Trash at center of Woodhaven debate

By Eric Jankiewicz

There was a lot of trash talk at a recent Woodhaven community meeting.

Business owners in the area complain that they are being hit with fines in the middle of the night by the Sanitation Department for trash found in front of their businesses. The owners claim that random people illegally dump trash there after business hours, when the owners are not around to clean the mess. And when the Sanitation Department passes by, the businesses are unfairly given a ticket for not cleaning the area.

For the past several months the Woodhaven Residents Block Association tried to get Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) to introduce legislation that would put an end to these late-night fines, but during a recent meeting held by the block association, Ulrich said he could not do anything through legislation to solve the problem, according to Alex Blenkinsopp, a member of the association.

“We did our due diligence by exhausting every single legislative option,” said Redmond Haskins, a spokesman for Ulrich. “We apologize that it took this long. But we want to try all of our possible options.”

He continued, “We’re not done and we’re still looking at any kind of recourse to fix this for Woodhaven residents.”

But Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) has proposed a bill to create a review board—much like the Civilian Complaint Review Board that vets police complaints. The board, he suggested, would be made up of people who would review disputed tickets handed out by the Sanitation Department.

“I can’t change the Sanitation Department’s procedure,” he said. “So I think having something that is going to help people figure things out will be a great service.”

As it stands now, if people want to dispute a fine, they have to go before a judge, according to Miller, and try to convince the judge that they should not get the ticket. But Miller said that rarely ever works. With a review board, he hopes to give people more of a chance to beat fines. The bill has not passed yet, but it will be moving through the legislative waters over the next several weeks.

Many of these fines are given to store owners in the middle of the night and in the early hours of the morning, according to Blenkinsopp. He said that the association’s storefront on 84-20 Jamaica Ave. has also been slapped with fines. The problem is not new, and association members remember having this problem last year as well. The association often gets $25 tickets, but the fine amount could reach into the hundreds if the trash left behind is big.

The association wrote a letter to city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia last year, asking her to end the late-night fines. But they did not get a response. The department could not be reached for comment.

“Enough is enough,” the association’s president, Martin Colberg, said in a statement. “The Sanitation Department has refused to listen to us, and they’ve refused to listen to Bill de Blasio. This unfair practice must end.”

Reach reporter Eric Jankiewicz by e-mail at ejankiewicz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.