New York Is Getting Closer to Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

Jamaica, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo called upon the State Health Department to conduct a study on the pros and cons of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York.

Though the Governor has called marijuana a “gateway drug” which could lead to the use of other drugs, tax revenue earned from legalized marijuana could be the gateway to fixing the city’s infrastructure problems, like the crumbling subway system.

According to a report obtained by Fox5 NY, New York City’s Mass Transit Authority President Andy Byford says the agency needs $40 billion over a ten year span to modernize the subway system. The $200-700 million tax revenue earned from legalization of recreational marijuana could offset the current need for a subway fare hike. Tax revenue depends upon excise tax and varying price per ounce.

An April 2018 Quinnipiac University poll found that sixty-three percent of New Yorkers support the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana was legalized in New York state when Governor Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act in September 2014, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana in a non-smokable form to patients with serious ailments that are recognized by the state on a predefined but flexible list of conditions.

According to Senator Leroy Comrie (D-NY), who is in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, the topic will be on the table for discussion in the next legislative session which begins in January 2019.

Rikers Island Set To Close

Queens, NY – New York City is set to close the first of its notorious Rikers Island jails next year and redistribute inmates into the city’s boroughs, but not without opposition in Queens county.

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to begin closing the entire jail complex over a ten year period in favor of opening borough-based community jails. The 10-year plan to shutter the scandal ridden jail complex includes proposals for community jails to be opened in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and The Bronx. The old Rikers complex would be used as a sewage treatment plant and energy facilities.

Rikers Island is a holding jail until arrestees go to trial and, if convicted and sentenced to longer terms, go upstate to one of New York state’s prisons. It became known for a “deep-seated culture of violence” as described by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says closing Rikers is a key piece of creating a smaller, safer and fairer criminal justice system in New York City, but “will take time, the effort of many and tough decisions along the way”.

The plan is controversial and has both proponents and those in opposition of the closing of the notorious jail complex.

A recent community meeting of the Flushing Civic Association had the majority of Queens borough attendees in opposition of the proposal to open a 30-story community jail building in Kew Gardens for current Rikers inmates. Of the 34 attendees, most expressed concerns about public safety.

Fielding questions from attendees, Queens Assistant District Attorney James Quinn said after the infamous jail’s closing, former Rikers inmates will be housed in the county in which their crime took place. He addressed concerns such as the new jails having less space than the sprawling Rikers complex and discussed if lack of space would cause bails to be lowered and serious offenders to be set free. He spoke of possible early parole and arrestees possibly being given desk appearance tickets when perhaps they should be held immediately, due to the nature of their crime. He also spoke of the possibility of shorter sentences and offenders never being transferred to state prisons.

Beverly McDermott, President of the Kissena Park Civic Association in Flushing, said, “I think it’s bad for every taxpayer. They’re spending money that is not theirs to spend. And when we have homeless, we have people who could use affordable housing and we have medical facilities bursting at the seams.”

Queens resident John Kelly said, “It’s not going to take ten years. It’s going to take 15 years. To me it’s a big smokescreen. They have said publicly that they want to extend the runway at LaGuardia Airport, which is right next to Rikers Island, and they want to increase the number of flights.”

Carsten Glaser, Vice President of the Kissena Park Civic Association said, “This idea of taking prisoners out and moving them out into the community is really an insane idea. We are a civilized society and this notion of bringing criminal element softens the idea that they’re not violent and not prone to recidivism, again, puts a lot of the public at risk. You have the detention center, it’s really not a good idea.”

Other concerns Quinn spoke of is the plan for holding juvenile offenders and if there are more inmates than Rikers is currently designed for. Another concern Quinn raised is if certain crimes would get no jail time. He put forth an example of auto theft convictions when the auto is insured. Quinn asked, “What are victimless crimes? What about prostitution and minor charges?”

