Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recommended Reading . . .

A couple articles caught my eye the last few days that seemed relevant to Utica.

Mario Pol├Ęse in City-Journal: Urban-Development Legends - Grand theories do little to revive cities 
 . . . just as personal finance has yet to unlock the secret of how to get rich, no surefire government-led strategy exists that can turn around a troubled economy . . .
The history of local economic development is a story of academic fads.
See how many "fads" listed in the article have been heard around here coming from our local "Economic Development" gurus.

Alex Ihnen in Next American City: A Highway Runs Through It
As the St. Louis Arch itself neared completion in 1964, before the surrounding park became anything more than a parking lot and construction site, the area was amputated from the city by what would come to be referred to as a “crushing maze of infrastructure”. Interstate 70 was being built, resulting in a maze of sunken and elevated lanes that truncate the city’s street grid, and separate its residents from the memorial and the Mississippi River. . . .
And almost 50 years later . . .
When the public has had a chance to participate, the message has been clear: the boulevard conversion should receive full consideration, it should be studied.

There is still time for discussion about this issue; the question is: will anyone listen?
A half a continent away . . . but the same discussion that we have in Utica.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unsustainable. . . .

House Passes Bill to Avert Government Shutdown 
With the government just hours away from running out of money for a wide range of programs, the House of Representatives approved on Friday a nearly $1 trillion spending bill. The Senate most likely will pass it on Saturday and send it to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The House vote approving the spending bill was 296-121, with about a third of the chamber's 242 Republicans voting no.   
[emphasis, link added]
Meanwhile . . .
50 Facts About The U.S. Economy That Will Shock You
1. A staggering 48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be “low income” or are living in poverty.

2. Approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be “low income” or impoverished.

3. If the number of Americans that “wanted jobs” was the same today as it was back in 2007, the “official” unemployment rate put out by the U.S. government would be up to 11 percent.

4. The average amount of time that a worker stays unemployed in the United States is now over 40 weeks.

5. One recent survey found that 77 percent of all U.S. small businesses do not plan to hire any more workers.

6. There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 even though we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.

7. Since December 2007, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8 percent once you account for inflation.

8. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.6 million Americans were self-employed back in December 2006. Today, that number has shrunk to 14.5 million.

9. A Gallup poll from earlier this year found that approximately one out of every five Americans that do have a job consider themselves to be underemployed.

10. According to author Paul Osterman, about 20 percent of all U.S. adults are currently working jobs that pay poverty-level wages..
. . .
Rich Can Pay for It All . . . NOT
"According to Internal Revenue Service data, the entire taxable income of everyone earning over $100,000 in 2008 was about $1.582 trillion," reported the Wall Street Journal on the morning after Obama's speech. "Even if all these Americans — most of whom are far from wealthy — were taxed at 100 percent, it wouldn't cover Mr. Obama's deficit for this year."
 Unsustainable.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance . . . But Not at the New Hartford Town Library!

The Pledge of Allegiance was in the news this past week. In Around Central NY: Pledge of Allegiance Joe Kelly reveals that the Pledge was written by a local man, Francis Bellamy, who is buried in the Rome Cemetery. Mr. Kelly presents some little known facts about the Pledge, and about Mr. Bellamy, who wrote the words that are repeated every day in schools and government meetings throughout the nation.

One place where the Pledge is not heard, however, is at the meetings of the New Hartford Town Library Board! One trustee, Mr. Wiatr, sought to right this wrong, but here is what happened . . .

Almost the entire New Hartford Library Board believes that saying the Pledge is "for show," and "waste of time" (or at least voting on it is such because most abstained) New Hartford OnLine produced this video, and did a little research that shows the New Hartford Library Board as being out-of-sync with other library boards across the state. 


