Friday, October 28, 2011

A Kind of Hush . . .

Potocki attacks opponent’s proposed budget
Oneida County Executive candidate Rodger Potocki slammed incumbent County Executive Anthony Picente’s proposed $360 million 2012 budget at a press conference Thursday morning.
“What is Picente doing? It is obvious that he has created an election year budget of smoke and mirrors that not only fails to meet state law but uses gimmicks to cover up the failure,” Potocki said . . .
Can't wait to see these two in a debate . . .

But what debate?  Perhaps the most important office in the County, but no information about a debate being scheduled.  Has anyone scheduled one? If not, why not?

Is anyone ducking the possibility?

It sure is quiet around here!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Cynical Translation . . .

Economic council completes draft plan for state competition
The Mohawk Valley’s Regional Economic Development Council . . . submitted a draft summary of its strategic plan Wednesday to state officials. . . .
Once finalized, the Mohawk Valley’s plan will compete with plans from nine other regions in the state for the massive pot of economic development funds.
Although the regional plan is still under wraps, the article reveals several "strategies" which are listed below -- along with a cynical translation of what they probably really mean.

(1) "Leveraging existing businesses that have potential for high growth."
Cynical Translation: "Giving taxpayer money to businesses that are politically connected."

(2) "Increasing the supply of skilled workers to meet employer demands."
Cynical Translation: "Using taxpayer money to train people for businesses that are politically connected."
Alternate Cynical Translation: "Using taxpayer money to hire politically connected instructors to train people for jobs that don't exist locally."

(3) "Fostering a culture of investment and entrepreneurship."
Cynical Translation: (Ditto number one above) (If there was real interest in these things the state would lower taxes and regulate less.)

(4) "Modernizing local systems of government, possibly through consolidation."
Cynical Translation: "Remove control of local systems of government from the taxpayers that pay for them."

Sorry to be cynical, but when I read the words, their translations automatically came to mind. 

Show Boat Legislation . . .

Brindisi: Keep hydrofracking away from Hinckley Reservoir
“If any of the streams or rivers that run into the reservoir became contaminated, it could potentially leave thousands of homes in our region without clean tap water,” Brindisi said.
The map at left is a map of the surface geology in the vicinity of Hinckley Reservoir. The Utica Shale is shown at the lower left in brown. The Trenton Limestone is shown in diagonal blue and white lines. Although both have been associated with gas production elsewhere, these layers are too close to the surface near Hinckley to hold recoverable quantities of gas. The geology below these layers, and the geology to the northeast of Hinckley Reservoir (northeast of the diagonal line passing through Hinckley Res.), both on and below the surface, consists of Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rock. I.e. It predates the life on earth that is the origin of hydrocarbons and therefore cannot contain gas!

Hydrofracking is the "hot" issue of the day. It is easy to score points and prey upon people's fears by coming out against hydrofracking. But this proposed legislation, geologically, makes no sense.

Legislation on hydrofracking should be based on science, not emotion. While hydrofracking is an important issue in areas to the south and west of Utica, it is not an issue for Hinckley.  

There are far to many real issues that affect the 116th District (like high power costs and Thruway tolls) which need to be dealt with.  This is not one of them.

The Obligatory Hit Piece . . .

Per the OD: Mayoral candidate Sanita runs campaign with own money, ideas.

Digging into Mr. Sanita's past, the newspaper uncovered operation of an x-rated theater at age 21, a "proposed" bar featuring nude dancers, a 1995 plea to a felony for which he received probation, alleged code violations, and owing $730 in back taxes.

ONLY $730 in back taxes? From an owner of multiple properties?

The City should be so lucky with some of its property owners.While the felony plea is a bit disconcerting, the rest seems more like a tempest in a teapot . . . stirring up the sludge to dirty a candidate just days before an election.  Mr. Sanita announced his candidacy months ago.  Why bring this up now?

We saw this type of hit piece before, mere days before the Utica School Board was to vote on a new superintendent.  It was obviously aimed at knocking out a very well qualified candidate in favor of the locally-connected one -- who did not receive similar scrutiny in the press. 

At this point in time, lets focus on the candidates' visions for Utica's future rather than on their past.

