Friday, April 28, 2006

"For Everything Else, There's Mastercard..."

A Quick Look At How The Numbers Play Out In Albany

2006-07 NYS Budget as proposed by Governor Pataki in January: $110.6 billion

2006-07 NYS Budget as adopted by the Legislature in April: $115.5 billion

Dollar amount of 2006-07 NYS Budget falling to Governor's veto ax: $2.9 billion

Dollar amount of 2006-07 NYS Budget restored by Legislative override: $2.9 billion*

Dollar amount of member-item "pork" vetoed by Governor Pataki: $200 million

Dollar amount of member-item "pork" restored by Legislative override: $200 million

Total NYS debt in 1990: $14.4 billion

Total NYS debt in 2004: $46.9 billion

2005 New York State Deficit**: $5.1 billion

2009 New York State Deficit (projected): $7.7 billion

Dollar amount by which the average NYer can expect to see his/her property tax reduced: $0

Likelihood of ANY meaningful legislative action this session designed to reduce the property tax burden of the average NYer: HOPELESS!

The Community Alliance asks, "What's in your wallet?"

*Governor Pataki has said that, notwithstanding the Legislature's overrides, he plans to withhold some $1.9 billion in spending on the ground that he considers same "unconstitutional." Among spending initiatives to be held in abeyance by Mr. Pataki (pending legal action, no doubt) is the Legislature's proposed property tax rebate [SEE, STARs In Their Eyes], monies for the Environmental Protection Fund, and some $1 billion dollars in medicaid reimbursements.

** A budget deficit is the amount by which the State government's expenditures exceed its revenue in a given year. The debt is the State government's total indebtedness at a moment in time. It is the accumulation of previous deficits plus outstanding interest.

Historically, New York has engaged in deficit spending, adding to the State's long-term debt. For the fiscal year that began on April 1st, predictions are for a surplus of somewhere between $2 billion and $4 billion, depending on the source (according to legislative leaders in both the Assembly and the Senate, that surplus will be closer to $5 billion. So, what's a few billion among friends?)

All New Yorkers can do now is to watch the folks in Albany fritter that surplus away!
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Click HERE to read NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi's 2005 New York State Financial Condition Report.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sticking It To The Man

The Gas Man, That Is

We've said it before -- boycott Exxon-Mobil. You ignored us. We said it again, louder. BOYCOTT EXXON-MOBIL! Did you pay attention? Silly question. Now, mass e-mails are making the rounds, telling millions of Americans to boycott Exxon-Mobil. Will you listen now? Of course not!

Here's that e-mail making the rounds:

Join the resistance!!!! I hear we are going to hit close to $4.00 a gallon by this summer and it might go higher!! Want gasoline prices to come down? We need to take some intelligent, united action. Phillip Hollsworth (alleged, through the rumor mill, to be everything from a mathematician to a former Haliburton engineer) offered a good idea. BOYCOTT EXXON-MOBIL.

This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain day" campaign that was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy gas. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them.

Whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can really work. Please read on and join with us! By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $2.89 for regular unleaded in Smithtown, NY. Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 - $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace..... not sellers.

With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas! And, we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves. How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas. But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price war.

Here's the idea:
For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.

To have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers. It's really simple to do!

Now, don't wimp out at this point.... keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people. I am sending this note to more than 30 people. If each of us sends it to at least ten more (30 x 10 =3D 300) ... and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 =3D 3,000)...and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth group of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers. If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!

Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all. (If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people.... Well, let's face it, you just aren't a mathematician. But I am, so trust me on this one.)

How long would all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!!

I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you? Acting together we can make a difference.

If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on. I suggest that we not buy from EXXON/MOBIL UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES TO THE $1.30 RANGE AND KEEP THEM DOWN.


Ah, the stuff urban legends are made of! And this talk of boycott is nothing new, either.

So, will avoiding one company's gas stations effectively and permanently drive prices down? No. In fact, it would likely have the opposite effect, if any at all. Gas is a commodity. Commodity markets work on the law of supply and demand. When supply is higher than demand, sellers lower the price until the two factors equalize again. When demand is higher than supply, sellers raise the price to curb use and stretch supplies until, once again, the two factors equalize.

Just for the sake of argument (and we'll play the Devil's Advocate here, as we support the boycott of Exxon-Mobil), let's say we successfully organize the Exxon-Mobil boycott (we know this is fantasy, but hang with us here). Exxon-Mobil loses business and lowers prices to lure you back. The other stations will follow suit and lower prices to compete, right? Not quite.

To avoid Exxon-Mobil you go to the Speedway across the street, instead. Speedway's business increases, causing them to raise their prices to try to control demand, otherwise their supply would be quickly depleted. Their higher prices drive customers to Shell, who in turn raise their prices and drive customers to BP, and so on. Eventually, supply and demand will equalize and all stations will have the same price again.

As consumers, we can do little to control supply, but we can control demand. However, effectively doing so means reducing demand overall, not just at one station. The reduction in demand must be severe and long-lasting. If you want to save money at the pump, slow down on the expressway, plan outings to get everything in one trip, walk more, car pool, and trade in that gas-guzzling SUV for an economical compact car for starters.

Contact your State Assemblymember and State Senator, encouraging them to give New Yorkers some tax relif at the pump, and reminding them that they are up for re-election in November. You can also write your Congressman and Senators, urging them to close the tax loophole that would allow oil and gas companies to cheat the federal government out of $9.5 billion in royalty payments over the next five years.

Then why support the boycott of Exxon-Mobil? Well, because it is better than doing nothing. Call it self-help or self-empowerment, it is our small way of standing up and raising our collective voice. And it's a heck of a lot better than waiting for our elected officials to take action on our behalf (tantamount to doing nothing). The President isn't going after gougers or profiteers -- after all, no matter how "concerned" he tells us he is, Bush still runs with the pack. Congress isn't likely to step up to impose a Windfall Profit Tax on the oil companies. And our State Legislators have already defeated a measure to lower the state taxes we pay on gasoline -- roughly 63 cents per gallon, the highest in the nation.

If you need a reason -- or several -- to boycott Exxon-Mobil, other than what they're doing to us at the pump, consider some of Exxon-Mobil's other corporate misdeeds:

- human rights violations (providing facilities and equipment for torture and murder of political opponents in Indonesia, Chad & Cameroun);

- toxic discharges (into NY harbor, from a pipeline spill in California, a spill of carcinogens into Long Island groundwater, radioactive contamination of residential area in Louisiana, disregarding the dangers of carcinogenous oil additive MBTE contaminating the drinking water in several states, and toxic discharges from a waste storage facility in Kazakhstan);

- testing of its petrochemical products on laboratory animals;

- shareholder disclosure violations (failure to disclose required information on diversity, environmental breaches, executive compensation, lack of investment in alternative renewable energy and human rights violations);

- abuse of power and public trust (high-powered and heavily-financed opposition to the Kyoto Accord, denial of the impact of greenhouse gases on global warming. and trying to get scientists concerned about global warming removed from government advisory bodies);

- disregard for health and safety (negligence resulting in death of refinery workers in Australia);

- threat to endangered species (seismic testing in areas inhabited by rare whales in Asia);

- discrimination (a score of 14 out of 100 on equality and discrimination against gays and lesbians in hiring practices, refusal to provide benefits to unmarried couples, violations of the international embargo against apartheid in South Africa);

- ethics violations (price-gouging of independent retailers, reneging on price agreements with franchisees, cheating state governments out of royalties);

- complicity in the coal-for-arms trade between the US and Colombia (Exxon built the huge, devastating coal strip-mine in Tabaco, Colombia, and then spun it off to a consortium of other multinational oil companies, so that those suing the mine cannot get satisfaction from either "we're no longer involved' Exxon or the "this happened before we were involved" consortium that now owns the mine -- a classic corporatist tactic);

- reports from several countries also allege that Exxon/Esso engages in price-fixing with competitors, and has the dirtiest burning gasoline available. [Excerpted from, How To Save The World.]

