Friday, November 30, 2007

Property Tax Cut By 60 Percent?

It Could Happen Here! Well, Maybe. . .

The figures vary school district by school district, but everyone from the comptroller to the receiver of taxes to John & Jane Q. Public can tell you, upwards of 60 percent of Long Island homeowners' property tax bill goes to pay for local schools.

So, on a typical LI home with a full assessment of, say, $500,000, some $7200 of that $12,000 property tax bill accounts for school taxes.

Wouldn't be nice if we could make some of that school tax -- dare we say, all of it -- disappear?

"Dream on," you say?

Well, maybe so, but if a proposal bantered about by State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre gains a foothold, it is possible that, over the next ten years (nothing in New York happens overnight), the school portion of our hefty property tax bills -- that's 60% or more -- could be eliminated.

Under what we will call the Skelos Plan, newly hired teachers would immediately become State employees, with the State of New York taking over salaries, pensions, and other contractual obligations.

"Teacher salaries, pension and health care costs represent about 70% of our local school district budgets," said Skelos.

"Each year, roughly 1 out of every 8 Long Island and Upstate teaching position is filled by a new teacher," according to the dean of the Long Island delegation. "By making each newly-hired teacher a state employee, the state will take over their salary and health insurance costs and make the school district’s contributions to the Teacher Retirement System. As a result, the state will assume nearly eight and a half percent of each school district’s budget each year. With 36,000 teachers in Nassau and Suffolk county school districts, this will eventually alleviate over $3 billion in local property taxes... Through this new approach, I believe that a $3,000 property tax cut is within our reach."

$3000? Okay, not quite half of that $7200 school property tax tab for our homeowner-by-example, but still, a nice chunk of change. And it sure beats the few hundred bucks Albany has dained to put back in our pockets via that ersatz "rebate," money that should never have been taken out of homeowners' wallets in the first place.

So even if we save 70 percent of that 60 percent of that property tax bill (are you still with us?), that's the equivalent of our $500,000 homeowner saving roughly $5000 per year.

A nice day's work, no?

Though teachers' unions may squawk -- and with them, the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver -- the Skelos Plan is worthy not only of the "roundtable discussion" the Senator calls for, but most serious consideration by local school boards (who themselves have proven worthy advocates of both homeowners and our children), PTA and community groups, and, yes, every State Legislator (for whom 2008 is an election year, we might add).

Assuming (and you know what happens when you assume) the Skelos Plan has a chance at being more than fodder for the media -- and there hasn't been much of the talk since Senator Skelos outlined the Property Tax Relief and Excellence in Education Act back in September, we're afraid -- why not think of the proposal as Phase One in the total elimination of the school property tax?

Yes, we at The Community Alliance are calling for nothing short of funding, in the entirety, of every suburban school district's budget by the State. Period.

No more 8% or 16% or some other half-baked, almost magical formula for the redistribution of taxpayers' money. No more disparity in State Aid between upstate school districts and their Cinderella counterparts from Westchester County on down. No more unfunded mandates from Albany. And, best of all, no more school property tax!

Oh , you'll still have local control -- for whatever it may be worth -- over hiring, firing, and the like, and individual school districts will maintain their identities, but not their outlandish administrative and operating expenses.

The revenue stream would be constant. No more guesswork in how much aid will trickle down from up the river.

Ah, but how to pay for this shift of the school financing burden from the back of the homeowner to all taxpayers throughout New York?

That's the simple part.

Your STATE income tax dollars at work!

Today, roughly 25 cents of every dollar paid by Long Islanders in State income taxes actually comes back to Long Island. Increase that by, say, half, and you've already made up the difference, or come pretty darned close.

Need some extra money in the State budget for our children's education?

Show us a single session where our State Legislators haven't come up with the "extra" big bucks when they need it, either to bail out some agency or fund a pet project back home.

Just cut a portion of the pork, and you can be sure that there will be plenty of bacon for New York's schools.

Or maybe we simply eliminate a few of those so-called public authorities. You know. The last great bastions of political patronage and waste that have "bonded" New York in debt up to its ears. Out of the revenue stream of hundreds of such tax dollar-sucking authorities, we're certain that the higher authorities in the Senate and Assembly can draw sufficient funds to adequately and equitably finance New York's schools.

Then there's the lottery. More Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), perhaps? Sure, its a gamble. But aren't our children worth a buck and a dream? Hey, you never know!

Dollars -- and sense -- tell us (and we're not economists, or even accountants, here), that the necessary funds would be (and probably are already) available out of current State revenues to fully finance New York's schools without the burdensome and regressive property tax. Why, an educated guess tells us that the powers-that-be wouldn't even have to raise the State income tax by a single cent, scare tactics by naysayers notwithstanding.

All we need to do, as State Senator Dean Skelos so aptly suggests, is to " think outside of the proverbial box and develop a plan that fundamentally reforms the status quo in a way that makes sense."

Now, coming from Albany, wouldn't that be refreshing?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roosevelt Field Had Lucky Lindy

The Hempstead Plain Has Moldy Murray

They're descending upon the mold-encased Archstone apartments in Westbury. [Read Newsday's, Archstone Westbury dwellers deluged with offers.]

Movers. Realtors. Mold-Removers.

Like cockroaches out of the woodwork, it has become a field day in the shadows of the Covanta incinerator for those who would prey upon the most vulnerable -- in this instance, Hempstead Town's soon-to-be additions to the homeless population.

Let not the opportunity pass for she of the photo opportunity to make the most of what is a resident's worst nightmare.

That's right, ladies and mold spores, Hempstead Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, was there as well, distributing Murraygrams, offering to relocate the dispossessed into illegal accessory apartments throughout the township.

"We absolutely want to help these folks get away from the mold and on with their lives," said America's favorite Town Clown.

"After all, we at Hempstead Town gave our seal of approval -- or at very least, turned our backs -- on poor construction, inferior materials, and who knows how many building code infractions."

Looks like a new Blight Study is in order, Madam Supervisor. The Town's gonna have to condemn about 800 apartment units in Westbury, because your Building Department paid about as much attention to the details at Archstone as "Wrong Way" Corrigan did to his compass.

Asked whether the Town's lack of oversight at Archstone would impact upon Hempstead's supervision of the proposed Lighthouse project at Nassau's Hub, Murray barely batted an eyelash.

Pointing to the vast wasteland upon which sits the dilapidated Coliseum, Murray smiled.

"See that building over there? No, not the Coliseum Deli. That one, over THERE! One day, all you will see are green fields, as we make Nassau’s lovely hub an even better place to live, work, and raise mold spores."

That's green. As in MILDEW.

Thanks, Kate. Give yourself a raise and send us a mailing in 2009.

Different Figures, Same Conclusion: School Property Taxes Are Too High!

Is The World Sirois?

From the Levittown Tribune:

Taxes Outpace Inflation?

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the New York State Comptroller's office claimed that school taxes in the state have outpaced inflation two-fold, thereby promoting the myth that school taxes are irresponsibly exorbitant. The reporting omitted important information that does not support - and, in fact, negates - the myth of excessive school taxation.

To begin with, any comparison of increases in school taxes to the general rate of inflation is invalid and inflammatory, because school districts, as well as other governmental units, do not purchase many of the things, such as private homes, that have suppressed the rate of inflation during recent years. A more valid frame of reference would be those increases experienced by other governmental units, including the State of New York itself.

The fact is, that increases in school expenditures and taxes pale in comparison to recent increases in both expenditures and tax receipts of New York State. For example, the average increase in school taxes for the 2007 year, as reported by the Comptroller, was 5.9 percent compared to a 9.4 percent increase in total taxes collected by New York State during the same period. During this period a similar pattern existed relative to expenditures, wherein, school expenditures increased about 5 percent as compared to an increase in total expenditures on the part of New York State of 6.9 percent. The bottom line is that New York State has posted expenditure and tax increases at considerably higher rates than that of schools throughout the state. When compared to the State of New York, increases in expenses (3.93 percent) and taxes (3.96 percent) in the Levittown School District are exceptionally responsible and efficient.

State and county politicians are fond of making the claim that 60 percent of our taxes go to school districts. When challenged on this statistic, they readily concede that the 60 percent figure includes only property taxes, and does not include all of the other taxes (e.g., income and sales taxes) that we pay to the state and/or counties, but not to our school districts. When everything is considered, school taxes account for about 40 percent, not 60 percent, of all local and state taxes paid by the average citizen in the state.

