Act I On Thursday night, the Common Council Economic Development Committee met to learn about Conservation Advisory Councils from Karen Strong, Hudson River Estuary Program, and Ellen Jouret-Epstein, Columbia Land Conservancy. The basic information provided by Strong and Jouret-Epstein is pretty much all contained in the brochure about CACs published by the Columbia Land Conservancy. Briefly defined, a CAC is a group of from three to nine people appointed by the Common Council for their relevant knowledge and expertise to help balance natural resource issues with development issues. The role of a CAC is to educate and advise the Common Council on natural resource issues and, if it is so decided, to assist the Planning Commission with environmental reviews. What gave the presentation local interest were the questions raised by the members of the committee and the audience.
From the audience, Hudson supervisor Bill Hughes (Fourth Ward) expressed a concern about "bottlenecking" and Hudson supervisor Rick Scalera (Fifth Ward) wanted to know if the CAC would weigh in on every decision made by the Planning Commission. Later, Scalera, sounding as if he were still the mayor, wanted to know if it was "absolutely necessary to formalize this with local law." Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward), a member of the committee, wanted to know if a CAC would need a budget and if members of the Common Council could serve on the CAC. (Answers to Stewart's questions: No; There should be a liaison between the CAC and the Council, but members of the Council should not serve on the CAC.)
Don Moore, Common Council president and chair of the committee, wanted to know which other New York cities had adopted CACs and could serve as models for Hudson and sought lists of issues that CACs have "tackled" in other municipalities and examples of natural resource inventories developed by other CACs. Along the way, he made this intriguing comment: "If we get South Bay, South Bay remediation can go in many different directions."
Act II The more dramatic part of the meeting happened when Moore called for a motion to adjourn. Before such a motion came, Cheryl Stuart, speaking from the audience, interrupted, saying that she wanted to talk about Galvan and the homeless housing project. Introducing herself as a business owner who had moved her business from New York City to a building at the corner of Sixth and State, Stuart protested that "the people who have made investments in Hudson are not being considered in the planning [for this facility]." She asserted that serious public discussion should happen before a vote is taken, but the county plans to vote on this proposal next week and hold a public forum about it in September.
When Scalera explained that "the only vote that may be taken is a vote on the lease," which he said is subject to all regulatory approvals, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), a member of the Economic Development Committee, asked, "How is the county ready to vote on something that is constantly changing?" He urged that business owners "express their unhappiness to their supervisors, to [Pat] Grattan [chair of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors], and to [Paul] Mossman [Commissioner for Social Services]." Friedman made the point that Hudson has the highest rate of entrepreneurialism in New York State, a status that should be acknowledged and considered, and told Stuart, "I support you 100 percent. I find the whole thing disturbing."
In response to the objections that the plans keep changing, Hughes, who has taken ownership of the project, claimed that he has kept everyone informed. He told the other two supervisors in the room, Sarah Sterling (First Ward) and Ellen Thurston (Third Ward), who obviously disagreed with his claim, "I brought everyone up to speed," and boasted, "I'm in tune with my community."
On the subject of politicians being in tune with their communities, Stuart, whose home and business is in the Fifth Ward and in close proximity to the proposed shelter, said Scalera had never approached his constituents about the project and claimed that all her neighbors--also Scalera's constituents--were opposed to it. Scalera responded by reading from the CARES report, specifically the recommendation that the county "lease or purchase one or more motels" for housing the homeless. "That," shouted Scalera, "is what the plan is doing." He then reproached Moore and Sterling who "both supported it and now they don't." Of the recent plan to add seven units of "permanent supportive housing" to the proposal facility, bringing the total to forty-four units, Scalera asserted, "The developer thought they were doing the right thing!" This comment prompted Sterling to ask if Scalera was speaking as a supervisor or as an employee of Galvan. With raised voice, Scalera declared, "I'm speaking as Rick Scalera," adding after a slight pause, "the supervisor for the Fifth Ward."
Responding to Scalera's claim that "in the end, homelessness will be addressed," Friedman said that partnering with Galvan was "giving them a business interest in the poverty of the city." He made the point that if the goal was to end homelessness and the poverty that causes it, the goal cannot be achieved by a privately run facility. "The only way for the problem to shrink is for government to solve the problem." Audience member Helen Arrott agreed, calling the proposal a business which she characterized as "pay per head per bed" and an SRO that only addressed a very specific population and does not serve homeless families or single women with children.
Moore, who initially seemed to want to avoid the discussion by saying the proposal for the homeless shelter "is not a Common Council issue until there is a SEQRA review," ended the meeting by saying that the Common Council will hold its informal meeting on Monday, August 13, and there will be a public discussion of the issue at that time. He also said that he did not think the Board of Supervisors can vote on this issue on Wednesday, August 8, and expressed the opinion that, if they do, it would be "wrong and challengeable."