Category Archives: Opinion

OP/ED

It’s called Rye Playland for a reason

By Joe Sack

As Westchester County has effectively paused its Rye Playland plans until after the election season, it’s important not to confuse the lull in the action with the notion that the storm has blown over.

The City of Rye should be proud of the fact that residents and local officials alike stood up to represent our community’s interests earlier this year. However, we should remain wary that the county continues to take the position that they can do whatever they want in the heart of our city. Rye’s new City Council, without prematurely taking a position on the merits of the plan, correctly asserted the standard that the county should submit the plan for review by the council and/or Rye’s local land use boards—just like any other property owner in Rye is required to do.

Regrettably, the county unequivocally rejected that simple concept. So, the council was compelled to appeal to the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who decides such “lead agency” disputes under the State Environmental Quality Review act. Consequently, the county backed off and pulled the plug on the plan before a formal decision could be rendered by the DEC commissioner. We held firm, and we were vindicated.

Unfortunately, the county hasn’t similarly let go of the stance that what they say goes. And that includes our county legislator.

While we appreciate Ms. Parker’s assertion that she will keep Rye’s interests in mind, that sentiment falls short. Rye’s position that the city may require the county to meet the city’s land use requirements is both supported by the law and fair practice. Respectfully, we’d like our representative in White Plains to represent Rye to the county, and not to represent the county to Rye. Certainly, we need more field space in Rye. But that was never the question.

The real question is, was the Rye Playland parking lot the right location for that field space?

On a piece of land that arguably already lacks enough room for parking, the county’s plan called both for eliminating parking spaces and bringing in more cars. So while not enough analysis of the environmental impacts had been done, many locals pulled on instincts about what an honest evaluation would show. Namely, that Rye Playland may be big enough for an amusement park; it may be big enough for a sports complex; but it may not be big enough for both.

Many of the folks behind the withdrawn Rye Playland sports proposal are from Rye, and we respect and value all of the other contributions which they have made to weaving the fabric of our city. There should be no question as to whether folks on either side of this equation want what’s best.

Whatever the next incarnation of a plan comes out of the county’s latest deliberations, we wish them good luck and prudence. And we hope that they too come to respect and understand that Rye bears 100 percent of the impacts of Rye Playland, and that we are in the best position to judge those impacts.

Joe Sack is the Republican mayor of the City of Rye and a practicing attorney. The views expressed are his. 

 
OP/ED

OP-ED: Hillary the triangulator

By Peter Lane
In response to the Republican power shifting victories in the mid-term 1994 congressional elections, then President Bill Clinton successfully repositioned himself politically prior to the 1996 election by practicing the art of “triangulation.”

Though the term itself may then have been applied for the first time, Clinton was hardly the first politician to note a poll driven middle ground or, in earlier times, to sense the direction of the prevailing political winds and reposition himself as a practical problem solver, seemingly unfettered by any political dogma, for immediate political benefit.

Working with the political consultant Richard Morris, Clinton moved right, essentially into the Republican camp, on key domestic issues such as welfare reform and a balanced budget; turning his back in the process on both the liberal wing of his party—and his previous positions—on these core Democratic issues. He then proceeded to handily defeat his Republican opponent, Bob Dole, and was re-elected to the White House.

That 20-year-old flashback comes to mind as I watch Hillary Clinton play the triangulation game with respect to recent U.S. foreign policy, notwithstanding her role as secretary of state in President Obama’s notable failings.

As quoted in a current piece in The Atlantic written by Jeffrey Goldberg, she is “Bill on Steroids;” bashing Mr. Obama on his way down. She has pivoted away from her former boss, openly criticizing his policies and positions on Israel, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt.

But the unkindest, albeit well merited, cut was the quote accompanying the giant step she took away from the president’s view of what the United States’ role should be in the world. She cited the president’s statement of policy at this year’s West Point commencement when she told Goldberg, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is hardly an organizing principal.”

In continuation of her slap at Obama while also taking a shot at George W. Bush, she said, “You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make out any better than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.”

You can bet your mortgage money that, if Obama’s poll numbers on his handling of foreign affairs were trending up instead of hurtling downhill, Hillary Clinton would be embracing many of the same foreign policy positions that she now can’t step away from fast enough. But then she can’t be seen as running for a third Obama term—and there should be no doubt that she is clearly setting up to run in 2016, folks—so stepping away from Obama in this dramatic fashion was no doubt viewed as a political necessity by her camp and, of course, stepping away from his immediate predecessor is, for a Democrat, a no brainer.

Frankly, although she has drawn a thin line to walk for herself, Hillary has made the right political move. While Americans are both tired and wary of military engagement—and, in the case of Iraq, military re-engagement—I have to think a majority of those of us who give it any thought at all believe A) we still have to project our power in an intelligent, judicious, common sense fashion so the world is a reasonably stable place, if only for our own safety and security, and B) at least two administrations in a row have failed to do so with tragic and costly consequences that are still unfolding.

Although George W. Bush’s Iraqi adventure was a dubious one at best, and our initial occupation of that country a tragically incompetent one; thanks to his 2007 surge—brilliantly executed by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker and opposed by both then senators Clinton and Obama for, no surprise here, acknowledged political reasons—Obama inherited a largely stable situation. He then proceeded to ignore realities by not only effectuating our complete exit based on a date on the calendar, but also announcing to the world well in advance what that exit date was going to be.

A process, he has hubristically informed us, that he intends to repeat in Afghanistan.

Hence, we find ourselves in the deteriorating and increasingly dangerous situation that we are in today.

For a guy whose mantra is “don’t do stupid stuff,” our highly intelligent president does a lot of….well….dare I say it, really stupid stuff.

So that synopsis leads us to the political upside of Hillary Clinton portraying herself as the hardened, but thoughtful, realist. Besides, the last two occupants of the White House have left many Americans nostalgic for the Bill Clinton years. Compared to the two of them, Bill’s presidency, and Hillary by extension, appears to many to have been a study in functionality and competence.

As for the potential political downside, the lady may have to get through a primary process where any hint of military muscle flexing, let alone military action, is an anathema to too many Democratic voters.

