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Archive for the tag 'hurricane sandy'

Sheepshead Bay’s Randazzo’s after the flood.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced over the weekend that Build it Back payments were finally in the mail, and that some construction projects are now underway. The city’s new director of Housing Recovery, Amy Peterson, elaborated on the numbers at a hearing on Monday, saying only $100,000 in reimbursement checks have been mailed, and only six construction projects have begun.

That’s out of 20,000 applications.

The numbers came out during a hearing of the City Council Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, headed by Councilman Mark Treyger. The seven-hour long hearing was spent blasting the program, for which even its new leadership agreed needs a jumpstart.

Metro reports:

The city’s new Director of Housing Recovery Amy Peterson admitted to the Build it Back’s blunders and “overly complicated” process but promised to turn it around.

“Early missteps, unrealistic assumptions and overly complicated processes have hindered rebuilding,” she testified to the Council.

Peterson, who started her tenure on Monday as well, vowed to make up for the setbacks.

“We’re going to make sure the money gets out to people,” she said.

Peterson added that another $800,000 worth of checks will be mailed this week.

Treyger and others used the opportunity of the first public hearing on Build it Back to detail the program’s shortcomings.

“Poor communication, endless bureaucracy, inadequate resources, and other problems have thwarted the building of even a single home,” he said, according to Brooklyn Daily.

The new chief attributed the problems to a lack of resources, and burdensome bureaucracy, according to the Daily report.

“This process includes multiple different steps in which customers interface with variety of different contractors and specialists,” she said. “From a process standpoint, the continued passing of responsibility from one contractor to another has had the effect of diminishing accountability.”

… Other problems were the result of federal requirements, Peterson said. The program was designed to not repeat the sins of past disaster relief programs, which were rife with contractor fraud and shoddy construction.

“The intent was for clients of the program to feel assured that construction would be done correctly, to the resilient building standards, and that they would bear no risk that funds would be reclaimed or extorted,” she said.

The Sheepshead Bay – Plumb Beach Civic Association, at their meeting last night, said that after a long silence neighbors have started receiving calls from the program. Officials are setting up appointments to discuss the options for which the victims qualify, and compensation packages are being drawn up.

But the group also said that too many questions about the process remain unanswered.

“There are still a lot of things we don’t know about it,” said civic president Kathy Flynn. “We’re getting a lot of questions … we don’t have the answers. And every time they send out another e-mail,” it seems the terms have changed.

Flynn said that although the signs of movement are positive, she’s not optimistic.

“I’m not counting on them to give me anything. If I count on it, it’ll be another five years. Or forever,” she said.

While it is difficult to find those silver linings in events as destructive as Superstorm Sandy, stories of bravery and heroism have surfaced, centering on people saving lives in the face of horrendous circumstances. The New York Daily News is reporting that a group of MTA employees helped rescue a group of residents and themselves in the storm’s worst moments last year.

The amazing acts of heroism involved the rescue of four transit workers trapped in a Coney Island facility, a man and woman who had abandoned their car on Neptune Avenue, and an elderly lady gripping on to a fire-alarm box who was submerged up to her neck in water. The New York Daily News described the rescue effort undertaken by a determined group of MTA workers:

All would escape, thanks to a rescue operation that started with signals division maintenance supervisor Michael Watt and superintendent Eric Williams answering a radio call for help from their four trapped colleagues…

Watt and Williams had just evacuated the signals facility and arrived at another transit building on Bay 50th St. when the emergency call came in.

“We have to get out of here,” superintendent Steve Miller said from his office. “You have to come back and get us.”

Watt and Williams jumped into their MTA Suburban. By the time they reached Neptune and Stillwell Aves., the water was up to the SUV’s door handles. “It had to be moving 15 mph,” Watt said. “It was fast and dangerous.”

