Archive for the tag 'opinions'

Source: Hupu2 via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Hupu2 via Wikimedia Commons

“…Legalize it, yeah yeah, that’s the best thing you can do” – Peter Tosh, “Legalize It,” 1975

BETWEEN THE LINESStart spreading the news — the times they are a-changing and New Yorkers will soon be a little less anxious about getting high with a little help from their friends.

After more than 40 years, the winds of change have a distinct hint of marijuana blowing across the nation with legalization and decriminalization slowly taking effect. Though federal legalization is still a pipedream — soundly opposed by diverse pockets of resistance — on Election Day, Oregon and Alaska became the third and fourth states to legalize and regulate the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults. What’s more, voters in the nation’s capital and in several cities nationwide decided to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.

New York City is set to join the expanding list of municipalities liberalizing archaic drug laws, which could end most arrests for low-level marijuana possession, with police officers directed to issue summonses without detaining the suspect.

As a matter of fact, New York City will now conform to the state’s 1977 Marijuana Reform Act, signed into law by then-Governor Hugh Carey. The statute calls for possession of up to 25 grams of pot as a violation, punishable up to a $100 fine for the first offense.

New York is actually one of eighteen states, including a few Republican strongholds like Nebraska and Ohio, that have decriminalized marijuana possession — with no prison time or a criminal record — for first-time possession of small amounts for personal consumption.

After 37 years, New York City cops will be directed not to exploit a segment of the act specifying the weed must be in public view to qualify as a violation. (Under the controversial stop and frisk policy, NYPD officers routinely demanded individuals empty their pockets. When they saw a joint, the concealed pot was suddenly “in public,” and, therefore, a crime.)

But don’t expect this subtle change to transform The Big Apple into The Big Reefer.

A substantial majority of baby boomers have either smoked or sampled pot. It could also be taken for granted that some of that generation’s politicians did a doobie now and then. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York State Governor George Pataki, former New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to name a few, have admitted smoking pot in their youth. Former President Bill Clinton did, too, but, without a smirk or a wink, noted he never inhaled.

One presumption hostile to legalization is that marijuana, which is much more intoxicating today than when it was the choice of trendy young adults years ago, leads to harder drugs. That’s as preposterous as proclaiming regularly consuming beer may lead to drinking more potent potables!

There was an unsubstantiated anecdote circulating in the freewheeling 60s that a major American university had conducted research in which lab rats were fed their body weight in marijuana over a 30-day period. Consequently, the drugged rodents showed a multitude of problems, leading to the conclusion that cannabis could result in similar effects to humans. The research seems scientifically questionable and patently unrealistic. Nonetheless, anyone capable of smoking their body weight in marijuana in a month would experience a relentless case of the munchies, not to mention likely turn acutely sick and impaired!

Anyone consuming their body weight of anything in a brief period, whether it’s water, broccoli, tofu, potato chips or Twinkies, would probably risk adverse side effects.

I’m not aware of any conclusive research asserting that smoking an occasional joint does more harm to the human body than a daily shot of liquor. Nonetheless, marijuana is criminalized, while alcohol supports multi-billion dollar businesses, from agricultural to advertising to your local saloon. On the plus side, if pot were legal, it could be a major source of sorely-needed revenue at all levels of government.

Even when comprehensive marijuana legalization was a long shot in the early 1970s, American tobacco companies supposedly seized an opportunity that was too good to miss. Big tobacco reportedly registered a bunch of brand names, such as “Acapulco Gold” and other pot-related monikers, so, if and when the substance was legalized, they’d be set to commence production.

More than a decade ago, a national substance abuse group reported that underage drinking accounted for one-fourth of all alcohol consumed in this country. Predictably, the alcohol industry rejected that estimate as “absolutely wrong.”

While continuing to preach “No” to illegal drugs, that message should similarly repudiate any addictive substance, including prescription drugs. After all, excessive abuse, in any form, is irresponsible behavior.

