Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As The Argo Goes (Or Not), So Goes Elmont

Sweating The Small Stuff's Important, Too

When folks think -- and leaders talk -- revitalization in Elmont, gateway to Nassau County, its often Belmont Racetrack that comes to mind.

That, of course, is a major undertaking, in and of itself, its advent, most assuredly, changing Elmont, hopefully for the better.

But what of those smaller projects, initiatives that truly impact upon Main Street, and could, relatively quickly -- if officialdom were so inclined -- improve quality of life immeasurably, long before Belmont's anticipated renaissance ever breaks ground.

Take, as a prime example, the old Argo movie theater, once a centerpiece of community life in Elmont, then a downscale 99 cent store, now little more than an eyesore and an invitation to the blighting of the surrounding business district.

All the Elmont community has asked for here is a supermarket, something sorely missed and much needed.

Everyone, from community activists to elected representatives say they are for converting the Argo into a supermarket, not only as a place for residents to buy groceries, but moreover, as cornerstone of further redevelopment.

Urban Renewal Plans (for suburbia?) are concocted. Blight studies are commissioned. Site Plans are drawn up. Press releases abound.

And yet, in practical terms, nothing, nada, zip.

The Elmont Coalition for Sustainable development has been visioning for two years now. What is there to show for it?

Sustainable Long Island has showcased Elmont's purported (if not contorted) road to revival, seemingly since Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown. There are photos of plans to show for it, but not much else.

The State, by way of grants from the Legislature (remember the State Legislature? They used to work in Albany), has laid the seed money -- some $2.5 million waiting in the wings -- but not a penny has gone toward shovel hitting pavement.

It would seem, at least to this observer of community, that the only thing being sustained in Elmont is the status quo!

So, what's holding up the works on much needed downtown redevelopment?

Could it be litigation spearheaded by the owners of the Argo, looking to squeeze more money out of Town of Hempstead taxpayers, holding an entire community hostage?

Or, is it merely the Town of Hempstead itself -- more aptly, the Supervisor, Kate Murray -- holding up the show, as has been done in similarly situated unincorporated outposts throughout the township?

"We're committed to making Elmont an even better place to live, work, and raise a family." So said Supervisor Murray, on many an occasion.

Oh, really? Or are you simply substituting Elmont for Baldwin, West Hempstead, or, for that matter, any other hamlet within the sound of your voice and view of your smile, echoing this time-worn incantation, signifying, well, absolutely nothing?

"Its impressive," says Pat Nicolosi, President of the Elmont East End Civic Association and longtime advocate for improvement of Elmont's infrastructure beyond the drawing board, "how so much talk can yield so little action. Who would think that pulling down a dilapidated building and putting up a modern supermarket would be akin to landing a man on Mars?"

Maybe we should make that a woman, Pat. Have anybody in particular in mind?

The Town of Hempstead has taken ownership of the Argo's fate, and, as with myriad other projects now in the hands of those who hold a stranglehold on America's largest and most blighted township -- from the revitalization of Grand Avenue in Baldwin to the demolition of the Courtesy in West Hempstead to the approval, should it ever come, of the Lighthouse project in Uniondale -- fate is most unkind to those who would see the revitalization of the Town's beleaguered downtowns sooner rather than later.

Reached for comment by e-mail, State Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who represents the district where the Argo's show goes on and on and on, stated unequivocally that he supports the community's desire for a grocery in place of the Argo, and wants to see the project move forward now.

From your mouth, Tom, to Supervisor Murray's ears!

Geez. How tough can it be to take down the Argo and put up a supermarket?

In Hempstead Town, apparently, it is far from an easy task.

To paraphrase Kate Murray, "The Urban Renewal Plan will ensure the blight(ed) future of this community for years to come. . ."

As the Argo goes, so goes Elmont? Indeed. And as Elmont goes, so goes the rest of Nassau County!
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Meanwhile, off at the races. . .

Yes, there is a Sustainable Belmont. Unfortunately, it happens to be Belmont, Massachusetts.

There's also Sustainable Belmont, Ontario -- but that's upper U.S.

Closer to home, we can report, based upon our most reliable inside sources, as follows:

The RFP (Request for Proposals) for the economic feasibility study is back and the scoping has started. The economic feasibility study was out a few weeks ago and proposals flowed into the State. There is a lot of interest in the site.

Overall, Belmont is, according to our source at the State level, "coming along real nicely and we anticipate a report which will be the base of the construction RFP plan very shortly. That will include an overall plan with footprint, basic outline with environmental, traffic and economic impacts."

It is important to note, and we do, that the Governor put VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals) in the economic feasibility study.

Empire State Development Corp. (EFD) [yet another of New York's "public" authorities] has, according to our source, been very proactive and has fast-tracked all work for, as per the request of the district's State Legislators. ["Fast," of course, is a relative term when it comes to action by the State of New York!] The Governor has assured State representatives that the RFP and community input phase will grow out of the Coalition for Sustainable Elmont report and will compliment Hempstead Turnpike revitalization plans. [Is that code for, "We'll be scoping this project for decades, and if you think it will ever get off the ground, you should have your head examined?"]

The first grading study done at the behest of the State delegation resulted in a scored rundown of all the different options for the site.

"I can tell you that the Assemblyman (Alfano) is not in favor of a senior facility at the site," said his Chief of Staff, Scott Cushing. "There is already a TOH site that is not occupied behind the Argo. The Belmont site should be a job generator period."

We can also report, confirmed by several sources, that during the State's revitalization task force hearing held by the Assembly at Nassau Coliseum, ESD, labor and utilities have already started the groundwork on the how to's for construction. NYRA has put together a parking plan and mass transit issues from LIRR to LI Bus are already in the mix. Labor leaders have reached out and are looking to see how they can not only assist in the site, but in helping devise a plan that meets community needs and priorities.

On the plan aspects, the main focus, as we understand it, and State officials confirm, is being targeted to the walkable mall concept with restaurants and a movie theatre. A large hotel will be on the North side with banquet facilities and VLT capability. The footprint and so forth will come from the feasibility and economic statement that is due back any day from ESD. This concept was strongly favored by Assemblyman Tom Alfano, County Executive Tom Suozzi, and Hempstead Town Councilman Ed Ambrosino. [Publisher's Note: We cannot speak to or comment on the position taken by TOH Supervisor Kate Murray, if any, as, alas, she was not at the meeting as held at the Elmont Memorial Library. Surprise. Surprise.]

Once a plan is agreed upon after the reports are back, the question remains, how quick can construction begin?

The State, for its part, would like to move quickly to take advantage of any Empire Zone benefits.

If the Town of Hempstead is involved, as would appear to be the case of necessity, don't look for "quickly" any time soon.

Perhaps we could call in the cell phone companies to pre-empt Town authority, providing residents with a truly sustainable Belmont (cell towers erected separately) literally overnight!
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Stay tuned to this blog for updates on Elmont's rise from the ashes of the Argo, and the race to resurrect Belmont and its environs.

Comments? Hit the link below.

Thoughts? Opinions? Guest blogs? E-mail us at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.

Monday, June 29, 2009

If Local Governments Don't Favor Consolidation. . .

. . . There Must Be Something Good About The Government Reorganization Act

Mayors don't like it.

Fire Districts don't like it.

Water District Associations don't like it.

Even Library Districts don't like it.

[If only School Districts had been included in the bill, so they would have something not to like as well!]

Maybe, just maybe, this idea of local government consolidation, the first step toward efficiency and lower -- not capped, lower -- property taxes, is taking New Yorkers in the right direction.

We think so. What say you?

Comment on the blog, and write us with your opinions at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.
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From Newsday:

LI mayors blast state consolidation law
jennifer.maloney@newsday.com, rick.brand@newsday.com

Village mayors across Long Island blasted Albany Thursday for the new law aiming to help consolidate local governments.

"The most dysfunctional city on the planet is going to tell us how to streamline government?" Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said of the bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. David A. Paterson. "What drives the tax bill on Long Island is the cost of education. That's what the state should be focusing on."

The law creates three avenues to streamline government, including a petition drive by residents to eliminate a special district or village.

Several mayors said the law could lead to costly studies and threaten the quality of life and local control that their residents have chosen.