The omission of information that would enable valid comparisons and evaluations of school taxes is disingenuous at best, and is a strategy that should be abandoned by our state and county politicians, and one that should not be abetted by the popular media.

I am not suggesting, here, that the increases in taxes and/or expenditures on the part of New York State have been irresponsible. What I am suggesting is a) that the myth of school taxation is, in fact, just that, a myth; and, b) that, in comparison with New York State, our school districts have been paragons of responsibility and efficiency.

Herman A. Sirois, PhD
Superintendent, Levittown Public Schools
- - -
And if we take federal taxes paid – with expenditures under No Child Left Alive (we mean Behind) – into account, our total tax burden for education is less than 20%.

Fact is, prudence of local school boards and the burden of unfunded mandates and contractual obligations aside, the school portion of the property tax is 60+ percent of the property tax bill here on Long Island.

If, as Dr. Sirois contends, the school tax burden borne by Long Islanders is a “myth,” then surely, we are all living a dream -- or is it nightmare? -- in the fantasyland of educational finance.

Our local school districts, with a few exceptions, may well be responsible and efficient, with annual increases in school tax levies both reasonable and prudent, particularly in light of the increase in expenditures over which school boards and administrations have little or no control, coupled with diminishing returns from Albany.

The way we finance education in New York State, unfortunately, is neither responsible nor efficient, and whether the “true” figure is 60% of our tax bill, 40%, or something else, conconcted, extrapolated, or otherwise, the tax burden for the average LI homeowner is both untenable and unacceptable.

Unfunded mandates, the “upstate”/”downstate” disparity, and the paucity of our income tax dollars coming back to Long Island from Albany (perhaps 25 cents on the dollar, if we're lucky), among other inequities, underscore the sad reality that funding education through a regressive property tax shortchanges not only the taxpaying property owner, but our children as well.

It is high time we begin to think – and act – outside of that property tax box!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How To Save $4.3 Billion

NOW The Governor Wants To Know What We Think!

Shortly after his election, then Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer asked New Yorkers for their ideas and their advice. [The link for submission of ideas no longer exists. Perhaps that's where the Governor went wrong on Day One!]

They gave the Governor guidance by the bulk e-mail full. Unfortunately, Mr. Spitzer didn't take it!

At The Community Alliance, we offered the new Gov some sage wisdom as well: (1) Make friends, not enemies; (2) Be a diplomat, not a sheriff; (3) Surround yourself by people with the right stuff, listen to what they have to say, and, every once in a while, take their advice.

He didn't listen to us, either.

As a budget gap of some $4.3 billion looms in Albany, the Governor is asking, once again, for the advice of Empire State residents on just how to close the distance between balance and deficit. [Unless the State is the MTA -- an entity all to, and all for itself -- don't look for a surplus to be pulled out of a hat!]

You can e-mail the folks at the Budget Director's office at Operators are standing by. We're sure they'd love to hear your ideas for saving the State money.

Anyway. How to eliminate a $4.3 billion dollar budget gap? Hmmm.

As Steve Martin would say, "First, find $4.3 billion dollars." [How does the State lose $4.3 BILLION? Did they gamble it away at the Indian casinos? Didn't their mothers teach them, "If you don't have it, you can't spend it?"]

Okay. Okay. Ideas. . .

How about we go after those member items the Senators and Assemblymembers dole out to local favs each year. [They're not in the budget, but they should be.]

Oh, you can keep the pork for the "public" good in there (save the bridges to nowhere). Just axe the "private" handouts that go to, say, fix a Sons of Italy post in Yonkers, or to restore the facade of a cathedral in Albany.

That should be a few million dollars right there.

Next, consolidate -- or just do away with -- some of those 800+ public authorities, which operate on taxpayer money, behind closed doors, and with little or, in many instances, absolutely no oversight -- legislative or otherwise.

Take a look at the 860 public authorities listed on the State Comptroller's website.

We're certain you can come up with at least a dozen that are expendable, saving countless millions. [Do we really need an Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund? And what exactly does the Industrial Exhibit Authority do?]

We're sure that similar cost-saving measures can be taken at the multitude of State agencies -- without sacrifice to those who actually serve the public good, rather than no good at all.

Even the best can be pared down, and still be efficient. Here's a list. Have a go at it! [For starters, we'd take a whack at the Bridge Authority (how many of those do we need, for goodness sake?), the Employee Assistance Program (fend for yourselves, like the rest of us), the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission (is there really such a thing?), and the Commission on Lobbying (is this a club where all the lobbyists go for lunch? Last we heard, the lobbyists were doing a fine job taking care of their own interests without a commission, thank you).

Surely, the fat trimmed and the excesses curbed, there's a few million dollars more to be saved in Albany. [And tell us, what's with Corcraft Products (Dept. of Correctional Services, Division of Industries) being on the Agency list? Are they the official vendor for bunk beds and cleaning supplies for New York's penal institutions and state colleges? Whatever happened to competitive bidding? Or is New York in the furniture business now?]

Okay. We've barely saved a billion dollars, let alone 4.3.

Still, with your help, New Yorkers -- a snip, snip here, and a chop, chop there -- we have faith that the budget gap can not only be closed, but there will be a few dollars left over for the State to mail income tax forms and instructions to each and every one of us come January 2nd.

By the way -- How can a budget hearing be "closed out?" No one even knew it was scheduled. And since when does anyone attend public hearings? [Especially those scheduled on a Friday, between 10 AM and 1 PM, in Hauppauge, no less!] Must be one of those "by invitation only" public hearings, where the few get to speak for the many.
- - -
Click HERE for the testimony from the November 17th Hearing held in Buffalo.

Click HERE for the testimony from the November 17th Hearing held in Rochester.

[We didn't see too much in the way of testimony from John Q. Public on either of those lists. In fact, none at all. Funny (or not so). These are the very people the Governor and the Budget Director should be listening to!]
- - -
Spitzer wants your ideas on closing $4.3 billion budget gap

ALBANY -- Gov. Eliot Spitzer wants your ideas on Friday about how to close the projected $4.3 billion gap in next year's budget, along with spending priorities.

Budget director Paul Francis will hold a "town hall meeting" from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the H. Lee Dennison County Office Building, 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge. The public session can also be viewed on the Internet at

All the speaking slots have been filled. But a spokesman said residents were welcome to attend the hearing and to e-mail their suggestions to The comments will be reviewed by budget analysts and posted online, he said.

Friday's meeting, the only one scheduled for Long Island, is among a series being held in advance of Spitzer's presentation in January of his budget proposals for 2008-09.

Francis said, "With troubles on Wall Street leading to decreases in projected revenues, we need to find ways to do more with less. That means engaging the public as we determine our priorities for how to best use the state's limited financial resources, while minimizing the burden on taxpayers and keeping our business climate competitive."

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mold Forces Evictions At Town's First Mixed Income Residential Development

And No One Thought To Ask, "Where Were The Town Of Hempstead Building Inspectors?"

Its a terrible thing. Forced out of your home -- or, in this case, your rather expensive rental apartment -- because the entire complex has been overrun by mold.

We're not talking Jello here. This is the black, moist, yucky stuff that makes you cough, choke, and, in some cases, deathly ill.

Things are so bad at Archstone in Westbury -- built on land that was once part of the Roosevelt Raceway property, and in the shadows of the Covanta incinerator, which burns the Town's garbage -- that the entire development, housing hundreds, will have to be evacuated.

Remediation, if such a thing is possible with invasive mold and serious "water intrusion" problems, is expected to take a year or more.

Sure, the folks at Archstone screwed up big time. Shoddy construction. Bad material. Clearly something -- or many things -- amiss in the building of this now mold-infested facility.

But what of the culpability of the Town of Hempstead?

Where were the Building Inspectors? Aren't there codes on the books to prevent just such disasters? Was there no enforcement (a rhetorical question)?

Who issued permits? Who signed off on the work? Who issued the Certificates of Completion and/or the Certificates of Occupancy?

Who will be held accountable? Who? Who? Who?

Town spokesman, Mike Deery, expressed disappointment, but nowhere did he, on behalf of a Supervisor who now wants an 8% raise for the great work she's done in Hempstead Town, accept responsibility.

Somebody messed up here. Okay, quite a few people messed up here. The developer. Maybe architects. Possibly engineers. Perhaps the builders. Certainly, the folks responsible for the official stamp of approval, from initial variance to C of O -- the people whose government enterprise at Town Hall is so old that even its mold has mold -- the elected and the anointed at the Town of Hempstead.

