Thursday, September 07, 2017

Come Together ... Right Now . . . For the Hospital . . .


St Luke's Campus vs Downtown Utica
→ Site already owned by MVHS with plenty of expansion room and is almost shovel since it is served by newer public infrastructure.
→ Conveniently located near the center of Greater Utica's population, shares a campus with a Rehab facility and Nursing Home, and is close to newly established private medical facilities on French and Burrstone Roads and in the Utica Business Park (the region's existing "medical district").
→ No property or sales tax losses.
→ No private sector job losses
→ No change in land use.
→ No street grid disruption.
→ No added burdens on the taxpayers.
Preserves the opportunity for traditional, incremental economic development Downtown which is consistent with the Utica Master Plan and is already remaking Downtown Utica.


→ Cost of Property Acquisitions, Environmental Remediation and infrastructure revisions.
→ Cost of a parking garage and new police garage (and maybe more)
→ No room for future expansion without impacting others.
→ Loss of Property Taxes 90+ parcels
→ Loss of the Sales Taxes, Private Sector Jobs, and “Sweat Equity” from 40 businesses
→ Inconvenient location, especially for nursing home patients, and is far away from existing private medical offices and facilities.
→ Incompatable land use with the surrounding neighborhoods.
→ Street closures will make Downtown Utica less friendly for businesses remaining behind.
Speculation that it will spur Downtown development by persons with a track record of failure.


When you do a side-by-side comparison of the two sites, the choice of putting the new hospital facility Downtown makes no sense and deserves the opposition it has received.

When you read the legislation which created the grant that is driving the new hospital, the St. Luke's Campus seems tailor-made to the law's description of the project's location and its objectives. Choosing the St. Luke's Campus will save money, be easier to implement, and be a better fit for health care.

Mohawk Valley EDGE made a serious miscalculation when it steered the MVHS board to the Downtown Utica site with NO opportunity for public input. Objections would have been obvious years ago. EDGE appears to have been thinking of its own interests (or the interests of certain local politicians) rather than regional health care needs.  

MVHS needs to focus on its mission to provide the best possible health care for the region and should not be distracted by the myriad issues attached to a Downtown Utica site. MV EDGE, Oneida County, and the City of Utica need to stop trying to force the new facility into Downtown Utica and instead focus on how they can help MVHS best meet the grant's criteria at the St. Luke's Campus.

Choosing to put the new hospital Downtown is dividing the community.  Putting it at the St. Luke's Campus is something everyone can get behind.

Let's come together to support the New Hospital on the St. Luke's Campus. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Downtown Hospital Deja Vu . . .

For those on Facebook, Robin Raabe had a thought provoking post a couple days ago detailing her experiences running a business during the Arterial project as indicating what Downtown businesses will face during a hospital construction project.
"We have been stunted in our growth, we have lost 20-30% of our customer base & sales . . . For the betterment of the City with the Arterial Project, we had become on the verge of collateral damage in the face of progress. As a stand-alone business surrounded by road work, noise, dirt, road closures, re-directs, & general lack of accessibility, we have been at the brink of non-existence. We know that additionally, there are no less than 3 other small businesses directly affected by the road work. Think of that.. this is "just road work". What will 8 plus years of building a hospital/ parking garage/ traffic pattern routing, and more do to the businesses surrounding the proposed work area, let alone the 40 plus businesses that will be sacrificed for the job."
It was deja vu listening to the Common Council the other night claim they "had not made up their minds" on the hospital and offered to meet with representatives of the No Hospital Downtown and Better Utica Downtown groups to understand their concerns. We heard the same things when the Arterial was under consideration.

A number of us fought the Arterial project because of the permanent erosion of the tax base (70+ parcels off the tax rolls), closure of businesses, permanent closure of Sunset Ave and Warren St. as cross streets, and the construction of a wall across the neighborhood. No one wanted to listen, especially the City Council. Their fear of losing a $60M project proved greater than their fear of dividing a neighborhood, making the local street grid more difficult to navigate, losing businesses and jobs, and decreasing the tax base. 

The same Dynamics appear to be in play now with the Downtown Hospital -- magnified five fold.

Fear of losing the project is going to drive the decision-making.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Pig in a Poke . . .

The City of Utica is being threatened: "Warning to city: No garage, no new hospital"
“If there’s no garage, there’s no downtown hospital,” Steve DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE, told Utica Common Council members at a meeting of the Economic Development Committee Monday.
As yet no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Downtown Hospital has been produced.

The Downtown Hospital is not only in material conflict with the Utica Master Plan and various pieces of legislation over the years that established the community's character, it will open a whole Pandora's box of impacts that may make the Downtown site for the new hospital unpalatable.  Will sanitary sewers and water lines designed to handle loads from a grid of small customers be able to handle the load from one or two large users?  Will existing storm sewers be able to handle the quick runoff from acres of new parking lots? Will hazards to human health be created by the destruction of many old buildings? Will the blockage of streets create traffic congestion, air pollution, and inconvenience for people not going to the hospital -- and possibly lead to business decline and blight elsewhere? Will the change in land use from tax-paying small businesses to tax-exempt large institution make city services financially unsustainable? What will happen to the two hospital sites that will be left behind? Will they become blighted like the Psych Center did? Who will pay to mitigate the various adverse impacts? City taxpayers? Water users? Sewer users?  An EIS now will help to answer these questions.

Asking the City to make a decision on the garage now without an EIS is asking it to make a decision blind.

MVHS' "back up" site at St. Lukes has plenty of room for the new hospital in spite of a small federally-regulated wetland.  Numerous large construction projects have occurred over the years there with no disruption in hospital services. No change in community character will occur by constructing the new hospital there, and no businesses will be booted out. There will be no loss in tax base. No streets will be blocked. Considering that there has been a decline in beds at St. Luke's, adding the activity currently at St. Elizabeth's would appear to be only an incremental increase in use over what had previously been at St. Luke's.  Simply put: the St. Luke's site is practically "shovel ready."  It makes no sense to put the new hospital elsewhere.

