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Protests Continue Over H.S.’s Relocation; School’s Fate May Be Decided at March Meeting

March 5, 2010

SCHOOL PROTEST

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS PROTESTING BRONX COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S DECISION (PHOTO: R. THOMAS)

By REBECCA THOMAS

Undeterred by the gathering blizzard, more than 40 University Heights Secondary School students rallied on Thursday, Feb. 25 to protest their school’s planned transfer from the Bronx Community College campus.

The students held signs and chanted, “BCC don’t move me,” during the hour-long demonstration on the sidewalk opposite the University Avenue entrance to BCC.

Thursday’s protest was the most recent organized by the students since they learned in December that the college wants the school’s building back at the end of the school year, so it can use the additional classroom space.

The Department of Education has proposed a new site for the school on the South Bronx High School Campus, which currently houses three other schools – a solution both students and teachers find unsatisfactory.

“I don’t want to go,” said 11th grader Maria Candelier. “It’s a bad area. I feel safe here and not there.” Many students echoed her fear that the new campus is in a dangerous neighborhood. They also said sharing it with other schools would destroy the community spirit of UHSS.

The proposed site is also far from where many UHSS students live. It’s in the southeast Bronx on Saint Ann’s Avenue near East 156th Street, several miles from the college.

“Most of the kids live in my district,” said local Assemblyman Nelson Castro in a phone interview. “That means they have to take public transport to get to the new school.” Castro added that he thought there were other sites closer to the current campus that could be retrofitted to house the school in its own building.

One of these sites has been suggested to the DOE by Councilman Cabrera. It is an empty, recently constructed, building on East 179th Street on the corner of Jerome Avenue. The DOE has said it will consider the location, according to Cabrera’s office.

“He’s [Cabrera] very passionate about putting on pressure to get the DOE to use a viable site,” said Zellnor Myrie, Cabrera’s press director.

In addition to petitioning for the support of elected representatives, the students have planned further protests, including one on March 4, as the Mount Hope Monitor went to press.

They will also be there in force at the DOE’s public hearings on March 9 and March 11. The meetings will be held on the BCC campus and the South Bronx High School campus respectively. Beforehand, students plan to write letters to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein criticizing the move. The final decision on whether the school will relocate to the South Bronx will be made by the Panel for Educational Policy on March 23. (The meeting has been rescheduled from the 22nd.)

While UHSS students are determined to see the school stay where it, not everyone is behind them. Andisha Steele, a 19-year-old BCC student who passed the protest on her way home, talked about the effect overcrowding was having on her college. She believes a new home should be found for the school.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that students are fighting for their school,” Steele said. “At the same time, I think they should be fighting for a space of their own, instead of a small piece of someone else’s.”

Related articles:
Local High School Could Move to the South Bronx
Opinion: BCC Must Rethink Decision to Evict High School

School Community and Local Politicians Criticize Plans to Relocate High School
BCC to Expel University Heights Secondary School

Beer at Burger King a Whopping Mistake Says Cabrera

March 5, 2010

CABRERA OUTSIDE THE BURGER KING ON JEROME AVENUE. HE'S CRITICAL OF THE COMPANY'S PLANS TO SELL BEER (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Burger King is doing business with the King of Beers.

The restaurant chain recently announced plans to sell domestic brews such as Budweiser at select locations across the country.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera criticized the move at a press conference on March 2. “What I don’t want to see is a cultural shift and children becoming desensitized… to alcohol,” he said, standing outside the Burger King at 2036-48 Jerome Ave.

Cabrera, who chairs the City Council’s Subcommittee on Drug Abuse, fired off a letter to Burger King’s chief executive officer last month, expressing his concerns. “The human and social costs of alcohol, particularly underage drinking, are already too high,” wrote Cabrera, who’s still waiting for a reply.

The councilman, a teetotaling pastor, might be expected to take a hard line when it comes to booze. But many local residents appear to share his views, at least when it comes to Burger King.

“I think it would ruin the family image… and bring in the wrong crowd,” said Ed Lopez, who was dining at the Jerome Avenue Burger King that same afternoon. He said he was “very highly against it.”

Thomas Rodriguez, there with his young daughter, described it as a “terrible idea.” He said he pictured the restaurant overrun with drunk and abusive teenagers.

Overhearing, another customer, Jose Ayala, jumped in to say, “I’m against it, and I drink, bro.” He added: “We have enough places to buy beer. We have a bodega on every other block.”

