Thursday, January 27, 2011

Korean Garlic?

Back in October I posted a couple articles dealing with "free trade": Chinese Garlic and Chinese Garlic 2. Today we have a variation on a theme, only centering on Korea.  The reason is the announcement yesterday that Hyosung USA is closing its Utica plant and taking 85 jobs with it.
When Hyosung bought the company in 2006, there were about 175 local employees.

“Unfortunately, we have to be reactionary in this process,” said Randall Soggs, Utica economic development commissioner. “That’s the least desirable position we can be in.” . . .

“I was told that this has to do with excess capacity within their system,” Soggs said. “This decision was made in Korea, and it’s reflective of the company wanting to reduce their manufacturing footprint in the U.S.”
Of course.  The goods produced by this company are bought directly or indirectly everyday by American consumers or companies ... but if they can be "more efficiently" produced overseas, why produce them in America . . . especially when America lets them be sold here?

Is it only coincidence that this announcement comes on the eve of Congressional Republicans and the President pushing another Free Trade Deal . . . now with Korea?

Why are we SO CONCERNED about opening up foreign markets to our goods, when our markets are saturated by foreign products.

It's interesting that the Utica Master Plan parrots the consensus that manufacturing is dead and that our future is in "service" or "knowledge" industries.  Poppycock! Its this plain acceptance of this notion that has gotten us in trouble.

We depend on manufactured items every day.  The need for manufacturing never will go away.  The question is do we do it here to meet our own needs?  Or do we depend upon other countries to do it for us . . . making us dependent upon them much like a colony depends on the motherland.

I'm not going to go into the economic theory today.  We've seen the results of it.  Free trade does not work when there are cultural differences.  And I don't think many are ready to give up their American culture . . . at least not yet.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

$144,000 Garbage Collectors . . .

From World Net Daily: Life's tough for $144,000 garbage collectors. New York benefits emblematic of national government crisis.
Taxpayers in the Big Apple are forced to pay $144,000 a year for salary, health and pension benefits for garbage workers, who are unskilled but unionized laborers.

Research by the Manhattan Institute, a think tank in New York, shows that when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office after 9/11 the city increased spending on garbage workers' salaries by three and a half times the rate of inflation every year, growing the sanitation department budget from $1.3 billion a year to $2.2 billion.

Don't tell me that there isn't a problem with government sector spending.

$100,000 Stimulus . . . for Someone's New Cafe?

From Gotham City News: Cafe Named in GroWest Lawsuit Receives $100,000 in Stimulus Money
"The Bagg’s Square Cafe was opened last week to great fanfare.  The cafe is situated on the first floor of the Cobblestone Building at 421 Broad St. . . . . The building was purchased by Michael Pezzolanella in 2009 for $315,572. At the grand opening, Mayor Roefaro told the Observer Dispatch, “In a bad economy, we’re doing pretty good here in Utica”."
GCN alleges:
"Pezzolanella received $100,000 in federal stimulus money to help with the project."
WHY would ANYONE get to receive taxpayer money for a personal business?

Doling out government money to a private business without taxpayers getting a good or service of equal market value in return makes the government a partner in competing with  the recipient's competition.  If the allegation above is accurate, the Baggs Sq. Cafe would have received $100,000 to compete with the Utica Coffee Roasting Co.  a short distance away on Baggs. Sq. West. . . . That would not have been the intent . . . but it would be the result.

I don't know the rules on use of Federal Stimulus . . . and I do not have to know them to know that government grants to private businesses is bad policy. The power of government should not be used to give one business person an advantage over another. Doing so discourages others from even venturing into business out of fear that their government will enter the competition against them.

Instead of giving taxpayer money away to individuals or corporations  . . . pave Erie Street!  It can use it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cuomo Impressing . . .

From YNN: Thousands of state workers could face layoffs.
Sources close to Governor Cuomo say at least 10,000 state worker jobs will soon be on the chopping block.
"We've been spending too much money for years. But it has to stop now and there is going to be no doubt a period of short-term pain as we make these adjustments. I believe it's for a period of long term gain," said Cuomo.