There's gonna be one heck of a lawsuit, and a whole bunch of people looking for apartment space in Hempstead Town -- legal and otherwise!
- - -
Driven from home
Mold and mildew force hundreds of people in Westbury community to leave their apartments

BY ZACHARY R. DOWDY Staff writer Bill Mason contributed to this story

Hundreds of residents of a brand-new luxury complex in Westbury - home to New York Jets players and low-income residents alike - were told last night they have four months to leave the mold- and mildew-plagued buildings, which residents said have sickened them with respiratory ailments.

The sprawling, 21-building Archstone Westbury community on Corporate Drive, a year-old complex once viewed as a promising mixed-income housing experiment, is being cleared of all residents in more than 400 apartments in the wake of reports of what officials called "pervasive water intrusion problems."

"Archstone must therefore serve formal lease termination notices to all residents, who will be required to relocate by March 31, 2008," read the company's news release, a version of which was given to residents by officials who went door to door last night.

"Reconstruction, which will take approximately one year or more to complete, is expected to begin as early as April 2008," it continued. "Archstone-Smith recently discovered extensive water intrusion, in which water has seeped in through the exterior skin of the property, and conducted an in-depth investigation to assess the extent of the problem."

Residents of the three-story, brick-faced units in the gated community near The Source mall called the situation outrageous and disgusting and said they've endured leaky windows and grotesque mold growing right in their homes.

Katie Coleman, 27, the wife of Jets defensive end Kenyon Coleman, said she and her 2- and 3-year-old children developed nasty coughs soon after she moved into the complex in March, so she got the air in the home tested and complained to management, which she said did not address the problem. But she got a clue that something was really amiss when she saw a massive mold mushrooming on a windowsill in her three-bedroom apartment. She moved out in August.

"I couldn't clear my throat and my kids had coughs," she said. "Archstone said there wasn't anything wrong, but I had water damage in my apartment and my children were sick."

Archstone officials said they recently realized the problem affected all 20 apartment buildings, where regular rents are $2,400 for a one-bedroom apartment to $3,400 for a three-bedroom apartment, and the clubhouse. The affordable housing units, assigned through a lottery, make up about 20 percent of the complex rent for about a third of the market value.

David Pendery, a spokesman for the Englewood, Colo.-based company, said residents would be given "relocation assistance packages" amounting to a month's rent and another sum of between $1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,900 for a three-bedroom apartment.

He also said that the renovations would take about a year and that the company could not guarantee that each tenant would be able to move back into their units.

In 2003, Archstone-Smith agreed to pay $25 million in damages to 800 tenants of a high-rise complex in Bal Harbour, Fla., for mold problems. The settlement was earmarked to pay for property damage and health-related issues stemming from a mold outbreak.

Town of Hempstead officials said they had high hopes for the complex, which was among the county's first mixed-income housing programs.

"We think this is a serious concern, and we hope that Archstone will take every step to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their tenants at the Westbury location," said Mike Deery, a town spokesman. "Certainly, the town was optimistic and certainly hopeful when it announced that Nassau County's first mixed-income rental housing development was to be built in the Town of Hempstead."

Pendery said Archstone-Smith owns or is an owner in 350 properties across the country, an empire comprising 89,000 units.

Staff writer Bill Mason contributed to this story

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Raises For Elected Officials?

Sure. Why Not? As Long As Homeowners Get Corresponding Tax Cut!

Pay raise, shmay raise.

You're not going to get us embroiled in the age-old argument of whether elected officials "deserve" a pay hike. [The electorate, being what it is, "deserves" what they get, and that includes elected officials who vote themselves raises right after the election, as if by mandate.]

Part-time office holders receiving full-time pay? Nonsense. Any County Legislator or Town Councilman worth his or her salt is on the job 24/7 -- fielding phone calls, attending community meetings, foregoing family, privacy, and a life in the name of public service.

Yes, but they hold other, full-time jobs, don't they?

So, you too can run for public office, and practice law, run a business, drive a limo, or write a blog. Who's stopping you? [The Democrats are always looking for bright, energetic candidates. Call Jay (not related to Judy) Jacobs for a petition.]

We would never begrudge elected representatives from securing for themselves (as would we all from our respective employers) compensation commensurate with their duties -- or should we say, with the diligent performance of those duties.

No one in his or her right mind would take a job as County Legislator for $42,000, or for that matter, Town of Hempstead Councilmember for $56,500. Unless you are independently wealthy, retired, or right out of college without a family to support or a mortgage to pay, you'd go broke.

If you want to attract good people to public service, you have to pay a decent, living wage, at least somewhat in-line with salaries in the private sphere.

But wait. This is not corporate America, where CEOs rake in millions, and ballplayers quadruple that. This is government work, on the people's payroll.

There has to be accountability, transparency, and a duty owed to the "shareholders" -- in this case, the taxpayers who foot the bill for every dollar that goes into the bank account of a legislator, for health and medical benefits of part-time (or no show) employees, and for pensions and perks for special district commissioners.

More than this, the shareholders need (say "deserve," if it makes you feel better) to be paid dividends when their elected reps get raises.

Call it a quid pro quo or tit for tat.

If the Town Supervisor gives herself an 8% raise, then every property owner in the township gets a corresponding 8% tax cut. [For this year, given that we've already paid our tax bill, we'll take an 8% rebate. You get the raise in your pay check when we get the rebate check in our mailbox!]

County Legislators want a raise of 25%? 50%? 75%?

No problem. Just give us taxpayers corresponding property tax cuts of 25%, 50%, or 75%.

Heck, you can double your salaries -- yes sir, 100% increases -- provided that you rip up our property tax bills and call it even.

We think this is a perfectly fair, and entirely equitable, arrangement. The elected get more money. Those who elect get to keep more money. Its a wash.

And who will pay for these increased salaries when the revenues raised by taxes decrease and the pot nears empty?

Not to worry. They can always float a bond, or "freeze" taxes while imposing a hike in the tax rate. If history is a guide, you'll be none the wiser when the next election rolls around.
- - -
Hempstead supervisor seeks 8-percent raise

Weeks after Republicans were re-elected to a majority in Hempstead, town Supervisor Kate Murray will propose giving herself a nearly 8 percent pay raise, the largest of any supervisor on Long Island.

Murray is proposing $55,000 in pay increases effective in January 2008 that will also include a bump in salary for the six town council members, the town clerk and the tax receiver.

Hempstead is the only town in Nassau County to award raises to its elected officials for 2008, proposed budgets show.

The biggest pay hike of $10,000 would go to Murray, bringing her salary to $140,000. That's a 7.6 percent increase. Her last raise came in 2006 when she got a $15,000 increase. If the raise is approved by the town board, Murray will become the second-highest-paid supervisor on Long Island. Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone will earn $150,850 next year, a 4.5 percent raise. North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman is third with $133,000 and no pay increase for 2008. Fourth is Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who will continue to earn his 2007 salary of $125,000 next year.

"The town board works very hard for the residents of Hempstead," Murray said. "We're America's largest township, and I believe the salary adjustments are justified."

The six members of the Hempstead town board would each receive a $5,000 raise, bringing their part-time salaries to $61,500. That's also a 7.6 percent increase. They last received $5,000 raises in 2006.

Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the lone Democrat on the board, said she doesn't think the pay raise is out of line.

"I know I work full-time and I have to because of the needs of my community," Goosby said. "I really serve the people well and work hard for it."

Town clerk Mark Bonilla will receive a $7,500 raise, bringing his salary to $96,500, plus $23,000 he earns as the town's registrar. That 7.6 percent increase is also Bonilla's first raise in two years.

A resolution will be introduced at today's town board meeting to schedule a public hearing for Dec. 11 on the proposed pay increases, town officials said.

Hempstead's receiver of taxes, Donald Clavin Jr., would receive a $7,500, or 7 percent increase, bringing his salary to $110,000. This raise, however, is historically not subject to a public hearing.

All the raises must be approved by the town board.

The town contract calls for a yearly pay increase of about 4 percent. None of the officials have received raises since 2006.

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi created a controversy earlier this year when he proposed a hefty pay raise that would increase his salary from $109,394 to $174,614. The county legislature must vote on that. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy earns $174,613 a year.

Supervisor salaries
How Hempstead's proposed pay hike would stack up:
TOWN 2007 2008 RAISE
Huntington $144,354 $150,850 4.50%
Hempstead 130,000 140,000 7.69
North Hempstead 133,000 133,000 --
Oyster Bay 125,000 125,000 --
Riverhead 108,863 113,000 3.80
Brookhaven 107,500 110,489 2.78
Smithtown 104,376 107,600 3.09
Islip 103,500 103,500 --
Southampton 101,950 102,000 0.05
Babylon 98,676 98,676 --
East Hampton 92,914 96,863 4.25
Southold 86,992 86,992 --
Shelter Island 66,543 70,000 5.20

Source: Towns
Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Fare Hike? Toll Hike? Deficit? Surplus?

