Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Please Stand By. . .

There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Community That Your Involvement Can't Fix

If you would like to see something other than a "test pattern" on this blog, then all you have to do is participate in the community-building process.

Nothing changes if your involvement in your own hometown and beyond consists of the functional equivalent of staring at this screen.

Stand up! Speak out! Be heard! There is no force as destructive in our own backyards as is the silence of the true friends of community.

Yes, we could continue to advocate for our Long Island without you, but we shouldn't have to. We've said our piece. The Blogspot has been ceremoniously passed -- to YOU! The next move is yours.

Blog your mind HERE until it helps. Be silent, at the risk of your own tomorrows.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Inherit The Wind Farm

Wind Power A Sound Idea, Yet An Ocean Away

With the cost of fossil fuels through the roof, and growing environmental concerns as sources of energy become more difficult to find without clearing the tundra and ejecting the caribou -- not to mention the insidious effects of global warming (and don't worry, the administration in Washington won't) -- folks from conservationists to pragmatists are looking to comparatively inexpensive, clean, and renewable sources to quell our pangs for power.

Topping the list, and fodder for much controversy on Long Island (what isn't these days?), is harnessing the vast power of a most readily available -- and completely free and environmentally friendly resource -- the wind.

There is talk -- and more than this, the prelude to action -- about wind farms off the Atlantic shore of Long Island, some 4 miles out to sea southeast of Jones Beach. Long Island Sound holds promise for another such field of blustery dreams, provided Broadwater doesn't make claim first, with it's floating natural gas facility.

The proposed Atlantic shore wind farm would harness enough of the offshore breezes to generate electricity for some 44,000 homes. Power that is clean, unlimited, and not subject to the whims of OPEC. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing, say the folks at LI Offshore Wind Initiative, a consortium of "local, regional, and national environmental, civic, health, business and faith-based groups working to bring the environmental, economic and public health benefits of offshore wind energy to our region."

Plenty, say residents in opposition, including community organizations such as Save Jones Beach, a coalition of six south shore civic groups.

LIOWI tells us that in terms of fuel and emissions savings alone, the wind farm will generate enough electricity to offset significant amounts of air emissions every year, including an estimated:
489 tons of sulfur dioxide
221 tons of nitrogen oxide
235,000 tons of carbon dioxide (that's equivalent to 1/2 Billion car miles avoided)

Add to this the projection that, over 20 years, we will save the equivalent of 13.5 million barrels of oil, a savings of over $800 million (at $60/barrel).

Supporters site the following additional factors in advocating for a Long Island offshore wind farm:

• Freedom of energy supply
– Replaces dependence on foreign oil
• Environmentally sound
– Prevents emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants
• Reduces medical costs

Detractors bolster their case by pointing to:

• Visual impact
– Off the coast of popular beaches (state parks)
• Danger to wildlife
– Birds
– Fisheries
– Endangered species
• Hurts local fishing
• Energy source only feasible due to government assistance

Considerable dissension centers not so much upon the potential hazards to birds and wildlife -- the slow moving blades of the turbines, envisioned by some as giant electric knives ready to carve up untold flocks of Thanksgiving turkeys, clearly causing far less damage to the environment than existing power plant emissions or recurring spills from tankers, offshore rigs, and broken pipelines -- but rather, questionable cost saving and the visual/physical impact upon our beaches and shore communities.

The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) supports the project (making it suspect from the get go), but so does the Long Island Neighborhood Network, giving it much credence.

There are the tax issues (Florida Power & Light, the project developer, stands to garner millions in both revenues and tax breaks), and the ugliness factor (although, few things are as unsightly as oil rig fires burning offshore, plumes of noxious gases spewing from power plant stacks, or oil soaked water fowl).

And then, there is the very real and immediate factor staring us right in the face: We can no longer afford to be held hostage to foreign oil, or to continue to destroy our planet by burning fossil fuels.

Yes, energy alternatives to wind power -- solar, hydrogen fuel cells, electromagnetic power, nuclear fusion -- are available. Some are years away from practical use. Others demand cost beyond the perceived benefits or are otherwise inefficient.

Wind power presents a viable -- and perhaps altogether necessary -- alternative for powering up Long Island. Despite the shortcomings of an offshore wind farm, and the vocal opposition thereto, the plan would seem worthy of further debate and consideration, and perhaps, ultimately, implementation.

While the complete answer to Long Island's energy woes may not be blowing in the wind (at least not entirely), to do nothing -- the equivalent of whistling in the wind -- is, as we have come to learn, a most dangerous fall back position.

Monday, May 29, 2006

In Honor Of Those Who Served And Perished

Soldier, rest, thy warfare o'er,
Dream of fighting fields no more.
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Morn of toil, nor night of waking.
--Sir Walter Scott

Friday, May 26, 2006

Democracy Inaction

Long Island School District Bites Hands Of Students Trying To Help

They walked out of their classrooms at Patchogue-Medford High the other day, marching in protest of the recent defeat of the school budget.

"Not another year on austerity," said one of the students. "Please vote 'yes' for your children."

If the students' pleas fell silent upon a community that, through its vote of no confidence, turned its back on education, they were heard loud and clear by school officials, who quickly moved to punish these kids for having the audacity to speak up on behalf of the school district. [Read Newsday's 80 students suspended following walkout on failed school budget.]

Suspended for taking a stand -- and taking a risk -- in support of passing a school budget?

Suspended for having the guts to publicly voice their concerns about a community's apparent lack thereof?

Suspended for exercising their First Amendment rights?

Nonsense. We say, suspend the Principal who ordered the suspension of these students!

Sure, a few of the students who "walked" got rowdy. Shame on them. Some "protested" just to get out of class or to grab a Coolatta® at the local Dunkin Donuts.

The bulk of the students so involved in this protest were as serious in intent as they were mindful of the consequences.

School administration should have at least been tacitly behind the students here. Consider this part of a civics lesson (or even Health Ed – after all, the students were “walking!”).

These suspensions, if permitted to stand, should be worn as badges of honor!

A physical confrontation is one thing. That must never be condoned. And, yes, there are issues of public safety, attendance, possible loss of school aid (such as it is), blah, blah, blah. But to suspend students for an act of civil disobedience intended to show support for the school district? What exactly were school administrators thinking? [We know. It seemed like a good idea at the time…]

Now the district has alienated their most ardent, if not most visible and vocal supporters – the students of the school district.

As Forrest Gump put it, “Stupid is what stupid does!”

A Trustee of another Long Island school district, to whom we shall ascribe anonymity, told The Community Alliance, "If I were the Principal, I would have provided demonstrators with milk and cookies, not suspension notices. Rechannel the energies of these young people and they can be a partner in an exciting political process for the community. What a great example of civics in action... Make the most of it."

We at The Community Alliance found it refreshing to see the youth of community – any community -- get off their posteriors and walk. As many of us are products of the 60s (yes, we're dating ourselves), we sense that there is way too much complacency and acceptance of the status quo in America today. It is so nice to see the youth of community rise to the occasion, even when their own parents – and school administration – won’t.

