Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pardon Our Disappearance

Building A Better Blog For A Better Burb

The Community Alliance blog will be undergoing maintenance and a facelift in the coming days. [Think of it as a revitalization of our "downtown." The cyber equivalent of suburban renewal (without the sprawl).]

Continue to follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute community news. [Watch for Best of the Blog postings on our Twitter site.]

And do write us with your thoughts, comments, and, of course, Guest blogposts.

Remember, we can't spell community without Y-O-U! [Sounds corny, but it's true!]

New Visions For America's First Suburb

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Great Tax, Less Filling?

Gov Modifies Soda Tax Proposal

Maybe there's less corn starch in Governor Paterson's modified sweetened beverage tax, but will the public buy it?

They should.

The State needs to raise billions, so millions in new tax revenues on soda and other highly sweetened beverages -- which all of us should do without, but won't -- would be a palatable source of revenue.

And the elimination of the sales tax on bottled water and low-sugar beverages? An added bonus, sure to leave a great taste in the mouths of New Yorkers.

No, it's no just about public health, or that soda-belly you've got going there. It's about dollars and cents.

In this instance, the nonsensical ads (and millions spent) by the beverage industry aside, it's about dollars and sense.

If you still want to drink soda and highly-sweetened beverages, you pay the tax. If paying the tax would keep food off the table or send you into foreclosure, well, you shouldn't be drinking soda in the first place.

Drink water! Healthier for you, and soon, should the modified soda tax pass muster, less expensive.
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From Governor David Paterson:

My Fellow New Yorkers:

Obesity is a public health crisis. When over half the adults in this State, and one out of every four New Yorkers under the age of 18, are overweight or obese, we must recognize that there is a tremendous problem. Obesity is associated with life threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, and the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is a major contributor to obesity. These health problems and costs will only increase in the future, unless we take steps to help all New Yorkers adopt healthier lifestyles.

By implementing my modified sugar-sweetened beverage tax, we will gain an effective tool to combat obesity. This plan will increase the price differential between the high sugar-high calorie and low sugar-low calorie beverages and encourage consumers to make healthier choices. A one cent per ounce excise tax would be added to sugary soft-drinks, bottled coffee and tea drinks with added sugar, powders and other sugary beverages, but my revised and improved plan will also eliminate the sales tax for bottled water and low-calorie drinks that have 10 or fewer calories per 8 oz.

New Yorkers spend an estimated $7.6 billion annually to treat obesity related health care costs. This initiative will help lower those costs over time, and improve the health and quality of life for all New Yorkers. Now is the time for us to take bold actions, and I again urge the Legislature to help me encourage healthy eating by approving this new tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

For more information about the modified sugar sweetened beverage tax package, please click here. Also, please share your views on this issue on Straight Talk from the Taxpayer.

David A. Paterson
Governor of New York State

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fix Albany, The Sequel

Can Al Gore Bring The Green (as in $$$$) Back To New York?

Call it Fix Albany, Redux or shades of Al Smith. Andrew Cuomo has entered the race for Governor -- suprise, suprise -- and unvieled a plan (in 200 pages --The New NY Agenda -- and a video) to bring the Empire State back from the brink and into prosperity.

Eliminate the bureaucracy. Revamp State, county and local government. Can the hundreds of public authorities and local fiefdoms that, quite literally, suck the State's coffers, and the taxpayer's bank accounts, dry.

Have we heard all -- or much -- of this before? Sound familiar, ala Tom Suozzi's anemic Fix Albany campaign?

Is it possible that Andrew, Son of Mario, with a bit of help from the inventor of the Internet and Noble Prize winning environmentalist Al Gore can greenify old New York?

And do New Yorkers have the will to step out of antiquity and into the future, bureaucracy busting from the myriad local school district to the mired public authorities, reforming a system that drives cost up, makes spending inevitable, and cutting impossible?

If only he could, and we would, make it so, and without establishing yet another commission to study and report!
- - -
From The New York Times:
Cuomo to Propose Eliminating Many State Agencies

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo will seek to eliminate 20 percent of New York’s agencies, commissions, authorities and other bodies if he is elected governor, according to a campaign report obtained by The New York Times as he prepares to announce his candidacy.

Mr. Cuomo’s report said his plan was aimed at carrying out the most ambitious restructuring of state government since 1919, when Gov. Alfred E. Smith undertook a similarly broad restructuring. The plan would take on what is arguably the most antiquated governing structure in the nation.

The attorney general has asked Al Gore to play a role in the effort, and he also hopes to recruit a number of business leaders. Mr. Cuomo, who served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, played a significant role in Mr. Gore’s efforts to reinvent the federal government.

“I hope that he is elected governor and that these proposals have the chance to be enacted,” Mr. Gore said in an e-mail message. “As to my role, I would love to have the opportunity to offer my ideas.”

“With states getting squeezed the way they are with budget cuts and shrinking revenues, efforts like this are more important than ever,” he added. “We really do need new models of delivering high-quality services.”

Mr. Cuomo proposes creating a Spending and Government Efficiency Commission with authority to overhaul the more than 1,000 state agencies.

He would also seek legislative authority for the governor to “eliminate, transfer and consolidate state agencies without further legislative approval,” according to the document. Such power would be crucial to the success of the plan, but lawmakers are unlikely to grant it without a fight.

Legislative approval is currently required to eliminate any state agency or public authority.

Mr. Cuomo’s campaign declined to comment on his plan. But he will refer to it when he formally announces his candidacy, according to a person with knowledge of his planned remarks, who insisted on anonymity to speak before the campaign officially starts.

The attorney general, this person said, is expected to emphasize in his remarks that “the state is functionally bankrupt,” and that just as bankrupt corporations are restructured, the state should be too.

Mr. Cuomo frequently talks about his efforts as secretary to consolidate the housing agency, though an analysis by The Times in 2002, during his first run for governor, found that he had a mixed record of success in overhauling the department. Mr. Gore said he and Mr. Cuomo “worked very closely together,” and he cited several successful initiatives undertaken by Mr. Cuomo at the housing agency.

“In some areas,” Mr. Gore said, “the time to process home-insurance claims dropped from more than a month to a matter of days.”

There is no disputing the byzantine nature of New York’s government. Robert A. Caro’s 1974 biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” chronicled the rise and expansion of the state’s largely autonomous system of public authorities, entities like the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. These bodies are responsible for the bulk of New York’s debt, and they control most of the state’s infrastructure.

But even state agencies, which are controlled by the governor’s office, have become Rube Goldberg-like bureaucracies. Mr. Cuomo’s report notes that the Health Department has had at least 87 administrative subgroups imposed upon it by legislation over the years, including 46 councils, 17 boards, 6 institutes, 6 committees, 5 facilities, 2 task forces, 2 offices, 2 advisory panels and a work group. One entity is called the Task Force on Health Effects of Toll Plaza Air Quality in New York City.

“It was politically easy to create new agencies and difficult to abolish old ones, even when their functions had all but evaporated,” the report says.

Citing another example of bureaucracy run amok, the report notes that under state law, the executive branch has been limited to 20 departments. As a result, the Executive Department has become a catchall for a wide swath of bureaucracy, including the Budget Division, the Civil Defense Commission and the Empire State Plaza Art Commission. In all, 75 agencies are stuffed into the department.

The report also builds on Mr. Cuomo’s signature legislative achievement during his tenure as attorney general: the passage of a bill last year that makes it easier to cut or consolidate layers of local government across the state. As governor, the report says, Mr. Cuomo would create grants that would allow residents to pay for studies to examine potential mergers of local government bodies. And he would seek to standardize the election cycles of local governments to increase turnout.

His report also raises an alarm about a dearth of young, skilled employees in state government. Only 14 percent of state workers are under 35, and the report says baby boomers are in the midst of a “retirement tsunami.” Mr. Cuomo proposes creating a scholarship program for undergraduate and graduate students in certain fields who agree to commit to three years of state service after they graduate.
- - -

The Plan from Andrew Cuomo on Vimeo.

Don't Spend. Don't Cut. Don't Tax.

The Mixed Messages We, The People, Send To Albany

If the NYS Legislature is characterized by dysfunction, without direction, and lost in a continuous loop of doing the same things, over and over, with identical result, what does that say about John Q. Public?

We ask our State Legislators not to spend. Then we lambast them when they withhold money from our schools, our hospitals, our municipal services.

We ask our State Legislators to make cuts. Then we decry the cuts they make to programs near and dear, like our parks, environmental protection, and state aid to education.