Gov. Cuomo seems to be rising to the occasion of taking on the state's fiscal woes. The taxpayers will expect bipartisan support...
and he may already be receiving it!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Columbia Square, Blight, and Lipstick on a Pig . . .

There was a nice article in the OD tonight about Shaheen Shoes, still thriving on Columbia Square in West Utica.  Uticans are fortunate that old-time businesses such as Shaheen's and Welch's Bicycle Shop near by still are doing what they've been doing for a long time in that part of town.  But it surely cannot be easy.  Angelica Morrison notes:
Having lived in West Utica for almost four years, it seems that Columbia Square has the potential to be something other than blighted buildings and vacant houses.
Yes, blight, and vacant houses trouble that once-vibrant part of town. . . . and worse.

Last week we read about another bright spot with a positive story existing a few blocks away in that same part of town. Sculpture Space, a Greater Utica cultural treasure, had just purchased and renovated a nearby home to create a convenient living place for visiting artists.  Unfortunately, the harsh reality of life in West Utica intruded into that generally positive story as well.
A male artist was riding a bicycle from Sculpture Space to the artists’ apartment, which was off Whitesboro Street in West Utica, when men got out of a vehicle and attacked him, Waller said.

“The artist left. He had to leave his residency,” she said.
To be sure, the causes of West Utica's decline are multi-factorial . . . but several things stand out to people familiar with the area:
(1) The State's significant reduction in good-paying jobs at the Psychiatric Center's campus on Court Street cut the incomes of workers who lived in the surrounding neighborhood and reduced the number of customers for nearby businesses.
(2) The State's dumping of mental patients who were not entirely ready to be on their own into the surrounding neighborhood placed a social strain on the neighborhood.
(3) The blight of boarded up buildings/buildings with broken windows right on the State campus acts as a disincentive for people to maintain their own properties nearby.
(4) The State's demotion of Whitesboro Street from a main city thoroughfare to segments of "back water" has removed traffic, making Columbia Square and Whitesboro Street more susceptible to blight and more inviting to the criminal element.
While large scale projects such as the debated Housing Visions, which demolishes or rehabs dilapidated structures, can be helpful in reducing blight and slowing down the blight-begets-more-blight process, they do not address the causes of the problems in our troubled sections of town such as those listed above for West Utica. 

No one discusses the significant influence played by the State of New York in West Utica's decline.  Why is that? No one seems to be looking at how past decisions have shaped the decline in each of Utica's troubled neighborhoods.

Angelica is correct, Columbia Square has the potential to be more than it is today. However, until the causes of decline are confronted and directly addressed, proposals such as Housing Visions are merely putting lipstick on the pig -- making the situation easier to look at -- but not really fixing it.

Another Water Rate Increase . . .

And we hear the same old song from Mr. Becher:
He said if the plan in 2004 went through to expand the water system, without the state of New York blocking them, residents would have seen no rate increases over the past five years. And, no increase this year.
We have yet to see a financial analysis that supports Mr. Becher's conclusion.  But assuming that Mr. Becher is correct, Greater Utica residents will be paying more for a water expansion in other ways.
(1) They will be paying for the pipeline to Verona and Turning Stone because those entities will get to write off their costs for the pipeline against their water bills.
(2) They will be subsidizing water service extension into the "ex"- urbs ... beyond the suburbs and beyond the service area contemplated when MVWA was created, encouraging sprawl, encouraging more people and businesses to leave Utica and Rome, resulting in increased taxes in the places left behind and new taxes to support demands for services in newly-developed areas.
(3) They will be giving up their water supply to places that have alternative supplies available, limiting the potential of the entire Greater Utica area for future growth.
An interesting number that is not revealed by Mr. Becher is the cost of MVWA's litigation thus far that it is passing on to the rate payers.  What is the impact of the litigation on the water rate?