And then there are those nasty greenhouse gases. A 2004 study commissioned by Friends of the Earth found "ExxonMobil is single-handedly responsible for 5% of all the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere in modern history, earmarking it as the world's single largest contributor to global warming." [And you thought it was Dick Cheney...]

Okay. Maybe we're the bleeding-heart, tree-hugging, save the planet, beat up on corporate America, liberals. Shame on us for giving a damn about the air you breath, the water you drink, and the dollars that big oil (among other profiteers) are picking from your pockets.

Boycotts of Exxon-Mobil may well be the stuff that junk mail is made of, but hey, if we're going to target any company, why not one that has absolutely no redeeming value? Besides, boycotting Exxon-Mobil would be cool. Think of it as our way of sticking it to the man -- the gas man, that is!
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Do boycotts work? Check out
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Click HERE to read, Exxon's $8B 1Q Profit Is 5th Highest Ever

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

PARCnassau Springs Into Action

A Report From PARCnassau: Advocacy And Action

Last year in July, PARCnassau issued a "report card" on the county parks. They earned a "generous" C minus. On June 18th, one year later, the county park administration issued a memo to all area and park managers to address the deficiencies enumerated therein. County employees are now removing all the dead bushes and trees lost to dehydration. To be replaced? We'll see.

Vandals attacked Cedar Creek Park again. This has become a continuing problem. With no park rangers and low police priority it will only get worse.

How are the county parks you use? Let us know and we will spread the word and perhaps these deficiencies will be addressed also (hopefully not next year).

On Thursday (April 27th), there will be a meeting on the proposed windmills off Jones Beach hosted by the Old Lindenmere Civic Association. It will be held a Kennedy High School, Bellmore at 8:00 p.m. If you wish to learn more about this issue or would like to express your opinions, please make every effort to attend.

Friends of the Bay has asked us to pass on the following:

"From Environmental Advocates of NY.

To celebrate Earth Day this year, reach out to your state representatives, and let them know they need to take action on the Super Bills:

* The Community Preservation Act gives all New York cities and towns a new tool to preserve natural and historic heritage (passed the Assembly, awaiting action in the Senate);
* The Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act fixes a gaping loophole in state wetlands protection law (passed the Assembly, awaiting action in the Senate);
* The Bigger Better Bottle Bill expands New York's bottle law and generates funding for environmental protection (ready for a vote in the Assembly, awaiting action in the Senate);
* The Environmental Protection Fund Enhancement Act increases the dedicated fund for conservation and land preservation efforts (awaiting action in both the Assembly and the Senate).

These bills have a better chance of becoming law if you add your voice to the chorus of people calling for action. To participate in Low Emission Lobby Day you have two easy options:

1) Easiest: send your Senator and Assembly person the message that they need to pass all four of the Super Bills for the sake of our environment. You can customize the pre-written email however you like and make sure they know exactly what you think.

2) Easy (and more effective): Forget email. Go old school and actually TALK to your legislator's office. Ask to speak to the head cheese and tell them you want to see these bills passed this year before they leave town and run for re-election.

With your help we can pass the Super Bills and celebrate a low emissions Earth Day!

Robert J. Moore
Executive Director
Environmental Advocates of New York"

Bruce Piel
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh, NY 11793-1963
(516) 783-8378

The Death And Life Of America's Greatest Urbanist

Jane Jacobs: 1916 - 2006

From The New York Times:

Jane Jacobs, Social Critic Who Redefined and Championed Cities, Is Dead at 89

By Douglas Martin

Jane Jacobs, the writer and thinker who brought penetrating eyes and ingenious insight to the sidewalk ballet of her own Greenwich Village street and came up with a book that challenged and changed the way people view cities, died yesterday in Toronto, where she moved in 1968. She was 89.

She died at a Toronto hospital, said a distant cousin, Lucia Jacobs, who gave no specific cause of death.

In her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs's enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities.

At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs's prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a joyous urban jumble.

Her critique of the nation's cities is often grouped with the work of writers who in the 1960's shook the foundations of American society: Paul Goodman's attack on schooling; Michael Harrington's stark portrait of poverty; Ralph Nader's barrage against the auto industry; and Malcolm X's grim tour of America's racial divide, among others. And it continues to influence a third generation of students.

"Death and Life" made four basic recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition and use. 4. Population must be dense.

Ms. Jacobs's thesis was enlarged by her deep, eclectic reading. But most compelling was her description of the everyday life she witnessed from her home above a candy store at 555 Hudson Street, near 11th Street.

In that description, she puts out her garbage, children go to school, the dry cleaner and the barber open their shops, women come out to chat, longshoremen visit the local bar, teenagers return from school and change to go out on dates, and another day is played out. Sometimes, odd things happen: a bagpiper shows up on a February night, and delighted listeners gather around. Whether neighbors or strangers, people are safer because they are almost never alone.

"People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is," Ms. Jacobs wrote. "I am afraid people who do not will always have it a little wrong in their heads, like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers' descriptions of rhinoceroses."

Robert Caro, the historian, said in an interview yesterday that Ms. Jacobs was far from the first urban theorist to stress the importance of neighborhood and community. "But no one had ever said it so brilliantly before," he said. "She gave voice to something that needed a voice."

Some critics used adjectives like "triumphant" and "seminal" to describe "Death and Life." Others, not a few of whom with an ax to grind, were less kind. Lewis Mumford, the critic and social historian whom Ms. Jacobs eviscerated in the book, suggested in a review in The New Yorker that she had displayed "aesthetic philistinism with a vengeance."

The battles she ignited are still being fought, and the criticism was perhaps inevitable, given that such an ambitious work was produced by somebody who had not finished college, much less become an established professional in the field.

Indisputably, the book was as radically challenging to conventional thinking as Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which helped engender the environmental movement, would be the next year, and Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," which deeply affected perceptions of relations between the sexes, would be in 1963.

Like those two writers, Ms. Jacobs was able to summon a freshness of perspective. Some dismissed it as amateurism, but to many others it was a point of view that made new ideas not only thinkable but suddenly and eminently reasonable.

"When an entire field is headed in the wrong direction, when the routine application of mainstream thinking has produced disastrous results as I think was true of planning and urban policy in the 1950's, then it probably took someone from outside to point out the obvious," Alan Ehrenhalt wrote in 2001 in Planning, the magazine of the American Planning Association.
"That is what Jane Jacobs did 40 years ago," he said.

Action, Not Just Words

Ms. Jacobs did not limit her impact to words. In 1961, she and other protestors were removed from a City Planning Commission hearing on an urban renewal plan for Greenwich Village that they opposed, after they leapt from their seats and rushed the podium.