We ask our State Legislators not to tax the middle class, a $12 billion hole in the coffers notwithstanding. Then we scoff at the likes of a millionaire's tax, a soda tax, and increased license plate fees as means of raising revenue and closing the gap.

Could it be that its not them, but us? Are We, The People, sending mixed messages to Albany? Do they really know what we want? Do we?

Before the folks in Albany can get their house in order, if such a thing is possible, we have to be focused, in both thought and articulation, abundantly clear in exactly what our goals and game plans are.

Sending the players onto the field, without direction, game after game, year after year, just doesn't seem to be working out for us.

True. We can, and in many instances, should change those players. That we can do. Until we change mindsets, harness expectations, and deliver a clear, concise message to Albany, however, don't expect anything to change, regardless of which party, or which individual, occupies that Senate or Assembly seat or, for that matter, the Governor's chair.
- - -
The Continuous Loop of New York Government. . .

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Let's Build Something Together!"

The Highs And Low(e)s (Pun Intended) Of Rebuilding Long Island's "Downtowns"

Face it, friends. If we had a dollar for every time we blogged about smart growth, sustainability, revitalizing "Main Street," and creating walkable, viable downtowns, we'd have more money than the Hagendorn Foundation spends each year on research, studies and reports. [Levity aside, we love these folks -- and the Miracle Gro (available at both Lowes and The Home Depot, by the way) ain't bad, either. The Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund has provided over $32.5 million to more than 400 organizations on Long Island and nationwide. Approximately 90% of the funds disbursed have gone to support Long Island-based nonprofits throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. Bravo!]

Truth is, we spend so much more time, effort, energy -- and did we mention money? -- talking about the initiatives that would revitalize and jump start Long Island, than we do actually putting shovel to dirt.

Now, don't get us wrong. Visioning, creating a dialogue, and talking the talk is not only useful, it is an essential component in moving from planning to implementation.

Problem is, here on Long Island, rare is the project that leaps (or is it creeps?) from drawing board to the streets.

With Town Zoning Boards that also serve as Planning Boards, doing neither well. County Planning Commissions bogged down with the politics of the day, plans on the shelves more plentiful than potholes on the streets. Regional Planng Boards (do they even exist on more than just paper?) little more than blips appearing from time to time on Long Island's radar screen.

Master Plans come and go -- mostly go. [Whatever happened to Nassau County's most recent foray into master planning, anyway?] Mostly "under construction," like the perennial roadwork along the Belt Parkway.

Everybody talks "sustainability," but, like Jerry Seinfeld's car rental episode ("you know how to take a reservation. You just don't know how to keep a reservation."), few seem either capable or willing to sustain anything more than the status quo.

Not to say that there aren't folks out there trying like the dickens to turn vision into reality, promoting a renaissance for both "downtown" and around the town, engaging a typically apathetic and otherwise indifferent populace in the process, and at least attempting to partner with county and local governments, such as they are, to turn blight and brownfields into boon and bounty.

Among those in the fray are our good friends at Sustainable Long Island, under the brilliant and visionary (and we mean that, sincerely) tutelage of Sarah Lansdale, and Vision Long Island, steered in a most positive direction by Eric Alexander.

The programs and initiatives of both of these organizations are laudable, doable and worthwhile. The effort put forth by both leadership and staff nothing short of Herculean.

And yet, there seems to exist a disparity between plan of action and action itself. A disconnect, of sorts, between that vision for Long Island's communities and putting that vision into play.

Yes, every once in a while that vision opens our eyes, with glimmers of hope that, how should we put it, sustain us.

Projects in New Cassel and Port Washington, Glen Cove and Huntington give rise to what we believe will be a new day for Long Island. Still, with successful community endeavors few and far between, and, in most instances, the streetscape not altogether on par with the vision, with each successive sunset comes a fading of that light of renewal and revitalization.

We are left wanting for more. And more there must be. More involvement of John Q. Public, the grassroot, popular uprising that advances the causes of community. More hands-on by all levels of government, a commitment beyond the fanciful artists' renderings. More smart doing (now we're mixing metaphors, Lowes and The Home Depot) and less smart talking.

Do we have all the answers, or, for that matter, any of them, here at The Community Alliance? Certainly not. [Otherwise, they would have put us on the Boards of Directors, appointed us to the Planning Commissions, and given us a Smart Growth Award eons ago ;-)]. We are, in fact, as much a part of the talk, the unrealized vision, the not really all that much smart growth as we thought, as the rest of 'em.

Then again, the move toward smart growth, "downtown" revitalization, and sustainability (in all of its genres and nuanced incantations), has to start somewhere.

Today, let it start with you. Let's move beyond the talk, as we merge "more doing" into truly "building that better burb together!"
- - -
Check out SustainableLI's 4th Annual Sustainability Conference, June 4, 2010.
Read about Vision Long Island's 2010 Smart Growth Awards, June 18, 2010.

Follow The Community Alliance on Twitter at
E-mail us with your vision for Long Island at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do "Complete Streets" Complete Us?

"Smart Growth Agenda" For New York State Issues Talking Points. Too Bad It's Probably Little More Than Just Talk

Out of Albany comes the latest initiative -- albeit only a bill out of committee, unfunded and but a twinkle, if not a wink, in the eyes of sponsors and supporters alike.

There may not be a budget in New York, but the Complete Streets and Smart Growth Agendas for New York State rolls onto Main Street (or was that State Street, and the floors of the Assembly and Senate?) nonetheless. Well, at least legislation to create the Complete Streets program has been introduced.

You can read the release below, which is probably about all you'll see of this program, presuming our State Legislators continue to waddle down that rocky, pothole-riddled road toward the abyss. [That's just east of Cohoes, for those not familiar with the territory.]

Complete Streets, a nationwide movement, is a grand idea, reflecting the true ideals of Smart Growth. One must question, however, given a dysfunctional New York government, and a deepening State deficit, whether we can ever get down that road from here.

Complete Streets. The only things missing are the will and, oh yeah, the money. . .
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From State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn):


Montgomery Legislation Will Impact Infrastructure Development To Create Livable Communities

Albany, NY – Senator Velmanette Montgomery today joined with Senator Martin Dilan, Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, AARP, Empire State Future and other coalition groups to announce Complete Streets and Smart Growth Agendas for New York State.

Complete Streets focuses on ensuring that road design incorporates the needs of all people, including pedestrians and bicyclists. Smart Growth focuses on investing in livable communities for all ages while building a healthy economy. The legislative package has the backing of an unprecedented group of organizations including health care advocates, senior and consumer organizations, disability groups, transportation advocates, environmentalists, businesses, and bike enthusiasts.

“Planning for infrastructure improvements in a way that protects our natural resources makes sense economically, as well as environmentally, stated New York State Senator Susan Oppenheimer, Chair of the Senate Education Committee. That’s why I’m pleased to work with my colleagues Assemblyman Hoyt and Senator Montgomery on legislation that will incorporate smart growth principles in the evaluation of public infrastructure projects.”

"My legislation will create a coordinated approach to environmentally sound, safe and responsible development in New York State," said New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), Chair of Senate Children’s and Families Committee, noting that the legislation recognizes the State's necessary role in developing smart-growth principles and requiring adherence to the criteria as a condition of approving building projects. "As development increases, shortsighted and poorly planned suburban and urban sprawl continue to threaten the well-being and quality of life of for my constituents and residents statewide. This mission without vision cannot be allowed to continue."

“Creating and investing in sustainable communities with infrastructure that takes into account the accessibility and mobility needs of the aging population is essential to New Yorkers who want to age in their communities,” stated Lois Aronstein, AARP New York State Director.

"New Yorkers have reconsidered the way in which they move about. They have opted for cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Instead of driving, they now walk and ride when they can. It is time for the state to accommodate their choice. It’s time we plan, design and build for a multi-modal state and future,” said Senator Martin MalavĂ© Dilan, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“The 39 member organizations of the Empire State Future Coalition are pleased to join our partners from AARP, the Tristate Transportation Campaign, the New York State League of Conservation Voters and the Public Health community to call for a 2010 Livable Communities agenda for New York State,” stated Peter Fleischer of Empire State Future.

“This agenda has many aspects but today we note two important legislative priorities. The Public Infrastructure Policy Act is a much-needed means to turn the State’s limited infrastructure dollars into investments that create future growth, stronger communities while protecting our natural resources."

The NY State Bicycling Coalition enthusiastically supports Complete Streets legislation that will help encourage walking and bicycling along our roads and streets,” stated Ivan Vamos, AICP of the New York State Bicycle Coalition. “Modest adjustments to most transportation construction and rehabilitation projects can provide greatly improved mobility, safety and healthy activity, especially for the young, old and those without automobiles.”