It is also time to admit the “war on drugs” was a disaster that was mostly waged domestically. Fighting the cartels that transport illegal substances to our communities may seem effective, every now and then, when there’s a major bust, but, by and large, the drug pipeline has scarcely been clogged. It has also damaged countless lives, overtaxed the criminal justice system and led to numerous incidents of corrupt law enforcement agents, excessive police tactics and exploitation of civil forfeiture laws.

Besides, you don‘t need a sociology degree to realize that criminal enforcement has disproportionately targeted minorities and low-income neighborhoods.

According to NYPD statistics, 86 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession through August 2014, were black or Latino. Yet, the 2010 census indicated those ethnic groups just comprise about 60 percent of the city’s population.

After the repeal of prohibition, America didn’t turn into a country of alcoholics. Consequently, modernizing marijuana laws would not result in the nation going to pot. On the other hand, it would end the inequitable imprisonment of tens of thousands for a minor offense, as well as boost federal, state and local treasuries.

With that in mind, toke ‘em, if you got ‘em. But, don’t Bogart that joint.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

A car accident at Emmons Avenue and Bedford Avenue (Photo by  Tom Paolillo)

A car accident at Emmons Avenue and Bedford Avenue (Photo by Tom Paolillo)

BETWEEN THE LINES: Beginning last Friday, New York City motorists, and anyone passing through the jurisdiction, are required to drive at a leisurely 25 miles per hour on most streets or face the consequences. It’s even slower — though more fitting — at 20 mph near schools.

Kind of brings to mind the opening line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Feelin’ Groovy”: Slow down, you move too fast.

I’m a safety proponent, especially when I’m behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound vehicle. I drive more cautiously as I age, as I’m fully aware my response time has correspondingly diminished. Yet, I regularly see drivers carelessly and, occasionally, recklessly motoring along local streets, which is likely the principal intention for the speed limit reduction. And, ultimately, to save the lives of pedestrians and motorists.

Continue Reading »

Remember that time when Brooklyn Industries used devastated Sandy communities as the backdrop for an ad shoot? Très cool. (Source: BrooklynIndustries.com)

Sheepshead Bay is very expensive. You don’t want to move here. People get stabbed all the time, bicyclists are run off the road and we don’t have a Starbucks. It’s, like, a three-day commute into Manhattan on a train that’s full of urine, showtime boys and broken air-conditioners. Really. It sucks. Hell, our news website is called “Sheepshead Bites,” not “Sheepshead Is Da Bomb.”

We promise. It’s just terrible. Don’t move here.

Plead as we might, Sheepshead Bay may be poised for a new influx of avant garde urban explorers fleeing Williamsburg and Bushwick; neighborhoods which are just, like, ugh, so 2008.

At least that’s the case if we’re to believe one SoHo-cum-Williamsburg-cum-Bushwick-cum-Gowanus musician who whined to the Village Voice that rents were rising and no one will let them bang on drums and vomit in the street at 3:30am. Her friends are apparently already pioneering the hipster trail down here.

“Who knows when the rents will go up there?” kazzoo’d Annabelle Cazel, of the Fiery Furnaces. “Most of my musician friends have moved … way south, to Ditmas Park, Sheepshead Bay, Windsor Terrace, or Flatbush. Gowanus is done with.”

Settle down there, Madison, er, Annabelle. It’s Southern Brooklyn, but it ain’t West Virginia.

The article is actually about how the rising cost of real estate and the replacement of defunct manufacturing districts with luxury residential stock mean there’s very little affordable practice space available for bands. And residential areas make particularly bad homes for DIY rehearsal spaces, since families who have to get up early in the morning to take the kids to school and generally contribute to society don’t really want to be kept up all night long by the rock-and-roll lifestyle.

Hell, these guys even had to compromise with their neighbors. Oh, the horror!

“In the past, everyone would be rehearsing. In more recent years, we had to make agreements with our neighbors: If you let us make noise during the day, we won’t make noise at night,” said Josh Copp of some band you haven’t heard of.

