Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mayor Places the City of Utica in Jeopardy . . .

WKTV: Roefaro: "Mr. Zecca, you are putting the arterial project in jeopardy".
Utica Mayor David Roefaro says Utica Common Councilman Jim Zecca may put that project in jeopardy if he goes through with a request to get the state to reconsider the current plans.
Roefaro said Sunday, "you cannot expect to change at the 11th hour and expect you're going to keep a 60 million dollar project in Utica. That's the problem with our politicians here, is that they send the jobs packing and the money packing, and the citizens of the City of Utica lose." . . .
Mayor Roefaro says he hopes Zecca and the rest of the common council reconsider their own efforts, "this plan has been thought out by the best engineers the D.O.T. has, we have gone over the scenarios and this is the best viable plan for this area."
The mayor's implication that Mr. Zecca waited until the 11th hour to bring the arterial's design topic up for discussion is patently false. 
(1) Zecca has been calling for a Boulevard replacement for the Arterial for years - practically from when the design process was first made public.

(2) The DOT, from evidence available thus far, never properly engaged the Common Council in the design process -- DOT's obligation under the Highway Law.
The Mayor and his staff have been privy to all of DOT's plans and have supported them right from the beginning. Mayor Roefaro has been content to rely on what DOT engineers have figured out as "best"  -- but best for whom? 

The NYSDOT is going to do what it believes to be best from its perspective.  It needs to move X amount of traffic while eliminating Y amount of accidents.  It designs a road to meet these requirements. Fair, good, and understandable.

While Utica needs these things, too, it needs so much more to create an environment where people within the city are supported in their day to day activities. People LIVE here and they WORK here.  DOT can try to understand these needs, but it can never achieve the level of understanding of those who are both responsible for meeting the needs of city residents and engaged in dialogue with them

The residents of the "host neighborhood"  have been steadfastly opposed to this project right from the beginning.  They are going to be seriously inconvenienced -- some to the point where they will be losing their houses, businesses, or their jobs.  How are their needs being met?  Eminent domain payoffs might help some individual property owners -- but everything is part of a web.  What happens when part of the web is torn out?  DOT at least met with people in West Utica -- but where has the Mayor been?  City streets are being cut off. The Mayor is supposed to be the leader for city residents -- these people. When has the Mayor ever engaged them? 

The Common Council members are the policy makers for the City of Utica. They are both responsible for their constituents and engaged with them on a day-to-day basis. Should not the Mayor have engaged the Council, and asked the members how they felt about:
  • a wall going up across West Utica
  • about 2 additional street closures on top of the devastating street closures of the past (such as Whitesboro St.)
  • about additional property takings on top of the devastating property takings of the past -- which properties will forever lose their potential for productive use
  • about potential lost property and sales tax revenues
  • about jobs ultimately being lost from a very poor neighborhood
  • about businesses that likely will shut their doors due to traffic disruptions
  • about potential crime increases when traffic is reduced on local streets
  • about personal inconvenience and disruption to UTICA residents 
The Mayor may be worried about losing money for a highway project, but he obviously is NOT worried about how the arterial project will adversely impact city residents and businesses.  .  . 

Money isn't everything. . . .

The Mayor is placing the City of Utica in jeopardy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More Sprawl On Tap In New Hartford . . .

More sprawl is on tap in New Hartford . . . or as the O-D titles their story: Town considering stores at business park.
Adler has submitted a proposal to the Town Board that would change the zoning for the business park to allow 20 percent of a property owner’s land to be used for retail, town Supervisor Patrick Tyksinski said.

Currently, the primary uses for the business park listed in town codes are offices, manufacturing, research laboratories, hotels and mixed-use businesses.
Hmm 20% of the land for retail? Isn't that about what it is in a shopping center . . . with the rest (80%) of the land in parking lots and landscaping?

There has been a slow motion "bait and switch" progression ever since the Business Park was proposed by the Town:  First it was to be a manufacturing site . . . then an office park . . . now more  retail. 

Per the Town's 1999 Environmental Impact Statement, the Business Park area was rezoned from a residential-retail-manufacturing mix to "Business Park District" in order to "facilitate the development of new high-technology industries that will economically benefit the area through increased revenues and jobs."  That obviously has not happened . . . and now it looks like it will never happen.