Its Commuter Emptor In The Empire State

Now you see it. Now you don’t!

First the MTA has a deficit, then, suddenly, it has a surplus. Is there anyone at this loathsome excuse for a “public” authority who has taken a basic course in accounting?

Toll hikes. Fare hikes. Where does it all end? [We already know whose pockets it comes out of!]

If the public had its say, quite frankly – and half of a will to act (as in, God forbid, vote) – three-quarters (and we're being conservative here) of these so-called public authorities – bastions of political patronage and responsible for amassing billions of dollars in debt -- would be eliminated. The MTA and the various Bridge and Tunnel Authorities – and all of their over-reaching tentacles – would be among the first to go!

As for funding mass transit, rebuilding bridges, and the sundry other transportation circus acts that bonds, tolls, and fare increases past were supposed to cover (and then some) – other than yet another increase in fares and tolls (just how much do we have to pay to cross the Hudson or venture through Staten Island?) – here’s an idea: VLTs.

Yes, Video Lottery Terminals! We can put them right next to the ticket/Metrocard machines at every railroad and subway station, at the rest stops along the thruway, Penn Station, Grand Central, public libraries, and at conveniently located Stop & Shops and 7-11 stores. Forget Belmont. Let’s bring revenue-raising to the masses, and millions to mass transit. A VLT on every street corner beats a fare/toll hike, any day of the week!

Oh sure. Governor Spitzer intervened to stave off a fare increase for NYC transit riders. [A bargain at two dollars a pop, no doubt.] What will this mean for LIRR and Metro North riders? Will they be called upon to pick up the slack?

And what will it cost to get out of New York by car, come the new year? We suppose we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, eh?

Well, at least the platitudes -- and two dollars -- can still get us a ride on the New York City subway.

Meanwhile, back on Long Island: "State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) ripped the scenario as benefiting strap-hangers over his constituents, saying, 'Gov. Spitzer gave a Thanksgiving gift to New York City subway riders at the expense of overburdened Long Island commuters.'"

Perhaps so. But how does one account for the MTA's surplus cum deficit, and vice versa?

And wouldn't someone like Senator Skelos, a member of the MTA's Capital Program Review Board [the folks who review, monitor and approve the MTA's multi-billion dollar spending programs], know where the money went, was, will be?

Nah. The people who are supposedly watching the hen house -- and calling upon their constituents to sign petitions to stop the fare increases -- are too busy asking silly questions, like, "What does the MTA do with a billion dollar surplus?"

Gee, Dean. If you don't know, how should we?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holiday Lights Snuffed Out At Jones Beach

Attendance At Light Show Dips, As Spirit Of Long Islanders Dims

There will be no holiday light show at Jones Beach State Park this season, so reports Newsday.

Instead, as per the official Jones Beach website, the Holiday Light Spectacular will take place at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. [First the Giants. Then the Jets. (Neither of which have been much of a loss.) And now the Jones Beach holiday light show.]

Apparently, not enough of us have been driving through the parade of lights in order to make the continuation of the annual rite profitable for the promoter.

Could it be that Long Islanders -- who drive anywhere and everywhere -- are running out of gas, both figuratively and literally?

If the lights along "Main Street" seem a little dimmer, and even the gleem in the eyes of Long Islanders that typically shines through the glumness of a stagnant LI economy appears to have lost its twinkle this year, maybe what we need is a bit of charity from the promoter -- or even from State Parks -- so that the light show, at least at Jones Beach, could go on.

How about a reprieve from the Governor? That would boost him in the polls by a point or two.

Not since the government-imposed blackouts of WWII -- or, perhaps, the great Northeast blackout of the 60s -- has Long Island been plunged into such darkness. It is a darkness of the soul, and a diminution of the very spirit of the holiday season.

Maybe its not all doom and gloom along the Meadowbrook and Wantagh Parkways, but gosh darn, it does seem that the holiday cheer has come under a wet blanket, the joy of giving taking a back seat to profits, and the plug pulled on yet another holiday tradition that brought light to our eyes and our hearts, if not our island.
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Jones Beach holiday lights show cancelled

After seven years and declining attendance, the promoter who put on the holiday light show at Jones Beach has canceled the production for this winter.

About 70,000 cars drove through the West End in the first year but the number has dropped to about half since then, according to George Gorman Jr., regional director for operations for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

State parks, which received a licensing fee from Live Nation - a concert producer at the Jones Beach Theater - dropped the fee last year in attempt to keep the program going. Live Nation also shifted the venue last year to the theater and added an ice skating rink but it did not boost attendance.

"[The holiday light show] was still not profitable for them," Gorman said.

Gorman said state parks officials would look at possibly operating the attraction itself next year or renegotiating the agreement with Live Nation to have the company do the show again. But he added there was not enough time to do anything this year.

Friends of the Massapequa Preserve

Preserving Open Space And Parkland And Keeping Nassau's County Parks In Nassau

We all need friends.

Thankfully, the Massapequa Preserve -- among Nassau County's finest parklands -- has plenty of them.

The President of the Friends of the Massapequa Preserve, Richard Shary, graces The Community Alliance blog with this update and invite.

Let's all become friends of our parks, helping to keep Nassau County green and clean!
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Dear Friends,

Please join us on our seventh anniversary for a very important open meeting on Thursday, November 29, 7:30 P.M. at the Bar Harbour branch of the Massapequa Public Library. The library is at 40 Harbor Lane, one block south of Merrick Road.

We have two major issues impacting Massapequa Preserve that need to be shared with everyone:

First, representatives from the Nassau County Dept. of Public Works (D.P.W.) will be on hand to explain, and answer your questions, about their multi-year, six million dollar stream enhancement and pond restoration project, scheduled to begin inside the Preserve in the spring. This massive construction project will necessitate the temporary closing of some access points, parking areas, and portions of the Preserve. Bicycle and foot traffic will have to be rerouted to alternate routes. The paved bikeway from Sunrise Highway north to Linden Street will be torn up, section by section, and completely rebuilt. Massapequa Creek and some of the ponds in the Preserve will be partially dredged.

Several concerned Preserve visitors have asked us if this project can be stopped, and we've had to answer with a firm "No"; restoration was agreed to under a consent decree signed by the County with the Federal government decades ago, when Nassau put their sewer system in the area. Fortunately, Friends has established a strong working relationship with Nassau County from our very beginning. We have worked very hard to keep the lines of communication open, and we are working with the D.P.W.; we're both trying to ensure that this massive project proceeds with a minimum of disruption and damage to the Preserve and the surrounding community.

Our organization has requested, and been assured, that advance notice of any pathway closings or detours will be placed in the media, on signs posted at all entrances, and on the County's website. We have also been promised that a 24-hour number will be posted in case problems arise during construction, and that user groups will be notified in advance of all trail closings and detours.

We've been working extra hard behind the scenes to try to make sure that the largest public works project ever undertaken in a County preserve runs as smoothly as possible. The Friends are merely volunteers, and we don't want to be bombarded with complaints if the contractor hired by the D.P.W. messes up. It's up to the D.P.W. to do their part, but thanks to all of you, they know that there will be hundreds of "eyes and ears" out there watching them every step of the way.

The second major issue we will discuss is Nassau County's proposal to transfer the entire Preserve, and several other parks and preserves, to the Town of Oyster Bay. What impact will this have on both the future of the Preserve and those who currently use it?

The County is currently in the process of transferring nine parks to the Town of North Hempstead; we seem to be the only county in this country trying to get rid of parks! Our preserves are "forever wild" and have no buildings to maintain, no plumbing or electricity to fix.

How much money are taxpayers going to save by giving away our preserves, which don't even have any designated employees? Our volunteers have completed dozens of cleanups, Eagle scout, and community service projects.

On a yearly basis, we work more hours in the Preserve than County Parks? workers. Maintaining the Preserve costs the County between $1,000 and $3,000 a year, or about five bucks an acre! Right now, Nassau is spending $150 million in bond money to improve our parks and buy open space (for over 1/2 million dollars an acre). Nassau's also going to spend over six million dollars restoring the Preserve. Why are we giving it away? What's the real agenda here? Nassau has a set of laws and regulations to protect its parks from illegal activities.