If Mr. Sanita warrants the "obligatory hit-piece," then the "powers that be" in Greater Utica must consider him a threat to the status quo.  

That is a good thing. 

[9PM Update:
After hearing the 5 candidates "debate" tonight on the radio, I now understand why the "hit piece" was written.]

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Nonsense from the Educrats . . .

Per the OD: New "common core" standards a challenge for educators.

But anyone who was hoping for promotion of a "core knowledge" among school students will be sadly disappointed according to the description given in this article:
The new standards more or less start with what a college student needs to be able to do: study independently, glean information from complex textbooks without help and be ready to take college-level mathematics.

The standards give suggested course pairings in math to get the best use of high school courses. In reading and the other subjects, the common core suggests increasingly difficult books with speaking and writing tasks that demand students back up their arguments and answers to questions with evidence.
Short people are seldom good basketball players.  Some people are not wired to be great orators. What students are able to "do" as "tasks" beyond the basics, is more often a function of maturity and genetic makeup rather than knowledge.  This cannot be taught in school.   

What can be taught is "knowledge" -- so that when the electronic textbooks of tomorrow are rewritten to change our history, or to change the facts of science, society will know it.  But that, of course, is not the objective here.

The educrats now propose more of the same "task-oriented" -- as opposed to "knowledge oriented" -- curriculum that has resulted in the easily-misled society that we have today.

It will ensure a more docile, compliant, and manipulated society tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Skeptics HAVE Spoken on the Arterial . . .

Better late than never, Councilman Zecca is backing up his long-time call for a Boulevard-style alternative to the North-South Arterial with a resolution for the Common Council to vote upon.

Amazingly, before the ink on the resolution is even dry (and before even writing a story about it), the OD Edictorial Board has pronounced "Time to move ahead with state plan for arterial"calling for the Council to "soundly defeat that measure." 

It's no secret that the current City Hall administration has supported the State's latest concept from the beginning.  Repeated efforts going back years to expressly incorporate a Boulevard as an Arterial replacement into the draft Utica Master Plan were not only ignored, they were rebuffed by city officials and their hired hands, allowing the State to respond in kind. Proponents of the State's plan, knowing that the "fix was in," largely absented themselves from discussions which prevented exploration of alternatives that would meet all the needs of the Neighborhood, the City, and the Region.       

As it stands now, plans call for dead-ending Sunset Ave. and Warren St., a pedestrian-only bridge at Sunset, an extension of New Hartford's recreational Rayhill Trail into Downtown Utica,  a highway interchange and bridge over Court St., replacement of existing bridges, but a stone wall in place of existing pylons to support all overhead structures.

Debate on the Arterial sounds a lot like that of 50 years ago... Only now Utica has a 50 year history to draw upon. Arterials have resulted in the loss of 100s of properties from the tax base, rerouting of countless streets with disruption of established traffic patterns, gutting of business districts destroying the "critical mass" needed to sustain economic activity, and the displacement of economic activity to the suburbs. Only suburban developers have benefitted.

West Utica is just starting to show signs of rebirth, in the Brewery District with its entertainment venues and Sculpture Space, and in the Arts District spurred by Pratt at MWPAI and the new Player's Theater. This rebirth will take time and involve a lot of trial-and-error risks (and no-doubt, losses) by individual entrepreneurs -- but it is starting and it is natural growth -- the kind that built Utica in the first place -- not instant characterless suburban-style development growth. 

Growth in the Arts District will be to the northwest -- toward the Arterial. Growth in the Brewery District will be to the southeast -- toward the Arterial. Land uses about the Arterial are an unusual mix of residential, retail, and industrial -- with lot sizes that are generally small. This area is perfect for entrepreneurial artisans to take risks and set up studios, small manufacturing facilities, shops, and residences.  But if a highway gobbles up the properties and a wall is erected between the Arts and Brewery Districts, the potential for synergy and growth -- and the potential for an artisan-oriented "destination" to develop -- will be forever lost.

Neighborhood convenience and potential is being sacrificed for shaving 2-3 minutes off the suburban commute to Downtown attractions. Is this fair? West Utica is one of the poorest areas in an already-poor city which, from a federal perspective, should raise so-called "environmental justice" concerns over the State's plans.