Rockville Centre Mayor Mary Bossart said the state has "attacked the power of self-government that village residents now exercise." And Bayville Village Mayor Victoria Siegel called the law "the biggest mistake the state has ever made."

Siegel, who had urged Paterson to veto the bill, said the law violates the state constitution, which allows for the formation of villages. She said Bayville would join other villages in challenging the law in court.

Nassau and Suffolk officials yesterday praised final action on the bill but appeared cautious on its implementation.

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi said he plans to appoint a committee from various government entities, including towns and school districts, to come up with a plan that "makes sense." His consolidation proposals had never mentioned villages or fire districts.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said he is "still evaluating all the powers bequeathed to us" and awaiting a county attorney's opinion, but added the details are "very complex."

"People are drowning in taxes on this island and every method of making it more affordable has to be considered," he said.

With Susana Enriquez, Deborah Morris, Laura Rivera
Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Elected Officials, Like Diapers, Should Be Changed Often. . .

. . .And Much For The Same Reasons!

The charade down State Street in Albany continues.

How did Einstein define insanity? Oh, yeah. Doing the same thing, the exact same way, over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Elect the same folks to the same jobs with the same empty promises, year after year after year, and you expect what?

Folks, you got us into this mess, now you get us out!

Meanwhile, take a pause from the disaster, and read all about it on The Community Alliance blog. Among other goodies:

Humpty Dumpty Sat On The Wall

The Exorcism

Good Government Comes To Elmont

All Dressed Up And Someplace To Go

Twenty Miles Of Ugly, Revisited

Honey, Did We Plant A Cell Tower On The Front Lawn?

and, let's all sing, The Ballad Of Pedro Espada.

Harmony, now, harmony. You, too, Dean. SING!

And here's a blast from the past. A golden oldie, if you will, from the archives of the blog.

It is captioned, strangely enough, Three Men In A Room, published, November 6, 2006. The subject matter: The dysfunction in Albany.

Not like we were clairvoyant, or anything. . .

Read it all at The Community Alliance blog. Believe what you will, or believe nothing at all. Scroll. Think. Get outraged -- at us; at them. Comment (and be more than Anonymous). Make some noise, for goodness sake. And be a part of your community.

Humpty, Dumpty Sat On The Wall

Rudy Giuliani, Former NYC Mayor, Presidential Also-Ran, And Possible Contender For NYS Gov, Calls For Constitutional Convention
Recommends Term Limits, Campaign Finance Reform, End To Gerrymandering

"New York State government is not working."
--Rudolph W. Giuliani


As the charade along State Street meanders into week three, former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani lisps onto the scene with an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times.

Giuliani, a possible GOP contender for Governor in 2010, opines on the ills of State government, offering broad solutions, with little detail (okay, absolutely no detail) as to how to put such measures into effect.

Campaign finance reform? Where have we heard that before?

Term limits? Could we start right now? Like, TODAY!

Rudy says he's "starting the debate" on reform.

Actually, Rudy, the debate's been going on for well over a generation now. You must have missed it while you were on the presidential campaign trail, racking up all those Republican delegates.

Meanwhile, back at the Capitol of the Empire State, the "do nothings" continue to reign, with the combatants exchanging barbs, tit for tat.

Governor Paterson says the State Senators should have their pay withheld until they take up the people's business.

Ya think?

And coup leader, Senator Dean Skelos, accuses the Governor of throwing gasoline on the fire.

Hey, since when is the arsonist heard to complain?

If only our elected officials were as passionate about their constituents' concerns as they are about this infantile power play.

Rudy Giuliani is right about at least one thing: "Legislators have not been leading. But we citizens can take charge and carry out these fundamental reforms. . ."

A constitutional convention? Perhaps.

But how about a more fundamental, and considerably more immediate "take charge" by New Yorkers? Like voting the bums out of office -- every last one of 'em -- in 2010?
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From The New York Times:

Op-Ed Contributor
Putting New York Back Together


NEW YORK STATE government is not working. This has been true for some time. But the paralysis and confusion that has overtaken the capital demonstrates the need to confront this dysfunction directly and take decisive steps to solve it once and for all. That’s why I’m calling on Albany to convene a state constitutional convention.

This is not a partisan criticism. There is enough blame for all to share. Recently, though, the situation in our state has gone from bad to worse.

There are more New Yorkers unemployed than at any time in 33 years, and the poverty rate is rising. Our combined state and local tax burden is the highest in the nation after New Jersey. Our business tax climate is rated the second worst in the country. And in the face of the worst recession in a quarter-century, the State Legislature decided to increase spending by 9 percent while increasing taxes and fees by $8 billion. No wonder a recent poll showed that more than 20 percent of New Yorkers are thinking of leaving the state in search of lower taxes and fewer government mandates.

Over the course of New York’s history, our state has held seven constitutional conventions, one as recently as 1967. Calling another convention would be an extraordinary step, but it is a necessary and effective way to overcome the challenges we face. It would be an opportunity for Republicans, Democrats and independents to come together, take a long hard look at our problems and then propose real, lasting solutions.

If the State Legislature were to approve the measure in the next few weeks, New Yorkers could vote on whether to proceed with a constitutional convention this November. A “yes” vote would move the process forward, allowing voters to choose a slate of delegates in November 2010.

After the convention took place, the recommendations would be put forward to the people for an up-and-down vote.

The specific measures should be left to the convention itself and then judged by the voters. But to start the debate I offer seven recommendations for reform.

THE BUDGET PROCESS The governor should be empowered to set revenue estimates on his own, as the mayor of New York City does, adjusting future spending against responsible benchmarks rather than unrealistic estimates. The budget should conform to generally accepted accounting principles, and there should also be a formal four-year financial plan allowing for transparency and long-term planning. Finally, if a new budget is not adopted by April 1, the previous year’s budget should be automatically continued.

TERM LIMITS All statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature should be term limited to bring new blood into Albany while stopping the careerism that too often blocks real progress. A citizens’ legislature would be more effective in addressing New Yorkers’ problems with a fresh perspective.

REDISTRICTING New York’s Legislature has been called the most dysfunctional in the nation, yet Albany legislators enjoy a 98 percent re-election rate. They avoid accountability through partisan gerrymandering, which has reduced the number of competitive elections, depriving millions of voters of real choices.

An independent commission, rather than the legislators themselves, should draw up district lines to ensure the system is not rigged to reward incumbent legislators or one party over another.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE Special interests have a disproportionate influence over state politics in large part because of a weak campaign finance system with high contribution limits and lax disclosure requirements. Individuals can give up to $55,900 to gubernatorial candidates and $15,500 for State Senate candidates. Unions and other special interests exploit loopholes that allow millions of dollars worth of phone banks, volunteers and other in-kind contributions. There are no regular audits and minimal fines, and an unlimited amount of money can be transferred to candidates from party committees.

SUPERMAJORITY FOR TAX INCREASES Too often increasing taxes is the first impulse for Albany legislators. Requiring a supermajority for tax increases would provide a powerful check on those who still think we can tax and spend our way out of economic problems. A supermajority would protect already over-burdened citizens and attract businesses, improving our long-term competitiveness.

JUDICIAL PAY The integrity of an independent judiciary depends on being able to attract qualified people who are not beholden to party bosses and power brokers. Instituting an automatic cost-of-living adjustment on an improved base salary would take the politics out of judicial pay raises.

SUCCESSION FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR Over the last 40 years, New York has been without a lieutenant governor three times. The lack of any established process of succession for the state’s second in command creates the potential for chaos. In the interest of simplicity, stability and transparency, clear lines of succession must be established.

Many of these suggestions have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. What’s been missing is action. Legislators have not been leading. But we citizens can take charge and carry out these fundamental reforms through a constitutional convention. Together we can cure the structural dysfunction of our politics and hand New York to the next generation better and stronger than it was handed to us.

Rudolph W. Giuliani was the mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is An Exorcisim In Albany New Yorkers' Only Hope?

Removing The Demons From The State Senate, By Vote Or By Divine Intervention

"Right now in the name of Jesus, we call the NYS Senate to order, right now in the name of Jesus."

Okay. We've tried everything else.