This is a crowd that, tragically, requires a 9/11 to recognize how dangerous the world can be when America fails to remember how a great power is supposed to act. If Hillary is to lose the nomination again, she will most likely be outflanked from the Democratic left, just as she was in 2008.

As for the rest of us, we are left to ponder whether or not she actually means what she says about how she would conduct American foreign policy and serve as our commander-in-chief. While her supporters are already cheering the prospect of our first female president, many of us have learned from experience not to use the words Clinton and credible in the same sentence.

Peter Lane is a retired judge, political consultant and executive director of the Rye City Republican Committee. The views expressed are his. 

 
OP/ED

A rare failure of the president’s political mojo

By Peter Lane
I’m sure we can all agree the political and media firestorm over the Bergdahl affair has far overshadowed the earlier Obama pronouncement made at the recent West Point commencement ceremony. I refer to the president’s statement that we will be withdrawing all of our forces from Afghanistan no later than Dec. 31, 2016.

That policy, in my view, puts us at much greater risk than the release of five terrorists, no matter how dangerous they may be, from Guantanamo. He has informed our enemies and the world that, instead of allowing then existing American security interests and strategic considerations to determine if and when we would proceed with any withdrawal—as well as the number and mission of any troops to be left in-country—he is allowing his political calendar and promises to drive United States policies.

Unfortunately for us, and the remainder of the world that may still look to us for leadership, that is how Obama’s recent foreign policy judgments have too frequently been made. Unfortunately, it is clear to me that, while our country and his successor may pay dearly, Obama and his party will pay no short term political price for his fecklessness. Indeed, if anything, my bet is Obama’s political calculations are, as usual, correct. That is, that the prevailing mood of the American public is of the “just get us out of there, the sooner the better” variety and we are in no mood to scrutinize or question how it is done.

Now, this announced withdrawal also feeds in to the Bergdahl matter. After all, once you’ve told the Taliban that we’re totally withdrawing by a date certain, they have no remaining incentive—and we have no remaining leverage—to explore any larger deal with them of the kind the administration claimed it tried to achieve. In effect, while the Taliban may, for better or worse, be part of any new Afghanistan, we have already informed them American forces will not be assisting the Afghan army should they choose to achieve that role by force.

As for the president’s trade of five terrorists to secure the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from a captivity he himself indirectly precipitated by walking away from his post and fellow soldiers; while you may count me among those who disapprove, I think I will leave it to others to opine about its policy aspects.

Instead, after leading this piece by noting how politics seems to trump almost everything else in the Obama White House—and acknowledging at least they get the politics right—I was struck by how his political mojo seemed to have utterly failed him during his management of the Bergdahl swap by failing to anticipate the episode would cause such a large political backlash.

After all, the administration had already gotten strong negative reactions about the then proposed deal from the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee when it first consulted with them some time ago; it acknowledged other American captives, albeit civilians, were left behind and that the released detainees could one day well return to combat.

In the first instance, Obama, using the sergeant’s parents as props, chose the Rose Garden at the White House to announce the agreement himself; thus pompously calling attention to an act that would better have been announced by press release setting forth, in his view, the correct, but not easy, choice to bring back one of our own that he made as our Commander-in-Chief.

Along with his right to do so pursuant to existing executive authority.

Some have categorized that as the political equivalent of an end-zone dance after a touchdown. The eminent New York Times columnist David Brooks, who approved of the deal, described it as “an Oprah-esque photo-op.”

Obama then sends National Security Advisor Susan Rice to the cameras and microphones to declare Bergdahl served his country “with honor and distinction” and that this was “a great day for America.” Never mind that Ms. Rice, whose previous misstatements and inaccuracies while parroting the party line in the aftermath of the Benghazi tragedy cost her the job of secretary of state that she once coveted, has all the credibility Bill Clinton proved to have after telling America he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

The point here is the president’s team seemed to have completely overlooked or discounted the facts that Bergdahl previously left his unit on two prior occasions, the premeditation and planning that went into his leaving on this occasion and that some former soldiers who served with him considered him a deserter and held him accountable for the death of other soldiers who were subsequently charged with searching for him. In that event, we have an egregious failure to properly perform the necessary political due diligence.

Now, it’s always possible the political team, instead of failing to do so, actually did that due diligence and discovered the entirey of the Bergdahl back story. In which case, wanting to make the deal, they decided to very publicly feature his family and make the best argument they have for the president’s decision, i.e. the importance to those serving in our armed services, and the military as an institution, that we will do whatever we must to bring every combatant home, the circumstances of his captivity notwithstanding. That way, they would have calculated that they were putting their best political foot forward and we would overlook all of the deal’s negatives. If that were the case, we have the egregious failure caused by the spectacle of the president marching headlong into a well-marked political minefield at double-time cadence.

 

Peter Lane retired as a Rye City Court judge and acting Westchester County Family Court judge at the end of 2009. He is now a political consultant and executive director of the Rye City Republican Committee. The views expressed are his. 

 
OP/ED

OP-ED: Governor is right; educate our prisoners

Politicians are always touting new ways to cut taxes. After all, who really wants to pay more money to the government in light of recent economic turmoil? Whether people are still talking about the economic crisis of 2008 or the economy in general, taxes are always a heavily-weighted topic of discussion.

Taxes are almost always a subject of debate between political parties, each stating it knows how to manipulate the economy in taxpayers’ favor. Most politicians’ promises to affect change are just political hogwash, however; I think New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is one politician who offers a great solution to reducing taxpayer spending.

This grand solution? Drumroll, please? Educate our prisoners.

A lot of people think providing funding for prisoners’ to access free higher education is a preposterous idea. Just imagine this scenario.

A local straight-A student from Rye gets into her dream school, but worries about how her family will pay for tuition. Her parents are so pressed for money they consider taking out a second mortgage on the house.

Now, imagine a cold-blooded murderer who stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death because she cheated on him receiving a free college education while serving time. Doesn’t this enrage you?

