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    In an interesting twist to the ongoing saga around 626 Flatbush, neighbors are joining forces with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters to protest today from 1-3 pm. It's a positively European development against the development, where coalitions of workers and other groups like students are common.

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    Seeds in the Middle informs the Q that due to a delay in the EBT machines, the Farmer's Market in the Q plaza at Ocean and Parkside will begin on Friday the 11th of July. It is hoped that MTA will have removed their makeshift work camp by then. And yes the Q is open, running southbound. And despite the Manhattan Q not running this past weekend, there's no scheduled maintenance next weekend.

    The Q is loving the Q renovation - safer, less leaky. Though the paint job is unbelievably bad, and they did almost nothing to replace crumbling tile and crappy doors.

    I'm quite convinced that the painting department is where you get mothballed at MTA when the union discovers your drinking problem.

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    It might be tempting to say "another election for Albany - so what?" Well, I'll give you one good reason, and maybe it'll be enough to convince you to come out and see the candidates who will represent you. Wanna know what that super special reason is? I'll learns ya if you don't already know...

    This is one of those rare elections that matter. Not because of any particular issue, though there are plenty. It matters because once elected, Democrats tend to STAY elected. For years and years and years. So who you put into office the first time around is absolutely essential. For those who don't know, the State Senate maps were recently redrawn, meaning that I went from being part of Eric Adams old district into being part of Kevin Parker's district (if you're in Western Lefferts that's possibly you too). Parker will likely stay put, but he'll be at the above mentioned forum and you'll have a chance to see for yourself the man who pulls the trigger for you Upstate.

    Better yet, for those other Flatbushians, Eric's seat is up for grabs and needs your input. You may have seen the candidates out there stumping around. AND (drum roll) Rhoda Jacobs is giving up her Assembly seat after about a hundred years (she's primarily Caledonia and below). Again, you should weigh in, because God only knows the next time you'll have a chance to do that!

    If you want to know who represents you and then go find out more about whether you're being represented well, start here:

    See you on the 12th. At the very least, it should be quite entertaining (that's no joke - it really can be hysterical to see low-level politicos go at it. it's like minor league baseball.)

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  • 07/01/14--07:00: De Bamboo Express
  • Mark S., sometimes dubbed The Snob, has come through with yet another delectable edible recommendation. The Q too is a big fan of this place. The kids LOVE "Bake," which when taken alone is a bit like fried bread. The "saltfish" that frequently comes inside the bake is outlandish in its exoticity, that is to say, if you didn't grow up on it I'm not sure you'll be converted. The doubles are delicious regardless of your upbringing, though they're quite different from the ones up at Da Hot Pot, which are (if I recall) Trinidadian. Wait, this isn't MY review...

    De Bamboo Express
    772 Flatbush Ave., between Clarkson and Lenox

    Guyanese food is one of the world's great stoner cuisines. Wait, sorry, there's a more diplomatic way to put that. You could say that Guyana, the south american country parked east of Venezuela and north of Brazil, hosts a population spiced with the usual Merrie Olde English colonials -- East Asians, Chinese, Africans, and Amerindians -- plus Caribbean neighbors, making for a transnational cookery of varied influences. Or you could say: jerk-chicken lo mein. The fellas at De Bamboo Express will happily mash-up any number of cuisines for your meal. Order up some vintage American-style Cantonese Chinese dishes -- your chow meins, your pepper steak -- the sauces thick with corn starch. Add a fried fish, or shrimp, or chicken. Or jerk anything you like -- chicken, lamb, even pig -- or, on second thought, curry it and serve over a mound of fluffy white rice. Or rice and pigeon peas. Or buttery roti. Or some of those precious British pastries -- tennis rolls, anyone? The enormous menu lists all of these options, and some more that you never thought of. What's good? Everything arrives in a steamy cloud of spice, not a little grease, and in robust proportions. The red snapper, awash in saffron curry, stands out, along with that jerk lamb, and no one puts a noodle to better use anywhere in the Caribbean.  The price you'll pay for all this deliciousness is temporal. Like most of our Lefferts gems, they don't deliver, and even if you call your order in, it seems like it's just getting started when you go to pick up. Pay no mind -- more time to drool over the pastry case and plot your plan of attack for next time. Curry goat plus General Tso's chicken plus jerk snapper? Dude...that sounds awesome.  - Mark le Snob


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  • 07/03/14--19:50: Interdependence Day
  • Every now and then I feel it's worth expressing again the Q's Statement of Purpose. I started writing, some thirteen hundred posts ago, on a dare from a coworker, who said if I had so many damn opinions and feelings I should "put 'em on my blog." I had to ask for what godly purpose a person starts a blog. He, being almost half my age and full of vitriol and vigor, looked at me askance and said "because if you're a loudmouth and a blowhard and can write, that's what you do." The first two descriptors didn't register, as I am capable of deep levels of denial, but the last bit about being able to write reminded me that I'd always the act of writing, that it was how I figured shit out, and I was already sort of a writer, having been a lyricist, writing sometimes 10 songs to get to the one I actually used. I asked the young fellow why one would bother putting it out there for all to see, and he told me something that stuck with me to this day. "Because when you post on your blog, you're instantly a published author." When he showed me his own blog, about music 'n' tings, I asked how many people read it. He told me that maybe 100 or 200 people showed up at his page every single time he posted. Holy cow, thought I. (That same guy now has like 10,000 Twitter followers, Twitter being a 140-character-max micro-blog, perfect for Generation G, the letter "G" standing for Generation. Yes. Those born from 1985-1995 have just been dubbed, by the Q, the Generation Generation, the generation so nice they named it twice).