The MTA employees trapped inside the facility— Miller, superintendent Sal Ambrosino, and signal maintainers Colombo Solimo and Kevin Puma — couldn’t push open the doors. The water outside was too high, the pressure too great. The building’s windows were locked from the outside, one of the men said.

Members of the group headed to the garage and opened a roll-up door. Afraid the electronic controls would short out if they waited much longer, they opened the door. The ensuing torrent into the garage was so powerful it picked up 5-foot-tall “gang boxes” easily containing more than 100 pounds of tools.

“I was walking down a narrow hallway towards the garage when a 4-foot wave comes shooting throughout the building,” Miller said. “The water’s up to my chest.”

The four fought their way to the Suburban, which was idling on a bit of higher ground on Neptune Ave. Miller waded to the building and shut the roll-down gate to protect the facility from any looters.

“There’s millions of dollars worth of equipment in there,” Watt explained.

Miller, a certified rescue scuba diver, helped the young man and woman reach the Suburban. She was hysterical, screaming “my mother, my mother,” the transit workers recalled.

“I looked down the street and I see this older lady holding onto the fire box,” Miller said. “She’s about 100 to 150 feet away, and the water’s up to her neck.”

Miller and the young man waded to the woman and, taking one arm each, pulled her back to the Suburban.

Wow. The incredible actions of the team has put them in contention for a Hometown Heroes in Transit award, a special award put together by the MTA, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the New York Daily News that honors transit workers who give extra effort in helping their communities. Best of luck to all the nominees on their amazing work.

Honestly, in a culture that makes spectacles of rewarding the accomplishments of actors and athletes, the Hometown Heroes in Transit award is an honor that actually means something. It puts into perspective what really counts in our society.

American National Red Cross building (Source: Wikipedia)

American National Red Cross building (Source: Wikipedia)

The Red Cross, like many prominent charity organizations, promised aid and relief to scores of victims following the events of Superstorm Sandy. Aljazeera America is reporting that the organization has since informed many victims initially told they would receive help that they are now ineligible to access resources because of policy changes instituted by upper management operators.

After Sandy struck last year, the Red Cross raised $308 million for the relief effort, creating their Move-In Assistance Program in the process. The money raised was the highest gathered by any charity organization. The program promised storm victims that their belongings lost in the storm would be replaced and that they would be given $10,000 to find a new place to live. While the Red Cross is claiming that their program has helped nearly 3,000 victims, hundreds have been denied help due to eligibility requirements that were changed following promises made.

Aljazeera America relayed the story of Rosaline Fernandez, a storm victim who was promised help but ultimately never received it:

Rosaline Fernandez and her three children live in a tiny apartment. It’s all the high school Spanish teacher could find – or afford – after Superstorm Sandy ravaged her Jamaica Bay home on Long Island, N.Y., a year ago. The bay water met the ocean water, soon destroying her car, the furniture inside her home, her kids’ clothes and all the food.

“The first floor was completely washed out,” Fernandez told America Tonight. “There was mold. There was water. There [were] funky smells.”

Months of living in a hotel came and went before Fernandez heard that the Red Cross could help her out. She said she spoke to a caseworker who told her about the Move-In Assistance Program, a program that has helped nearly 3,000 households, according to the Red Cross. She said that the caseworker explained how Fernandez would be eligible for money to move into a new place and that all of her household items would be replaced. The Red Cross told Fernandez that she was eligible for $10,000. Once she found a new home, all she had to do was submit a W-9 tax form and the application, and she’d be set. Months later – and now more than a year after Sandy – she has not received her Red Cross aid…

“There are hundreds of people across New York that all have the same story, that were all told they would be assisted or they’re eligible for assistance, and did homework for the Red Cross,” said Ben Smilowitz, founder of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit aiming to improve transparency in relief organizations. Smilowitz, a former Red Cross volunteer during Hurricane Katrina, said that many people affected by Sandy “jumped through hoops, took days off work to collect information, and then only to find out that they weren’t eligible in the first place.”