Burger King already serves beer at several of their international locations, and last month they opened their first beer-selling “Whopper Bar” (yes, they’re really called that) on American soil, in South Beach, Miami.

Michelle Miguelez, a spokeswoman for the company, said New York is “one of the potential cities we’re looking at” as they seek to expand.

But she stressed that Whopper Bars “will not be located inside traditional Burger King restaurants.” Instead, new locations will be sought out.

According to an earlier statement, the company has their sights set on “high profile venues like sports arenas, airports and other tourist destinations.”

Customers at the Burger King on Jerome Avenue, then, will likely be stuck with soda and coffee, at least for the foreseeable future.

Roberto Clemente’s Opening Hours Could Be Slashed

March 5, 2010

ROBERTO CLEMENTE STATE PARK

BUDGET CUTS COULD HAVE IMPLICATIONS FOR ROBERTO CLEMENTE STATE PARK, A 25-ACRE PARK IN MORRIS HEIGHTS (FILE PHOTO: R. CHAO)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Governor David Paterson and State Park officials have proposed closing 55 parks and historic sites across the state, and reducing services at another 24, as they look for ways to dent the state’s $8.2 billion budget deficit.

Roberto Clemente State Park, the Bronx’s only state park, isn’t one of them, to the relief of Joel Marcano, the co-executive director of the non-profit New York City Metro Baseball League, a men’s league that uses the park’s floodlit ball field on weekday evenings and at weekends.

But the 25-acre park, which sits on the edge of the Harlem River, could still be impacted.

If the Legislature rejects Paterson’s plan to move $5 million from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund to State Parks’ operating budget, scores of additional parks, Roberto Clemente included, would be added to the governor’s list, a State Parks spokesperson said.

In fact, if the $5 million isn’t reallocated, the State will propose doing exactly what Marcano had feared – close the park in the evenings. (Environmental groups have already begun lobbying legislators to make sure the money stays where it is.)

Thousands of people would be affected if the park’s hours were scaled back, critics of the plan say. Dozens of leagues, schools and colleges use the baseball field. And the picnic area, playground and basketball courts, are popular with local residents, as are the fitness classes held in the park’s main building.

In a telephone interview, State Sen. Jose M. Serrano, whose district includes Roberto Clemente, said he opposed cuts there and elsewhere.

“I’m frankly very disappointed in the governor for entertaining this,” he said.

In February, Serrano, the chair the Senate’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, sent a letter to his colleagues. He wrote: “We recognize that we are confronted by challenging fiscal realities, but even in these financially difficult times we cannot risk losing our state’s most magnificent treasure—our parks.”

On March 3, Serrano and others held a rally in Albany to protest the cuts.

Marcano, for his part, has created an online petition (www.petitiononline.com/clemente) with the aim of keeping Roberto Clemente open at night. So far, 270 people have signed it.

Paterson’s recommendations, put forward in his executive budget, are just that: recommendations. The State Senate and Assembly have the final say on what receives funding and what doesn’t. Legislators have until April 1st to enact the budget.

African Group Looks to Buy E. Tremont Ave. Building

March 5, 2010

EAST TREMONT AVENUE BUILDING

THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF GHANAIAN ASSOCIATIONS HAS ITS EYE ON THIS EAST TREMONT AVENUE BUILDING (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

By REBECCA THOMAS

The office building at 151 E. Tremont Avenue could become a thriving hub of African culture, unless the recession sinks this deal too.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) currently owns the two-story building, which it advertised for sale in early 2009. A not-for-profit community organization, the National Council of Ghanaian Associations (NCOGA), put in the highest bid – $1.5 million – in May 2009 but has struggled to get a loan.

HPD currently uses the building, on the corner of Creston Avenue, as office space for its Bronx Neighborhood Preservation program. To cut costs, it will move these offices to a building on Arthur Avenue where it already houses another Bronx HPD program. This will also allow it to generate revenue from the sale of 151 E. Tremont.

The deal is currently at a standstill because the NCOGA is finding it difficult to get funding. “Due to the current financial climate, the banks are not giving loans to not-for profit organizations such as ours,” said Ivy Rose Quarshie, president of the association, in an email. The association is exploring other options for financing the sale, she said.

Community Board 5 approved the sale of the HPD building to the association, after they were satisfied that the building would improve the local area.