Later, when the current private developer took over the property, the Business Park became recommissioned as an office park and boundaries were altered . . . without proper review . . . and without the Environmental Impact Statement ever being formally amended to show the changes.  For Taxpayers, Payments in Lieu of Taxes are not going into Town coffers where they can be applied to the increased costs for police and fire protection and other Town functions. Rather, the PILOT is being used to finance the developer's roads. Guess the Town Taxpayer gets stuck paying this developer's share of Town expenses.  For Town Residents, Fees In Lieu of Mitigation, paid by Other Developers to mitigate the impacts of Other Projects, are being applied to this project -- meaning that the impacts of the Other projects (increased flooding along Royal Brook Lane in NYM, perhaps) aren't being addressed.  Guess Town Residents better get used to the negative impacts. For Fair-Minded people, Eminent Domain, or the threat thereof, is being used.  Guess Fair-Minded people have to live with UNfair. 

Now we have the proposed zoning change to permit retail.  Whatever happened to facilitating "the development of new high-technology industries that will economically benefit the area through increased revenues and jobs?" Guess we have to do without.
“I don’t see any harm in rezoning to have 20 percent retail,” [Town Supervisor Tyksinski] said. “To some extent, it does make sense.”        . . .

“I’d like to see growth anywhere,” [one New Hartford Resident] said.
No harm?  Growth? Quite the contrary. There IS harm and NO growth, because this is Sprawl

Development in New Hartford is merely Utica being turned inside out.

Office and retail functions of the local economy which used to take place at the urban core in Utica have been transferred to the outer edge of the urbanized area... N.H. retail development would not take place but for the City of Utica being next door to supply the customers, and the State's Arterial highway system making it easier for them to reach suburban greenfield developments while more difficult for them to navigate about their own city.  Taxpayers/Residents at both ends of this transfer face higher taxes (among the highest in the country) and degradation of their living environments.  Regionally, only suburban developers and government officials benefit, and their cozy relationship will keep the benefits flowing.

This zoning change should not be approved.

Utica certainly has an interest to intervene in N.H.'s development activities -- and there are plenty of irregularities in N. H.'s procedures that Utica could make points on in court.  But will Utica do so?  Past history shows probably not. It has always been "hands off" and "none of our business" what the neighbors do. 

Utica leaders need to rethink this policy.  Residents of Utica and New Hartford will both benefit by forcing New Hartford leaders to take a more regional perspective in their decision making.

[New Hartford OnLine has much more detail on this story here and here.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Protection From Crony Capitalism . . .

Lockport Journal: Pork Lawsuit Dismissed 

Will the Real Common Council Please Stand Up?

Will the REAL Common Council please stand up, because (except for Councilman Zecca) your bodies seem to be occupied by forces alien to Utica. How else can one explain the apparent disinterest, uninvolvement, and lack of knowledge of what the State’s proposed North-South Arterial remake will do to the citizens of Utica?

The North-South Arterial has been a problem for Utica residents practically from the day it opened in 1963. The concentration of three state routes funnelling traffic at a high speed through one corridor was bound to cause problems when the corridor chosen was the dense West Utica neighborhood. Adjustments have been made over the years to make the highway safer for pedestrians to cross, and the rate of accidents abated considerably but sadly still occurred, sometimes with fatal results. A death in 2004 and the need to replace the aging viaduct over Oriskany Blvd., Lafayette and Columbia Streets, initiated the process of redesigning this roadway, which commenced in 2006.

At a hearing in late September, 2006, the authorities initially presented the public with four proposed alternatives: depressed expressway, multi-way boulevard, surface expressway, and elevated expressway. The depressed expressway maintained all existing street connections while allowing through traffic to pass beneath at high speed. The highway would pass beneath Court St. The multi-way boulevard slowed the speed of through traffic to 35 and integrated the highway into the neighborhood fabric with extensive landscaping enhancements. The intersection with Court St. would be at grade level, with either a wide median or a roundabout. Both depressed expressway and multi-way boulevard met the needs of the neighborhood for connectivity and for traffic to get through, although the depressed expressway seemed to present obvious problems for maintenance and expense. The surface and elevated expressways clearly divided the neighborhood. Two months later, in late November, 2006, the surface and elevated expressways were publicly discarded by the authorities. The depressed expressway and multi-way boulevard were designated “preferred.”