As Smilowitz indicated, Fernandez was not alone in her struggle, as hundreds of other victims have been left in the cold by a change in Red Cross policy. What that change was exactly, and why it was instituted remains a mystery, but according to the report, many Red Cross employees, trying to help struggling families, were left outraged and dismayed by the upper management’s decision to do so:

The Red Cross worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said that, in general, he believed that the humanitarian organization attempts to be a good steward of donors’ dollars.

“However, the decision that was implemented on May 6 didn’t seem to have anything to do with that,” the worker told America Tonight. “There were clients who had received a commitment from the Red Cross for money to assist them in recovering from the storm, but then were deemed ineligible. That’s not assisting clients. That’s not directing the donor dollar where it should be. That’s lying to the victims of the storm and survivors of the storm.”

The Red Cross insists that the program criteria has been consistent since February, but that’s not what Red Cross workers say. America Tonight spoke to several former workers and one who still works there. They told MacVicar that after May 6, there was so much confusion about the program that they were ordered to not speak to their clients. Some Red Cross workers were so upset about telling clients they were no longer eligible for assistance that they quit their jobs. None of the current or former Red Cross employees who spoke to America Tonight could say for sure why the change was made, knowing only that it came from upper management.

For its part, the Red Cross has promised Congressional staff members that they would review their policies and attempt to honor any promises made that they have since rescinded.

“If clients believe they were promised assistance by a Red Cross caseworker and our documentation supports this, we will honor their request, even if they do not fully meet program criteria,” a spokesperson for the Red Cross told Aljazeera America.

Time will tell if the Red Cross comes through on their promise.

Have you or anyone you know been given assistance by the Red Cross following Sandy. Did they make you a promise but later deem you ineligible for funds? Lets us know.

Source: Brian Hedden via Bay Ridge Odyssey

Source: Brian Hedden via Bay Ridge Odyssey

Republican Congressman Michael Grimm is asking the federal government to earmark $600 million for the Build it Back program, the housing recovery project designed to help Superstorm Sandy victims, and take control over Sandy funds out of the hands of of local authorities, reports SILive.

While the money is already on its way as part of a larger package, Grimm wants the government to earmark that amount specifically for Build it Back and not permit New York City or state authorities any flexibility with the funds.

“The City of New York needs to take a better look at how they’re allocating their resources. It’s not their money to just allocate as they see fit. This is the people of Staten Island’s money — that was the intent of Congress. And they need to be stewards to that money,” Grimm said.

Thus far, the billions in federal aid money flowing into city coffers has come in the form of Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and has allowed the city to be flexible in the way it spends it. In a letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Grimm advocated that the city needs an additional $600 million just for housing alone, and that the city should have no say in how this cash is spent.

“I don’t have faith that the city will do the right thing for the people that I represent in Staten Island,” Grimm said.

Source: nycedc.com

Future plans for Coney Island Creek. (Source: nycedc.com)

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg exits the stage, he is hoping a big part of his legacy will include the successful follow through on a $20 billion “resiliency” plan that would seek to protect the city’s coastlines from rising sea levels and future storms. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) laid out one such plan that involves both beautifying and fortifying Coney Island Creek, through a plan that would unite Coney Island’s Kaiser Park with Bath Beach’s Calvert Vaux Park.

During the events of Superstorm Sandy, Coney Island Creek got hammered, suffering massive flooding and heavy damage. The NYCEDC described the damaged sustained to the area by the storm, the strategy to protect the area and how the proposals would improve the surrounding community:

During Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island Creek was the main source of inundation for much of the Gravesend and Coney Island neighborhoods.  Low edges and topography contributed to “backdoor” flooding that caused enormous damage.  Building off recommendations from the Mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) released in June 2013, a key recommendation was a detailed feasibility study of integrated hydrological management strategies.