In 1968, she was arrested on riot and criminal mischief charges for disrupting a public meeting on the construction of an expressway that would have sliced across Lower Manhattan and displaced hundreds of families and businesses. The police said she had tried to tear up the stenographer's transcript tape.

The battle against that highway pitted Ms. Jacobs in an uphill fight against Robert Moses, the autocratic and immensely powerful master builder of that era. The expressway's opponents won.

Ms. Jacobs moved to Toronto in 1968 out of opposition to the Vietnam War and to shield her two draft-age sons from military duty, and quickly enlisted in Toronto's urban battles. No sooner had she arrived than she led a battle to stop a freeway there.

She became a beloved intellectual pioneer characterized by a dumpling face, an impish smile, sneakers, bangs and owlish glasses. But Roger Starr, a former New York City housing administrator and sometime opponent of Ms. Jacobs, keenly noted the steel just beneath her folksiness.

"What a dear, sweet character she isn't," he said.

After she was removed from the Planning Commission hearing in 1961, her own words underlined her feistiness. "We had been ladies and gentlemen and only got pushed around," she said.

But fighting with government, even being arrested with Susan Sontag and Allen Ginsberg in an antidraft protest, was something she said she had repeatedly been forced into by "outrageous" governmental actions.

What she hated most about those actions was that they took time away from her writing, which she said was her way of thinking. And in at least five fields of inquiry, she thought deeply and innovatively: urban design, urban history, regional economics, the morality of the economy and the nature of economic growth.

Each of her major books led naturally to the next. From writing about how people functioned within cities, she analyzed how cities function within nations, how nations function with one another, how everyone functions in a world of conflicting moral principles and, finally, how economies grow like biological organisms.

A small book in 1980 arguing for Quebec separatism created a stir in Canada, while a 1996 memoir of her great-aunt's experience as a schoolteacher in rural Alaska, which she edited, impressed reviewers with its homespun wisdom.

But it is "Death and Life," published by Random House, that rocked the planning and architectural establishment.

On one level, it represented the first liberal attack on the liberal idea of urban renewal. At the same time, the New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson saw an old-fashioned vision of community that he compared to Thornton Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners. Ms. Jacobs herself thought the book's continuing appeal was that it plumbed the depths of human nature like a good novel.

In 2003, Herbert Muschamp, the Times's chief architecture critic, wrote that Ms. Jacobs's book was "one of 20th-century architecture's most traumatic events," in part because Ms. Jacobs was dismissive about the importance of design.

In recent years, she became an inspiration to architects and planners who espouse what they call the New Urbanism, an effort to promote social interaction by incorporating such Jacobean features as ground-floor stores in suburban developments.

Patrick Pinnell, an architect associated with this school, said "Death and Life" represented almost the last expression of optimism about American cities. As early as 1974, John E. Zuccotti, then chairman of the New York City Planning Commission, called Ms. Jacobs a prophet and himself a "neo-Jacobean" when he announced a smaller-scale, more sensitive urban planning approach. Ms. Jacobs was born Jane Butzner on May 4, 1916, in Scranton, Pa. Her father was a physician and her mother a schoolteacher. She remembered being something of a troublemaker in school, engaging in pranks like exploding inflated paper bags in the lunchroom. She preferred reading books surreptitiously to listening to the teacher.

In an interview in Azure magazine in 1997, Ms. Jacobs recounted her habit of carrying on imaginary conversations with Thomas Jefferson while running errands. When she could think of nothing more to tell Jefferson, she replaced him with Benjamin Franklin.

"Like Jefferson, he was interested in lofty things, but also in nitty-gritty, down-to-earth details," she said, "such as why the alley we were walking through wasn't paved, and who would pave it if it were paved. He was interested in everything, so he was a very satisfying companion."
Years later, she realized that she had developed her talent of working through difficult ideas in simple terms by practicing them on her imaginary Franklin. She also acquired another inner companion through Alfred Duggan, an English historical novelist. He was Cerdic, a Saxon chieftain. Years later, she continued to chat with him while doing housework.

"There were only two things in the entire house that were familiar to him," she wrote; "the fire (although he didn't understand the chimney) and the sword," a Civil War souvenir. "Everything else had to be explained to him."

Not wanting to go to college, she took an unpaid position as assistant to the women's editor at The Scranton Tribune. In 1934, she moved to New York to join her sister, who was six years older and had a job in the home furnishings department of Abraham & Straus, the Brooklyn department store. The sisters lived on the top floor of a six-story walkup in Brooklyn Heights.
Subways Lead to Jobs

Each day, Ms. Jacobs got on the subway and arbitrarily chose a stop at which to get off and look for a job. Because she liked the sound of Christopher Street, she got off there and found an apartment in Greenwich Village and soon after, a job as a secretary in a candy manufacturing company.

She worked as a secretary for five years. The sisters did not have much money and sometimes lived on Pablum and bananas, Ms. Jacobs said in an interview with Metropolis Magazine in 2001.

She began writing articles then, first for a metals-trade paper. She sold a series of articles about different areas of the city, like the fur district, to Vogue, earning $40 for each at a time when she was making $12 a week as a secretary. She wrote Sunday features for The New York Herald Tribune and articles for Q Magazine on manhole covers, among other things.

While working full time, she attended Columbia University's School of General Studies for two years and took courses in geology, zoology, law, political science and economics. In 1944, Ms. Jacobs, who was then working for the Office of War Information, and her two roommates had a party in their apartment. One guest was Robert Hyde Jacobs Jr., an architect who specialized in hospital design. They met in April and married in May.

Ms. Jacobs told Azure that she would not have written any books without her husband's encouragement. It was he who decided that the family should move to Toronto in 1968 after their sons said they would go to jail rather than serve in Vietnam. Mr. Jacobs died in 1996. Ms. Jacobs is survived by her sons, James, of Toronto, and Ned, of Vancouver; her daughter, Burgin Jacobs, of New Denver, British Columbia, and one granddaughter.

Suspicions Aroused

In 1952, Ms. Jacobs got a job as an editor at Architectural Forum, where she stayed for 10 years. That gave her a perch from which to observe urban renewal projects. On a visit to Philadelphia, she noticed that the streets of a project were deserted while an older, nearby street was crowded.

"So, I got very suspicious of this whole thing," she told The Toronto Star in 1997. "I pointed that out to the designer, but it was absolutely uninteresting to him. How things worked didn't interest him.

"He wasn't concerned about its attractiveness to people. His notion was totally aesthetic, divorced from everything else."

Her doubts increased after William Kirk, the director of the Union Settlement in East Harlem, taught her new ways of seeing neighborhoods. She came to see the prevalent planning notions, which involved bulldozing low-rise housing in poor neighborhoods and replacing it with tall apartment buildings surrounded by open space, as a superstition akin to early 19th-century physicians' belief in bloodletting.

"There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder," she wrote in "Death and Life," "and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served."

William H. Whyte, the editor of Fortune magazine and the author of books about urban life as well as his celebrated "Organization Man," asked Ms. Jacobs to write an article for Fortune on urban downtowns in 1958. Her essay, which was reprinted in "The Exploding Metropolis" (Doubleday, 1958), turned out to be a trial run for her book.

"Designing a dream city is easy," she concluded. "Rebuilding a living one takes imagination."