In the following years designs significantly changed. By March, 2008, it became clear that NYSDOT would elevate the arterial over Court St. and close streets. The difference between this configuration and the previously discarded elevated and surface expressway concepts was hard to say. By this point it should have been clear that NYSDOT was going to eliminate highway-neighborhood conflicts by eliminating the neighborhood. The City administration’s reaction to this? Praise! They loved the “urban-grandeur” feeling of it all. Who were they working for?

Councilman Zecca started lobbying for a boulevard, sending out e-mail after e-mail attaching countless articles from other cities to show that NYSDOT was bucking a national trend. He showed that other cities are discarding their urban expressways for boulevards and, surprisingly, meeting the needs of both motorists and neighborhoods. The rest of the council? Not a flicker of interest -- or at least nothing to move them to action!

As plans stand now, the current viaduct over Oriskany Blvd., Lafayette and Columbia Streets will be replaced and extended southward over Court St., reaching the level of adjoining streets someplace between Warren and Sunset. Instead of the current arrangement of columns that allow air and light to pass through, the viaduct will be supported by a stone wall -- a visual and psychological barrier across West Utica. The Court St. intersection will be replaced with an interchange similar to that in New Hartford, where Commercial Drive meets Route 840. Warren St. and Sunset Ave. will be severed at the arterial, neither connecting with it nor crossing over. Scores of properties will be removed from the tax rolls and several businesses taken. Although this design allows the state to move 40,000 cars a day without pedestrian conflicts, no one really knows the overall impact to Utica and its residents.

How do Utica’s elected officials allow this project to go through without knowing its consequences? There are a lot of questions begging for answers:

1) How much will Utica lose in property taxes from the scores of properties to be taken? How will this money be made up? What happens to the property values and taxes from those that remain? What happens to Utica’s tax rate?

2) How much will Utica lose in sales taxes from the businesses that will be taken? What will be lost from remaining businesses who lose customers to changed traffic patterns?

3) How many jobs will be lost from this very poor neighborhood? How many businesses will eventually shut their doors after they become difficult to find? How will the jobs be made up?

4) How will the street cut-offs affect police, fire, and ambulance response times? Will insurance rates go up?

5) How will the street cut-offs affect garbage and trash pick-up, street-cleaning, and other city services? Will fuel purchases increase after traffic-patterns are disrupted?

6) How much more, in time and distance, will people have to walk just to cross the arterial? What are the minimum and maximum detours that the closed streets will cause? Will this prevent some families from visiting loved ones? How do the cut-offs affect the relationship between the Brewery District and the Arts District?

7) How does severing the main artery between South Utica and the Brewery District, Sunset Ave., affect traffic? Where will traffic increase or decrease? How will this affect travel time between Varick Street and Faxton Urgent Care?

8) How does closure of the northern end of Lincoln Ave and rerouting over Roberts Street affect travel or businesses?

9) How does the closure of access to the state highway at Warren and Sunset affect the marketability of parcels nearby or viability as business locations?

10) How does the interchange at Court Street affect pedestrian and bicycle traffic? Will it encourage or discourage people walking from Downtown or the Arts District to the Brewery District?

11) How will “the wall” that will extend from Oriskany Blvd. almost to Sunset Ave. affect neighborhood dynamics? Will it attract interaction between both sides or block it? What does it mean for businesses near by? Or the Irish Cultural Center that is being constructed? What does the wall do to the relationship between the Brewery District and Downtown? What does it do to the relationship between the Brewery District and the Arts District?

12) How does this entire project affect the range of potential uses for adjoining land? Does it increase or decrease options?

13) Is it really necessary for the State to send three routes through this corridor? Are there no other options?

The Council should be able to answer these questions. If it cannot, it needs to get the answers. If the Council does not have the resources for this, it should demand that the State produce the answers. It is, after all, the State’s project and the State has the obligation to identify and minimize its adverse impacts.

