Friday, September 7, 2007

Garden snakes

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A mysterious gang of marauding plant thieves has been yanking flowers and snagging herbs right out of the gardens of some lush homes in Bay Ridge.

At least 12 residents in a seven-block radius awoke two Fridays ago to discover that someone had used clippers to swipe their cherished shrubbery.

Residents were aghast at the sheer barbarism of the act.

“I was crying all morning,” said Fatama Yafei, a resident of 247 79th St. “What kind of people would do something like this?”

The “who” remains a mystery, but the “where” is public knowledge, at least to residents accustomed to the beautifully manicured lawns and gardens of Bay Ridge.

The green-thumbed perps hit the blocks between 79th and 86th Streets from Shore Road to Third Avenue, where stems now wither in front of many homes where green goodness formerly blossomed.

It appears that more than one person is involved due to the sheer scope of the vandalism.

Yafei says she believes the bandits struck her house between 2 and 4 am, when they opened her front gate, walked into the middle of her garden, and cleanly clipped a three-foot high shrub known as a snowball. The perps even left behind an empty beer bottle. A trail of leaves led toward Third Avenue — but then vanished.

Getting to the roots of the mystery has proven to be a thorny proposition, since the bandits do their clipping at night and there have been no reported eyewitnesses. Since there is no known black market for contraband foliage, the case becomes murkier.

Yafei believes it could be a crime of passion.

“It is probably just some kids pulling a prank,” said Yafei. “Maybe someone just wants to give his girlfriend some flowers.”

Regardless of intentions, the perps could find themselves in hot water if this operation gets nipped in the bud.

That’s because clipping plants is vandalism — and convicted vandals can go to prison.

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun; at least as far as plant clippers are concerned.

Only a decade ago, many Brooklyn residents even went to the extent of chaining their plants to the ground, but those days were thought to be behind us. The new band of plant thieves has residents wondering if the time has come to bring back the chains — or maybe even vigilante justice.

“Do I need to chain the rest of my plants?” asked Yafei with a laugh. “I’ll tell you one thing, if I find out who did this I will clip off their hands.”

Officer Jeffery Swain from the 68th Precinct suggested a slightly different punishment.

“Stealing plants is larceny, which means that if you are caught, you could certainly go to jail,” he said. “We encourage everyone whose plants are stolen to report it as soon as it happens.”

Swain says his superiors know that plant theft is a growing problem in Bay Ridge.

“People steal anything that isn’t chained down,” he added.

But the motive remains a mystery.

The manager of Enchanted Florist, a Fifth Avenue plant store, said it’s unlikely that the thieves are re-selling the pilfered plants.

“People who steal plants out of yards to resell them are going to have a problem,” said the manager, who gave his name only as Steve. “Once the plant is established, it is hard to be replanted and in most cases it will die.”

He said the crime is most likely being committed by kids with nothing better to do. But he added that a full grown snowball like the one stolen from Yafei could sell for more than $60.

That’s a lot of green.

Baby-buggy bandit in Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A new predator is prowling local playgrounds and swimming pools, patiently waiting for the instant a distracted mom turns her head, then, in the blink of an eye — gone!

But don’t call Chris Hanson just yet, because these perps are leaving the kids and snagging the strollers.

That’s right, a serial-stroller thief is on the loose in Bay Ridge and nervous moms are beginning to panic over the newly realized vulnerability of their precious baby-mobiles.

It isn’t exactly the Son of Sam, but stroller-paranoia has hit a crescendo.

“Stroller theft is becoming more and more of a problem,” read a posted warning on, a national clearinghouse for gossip about, well, you can figure it out from the name of the Web site. “To parents and nannies in Bay Ridge, beware; strollers are being snatched left and right!”

The poster had first-hand knowledge of stroller perils; his was swiped last Wednesday. But that was only half as bad as what happened to January Hagan, who had two strollers stolen in one week last month.

“My jogger stroller was stolen just days after my Maclaren stroller was stolen in broad daylight,” Hagan said. “I had been meaning to buy a bike lock, but hadn’t gotten around to it.”

Hagan, who lives on 80th Street near Fourth Avenue, said she had parked her stroller in a concealed spot by her front door, and it was only out of site for a few minutes when she discovered that the buggy bandit had struck again.

“Perhaps someone has been watching me,” said Hagan. “You think I would have learned the first time around. I am just completely devastated that there is someone in this neighborhood stealing strollers.”

Residents of Bay Ridge should get used to it: these aren’t your mother’s baby buggies. Strollers today are big business (true story, my first stroller purchase, a Prego, cost $20 more than my first car — a 1984 Chevy Cavalier that I bought in 1995 for $300.).

A new stroller can cost up to $1,200, and in today’s affluent Bay Ridge, the site of little Madison in a luxury cruiser strolling down Third Avenue has become commonplace.

This rising cost of buggies has created an instant black market for opportunistic thieves looking to make a quick buck.

