By Katie McFadden
The pre-summer Belle Harbor Property Owners Association meeting on Tuesday, May 16 was supposed to focus on the outlook for the beach season, including closures due to construction, summer safety, and Neponsit Home demolition updates. But a letter from Governor Kathy Hochul to President Joe Biden on Friday, May 12, changed it all. The Belle Harbor Yacht Club had an overflow crowd as neighbors came out to hear updates about Hochul’s request to house migrants at Floyd Bennett Field.
BHPOA President Paul King started the meeting off with some topics that wouldn’t take up as much time. That included information about BHPOA elections next month and a public safety update from Sarina Roffe of the Public Safety Committee and 100th Precinct Commanding Officer Carlos Fabara. Roffe reminded people about Belle Harbor’s summer parking rules going into effect this weekend and dropped a tip for people to utilize Riis Park’s lot, especially with a senior discount, for guests when they come to visit. She then spoke about Neponsit’s private security program, breaking down some of the costs for Belle Harbor if they were to start it. As a pilot, they’re looking at having security operate for five months from June to October. With roughly 1,500 homes in Belle Harbor, if 500 homes contributed, it would cost $160 for the summer to have private security patrol the streets, and even less if more homes contribute. The BHPOA will be sending out a survey to gauge interest.
CO Fabara spoke about decreasing crime rates. The biggest problem continues to be issues with cars being broken into and catalytic converter thefts. “We’re keeping our focus on areas where we have issues. So, we’re keeping an eye on 311 reports and quality of life issues,” he said. He said the precinct will be receiving a sergeant and 11 additional officers, who will be deployed on footposts in hotspots, such as Beach 129th Street, where they get calls to at night.
At the end of the meeting, King briefly addressed the beach closures, ultimately saying they’re unavoidable. Beach 116th to about Beach 130th is already experiencing closures due to groin work, while beaches in the mid-140s are closed due to dune construction. He did say that the work is making quick progress and more beaches could be open uptown by the end of the summer than originally.
King also spoke about petitions going around against Alma’s potential proposal to build three new 20-story buildings on the Surfside Buildings property from Beach 105th to 108th, plus one demanding residents get some access to the 1.5-mile stretch of beach in Edgemere used for piping plover protection. He also said all the streets slated for repaving in Belle Harbor, have been ripped up at this point.
When King addressed migrants potentially being housed in Floyd Bennett Field, people immediately voiced their concerns. King said their concerns were shared by many New Yorkers, as he recently attended a meeting with Senator Sanders, with 32 community leaders in his district across Queens. “No one thought this was a spectacular idea,” he said. “The vast majority of people are against what the governor is proposing, and the senator said, ‘the feds have messed this up, but we need to do something with these people,’” King recalled. As many people had different opinions, King asked Councilwoman Joann Ariola to first share what she knows.
Ariola shared that District 32 already has two shelters for migrant families in Ozone Park hotels. She talked about the children being in area schools but not being adequately addressed as non-English speakers. “But we work closely with these two shelters and there haven’t been any issues so far,” she said. She then spoke of her concerns over the latest influx of migrants into the city. “What disturbs me is they’re supposed to be asylum seekers, but do we really know? We don’t know their background, what they did, why they fled, if they had to flee. That’s usually done at the border. When we started to see migrants, the mayor said to the state, ‘we’re going to get to a point where we cannot sustain the amount of people coming into our city’ and his pleas fell on deaf ears. The number went up and more shelters opened. They put up tent cities. They don’t work. They cost $350K to put up and $350K to take down. No matter what we do, how kind we want to be, we cannot do it without federal and state aide, and we cannot withstand it even with federal and state aide. If they don’t secure our borders, we will continue to see this influx.
“What are we supposed to do? Do I agree with schools being used? Absolutely not. Twenty schools have been identified and I have no indication that any of our schools meet the criteria with a detached gym, but nothing is off the table. The city is not getting aide from Hochul. When the mayor asked her to make a state of emergency with NYC being a right to shelter city, she punted and wrote a letter to Biden saying please open federal properties including Floyd Bennett Field. Our mayor, to his credit, has rescinded our status as a right to shelter city, but he has to renew it every five days, and it’s not enough because they’re still coming in.”
In the meantime, Ariola says she’s preparing for any outcome. “We’re asking questions of the mayor’s office and working with state reps, so we’re not blindsided. We need to organize so we’re at the ready. Washington has abandoned us.” As a rumor popped up that Fort Tilden was being considered, Ariola immediately inquired with the mayor. “What I was told was there is no imminent plan to use Fort Tilden. But we’re not gonna take that as gospel. You will know anything the minute I know. I’m not gonna wait for them to put those tents up,” she said.
Attendees shared their concerns, including the risk of another Hurricane Sandy, the health risks with many migrants not being vaccinated for diseases, the growing drug problem with drugs coming through the border, where the migrants are supposed to work with unemployment already being high in Rockaway and where they’re supposed to go to school with classes being overcrowded, etc. Some also suggested coming up with a plan to provide proper services and training for the migrants. “The migrants are coming whether we like it or not. And they’re coming from a bad place. We can’t just say I don’t want this because I don’t like migrants,” one neighbor said, as her comments were met with backlash.
Ariola said even her office has services in place for immigrants, but it is overwhelmed. “We have every week, an immigration attorney come to our office, and she helps people and she’s frustrated because all of those people that have been trying for years to become citizens, are having their dates pushed back two to three years because they want to fast track these asylum seekers. We need services but it can’t be unfairly displacing people who have been waiting for years,” Ariola said.
Jason Greenberg, the deputy chief of staff for Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato reiterated that the assemblywoman is also strongly against the proposal to house migrants in Floyd Bennett Field. “She’s spoken with representatives across government and thinks everyone is on the same page here. This is a flood zone, there’s no transportation, no access to jobs and Rockaway already has 17 adult homes and a number of shelters. It’s not sustainable and the peninsula has had its fair share,” he said.