Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Wooden Nickel . . .

People are irate over the Beeches-Turning Stone deal where the State Liquor Authority has given permission for the owner of the Beeches to reap untold amounts of dollars from the liquor concession at the casino while the owner's wife, Assemblywoman Destito, sits on a government panel that oversees State Liquor Authority legislation, formerly sat on a committee that oversaw the casino, and is still part of the same state government that now refuses to collect its taxes from the casino.   

Mrs. Destito has remained in power for so long because the Republicans have put up fake candidates to run against her. The last one didn't campaign, didn't show up for one of his WIBX shows, and didn't know the issues when he did. 

On another level, one of last bills that Mr. Boehlert pushed in Congress was to require mandatory mental health testing in schools.  Now Mr. Arcuri is pushing the healthcare reform that will put all your private health records on federal computers.  Both are unnecessary, unwaranted, and unconstitutional intrusions into people's privacy and their everyday lives. 

The Republicans and Democrats have become different sides of the same coin. They've both enriched their friends at your expense, and used the government to accumulate more power over you,  taking away your freedom. 

A pox on both their houses.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sit Down and Shut Up . . .

That seems to be what the Town Board of New Hartford is telling its residents with its proposed set of new rules for maintaining decorum at board meetings.

Look -- No one is saying that the Town Board doesn't have the authority to institute rules to maintain order at public meetings. But does anyone really believe that these rules, particularly rules that are proposed by Mr. Payne, are needed to "ensure the safety of our residents and town employees" ? While some statements may be passionate -- on both sides -- this is hardly a safety issue.

And his statement that the new rules are not targeted toward any particular group is incredible.

Everyone knows that Concerned Citizens have been a pain in the proverbial butt for Mr. Payne, Mr. Reed, Ms. Krupa, and Mr. Reynolds. . . .

Simply put, New Hartford does not have a crowd problem with its meetings. There is no real problem to be solved. Ergo, the only purpose of these rules is to get Concerned Citizens . . . and You . . . to Sit Down and Shut Up.

(More from Concerned Citizens.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Get a Grip On the Slippery Slope, Mr. Griffo . . .

In response to the video-taped fight that appeared on You Tube the other day, Per WKTV Sen. Griffo and Mayor Roefaro want new legislation to make the person holding the camera guilty of a crime.

While most people are outraged at what happened, and outraged that the fight may have been staged for posting on the internet as entertainment, Mr. Griffo is ignoring what his legislation might lead to: Infringement on the Freedom of Speech.

Sure I understand that not all speech is Constitutionally protected -- you can't yell "Fire" in a crowded theater unless there is one -- but in this day and age THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ENTERTAINMENT AND NEWS IS OFTEN A FINE LINE.

There are other laws that allow the authorities to go after the cameraman. If he participated in the staging of the event, then he aided it --he is an accomplice.

Mr. Griffo's law would discourage anyone from videotaping any fight . . . in turn discouraging the production of evidence that would assist the police in apprehending the responsible parties and throwing them in jail.

More pernicious is the lack of knowledge by the general public of such events that such a law would encourage . . . which would allow the mayor and police chief to portray the safety of the city in whatever terms they wish. There will be no evidence to the contrary.

The public has a right to know what is happening in their community. Mr. Griffo's law will make it easier for some criminal acts to go unnoticed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Last Exit for West Utica . . .

This was the place to be: the best neighborhood, in the best city, in the best state, in the greatest country ... or so it seemed during my growing-up years in post-WWII 1950s West Utica. It was far from being the richest neighborhood in town. It was solidly working-class -- but it was comfortable and it was safe. 

The houses were small, on small lots, but well cared for. Many had nice gardens. There were plenty of jobs near by - at Boserts, the Brewery, the State Hospital, Globe Mill, Bendix, and GE. Schools were also nearby - Washington, Lincoln, and Kernan. And we had neighborhood parks: Addison Miller, with its swimming pool, playground, tennis and basketball courts, and wide open playing fields, Pixley Park with a wading pool, and several tiny parks. We could get our dose of culture at the M-W-P Institute. There were good eateries too: Lyntons, Kohler's, Deller's, and Spilka's, each with a strong neighborhood clientele. You could pretty much walk to most places that you had to go to - and we did - in the process becoming familiar with each other, each other's families, and our surroundings. With familiarity came security, because if someone or something was out of place, he, she or it would be noticed. Good jobs, good schools, good friends and neighbors, and good places to spend time with them -- what more could anyone want?  

