Residents will get the chance to voice their dissatisfaction with the city’s snow removal efforts following the post-Christmas blizzard at a hearing on Friday at Queens Borough Hall. The City Council held a hearing Jan. 10, and the Bloomberg administration came up with a 15-point plan to prevent another storm- related fiasco, but area leaders believe there is still more to be learned.
Donovan Richards, acting chief of staff to City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), says the area snow hearing will be different than the previous one, because it will be an opportunity for constituents to present their concerns and relay the individual problems that they encountered during the December blizzard.
“During the last storm we saw a better response, and civic leaders from here to the Rockaways said, ‘Wow, what a 360 from last time,’” Richards recalled. “So, the administration is listening.”
Richards added that Sanders is especially interested in hearing from constituents and learning what he can do to help them during future snowstorms. He even emailed a snow guide to residents in his district, one Richards said will be further tailored after the borough hearing to maximize its effectiveness.
City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said the borough hearing will be “very different” from the City Hall hearing because “it will give community members a chance to express themselves and voice the challenges, dangers and concerns they faced when snow removal was not effective.”
Dromm said that blizzard-related issues in his district were “very serious,” noting that some people had to be taken to Elmhurst Hospital by sled. Dromm said the city plowed Broadway, the primary street in front of the facility, but the secondary and tertiary streets, including Baxter Avenue, where the emergency entrance is located, were left snow covered. It is an issue he says he will bring up at the borough hearing.
“Yes, congratulations are in order for the way the mayor handled the second storm, but there were very serious consequences after the first storm that we cannot forget about,” Dromm said.
Similarly, James McClelland, a spokesman for City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) said one of the major questions the lawmaker plans to ask at the hearing is whether hospitals, nursing homes and senior centers are given plowing priority.
“I think it will be a cathartic session,” McClelland said. “It will be an opportunity for the public to vent their frustration, air their grievances and ask questions.”
But since the city has already outlined changes and they seem to working, he is unsure how much impact the borough hearing will have.
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) was more optimistic.
“It is very important to hear the true stories of what happened to New Yorkers during the storm and have it be part of the recorded testimony,” Ferraras said, adding that “We have come along way since the last storm.”
Ferreras noted that Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith testified during the council hearings that Bloomberg’s 15-point plan was a “growing plan that can be improved upon,” and she hopes the borough talks will “make it even better.”
Ferreras’ district includes Corona, which saw two deaths that may have been blizzard-related. The daughter of Yvonne Freeman, a Corona senior who was having trouble breathing and allegedly passed away because help did not arrive fast enough, will be testifying at the hearing, Ferreras said. And the family of Addison Reynoso, an infant who was shaken violently by his caretaker and also experienced delays getting to a hospital, will submit a statement because they speak limited English.
John Halberian, the son of Michael Halberian, the owner of the Steinway Mansion in Astoria, who believes his father’s death from a cardio-obstruction pulmonary disorder might have been prevented if help had arrived sooner, said that he will speak at the hearing.
It will take place on Jan. 21 at noon at Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens. Attending the meeting will be area City Council members and representatives from the committees on sanitation and solid waste management; fire and criminal justice services; public safety; and oversight and investigations.