The Fortune article caught the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, which offered her a grant in 1958 to write about cities. Two grants and three years later, she produced her manuscript for "Death and Life" on the Remington typewriter that she used until her death.
Her seemingly simple prescriptions for neighborhood diversity, short blocks, dense populations and a mix of buildings represented a major rethinking of modern planning. They were coupled with fierce condemnations of the writings of the planners Sir Patrick Geddes and Ebenezer Howard, as well as those of the architect Le Corbusier and Lewis Mumford, who championed the ideal of graceful towers rising over exquisite open spaces. Mr. Mumford held his fire for a year before replying in a New Yorker article, sardonically titled "Home Remedies for Urban Cancer."
"Like a construction gang bulldozing a site clean of all habitations, good or bad," Mr. Mumford wrote, "she bulldozes out of existence every desirable innovation in urban planning during the last century, and every competing idea, without even a pretense of critical evaluation."

Form Over Substance?

Even the architecture critic Paul Goldberger, while expressing profound admiration for Ms. Jacobs in a New York Times article in 1996, suggested that she may have overstated the importance of the physical form of cities.

"Sometimes big, ugly high-rise towers work just fine," he wrote.

Ms. Jacobs next book, "The Economy of Cities" (Random House, 1969), challenged the ideas that cities were established on a rural economic base; rather, she suggested, rural economies have been built directly through city economies. After that came "The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle for Sovereignty" (Random House, 1980). It argued that Canada and Quebec would be better off without each other, on the general grounds that smaller is better.
She delved more deeply into economics and cities with "Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life" (Random House, 1984), in which she contended that national governments undermine the economy of cities, which she saw as the natural engines of economic growth.

Her "Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics" (Vintage, 1994) looks at the moral underpinnings of work by examining different value systems. "The Nature of Economies" (Modern Library, 2000) likens economic activity to an ecosystem. Her last book, "Dark Age Ahead" (Random House, 2004), argues that North American culture is collapsing, then suggests ways to reverse the trend.

During her last years, Canadians held conferences to honor Ms. Jacobs. For New Yorkers, she lived on in the famous photo of her with a beer and a cigarette in the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, as well as memories of her plotting municipal mischief at another Village hangout. To generations of planners, architects and students of cities, Ms. Jacobs remains a seminal influence.

She perhaps perceived herself as an intellectual adventurer ready and able to follow her quixotic, often brilliant instincts into ever more fascinating terrain.

In "Systems of Survival," one of her characters worried that he was not qualified.

"Why not us?" replied the man who had invited the group together. "If more qualified people are up to the same thing, more power to them. But we don't know that, do we?"

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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May the words and actions of Jane Jacobs continue to inspire us to breathe new life into great American cities and their no less vital suburbs.
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Click HERE for Jane Jacobs' works on the web.

Click HERE for the Jane Jacobs Home Page.

Letter of Protest Jacobs' Last Act. From the Toronto Star.

Read Outgrowing Jane Jacobs and Her New York, from The New York Times Critic's Notebook.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nassau County Conference On Special Districts Set For June 8th

An Important Message From Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman

Attention: Nassau County and Town Officials, State and County Legislators, Special District Commissioners, Civic Organizations, Business Groups, and Concerned Citizens:


June 8, 2006

WHAT: Nassau County Conference on Special Districts – an unprecedented county-wide conference on Nassau’s special tax districts, to be held at Hofstra University.

WHY: There are more than 200 special tax districts serving Nassau communities, providing important services, from water to garbage pickup, parks, public parking and more. This one-day conference will examine the structure and operation of these districts and consider ways to reduce Nassau’s property tax burden while maintaining or even improving municipal services.

Sponsors (partial list): Nassau County, the Towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, State Sen. Michael Balboni, State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli, Hofstra University, The Long Island Association, The Rauch Foundation, Herald Community Newspapers

Please join us and let your voice be heard.

WHEN: June 8, 2006

8:00 am-12:30 pm

WHERE: Center for Suburban Studies, Hofstra University,

Hempstead, New York

For more information or to register in advance, email to: or call 516-571-2677

Monday, April 24, 2006

Competition Good, Monopolies Bad

As Seen On TV, But Not At Town Hall

The New York Times reported on Sunday about Verizon's recently approved franchise agreement, permitting the telecommunications provider to compete with Cablevision in offering cable and Internet services to some 500,000 residents in the unincorporated areas of Hempstead Town. [Read, Tug of War Played With Cable.]

The idea behind allowing Verizon to enter the cable market in the Town of Hempstead is that competition breeds better service and fair pricing -- Much like the break-up of Ma Bell years back has led to better service and lower rates among the zillions of baby Bells which, in turn, are now being gobbled up into one monolithic AT&T. [Bad example, we suppose...]

Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, told The Times, "It's an article of faith that if you have more competition, you get better services and prices."

Hmmm. Perhaps that's a philosophy to be followed concerning the Sanitary Districts, and the myriad special districts that operate under the auspices and banner of Hempstead Town, where monopolistic party politics stifles any competition, artificially increasing the price for what may well be inferior or mediocre service. Even where the service is deemed exceptional, the stranglehold of the Town perpetuates disparate and ever-escalating pricing, not dependent upon quality of service, but merely upon in which special district you happen to reside.

"This wasn't a judgment about Cablevision, it was a judgment about monopolies," Ms. Murray said.

Seems odd, doesn't it? The Supervisor of a Town that, for more than 100 years, has been dominated by a single party -- with a monopoly over hiring, the provision of services, and the setting of tax rates -- holding herself out as the champion of the free market.

Whether competition between Cablevision and Verizon will benefit the consumer remains to be seen. We have no doubt, however, that competition at all levels of government -- the seed of a thriving democracy -- works to improve services and keep costs at bay.

Okay. ours isn't a judgment about Kate Murray, or even about the Town of Hempstead GOP. Ours is "an article of faith" about one town with one party in absolute power for far too long!
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While we have no competition at The Community Alliance, we would welcome it! Feel free to comment, Guest Blog, or e-mail us at

Schools As Centers Of Community

A Backward Glance Toward Tomorrow
Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl:
A report by the
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May is National Preservation Month
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The Community Alliance is dedicated to the advancement, preservation, and enhancement of Long Islanders' Quality of Life.
Tell us what aspects of your community's life are working,
need improvement, or are just plain wrong.
If you could change one thing in or about your town, what would it be?
Together, we will build a better community!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Taming Of The Shrewd

The Town Of Hempstead Presents: KISS ME KATE

Perfect material for a blog, but frankly, it just doesn’t get any funnier than the real thing!

"Plaza Productions brings the grandeur and excitement of a Broadway hit, home to Hempstead Town," stated Supervisor Kate Murray. "A great cast, beautiful costumes, live music and elaborate sets make for an unforgettable theatre experience to be enjoyed by the entire family."

Did someone say, "elaborate sets?" Forget the footlights and bring on the Victorian Street lamps!

If memory serves us, the female lead was once married, now divorced. One of the songs is entitled “I Hate Men” (perfect for all you misogynists). The only thing keeping the show (within the play) together are threats from a pair of gangsters. And the show (within the play) is supposed to provide the male lead with the money he needs to pay off his gambling debts (nowadays, we call them “bonds!”)

Sounds like a play about a town within a play in a town about a play. Where’s Mel Brooks when you need him?