STUDENTS OF THE WORLD UNITE -- and onward to passage of the Patchogue-Medford budget on June 20th!
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To let administrators at the Patchogue-Medford School District know how you feel, e-mail Superintendent, Michael H. Mostow, at

Thursday, May 25, 2006


To All Civic And Community Leaders
Please join us for the
Conference on
Nassau County Special Districts
A public meeting to consider Nassau’s 200 special tax districts, their relation to the local property tax burden, and their role in 21st century government.
Hofstra University
Center for Suburban Studies
Leo A. Guthart Theater
Hempstead, New York
Thursday, June 8, 2006
Registration: 8:00 a.m. Program: 8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
- - -
Planning Committee
NYS Senator Michael Balboni - NYS Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli - County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi - County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman - County Assessor Harvey Levinson - County Legislator Diane Yatauro - North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman - Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray -Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto - Richard Guardino, Hofstra Center for Suburban Studies
- - -
Additional Speakers to Include:
Joseph Beach, Montgomery County, Maryland - Pearl Kamer, Long Island Association - Irwin Kellner, Hofstra University - Eric Lane, Hofstra Law School - Elizabeth Moore, Newsday - Mitchell Pally, Long Island Association - Charles Zettek Jr., Center for Governmental Research Special District Commissioners - Civic/Community Leaders
- - -
Topics to Include:
Overview of special districts in Nassau; the effect of special districts on taxes and the economy; accountability, transparency, and oversight issues; other models of municipal service delivery; and a Town Hall meeting with
state and local public officials
- - -
Seating is limited. Pre-registration is requested.
Email to:
or call 516-571-2677.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Line By Line By Line Item

Albany's Member Spending By The Numbers

The Empire Center For New York State Policy, a project of the Manhattan Institute for Policy research, has compiled a comprehensive list of member item spending by the NYS Legislature for fiscal years 2003 to 2005.

To download one or more of the annual lists, click on the following links: 2003 (439 pages, 1.4 MB) 2004 (375 pages, 1.1 MB) 2005 (340 pages, 1.0 MB).

We would republish the lists of line by line member item spending in their entirety, but with what amounts to 1,154 pages, listing 22,980 individual grants totaling just over $479 million, we fear a blog overload!

Do you think there's a member item grant available for community-minded blogs?

In related news, The Empire Center has created what it calls a Spend-O-Meter (no relation to The Community Alliance's now infamous Murray-Mail-Meter) to "let New York taxpayers see just how fast the state is tearing through their money."

Calibrated to the state budget's "all funds" spending total of $112.5 billion for the 2006-07 fiscal year, the "Spend-O-Meter" spins at the following rates, according to the Empire Center:

$3,566.18 per second
$213,970.70 per minute
$12,838,242.01 per hour
$308,117,808.22 per day
$2,162,750,000 per week
$9,371,916,666.67 per month

Wow! That last number looks like the amount due on the property tax bill of the average Long Island homeowner.

Hey folks, it's only money. If the State doesn't spend it, then Gary DelaRobber and his cronies at the Nassau County PBA -- where tax dollars flow like coffee at the donut shop -- surely will!
- - -
Click HERE to read, Taxing and Spending in the Empire State: Overview of the 2006-07 Executive Budget.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Don't Replace Property Tax With A New Income Tax. . .

. . . Try An Old One -- The State Income Tax

With all the talk of what to do with the onerous property tax -- including the prospect of a local income tax -- we sometimes overlook the obvious; like using revenues from the existing State income tax to fund our public schools.

Marc Bernstein, a school Superintendent in Valley Stream, suggested just that in a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times.

Hmm. Use an income tax we already pay to financially support our schools. And if Albany would actually return a greater share of Long Island's State income tax dollar to the island's school districts, the school portion of the property tax could be eliminated without even having to increase the State income tax burden.

Absolutely brilliant!
- - -
A Smart Tax

By Marc F. Bernstein

Most of Long Island's schools dodged the bullet of budget defeats in last week's votes, reversing a two-year trend. The reasons for only 14 percent rejection compared with 36 percent last year are simple: significant amounts of additional state aid and the lowest spending increases in seven years led to lower property tax increases.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the state can continue to find more money for the suburbs as it meets its court-ordered responsibility to pay billions more to New York City. Moreover, I doubt that the schools will find new ways to keep their budget increases to this year's level — we've cut what can be cut. What we need is the state income tax to replace the property tax as the primary source of money for our schools.

Though Long Islanders continue to be proud of their excellent schools, they won't have the money to pay their school taxes, huge monthly mortgages and skyrocketing energy bills. If we were to make the income tax the main way to pay for schools, we would lower residential property taxes, bring equity to school expenditures in our school districts and slow the rate of increasing school expenses.

If we don't find a way to eliminate or significantly reduce the property tax, educational programs may be unmercifully cut and people may leave the Island in droves.

Using the state income tax to pay for schools could be accompanied by the state's establishing a common spending level for all students, adjusted by region. Thus, parents would be assured that their children will receive a sound basic education no matter where they live and regardless of the school district's property wealth. And if the state was required to pay for all new programs it mandates and districts had to make choices within a fixed budget ceiling, yearly increases in school expenses would be significantly limited.

The path toward setting a guaranteed state-financed minimum for per pupil spending has been paved by the decision by the state's highest court in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. With the Court of Appeals having ruled that the state must provide additional money to pay for New York City public schools, other school districts are likely to bring their own lawsuits to try to compel the state to provide more aid to them as well. We could pre-empt these suits by having the state pay for education while eliminating the local school property.

How would this work? The state would establish a common per pupil expenditure level. Each school district would receive state aid commensurate with its number of students, regionally adjusted for the cost of living and taking into consideration that students with special needs require disproportionately higher spending.

Of course, there are issues that must be dealt with before this change in expenditure control and revenue allocation can be made. For example, some communities may insist on spending more money than the state has provided, and they should have the right to do it through a county income tax, sharing the county's commercial property values or through a special resident property tax that they impose on themselves by a supermajority vote.

A survey of Long Islanders released by the Rauch Foundation late last year showed that 55 percent of respondents thought that paying for schools through the income tax was a good idea. Clearly, the people of Long Island understand that this solution will control education expense and equalize educational opportunity while eliminating the burdensome and regressive local property tax.

Marc F. Bernstein is the superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
- - -
Great idea, Marc. We wonder if any of our state legislators -- and, perhaps, candidates for Governor -- are reading this?
- - -
Click HERE to read Joye Brown's Talk of the Towns: Property Taxes

Monday, May 22, 2006

Study: More Aid From Albany Needed

Alliance For Quality Education Says School Financing Formulae In Need Of Overhaul

Not like we really needed another study, but ---

A report issued by the Alliance For Quality Education finds fault with the manner in which Albany decides who gets what in State Aid, and criticizes the heavy reliance on property taxes to fund New York's schools. [Click HERE to read the full report, New York State's Dual Crises: Low Graduation Rates and Rising School Taxes.]

Yes, yet ANOTHER study, survey, or report to tell us what we already know -- and what we experience, with great distress, in our wallets -- but the Alliance's study highlights what we've been saying since day one: RELIEF CAN ONLY COME TO BOTH SCHOOL DISTRICT AND TAXPAYER FROM ALBANY!

The AQE report highlights two "essential" findings:

􀀹 Districts that spend more per pupil have higher achievement, as measured by graduation rates.

􀀹 Higher state aid increases result in lower property tax increases.

Well, how do you like that? This took, what, all of three seconds to figure out?

On the property tax front, the study cites a recent report by the State Comptroller:

A recent study by New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi found that the property tax - - a combination of taxes levied by school districts to operate schools (sometimes referred to in this report as “school taxes”) and taxes levied by cities, towns, and villages to fund municipal services – is “by far the largest tax imposed by local governments in New York State, representing 79 percent of all local taxes outside of New York City.”

The Hevesi Property Tax Study found that the greatest growth in local property tax levies has occurred since 2000, when property taxes increased 42 percent, more than three times the inflation rate for that period (13%).

School taxes are the largest portion of property taxes paid by homeowners (61% outside of New York City), and have “generally been increasing more rapidly than municipal property taxes (counties, cities, towns and villages)….

As with total property taxes, school taxes vary around the State, with some of the highest full value tax rates in high-need districts, where property values tend to be low, but some of the highest total bills in wealthier areas, where property values are much higher.”