It's not surprising that no one voiced objection to MVWA's proposed increase.  MVWA has never demonstrated an interest in listening.

Who's Minding the Store?

Last week it was reported that Utica was preparing to pay attorney Hage an additional $80,000 on top of the $177,000+ paid to him the previous week.
The latest payment will cover a $36,000 courtesy credit Hage rescinded in response to questioning from Comptroller Michael Cerminaro, $12,000 in interest on the initial bill and $7,279 in fees for insurance experts.
It also includes $25,000 for work Hage did on a plan for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to explain how the city will spend federal funds during the next five years.
Wait! That last paragraph should raise an eyebrow. The public was told that Mr. Hage was being paid to investigate the dealings of and with Grow West, Inc., to protect Utica's interests. Planning on how Utica will spend federal funds for the next five years, however, is beyond the scope of investigating something that happened. The article also mentions that Hage's work included "restructuring the city’s economic development department."  That also is beyond the scope of investigating something that happened.

How did the scope of Mr. Hage's work become expanded?

An article posted tonight makes the picture more concerning:  Roefaro: I didn’t know Hage still was working for city.

While the public, rightly, will hold the mayor accountable for what happens on his watch, investigation of what happened must not stop there. The mayor claims to have been unaware of Mr. Hage's continued work, while, per the article, Mr. Hage "assumed the mayor knew of his work."

We all know what "assume" means!

Someone, obviously, had to give Mr. Hage his expanded assignment. Who? And by what legal authority did that person give Mr. Hage the assignment? Can any department head simply call up an attorney and retain their services without getting some formal approval?  $25,000 is a substantial sum. This situation is reminiscent of the New Hartford Town Police taking it upon themselves to enter into contracts to provide security for private businesses without getting the authorization of the Town Board. Did someone in Utica assume authority that is not there?

Answers to these questions may shed light on who really runs things at City Hall.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Housing in Utica . . . and the Utica Master Plan

New Hartford Online Blog is on top of the Housing Visions issue with another post. It ends with a question:
Question is, and should be, how does it all fit into the Utica Master Plan that is yet to be finalized?
That is a good question. . . . one that is even on the mind of people at the Observer-Dispatch. Regarding the concentration of low income housing in Cornhill:
And yet, the effects of such a drastic demographic shift have largely escaped public dialogue. It is barely addressed in the city’s 116-page draft master plan other than outlining strategies to study the issue and stating development should be targeted in areas that are not depressed.
One cannot tell from reading the draft Master Plan whether the HV project fits the Master Pan or not. This should be of concern to everyone interested in how their government makes decisions, and everyone who may be thinking about doing business in Utica.
Whatever happens with the current proposal, city Mayor David Roefaro is now saying further study on situation is necessary. He says that will likely come in a committee set up to administer the master plan. 
So, decisions on what fits the Master Plan will be left to "a committee set up to administer the master plan."

This begs the questions: (1) Can the Utica Master Plan really be called a plan? and (2) Exactly what was $325,000 spent on?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Signs of the Times . . .

Want to know where to cut the Federal Budget?  How about cutting the Federal Highway Administration unit that is now mandating that street signs in every city, town, village, etc., conform to a Federal standard of white-on-green with a specified type style using both upper and lower cases.  It's going to cost taxpayers tons of money -- for what purpose?

So I guess the white-on-blue "Good-Life" signs will disappear in Utica, white-on-blue caps with red border will disappear from Yorkville, cursive with bell-tower will disappear from NYMills, and the yellow-on-brown will disappear from the Adirondack Park.  All of our distinctive communities will be marched by the feds down the road to conformity - - - and mediocrity.

Read more on the American Thinker: Signs of Our Cities.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Housing in Utica . . .

Discussions continue to swirl around Utica City Hall over the Housing Visions proposals for developing new low income housing in Utica's Cornhill. New Hartford Online did a great review of last week's discussion by the City Council. Per its post, Councilman Bucciero estimated that the proposal would cost $500,000 to $600,000 per 2-family unit.