The Downtown Hospital is a "Pig in a Poke" -- and the taxpayers and water/sewer rate payers will be left holding the bag.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Aud: Still Using Your Money . . .

Saturday's OD celebrated "Multimillion dollar Aud renovations adding suites, boxes, restrooms." It is good to see the Aud brought up to current standards. We can be excited by its modern design and amenities and take pride in having a facility that competes with the best of them in the American Hockey League (AHL).  But there are still some troubling aspects to this deal that we need to think about.

First, it was disappointing that the construction started with no renderings in the media (until now), no public outreach, and little opportunity for public engagement and involvement over the 3+ years the project was being considered (see Aud Authority Minutes).  The Aud is, after all, (1) a building paid for by the Utica taxpayers, (2) an engineering landmark with its cable-suspended roof, and (3) involuntarily subsidized by the customers of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority (MVWA) to the tune of $732,000 annually as a matter of state law with mandated increases into the 2030s.  Reports by Aud Authority accountants make clear that the Aud cannot survive without this subsidy.

Second, luxury suites may be a staple of the AHL, but they seem out of touch for an area that has been in decline, bears some of the highest levels of taxation in the country, and where water-users have no choice but to pay for this.   Like the County's luxurious terminal at Griffiss for the owners of private planes that taxpayers are paying for, it seems that average Joes and Janes are expected to pay for the accouterments of our local elite.

Third, when we were lucky enough to get information on the financing of the project, we were not given the full story.  The OD reported the project as being "helped" by a $5.5M County bond plus a state grant. The Sentinel reported that
The county executive explained it is cheaper for the county to borrow the money than if the Aud obtains the funding on its own. Payments to the county by the Aud will cover the debt service, he said.
We are left with the impression that the County got involved to save the Aud money. We are not told that the Aud Authority has a limitation on bonded indebtedness of no more than $2,000,000 which this project will easily exceed.  So the County is assisting the Aud in exceeding its debt limit! To make matters worse, official documents on the subject seem to be written to conceal this fact.

Read the Board of Legislators' resolution authorizing the bond and County Executive's cover letter (at left). The letter makes one believe that the project is needed to meet building codes and that the suites, etc. are just thrown in as extras. The debt limitation isn't mentioned. The resolution does not mention payments from the Aud Authority at all, but instead speaks of an annual assessment on "lots and parcels of land within said District" without ever identifying the lots, parcels or "District."  Is this just poor draftsmanship, or concealment?

Fourth, the Aud Authority's contracting day-to-day management functions to people who also USE the facility may have allowed a conflict-of-interest. 

It seems that we have created a local government structure which responds more to special interests than to the average person.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

NYSDOT-Utica FAIL!

No doubt NYSDOT will claim that we experienced an "unprecedented" storm event to excuse the flood-FAIL near the newly opened Court St. interchange yesterday where cars were literally abandoned in 4' of water and people had to be rescued with ladders. Maybe the storm event WAS unprecedented. . .

But FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION when you are talking about THE main N-S traffic artery in Utica. 

Those poor people in cars on the Arterial entered a flood zone and were TRAPPED there. They could not turn around against oncoming traffic, access to the lanes going in the opposite direction was blocked by a Jersey Barrier, and cross-streets had been cut off.

The City of Utica and its Common Council is as much to blame as the State. Only worried about securing the $63M project, they allowed the State to further disrupt Utica's street grid -- a grid with built-in redundancies so that when one street is blocked for whatever reason you can simply go over a block to use the next one.

Luckily no one died this time.

Time for the State to stop ignoring the negative impacts its projects have on City Streets. (Your proposed 5-S remake is a bunch of the same garbage, NYSDOT!)

Time for the City to stop worrying about losing the $$$ value of State projects, and to start defending its street system, and the interests of its residents and businesses. (Allowing the cut-off of streets crossing 5-S further damages the grid and makes businesses that much harder to get to).

City and State need to stop operating as if they are in separate silos. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Don't Be Misled!

It has been a burning contention of  some "Downtown Hospital" proponents that the proposed new hospital MUST be in Utica or even in Downtown Utica or the area would lose the $300M grant from the State.

Don't be misled!

Here is the relevant portion of the actual legislation with the operative words put in red-bold:

  S  2825-B.  ONEIDA COUNTY HEALTH CARE FACILITY TRANSFORMATION PROGRAM:
ONEIDA COUNTY PROJECT. 1. AN ONEIDA COUNTY HEALTH CARE  FACILITY  TRANS-
FORMATION  PROGRAM  IS HEREBY ESTABLISHED ... 
...                   FOR  THE  PURPOSE  OF STRENGTHENING AND PROTECTING
CONTINUED ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE SERVICES  IN  COMMUNITIES.  THE  PROGRAM
SHALL  PROVIDE  CAPITAL  FUNDING  IN  SUPPORT OF PROJECTS LOCATED IN THE
LARGEST POPULATION CENTER IN ONEIDA  COUNTY  THAT  CONSOLIDATE  MULTIPLE
LICENSED  HEALTH  CARE FACILITIES INTO AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM OF CARE. . . 

Don't be confused by the words "located in the largest population center in Oneida County."  Apply a little common sense  (and maybe a common rule of statutory construction).

"Expressio unius est exclusio alterius" or "expression of one thing is the exclusion of another." Every word of a law is presumed to have been used for a purpose and every word excluded from a law is presumed to have been excluded for a purpose.

The legislature was geographically specific when it referred to "Oneida County," so if it wanted to limit sites to "Downtown Utica" or the "City of Utica," it would have said so. Since it did not, the legislature clearly intended to NOT limit sites to Downtown Utica or Utica. The legislature did, however, intend to limit sites to "the largest population center in Oneida County" as opposed to all other population centers.