There are plenty of ways to address public safety and move traffic without destroying a neighborhood.

Councilman Zecca is giving the Utica Common Council its first real opportunity to officially voice its position on the Arterial project. Residents who oppose the State's plan need to turn out 6PM Wednesday if this is important to them.  It will be interesting to see who supports the State's current plans, and what their rationales are. Who will place suburban interests above the needs of City residents?

Will Utica's interests be sacrificed again for an alleged "regional" good? 

What is best for Utica IS what is best for the region.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Obvious Question . . .

From Utica OD: Some Utica officials not sold on Arterial Plan
James Zecca, a Second Ward councilman running for an at-large seat, and Frank Montecalvo, chairman of the one of the master plan’s subcommittees, have said the Arterial’s main purpose now is to connect the region’s suburban travelers.

They have said a multilane boulevard could spur private development and correct what they see as the original mistake: the 1960s construction of the Arterial itself.
From WIBX: Utica’s Zecca Pushes for Cheaper Energy
Now that Utica’s Master Plan is in place, 2nd District Councilman Jim Zecca plans to introduce a resolution that will create a committee to look into the feasibility of forming a low-cost public power utility service for the City of Utica.
The Obvious Question: If Mr. Zecca is prepared to introduce a resolution re municipal power, Where's the Resolution on the Arterial? 

If Mr. Zecca is unwilling to introduce a resolution at the next Council meeting to stand up for what he claims would be in the best interest of his West Utica constituency, who else will? It makes one wonder how he would serve all of Utica if elected to Councilman at Large.

Municipal Power can wait for the new administration. The Arterial, which is scheduled for Federal Approval before the end of the year, cannot.

City Hall blocked every attempt to put the Boulevard in the Utica Master Plan. Only the Council can fix this.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Pork Lawsuit . . .

Arguments were presented to the Court of Appeals yesterday in what has become known as the "Pork Lawsuit." This is an extremely important case, involving the use of taxpayer money for "economic development." Some would use the term "crony capitalism" instead.

New Hartford Online Blog has very good coverage of the suit and its implications. You are urged to read their posts. See: Bordeleaux v State of New York .

Right On Cue . . .

Just a few days ago, green colored the the Utica landscape; but right on cue the Autumn colors descended in time for traditional Columbus Day, October 12.  Enjoy the peak color before it's gone . . .

2011-1012-744p 2011-1012-736p 2011-1012-740p 2011-1012-751p 2011-1012-752p 2011-1012-753p (Click images for larger views and desktop backgrounds.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where's the Resolution on the Arterial?

Last week the Utica Master Plan was passed 7-1 by the Common Council after a rather interesting public meeting and discussion. 

Earlier in the day, Mr. Zecca had sent an e-mail with a paper touting the benefits of boulevards to advocate for passage of the Master Plan.  Mr. Zecca suggested that language of the Master Plan could be used to get the State to change its design for the Arterial.  As proposed now, West Utica would be split in two by the new design.
At the Council meeting, one member of the public pointed out (with page citations) that the New York State Department of Transportation in its documentation had almost verbatim lifted language out of the draft Master Plan to demonstrate that DOT's proposal complies with Utica's vision for itself.

In the ensuing discussion among the councilmen, almost everyone expressed concern over the State's plans and a desire that West Utica not be split in two.  Yet, amazingly, not a single one, including Mr. Zecca, proposed that the draft Utica Master Plan be amended before its passage to call for a boulevard replacement for the Arterial.

The State has conducted many meeting on the Arterial and has heard many times that Utica residents object to the street cutoffs and the wall that will be constructed across their neighborhood. Yet the very government that supposedly represents its residents failed to take an official position on the project, although individual officials including the Mayor and head of the economic development department had expressed support for the current design in the press at various times.

Sitting there at the meeting, one could imagine such a discussion having taken place when the City decided to give up the waterworks to a regional authority.  There must have been oh-so-many expressions of "concern," but in the end, they gave it away and the residents later lived to regret it.