If the thought of an upstanding citizen facing more difficulty than a murderer in financing her education curdles your blood, then your reaction is completely normal. In fact, this anger is due to the turning-on of your moralization switch. Prominent psychologists would agree the moralization switch triggers anger at this example because of our natural inclination to inflict harm on those who we feel violated the basic moral code. The desire for retribution angers us because education is a privilege, and prison is a place of punishment.

But, while this idea of educating prisoners might seem crazy and infuriating at first, there’s actually a lot of evidence to support it.

First, multiple studies demonstrate there is an extremely high correlation between education level and risk of incarceration.

Can you believe third grade test scores are used to determine how many prisons to build? It’s shocking, I know.

While it will take years of policy making and deliberation to try to combat the problem of disparity in education, what we can do right now is seek to educate the prisoners that are currently in jail.

What good can this do, you say?

Well, prison education programs have consistently shown high success rates in terms of lowering recidivism rates. This basically means if an incarcerated individual is provided with schooling while in prison, they are less likely to return to prison in the three years after their release. Educated prisoners are clearly able to function better in society upon their return. While, presumably, most people probably don’t care about how an ex-prisoner adjusts to society, what they may not realize is a good adjustment means he or she won’t return. When a lot of prisoners don’t return, this means the jails have a smaller burden. This is great for two reasons: decreased taxpayer costs, and a safer society.

Let’s look at Westchester County Jail, which houses approximately 750 inmates. The cost of each inmate’s stay amounts to around $60,000 a year. This is alarming considering that’s essentially the price of college tuition at a private university. For this same amount of money, we could be financing education programs instead, which could easily decrease the resources allotted to prisons.

A decrease in the number of prisoners circulating through the incarceration system means a significant reduction in the amount of money the government and, subsequently, Westchester taxpayers, have to spend on prisoners’ housing and food.

In addition to the economic benefits stemming from funding prison education programs, there are social upsides as well.

Educated prisoners are more fit to re-enter society because receiving an education increases their self-esteem and confidence. This confidence boost makes them more likely to find a job and lead a stable life. The resulting decrease in recidivism rates signals a major improvement in compliance with the law. Obviously, these prisoners are doing their part by being citizens that contribute positively to their communities.

For some strange reason, despite these amazing positive impacts, the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, decided to ban federal funding for prison education programs. This cut in funding led to a severe decline in the number of prison education programs.

But the Bard Prison Initiative manages to continue providing free education for prisoners in New York. It runs on private donations, but prisoners who took part in this program have a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent.

In looking at the Bard Initiative as a gleaming example of what can be, Gov. Cuomo is leading us in the right direction. He’s able to turn off his moralization switch so he can accept the objective success of prison education programs.

Gov. Cuomo’s resolution to reinstate funding for prisons in New York is important because it will affect everyone. It’s up to us as taxpayers and citizens of Westchester to support Gov. Cuomo. If we reinstate education funding for prisons, we will be contributing to the development of a safer society while saving tax dollars. As citizens, it’s our responsibility to partake in the great democracy that our country was founded upon by vocalizing support for prison education.

Christine Nelson is a first-year student at Columbia University, planning to major in political science and philosophy, and a graduate of Rye High School. The opinions expressed are hers.

 
OP/ED

OP-ED: Making the (political) point spread

By Peter Lane
In the world of politics, your bottom line is an election victory, even if you have to hang a chad or two to achieve a narrow one. That is not so much the case in the coming New York gubernatorial election, in which margins matter to both sides, albeit in very different ways.

More specifically, although Team Andrew Cuomo would never publicly acknowledge this—you never want to set too high a bar for yourself, lest you fail to clear it—they hope their guy does to Rob Astorino exactly what Rob Astorino can’t afford to have done to him. That is, Andrew wants to crush Rob the way his father once beat up on the late Andy O’Rourke when Mario beat him by a two-to-one margin in 1986, which translated to a bit more than Mario getting some 65 percent of the vote to Andy’s 35 percent.

That, sports fans, is a 30 point spread and it’s something political people have to believe Andrew is trying to match.

Whether or not Andrew is waiting for Hillary and, if she opts-in for 2016, will defer to her, he is clearly building up to an eventual run for the presidency and shellacking a Republican rising star will well position him within his party.

Now, although he is not widely known outside Westchester, Rob is rightly thought of as a rising star. Although it took him two tries—“Rocky II” anyone?—he first overcame longtime County Executive Andy Spano to win that post for himself by some 12 points in 2009. Then, last year, he handily—by another 12 point margin—beat back the well-financed Noam Bramson, who even had Bill Clinton stumping for him, in a county where the Democratic plurality, pushing 130,000 at last count, grows larger each year.

More importantly, Rob is a charismatic and telegenic Republican “Happy Warrior,” who combines principal and media savvy in much the same way Ronald Reagan did.

That stated, although he would remain county executive no matter the margin of any loss, it’s fair to say Astorino’s considerable political talents notwithstanding, a 30-point defeat this Nov. 4 will not be a career builder at this stage of the game.

Now, we have to assume Rob is fully aware he is entering into what many consider to be a lopsided race in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a two-to-one margin. He is little known beyond this county—as of late March, some 65 percent of respondents did not know who he is or had no opinion of him—while Andrew has very high name recognition and had a strong, 58 percent, favorability rating even before he completed an on-time budget.

Unlike his father and Andy Spano in their respective final runs, the governor has not been in office long enough for his negatives, or even a fatigue factor, to accrue.

Equally important, Andrew is reported to have $33 million in the bank to Rob’s $1 million, so he is in a position to define Rob with TV commercials before Rob has a chance to introduce himself beyond Westchester.

This, even before Andrew raises yet more money—and he should enjoy an incumbent’s and favorite’s fundraising edge—to spend on aggrandizing himself.

But, whether or not David actually beats Goliath on Nov. 4, there is a way for Rob to pull off what would be a major political upset that would have national consequences. While Rob merely being Rob—he is that good—will motivate the Republican, and other conservative-minded, voters, key members of the Democratic constituency—read: minorities and poorer people—are less likely to go to the polls in a non-presidential contest, particularly when President Obama’s own numbers are falling.