Imagine that you have a large map of Oneida County and a bunch of push-pins.  You stick a pin in the map where each person in the county lives (about 230,000 pins!).  You would notice several groupings of pins -- population centers -- and that the largest grouping would be over southeastern Oneida County.  THAT GROUPING represents the "largest population center of the county."   With about 60,000 pins in Utica; 20,000 in New Hartford; 20,000 in Whitestown; 10,000 each in Marcy and Deerfield; and none to the east of Utica (because that would be off the map), if you were to pick out the middle of that grouping it would probably fall somewhere just west of Utica . . . perhaps near the St. Luke's Hospital Campus!

If anyone wants to actually do this map exercise to determine the middle of the largest population center, be my guest and send me a picture of it!  The simple point I want to make is that the location specified in the law includes the St. Luke's Campus and that the Campus is convenient to everyone in the area. 

So, if a public or hospital official or anyone else tries to tell you that the grant will be lost if the hospital is not located in Downtown Utica, you now know better.  They are either deliberately trying to mislead you to achieve purposes outside the scope of the legislation or they themselves have been mislead.   The purpose is neither "economic development," nor "blight removal," nor "Downtown revival," nor "infrastructure repair," nor any other "purpose" that could be remotely claimed to justify tapping into the tempting big pot of money, but, rather, "strengthening and protecting continued access to health care services in communities."  

One group that appears NOT to have been misled is the MVHS Board.  They had the presence of mind to designate the St. Luke's Campus as their "backup" should the Downtown site prove infeasible -- an acknowledgment, as the applicant for the funds, that the St. Luke's Campus both qualifies under the law and meets their needs.

Once the true costs of the Downtown site become known (site acquisition; condemnation/legal proceedings; historical/environmental/archeological studies; asbestos removal and other remediation; water/sewer line replacement; designing and constructing a facility within the architectural/historical context of Utica; etc.) and are compared with the practically shovel-ready St. Luke's site, it should be concluded that choosing the St. Luke's site would produce more healthcare "bang for the buck" and best promote the purposes of the state's legislation.

MVHS is urged to obtain an estimate of the true costs of the Downtown site ASAP before proceeding further, and to obtain it from a contractor having no connection with EDGE, the project, or anyone else from the region who may have something to gain from placing the project downtown.   

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Economic Nonsense and Keeping Up Appearances

On Monday "No Hospital Downtown" and "Better Utica Downtown" sponsored a symposium called "Battle for Our City" which featured the presentations of two planners from Strong Towns and Urban3 [video links will be posted if they become available].  Too bad only one elected official (Mike Galime) out of dozens of our area officials saw fit to attend. 

From the County Executive, Mayor, Assemblyman and Senator on down, they passed on a golden opportunity to learn something about economic development and economic reality from nationally renowned experts.  

Per WKTV, Mr. Picente wasn't interested, stating:
"Mohawk Valley Health System made a decision on the location of a new hospital in conjunction with the state, county and city, and I have always supported that decision. While I respect the opinion of others and their right to oppose that decision, the point of debating its location has passed. All of this energy would be better spent working together so that we can see a new hospital and new development in downtown Utica."
The fact there was never a point when the public was allowed to debate the hospital's location (even though the public will have to live with that decision for the next 60 years) is concerning enough. However,  after seeing the presentations, it became abundantly clear that to proceed on this and other "silver bullet" projects (like the "U-District" and Harbor Point) in ignorance of strategic pieces of information would recklessly expose the City of  Utica and its taxpayers to a risk of financial harm. Simultaneously, the lack of this information denies Utica, its taxpayers, and entrepreneurs opportunities of significant returns for modest investments.

Through a series of examples using actual data from cities across the continent, including Syracuse and Rome, the planners demonstrated that large-scale economic development projects often leave their communities in worse shape financially because the revenues from the new projects may not cover the costs of the projects or their maintenance. They also demonstrated through calculating taxable value and jobs on a per-acre basis that "poor" or even "blighted" areas of communities often have more value than areas of booming new development because they produce more revenue than they consume. This hidden value can be multiplied many fold by encouraging more private investment with things as cheap as new sidewalks, lighting, and street trees. For example, on a per acre basis, Armory Square is much more valuable than Destiny USA, which has extensive non-productive parking lots.  

Regarding the Downtown Hospital (but applicable to other projects, too) the planners urged decision-makers to ask "Where is the model?" and to "do the math."

So far Downtown Hospital proponents from MVHS, to political officials, to EDGE and various consultants have shown the public NO model with real numbers to demonstrate that placing a hospital downtown will generate a positive economic return for the City of Utica.  Like the now decaying "urban renewal" projects that traded hundreds of  old revenue-generating going businesses for new revenue-consuming public buildings and subsidized housing, the public is given only the appearance of a positive outcome while actually suffering negative economic consequences.

What we do know about the Downtown Hospital is that about 40 going businesses will be taken. These are not just any businesses but Proven Winners because they beat the 1-in-5 odds of surviving 5 years to actually last decades -- businesses who pay their taxes and provide jobs -- businesses which should be cherished, not pushed aside, in spite of their modest appearance,  because they produce a positive economic return for the city. Based upon the numbers of what happened in Rome when land was taken for the "Fort" and "Living Bridge" projects, Utica would be lucky if even 4 of these businesses remain in town following the project. Their property taxes, sales taxes, jobs and income will be forever lost to the local economy and replaced with a decrease in hospital jobs (because hospitals are consolidating) and virtually ZERO taxable value and revenue (because the hospital is tax exempt). Utica will give up in perpetuity the chance of ever generating revenue over the entire 34 acres to be taken. Utica taxpayers will be particularly hard hit because Utica will be responsible for police and fire protection of an additional hospital campus (because the others aren't going to disappear overnight). With no plans for the two campuses to be left behind, the potential for long-term blight (like that experienced at the CNY Psychiatric site on York St. after most of its facilities were closed) will be visited on two good neighborhoods. There is already talk about saddling taxpayers with a $41 Million parking garage. You can be sure that when ancient water lines, sanitary and storm sewers prove to be inadequate, the costs of improvements will be passed on to the local rate-payers in the form of higher water bills.