But change happened. While it did not happen overnight, and there were many causes, it is easy to mark the beginning of West Utica's decline: New York State's opening of the North-South Arterial. 

Built in the 1960s at the same time as the Interstate System, this limited-access highway was thought by most to be "progress" -- an homage to the automobile and the call of the open road, promising to whisk us to where we wanted to go with a minimum of delay. I remember the rush of excitement peddling my bicycle down the wide stretches of fresh pavement a few days before its opening, and the excitement renewed with the first automobile trip. Of course, not everyone was happy with the new road because there was a three-quarter mile stretch with several cross streets and stop lights, the result of pressure brought by some "backward" people living nearby who were afraid that an elevated highway would be the end of their neighborhood. It is only now, almost a half-century later, that one realizes they were right.

While the road had its intended result of relieving Genesee Street of traffic, it also brought heavy traffic and noise to an area that did not previously have it. The road was utilitarian in appearance, doing the job but not attractively. While some cross streets were maintained, others were cut off, creating a barrier to pedestrians and traffic and dividing the neighborhood in two. Meanwhile, the road facilitated suburban areas siphoning off residents and businesses. The proximity of West Utica to the Downtown business center was no longer an advantage when the road placed outlying areas an equal number of minutes away, but made some local streets more difficult to reach. The end result may have been fine for motorists and suburban growth, but poor for pedestrians, neighbors, and the economic vitality of the city.  
Another "whammy" to West Utica came from downsizing of the State Hospital. Long a source of stable, well-paying jobs, doors were shut, removing many families'sources of income. Exacerbating West Utica's problems was the release of many former mental patients into the community who were ill equipped to cope with the demands of everyday life and did not interact well with other residents. The hospital site itself became an eyesore with boarded-up buildings, discouraging others from investing in properties nearby. 

West Utica has steadily declined over the years, its population dwindling and those remaining becoming increasingly poorer and troubled. Boarded up or burned out houses are no longer unusual, and most areas suffer from various levels of disrepair. Crime has become a problem. While the portions closest to Utica College, the Utica Business Park, and the Faxton-St.Lukes Campuses are still relatively trouble free (demonstrating that proximity to good jobs has a beneficial effect), a murder, a recent drug bust, and an increase in short term temporary residents have raised concerns that these areas, too, will go the way of the rest.  

Some, seeing the decline, may be tempted to write off West Utica entirely, but that would be a mistake. First of all, it must not be forgotten that people live there, and no matter how poor they may be, they are still entitled to be treated by their government with respect, dignity, and justice. Second, it would be a waste of the valuable infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, sidewalks, etc.) that is already in place. The infrastructure is capable of supporting higher levels of activity, and requires more activity to pay its maintenance costs.

While Utica and all of Upstate have declined over the years, it is clear that bad decisions have made West Utica's conditions worse. Recognizing the cause-and-effect relationships gives hope that future mistakes can be avoided, and that the situation may eventually be turned around with better choices.

Current events provide an unprecedented opportunity for change that will make things either better or worse depending on the choices made. The former Bosert's site has been recently cleared and several acres are now ready for redevelopment. Buildings at the State Hospital site are also being raised, creating another large tract that could be put to reuse. What happens at these sites will affect the entire neighborhood. Unfortunately no plans are currently in place for either site.
The biggest opportunity (or threat) is the programmed reconstruction of the North-South Arterial which is nearing the end of its useful life. At one point, plans had been narrowed to a depressed expressway or a multi-way boulevard, either of which would have remedied some of the neighborhood's problems with the current road. The existing street grid would have been maintained, the ability of pedestrians and traffic to cross from one side to the other would have been enhanced, visual barriers would have been eliminated, and the process of reconnecting the neighborhood on both sides would have begun. With this arrangement, one can envision the M-W-P/Pratt/Player's Theater arts-centered area seamlessly integrating with the Varick Street area to make West-Utica a regional destination for arts and entertainment.