    Now, I've been around the indie-rock block a time or two, and I'll tell you right now that if 100 or 200 people show up at a gig, that's pretty darn good. Do that 20 times in a month and you got yourself a tour. But I don't like touring the end I loathed it, and the Motel 6's that I'd once adored, and even the red Chevy van that we'd nicknamed "Mensy" and written a song about, though in retrospect it was a bit of a requiem. That is to say if someone had told me back in 1992 that one day a few hundred people would read a "column" of mine (that was the only kind of blog they had back then - they were called columns, because, I think, they take up about a column of total space, if all the paragraphs are stacked top to bottom, in the newspaper), I would've said you were dopey and that you had precious little expectation from journalists. In other words, columning didn't seem like something I'd do in this lifetime, or even in the next three or four.

    Yet, 1300 posts later, here I am. And I'm here to tell you that every single one of those posts is dead center on the mark (psyche!), and I wouldn't take a single thought or sentence back, because it came off the keyboard fast and furious and rarely did I spend more than a quick read-through before publishing it (a-ha you say - that's why all the typos!) I toy with the idea of taking advertising, but frankly I have barely the time to write let alone try to convince struggling local businesses to cough up coin to help me express myself. I would then feel obligated to write with their interests at heart, and frankly I'd rather maintain an air of independence and gadfly-ness. I appreciate newsy blogs greatly, but I haven't the heart to be the "neighborhood online." I do hope someone takes up the charge though, then maybe I could stick to the edgier less-narrative stuff, losing readership I'm sure, but allowing myself more breathing room to NOT post about local goings-on, which I both appreciate and resent from time to time for being so blasted frequent. If I become suddenly unemployed from my day-job, the one that's actually paying my modem bills, well then I'd surely get my typing fingers much more dirty scouring the streets for each pothole and the sidewalks for each new awning.

    I read (sometimes) the neighborhood blogs, the real estate blogs, the gawking blogs - and the NY Times. Now with SO many Times employees living in our neighborhood, I feel practically OBLIGED to read it. Oh, and I read links that people send me, and I illegally download books that sound interesting on topics about which I'm curious, mostly about truths that have been unearthed through skepticism and stealthy research. I love a good Devil's Advocate. I'm not particularly fond of conspiracy theories, but when they turn out to be true - like the myth that crack cocaine was some sort of revolutionary new instantly addictive menace to society - then I begin to appreciate the odd crackpot "truther" argument a bit more, for its contrarian insistence in spite of ubiquitous media statements of fact.

    As the large apartment building two doors down has now opened its doors to myriad new renters and owners in a wholesale transformation of the demographic of what was just two years ago an exceptionally ordinary six story Leffertsian edifice, I feel obliged to reiterate that I don't resent ANYone for wanting to live here or for in fact buying or renting, even at prices that could make a millionaire of a longtime homeowner. I'd be exhibiting a great deal of self-hate in such an emotion, and in fact I've come to see that we are merely experiencing a form of hyper-gentrification heretofore unseen in the borough, and that many factors can be attributed to the onslaught. And yet, I know for a fact now that the cards are obscenely stacked against renters of color and modest means and that rent stabilization is hardly a fix. Renters of limited means, education and/or trust of authorities and outsiders are easily preyed upon by unscrupulous players of all persuasions. Civil rights laws are notoriously difficult to enforce. And often it seems as if the mainstream media only sit back and comment on the state of affairs, eliciting sighs of resignation at yet another neighborhood being swallowed by the engorged yet ravenous entitled classes. I mean who doesn't want a decent cup of coffee and a kale salad or two? Is a make-your-own frogurt place so much to ask for? And what of ramps?

    Exhibit A: Ramp

    Here's the thing. If you're curious like a cat, like the Q, and you start to notice and listen and act outside of your comfort bubble, you can't help but notice that not everything is as it was presented. And while I must admit I've often been misdiagnosed myself, it's now clear as a bell pepper that the average whitey hasn't a clue about the rich and varied black Brooklyn that he has now pretty well colonized. It's not usually due to mean-spiritedness; it's simply ignorance at best or willful blindness at worst, though occasionally a verifiable old-school bigot comes on the scene. But most of Central Brooklyn is probably still "too black" for that sort of fellow, and he quickly moves out to Westchester or better yet Windsor Terrace.

    And so I'll leave you with a crowd-sourcing campaign, often the best way to glimpse what the dreamers are up to. In this case, Imani Henry of "Equality for Flatbush" is just the sort of person you might never encounter personally, but who works tirelessly to bring a voice to the voiceless. His campaign is embedded below, and I encourage you to meet him through the video and consider what he's saying. Were it yours whose very cultural homeland were disappearing before your eyes, you too might want to identify a way to bring the fact to light. And you too might choose to do so through the eyes of those who have actually raised families and been raised and bore witness to each generation's creativity and progress and hardships. Or something like that.