The only thing missing is the 3-D version (ala the 1953 MGM film, which this blogger is running out to rent this evening) of an otherwise two-dimensional township. Ah, but there is no “taming” of the shrewd in Hempstead Town!

So, what could be better than "Kiss Me Kate" in the Town of Hempstead? Nothing. Well, maybe the double-bill presented as Summer Theater in the Adirondacks -- "Kiss Me Kate" and "Little Shop Of Horrors."
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Look for other exciting Town of Hempstead productions, including the electoral spectacular, Same Time, Next Year.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Man Who Would Be King

KingDome, USA

Some e-mails are themselves worthy of blogs. This one made the rounds, circling Long Island, if not the globe, finding it's way back to The Community Alliance...

Special to The Community Alliance (via Aljezzera). Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf (formerly known as "Baghdad Bob") and Mike Deery (Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Town of Hempstead) contributed to this story.

Washington, DC. -- Today, Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King (R-NY) introduced a failsafe Immigration Reform Bill in the House of Representatives, designed to end the stalemate between Congressional Republicans and Democrats that has stalled efforts to "keep America American."

"There is no question that foreigners, who invade our shores without documentation, are ruining this country," said an emphatic King. "They're taking away decent jobs from regular Americans, like dishwashers, gardeners, and grape-pickers, and they pose an imminent threat to our nation's security. It is simply unAmerican to have huddled masses yearning to be free foisted upon our homeland while no born and bred American enjoys true freedom here at home. The time has come to close the golden door -- no one gets in, no one gets out!"

King's plan, already endorsed by the American Family Association and Bill O'Reilly, calls for the construction not of a steel wall along the border with Mexico, but rather, the building of walls around the entire perimeter of the United States, with a retractable dome atop.

"I call it the 'KingDome,'" said the smug representative from New York's 3rd Congressional District. "We secure our borders by having every person who enters or leaves our country pass through metal detectors at impenetrable gates, and then we can open the roof for pre-screened air traffic. No more of these 'homeless, tempest-tost' for this great nation."

"There is precedent for a domed stadium," clucked King. "The Astrodome. The Skydome. Enron Field, ah, er, I mean, Minute Maid Park. They're all secure environments. Americans, Si. Immigrants, No!"

When asked about the Louisiana Superdome, which failed to stand up to the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, King opined: "Those crawfish-eating, cotton-picking, bourbon-drinking sons of illegal immigrant slaves got what they deserved. All the REAL Americans got out of New Orleans safely!"

As Pete King draped himself in the American flag -- wielding documents that he claims evidence his ancestors' arrival on the Mayflower -- immigrants, civil rights activists, and folks who have actually visited the Statue of Liberty gathered around the nation -- in numbers not seen since the Vietnam era -- to protest Congressional efforts to tighten our borders and put the squeeze on undocumented workers.

Our ace reporter, Eastbrook Van Westbrook, interviewed one such protestor, speaking on condition of anonymity and identified only as Jose Flores Sandoval Rodriguez Juarez Bolivar Goldberg of 123 Main Street, Apartment 3B, Farmingville, outside of King's District Office on Long Island.

Westbrook: What do you think of the proposal to criminalize those who render aid of any kind to immigrants?
Goldberg: It's an affront to the dignity of every hardworking immigrant who has ever come to America to build a better life for himself and his family. We are all the children and grandchildren of immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants -- and of terrorist cells, who enter this country with complete documentation and the full knowledge and consent of the American government.
Westbrook: With all the talk of building a wall along the southern border of the United States, it must be particularly hard on you as a Mexican.
Goldberg: Mexican? Who's Mexican? I'm Puerto Rican!

Meanwhile, in related news, Native Americans representing 132 tribes gathered at their annual convention in Cleveland, where plans were underway to take back Manhattan Island from "those fakactah illegal immigrants who stole Manhattan in the first place."

"Forget reparations," the Chief of the Iroquois Tribe told fellow redskins of the Five Nations as gathered at Jacobs Field. "Anyone not recognized as 'Native American' -- on college applications, and otherwise -- is in OUR nation unlawfully. They get out. We get Manhattan -- and fifty Indian-run casinos in locations to be named later (so take that, Sheldon Silver)!"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Renewal Plan For Downtown Hempstead

Ambitious Revitalization Plan Takes Shape, But Is it "Smart Growth?"

Are plans to remake Main Street in the incorporated Village of Hempstead in tune with creating a sustainable community, or is the Mayor's proposal simply "pie-in-the-skyscraper" without long-term vision?

Newsday reports that Hempstead Village is poised to redevelop it's downtown area -- including Village Hall, the old bus depot, and various locations along a stretch of Main Street -- with a mix of condominiums, office space, and commercial and retail businesses. [Click HERE to read New Look For Hempstead.]

While a search of the village's Community Development Agency's website failed to yield formal revitalization plans (the link to "Urban Renewal Plan" brings up a site that is "under construction"), and calls to the office of CDA Commissioner Claude Gooding have not, to date, been returned, the February edition of Hempstead Visions, the village's monthly newsletter, does reference -- in terms as broad as they are vague -- the "near completion" of Hempstead's 12-year old Master Plan. [We did find an old draft of a Hempstead Village Master Plan, from back in the days when Glen Spiritis was Commissioner of Hempstead's CDA. It didn't give us much to bite on!]

As it appears the mountain must go to Mohammed to view actual plans, this blogger plans a field trip to Hempstead Village Hall later this week to take a gander at exactly what Mayor Wayne Hall and his colleagues have in mind for New York's most populous village.

Certainly, a comprehensive downtown revitalization plan -- one that would give impetus to a return of downtown Hempstead to something akin to it's heyday as the economic and social hub of Long Island -- would be most welcome. Simply throwing $180 million dollars at a project that would, concededly, rebuild the infrastructure, without due consideration of the impact on the surrounding environs (and in particular, existing residences and small businesses), could, conceivably, do more harm than good. For that matter, to do little more than to give a tip of the hat to principles of sustainability and sense of place would be throwing good money after bad.

It takes more -- much more -- than building a skyscraper smack-dab in the middle of town to re-energize and revitalize a community. Calling for the creation of a "cultural center" for Nassau County, without further forethought, does not a sustainable community make. In fact, what should be a centerpiece of the rebirth of a community too long in decline may well have all the earmarks of suburban nightmare in the making. To paraphrase those nice folks at Smart Growth America, we can almost hear that "giant sucking sound" vacuuming up Main Street, while much of the rest of downtown, and the residential and retail community around it, is left to gather dust.

In Jamaica, Queens, an attempt was made, nearly a generation ago, to bring life back to a community decades in decline by constructing office towers and impressive facades. The project, which continues, even today, did little to encourage the rebirth of the community beyond the area of redevelopment. In fact, insofar as creating a sustainable community, the Jamaica redevelopment project, despite marginal gains and best efforts to paint a rosy picture of a still bleak and downcast downtown, was, by any real measure of livability, a dismal failure.

There is a difference between "thinking big" (as in grand visions), and "bigger is better." Hempstead's planners -- and the residents they serve, who must themselves be intimately involved in both the planning and implementation of this bold renewal project -- should revisit the drawing board (what's another year tacked on to an already more than decade old Master Plan?) before expending significant monies and reaching toward the sky.