These strategies would prevent and mitigate upland flooding in adjacent areas while improving waterfront open space, strengthening connections between neighborhoods, and establishing principles for sound development around the Creek. This assessment would consider technical feasibility, cost, phasing, environmental considerations, and other important issues that will inform implementation.

The city’s website broke down the specifics of these plans even further as well as what the project needs going forward to become a reality:

The proposal for Coney Creek includes:

  • Coastal Protection: The installation of a new levee and tidal barrier system at the mouth of the creek to manage the flow of water during a similar future coastal storm. As a first phase, the City intends to install shoreline protection along the creek’s lowest lying edges to provide interim protection in advance of a larger investment.
  • Stormwater Management: By incorporating operational controls to the City’s stormwater management system, this system would allow the creek to absorb stormwater runoff and improve drainage to protect adjacent neighborhoods and infrastructure during coastal storms or extreme precipitation events.
  • Parks: By combining Calvert Vaux and Kaiser parks around a renewed and restored wetland and lake complex, this system can bring together two neighborhoods historically separated by Coney Island Creek and achieve better waterfront access and a new destination park in Southern Brooklyn.

Next steps: A portion of the City’s Community Development Block Grant funding has been allocated for the planning of this project. An RFP is currently being developed for a team to develop the concept further and provide critical information about technical, environmental and planning issues as well as costs.

The whole concept sounds fantastic and expensive but no one said storm proofing the New York City coastline was going to be easy or cheap. I suppose forking over a lot now might prevent being forced to pay a ton later when the city is engulfed by ocean waters.

A new Nexus 7 tablet. (Source: Wikipedia)

A new Nexus 7 tablet. (Source: Wikipedia)

It’s rare whenever Southern Brooklyn get a cool new tech or cultural addition ahead of, like, anywhere else in the city, but the Brooklyn Public Library and Google are looking to reward us for our suffering from Sandy.

Google, a company which knows all and has all the money, generously donated 1,000 fresh Nexus 7 tablet’s to libraries in Brooklyn devastated by Superstorm Sandy. According to a press release, Google, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Fund for Public Schools, donated a whopping 17,000 tablets to New York City libraries, senior centers and community centers, amounting to a $2.7 million donation.

The tablets will be used to support a range of functions, including English as a second language training, job training or simply serving as eReaders. Library patrons will even be able to borrow the tablets, just like a book, free to add music, movies and other apps, as long as they come back freshly deleted when returned.

The tablets will be available for loan from Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Gerritsen Beach, Red Hook and Sheepshead Bay libraries.

Linda Johnson, the president of the Brooklyn Public Library, was thrilled with the donation.

“These communities were some of the worst hit by Hurricane Sandy, so they are receiving priority access to our new tablet lending program. Providing digital learning opportunities is at the forefront of our Library’s mission, so now, one year after the storm, we are thrilled to be able to offer this wonderful new resource to our patrons,” Johnson said in the release.

Wow, the library just got a lot cooler. Also, if you think that borrowing a tablet and never returning it would only cost you 15 cents or so in overdue fees, think again. According to the Brooklyn Library’s webpage on the Tablet Lending Program, you are going to owe $200 bucks for a lost or broken tablet, so be sure not to spill any coffee on it (looking at you, Ned).

Sheepshead Bay Library

Sheepshead Bay Library

City Hall’s budget battles and shortfalls are constantly putting a strain on the city’s library system, including Southern Brooklyn’s libraries, where they serve large immigrant populations. The New York Times is reporting that the library squeeze has consequences for the city’s immigrant population, which relies on the institutions for learning and cultural integration.

Since 2008, funding for New York City libraries in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens was cut by $65 million, increasing the strain on the system by decreasing hours and limiting the hiring of much-needed employees. Brooklyn Public Library executive David Woloch told the Times that the borough’s 60 branches need $300 million in capital improvements. According to Woloch, only $15 million was available in 2013.