    I've had the pleasure of speaking at length to Imani, and while he and I may not agree on everything, we certainly agree that folks right now are hurting and confused and that for every "step forward" the country appears to make, there are almost always those who get "stepped on" in the process. Please do give his pitch a viewing:

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    And he's come for Meytex, finding nothing but the remnants of a once thriving Ghanaian chop shop.

    Thanks to Stephen Brown for the photos

    If, like the Q, your Quriosity was piqued by the phrase "city marshal," then read on. I've seen this term used many times, and even seen marshals hanging around outside a place, looking very serious and determined. How do I know they were marshals? It was tough. But the word "marshal" written in large letters on their t-shirts and jackets gave it away. In bold, you can even tell where those marshals are from. You may have had reason to get to know NYC Marshal's up close and personal if you had your car towed for failure to pay tickets. If you didn't pony up the dough, the Marshal's sold it at auction and pocketed 5% of the money. That's right. They got a piece of the action. Deary me I had no idea.

    They do all kinds of stuff, like evicting people from apartments and seizing property to pay off debts. In the case of Meytex it could well be that the restaurant owed a bunch of money to the landlord, who won a case against the establishment's proprietor, who, it would appear from the notice taped to the door, was using a fake name. If you were said landlord, you could then "hire" the Marshals to conduct the seizure. They would then sell off stuff til your judgment amount was reached AND take a cut of the earnings. You would of course also have payed them directly for their services. Nice, but weird, work if you can get it. They're empowered to garnish your paycheck as well. Oh, and the Mayor appoints these guys - all of them. Oh, and you shouldn't go around impersonating one. That's apparently illegal, despite the ease with which you could recreate the shirt and jacket.

    In other words, in the case of CITY marshals, we've kinda outsourced the dirty work of enforcing Civil Court judgments. They're not actually City employees, rather appointed public officials. Who, as I've noted, get a cut of the action.

    Now. The U.S. Marshals. You know all about them from honorary U.S. Marshal John Walsh of America's Most Wanted. If you need a good chuckle 'n' head-scratch, check out the puff piece they produced on themselves below. I'm particularly fond of the bit where Walsh says that you've probably seen the U.S. Marshals portrayed in countless films, and yes, those films "truly reflect the real life fortitude and integrity of the men and women who wear this star." So despite the fact that most of those films are fictions, and none of the films is actually named, you can rest assured that the portrayal of the U.S. Marshals is the real thing -  pretty much anytime you see a movie. Perhaps the U.S. Marshals are monitoring the scripts?

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  • 07/08/14--06:31: From the Desk of Mr. Eugene
  • Our councilman has set up a forum to discuss his efforts to combat outsized development along the park, a/k/a the David and Goliath struggle against 626. His letter to you, the community, follows:

    It's unlikely that I'll go, but please take notes and let us know what he says! Recently, a group met with the man and rather than addressing the questions posed him, he regaled them with stories of his Tae Kwon Do accomplishments and alluded to efforts by the CIA and FBI to bring him down last fall. For the record, the Q is not affiliated with either. I do, however, have dreams of one day being a NYC Marshal. The commissions sound pretty enticing, and the outfits are groovy. (See last post).

    He also sent a note reminding us of the free immigration legal services being provided by the New York Legal Assistance Group. If you or someone you know is seeking advice and counsel, tell them they can set up an appointment per the below:

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    Add Lenox Road, just a forward pass from the Q's stoop, to the list of areas concerned about tall towers and zoning issues. Good for them. It's high time the City looked at the 50-year-old zoning maps as it tries to deal with the affordable housing issue and rapid neighborhood changes. You'll see from the following piece that the Lenox Road Block Association Alliance is digging in its heals to convince City Planning to look at areas in the two Community Boards south of CB9, which ends at Clarkson. In the same Our Times issue you can see that north Crown Heights is currently dealing with a serious uptick in shootings this summer, much as we were LAST summer at this point.

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  • 07/09/14--08:25: Safety First
  • It's all gone now of course

    'Member when they were taking down those three cute houses at 50 Clarkson piece by piece? A number of us watched as some Latino workers climbed aboard the second and third floors, doing demolition the way a teenager might. Some of the guys weren't even wearing helmets. In this day and age, it seemed downright primitive. A few folks on the block called 311 to report unsafe conditions, and the Q is glad to report that a whistle blowing from someone or ten resulted in a judgment by OSHA against the developer.

    From The Daily Eagle:

    The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has learned that workers demolishing a three-unit, three-story residential building in Brooklyn’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens section were exposed to potentially fatal falls due to their employer’s failure to provide and ensure the use of lifesaving fall protection. 

    As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed $45,200 in penalties against Brooklyn contractor US Demco of Brooklyn Inc. for one willful and seven serious violations of workplace safety standards.

    “Falls remain the leading cause of death in construction work,” said Kay Gee, OSHA’s area director for Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. “Yet, on at least two occasions, an OSHA inspector discovered US Demco employees working on the second- and third-floor levels without fall protection, even though US Demco had knowledge of this deadly and avoidable hazard.” 

    OSHA’s inspection identified other fall hazards at the 50-54 Clarkson Ave. location, including missing guardrails for planking used by the employees to access different sections of the second- and third-floor levels, and the failure of a competent person — one with the knowledge and authority to identify and correct fall hazards — to oversee the work. Employees faced dangers of lacerations and broken bones from being struck by falling construction materials and debris and electric burns and shock from handling ungrounded power tools. 