It is the Common Council’s responsibility under Highway Law to approve, disapprove, or propose alternatives to the State within 60 days of receiving the State’s plan. It is no one else’s. People asked for the Council to put the Boulevard into the Master Plan, but that was rejected. If not the Boulevard, what else? If the Council takes no action, it is deemed to be the Council’s approval.

The Mayor has already cast his lot on the side of the NYSDOT. Who is looking out for the interests of Uticans? The Common Council is the people’s last defender.

The potential impacts to city residents -- all of them -- are simply too big for the Council to let this project go through by default.

N-S Arterial Video - The Problem and a Solution . . .

Thanks to West Utican John Ossowski Jr. for producing this video. It succinctly summarizes the problem and a solution. . . .

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rest of the Story . . .

Last week the OD reported that at the last Common Council meeting, residents assailed the State's proposed Arterial project.
The council took action on the project, too. The body voted not to overturn Mayor David Roefaro’s veto of a previous resolution that urged the state to consider the large part of the Arterial that would be untouched by the project.

Then the council unanimously passed a nearly identical resolution, except that it reinstated one of the Utica Master Plan subcommittees to work with the state to establish a long-term plan for the Arterial.

New Hartford Online in Missed Opportunities? posts a letter from the chairman of that subcommittee indicating that he essentially was unaware the Council was going to do this.

Doesn't the Council ask people first before giving them work to do?

Reading his letter, it becomes apparent that the problems some Uticans are having with NYSDOT's proposal are more the result of the City Council failing to take a position on the street closures, wall, and property takings, than the NYSDOT not caring about Uticans. 

If the elected representatives of the people, the Common Council, do not object to these aspects of the State's project, then it's reasonable for NYSDOT to conclude that its current design reflects the will of Uticans.

The Council needs to decide one way or another on this project.  THEY are being paid to be Utica's voice.  Ducking the issue by tossing the "hot potato"  to a group of citizens not only is irresponsible, it is disrespectful to those citizens who already put a lot of time into the Master Plan and thought their work was done.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The More They Get . . .

... The More They Want!

From the Times-Union: GlobalFoundries delays fab plans.
The company . . . says it will not expand in Malta without more financial assistance from New York beyond its current $1.4 billion package.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Interesting Admission on the Arterial . . .

Read the comments carefully.  The public was presented with an "alternative in the planning study of going underneath Court Street [which] was never a viable realistic alternative." [Bracketed word mine]. The former official claims that the depressed alternative would require severance of Columbia and Lafayette Sts. However, this statement conflicts with the Depressed alternative presented to the public back in 2006 as designed by Greenman-Pederson/Saratoga Associates.  Do you see any severed streets?  People would have noticed that.  In fact the news account of 11/28/2006 said that all current connections across the arterial would be maintained.  Are we supposed to now believe that engineers presented the public with an impossible design?

Look at the Boulevard alternative as it was originally presented to the public back in 2006 and as designed by the same consultants. 
No streets were proposed to be severed.  Court St. crosses the arterial at grade level.  Two options for the Court/Arterial intersection were proposed: a broad landscaped median, or a roundabout.  Later designs confused the public by showing a roundabout UNDER an overpass -- but this drawing makes clear that a grade level crossing was originally proposed.  One cannot have a landscaped median option if it is under a bridge.

Was the Boulevard another alternative that "was never a viable realistic alternative" (drawn by an engineering firm) as far as DOT was concerned? Were problems built into the alternative to make it not viable?  I was very nice to the DOT back in 2007 and tried to give the agency the benefit of the doubt when it looked like plans had been changed without notice.  One of my readers, however,  was more blunt, calling it Bait and Switch.  Is the charge of Bait and Switch warranted? 

One can get the impression that "straw men" were presented to the public so they could be knocked down in favor of what was desired all along.  Essentially that was my reader's conclusion -- and mine as well.
I agree, as suggested by the official's comments, that the Boulevard alternative as originally proposed contains unacceptable levels of taking of private properties... Utica needs to preserve its tax base and needs to preserve places where businesses can set up shop.  