“Our concern was that it would be sold and stand empty and not contribute to the community,” said Xavier Rodriguez, the community board’s district manager. “But as long as it is providing services or employment, that is fine.”

“The property will be used as a cultural center,” said Quarshie. “We will teach our youth the African culture, use the facility as senior center for Ghanaians and Africans and tutor high school students.” It would also be used for community events, funeral receptions and outreach programs.

The NCOGA is an umbrella group of 14 different organizations. Combined they have a membership of over 10,000, according to Quarshie.

While the organization has yet to secure the necessary funding, neither has Meganomics, the building’s second higher bidder. Due to the confidentiality of the negotiation, the HPD did not release further information about Meganomics.

‘Black Sunday’ Guilty Verdicts Overturned

March 5, 2010

By JEANMARIE EVELLY

In a controversial ruling on Feb. 23, a Bronx judge overturned a guilty verdict against the owner and the manager of an apartment building on East 178th Street, where two firefighters died battling a blaze five years ago.

Lt. John Bellew and Lt. Curtis Meyran were killed on Jan. 23, 2005—a date that’s come to be known as “Black Sunday,”—while fighting a fire that started on the building’s third floor. Partitions constructed by two of the building’s tenants created hazardous conditions within the apartment and made it impossible for firefighters to access the fire escape, according to court documents. Six firefighters were forced to jump from a fourth-floor window to escape the flames; both Bellew and Meyran died from the impact.

In February of 2009, a jury found the company that owned the building and the manager acting on its behalf guilty of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment—a verdict that was overturned by Justice Margaret L. Clancy last month.

“This court finds that this is that rare case where it cannot permit the jury verdict to stand,” Clancy said in a written decision.

There was not sufficient evidence to prove that Cesar Rios, the building’s manager, and 234 East 178th Street Limited Liability Company, which owned the property, knew of the dangerous conditions that started the fire and led to the firefighters’ deaths, according to Clancy’s statement.

A spokesman from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office said they are still deciding whether to appeal the decision.

In a statement, Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said he hopes the ruling will not “send the wrong message to those who seek to profit by creating illegal occupancies.”

“The fact is, people continue to die in fires because of illegally constructed partitions that block egress,” Cassano said.

Caridad Coste and Rafael Castillo, the two tenants who had illegally built the partitions to create smaller rooms within their apartments, were acquitted of charges in a trial last year.

Opinion: The Bronx and the Census – The Perfect Storm for an Undercount?

March 5, 2010

By KEN SMALL

Soon millions of Americans will receive the 2010 census form in the mail. While we generally dread government forms, we should welcome this one. In a very real way, the census form, which can be completed in five to 10 minutes in most cases, is as powerful a tool as the right to vote or the freedom to assemble, dissent, and express unpopular opinions. Just as those things are part of the U.S. Constitution, so is the mandate for a census to be conducted every 10 years.

The Census Bureau estimates that $400 billion in federal funds will be disbursed to communities each year through 2020 as determined by formulas based on the 2010 census count. The higher the population count for the Bronx, the more we will benefit from these funds.

In terms of politics, the census count determines how the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned, as well as how seats in the state Legislature and City Council are allocated. Equally important is the fact that the census count is tied to the number of electors who represent the Electoral College, which every four years selects the President.

Demographers, market researchers, and others who study population patterns believe the Bronx has experienced population growth since the 2000 census. The way to confirm this is for all Bronx residents to be counted in 2010. More people should equal more representatives.

Bronxites face many challenges that could create a “perfect storm” for an undercount. The majority of Bronx residents define themselves as being persons of color. Historically, non-whites are more likely to be undercounted than people who define themselves as white. This is also true of low-income persons: One-third of Bronx residents live in poverty. One in three Bronx residents is a first generation immigrant and the foreign born historically have been undercounted. This is particularly true for those who are undocumented.

According to the 2000 census, in some Bronx communities more than half the people said they did not read or speak English well. With about two in five Bronx residents having a language other than English as their first language, this could result in thousands not being counted.

All of these groups need to be counted. Nobody should be afraid to participate in the census. The data the census collects is confidential and not shared with any government organization, including immigration or law enforcement officials.

Ken Small is the development director of BronxWorks, one of several organizations partnering with the Census Bureau to promote a complete and accurate count. For more information on our efforts, contact Tim Sarraille at tsarraille@bronxworks.org or (718) 508-3153, or Tiara Williams at twilliams@bronxworks.org or (718) 508-3070).

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