However, in a seeming "bait-and-switch," the State Dept. of Transportation has recently revised its proposals to an expressway, providing various excuses for rejecting both the depressed highway and multi-way boulevard concepts. The expressway would eliminate crossings at Sunset Avenue and Warren Streets. Only crossings at Noyes and Oswego Streets would remain -- for now. In recognition that pedestrians need to cross, a couple footbridges are proposed -- but does anyone other than DOT really expect them to be actually used? The proposal will effectively build a wall across the middle of West Utica, making large areas more difficult to access and substantially reducing the potential for redevelopment. The West Utica neighborhood will be sacrificed merely to shave three minutes off suburban commutes. 

It is interesting that while officials in Utica are still talking expressways, those in other cities are discarding them. San Francisco replaced an earthquake-damaged freeway with Octavia Boulevard, and a dismal neighborhood suddenly blossomed, attracting all kinds of investment. New York City replaced the West Side Highway with a boulevard, with similar results. It seems that planners everywhere else but here have gotten the message that expressways through developed neighborhoods will kill them, that inter-city traffic is better routed to go around rather than through city neighborhoods, and that heavy local traffic can be handled with boulevards. Even Syracuse is now considering eliminating Interstate 81 from its downtown area and replacing it with a boulevard.  

In what may be a lucky coincidence, Utica just kicked off development of its master plan, 50 years after the last one was done. It is expected to take about a year to complete. Here is an opportunity to address Boserts, the State Hospital, and the Arterial, and plan for these sites to work for the benefit of West Utica. Given the State's desire to redo the Arterial soon, there is no time to waste. If the State must hold up on its plans for a year or two and revise them again, so be it. A delay is better than having to live for the next fifty years with a mistake.

Today, the West Utica of 50 years ago would probably be called "walkable," "sustainable," or even "green" -- the qualities that people look for in communities now. Political pressures, fads, lack of information, and failure to see likely consequences led to the poor decisions that caused the neighborhood's decline. The cleanup of the Bosert's site, clearing of much of the old State Hospital grounds, and the need to replace the Arterial, all occurring while Utica revises its Master Plan presents one of the best opportunities -- and maybe the last opportunity -- to give back to West Utica those qualities that have been lost. We, the Public cannot depend on our leaders and civil servants to automatically make the right decisions for us. We need to discuss these issues, be involved in the process, and insist that they work for us.

To paraphrase lyrics from an old Gene Pitney song, this is the last exit for West Utica -- the last chance to turn around.

[This article was originally published in the July, 2009 "Utica Phoenix." Be sure to pick up the August "Phoenix" now available in a newsrack near you.]

For more information on development of the Utica Master Plan, go to (a link is in the Blogroll at left).  Meetings are planned for every neighborhood. . . . Participate . . . It's Your City . . . and YOUR FUTURE.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dealing With Development . . .

Per today's OD, the New Hartford Planning Board got an earful at last night's meeting where the recommendations contained in a "Generic Environmental Impact Statement" for the southern portion of the town were discussed.

It is good that the Planning Board is listening to the public . . . but disappointing that the PB seems to be unable to "make its case" to control development.

The speakers at the hearing, which lasted nearly three hours, opposed the study’s recommendation to implement a 5-acre zoning in the area.

Most of them were farmers or large land-owners from the area south of the village of New Hartford. They said their land was an important asset and they wanted the freedom to sell it whatever way they wished.

While landowners may feel entitled to do whatever they want to do with their land, they (1) are not entitled to public assistance when doing it and (2) are not entitled to do things that cause harm to others.

What should now be obvious in our area of declining population, when waterlines, sewer lines, roads, and public services are extended into the countryside, they are subsidized by the taxes and fees imposed on those living in the population centers. The further out the infrastructure and services go, the greater the per capita cost of government for everyone. That is a form of public assistance to developers. We have already exceeded what is affordable here.