The Town of Oyster Bay has no encroachment laws for its parks, no A.T.V. laws, and no parks protocol to protect preserves. They've never even had a perpetual preserve to protect. Our open meeting will explore the many disturbing questions raised by this supposed "consolidation" of resources; we will consider other possible unintended consequences, such as some residents' sudden loss of control and reduced access to our parks, and new athletic fields being bulldozed into the woods.

Friends has spent the past seven years establishing strong partnerships that have, for the first time in decades, finally succeeded in bringing the Preserve under control; readers of the Long Island Press voted Massapequa Preserve the Best Nature Walk and Best Nature Preserve on Long Island for the past two years.

Please bring your family members, friends, and neighbors on November 29th -- we need as many people as possible who care about keeping Massapequa Preserve "forever wild" to stand up and be counted.

If you are a member of the Friends of Massapequa Preserve, it's been at least a year since you joined or renewed your membership. We warmly appreciate your past support, and remind you that it?s time to renew your annual dues. When you join or renew, you will get a free copy of our acclaimed documentary video. Even if you already have the video, you can get an extra copy to play on your DVD player or computer, or to share the beauty of the Preserve with your friends, family, neighbors, or interest group.

If you haven't seen our inspirational video yet, you don't know what you're missing. At this time of the year, give yourself and your neighbors a special holiday gift by investing in the future of Massapequa Preserve. We rely on the continued support of our members, the "eyes and ears" of the Preserve.

We gratefully thank, in advance, each and every one of you for all we have accomplished in the past seven years. We're looking forward to seeing you on November 29. Have a happy holiday and healthy new year. If you haven't done so lately, walk, run, skate, jog, or bike through the Preserve. I've been going there for 33 years and even though some problems remain, I've never seen it in better condition!

Richard Schary, President
Friends of Massapequa Preserve
P.S. Be sure to see our stunning photo display on exhibit during the month of November at both Massapequa Public Library buildings, and don't forget to pick up a copy of our brochure when you visit the library.

Call Nassau County Public Safety's 24-hour hotline: (516) 572-0300

To contact Friends of Massapequa Preserve, write to us at 90 Pennsylvania Ave., Massapequa, NY 11758 or Call: (516) 541-2461; E-mail:
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Have information of interest to your local community? Need an outlet for community issues to be heard? Just want to vent about the bad and the ugly, or heap praise for the good in your hometown?

The Community Alliance blog is YOUR voice on Long Island! If you see something -- and especially if you don't -- SAY SOMETHING!

Write us at Send us your Guest blogs, your opinions, your suggestions, your huddled musings yearning to be freely published and read. Reach the masses, and make a difference, in your community and beyond!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Day After Tomorrow

What Wrath Hath Black Friday Wrought?

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving hoiliday -- and certainly, we all have something we should be thankful for -- we are taken to republishing a blog-post from Thanksgiving 2005 (or more aptly, the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2005).

If the names and norms seem familiar, maybe its because little has changed since, and that Tryptophan-induced coma carries us from one turkey to another, the unwitting -- yet most willing -- recipients of holiday jeer, from the folks who continue to bring us government by fear and repression (hold the giblets, and double-up on the overpriced cranberry sauce).

The elections of November 6th may be behind us, and the presidential primaries not until February 8th of next year, but fear not, purveyors of spiked cider and dry white meat, the opportunity to chime in, in a very public sense, on the most dysfunctional of all government [the special taxing districts] lies just ahead, on Tuesday, December 11, when you (yes, YOU) get the chance to work off all that good grub by trotting down to the local polling place to elect Water Commissioners and Fire Commissioners.

Polling places and times may vary (check with your local fire department or water district), and, unfortunately, not every Commissioner's seat is contested, but the opportunity remains (you can always write-in your own name, for you, too, can be a Commissioner) for every good citizen (or at least so many who are actually registered to vote) to stick in his/her two cents -- this before your "elected" Commissioners decide how to spend it, tax it, and turn it into dinner for twelve at Morton's or a junket to the Bahamas.

With approximately 340 special taxing districts operating under Town auspices on Long Island alone, each of us has a vested interest in the outcome of these off-year, off-Election Day ministerial matters, don't we?

So, as you gobble down the pumpkin pie, and gnaw away at the turkey leg, we'll grab hold of that wishbone, and, among our usual good wishes for universal health, global peace, and international prosperity that trickles down to each and every one, we will wish (perhaps against all wishes, or maybe in their favor) for greater participation of the masses -- from Pilgrims to Indian Chiefs -- in the all-important day-to-day of community.

From all of us to all (well, most; okay, some) of you, HAPPY THANKSGIVING, and, above all, safe shopping!
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Monday, November 28, 2005

Black And Blue Monday
They'll Come Out To Shop At 5 AM, But Will They Come Out To Vote?

As the level of Tryptophan slowly diminishes, the last cup of apple cider quaffed down days ago, we awaken to find that the world remains much as it was when we last left it for the Thanksgiving holiday -- only worse.

If the Friday after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, then certainly, the first work day after must be Black and Blue Monday. The news over the weekend confirmed it. Stampede at Wal-Mart (did someone yell, "IMMIGRATION?"); a father and daughter skating on thin ice -- search and rescue turns to search and recovery; the Giants miss three (count 'em, 3) field goal attempts; the Jets lose -- AGAIN; and how many soldiers were killed in Iraq?

Who was the lucky one to get the long end of the wishbone? Surely, it wasn't this blogger. Pick up Sunday's Newsday and turn to the Our Town page of the Hempstead Life section (a misnomer, at best, as clearly this is not life in Hempstead, at least as we would like to know it) hoping to find some cheerful news. No such luck. Just another photo of smiling Kate, and much surmise as to her political future. Kate Murray For County Executive? [Denise (Bonilla), please don't put ideas into those big heads with the little minds.] "The sky's the limit," says Kate. More like, "the sky is falling."

It has been nearly three weeks (count 'em, 3) since Election Day, and not a single Murraygram has threatened to clog my mailbox. The postman is forlorn, and that pile of bathroom reading material is dwindling. Suddenly, the information so vital to the voter before November 8th that it had to be mailed, on an almost daily basis, in full-color brochure, to every household at taxpayer expense is no longer of any great moment. Apparently, our "need to know" dead-headed at the end of the campaign trail. Surprise.

Enough of this politics. Back to Wal-Mart for that $300 laptop and the not-quite-designer jeans for $6.99. All shopping is local -- even if the manufacturer of those inexpensive clothes sets up shop in Indonesia so that 9 year old girls can toil in filthy sweatshops for 12 cents a day. The retailers must be doing something right to drag millions out of bed at 5 AM. Reports of folks camping outside the store the night before just to be the first in the door. Now that's what I call a fun way to cap off Thanksgiving. "Hey honey. Could you put the turkey leg and a piece of pumpkin pie in aluminum foil? We're spending the night at Wal-Mart!"

Gee, we've never seen such enthusiasm as there is in fighting for a parking space at Roosevelt Field on Black Friday so you can pay half for items previously marked up 150%. If only we could muster such unmitigated excitement for the election of Fire Commissioners. Why, imagine them fighting over a parking space at Town Hall so they could break down the doors at the next meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals? Only if the new Mrs. D'Amato does a pole dance. Even then. . .

Could be a simple matter of marketing. Vote for One Sanitation Commissioner, Get the Second FREE! Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla could give out free gifts to the first 100 residents to walk through the door at a Town Board meeting. We hear the Tickle-Me-Kate doll is in great demand this year (not only does it smile, it wets itself on your wallet). Coupons for instant variances, perhaps. And that cooking demonstration at Angie Cullen's Culinary Kitchen always draws them in. "Today we'll prepare Turkey ala Santino, stuffed with all kinds of pork that you'll gladly pay twice as much for. Enjoy!"

Yes, you can lead shoppers to the mall in the hope of finding a bargain -- even at 5 AM -- but just try to yank 'em out of bed -- at any hour -- to vote, to attend a town meeting, or to participate in the day-to-day of their own government. To boldly stuff our stockings? Of course. To partake in the stuff that impacts directly upon our quality of life? Ahhhhh, we don't think so. Go figure. . .

You know, this blogger is getting kinda sleepy. Its time for a nap, and then, some more leftover turkey. "Heap on that Tryptophan, will ya Ma?" After a long, deep sleep, maybe I'll wake up and hear some good news for a change. Osama Bin Laden declares, "Can't we all just get along?" -- World peace erupts. -- There were no reported DWIs today. -- Father and daughter skate on thin ice and arrive home safely in time for Thanksgiving dinner with family. -- Voters turn out in record numbers to elect local canine catcher. Kate Murray concedes defeat to Deputy Dawg.