"With now over 200,000 people riding a bike as transportation each day in New York City and a reduction in pedestrian injuries and fatalities, we've seen the transformative effect of a DOT that's dedicated to complete streets", said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, "This legislation will ensure that this trend will continue."

And Speaking Of Protecting The Environment. . .

. . .Tell Albany To Restore The Environmental Protection Fund

Who needs clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, clean rivers to swim in and fish from, clean jokes to tell (oh, you get the idea)?

New Yorkers, that's who!

Our new friends at Environmental Advocates of New York ask you to do your part (in addition to recycle, reuse, and reduce) by letting the folks in Albany know you want them to restore funding to the programs that keep New York's skies, rivers, aquifers, and watersheds clean and pristine.

Take a moment, on this beautiful New York morning, to lend your voice. No electrons will be harmed. No trees cut down (SEE link below). No greenhouse gases will be released into the blogosphere.
- - -
From Environmental Advocates of New York:

We need your help to enlist a few brave state lawmakers to defend our Environmental Protection Fund.

Governor Paterson put the environment on the chopping block in his budget proposal for next year. He wants to cut $69 million from our Environmental Protection Fund, which encourages healthier communities across the state by investing in our parks and zoos, clean drinking water, pesticide research, open space and family farm preservation, and much more. Last year, the Legislature bucked the Governor and restored some environmental monies.

New York shouldn’t scrap the environment to make up for budget shortfalls this year, either. Click here to ask your representatives in the Assembly and the Senate to restore our Environmental Protection Fund.

We love New York. That’s why we need to keep our environment healthy and protected—for our families today and for future generations tomorrow.

It’s time to act. For the next few weeks, the State Legislature will be deep in budget negotiations with the Governor. Click here to ask your representatives in Albany to show their love for New York by restoring the Environmental Protection Fund.

Click here to learn more about how the Fund benefits communities in every county of New York State.

Thank you.

Alison Jenkins
Fiscal Policy Program Director
Environmental Advocates of New York

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pesticide Ban Becomes Law

Gov Paterson Signs Legislation Banning Pesticides On School Grounds

From our good friends at Long Island Neighborhood Network and Citizens Campaign for the Environment:


School Grounds Pesticide Ban Now Law

Yesterday, May18th, Governor Paterson signed the Safe School Grounds bill. This new law will protect children across New York State from exposure to hazardous toxins by banning almost all uses of chemical pesticides on the grounds of schools and day care centers.

The law will prohibit lawn care pesticides on school and day care center playgrounds, turf, athletic or playing fields. The ban would not apply to pesticides used in health emergencies, or to protect children from an imminent threat of biting, stinging and venomous pests. In weighing the risks versus the benefits of using these hazardous chemicals for lawns and ornamental plants, it is clear that precaution is advisable, especially because safer alternatives do exist.

"We are elated and thankful to Governor Paterson for signing the Safe School Grounds bill into law. Children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of pesticides and exposing them to toxic pesticides in their schools and day care facilities is unacceptable when safe, effective alternatives are available. Senator Foley and Assemblyman Englebright are to be congratulated for their leadership in bringing this historic bill to a successful conclusion. This is the most significant pesticide legislation to be enacted in New York State in many years," said Demosthenes Maratos, Program Director for the Long Island Neighborhood Network.

Thank you and congratulations to all our members, supporters and friends who contacted their state legislators and the Governor in support of the Safe School Grounds bill.

Help Support the Neighborhood Network
To make a tax deductible contribution to the Neighborhood Network Research Center, you can call us at 631-963-5454, between 9:30 am and 9:00 pm to make a credit card donation by phone, or make a secure contribution online at:

Visit the Neighborhood Network's home page at to see more about our programs.

Governor Paterson and State Legislature Applauded for taking Action to Protect NY’s kids

Albany, NY – On Wednesday, May 18, 2010, Governor Paterson signed the Child Safe Playing Fields Act to law, eliminating the use of toxic pesticides on playing fields and green spaces at our children’s schools. With bipartisan support this bill passed both the Senate and Assembly. This law will be in effect in one year, giving schools time to train groundskeepers.

"The archaic practice of poisoning children's play grounds is coming to an end in New York State. We will now raise a generation of healthier, safer children because of this legislation. We are thrilled and profoundly grateful for The Governor, Senator Foley and Assemblyman Englebright for this legacy bill," said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Assemblymember Steven Englebright (D, Setuaket) stated “This is a historic day for New York State! Our hard work has paid off after nine years of efforts to pass this legislation. Kudos to Governor Paterson, Senator Foley and all of the advocates who made this happen. We have achieved a real and lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren by granting them a pesticide-free outdoor environment at school.”

Over 8,000 letters have been sent & over 18,000 signatures have been collected in favor of this commonsense legislation that protects children where they spend the most time – at school.

Studies show that after the first two years, schools save 7 percent to 25 percent annually by not purchasing toxic chemicals. The bill wisely provides a clear process to allow rapid response for pesticide applications to address any emerging emergency situation.

“We applaud Senator Brian Foley and Assemblyman Steven Englebright for championing this critical environmental bill, which sill save schools money while protecting children and birds from the dangers of pesticides,” said Albert E. Caccese Executive Director of Audubon New York. “Each year, millions of pounds of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are used on schools and lawns across the state and nation, creating one of the largest sources of pollution runoff and causing the death of over 7 million birds annually. By eliminating the use of these chemicals at schools, we are now making these places safe and inviting for, birds, other wildlife and children.”

Merciless Wireless From Elmont To East Hampton

Cell Phone Tower Planned For Girl Scout Property

Those unsightly, and potentially hazardous cell towers, affronts to landscape, possible risks to health, and popping up all over Long Island.

In school yards. On front lawns. In parks. Masquerading, often shamelessly so, as oversized flag poles and gargantuan plastic pine trees.

Fighting these intrusions at town hall has become an uphill battle, with "pre-emption" the rallying cry of the cellular companies, and "our hands are tied" the retort of frustrated town officials. [Query as what would happen if every town board simply said "no"? Would federal Marshals ride into town to jail them all?]

And yet, residents have been successful, owing mainly to the power of the court of public opinion, in having such towers "voluntarily" moved to less overtly notorious sites, if not halting them altogether.

Now, another battle ensues -- on Girl Scout property in East Hampton -- and you are asked to join local advocates and engage in civic action.

From our friends out east, true grassroots activists, a call to arms. . .
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Verizon Tower and East Hampton Pristine Property owned by the Girl Scouts

Please stop the construction of a 60 ft cell tower in East Hampton on Three Mile Harbor Road. Verizon is submitted for a variance or "special permit" to the East Hampton Planning Board. You have until May 26th to send your letters in to this address protesting the tower:

Verizon Tower on Girl Scout Property
East Hampton Planning Board
300 Pantigo Place
East Hampton, NY 11937-2630

There is another tower planed for Ashawagh Hall by another company in the future. These towers will damage what we now know as pristine property and will have negative effects on our health and property values.

Thank you for your assistance on this matter.
- - -
From the East Hampton Star:

Phone Tower

I feel like I am Don Quixote tilting at windmills, both figuratively and actually. Our magnificent East Hampton is being attacked once again. This time it is by Verizon, a company that wants to build a cellphone tower at a camp that is used by young girls near a precious, pristine beach, Camp Blue Bay and Maidstone. For a while, there was a discussion about the height of the tower so that it wouldn’t be too obvious and ugly: nonsense! Who needs it? Who wants it?

Did anyone bother to investigate whether these towers are safe? From my research the evidence is inconclusive but only because it has not been studied long enough, thus the federal government has no guidelines for cell towers. So while the jury is out, do we risk it — putting the lives of those girls and those of us who live close enough to be subjected to the electromagnetic fields in harm’s way of a cellphone tower?

Is the tower for those driving in a car and talking on the phone, so they shouldn’t lose their calls? Or is it for the Girl Scouts to receive money for the rental?

We have lived this long without sturdy cellphone reception while driving and talking in this area. Since most of us have landlines, I am convinced for the sake of the environment and the health of those who live within a quarter-mile of the tower, the tower should go the way of the one previously proposed for Ashawagh Hall: to the dump. How about Gardiner’s Island?


Monday, May 17, 2010

On Property Taxes, School Budgets, And The Education Of Our Children

A Concerned Citizen Writes
All Of Us Should Listen!

