Oct. 25, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
A lot done, more to do.
That’s the view of residents living along the Hunters Point waterfront who have been fighting hard over the last few months to combat anti-social behavior and make their neighborhood calm once again.
The late-night booze parties, piles of trash and piercingly loud fireworks that plagued residents have largely abated – but dangerous speeding, non-compliant food vendors and broken lights continue to be a cause of concern.
Many of the problems at Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point South Park stemmed from the good weather and the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of the summer that brought an unprecedented number of visitors to the area.
With quality of life conditions deteriorating and an underwhelming response from the police as well as city and state authorities–the community rallied into action.
The Hunters Point Parks Conservancy (HPPC) redoubled its efforts to keep the area neat and tidy and flag issues of concern.
Separately, a number of residents formed a group and hired a private security firm to patrol the parks and to work with local officials.
“The battle wounds are healing, but very good things are happening and the situation is improving,” said Mark Christie, a long-time Long Island City resident. “All the powers-that-be took notice and the community has spoken.”
The hiring of a private security firm–although controversial– helped address many of the quality-of-life problems, according to Yolanda Tristancho, a resident who formed the LIC Community Action group, which hired the security firm.
The group raised nearly $12,000 to pay for four security officers, who walked outside both parks in September and October and addressed quality-of-life issues.
The security officers, who worked every Thursday through Sunday, instructed visitors to leave the parks after closing time, de-escalated verbal altercations and told drivers of parked cars to turn down loud music, Tristancho said.
“The security team did an amazing job and were effective in keeping peace in a courteous manner,” Tristancho said. “They engaged with visitors and their presence also acted as a deterrent for people to not stay in the park late at night.”
The hiring of private security was initially met with pushback from a number of residents who said that the security would target minorities and had racist overtones. However, that has not been the case, according to Tristancho.
“We proved that the initiative was not racist and was just focused on enforcing the rules,” she said.
The controversy surrounding the hiring of a private security firm also brought to light the quality-of-life issues that had not been addressed for months.
The NYPD became more active, she said, and carried out joint operations during the late-night hours in early September in concert with New York State Police and PEP officers.
Officials such as Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Jimmy Van Bramer also took action.
Nolan called for the mayor to create a task force to combat the crime and anti-social behavior while Van Bramer convened a Zoom meeting with a number of city and state agencies on Sept. 10 to discuss the issues.
However, little has come to pass so far from those endeavors, according to Tristancho.
Nolan said that city and state agencies need to collaborate more to solve the issues and that she has tried to find solutions.
“Throughout the summer of 2020, my office has communicated with the mayor, as well as multiple city agencies,” Nolan said in a statement Sunday. “Unfortunately, most queries did not receive a response that committed to a course of action.”
Nolan, however, said that one of her staff members, Diane Ballek, president of the 108 Precinct Police Community Council, was in constant communication with the NYPD.
“This led to more uniform enforcement and ensured an open and effective dialogue with area police,” Nolan said.
Rob Basch, president of the HPPC, said that while several problems linger at the parks, major strides have been made in getting to grips with graffiti, trash and lighting issues.
For example, the HPPC found 22 locations that were hit with graffiti, 19 of which have been cleaned up by NYC Parks.
All of the tagged areas were on the southern end of Hunters Point Park South and the problem has mostly stopped.
The trash problem has improved thanks to the efforts of park workers and the HPPC that purchased and installed seven new BigBelly garbage cans at Hunters Point South Park.
Basch said that the solar-powered bins have helped reduce the excess trash since they can hold five times as much garbage as regular size bins and are able to self-compact.
“We appreciate the state and city park workers who care about the parks too and have done a tremendous job in helping to keep the parks clean and tidy,” Basch said.
The HPPC said that local restaurant operators have also stepped up and are cleaning garbage that accumulates around their premises.
“The trash situation has definitely gotten better and the BigBelly bins are all working fine but the main problem is the food vendors who generate the most trash at the parks,” Basch said.
At the height of the summer up to 20 food vendors could be seen sprawled across Center Boulevard on weekends – some double-parked – but that number has now halved due to the change in season and a reduction in park visitors, Basch said.
There are no BigBelly bins by the main entrance to Gantry Plaza State Park where the majority of the vendors are lined up–since the state does not have the necessary equipment to service them.
The influx of food vendors to the area has also caused traffic problems, raised health and safety concerns and drawn people to the area late at night because vendors have no set closing time.
The Department of Health told attendees on the Sept. 10 Zoom call that it was going to make sure vendors have trash receptacles near their trucks, were parked correctly and would monitor whether trucks were leaving the area to clean their vehicles.
The DOH carried out at least one inspection in late September and shut down three vendors.
One of the vendors that was shutdown has continued to operate in the area while trying to conceal a “closed” notice, according to Tristancho, Christie and other residents.
Some trucks also continue to sell while double-parked on Center Boulevard and cars are also double-parking.
Other safety issues persist. Large areas of Gantry Plaza State Park are dark at night due to broken lights.
The two park lights at the end of Center Boulevard by Anable Basin are not functioning properly and the area near the Pepsi sign is particularly dark – an area where people have been congregating after 10 p.m.
These lights have been out since Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012 due to wiring issues.
A temporary set of floodlights, which are powered by a generator, are located near the ferry landing as a temporary measure but cut out at 10 p.m., according to HPPC board member Leonard Klipper.
“The floodlights are not meeting the needs of the area,” Klipper said. “As the days become shorter, the need for better lighting throughout the park during normal hours is going to become even greater.”
The Queens Post contacted State Parks for an update on the lighting situation but has yet to receive a response.
However, the majority of broken lights at Hunters Point South Park – by the benches in the new section (Phase 2) of the park – have been repaired by the DOT in the past month at the request of HPPC and officials.
The agency has also fixed 13 lights around the oval inside Hunters Point South Park that were not working, Klipper said.
But problems persist–and reckless driving is one of them.
Drivers continue to speed along Center Boulevard putting the public at risk, according to Tristancho.
At the Sept. 10 Zoom meeting participants called for speed bumps and cameras, and requested that the stop signs be more visual in an effort to clamp down on the high speeds.
Van Bramer vowed to call on the DOT to help bring those changes, according to attendees at the meeting. The Queens Post reached out to Van Bramer for comment to see if the DOT had made any progress in the past month but didn’t receive a response by press time.
Two areas of particular concern are at 50th Avenue and Center Boulevard, as well as Borden Avenue and Center Boulevard where drivers continue to flout the stop signs there, Tristancho said. She said that the intersections need better stop signs or else a set of stoplights.
Tristancho said that residents have also called for speed humps to be put down along Center Boulevard to reduce speeding.
Tristancho said that there has been an uptick in speeding since the private security finished for the season on Oct. 3. She said her group intends to re-hire the security firm in the spring and wants police to increase their presence in the meantime.
Revel scooter riders and loud motorcyclists, according to residents, also continue to speed along Center Boulevard and inside the parks.
There have also been reports that a party bus visited the area Saturday night which resulted in fighting and social distancing violations.
While problems still persist at the park residents recognize that there has been much improvement.
“Things are looking pretty good,” Christie said. “We are on the rebound and we are on the road to recovery.”