Well, if all else fails, we can always go shopping!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Chickens Come Home To Roost

Levittown's Hometown Civic Gives Zoning Board An Earful On Ex-Building Commish's Blunder

"Government is not the solution to our problems. It's the problem."
--Ronald Reagan, Inaugural Address, 1981

If it wasn't enough that the egregious conduct of former Town of Hempstead Building Commissioner, John Loeffel, took place right under Town Supervisor Kate Murray's nose (on the very street where she lives, no less), now the civic association in which Kate Murray -- as a Levittown resident -- is a dues-paying member, has appeared before the Town's Zoning Board, asking that Loeffel's after-the-fact Application for variances and permits be denied.

Talk about pouring salt into an open wound.

Meanwhile, the position of Building Commissioner, vacated under pressure by John Loeffel nearly 10-months ago, remains open [having searched every hill and dale on this continent, the Town will now look to outsource the post], and the Deputy Commissioner, Daniel Casella, recently announced his intention to call it quits after 18 years.

So who will be watching the hen house at the Town of Hempstead Building Department?

No worries. They've apparently been on auto-pilot going on more than a century now (or for as long as there have been permits to issue and variances to grant). Another few years, until the ceiling crumbles and the floor falls out from underneath them, shouldn't matter much.
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Group wants ex-building chief's permits denied

A homeowners association is asking the Hempstead Zoning Board to deny variances sought by former building commissioner John Loeffel, citing his illegal home renovations as a blatant disregard of the law he was appointed to uphold.

The Levittown Property Owners Association - of which Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray is a member - raised objections at Loeffel's zoning board hearing Thursday.

Loeffel is seeking to legalize major improvements he made to his house more than three years ago, without required permits or paying proper taxes. Loeffel was forced to resign in February after the illegal second story on his Levittown Cape was discovered.

The remodeled house exceeds height limits by about two feet and takes up nearly 2 percent more of the property than code allows, officials said.

Board members want to examine the house and the neighborhood before making their decision.

If they deny Loeffel's request, he can be forced to remove the illegal home additions. Loeffel's attorney, Arthur Nastre of Hewlett, said at the hearing that his client has already removed an illegal outside staircase and upstairs deck as well as an unpermitted shed.

Nastre and Loeffel could not be reached for comment Friday.

Two association members read a letter on behalf of the group Thursday, asking the board to deny any variances "which adversely affect the neighborhood and undermine the original intention of the builder of Levittown."

"The infractions to be remedied are many and, in fact, disregard completely the law which the applicant was appointed to uphold," the letter read."

It seemed only fair that his variances should be questioned like other people's are," Daphne Rus, the association's secretary, said Friday.

Nastre presented letters from several neighbors in Loeffel's favor and offered examples of similar variances granted by the board in Loeffel's neighborhood, officials said. Murray, who lives on the same street, and is a dues-paying member of the 250-family association, declined comment. She is prohibited from influencing zoning board deliberations.

If the variances are granted, the building department will inspect the renovations for code compliance and issue permits.

The town has not yet named a new building commissioner. Last week, Deputy Commissioner Daniel Casella announced that he is leaving his $92,000 post after nearly 18 years with the town.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Like We Said, Folks, You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

Santa Muzzled, Pigeons Maligned ~ Where Will It All End?

Put these under "Believe It, Or Not!"

In Australia, sidewalk and store Santas have been admonished not to bespeak the familiar "Ho, Ho, Ho," lest they might frighten the children or -- get this -- be found offensive to women.

Offensive to women? Sure, if Don Imus was dressed in a Santa suit (topped by a cowboy hat, no doubt), running around screaming, "Nappy-headed Ho, Ho, Ho."

And if putting the kibosh on the spirit of the holiday season in Sydney wasn't enough - - -

Half way around the world, in the greatest metropolis in the universe, the Speaker of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, has been admonished by animal rights activists (or, in this instance, overactivists), for, of all things, likening pigeons to rats.

Talk about pigeonholing.

Its one thing for a City Councilwoman to propose legislation imposing fines on pigeon feeding New Yorkers, but when the Speaker calls pigeons "rats?" Whoa!

Urban Wildlife Coalition founder Johanna Clearfield wrote Quinn, slamming her as "clueless," since "pigeons have nothing in common with rats" - and calling her comment an "epithet . . . much like the n-word."

Sure, now we have the "r-word" to contend with.

Johanna, they're freakin' pigeons!

And we wonder why this planet is in convulsions, nation taking up arms against nation, brother killing brother, the haves at the throats of the have-nots!

The squirrels are running the nut house, and the pigeons are hot on their tails. . .
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The work of community continues. The day of the community activist/advocate is never over.

For The Community Alliance blogger, however, there comes a time when even the weariest warrior must get some rest, the troops given a bit of much-deserved R&R, and a pause in the insanity be taken.

We're taking a break for the holidays [No 'Ho, Ho, Ho' from us]. Be back when rats fly -- or when the Town of Hempstead goes Democratic, whichever comes first.

Meanwhile, you scions of community, this is your opportunity to strut your stuff, speak your minds, and step up to the plate for the cause.

Yes, we're talking to YOU, and inviting your musings and anecdotes (or antidotes, if you've got 'em) as Guest Bloggers in the name of community.

Keep those postcards and e-mails from the edge coming, and remember, until there's a cure for the apathy, and a balm for bad government, there's only you -- and The Community Alliance!

Write us at

Long Island Needs Visionaries, Not Naysayers

To Nix Coliseum Redevelopment Plan Is To Say "No" To Nassau's Future

"Mixed reaction" to the Suozzi/Wang Nassau Hub proposal, writes Newsday -- their unscientific poll showing otherwise, with nearly 80% of those responding seemingly in favor of the plan to bring Long Island into the 21st Century (or at least beyond the circa 1950 mentality that, unfortunately, pervades much of the discussion among the ignorant and the unenlightened).

The informed, the astute observers of what suburbia was meant to be, what it has become, and how it must evolve if the concept has life beyond the sprawl, get it. They understand that we either move forward with a progressive, well-thought out plan -- the hub being the perfect place to start -- or we stand in place, fall to the ground assuming the fetal position, and wait, in the sewage we have surrounded ourselves with, for our island to die.

There always seems to be an undercurrent of negativity on Long Island; a dissatisfaction with anything and everything, and an overriding reluctance to even remotely make an effort to effect change, even change for the better.

But change -- in attitude and in outlook -- we must, and the proponents of change, of that new suburbia, must now come to the fore, to be heard, to be seen, to be the activists that are in too short supply in America's first suburb.

Reclaiming Nassau, and with it, Long Island, from its duldrums -- a once vibrant suburb, now little more than part of the Smithsonian collection -- won't be easy. Reinventing the very image of suburbia will be even more difficult. And getting the Nassau Hub project off the drawing board and onto the Hempstead Plain will test our collective will, especially as the folks at Hempstead Town Hall (where there hasn't been much of a change of anything in more than 100 years) will be the arbiters of the cause.

The problem with the Town of Hempstead -- and with Supervisor Kate Murray, in particular -- is that they're stuck in a 1950s time warp. Their "vision" of suburbia -- one of low density and the white picket fence -- went out with the Good Humor ice cream truck and the $6,000 Levittown cape.

This is not rural America, folks, or even upstate New York, where the nearest "city" is a hundred miles away, and cows roam the meadows (east and otherwise).

We are a suburb of a great metropolis, and the good, bad, and downright ugly that is both its virtue and its backwash. Heck, we ARE the great metropolis, as much a part of New York City as the spoke is to the wheel.

The Town needs a lesson -- or three -- in "smart growth" and a good reading of new suburbanist material. The people who live in this Town, and this County, need a good re-education on what the viable suburb of the 21st Century must entail, lest the malaise of urban sprawl consume our communities in one, enveloping brownfield.

And we all need to understand -- and to embrace -- that the suburb of tomorrow has a sense of place, varied housing options, reliable and convenient transportation, and walkable neighborhoods in which open space is preserved, accessible, and to be enjoyed by all.

Density, and even height, are not necessarily enemies of suburbia. Indeed, as in the "suburban" (of their day) outreaches of Brooklyn and Queens (the places we now loathe, but may one day only hope to become), where the idea and ideal of "smart growth" have clicked, density works, the housing stock never looked better, mom and pop have brought their stores and restaurants back to once again tree-lined boulevards, and the old neighborhoods -- walkable all -- are now teeming with a new-found exhileration. And guess what? Property taxes are less than a third of what we pay on Long Island.