The study's conclusion, while short on practical, real-world solutions, is well worth republishing here:

This report adds to the overwhelming evidence that increased school spending will improve educational outcomes for New York State’s two million school children. And this report also concludes that a significant increase in state-funded education spending would result in property tax relief for overburdened taxpayers.

The 2006-07 state budget did not provide even close to enough funding to address the graduation crisis. By providing a greater than usual increase in state school aid, the budget did moderate proposed local property tax increases around the state. However, it did nothing to reform the fundamental over-reliance on local property taxes in funding schools.

Addressing these problems simultaneously is the number one school funding challenge faced by state policymakers. This can only be accomplished through a dramatic and fundamental reform of the state's school funding formula.

Such reform must provide for the state assuming a much larger proportional share of the school funding pie. It must also include a leveling of the playing field by targeting additional resources to significantly increase the graduation rates of lower income, English Language Learners and disabled students around the state.

Finally, any reform plan must apply the principles established in CFE II statewide.

A variety of alternatives to school funding reform have been proposed around the state. These include capping local school budgets and providing additional state funded property tax rebates. However, neither a cap on property taxes nor a property tax rebate takes into account the need to increase graduation rates or other desirable educational outcomes.

It takes no great leap of faith to conclude that capping school spending will not improve graduation rates when there is overwhelming evidence connecting increased spending per pupil with improved educational outcomes. In fact, capping school district spending is likely to adversely affect student achievement.

Moreover, there is no evidence that property tax rebate checks will actually provide for a long term slowing in the growth of property taxes. Such rebate plans, layered on top of the existing flawed school funding system, are likely to prove inadequate at stopping the growth in property taxes and do nothing at all to address the graduation crisis.

A more hopeful approach lies in retooling the school funding system entirely. The shifting of a larger share of school funding away from local property taxes and into the state budget would produce fundamental changes in the growth of property taxes, as supported by the findings in this report.

Such reform, coupled with a commitment by the State to provide a large infusion of additional school funding resources to school districts with the greatest unmet educational needs, will have significant positive impacts in bringing property taxes under control and improving graduation rates and other educational outcomes.

How can the state pay for the additional state funding that is needed?

A range of options have been proposed by various entities, including setting aside state budget surpluses for education, income tax surcharges on the highest income earners, creation of more tax brackets for higher income earners, savings through Medicaid fraud enforcement, and creating efficiencies of scale in school districts statewide.

However, this report is not focused on funding mechanisms. Rather, we have documented that both the graduation and property tax crises stem from the same source: the State's failure to pay a large enough share of the school funding pie and the failure to have a school funding formula designed to meet student need. It is incumbent upon lawmakers to weigh the full range of available options for how to provide the revenues necessary to end both the graduation and property tax crises...

The findings of this study aside, there are still certain factions in Albany that have, in effect, told the taxpayer that Albany has done all it can do with respect to school financing and property tax relief. The rest, they tell us, is up to the local school boards.

This, of course, is the ultimate cop out. But hey, maybe the Legislature will conduct it's own study, issuing it's own report, perhaps to be entitled, "There Is No Property Tax Crises: Why The School Financing Mess Is All In The Taxpayers' Heads."

Meanwhile, we await the findings of two critical studies, due out shortly:

Town of Hempstead Sanitary Districts: A Source of Joy For Which We'd Gladly Pay More, issued by TOH Councilman, Anthony Santino; and

We'll Be There To Pick Up Your Leftover Bread In The Morning, by Counsel for TOH Sanitary District 1, Nat Swergold.

Until then, remember, "fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you. . ."

Friday, May 19, 2006

It's Howdy Doody Time!

The Untimely Passing Of Clarabell The Clown

To read the obit, it was just another page torn from the era of the golden age of television.

Lew Anderson, the last man behind the make-up of Clarabell the clown of The Howdy Doody Show, died this week at age 84.

For 8 of the show's 13 years on television, Lew Anderson silently played the role of Clarabell, filling clown shoes previously worn by the likes of none other than Bob Keeshan (who later gained fame and tv-land immortality as Captain Kangaroo).

Perhaps the most well remembered, but saddest, milestone came at the end of the final episode in 1960 when Clarabell (Lew Anderson - not Bob Keeshan) finally spoke, saying simply, "Goodbye, kids." The pioneering TV show was gone. And now, so is Lew Anderson, may he rest in peace.

But the press had it wrong when they reported that Lew was "the last Clarabell."

Clarabell the clown lives on, and right here on Long Island.

The first of the Island's Clarabells -- played entirely in blackface (you can't say that on radio, for goodness sake!) -- was Nassau County Legislator Roger Corbin.

Roger lost the job in early 2006 when he broke years of silence, telling kids in the audience, "If the clown pants fit, you must acquit!"

Following a rash of litigation, Corbin settled with the show's producers for an undisclosed sum, and a supporting role in the planned remake of The Jeffersons.

Corbin was quickly replaced by another one of the Legislature's finest, Peter Schmitt, who dispensed with the wearing of the clown nose, his own fitting the bill just swell.

Unfortunately, Peter had a bit of trouble remaining silent -- about anything -- and the plug was quickly pulled on Clarabell's career.

Those of us in the Peanut Gallery long for the days when the only sound heard from Clarabell was the honking of a horn. Alas, the heyday of the TV clown is apparently over.

As for Howdy Doody himself, after an all too long hiatus, he, too, is back.

Yes, the man who asked a gullible nation, "Wanna buy some wood?" plays on daily at studio 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

If only Buffalo Bob were with us today!
- - -
Lee Koppelman assisted in the planning of this blogspot, produced entirely on location in Elmont, New York.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Enter The "New Suburbanists"

A Remedy for the Rootlessness Of Modern Suburban Life?

By Sarah Boxer

Attacks on suburbia are as old as cul-de-sacs. Suburbs have always been derided as bourgeois, consumerist and conformist. But now they have become the enemy of family values, too. That's right. Karl Zinsmeister, the editor of the conservative magazine The American Enterprise, has written that ''suburbia is actually a fairly radical social experiment,'' one that can be linked to ''the disappearance of family time, the weakening of generational links . . . the anonymity of community life, the rise of radical feminism, the decline of civic action, the tyrannical dominance of TV and pop culture over leisure time.''

What is to be done?

A group of architects and planners who have named themselves the Congress for the New Urbanism have vowed to halt the spread of faceless, car-centered suburbs by promoting friendly, people-centered towns with corner stores and public greens.

They call for some old-fashioned things: walkable neighborhoods with a mix of residences, businesses and public places; straight and narrow streets; wide sidewalks, and no cul de sacs. They believe houses should be built close enough together and close enough to the sidewalks to define streets and public squares. Above all, they want strong town centers and clear town boundaries. No one, they believe, should live more than a five-minute walk from most of their errands. (Otherwise, what's to stop people from getting in their cars and driving?) And like their British counterpart, the Urban Villages Group, the architects favored by the Prince of Wales, they want to preserve old towns and cities through ''infill,'' building on unused urban lots.

''No one can be opposed to those principles,'' said Alex Krieger, a professor of urban design at Harvard University. They are like ''mom and apple pie,'' he said. Yet many new-urban towns have been scorned as cutesy, regressive and un-urban. The new urbanists -- or neo-traditionalists -- should instead be called the ''new suburbanists,'' some say, because they are less interested in planning principles than in porches, picket fences and gabled roofs.

Seaside, designed in the early 1980's by Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany, two of the founders of new urbanism, is the oldest new-urban town. Built on a stretch of the Florida panhandle, Seaside was meant to foster community life and beach access. The houses, a pastiche of historical styles in pastel colors, are set close to one another and connected by straight brick streets and a network of sand walkways cutting through the middle of each block. When the town is finished, it is supposed to have 350 houses and 300 apartments, a school, an open-air market, a town hall, a tennis club, an amphitheater, a post office, and a number of shops, offices and beach pavillions.