I send this message to you as a concerned resident of West Hempstead. Tomorrow represents one of the more important school budget votes that our community has faced in some time. The West Hempstead school district's tax levy has averaged 2.73% for the last five years, well below the Nassau County average for school districts. In the last two years, the school district's tax levy average has been below 2%. Understanding the economic pressure that all of the residents of West Hempstead are facing, the costs to run the school system in West Hempstead have been kept as low as possible. The budget for the 2010-2011 school year represents an entirely new challenge due to the miserable financial condition of New York State.

Regrettably, the tax levy increase is higher than it has been in many years. The vast majority of the tax levy increase is due to diminished revenues that are used to pay for expenditures. The revenue losses stem from three sources. The first is a loss in State Aid of $950,000. The second is a reduction in tuition from Island Park of $389,000 due to a lesser number of Island Park students attending the high school in the fall. The third is a reduction of $500,000 in the amount of money the district is pulling from its general reserve fund. These revenue reductions represent a total loss of $1,839,000. In order for revenues to balance with expenditures for the budget, the revenue loss must be recovered from another revenue source. Unfortunately, that revenue source is property taxes.

When the budget is examined closely, it becomes evident that spending is not the primary cause of the tax levy increase this year. The budget to budget increase is just over 3% and is similar to budget increases in other school districts throughout Nassau County. Last year, the budget to budget increase was 0%. Every reasonable attempt has been made to restrain spending in this difficult economy. The budget numbers for the last two years and for next year support that claim.

If you are thinking about voting against the school budget tomorrow, please consider this. If you believe that teachers are paid too much or that pension costs for employees are too high or that health insurance benefits are too generous, voting “no” on the school budget will do little, if anything, to change that situation. The teachers will still be paid their salaries, the pension costs will remain, and health insurance benefits will be exactly the same the day after the budget vote as the day before. Property taxes will remain high and while the venting of your frustration may provide some measure of gratification, ultimately it will be fleeting. The only stakeholder who will feel any real “change” from a defeated budget will be the children of our community, who will likely see a reduction in services and programs. It is unfair that the children of our community have become caught in the crossfire of a problem that is not of their making.

The issue of high school taxes is a statewide issue. It is not unique to West Hempstead. The solutions to genuinely resolving high school taxes must be found at the statewide level because the problems are systemic. Real property tax relief will happen when effective solutions can be found in Albany to fund education without over-burdening property owners. The frustration with high property taxes needs to be properly focused where the core of the issue lies and that is with our state government, not the children of West Hempstead.

I ask that you forward this email on to everyone in your email list who lives in West Hempstead to remind them what is at stake with tomorrow's vote. Please remember to vote tomorrow. The polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the West Hempstead Middle School on Nassau Blvd.

Thank you for your time.

Tony Brita
West Hempstead, NY
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Tuesday, May 18th

Information, Please

Why Doesn't Nassau County Have 311?

Could it be that they really don't want residents to be "in the know?"

New York City has an extensive 311 network, the "go to" for everything from which bus to take from Sheepshead Bay to Pelham Parkway to what items are recyclable. You can dial 311 from any telephone within the five boroughs and actually speak with a live person, or you could access NYC 311 online 24/7. [Check out a fine piece appearing in The New York Times, Insights From a Week as a 311 Operator in N.Y.]

Kinda makes one wonder why America's first suburb, part of the great metropolis that borders the Big Apple and was the City's first bedroom community, doesn't have a similar information outlet.

From planning (nonexistent) to zoning (archaic), 311 to Wi-Fi, Nassau County continues to lag behind not only its next door neighbor, the greatest city in the world, but, quite frankly, the rest of America.

The Town of North Hempstead has a 311 system, and the Town of Hempstead, while sticking to the dated format of the Supervisor's Helpline, does a stellar job in fielding, relaying, and, in most instances, appropriately responding to residents' inquiries [check out the Town of Hempstead's Online Helpline, or you can call with your queries at 516-489-6000. If they don't have the answers, the pleasant and knowlegable staff will point you in the right direction].

Still, Nassau County at large remains in the information Dark Ages, essentially keeping residents of the first suburb, well, in the dark. A burb, seemingly stuck in the 1950s, needs desperately to join the rest of the world, at least on the technology front, as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century. 
- - -
From the Anton Papers (March 24, 2006)

Nassau Needs 311
By Michael Miller 

Longtime readers know that I am a customer service fanatic, and innovations in the delivery of government services to constituents have been discussed in this space more than a hundred times. The town of North Hempstead has made a bold foray into establishing a "311" calling center, and town officials certainly deserve points for this effort to join 21st century local government. Unfortunately, this project was crippled before it began by Nassau County's antiquated local government structures. Before this becomes a real quagmire, town officials should declare victory in their effort to blaze this trail and then do the right thing: Step aside and let the county run 311 for everyone within the 516 area code.

Ten years ago, the Federal Communications Commission designated 311 as a telephone number for non-emergency calls. More than half the calls into big city 911 numbers were not true emergencies, causing backlogs and delays that sometimes had fatal results. Baltimore, Chicago, Houston and New York were the first cities to build 311 systems to take reports on potholes and other non-emergency calls that were straining 911 resources. Very quickly, the idea spread and many 311 systems now have evolved into 24/7 one-stop answer centers. Sophisticated 311 systems use elaborate computer software to collect and report data that can help municipalities allocate workers and materials more efficiently. Leading consulting and software firms, including IBM, Motorola, Unisys and Microsoft are now involved in helping create 311 call systems.

It is now getting difficult to find a municipality with a population of 200,000 or more which doesn't have a 311 system planned or in place. New York City uses its 311 center to not only track complaints but to disseminate important information on a wide variety of subjects, especially during emergencies. Typically, NYC's 311 number receives 46,000 calls per day, spiking to 241,000 calls in one day during the recent transit strike. As Hurricane Katrina evacuees arrived, Houston's 311 center played a key role in relocation efforts. Orange County, California, often seen as a West Coast suburban counterpart to Nassau County, launched their 311 system in conjunction with a crash hurricane preparedness program. Chicago's 311 is so highly regarded that they've hosted an international symposium on how their program is run.

311 is so popular that two additional numbers have been reserved as more specialized hotlines. 211 is now reserved for social service hotlines and 511 is for transportation information. Social service call volumes tripled when Atlanta opened its 211 number, and Cincinnati's transit line received 72 percent more calls after it switched to 511. With proper publicity and support, these specialized call lines work.

Most importantly, 311 numbers reduce the stress on 911 operations, a continuing and growing problem in Nassau County. In 2003, County Executive Tom Suozzi announced support for a county 311 program and even included $800,000 for the phone lines and staff in his 2004 budget. However, he appears to have backed off in order to give North Hempstead a wide berth.

North Hempstead has all kinds of special challenges which could thwart a successful 311 system, including the fact that most town residents rely on incorporated villages for basic municipal services.

North Hempstead makes up only part of the 516 area code and shares telephone exchanges with other towns and with Queens County. These aren't small problems. The town 311 number will only work from a land line, at a time when more and more residents are getting rid of traditional land lines in favor of cell phones and other technologies. The first thing a North Hempstead constituent with an urgent question hears when calling 311 is a recording explaining how to reach the New York City 311 if that's the one you're really looking for. The whole point of quick, "first point of contact" service is defeated at the start.

There are other problems, too. The 311 operators actually give less information than the little old civil service ladies who used to answer the phones well for years. Some callers spend long periods on hold only to be referred to another number. Privacy issues have been raised about the recording of caller ID information even on blocked lines.

Sooner or later, Nassau County will implement a 311 system, and you can't have separate 311 lines for the county and one of its three townships. Our 911 emergency system needs relief. Other county residents deserve the 311 service. The typical expense for creating a quality 311 operation with customer response technology ($1 to $4 million) can best be handled by the county. A countywide system can allow everyone with a 516 area code to use the service. It should all be about the best service.

Friday, May 14, 2010

LIPA to LIA In One Easy Leap

Long Island Association Takes Law Into It's Own Hands

Kevin Law, the CEO at LIPA since 2007, has been tapped to replace Matthew Crosson as president of the Long Island Association.

Jed Morey of the Long Island Press ponders whether Law will take "lackluster" LIA in a new direction. We ask, will Law take LIA in any direction?

Lackluster is almost too kind a word for an organization, designed to bolster business on Long Island, that has, for the better part of its existence, done little more than bobble up and down on issues ranging from affordable housing to property taxes. Indeed, LIA has chimed in on almost every aspect of life on Long Island, which would have been a good thing, had accomplishment followed the conversation.

