Tag Archive | "Woodlawn"

Next to Woodlawn Cemetery, another graveyard: abandoned cars

Abandoned vehicles that can be found on Webster Avenue between Gun Hill Road and 233rd Street. © Lila Hassan

Along a desolate stretch of Webster Avenue, sandwiched between the Bronx River Parkway on one side and the vast, storied Woodlawn cemetery on the other, sits another graveyard of sorts.

The street, which starts and ends between 233 Street and Gun Hill Road, has become an ad hoc dumping ground for dozens of abandoned vehicles from recreational vans to trailers and commercial trucks. It’s considered both a menace to residents and a rest stop for truck drivers.

A time-lapse of the Webster Avenue car graveyard on September 30, 2019. © Lila Hassan

A few have parking tickets stuck onto their windshield wipers or yellow boots on their tires, indicating their impending trip to the car pound, where police officers tow discarded cars.

The Department of Transportation, Sanitation, and local Assemblyman’s office have pointed to the local 47th precinct as the responsible party for enforcing traffic regulations and removals.

None of these government agencies are sure why the cars and trucks are not being removed promptly, and none have been able to answer where they go once towed or removed. Similarly, none of these departments, including the NYPD, know why the 18-wheel truck drivers come here to park, sleep, and take breaks on days-long assignments.

Local residents are fed up.

“The block is just a dump,” said Jasmine Miranda, whose parents’ home is at one end of Webster Avenue strip.  One morning in mid-August, there was no indication of abandoned vehicles and just a handful of trucks were parked.

Just one week later, there were as many as 50 vehicles scattered across the area, in defiance of alternate side parking rules. Some had their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) scratched out. Others had open trunks and missing license plates and other parts. Alongside them were piles of beer bottles, takeout food containers, and even the occasional used mattress.

A week later, the same sad collection of cars and trucks were still there. Eventually some trash was removed, and several cars were towed, only for more cars to come in their place. 

“Companies park their trucks there in the evening. There are RVs, trash everywhere. It’s kind of an abandoned area,” said Shawn Guffey, board member at the Woodlawn Taxpayers Association, a local not-for-profit community organization. Woodlawn is the neighborhood at the north end of the car graveyard.

The Association first heard of the issue at one of its monthly open meetings when a community member complained about the street being full of trucks and trailers.

The New York Police Department’s 47th precinct, whose sector covers the entire strip on Webster Avenue and is responsible for ticketing and towing, said that giving summonses is useless, according to Commanding Chief, Inspector Erik Hernandez.

“They [truck drivers] would rather pay the parking summons that find storage for these trucks,” Hernandez said.

Jasmine and Theresa Miranda, 26 and 30, sisters whose parents’ home is at the other end near Gun Hill Road, view the street is an eyesore. At night, “it seems sort of ominous,” said Theresa.

Miranda recalled being spooked when she accidentally got off one subway stop too far on the Metro North at 233rd street, almost two miles away from her home on the other side of Webster Avenue. Afraid, “I basically ran that whole area in the dark,” she said.

Two of many 18-wheeler trucks on the Webster Avenue strip. Some, as in the photo, don’t have an attached vehicle to drive them away. © Lila Hassan

Miranda thinks the area is deteriorating. “Honestly, I try not to park there anymore,” she said. “People abandon their cars there and even if they’re booted, it won’t be towed away for weeks.” She doesn’t think the alternate side parking rules make a difference, because the “trucks don’t normally leave. It’s long term parking.”

A “Large Parking Lot”

The alternate side street signs that stretch along the 1.5-mile strip include three signs to indicate no parking for street cleaning on Monday and Thursday mornings, as well as one for Tuesday and Friday mornings.

But just because the rules are there doesn’t mean they’re enforced.

The white Acura left for over a month on the Webster Avenue strip. © Lila Hassan

The Bronx Ink paid a visit to the Webster Avenue car graveyard on August 21 and found a white Acura with missing license plates and a printed out temporary license that hung from the inside of the back window. Over a month later on September 30, the car was found in the same illegal spot, unmoved, with trash on the street nearby it. The seats in the front were cut up, and a used battery booster was left in the backseat.

On September 30, the Bronx Ink counted 26 18-wheel trucks, five apparently abandoned vehicles, four also apparently abandoned RV’s, eight parked tow trucks, six cargo vans, five minivans, three double decker buses, two piles of at least six trash bags each, and one dead raccoon.

The alternate side parking rules were put up just earlier this year, when Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz put in a request to Councilman Andrew Cohen.

Dinowitz said the Webster Avenue strip is more or less “a large parking lot.”

It’s difficult to tow big vehicles, he said. But he and his team look to “press the 47th precinct to enforce rules whenever they can.” 

“They’ve been very helpful,” said Dinowitz, and “it could get better, but then it gets bad again.”

Not A “Profitable or Actionable Collection”

Because the car graveyard on Webster Avenue is located in front of the cemetery and highway with no residential homes or buildings, the street is considered city property. It is unclear why enforcement of alternate side parking rules, towing, ticketing and clean-ups there are scarce.