If you're having trouble picturing it, think of the idyllic town in the movie ''The Truman Show.'' That was no movie set. That was Seaside.

Since Seaside was built, new urbanism has won a lot of fans and building contracts. There are dozens of new-urban towns and projects built or under construction, including Celebration in Florida, Laguna West in California and Kentlands in Maryland. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is renovating some of its public housing according to new urbanist principles: more porches, more fences, lower buildings, narrower streets. Jane Jacobs, the author of ''The Death and Life of Great American Cities,'' has praised the movement as ''sound'' and ''promising.'' And publications from The Sierra Club Yodeler to The American Enterprise have smiled on the new urbanists.

''But is their particular vision of urbanization an innovative model appropriate to the 21st century,'' Michelle Thompson-Fawcett asked in the journal Urban Design International, ''or is it regressive nostalgia?''

New urbanism is, by definition, nostalgic. Towns built on a human scale, with strong centers and clear edges, have been around for 5,000 years, said Robert Davis, the developer of Seaside and the chairman of the new-urban congress. It is only in the last 50 years, with the rise of modernism, he said, that Americans have forgotten how to build them.

The new urbanists want to induce neighborliness with architecture. In this sense they are utopian. Like the modernist master planners of the 1930's, they believe social change can be brought about through architecture and planning. The difference is that most of them hate modernism.

While the modernists ''tried to get to the future by destroying the past,'' Robert Fishman, the author of ''Bourgeois Utopias,'' said, the new urbanists ''are reviving the past in order to change'' the present. That, the new urbanists think, is why many architecture schools view them with contempt.

Most schools of architecture are ''so in the grips of the modernist ideology and so defensive of the avant-garde that they see the Congress for the New Urbanism as fundamentally conservative,'' said Daniel Solomon, a founder of the movement. Peter Katz, the author of ''The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community,'' said that the nation's most powerful architects, particularly those in New York, ''laugh at the poor souls who live in suburbia.''

Kenneth Frampton, an architecture professor at Columbia University, agrees that many architecture schools (though he excludes Columbia) have ignored some questions about land settlement. But what bothers most professors about the new urbanists, he said, is not their critique of suburbia or land settlement. It is their design ideas.

The new-urbanist charter says nothing explicit about what styles are acceptable. Yet because many new urbanists believe that modernism ruined American cities, nearly all of their designs rely heavily on building styles from the past. Kentlands in Maryland is full of Georgian houses. Celebration, Disney's village in Florida, is full of brand new Victorians and Colonials.

''What's upsetting'' about new urbanism, said Mr. Frampton, ''is that the imagery is so retrograde.'' It is based on a ''sentimental iconography'' as if there were something inherently good about Victorians, Georgians and Colonials and something inherently bad about modernism. To be fair, there were a lot of modernists in the 1930's who advocated low-rise, high density housing, he said. Besides, the kind of modernism that the new urbanists see as their enemy is a straw man. No one is advocating tearing down whole cities to make way for skyscrapers.

''If you want to look for the demon that destroyed Main Street in America,'' Mr. Frampton said, ''it is not the modern movement but the American bureaucracy that opened the way for freeways and suburbanization.'' The railroads were deliberately undermined by the automobile industry, he said, adding, ''That was an economic, a capitalist, operation,'' not an architectural one.

New urbanism has not attacked the root of the problem sufficiently, suggested Alex Marshall, who has often written about new urbanism for Metropolis magazine. ''What new urbanism tries to do is imitate older communities that existed before the automobile'' without getting rid of the automobile. But if you want to return to these older forms of life, he said, you ''have to bring back the transportation system.'' If you simply change the way houses are built, ''it's like changing hemlines.''

New urbanists like to see themselves as radicals, said Mr. Krieger, who was once a supporter of the movement and is now a critic. But, he added, they are ''no longer the radical fringe but conventional wisdom.'' Developers have begun using the term new urbanism to sell their projects.

That's not to say the movement hasn't had a good effect, Mr. Krieger said. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has dedicated $2.6 billion to ''Hope Six,'' a nationwide plan to rebuild mid-century public housing according to new urbanist principles. From Boston to Cleveland to Helena, Mont., high-rise projects are being replaced by town houses with porches and fences. ''That is the part of the movement that most impresses me,'' said Mr. Krieger.

The problem, Mr. Marshall noted, is that most new-urban developments are not urban at all. They are rich developments on the town's edge. ''They are sprawl under another name,'' he said, and they are as restrictive as any suburban development. Most are privately run by homeowners' associations that give developers extraordinary control.

For example, in Celebration, Disney's new-urban town, the deed restrictions specify what kind of drapery, roofing tiles and political signs are allowed. ''Disney has a history of making warm and fuzzy dog movies,'' said Evan McKenzie, the author of ''Privatopia,'' a book on housing associations, but ''they can take your dog if it makes too much noise.''

''It's as if the people are saying: 'Who needs democracy? It's utopia already!' '' said Mr. McKenzie.

People are looking for homeyness and safety, and they don't mind giving up some freedoms for it. In Kentlands, there is a gate in front of each entry into the development, Mr. Krieger said. ''It's a decorative gate but it evokes the same associations as a real gate. It's a subtle form of 'Keep Out.' ''

If decorative gates can evoke the same response as real gates, then maybe the look of neighborliness -- porches, wide sidewalks and village greens -- can evoke real neighborliness. Or can it?

The one big criticism about new-urban towns is that they are fake towns. Given that, it's curious that the developer of Seaside agreed to let ''The Truman Show,'' a movie about a real man in a false world, be filmed in Seaside. The movie all but said, ''This is not really a town but the shell of a town, an image of a town,'' Mr. Krieger said.

After the filming was over, the painted plywood storefronts that had been put up for the movie stayed up for months because the developer liked the way they looked, Mr. Krieger said. After all, looking like a real town is the next best thing to being one.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company. This article first appeard in The New York Times on August 1, 1998. Referenced links have been added by The Community Alliance.
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At The Community Alliance, we look to present diverse, and even controversial viewpoints concerning the growth and revitalization of suburbia, this in the hope of generating debate, and ultimately, fostering action on the issues -- be they economic, political, social or otherwise -- that impact upon America's first suburb, Nassau County, Long Island.

Your opinions, comments, and Guest Blogs are appreciated and most welcome. E-mail us at

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taking Aim At High Property Taxes

June 8th Conference at Hofstra to Consider Effect on Property Taxes, Possible Reforms

Nassau’s patchwork of 200 special tax districts, how they contribute to the county’s high property tax burden, and how local government might be streamlined will be the subject of a county-wide conference at Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies on June 8 (8:30 am to 12:30 pm).

Plans for the first-of-its-kind “Nassau County Conference on Special Districts” were announced May 1st at a news conference at Hofstra hosted by Richard Guardino, Executive Dean of the Hofstra Center for Suburban Studies. Joining Mr. Guardino was a bipartisan coalition of public officials assembled by County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, including County Executive Thomas Suozzi, State Senator Michael Balboni, State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, County Assessor Harvey Levinson and County Legislator Diane Yatauro. In addition to Supervisor Venditto, the conference has the support of North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.

The conference is being co-sponsored by Hofstra, the Long Island Association, the Rauch Foundation, and Herald Community Newspapers.

