Friday, October 24, 2014

Seventh Street Park: The Process Continues

Today, Gossips received, from Branda Maholtz at HDC, the results of the Seventh Street Park Survey. The full report can be reviewed here, but this post will provide the highlights. 

A total of 414 people participated in the survey, and the results seem overwhelmingly to support the idea of restoring the historic park instead of pursuing the proposed new concept. In response to the survey item reproduced below, which asked people to indicate on a scale of 1 to 10 what they would like to see done with the park, 143 people opted for 1: "Historic Restoration of the Park."


The responses to questions about specific renovations people would like to see yielded these priorities: 1. Redo the fountain; 2. Maintain health of trees; 3. Update sidewalks.

When asked the nature of the "redo" of the fountain people wanted, the responses were overwhelmingly in favor of a historic restoration of the fountain, to bring it back to what it originally was.

Word on whether or not the City will receive the $350,000 grant for Seventh Street Park is not expected until November.

Post card images courtesy Chad Weckler and Columbia County Historical Society: Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection 

Meet Sean Eldridge This Weekend

This Sunday, October 26, from 4 to 6 p.m., Sean Eldridge, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th District, will be in Hudson for a meet and greet in the North Hall at Basilica Hudson.


Election Prep: The Propositions

On November 4, there will be three propositions on the ballot. In an editorial in Columbia Paper, Parry Teasdale discusses the propositions and recommends how his readers should vote. 

Proposition 1 would amend the New York State constitution to reform the way redistricting is done. Teasdale recommends a no vote, dismissing the proposed reform as "an illusion not a solution." An editorial in the Buffalo News, while calling the proposed amendment "deceptive and insufficient," notes that the amendment will "make the process open to public influence" and judges it "a chance worth taking."

Proposition 2 is a no-brainer. It would allow the electronic distribution of bills to members of the state legislature instead of having them printed out on paper and laid on their desks.

Proposition 3, called the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, seems like a no-brainer, too. Who wouldn't want the state to borrow $2 billion to make our public schools smart? Acknowledging that any equipment purchased with this bond will probably be obsolete before the bond is paid off, Teasdale still concludes it's "a proposition worth voting for." An opposing view is offered by the Empire Center. The conservative think tank calls the Smart Schools Bond Act "New York's school-bond boondoggle," notes that the language of the proposition is "laced with marketing spin," and warns: "Passage of this bond proposition would push the state government closer to its statutory debt ceiling--even as Albany struggles to fill funding gaps in long-term capital plans for basic infrastructure like mass transit, roads and bridges."

Read, decide for yourself, and don't overlook the propositions on November 4.

The Analysis of Need

Last Saturday, Dr. Gidon Eshel, geophysicist and research professor at Bard College, presented the conclusions of his study of the need for increased electrical transmission through the Hudson Valley. Those conclusions: The need, which has been assumed, does not exist. Gossips reported what was said in the presentation, but the summary didn't completely capture the energy of being there. Eshel is a very inspiring lecturer. 

If you missed the meeting last Saturday, you have another chance to hear Eshel's presentation in person next Saturday, November 1, at 2 p.m. at the Bertelsmann Center at Bard College.

If your busy weekend plans don't allow you to attend that meeting either, you can watch Dan Udell's video coverage of last Saturday's presentation at the Churchtown Firehouse here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reprieves for the Furgary and Promenade Hill

At Tuesday's Common Council meeting, it was decided that two initiatives would be put on hold for a while. The first was the "Resolution Authorizing the Removal and Cleanup of Structures from City Premises Located Along the Shoreline of North Bay."

The resolution to raze the fishing shacks that were the Furgary Boat Club had been introduced at the informal meeting, and it was expected the Council would vote on it at the regular meeting. Before calling for a vote, Council president Don Moore announced a plan for a "small working group," made up of himself, the mayor, and aldermen Nick Haddad (First Ward) and Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward), to "take the next 60 days to investigate what might be done down there." From the audience, Quintin Cross objected to the makeup of the working group. He pointed out that the site in question was in the Second Ward but no Second Ward aldermen were included in the working group. So Second Ward aldermen Abdus Miah and Tiffany Garriga were added to group.