The Bigger Question that only New Hartfordans can answer: Is the New Hartford Town Library Board out-of-sync with its own community?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Win for Yorkville, Win for Utica Residents

Yorkville residents vote down police abolishment proposal
By a vote of 538 to 100, Yorkville residents decided they didn’t want the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office patrolling the village . . .
Shannon Conner remained concerned about the safety and response time with abolishing the department.
“The economy is bad. Crime is increasing. Things happen,” she said. “It’s nice to have police right there and not have to wait.”
I actually think that the sheriff takeover would have worked out well for Yorkville residents: More crime-fighting resources would have been available at less cost. No doubt, on a personal level, Sheriff Maciol would have been able to make this work because he came out of village police ranks, was a village mayor, and knows the territory.

However, there is always the issue of local control, and that is a biggie. In this day and age when government seems to be out of the control of those whom it supposedly serves, you cannot blame people for wanting to hold on to the little control they have left. And in that sense, yesterday's vote was a big win for the People of Yorkville.

But Why is this a Win for City Taxpayers?

The plan also included enhanced investigative and supervisory services, and the Sheriff’s Office would take on any liability costs.

The Sheriff's Office is funded by County taxpayers. County taxpayers, thus, would be picking up the liability costs resulting from Yorkville policing. Without a thorough analysis of costs including things such as overtime, pension contributions, etc., and a comparison with what Yorkville residents would have paid into the Sheriff's Office, the potential exists to shift a lot of local policing costs onto County residents -- many of whom are also City residents (Utica, Rome) or residents of Towns with their own police departments (New Hartford, Whitestown). City residents could have wound up paying for part of the cost of local policing in outlying villages taken over by the Sheriff's Office, in addition to paying for their own local policing. In that respect the Yorkville vote is a win for Utica residents (and those of N.H. and Whitestown, too) because an opportunity for cost shifting has been avoided.

No doubt this issue or others similar will come up in the future as local governments struggle to make ends meet.  "Consolidation" or "shared services" will be the buzz words for local government leaders. Every time they are used should be a "red flag" that cost-shifting from one group of taxpayers onto another group may be afoot.  "Local control" will always be the buzz word for voters. But at what cost?

At some point reform of local government will have to occur because financially what we are doing now is unsustainable.  

Can we have both consolidation AND local control?  I think we can.  All it takes is for us to look at each other and see who has similar characteristics and interests -- and then join forces for the common good.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Assaults On Utica's Streets!!!!

And I mean that literally . . . The assaults are on the streets themselves!  Everyone (all levels of government that is) wants a piece of Utica's streets!

The State hopes to close Sunset Ave. and Warren St. at the Arterial, and reroute Lincoln Ave. over Roberts St. for its Federally funded Arterial Project.

The City has approved closing a block of Charlotte St. to install a bus transfer facility of questionable need (other than to spend Federal money).

Now the County is resurrecting its "Terror from the Year 2007" to re-propose closing Park Avenue between John and Blandina Streets to create a surface parking lot.

Apparently government officials are not going to stop until Utica is in gridlock . . .

Park Avenue, a great example of 19th century urban street design,  was intended to serve as the bypass of downtown for all traffic going to and coming from the streets to the east.  Although part of this function was lost when its northern end was chopped off and incorporated into the E-W Arterial, the remainder still serves that function... which function has recently been improved by the Oneida Square Roundabout that gives an easier connection for traffic coming up Genesee St. from the south. 

The notion that streets can be closed without causing problems must go away.  As pointed out a few days ago, one cut-off can can change a simple no-turns trip into a 5-turn frustration. . . . This can affect routing decisions for traffic coming from miles away.  People will avoid coming into Utica if they feel they are being forced into a maze.

Utica needs to become more like an Apple . . . an Apple product.  Apple became a very successful company because its products are simple -- intuitive -- to use.

Utica's street system needs to be simple and intuitive to use.

Utica's old street grid used to be simple and intuitive to use.  Instead of taking more pieces out of it, maybe its time to start restoring it.  You might be surprised at some of the problems that it could solve.  

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The OTHER Arterial Street Cut-Off

2008-0611-1041pMuch has been made of the "wall" and the State's proposal to cut off Sunset Avenue and Warren Street at the Arterial so they no longer have access to or across the State's Highway.

