Aug. 25, 2023 By Michael Dorgan and Paul Frangipane
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards met with local officials and residents for a town hall in Corona on Thursday, Aug. 24, with street vending and crime among the topics of discussion.
The town hall took place at the Aliento de Vida Christian Church, located at 103-12 Roosevelt Ave., and was part of Richards’ weeklong “Borough Hall on Your Block” initiative in which he is hosting public programming events and funding announcements in northwestern Queens in order to engage with residents.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos was also present at the town hall, along with Assistant Chief Christine Bastedenbeck, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, Daniel Randell, the assistant director of government and community relations at the MTA, and Parks Commissioner Jacqueline Langsam.
Richards, who is an advocate for more permits being issued to street vendors, took questions from attendees who asked how vendors could secure permits in order to operate lawfully in the neighborhood, and what is the long-term solution for vending at Corona Plaza. The Dept. of Sanitation (DSNY) carried out a limited enforcement of the pedestrian area last month, following complaints of cleanliness and pedestrian access, which resulted in more than 80 workers being forced to stop vending there.
The borough president said the city is not meeting its goal of approving hundreds of new permits every year, and the result of this shortcoming is that it has created an underground market for permits. The City Council voted in 2021 for 445 new permits to be issued every year until 2032 which would increase the number of permits across the city by 4,000 to a total of 7,000.
Richards said his office and local stakeholders have been in talks with the mayor and he expects new developments to be made soon.
“There have been challenges at Corona Plaza, there have been challenges in Flushing, there have been challenges at Jamaica Avenue because you all know the pandemic certainly created more survival work,” Richards said. “We will have more to say on this in the days to come but I feel relatively good that we’re going to come to a resolution on this issue in the upcoming weeks. I think Corona Plaza will be the blueprint for the rest of the city, really truly when we do what we do here, really will set something in place that will enable us to replicate it in other parts of the borough.”
Ramos also bemoaned the slow rollout of permits and criticized Mayor Adams and former Mayor Bill de Blasio in relation to the topic.
“This mayor and the mayor before have ignored this issue and now we’re at a point where this is no system and we need regulations from the city designating which streets are for vending and which are not,” Ramos said.
She said that the current situation with street vendors is untenable.
“It’s very hard for families to figure out how they’re going to provide for their children when they actually don’t have work permits to find a job,” Ramos said, “and so unfortunately that has resulted in many street vendors on the streets doing honest work, but many times on top of each other and leaving very little room for other people to pass by. I get complaints all the time about this.”
She likened the vendor situation to the country’s immigration system.
“In the same way that people can’t just get in line and get papers … people can’t just get in line and get a food vending permit,” Ramos said. “That’s actually what we’ve been trying to change for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Bastedenbeck said that crime in the neighborhood is up 6% compared to last year.
“What really is driving our crime in Queens North is our grand larceny autos,” she said, referring to stolen vehicles and stolen mopeds. What I always ask is for your help in this, it’s a team effort, you are our eyes and ears out there.’
She also urged residents to report noisy cars with modified engines, following a question from a resident who asked for better enforcement.
One resident raised the issue of prostitution in the neighborhood, with a number of massage parlors understood to be operating as illegal brothels.
Richards said that the panel would not discuss the issue in detail due to the sensitive nature of it, although Bastedenbeck said that the police are tackling the problem.
“This is something that we are working on in the police department, and with other agencies … and it’s something that we’re going to continue to address,” Bastedenbeck said.
In terms of transportation, Randell said that the Queens Bus Network Redesign — which aims to overhaul the bus network across the borough in order to increase reliability and bus speeds — is making steady progress.
“We are still working on finalizing the proposal,” Randell said. “We know that Queens is a borough of buses more than any other borough in the city, so we’re going to take as much time as we need to get it right and to make sure we’re providing a new level of better service because this network doesn’t get looked at in its totality very often. When the plan comes out, we will be doing vigorous outreach.”
Richards’ Borough Hall on Your Block initiative will conclude on Saturday, Aug. 26, with a resource fair, bike jamboree and block party from noon to 5 p.m. at the 34th Avenue Open Street, between Junction Boulevard and 91st Street in Jackson Heights. The event will feature free bike riding lessons, games for kids, giveaways, free health screenings, and immigration-related resources.
Later today, there will be a youth and young adult leadership summit from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the New York Hall of Science in Corona, located at 47-01 111th St., while a nonprofit resource fair connecting residents to more than 20 local non-profits will take place in Jackson Heights from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the 34th Avenue Open Street, between 77th Street and 78th Street.
Borough Hall on Your Block kicked off on Monday, Aug. 21, when Richards presented Elmhurst Hospital with a check of $3 million to help fund a project that will see its maternal and neo-natal services unit (NICU) constructed on one floor.
On Thursday, Aug. 24, Richards visited Travers Park in Jackson Heights where he presented the Parks Dept, with a check of $1.05 million to resurface the basketball courts there.