The Queens Assistant D.A. said city crime has dropped astronomically in the last 25 years. He said murders are down 85 percent from 1993 to 2017, and last year he said there were less than 50 homicides. “In 1993, 50,000 cars were stolen and last year, that number is down to 1,200. Robberies are down 84 percent and burglaries and grand larcenies are also down,” he said. He acknowledged an “enormous decline in crime,” but posed questions about if there would still be jail sentences for minor charges.

Quinn says since 2013, 49 percent of inmates are re-arrested at an average of three times each.

Rikers Island currently can house 15,000 inmates. Quinn says New York City’s plan is to reduce the population of Rikers to 5,000 and that to do that, it must release everyone currently being held on bail. Rikers currently has 6,447 open cases and 320 inmates are being detained for offenses in other jurisdictions. He says it will be impossible to have a city of 9 million people with 5,000 jail beds. “Putting people in jail is the last resort,” he said.

Quinn says it’s a better idea to refurbish the old buildings at Rikers and continue to house inmates there, not in community-based jails in the individual boroughs. He said it’s easier to transport criminals in buildings that are low built, as opposed to the 30- and 40-story buildings proposed for each borough.

Quinn said it would cost $1.6 billion to refurbish and renovate Rikers Island and it would have to be financed over 30 years. He says building four new community-based jails that contain all of the amenities of Rikers Island could end up totaling $33 billion, “if it goes perfectly and on time.” He said in addition to the 30-some story buildings to house inmates, there will also have to be law libraries and fire departments in each new jail. Also included are kitchens, infirmaries and garages to repair vehicles. Currently Rikers has about 1,000 of its own vehicles for various operations including prisoner transport. Quinn says undertaking the replicating of Rikers Island into four new fully operating jails in each borough is an “astronomical venture”.

Queens Assistant D.A. Quinn says the city has no idea how much redistributing inmates across the boroughs will actually end up costing. He says many times construction workers can only work three to four hours per day. He says Rikers could be repaired, rebuilt and that can be done right now, not ten years from now.

As for inmates being relocated into 30 story buildings in largely residential areas of the boroughs, Quinn says, “People are incensed about it.”

According to Quinn, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown agrees the closing of Rikers is a bad idea and that this undertaking will be “a historic mistake.” He acknowledged that although it sounds like a great idea, it would be “a waste of time, energy and money”.

Glendale Flower Shop Expands into CBD Enhanced Coffee Shop

Glendale, NY – The medicinal benefits of Cannabidiol, or CBD, is exploding on the medical scene as more people discover its healing powers. One Queens flower shop is now serving CBD-infused coffees, teas, lattes and other beverages with what it calls a ‘calming’ effect.

By Patti Neda




More than a dozen Queens public schools to expand bilingual education this fall

Queens, N.Y. – Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has announced that fourteen public schools across Queens will receive expanded bilingual education programs to help bridge the education gap for English language learners.

English language learners will receive instruction in both English and their native language. All but one of the schools will receive dual language programs for the first time.

Elmhurst’s P.S. 7 and P.S. 13 will have Chinese dual language programs. P.S. 7 will also have an English – Bengali dual language program.

Ridgewood’s I.S. 77 and P.S. 305, Flushing’s P.S. 22, Corona’s P.S. 92 and P.S. 330, Jamaica’s P.S./I.S. 268 and East Elmhurst’s P.S. 148 will each have Spanish dual language programs.

P.S. 71 in Ridgewood will have a Polish dual language program to accommodate its large number of Polish speaking students and I.S. 25 in Flushing will have a Korean dual language program for its Korean speaking population.

Additionally, William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City will have a Transition Bilingual Education (TBE) program in Spanish. Students in TBE classes receive home language instruction with intensive English language support. Students will receive more instruction in English until they reach proficiency.

Carranza said, “Everyone in our city, including immigrant families and undocumented students, deserves a high quality education and language should never be a barrier to equal access. When I started kindergarten, I only spoke Spanish, and my parents trusted public schools to teach me English. I want to make sure every English language learner in New York City has the same experience I did growing up.”

Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, said, “We see a huge need for more bilingual programs to serve the city’s diverse immigrant and English language learner students, including those with disabilities. It is good to see the city take steps to expand options for English language learners who continue to lag far behind their peers in academic achievement and graduation rates.”

Both the dual language and TBE programs aim to help students acquire a new language while simultaneously strengthening their native language skills and mastery of other subject areas.

Lawsuit filed against the city and state education departments to reduce Queens class sizes

Queens, N.Y. – An advocacy group and public school parents are suing the city and state education departments in an effort to reduce class sizes.

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday, alleges that the city Department of Education has not abided by a 2007 law that mandated smaller classes.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of advocacy group Class Size Matters, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “A lot of kids are in very overcrowded classrooms, especially in Queens.” Haimson and other plaintiffs filed a petition with state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in July, asking her to order the city to reduce class sizes in compliance with the 2007 Contract for Excellence Law, approved by the state Legislature after the Court of Appeals ruled “overcrowded classes in District schools contributed to inadequate student performance.” Under the law, K-3 classrooms should have no more than 23 students and high school core classes no more than 25 students by the end of the 2011-12 school year.

The average city class size in all grade levels has increased since 2007, and in the 2007-08 school year, the average class size in grades K-3 was 20.9 students and in 2014-15 was 24.6 students.

Elia sided with the city last December, leading the plaintiffs to file the April 12 lawsuit.

Three parents listed in the complaint are from Queens, Deborah Alexander, co-president of Community Education Council 30, JoAnn Schneider and Litza Stark. “The other day I encouraged my son to raise his hand during fifth grade math. He had just received a zero for participation,” Schneider said in a statement issued by Class Size Matters. “In a class of 32 kids, his chance to participate and his chance to learn has been squashed. He needs a smaller class size now.”

Councilman Danny Dromm (D- Jackson Heights), a former teacher and ex-chairman of the Council’s Education Committee, backs the lawsuit against the city and state. “It is unfortunate that it has come to the point where a lawsuit is needed to address the issue of reducing class size,” Dromm said. “Sadly, hundreds of thousands of our students are still crammed into classes of 30 or more and do not receive the attention they need to succeed. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately.”

A spokesman for the state Education Department declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Michael Aciman, a DOE spokesman, said, “We are committed to addressing overcrowding across this city, and have invested significant resources to increase seta capacity and reduce class size, including $6.5 billion in Capital Funding to create more than 46,600 seats in overcrowded areas. As a result of this work, average class size across the city has decreased from 26.4 students per class i the 2015-16 school year to 26.1 this year.”

The lawsuit asks the courts to order the DOE to “commence reducing class size averages” in accordance with the 2007 law by the 2018-19 school year, or submit a plan to shrink the sizes within a five-year timeline with annual targets.

Wendy Lecker, of the Education Law Center, is representing the plaintiffs. “The city cannot shirk its obligation to reduce class size under the C4E law and the State Constitution by taking no action for five years to let the statutory clock run out,” Lecker said in a statement.

Haimson backs the plan and says the city “needs to try to improve this process.” “It’s totally dysfunctional. Even when there’s money in the capital plan, they don’t build schools for many years.”

School District 24 in western and southwestern Queens is used as a case study in the Council’s plan. Part of the problem in SD 24, the members said, is that many schools were closed in the 1970s as enrollment dropped in that area.

As more people moved back into the neighborhoods, the city struggled to construct new schools.



Toddler survives fall from second story window

Glendale, N.Y. – A 2-year-old female child fell from a second story window on Myrtle Avenue near 81st Road in Glendale, police said.

Police were notified of the fall at approximately 2:08 p.m. on April 18. NYPD officers from the 104th Precinct and officials from the FDNY responded to the scene.

Police said the child landed in a bush below the window and had no obvious injuries. The girl was transported to New York Presbyterian Queens Hospital in stable condition.