But Utica also needs to ensure that its streets have full access both to the state highway system and across it. The Boulevard and the Depressed highway alternatives were both favored over an overhead or surface expressway. They met the city's needs.  They should have been the starting point for further discussion.  They were not.  Both were cast aside in favor of a combination overhead and surface expressway... something that both the public and planners had rejected.

The state never developed real alternatives to this project -- such as one that would not funnel all the traffic from 3 state highways through this corridor, one that would restore and improve  Oriskany Circle, one that would reconnect Whitesboro St., and one that would better use the traffic-carrying capacity of existing streets. Instead we are presented with trivialities, such as whether or not ivy will cover the wall that will separate us.

Memories may be short, but documents these days are easily copied, passed around, and filed away for future reference . . . and posted when necessary to set the record straight.  

Let's avoid revising history when discussing this issue.   

Friday, November 11, 2011

Transfer This . . .

In the Building for Building's sake department: Bus Transfer facility .

Bus ridership -- and downtown traffic -- had their zenith about 50 years ago when Utica had a population of 100,000 and a thriving commercial center.  No bus transfer facility was needed then.

It's not needed now.

What would have made this project worthwhile to pursue would have been the parking garage that was originally proposed.  But that has been left out.

What this does is close another street to traffic.  Granted, Charlotte Street does not have a lot of traffic most times  . . . but it does handle some traffic during evening rush trying to get from the Union-Blandina lot to Bleecker-Lafayette Streets to go East and West.  Closing it off only forces traffic to go farther out of its way -- increasing the inconvenience of navigating through Downtown.  Forcing people to drive farther to accomplish what should be simple movements has been a contributor  to the decline of Downtown over the last 50 years. (Note: Charlotte Street used to connect Steuben Park with Oriskany St E. and, with Park Ave., was formerly an important bypass of busy Genesee St. ...  Here's an idea: Knock down the County Office Building and reconnect Blandina Street with itself!)

At least with a parking garage, the inconvenience would have been balanced by more parking which most people acknowledge is needed at this location ... Early concepts included small store fronts which could help re-establish Bleecker as a street for small retail operations.

As this project stands now, it fulfills only an academic need that does not really exist. It takes more property out of private hands and puts it in public... creates a gap in commercial development . . . and it causes further disruption to the street grid.

It has become merely an excuse to spend Federal dollars, with little real return for the taxpayers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

More of the Same . . .

But with some interesting changes that may contain a message . . .

That's my assessment of the election results.

A number of new faces will be taking positions in January but not necessarily new parties, so it is unclear if voters in those places have picked a new direction for their communities.

But something is happening in New Hartford . . .

Long a Republican stronghold, Paul Miscione takes a seat on the Town Council away from Christine Krupa, and David Gordon (who lost this race a couple times before) takes a County Legislative seat from Fred Sadallah. Is New Hartford becoming disillusioned  with the Republican establishment?

Another County Legislative seat that will switch hands to Democrat: Harmony Speciale replaces old-timer Howard Welch.  Although the Republicans still have a majority on the County Legislature, it is narrowedHowever, of the 29 seats up for grabs, less than half -- only 12 -- were contested.

What would have happened if there were contests in all races?

As evident from the Utica Mayor's race and County Exec race, minor parties play a minor role in this area (spoiler at best) ... The thinking among voters seems to be, if one of the two major parties does not endorse a particular candidate, the candidate is not worth considering.

The Democrats did not field a candidate for County Executive.  The Republicans did not field a candidate for District Attorney.  The Voters were deprived of the chance of sending government in a new direction for two very important positions.

Few choices for voters result in a government that is stagnant. And a government that is stagnant results in a region that is stagnant.  Party leaders need to do more to cultivate and promote alternatives if the region is to move forward.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bait and Switch . . .

Looks like my congratulations to the Common Council for "doing the right thing" was premature.

Per the OD today, Mr. Zecca changed his resolution at the last minute to gut its meaning.
But after several meetings, Zecca said it became clear the state is proceeding
with the $62.5 million plan, which will include replacing the aging bridge
over Columbia Street.
. . . Instead, the council unanimously approved a
resolution Wednesday urging the state to put together a long-term plan for the rest of the Arterial after the current project is finished.