Alderman David Marston (First Ward) pointed out that the site of the Furgary was part of a state-designated fresh water wetland. He told his colleagues that a representative from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was scheduled to pay a visit to the site on Friday--tomorrow. He moved that the resolution be tabled until a historic resources study could be done.

Although the mayor wanted the resolution to go forward with the possibility of recommendations from the working group and the state noted, the motion to table the resolution passed with only Alderman Robert Donahue (Fifth Ward), clearly eager to do the mayor's bidding, voting no.

Promenade Hill also got a pass on Tuesday. The plan, being pushed for by Garriga and Miah, to install a temporary ramp at Promenade Hill has been postponed while a plan to apply for a grant to do a major restoration of Promenade Hill, including a redesign of the entrance to introduce handicapped access, is pursued. The grant application is due in the spring of 2015, and the grant awards are expected to be announced the following fall. To make sure the ramp happens if the grant application is not successful, $20,000 will be written into the 2015 budget for the ramp.

Promenade Hill, painted by Henry Ary in 1854
The original plan was to seek a grant for Promenade Hill this year, at the same time the City sought a grant for Seventh Street Park. The grant for Seventh Street Park was in the category of Parks; the grant for Promenade Hill was to be in the category of Historic Preservation. The grant application for Seventh Street Park was submitted, and we are still waiting to hear if it was successful. (We are also awaiting the results of a survey done, after the grant application was submitted, to find out what the people actually want to see happen with Seventh Street Park.) The application for Promenade Hill was postponed because it was decided that creating an appropriate proposal for restoring a historic landscape would take more time.

Promenade Hill, c. 1860
As it did for Seventh Street Park, the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) has accepted the pro bono services of a landscape architect to prepare a design for Promenade Hill. Like Catherine Dwyre, who worked pro bono to create the controversial "re-imagining" of Seventh Street Park, Dragana Zoric, who is working on Promenade Hill, is affiliated with Pratt Institute. Zoric in an adjunct associate professor; Dwyre is a visiting associate professor. Zoric has some experience with riverfront parks. In 2011, she worked on the design for the rebuilding of Riverfront Park in Troy. Bill Roehr, who works for TGW Consultants, retained by the City of Hudson and HDC to pursue and administer grants, is also employed as a grants writer by the Department of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Troy.

Promenade Hill, c. 1910
Zoric visited Promenade Hill in May, and Gossips was invited to join her and members of HDC staff on a tour of the historic park. Since May, there has been no word on her progress except Roehr's report in June that the grant application for Promenade Hill was being postponed for a year. One of the reasons given for the postponement--besides the obvious one that a month is hardly enough time to understand the park as a historic resource and conceptualize an appropriate new design for the entrance--was that there was not adequate time for public participation. That being the case, let's hope there is opportunity for public participation in the development of the plan for Promenade Hill and the community is not presented with a controversial design for the first time on a Friday night just two (weekend) days before the application has to be submitted, as was the case with Seventh Street Park.

Turn Your Radios On!

Today at 1 p.m., on WAMC, Alan Chartock talks about the transmission upgrades proposed for the Hudson Valley with Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson; Daniel Mackay, director of public policy for the Preservation League of New York State; and Ian Solomon from Farmers and Families for Claverack. If you miss it--or just can't wait for an hour to hear it--you can listen online right now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Congressional Race

Yesterday, the Eldridge campaign announced that Sean Eldridge had cut Chris Gibson's lead in half. A recent poll gives Gibson 46 percent of the vote and Eldridge 36 percent, with 18 percent of the voters still undecided.

Tonight a final debate between the two candidates takes place on TWC News. The debate will be aired at 7 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. and can be viewed online.

Fire on Allen Street: The Aftermath

During the late night of September 30 and the early morning of October 1, there was a fire on the 200 block of Allen Street.