Meanwhile, MVHS' 64-acre St. Luke's Campus has plenty of room for the New Hospital and is served by major 4-lane traffic arteries, a new co-generation facility, and relatively new water and sewer lines. Parking is already on site and would only have to be incrementally augmented. No businesses would be taken, no revenue would be lost to local government, no private jobs would be lost, and one less site would be abandoned to potential blight. Since the site is already owned by MVHS and nearly shovel-ready for expansion, more money from the state's $300M gift can go toward a better hospital and equipment. The need for taxpayers or rate-payers to kick in extra money to improve public infrastructure will be virtually eliminated.  Furthermore, the St. Luke's site has already been approved by the MVHS board as its "backup," eliminating the argument that the site does not meet MVHS' needs.

Simply put, placing the New Hospital Downtown as opposed to St. Luke's campus makes no economic sense.  It buys less healthcare, while putting Utica at risk.  

Where are the economic models for the "U-District" and Harbor Point? Uticans are presented with pictures of dazzling buildings and promises of attracting tourists, but what will Uticans pay? Pay to build, pay to maintain, pay to protect? And what will they receive in return? Will revenues cover costs?   Where is the math?  The fact that these projects do not happen without the public risking substantial funds suggests that maybe the math does not work. If private ventures have only a one in five chance of  financial success, why should we expect that government officials can do better? Maybe it would be better to leave the "U-District" and Harbor Point as is, undeveloped, and wait for development to come the old-fashioned way -- the way Utica was originally built -- the way Utica became wealthy at one time: through trial-and-error efforts by entrepreneurs risking their own money. They are already doing it in Baggs Square, and are prepared to do it within the Downtown Hospital footprint.

The Downtown Hospital, U-District, and Harbor Point -- like the old Urban Renewal Project #1 -- are more about keeping up appearances than real economic development.    

Monday, June 19, 2017

vs. Downtown Hospital: Grassroots Mobilization!

Per WIBX: "No Hospital Downtown Group To Hold Event On June 26th"
The group opposed to putting a hospital in downtown Utica will be holding a day-long event next Monday, June 26th. It’s being called “Battle For Our City” and will include public two sessions at the Radisson Hotel from 9:00 to 11:00 and 2:00 to 4:00. Two internationally acclaimed urban planners from Urban 3 and Strong Towns will share their knowledge of city and neighborhood development.
In addition, the Landmarks Society will be conducting "Walks and Talks" in the Columbia-Lafayette Neighborhood (the site of the proposed hospital) at 6PM.

There is also another group that holds regular open meetings on the topic of improving the Columbia-Lafayette Neighborhood, BUD: Better Utica Downtown.

These developments are really something new for Utica.  Instead of complacently swallowing what politicians and our regional "elite" want to shove down the public's throat, the public is organizing itself and fighting what it knows is a bad idea.  And it is arming itself with professional help.

Welcome to the New Utica: being rebuilt by its people, one step at a time.

For the latest on this event and more, check out No Hospital Downtown, and BUD.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bread and Circuses . . .

Or in Utica's case, beer and hockey.  Such thoughts went through my mind when I read about the County Executive's plans for the "U District."

The County Executive wants to turn Downtown Utica into a combination Theme Park and Hospital District -- a strange combination. Neither is compatible with the nacient private development currently transforming the Baggs Sq. W. and Varick St. neighborhoods nearby; and this proposal seems to provide government-sponsored competition for the latter. The proposal also creates lots of parking lots and more public spaces (and maybe even buildings) for the taxpayers to maintain. The CE offers no study to demonstrate that this project will be self sustaining. We the taxpayers have had millions of our dollars risked on crazy ideas from our politicians.

If these are such good ideas then the private sector would be taking on the risk. . . .

But the private sector won't take on risks when government taxes the heck out of it, seizes its property, and/or goes into competition with it.

Beer and hockey . . . or  "bread and circuses."  According to Wikipedia:
"Bread and circuses" (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace,[1] as an offered "palliative". . .
Isn't this the perfect description of what is going on here? Local elected officials seek public approval not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Anti-Utica Chamber of Anti-Commerce . . .

Long ago (but well within memory) Mayor Hanna called the local Chamber of Commerce the "Chamber of No-Commerce" because it seemed to do little to actually promote commerce. Said chamber went on to drop "Utica" from its name due to apparent distaste for the region's prime city -- only to have to reclaim the name "Utica" a decade later, realizing that without "Utica" no one could find the chamber on a map.

Today, the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce (GUCC) again demonstrates its antipathy to both Utica and commerce by passing a resolution (left) filled with rah-rah political regional gobbledygook to support the Downtown Hospital concept.

While most people don't object to a wad of money being dropped on the region to build a new hospital, the problem comes in when "Downtown" is appended to the "hospital" concept.

Placing the hospital Downtown will require the taking of some 40 businesses -- businesses that provide jobs and businesses that pay both property and sales taxes.  It certainly is odd for a Chamber of Commerce to support a project that destroys jobs and tax base in a region where lack of jobs and high taxes are longstanding complaints.

Chambers of Commerce usually look out for the well-being of their members. Here, however, the only recognition GUCC gives to that responsibility is the statement ...
"Whereas, the Mohawk Valley Health System has assured our board of directors that our member businesses located within the new facility's footprint will receive fair market value for their properties . . .  
Big Deal! MVHS merely acknowledged its legal obligations, so inclusion of the acknowledgement in the resolution is a meaningless gesture.  As an organization of business people, GUCC knows full well that "fair market value for property" will not replace the "sweat equity" people have invested in their businesses -- which most likely will mean that people will simply discontinue their businesses.

In other words, far from lifting a finger to protect the investments of its business members, GUCC cheer leads their destruction.

