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Midwood Take Heed: Fraud, Global Warming Threaten Residents

With so many things to worry about just getting through the day, global warming and insurance fraud may not seem like the most pressing of problems to deal with. But two congressional candidates told the Midwood Civic Action Council (MCAC) at their Feb. 6 meeting that Brooklynites ignore these big-picture issues at their peril. Global warming is one of the most pressing concerns facing modern civilization, congressional candidate Chris Owens told the packed meeting at Caraville Restaurant, 1910 Ave. M. “If we do not make some serious changes to our environment over the next ten years, we face an incredible crisis — one that threatens our very survival,” said Owens, a son of the current Rep. Major Owens. If allocating scarce resources already causes conflict, then things are going to get worse. Lack of potable water, changing human and wildlife habitats and migration of people are just some of the problems that would result from higher than normal temperatures. Owens was fresh from a meeting with the former Vice-President Al Gore, who is preparing to release a presentation on global warming in May. “We are not going to recognize this planet in the next 50 years if we don’t do something now,” said Owens. Owens says that he believes Hurricane Katrina was more than just a natural cycle, and was driven by rising ocean temperatures generally. Individuals must not only take steps to reduce the amount of energy they consume, but also which energy policies they support. Energy independence is important for homeland security, says Owens, but policies need to include more fundamental changes. “We must think of totally new ways of doing energy,” Owens said. City Councilmember David Yassky said that car insurance premiums in Brooklyn can be two-a-half to three times higher than other parts of the country. Insurance fraud has elevated those premiums. Much of the problem stems from routine abuse of New York’s no “fault system,” which is designed to streamline insurance claims, allowing accident victims to get compensation without having to go through the courts. Scammers find someone who has been in accident, pay the victim a small sum, and use the person’s name to make bogus claims against insurance companies. Up to $50,000 in medical expenses can be paid out at a time. Borough President Marty Markowitz introduced a report last year on insurance fraud, Yassky said. Hearings were also held in 2005, and more hearings will be held next month, Yassky said. The City Council hopes to vote on legislation by the end of the year. “I hope very much to pass it by the end of the year,” Yassky said. Yassky also said he wants to strengthen the Department of Buildings’ hand to deal with the illegal conversion of two- and three-family homes into multi-occupancy dwellings. As it stands at the moment, building inspectors need the property owner’s permission to enter a building. Yassky wants to support changing the law so that with “good cause,” the Buildings Department can enter dwellings without the owner’s permission. Owens and Yassky are running for the congressional seat in Brooklyn’s 11th District. Leslie Dreifus, a chiropractor and president of the Midwood Board of Trade, spoke of the need for a safer neighborhood. “We want a safe neighborhood and we want a clean neighborhood,” said Dreifus. “If you see a commercial strip go down, the neighborhood follows not far behind.” To maintain a vibrant community, it is important to control graffiti and prevent illegal street vendors from undercutting legitimate businesses, he said. Since fly-by-night peddlers can put legitimate stores out of business – but have no allegiance to a street themselves – it is ultimately local consumers who suffer. “It is very important that we keep it a peddler restricted street,” Dreifus said, adding that only books and religious items may be sold by unlicensed vendors. “If you see a peddler on the street, please call the precinct.” Dreifus also said that overdevelopment has become rampant. “Developers are building like mad right now on Avenue J. They are building six-story monsters,” said Dreifus. “They are rushing in because with new zoning changes at the end of March, if they can get their foundations in they can build what they want.” Other problems include loose trash spilling out of trash cans and black bags, partly because dumpsters have been outlawed, Dreifus said. “What happens with bags is that they get ripped and then you have garbage all over the avenue,” said Dreifus. “I think we are better off with dumpsters.” Sandy Aboulafia, president of the Midwood Civic Action Coalition, said that she is trying to find containers that do not allow trash to spill on the streets. But she says they are expensive. The alternative is problems with rats. “I don’t want a pet rat,” said Aboulafia. “I want rats you can’t see.” Members discussed whether a Business Improvement District (BID) would help the neighborhood. Under this initiative, local businesses pool resources to take responsibility for collecting trash and beautifying commercial strips. Dreifus said that he had tried to set up a BID in the past but he could not get support from local business owners. BIDs rely on self-imposed taxes on property owners to pay for the services. Aboulafia pointed out that BIDs work out in the merchants’ best interest, because cleaner streets bring more shoppers to the neighborhood.

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