“Nassau has too many layers of government, and this is one reason that we have the highest property taxes in the state,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “In addition to the county, three towns, two cities and 64 villages, there are 200 other districts with taxing authority – not including school districts. While some special districts may be efficiently run and provide good service, our audits found that others are wasteful and have little or no public accountability, transparency or oversight. This conference will be the first step in a public dialogue in which all viewpoints will be represented and respected. We do not have a preconceived agenda for reform, but I do think that in many cases it’s possible to reduce property taxes, even while maintaining or even improving municipal services.”

County Executive Tom Suozzi said, “I am pleased to join this bipartisan effort to increase the accountability of the hundreds of special taxing districts in Nassau County. Combined with the campaign we have already begun to find a way to reduce school taxes, the single largest tax burden on our residents, this is another important step in our fight to reduce the tax burden across the county.”

Rich Guardino, Executive Dean of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said, "The Center for Suburban Studies is devoted to researching suburban issues throughout the nation, often using Long Island as a microcosm. We are hosting and sponsoring this Nassau County Conference on Special Districts because finding innovative ways to deal with Nassau County's property tax burden is crucial to the future of Long Island and can be a model for first suburbs in other areas."

State Senator Michael Balboni said, “We need to carefully consider every option available to us if we are ever going to contain property taxes and realize economies of scale. A step to achieving that goal is to examine whether the same level of quality services can be provided by local governments through consolidations and intermunicipal cooperation, which could ultimately lead to less municipal spending and relief for property taxpayers.”

New York State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli said, "Discovering creative ways to make government work more efficiently remains a constant challenge. An examination of the impact of special districts on the delivery of municipal services presents a unique opportunity to assess our current system. I congratulate Comptroller Weitzman for being proactive in bringing together such a diverse group of individuals and perspectives in a public forum to discuss these issues. I support his efforts and look forward to contributing to this important dialogue."

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said, “All levels of government, including special districts, need to continually explore ways to make government more efficient and accountable. The Town of Oyster Bay looks forward to participating in this important conference.”

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman said, "I am looking forward to joining with Comptroller Weitzman and all of the other stakeholders to take a fresh look at the issue of special districts and how to make local government work better. The Town of North Hempstead, by creating the new Office of Intermunicipal Coordination, has shown that it is committed to partnering with all municipal entities to solve mutual problems and work together to foster more efficient government."

Assessor Harvey Levinson said, “While it may take some time to change a system that has existed for decades, thanks to the efforts and leadership of Comptroller Howard Weitzman, County Executive Tom Suozzi, Senator Michael Balboni, Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, our town supervisors, Legislator Diane Yatauro and Hofstra University, we are taking an important first step to find workable solutions that may help reduce the property tax burden imposed on homeowners by the 200 special taxing districts in Nassau County.”

Mitchell H. Pally, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Long Island Association, said, “The Long Island Association strongly supports the concept of this conference. We have to objectively determine whether the services being provided to our residents are being provided at the lowest cost possible, in view of the fact that we pay the highest local real property tax rates in the country.”

Nassau County Legislator Diane Yatauro said, “I appreciate the effort being made to undertake this comprehensive review of special taxing districts throughout Nassau County. I am looking forward to exploring ways in which we can work with the employees of the many districts to reduce the tax burden on the residents of Nassau County.”

A partial list of speakers scheduled to participate at the conference includes: Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi; Town Supervisors Venditto, Murray and Kaiman; NYS Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli; NYS Senator Michael Balboni; Long Island Association President Matthew Crosson and Vice President Mitchell Pally; Professor Eric Lane of Hofstra University; Economists Pearl Kamer of the LIA and Irwin Kellner of Hofstra; Charles Zettek, Jr. of the Center for Governmental Research; Newsday investigative reporter Elizabeth Moore; and Joseph F. Beach, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer of Montgomery County, Maryland, a county often cited for its streamlined and unified approach to county government. Special District commissioners and community group representatives are expected to participate in panel discussions as well.

Comptroller Weitzman’s office in 2005 conducted audits of five sanitary districts in the three towns. In four of the five audits, the Comptroller found serious financial mismanagement; a lack of oversight; few, if any, written policies and procedures; overspending, faulty contracting, and questionable employment and benefit practices. As a result of the audits, the State Comptroller and the District Attorney initiated independent investigations. A December 2005 “white paper” on the county’s special districts issued by the Comptroller’s Office reviewed their history and development, examined lessons learned from the audits, and cited a widespread lack of oversight and accountability. The report may be downloaded or read on-line at

For more information on the June 8th conference, contact the Nassau County Comptroller's office at 516-571-2677 or by e-mail at

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Best Laid Plans

End Of An Era At Long Island Regional Planning Board

After some forty years at the helm of a ship that more often listed while adrift in a sea of bureaucratic mayhem than it smoothly sailed the charted course, Lee Koppelman, Executive Director of the sometimes troubled Long Island Regional Planning Board, has retired.

New York, including much of Long Island, had it's Master Builder in Robert Moses, while Long Island uniquely held claim to it's Master Planner, Lee Koppelman. Both had their share of critics and detractors, as well as their hard-core supporters. Both were men of grand vision, whose foresight, in the case of Moses, sometimes failed to mesh with -- or so much as take into consideration -- the realities of an evolving community, and, in the case of Koppelman, regularly failed to win the embrace of entrenched political operatives.

Stymied by the stranglehold of town zoning boards and small-minded technocrats, and holding little if any sway over either, the Long Island Regional Planning Board, along with many of Professor Koppelman's best laid plans, floundered.

There were some successes en route, such as the creation of the Pine Barrens preserve. In Suffolk, Koppelman championed the preservation of open space. In Nassau County, his proposals, including pleas to build affordable housing and hopes of developing a light rail system, were mostly ignored.

Failures, and there were a few, including the haphazard development of the Route 110 corridor, were largely the product of institutional malaise and governmental arrogance rather than Dr. Koppelman's own perceived shortcomings.

Unlike Moses, who wielded great power and commanded the ability to raise large sums of money for his pet projects, all Lee Koppelman could do was to offer what he considered as prudent advice, too much of it, unfortunately, falling upon deaf ears at both county and local levels.

Among, Dr. Koppelman's ideas, first advanced during the 1960s, and incorporated into the 1970 "Comprehensive Plan for 1985" were:

Transportation: Expand the highway network, build two bridges over Long Island Sound, revamp the Long Island Rail Road and establish an integrated bicounty bus system.

Housing: Build 400,000 new units by 1985, including 128,500 rental apartments for residents under 25 and over 65.

Land use: Cluster construction to preserve open land, acquire parkland, limit development in North Shore estate areas and on the East End, and preserve at least 30,000 acres of farmland.

Taxes: Create countywide taxing districts to pay for schools and impose county sales taxes to prevent an anticipated doubling of the average Long Island homeowner's tax bill in 15 years to pay for increased public services.

They weren't listening then, and, lip service to "smart growth," "downtown revitalization" and school and special district "consolidation" aside, for the most part, those who rule the roost over regional and community-based plans are not listening still.

Today, there is a call, chiefly by the Island's two County Executives, to strengthen the Regional Planning Board. James Larocca, the Board's Chairman, and the newly appointed Board members, have the opportunity to seize upon the vision of Messrs. Levy and Suozzi and search out a successor to Dr. Koppelman who would boldly go where no planner dared -- or was permitted -- to go before.

Long Island stands at the crossroads in it's course as America's first suburb. Property taxes spiraling ever-upward. Housing out of reach to all but the extremely wealthy. The commercial base fleeing. Traffic at a standstill. The water below is tainted. The air above, stagnant. From taxes to transportation, there appears to be little in the way of a plan, master or otherwise.

Lee Koppelman wanted Long Island to think and act like the region it is. He would have delighted as well, we believe, had we acted more locally on the community front to create neighborhoods that felt more like, well, neighborhoods, rather than the strip malls and sprawling brownfields that have all but destroyed that sense of community the neighborhood was intended to promote.

