PUBLISHED BY MOSHOLU PRESERVATION CORPORATION

Vol. 19,  No.  1 Jan. 12 - 25, 2006



     
 

The Stories of 2005
… and Where They Stand in 2006
Homicides Double Crime Down 9% in ‘05     Meals Makeover Tweaked 
   Policies Spark School Protest     The Mother of All Elevator Mishaps     Still Waiting on Armory     Construction Boom     After-School Programming Overhauled     Driving Tenants Out?     School Leader’s Unfinished Business     Community Board 7 Shake-Up     Tower Tiff Resolved     Plant Construction Begins

Homicides Double
Crime Down 9% in ‘05

By JORDAN MOSS

Murders declined again in New York City in 2005 to a 40-year low of 537. But locally, in the 52nd Precinct, the homicide rate more than doubled, from eight in 2004 to 17 in 2005.

Shootings, however, only moderately increased from 23 in 2004 to 27 in 2005. Back in 2003 there were 44 shooting incidents, leading to the largest
shooting reduction in the city the following year. Police officials are reassured by that three-year comparison

“We’re a victim of our own success,” said Deputy Inspector Joseph Hoch, the Five-Two’s commanding officer, referring to the big drop from ’03 to ‘04. “I hate to use that cliché, but that’s where we’re at.”

Hoch said that the relatively small increase in shootings paired with the nature of the murders makes him and police brass less worried than if shootings and murder by gunfire dramatically increased. Seven of the 17 homicides were the result of gun violence, Hoch said, and only two were narcotics related. Four were the result of domestic disputes, and two were murder-suicides. “I’d be very concerned if there were 17 by gun,” Hoch said.

Overall, crime was down 9.4 percent in the precinct due to reductions in rape, robbery, and felonious assault.

As for other statistics that give a picture of crime in our area, there were 1,693 drug-related arrests in 2005 in the Five-Two, compared with 1,622 in 2004. Those in high-crime areas like the area of North Fordham between the Grand Concourse and Webster Avenue and south of East 198th Street say most drug dealing they see goes unpunished. The area has been the target of several manpower-intensive initiatives like Model Block and Impact, but many residents say drug dealing returns when those initiatives fold up their tents and move on.

The Five-Two also recorded a big jump in arrests, with cops collaring 4,342 suspects in 2005 vs. 3,828 the year before.

Hoch was particularly pleased with the number of search warrants his officers were able to execute, an indication of improved intelligence gathering on illegal activity. Thirty-seven search warrants were executed in 2005 vs. 16 the previous year.

Quality of life summonses, for offenses like noise and disorderly conduct, were up 22 percent, Hoch said.

Meals Makeover Tweaked

Bronx homebound seniors endured late deliveries and watery, unappetizing meals when the Meals on Wheels overhaul rolled out in late 2004. The pilot still has many critics, but the food and service improved some during the year.

Beginning in October 2004, meals cooked daily in local senior centers were substituted with pre-packaged frozen meals delivered by two Bronx agencies. Roughly 30 percent of homebound seniors in the northwest Bronx receive frozen meals twice a week, and the rest get reheated meals on weekdays.

RAIN, a large service provider, delivers all the meals in the area. Their performance led to numerous complaints in the beginning, but improved as kinks were remedied, according to the city Department for the Aging (DFTA) and some former providers.

RAIN partnered with ConAgra, a food-processing giant, to provide the TV-style dinners for all but kosher clients. A taste test by the Norwood News found the meals to be watery and unappetizing.

RAIN dumped ConAgra for Whitsons Culinary Services, a Long Island-based institutional caterer, in September. Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council, the other Bronx provider, has used Whitsons since the pilot began. “People seem to like them better,” said Brad Silver, head of the Bronx Jewish Community Council, which provides case management for pilot clients. “[Mid-Bronx] was getting a lot less complaints.”

Whitsons has Meals on Wheels contracts around the tri-state area. The 27-year-old firm runs a site on East Gun Hill Road.

Holly Von Seggern, a Whitsons spokesperson, said they follow strict nutritional and taste guidelines, and welcome client feedback. “We take great pains to work with our customers,” she said.

This month, RAIN started delivering hot or chilled meals on the weekends to clients who receive them during the week. City Meals, a nonprofit assistance group, funds Meals on Wheels providers to deliver hot meals to city seniors on the weekends. RAIN failed to continue this service after it took over the program, initially providing only frozen meals on the weekends. After City Meals put its foot down, seniors now receive a hot meal for Saturdays and a chilled one for Sundays.

“Eventually, they said, ‘We’ve given you enough time, it’s our money, we’re not paying for frozen meals on the weekends,’” Silver said.

There’s been less progress in assessing the pilot’s first year. DFTA named KPMG — one of the largest accounting firms in the country — to conduct a performance evaluation, which was supposed to have begun already. It will begin “in the near future,” according to a DFTA spokesperson.

