. And the fourth estate applauds because there’s a bike lane in front of their apartment and tables and chairs on Broadway.

The media will say if we don’t like it, don’t vote for him. They will ignore that the incumbent reelection rate in New York State local races is somewhere around 97 percent. And that's for normally backed incumbents. I would imagine the rate for billionaires is around 100%.

Term Limits were written because of media moguls like Bloomberg and prepare for the public onslaught (funded by him, parroted by the media) why we should be grateful Bloomberg didn't put term limits on the ballot. Can you imagine what would happen if Bush struck a deal with Pelosi to strike down term limits without a public vote?

But are we cutting off our nose to spite our face. How has he done?

If you live in Manhattan, he is doing a great job – can’t argue with that. I’m here everyday and am amazed at how it looks. Hudson River Park is like going on vacation. Central Park is immaculate (there is no way that's all private donations). The Plazas downtown like at Gansevoort look like Paris. But what has he done for Forest Hills?

  • In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg fought to reduce street garbage pick-ups in Queens from twice a week to once per week – while keeping Manhattan at three times per week. He shamelessly sold it piggybacking a 9/11 theme by saying – it will be tough, but New Yorkers are tough people. Thankfully, it was rejected.

  • He inexplicably fought to have the Olympic stadium in Manhattan and not in the most international borough in the world – which actually wanted it. He showed absolutely no faith in the borough that would have been electric during those two weeks and changed our landscape forever. Huge gaffe.

  • He dismissively brushed off any city-agency blame for the death of Matthew Perilli even though child welfare workers were there on the day the child was killed (responding to complaints) and heard commotion in the “day care” center. He said so eloquently “the child would have been dead regardless.”

  • Though when the much more publicized tragedy of Nixmary Brown occurred, he was much more responsive. "We, as a city, have failed this child," the Mayor said.

  • He wanted to charge outer borough drivers money to enter Manhattan – which almost certainly will happen in the third term. Another example of going against the clear public will because he knows better.

  • There are 32 kids in a class in the first grade at PS 101. The ridiculous testing and homework burdens of our youngest children are driving families away for the first time in a long time.

  • In early 2002, he promised not to raise taxes. Later that year, he increased property taxes 18% (down from his desired 25%) across the board, but never once tried to fix the huge property tax inequity of $2 million brownstones in Brooklyn paying about $2000 a year, while $300K coops and $400K single family houses in Queens paying twice that.

  • He had to “courage” and “guts” to go after a third term or congestion pricing, but when it comes to rich white people paying their fair share of property tax – the tax code is “too onerous” to change.

  • He left the Meat Packing District to fend for themselves during the 10-day blackout while Con Ed casually said it was only a few hundred customers (it was really over 100,000). Oh wait, that was Astoria. In the Meat Packing District, he advocated building a new $200 million High Line Park overlooking a new $500 million Hudson River Park.

So there are some concrete reasons why I wouldn't reelect him. What the media will feed you is vague reasons like “guts” and “vision” – which he does have. When it comes to making Manhattan a better place to live. Just look at the World’s Fair structures compared to what’s going on at the High Line. What a perfect metaphor for this administration’s “vision.”

It’s true that the city is facing an economic downturn. But if we didn’t change term-limits after September 11th, don't do it because some Wall Street employees are out of work due to gross mismanagement. You didn’t have their tax revenues before the artificial run up, and you won’t have it now.

The average weekly salary on Wall Street in 1Q 2007 was $16,918. That’s almost 900K per year – double what it was in 2003. And that doesn’t include bonuses. The New York Times compared it to the dot-com bubble. And Bloomberg is talking about windmills.

In other words, we didn’t have the money before the artificial run up, and hopefully we won’t have it again. And the new Brooklyn Bridge Park will have to make due with the same amount of gardeners as Forest Park.

Somehow I think New York will survive.

But to me, it is FAR more dangerous to have a media that uniformly tells you things are going great and advocating re-writing the laws because they’re being bankrolled by our billionaire leaders. That is the future that really frightens me.