Sometimes, neighborhoods just happen. The best of them develop and thrive naturally, without the intervention of either master planners or master builders. At other times, community needs the boost that only a regional plan -- one that takes into account the vitality of the neighborhood -- can provide.

Now is the time for the Long Island Regional Planning Board to take the helm again and, with vision, leadership, and a dash of tenacity, to ply Long Island's waters with a full head of steam. It is also time for Long Island's 2 counties, 13 towns, 2 cities, and 93 villages (and we haven't begun to include in the count Long Island's 126 school disticts and 700 some-odd "special" districts) to board the ship and begin to row together in the same direction at the same time.

As Lee Koppelman said some forty years ago, "We can't afford to wait!"

Monday, May 15, 2006

Putting The "Public" Back In Public Authorities

With Few Watching, Pot Boils Over

"Many of New York's public authorities do important work and do it well, but their good work is eclipsed by the irresponsible actions and mismanagement by others. The reforms enacted already will strengthen accountability and transparency of what has been an immense shadow government."

- Alan G. Hevesi, NYS Comptroller

There are, at last count, some 730 Public Authorities in operation in New York State. "Public Authority." A misnomer for a quasi-governmental agency that runs on the taxpayers' dime, has the power to spend with almost reckless abandon, and is accountable to almost no one. "Public Authority." That which has been labeled as "the fourth branch of New York government."

Officially speaking (and this comes directly from the website of the NYS Comptroller, "Public authorities are corporate instruments of the State created by the legislature to further public interests. Public authorities are legally and administratively autonomous from the State. Each public authority is governed by a separate board of directors, with the majority of directors appointed by the Governor and/or Legislature. Though created by the State, public authorities are subject to neither the State Constitutional limits on the incurrence of debt nor legislative budget approval process."

What this means, in plain English, more or less, is that such administrative behemoths as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), New York Racing Association (NYRA), and the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, operate, if not candestinely, then certainly, well under the radar and virtually without reproach.

The recent near-disaster involving the Roosevelt Island tram -- operated under the auspices of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation -- illustrates just how bumbling management, with little or no oversight, places the public at risk.

So, just how much unbridled power do these so-called public benefit corporations have?

- Public authorities have the power to levy user fees and charges, but not taxes (witness the $1 per month surcharge unilaterally imposed by the MTA on your EZ-Pass account. A bill to eliminate this abomination passed the State Senate in March, and is now in committee in the Assembly);

- Most public authorities have the ability to borrow funds by issuing debt. Total public authority debt reached over $120 billion in 2004, and continues to grow. [$44.6 billion of this amount is State funded debt, which makes up a majority of the $48.2 billion total outstanding State debt.] As the late Senator Everett Dirksen was purported to have said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money!";

- Although debt service on State funded borrowing is paid by taxpayers, none of this debt is approved by the voters. Only 11 public authorities in New York have their borrowing reviewed by the Public Authorities Control Board.

In terms of what mismanagement -- if not outright corruption -- means at the public authorities, consider the following:

- Former Horse Racing Capital Investment Fund Chair Pleads Guilty to Grand Larceny; Comptroller Audit Details Financial Improprieties, Chair, Executive Director Received Thousands of Dollars in Personal Expenses, Other Inappropriate Expenditures, Chair Ran Private Business from Government Office;

- Albany Water Board/Finance Authority: More Public Authorities Out of Control Poor Oversight Led to Cost Overruns, Huge Losses, Cash Flow Problems;

- Audit Details Severe Mismanagement at Westchester County Health Care Corp., Inaccurate Budget Projections, Bad Management Decisions, Poor Financial Controls, Inadequate Accounting Systems All Contributed to $207 Million Loss Over Four Years, Deficits Persist, But Progress Being Made on Financial Operations Under New Management Team;

- Audit Finds NYRA Routinely Violated State Law And Its Own Policies In Purchasing Millions In Goods And Services In 2002-2004, Comptroller Cites Association’s Use of No-Bid Contracts, Notes NYRA’S New Leadership Has Begun to Implement Reforms With Help of Federal Monitor;

- Audit Finds Thruway Authority Has Not Taken Recommended Steps To Monitor E-ZPASS Contract;

- MTA Board Responsible For Its Financial Crisis, Has No Effective Plan To Fix It.

And the list, as they say, goes on!

Among other reports and a host of audits issued by the Comptroller's office, is a scathing indictment of an almost total lack of oversight in public authorities awarding of billions of dollars in contracts.

We fear, and the Comptroller's findings appear to confirm, that malfeasance is but the tip of the public authority iceberg -- and we, as taxpayers, are the unwitting passengers on the NYS Titanic. The legislative band too often fiddles as our unsinkable ship goes down into the icy waters of debt...

It was back in the day, when the master builder and infamous power broker, Robert Moses, reigned supreme over a slew of so-called public authorities, from the Triborough Bridge Authority to the Power Authority of the State of New York, giving Moses -- and Moses alone -- an internal infrastructure through which he could (and did) set policy, issue bonds, collect tolls, dole out patronage, and spend billions in taxpayer dollars to build bridges, tunnels, roadways and World's Fairs.

The excesses and abuses under Moses, and continuing thereafter, resulted in the neglect of mass transit, the carving up of communities, and the totalitarian stronghold over public monies without public oversight that, even today, plague New York's cities, suburbs, and yes, taxpayers.

The Comptroller, together with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, proposed legislation, appropriately known as the Public Authorities Reform Act. In essence, the legislation is designed as much to restore public confidence in public authorities as it is to ride roughshot over them.

In January of this year, the State Legislature passed, and the Governor signed (see, they actually DO accomplish something up in Albany! Alert the media), a comprehensive Public Authorities Accountability Act. It goes a long way -- light years, in fact, in the 80 mostly-odd year history of atonomous public authorities in New York -- to open these secretive and sometimes corrupt agancies to what could be the cleansing light of say.

Still, more needs to be done -- much more -- primarily in the State Legislature, which created the beast in the first place, to bring public authorities back into the sphere of public scrutiny, public trust, and at least some semblance of public control.
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Click HERE to read Public Authorities, from the Gotham Gazette.

Click HERE to read the report of the Citizens Budget Commission of April, 2006, Public Authorities In New York State.

Click HERE to read the Newsday article, Power Pay For Power Players (or, as we call it at The Community Alliance, LIPA-suction at work!)

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Little Bit Country. . .

. . .But Not At The Jones Beach Band Shell

For many years, taking the family for a stroll along the Jones Beach boardwalk, with it's refreshing ocean breezes, meant a visit to the band shell to join in a square dance, relive the 60s with some folk songs, or kick up the heels with a country tune.

Not this year!

Seems that those who book the acts for the band shell at the Jones Beach State Park are more interested in selling beer than in providing family-oriented entertainment. Not that The Community Alliance is against selling beer, mind you, but come on, what's summer at the band shell without that knee-slapping soul of Dixieland?

Mary Lamont, "the Queen of Long Island Country," writes us:

Hello Folks --

Just when you think there’s good news, there’s bad news -- The person who works with the person who was hired by the company that was hired by the State to book the Jones Beach Boardwalk Bandshell has informed us that we have no dates at Jones Beach. After confirming three Tuesdays with us some time ago (and they admitted that, yes, they did confirm the dates), they say we no longer have the dates. We know of another band who had confirmed dates at Jones Beach Bandshell, and their dates were taken away as well.

In the ten years we have had this band, no person or company hiring us has ever done business like this. This person said they “didn’t care how many people wrote” requesting that we be given shows at Jones Beach. This is despite the enormous crowds, including many of you who shared evenings with us... those crowds who spent money at the beach concessions.