Adding insult to injury, the GUCC is now supporting a concept that directly opposes the will of the people and businesses of Utica for a mixed-use, walk-able Downtown as codified in the duly enacted Utica Master Plan -- a Plan that took 3 years of community study as to what would "work" to revive Utica -- a Plan in which Chamber members participated -- and a Plan that the Chamber did little to implement.  The closures of portions of Lafayette and Cornelia Streets and dedication of 34 acres to a single use will ensure that the negative impacts of this project will be felt by businesses and Chamber members located blocks away, including those in the Brewery District and Baggs' Square.

GUCC has gone from being a Utica-hating do-nothing organization to one that is actually bent on destruction! It should rename itself:

The Anti-Utica Chamber of Anti-Commerce!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Destroying Value to Create an "Aura" . . .

Who is more dangerous to the taxpayers of Utica?  County Executive Picente? or Mayor Palmieri?  That was the thought that crossed my mind when I read the OD's  "Big plans near Utica Aud, but what about Insight House?" about how Insight House might be incompatible with their plans for a sports and entertainment district.

Here it seems that Mayor Palmieri thinks a baseball stadium in place of Insight House would be a better fit for the neighborhood in order to create an "aura of a large city appeal driving over 12 North, the Arterial, looking down" about the City of Utica.

So that's what this is all about . . . auras . . . illusions . . . smoke and mirrors . . . to make people think that things are better than they really are?

No, Insight House, a treatment center for chemical dependency, is probably not a good fit for a sports and entertainment district that will include a gambling casino. But will the value of an "aura" from a stadium on Route 12 (minus the expense to create the stadium and minus the negative impact to the existing stadium a couple miles south also on Route 12) outweigh the value that will be lost to the community if Insight House has to be uprooted and moved?

It took many years and many injections of taxpayer dollars through grants for Insight House to develop its current facility and capabilities.  Market value for that property will not cover the actual cost of duplicating the facility's capabilities elsewhere.  This means that a relocated Insight House will either have reduced capabilities, or more money will have to be invested to recreate them.  The difference between market value and actual cost is a value that will be lost to the community at large.  Do you think that the lost value is a fair price for an "aura?"

Whether it is the "Sports and Entertainment District," the Downtown Hospital, Griffiss "International" Airport, various EDGE projects, or the Utica Urban Renewal projects of old, values were, are being, or will be destroyed.  

The lost values from these projects never seem to get calculated. . . and what is actually gained seems elusive . . . like an "aura."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Can the GOP Congress Save Upstate NY?

In an indirect way, national healthcare reform may make this a possibility. 

Ever since the reapportionment of the State Senate circa 1970, which gave Downstate interests control of state government, most places in Upstate NY have seen their populations, job numbers, and economic well-being decline. Upstate NY counties have long dominated the top 25 slots of the most-taxed counties in the nation when property tax is calculated as a percentage of property value. Yet interestingly, on that same list, Kings (a/k/a Brooklyn) and New York (a/k/a Manhattan) Counties in New York City ranked in the mid-1500's (no that is not a typo) -- among the lowest in the nation.

The cost of Medicaid, a health insurance program for people of lower income or means, is shared by the Federal Government and the States. The States manage the programs and determine the levels of benefits. New York State, unlike most other states,  passes a portion of the cost of its share down to the Counties (an "unfunded mandate") who pass it along to their tax payers usually via property taxes. Medicaid has driven much of the high taxation Upstate.

Now, as part of the GOP plan to reform health insurance, it is proposed that NYS will be prevented from passing its costs on to localities outside of New York City.

Per Syracuse.com:
In Oneida County, for example, the county's Medicaid costs account for more than 80 percent of the county's total tax levy. In Oswego County, Medicaid accounts for more than 44 percent of the tax levy.
In another article:
Medicaid is Onondaga County's most significant financial burden, accounting for 70 percent of the property tax levy -- one of the highest rates in the state.
While NYS has been generous in handing out Medicaid benefits, the method of financing these benefits has created harm to upstate localities but not to New York City (where real estate values are very high and there are many absentee foreign landowners.)  Since the NYC metro area controls the state legislature, it is unlikely the Medicaid burden will be lifted from Upstate without pressure from the Federal government.

The GOP healthcare reform, if it contains this provision, may be just what is needed to lift the Medicaid burden from local government and bring Upstate property taxes closer in line to those in other parts of the country with which we compete.  

If successful, Reps. Collins, Tenney, and other supporters of this provision would have contributed more to make Oneida County and Upstate NY more competitive with other parts of the country than perhaps all the local and state economic development efforts of the last 20 years combined.

Of course, there is much more to consider about healthcare reform than just this provision. Reform will require a careful weighing of the issues. As usual, partisanship will get in the way, and many will be tempted to dismiss the possibility of any reform. Per the OD:
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called the GOP plan "a political sleight of hand" that seeks to buy GOP votes — and pay for tax cuts for the wealthy — at the expense of New Yorkers.
The Medicaid provision, however, would not be "tax cuts for the wealthy" because Upstate is poor compared to Downstate, and all this provision does is prevent the State from passing its share on to Upstate Counties.  At a potential $244 per Oneida County resident, (see Empire Center) savings could just be enough to to make Oneida County attractive to job creators.  Again, Medicaid and how it is funded is just one issue among many, but since this area has already sacrificed its economy at least in part for New York's generous Medicaid benefits, the issue of Medicaid funding vs jobs should not be dismissed as "political sleight of hand." 

The Big Question is whether the County Executive, Sen. Griffo, and Assemblymember Brindisi will get on board to support this Medicaid provision, since the state is unlikely to do it on its own. If so they will finally do something meaningful for area economic development, if only to make it an issue to be put on the State's agenda. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Stalling the "Economic Engine?"

Following Sunday's  Utica OD editorial touting the "Workforce Development Board," on Thursday Lawrence Gilroy and Dustin Swanger penned an editorial touting Gov. Cuomo's Regional Economic Councils (REDCs): "Guest View: Don't stall economic engine.
“The council used its knowledge of the region's strengths to develop long-term economic plans and create jobs. 
"These new efforts are working, and the success of REDCs is undeniable." (emphasis supplied)


If one defines “success” as spending billions of taxpayer dollars, then, I suppose, “the success of REDCs is undeniable.”