The Long Island Assoviation refers to itself as "the voice of Long Island... bring(ing) together
business, labor, education, government, not-for-profits, chambers of commerce and civic organizations working to make Long Island an even better place to live, work, raise a family, and do business."

That voice has become a bit hoarse of late (perhaps due to too much shouting in the dark), with little demonstrable achievement in bringing together the often disparate community and business groups that call Long Island home, let alone in establishing and  implementing a strategic plan that would change the static dynamic that has become LI's status quo.

Matt Crosson is headed off into the sunset, literally, becoming the CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. Adeiu! Perhaps he'll take the idea of a casino at the Coliseum with him to sin city.

Hopefully, Kevin Law will begin to shake things up and move the organization forward as LIA chief, turning inertia into action as if wind power into killowatts (without the attendant surcharges and fees we've come to know from LIPA).

Heck, maybe he'll even figure out a way to lower our utility bills. [If not, well, in making the move from LIPA to LIA, all he's lost is the P.]

We wish Mr. Law, and the rest of us here on Long Island, all the best!
- - -
From the Long Island Press:

Off The Reservation: Law of the Land

By Jed Morey

Kevin Law, the outgoing president and chief executive of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), has been chosen to lead the Long Island Association (LIA) in the wake of Matt Crosson’s departure. The lackluster performance of the LIA in recent years presents a challenge to the talented Law, but he is uniquely qualified to run the Island’s largest representative organization. Talent alone, however, won’t revive this body.

The LIA lacks a sense of purpose. While its board is comprised of an impressive array of successful business leaders, it has failed to coalesce in a decisive manner and make inroads on any specific issue. The most noticeable handicap in this respect is an unwieldy board size—there are 57 members. The Island’s biggest organization is top-heavy. This has created a problem of perception in that no one really knows what the LIA stands for. It’s time to hunker down and get tight on a handful of specific items instead of attempting to plug every hole in the dam.

Kevin Law, outgoing president and CEO of LIPA, is the new head of the LIA. But will he take the organization in the direction it needs to go?

Evidence of the LIA’s inability to marshal its resources in support of, or opposition to, a particular issue is in its governance structure. There are 16 separate committees ranging from small business to world trade, insurance to homeland defense and everywhere in between. No one organization can adequately micromanage this many priorities. Because Long Island is, by design, a sprawling set of disparate communities—each with its own gravitational center and culture—it’s nearly impossible to manage any one-size-fits-all plan.

Therefore the most immediate and effective declaration Kevin Law can make when officially taking the helm is to plant his flag squarely on the subject of economic development. Workforce housing hard to find? Brain drain getting you down? Tired of high taxes? There’s only one answer to all the issues the LIA has been dancing around: Money. The only way to get more of it into the economy is to attract more high-paying job opportunities into the region and create an environment where companies aren’t punished when they grow.

The art of messaging is critical when running an organization with the breadth and scope of the LIA. If Law can stay on message and focus on spreading the gospel of economic development, he will conquer the first difficult task of establishing a singular perception of the LIA. It’s a lot easier to negotiate with those who control the purse strings when they know why you’re there and what you’re asking for. This raises the next obvious question: What are we asking for?

I’ll keep it simple.

The LIA has been so focused on raising funds by hosting rubber-chicken dinners with generals and ex-presidents to cover for its own financial issues, it can’t focus on ours. Have one gala and a golf tournament if you need to get it out of your system then spread the wealth by getting more companies to pay dues. If you need extra funds, get them from the Regional Planning Commission—they’re not doing anything anyway.

Once the LIA’s bills are paid, Law can develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the two things we cannot escape: taxes and utilities.

Regarding the former: The only way to reduce, or at the very least hold, taxes on the Island is to woo more companies to do business here. This means coordinating the efforts of every agency with the ability to offer economic incentives and developing a press kit for Long Island. The Canon deal provided the blueprint. With Long Island’s press kit in hand, Kevin Law should be on the road six months out of the year visiting every burgeoning technology company in America with an iota of potential. I’m confident he can out-sell the guy from Bergen County, NJ or Lancaster, PA and convince some cool companies to come here. (Kev, call me. I know a great relocation specialist.)

On utilities: It’s payback time. The government rammed Shoreham down our throats then figured out we didn’t want it. Worse yet, they stuck us with the tab. Our utility bills will never go down with a $6 billion debt load we can’t shake. Therefore, I propose that every elected official on the Island sit down with Chuck Schumer and demand that the federal government commit $600 million per year for the next 10 years to principal debt reduction. In turn, we will agree to hold LIPA rates flat for the same period. The resulting positive spread will be reserved for retrofitting commercial and residential properties with renewable technology through LIPA’s existing rebate program. By 2020 the debt will be eradicated, our utility costs will be dramatically lower and then we can fold LIPA and get rid of a couple of power plants.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now, on to that peace in the Middle East issue. It’s been on my to-do list for ages.
If you wish to comment on “Off the Reservation,” send your message to

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Apprently, Town Goats Did More Than Eat Weeds

Sowing Wild Oats At The Levy Preserve

So, there are a few new "kids" on the block -- or, should we say, in Hempstead Town's Levy Preserve.

Seems those Nigerian goats brought in to keep the pastures neat and trim had some time left over after their official lawn-cutting duties. Hope they weren't (cover your ears, boys and girls) procreating on duty, on the taxpayers' dime!

Anyway, add nine (count 'em, 9) kids to the Census -- and, apparently, to the Town of Hempstead payroll (you think maintaining all these goats comes cheap?).

Be that as it may, Town officials now want you to name the new goats. [Their parents were named after five of the Seven Dwarfs when they were adopted by the Town. Happy, Bashful and Sleepy are the proud mothers (and you thought they were members of the Town Board).]

Names, anyone?
- - -
From the Town of Hempstead:

Town's "Kid" Workforce Triples at no Cost to Taxpayers:

Weed-Eating Goats Born at Levy Preserve; Residents Invited to Name Newborns

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilwoman Angie Cullin are proud to welcome nine “kids” to the town workforce. The newborns are the progeny of five Nigerian dwarf goats that the town adopted last March to eradicate the overgrowth of brush and grass at Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve in Merrick.

“This was a very exciting week for us. On April 29th ‘Happy’ gave birth to the first two members of our new dwarf goat family,” said Murray. “On May 1st ‘Bashful’ had three kids and then on May 4th ‘Sleepy’ added four more kids to the herd.”

The town adopted four females and one male goat last spring as an ecologically friendly way to control weeds and brush overgrowth at the preserve. The original five goats cost the town just over $1,000 to obtain. The goats were the latest pets-workers-employees to complement the ecological mission of the landfill-turned- nature preserve. Several years before, Hempstead Town added a flock of Guinea fowl, turkey-sized birds, as an environmentally friendly alternative to insecticides in the control of ticks at the preserve. In tandem, the birds and goats have been a low-cost, ecologically responsible solution to the challenges that nature presents at a waterfront nature habitat.

“Our Preserve staff named the first goats after five of the fabled seven dwarfs,” noted Cullin. “We now need the help of our creative residents to name the new members of our herd.”

Pictures of the nine kids will be posted on the town’s website ( for residents to view before they submit name suggestions. There are 4 baby male goats and 5 baby female goats. Proposed names can be sent to All submissions must be received by May 31st.

“The birth of any baby is an event to celebrate but this ‘baby-boom’ has almost tripled our weeding workforce at Levy Park which is particularly joyful,” concluded Supervisor Murray.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Work, No Pay

Why Not Furlough The New York State Legislature?

Come Monday, and every week thereafter until New York has a State budget, 100,000 NYS employees will have a day off, without pay.

The threat from Governor Paterson, and the rationale behind the furlough, is that without such unpaid leave, the Empire State would have to shut down.

Please. Don't make promises you are unwilling to keep!

Here's a novel thought. If State workers, including those who can least afford to lose a day's pay, must feel the pain, why not have the Governor and every member of the New York State Legislature share their pain?

No pay check until there is a State budget in place. In fact, let them give back every penny they haven't earned since April 1, the date mandated by law for New York's budget.

And let's take back those pension credits, too, as well as any other perk enjoyed by our elected officials.

They have no compunction in calling for "shared sacrifice." All right, then. Share and share alike!
- - -
From Newsday:

4 unions file suit over state's furlough plans


ALBANY - Four state-employee unions filed lawsuits Tuesday to overturn what they called "unconstitutional" furloughs set to begin on Monday.

The Civil Service Employees Association, Public Employees Federation, United University Professions and Professional Staff Congress of CUNY each requested a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn here. They said the furlough plan, devised by Gov. David A. Paterson and approved by the Legislature, violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against states adopting laws that interfere with contract obligations.