Without public water and sewer, the ability to build in outlying areas would already be somewhat limited and might even eliminate the need for the 5 acre zoning. Unfortunately, we've lost control of where waterlines and sewer lines go -- each spun off into their own agencies -- so land use regulations become a necessary evil.

New Hartford has some major problems coping with the effects of development -- stormwater runoff being one of the biggest. Developments are created on former farmlands, enriching their former landowners, but the taxpayers get stuck with having to build and maintain new drainage systems to accommodate the runoff from the new developments. There is something wrong with this system. The proposed 5-acre requirement is an attempt to address the issue.

I happen to disagree with the 5-acre requirement, too, but not for the reasons expressed by the landowners. Although clustering of development will be permitted, it is not required. Five-acre lots could encourage development that is very spread out -- exacerbating the costs associated with urban sprawl. A better way to control storm water is to control the land use itself, allowing only so much to be covered with impervious surfaces and requiring maintenance of adequate stands of forests or other vegetation to control runoff.

To address the concerns expressed by the landowners: Whether one invests in stocks or in land, there is no guarantee of a return on the investment .. and there certainly should be no guarantee paid for by the taxpayers.

To address the concerns of the Planning Board: You need to do a better job explaining why your plans are needed ... and go back to the drawing board and come up with alternatives to 5 acre lots for controlling runoff.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

High Speed Fail --

Per the OD Today Congressman Arcuri is advocating for High-Speed Rail in our area, with train stops in Utica and Rome. The reason for this:
Arcuri likened it to the economic boon provided by the Erie Canal.

“It’s about smart business, it’s about reliability and it’s about transportation,” Arcuri said.
It's really about trying to buy public support with empty words that have no facts to substantiate them.

While Mr. Arcuri should be applauded for fighting for this area's piece of the national High Speed Rail Pie, let's not kid ourselves. This will be no Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal created an economic boom because it delivered (1) significantly faster transportation at (2) significantly less cost than other modes existing at the time. In fact, in terms of miles traveled per gallon of fuel required, the canal is still the cheapest mode of transportation even after 175 years! That was a pretty amazing breakthrough.

Here there is no breakthrough. The speed increase is insignificant compared with Thruway travel when portal to portal travel time is considered. In fact, unless someone lives across the street from the train stop, travel time may be longer.

No one is even attempting to claim that this mode of transportation will be cheaper than alternatives. Considering the cost of conventional train tickets compared with bus tickets, chances are it will be considerably more expensive.

So against the currently available alternatives, high-speed rail really is no alternative...unless high-speed rail is being compared against future alternatives.

Perhaps Mr. Arcuri and his congressional cohorts are preparing us for a future where gas will be $20/gallon. Then, perhaps, High Speed Rail would be viable.

If that is the future that Congress is preparing us for . . . perhaps we should keep that in mind come November 2010.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Waiving the Privilege . . . In New Hartford??

The law contains a number of privileges that allow people to refuse to testify or otherwise disclose information on certain subjects. Many evolved over time and were intended to protect certain relationships or advance certain purposes that were thought to be of more value to our society than the inconvenience of not being able to get information from a particular source. Among privileges are the doctor-patient privilege, the priest-penitant privilege, spousal privilege, attorney-client privilege, and, of course, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Each has its own set of requirements that must be met for the privilege to apply.

The attorney-client privilege is particularly interesting and, at the moment, evolving to possibly change the prohibition on disclosure of client confidences when the attorney is told by the client that he or she committed a crime. Regardless, the privilege is there for the reason of ensuring that clients are able to mount defenses and ensure that justice is served.

The attorney who works for the government has a rather unique position. Who is the "client" that he or she is supposed to protect? The employing governmental entity? Or the particular agency or even an office within an agency within the governmental entity for whom the attorney works? Or the people in the government who ask the attorney's advice? . . . . Or the public from whom the government derives its powers? Interesting questions, no?

The attorney who holds decisionmaking authority for a governmental entity has an even more "interesting" position because there is a difference between "lawyering" and "policy-making" with communications re the former likely protected and the latter likely not protected -- but the line between the two can be blurred at times.