If it doesn't "look like suburbia," maybe it doesn't belong in suburbia! "Build it -- whatever 'it' may be -- and they will come," is not only myopic in vision, it is, in terms of establishing the very model of the sustainable suburban village, a plan fraught with danger.
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There once existed a Joint Center For Sustainable Communities, an extension of The United States Conference of Mayors. [Wasn't James Garner, the former Mayor of the Village of Hempstead, once the President of this illustrious group?] As it's website tells us, "The Joint Center for Sustainable Communities is no longer in existence." What, then, does this portend for those of us who remain committed to creating sustainable communities?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Earth Day 2006

Saturday, April 22nd Is Earth Day. What Are You Doing To Save Our Planet?

Earth Day. Started 36 years ago in 1970 -- before many of you were born -- and still going strong among those who believe that our planet is held by us in trust for future generations.

Since that first Earth Day, we've managed to put more holes in the Ozone layer than there are in a teenager's jeans, driven thousands of species in the animal and plant kingdom into extinction, made much of the world's drinking water unpotable, and deforested entire rainforests in the name of progress.

Still, inroads to protect and restore the environment are being made, notwithstanding what is often viewed as the best efforts of government and private industry to destroy it.

And while there remains much to be done on many fronts, there is just as much you can do -- locally -- to be a friend of planet Earth.

The Earth Day Network provides "Earth Day In A Box," enabling and ennobling the citizens of this blue sphere as we endeavor to clean up our act.

Why, even the Town of Hempstead (known better for killing trees -- to produce countless Murraygrams -- than for planting and maintaining them) is involved, offering up it's SPLASH program to help keep our water clean and clear, Geese Peace, to keep the waterways and green spaces pristine while humanely reducing the excess bird population, and innovative initiatives like S.T.O.P. and e-Cycling that encourage residents to reuse, recycle and reclaim.

Here on Long Island, where we tap into underground aquifers for the water we drink, cook with, and bathe in, we must be particularly mindful of our environment. After all, the fertilizer, herbicide, and insecticide we put on our lawns or down our drains today will, in the not too distant future, end up in our children's drinking water.

And so, we look into ways we can make Long Island -- and, while we're at it, planet Earth -- a greener, healthier, more livable place. Organic gardening. Proper disposal of toxic waste. Less reliance on the automobile.

As we act locally, we must continue to think globally, lobbying government, on all levels, to address the critical issues that impact upon our environment, from global warming to nuclear proliferation.

Earth Day isn't just for Hippies who are now poised to collect their first Social Security checks. Earth Day is for EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, EVERY DAY.

Be kind to Mother Earth. Be environmentally conscious. Future generations are counting on YOU to heal our planet!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Unsustainable Spending

While State Aid To Education Increases, School District Costs Skyrocket

Guest blogger George Rand makes it short and sweet: Long Island's school districts are not doing enough to cut costs, and the taxpayer can no longer afford to pay the bill. Read on. . .

During the recent media blitz for more state aid by Long Island public school administrators, it was incredible that the topic of cutting school costs was never mentioned. Neither was there any comment on the key problem: soaring teachers salaries and benefits which are driving school budgets to unsustainable levels.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that if school districts continue spending at current levels, many retirees will be forced to leave Long Island. School taxes are projected to rise six to eight percent or more this year, on top of similar increases in past years. The average Social Security retiree currently receives $1002 per month in benefits, a net increase of $29 over last year. This retiree will need to use half of those benefit checks to pay school taxes while the other half will go for medical insurance and drugs.

Meanwhile, the average Nassau County public school teacher will get araise in pay and benefits of $4,600 this year regardless of how well or how poorly he or she performs and the school superintendent's salary will be boosted by about $8,400, pushing that administrator's paycheck way above the pay of the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

George Rand
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The New York Times reports on at least one Long Island school district where the Superintendent is earning more than $300,000 in salary and benefits. [Click HERE to read, Schools Practice Higher Math To Pay Leaders.]

"In all, at least 114 school administrators in Nassau and Suffolk are making $200,000 or more in salary and benefits combined, and 28 of them are assistant, associate or deputy superintendents," say the Times.

Click HERE to read The New York Times article, Adding Revolt To The 3 R's.

Do you think things have gotten out of hand? The Community Alliance, as well as your friends, neighbors, and fellow taxpayers, would like to know. E-mail us at
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Politics And The Strange Bedfellow

Often, the story behind the news is far more fascinating than the news itself.

Take LIFER, Long Islanders for Educational Reform. Frank Russo, one of LIFER's organizers, is the president of Port Washington Educational Assembly. Mr. Russo is also aligned with the New York chapter of the American Family Association (the folks who outed Sponge Bob and told you not to buy the American Doll, among other oddities). In fact, Frank Russo IS the New York chapter of AFA -- he is the group's president, and his personal e-mail address is the contact for

Okay, the AFA, it's New York affiliate, and Frank Russo himself, are entitled to their homophobic, "God told us to boycott Ellen and Saturday Night Live" views. At least they're straight up about it.

But beware the back-door approach to reforming New York's education system by a group that has "links" (on it's website, and otherwise) to the New Yorker's Family Research Foundation ("The Christian Educational Voice for New York Families") and Citizens for Educational Freedom (fighting for "parents' rights to choose where their public educational funds are spent"). Both groups endorse school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and other methods of using public tax money to finance private and parochial education. [Frank Russo himself publicly advocates tuition tax credits (the equivalent of public tax dollars up to half the cost of a public school education) for parents who incur out of pocket costs for tuition, books, etc.]

And that's fine, too, if you want your tax dollars diverted from our public schools to pay to send someone's child to private or parochial school. Just be upfront about it all when you hold LIFER's agenda out to John Q. Taxpayer.

Face it. For most of us, it is all about the school property tax, and how we can best use public money to finance a public education in the public schools. To some extent, this holds true for LIFER -- at least in it's public persona. It doesn't take much digging beneath the surface, however, to find that LIFER -- or at least it's organizers -- have a less publicized (if publicized at all) agenda, and would use public money, whether in the form of vouchers, tax credits or direct aid, to fill the coffers of private, and predominantly religious, institutions. And where would that leave our public schools? Even deeper in the fiscal morass, we're afraid.

Yes, support those who would challenge the school property tax, and who would seek alternative means of funding our public schools. Just be very careful who you get into bed with!

Friday, April 14, 2006

In Search Of The Holy Grail

School Tax Forum Draws Crowd, Debate

Nassau County Civic Association Reports On April 6th Melville Meeting

This meeting was held in partnership with LIFER (Long Islanders for Educational Reform. The meeting was moderated by Peter Kohler of Channel 12 News.

The featured speakers were State Senator John J. Flanagan (R), Assemblymembers Charles Lavine (D) & Marc Alessi (D), Business Leaders Bruce Bent & Chris Murray (Nassau Chamber of Commerce) and civic leaders Pat Byrne (Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association), Laurie Pendelakis (Manhasset Civic Association), and Frank Russo (Port Washington Educational Assembly). County Executive Steve Levy (D) also appeared at the forum and spoke briefly at the end.

Senator John Flanagan discussed his efforts to secure more state funding for Long Island schools and acknowledged the burden of high taxes. He discussed the Medicaid savings to local governments due to the state's agreement to pick up a larger share of Medicaid costs. Senator Flanagan represents 7th District in Smithtown.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine discussed his efforts to secure additional state funding for Long Island School Districts. He then discussed what he viewed as decreasing federal aid and the effort to look for other ways to fund schools. He then asked the audience to vote in favor of their local school budget. Assemblyman Lavine, who represents the 13th AD, defeated incumbent David Sidikman in 2004 as a part of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi's "Fix Albany" campaign.