To so significantly change and pass the resolution after it was discussed the night before with totally different wording is "bait and switch" and borders on dishonesty.

The public was entitled to an up or down vote on the resolution as originally drafted, so voters can decide which councilmen will stand up for Utica residents and which do not.

The whole lot should be sacked tomorrow.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Time for Change?

Did everyone remember to "Fall Back" an hour last night? The bigger question is will everyone "Fall Back" upon the incumbents during Tuesday's election, or strike out in a new direction?

The Utica mayoral race has grabbed attention for good reason.  Five candidates and no incumbent is unprecedented. Clearly change is coming to Utica . . . but with the three most familiar candidates all tied to one political machine or the other (assuming there really are two machines) it is unlikely Utica will see significant change unless, somehow, one of the two political outsiders manages to get elected. It is local history that the same old people keep getting recycled ... after all, plenty of patronage jobs ensure loyalty to the ruling elite. 

The excitement over Utica Mayor has distracted from what is probably more important to Greater Uticans:  the Oneida County Executive (CE) and Legislative races.  I say more important because Regional policy as determined by Oneida County and its surrogates has trumped anything that Utica and nearby governments could do for at least the last 15 years. The County exerts controls over Greater Utica that it does not exert elsewhere. Unfortunately much of the County's activities goes unnoticed because of a lazy (or complicit) newspaper.

For example, two of the most important municipal services are water and sewer and both are essentially controlled by the County in the entire Greater Utica area. The people in the Part-County Sewer District are denied the opportunity of controlling their own destiny when most of the County legislators who control the Sewer District reside outside of it.  No one on the board of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority is elected. However, the crazy setup for appointments ensures that a County perspective prevails, rather than that of the people who actually reside in the water district and pay the bills. How else does one explain MVWA's attempt to send Greater Utica's limited supply of water to other parts of the County that have alternative sources available, and the CE's recent involvement in MVWA's affairs? Considering that these systems are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars, the fact that they are not controlled by the residents of Greater Utica is a major problem.

Although nominally Republican, the failure of Democrats to field their own CE candidate, and the fact that many of the legislator positions are uncontested,  make clear that we are really governed by a regional ruling elite for which party label has little meaning. The elite are the successors to the Utica textile mill owners of the early 20th century, running everything in the County to favor themselves and squeeze out the competition. They can be found on the Water Authority, OCIDA, UIDA, EDGE, MV Chamber of Commerce, and even the New Hartford Planning and Library Boards.    The current CE, one of a long line of CEs who have been carefully groomed for the position, is merely the latest head on this beast, because the policies have essentially been unchanged for 30 years.

Four years ago I asked whether people would take comfort with their known leaders or take a chance on new ones. In Utica voters went with the new, but in the County they went with comfort.  It is interesting to reflect on the 2007 election.  Many of the issues we had then are the same ones we have today.

Too much of what goes on at the County Legislature is rubber stamping what the CE wants... which is rubber stamping what the elite want.  I'm not going to try to recap events like I did 4 years ago -- it takes too long -- but look through the posts on this blog, they are there. Decisions seem to be made to commit taxpayer money to projects with no weighing of costs and benefits. "Build it and they will come" is their motto, without realistic assessment of the competition.  Economic development has been nothing but moving jobs from one place to another.  There is constant subsidization of new developments on green-fields, requiring new supporting infrastructure, while the infrastructure in our cities goes underutilized. County officials look the other way when laws are broken to favor development ... whether it is in New Hartford or in Ravenrock. Overall, little has been accomplished other than making our property and sales tax rates among the highest in the nation, and leaving people vulnerable to things like flooding and sewage.

This year we have a choice for CE... only because Mr. Potocki took on the task himself because he did not want to see this job go uncontested.  Given the experiences detailed in his book, "From the Inside," he has seen the good, bad, and the ugly in the County and both Utica and Rome.  He has seen it all and offers a lot more experience than what is currently in the CE position now. . . and a lot more independence and rational thought. Here the choice is clear, more of the same or a new direction.