Why bring all this up? ... Keep reading ...

The "Who Knew What and When?" situation re the New Hartford Business Park still lacks satisfactory explanation even after today's Observer Dispatch's "time-line of discovery" that "The Hartford" Building is actually located outside the boundaries of the Business Park.

According to the article, the Town Planner now claims that he sought a zoning change from the Town Board at its August 8, 2007, meeting to put "The Hartford" into the Business Park, but (according to the newspaper) there is no record of this -- and just a month later he wrote a letter to the developer saying that The Hartford was inside the Business Park -- and a year after that he told Councilwoman Krupa that The Hartford was inside the park.

With the Town Planner's credibility shot by his own conflicting statements ... Is he covering his own error, or being made a scapegoat?

New Hartford Online has kindly posted a list of the Town Attorney's Invoices for the Business Park... over $60,000 worth! Their frequency and the number of memoranda directed to the Planning Board and the Town Board on Business Park matters such as SEQR compliance (which is now admitted in another article today as having been defective) should provide a much better timeline of what exactly happened, when, and who is responsible.

The frequency of invoices for memoranda when compared with the relative lack of requests for legal advice reflected in the Town Board and Planning Board minutes makes one wonder whether the attorney was giving legal advice on request, or doing it in an unsolicited fashion . . . suggesting that he may have crossed the line from legal advisor to policy maker (the function of elected officials and not hired help). Certainly the NH Town Attorney's concurrent position of Chairman of the Town's Republican Committee which hand-picked most of the Town Board and the Town Supervisor raises the spectre that there is more going on than giving legal advice and drawing papers. In all these billings, was the Town Attorney really working for the duly elected Town government?

No doubt, if anyone tried to FOIL any of these memoranda, the likely response would be a refusal based on "attorney-client privilege." Since New Hartford seems to go to great lengths to prevent disclosure of anything, a refusal here would be a "cakewalk" legally.

But a funny thing about privileges: THEY CAN BE WAIVED by the protected party. For the Attorney-Client privilege, although the attorney MUST assert it, it can be WAIVED by the Client. So here we have a Town Board, all elected officials that are supposed to be doing the Public's business. If they have nothing to hide, they should waive the privilege. We also have a Town Planning Board, again, doing the Public's business . . . and a Town Supervisor... the same arguments.

The Public Paid for all these legal memos etc $60,000+. The Public should see what it bought with its money. What reason could there be for asserting the privilege, especially now that it is clear that someone screwed up big-time?

Another funny thing about privileges: When they are asserted without good reason, THEY CAN LEAD TO A NEGATIVE INFERENCE. This applies both in courts of law and, more important, The Court of Public Opinion.

If the Observer-Dispatch is serious about getting to the bottom of this fiasco, it will ask the Town Board to waive any attorney-client privilege existing between the Town and the Town Attorney, and FOIL all the alleged memoranda written by the Town Attorney.

Just seeing which officials vote NO or otherwise resist disclosure will tell a story in and of itself.

0 - O - 0

POST SCRIPT: I reread today's OD article and this line caught my eye:

Planning reviews for Adler’s park were overseen by the panel, with no Planning Board involvement, even though some parcels were outside the original boundaries. [emphasis supplied]
That statement is absolutely false as a review of the Planning Board's minutes makes amply clear. Mr. Adler came before the Planning Board for a "Preliminary Site Plan Review" on March 27, 2006 and a lengthy discussion ensued. (scroll to p 4). The Planning Board was updated on June 12, 2006 (see p 5). On July 17, 2006 the Planning Board granted Preliminary Approval to the New Hartford Business Park (see pp 8-9). On September 11, 2006 Mr. Adler received a "Final Site Plan Review" of the New Hartford Business Park from the Planning Board.

According to its minutes, the Planning Board was very involved.

Who's water are you carrying, Observer-Dispatch??? This is the second time in the last 6 weeks  that you've tried to say that the Planning Board had nothing to do with this project.

Is your Business Park series an exposé or an elaborate cover-up?

Cathy has more on this topic on NH Online Blog.