    OSHA cited US Demco for one willful violation for the lack of fall protection and seven serious violations for the remaining hazards. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.  

    US Demco of Brooklyn has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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    If you're young, you may be in complete denial about your "golden years," and that's to be expected. You probably also think you'll always be able to play basketball and/or drink heavily without hangovers. But what MAY happen to some of you, however, is that one day you will be one of the tens of millions of Americans surviving on a "fixed income." That is to say, no one will hire you anymore, not even The Hungry Ghost, and you'll need to get by on a combination of pensions (ha! like they have those anymore for non-government workers), 401K (ha! just count the number of your peers who have one of those worth more than a few sushi dinners) and Social Security (ha! or rather, thank the effing Lord for FDR, who's wonderful memorial is worth the trip to Roosevelt Island). Maybe you're "fortunate" enough to get disability payments. Maybe you're collecting bottles and cans and bringing them to the Pioneer on Parkside. Regardless, the last thing you can afford is a hefty rent increase. But wait! There's help...

    The below flyer may appear to have been designed on an Apple II, but I assure you the information is au courant. Many people who qualify have no idea this program even exists. So if you see an elderly person on the street and you engage them in a conversation, consider telling them about the City's Scrie and Drie programs, and if they don't know about them, consider offering to help them do an application. If you're uncomfortable with that, you could print this out and place it in your building. Just a suggestion. 

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  • 07/09/14--20:11: PLGourmand on ToTT

  • Enthusiastic contributor Debra K, a/k/a the PLGourmand, turns her tastebuds towards ToTT. (She told me she'll focus on places she actually likes, for now anyway.) ToTT is the name the Q started calling Tip of the Tongue even before it opened. Something about that name didn't sit right, but I LOVE the name ToTT. Three t's, little o. True, I could have made the second T small rather than capital, but it just doesn't look right. The kids call it ToTT too, and the become visibly excited when we say we're stopping in for a treat. And now I see that Debra is also using the name. Scott and Eric: just sayin'! (I guess both the words "tip" and "tongue" get used in other contexts, and images of a tongue on a tip, or even the ACTUAL tip of a tongue, say dangling from the lips...enough said. If ToTT hadn't stuck I'm sure we'd be saying BnB for Baked and Brewed. Maybe some of you already are?)

    Spotlight on Tip of the Tongue: Baked and Brewed
    43 Lincoln Road btw Ocean and Flatbush

    I remember my first visit to Tip of the Tongue. I was having a terrible day in late November so I decided to take a walk in the park even though it was way too cold. I did not live in PLG yet – but was set to move to the area in December – so on a whim I exited the park at Lincoln Road, shivering and maybe crying a little. I found Tip of the Tongue and asked the Barista (pathetically) if he had any hot chocolate. He said with a smile, “Yes we do. And it’s amazing. It’s French!” And something about that optimistic response made me smile back and say “Magnifique!” and then when I tried it, I immediately thought, “Oh my God. It’s all gonna be okay!”

    Some of that might be a reflection of my semi-dysfunctional relationship with chocolate – but really it’s mostly because the drink was so uniquely delicious; warm and rich – somewhere between milk and dark chocolate and instantly comforting. (Though certainly NOT instant!!)

    I have since become a regular at Tip of the Tongue and I still get that same comforting fix every time I go. Whether I’m exhausted on the day of an important meeting and order one of their many incredibly delicious and powerful espresso drinks to perk up, or there is loud work being done on my building and I spend the day at TOTT working on my laptop, sipping coffee/eating lunch/grabbing a snack/sipping more coffee – I have been known to flee to TOTT with almost as much desperation as the first time; and ALWAYS get that same “It’s all gonna be okay” feeling.

    The owners, Eric and Scott, live right in the neighborhood. They are caterers and they know top quality food. Their specialty in this local shop is the bakery and you cannot go wrong with any of the cookies, cakes, scones, brownies, muffins, rolls or croissants – they’re all magnifique! And tasty breakfast and lunch dishes are usually perfectly paired with baked treats, like Chick Pea and Spinach Salad with Focaccia; Veggie Chili with Pretzel Roll (my favorite!); Scrambled Eggs with Crossant; Pear, Cranberry and Walnut Baked French Toast and more. They also offer Cheeses, Yogurt Parfaits, Irish Oatmeal, and all sorts of Coffee and Tea drinks, from standard to Cold Brews to Chai Lattes and Macchiatos. You can order extra shots of espresso when you’re in need of a boost.

    Or – if you’re in need of a cocktail - TOTT serves supper yummy coffee and tea inspired drinks like Iced Rum Spiced Chai and Iced Baileys Cappuccino in the summer and hot spiked coffee, tea and hot chocolate in the winter. And in the spirit of it all being okay, they refer to their Happy Hour as “Happier Hour.” All the hours are happy there!

    Tip of the Tongue is open Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am-7pm, at 43 Lincoln Road between Flatbush and Ocean. Their kitchen closes at 4pm for meals but treats and drinks are always available. You can order whole cakes if you place your order 48 hours in advance. The menu is seasonal. Get your comforting delicious fix on your way to the park or subway – or hang out with your laptop soaking in the friendly vibe. It really will all be okay. - Debra K, The PLGourmand.