No other details are available at this time.

The incident is under investigation.

MTA to discuss alternate routes for upcoming L train closure

Ridgewood, N.Y. – The MTA will hold an open house to commuters who have questions about the upcoming L train reconstruction project.

The open house will take place at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council located at 59-03 Summerfield Street in Ridgewood from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 12.

With the temporary shut down of the L train, Ridgewood could have the most affected commuters in Queens.

The Canarsie Tunnel will close for 15 months beginning April 2019. The tunnel needs extensive repairs after being flooded with saltwater during Superstorm Sandy, causing corrosion of cabling, circuit breakers and power and track equipment. Repairs are necessary as a precaution to keeping the tunnel from becoming dangerous.

Though the L train runs through a small section of Queens between Wilson Avenue and Halsey Street, thousands of Ridgewood residents use it as a main line into Manhattan. Commuters also come to the L line via the M train which runs through Ridgewood and Middle Village and connects with the L train at the Myrtle/Wyckoff Avenue stop.

The M train is currently preparing for increased volume next year. These upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of this month.

During the L line closure, the L train will continue to run between Bedford Avenue and Canarsie in Brooklyn, but some 200,000 commuters will have to find another route into Manhattan during this time.

The MTA has developed a mitigation plan for alternative travel options. The agency discussed the plan with the Community Board 5 Transportation Services Committee at the end of February.

The mitigation plan outlines that subway service will increase on the G, J, M and Z trains. The J and Z lines will run local from Myrtle Avenue to Marcy Avenue. The M trains will run up to 96th Street and Second Avenue on weekends and overnights.

Free MetroCard transfers will be given between the following locations:

-The Broadway stop of the G train and the Lorimer Street/Hewes Street stop of the J, M and Z trains

-The Junius Street stop of the 3 train and the Livonia Avenue stop of the L train

-The 21st Street stop of the G train and the Hunters Point Avenue stop of the 7 train

Bus service will be expanded with additional buses running from the Grand Street and Bedford Avenue stops from the L train into Manhattan over the Williamsburg Bridge. The bridge will be restricted to buses, trucks and HOV 3+ only, to adjust to increased traffic volume.

Ferry service will be offered between the north Williamsburg shore and the east side of Manhattan. There are no immediate plans for buses to drop passengers off at the ferry.

Open houses to discuss alternate routes have already been held in Williamsburg and Manhattan.

Man jumps to his death from Bronx-Whitestone Bridge

Whitestone, N.Y. – Police say a man jumped 135 feet from the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge just before 7 a.m. Tuesday morning of April 10.

The man’s identity is being withheld pending family notification.

NYPD Harbor Units pulled the man from the water and brought him to a nearby dock. EMS arrived on scene and transported the man to Flushing Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 8 a.m.

The tragedy caused heavy congestion on the bridge and Whitestone Expressway.

An NYPD investigation is under way.

Long Island City’s Queensbridge Houses receive new roofs in city’s plan to repair public housing

Long Island City, N.Y. – The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City are among the buildings in New York City that received new roofs through Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to upgrade public housing.

Funds were allocated to replace the roofs of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings throughout the city. Queensbridge Houses are the nation’s largest public housing complex. The new roofs are expected to reduce mold, which can cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“Residents may never see the new roof over their heads, but they will feel the difference,” de Blasio said. “We are targeting a major source of leaks and mold, making kids healthier and helping parents sleep easier. With the right resources, we can deliver real-time improvements to the quality of life for thousands of families.”

The Queensbridge Houses also received free WiFi throughout the development, 360 CCTV cameras and 858 security lights.

Major roof replacements of 65 NYCHA buildings began throughout the city in 2015, costing $91.6 million, as part of the first phase of a roof replacement project.

The second phase of the project will repair 78 roofs and cost $100 million. Construction has begun and is expected to be completed by June 2019.


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