Negotiations. The courts. Extraordinary sessions. Threats.

Nothing but nothing seems to work.

In fact, it gets more and more bizzare by the minute.

Here's an account from Capitol Confidential, the political blog of the Albany Times Union:

So there has been progress today. No camping out on the rostrum, no dueling sessions.

At 3 p.m. Democrats file in and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins calls the chamber into extraordinary session.

Pledge of allegiance, moment of silence. They conduct no legislative business, and adjourn. Lights on, microphones on, television on.

In 5 minutes flat, they file out of the chamber, including the stenographer and Senate Journal Clerk Tommy Testo.

The lights stay on!

Senate Secretary Angelo Aponte and Senate Democratic counsel Shelley Mayer greet Senate GOP counsel Jack Casey. Exchange pleasantries.

Aponte: “Lights on, mics on, tvs on. You should be all set.”

Casey: “Thank you.”

Another stenographer settles in. Jack Casey takes the Journal Clerk spot at the rostrum, Sen. George Winner presides.

Senate Republicans and Sen. Pedro Espada file into chamber. call themselves into extraordinary session.

Pledge of allegiance, moment of silence. They conduct no legislative business, and adjourn.

By 3:20 p.m. it’s over.

Bizzaro world, to say the least!

If intervention by the courts, the Governor, and former leaders from both sides of the aisle won't bring an end to this most inane impasse, what options have we left?

Bring on The Exorcist, and let the demons of the Senate be gone!

Help For New York's Unemployed?

Don't Look To Albany!

With New York's unemployment rate at its highest in 16 years, and meager unemployment benefits stagnant for the past decade, pending legislation to raise payment rates could offer relief.

Emphasis on "could," as the only thing keeping more money out of the pockets of the unemployed of the Empire State -- and, quite possibly, the difference between food on the table and going to bed hungry -- is the NYS Senate's obfuscation by way of deriliction of duty.

Who is it that helps those who help themselves?

While our esteemed State Senators continue to get their paychecks, plus $160 per day for "expenses" -- talk about the welfare State; paid for doing absolutely nothing -- the unemployed of New York reap in that big $405 (plus $25 from the feds) per week from the NYS Department of Labor (all of it taxed, by the feds and by the State).

Yet again, government fails the very people who rely on its largess the most. Suffer New York's unemployed!
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From The New York Times:

Amid Senate Chaos, Hope Fades for a Bill to Raise Jobless Benefits

A campaign to increase New York’s unemployment benefits for the first time in a decade has been sidetracked by the political stalemate in Albany — possibly for the rest of the recession.

Despite having the support of the governor, labor leaders and advocates for the unemployed, a bill to raise weekly jobless benefits on July 1 and close the gap in the state’s unemployment trust fund was not addressed by state lawmakers before their regular session ended this week.

The maximum benefit, which had been $405 a week for about 10 years until the federal economic stimulus program temporarily added $25 a week, is significantly smaller than those available to residents of New Jersey and Connecticut. New Jersey’s maximum is $584 a week; Connecticut’s is $576.

Negotiations to make the bill more palatable to employers continued through the weekend, giving its supporters hope that Gov. David A. Paterson would present a compromise that could be enacted. But with party leaders distracted by the battle for control of the State Senate, no progress was made.

The issue was not among those taken up by the Assembly in the final hours of the session that ended early Tuesday, nor was it on the governor’s list of measures to be considered by the Senate in special sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Assembly is not currently scheduled to convene until January.

The lack of action left advocates worried about the fate of the growing ranks of unemployed New Yorkers.

“Meanwhile, the unemployment rate keeps going up, and more and more people are losing their jobs,” said James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research group that focuses on tax, budget and economic issues. “New York doesn’t look good compared to its neighboring states.”

Last week, the state’s Labor Department said that more New Yorkers were out of work than at any time in more than 30 years. For May, the state’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent and the city’s hit 9 percent.

For certain groups, the situation is much bleaker, Mr. Parrott said. He said that the official unemployment data showed that more than 23 percent of all black men in New York City were either unemployed, working less than full time or had become too discouraged about their prospects to look for work.

With many economists forecasting that the national recession will end by late summer, the recovery could begin before additional relief arrived for New York’s unemployed.

The rapid rise in unemployment has also strained the state’s trust fund that provides the weekly benefits. The fund has been borrowing from the federal government to cover a shortfall this year.

To fill the gap, which is projected to grow through next year, the bill before the State Legislature would have increased the amount of a worker’s annual pay that is taxed. Only the first $8,500 is currently taxed to finance the unemployment insurance system, a much lower limit than those in New Jersey and some other states.

The bill called for annual increases in benefits, starting next Wednesday, July 1, that would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $625 and adjust it for inflation each year after that. Along the way, it would have also gradually raised the payroll tax that goes into the unemployment trust fund.

But representatives of employers, led by the Business Council of New York State, have opposed the bill, arguing that the automatic annual increases would make the payroll tax too onerous for some businesses. Last week, the Business Council called the legislation a “job-killing proposal” that would raise the tax by almost 15 percent in a year.

The governor’s office had signaled that it would create a revised bill that both sides could support, but hopes for a compromise before July 1 faded as the chaos in the Senate dragged on.

“It’s a big problem that we’ve fallen so short in terms of not doing this,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for the unemployed. “What was nice about this legislation was it got the benefits out during the recession and it had a plan for paying back the fund over several years. It was a smart approach.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
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Common Sense Solutions for Common Community Concerns

Good Government Comes To Elmont

Of Course, Its The Government Of San Marino
From The Oldest Republic In The World, To America's Largest (And Most Blighted) Township

Who knew?

In the realm of international affairs, the Town of Hempstead, long a protectorate of its own political fiefdoms, rarely finds itself home to the consulates of nation-states.

Or so you thought.

In reality, Hempstead Town is home to the official consulate of San Marino.

No, not Sam Marino, GOP Committeeman on the payroll at Hempstead Town Hall, even after his untimely death in 1962.

San Marino, which, technically, calls itself the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, houses its official consolute in, of all places, the somewhat less serene venue of Elmont.

Yes, Elmont. Not a Republic, though virtually all of its elected officials are Republicans.

According to Wikipedia, "the politics of San Marino takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Captains Regent are the heads of state. . ."

Wow! Captains Regent. Bet Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray would like that title.

Then again, Hempstead Town is not so much of a democratic republic. More like an autocratic dictatorship. But we digress.

Back to Elmont, where consular functions are performed by a gentle man born in Brooklyn, 74 years of age, assisted by a secretary -- his next door neighbor, Linda Weinstein.

We never know there were Jews in San Marino.

This micro nation of some 30,000 inhabitants has a Militia, an orchestra, and even a university.

Wonder whether they have special taxing districts for lighting, sanitation, and water? Nah, that's apparently a purely American idea, reserved for local governments.

Do you think the single family house that is home to the consulate of San Marino is exempt from property taxes?

Is there an accessory apartment for rent in there, and if so, would a renter in occupancy, considered to be on foreign soil, be an ex patriot, immune from his or her obligations to the government of the United States, or (gasp!), those of the Town of Hempstead?

Roberto Balsimelli, the General Consul in residence in Elmont, tells Newsday that, to date, no one has sought asylum at the Lehrer Avenue home.

Roberto, the day is young. And this is, after all, Hempstead Town. Sanctuary! Sanctuary!

Oh, and about those Captains Regent. It seems that, in San Marino, every 6 months, the Council elects two Captains Regent to be the heads of state. The Regents are chosen from opposing parties so they can keep an eye on each other.

