Civic Congress is effective force for citizen action

By Bob Harris

For almost two decades the officers of the Queens Civic Congress have worked hard to address many of the complaints and problems of their member civic associations, sometimes in partnership with their elected legislators. To be heard, these volunteer civic leaders have resorted to written communications, held direct meetings with government agencies, arranged press conferences, organized rallies, and even gone to court to seek redress. Last April the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara, at a QCC luncheon, implied that collections of organizations like the Queens Civic Congress can help their members with effective actions.

Some of the issues which the QCC has recently raised and become involved with are the mayor’s zoning plans for affordable housing, airplane noise from JFK and LaGuardia airports, possible tolls on the East River bridges, imposing bike lanes on some boulevards and avenues, initiating Select Bus Service, use of hotels as homeless shelters, inadequate public transportation in Queens, the way landmarking and preservation districts are initiated, helping small business tenants stay in business, the possibility of fracking near our upstate water supplies, commuter van services being set up in some neighborhoods, the unreasonable increase in water rates, unresolved zoning violations, unjust granting of building variances by the BSA, the proposal to legalize basement apartments, proposals to use Flushing Meadows Park for more commercial activities, and the proposal to grant Port Ambrose, an LNG project.

QCC meetings have been forums to discuss various controversial projects. One example was a forum where people could discuss the reactivation of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch rail line or turning the right of way into a linear park called the Queensway Park. At other times political candidates have been invited to present their respective platforms.

Harbachan Singh has led the Queens Civic Congress for the past four years. In addition to serving two two-year terms as president, he has a legal background and worked previously for the United Nations Headquarters in New York as chairman of the headquarter’s Committee on Contracts. He also worked in Iraq and Saudi Arabia for over a year and spent almost a year serving in East Timor to help conduct a referendum dealing with its independence.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: After years of negotiation the International Civil Aviation Organization’s more than 190 countries have agreed to a measure that will reduce the amount of pollution added to the atmosphere by air travel. The measure is supposed to force air carriers to increase fuel economy in their fleets, which will have to be done by purchasing newer more efficient airplanes. This will happen by 2021.

Queens civic associations are concerned about airplane noise and pollution from our local airports and have set up roundtables to solve these problems. Hopefully, this new law will help.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: It seems that the price of brand-name prescription drugs have jumped 164 percent between 2008 and 2015. While the rest of the industrialized worlds negotiates with the big pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of prescriptions for their health care programs, Congress will not let Medicare do this so we spend about $400 a year more than European countries.

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