But Rob has to raise enough money for media buys so the rest of the state will quickly, i.e. before the expected negative pieces take hold, come to know him as Westchester does. Rob must also be able to extend his ground game, identifying and getting your voters to actually vote, which was quite
effective in his prior county-wide victories, to the remainder of the state.

Then there are some factors that must break Rob’s way.

It would help a lot if the Working Families Party, which brought Andrew almost 155,000 votes in 2010 and is currently ambivalent about backing him this year, withholds its support from him and nominates somebody else. In this regard, political blogger Nick Reisman of “N.Y. State Of Politics” and ”Capital Tonight” recently cited a poll indicating such a decision might cut Andrew’s 30 point current lead in the polls by half, down to 15 percent.

Now for some intangibles and wild cards that should be impactful.

It’s quite clear New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his progressive—note how the term liberal has disappeared from the political lexicon—followers will hardly go all out for Andrew as there is little love lost between their respective camps.

United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara has recently announced he is looking into the governor’s reported controlling of, then prematurely folding, the Moreland Commission, which was set-up by him to fight political influence and corruption; for alleged politically expedient reasons.

No matter how this piece plays out, it has to be a negative for Andrew. It’s a question of how much, not if, it will hurt.

As for Rob, he must be careful how he deals with the Sustainable Playland issue with the City of Rye as local issues have a way of getting out of hand, particularly in an election year.

So, will Rob win this one? If I knew, I’d cash in my IRA and immediately head for Vegas. However, if anybody can pull this off, Rob can and, for the bettors among you, I think I’d make a Romney-like wager that Andrew won’t cover the spread.

Peter Lane retired as a Rye City Court judge and acting Westchester County Family Court judge at the end of 2009. He is now a political consultant and executive director of the Rye City Republican Committee.
The views expressed are his. 

 

 

 

OP/ED

OP-ED: A view of Harrison’s unjustified parking bargains

By Emil Toso

It is not commonly understood that Harrison taxpayers are providing 250 free shopper parking spaces in our off-street lots located in various areas of our business districts. Those spaces are provided for approximately 100 business property owners who have not themselves provided any customer parking for their real estate investment rentals, stores and/or apartment houses.

Most other municipalities offset these taxpayer costs by applying various combinations of metered parking and special parking assessments directed toward the people who benefit from these lots most: the business landlords, their tenants and the general public. Some municipalities make a business of shopper’s parking and turn a profit for their taxpayers.

Harrison does not; it has no recovery plan at all.

In addition, the taxpayers are providing parking for 450 resident Metro-North railroad commuters for an annual bargain fee of $600, while the costs of these spaces to the taxpayers is much greater.

Because these lots are town-owned, there are few or no assessment or tax records, making it difficult for the taxpayer to understand their true value and cost.

If we examine the taxpayer-owned downtown main parking lot behind the Halstead Avenue business district, which has entrances on Fremont Street and Harrison Avenue, we find the lot contains a total of 23,083 square-feet with 62 parking spaces, equating to 372 square-feet per parking space.

Since commercial land in the business district is valued at $125 per square foot, the land value per space becomes $46,500. Consider the added cost of improvement, grading, paving, guard rails, lighting, lines, ornamental trees and shrubs, the cost and value rises to more than $50,000 per parking space. This value is part of the $72.5 million debt the town carries—mostly in Municipal General Obligation Bonds—and when we apply a 5 percent debt service average of 30 years, it equates to an annual debt cost to the taxpayers of $2,500 per space. Add a $450 tax loss and $500 for snow removal, maintenance and repair, and the cost or value of one taxpayer owned parking space is now more than $3,000 per parking space, per year.

Aside from the above monetary disparity, there is also a political ethics question to take into consideration. Is it appropriate for the town to use the monies of 10,000 taxpayers—7,000 property owners and 3,000 renters—to subsidize 100 business property owners or 450 Metro-North commuters to the extent we do, or at all?

We give the town our tax monies with the understanding those dollars will be used in a prudent way to provide us with the essential services such as police, fire, sanitation and highways necessary to support a good, safe quality of life for the greater majority of the taxpayers and residents. Even when we look at non-essential services, such as library and parks and recreation, their expenses are used to benefit the greater majority of the residents—about 85 percent of households.

In the case of the business landlords, I could accept it better if our tax monies were going to benefit the store owners, but, in fact, the subsidy is counter-productive because when the realtors and landlords have to rent their properties, they claim to the prospective renter the free parking brings more customers, and therefore deserves a higher rent. Consequently, the uninformed tenant usually ends up paying a premium rent, above and beyond the actual value.

In the case of commuter parking, the Town Council rationalizes commuters are the poorest segment of our society and therefore are deserving of that subsidy. While I agree all bus and some subway commuters fall into that category, Harrison’s parking commuters do not.

Consider first, they own a car they can afford to leave in the lot all day. This tells me their family probably owns two or more cars.

Second, wages in New York City are usually 15 to 20 percent higher than in Westchester.

Third, a tour of the commuter lot reveals mostly expensive cars, many high-priced SUVs and German imports.

Fourth, parking commuters can receive an income tax savings of more than $1850 per year; see IRS Section 132(f).

Lastly, for proof positive, look at the town’s commuter application records and you will find 90 percent of the commuters live in private homes, many of them in expensive million-dollar neighborhoods.

Are these “poor people” deserving subsidy or are they just the average cross section of the Harrison, Westchester populace?

Since the recession of 2008, the town, in an effort to balance its budgets, has raised our taxes significantly every year, applied a $500 sanitation charge to the store keepers, reduced the sanitation services to the residents, reduced the number of police and municipal town workers as well as their benefits and increased the summer pool fees to heights young families with children cannot afford.

But through it all, the business property owners and the parking commuters remain untouched, and unscathed.

In April 2013, I suggested to the Town Council that it raise the commuter parking fee to $1,400, $200 more than Metro-North charges on the opposite side of the tracks. The Metro-North lot is full by 7 a.m. every business day and the overage; mostly out-of-town commuters, are forced to seek parking on the residential streets surrounding the station.