That's an awful lot of money for housing! To be fair, a portion of the high cost might be attributable to removal of old structures -- but it still seems high. Google our manufactured-home companies in the area and they seem to be able to construct homes for much, much less. Has anyone thought of using modular construction to bring new homes to center-city? (Check yesterday's post).  With a large-enough order, would it be possible to get modular designs that conform to each neighborhood's characteristics, to allow duplicates to be "plugged-in" where old houses have been demolished? And then re-ordered as replacements are needed?

WIBX reported yesterday that a new tax agreement had been reached with the development company. Perhaps I'm naive, but why are deals being negotiated with individual developers, as opposed to a generic deal that applies to all developers doing the same type of work? Does the City's willingness to negotiate individually attract more potential developers -- or does it drive them away?
Councilman Jim Zecca says he agrees with the redevelopment project because private developers don’t want to develope in the neighborhoods Housing Visions has proposed. 
This statement is interesting.

First, there is contrary evidence, namely the redevelopment of the Nolita on Oneida Square, only a block away from one of the proposed sites. That was private development . . . and the building looks extraordinary!

Second, if one believes the premise to be true, then isn't it important to find out WHY private developers don't want to develop in those neighborhoods and attack the causes?  Is there something wrong with the roads, sidewalks, streets and sewers that is keeping developers away?  . . . or is it the perception of a safety problem?  Broken pavement, sidewalks, poor lighting and a perceived crime problem would not attract investors. These are things that can and should be fixed.

And since I brought up the renovations at the Nolita, what affect does the proposed Housing Visions project have on it?  Does it make the Nolita more or less attractive for tenants?  Does it inspire more redevelopment by private enterprise -- or less?

Things to think about, no?

Monday, January 10, 2011

More Beyond Sprawl . . .

All of the articles in Next American City's "Beyond Sprawl" series have been published which focus on 4 architects' approaches to combating sprawl by making the city more liveable.

Part Four features Tai Ziola, a young architect in Edmonton.
Her approach to the issue of suburban sprawl encompasses LEED compliant housing, renewing urban areas and creating a denser social fabric for inner-city neighborhoods. . . . 

Another issue that Ziola finds questionable when it comes to the construction of new suburbs is the issue of inner city taxpayers subsidizing the cost of new exurban neighborhoods. “To me it doesn’t make a great deal of sense at all that taxpayers living in the core of the city are funding all of the infrastructure associated with sprawl,” she says.
Part Three presents John Brown of Calgary whose philosophy of home building is called "slow home" -- inspired by the "slow food" movement.  

Part Two shows how Jonathan Davis uses modular construction to meet urban needs.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Utica Master Plan: The Emperor's New Clothes?

Area problems have often been used to obtain grants with the results all too often falling far short of the benefits promised. Remember the Center for Brownfield Studies? the grant to Oneida County to assess contaminated areasGriffiss Institute? Utica Safe Schools?

The $325,000 Utica Master Plan was partly funded by grants, but as indicated in numerous posts here falls far short of delivering the benefits of a real plan.

Someone stepped forward to say that the "Emperor has no clothes,"  but others moved to keep him from talking -- or to marginalize him by focusing on, e.g., where he lives rather than what he said.

New Hartford Online Blog gives a full account in the post - Utica Master Plan ... hidden agendas?

Thank you, New Hartford Online!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Beyond Sprawl . . .

Next American City is publishing a series of four articles entitled "Beyond Sprawl," analyzing the problems of sprawl from the perspectives of four architects.
Look at many large North American cities and you see a sea of suburban houses. Sprawl has become the norm. But it is costly, damages the environment and affects quality of life. A new generation of planners and architects is beginning to look at sustainable, human-centered solutions to the creeping suburbs.
Part One focuses on the opinions of Martin Neilsen:
One issue for Neilsen is that suburban homeowners don’t pay the true cost for building their neighborhoods. “The reason that more suburbs are built is that we don’t pay the true cost of the infrastructure and the road network,” he says. “That’s never factored in and it’s not part of the developer’s cost so it’s not a cost that’s transferred back to the homeowner.”
This is certainly the case in Greater Utica -- applies to more than just housing developments -- and has been the subject of a number of posts here.