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    Many of you signed a petition during a freezing December to bring a Farm Market (I'm bypassing the whole issue of whether to use a possessive "s") to the Plaza in front of the Q at Parkside. With very little outside financial support, local do-gooder Seeds in the Middle has worked with us to open a market on Friday afternoons (1-6pm) and at the plaza at Empire/Flatbush/Ocean on Saturdays.

    Tomorrow is the first day of the market, and the Q highly encourages you to come out and check out the goods from RH Farms. We need these first few Fridays to be a BIG success so that we can build on this modest beginning, and show SitM that we can support a fresh greenmarket.

    See you tomorrow at the Farm(no s) Market at The Q at Parkside! Sneak peeks below...

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    Gotta say that Rachel Holiday Smith at DNA Info is doing a bang-up job covering our neighborhood. Her latest scoop pulls out the data from an MNS Real Estate Report that cites the Lefferts neighborhood's 6 1/2 percent jump in ONE MONTH this year. Holy Mother of God; that's cray cray, y'all, and as the Q likes to say, it's simply not sustainable, and certainly NOT regular ol' market movement. More on that in a post I'll write later tonight, as my eyes have been opened to how some of the big money players effectively manipulate the cost of buildings, thereby manipulating the incentive to push rents higher and higher, and poor folks out. It's an ugly business, and as usual, the buck stops at Wall Street. With help from Wall Street's back door man, Uncle Sam.

    From Smith's piece:

    Combining studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms, average rents in Prospect-Lefferts increased from $1,751 to $1,864 per month between May and June of this year, a 6.43 percent increase according to a report by MNS Real Estate. That beat out other hot neighborhoods like Bushwick, Crown Heights and Williamsburg that MNS analyzed. The report did not include all of Brooklyn, instead focusing on the northern neighborhoods from Park Slope to Greenpoint.

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    Gastroenterologists in particular will refluxively salivate when they catch wind of the sleek facade coming to 596 Flatbush at Midwood. Kalkin Narvilas, who owns Italian eatery Cent'Anni in Crown Heights, has teamed with Chad from Tugboat, to create what the Q is 103% sure will be very good news to lovers of lobster rolls and Bohemian Pilsners. By virtue of being the first (and certainly not the last) entry in the Lefferts Gardens Nouveau Brooklyn Gastropub sweepstakes, I give the place 1-to-15 odds of being a runaway smash hit.

    pic by Stephen Brown
    Only two questions it couth to order a double of single malt? and will they accept bitcoin?

    Awaiting comment on its opening date. Anyone like to venture a guess as to the name?

    Good luck boys!

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    Today's Farm Market in front of the Q station at Parkside starts at 11am!

    You know you're a hyper local blog when signs like this generate interest:

    The remarkably awesome location of this shop, just next to Bicycle Life on Lincoln Road's southside, is going to be a real estate office called Renters Dream. I suppose they took the advice of The Gods of Real Estate of "location, location, location." Take a peek at some of their listings here. They clearly plan to be a player in our neck of the borough. It's not even worth commenting on the prices of places on Westbury or Woodruff. If you're looking for a place, these may well be "steals" for all I know. Mine is not to question why...(actually, it is).

    And the new sign at the Halal Felafel (falafel? feelawful?) place on Parkside is quite festive:

    I guess it's now Gyro Cafe. I've always enjoyed my nibbles from there, though I wouldn't expect a life-changing felafel. Though I didn't feel-awful after eating it, nor did the price feel gougey.

    Greg Haas from DOT informs the Q that they recognize that the traffic patterns on Flatbush have completely reverted to their formal insane and chaotic selves, since the harsh winter freezes and saltings rubbed the new lanes plumb off. That's the problem with traffic being directed by lane markings alone. Personally I'd rather see some of those floppy candlesticks out there, the kind they use in tunnels. Because quite frankly, you shouldn't be changing lanes all the time, and that's what the Dollar Vans do that's so damn dangerous. Anyone who's driven our stretch of Flatbush knows it's crazy out there. And pedestrians? Keep your wits about you. It's a bad place to get mad deep into your ear buds. The Dubstep in particular is hazardous to your street smarts.

    If in fact you're too old skool to know from the dubstep, here's a great primer. I urge you to listen through to 1 minute and ten seconds when the true defining moment of dubstep takes place...the "drop."

    Music snobs, quit yer snickerin' and go back to your Pitchfork reviews. The rest of you, consider yourself l'arned. It's really trippy stuff, and I'm sure if I were 16 when I heard this stuff I'd be a big, big fan.

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  • 07/11/14--12:25: Come and Get It!
  • Modest, yes. But delicious.

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  • 07/13/14--05:50: Beginning to Understand

  • The Q's been reading everything he can about the way high finance works when it comes to rapidly changing Brooklyn neighborhoods. Because for the life of me, I can't quite come to grips with the RATE of change. Not that neighborhoods don't change, and all over NYC we've witnessed the re-urbanization of the middle and upper classes for decades. A lot of us felt, many years ago, that the trajectory of prices in Lefferts would trend higher as folks decided it was a pleasant and less expensive alternative to others. (I'm primarily interested in rents in this post, though, because the value of townhouses seems the result of limited supply and pent up demand as much as regular ol' NYC price games. The tripling of prices in a decade is truly irrational without considering a psychological element, and massive propaganda. And clearly, a lot of people grew up on Sesame Street, and they want to live above Ernie and Bert. Probably a little more that, thank living under Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing.) Something is happening beneath our feet, not a conspiracy per se, but more a financial convergence, and it was killing me that I couldn't quite grasp it.