Harrison’s commuter lots have, on average, approximately 30 to 50 spaces empty every day, meaning a permit commuter can find a space any time of the day. This convenience alone is worth $200 extra. Private lots in the area charge approximately $200 per month, equaling $2,400 per year.

Metro-North can afford to charge only $1,200 because it pays no taxes on the land it owns in town or a sales tax on the ride tickets it sells, plus, as a further consequence of their presences, Metro-North charges the town a $75,000 per year payroll tax. As a consequence of the increased commuter price, the town may find more empty spaces, for which they could create non-resident permit parking at a greater price.

In 2007, the town commissioned Desman Associates of New York City, to do a study of all parking surrounding the Metro-North station. In January 2008, Desman delivered its written findings, suggesting the fee for commuter parking could be raised to $900 per year. The study did not include a cost study per space. Surely, if $900 was appropriate then, $1,400 to $1,500 is appropriate now. The survey also noted the exorbitant demand for commuter parking in the area. Rye alone has 1,000 residents on the waiting list for their 200-space lot.

This situation, of course, was caused by the years of Metro-North mismanagement in not creating sufficient parking for its riders. Consequently, Harrison now has the opportunity to capitalize on Metro-North’s poor management and provide a fair reimbursement to the taxpayer’s on their property investment.

So, as Mayor Belmont continually replies to service seekers, “we can’t, we’re financially strapped,” I see misappropriation injustices that need adjusting and, at the same time, would mitigate the town’s financial stress by creating added revenues on a yearly basis.

I realize there are many other thoughts and ideas on this issue, as evidenced by the recent writings of a dissatisfied commuter, who wants “more for his money.”

If you also have an opinion on this matter, you should share it with our Town Council. After more than a decade of prodding various councils, it becomes vividly apparent that it will take a much louder voice than mine alone to stimulate this board enough to address this issue constructively. All email addresses can be found at harrison-ny.gov.

Emil Toso is a Harrison resident. The views expressed are his. 

OP/ED

OP-ED: There was a coup in town; I now live in a colony

By BARRY S. GEDAN
It’s an odd feeling to awake one morning, after 31 years as a resident of the unincorporated area of the Town of Mamaroneck, to find that I, my spouse and the 12,000 other souls residing in the unincorporated area have been colonized and are being ruled from the near abroad.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds as our colonizers are our friends from the neighboring villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck, but losing the ability to govern ourselves stings sharply nevertheless.

It is an anomaly of state law that, except in the case of cities, towns must exist and incorporated villages must lie within towns. The Village of Mamaroneck, for example, lies within two towns: Mamaroneck and Rye. Areas of a town located outside of its incorporated villages are, considered unincorporated areas.

Villages such as the villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck are self-governing entities, governed by their elected mayors and elected village boards. Residents of unincorporated areas cannot, of course, vote in elections held in villages in which they do not reside.

For that reason, neither I nor any of the other 12,000 residents in the unincorporated area of the Town of Mamaroneck have any say in the elections for the mayors and boards in Larchmont or Mamaroneck villages. Our 6,500 friends in the Village of Larchmont and our 10,000 friends in the portion of the Village of Mamaroneck that lies within the Town of Mamaroneck, however; can vote in elections for town supervisor and for members of the Town Council. Yet, the Mamaroneck town supervisor and town board provide almost no services to and have almost no authority over the villages, and the residents of the villages pay almost no taxes to the town, which is supported almost entirely by the taxes of those in the unincorporated area.

Therein springs the problem, by which our local Democratic Party—I am a lifelong registered Democrat—taking advantage of the anomaly and using “democratic” means, has abrogated a long-standing gentleperson’s agreement, under which voting control of the town board remained with residents of the unincorporated area.

The coup commenced with the nomination and uncontested election of Village of Larchmont resident Nancy Seligson as town supervisor. It progressed with the appointment of a Village of Larchmont resident, rather than someone from the unincorporated area, to take Seligson’s place on the town board.

The coup de grace was the recent appointment of former Village of Mamaroneck trustee Tom Murphy, a resident of that village, to fill the seat of a retiring town board member from the unincorporated area. This appointment gave village residents a three to two majority on the town board with the town supervisor position in their hands as part of that package.

The Town of Mamaroneck board has now become a playground and steppingstone for Village of Larchmont politicos who could not find places of their own in their village. It also acts as a consolation prize awarded to Murphy for his unsuccessful primary bid for the county legislature in an effort to keep that seat with our Democratic club rather than that of Rye. Those goings-on must surely intimidate the two remaining non-villagers on the board as their seats, which include a salary, health insurance and pension benefits, would be lost if they displease the local Democratic club and lose their generally uncontested lines on the next election’s ballot.

As a result, a majority of the board voting on whether to bust the budget cap or on other matters greatly affecting the property tax rates in the unincorporated area, will only pay pennies to our dollars as a result of their vote.

Furthermore, if the town’s Highway Department has trouble filling this winter’s potholes, the streets of that board majority will be unaffected and if the town’s police department or fire department is slow in responding, there will be no effect upon that majority’s lives and property. I am not suggesting that the “Village People,” though out of touch with life in the town, will intentionally perform poorly, but “noblesse oblige” has gone out with colonialism, and when the interests of the town and the villages do not coincide, who will be advocating for us townies?

I urge all those who are civic-minded, including our friends in the villages, to join in a non-partisan manner, in exploring options to restore representative government to the currently colonized 12,000 of us who surely deserve better.

Barry S. Gedan is a Town of Mamaroneck resident. The views expressed are his.

OP/ED

Op-Ed: Belmont rejects proposal to benefit library

By FRANK GORDON

Last week, I wrote about the status of negotiations with Con Edison over the amount the Town of Harrison will be paid for Con Ed’s use of a portion of the town’s commuter parking lot for about a month in October 2013. I described how the compensation from Con Ed has two components: a portion representing reimbursement for the town’s costs in accommodating Con Ed’s use of the commuter lot and the remainder, representing recompense to commuter permit holders for the inconveniences they faced.

I said the first portion should be paid to the town, but the latter portion rightfully belongs to commuter permit holders, not the town. I proposed that Con Ed should contribute the latter portion to the Harrison Public Library Foundation to support the downtown library’s planned renovation.