Come to think of it, we don't think Kate Murray would like that at all.
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From Newsday:

In Elmont home tiny republic's consul reigns


Roberto Balsimelli's Elmont home is the only one on Lehrer Avenue that's technically foreign territory. "You have now left the United States," Balsimelli's assistant, Linda Weinstein, says from inside the side door to the house, just past the sign declaring No. 186 to be the Consulate General of the Republic of San Marino in New York. As consulates go, it is a small one, just a small attached office on the north side of the house. But as foreign territory, it is not subject to American law. Balsimelli said he's yet to have anyone seek asylum. "The Nassau cops, they offered me a 24-hour patrol," he said. "I said, 'You guys are crazy. My neighbors are going to kill me if you have an officer here 24 hours a day.' "

Balsimelli, 74, is the New York-area representative of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, a speck of a nation surrounded by Italy that is one-third the size of Washington, D.C., and has a population less than Elmont's. The Elmont San Marino consulate is hardly the only technically foreign office on Long Island. Italy has a consulate in Glen Cove, and El Salvador has one in Brentwood. But while most other nations locate their primary New York consulates at fancy Manhattan addresses - Italy and El Salvador also have Park Avenue offices - Balsimelli works on Long Island because that's where his people are. Most of the estimated 700 Sammarinese families in the tristate area live on Long Island, he said, and important functions take place in Nassau: There's a July Fourth cookout and boccie tournament planned at Lido Beach and an annual February dinner honoring the Fratellanza (Italian for brotherhood), the group of Sammarinese living in the region.

Balsimelli's office looks like a museum corner dedicated to San Marino. Old maps and photos of San Marino adorn the walls, and photos of the nation's political leaders sit atop a mantel next to snapshots of Balsimelli with former New York City Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. There is also a certificate commemorating Balsimelli's bowling high score. "I've had three perfect games," he said.

San Marino, which sits between Florence and Italy's Adriatic coast, traces its history to the year 301, when a stonecutter named Marinus the Dalmatian hid there to escape the anti-Christian Roman emperor Diocletian. It boasts the world's oldest constitution - adopted in 1600 - still in existence.

"It is the oldest republic in the world," Balsimelli said. "I would consider it the most neutral republic in the world - it's never been at war." Balsimelli was born to Sammarinese parents in Brooklyn in 1935, and his family returned to San Marino before World War II. He was sent back to New York by his father when it was time to get a job. His first job was delivering cases of wine to local stores, though he came to work in a machine shop and eventually opened his own machine shops in Farmingdale and Deer Park.

Now he runs San Marino's New York office on top of duties as president of the Fratellanza. Though Balsimelli is not paid by San Marino, its foreign ministry covers his office expenses and Weinstein's salary. Balsimelli also publishes a bilingual quarterly newspaper for the San Marino diaspora - the official language is Italian - and organizes events at the group's Astoria headquarters.

Along with Weinstein, who commutes from her house next door, Balsimelli handles all the perfunctory duties of a consul general. He approves passports and helps to plan visits to New York for Sammarinese dignitaries. But most of his official work is spent on genealogic research, hunting down descendants of immigrants and inviting them to apply for Sammarinese citizenship. "The youth - one of the biggest problems is to try to wake them up and do some documentation," he said. "They need to stay San Marino citizens. . . . It will be better for San Marino to keep this heritage when in a foreign country. You never know. Maybe it's a person who can resolve your troubles. To lose that, to lose touch with the San Marino people, to me that is bad."

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Twenty Miles Of Ugly, Revisited

Hempstead Turnpike: At The Crossroads; In The Cross Hairs

Back in 2006, The Community Alliance first broached the subject, on this very blog, of a "fix" for the decline of Hempstead Town's most infamous thoroughfare, Hempstead Turnpike -- Long Island's "Twenty Miles of Ugly."

Well, here we are, four years down the road, literally, and but for minor stretches of designated "streetscaping" -- where often ill-placed benches, planters, and Victorian-style streetlamps pass for improvements to otherwise neglected business districts -- there hasn't been much enhancement of this commercial boulevard, so vital to Long Island's economy, and so intrusive upon Long Islander's quality of life.

Granted, no one -- not in his right mind, anyway -- would confuse Hempstead Turnpike -- which runs, ruin by ruin, from Elmont to Farmingdale -- with the Champs-Élysées in Paris, a tree-line boulevard, home to sidewalk cafes, luxury shops, and stately buildings.

And yet, the Turnpike could be compared -- with historical notes taken -- to other major commercial roadways in the United States, as in Austin, Texas or Livermore, California, where transformation from blight to delight not only enhanced Main Street, but gave new life to the surrounding community.

True, the Turnpike passes through more than a single community -- Elmont, Franklin Square, West Hempstead, Hempstead, Uniondale, East Meadow, Levittown, Farmingdale -- with all but one being unincorporated areas under the auspices of America's largest, and most blighted, township.

It is a Main Street extraordinaire. A colossus. An absolute disaster, in part, reminiscent of Berlin after the blitz.

Ride the Turnpike, and actually peer out the rolled up windows, and see the hodgepodge, the eyesores, the decline of once vibrant business districts into a crumbling mass of decaying relics.

Yes, decades of haphazard planning (or no planning at all), and errant zoning (again, mostly no zoning at all), courtesy of the Town of Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeal (sitting as both planning board and zoning board, rarely accomplishing either), have resulted, in great measure, in the blighting of this Main Street, and in the decline of our suburban quality of life that emanates off the Turnpike, much like the broken spokes of an old, tired wheel.

But that was yesterday, folks. To dwell on how we got to this sorry point hardly gets us out of this mess.

So, where do we go from here in terms of bringing Hempstead Turnpike -- the epitome of blight -- back to life?

First, recognize that there is a problem.

Recently, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, during a discussion at a community forum, was asked what could be done to improve the Turnpike, both in terms of re-energizing the business districts that once thrived there, and, equally as important, aesthetics -- turning that twenty miles of ugly, if not into a Miracle Mile (or twenty), then certainly, something more pleasing to the eye, accommodating to the pedestrian, and profitable to both merchant and taxpayer.

There followed an awkward moment of silence from the Supervisor, after which the local county legislator chimed in, "That's a State road."

Indeed, the roadbed itself falls under the province of the New York State Department of Transportation, for design, repair, maintenance (and it could use a good cleaning, if anyone from DOT is reading this), lighting, and landscaping (such as it is).

Planning, zoning, implementation, and, yes, enforcement (remember that?), however, are all the responsibility of the Town of Hempstead.

Permitting -- with or without Permit -- anything to be built, in any way, without regard to design, structure, signage, or conformance with its surroundings, a "build what you will, and we'll carve out an exception to the code" mentality, gave us the infrastructure fated for catastrophic failure.

Add in a total lack of code enforcement -- walk the Turnpike today, and you can, without much effort, point out thousands of dollars in code violations, ranging from broken or trash strewn sidewalks, to illegal signs, to nonconforming use.

Layer this upon economic decline over the years, occasioned by the departure of the Mom and Pop stores in favor of the mega big boxes, among other factors, and you have a recipe for disaster -- or, as we call it, twenty miles of ugly.

"That's a State road," not only begs the question. It passes the buck.

It also belies a "see no evil" mindset that has besieged the Town of Hempstead, a "we can do no wrong" mentality that stems, most likely, from the myopia of a 1950s vision of suburbia, coupled with the occupants of Town Hall being so long in power that they can no longer see the forest for the trees -- or, more aptly, the decay from the decline.

This said, we must look to the future. Hempstead, we've got a problem.

The uglification of the Turnpike isn't going away. In fact, day by day, its getting worse.

Accept it. Recognize it. Own it. Do something about it.

But, what to do?

Well, its always best to start at the beginning.

The Main Street National Trust for Historic Preservation cites Eight Principles for the redevelopment and revitalization of thoroughfares such as Hempstead Turnpike.

They are:

Comprehensive: No single focus — lavish public improvements, name-brand business recruitment, or endless promotional events — can revitalize Main Street. For successful, sustainable, long-term revitalization, a comprehensive approach, including activity in each of Main Street's Four Points, is essential.

Incremental: Baby steps come before walking. Successful revitalization programs begin with basic, simple activities that demonstrate that "new things are happening " in the commercial district. As public confidence in the Main Street district grows and participants' understanding of the revitalization process becomes more sophisticated, Main Street is able to tackle increasingly complex problems and more ambitious projects. This incremental change leads to much longer-lasting and dramatic positive change in the Main Street area.
Self-help: No one else will save your Main Street. Local leaders must have the will and desire to mobilize local resources and talent. That means convincing residents and business owners of the rewards they'll reap by investing time and money in Main Street — the heart of their community. Only local leadership can produce long-term success by fostering and demonstrating community involvement and commitment to the revitalization effort.