During an event last week, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who had supported the pilot, told the Norwood News that he was unhappy with its results and that promises of increased meal services to seniors were not fulfilled. “That commissioner can never come back to me,” Rivera said, referring to DFTA commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago. Rivera and his son, Council Member Joel Rivera, said they would consider holding a hearing on the program this year.
— Heather Haddon

Policies Spark School Protest

Captive lunch, the intimidating term for mandatory indoor meals at city schools, did not go down easy at DeWitt Clinton High School last fall. Outrage over the new rules and metal detectors installed at the school seems to have quieted, but the policy is still unpopular with some students.

City administrators decided to beef up Clinton’s security at the start of the school year, with metal detectors and surveillance cameras installed over the summer. Anger climaxed during the first week of classes, resulting in one of the largest student walkouts in recent city history. Over a thousand students marched to One Fordham Plaza and, as a result, a committee of staff and students was formed to improve the situation.

The long lines to enter school shrunk as more metal detectors were added. Fights inside Clinton initially spiked and then subsided, though not entirely, according to students. “There was a fight every day. Now it’s more like once a week,” said Valentine, 15, a Clinton student from North Fordham.

Several teachers channeled student anger by exploring activism in the classroom, and Clinton is hosting a conference on the topic this week. Activists from around the city have been invited and Mickey Melendez, a former Young Lord, is the keynote speaker. He is expected to address the security changes.

“His whole response to the metal detectors was one of outrage,” said Raymond Pultinas, a Clinton English teacher who helped organize the conference and a student publication addressing activism.

The lunch still seems to be a sticking point with students. Jennifer Rivera, 17, says she only has five minutes to eat after getting through the long cafeteria line. “You have to rush it,” she said.

Some students, like Valentine, still find a way to eat outside. But several area merchants reported that their business fell after the captive lunch took effect.
— Heather Haddon

The Mother of All Elevator Mishaps

When Ming Kuang Chen, a Chinese food delivery man disappeared last April 1, virtually everyone feared the worst. Two delivery men had been murdered in recent years. But almost four days later, Chen was discovered alive in one of Tracey Towers’ 12 elevators, where he had gone to make a delivery, shaken and dehydrated but otherwise in good condition.

How Chen became virtually invisible in the elevator, despite a massive police search and a bank of security cameras focused on each elevator car, is a tale of a remarkable string of security lapses.

Though 80 police officers searched most of Tracey’s 871 apartment units, they never brought each of the elevator cars down to the first floor, a precaution security experts consider routine. The security cameras, provided by R-Y Management, which oversees Tracey, proved useless as they were unable to project a discernable image. Even the head of the company that provides the building’s security conceded that fact. The elevator’s alarm apparently only rang in the lobby and not in the security room or in the vestibule where other security guards sit, according to a source familiar with the details of the case.

The incident was reported in media all over the world and even provided the material for a sub-plot in a recent episode of the TV show, “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” where a missing health inspector was eventually discovered in the faulty elevator of a housing project.

The plight of Ming Kuang Chen, who has since moved outside the metropolitan area and is reportedly a kitchen worker for another restaurant, spotlighted Tracey’s notoriously malfunctioning elevators, which the Norwood News reported on back in 2002. The 12 elevators are now slowly being replaced. At least three are already finished, with the rest scheduled for completion this year, but some residents say they are still getting stuck and skipping stops.
— Jordan Moss

Still Waiting on Armory

A year ago, the Norwood News expressed a wish that 2005 would be the Year of the Armory. Twelve months later, it would be accurate to say that that wish went unfulfilled.

Governor Pataki visited the armory with local elected officials last July but 190 days later, there is still no new site for the National Guard units still stationed in the buildings to the rear of the facility. Their relocation is required for the redevelopment of the landmarked structure. An Economic Development Corporation (EDC) official who led community leaders on a tour of the armory last month indicated that part of the problem in identifying a new site was confusion over whether a new Guard facility was needed for both of the units based at the armory, or just one.

An EDC spokesperson was not able to clarify the issue by press time.

Meanwhile, the Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition has been recruiting local institutional partners for the newly formed Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance in an effort to generate more local support for a redevelopment that is best suited to the community. The Coalition has partnered with a developer to draft a detailed plan for the armory that includes public schools, a movie theater, athletic space and retail stores.

If the city and state ever identify a new site for the Guard, the EDC will probably then issue a request for proposals.
— Jordan Moss

Construction Boom

Local construction projects continued to break ground at a rapid rate last year, but moving them to completion, and full occupancy, wasn’t so swift.

Ground was cleared in all corners of the district for new buildings, which range from two-family houses to 10-story high-rises.