Julie Sanford from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which recently awarded the Sheepshead Bay Library $10,000, summed up the problem to the Times:

“The libraries often can’t plan beyond a year because they don’t know what the budget is going to be,” said Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation… “It’s not like schools or parks, who start with a set budget. The libraries start from zero.”

Ms. Sandorf said that for $50 million more each year — “a rounding error in the city’s $70 billion budget” — all of the city’s libraries could be open 50 hours a week, instead of the current average of 43 hours. “If we are talking about a knowledge-based economy, this is what we need to do,” she said. “The problem is there is a huge gulf between the decision makers in this city who can pay for books or iPads and what is going on in every single library branch in the city.”

As the budgets for libraries shrink, demand for their services have increased, especially for the ever-growing immigrant population that uses them as cultural and learning centers. The Times described the cross-cultural services offered at the Sheepshead Bay branch:

Despite these challenges, branches like Sheepshead Bay offer countless services to an unending stream of people, including language and citizenship classes, arts and crafts, preschool story time, chess and even a Russian literature fan club.

Last Wednesday, a couple played Scrabble at a table while another couple studied for a nursing test. Nearby, a man browsed a selection of Korean movies, while another thumbed through recently arrived books in Russian. Upstairs, children did their homework or checked their e-mail

“If you are going to be educated, you have to be in touch with the culture,” said Laura Sermassan, an immigrant from Romania who meets her three sons at the library each day after school. “It’s a point of integration into American culture. It’s a support.”

Ms. [Svetlana] Negrimovskaya, in her office — where the shelf behind her desk has dictionaries in Yiddish, Russian, English and Chinese — was already looking forward to Tuesday’s gathering to mark Hurricane Sandy’s passing and the community’s rebound. She said people came alive when they were able to come back.

Councilman Vincent Gentile, Source: council.nyc.gov

Councilman Vincent Gentile, Source: council.nyc.gov

The following is an unaltered press release from the offices of Councilman Vincent Gentile:

A year ago on October 28, I spent the day visiting senior centers, on calls with the Office of Emergency Management and touring temporary hurricane shelters that were being set up inside high schools. I spent the night like many other New Yorkers: making last minute preparations for what I knew would be a treacherous tomorrow. For days, everyone on the East Coast had been bracing themselves for what was supposed to be one of the most destructive tropical storms in recent memory. We all knew what was coming and when it was coming. But on the eve of Superstorm Sandy, no one knew just how unprepared we really were for the destruction that would be unleashed on our City the next day.

According to Mayor Bloomberg, the estimated monetary cost of Superstorm Sandy for New York City was approximately $19 billion. Even such a large number doesn’t come close to capturing the true loss that was suffered that day and in the weeks and months that followed. Breezy Point in Queens was rendered a blazing inferno—over 100 homes burned to the ground. The subway—completely flooded. Some of our City’s most treasured landmarks like the then-newly refurbished Cyclone in Coney Island were completely wrecked. Hundreds of thousands of families were displaced from their homes. Those that were lucky enough to still have a home were forced to go without power for weeks. And even now, many families throughout the City are still awaiting repairs for damage caused by Sandy.

This October 29, it will have been a full year since Superstorm Sandy wreaked this destruction on our City. But the question remains: if another storm like Sandy hit tomorrow, how prepared would we be? In the City Council, I made it my job to make sure this City never experiences that sort of devastation again.

Overhead power lines posed one of the biggest dangers during Superstorm Sandy. These lines were torn down during the storm and not only caused numerous fires but also made it difficult for the City to restore power to damaged areas. After the storm, I called on the City to bury overhead power lines underground. Underground lines are safer because they are not susceptible to heavy wind and rain and can be easily restored to full operational capacity after a power outage.