Assemblyman Marc Alessi also discussed the agreement for more state aid to Long Island Districts. He then discussed his experience with the state Comptroller's office and the need for reform. After he spoke, he endorsed our efforts to require governmental entities to post their line item budgets.

Businessman Bruce Bent discussed the need for the state to decrease spending and reduce taxes. He indicated that the problem was so severe that he was considering moving his corporation to North Carolina and provided some numbers to illustrate the savings should he move. He then forcefully criticized the legislature for high taxes and ridiculed a plan to fund school taxes by a proposed local income tax which would replace property taxes. He made it clear that their is no other revenue stream to get the money and that the "someone else" is taxpayers.

Chris Murray of the Nassau Chamber of Commerce discussed the escalating cost of doing business in Nassau county due to school taxes. He noted that while businesses generally share 20% of the local school tax burden, they have no say in how the money is spent. He advised that audience that the Chamber of Commerce is a willing partner with taxpayers in their quest to reduce the burden of school taxes.

Pat Byrne discussed the need for school employees to share more of their benefits. He discussed the increasing costs of medical benefits and the increased longevity of retirees which are driving up school taxes.

Laurie Pendelakis discussed her career as a school teacher and administrator for 30 years while pointing flaws in our educational system. She addressed the problem of tenure as districts cannot fire poor teachers and why the system fosters medicoracy by giving both good & incompetent teachers the same raises. She discussed the fact that while teachers in a particular school district may receive a 3% raise, they may receive a 4% step increase with a total of 14 possible step increases with varying gradations A, B, C, D. She disagreed with Assemblyman Lavine regarding federal spending on education and made it clear that increased spending does not necessarily mean higher test scores. She then cited explicit examples and called for more accountability.

Frank Russo addressed the need for reform. He criticized the requirement that allows school districts two budget votes when the voters vote down a school budget and called for a change in state law that would allow one budget vote. He addressed austerity budgets which he felt still allow sufficient budgetary increases and should no longer be referred to as austerity budgets. He then discussed changing the day of voting for school board members (excluding school budgets) from May to November on separate voting machines. He also called for reform of the Wicks law that requires different parts of capital improvements be bid separately instead of using one contractor.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (D) praised the audience for their edurance during a period of great privation and agreed that school taxes, and taxes in general, were too high. He then discussed his effort on a particular issue to streamline a particular department when he was accused of being against nurses. He encouraged the audience not to give up or be intimidated and asked for their help to stand behind those elected officials who stand up for the taxpayers.
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Click HERE to read Newsday report, Turning The Wheels Of Education
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New York State has the 4th highest income tax burden in the nation. Add in the property tax, and New Yorkers have the highest tax burden of any state.

As Bruce Bent considers a move to North Carolina, so to do many Long Islanders give thought to an exodus from skyrocketing taxes, unaffordable housing costs, and a declining quality of life.

Lots of talk. A good thing, as the debate must continue. Let's get the information, the ideas, and the incentives for change out in the public eye, and then, let's insist that our elected officials -- and especially, our State Legislators, who command the Holy Grail of taxation -- act in the taxpayers' best interests.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Passover Story

Why Is This District's Garbage Collection Different From Any Other District's Garbage Collection?

The following story, first blogged on March 9, 2005, drew so much attention, not to mention critical acclaim, that we simply had to run it again. [In fact, several regular readers specifically requested a reprise.]

We all know the outcome of the Nassau County Comptroller's audit of the infamous Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1. A $700 steak dinner for 4, and what was characterized as a "total lack of financial control."

Of course, things have changed dramatically in Sanitary District 1 since last year's audit. Well, at least one thing has changed -- THE TAX RATES! Now Sanitary District 1 residents pay even more to "enjoy" their back door trash pick up.

Dont you just love it?

The Bread Of Our Affliction

A Passover Story, As Told By Counsel For Town Of Hempstead Sanitary District 1

An article appeared in a recent edition of the Nassau Herald on the subject of the Nassau County Comptroller's pending audit of several of the Special Districts, including Sanitary District 1. [We are reprinting the article below in its entirety, because you simply cannot make this stuff up!]

Commenting on the services provided by the Sanitary District, Nat Swergold, the chief counsel for Sanitary District 1, said "The district... accommodates the large Orthodox Jewish population in the area by arranging for special trucks during the eight holy days of Passover so bread can be disposed of, since observant Jews do not eat bread during the holiday."

Now, don't get us wrong. We appreciate the great lengths our Sanitary Districts go to in order to serve the public, but "special trucks during... Passover" to collect the bread?What next? The fire districts placing extra fire trucks in service just in case the horse radish on the gefilte fish burns the roofs of our mouths? Or maybe the water districts will pump in extra water to our homes to help wash down the matzo?

Let's face it, Jews, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or unaffiliated, are not hording bread prior to the holiday. Indeed, most Jews, logic dictates, try to consume the bread they do have in the house before Passover. Assuming any bread remains, most Jews I know (this blogger included), clean the house of bread BEFORE the start of the holiday, and not, certainly, "during the eight holy days" referred to by Mr. Swergold. Just what are these "special trucks" picking up?

Is this the best counsel for the Sanitary District can offer up as a raison d'etre for these Special Taxing Jurisdictions? If so, we've only one word for him: Gevalt!

One has to ask, do we really need three garbage collection days, a recycling day, a bulk pick up day and a yard waste pick up day, keeping in mind that it is Town Highways, not the Sanitary Districts, that sweeps our streets (all too infrequently) and plows the snow. Why - and we’re embarrassed to say this - there are some days when we have absolutely no trash to put out at the curb. Are we eligible for a rebate?

It doesn't take an Einstein - who, by the way, celebrated Passover in a secular vein - to realize that the existence of the Sanitary Districts, and other Special Districts within the township, cannot be substantiated "as is," and the cost to run these districts - special trucks for Passover aside - cannot be justified. At least not with a straight face. Why, in Sanitary District 6, we only have six Commissioners, shy of the ten required for a Minyan!

Clearly, what the Sanitary Districts are trying to put over on the taxpayers amounts to nothing less than unmitigated chutzpah.

According to Andrew Parise, the Mayor of Cedarhurst (which is in Sanitary District 1), "Curbside service wouldn't fly here." You mean to tell me they're picking up garbage at the door? [And here we are, in Sanitary District 6, paying twice the rate for mere curbside service.]

We just have two simple questions: (1) How many Sanitary District Commissioners does it take to change that dim light bulb over the head of the unwittingly inane Nat Swergold, and (2) How long will we, the taxpaying homeowners of the Town of Hempstead, allow ourselves to be played for fools?
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Sanitary district audit planned County comptroller plans to explore consolidation of garbage pickup

By Andrew Coen

In an effort to save county residents money on the taxes they pay for services like garbage pickup and water, Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman has announced plans to begin auditing some of the more than 400 special taxing districts throughout the county.Sanitary District 1, which services the Five Towns and small portions of Lynbrook and Valley Stream, is among the five districts to be audited and considered for consolidation with other areas.