The fire started in 238 Allen Street, a house owned by the Galvan Initiatives Foundation and kept vacant since 2011, and spread through a shared wall into 236 Allen Street. It wasn't until the smoke detectors in 236 Allen went off that a neighbor was alerted and called 911 to summon the fire department.

The house to which the fire spread belongs to Michael Molinski, of Photographic Solutions. He had renovated the house and lived there with his wife and their young daughter until late this summer when they moved to their dream somewhere out in the country. They planned to keep the house on Allen Street as income property and had a tenant all ready to move in when the fire happened. Molinski shares his story of the fire and the aftermath on his blog, and, with his permission, Gossips shares the link to that post: "The good news, the bad news, and the worst insurance nightmare."


Wards and Weighted Votes

Although the topic wasn't on the agenda and Council president Don Moore clearly did not want to discuss it, calling the new information provided by Victor Mendolia and Stephen Dunn "allegations not facts," the questions of the boundary between the Fourth and Fifth wards and in which ward the population of Crosswinds had been counted in determining the weighted vote were discussed at last night's Common Council meeting. John Mason has a competent account of what transpired in today's Register-Star: "City's ward system comes under fire." 

The question of the ward boundary boils down to this. The language in Chapter 1-4 of the city charter, which describes the ward boundaries, defines the boundary between the Fourth Ward and the Fifth Ward in this way: "[From the center line of Warren street] to the center line of Fifth Street, thence northerly along the center line of Fifth Street and a projection of said center line of Fifth Street to the northerly bounds of the City. . . . All that part of the City lying within the lines beginning at a point where a northerly extension of Fifth Street intersects the northerly bounds of the City [is the Fifth Ward]." The black line on the ward map below, which marks the ward boundaries with red dotted lines, shows the projection north of Fifth Street.

The description of the boundary in the charter probably goes back to 1886 when the Fifth Ward was created. It is not known, at least not by Gossips, if Harry Howard Avenue, which now appears on the ward map to be the eastern boundary of the Fourth Ward, existed in 1886 when the original ward boundaries were drawn, but a newspaper account of the laying of the cornerstone for the Firemen's Home in 1892 makes reference to Harry Howard Avenue, so we know it existed in 1892. 

It is not clear when and how Harry Howard Avenue became the boundary between the Fourth and Fifth wards. It is also not clear why, unlike every other ward boundary in the city where the center line of the street is the boundary and one side of the street is one ward and the other side is another, both sides of Harry Howard Avenue, from Carroll Street to Paddock Place, are considered part of the Fourth Ward. Apparently, it has been this way for decades, but a change in the ward boundary descriptions was never made in the charter.

And then there's the question of the two hundred or so residents of Crosswinds. Where did they get counted in the 2010 census?

There is some reason to believe that in allocating population to the wards, the ward map published by the Board of Elections, part of which appears above, was used. If that's what happened, the population of Crosswinds would likely have be attributed to the Fifth Ward since on that map Harry Howard Avenue is indicated as the ward boundary. 

There is other reason to believe this may have happened. If, in 2010, there is an apartment complex in the Fourth Ward, housing some two hundred people, which didn't exist in 2000, the logical expectation is that the Fourth Ward would have gained population between 2000 and 2o1o and the strength of the weighted votes of the ward's representatives would increase. Instead, the Fourth Ward, like every other ward in the city except the Fifth Ward, lost population, and the aldermen who represent the Fourth Ward still cast votes that carry the least weight of any on the Council, with the exception of the First Ward.

At last night's Common Council meeting, Rick Scalera, supervisor for the Fifth Ward, said he would love to have the residents of Crosswinds vote in the Fifth Ward. Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) echoed the sentiment: "Alderman Donahue and I would love to welcome the people from Crosswinds to the Fifth Ward." But the question remains whether or not the weighted vote of those three elected officials has been strengthened by having the population of Crosswinds counted in the Fifth Ward instead of the Fourth Ward--the ward in which the residents actually vote.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Barrett to PSC: Abandon Power Line Project

Assemblymember Didi Barrett was in Churchtown on Saturday to hear Gidon Eshel, physicist and research professor at Bard College, present his analysis of the need for the "energy superhighway," the transmission line upgrades that would scar the Hudson Valley. 