I helped pass a legislative package of 10 bills that set the groundwork for recovery as well as future preparedness. Goals of this package included protecting the vulnerable, bolstering emergency infrastructure and helping small businesses recover. Senior citizens, the sick, and children—these are the members of our community who are the most helpless when disaster strikes. Part of the package requires the Office of Emergency Management to identify households with vulnerable persons and conduct door-to-door assistance to develop disaster response strategies. In addition, OEM must also assess the operational capacity of shelter facilities. This was a huge problem last year as many emergency shelters were simply unprepared for the volume of people that needed help. The Administration is also required to develop a plan to efficiently distribute food and water to disaster-hit areas—yet another huge problem we faced last year. It is simply unacceptable for families living in one of the richest cities with one of the most developed infrastructures, to not have access to basic sustenance in emergency situations.

It is so important that we learn from our response to Hurricane Sandy in order to prepare for the next storm. To that end, my colleagues and I in the New York City Council are continuing our efforts – and our promise – to find ways to strengthen our city’s infrastructure following the storm. Together we can ensure that our City is even better prepared to meet Mother Nature’s next challenge.

Source: Cari/Foursquare

Since Superstorm Sandy struck Coney Island, the recovery of the area has been a mixed bag. One the one hand, the boardwalk has never been more popular, inviting a glut of tourists and new businesses to the area. On the flip side, many of these businesses are corporate in nature, sapping authenticity from the historic site in hopes to capitalize on all the increased foot traffic. The Epoch Times is reporting that the folks running the custom t-shirt shop Brooklyn Rock hope to win the hearts of Brooklyn locals and not their disdain.

Brooklyn Rock, which is located along a renovated strip of businesses on Stillwell Avenue, sells used books, records and other homespun items, and features its bright and colorful t-shirts as the main draw. Chris Smith, a designer at the store, told the Epoch Times that all the shirts are made with cotton grown in the United States.

“I’m using American stuff because I know I’m hurting the least amount of people and I’m benefiting the most amount of people in my environment. And they’re good product. They last a long time,” Smith told the Epoch Times.

The shirts, which feature clever messages like, “Brooklyn: Entertaining Manhattan since 1646,” are a bit pricey at $24, which Smith admitted has surprised customers.

“People are so used to buying at discount stores that they’re a little shocked at the price sometimes,” Smith said.

Still, the shirts and the store are a cool place. I recently walked in there and observed the artists in the back crafting the shirts, creating a relaxed and artistic atmosphere. It was a welcome respite from the blaring music and screaming kids found running around the area. My friends and I also had fun browsing the diverse and eclectic selection of cheap books and records. It is worth ducking into and exploring when you have had your fill of roller coasters and hot-dogs.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

Democratic City Council candidate Mark Treyger was outraged to learn that millions of dollars donated by the National Football League (NFL) for Superstorm Sandy relief won’t be sent to Coney Island. In a press release, Treyger held Mayor Michael Bloomberg responsible for failing to make sure that some of the money get to Coney Island.

Treyger, who is looking to replace Councilman Domenic Recchia as the Council representative of the 47th District expressed his anger at Bloomberg for failing to make sure that part of the donated $2 million donated by the NFL reached Coney Island:

“I wish I could say I’m surprised, but once again the Bloomberg administration has ignored the needs of working families in Coney Island,” said Treyger, who teaches Civics at nearby New Utrecht High School and had many students displaced by Sandy. “Families in Coney Island are still struggling to deal with the impact of Superstorm Sandy. The Bloomberg Administration has courted tourism dollars as a means of helping our city economy. When guests make donations, it’s the administration’s responsibility to make sure these dollars are steered toward the neighborhoods that need them the most. Coney Island’s parks, playgrounds, and recreational spaces remain in dangerous condition. Community centers at our NYCHA developments are still unopened. These spaces are not luxuries for our families, they’re necessities. As we open our doors to the NFL and one of the most glamorous events in American sports, we cannot forget the families and children of Coney Island. I’m calling on the Bloomberg administration, the NFL, and the Super Bowl Host Committee to fund necessary improvements to the playgrounds in Coney Island, so our kids have a safe place to play.”

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