CSEA and PEF also asked the judge to compel New York to pay a 4-percent wage increase and contribute to benefit plans, both of which have been withheld since April 1 because there is no state budget.

The judge was expected to request a formal response from state leaders by week's end and possibly hold a hearing in Albany before deciding whether to issue the restraining order.

UUP president Phillip H. Smith said, "We have a legal and binding contract with the state. The state does not have the authority to walk away from the contract and throw SUNY into turmoil, at a time when the faculty are giving final exams and grading papers."

Paterson acknowledged the hardship. But he vowed to move forward with the furlough plan, which requires 100,000 unionized workers to stay home one day per week without pay until a new state budget is in place. On Long Island, about 11,600 people will be affected, primarily at Stony Brook University and other SUNY campuses.

Paterson said $250-million in union concessions were needed to help close a $9.2-billion budget deficit. He said the attorney general would argue that the furloughs are legal because when New York negotiated the labor contracts in 2007, there was no way of knowing a recession would occur.

"It was not within the contemplation of the parties . . . this state being in so much of a recession makes us unable to pay them at the level we normally would or risk insolvency," Paterson said.

He refused to say what he would do if the courts block his furlough plan. Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch suggested Tuesday that workers could be laid off.

State officials emphasized furloughs would be implemented over a seven-day period to minimize the disruption in services.

Asked about furloughs after a Capitol news conference, Stony Brook president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said they wouldn't be concentrated on a single day in order "to minimize the disruption to our students and others."

Lawmakers predicted the federal judge would side with the unions.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he expected a ruling soon that would remove the furloughs from future emergency spending bills. "The courts should dispose of that issue this week," he said.

Separately Tuesday, an Albany television station reported Paterson had given raises recently to five of his staff members. The raises ranged from $5,000 to $10,000 per year and were linked with promotions. Four of the five staffers work in the press office.

Paterson aide Morgan Hook defended the pay hikes, saying, the individuals were doing work that had been performed by more highly-paid people who have since left the administration. Hook also said the press office's total compensation had dropped by $300,000 per year.

The Cancer Map

Where's The Cancer In Your Community?

The NYS Department of Health has posted an interactive map, detailing the number of cancer cases, zip code by zip code, block by block.

Frightening, perhaps, what with claims over the years of "cancer clusters," particularly here on Long Island.

Don't draw any conclusions, however, as the mapping of so-called "environmental facilities" does NOT take into account risk factors, such as age, tobacco use, alcohol use, radiation exposure, infections, diet, sunlight, physical activity and family history, which are known to play important roles in what causes cancer.

The map -- which can be found at -- only shows where people resided when they were diagnosed with cancer.

As per the NYS Department of Health, "One of every two men, and one of every three women, will be diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life."

With MTBE spills, toxic plumes leeching downward toward the aquifers, superfund sites, and the like, guess we didn't need a map to tell us that. . .

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pick Up Your Phones To Protect NY's Environment!

NYS Environmental Fund "Call-In" Day

Keep protecting New York. Restore our Environmental Protection Fund.

On Tuesday, May 11, join thousands of New Yorkers calling the NYS Senate & Assembly in support of restoring the Environmental Protection Fund.

Governor Paterson has cut funding for the state’s environmental agencies and parks to the bone. He cut $69 million from the Environmental Protection Fund, which protects the things we love most in New York State - our parks and zoos, our drinking water, natural areas and farmland, and much more.

It’s not too late for the Legislature to restore the EPF this year. Call Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Leader John Sampson, and your Assemblymember & Senator. Join our friends at Citizens Campaign for the EnvironmentWe Love New York, and thousands of other New Yorkers on May 11 for EPF Call-In Day. We need your help to restore the EPF and keep vital programs that protect our land, air, and water.

Tips for calling:

•State your name & where you live.
Tell them you support restoring the Environmental Protection Fund to $222 million.
•Tell them why restoring the EPF is important to you.

Whom to call:
Your Senator – Find their Albany phone number
Your Assemblymember – Find their Albany phone number
Senate Leader John Sampson - (518) 455-2788
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - (518) 455-3791

Let's all do our part to keep protecting New York's environment!

The Most Powerful Lobby In America

We, The People

Imagine if we could stop multinational mega-corporations from trampling the rights of workers, forcing them to pay a living wage and provide decent working conditions, simply by boycotting their products.

Imaging if we could achieve true reform in education, immigration, health care, and on the other great issues of the day simply by uniting rather than dividing.

Imagine if we could bring about fundamental change in government, at all levels, effecting policy and programs, taxes and tributes, simply by letting our voices be heard at the polls.

Stop imagining. Start doing.

We, The People, are the greatest political force in America, capable of monumental progress for the benefit of all mankind, or, through inertia and indifference, responsible for impeding all progress for the rest of time.

Think the special interest groups have anything on We, The People? Think again!

Now is the time for all good people to become empowered.

Mobilize. Organize. Vocalize.

Community is not a spectator sport. Join The Community Alliance, and help build a better burb!

Write us with your thoughts, comments and concerns at

Follow us on Twitter at

Be a part of this great movement to take back our town, our Long Island, our New York, and, yes, our country, in the name of We, The People!

The Community Alliance
New Visions for America's Oldest Suburb

Monday, May 10, 2010

The World Favors Chaos

As Does, Apparently, Alphonse D'Amato

In his weekly Op-Ed tirade in the Long Island Herald, former Senator Al D'Amato, the voice of the right and king of the pothole, waxes, though unpoetic, in favor of a casino at the Coliseum.

Not that we attribute the worst of intentions to good, ole Al, or question whether the Shinnecocks have the former Senator smoking something more than tabacco in that peace pipe. D'Amato. Development. Katuria. Zoning Board/Planning Board. Hempstead Town. D'Amato. Just blogging out loud...

Reason enough, we suppose, for most of us to oppose such an outlandish option for Nassau's hub, but well worth a few words of commentary, and perhaps discussion, here on The Community Alliance blog.

Leaving aside Al's interests, pecuniary and otherwise, in development, and his wife, Katuria's, portended role in all of this as a member of the Town of Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeals, the gung-ho endorsement of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano's "innovative thinking" leaves us wondering, "what are these folks thinking?"

To Ed, and, apparently, to Al, it's all about declining county revenues and the much-needed shot in the arm that a casino in the heart of Nassau County might provide. With no other viable means of raising money -- short of increasing the dreaded property tax (a death knell for any politician, notwithstanding the fact that the County portion of the property tax levy is but a mere 17% of the total tax bill ) -- bring on the slots.

To us, it's more a question of quality of life as antecedent to Long Island's future.

If prospects of the Lighthouse seem daunting, imagine the congestion of a casino at the hub. Mr. Mangano said the casino would be in addition to other mixed use, including residential. Imagine living next to a casino?
With Hofstra and Nassau Community College literally around the corner, what's the draw here, but for booze, gambling, and more than a hint of the unsavory?

Imagine all those neighborhood OTBs, and the friendly folks who frequent them, suddenly sucked dead smack into the middle of Nassau County. Kinda like what Co-Op City did for residential housing in the Bronx, only with roulette wheels.

Yes, Nassau needs money. Yes, a casino would likely be a boon. No, the Coliseum is not the place to build one. [We were thinking, by stretch of the imagination, that placing a casino at, say, Belmont Park, would serve as a better plan to "turn a new page for Nassau." Belmont is already a gaming venue, situated in Nassau on the Queens border, in dire need of a second (or third) coming, with, how shall we say it -- perhaps as Al did vis-a-vis a casino at the hub -- "tremendous potential to create the job and revenue growth Long Island desperately needs."]

Historically, casinos have done little to revive or enliven the neighborhoods around them, let alone to create a renaissance, as is sorely needed in aging, graying, brownfielding Nassau. If you need proof positive on this score, take a trip up to Monticello, Yonkers, or even Atlantic City, where, but blocks away from both racetrack and boardwalk, poverty and blight persist.

If Al and Ed envision "an entertainment empire that brings in millions of dollars in tax revenues," then so be it. Just not in this particular backyard. Not when more community-friendly options avail themselves, and a not so off the beaten racetrack beckons for one-armed-bandits and cocktail waitresses in short skirts.

Let's face the facts, Al. A casino at the Nassau Coliseum is a gamble no Long Islander should be willing to take!
- - -
From the LI Herald:

A casino deserves serious consideration

By Al D'Amato

Last week, freshman Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano laid it on the line for county residents. He told us that the county is facing a $286 million deficit, the largest in its history. Because Mangano is committed to not raising taxes, he must be proactive and think outside the box for ways to raise much-needed revenue.