If success means creating an economic environment where businesses are self-sustaining and the numbers of good jobs and population are growing, the “success” of the program is highly debatable.

While our Mohawk Valley REDC seems to take credit for a drop in unemployment rate from 8.7% to 5.2% locally over the last 6 years (NYS Labor Dept Statistics show a drop in annual unemployment from 7.8% average in 2010 to about 5.3% in 2016 in the Utica-Rome MSA), will it also take credit for. . .

  • the drop in the Labor Force from 143,800 in 2010 to 131,083 in 2016 (a loss of almost 13,000 persons)?
  • the drop in the number of persons actually employed from 132,500 in 2010 to 124,667 in 2016 (a loss of almost 8,000 jobs)? 
  • the drop in population from 299,397 (census) to 295,600 in 2015 (estimate Bureau Economic Analysis, US Dept. Commerce) (or 299,281 in 2010 to 296,987 per ProximityOne.com)?  
  • the drop in US Metro area population ranking from 160 to 163?

Locally the economic engine is not just stalled, it is running backward!

When people and jobs stop moving from here to other parts of the country, then maybe people will believe claims of “success.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Money Down the "Workforce Training" Black Hole Will Not Bring Back Manufacturing . . .

Today we are treated to another "feel good about us" editorial in the Observer-Dispatch, Guest View: Help grow future of manufacturing in Mohawk Valley, which touts the (taxpayer funded) efforts of our "Workforce Development Board" to provide "training" for area employers.

Once upon a time this region was flush with literally thousands of "high-tech" jobs, many requiring engineering degrees, yet, at the same time, there was no SUNY-Poly or other 4-year state institution, Utica College was merely a small branch of Syracuse University, and Mohawk Valley Community College had neither dorms nor a campus in Rome.

If today's editorial had been published then it would have been met with questions of "Why is it the taxpayer's responsibility to provide training for employers?"

The only jobs supported are those of the trainers who use use the lack of manufacturing jobs to justify taxpayer support of their own.

Simply put, "workforce training" has not and will not bring back manufacturing jobs.  

We are overtaxed, overregulated, and our utility and transportation costs are overpriced to be attractive to manufacturers.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Aborting Bagg's Square's Rebirth . . .

I had high hopes when DOT announced it was going to put Route 5S on a "road diet" to slow traffic down and make the route pedestrian friendly and safe.  I thought it would repair the damage done to Downtown by the original 5S project of 50 years ago.

My hopes were misplaced. 

The picture below (click to expand) is based upon a plan on the NYSDOT Route 5S Safety Project website with certain street corridors highlighted in red and green. These corridors currently tie Baggs' Sq. West to the rest of Downtown.





As you can see once the DOT and Hospital projects are completed. . .
  • The Seneca St. and Washington St. corridors (in red on the right) will be closed as thru streets by medians in the NYSDOT project. 
  • The proposed Downtown Hospital  is expected to occupy the northernmost block of Cornelia St., closing that recently reopened corridor (in red on the left). 
  • Crosswalks for pedestrians will be eliminated at Washington St., and the one at Seneca St. will be in the middle of a 3-block-long stretch of road. 
  • The former connection between Hotel St. and Franklin Square (far right in the photo) that was destroyed 50 years ago remains closed to both vehicles and pedestrians.
  • Only the Broadway corridor (highlighted in green) will remain open to connect Baggs' Sq. W. to the rest of Downtown.

Simply put, while the DOT project "gussies up" a 60's era Arterial with 21st Century trappings of a bike path and greenery, it doubles down on street closures and pedestrian inconvenience, further isolating Baggs' Sq. West from the rest of Downtown.

Why would someone invest in Baggs Sq. West when plans will make it difficult to access?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Bishop Cunningham's Blind Spot . . . (Refugee "Ban")

In Sunday's church bulletin was a statement from Bishop Cuningham which called Pres. Trump's 120 day "ban on refugees" "un-Christian and un-American" and, in essence, said it was "racial and justice injustice."

I am not going to address the claims of "racial and justice injustice" or the "un-Christian and un-American" mis-characterizations, except to say that (1) he is wrong and (2) he is amplifying the false conclusions and claims made by others who have a political ax to grind.

The Bishop complained that "220 refugees who already had been vetted and approved to come to Syracuse are on hold for months" (emphasis added).  He ended his statement with the sentence "Yes, screen vigilantly as we have, but never abandon our commitment to help others seek peace and freedom" (emphasis added, again.).  Those red-flagged words are both the key to where the Bishop is wrong and why the Executive Order is needed.

These headlines/titles speak for themselves:
Official are not going to find links to "radical Islamic terrorism" if they are prevented from looking for them.

After eight years of the Obama administration implementing Muslim Brotherhood affiliated organizations' policy recommendations, it cannot be assumed that refugee vetting is "vigilant," rigorous or adequate.

That is why the so-called "ban" (which is only a temporary pause until the vetting process can be examined)  needed to be quickly implemented without advanced notice.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Electric Shock in NY!

Solar and wind-generated electricity from eleven large projects in NY State that will sell for an average of $16.25 per megawatt-hour in the market will receive subsidies from NYS of $24.24 per megawatt-hour, with wind turbines receiving an additional $23 per megawatt-hour in federal tax credits.

That means that the solar power will actually cost $40.49 per megawatt-hour or 2.5 times the normal cost of electricity; and the wind power will actually cost $63.49 or almost 4 times the normal cost of electricity!

All this expense is to produce an imperceptible if not an incalculably tiny change in temperature to fight climate change.

It takes a special kind of stupid to enact a policy that pays 2.5 to 4 times what something is worth without getting anything tangible in return!

Is it any wonder jobs and businesses avoid NYS?

Get the full scoop from the Daily Caller.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Executive Order Hysteria Stoking and Protecting Refugees . . .