Practically unnoticed is the OTHER street cut off that the Arterial project will cause -- a street which neither connects to nor crosses the Arterial:  The northern-most block of Lincoln Avenue will be cut off from Court Street, because the intersection has been deemed too close to the exit ramp of the proposed Court Street interchange.  Where will the traffic go?

Roberts Street

Lincoln Ave will be terminated at Roberts St., and its traffic carried over one block of Roberts St to its intersection with State St.

Have you ever been to Roberts Street?  It's a "funky" little street that you might stumble upon by accident when walking about Downtown. There are a couple interesting things there in that one block.  Someone has a garage with cool-looking orange doors which I photographed a few years ago.  Shades of Mondrian? Perhaps not.  But a pleasant surprise during a lunchtime walk.   Neptune Studio is there, too, though it might currently be undergoing some rearranging per its website.


One thing that you cannot miss, however, is that the street is exceedingly narrow. . . barely two lanes with parking limited to one side.

What makes planners think it is a good idea to reroute Lincoln Ave. over Roberts Street?

Is this fair to abutting property owners?

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Closed Club at the New Hartford Library . . .

Entertainment courtesy of the folks at New Hartford OnLine . . .

I thought it was interesting how a member of the Library Board could assert that the Library was not subject to the 2% tax cap, refuse to produce the documentation to back up her point, and then be backed up by the chair of the meeting.

I guess only "insiders" are entitled to information in New Hartford.

And this crew expects to take take their board into public elections? I can't wait for the campaigns to begin!

Meanwhile, New Hartford OnLine, as usual, documents its sources.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Arterial: Regionalism and Expertise . . .

The OD has an interview in today's paper with Mayor-elect Palmieri: City workers need more active role . His comments on the Arterial project are troubling:
He also said that while he understands the concerns from some officials and community members over the state’s proposed $62 million North-South Arterial project, he believes it will benefit the region.
"Region?" Here we go again!   I thought Mr. Palmieri was elected to be mayor of UTICA!
“Those are the professionals,” he said of the state Department of Transportation. “Those are the engineers and planners. You’ve got to have confidence in them.”
One should have confidence in DOT's engineers and planners in designing a highway . . . but they are not the experts in the lives of everyday Uticans. Decisions that may make sense from a regional perspective are horribly disruptive when taken down to the city level.

Case in point: If you were driving from S. Utica to Varick St. you would probably get on Sunset Avenue and go straight to Varick. No turns needed . . . . That's today. After the proposed Arterial project, the northern end of Sunset would be cut off from you. If you were proceeding north on Sunset, you would have to turn Right on Lincoln (where Sunset is blocked), turn Right on Roberts (because the N end of Lincoln will be blocked), turn Left on State, turn Left on Court, then Right onto Varick. Five turns required.

DOT officials tout the proposed ability to make lefts onto Court St coming off the future arterial from north or south as improving access to Varick and Downtown. Yes, that will be a good thing for people coming from New Hartford or Marcy. But S. Uticans will be seriously inconvenienced as above. N Uticans trying to reach Varick have ALREADY been inconvenienced by the State's cut-off of Whitesboro St. -- which was their most direct route to Varick St.

Simply put, the convenience of Uticans is being sacrificed for the convenience of suburban commuters. You do not need to be a traffic engineer to see this. Perhaps you need to NOT be a traffic engineer to see this because the traffic engineers don't seem to comprehend the disruptions they are causing within the city.

It's more than Uticans' convenience that is being sacrificed for suburban commuters. Utica's economic potential is also being sacrificed.

Another case in point:  Utica's economic development area on Whitesboro St. north of the Auditorium.  A beautiful piece of property, formerly the site of the Washington Courts housing project, all is now cleared, and infrastructure is in place including new sidewalks. Try getting there!  The cut-off of Whitesboro Street makes this site less accessible . . . and less likely to be developed.

Sunset Avenue will become the new Whitesboro Street after the Arterial project is completed. Existing businesses will wither . . . new businesses will be few . . . crime will increase . . . residents will suffer.


Utica leaders need to wake up!