So we stand now at the 11th hour and 59th minute to make a decision on West Utica's future.  The Arterial still needs FEDERAL APPROVAL before State DOT will have the funds to build it.  Does the Common Council stand up for its residents and their needs . . . or does it stand for more development in New Hartford and some alleged "regional"  need?

Who represents the residents of Utica?

Where's the Common Council resolution calling for a change in the State's plans?

Monday, October 10, 2011

99%ers and the Tea Party: NOT 2 Sides of the Same Coin . . .

There is a narrative out there that the Tea Party and the 99%ers (Occupy Wall St.) crowd are basically the same phenomenon. The 99%ers are now extending invitations to the Tea Party to join their protests. Certainly both movements seem to have "organically" grown out of disgust for actions that favor the "1%" at the expense of everyone else.  But looks are deceiving and that is where the similarity ends.

(1) The Tea Party's objectives have always been clear: downsize government, reduce government's influence on our every day lives, cut government spending and indebtedness, and make government follow the Constitution.  The 99%ers? . . . It's not clear what they stand for other than whine that the "greedy" top 1% is responsible for all of their problems.

(2) While painted by the Main Stream Media and Democrat pundits as a group of rich old white Republicans, close examination of photos of events and scrutiny of news stories reveal the Tea Party as a diverse group of adults. (Locally, some of the organizers have been Democrats). . .  The 99%ers, however, have been overwhelmingly white jobless college students or recent graduates carrying huge student-loan debts that they are unable to pay off, now being joined by Labor Union members.

(3) The Tea Party works within the system, using the tools provided by our system of government to effect change.  It has achieved some success by getting more conservative candidates into office.  The 99%ers are working to collapse the system and have created disruption.

(4) The Tea Party targets the source of many of our problems: the elected officials who control the government -- which controls us.  The 99%ers target Wall St. even though Wall St. does not make the rules.

It is false that both movements are "organic."  The Tea Party movement clearly is, having started with Rick Santelli's rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The 99%ers, on the other hand, have been orchestrated from day one, even though most of its members don't know it. (Followers of conservative media have known  for months that these demonstrations were coming.)

To "Occupy Utica":   Let your voices be heard on 10/13 -- but then, please, go home.  All you will accomplish by camping 24/7 at the Busy Corner is sticking Utica with the cost of policing and protecting you, and later picking up after you.

Utica has enough issues to deal with without "Occupy Utica" adding more.

If you want change, be part of a solution, not a revolution: Work within the system.

9PM Update:  Freedomworks has an interesting take on the difference between the Tea Party and the Occupy crowd. . . . And Utica Uprising has a completely different take on the Occupy Utica event.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Oneida Street Castle . . . Another Architectural Victim

The apartment complex planned for what is now the "Oneida Castle" building has received final federal approval. Unfortunately, the building itself will be demolished in the project.

Something does not smell right.

Back in 2003 the City of Utica installed a new main roof,  rebuilt lower entry porch roofs, and boarded up windows to preserve the building. Now we are supposed to believe that it is unsalvageable?

In an OD article last December   former Urban Renewal Commissioner Robert Sullivan said that the apartment complex proposal
 . . . is the best possible outcome for Oneida Castle after the state Historic Preservation Office determined it was not eligible for historic status, thus meaning historic tax credits were not an option. Those tax credits are the primary mechanism for private market-rate development of a building such as the castle . . . 
So in the end, it's not about salvageability . . . It's all about the money. . . Money from federal grants that will be used to knock the place down. . . Money in the form of tax credits not being available to keep the place up. Taxpayer Money.

And therein lies the problem.  The availability or lack of Taxpayer Money for what should be completely private endeavors of housing and building rehabilitation is determinative of what does or does not get done in Utica.  Utica sounds like it has a soviet-style planned economy -- and looks it.

Private Money should be seeking out the Oneida Castle as an opportunity to create architecturally distinctive living quarters. . . but this is not happening.  Why not? This question was raised for that neighborhood here in January.