Yes, we need be concerned about congestion and traffic. We have, after all, spent decades creating this mess. Light rail is an answer, among other viable alternatives to the almighty automobile. Of course, that means we have to give up the all-consuming reliance on our cars in favor of an efficient mass transit system that is both people-mover and cost-saver. And most of us have to relearn to do that which we haven't done in years -- walk.

If Long Island is to survive, and to thrive beyond the staid vision of what once was a potato field, Long Islanders have to embrace that new suburbia, and get out of the habit of saying "no" to practically every new idea that comes along.

True, we are set in our uncomfortable ways here, much like the guy whose worn yet familiar underwear constantly rides up on him, but he's too lazy to go out and buy a new pair -- or too stubborn to make the change to boxers.

Chop up, or worse still, forestall and descimate the plan for the Nassau Hub -- as the Town of Hempstead has been known to do, from time to time, when plans call for reasoned rezoning and prudent development -- will leave us with a rambling, unsightly, hodge-podge of dead space, and that semi-utilitarian predecessor to the creeping paralysis of strip mall sprawl we have already come to know all too well as Hempstead Turnpike.

Squander this opportunity for growth and revitalization -- to become a destination and not just a "pass-me-by" -- and we not only concede that Long Islanders are not up to the challenge, we also condemn ourselves to forever slide into the twilight of that old suburbia, a county and an island that, through stagnation and capitulation, has all but rendered itself irrelevant.

It is time to seize the day!
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A glimpse back into the future of Nassau's hub -- Westgate City Center, Glendale, AZ
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REALITY CHECK: What is the likelihood that Supervisor Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead can successfully see the Nassau Hub project through to fruition?

Well, look at it this way -- Here's a local government that isn't able to figure out how to convert a dilapidated movie house into a much needed supermarket; can't manage to close a hideous no-tell hotel, let alone come up with a proper plan to redevelop a site of less than 10 acres; doesn't have the gumption to say "no" to yet another cell phone tower in the middle of a residential neighborhood; can't seem to understand that "downtown" revitalization favors "mom and pop" over "big box," or that a Victorian-style street lamp does not a re-energized business district make; and equates a mandate from the people with the number of stolen lawn signs in its cache.

The likelihood of success? Well, we were liberal arts majors. You do the math!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

America's Most Blighted Township

Kate Murray, Supervisor

When it comes to studying the blight in its midst -- and officially designating it as such -- no one (and we mean no one) tops the Town of Hempstead.

No sir, in Hempstead Town, Blight (with a capital "B") is king [or queen, as the crown may fit the Supervisor's pretty little head], and the study of such deviation from the suburban dream -- as prelude to condemnation proceedings and ill-advised "urban" renewal plans -- has become all the rage.

First it was the Baldwin Blight Study, where the Town envisioned a revival of the less than Grand Avenue, "downtown improvements (to) include streetscape upgrades such as brick paved walkways, Victorian street lamps, newly planted trees and attractive planters."

As Kate Murray concluded in the Town's pro forma press release, "The adoption of the blight study and the upcoming redevelopment plan portend a bright future for Baldwin neighbors. Councilman Santino and I are committed to making the great community of Baldwin even better."

Then it was Oceanside's turn, where it was "blight to beautiful," the Town turning valuable land (the site of the former Oceanside Motel), with its potential to serve as a centerpiece for revival of a forlorn business district, into a paved paradise -- a municipal parking field.

As per the Town's communique, "The lot, which was completed this summer, includes a decorative 'Welcome to Oceanside' sign, brick-paved walkways, Victorian lampposts, attractive plantings, stylized benches, distinctive fencing and accent lighting."

Once again, Murray opined, "Councilman Santino and I worked hand-in-hand with neighbors to make Oceanside an even better place to live, and this parking field is a useful and attractive community addition for residents and local businesses."

The Supervisor concluded, "We have come a long way in Oceanside in the last few years and the future looks bright for this community."

Next, it was on to West Hempstead, where "blight" has become the community's middle name, and come all ye hapless to the "Fight The Blight" Study -- making what should have been the routine task of taking the wrecking ball to the infamous Courtesy Hotel tantamount to setting man upon the surface of Uranus.

"This study confirms what neighbors have long known," said Murray. "The Courtesy Hotel and some surrounding parcels are a blight on the West Hempstead community. We will work with developers to bring about economic revitalization in the area."

That was back in May of 2006. [Well, no one ever said Kate Murray was a quick study.]

"The town continues to work closely with the West Hempstead community to develop a plan for this area, concluded Murray. "We are committed to making this an even better community in which to live, work and shop. West Hempstead has a bright and promising future."

Hmm. Where have we heard that before. Baldwin and Oceanside, perhaps?

And now, not to be outdone, the Town has undertaken a Blight Study in Elmont (a study that no one in Elmont was even aware of, until its proposed adoption was to come up for a vote before the Town Board on November 13th).

Apparently, the Town of Hempstead needs to study whether the old, and now dilapidated, Argo movie theater -- the site on which community groups have long proposed a supermarket -- should be declared, in the official sense, "blighted."

Hey Elmont, you're blighted! Join the club.

We can be assured that, in the Supervisor's soon-to-be released release, Ms. Murray will proclaim Elmont as a great community where the future (defined as sometime between now and never) is looking bright. Or was that, "blight?" Hard to tell the difference.

Forgive us our skepticism of the Murray Plan to revitalize Hempstead Town (if General George Marshall had such a plan for post WWII Europe, Berlin would still be in ruins), but this promise of a bright future, and "an even better community in which to live, work and shop," has grown long in the tooth.

And what about the rest of Hempstead Town, where much of the unincorporated township suffers silently (apparently, even at the polls) as blight consumes "downtown" and "Main Street?"

Feeling slighted that you haven't been designated as officially blighted?

Not to worry. Word on the street has it that Hempstead Town Attorney, Joe Ra [he who, as a Town Councilman back in the gulliable 70s and 80s, told residents he was going to rid the town of illegal accessory apartments], is himself studying a program that would make every hamlet and hovel eligible for its own Blight Study.

So stand fast, overtaxed and underrepresented homeowners and shopkeepers of America's largest -- and now, most blighted -- township, for tomorrow, your future may look bright and promising (always promising), too, this in the land where absolutely any community can -- and will, without further (and we do mean, "without further") -- be crowned, "blighted for a day."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Grand Vision Versus Small Minds

Plans For Revitalization Of Nassau's Hub Now In Town Of Hempstead's Little Hands

The first question we asked, back when the Nassau County Legislature first approved the Charles Wang plan for "the hub" -- an area that includes the Nassau Coliseum and environs -- was, "How long will it take Kate Murray & Kompany, via the Town of Hempstead's hopelessly nearsighted and infamously political Zoning Board, to whittle this plan down to its lowest common denominator (and the only redevelopment plan known to the Town) -- brick pavers, wrought iron benches, and a Victorian-style street lamp on every corner?

Not long, apparently.

On the very day the plans for the Nassau Hub were submitted to the Town of Hempstead, Supervisor Murray whined to Newsday about traffic and congestion, already looking to put the kibosh on Tom Suozzi's centerpiece for the "new suburbia," instead clinging to her myopic vision of an old suburbia, which, by the Town of Hempstead's own daily affirmations, has gone from bad to blight.

Presented here is the opportunity to do something magnificent, perhaps wonderful, transforming ugly into awesome, haphazard into a happening place that would truly mark the rebirth of Nassau County as the locale folks go to, rather than run from.

No, its all traffic and congestion to Ms. Murray, as if the ill-conceived and poorly designed Roosevelt Raceway redevelopment -- where you can't cross the street to go from your $500,000 2" x 4" condo to shop at Target, while breathing in the vapors and taking in the vistas of the Covanta incinerator, without taking your car -- has been anything but.

The Wang proposal, appropriately scaled back, is still a lofty ideal of what the new Nassau can be, and, if we are to usher in a renaissance similar to that now being enjoyed by Brooklyn and Queens (the very places we ran away from in the 60s and 70s), what the new suburbia should be.

Here presents the opportunity to stop suburban sprawl in its tracks, to reclaim what has devolved into little more than a brownfield -- where even our Islanders have become mired in the muck -- and for America's first suburb to hold high its collective head, upon which sits a most glorious crown.

Yeah, right.