And so, last Tuesday, Mangano announced that he was in the early stages of negotiations with the Shinnecock Nation regarding the possibility of constructing a casino and entertainment center on the 77-acre Nassau Coliseum site and the surrounding property. The idea may have shocked many of my fellow Long Islanders, but believe me, it deserves serious consideration.

Understandably, there are many questions about a project of this magnitude, but Mangano’s proposal has tremendous potential to create the job and revenue growth Long Island desperately needs.

In my opinion, in today’s economy, it makes a lot more sense than the previously proposed Lighthouse project. For six years, real estate developer Charles Wang, the majority owner of the New York Islanders, has been pressuring elected officials from the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County to authorize this $3.7 billion project.

Wang’s proposal encompasses 150 acres, and would transform the Coliseum and the surrounding property into condominiums, a five-star hotel, an athletics complex and corporate offices, highlighted by two 36-story office towers.

Although home prices in Nassau County have remained steady and property in many communities is still valuable, such is not the case for the commercial real estate market. Office space is being leased, but landlords have been forced to renegotiate contracts with tenants at remarkably reduced rates. There are also fewer leases being signed than in previous years.

Six years ago our economy was in much better shape. It might have been possible to finance the project and fill 36 stories of office space. Now, regardless of the developer, it’s impossible. Even though the commercial realty market has been creeping back, the current market would not be able to sustain such a grand endeavor.

Let’s face the facts. The Nassau Coliseum needs dramatic reformation. The Islanders now play in the smallest and third-oldest arena in the National Hockey League. They survive on subsidies from Wang. A new arena would be a win-win for the franchise and the surrounding area, which is currently not very desirable. We must make sure that the only major sports franchise that calls Long Island home stays put.

Yes, there are many obstacles that could potentially stand in the way of a casino project. First and foremost, county residents must be on board. The citizens, community and business groups, and elected officials need to come together and agree that building a casino and entertainment center in this location is desirable.

With Hofstra University and Nassau Community College in close proximity, traffic and safety are major concerns and must be addressed. It’s not enough to build more roads. A casino is not sustainable without mass transportation; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road have to be involved.

Next, the Shinnecock Nation must become a federally recognized tribe. Without federal recognition, the tribe wouldn’t be eligible to obtain the Class III gaming license needed to operate a high-stakes casino. Based on early reports, the tribe is expected to gain recognition by mid-July. It must then choose the site for a reservation — Nassau is just one site in the mix.

Then the tribe would have to enter into negotiations with the state and secure a land-in-trust agreement with the federal government. In essence, this would declare the Coliseum and the surrounding 75 acres tribal ground and permit gambling.

This process will not be easy, but we shouldn’t let the obstacles of innovation distract us from the potentials of long-term growth.

Just months into his first term, Mangano has demonstrated the innovative thinking the county needs to alleviate our budget woes. His plan could turn a new page for Nassau, and turn it into a visitor destination and entertainment empire that brings in millions of dollars in tax revenue, expands the tax base and keeps the New York Islanders on Long Island.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. He writes weekly for the Herald on topics of local and national interest. Comments about this column?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Make A Pest Of Yourself!

Ask The Governor To Sign The Pesticide Ban On School Playing Fields

Our fine-feathered friends at Citizens Campaign for the Environment are at it again -- in a good way.

With both Senate and Assembly having passed legislation banning the use pesticides on school playing fields, New Yorkers are now encouraged to ask Governor Paterson to sign the measure into law.

Please take a moment or two to so act.
- - -
From Citizens Campaign for the Environment:



Child Safe Playing Fields Act Passes Assembly & Senate:
Urgent Action Needed to Ensure Governor Paterson Signs the Bill!

Responding to overwhelming public support, both the NYS Senate & Assembly passed the Child Safe Playing Fields Act, protecting NYS children from unnecessary exposure to aesthetic pesticides. Now the bill will go before Governor Paterson, and your action is needed one more time. Take action now.

Of the 48 most commonly used pesticides in schools:
81% are irritants
69% are neurotoxins
53% are linked to reproductive effects
50% are linked to cancer
69% are linked to kidney and liver damage

Pesticides and our children’s health

Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure due to their developing bodies and frequent hand-to-mouth behaviors. The science is clear that increased exposure to pesticides contributes to an increased incidence of asthma, learning disabilities, neurological problems, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and other cancers with particular regard to young children. NY’s children deserve to play on school fields that are not laden with toxic chemicals. School playing fields and green spaces can be maintained without the use of toxic pesticides.

Safer alternatives exist

Fortunately, schools can eliminate their use of hazardous pesticides while successfully and cost-effectively managing pest problems in school buildings and on school grounds. Numerous municipalities, school districts, individual schools, and some states have chosen to adopt school pesticide policies that require a school to prohibit the use of toxic pesticides and, instead, use readily available and affordable non-toxic alternatives. Time and time again, schools that have eliminated toxic pesticide use are reporting effective pest management and significant long-term financial savings.

Legislation to ban pesticides in schools

CCE strongly supports the Child Safe Playing Fields Act, S.4983c - Foley / A. 7937c - Englebright which will ban the use of aesthetic pesticide applications outside on school and day care grounds. Children spend a significant amount of time in school. Banning toxic chemical use where our children play will reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals. This reduction will protect their developing and vulnerable bodies from the harmful consequences of pesticide exposure. Once enacted, this legislation will help protect the health of our children and provide significant long-term financial savings to schools. Read the full Memo in Support.

Join us in asking Governor Paterson to sign the Child Safe Playing Fields Act (S.4983c/A.7937c) to protect our children from pesticide exposure in schools!


Email or call (518-474-8390) Governor Paterson. Tell him to sign the Child Safe Playing Fields Act (S. 4983c/A. 7937c).

And, please remember to drop us quick email with any response and to let us know you called or emailed.

Thank you for taking action. Together we make a difference!


Another Take On The Dreaded Property Tax

Ditch It!

Larry Levy, of Newsday fame, writes in Long Island Pulse Magazine of eliminating the regressive property tax in favor of a progressive (not a four-letter word) income tax.

Certainly not a new idea, but definitely an idea whose time has come!

Why do we think, in ten years time, we'll still be talking about the very same thing?
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From Pulse Magazine:

Taxes Through the Looking Glass
Can Long Island have its cake and eat it too? An alternate view of property taxes.
Author: Lawrence C. Levy

“The pain is real.”

So began a cry from the heart to confront the threat of “killer” taxes.

“Long Islanders are struggling under one of the nation’s heaviest local tax burdens, an oppressive bundle of…levies that punishes homeowners and businesses alike,” continued Newsday’s 10-part call to civic arms. “No wonder Long Islanders are on the brink of a tax revolt.”

If you thought you read this series recently—maybe Newsday’s response to the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression or the power-shifting tax protest in November’s local elections—think again. “Killer Taxes” appeared more than 20 years ago. I remember it well because, as an editorial writer for Newsday, I wrote it. And because it was hardly the first such cri du coeur from journalists, activists and a few far-thinking officials.

Today, despite stacks of reports yellowing on dusty shelves, despite periodic spasms of anger in the voting booth, the pain of property taxes remains very real. And so does its impact. The inability to contain tax hikes is not only straining our present prosperity but also crippling our ability to have it all—the essence of the Suburban Dream—to create jobs and afford strong schools, safe neighborhoods, beautiful parks, clean beaches and other magnetic amenities. The pain, in a word, is unsustainable.

According to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, typical Nassau-Suffolk homeowners pay about eight percent of their income in property taxes. That’s a rate nearly three times higher than the national average. Out of thousands of counties, Nassau and Suffolk rank third and ninth, respectively, in the bite that the property levy takes out of family income.

And if nothing changes, if spending and other patterns stay the same over the next two decades, property taxes will take an even deeper bite out of Long Islanders’ pockets. According to some projections, homeowners at the median income level will pay more than 12 percent of their income. That would be almost four times the national average.

But here’s a bigger insult to the injury of high property taxes, one that smacks the middle class and poorer especially hard: The less you earn, the greater the percentage of your income goes, and will go, to paying that bill. Why? Because property taxes aren’t based on your ability to pay, just the paper value of your home. That means a high-earner living in a million-dollar McMansion will pay the same school and municipal taxes as a retired pensioner living in a similar home next door. Wait till you hear what it does to the rich (later).

So if property taxes are unfair, unbearable and unfathomable, why the hell not get rid of them?