I'm going to suggest a simple answer:  It's not in the city plan.  You won't find that expressly stated in the Utica Master Plan, but implicitly . . . where the "strategies" to "increase the percentage of owner occupied structures"  (see p. 30 latest version)  is a laundry list of government handouts for people to do what responsible people should be doing anyway . . . where a "mixed income model" (p.30) will be imposed on all city neighborhoods . . .   where "anti-gentrification guards" will be imposed (p.55) . . .   where an oft-repeated alleged need for "affordable housing" is a euphemism  for "government-subsided housing" . . .  where a specific vision for each neighborhood's future is lacking. . . where future regulation is planned to be developed by citizens committees. 

Private Money will not go where it has to compete with Taxpayer Money, where there are high concentrations of disadvantaged or poor people, or where future regulation is uncertain. 

Utica has been a magnet for the poor and disadvantaged.  This concentrates costly issues within Utica and raises taxes within Utica -- which encourage the well-heeled to leave Utica. It also makes it convenient for the County off-load some of its responsibilities on to the residents of Utica (like the MVCC proposal).  Utica's status as the place for the region's poor is a money-maker and raison-d'ĂȘtre for many. There are simply too many that benefit from the current arrangement for it to change without intervention. The Utica Master Plan was a missed opportunity to intervene. It did not. Instead, it perpetuates the current arrangement.      

There is insufficient Taxpayer Money to save our architectural heritage. Until Utica's policies are changed to encourage the inflow of Private Money, there will be more architectural victims.

Friday, October 07, 2011

No More Meltingpot . . .

Cuomo: NY to translate forms into other languages 
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered state agencies Thursday to translate documents and provide interpreters in six languages for immigrants seeking public services. . . . The project will translate documents and websites from agencies including social services and motor vehicles into Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian, French and French Creole. .. . .
So typical of NYS governing from a Downstate perspective. Here in Utica, Bosnian, Russian, Albanian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Farsi, Polish, and Spanish might be the choices . . . but maybe 20 more may be needed from time to time . . .
"It's government's responsibility to figure out how to communicate with the person," Cuomo said. . . .
Government already does this to some extent, but what about the responsibility of the individuals?
"Most of us are immigrants that made this state the greatest state in the country, we're proud of it," Cuomo said, opening his news conference in Italian.
This statement sent me into orbit!

I, too, am an American of Italian descent who is proud of his heritage. My grandparents would not have dreamed of government communicating with them in Italian. If government offered, I'm pretty sure they would have refused. They came here. They wanted to be American. Being American meant speaking English.

I bet it was the same in the Cuomo household.

Like my grandparents, the immigrants who "made this state the greatest state in the country" were self-reliant. They neither expected nor wanted a hand out or an accommodation. They were discriminated against, but they persevered. They might not have achieved English fluency for themselves, but their children succeeded.  Whatever their backgrounds, it was their common desire to be Americans that resulted in the blending of cultures in the great American Melting Pot that produced the strong alloy of New York and America.

Mr. Cuomo's proposal caters to those who prefer to remain separate, who prefer not to assimilate. That weakens New York and America.

Mr. Cuomo's ancestors must be rolling in their graves.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Stick it to Utica Residents Again, Oneida County?

Oneida County plans to bill property taxpayers for MVCC costs
Oneida County is taking a gamble that an accounting change could enable it to stay beneath the state’s new cap on property tax increases.
 The budget Picente proposed Wednesday morning stays within the 2 percent tax cap, according to Picente’s calculations.
 That’s because he wants to bill property tax payers for the county’s share of the Mohawk Valley Community College budget on a different line than the rest of the cost. . . .
If Picente’s plan goes through, residents will pay a share of the cost of the college funding based on how many MVCC students live in their home municipality. 
So let's see how this will work . . . Utica has the main MVCC campus. Rome has a secondary MVCC campus. Both cities are the places where students are most likely to take up residence because (1) the campuses are there and (2) both cities contain most of the region's affordable housing. The residents of both host cities already pay increased police costs because students behave like ... students.

This is like the bad old days when Oneida County billed Aid for Dependent Children to City residents because the City was the only place in the region where the poor could afford (or were allowed) to live. It was the poor being forced to support the poor.

Mr. Picente's proposal continues the terrible Oneida County record of sticking County costs on to city residents and taxpayers, especially those in Utica. Any wonder why our cities are in decline?