Partnerships: Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the district and must work together to achieve common goals of Main Street's revitalization. Each sector has a role to play and each must understand the other's strengths and limitations in order to forge an effective partnership.

Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets: Business districts must capitalize on the assets that make them unique. Every district has unique qualities like distinctive buildings and human scale that give people a sense of belonging. These local assets must serve as the foundation for all aspects of the revitalization program.

Quality: Emphasize quality in every aspect of the revitalization program. This applies to all elements of the process — from storefront designs to promotional campaigns to educational programs. Shoestring budgets and "cut and paste" efforts reinforce a negative image of the commercial district. Instead, concentrate on quality projects over quantity.

Change: Skeptics turn into believers and attitudes on Main Street will turn around. At first, almost no one believes Main Street can really turn around. Changes in attitude and practice are slow but definite — public support for change will build as the Main Street program grows and consistently meets its goals. Change also means engaging in better business practices, altering ways of thinking, and improving the physical appearance of the commercial district. A carefully planned Main Street program will help shift public perceptions and practices to support and sustain the revitalization process.

Implementation: To succeed, Main Street must show visible results that can only come from completing projects. Frequent, visible changes are a reminder that the revitalization effort is under way and succeeding. Small projects at the beginning of the program pave the way for larger ones as the revitalization effort matures, and that constant revitalization activity creates confidence in the Main Street program and ever-greater levels of participation.

Okay. We have to face the fact that, up to now, the forces that move -- or stagnate -- America's largest Township haven't exactly been up to the task of reshaping the Town's Main Streets.

Even those baby steps, such as improvements to Baldwin's business district or redevelopment of Elmont's Argo have proved most painful.

Indeed, change, when it comes at all in Hempstead Town, cannot be so much as characterized as evolutionary, the entire species dying out -- or moving out -- before the matter of redevelopment ever gets to Town Board or Zoning Board.

Still, we have to be optimistic. There must be hope -- and the will of the populace to go with it, raising the bar on expectations, and striving for more than mere mediocrity -- that the folks at Town Hall (in this administration or, perhaps, the next, should fortunes dictate a departure from the monolith of autocratic one-party rule) will pick up the ball and put it in play.

And not just in words, mind you, but in deeds.

A great place to start that ball rolling -- and, not coincidentally, it happens to be along a goodly stretch of Hempstead Turnpike, in Uniondale -- is with the approval of the Lighthouse project, a revitalization plan that offers a renaissance for Nassau's long-neglected "hub."

Then, too, must Nassau County's Master Plan (the latest in a series) include a workable framework for the rebirth of Hempstead Turnpike -- a plan that fulfills the vision of a suburban, tree-scaped, walkable boulevard, where business mixes with pleasure, housing interacts with work, and, if one cannot exactly be found to be watching the whole world go by, sipping an espresso while sitting at a cafe at the corner of the Turnpike and Elmont Road, one could at least walk the Turnpike, shop the Turnpike, breathe the air along the Turnpike, and even go for a leisurely stroll, with family in tow, along the Turnpike, with eyes wide open to a new, improved suburbia.

With providence, and a decent push forward from you -- homeowners, taxpayers, sojourners along the Turnpike all -- we won't have to revisit that "twenty miles of ugly" another four years down the road!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All Dressed Up. . .

. . .And Someplace To Go
Dems Seize NY Senate Chamber; Close Lights, Hide Keys?

We interrupt the charade down State Street in Albany to update you on the latest round of insanity in the State Senate -- this time, by the Democrats, who have apparently taken over the Senate chambers, locking the doors behind them.

They're in there, all right. Behind locked doors. Sitting in the dark.

Does it get any more ridiculous than this?

Who's to blame? Republican coup leaders? Democrats who won't show up? The Governor?

No! We have only ourselves to blame. We sent children to Albany to do the work of adults, and now, they've locked themselves in the bathroom. Meaning no disrespect to our own children, mind you, who would never behave in such an immature fashion. [If they did, they would be punished, accordingly.]

The people's business estopped by funny business. Send in the clowns! [Don't bother, they're there.]
- - -
From the Albany Times Union:

Senate Dems lock themselves in chamber

ALBANY -- Many of the state Senate's Democrats -- minus breakaway member Pedro Espada Jr. -- assembled in the chamber just after 12:30 p.m., just minutes after Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, emerged from the latest round of negotiations with the Republican-led coalition to announce that no agreement had been reached.

Because the Senate gallery is locked, reporters were forced to crowd around the tiny windows inset in the chamber doors to see what was taking place inside.

Senate Secretary Angelo Aponte, who has not been seen in the chamber since the June 8 coup, was spotted in the Senate along with the Democrats.

Schneiderman said the Democrats continued to dispute Espada's election as Senate president pro tem during the coup, but that the conference was willing to set that aside in order to form an operating agreeent to work on time-sensitive legislation such as sales tax extenders and the renewal of the "Power for Jobs" program.

The Republican coalition, he said, remained insistent that any power-sharing deal must acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote that elected Espada to the president pro tem post.

The GOP had scheduled a session for 2 p.m., although without the 32 members required for quorum, neither side will be able to conduct business. Gov. David Paterson on Monday issued a proclamation calling for a special session at 3 p.m.

Follow breaking developments throughout the day at Capitol Confidential.

Dude, Where's My Environmental Bond Money?

Bulk Of Nassau County's Park Improvement Money Yet To Be Spent
Most Plans Still Await Shovels To Hit Pay Dirt

Okay, so 2004, when voters passed the County's first Environmental Bond Act, seems like only yesterday. [2006, and the passage of the second Bond Act, just the blink of an eye.]

Wondering about the status of those projects -- park restorations, remediation of brownfields, land preservation, storm water initiatives -- and how/where/when that $150 million from 2 bond itiatives is being spent?

Click HERE for the latest info on the Environmental Bond Acts, and then, click HERE, to contact your County Legislator.

Hey, its your money. Find out how it will be spent -- and why, in the name of the environment (if nothing else), its taking so darn long!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

So Nassau County Can Tax That Too!

First, it was a 2.5% tax on energy, as on your LIPA, National Grid, and heating oil bills.

Now, if Tom Suozzi has his way, and the Nassau County Legislature acquiesces, there will be a 2% tax on fast food.

Call it "Healthy Nassau," if you like, but when Long Islanders are struggling to put food on the table and keep the roof overhead, now's not the time to up the cost of already too expensive consumer staples -- like food.

Geez. First they try to tax us out of our homes. Then, its the food we put in our mouths.

What next, Tom, a tax on the air we breathe? [Sorry, you'll need to create a special district for that.]

Seriously, we, the hard pressed and overtaxed, need relief from the burdens of oppressive government, not more taxes, fees, and surcharges that eat away at whatever little disposable income we may have left at the end of the week.

And why a tax on fast food, Tom? Why not tax that cholesterol-producing steak at Peter Luger's, or impose a hefty surcharge on the energy gulped down by the owners of Nassau's McMansions?

Oh, we get it. If you tax the poor and the middle class, they may grumble a bit, but no matter. Tax the rich, and they may not have the money you'd like them to contribute to the campaign coffers.

The Democrats in the County Legislature need to say "enough," quashing the Suozzi fast food tax. [The GOP delegation is guaranteed to vote "no," not as a matter of conscience, but just to show up Suozzi and the Dems.]

And, while you're at it, repeal that local energy tax, as well.

If this loss of revenue means cutting the fat in county government -- a move that would truly lean us in the direction of a healthier Nassau -- or even shutting the county down for a time [hey, we're New Yorkers. A non-functioning government is all but passe.], then so be it.

This continual passing of the buck to taxpayers, ratepayers, and now, connoisseurs of Big Macs, has simply got to stop!
- - -
From Newsday:
Nassau proposes 2 percent fast-food tax for next year

It's still just a proposal, but Nassau County is talking about taxing your Quarter Pounder or Whopper.

Anxious to find additional money to combat falling revenues during the economic downturn, the county included a 2 percent fast-food tax in its budget plans for next year.According to Nassau's multiyear budget plan submitted to a financial monitoring panel last month, a fast-food tax would bring in $11.8 million in 2010, when the county's budget gap is projected to be $72.3 million.However, such a tax would require state authorization. County officials acknowledge it is unlikely the State Legislature will approve the tax, noting Nassau can't even get this year's financial requests, including a cigarette tax, through Albany's current gridlock.