By taxing county incomes at a progressive rate, the typical homeowner would be paying less to the county than they now do in property taxes.

Yes, you heard me right, just get rid of those regressive and oppressive local property taxes. And replace all, or some, of them with a fairer tax that could lower the costs of owning a home for most Long Islanders. A tax that could slow the “brain drain” of young workers and the exodus of the elderly. A tax on income.

Of course, steps must be taken to contain costs without killing quality services, especially the schools that attract so many homeowners. Elected officials can’t even think about introducing a new tax—even if it were a fairer alternative to the hated existing one—unless they first tackle the spending side of the equation. If they can’t show they’re delivering value for the tax dollar, they’d have no credibility with any taxpayer.

But the reality is that dramatic savings will be hard to achieve. There is no consensus yet on how to spend less; not among the state and local officials in a position to make it happen, not even among tortured taxpayers. A majority of Long Islanders have told pollsters they want lower taxes, but they don’t want to see cuts in educational spending, not even to the salaries of the nation’s highest paid teachers and administrators. And, whether the motive is love of local control, or hate and/or fear of others, they don’t want school districts merged, especially healthy districts with those unable to carry the tax burden.

I have no doubt that many of the taxpayers crying loudest about their tax bills would fight sweeping and fundamental changes—such as merging our 124 districts into fewer, larger ones—that would yield the quickest and least painful savings. And fear of political backlash is why most policy makers are focusing on achieving slivers of savings through joint purchasing by small and overlapping jurisdictions. So whatever the reason, whether the power of teacher unions and the high cost of living, to the appeal of local control and sometimes just plain racism, property taxes will remain “killer” taxes for a long time to come.

Unless, as I said, we make all or most of them go away.

Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about making all taxes go away. Even if Long Islanders and their leaders embrace Larry Levy’s Greatest Editorial Writing Hits, including the creation of larger, more efficient school districts, we still have to pay something for schools, police and other public services. And in an expensive region, the cost won’t be inconsiderable. So, in addition to how much we tax, attention must be paid to what and who and how we tax.

Attention must be paid to a local income tax that shifts the current burden of funding services from the poor and middle class toward the highest earners, who now pay proportionally the smallest share of their wealth in residential property taxes.

One respected researcher with the Fiscal Policy Institute, Frank Mauro, told the Suffolk tax commission four years ago that the poorest 20 percent of property tax payers ponied up relatively three times more than the wealthiest one percent. Another way of putting it: A homeowner earning $50,000 a year might pay $5,000 or more in property taxes, or 10 percent of his income, while an owner earning $1 million a year might pay $30,000, or three percent. Which owner can better afford their burden, even if it were equal? Which owner is paying an unfair share? Which owner is subsidizing the other?

Pretty obvious, huh? Pretty obvious who the suckers are, especially when they allow squeamish politicians to talk them out of any alternative to the regressive property tax.

If the higher earners were paying an equal percentage of their income—or even close to it—more revenue would be generated to pay for local services or tax cuts and the burden on the average taxpayer would be lower.

When it comes to funding local services, there’s a ton of untapped wealth on Long Island. Based on the 2007 New York State tax returns, about 43 percent of all the income earned on Long Island was raked in by less than two percent of the people. That high-flying crowd, about 21,000 individuals, families or in some cases businesses, averaged nearly $2 million a tax return. But they also paid nearly 50 percent of the income taxes we sent to Albany.

So whether you call them lucky or hard working or both, our “two percenters’’ pay a hefty chunk of the state’s bills, including the school aid that is returned to Long Island. Nobody can say they don’t pay a lot of money for important services. And they create a lot of jobs through their spending. But the wealthiest five or six percent don’t pay anywhere near that percentage of local property taxes the others pay. And while the top one percent of earners may have incomes often 15 times higher than the typical Long Islander, their individual property tax bills are rarely even four times higher.

A shift of the tax structure is not only fair but necessary to ease the burden on the middle class, which has seen no gains in income over the last decade though the wealthiest have opened a wider gap. Shifting the tax structure from a reliance on property to income is potentially the best way to ease the gross inequities in funding public services.

I don’t want to mislead you: An income tax won’t be easy to implement and not just because of the politics of fear and cynicism. Of any number of complex options, the simplest way to begin to even the local tax burden is to eliminate the county share of the property tax. (It’s simpler to start at the county level because everyone pays into the same pot.) Eliminating the school tax—the brunt of the bill—introduces the massive fiscal and political problem of deciding how to redistribute funds among the dozens of school districts that now tax themselves individually. Better to start smaller and let taxpayers get used to the benefit of an income tax. And better if both Nassau and Suffolk impose it at the same time to eliminate any competitive issues.

By taxing county incomes at a progressive rate—the more you make, the higher tax rate you pay—the typical homeowner would be paying less to the county than they now do in property taxes. How much less depends, of course, on how much the county wants to spend, the rates at which the various incomes are taxed and how much of the entire property tax levy is eliminated. (The most sensible plans I’ve seen keep the tax on commercial property, to make sure businesses pay a fair share and to maintain another stable revenue stream for services.) But there’s no doubt that even if rich and poor paid the same rate, and there were caps on the total an individual or family could pay, the counties’ 15-20 percent portion of the property tax would be a net benefit to all but the top 5-10 per cent of earners; those are tax filers with an income of nearly $250,000 a year. Most of the tax would be paid by those far wealthier.

The risk of chasing out the wealthy, who create jobs with their businesses and personal spending, is a real one, at least to consider. “Soaking the rich,” as critics call it, could have consequences. But research indicates this may not be the case, according to a survey of states by the New York Times. And as long as the burden fell reasonably—perhaps with a cap to limit just how much a wealthy individual or family could be forced to pay—there’s no reason to believe people would leave Long Island. Their homes might even be worth more and they, too, would be paying lower property taxes, which offsets the increase.

And there’s another point that some Long Island business owners understood when they told usually tax-phobic Republican state senators that it was ok if they approved a state surcharge on the highest incomes: If the middle class and poorer Long Islanders continue to be driven out by high taxes, the wealthy won’t have employees or customers to fuel their incomes. And the leading philanthropists knew they would have to shoulder an even bigger burden of funding not-for-profit service providers.

Yes, a shift from the property tax to an income tax might even be good for the people who would pay the most.

And right now, the property tax is crushing the real golden goose—the vast majority of people whose economic well-being has been and will be the future of our economy.

Now, getting rid of the county share of property taxes would be a start. But the real prize would be drastically or totally eliminating the two-thirds of the property tax bill that goes to schools. Yes, it’s far more complicated, but it also offers far more savings for property taxpayers and far more equity. Currently, homeowners in the poorest school districts pay higher property tax rates than those in the richest and get far less for their dollars by every measure of educational achievement. Lower school taxes would lower the amount of money Nassau and the Suffolk towns pay the school districts for errors in the tax rolls, saving more money overall.

Meanwhile, any plan to create fairness in local taxing policies demands that the taxes paid on the tens of billions of dollars worth of commercial property does not go to relatively few school districts. The approximately $20 million a year paid by Roosevelt Field Mall and its surrounding office buildings, a major regional asset that is within spitting distances of a half dozen school districts, only goes to two of them. All the school taxes that would be paid by the proposed Lighthouse, which would be by far the largest project in Nassau history, would go to one district, Uniondale. The continued revenues from commercial property taxes should go in a pool and be redistributed throughout the county with an edge to the poorest districts.

“The current system is so burdensome to residents that it has caused a shift in the landscape,” a Suffolk County tax commission concluded in 2006. “People are now ready to discuss options considered taboo in the past… [and] willing to consider dramatic changes to our system of property taxation to finance public education.

“According to the Long Island Index, a majority of Long Islanders are ready for something new. Approximately 55% of Long Islanders favor replacing a portion of the school property tax with an income tax. Another 76% of Long Islanders favor pooling commercial property taxes and distributing them evenly across all school districts.”

But the commission, which seemed intrigued at the expert testimony in favor of the income tax, balked at recommending it as a substitute for the property tax. Its members felt the shift, particularly at the school level, was too complicated and risky. They did raise a number of questions and concerns, many important and difficult to answer, but many of them, such as how to tax second homes, worth figuring out and finding fresh data to answer. (Reading the conclusions, I got the feeling that the majority of members decided such a huge change would be a political pain in the butt to defend.)

Too bad. Isn’t it time we and our leaders found the courage to try something different? The pain of “killer taxes” can’t get any more real but it can get worse.
Lawrence C. Levy has spent 30 years as a reporter, editorial writer, columnist and PBS talk show host. He is currently the Executive Director for the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.