BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said in his State of the District address that 2016 is looking bright for the Far Rockaway community.
Although Richards admitted that there is still a lot of work to do to resolve every issue in Far Rockaway, he is determined to continue working on those conditions.
“You can rest assured knowing that we are fighting every day to ensure your voice is heard and your presence is felt in City Hall,” Richards said at the speech. “It’s a new day and Rockaway east is rising to the occasion once again.”
One of Richards’ biggest goals is to cut unemployment by 30 percent in Eastern Rockaway by 2020.
“We know that this entails a lot of work, but this year we are prepared to roll up our sleeves to ensure that the hopeless find hope again,” Richards said. “As millions of dollars are spent to rebuild this community post-Sandy and economic development progresses, I can assure you that we will fight every day to ensure we are putting people to work.”
In efforts to successfully achieve that goal, Richards is leading a working group with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and community stakeholders to deliver recommendations on what the community wants to see in the new Downtown Far Rockaway to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Richards credited the de Blasio and the City Council’s Cure Violence Initiative for allowing his office to hire about a dozen violence interrupters from the community to work on a daily basis to stop wars between local gangs in Edgemere.
“Our message is simple and clear, our streets are not a shooting range and we won’t allow you to take the lives of our innocent children and elders,” Richards said. “You may think you own territory, but the last time I checked, our streets are owned by the City of New York.”
Richards also took advantage of this platform as a means to continue his call for the Department of Transportation to bring a full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit line along Woodhaven Boulevard and then down to Far Rockaway by 2017.
Although Richards is not against the reactivation of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Line, he doesn’t feel that it resolves all the transportation issues in the Rockaways.
“It’s just downright irresponsible to say if there’s no Rockaway Beach Line than there should be no Bus Rapid Transit Line,” Richards said. “There’s room for both options. This peninsula cannot and will not be a peninsula of the haves and have-nots. Everybody here deserves better transportation.”
In regards to transportation, Richards also addressed the fact that although the de Blasio administration is bringing back the ferry service, it will not reach the majority of the residents on the east end.
“We will need you to stand with us as we elevate our voice over the next year on this issue,” Richards said. “If a majority of the residents can’t reach the ferry, I can’t celebrate it in good conscious.”
Although Richards addressed initiatives that are to begin during the 2016 year, he addressed initiatives he had begun late 2015 that he will continue to work on, such as his Arverne East Project and his Workforce1 Training Center in Arverne.
Richards secured $1.4 million from the de Blasio administration for the Rockaway Advancement Training Initiative. The Workforce1 Training Center in Arverne was created to increase job opportunities for local residents and is the first location in the city that permits training to be done in-house rather than outsourced to other facilities.
“I pledge tonight that Rockaway will remain a community for everyone,” he said. “Our children are depending on us to do the right thing and we will not disappoint them. Our future generations deserve to call this place home.”
In addition to these issues, Richards also addressed topics such as educational improvements, park upgrades, youth services and healthcare.
Richards and the EDC will be holding a public meeting on Jan. 19 to discuss the goal to decrease unemployment in the Rockaways.