    On a fact-finding mission, Thursday I met with Celia Weaver of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Bureau. UHAB may be a mouthful of a name, but a trusted resource since 1973 when it comes to keeping folks in their homes. They came of age in the era of "The Bronx is Burning," when thousands of City properties had been abandoned by landlords unable to unload them at any price. To stop the bleeding, an ingenious formula was devised to legally transfer buildings to the (often poor) tenants in the form of "limited equity coops." There are still lots of them around from those days, and proud homeowners they are, though some units have since transitioned into market rate buildings after certain terms were up and owners could reap the benefits of selling a home. The idea was an oldy but goody; give people a stake in their home and they'll do everything they can to improve the building, its block, its neighborhood. One could argue that it was the fearless generation that STAYED in NYC through its near-bankruptcy and subsequent drug wars that deserve the real kudos in the current renaissance, as many of the best blocks and buildings owe their allure to the conscientious prior gentry. Detroit is going through a similar defining moment right now - by investing in the various sorts of potential homeowners willing to give Detroit the old college try, the whole boat can gradually rise together. It happened here, it can happen there, though being a world capital of culture didn't hurt NYC. Oh, and Wall Street, though there was a time folks wondered whether Wall Street would just up and move to the 'burbs as well.

    All well and good, I get it, you get it. But still, something more...

    The idea that I learned and honed through my talk with Ms. Weaver is that the underlying speed with which things are moving is very much related to the rapid buying and selling of debt related to the big residential buildings all around us. Sure developers are building new stuff, like 626 Flatbush, and that garners a lot of the attention. But the biggest story here in Brooklyn, I would argue, is that Wall Street, and the biggest banks and real estate players, have made enormous bets on the upward trend. By doing so, they've warped the game considerably. I'll use one building, one realty holding company, and one set of personal stories to illustrate. However, in a spreadsheet sent to me by Celia, I was able to see dozens of big apartment buildings in southern Crown Heights and Lefferts Gardens that are going through the EXACT same scenario pretty much simultaneously. (I know some of you finance experts are saying "duh," but trust me when I say the vast majority of folks have no idea how any of this works. I'm writing to them, and you can feel free to gently correct me on the details.)

    85 Clarkson Avenue is in many ways a run of the mill gorgeous multi-family, pre-war apartment building. It was purchased about a decade ago by Pinnacle Realty. Forget, just for the moment, that Pinnacle has a horrible reputation in this town for putting out longtime tenants by using unethical practices.  Pinnacle made a bet on this neighborhood about then, sensing that the neighborhood had a big upside to ride. They bought the building at roughly what it was worth, a calculation based on current rent rolls and projected maintenance costs and typical rent increases. During the frenzy that came before the great crash of 2007-8, they were slowly but surely easing out old-timers at 85 and renting to fresh faces. Some claim they were specifically renting to young whites, though no one managed to prove it in court. In fact, just after they bought the building they fired the longtime super, Jose Diaz, a typical practice for Pinnacle. They wanted new blood and a new attitude. The super and the tenants were shocked. But frankly, 85 didn't really "take off" as they'd hoped, and they found themselves in a bit of a holding pattern. Had that mid-00s boom not burst, I suspect Pinnacle would have been where it is now in, oh, 2010. But it took a little while for them to sense that the time was right for the big transition. They got the greenlight a year or two ago, from the industry itself essentially, to go for it. Crown Heights North was cooking with gas, and CHS and PLG were on deck. And guess what they did, according to a friend that lives there? They fired the longtime super, again someone who was popular with tenants.

    And this is where I would like to make a particularly devastating revelation very, very clear. I'm even putting it in bold, and I wish I had it on tape. Just before this most recent super was fired, he told my friend that the landlord has had enough, and that they were going to "stop renting to black people."Or perhaps more accurately, one would presume, certain KINDS of black people, when such a distinction can be made. One might imagine that Pinnacle would make exceptions for the right sorts of credit histories, demeanor or resume. Why not throw the book at them, you may ask? Well, if you don't do the undercover work, you're not going to be able to prove anything. Here's an example of building in the neighborhood where the AG DID an investigation, and they nailed landlord Yeshaya Wasserman for the crap I just described.

    Then, a few days later, a good friend and block association colleague, and longtime resident of the block, told me that HER landlord was gonna stop renting to black people, and that in fact he'd been trying to do that for some time and found it hard to keep them for longer than a few months. Which, as I've come to learn, is not such a bad deal for a landlord looking towards a day when his building stops being regulated.

    Then there are the numbers. What's amazing to note from the data I received was the remarkable amount of new debt that Pinnacle has taken on this year alone, throughout their portfolio of buildings. In many cases, they've added 25% or more to their mortgages. Why would a landlord do that? Well, for one, (like the joke about why a dog licks his balls) because he can. Plus, having more money to play with means you can go out and scrounge for more properties to buy and deals to make. An analogy might be the way a single family homeowner can go refinance and take out some cash and go to Vegas with a sure-fire plan to beat the house. On the upside, some of it is probably going to renovating apartments as they became vacant to attract a new clientele. Maybe a new roof, or a lobby paint job. Some of it can be used to "buy out" current tenants to make way for the more affluent ones behind them. In a nutshell, though, they're banking on a swift upward trend in rents, and they'll need to be aggressive to make that happen. A sharp downturn in the market and they could find themselves drenched in red ink, having to unload their properties quickly, to yet another investor interested in "distressed" properties, which is how many of these current big landlords described the properties when they bought them.