We concede; all jokes aside, this a very real problem. New York City has a legacy to preserve as a bastion of art and culture, and pricing out the people trying to “make it” is just as bad as pricing out the immigrant and blue-collar families that also form pillars of our economy and culture.

And, really, we could use some better music on this end of the borough. We’re so over Vanilla Fudge playing BayFest.

But if all this turns out to be true, that the hipster trail, like the Bedford bike path, now ends at Emmons Avenue, it’s certainly the end of an era for our once sleepy yet cosmopolitan corner of Brooklyn.

Good? Bad? You tell us. We’re just here to write about it.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Reader Mike N. wrote to point out what he believes is a waste of NYPD resources: catching fare-beaters on the Voorhies Avenue side of the Sheepshead Bay subway station.

Do you know that since the token booth, which became a non-selling booth, was removed from the Shore Parkway entrance, police stand at the other entrance watching the TV monitors, and when someone jumps a turnstile (no high gates here) they then walk up to the platform and surprise them with a ticket.

Often there are two to three officers watching at one time. Yes, it’s a violation to avoid a fare, but wouldn’t it be more prudent to put gate-style turnstiles that can’t be jumped at all unattended stations?

This would 100% solve the fare avoidance problem…however, it would stop the sweet flow of $105 tickets into the MTA coffers. And why are there no policemen ever stationed at the unattended turnstiles? Wouldn’t it make more sense for public safety to have officers where the ‘eyes and ears’ of the booth clerks are absent? (I know…the booth clerks aren’t much help).

Briefly, rather than the practical use of officers to guard an unwatched, potentially dangerous entry (I do understand that they technically are watching, but nobody sees them, so they do not deter crime), the officers are used to generate revenue.

It doesn’t sound like Mike believes the problem is going after fare beaters – who should be caught for stealing from all taxpayers. But he thinks the problem can be solved more easily and those NYPD resources redeployed for something more useful. What do you think?

Is there an issue you’d like to sound off about, or a problem you want to shed light on? E-mail editor [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com and we’ll consider publishing it!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Oh, the struggles of life in Sheepshead Bay. A beautiful waterfront. A glut of mass transit options. Prideful mom-and-pop businesses lining the commercial streets.

Sounds like hell, right? That’s the way some residents make it sound. If I had a nickel for every time a reader has told me we need one corporate franchise eatery or another – Starbucks! Outback Steakhouse! Red F’ing Mango! – I’d have enough nickels to give up this journalism racket, open up a 7-Eleven, a shove taquitos down everyone’s face-hole while yelling “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? ARE YOU?!”

The latest is this open letter by Sheepshead Bay resident DJ Alex Edge to Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer. Edge has just finished up Meyer’s book, “Setting the Table” and it made him hungry for a “beautiful cheese drenched Shake Shake [sic] double.” But Manhattan is oh-so-far. Forty freakin’ minutes!

Rather than take the hike to the bland, corporate Disneyland that is Manhattan, Edge goes for the more dignified approach. He begged… and gave the finger to Sheepshead Bay’s existing dining options.

I am not sure why but my neighborhood is pilfered with hundreds of sushi joints, Turkish shish kebab eateries, and Russian dens filled with lavish French delicacies. Even though I am from the part of the world that enjoys a good plate of caviar, I am a simple fellow Danny. One who enjoys a great burger that’s cooked just right. A burger that’s served with a generous amount of fries, a perfect smidgen of sauce and a smile that’s ripped right out of the pages of your hunger inducing book.

Hey, man. I’m all in agreement that the Bay would benefit from more variety, but our Russian dens and Turkish eateries are the tops, and the sushi joints… well, at least they’re cheap.