Amanda Septimo, former district manager for Congressman Jose E. Serrano, and a lifelong resident of Hunts Point, said there is hyper vigilance and enforcement there with a larger police presence, which is not the case in other areas of the Bronx.

“The city might be targeting neighborhoods with actively present residents and not areas where there isn’t a profit or actionable collection,” she said.

Complaints to the city don’t seem to help either. Jasmine Miranda has said that other residents have given up reaching out to the city, thinking that 311 does not respond to their calls.

“Whenever a New Yorker calls 311 or uses our website or mobile app, their service request is instantly routed to the appropriate agency for a response,” according to Laura Feyer, deputy press secretary in the Office of the Mayor.

Several of the cars on Webster Avenue are booted, which indicate that the owner has received over $350 in tickets (whether for parking violations, red light violations, or bus lane violations), according to NYC 311.

The fate after this is towing, and if the vehicle remains unclaimed, it will be auctioned off. The owner of the vehicle is responsible for all the fees in towing, moving, and auctioning, and if the auction does not pay off the tickets and fees, the owner’s bank account and wages will be accessed to pay.

However, in cases where the abandoned cars’ VIN number (the unique identification) has been damaged or removed from the car, and the owner is untraceable, the DOT said in a phone call and over email that it could not answer this question because the NYPD is the responsible party for towing, removal, and enforcement.

The police are also responsible for determining what constitutes an abandoned vehicle or unidentifiable owner. The DOT sometimes relocates vehicles blocking paving jobs, but it doesn’t actually tow them, according to Scott Gastel, assistant commissioner for press. 

“Not Something That’s Not Dealt With”

The Department of Sanitation is “aware of the situation on this particular stretch of Webster Avenue,” according to Dina Montes, press secretary of public affairs at the DSNY.

From January to September, the DSNY Enforcement Unit issued 44 summonses for littering and public urination and seven summonses for illegal dumping. In September alone, the unit has issued 29 summonses for alternate side parking violations.

Problems Montes identified on the street include illegal dumping, non-compliance with alternate side parking rules, and abandoned and derelict vehicles.

The DSNY is responsible for removing only derelict vehicles, which means a vehicle has both “sustained physical damage” and is without license plates. Between July 2018 and September 2019, the DSNY removed 11 derelict vehicles. All other removals fall on the shoulders of the 47th precinct.

The 47th precinct did not provide requested statistics on the frequency of patrols, traffic violations, summonses, and tickets issued to this particular street despite many requests.

Police Officer Sherman Tyson, a Neighborhood Coordination Officer for the Woodlawn area, though not for this specific street, told the Bronx Ink that the dumping and abandoned cars are “not something that’s not dealt with,” and it is patrolled as equally as any other part of their district.

When asked what constitutes an abandoned vehicle, Tyson answered that it is a vehicle left unmoved for 48 hours, although he says this is not always enforced, and they don’t tow everyday.

“Is that a realistic expectation?” Tyson responded.

Hernandez, however, said concern with this strip is “legitimate,” but need vehicles to be flagged as problems for them to move it, otherwise they don’t know. If a car looks abandoned, he said, it doesn’t need to wait 48 hours to be removed.

In addition to the constant cycle, Hernandez said the private companies that the NYPD works with to tow – licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs – do not have the proper storage to hold the amount of cars that need removing, especially those larger than sedans. Hernandez said the precinct can only have three or four cars towed at a time.

Moving the trucks, on the other hand, is like “spitting into a fan.”

“As soon as we two one truck another one goes there in its replacement,” he said. 

Usually the precinct can remove 30-40 vehicles a month, including 5 trucks.

From January to August of this year, there have been 148 unregistered moving violations in the Bronx’s 47th Police Precinct, according to traffic violation stats obtained by the Bronx Ink, compared to 83 in the 48th precinct and 116 in the 46th.

“Nobody Bothers Us”

Cleaning his parked green 18-wheeler, truck driver Robert Caceres said that there is no commercial parking for trucks in the Bronx that are convenient, safe, and affordable.

Caceres cleaning his 18-wheel truck on a break. © Lila Hassan

If a truck driver works for 14 hours, they are legally required to take a 10-hour break. If they are caught driving during their break, they can receive a traffic citation.

“Parking is tough out here,” Caceres said. On Webster Avenue, “we’re not in front of nobody’s building.”

Caceres owns Tod Logistics Corp. in Yonkers, a one-driver, one-truck transport company and now controls his own hours. Before he had his own business, he often worked three to five day assignments.

Behind the driver’s seat, Caceres has two beds, a microwave, and drawers of instant food he used during his break time.

Caceres said he doesn’t know how other truck drivers know about Webster Avenue, but the strip’s view of the Metro North railroad and direct road to the Bronx River Parkway highway make the spot visible to passing drivers.

Occasionally police will ask drivers to move, he said, but they do not always feel the need to abide.

“Let’s say we’re not here. You think dumping is going to stop? There are no cops here. People will still come and sleep here regardless,” he said.