    The other wild thing to note is that it's not just banks that are lending and buying and moving cash around. Big hedge fund types like Blackstone and Colony are gobbling up properties too, sometimes even single family homes that they can rent while they accrue value. All these lenders are also involved in...and here's the head-scratcher...the exact same forms of mortgage-backed securities that got us in the last mess a mere six years ago. Bundling. Tranches. The whole nine. With commercial buildings it's a little different than single family homes, but not much. Leverage. Making fast bucks and passing off questionable loans into packages to be sold to investors. (We can only hope Uncle Sam has learned a lesson and won't buy up a lot of these questionable loans and leave you and me on the hook.) Depending on your perspective it's "adding liquidity to the market" or "Ponzi with an MBA."

    Stepping back from the mumbo jumbo for a minute, what I'm really saying is that when Big Money discovers you, the jig is up, or perhaps more accurately the jig is rigged. The sad part is that this is what Rent Stabilization was meant to protect tenants from - the vagaries and the greed inherent in the markets. Were we talking about other goods or services, maybe a case could be made that such profit motives worked to everyone's advantage - say, the tech industry. But we're talking about people's homes here. Remember the three basics? Food, clothing, shelter. I'd add clean water and health care to the list. And maybe coffee. But honestly, have we really sunk so low that Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) are more important than a family's two bedroom home sweet home? We're not talking about gilded mansions here, or "summer" homes. The vast majority of residents are either seniors, children or working people, not spongers, as those on the right might want you to believe. (We know better; we live here. Real people are all around us, not caricatures.) The irony of course is that so many of the working people living in these rent stabilized apartments are in the business of servicing wealthier people's "needs" for upscale food, clothing, shelter and, particularly around here, health care. And some are in the business of servicing the whole city's needs for sanitation and teaching and nannying and plumbing and housecleaning and yes, of course, everything else under the sun. But my main point is that what we're really talking about here is honest, decent folk. You could stereotype a building's people by the nastiest of its tenants, but that would buy into a narrative that simply isn't true. Suggesting that wholesale change in a building is GOOD for the neighborhood is like throwing out the babies with the bathwater, and I don't know about you but I LIKE babies.

    Organizations like Flatbush Tenants Coalition and the recently mobilized Crown Heights Tenants Union, with assistance from UHAB and PACC (Pratt Area Community Council) and others, are becoming much more assertive in arguing for a more just and humane response to Brooklyn's surge in popularity among affluent renters. In the case of the CH Tenants Union, you're seeing a crucial alliance developing between longtime residents and younger newer tenants fighting to keep their apartments during management companies' efforts to bring rents up to support underlying debt. For many landlords, the young middle class renter who can afford a $1500 or $2000 apartment, often as a share, can help accelerate the desirability of the neighborhood. Better yet, many of these renters don't stay long, giving landlords another opportunity to legally add significant dollars to the baseline rent stabilized rate. Remember, once the apartment is out of stabilization it's out for good. So the race is on...get out of RS before Albany acts to up the $2,500 limit or de Blasio gets creative preserving affordable housing through...oh I don't know, I'm not the housing expert. Something creative.

    So how does the Crown Heights Tenants Union go about creating these alliances? The old fashioned way...going out to the buildings that are identified as over-leveraged and putting up flyers and meeting in lobbies and educating tenants of their rights and the need for solidarity. Come join them on the 17th for their next meeting. Each building must create a solid tenants association to work with the landlord. The Tenants Union is getting tons of press, and its numbers are growing daily. Housing advocates are watching closely to see if this new alliance has legs. If you're interested in helping see that your building owner plays by the rules, and you're interested in being part of a movement for housing justice, by all means contact the Union or the Coalition via their websites. Or contact the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association, which is becoming more active on the issue. Or me, and I'll rout you to the best contact at any or all of the above.

    Lastly, you may be wondering which buildings Pinnacle now controls. List below. But remember, it's just one of a few powerful companies that owns a big portfolio around here. Most of these are located within spitting distance of Lefferts, but a few are right here and with all this new money flowing in, I suspect we'll see more purchases in the next year or two. I'll be seeking out more lists like this to see what buildings are ready to pop.