Projects in University Heights are generally further along. Rows of identical three-story brick houses were erected by one company along the intersection of Grand Avenue and West 192nd Street. The homes span 13 lots, significantly altering a streetscape populated by homes built early in the century.

Over on Sedgwick Avenue, just below Fordham Road, four rows of three-story homes were completed in a similar brick style with more upscale features. Condominiums built by the Fordham Hill Owners Corporation are nearly finished up the street. Two four-story complexes in Norwood, one on Hull Avenue and another on St. George’s Crescent, are also moving along.

Other projects moved in fits and starts. The shell of a four-story office tower went up on Bainbridge Avenue early last year, and has sat untouched for months due to contractor issues. Similar issues hampered an eight-story residential tower on East Gun Hill Road. The Fire Department was called out to a development on Bedford Park Boulevard after the previous structure — the old Grace Lutheran School — was partially demolished and improperly secured.

Still other projects have yet to get off the ground. A 10-story high-rise was slated to wrap up this year on Villa Avenue. The plot is still an empty parking lot, changing hands for the second time in two years for a multi-million dollar profit. A 140-unit condominium project for Landing Road, located between West Fordham Road and the Major Deegan Expressway, is bogged down in zoning changes. Jack Gutman, a realtor overseeing the development, said that work should begin within a year. The building will include luxuries, like river views, for a reasonable price, Gutman said.

“It will be the most affordable new condominium project in the Bronx,” he said.

Some residents are happy to see all the development. “We need more buildings. There are more families who need more space,” said Carmen Pabon, 63, a Norwood resident.

Others are frustrated. The Department of Buildings has logged over a dozen complaints for noise and hazardous conditions related to the Slingsby building on Bainbridge Avenue. St. George’s Crescent residents have called the city repeatedly to complain about trucks and dumpsters left in the street near construction on that street.

It’s uncertain how much demand there is for the new developments, especially the condos and higher-end complexes. The Grand and Sedgwick avenue homes still had several vacancies as of last October.

Community Board 7 began to assess planning options for the area’s land use during the fall, and is looking to focus on the Kingsbridge Armory and the Harlem River waterfront.
— Heather Haddon

After-School Programming Overhauled

The city launched a massive revamping of its after-school programming in 2005 that, like the Meals on Wheels pilot, consolidated providers and streamlined services. Both initiatives terminated contracts with longtime area providers. But Out of School Time (OST), as it is called, also expanded programming for others.

New contracts were awarded in the summer. Local programs that served smaller populations of young people, like Tolentine Zeizer Community Life Center, Sistas and Brothas United, and EARS, all lost their funding. Other programs, like the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center (MMCC), won additional contracts.

The transition was painful for Tolentine, which was forced to fold its teen program. Sister Margaret McDermott, the Center’s director, worries about where their kids now end up. “Some go to the public schools, but a lot of them just go home,” she said.

Tolentine has maintained some teen services through a separate grant, and they raised $17,000 in private contributions for a small program serving younger kids.

Sistas and Brothas lost $50,000, but Council Member Joel Rivera softened the blow with a $20,000 allocation. Both groups plan to reapply to OST.

Other programs grew. St. James Recreation Center added an educational component to its pre-existing after-school program, which serves 75 kids.

An after-school initiative run at MS 254, a Crotona school serving North Fordham kids, expanded from 150 to 330 children. “It serves almost all the kids at the school,” said Johanna DeJesus, who directs the program.

MMCC was able to expand its teen services, serve more children, and hire more staff. “I think our constituents are happy,” said Rita Santelia, an assistant director.

Critics of OST say it shaved off too much funding from providers. The city used to pay around $5,000 per child for after-school programming. OST allocates a maximum of $2,800. The city has solicited private grants to supplement the difference, but individual providers are expected to fill most of the gap.

“It costs much more than $2,000 [per child], that’s for sure,” said DeJesus, who taps other city and private funds, along with volunteers from Fordham University, to run the initiative.
— Heather Haddon

Driving Tenants Out?

Perhaps the latest sign of the hot housing market was the arrival of a controversial real estate company in the Bronx. As the Norwood News reported in October, the Pinnacle Group snapped up hundreds of buildings in low-income areas all over the city, including the Bronx, over the past two years. Their aggressive practices don’t seem to bode well for long-term tenants.

After they purchase the properties, Pinnacle makes improvements on the buildings’ infrastructure, like hallway lighting and security cameras. Additional Major Capital Improvements are then undertaken, which tenants must pay a portion of. The company says it is renovating neglected properties, but many residents dispute the necessity of the work and its high costs.

Further raising alarm bells, Bronx Housing Court records reveal that Pinnacle has taken hundreds of residents to court for rent or to dispute whether they are the proper leaseholder. Some residents have been taken to court for using their married name, instead of their maiden name, on rent checks. Critics fear that Pinnacle’s end game is to drive out tenants and turn the buildings into co-ops.