The proposed fast-food tax would be part of County Executive Thomas Suozzi's "Healthy Nassau" initiative, to encourage people to eat healthier, just as his proposed cigarette tax is intended to reduce smoking, officials said.

"In the best of all possible worlds it's better to try to discourage unhealthy behavior instead of relying on property taxes," said Suozzi, who added he'd rather see a cigarette tax first. "We're just trying to figure out the way to solve the problems without wrecking the county and without raising property taxes."

Asked whether even healthy foods sold at fast-food restaurants - such as salads - would be caught by the proposal, Suozzi's spokesman Bruce Nyman said it was too early to be that specific. "No one has taken it that far," he said of the plan.

Deputy County Executive Thomas Stokes, who is putting together next year's budget, said the fast-food tax plan would impose an additional 2 percent tax on top of the 8.625 percent sales tax already charged on meals from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and similar restaurants. The tax would not apply to independent pizza places or Chinese food restaurants.

He defines fast-food restaurant as "any franchised outlet of a restaurant chain that derives 30 percent or more of its revenues from the sale of prepared, ready-to-eat food, and which serves one or more menu items that contain more than 0.5 grams of trans fat or 5 grams of saturated fat per serving."

Stokes said Pennsylvania already has a fast-food tax. Officials in other parts of the country have considered similar taxes, and Oakland, Calif., three years ago assessed fees on fast-food restaurants to help pay for the cleanup of their litter.

But while other governments may see fast food as a revenue generator, Suffolk does not. County Executive Steve Levy "has no intention of proposing or advocating such a tax," a spokesman said.

In Nassau, the legislature's budget review office reported that a fast-food tax would bring half the $12 million projected and warned, "Many view fast-food taxes as regressive since they disproportionately impact some of the lowest income groups."

Nationwide, the average American eats three meals a week from fast-food establishments, according to research reported by ABC News last year.

"We absolutely positively oppose" the 2 percent tax, said Rick Sampson, of the The New York State Restaurant Association. "Why should those consumers who purchase fast food be penalized?"

Dunkin' Brands, owner of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, also opposes the tax. "We understand that many state and local governments are facing budget deficits due to the tough economic environment, but imposing taxes on consumers and small-business owners is not the way to solve these problems," a spokeswoman said.

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

"Honey, Did We Plant A Cell Tower On The Front Lawn?"

As Cell Towers Rise, Suburban Vistas Decline

Its a balancing act.

Preserving suburbia -- the mantra of local officials -- and bowing to progress (if we could really call it that).

Cell phone transmission towers (or so-called "receivers") popping up, sometimes in the most unlikely of places -- like smack dab in front of single family homes (the very icons of suburban life) -- all over Long Island, frustrating local government officials (who cling fast to the party line of "we have no control"), and causing outrage (though not quite enough to do anything more than complain) among the citizenry.

In Nassau County alone, one wireless company, MetroPCS, has already installed some 275 cell towers, 169 of which are located in the Town of Hempstead.

The latest tower to be erected, seemingly overnight, and without notice to anyone, was a 40-footer in front of a private residence in Franklin Square.

True, federal law, and the NYS Public (yeah, right) Service Commission, permit the cellular carriers to dictate when and where these unsightly towers will be planted, pre-empting local governments from taking any action to stop them.

But who died and made these cell phone giants -- the folks who charge us aplenty for service that costs them but pennies to provide -- the Ayatollahs of the western world?

And how is it that town government is stymied when it comes to protecting residents from the outlandish and the ugly, while adjacent villages, who, in theory, have no more of a right to pre-empt the proliferation of cell towers than do the towns, appear to be able to ward off these towers of babble with relative ease?

In the unincorporated nether lands of Long Island's towns, local legislators simply stand by, looking skyward, scratching their heads. [So, what else is new? Thank God for name recognition. If they had to get elected on merit, fuggetaboutit!]

Ah, yes. Its the old "path of least resistance."

How strange. Half way around the globe, protesters take life in hand, literally, shouting "Death to the dictators!"

Here at home, we permit -- without permit -- private cellular companies and timid local government officials to dictate the ruination, at least aesthetically, of our suburban quality of life (so much for preservation), with barely a whimper, lest our cell phones, so we fear, go silent.

Bad laws and regulations, the ones that unnecessarily conflict with or undermine the desires of the people, much like bad government, should be toppled and overturned.

Not by bullet, for our fine-feathered (sans the tar) local officials, whose idea of preservation runs only as deep as the next election cycle, and whose avowed lack of control (over everything from those taxing special districts to the erection of unsightly cell towers) has left the suburban landscape blighted, and homeowners' bank accounts barren.

No, the ballot is our weapon, and a most lethal one, at that.

The power to change that which we do not like, and to preserve that which we do, lies not in the hands of either the wireless giants or the "there's nothing we can (or care to) do" elected officials.

That power, dear friends, is yours!

Do with it as you will. . .
- - -
From the Franklin Square/Elmont Herald:

Residents shocked by 40-ft. pole Goes up without permits, notification
By Matt Hampton

Residents of Franklin Square’s Willow Road were shocked by the abrupt arrival this month of what looks like a permanent resident on their block: a utility pole for wireless services.

On June 4, Rosalie Rella left her home to go to work. When she returned in the evening, the immaculately manicured narrow strip of lawn between the curb and sidewalk near her home was occupied by a four-story-tall wood pole. Rella had not been notified that any work would be done in the neighborhood.

“I don’t care what it costs to get rid of this thing, it’s going to come down,” Rella said. “I’m not the one who put it up, but I’m the one who pays taxes on this property.”

It turned out that the cellular company NextG Networks had installed the pole. Rella said that when she called the company’s public relations office and Town of Hempstead attorneys, she was told that NextG did not have to get permits or neighborhood permission to erect the pole because it was being treated as a utility.

“We pay the taxes from here to the curb, but we have no say about what goes there?” Rella asked. “I’m paying almost $12,000 in taxes to the town, but I can’t say when a tree goes up or comes down, or something like this.”

Maria Genova, who lives across the street from Rella, said she was terrified that a private company could come into her neighborhood and put up what amounts to a utility pole without any warning, let alone the knowledge of the community. “We need permits to do anything — change our house, install a swimming pool, anything,” Genova said. “We pay taxes on this property. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Susie Trenkle, spokeswoman for Town Supervisor Kate Murray, said that NextG has been recognized by the New York State Public Service Commission as a utility. “Therefore, we can’t restrict where they site poles,” she said. “We’ve been working on this and trying to deal with it, but at this point, what the town is trying to do is work with [NextG] as far as siting them.”

Trenkle said the poles are not technically cell phone transmitters, but are rather a kind of wireless receiver, which makes them different from something a private company would erect. NextG works with wireless carrier MetroPCS, according to published reports. MetroPCS uses a wireless signal to transmit communication much like a cell phone — and for the same purpose — but the signal is actually radio waves, as opposed to a digital signal.

Representatives of county Legislators John Ciotti and Vincent Muscarella both came out to examine the pole and wait with concerned residents on Monday, as they anticipated a meeting with local representatives from NextG. Anne DeMichael, from Ciotti’s office, and Angela Bosco, representing Muscarella, said they were not sure what, if anything, could be done to prevent the poles from being used.

“One thing’s for sure, though,” DeMichael said. “We have never seen anything like these poles before.”

Rella has circulated a petition in her community that she said already has more than 200 signatures. Her goal is to get the pole out of her neighborhood. “I want to get this thing down, and maybe have them put it over by the parkway,” she said, indicating nearby Dogwood Avenue, which feeds onto the Southern State Parkway. “People don’t notice them out there.”

After meeting with neighborhood representatives, NextG Networks said it would be willing to install a light pole on the corner that could be used as a cell phone receiver, instead of the obtrusive 40-foot pole.

Rella said that aside from the awful aesthetics, she was concerned about the radiation that a cell tower receiver gives off. She was told by company representatives that radiation levels are no more harmful than those emitted by a microwave, a fact that is cold comfort to her.