When I discussed this proposal with Mayor Ron Belmont, he rejected it outright. He claimed the inconvenience to commuters was difficult to quantify as some commuters, such as those who arrive at the train station in the early morning hours, were not inconvenienced at all. His position was the entire amount to be collected from Con Ed should be paid to the town. He would not disclose the exact amount requested from Con Ed as it is under negotiation, but indications are that it is in the high five figures or perhaps six figures.

For someone who emphasized during his re-election campaign that he would run the town like a business, Mayor Belmont’s position is disappointing.

When a commuter purchased an annual parking permit from the town for $600, he or she anticipated, among other things, a high likelihood of an available parking spot near the train station. As I described in detail last week, commuter parking permit holders were ill-served by the town’s substitution of parking on local streets for parking in the commuter lot.

When a business does not hold up its end of the bargain with its customers, it typically grants them a refund or a credit toward a future purchase. Belmont proposes to compensate commuter permit holders with an apology and nothing more.

Belmont’s claim the inconvenience to commuters is difficult to quantify does not excuse Con Ed or the town from its obligation to commuters. If the obligation is, in fact, hard to quantify, Con Ed or the town must either (a) incur the additional costs of surveying individual commuters to identify who specifically was harmed and to what extent or (b) devise an estimate that is intended to provide an acceptable level of compensation to all commuters.

As a commuter who was inconvenienced by these events, I feel strongly Con Ed bears responsibility and must provide compensation. I am willing to forgo compensation if it will otherwise be applied to charitable purposes, such as I propose. A donation by Con Ed to the library foundation to support the downtown library’s planned renovation is consistent with the spirit of generosity and helping others that was the basis for granting Con Ed permission to use the commuter lot in the first place.

Pressure from ordinary folks like you and me can often lead to significant change. In this case, we need to convince Mayor Belmont to do the right thing by embracing this proposal. If you agree, please contact him—by phone at 914-670-3005 or email:rbelmont@harrison-ny.gov—and let him know. If you were a commuter permit holder inconvenienced by the Con Ed episode, perhaps you can let him know that as well.

Together we can make a difference.

Frank Gordon is a Harrison resident. The views expressed are his. 

 
OP/ED

OP-ED: Con Ed owes commuters, should fund library

By FRANK GORDON
It has been several months, but Harrison residents have yet to hear anything about the status of negotiations with Con Edison over the amount the town will be paid for Con Ed’s use of a portion of the town’s commuter parking lot for about a month in October 2013.

For the most part, this amount represents a windfall for the town as it incurred little additional cost to accommodate Con Ed’s request to use the lot. The burden fell primarily on Harrison’s commuters, who were displaced and forced to find parking elsewhere, despite having paid $600 a year each for a commuter parking permit.

As a consequence, the lion’s share of any monies collected from Con Ed rightfully belong to parking permit holders, not the town. In light of the spirit of community that has prevailed in Harrison throughout its existence, I have no doubt that commuters will wholeheartedly support applying those funds to the downtown library’s planned renovation.

The incident that sparked Con Ed’s request to use the town’s commuter lot was the failure on Sept. 25, 2013, of one of its feeder cables in Mt. Vernon. The failure forced Metro-North to reduce service by half on its New Haven line. With the Town of Harrison’s permission, Con Ed was able to solve the problem by temporarily erecting a substation in the north section of the town’s commuter parking lot. The substation tapped into Con Ed’s local distribution system to supply substitute power to Metro-North so that normal train service could resume.

The section of the lot commandeered by Con Ed contained 75 parking space—as determined by my manual count on Dec. 3, 2013—which were no longer available to commuters. This situation lasted for about a month, until Oct. 28. During this period, the town allowed commuter permit holders to park on residential streets without regard to posted time restrictions.

Now that the supply of electricity and train service has returned to normal, the time is ripe to determine what, if any, recompense is due as a result of these events. How would one determine a level of compensation that is fair under these circumstances?

One component would be the fair rental value of the property used by Con Ed for about a month. The most objective indicator of the property’s fair rental value would seem to be the commuter parking spaces directly across the Metro-North tracks on Halstead Avenue in Harrison. These spaces are available for rental from Metro-North at $7.50 per space per day. Accordingly, the fair rental value component of compensation due from Con Ed would be $7.50 per day times 75 spaces for 30 days; a total of $16,875.

A second component of compensation due from Con Ed would be reimbursement for the cost of extra police duty. During the initial stages of the crisis, local roads near Con Ed’s temporary substation had to be partially cordoned-off and monitored by town police for the sake of public safety. This extra police detail lasted for several days. My best estimate of the cost of such additional police protection would be $5,000 to $10,000.

A third component of compensation due from Con Ed relates to lost parking violations revenue. As mentioned above, during the period Con Ed occupied the commuter lot, commuters were allowed to park on residential streets without regard to posted time restrictions. In doing so, commuters displaced the normal flow of parking traffic. Parking turnover was greatly reduced, which, presumably, led to fewer parking violations. The town does not publish data relating to parking violations revenue, but I would guess it declined substantially. Without access to the actual data, estimating the amount of lost parking violations revenue is difficult, but I would speculate that it dropped at least 50 percent, perhaps representing a decline of approximately $3,000 to $5,000, during the period.

A fourth component of compensation due from Con Ed would repay commuters for the inconveniences they endured. When a commuter purchased an annual parking permit, he or she anticipated, among other things, a high likelihood of an available parking spot near the train station, which would enable a fleet-footed commuter to dodge inclement weather and avoid having to cross a main thoroughfare on foot to reach the train station. These benefits can be summarized as availability, protection from the elements and personal safety.

Allowing commuters to park on residential streets was an imperfect substitute in this regard. Availability of parking on residential streets was, at times, unpredictable, especially on days when the town court was in session. On those days, it is well known that local streets become clogged with the parked vehicles of court visitors. Court was in session on eight days during the month that Con Ed occupied the commuter lot, which amounts to 40 percent of the period if only business days are counted; those days being of primary relevance to the average commuter. As a result, many commuters faced increased search times for parking.

