Council, do your Smart City Homework

4monkeysSepiaupdate (Oct. 29, 2019): With the support of his Four Sure Votes, the Mayor got $2 million more to spend on his “Smart City” project, and the people of Schenectady got left in the dark with the bill to pay. See “City Council adopts spending plan” (Gazette, by Pete DeMola). It is clearer than ever that wise voters must “break up the Mayor’s Council-clique“.

Saturday, October 26, 2019:

. . . . Yesterday afternoon, I sent an email Letter with Appendix (see below) to Schenectady City Council President Ed Kosiur, and others. My recommendation was that the Council first do its Smart City Homework before allotting another large budget item for the Mayor to use in his Smart City efforts. Unfortunately, as a Gazette article reports (online, Sat. AM, Oct. 26, 2019), the Mayor’s automatic Rump Majority, led by Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni, ignored its responsibilities, and are prepared to force through more Smart City dollars at the Council Meeting on Monday, despite the efforts of Council Members Riggi, Perazzo and Porterfield.

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight . . .
. . above: Mayor McCarthy on primary night, with his 4-person Rump Majority standing behind him . . 
From: David Giacalone
Subject: Please hold up the $2M until you do your Smart City Homework
Date: October 25, 2019 at 1:58:55 PM EDT
To: Ed Kosiur <ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov>, et al
.
Dear Council Members:
.
  • Wise Cities know which experts to consult with first: the residents. (see Appendix Item #1 below)
The Mayor and Council recently announced plans to finally hold publc informational meetings about our Smart City program. Late is surely better than never, unless the cyber-security, data-privacy, and citizen-trust horse has already left the barn.
 
Sinking more money into Smart Cities before an informed public discussion seems like an act of disrespect to your residents. At the very least, isn’t it poor planning to earmark $2,000,000 Smart City dollars for the Capital Fund before finding out what your residents and electorate want from Smart City technology and what limitations they feel are needed on the use of the data? 
 
That is especially true when Mayor Gary McCarthy has apparently felt no obligation to even keep the Council President, much less the entire Council, in the loop when he is deciding on Smart City purchases and strategies. When venders are called “technology partners” and the notion of making revenue from collected data bandied about freely, doesn’t this Council want to create guidelines, regulations, and protections before allowing even more unsupervised spending on Smarty City initiatives? 
 
  • Until you each know what information is being collected, and whether it could be used by outsiders to identify individuals, especially if cross-referenced with other data sources, you should not be thinking of writing another big Smart Cities check.
    • Do you know, for instance, what sorts of information is being collected by the City’s WiFi stations, and whether that data might be misused? Do our sensors keep a record of which smartphones are passing by?
 
WHAT HOMEWORK?  Council members need to know enough about the facts and issues presented by Smart City technology that you feel ready to spend significant amounts of money constructing a system that will affect the welfare and finances of your City and its citizens for many decades to come. Are you there yet? Or, is it “merely” another two million dollars? 
 
From the perspective of many experts, you have not done your Smart City Homework if you have not had meaningful discussion with well-informed residents. The failure to have the public conversation about what the public wants and does not want, with open discussion of the privacy and data risks, and installation of real cybersecurity measures, should mean that no additional money, or only small amounts of targeted funds, be authorized at this time. 
 
Please read the summaries of three thoughtful Smart Cities articles that are presented in the Appendix below.
 
Thank you for your time and consideration,
.
David Giacalone, Schenectady NY
 

P.S. In a thought-provoking article that is discussed in the “Appendix” below, I was concerned to see this sentence: “These technologies range from the mundane (speed cameras) to the fantastical (“Streetlight hubs that host WiFi nodes, license plate readers, environmental sensors, and gunshot detectors)”. The Future of Living: Smart Cities, Uneven Safeguards (Washington Lawyer, Nov. 2018P) Note that Schenectady already has that “fantastical technology”, but with no transparency, public input, or disclosure of how security, privacy, and consent are being handled.

 
APPENDIX
 
1] The article “Smart cities: good decision-making vital for turning technology into real solutions (from Urban Hub) offers advice that seems worth taking, using the experience of Boston, Massachusetts:
  • The technology disrupting urban living today undoubtedly has the potential to improve quality of life, but exactly how that happens still boils down to good decision-making.
  • Boston’s Smart City Playbook brings up one central question time and again: “What can it do for us?” Whether talking about building a platform, collecting big data, or boosting efficiency, the playbook insists on a strategy built from the bottom up. A similar approach called The Clever City also advocates downsizing before upsizing.
        And, especially:
  • Boston knows which experts to consult with first: the residents.
 
2] Another resource that I hope you will study before appropriating the $2 million is the article “I’m an Engineer, and I’m Not Buying Into ‘Smart’ CitiesSensor-equipped garbage cans sound cool, but someone still has to take out the trash. (New York Times, by Shoshanna Saxe, July 16, 2019) Dr. Saxe is an assistant professor of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto.
 
Here are a few excerpts from Prof. Saxe’s OpEd piece, which is well worth reading in full:
 
  1. “There is a more basic concern when it comes to smart cities: They will be exceedingly complex to manage, with all sorts of unpredictable vulnerabilities. There will always be a place for new technology in our urban infrastructure, but we may find that often, “dumb” cities will do better than smart ones.
  2. “New technology in 2015 will be outdated before 2020. If we widely deploy smart tech in cities, we need to be prepared to replace it every few years, with the associated disruption and cost. But who will assume those costs? 
  3. [W]who can guarantee that future elected leaders, in an effort to cut costs and appease taxpayers, won’t shortchange spending on replacement technology?” 
  4. Managing all the sensors and data will require a brand-new [expensive] municipal bureaucracy staffed by tech, data-science and machine-learning experts. . . . . If the answer is to outsource that staffing to private companies, then cities need to have frank conversations about what that means for democratic governance.
 