Some of us have choices for Legislators. Look at the records of the incumbents.  Are they rubber stamps, or do they show independence and a willingness to take on the conventional wisdom?  If they are rubber stamps, consider going with the new guy.  They can be soon replaced if they don't produce.

Remember to Vote Tuesday, November 8th.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

An ODd View Of Our Region . . .

"The greatest power of the mass media is the power to ignore. The worst thing about this power is that you may not even know you're using it." --Sam Smith 

A free people cannot wisely exercise their democratic voting rights without access to essential information on the issues which confront them.

Although several sources of information on local issues are available to Greater Utica, by far most people (including this blogger) depend on what is in the Observer-Dispatch to be aware of local issues and to form opinions on them.  Apart from its editorials, the OD strongly influences what people talk about each day, what is considered important or unimportant to them, and what they may or may not do, merely on the basis of what information the OD chooses to publish.  

As information's gatekeeper, a newspaper bears an enormous responsibility for what becomes local public policy.  A newspaper must wisely choose which issues to inform upon, present all sides of the issues to allow people to make up their own minds, and leave opinions to the editorial pages. This is a difficult job because reporters, editors, and publishers are people, too, and people's opinions color what issues they consider important and unimportant, and even what they perceive to be the "side" of an issue. Issues reported upon, and how they are reported, can shape, for better or worse, the public policy that comes out of local governmental bodies.  Policy on issues that are totally ignored by the press can be expected to be for the worse because it is usually uninformed. 
How well has the Observer-Dispatch carried out its responsibilities lately?  

The items below seem to reveal either an inability (perhaps through budget or personnel limitations) to properly cover certain issues, or an intent to advance particular policy outcomes, perhaps desired by those who may be socially connected with the newspaper's decision makers, by withholding information. You be the judge.

1) The lack of a story on the passage of Mr. Zecca's resolution on the Arterial as noted on this blog's last post.   (This would seem to violate the OD's own standard of separating what is important from what is unimportant, since it previously editorialized on the issue.)

2) The lack of a story on the New Hartford Town Library Board's meeting this past week, where the subject of discussion was either separating the Library from Town government and making it part of the New Hartford School District, or forming some sort of Regional library -- as if one is needed with the Utica library only 4-5 miles away.  (The OD was invited to attend this meeting but chose to stay away.)

3) The lack of a story on how New Hartford sewer users have been taxed more than is needed, "loaned" $1.5 million from their New Hartford Consolidated Sewer Fund to other town funds, and have yet to be paid back, as uncovered by a NYS audit and reported by New Hartford Online.

4) Publication of a guest editorial promoting the Utica Master Plan, but failing to publish an opposing perspective (even though one was sent by someone on the planning committee).

5) A general and fairly consistent failure to report on the activities of the Oneida County Legislature as opposed to what can be read in the Rome Sentinel. (Perhaps this explains why Oneida County's policies are often contrary to Utica's needs.)

Lack of resources? Intentional withholding? Whichever it is, the Observer-Dispatch needs to do a better job.  Look around . . . The results of poor public policy are palpable. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

One Surprise -- Two Stories

I woke up this morning to hear on WIBX that the Utica Common Council voted 8-0 last night to send a resolution to Governor Cuomo, asking him to halt the State's plans for the North South Arterial.

I thought I was dreaming!

To anyone sitting through the UED meeting Tuesday night where the resolution was discussed, it seemed like the resolution would go down in flames when put to the whole Council for a vote.  I don't know what happened between Tuesday night and Wednesday night to sway votes. Was it concern for next week's elections and how a "no" vote could be spun?  Was it the influence of the "Occupy Utica" protesters who were present?  Does it really matter? 

For once Utica's Common Council did the right thing for Utica's residents and small businesses.

Now that the Common Council has articulated City Policy, it is incumbent on the Mayor, the Urban and Economic Development Department, and all other segment's of the City's executive branch to support it -- to find ways to make it work in cooperation with the State, so that State's need to move traffic safely through Utica can be met while also meeting Utica's needs for maintaining existing street connections, stronger visual connections between both sides of the Arterial Replacement, a walkable neighborhood, maintenance of properties on the tax rolls, and more places for entrepreneurs to set up shop. Candidates for Mayor should be asked how they intend to carry out the Council's wishes.  It also is incumbent on the City Council to monitor what becomes of its resolution and not to let it languish.  This story is just beginning . . .