“This is the kind of thing you find out was bad after the fact,” she said. “I’m not worried about the older residents, I’m worried about kids who play outside and have to deal with it. We’re not far from two schools.”

A representative of NextG Networks did not return a phone call for comment as of press time.

Comments about this story? MHampton@liherald.com or (516) 569-800 ext. 214.

Friday, June 19, 2009

So, This Is Suburbia

A Special Comment From the Folks At Let There Be Light(house)

Yes, a guest blogpost. One that brings it all together. Community. Quality of life. Suburbia. Progress.

Moving Long Island from the sleepy, bedroom community of the 1950s, where too much of America's first suburb has remained mired, into the new suburbia of the 21st century, takes vision, leadership, passion, and, indeed, quite a bit of moxie.

The Lighthouse project has its many supporters, Islanders fans among them, and, to be sure, its detractors, those who view any steps to grow and revitalize Long Island as a strike at the very heart of suburban life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the naysayers could see beyond the blight, the crumbling infrastructure, the brownfields and strip malls that threaten to consume whatever green space is left us, the dilapidated downtowns and abandoned "Main Streets," and the asphalt wasteland that is now Nassau's hub, they would see that the Lighthouse project, for all of its impact upon Long Island (and, admittedly, it is not all positive), presents a beacon of hope for a sustainable suburbia.

In fact, viewing the plans and projections for the Lighthouse, this initiative actually adds green space, and much needed usable open space, to Nassau County, enhancing our suburban image, rather than detracting from it.

If those who say "no" could only understand that this is not the dreaded destruction of suburban life, but its very re-creation.

Suburbia, as with urbanity, evolves, the life cycles ebbing, flowing, expanding and contracting. As with all such forms of life and lifestyles, change, both evolutionary, and, sometimes, revolutionary, is not only inevitable, but necessary and desirable. Survival, and more than this, the very nourishment of the suburban soul, so necessitate.

In Nassau, let there be light(house)!
- - -
"This is Suburbia"

Lighthouse opponents are taking more subversive tactics when decrying the project. According to this new paradigm, we must not build a high-density, walkable community with mass transit access and tall buildings because "this is suburbia." It is a rallying cry that calls people to defend the community from supposed infringement.

"Suburbia" was once an ideal, an idyllic community allowing returning GI's and other city dwellers to move in search of a more expansive life, a single-family home, and a new slice of the American Dream. Entire communities, Levittown chief among them, were built to serve an inanimate object: the automobile.

As communities grew, strip malls and supermarkets began going up to support the automotive lifestyle. Mass transit was short-changed, with LIRR lines closing, bus lines being done in a half-hearted way, and any expansions falling by the wayside as people took to their cars. The suburban concept was born, and Long Island had an identity.

Suburbia as a Crutch

In recent decades, "This is suburbia" ceased to become an identity and was relegated to little more than a brand name. Now, Long Island seeks to define itself as much by what it is not as what it is. "This is suburbia" mostly means "this is not the city," as people who left the city to move to Long Island are deathly afraid of the city following them out here."This is suburbia" became a rallying cry for the small thinkers and anti-visionaries who are responsible for some of the most grievous compromises we have seen on Long Island:

The Long Island Expressway, which was too short, too narrow, and only adequate when it was completed decades ago. It is now a traffic choke-point.

The lack of freight rail on Long Island - incidentally this is the main reason there are so many trucks choking traffic on the LIE.

Nassau Coliseum itself - as I wrote in the very beginning of this blog, it was scaled down from original plans that called for a 20,000 seat arena with an underground Long Island Rail Road station in the spot currently occupied by the Expo Hall.

The undersupply of apartments - single-family homes were great when younger people attended high school and got married almost immediately after. Now, younger people are looking for other options, and they are going to communities that offer those options, in many cases never to return. Those who stay are often relegated to illegal apartments carved out of single-family homes, a problem far more prevalent than anybody in power wishes to acknowledge.

Great communities must stand for something, not simply against something.

What is "Suburban," Anyway?

It amazes me that people seek to defend "suburbia" since the idea is, in and of itself, an artificial concept. It goes against many natural human impulses, such as the need to congregate and share ideas. Never before in human history have people lived so far away from their places of business as they do in modern suburban and exurban America, and that causes its own sets of issues.

The Lighthouse pushes itself as a "New Suburban" concept, but the dirty secret is that the concept is not new. A decade before Levittown was built, the United States Government built three "green" towns to serve as public co-ops for government workers. One of these towns was Greenbelt, Maryland, a town that includes apartments, single-family homes, and a walkable, mixed-use downtown. The Town of Brookline, Massachusetts (of which I am a former resident), population 52,000, has apartments, walkable districts, and mass transit access, but many of its side streets are lined with single-family homes and indistinguishable from a street in an older part of Long Island. Arlington, Virginia has single-family options in addition to walkable, mixed-use districts like the Ballston complex, near mass transit.

Are we the arbiters of suburbia? Do we have a right to tell any of these communities that they do not fit into the suburban concept? Or, is the definition more malleable than that?

I'll tell you exactly what the "Old Suburban" concept has come to. Five years ago, my friend and I were hosting friends who play in a band (they've gotten pretty popular now - check them out). The lead singer/songwriter, who hails from Kentucky, had never been to Long Island before. My friend and I drove him around the Island, showing him the different villages, and he finally exclaimed "How can you tell the difference? It all looks exactly the same!"

Related to the Lighthouse

Many Lighthouse opponents are presenting a false choice - build the Lighthouse or keep the essence of Long Island. Some have even gone as far as calling the planned towers a "blight on our landscape" and "terrorism targets," proving the fear card is alive and well. In my view, this belief is patent nonsense. We are not deciding whether to be urban or suburban; we are deciding how (and if) different ideas fit into Long Island's suburban concept.

Tom Suozzi has been very clear on this, and I stand with him. The County Executive believes that 90% of Long Island, with its residential streets and waterfront, should remain exactly the way it is, and the other 10% should be re-developed in a smart way that addresses the very real problems this community faces.

So, I pose a question - why can't we have both? Why can't we allow for different ways to realize a suburban dream? Why shouldn't we allow developments like the Lighthouse to build rental units and walkable downtown areas? Never forget that today's renter is tomorrow's homeowner if the resident feels wanted by the community. If policies force out residents in their 20's and 30's, those people will not own homes on Long Island in their 40's and 50's.

Closing Thoughts

In these turbulent times, Long Island finds itself at a crossroads. A community must be defined by what it is, not just what it is not. Many of the current figures of what Long Island is are bleak - educating children who move to other communities, the diaspora of people who grew up here, the lack of corporate support, and a stagnating population. The issue now is: How can we move forward with an eye to the past and the original intent of the community?

To move forward, Long Island must become more inclusive. Rigid definitions of "suburbia" force any resident that does not fit the criteria to leave in search of their chosen way of life. That results in both a lower tax base and an echo chamber among the community. If we continue forcing out those who do not fit a narrowing definition of suburbia, there will come a day when nobody is left.

The Lighthouse is not a cure-all, and I hope nobody believes it is, but it can be a catalyst toward a new way of thinking for the first true suburb in America. It could lead to more options for higher-density living while not infringing upon the current model of single-family homes. We should debate the Lighthouse on its merits, rather than enslaving ourselves to an artificial and malleable concept like "suburbia."

This will always be suburbia. It is up to us to decide how Long Island will be suburbia, and approving the Lighthouse would be a great place to start.
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To share your thoughts with the Let There Be Light(house) blog, e-mail lettherebelighthouse@gmail.com.
To share you thoughts with us, e-mail thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Up From The Mold At Archstone

The Name May Change, But The Problems Remain The Same

We all remember Archstone at Westbury. Or was that Moldstone?

Well, the mold may be gone -- who knows? And some of those buildings in the Westbury complex, built under the less than watchful eye of the Town of Hempstead, are still under plastic wrap -- but the rentals are now open for occupancy, albeit under a new name: Archstone Meadowbrook Crossing.