Other districts that will undergo audits include Sanitary District 2, which encompasses Baldwin, South Hempstead and Roosevelt; District 6, which takes in Elmont, North Valley Stream, Franklin Square, West Hempstead and Lakeview; the Port Washington Garbage District in the Town of North Hempstead, and the Syosset Sanitary District in the Town of Oyster Bay.

The districts were selected for audits based on criteria such as high tax rates, large accumulated surpluses and high tax increases in 2004-05, the comptroller said.

According to Weitzman, along with residents paying village, town and county taxes, there are nearly 400 sanitation and water districts with 1,600 different tax rates, amounting to a "hidden government" that adds to the already heavy tax burden. Weitzman said he would like to explore the feasibility of town governments' consolidating some of the special districts to save taxpayers money and operate them with greater efficiency."The growth of these special districts reflects the haphazard development of Nassau County in the last century, from a collection of unassociated towns, villages and hamlets," said Weitzman. "Some of [these districts] may be necessary and some may be well-run, but the persistence of so many separate governmental authorities, with their own employees and tax rates, tends to hide the true cost of local government and contributes to our high local tax burden."

Nat Swergold, the chief counsel for Sanitary District 1, said he does not see his district meeting any of Weitzman's criteria for an audit, since, Swergold said, the district does not have a high surplus, has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and has not had any hefty tax increases. "We are probably a target for this audit because we are the largest [sanitary district]," said Swergold, adding that Sanitary District 1 services more than 30,000 households.

According to Swergold, last year's tax rate for single-family residences in District 1 was $12.58 per $100 of the assessed value of a home, which is half the rate of District 2 ($24.62 per $100) and District 6 ($26.05 per $100)."

[District 1's] tax rates are much lower than the rest of the districts," said Cedarhurst Mayor Andrew Parise. "I don't know who would provide better service than we get here."Swergold said that while he welcomes an investigation into his district, because it is well run, he does not think the audit is necessary, since the state comptroller audits the district periodically. He added that he could not envision any sort of consolidation of the areas to save money, since each sanitation district has different needs. "

I think [consolidation] is not a good idea, because each area and each district is unique," said Swergold, who has been the attorney for District 1 since 1972. "There is no way we could keep these services if there were consolidation."

Swergold said that District 1 is unique compared with other sanitary districts, in part because its workers pick up trash in the rear of residents' homes, which means residents do not have to place garbage curbside unless they are disposing of heavy items. The district operates its own recycling plant in North Lawrence and, as a result, has the highest recycling rate of any sanitary district in the state, according to Swergold. The district also accommodates the large Orthodox Jewish population in the area by arranging for special trucks during the eight holy days of Passover so bread can be disposed of, since observant Jews do not eat bread during the holiday.

"Curbside service wouldn't fly here," Parise said of the unique services offered to residents in District 1.According to Weitzman, the goal of the audits is to provide a better understanding of the districts'expenditures, hiring and procurements practices and the efficiency of their operations. He said that additional audits of other special districts in the county would be considered depending on how the initial examination goes.

The comptroller's decision to initiate audits follows a January report by County Assessor Harvey Levinson that showed that many special taxing jurisdictions, like garbage and water districts, spend millions of dollars each year with little observation by the public. The report prompted Levinson to call on the comptroller to audit those districts in the county."Homeowners who pay widely different tax rates for the same services within a town are entitled to know how their ever-increasing tax dollars are spent," said Levinson. "I am confident that Comptroller Weitzman's independent examination of sanitation districts operating within the towns will lead to sensible cost-cutting measures, consolidation or possibly even the elimination of these unnecessary invisible governments."

The planned audits have the support of some top state officials, including Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "In beginning these audits, Comptroller Weitzman is addressing the need for greater public oversight of these taxing districts," said Hevesi. A 2002 audit of some of these special districts by then state Comptroller Carl McCall found that several districts kept unreasonably high reserve balances.Weitzman's audits will examine administrative and operating expenses and the appropriateness of fund balances.

Comments about this story? or (516) 569-4000 ext. 210.
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Clearly, the story isn't over yet. The NYS Comptroller's audit of Sanitary District 1 is in progess, and the Nassau County District Attorney's office is conducting it's own investigation (begun under Denis Dillon) to see if any Sanitary District 1 Commissioner, employee, or contract worker engaged in criminal conduct.

Meanwhile, those observing Passover who would like to have a truck sent to their homes to pick up bread may call Sanitary District 1 at 516-239-5600. Tell them The Community Alliance sent you! [Passover observers residing outside Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1 can call 1-800-I-GOT-BREAD for pick-up. Ask for Kate.]

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Radical In The White House

". . . Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself"

The following Op-Ed piece appeared in The New York Times on April 18, 2005. It is well worth republishing and rereading today, the 61st anniversary of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

By Bob Herbert

Last week - April 12, to be exact - was the 60th anniversary of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "I have a terrific headache," he said, before collapsing at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga. He died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the 83rd day of his fourth term as president. His hold on the nation was such that most Americans, stunned by the announcement of his death that spring afternoon, reacted as though they had lost a close relative.

That more wasn't made of this anniversary is not just a matter of time; it's a measure of the distance the U.S. has traveled from the egalitarian ideals championed by F.D.R. His goal was "to make a country in which no one is left out." That kind of thinking has long since been consigned to the political dumpster. We're now in the age of Bush, Cheney and DeLay, small men committed to the concentration of big bucks in the hands of the fortunate few.

To get a sense of just how radical Roosevelt was (compared with the politics of today), consider the State of the Union address he delivered from the White House on Jan. 11, 1944. He was already in declining health and, suffering from a cold, he gave the speech over the radio in the form of a fireside chat.

After talking about the war, which was still being fought on two fronts, the president offered what should have been recognized immediately for what it was, nothing less than a blueprint for the future of the United States. It was the clearest statement I've ever seen of the kind of nation the U.S. could have become in the years between the end of World War II and now. Roosevelt referred to his proposals in that speech as "a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race or creed."

Among these rights, he said, are:

"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.

"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.

"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

"The right of every family to a decent home.

"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

"The right to a good education."

I mentioned this a few days ago to an acquaintance who is 30 years old. She said, "Wow, I can't believe a president would say that."

Roosevelt's vision gave conservatives in both parties apoplexy in 1944 and it would still drive them crazy today. But the truth is that during the 1950's and 60's the nation made substantial progress toward his wonderfully admirable goals, before the momentum of liberal politics slowed with the war in Vietnam and the election in 1968 of Richard Nixon.

It wouldn't be long before Ronald Reagan was, as the historian Robert Dallek put it, attacking Medicare as "the advance wave of socialism" and Dick Cheney, from a seat in Congress, was giving the thumbs down to Head Start. Mr. Cheney says he has since seen the light on Head Start. But his real idea of a head start is to throw government money at people who already have more cash than they know what to do with. He's one of the leaders of the G.O.P. gang (the members should all wear masks) that has executed a wholesale transfer of wealth via tax cuts from working people to the very rich.

Roosevelt was far from a perfect president, but he gave hope and a sense of the possible to a nation in dire need. And he famously warned against giving in to fear.

The nation is now in the hands of leaders who are experts at exploiting fear, and indifferent to the needs and hopes, even the suffering, of ordinary people.

"The test of our progress," said Roosevelt, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

Sixty years after his death we should be raising a toast to F.D.R. and his progressive ideas. And we should take that opportunity to ask: How in the world did we allow ourselves to get from there to here?

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company