Today Barrett send a letter to the Public Service Commission urging that, in light of the new evidence, the project be abandoned. Barrett's letter reads in part: "[I]ndependent research has been presented by Dr. Gidon Eshel of Bard College that illustrates this project as both 'anti-competitive and unnecessary.' Dr. Eshel's findings clearly show that upon completion of the generation projects currently in queue, even in the event of a 'one in one-hundred' scenario of increased demand, the supply would still exceed demand. . . . Given all the new information, I urge the PSC to close down the current Alternating Current Transmission Upgrades Proceedings and look at the real needs before moving forward. We have an opportunity to be innovative and visionary in our energy policies in New York State. We have leadership that is committed to Reforming the Energy Vision. Let this project be part of the future, not the past."

Still More About the Weighted Vote

In researching the weighted vote system, Dorothy Heyl uncovered this article that appeared in The New York Times on September 29, 1991: "One Man, One Vote, One More Attempt." The article is about the Nassau County Board of Supervisors and its use of the Banzhaf Index to achieve one man, one vote. There are interesting parallels to Hudson's use of the index. What's especially interesting are the quotes from John Bazhaf III, who devised the Banzhaf Index when he was a law student at Columbia in the 1960s. In 1991, Banzhaf acknowledged that his method "does not lead to a particularly fair form of government."

Two Schools, Two Sales

In the past few days, there has been news of the sale of two former school buildings. The two buildings were originally part of two different school districts, but they have two things in common: both are located in the Town of Claverack, and both have been owned or leased by Columbia County.

Last week, the former Ockawamick School, once part of the Taconic Hills School District, was sold at auction. The high bid was $502,500. The building is being sold by Columbia County, which purchased it in 2008 for $1.5 million.

Today, the Register-Star reports that the Hudson City School District has a buyer for the former Claverack School: "Board OKs local artist's bid for Claverack school." The selling price for the building is $390,000. For the past two years, Columbia County has been renting the building from HCSD for $100,000 annually.


"Ay, There's the Shrub"

A while back, Gossips surveyed the hedges and shrubs in Hudson and asked plaintively, "Edward Scissorhands, where are you?" Scott Baldinger takes up the plaint about the sorry state of ornamental plantings in parks and around public buildings on his blog Word on the Street: "Shrubs I Hate."

An Elemental Flaw in the Weighted Vote?

In recent months, Gossips has given a lot of thought and attention to the weighted vote system in Hudson. Recently, this contemplation has led to wondering why, in the 2010 census, the Fifth Ward gained population while every other ward in the city lost population. It was easy to understand the First Ward's population loss. In the ten years from 2000 to 2o1o, many houses that had been divided up into apartments were returned to what they were built to be: single family residences. It was easy to understand the Third Ward's population loss. A change in New York law meant that the inmates of the Hudson Correctional Facility could no longer be counted as residents of the Third Ward.

I posed my question to Victor Mendolia, who also has been giving a lot of thought to the weighted vote system. Was it just Crosswinds--the only new residential construction of any magnitude in Hudson between 2000 and 2010--or was something else happening in the Fifth Ward? Had there been vacant houses in 2000 that were occupied in 2010? Were houses that had been single family in 2000 housing multiple families in 2010? Were houses owned by empty nesters in 2000 home to young families with children in 2010?

Mendolia's response to my inquiry was unexpected. He told me that Crosswinds is not in the Fifth Ward. It is in the Fourth Ward. The map on the Board of Elections website--the same map provided at polling sites in Hudson to help people identify the ward in which they should be voting--indicates that Crosswinds is in the Fifth Ward, but an inquiry to the Board of Elections confirmed that the residents of Crosswinds vote in the Fourth Ward. So the question becomes, if Crosswinds, with its seventy units, which opened in 2008, is in the Fourth Ward, why didn't the Fourth Ward see an increase in its population from 2000 to 2010 and in the weighted vote of its aldermen?