Some buggy-bandits may even be hawking their goods on Craigslist, which currently has 76 used strollers on sale ranging in price from $100-$600. Another theory is that some kids steal the strollers for the wheels, which, in some high-end buggies, can be used on motorized mini-bikes popular with teens.

Of course, if you are looking to keep your stroller off the black market, prudence is the best remedy.

Cops say that while they have noticed no appreciable rise in reported stroller thefts, common-sense precautions should thwart would-be buggy bandits.

“Keep your eye on your stroller like you would a laptop or any other expensive commodity,” said one officer at the 68th Precinct. “People will steal anything that isn’t tied down.”

Hagan, who replaced both strollers at a net loss of $350, took the advice to heart.

“I have replaced both strollers,” said Hagan. “But now, I either carry my stroller up two flights of stairs every time I return home or I lock it to a pipe with a bike lock and chain.

Lesson learned, but in any case, it appears that the stroller-stealing epidemic will have at least one silver lining. The panic has temporarily cleared doorways of local businesses and apartment buildings of stroller congestion.

Now, if only there would be a serial double-parked car thief!

Matthew Lysiak is a writer who lives in Bay Ridge.

The Kitchen Sink
Is Vito moving towards Hillary? With a showdown with lefty lawyer Steve Harrison looming, it appears that conservative Rep. Vito Fossella (R-Bay Ridge) is once again distancing himself from President Bush. First, he slapped the president for not declaring Bay Ridge a national disaster area after the Aug. 8 tornado. Then he knocked POTUS for changing a rule that would prevent the expansion of state-run health care for kids whose parents earn over $80,000 a year. Then again, the buzz from Staten Island is that Guy Molinari wants Vito to run for mayor next year, not Congress anyway. …

Cowboys in Bay Ridge? A new restaurant, Uncle Buck’s, which is located on 89th Street and Third Avenue, opened last week to rave reviews for a simple, inexpensive, and tasty menu. But to our great dismay, the rumored appearance of a mechanical bull is nothing more than a dream due to, what else, insurance issues. …

Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) is claiming to have solved, once and for all, the mystery of the mysterious humming noise known as the “Bay Ridge Hum.” Stay tuned next week. …

We have just received the sad news that Gail Topp, who worked for the Brooklyn Democrats for Change, passed away last Monday. She will be missed.

Bush’s tornado aid goes to Queens, not Brooklyn

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

President Bush will send disaster relief funds to victims of the Aug. 8 storm that unleashed a tornado on Bay Ridge — but the White House is only sending money to Queens, not Brooklyn.

As you might imagine, local officials in Bay Ridge are buzzing like a Category 1 twister.

“People are having difficulty recovering from the tornado because the process for making a decision has been too slow,” said Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge), who had urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency — and his fellow Republican at the head of the executive branch — to do the right thing by Bay Ridge.

Hundreds of cars, houses and roofs were damaged or destroyed by the tornado’s 136-mile-per-hour winds that touched down around 67th Street between Fourth and Seventh avenues.

The tornado may have touched down in Bay Ridge, but Queens, not Brooklyn, bore the brunt of the damage, said FEMA spokeswoman Barbara Lynch.

“The borough of Queens was really in a lot worse shape,” said Lynch. “That’s why residents of Queens will be the only ones eligible for the aid at this time.”

Indeed, news coverage of the storm did focus on the first-ever tornado in Bay Ridge, but in Queens, more than 1,300 homes were damaged, compared to 80 in Brooklyn. There was also extensive flooding in Queens.

Lynch said that Brooklyn could still get a piece of the federal relief pie, but as in the Sept. 1 relief announcement, that decision must be made by the president.

Fossella met with FEMA officials last Friday and demanded a recount.

“I spoke with top officials to express the community’s frustration,” said Fossella.

The agency agreed to Fossella’s request to re-examine how and where the relief money was allocated.

Buckeye’s fighting back

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Threat? What threat?

That’s what officials of the Buckeye Pipe Line Company will soon be telling terror-fearing Bay Ridge residents in a new public initiative designed to explain that its controversial fuel pipeline — an apparent terror target earlier this year — is safe.

The latest fears about the pipeline, which runs in the train cut near 65th Street in Bay Ridge, stemmed from the June arrest of four men who supposedly plotted to blow up the jet fuel tanks — and the pipelines that supply them — at JFK Airport.

But Buckeye Vice President of Field Operations Brian Jury said fear is just a media creation.

“Safety … is our top priority and our pipelines are well-protected,” said Jury. “Unfortunately, distortions regarding pipeline operations and safety have been widely reported.”

To combat this misinformation, Buckeye will be hitting the local community board circuit and sending out mailings. The campaign will explain that “an attack on the pipeline involving explosives, even if it ruptured the pipeline and ignited the escaping fuel, would be localized,” said Jury.

But it won’t be an easy sell.

The arrests in June ignited fears in Bay Ridge about the 40-year-old pipeline, which runs from Linden, New Jersey to JFK — via Bay Ridge.