On January 27 President Trump issued an Executive Order placing a 120 day hold on admitting refugees to the US and barring for 90 days nationals from seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) from entering the US while procedures and standards for admission and entry are reviewed. "Spontaneous" anti-Trump protests (organized by the Arab American Action Network ?) erupted at airports all across the country in response. Congresswoman Claudia Tenney came out in support of Trump's Order (official statement here) and called the numerous protests of it "hysteria."

Bravo to Pres. Trump for the Order and to Rep. Tenney for supporting it and calling out the protestations for what they are!

But on Wednesday, the Utica Observer Dispatch stoked the hysteria by penning an editorial entitled "Don't snuff out the lamp at the Golden Door" which quoted Martin Niemoller's famous words  "'First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out  -- Because I was not a Socialist ... Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.'"

Rev. Niemoller's words are compelling, but they are mis-used by the O.D. because Pres. Trump is not "coming for" anyone.  Rather, Pres. Trump is trying to keep out persons -- such as terrorists and criminals -- that 8 US Code Sec. 1182 bars from admission to the country. (I assume that the O.D. is OK with keeping terrorists and criminals out of the US, but that is hard to discern from the the editorial.)

The O.D. implies that the Order is "unjust," states that it "should not be tolerated," and then, using an "us vs. them" perspective which appeals to our civic pride as the "town that loves refugees" and uses our personal friendships with the immigrants who have rebuilt Utica, argues that the order "goes against the grain of who we are." The last three words are red-flagged because they were used a lot by the Obama administration to lecture us on what it wanted us to believe about ourselves rather than represent us as we are reflected by our laws.

To support its call to "stop the ban" (an inaccurate description of a "pause" in admissions while our screening system is improved) the O. D. then veers into, essentially, Democrat Party talking points, cites (without a hyperlink) a "New America" report (challenged here and here), and then repeats an often-repeated claim by Congressman Nadler that "none" of the people committing terrorist acts in the US since 9/11 came from the seven countries named in the order.

Rep. Nadler's claim is refuted by a simple Google search which reveals that the 9/17/16 St. Cloud MN mall stabbing spree and 11/28/16 Ohio State car-ramming and stabbing attack were both committed by Somali refugees. The facts that Nadler's claim and the "New America" report are taken at face value and that the EO is implied to be a Muslim ban ("Muslim" appears no where in the EO) suggest that facts do not matter but, rather, emotion, good intentions, who one's friends are, and political leanings rule.

Coming out of the last administration that denied the existence of radical Islam, the new administration clearly needs to take another look at the vetting system to ensure that ties to that ideology are not overlooked.  

EO Sec. 4 makes clear that revised screening procedures are not only to keep out terrorists but also persons who might commit criminal acts.  Indeed, Somali gang violence in Minneapolis and Sudanese gang violence in Omaha where the victims are also refugees suggest that current vetting is inadequate. Barring those who would commit crimes would protect the refugees themselves.

If the O. D. was talking about Italian refugees instead of people from Africa and the Middle East, no doubt it would demand that all steps be taken to weed out Mafiosi who might be embedded with them!

If the US is serious about protecting refugees, it would ensure that the violence they are escaping from does not follow them here.

Friday, February 03, 2017

"You're Fired!"

So said Donald Trump to Acting Attorney General (AG) Sally Yates last Monday night after she directed the Justice Department not to enforce Pres. Trump's temporary 7-country travel ban. Those on the left are calling her a hero "for defending our constitution" with Mr. Schumer tweeting:
"Firing of Sally Yates underscores how impt it is to have an Attorney General who'll stand up to the WhiteHouse when they violate the law."
"The AG should pledge fidelity to the law & the Constitution not the WhiteHouse. The fact that this admin doesnt understand that is chilling."
Feeding the controversy is a video from C-Span (mis)labeled Sen. Sessions Advising Sally Yates to Disobey Improper Presidential Orders, in which the prospective incoming AG seems to say the same thing.

Mr. Schumer fundamentally misrepresented the AG's oath and the relationship between the AG and the White House; and the video clip is short and out of context.  While Ms. Yates swore to "support and defend the Constitution," she also swore to "well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office" of AG.  When the office of Attorney General (which has since grown into the Justice Department) was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Act specified that the AG had the duty . . .
"to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments."
So rather than "stand up to" or "disobey" the White House when the AG thinks the President may be exceeding his authority, it is the AG's duty to advise the President of same . . . but then prosecute or defend his actions in court - and let the court determine the propriety of the President's actions.

Giving advice and representing a client in court are essentially the work of a law firm, so the Dept. of Justice can be thought of as the President's law firm and the AG as his attorney. As attorneys, they are all subject to the same Cannons of Ethics as other members of the profession.

Do attorneys publicly scold their clients when they think the client may be in violation of the law? Of course not!  The attorney's duty is to protect the client's position.  So as not to prejudice a client should a situation get into court, advice is given privately, and the communication is protected by attorney-client privilege which only the client can waive.  If a client's action can possibly be interpreted as being within the law (or Constitution when talking about government) the attorney is obliged to advance that interpretation.  If an attorney in good conscience feels that he or she cannot continue to represent the client because the client insists on taking a position that the attorney believes is illegal, the attorney is to seek permission to withdraw from the matter so the client can get a new attorney.
                                                                                                                                     
Ms. Yates was not fired because she disagreed with the President. She was fired because she refused to do her job. 

In her public letter of defiance to Mr. Trump, Ms. Yates acknowledged that the President's Executive Order had been reviewed and found to be lawful on its face and properly drafted. Rather, she did not agree with Mr. Trump's policy and would not cooperate with advancing it.

In summary, Ms. Yates is no heroine. She usurped the Constitutional authority of the President by substituting her policy preferences for his. She obstructed the President from executing his Constitutionally delegated authority. She also violated her Oath of Office and her obligations as an attorney by publicly airing her disagreement with the president and refusing to advance or defend his actions.  

She had to be fired. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Chips to Screens: Can NYS Pull it Off?