“Nobody bothers us.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Cars, Crime, Featured, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Photography, Police, The Bronx Beat, Transportation, VideoComments (0)

Family accuses Bronx cemetery of losing grandma’s ashes, NY Daily News

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is facing accusations of misplacing the ashes of a local grandmother, according to the NY Daily News.

Elisabeth Delfini’s family claimed that Woodlawn lost her ashes in February and then lied about the loss.

The alleged mishap is the second at a major Bronx cemetery in the last year. Recently, St. Raymond Cemetery was accused of burying the remains of a woman in the wrong grave.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

Meals-On-Wheels in Woodlawn is a hit, NY Daily News

Kathleen Brick, a 79-year-old Woodlawn woman, has been having a hard time getting around since her double knee surgery, so she’s taking advantage of the new Meals-On-Wheels delivery in the area, New York Daily News.

The nationwide program started in Woodlawn about six weeks ago, coordinated out of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, reports the Daily News. It provides a free hot meal every day for seniors via a local catering company, Culinary Concepts.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

Community leaders back Woodlawn cemetery workers

A proposed budget bill by the Wisconsin governor that would take away unions’ bargaining rights was invoked several times as members of the group South Bronx Community Congress stood with Woodlawn Cemetery workers Monday.

Joining the South Bronx Community Congress, clergy, union leaders, members of the Green Party and the Freedom Party called for support in a protest planned for Monday in front of the cemetery.

“I am here supporting the workers,” said Pastor Doug Cunningham of the New Day United Methodist Church in the Bronx. “The treatment of workers is outrageous. It’s a threat to the economy and the community of the Bronx.”

An ongoing labor dispute brought the Woodlawn Cemetery into spotlight recently. The cemetery management proposed cutting 23 out of 38 landscaping jobs and outsourcing the work to a private firm, the Brickman Group.

While the negotiations between the management and workers’ union are still going on, Dee Knight, the labor community forum coordinator for the South Bronx Community Congress said that the group believes that the management is finalizing the deal with the Brickman Group and getting ready to let go of the workers.

However the Woodlawn Cemetery spokesman Howard Cannon denied the assertion and said that the matter is still under review and no deal has been made as yet.

“Discussions are still going on with the Brickman Group,” said Cannon.

The community leaders claimed that by outsourcing the landscaping work, the cemetery is getting rid of good paying jobs in the favor of cheap labor by immigrant “guest” workers. Teresa Gutierrez from the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights said that bringing in immigrant workers would be an injustice to the Woodlawn workers and the immigrant workers themselves.

“We are struggling to keep jobs in both sides of the border,’’ Gutierrez said. “We don’t want workers from other countries to come and work in hostile, racist environment.”

Posted in Former Featured, Front Page, NewswireComments (0)

Woodlawn Cemetery and workers lock horns over proposed layoffs

Woodlawn Cemetery and workers lock horns over proposed layoffs

By Sana Taskeen Gulzar

Woodlawn Cemetery is known for the famous people who are buried there, from Miles Davis to Robert Moses. But an ongoing labor dispute has put the sprawling burial ground in the spotlight for a different reason. Controversy brews over the cemetery’s plan to lay off 23 union workers and to outsource the landscaping of the cemetery to a private landscaping firm.

The famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is embroiled in controversy over proposed worker lay offs.

The Woodlawn workers claim that the management announced the decision to lay off 23 out of 38 workers at the cemetery right after a new workers’ union was voted in last October. Enrique Coss, one of the workers, says management did not want to deal with a strong workers’ union, the teamsters

“Management always had their way,” said Coss. “They were always able to have control and were in bed with the previous unions,” he said.

According to the current workers’ union, Local Teamster 808, the cemetery management took the decision of outsourcing 23 landscaping jobs in November last year after only one negotiation session. Chris Silvera, the secretary- treasurer of the union, alleged that the management retaliated against the workers who joined the union in October.

“They run the cemetery plantation style,” said Silvera. “It’s not a racial thing, but [the] company wants to treat people at their own discretion. You just do what I tell you to do,” he said.

The cemetery management denies the allegation. Howard Cannon, a spokesman for Woodlawn Cemetery, said that another union already represented the workers before the teamsters got voted in. Cannon asserted that the union was aware of the existing four-year contract with the workers set to expire on December 31. The management, still in negotiations with workers, has not made the final decision about the layoffs. “We are on the negotiating table every day; there have been no layoffs, we are still negotiating,” said Cannon. “If the management was interested in laying off workers, it would not have been on the negotiating table,” he said.

The cemetery management claims it only asked workers’ union for possible suggestions to save $731,000 in operational costs. The cemetery is deciding between outsourcing the jobs to the Brickman Group, a company that operates in 29 states, or cutting wages 35 percent.

Cannon says the cemetery business is in flux, forcing the management to reevaluate their needs and costs.

“Cremations have increased 512 percent since 1985,” said Cannon. “If there is a significant decrease in burials, then we need to readjust our work force,” he added.

But Coss asserts that even with increased number of cremations, the nature of the job doesn’t change much, as the 400 acres of land has to be maintained.

“They will be doing an injustice to the lot owners,’’ he said. “They would be walking into a jungle or a forest.”

Posted in Former FeaturedComments (0)