“Of course, we are on edge,” said Avery Greene, a resident of the Towers of Bay Ridge, which is on 65th Street between Ridge and Third avenues. “It is hard to imagine how many people could die if that pipeline got into the wrong hands.”

Pipeline fears were the subject of an Aug. 15 public hearing at Fort Hamilton.

“The reason the alleged terrorists targeted the pipeline is because it represents an efficient way to massacre thousands of people in one attack,” Rep. Vito Fossella said at the hearing. “We don’t have enough answers.”

Wait a few weeks, and some answers will soon be in your mailbox and at your local community board meeting room.

Last call for Club Shadows?

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

This may be the last dance for Club Shadows.

On Aug. 22, the embattled Fourth Avenue nightclub’s plea offer was rejected by the State Liquor Authority, which came back with an offer of its own — give up your liquor license or go to trial.

Shadows had offered the authority $10,000 and a 15-day suspension of its liquor license to settle charges dating back to Nov. 30, 2006— which included a serious count of not having a proper liquor license.

But “the plea offer was not enough to satisfy the board,” said Liquor Authority spokesman Bill Crowley.

The latest setback for the controversial club comes after two brawls — one on June 5 and another on Aug. 10, cops said — and both incidents hurt the bar’s chance of retaining its liquor license.

“Obviously, there are serious questions about whether Shadows can responsibly hold this license,” Crowley said. “Anytime the police have to be called and there is violence, the board takes it very seriously.”

The latest charges — stemming from the violent incidents — are separate matters, which mean two more trials, Crowley said.

Club Shadows, which is between 90th and 91st streets, got on the community radar screen last November, when a sign featuring the silhouette of a curvy woman was installed. The sign also promised “exotic dancers” at the Nov. 30 opening.

The strippers never materialized. In fact, inside Club Shadows, there isn’t a hint of the controversy that local officials feared. When a Brooklyn Paper reporter visited this week, he found a club scene not too different than others in New York.

The lighting was dark and the drinks pricey, but the business was clean and the crowd of twentysomethings were well-controlled by two large security guards who made their presence obvious.

Aside from people smoking in the bathroom (a common club nuisance), there were no noticeable problems — and no naked woman.

That’s a far cry from what local officials expected when Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) brought SLA inspectors to the Club Shadows opening, and the agency hit the establishment with the four original violations.

Shadows lawyer William Spanakos could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Emergency tree meeting in Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Got trees? Local officials hope the city does — and they’ve scheduled an emergency meeting to figure out how to get new foliage planted quickly in tornado-devastated areas of Bay Ridge.

Hundreds of trees were lost in the Aug. 8 twister — and timing is everything. “We need to get these trees planted as soon as possible,” said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann. “Some areas have lost almost half their trees.” Trees can only be planted during spring and fall, so unless the city acts quickly, refoliating the barren areas would have to wait until next year.

But CB10 is going to take its case to the Parks Department’s Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, Julius Spiegel, who will be at the emergency meeting.

The tornado touched down near 67th Street and Fourth Avenue.

CB10 Parks Committee (621 86th St., between Fort Hamilton Parkway and Gatlin Place), Sept. 6, 7:45 pm. Call (718) 745-6827 for info.

‘Fat’ reality star marched off

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A larger-than-life Bay Ridge man stretched his 15 minutes into 272 miles, but in the end he just couldn’t lose enough to win it all.

Will Millender, 26, had embarked on a 10-week, 550-mile walk from Boston to Washington as part of ABC’s reality show, “Fat March,” in which 12 super-sized contestants lose weight to win cash.

But he was booted off the program in a dramatic elimination scene on Monday.

Millender took the defeat like the former competitive eating champ he was.

“I understand why you did this,” he told his executioners amid a tear or two.

The show was reality TV at its best. Unlike other weight-loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Fit Club,” contestants on “Fat March” aren’t battling each other, but trying to become one big (actually, slightly less big) band of brothers.

The goal is to stick together for the entire walk — and share a $1.2-million pot. But every time someone drops out or is voted out for slowing the others down, the pot is reduced by $100,000.

By this week’s episode, the walkers had already marched 278 miles to Philadelphia, but had to do another 18 miles in just five hours.

Millender couldn’t make it, and thus gave his fellow contestants an agonizing choice: kick him off and lose another $100,000 out of the pot, or let him stay, but be forced to march back to the spot where he gave up.

In a case of exercise versus loyalty, loyalty lost, and Millender was voted off.

But money wasn’t all that he lost. Millender weighed in at 474 pounds before the march, and was down to 413 — a loss of 61 pounds — at the weigh-in at the end of Monday’s episode. Now he hopes to keep the weight off.

“I am going home to continue what I started,” Millender said after he was eliminated. “I hope the rest of you succeed through this experience.”

Millender has been spotted all over Bay Ridge — but he’s sworn to confidentiality until the show runs its course.

“Fat March” airs Monday nights at 9 pm on ABC. Our money is on the pro wrestler.

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Lysiak exposing the lack of security at the Towers pipeline