And then there is the OTHER story . . .

... the almost complete blackout of news coverage on the vote.  Fortunately WIBX reported this -- but only on the air today and temporarily on line (the link to the audio coverage was replaced this afternoon).  None of the other local news outlets have this story. 

This is especially curious with regard to the OD.  As previously noted, the OD edictorial board was so upset over Mr. Zecca's penning the proposal that it ran an editorial against it before the ink on the proposal was even dry. One has to wonder about the lack of interest now . . . or if there is a purpose behind it.

Perhaps it will be covered tomorrow . . . or in another editorial this weekend.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Why Invite the Public . . .

... if you are not interested in what it has to say?

That sums up the impression left from last night's Urban and Economic Development committee of the Utica Common Council with reference to its discussion of the North-South Arterial remake.

Certain members of the public were asked to attend the meeting which began at 5:30 PM, but were not permitted to speak until almost 8PM . . . only after the late hour was pointed out to the councilmen, the news media had long left, and the public members insisted on speaking... and only after everyone was already exhausted from listening to the councilmen nit-pick over trivial details.

This was not a serious effort to receive input from the public and invited guests, but, rather, the proverbial "dog and pony" show.

Councilman Bucciero is specifically called out for this.  He ran the meeting when it got to the subject of the arterial and kept everyone waiting. In spite of his expressions of concern at the last Council meeting over what the arterial would do to the city, it was pretty obvious that his mind was already made up to favor the State's proposal, and that the project only needed "tweaking."

One slide from DOT's repertoire succinctly summed up the issues.  It was an artistic rendering of the view of the arterial looking south from the new Court Street bridge. . . It was gorgeous . . . showing a beautiful new white highway passing through a lush green countryside.  Only if you looked close could you see some recognizable buildings in the distance.   

Essentially, Utica is gone!

Therein lies the problem.  The Council is apparently prepared to allow huge swaths of properties to be removed from what should be in private hands and have them turned over to highway use.  That guarantees that they will never be the site of economically productive activities . . . never create jobs or wealth . . . and never generate a dime of tax revenue for the financially-strapped City of Utica.  Instead, they will create a "green gulf" (with a bisecting wall in some places), that will forever divide West Utica from itself and prevent it from ever functioning as a neighborhood.

Councilwoman Arcuri liked what she saw, particularly the features that enhanced safety by separating pedestrians from the traffic.  But for the only person who voted against the Utica Master Plan simply because it did not address Utica's precarious financial situation, her lack of interest in the financial impact of this project to the residents of the City of Utica is inconsistent.  Quite simply, no one has been presented with an estimate of the property/sales tax revenue to the City and to the School District that will be lost due to the proposed takings. That should not be too hard to figure out...properties will be removed from the tax rolls and businesses will be shut down ... but where is the estimate?  In addition, no attempt is made to estimate the potential revenue loss that can be expected to result from the change in traffic patterns when Sunset Ave. and Warren St. are cut off.  Businesses, such as Carl's Furniture, will lose customers when they become difficult to reach and the city will lose sales tax. How can Mrs. Arcuri . . . or any council member. . . allow the project to go through without at least first knowing how it will impact Utica's tax rate?

Yes we need to move traffic through Utica . . . and we need to do it safely for pedestrians . . . but the way to accomplish these tasks is not to erase a city neighborhood and build a mini-Thruway in its place.

The State needs to seriously reconsider its 60 year old policy of rerouting traffic in cities and sending it down one or two limited access highways at high speed. Instead, look at improving the street grid  to provide a variety of alternate routes which can accommodate the traffic.   Streets, such as Whitesboro St., which formerly handled a lot more traffic now have their capacity wasted due to arterial reroutings.  Use them. Traffic will move, businesses will have places to do businesses, their customers will be able to reach them, and the economy will improve.   The State, however, will not look at alternatives at this point because they are well along in their project and the Council is not going to insist on it.

The Council, again, fails to protect the interests of Utica residents.