It appears that the bands being booked are bar-type bands, as opposed to family entertainment. And we were told in a previous year, by the person doing the booking at that time, that one of the acts was related to someone within the company – they’re back this year.

And another band, although they didn’t do well last year, is back this year too, and is a good friend of ....Well, you get the idea.

It all seems like a big mess, doesn’t it? Whom would we complain to now? Maybe Bernadette Castro, because the local State office (where many wrote letters) is not returning our phone calls.

Ms. Bernadette Castro, Commissioner,
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Empire State Plaza
Agency Building 1
Albany NY, 12238

I am so sorry that we have no dates at Jones Beach, and we will miss meeting you there. I hope to see you in other locations (and we’ve got some terrific ones coming up!) this spring, summer and fall! And don’t forget country star John Berry’s show on Thursday, May 18th at the Crazy Donkey in Farmingdale – We get to open! (details below).

All the best,

Now, we, at The Community Alliance, are not quite sure what to make of all this, but we do know that country music, like NASCAR, has many fans here on Long Island, and Mary Lamont has long been a part of the scene (country music, that is, not NASCAR).

For years, the Jones Beach band shell has provided a venue where a variety of musical groups could perform -- and, of equal importance, be heard -- and it would be a shame indeed if beachgoers and boardwalk strollers were denied the likes of Mary Lamont by reason of either politics or payola.

So, write to Bernadette Castro (you may remember her as the little girl in the Castro Convertibles TV commercials. She's alot taller now, and out conquering open space, rather than "living space!"), and come out to hear Mary Lamont, and other great performances across the musical genre, wherever they may appear.
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Country radio show on Long Island:Country music can be heard on our local radio on 1240 AM, WGBB.

Click HERE for a complete listing.

Sat. May 13 OLD STREET RESTAURANT & BAR 8:00 to 11:00 PM 631-979-9073 92 East Main St., Smithtown, NY
Hip Country/Americana night! Best food in Smithtown! Mary Lamont acoustic duo featuring Jim Marchese

7:00 PM(doors open 6 PM)
OPENING FOR COUNTRY STAR JOHN BERRY (#1 hit "She's Taken a Shine")
1058 Route 110, Farmingdale, NY 631-753-1975
Click on this link to purchase tickets

NewbridgeRd & Jerusalem Ave, Bellmore, NY 7:30 PM
Rides, games & everything strawberry! Our 9th year! Small admission fee (charity)

Sat. June 10 QUEENS ZOO - Bison Bonanza 12:00 to 4:00 PM 718-271-1500
53-51 111th St., Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY
A major annual event - Bring the kids! This annual salute to the wildlife of the American West features games, crafts, and more as it highlights the Zoo’s bison herd and other animals of the western plains. The Queens Zoo opens at 10:00 and closes at 5:30 PM Admission is $5 for adults; $1.25 for seniors; $1 for children 3-12; under 3 are free!

Sat. June 10 OLD STREET RESTAURANT 8:00 to 11:00 PM 631-979-9073
92 East Main St., Smithtown, NY

Sun. June 11 Third Annual NY SOLARFEST! Free admission
Academy of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY Afternoon show TBA
Solar Community Corp. a non profit volunteer-based organization, invites you to participate and support the New York Solar Festival, known as the "NYSolarfest." Solar Community is an organizationdedicated to the promotion and advocacy of renewable and sustainable living, promoting a healthy life style, in tune with nature, and protecting our environment, our people, and our planet through education and positive action.

Sat. June 24 UNTERMYER PARK, Yonkers, NY 7:30 to 9:30 PM

Wed. June 28 MAKOR, 39 West 67 St.(betw. Central Park West & Columbus) New York, NY 10:00 PM
Voted one of New York's best clubs by New York magazine, Makor Café has received accolades in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time Out and the Village Voice. It has rapidly become one of New York City's hottest spots for live music, presenting an eclectic mix of musical genres, including rock, jazz, folk, cabaret, world, classical, electronic and everything in between. Past performers include Norah Jones, Perry Farrell, Richie Havens, David Broza and the Klezmatics.

Mon. July 4 BELMONT RACETRACK, Elmont, NY from 12 to 4 PM
We continue our July 4th tradition at the races! Come celebrate July 4th with us at the track -- Bring the whole family and have a picnic !

Sun. July 9 TOWN OF SMITHTOWN SUMMER CONCERT SERIES 7:00 PM Free admission HOYT FARM, New Highway, Smithtown, NY
Our first time here - One of the Island's best summer outdoor concert locations!Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy our show under the stars!

Enjoying country music with Mary Lamont and her band. Just another way to revitalize both spirit and community here on our Long Island!
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Is your community group not getting enough respect? Have an event of community interest that you'd like to publicize? Write us at, and we'll get the word out there!

The Community Alliance blog. A "must read" last week for 40,036 Long Islanders. Make it a "hit" in your community!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rules Of Engagement

Voting As If Tomorrow Will Never Come

Long Islanders have had a growing fascination with the annual rite of spring, the school budget vote, and have taken a certain satisfaction in recent years in exercising the economic equivalent of throwing the baby out the window with the bath water, in voting the budgets down.

The propensity to "just say no" could stem from the budget process being one of the few things Long Islanders believe they have ultimate control over. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Budgets are encumbered with line item after line item of that which is mandated -- either by contract or by law -- and that which is unavoidable -- like transportation and insurance costs.

The fact remains that, even after cutting local school budgets to their bare bones (or to what school board trustees perceive as such), the net increase in the tax rate to be levied against the poor property owner is rarely much more than the increase to be had under so-called austerity. Sometimes -- as it is this year in three Long Island school districts -- the "contingency" budget, as fallback, actually calls for a higher percentage increase in the tax rate than does the proposed budget. Call it "lose-lose" for the taxpayer.

If historical indicators hold true, about the same number of residents will come out on Tuesday, May 16th to vote "no" as have voted with disfavor on such referenda in the past. The saving grace for those budgets that do pass is the school districts' ability to get out the "yes" vote -- those who mistakenly assume that the budget will go through (and their kids will be educated) without their help; those who believe, erroneously so, that their vote doesn't count; and those who have deemed themselves absolved from the obligation by reason of the busy lives they lead.

There is a burgeoning movement afoot, playing into the frustrations of a disgruntled and overtaxed electorate, whose credo is: "It's the spending." They encourage a "no" vote not as the mere protest of "send 'em a message," but under some misguided belief that in voting down the school budget, their property tax bills will, at the end of the day, be lower.

"We're forcing them to make cuts," said one Seaford resident, asking not to be identified. [Why is it that those who vote "no" never want to be recognized for their forward-thinking accomplishments?] "If we vote down the budget, it will save us money!"

Reality, of course, recognizes a different scenario. If we vote down the budget, the district still has to pick up the tab for contractual obligations, the expense for heating and lighting the schoolhouse, and for all of those unfunded initiatives that Washington and Albany tell us the district must provide lest it chance losing the paltry 12% the State may throw it's way. [And just how much money did your school district get from Washington last year? That "no child" is lagging farther behind every time we glance in the rear-view mirror, isn't he?]

What does go the way of the 2 cent stamp and the Tyrannosaurus when school budgets are defeated are all the goodies we, as suburbanites, treasure about our precious schools -- the arts, the sciences, the sports, the extracurriculars, and, oh, yeah, things like textbooks, computers, and the educational resources that give our students the academic edge.

Does it lower our property tax when we vote "no?" Well, answer that one by looking at the bottom line of the tax bills of property owners in districts where budgets have been defeated. The answer is an obvious "no" (chiefly, as we at The Community Alliance rarely ask a question that we don't already know the answer to! LOL).