The answer came from Steve Dunn, who has been studying the census data and who recently reported that the population figures for 15 North Front Street and 15 South Front Street (the two parts of Hudson Terrace) had been switched, and as a consequence the weighted vote calculations for the First Ward and the Second Ward were incorrect. According to Dunn, the residents of Crosswinds, although they vote in the Fourth Ward, were counted in the population of the Fifth Ward, thus erroneously inflating the population of the Fifth Ward and increasing the weighted vote of aldermen for whom they did not vote.

At tonight's Common Council meeting, Mendolia plans to present a letter to City officials describing the situation and its implications in greater detail.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Another Galvan Acquisition

A couple of hours ago, the Register-Star reported that the Galvan Initiatives Foundation had purchased the building on South Third Street now used by the Salvation Army to operate its food program: "Galvan Foundation shows support for Salvation Army."

The Galvan Foundation has contributed $15,000 to the food program and will allow the Salvation Army to continue to occupy the building rent free. The long-term plan, according to the press release received by the Register-Star, is to assess the space and operating needs of the program and "determine whether to improve and expand the existing building or assist in relocating it to another property in Hudson."

The building is located at a major gateway to Hudson, on South Third Street between Allen and Partition streets. In August 2013, Galvan purchased another building at the city's gateway: Harmon's Auto Repair, on the opposite side of Third between Partition and Union streets. 

The current plan for the former Harmon's building is to lease it to people who want to open a coffee shop/wine bar cum art gallery there. The project appeared before the Planning Board on October 8. It was thought that the proposed project might have to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance (South Third Street is zoned R-4 from Cherry Alley south, and a coffee shop/wine bar is neither a permitted use nor a conditional use in an R-4 district), but it was decided by Daniel Tuczinski, legal counsel to the Planning Board and the ZBA, and Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, that a use variance would not be required. Only a site plan review by the Planning Board would be needed. The next meeting of the Planning Board is scheduled for Wednesday, November 12, at 6 p.m.

The Truth About the Power Lines

It all started with what might seem to be a shrewd scheme to make two traditionally warring groups happy: environmentalists and the utilities. To please environmentalists, the nuclear power plant at Indian Point would be shut down and new energy for electricity would be supplied by wind power. To please the utilities, a $1.3 billion "energy superhighway" would be created to carry that power downstate, to New York City and Long Island where it is needed. There's only one problem: getting the wind-generated energy from where it is created to where it is needed involves, in the words of Gidon Eshel, "scarring the Hudson Valley up and down"--the Hudson Valley, whose rejuvenated and growing economy is dependent on agriculture and tourism driven by the Valley's scenic beauty and historic resources. 

The plan for the energy superhighway assumes that there is a need for this increased transmission of power to New York City and Long Island. On Saturday, before a huge crowd gathered at the Churchtown Firehouse, environmental physicist Gidon Eshel presented the findings of his analysis of the need, between now and 2040, which concluded that the need does not exist.

Eshel began his presentation with his analysis of the three factors that determine need: use, temperature rise, and population growth. The first assumption is that use is increasing and will continue to increase. Eshel revealed that the statistics show that peak loads rose significantly from 1993 to 2005, but that rise stopped in 2006. Use is now declining. The second assumption is that rising temperatures will increase demand. Eshel asserted that the annual maximum temperature is expected to rise 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. "You crank up the A/C at 90, but you're not going to crank it up anymore when it's 100 degrees." The third assumption is that the downstate population is rising and will continue to rise. Eshel reported that population numbers have plateaued in the recent past, and future population growth is expected to be slower or none at all. Also, the composition of the population is changing: the 25 to 45 age group, which typically uses more energy, is declining; the 45 to 70 age group, which typically consumes less energy, is growing.

Eshel pointed out that there are already projects south of here in advanced stages of approval that will provide 10,000 megawatts of power, and if only half these projects actually happen, the supply of electricity will always be well above the predictions of peak load--without Indian Point and without transmission upgrades through the Hudson Valley.