If commuters were fortunate enough to find parking on a residential street, it was often several blocks or more from the train station, exposing them to inclement weather and the risks of crossing busy thoroughfares, such as Halstead Avenue or Harrison Avenue, on foot during the morning and evening rush hours.

Consequently, from the standpoint of availability, protection from the elements and personal safety, commuter parking permit holders were poorly served by substituting parking on local streets for parking in the commuter lot. Since each permit holder paid $600 for a permit, they deserve compensation for their inconvenience.

It is difficult to assign a monetary value to permit holders’ inconvenience under these circumstances. Metro-North’s refund policy as a result of the disruption in train service during this crisis can serve as a guidepost. During the 12 days of Con Ed’s feeder cable outage, Metro-North operated only limited service on the New Haven Line. As a result, at times trains did not run at all, were overcrowded when they did run and were often late. Commuters experienced increased travel times and reduced availability of trains and seating.

After extensive deliberations regarding how to compensate its customers, Metro-North decided that each commuter who regularly purchased a monthly commuter pass would receive a credit equal to 25 percent of the cost of two monthly commuter passes. This amount was roughly equivalent to the full cost of commuting for the 12 days that service was disrupted.

Applying the same math to the situation of a Harrison commuter parking permit holder, each permit holder would be entitled to compensation equal to 25 percent of the cost of two months of permit parking. Based on the annual price of a permit of $600, two months of parking would cost $100 and 25 percent of that would be $25. The Metro-North refund policy represents a valid guidepost on the grounds the inconveniences endured by the average Metro-North commuter and Harrison parking permit holder during the period in question were roughly similar.

At the time Con Ed began using the commuter lot, there were about 530 commuter permit holders. The cost of $25 compensation to each of them would amount to $13,250. An alternative measure of compensation for the inconvenience faced by commuter permit holders would be to refund the cost of one month of permit parking for each of the 75 parking spaces used by Con Ed. That would amount to $50 times 75, or $3,750. These two methods provide a range of $3,750 to $13,250 for compensation as a result of inconveniencing existing permit holders.

Combining each of the foregoing estimates results in total compensation due from Con Ed as follows:

Fair rental value of 

north commuter lot

$16,875

Police detail

$5,000 to $10,000

Reduced parking 

violations revenue

$3,000 to $5,000

Inconvenience to existing

permit holders

$3,750 to $13,250

Total

$28,625 to $45,125

These amounts involve much guesswork, so should be considered merely estimates. Actual amounts may differ.

Any amounts collected from Con Ed with respect to its use of the commuter lot represent something of a windfall for the town because such amounts were unanticipated and, therefore, are not included in the 2014 town budget.

The town was able to grant Con Ed the use of the lot only through the forbearance and goodwill of its existing commuter permit holders. The area in question had already been set aside for commuters who purchased a permit to park there. The town has an ethical and moral obligation to existing permit holders to not renege on its agreement with them. The town cannot rightfully pledge the lot to permit holders and then pledge it again to someone else. Accordingly, the lion’s share of amounts collected from Con Ed belongs to commuter permit holders, not the town.

In lieu of paying the town for using the commuter lot, Con Ed should contribute the amount to the Harrison Public Library Foundation to support the downtown library’s planned renovation. In light of the spirit of community that has prevailed in Harrison throughout its existence, I am sure commuter permit holders would wholeheartedly support applying the funds in this manner. Alternatively, a portion of the funds could be paid by Con Ed to the town to defray its out-of-pocket costs and losses—for example, to cover the police detail and reduced parking violations revenue—and the remainder could be contributed to the library foundation.

Any contribution by Con Ed to the library foundation would be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Jarden Corporation, subject to a maximum match of $100,000.

The town’s granting of permission to Con Ed to use the commuter lot was done in the spirit of generosity and helping others in times of need. We can only hope that Con Ed and the town will embrace the foregoing proposal as a way to pay that spirit forward.

Frank Gordon is a Harrison resident. The views expressed are his.

OP/ED

Op-Ed: Official reserved parking spaces an outmoded perk

By FRANK GORDON

In early December, David Martin, the mayor of Stamford, Conn., announced the elimination of all official reserved parking spaces on the ground floor of the parking garage for the government center, Stamford’s City Hall. Prior to this change, 20 spaces had been reserved for municipal government officials on the first floor of the garage.

The spaces became open to the general public.

As part of the change, 10 parking spaces were reserved for government officials on the second floor of the parking garage. In total, the number of parking spaces reserved for government officials was reduced from 25 to 10. Officials now face a marginally longer commute to City Hall, from the second floor of the garage as opposed to the first.

“It is time that we create more space in City Hall for the people of Stamford. Hundreds of residents visit the government center on a daily basis to take advantage of critical services offered here and they should be given as direct access as possible,” Martin said. “This is a first step towards making city government more citizen-friendly and accessible to the residents it serves; they come first.”

Mayor Martin was right to reduce and relocate official reserved parking spaces in parking Stamford City Hall’s prime parking location, although I don’t think he went far enough.

Reserved parking spaces are a relic from a bygone era; they have no place in a more enlightened age such as ours. They create an artificial distinction between municipal officials and taxpayers, putting the interests of municipal officials first. They insulate officials from the effects of parking shortages that would otherwise be in residents’ best interests to address. Furthermore, reserved parking spaces are wasteful, sitting vacant while officials are on vacation or otherwise away from Town Hall. Finally, reserved parking spaces raise thorny issues about who is entitled to such spaces.

The Town of Harrison would be wise to follow Mayor Martin’s example by eliminating reserved parking spaces for municipal officials. In the parking lot directly behind the Alfred F. Sulla, Jr. Municipal Building at 1 Heineman Pl., which is Harrison’s Town Hall, the town has 45 parking spaces reserved for official use. The reserved spaces are the most convenient ones, that is, those nearest Town Hall. The officials or organizations for whom spaces are reserved are:

• Director of Community Services

• Town Clerk

• Receiver of Taxes

• Court Clerk

• Justices

• Town Attorney (3)

• Community Services

• Comptroller

• Commissioner of Public Works

• Town Engineer

• Superintendant of Recreation

• Assessor

• Personnel Department

• Department of Public Works

• Code Enforcement

• Assistant Building and

• Plumbing Inspector

• Building Department (2)

• Building Inspector

• Engineering Department

• Fire Inspector

• Official Parking–user unspecified (16)

• Official Parking–user unspecified, disabled/handicapped (3)

• HHS Band Parents

• LMK Middle School

• Harrison Children’s Center

These official reserved spaces account for 13 percent of the lot’s 356-space capacity.