Mark these words, ladies and gents. As sure as Kate Murray will don her red blazer on any given day, labeling the loyal opposition as misogynists, while mailing 200,000 photo-laden Murraygrams to adoring (as in Hempstead's answer to Evita) constituents, she will find a way to reduce these plans to yet another municipal parking field.

And why not?

After all, the voters -- all 19% of them who braved the elements (oxygen?) to come out to vote -- have given her a mandate. "Do as you will with us, Kate Murray. Give us your tired, old ideas, your recycled renderings of tomorrow, your vacant promises that sit upon that disarming smile, struting before the ooohs and ahhs of community, but signifying nothing."

Take a good look at the plans for Nassau's hub, folks, because by the time the Town of Hempstead gets through with them -- some five, ten, or maybe twenty years hence -- they will be but a shell of their former selves.

Watch for townhouses that double as illegal accessory apartments. Witness the hodge-podge of oversized signs, incongruous storefronts -- half of which will be empty -- and a place where you can't walk from here to there. Look for the Breslins and other Town-friendly developers to stake their claims, divvying up the hub until there is nothing recognizable but for that Victorian-style street lamp, flickering at the dusk of what was once the best place to live in America, rather than glowing at the dawn of Nassau's new day.

In a Town where every day brings a new blight study -- the latest in Elmont, where residents have once again been mesmerized by the Town's uncanny ability to wistfully weave fairy tales (as grim as they may be) -- but little in the way of thoughtful planning, careful design, and the implementation of anything that doesn't involve the laying of asphalt, one can dream big and hope for the best.

Just don't expect too much from Hempstead Town Hall, where big on talk, short on delivery, and shipping/handling at twice the cost, are the norm, and the willingness of the town folk to simply sit there and take the punches (why not? They paid for 'em!) is par for the course.

The Town of Hempstead's Zoning Board of Unappeal now holds in its hands -- the "it" (as in "it" happens) being Chairman Gerald Wright, and ZBA Board Member, Katuria D'Amato [hey, maybe she can get hubby Al's development group in on the act] -- the power to embrace this new suburbia, restoring the sheen to Nassau's Hub, and with it, the hopes of a prosperous County; and the power to crush all hope, condemning Nassau to a fate that brings to mind Pompeii after the lava flow met the sea.

Our future. Their choice. Bring on the Victorian-style street lamps!
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Wang unveils bold vision for Nassau

For starters, Islanders owner Charles Wang and his Lighthouse Development Group want to build a newer, bigger, better Nassau Coliseum topped with billowing white sails that call to mind the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Then, he will to turn its bleak asphalt parking lot into a lively urban center, where twin towers 31-stories tall will house Long Island's first five-star hotel, overlooking a conference center, offices, homes and a "Celebration Plaza" larger than New York's Bryant Park.

And that's just phase one.

Wang's 5.5-million-square-foot application for a planned development district, filed late Tuesday with the Town of Hempstead, aims to transform the Coliseum and its surrounding 150 acres of county-owned land into "a state-of-the-art venue which will serve as an economic and socioeconomic engine," bringing new jobs and tax revenues, higher property values and a focal point for the Island. It will also, they say, keep the Islanders from leaving.

"We kid around that the cockroaches and the rats [in the Coliseum] are so old, even they have Stanley Cup rings," Islanders General Manager Garth Snow said.

The development proposal, copies of which were given to Newsday and some other media outlets in advance, is being viewed as a watershed moment for Nassau County.

Will its residents embrace a new vision of development that accepts urban scale and density on the promise that it will deliver vibrant, walkable communities where the next generation can afford to live?

Or will they see it as just another attempt to jam too many buildings onto too small a piece of land, with too much traffic and not enough parking?

The Lighthouse project, originally named for a now-scrapped 60-story tower that was to be its centerpiece, is the keystone of Thomas Suozzi's "New Suburbia" land-use plan for central Nassau, and the filing is expected to focus new energy on the county's proposed new transit network that still has yet to settle on a mode or route.

Wang and his partner, RexCorp Realty chairman Scott Rechler, promise to follow green-building and smart-growth neighborhood development principles and include bicycle and jogging trails that connect with Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, Museum Mile and wind all the way to Eisenhower Park.

"This is not just sprawling big-box development, it's something distinctive and special," Rechler said. "It'll be the best of the city and the best of the suburbs."

The developers want to navigate the complex zoning, planning and environmental reviews within the next 18 months. That would allow them to finalize a 99-year lease for the county-owned property and break ground for the Coliseum's long-awaited renovation by July 2009.

The rest of their vision would take form over the following five to 10 years.

It will be up to Hempstead Town to decide whether the site and its surrounding neighborhoods can handle the traffic and parking demands this development would place upon it.

"Anyone who has driven along Meadowbrook Parkway or Hempstead Turnpike during rush hour in the facility of the Hub knows that traffic is already a very serious issue," Supervisor Kate Murray said. "There's no reason to expect that it won't be an even greater concern as we consider any new development proposal."

The proposed conceptual master plan covers a swath of county-owned land allocated by the federal government in 1963 from the former Mitchel Field Air Force Base. The land, which is now zoned mostly for office and hotel development, includes the county's 77-acre Coliseum parcel, which is leased by SMG Management, as well as RexCorp Plaza, the Marriott Hotel and the Omni Building, are leased from the county by a joint venture between Wang and RexCorp.

The first phase, the mixed-use core subdistrict, includes a transformed Coliseum that could hold up to 17,500 hockey fans or 20,000 concert goers with an additional concourse and new suites, seats, electronics, restaurants and shops. Next door are a sports technology center and an athletic complex with four sheets of ice to host local, regional and national events. The Lighthouse design provides for more than 250,000 square feet of convention, conference and exhibition space, up from the 60,000 square feet the Coliseum holds.

This first phase would also include the site's two 31-story signature towers up to 450 feet tall, housing a five-star hotel with 300 rooms, including luxury full-service condominiums. The hotel would overlook the plaza and down a canal lined with shops and restaurants, with loft housing above and a gourmet grocery below. These condominiums would range from just a few stories to 18 stories tall, or up to 275 feet high.

The second, residential village sub-district, the architects envision a neighborhood more or less built on top of parking decks, with each block a circle of multi-story townhouses and condominiums looking out over green courtyards, many of them with swimming pools. Below on street level will be grocery stores and dry cleaners.

Wang and Rechler's overall proposal calls for a blend of next-generation, luxury, active adult and multifamily housing. A multi-screen movie theater will be part of this phase. The typical building in this section is 7 stories; the tallest would be no more than 150 feet tall.

Finally, the developers envision four new office buildings comprising 1 million square feet under the residential subdistrict, with two each to be built on the Coliseum parcel's northwest corner and just west of RexCorp Plaza. The tallest would be no more than 175 feet.

Fitting this many residents, visitors and employees onto a parcel this size depends on intensive, efficient parking development. The Lighthouse proposal features parking decks that may be as much as two stories under ground and one and a half stories above, with the exception of the Coliseum parking deck, three stories above ground. Spaces associated with the Coliseum and offices are to be shared, used by commuters during the day and by Coliseum visitors at night.

The developers admit that they don't have enough parking to comply with the Town of Hempstead's building code, but if they did, they maintain it would be wasted. They plan to conduct a "shared parking study" to demonstrate that the 17,211 spaces they have planned will be enough.

The Lighthouse Group has dedicated $55 million toward roadway improvements needed to accommodate the development's added traffic and connect to the larger Hub transit network envisioned by Nassau County planners. They also plan to operate a bus trolley system which will serve the site and its surrounding area.

Matthew Frank, managing director of the Lighthouse group, said the developers also have committed to participate in a pilot program of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Neighborhood Development, to certify the Lighthouse project as a "green" or sustainable development.

Mindful of the feedback they got on early plans comparing the development to Queens, the Lighthouse Group this summer hired Baltimore-based Development Design Group and the Spector Group of Woodbury to overhaul them. DDG scrapped the towers and plazas of the last version in favor of a more "psychologically manageable" streetscape, integrated with the surrounding community.

Approvals for the project can't come too soon, say the long-suffering Islanders, who don't understand why Wang couldn't secure approvals long ago to renovate an arena that is now one of the nation's oldest.

"They should have had it done by now," said team captain Bill Guerin yesterday. "This has been way too long coming."

Staff writer Eden Laikin contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.
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Click HERE to download and read the 2004 Economic Impact Study

Click HERE to read Ellis Henican's column in Newsday, The New Suburbia: Like a city, minus the bad stuff

Click HERE to read the Newsday story, Officials debate impact of proposed development