The "energy superhighway" is touted as a green plan, moving wind energy harvested upstate to where it is needed downstate. On the topic of tappable wind energy, Eshel identified the two best sources of wind energy in New York State: along the Great Lakes--Lake Ontario and Lake Erie--and around Long Island. Remarkably, there is tappable wind in the same place where there is population density. That being the case, why transmit energy the length of the state when it exists in such close proximity? As Eshel put it, "If you are serious about wind, you do not go to the hills beyond Albany."

Eshel made the point that the "energy superhighway" stifles the ability to produce energy near where it is needed and supports a handful of megacorporations instead of encouraging small energy producers that would be competing and creating jobs. He also warned that giant energy networks are the antithesis of resilience to terrorist attack.

Eshel's presentation concluded that the transmission upgrades threatening the Hudson Valley are unnecessary, stifle competition, and reduce our resilience to attack. The cost to rate payers--us--for this unnecessary upgrade is predicted to be $260 million a year. 

Saturday's presentation was covered by several news media, including News Channel 13: "Research shows Hudson Valley power line expansion not needed."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Not to Be Missed

On his blog, Sam Pratt explores the latest development in the controversial CEDC deal with Ginsberg's: "Bassin: Crawford should resign from CEDC."

Remembering Perry Cooney

Alana Hauptmann and the Red Dot invite all who knew and loved Perry Cooney to gather at the Red Dot on Tuesday, October 21, at 6 p.m., to remember and celebrate Perry's life. On that night, friends and acquaintances are encouraged to share their fond memories of Perry, who passed away in August.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the Subject of the Weighted Vote

Those who support the status quo of the weighted vote like to remind people that there was a referendum on abandoning the weighted vote in favor of equal population election districts in 2003 and that referendum failed. Fifth Ward supervisor Rick Scalera, former Fifth Ward alderman Cappy Pierro, and current Fifth Ward alderman Bart Delaney have used such adverbs as soundly and handily when describing that defeat, but in fact the referendum failed by only 68 votes: 610 people wanted to switch to equal population election districts; 678 wanted to keep the current ward boundaries and the weighted vote.

In 2003, the weight of the votes cast by the aldermen from the Fifth Ward carried three times the weight of the votes of the aldermen representing the First and Fourth wards. Today, it is closer to four times--3.8 to be exact. When the two aldermen from the Fifth Ward vote together, their votes represent 72 percent of the votes needed for a simple majority. By contrast, when the two aldermen from the First or Fourth wards vote together, their votes represent less than 19 percent of the votes needed for a simple majority.

Whenever there is a serious discussion of eliminating the weighted vote, the question arises of what the alternative would look like. So Gossips requested and received from Tracy Delaney, our city clerk, the map that showed the equal population election districts proposed in 2003. (It was Delaney and then city clerk Bonnie Colwell who created the map that divided the city into districts of equal population.) Comparing the proposed district boundaries with the existing ward boundaries is an interesting exercise.

The changes proposed in 2003 involved splitting the Fifth Ward into two districts and moving the boundary lines of the other wards. The boundaries of the First Ward were moved north to include all of Hudson Terrace and the north side of the 200 block of Warren Street. The boundaries of the Fourth Ward were moved east and south to include the 500 block of Warren and Columbia streets and the south side of the 500 block of State Street. The boundary between the Third and Fifth wards was also moved. The result was six election districts of almost equal population: District 1: 1,108; District 2: 1,136; District 3: 1,135; District 4: 1,154; District 5: 1,147; District 6: 1,147.

The idea of abandoning the historic wards in favor of election districts is a hard thing to contemplate. Many of us hold in our minds and hearts the 1873 Beers atlas map of Hudson which shows the city in a kind of visual four-part harmony. 

But the symmetry was lost when the Fifth Ward was created in 1886, so maybe it's time to give up the notion of symmetry and embrace the constitutional goal of equal representation.