Anyway, Edge goes on to provide three reasons why Shake Shack should set up shop in Southern Brooklyn sooner rather than later. Which, quite honestly, are mostly good reasons for almost any business to be getting into the game down here:

  1. Coney Island. The same iconic Coney Island that has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. As much as Coney Island recovered from the destruction, imagine the impact you can have on the community when you build the ultimate family destination for delicious food. The number of jobs such an enterprise would create. The amount of positive PR and feedback it can generate for your brand and the area in general.
  2. Frozen Custard. As I’m sure you know Danny, frozen custard was invented in Coney Island by two smart fellows, Archie and Elton Kohr. What better way to honor the memory of these two beautiful geniuses than by slinging frozen custard in the land of it’s forefathers.
  3. The Timing. Yes, Danny as you can tell by now I read your book carefully. The timing for this is perfect. Where 20 years ago something like this would never be possible, the amount of people who crave a better product in our area is huge. I see it every day. The sad sunk in faces of young couples consuming sushi. A family of four pretending to love a gyro. Come on. We all know a gyro doesn’t come close to the satisfaction of a burger.

I don’t know, man. I like my gyros. And the sushi… well, at least it’s cheap.

What do you think? Does Sheepshead Bay need a Shake Shack? Or would we do better to see a homegrown burger joint come into its own and take over the rest of the city?

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that's not what the meeting was for.

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that’s not what the meeting was for.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch has touted his “participatory governing” approach as an alternative to participatory budgeting, but his first attempt – a governing workshop held last week - provided the best argument yet for why we need an open, community-drive budgeting process.

The Thursday, May 27 meeting, held at Cunningham Junior High School, was billed as an opportunity for residents to propose legislation. The ideas were proposed before a diverse panel of locals from across the district.

It was a well-intended endeavor, but the approximately 35 people in attendance seemed to miss the point. They approached it as they would any town hall, using the opportunity to gripe about quality of life issues and suggest improvements they would like to see in the district. No one, including this reporter, seemed to have any idea what the panel was there for; they never spoke following their introductions.

When the first few attendees took the microphone and began discussing their concerns, the councilman attempted to steer the meeting back to its intended purpose, cutting them off by asking if they had legislation to propose. They did not.

Instead, almost every single attendee who spoke proposed ideas for programming or district improvements. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that were proposed:

  • Rehabilitation of Ocean Parkway’s west mall
  • Uprooting tree stumps and replanting trees
  • A local government liaison or social worker for families of special needs persons
  • Traffic reconfiguration on Avenue P
  • Increased funding to increase the hours of lifeguard duties on the beaches
  • Various beautification projects.

Many of these are the kind of proposals you might see emerge from a participatory budgeting workshop.

So what is participatory budgeting?

The process gives residents as young as 14 years old the chance to propose ideas including upgrading parks, schools and libraries, or programming and services that will benefit the community. Neighbors attend local workshops to brainstorm and suggest their ideas, and volunteers work with the councilmember and city agencies to determine feasibility of the proposals. Once a final list has been created, residents 16 years old and up have several days to stop by the elected officials’ offices or other designated locations to fill out a ballot and cast their vote for funding.

In short: everyone who shows up gets to decide what happens to $1 million of discretionary funding within the district. Aside from democratizing the process, advocates say it gives politicians one less piggybank from which to buy political support.

Earlier this week, Councilman Mark Treyger announced he is becoming the eleventh councilman of the 51-member Council to implement participatory budgeting. That means that every single district abutting Deutsch’s is now involved in participatory budgeting (Alan Maisel of the 46th District is the exception).

This was my takeaway from the meeting: the residents have ideas on how to spend money, and it appears there is demand to give them voice in determining how it’s spent.

I spoke to Deutsch by phone after the meeting to see if he saw what I saw. He didn’t. He maintained that he knows best how to spend the money by speaking to his constituents.

He insists his participatory governing  concept is an effective alternative, but conceded that it will take time for residents to adjust to the concept.

“They were a little confused about participatory governing, they’re not used to the idea that an elected official is asking them for input,” he said. But he believes that there’s already sufficient participation in budget allocations. “My way of participatory budgeting is what I have done by having town hall meetings and asking my constituents what they want, and how they want their parks, for example, to be improved. So the way they’re doing it is to have these things be improved. It’s more than a million dollars, really.”