Right away the County announced it would pursue this. (Bravo! "Nothing ventured nothing gained" as they say.) Now, per yesterday's Times Union: New York state is pursuing Foxconn for Utica.

Excellent. When it is state to state competition (which is what we have here), it is too big a deal for O.C. to pursue on its own.

Can NYS pull it off?


Monday, January 23, 2017

From Chips to Screens?

From the Times Union Blog: Foxconn Fab $7B Opportunity for NY
Right now it appears that Pennsylvania has the edge.... 
However, New York state would also appear to be a viable candidate, having just lost a tenant for a $600 million computer chip factory it was planning to build outside of Utica that already has state funding secured. Plans for the factory could easily be changed to make display screens and would help ease the pain of losing the tenant, analog chip maker ams AG of Austria...
If this idea is plausible to folks in Albany it should be plausible to us here. I think Utica would be happy with this.  This blogger certainly would be. And the number of jobs seems to eclipse anything suggested to date. THIS one may really be transformative if landed. But it sounds like people must act fast.

Are EDGE and ESD up to the task?

Have local officials burned their bridges with the people in the best position to help the area succeed?  Is there forgiveness on both sides?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Those Who Presume to be Dictators . . .

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Mohawk Valley Health System's public information session on the new downtown hospital.  If MVHS can be personified, Mr. Perra's presentation came across as "It's all about me."  MVHS gave its criteria to Mohawk Valley EDGE which developed a list of potential sites and, at this point, public input is only wanted on issues such as "will there be a prayer space in the hospital?"

OF COURSE. The hospital is looking out for itself. But who looked out for the public's interest in site selection? 

The slide at the left from the presentation tells us who was responsible -- but the answer to the question is "no one."

One visibly irate observer (per the OD photo it was Mr. Critelli, but the OD never printed his question)  stood up and asked the obvious question on most people's minds "Who in the city approved this site?" Mayor Palmieri got up and took responsibility.

Mayor Palmieri and, indeed, all the officials and agencies named at left have assumed powers they simply do not have.

Utica has a duly enacted Master Plan that calls for a mixed-use walkable neighborhood where MVHS wants to put the Hospital.  The Master Plan is consistent with the "Gateway Historic District" legislation passed below in 2005, a zoning ordinance, that defines the forms of construction permitted on the site.  These documents represent the Will of the People and describe the public's interest. From all that has been revealed about the project thus far, the proposed hospital complies with neither.

Neither Mayor Palmieri, nor the City Planning Department, nor Mr. Picente, nor the County Planning Department, nor MV EDGE, nor Messrs. Griffo and Brindisi have the authority to ignore the Master Plan and the Zoning Ordinance.

Nor do they have the authority to close and sell the blocks of city streets that will be occupied by the hospital.

Nor do they have the authority to offer for sale the properties of the businesses who already occupy the site -- businesses which pay city, county, school and sales taxes and which employ people.

Nor do they have the authority to approve of a particular site from those that are available without the studies and public involvement required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act to ensure that the site selected minimizes environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable.

We either live under the rule of law or we live in a dictatorship. 

Simply put, EDGE had no authority to offer, and the elected officials and public agencies had no authority to approve of, the downtown site.  Their decision is void ab initio.

Shame on them!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Another Nail in Upstate's Coffin . . .

Astorino: 'Secret Deal' To Shut Indian Point 'Potentially Catastrophic'
"Indian Point's two active nuclear power plants will close by April 2021 under an agreement confirmed Friday by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who said the 'secret deal' was 'a complete surprise to us' and 'potentially catastrophic.'"

While Mr. Astorino worries about higher property taxes and electric rates for Westchester County residents, it's going to be bad for us in Utica as well.

How much good will our new $35 million electric line and substation project do to attract a tenant to Marcy Nano if that electricity becomes more expensive because Upstate hydropower will be sent Downstate to make up for the loss of Indian Point?

Thank you Gov. Cuomo for putting another nail in Upstate's coffin.

On Fault Lines, we've been keeping our eye on Indian Point for over 10 years. Check out Indian Point: Our Problem, Too from 2011 with links to 5 earlier posts.  


Is Cuomo's Upstate Economic Development Program Collapsing?

Following last month's Marcy Nano disaster we read:
Is Cuomo's Upstate Economic Development Program Collapsing?

Update 1/10/17:
Albany: Money for SUNY Poly's 450mm program dries up

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year E.D.D. from the OCIDA . . .

HAPPY NEW YEAR and hat tip to the New Hartford Online Blog for this story!

There will be a public hearing by the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency on January 19, 2017 at 10AM in Butler Hall to consider whether OCIDA should give assistance to "Hartford Luxury Apartments LLC" (a) in acquiring approximately 14.5 acres of land at 161-169 Clinton St in the Town of New Hartford, (b) in constructing 4 condominiums containing 21 units and 4 apartment buildings containing 104 units, together with various other improvements and (c) in acquisition and installation of equipment in the improvements . . .

"all for the purpose of providing luxury apartments for lease to attract employers and to enhance economic development in the region . . ."

Have you ever heard of such B.S.?  

More power to the folks who want to build something new, but does it have to be with taxpayer assistance?  Instead of sustainable jobs OCIDA is giving us housing --- competing with plenty of housing already under construction in anticipation of "nano" -- which does not seem to be coming -- and existing housing coming on the market due to people packing up and leaving the region to improve their personal finances. OCIDA will ensure that the LLC folks will get all sorts of breaks from costs that average Oneida County residents will still be expected to bear when acquiring or improving their own properties -- properties that will become less valuable because of competition from this new, partially taxpayer-financed project.  If these breaks are so needed for economic development, why not just give them to everyone and eliminate the OCIDA and all the paperwork involved? It is better to spend money on bricks and mortar than complicated agreements.

Getting B.S. instead of Economic Development is a sign that Oneida County has E.D.D. -- Economic Development Dysfunction.  Is there a pill for that?

The complete legal notice is available at New Hartford Online Blog.