The remaining spaces in the lot are available for use by commuters with town-issued commuter parking permits at a cost of $600 annually.

Harrison’s reserved parking arrangements create an artificial distinction between town officials and taxpayers. The grant of Town Hall’s choicest parking spaces to municipal officials and employees creates the impression that these individuals are entitled to better treatment than the average taxpayer, that these individuals are a notch above the average Joe or Jane.

Obviously, these municipal bigwigs deserve the most convenient parking spaces because the services they perform are so vital and time critical to the town’s functioning. Although I’m sure this impression is unintended, residents can hardly draw any other conclusion. Town officials may argue that the reserved spaces allow town employees to arrive at their desks promptly, thus saving precious time to work on town matters for the benefit of residents, time that would otherwise have been spent searching for a parking space. But this is no different from the situation faced by the average taxpayer, who must take into account that he or she may have difficulty finding parking and leave home a little earlier to allow for that.

The cost difference between a reserved parking space for a town official and an unreserved parking space for a resident furthers the impression of an artificial separation between these persons.

Town officials pay nothing for a reserved parking space, other than Harrison taxes if they happen to be a town resident. Commuters who park in unreserved spaces in the town lot, on the other hand, must be residents and therefore Harrison taxpayers, and must also pay $600 for an annual parking permit. It doesn’t seem equitable that a town employee who receives a reserved parking space as a cost-free perk gets priority over a commuter who makes substantial outlays for taxes and a parking permit.

Another problem with reserved parking spaces is that they insulate officials from the inconvenience of parking shortages that would otherwise be in residents’ best interests to address.

Harrison, like other neighboring towns, has a commuter parking shortage. Demand for commuter parking in Harrison far exceeds supply. The primary commuter lot behind the Town Hall building contains 356 parking spaces. Subtracting the 45 spaces reserved for town use leaves 311 available for commuters. An additional 36 spaces are available in the town’s secondary commuter lot at the intersection of Purdy Street and Park Avenue, but that lot is a five-minute walk from Town Hall and the Harrison train station. Few commuters park in the Purdy Street lot because of this inconvenience and the town has not offered any financial incentives for commuters to do so. To get a realistic picture of the current state of Harrison commuter parking, we should set aside the 36 spaces in the secondary lot until commuters actually use them.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, the town sold 465 parking permits, which is 154 more than, or 150 percent of, the 311 available unreserved spaces in the primary commuter lot. This overselling of permits compared to available spaces might seem to portend daily parking riots, with commuters scrambling for scarce spaces. Further surveys are needed, but recent daily counts show that, as one would expect, on some days the primary lot is filled to capacity. Perhaps surprisingly, on other days up to 80 unreserved spaces remain available.

In any case, reserved parking spaces prevent town officials from experiencing the parking shortages faced by residents. Officials do not have to face the extended searches for a parking space that town residents endure several times a week. Having not had to suffer the effects of the parking shortage, officials remain blissfully ignorant of, and have little incentive to, alleviate it.

A further issue with reserved parking spaces is that they often go unused.

Recent daily counts in the town’s primary lot indicate that on any given day, about one-third of the lot’s 45 official reserved spaces remain vacant. Those roughly 15 spaces could have been used by commuters. Parking consultants say that a 10 percent vacancy rate is a desirable benchmark for public parking lots—it allows sufficient slack for high volume occasions and reduces the chances of having to turn away prospective customers.

A vacancy rate of one-third may indicate that the town is reserving too many spaces for official use.

The final problem with reserved parking spaces is that they raise thorny issues about who is entitled to such spaces. Harrison’s approach, with 45 reserved spaces, seems to be that every person employed in Town Hall is entitled to a space, and then some. Other municipalities seem to take a more limited approach. Before the recent change in its official parking policy described above, Stamford provided 20 reserved spaces in total to the following officials or organizations:

• Mayor (2)

• Executive Aide

• Economic Development

• Director

• Town Clerk

• Director of Legal Affairs

• Director of Administration

• Director of Operations

• Director of Public Safety

• Technology Office

• Print Shop

• Director of Human Resources

• Congressman Jim Himes’ Office (2)

• Board of Representatives (2)

• Registrar of Voters (2)

• Superintendent of Schools

• Health Director

That a city the size of Stamford—2010 population: 122,643—needed only 20 official reserved spaces at City Hall versus 45 for a town the size of Harrison—27,472—suggests that the latter may have let things go too far.

I propose the following changes to address the shortcomings of Harrison’s current policy with regard to official reserved spaces in the primary commuter lot behind Town Hall:

First, eliminate all official reserved parking spaces in the lot except for the existing disabled/handicapped reserved spaces. This will free up 42 spots for use by all commuters. Town officials and employees will be able to park on the same basis as any other commuter; namely, employee parking permits will allow them to park anywhere in the primary or secondary commuter lot on an as-available basis.

Second, short of eliminating all official reserved parking spaces, immediately eliminate the 16 Official Parking, user unspecified spaces and review the remaining reserved spaces using a standard such as “personnel essential to the functioning of town government in case of emergency” to eliminate half or more of the remaining reserved spaces over time.

Third, to reduce waste, after a certain time of day, say 10 a.m., make unoccupied official reserved parking spaces available to all commuters.

Fourth, perhaps in addition to or in place of the above, make the Purdy Street lot the designated lot for town officials and employees where they alone would be allowed to park. This would involve some inconvenience to these persons in the form of a five-minute walk to Town Hall but is no more than other Harrison commuters currently face.

Fifth, above all, in instituting the foregoing, be guided by the principle that town residents come first.

Frank Gordon is a Harrison resident. The views expressed are his.