Sure, but what about the vote? What about giving people a direct, inarguable say in how money is spent?

“I’m accomplishing it by walking out into the community, going out there, visiting the sites and seeing how the needs are. So at the end of the day, I am putting in capital money to what the needs are to the people. So I want to do more of a hands on approach, and doing the tours, and I’m considering that to be part of my capital budget.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

“I feel like I’m part of participatory budgeting by doing what I’m doing.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

The vote is the defining element of participatory budgeting, and it’s what empowers the community to determine how this money is spent. You can (and must) still fight to allocate money in the capital budget while engaging in participatory budgeting, and to suggest otherwise is entirely misleading.

It is also in stark contrast to his own statements made while campaigning for the seat. At an August 2013 candidate’s forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, Deutsch promised more transparency in the discretionary funding process:

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to be happening this year. And if he’s truly committed to transparency in discretionary funds, there’s no better solution than leaving it entirely to the community in an open and democratic process.

None of this is to say that Deutsch’s participatory governing concept is bad or ineffective. In fact, I look forward to more of these meetings, and more town halls, and more of any opportunity in which residents can interact with their elected officials and share concerns.

And I have to give kudos to Deutsch: there were a lot of faces at that meeting that I’ve never seen at other meetings, and anything that can spur more involvement from the previously apathetic is commendable. I encourage everyone to attend in the future.

But if Deutsch’s goal was to hear legislative ideas from residents last Thursday, then he failed. Instead, he showed exactly why we need participatory budgeting, and it’s about time his constituents demand it.

You can learn more about participatory budgeting here. You can tell Councilman Deutsch you want participatory budgeting in the district by e-mailing cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov, calling (718) 368-9176, or visiting his district office at 2401 Avenue U.

A familiar sight: Next bus please! Source: afagen / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: They do not keep their promises, tell different communities different stories, and they mislead.

In my March 31 article, I promised to keep you informed regarding any MTA response I receive regarding my continual complaints about B1 and B49 buses not stopping to pick up passengers in the afternoon in Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. My lengthy complaint received a response (15 business days later, the maximum time allotted by the MTA), which basically stated that they sincerely apologize for the buses not stopping and that they will try to do a better job in the future.

Continue Reading »

Source: DHFixAtlantic / Twitter

Source: DHFixAtlantic / Twitter

THE COMMUTE: On Page 11 of the Vision Zero plan, the city has proposed lowering the speed limit on 25 city arterial roads to 25 MPH. This has already begun. Now the New York State Senate and Assembly are considering legislation that would lower the default speed limit on all New York City streets from 30 to 25 MPH, and further allow the city to lower the speed on “designated highways” to 20 MPH if the city has determined that the implementation of “traffic calming” measures is not feasible. (Currently 20 MPH is only allowed in conjunction with traffic calming and within a quarter mile of a school.) The city now wants the right to lower the speed limit to 20 MPH on any street. Tell your state legislators they should vote against this proposed law. Don’t complain if it is passed.

Continue Reading »

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, in Part 1, I presented some findings from two hours of observing the B44 and B36 at Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z. Here are the remainder of my findings and some conclusions and recommendations. You can see the original B44 data here, the B36 data here, and more here.

Continue Reading »

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: After five years of planning, on November 17, 2013 the MTA began operating Select Bus Service (SBS) on the B44 in Brooklyn. The MTA believed that by providing a speedier bus service to the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction from Sheepshead Bay, with improved service south of Avenue U, riders could be persuaded to use the #2 and #5 trains instead of the B and Q at Sheepshead Bay. The reasoning defied all logic since the #2 and #5 are more crowded than the B and Q, and the trip to the Sheepshead Bay Station is also quicker than the trip to Flatbush Avenue by Brooklyn College, even with SBS.

Continue Reading »

Next »