    1171 President Street 39 91
    382 Eastern Parkway 46 88 $1,004,916
    225 Parkside Avenue 126 64 $4,568,762
    991 Carroll Street 69 54 $2,001,751
    681 Ocean Avenue 60 37 1,897,549
    1554 Ocean Avenue 71 35 $2,059,413
    459 Schenectad 90 31 $3,218,176
    176 Clarkson Avenue 91 31 $2,462,088
    3301 Farragut Road 42 30
    489 Eastern Parkway 16 27 $1,689,595
    481 Eastern Parkway 17 17 *
    497 Eastern Parkway 16 9 *
    40 Argyle Road 49 22 $2,392,567
    28 Argyle Road 31 0 *
    307 12th Street 25 22
    1535 Ocean Avenue 45 20
    1362 Ocean Avenue 48 20 $1,257,626
    619 Rugby Road 16 19 $1,108,140
    615 Rugby Road 16 12 *
    607 Rugby Road 16 17 *
    292 St Johns Place 16 16 $417,896
    926 Carroll Street 58 16 $1,639,744
    916 Carroll Street 58 15 $2,138,344
    85 Clarkson Avenue 71 10 $2,047,472
    529 East 22nd Street 48 8 $1,744,916
    601 Crown Street 27 3 $552,047
    426 East 22nd Street 64 67 $1,866,203
    222 Lenox Road 158 44 $3,535,660
    176 Clarkson Ave 91 4 $2,462,088

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  • 07/14/14--18:42: Flatbush Candidate Forum
  • 230 showed up at a Flatbush church last Saturday morn

    As the Q mentioned here recently, it's pretty rare that a state senate or assembly seat becomes vacant. Some pols hold their posts for decades. Like Rhoda Jacobs, the longtime Assemblywoman from Flatbush (and environs). She's retiring, and it's brought out a cavalcade of candidates for the gig. As an added bonus, Eric Adams' longheld State Senate seat is up for grabs in the 20th, since he's moved up/sideways to the BP position.

    On top of that, a lot of us ALREADY got a new State Senator, when they redrew the district lines. I used to have Adams, but now I've got Kevin Parker, and frankly I'm cool with that. While he's running uncontested in the Democratic Primary (which in a Democratic borough is all you need to win), he sat at stage left and intervened occasionally with a breezy gravitas and wisdom, gently correcting candidates who showed their lack of experience and knowledge of the current state bodies . He's the real deal, a smart, liberal pragmatist with horse sense. He'll have my vote, even if it doesn't really matter.

    Unlike our current City Councilman, Parker is active and literate and politically astute, particularly in legislative matters, where it really counts. He's sponsored or co-sponsored more bills than anyone in his chamber, and is constantly looking for
    coalitions and consensus. Yes, he's hot tempered, and it's gotten him in hot water. He almost lost his seat for attaching a NY Post photographer, and has been known to erupt with, um, language unbecoming of a gentleman at times. But as a Senator, he's been remarkably effective, and his colleagues respect (fear?) him. I met with the man in his office a few weeks back, and I was enormously impressed by his breadth of knowledge and passion for the job. He's the big dude, stage left, dressed down in all white. A sign of the summer humidity, or lack of challenger?

    And now that I've said that, I'll leave it to the ever reliable Ditmas Park Corner to share the substance of the forum - click here for the straight dope and much higher quality photos. Kudos to Anna Gustafson for the excellent reportage.

    So who are your choices? Anna lays it out:

    Challengers making a bid for Jacobs’ 42nd Assembly District, which covers Midwood, Ditmas Park, and Flatbush, include community activist Michele Adolphe, who ran against Jacobs in 2010; Democratic District Leader Rodneyse Bichotte, who challenged Jacobs in 2012; Community Board 17 member Victor A. Jordan; Mark Lieberman, a civic activist and journalist from Midwood Park; and Rickie Tulloch, the deputy chief financial officer of Harlem Hospital Center and chairman of Jacobs’ Community Advisory Council.

    Those running for the 20th Senate District, which covers such neighborhoods as Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Brownsville, Prospect Heights, and Gowanus, include community advocate and educator Rubain Dorancy, Democratic District Leader and lawyer for the city Department of Finance Jesse Hamilton, and Community Board 9 member and former PTA member Demetrius Lawrence. Lawrence was not at the forum.
    I know Demetrius Lawrence and Jesse Hamilton pretty well. I think Demetrius must be bowing out, since he didn't show. Rubain or Jesse? I guess I'll have to look more closely, but both seem experienced and versed in the needs of the district. I give Jesse the edge since Eric Adams is throwing his weight behind him.

    As for the Assembly candidates, it seemed to the Q like slim pickins. I guess most winners end up growing into the job, so maybe it doesn't matter. But none of them impressed me much. Mark Lieberman had some barbs and bite to him, and as the only white guy I suppose you could say he stuck out. Actually, there were very few white folks in the room at all, which given the influx, seemed odd at first. But then, after listening to the questions from folks involved in politics enough to turn out, it started to become clear to me that these are the people who have lived here a long time, and they care deeply about the issues and have been the backbone of the neighborhood for decades. The gentry, the caretakers, the concerned citizens, and to a one, alarmed at how many of their friends and family are being threatened with eviction, or unable to find new affordable places, and looking for politicians to champion solutions. It's definitely not business as usual these days, though on the political front, it kinda is. Business as usual. A flim for your flam, ma'am?

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  • 07/14/14--19:22: Pedestrian Death
  • It would appear from the Twitter that a pedestrian was struck and killed near the Flatbush Trees at Flatbush and Empire a couple hours ago. Any additional info anyone? I'm heading to bed, saddened by the news. A terrible intersection, and a terrible tragedy.

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    If you haven't had a chance to add your voice to the cool map being offered up by "Vision Zero," you can zoom in on this app and add comments to each and every intersection in the neighborhood and add your own comments and pet peeves. Believe it or not, your input is actually actively being solicited. Please add as many comments as you can! We need all the help from DOT that we can get.

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