Maybe the occupation of Liberty Bell Corner on 10/13 should be moved to 600 Park Ave instead?

If Mr. Picente wants to get Counties from outside Oneida to kick in for their students, that's fine. But if our County leaders want to support the costs of educating MVCC students, they should pass those on to ALL Oneida County taxpayers, not shift them on to individual municipalities without the approval of the voters of each municipality.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Trees for Traffic Control!

Some recent studies indicate that trees may be an effective -- and cheap -- means of traffic control according to a new article in Next American City.
Most of us like trees. These incredible organisms clean our air and water, provide valuable habitat for wildlife, increase our property values, and make us feel happier through their beauty. They also seem to make urban roads safer. Most of us don’t think of trees as infrastructure, but in an urban context they are just that. Research indicates that they can play a powerful role in traffic calming, especially through their impact on three vehicle-related risks: speeding, road rage, and pedestrian/bicyclist injury.
The article explains the evidence and how trees work to control traffic.

. . . A few well positioned trees with "traffic-calming" roadway design may be a more cost effective and less socially disruptive solution to avoid pedestrian-vehicle accidents than the blocked streets, ramps, and overhead bridges proposed by NYSDOT for the Arterial.  Less can be more... at least that is what the latest research seems to suggest.

10/5/11 Update:
One of my astute readers provided me with this bit of research on this topic I thought I'd share:

Perceptual Countermeasures: Experimental Research, Godley, Fildes,
Triggs and Brown, 1999, Monash University Accident Research Center,
Melbourne, Victoria (Australia)

Thanks, Dave.

Monday, October 03, 2011

NYRI Redux?

From FoxNews: Fed Plan to Consolidate Power Over Nation's Power Highway Has States Nervous . 
The Obama administration is looking to consolidate control over the nation's power highway, pushing a proposal that would put one federal agency in the driver's seat when it comes to reviewing and approving power-line projects across the country. . . . 

[The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] said the plan would allow for an "expedited" process and, in the long run, "help satisfy the need for a modern and efficient transmission grid in the United States, with increased access to the most cost-effective renewable resources."
It's easy to see where this will go for us in the Greater Utica area.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A New Problem: Plundering Utica . . .

154_5453From Bob Sullivan's blog comes this disappointing story: Self-Proclaimed "Princess" destroys 294 Genesee Street.
The genteel and elegant interiors of ... The former "Catholic Women's Club", was gutted by the infamous "Faux Princess," Diana Lenska.
The hand carved Carrara Marble fireplaces, of which there were 6 throughout the house, were ripped from their chimney mounts ...
The Roccoco Pier and Overmantel Mirrors-gone. ...
 The crowning glory of the mansion, the electrified gasoliers, that have hung from the ornate center medallions since Lincoln was in the White House, vanished. Everything was bundled on a huge moving van and shipped to secret destinations. . . . 
How sad!  Was this 'pay-back' for receiving the 'cold-shoulder' in Utica? A means to recoup losses from failed efforts to establish a cultural venue?  A little of both?  Or something else?  We can only speculate on motive... which is irrelevant. As owner, the fixtures are Ms. Lenska's ... hers to dispose of as she wishes.  But this posting is not about Ms. Lenska . . .

This is the second time this year that an architecturally significant structure has been "plundered" (for lack of a better word) in Utica. What happened to the HSBC building? Like the Catholic Women's Club, it was purchased by an out-of-town buyer with fanciful ideas and wound up ransacked. It's not clear exactly what was taken from inside the building, but some marble slabs from exterior planters are obviously missing. There certainly is a lot of beautiful marble covering most of that building . . .

Looking at both situations, Uticans have to consider the possibility that many of the city's remaining architectural treasures may be worth more as sources of fixtures and materials than as real-estate holdings ... With a global marketplace, the prices obtainable may be much much more than local preservationists can muster. Utica may see a lot more out-of-town buyers scooping up properties from desperate sellers at prices that are super-cheap (to the buyers), "mining" the properties for their fixtures or building materials, and then abandoning them. 

Utica seems to be going the way of the Coliseum which had its marble facing stripped after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Only the full-fledged economic recovery of Utica with rising property values will solve this problem.

BTW - Please pass the humble pie.