Residents of Manhattan Pinnacle buildings have begun to organize, and are seeking assistance from elected officials and city agencies. So far, the officials have been slow to respond. The Norwood News, which is the only city newspaper to write about Pinnacle’s practices in recent years, will continue to follow this important story.
— Heather Haddon

Ed. note:
A meeting of tenants living in Pinnacle buildings will take place on Monday, Jan. 16 at 4:30 p.m. in the rehearsal room at Riverbank State Park, located at 145th Street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan. For more information, contact Kim Powell at Kimlpowell@aol.com.

School Leader’s Unfinished Business

Irma Zardoya was thrust into the spotlight this year for her successes as Region 1 superintendent. But with that feather freshly in her cap, she announced her retirement.

Zardoya was widely credited for orchestrating the Region’s significant boost in test scores last spring. Fourth graders registered the city’s largest increase in state reading scores, with many local schools showing double-digit improvements. Scores rose citywide, but the mayor chose to trumpet the good news at PS 33 on Jerome Avenue, where over 80 percent of the school’s students passed.

Zardoya attributed the results to her emphasis on professional development and incorporating literacy in all subjects.

Middle school scores did not fare so well. Less than one-third of area eighth graders passed, and most schools saw their numbers barely budge.

Zardoya said in an interview with the Norwood News last summer that she would put extra emphasis on middle-schoolers. What exactly she would have done will remain a mystery as she announced her retirement last month. The news came as a shock to many principals and parents, though Zardoya said she had planned the move for a year now.

Yvonne Torres will officially replace Zardoya next month. Torres has worked in area schools for nearly three decades, and was a principal at PS 291 in University Heights.
— Heather Haddon

Community Board 7 Shake-Up

2005 was a landmark year for Community Board 7, which saw its longtime leader Nora Feury step down as chair after being fired from her job at a Head Start program, along with an associate for allegedly stealing $800,000.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York said that Feury and Ruth Ramos, who also served on Board 7, pocketed funds from the agency’s operating budget.

It is unclear where Feury, who has not commented on the specific allegations, stands legally. Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, said the matter rested with federal investigators. But Laura Bradbard, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, said her office had nothing new to report. “There’s no new information that I can share, nothing new that I can tell you about the status,” she said. In June, HHS would not even confirm whether or not there was an ongoing investigation into the matter.

Gregory Faulkner, who had planned to run against Feury for chair even before the news broke, succeeded her without an election, as there were no other candidates for the position.

As chair, Faulkner has restructured Board committees; they now meet more regularly although attendance is still a problem. He has said he wants to create stronger connections with community residents by creating a Board 7 Web site and complaint intake forms.

Feury, who had served as chair for 17 years, is still a board member, but her appointment is up this spring. It will then be Borough President Adolfo Carrión’s decision whether or not to reappoint her.
— Jordan Moss

Tower Tiff Resolved

The seemingly intractable Fordham University radio tower controversy came to a complete resolution in 2005. Montefiore Medical Center brokered a deal last spring, allowing Fordham to build its WFUV antenna on top of a Norwood apartment building owned by the hospital. This paves the way for Fordham to dismantle the half-built tower on its campus, which rises near the New York Botanical Garden and has been the source of a decade of bitter relations between the two institutions.

After a swift review process, the slim antenna was raised onto the high-rise’s roof in the fall. The switch will be officially flipped this spring, and Fordham has promised to dismantle its campus tower shortly after that. In addition to smoothing relations, the new antenna will allow WFUV to almost double the number of listeners it can reach.
— Heather Haddon


Plant Construction Begins

The battle over the construction of the water filtration plant, which stretches back more than a decade, came to a close at the very end of 2004 with bulldozers clearing trees and earth in Van Cortlandt Park as 2005 rang in. Blasting to unearth bedrock from the site to make room for the facility began in May and will continue about another 18 months. Trucks leave the site every two minutes or so to remove the material.

Meanwhile, appellate courts dismissed all remaining lawsuits aimed at stopping the city in its tracks.

Though most opponents of the plant consider their battle lost, it nevertheless had an impact by getting the city to scrap an even more unpopular plan to site it above ground at the Jerome Park Reservoir and make it smaller.

And though it is a consolation prize few wanted, several area parks are getting massive makeovers as part of the political deal that paved the way for the facility. The installation of a $2.3 million playground is under way in Van Cortlandt’s southeast corner and the beginning of a massive $15 million makeover of Williamsbridge Oval Park should begin in 2006. St. James Park’s entrances are undergoing renovation and Aqueduct Park in University Heights is also scheduled for an upgrade.

Meanwhile, community members and local officials keep tabs on construction of the plant and its impact on the neighborhood at bi-monthly Facility Monitoring Committee meetings.
— Jordan Moss


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