Is there room to trim school budgets? Absolutely! This entails some effort on the part of district residents not only in understanding the budget process, but in actually getting involved in it, at least to a point beyond simply showing up on that Tuesday in May to vote "no" -- or not bothering to show at all, the moral equivalent of the "no" vote.

Keeping a lid on costs means being engaged on the home-front. Fielding and electing candidates to the school board who are fiscally prudent and financially responsible; attending school board meetings and bouncing ideas and opinions off of the trustees; participating in educational forums through PTA and other education-oriented community organizations; volunteering for site-based teams and oversight committees; actually coming out to the annual school budget hearings to review the proposed budget and to offer input. [How many of the "no" voters did you see at this year's school budget hearings? Okay, so the "yes" voters and the "non" voters were no shows as well. Our point exactly!]

Clearly, the majority of residents are not engaged in the education of our children, let alone the affairs of our communities. We haven't savored the stew in quite some time, so we decide that it is better to throw out the old and dented pot rather than to alter our grandmother's time-honored recipe.

The recipe for real change on school funding comes not from "let's show them" budget defeats. The problem is more deeply rooted, and requires a change in thinking among those who formulate both policy and aid formulae -- notably, our elected State legislators in Albany.

If you really want to significantly reduce that bottom line -- without the "out of one pocket, into the other" approach of STAR or the politically motivated "rebate" -- you'd be best disposed to keep the programs that enrich our children's education, and concentrate on going after the real culprits -- the folks who insist on funding schools through a regressive property tax and the inequitable State Aid formulae.

And if you really want to empower yourselves over matters of education and how teaching Johnny and Jane to read is paid for, give your "no" vote the punch it deserves -- hold it until November 7th, when you can use it to send a message to those fixtures in Albany, as in, "Which part of 'no' don't you understand?"
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The Children Of Our Community Are Our Community's Future
Tuesday, May 16th
(contact your local school district for polling places and hours)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Marathon Scam

Run, Peter, Run!

Our friends at the Nassau GOP Watch follow the antics of Peter Schmitt and Company to a photo finish. . .

Mineola -- The results are in for the Long Island Marathon and the Republican delegation of the Nassau County Legislature has denounced the results. "Once again we see that Tom Suozzi and the Democrat party are giving Queens residents preferential treatment," Minority Leader Peter Schmitt said, refering to the winner of the marathon, Carlos Grisales, living in College Point.

"I don't know why Suozzi could not get a Nassau County resident to win," Schmitt continued. "Democrat Legislator Dave Mejias even ran the race and didn't do anything about it. Mejias is just another Suozzi rubber-stamp."

Republican spokesman Ed Ward said in a prepared statement, "Of the top five runners, only one was from Nassau County. Three were from Queens and the other came from New Jersey. If County Executive Suozzi would spend more time in Nassau County instead of running for Governor, this wouldn't happen. We need a full-time county executive who will make sure the Long Island Marathon is won by the taxpayers who pay his salary."

Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) tells Nassau GOP Watch, "I say whatever Peter Schmitt says. That's my own opinion. I am an inpependent thinker and I independently thought to agree with whatever Peter Schmitt says."

"Legisaltors Nicollelo, Muscarella, Gonsalves, Mangano, Becker and Ciotti all said the same thing," Leg. Ford said.

Legislator Dennis Dunne (R-Levitown) said, "I was stuck in my car on Old Country Road for a couple of hours.What's with all the people in the street?"

The Nassau County Republican party plans to use the race results in a new series of television ads called"Suozzi Can't Run from Marathon Results." The ads are expected to blanket local cable channels by week's end.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spitzer Has A Plan. . .

. . .He's Just Not Telling Anyone About It!

If New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has any thoughts on fixing what ails New York -- from off-the-charts property taxes to the great decline of the Empire State's suburbs -- they can be expressed in two words: "Me too!"

When Nassau County Exec Tom Suozzi -- for whom underdog is a gross understatement -- puts the issues on the minds of New Yorkers front and center, Spitzer's response, when he has one, generally amounts to, "Me too."

When Suozzi says that the sky high property tax is the biggest problem facing the average New Yorker, Spitzer peers out from his perch and says, "Me too."

When Suozzi says that the suburbs are being short-changed in State Aid to local school districts (upstate district's raking in some 37%, on average, in State Aid, while Long Island's schools see 15%, or less), Spitzer raises his hand and sheepishly echoes, "Me too."

Spitzer on Medicaid: "Me too!"

Spitzer on fixing a dysfunctional Albany (one that he has been part of for some time now, with little indicia of reform): "Me too!"

Spitzer on pension reform, restructuring the State's debt, and growing New York's economy: Largely, silence. But if Eliot were to speak, the words you'd hear would likely be, "Me too, me too, me too!"

Is it any wonder that the man who keeps his eye on the taxpayers' money, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, has, through his recent report on runaway property taxes, all but endorsed Tom Suozzi for Governor?

While Eliot Spitzer touts himself as a reformer, the sheriff who cleaned up Wall Street (and we'll give him due credit for that) hardly seems like the guy who's ready to clean house in Albany, at least in any effective way as might conceivably impact on Main Street.

And speaking of Main Street, highly doubtful you'll find Mr. Spitzer ambling down the streets of Hempstead Town, Oyster Bay, or North Hempstead. Long Island seems hard to find on Spitzer's map, with his ventures east of his native Manhattan rare, indeed.

While Tom Suozzi has offered to debate the issues -- once again, front and center, in the public domain -- Eliot Spitzer continues to skirt them. No surprise here, given the Attorney General's seemingly insurmountable lead in the polls. Why chance opening your mouth and letting the voters hear the only words you've been able to speak so far? "Me too!"

There should really be no doubt in anyone's mind where Eliot Spitzer is coming from. He's the establishment candidate. The keeper of the status quo. The wunderkind of a Democratic Party that has, for far too long, been ideologically challenged, and almost entirely devoid of either new ideas or new leadership. That is, until Tom Suozzi, as anti-establishment of a candidate you're ever going to see in these times and in this place.

If you harbor any thoughts that Mr. Spitzer will bring reform to the stalemate of State government as it is and as it has been, let us remind you of the choice the Attorney General most eagerly and unreservedly made in selecting a running mate for Lt. Governor. David Paterson, a New York State Senator since 1985 (that's 21 years, folks), and the Senate's Minority Leader since 2002.

Not exactly what we would call the path to "reform" in State government. [We said this of Republican Legislators, so turnabout is fair play: If you've been up in Albany for two decades or more, you are more likely a part of the problem than you are part of the solution!]

Indeed, Mr. Paterson seems content with the system as is, evidenced by his refusal to delay, if not derail, the override of the Governor's veto of the troublesome "member items" (the so-called secret "pork" in the budget) lest there be full disclosure of how this money was to be spent BEFORE the expenditures are approved. [The "compromise" reached by the Legislature keeps the pork barrel closed to public view until 30-days AFTER the measures have been passed.]

Tom Suozzi sided with Governor Pataki on the blanket veto of member item expenditures -- as, of course, did all of the GOP contenders. Paterson joined his Senate colleagues in the override. And Eliot Spitzer? Not so much as a whimper, or even a quiet "Me too!"

It was just a few days ago that Tom Suozzi unveiled his property tax reduction plan -- or at least the beginnings of one -- formulated through an evolving consensus process that brings together educators, administrators, legislators, and John Q. Public.

So far, Eliot Spitzer hasn't said a word about his own property tax plan. Going forward, if pressed, we feel confident that Mr. Spitzer will speak up on this critical issue, if not making a firm commitment to the taxpayer, then at least to say, "Me too!"
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Click HERE to read the Long Island Press article, What's The Plan?