So, maybe there's the smell of mold in the walls, unseen or overlooked as part and parcel of shoddy inspection practices by the Town's building department, but what's a little mold when you're living in the shadow of Nassau County's tallest structure (the Covanta incinerator); when you can't cross the street without taking your life in your hands; when you are landlocked amidst massive traffic jams, north, south, east, and west, stuck between Old Country Road and the Meadowbrook Parkway; when seeing a movie or shopping at Target, but blocks away, requires you to get in your car and drive.

Sure, its a trade-off. Quality of life for the discombobulated infrastructural nightmare manifested by a town's inability to plan, incapacity to zone, indifference to both design and function, and unwillingness to enforce.

To borrow a tagline from Ellis Henican, Asked and unanswered: Where were the Town of Hempstead building inspectors when the walls were going up at Archstone? Why was no one at the Town ever held accountable? How could the Town of Hempstead allow the Roosevelt Raceway redevelopment project to sprawl out of control, without regard for traffic flow, the environment, pedestrian access, aesthetics, and the suburban character of the surrounding community?

Rhetorical questions? Perhaps so.

Still, if and when the Town of Hempstead gets around to the approval of the long-debated Lighthouse Project -- an initiative so enormous in scale, yet so very vital to the sustenance of Nassau County and Long Island -- these questions must be asked, and beg to be answered.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ballad of Pedro Espada

Every Good Coup Deserves A Song

We're moving on from the apalling body politic of Albany. Wish our State Senators would move on as well, bobble-headed nonsense giving way to clear-headed judgment.

We've got community concerns to deal with. They, well...

Alas, boys will be boys, and it seems that nothing short of Death Match 2009 could save the day -- assuming that day is worth saving -- in the State Capitol.

Yes, its Pedro "El Presidente" Espada versus Hiram "The Slasher" Monserrat for ultimate control of the Senate.

Pedro wins, Skelos rules. Monserrat prevails, Smith, Sampson, or any leader de jour gets the post. They annihilate one another -- there is no leader. The Senators return to the Senate, put forth every piece of legislation locked away in that drawer, and vote their own minds (do they have any?), or better yet, the way their constituents would have them vote.

Every bill reaches the floor. Every Senator has his/her say. Say goodbye to "three men in a room," and hasta la vista to a one man show in the NYS Senate.

And now, a little diddy to brighten your day. Sung to the tune of the Chiquita Banana Song...

I am Pedro Espada
And I'm here to say
The Governorship
Is but a heartbeat away

I made my bed
In the GOP den
The Senate reconvenes
I cannot say when

En Espanol
Diga me
I let Dean Skelos
Have his way

Now the gringos
Want to run the show
Why did Monserrat
Have to go?

The people's business
At a standstill
With but 31 votes
We can't pass a bill

Back in the Bronx
Never had a coup
Now I'm a big shot
Deano, thank you

A little latino
among old white men
Everyone needs Salsa
Every now and then

And that's the way
This story goes
Albany's a mess
Don't you know?

You can blame it on the Dems
or the Republicans
Ay, just don't blame it
On us Puerto Ricans

Si, si, si, si!
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From Newsday's Spin Cycle:

Senate split: Time for the steel cage?

Players in this State Senate standoff might wish to take a cue from New Mexico, where the law says that if an election is tied, the winner is chosen by a game of chance.

Five-card stud, a simple high-card draw, and even a coin toss have all had roles in choosing elected officials there.

This Capitol has had its legendary card games. But nobody ever heard of the Board of Elections certifying the outcomes.

More than a couple of people, when told about New Mexico, suggested as a New York alternative a steel-cage wrestling match — perhaps with a crowd on hand rooting for injuries.

What more essential metaphor could there be for our legislative politics than pro wrestling, with its fixes, flamboyance and fake rage? An urban lobbyist, shy about being identified, even proposed a contest between Sen. Pedro “The Defector” Espada, the putative president and champion, and indicted Democrat Hiram “The Re-Defector” Monserrate.

Somebody else suggested paintball. Another liked mixed martial arts.

But with the help of Deadlock Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Middle Reliever John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) the actual sights and sounds of the day offered fresher ironies and twists than mere games:

*With a judge declining to take up the Democrats’ objections, last week’s 32-30 power-change vote, putting the GOP crew in the house majority, stands — at least for now.

Everyone on the GOP side says the 32 votes, including Monserrate’s, won them the top seats.

Everyone on the Democratic side says, with Monserrate’s return, both sides have 31 conference members.

Both numbers are correct, in a way.

Now, there’s something you don’t get with a single roulette ball.

*Espada, with Spanish-language press on hand....
....carried out a partially bilingual news conference — where his GOP allies all consisted of non-Latino Caucasians. Even if some looked befuddled, the pols were on-message in both tongues: We won, they lost.

*Democrats, fresh from nearly six months of cornering the majority’s top-pay positions, the good offices, the bills and the pork-barrel funds, are now boycotting the chamber — with the rationale that “mob rule” had been imposed. Some say those lawmakers should not be paid.

*Gov. David A. Paterson said he doesn’t know who’d succeed him if he vacates his job — so we’d all best root for his health.

*Skelos noted that the new Senate order, co-headed by himself, stands behind some very underrated reforms — such as limiting the Senate president to six years in that post.

*One week from today marks the one-year anniversary of his predecessor, Republican Sen. Joseph Bruno’s retirement — who served for 14 years as both majority leader and Senate president pro-tem.

*Whatever contest might be settled upon to break this deadlock, perhaps Acting State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara could moonlight as referee. He showed his neutrality by ruling Tuesday: “In the present context, the question calls for a solution by the members of the state Senate, utilizing the art of negotiation and compromise ... The failure of the Senate to resolve this issue in an appropriate manner will make them answerable to the electorate.”

Will that electorate next year be a cage-match crowd, rooting for injuries?



Thousands OF People across the US will be having breakfast in their offices and homes with the Long Island Breakfast Club on Thursday, June 18th at 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM. An exclusive interview was held at a recent meeting by the CNN producers in West Hempstead, Long Island Hosted by The Bristal in Woodmere, Long Island. The Long Island Breakfast Club is GOING LIVE On Thursday Evening June 18th at 8:00 pm with host Anderson Cooper and Ali Velshi on the “CNN Money Summit “Money and Main Street," airing on CNN Thursday 6/18 at 8:00 am and 8:00 pm! This hour will explore the consequences of the job meltdown as it has been felt on Main Streets across America.

As stated by Founder Valentina Janek, “Although it is not uncommon for people to frequently change jobs, it is a struggle for middle age seekers to gain employment. - “They say in the end, all that really matters are the connections and relationships people share.” “When people come together simply due to similar circumstances, things happen.” The founders are accepting new members and considerations for submissions for stories to be published in a new book called “Life After The Big Bad Boot.”

The organization is an example of diverse individuals forming together to part of the big plan to decrease age discrimination as well as promote “Experience Counts!” The founders are accepting new members and considerations for submissions for stories on the effects of downsizing and interviewing to be published in a new book called “Life After The Big Bad Boot.”

Next meeting will be held on Saturday July 11th 9:00 AM.

The Long Island Breakfast Club was founded in 2006, an organization providing advocacy, support, career and employment counseling, referrals and good old-fashioned laughter to prepare experienced mature individuals for productive employment. Counted among the membership are women and men who have recently been downsized and looking for support to continue positive reinforcement to gain employment back in the corporate world. Membership is encouraged for any individuals who need the extra support to continue momentum in searching for jobs in the mid-life years.

The Long Island Breakfast Club invites members of all ages, male or female, to join our ranks and experience the camaraderie and bonding to help you get through the interviewing cycle in mid-life. The organizations strong proponents are to work with individuals who need the positive reinforcement to job search after losing a job in the mid-life years. It is the goal of the organization to assist with providing referrals, companionship, business networking and contacts for interviewing as well as mentors for each individual’s success.

The Club currently is servicing the communities of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and was founded by five individuals who were seeking employment and experiencing much difficulty due to their wealth of experience and their age.

Valentina Janek www.longislandbreakfastclub.org vjanek@optonline.net
516-314-8989 516-680-1731
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Folks, THIS is what community is all about! Grassroots. Help thy neighbor. Outreach. Mutual aid. Contact Tina Janek to find out more, and to truly get involved with your fellow Long Islanders.