By Katie McFadden
The first Community Board 14 meeting after the summer hiatus was a night of welcomes, farewells and locals passionate over the fate of the Tribute Park center mosaic, just one day after the 22nd anniversary of 9/11.
On Tuesday. September 12, the Knights of Columbus was packed for the first post-summer meeting, and with a full agenda and 30 people who signed up for public speaking, the meeting left some issues without resolution as time ran out.
Speaking of time running out, the time has come for longtime CB14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska to enjoy retirement. After 39 years or service to New York City and 34 years serving Community Board 14, Gaska announced that it would be his last meeting as Friday will be his last day on the job. Several local elected officials turned out for the occasion to bid Gaska farewell, present citations and thank him for his service to the community. A job posting for his position is open until September 25. (Submit resume to: Dolores Orr, Chair, Community Board #14, Queens, PO BOX 930065 Rockaway Beach NY 11693).
Next were updates from the local NYPD precincts. Both commanding officers of the 100th and 101st Precincts said it was a successful summer and crime is down overall. Car break-ins remain a big concern and a reminder was given to not leave items in vehicles.
With so many people signed up, public speaking followed, but due to so many people registered, each speaker was only given one minute as opposed to the usual three minutes. One speaker was there to speak to bring awareness to the Joseph Addabbo Health Center, another was there to speak about vermin taking over an abandoned lot near their property in Far Rockaway and another brought up traffic concerns at Caffrey Avenue in Far Rockaway and suggested speed bumps should be placed there. However, the majority of public speakers were there to discuss the agenda item of a report by the CB14 Parks Committee on a recent meeting with NYC Parks’ Art & Antiquities division which recommended that the damaged center mosaic called “Navigator Star,” be removed from the 9/11 Tribute Park and replaced with either the same design in more durable materials like granite, or something new to take the space. Most of the speakers came to make impassioned pleas to let the original artist, Patrick Clark, restore his work as is, with maintenance to ensure its longevity.
One local named Dennis said, “the Navigator Star should be restored. It’s a beautiful tribute and picked in 2005, closer in time to when this all happened. Families chose it. It should be restored. Parks spent a couple million from 2017 to 2020 and didn’t do anything to restore the mosaic. The artist who did it should be brought back to restore it and I’m sure he can store it with materials that will last, along with a contractor to maintain it over time.”
The artist himself, Clark, was on hand and signed up to speak but with the one-minute time limit, was not given adequate time to state his case, yet the support continued.
Thomas Farragher, whose brother-in-law, a captain of the FDNY, died on 9/11, had the opportunity to be a part of the crew that cleaned off the pieces obtained from Ground Zero with Patrick Clark, before the art piece was installed in the park. “During that process, a woman said, ‘I wonder if my son could’ve touched this,’ and that’s what this is about. There are people that were left with nothing, and people go to that spot and touch that mosaic and have connections with their loved ones. It should be the decision of the 9/11 families in Rockaway.”
Kevin O’Mealy, president of the Friends of Tribute Park used his time to say the Parks Department, and later a mosaic art expert, both determined that the mosaic was beyond repair due to Hurricane Sandy, and that it should be recreated in granite.
He was followed by several others who continued to advocate for the restoration of the mosaic as is, such as Brian Becker, a retired FDNY captain who was one of two firefighters from his firehouse to survive 9/11. “What we had was great loss, and I think what we need is permanence. I am in favor of restoring the mosaic, please,” Becker said.
The CB14 meeting ran over time, so the Parks Committee was unable to give its report on the original meeting to discuss the mosaic, so a motion could not be made to make any decision on the fate of the mosaic. Discussions will likely continue during the October CB14 meeting. However, during budget discussions, a request was made for funding for the maintenance of the mosaic.
After the lengthy public speaking session, an informational presentation was given on a new transportation option coming to the peninsula. Representatives from Circuit were on hand to discuss a pilot program for a shared service using electric vehicles.
In 2020, NYSERDA held a contest to provide grants for 17 projects in NY, and Circuit was granted $7M to operate its service in underserved areas, including Brentwood and Rockaway. Circuit has a $2.5M to run the service in Rockaway for up to two and a half years. It would include a fleet of electric vehicles including four vans, four sedans and three other electric vehicles that can hold multiple people. The service would operate somewhat like a shared Uber service, running in a designated service area from Beach 116th Street to parts of Far Rockaway, but it would cost less than $3 a ride. For the first month or so, the service would be available for free, and then start at $2.50 a ride. A ride can be requested and paid for through a phone app. Circuit will hire local people to drive the vehicles.
The service would be able to fill some gaps in local transportation deserts and is open to all but could especially benefit seniors, those needing connections to other public transportation services like the ferry and trains, and locals who work on the peninsula. The Rockaway Hotel would allow Circuit to utilize its parking lot to store and charge the vehicles at night, when the service doesn’t operate. The pilot will first launch at the Ocean Bay CDC and would start sometime this late summer or early fall.
After several questions and concerns about the service, including discussions of expanding the service area, a representative explained that expanding the service area too far would increase wait times for rides with only 8-11 vehicles available that can hold up to eight passengers. If the pilot if successful, they hope to gain support from the MTA for additional funding and may be able to expand it in the future. In a motion to support the service, 15 CB14 members voted yes, 11 voted no and one abstained, which gave Circuit the approval they needed to move ahead.
At the end of the long, heated meeting, outgoing District Manager Gaska said, “Never a dull moment in Rockaway for the last 35 years.”