Scoopy, Week of March 6, 2014 | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Scoopy, Week of March 6, 2014

Blame it on the vortexes: Last we heard, Phase III — the final part — of the Washington Square Park renovation, was supposed to be finished by the end of last year. Two or three polar vortexes and, oh, a couple of soggy slushapocalypses later, Phase III still isn’t open yet, and the park’s southwestern corner remains cordoned off by a chain-link fence. The new park building, which will include facilities for Parks Department employees and new public restrooms is looking pretty good from what we saw of it at a distance through the fence. However, preservationists might take exception: It looks sort of like it might fit in better up at Lincoln Center, and it’s got a lot of the “G” word — glass — which we sincerely hope is tinted in the bathrooms. Which is another thing to think about. Hopefully, there won’t be another panic in a park like the one with the Standard Hotel on the High Line with its floor-to-ceiling windows. Anyway, getting back to the main point, when will Phase III finally be finished? “We’re looking to have it all complete and open by April — end of March / possibly early April is likely,” Parks spokesperson Phil Abramson told us. So what was the delay? Blame it on the vortexes? Apparently, yes, they didn’t help things. “Winter weather conditions were a large factor,” Abramson said.

Sal lets loose on lulus: Some might say that new City Councilmember Corey Johnson seems to have some pretty reasonable justifications for accepting an $8,000 “lulu,” or stipend, in return for serving as chairperson of the City Council’s Health Committee: The biggest one being that, under new Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the lulu field has reportedly been leveled, with all Council committee chairpersons now getting the same payment — $8,000. Well, former City Councilmember Sal Albanese, for one, ain’t buying it. Tweeting at @SalAlbaneseNYC, the recent mayoral candidate sounded off in response to our article in last week’s issue “Johnson takes lulu but says process has been reformed.”

“I hope Johnson doesn’t believe people in Village are gullible enough to believe lulu process has been reformed. It’s worse,” Albanese tweeted.

“Wait a second, it’s actually worse now — not better?” we replied to him via Twitter.

Albanese promptly tweeted back, “They have increased the stipends and created a bunch of phony ‘leadership’ posts to dole out more $ than in past councils.”

He added, for good measure, in another tweet right after that, “Virtually no legislature in country provides lulus they are a waste of taxpayer $ Johnson should be ashamed of himself”. Ouch!

“Kudos to The Villager for highlighting the wasteful & bad government practice of City Council lulus,” Albanese shouted out in another tweet. Gee, thanks!

We didn’t want to sound like, well, a twit after all of Albanese’s indignant tweets, but we had to ask: Did he ever take a lulu while he was in the Council?

“did not take lulus bc you have to give up your independence & vote with leadership on what they deem ‘key’ votes,” he answered. “It doesn’t have to be too much either it could be one vote that’s important to Speaker.” Albanese really could be called “Mr. Reform” — during the primary campaign he was very public about shunning any contributions from the real estate industry and developers. For his principled stand, he was rewarded with 0.9 percent of the vote.

Going nowhere fast? What the heck is going on at 544 E. 13th St.? As we reported this past summer, Isabel Celeste, actress Rosario Dawson’s mom, was caught jackhammering a hole from her first-floor apartment down to the squat’s basement for a spiral staircase, all without permits. The Fire Department and Department of Buildings responded and the place was slapped with violations, including for a flimsily attached exterior fire escape and a dangerous parapet. Those conditions have since been fixed, at least partially, we’re told. But the place has got bigger problems. For example, the building hasn’t had any gas for about a year and a half, not since September 2012. Which means the building’s occupants — while braving the Winter of the Vortexes — have been surviving by using electricity to heat their apartments and heat water, and hot plates to cook. According to a source, a representative of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board — who had not been seen at the building for quite some time — finally recently paid a visit to check things out. It turns out the gas meters have been moved and gas lines rerouted, meaning that, for the building to have gas service properly restored, everything would have to be totally redone. “We’re looking at $30,000 to $40,000 to install a whole new system,” our source told us with exasperation. Meanwhile, the building should have already been converted long ago into an affordable co-op per the deal under Mayor Giuliani when 11 remaining East Village squats were sold to the squatters for $1 apiece. But there has been zero progress toward bringing the building up to code. The place is evenly divided between two factions: one group that says they are the original squatter group and another led by Celeste and the Dawson family and their friends and allies. Can anyone get control of this out-of-control building? City Councilmember Rosie Mendez told us the first thing that’s needed is that there has to be one tenants group for people to deal with. A gardener who is a member of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) told us this past summer that there had been some constructive meetings with Celeste and her allies. But the other side accuses local community leaders — and even UHAB — of being “starstruck” by Celeste and Rosario, and thus doing nothing. The squatter group also say they are the ones that signed the contract with UHAB after the deal with the city. And, they further charge, Celeste is not even a legitimate tenant of the building, since, after she broke up with her husband, he kept his unit, while she went and just took another unit illegally in the building without getting everyone’s approval. Meanwhile, Celeste and the Dawson faction rent out some of their units and other commandeered spaces and are using the building as a cash cow, the other side says. It’s a mess, to say the least. How about — just for starters — if the gas is restored? If UHAB refuses to sort things out, shouldn’t the city get involved?

When will they learn? Scam super-sleuth Doris Diether has sussed out yet another ruse that someone tried to use on her. Diether recently received a postcard stating she could get $100 in gift cards to Walmart and other big-box retailers if she called the number on it. She called. She was told that for a $4.95 fee, she would receive the $100 in gift cards. She gave them a credit card number to pay the $4.95. She was told someone would call back in 15 minutes with a confirmation number. But no one called back, so Diether canceled the card. But then someone did call her back, saying that she would be charged $69.95 a month for canceling unless she took the offer. So the octogenarian Community Board 2 member sicced the U.S. Postal Service on the fraudsters. She noted that the con artists dumbly used a printed permit number on the envelope, with a Lakeland, Florida, address, instead of a stamp, so it’s easily traceable. Another case solved by Inspector Diether. … Cue the “Dragnet” music… . Actually, we think the same knuckleheads recently called us at The Villager with the same bogus $100 gift-card offer, though they didn’t say we had to pay any fee. But they probably wanted to suck out some of our info. We just hung up on them — but we should have sent up the Diether Signal.