This looks like it will be an interesting series of articles.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Whitesboro Stays! Now What?

Whitesboro voters choose to keep village. Now what?

The problems and concerns of the substantial number of residents who forced this vote still remain.

Frankly, I think the Whitesboro voters made the right choice.  There were too many unanswered questions that would get answered only AFTER voter approval is given.  That's like buying a pig in a poke.

Although the question of dissolution cannot come up again for another vote for four years under the legislation that was used, it does not stop Whitesboro from using  the intervening time to study other options.

Village residents should be concerned that dissolution into a Town could result in (1) loss of services that the village has the population density to support or (2) village residents subsidizing extension of the same services into the Town. To some extent, number 2 is already happening.

Other options for consolidation could be looked at.  As alluded to in the last post, local government is at its best when it is from the "bottom up,"  where people with common interests join themselves together to achieve a common goal. Dissolution of the Village into the Town would combine village residents with residents of outlying areas who have different needs.

How about a Whitesboro-Yorkville-NY Mills combination? 

The three are roughly the same.  They are about the same size geographically, appear similar demographically and in population density, housing stock appears similar.  Their services are similar.  They share the same combined sewer overflow and have similar sewer issues. They are contiguous to each other. In fact, driving from one to another it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Drawing a municipal boundary around these 3 Villages would seem to link people with common interests.  They could combine into a new village . . . or, perhaps better, combine into a new Town.  That would eliminate the Village to Town subsidies that seem to occur all too often where the Town merely duplicates a service and village residents wind up paying for both (like the NYM and NH Town libraries). Whatever the future holds . . .

Bottom up government incorporated by the people works best.

Read more about the Whitesboro vote on "GCN" (Welcome Back, GCN!)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Whitesboro: To Be or Not to Be? That Is The Question.

And it is coming before the voters on Tuesday, January 4th!

Something not discussed, but which may be helpful in deciding how to vote, is to consider the difference between a Town and a Village. It can be expressed mathematically by the following formula:

Town/Village = "The Elite"/"The People"
Or in words: A Town is to a Village as The Elite are to The People.

Towns (and Counties) are imposed "top down" by a government elite who draw lines on a map for the purpose of ensuring a "Government" presence within the bounded area.

Villages (and Cities), on the other hand, grow from the "bottom up,"  willingly incorporated by people, usually within a limited geographic area, who share some common interest to achieve a common purpose.

While "consolidation" of government to eliminate duplicative layers has an intuitive appeal, consolidation of a village into a town means that people who incorporated for a common purpose will be governed by a larger group that may not share that purpose -- or who may actually be adverse to it.

A problem with New York's style of governance is that jurisdictions are "nested" with the larger (elite drawn) jurisdictions often having the power to duplicate services provided by the smaller (people drawn) jurisdictions within... and still charge the people in the smaller jurisdictions. This means that the people in the smaller jurisdiction not only pay for their own services, they pay to duplicate the same service beyond their boundaries.  This creates a financial incentive for the smaller (people drawn) jurisdiction to dissolve into the larger (elite drawn) one. The larger (elite drawn) jurisdiction, however, does not tie together people with a common interest . . . And That is The Problem.

On this site I have often advocated for the merger of all Greater Utica jurisdictions into a new municipality.  To be viable, such a municipality must arise from the Will of the People, based on a realization that our shared interests (common water and sewer systems, a common market and labor pool, etc.) exceed our separate ones. It must not be imposed from above by the elites (like the Water Authority which was never voted upon by the People.)

Before pulling that lever (or is it filling in a bubble?) on Tuesday, people in Whitesboro need to think: are they voting for governance by an Elite? or by the People? 

New Blogger NYMillsNotes has more . . . (Welcome)