In addition, Dr. Saxe reminds us that:
 
The most critical question, however, is whether having a smart city will make us meaningfully better at solving urban problems. Data and algorithms alone don’t actually add very much on their own. No matter how much data a city has, addressing urban challenges will still require stable long-term financing, good management and effective personnel. If smart data identifies a road that needs paving, it still needs people to show up with asphalt and a steamroller.
 

3] DCBar-Cover-p16The November 2018 edition of Washington Lawyer (the D.C. Bar magazine) also has an article that I recommend to those who want to make smart decisions about Smart Cities. It is titled “The Future of Living: Smart Cities, Uneven Safeguards (by Sarah Kellog). The author talked with and quotes technology, legal and privacy experts. The key points:

  • The need early in the process for a policy and rules for cyber-security and privacy protection
  • “Transparency” in the collection and sharing of all the data is very important
  • The temptation to make money on the data raises the risk of abuse. 
  • It is incumbent upon governments to first engage communities and communicate effective about these questions” [about privacy and data risks].
 

An expert of digital forensics and cybersecurity points out in the article that “few are even remotely aware of how intrusive these applications can be in their daily lives. . . Most people below a certain age don’t care about all the sensors in our lives. . . .The folks of a certain age tend to get the privacy dangers.

 

A major issue is Consent. Consent to be monitored may not be a legal requisite, but consent should be obtained from individuals whose data has been collected and massaged to allow the identification of individuals (especially if the buyer of the information can cross-reference it to other data bases, before a municipality shares/sells it to outset entities. 


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Updates will be added, as appropriate in this space. 

.

break up McCarthy’s Council Clique

. . subtitle: let’s fire John Polimeni . .  

SchdyCouncilFinal  update (Nov. 6, 2019): Last night’s election results [click on image to the left from Times Union] for Schenectady City Council were quite disappointing to those of us who had hoped to achieve a more deliberative and better-informed City Council, to make its dynamics and processes wiser and more small-d democratic. The entire 4-person Democratic Party slate was elected, with a surprising loss by independent Vince Riggi, our “voice of reason (in the wilderness)”. [see Gazette article; TU Election Results] I hope newcomer Carmel Patrick will resist the “mushroom management” style of Mayor Gary McCarthy, and demand to be better informed about facts, goals, alternatives, legal requirements, etc., before voting on matters before the Council.

Congratulations to Leesa Perazzo on her impressive re-election result. Leesa will need to be more vigilant and persevering than ever.

. . Gazette‘s Halloween Trick: At the bottom of this post I respond to the Gazette editorial that endorsed John Polimeni for re-election.

When it became clear in late June that Mayor Gary McCarthy would have no opponent on the November 5 ballot, I wrote to his primary opponent Thearse McCalmon and at my Facebook Page that:

4monkeysGreenX THE BEST THING we can do right now is to continue to work toward this November election, to DENY MAYOR GARY McCARTHY HIS NEARLY CONSTANT FOUR-VOTE MAJORITY of the same four Democratic Council members. If he knows that he could lose any particular resolution he presents, Mayor McCarthy will have to:

  • Seek Council and Public input early in the legislative process
  • Provide more information to the Council and public;
  • listen to the public and respond accordingly;
  • encourage and expect probing questions from the Council ; and
  • stop insisting on nearly instant passage of resolutions, without evaluating and explaining options, and without incorporating thoughtful criticism, including comments received at public hearings, and without supplying relevant information, even when requested by Council members.

The next best thing to a new mayor is a mayor who can no longer count on getting all his desires rubber-stamped.

Looking at the people who will be on the November 2019 City Council Ballot, we need to think about and support the people most likely to be independent thinkers, who will insist that the Council is the City’s legislative and policy leader, not the Mayor. And, who see themselves as the partners of Schenectady’s residents and neighborhoods, not partners of the Mayor’s favored developers and commercial interests. [update (Nov. 3, 2019): The Sunday Gazette has an article by Pete DeMola that captures the dynamics of the City Council race, “In race for Schenectady City Council, Democratic unity belies more complicated tensions: Seven candidates campaign for four seats”. It notes, for instance, that if Vince Riggi wins one of the four contested seats the four Democrats on the ballot are competing with each other for the three remaining seats.]

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight. . the Mayor and his Gang of Four

FIRE POLIMENI. The 4-member Council “Rump” Majority is made up of Council President Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, John Mootooveren, and Karen Senecal Zalewski-Wildzunas. Only Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni are on the ballot from this Council Clique. Vince Riggi and Leesa Perazzo are also on the ballot, seeking re-election. (See Gazette article)

 Because of the many legislative missteps that we have seen initiated and pushed by John Polimeni, in addition to his virtually always acting as either a silent rubber-stamp or cheerleader for Mayor McCarthy, I believe we should work to ensure that Prof. Polimeni does not win re-election to the Schenectady City Council. 

  • Riggi-Kosiur Council Members Vince Riggi (Ind.) and Leesa Perazzo (Dem.) are also running this year. Schenectady needs to re-elect Vince Riggi and Vince has earned it, by listening to constituents from all parties, asking tough questions, and by seeking more and better information. Unfortunately, Vince has been frustrated time and again by the rush to voting that the Rump Majority allows the Mayor to pursue.
  • If Leesa Perazzo is re-elected, I hope she will become an even stronger independent-thinker and actor on the Council.

 SILENT WITNESS/Co-Conspirator. John Polimeni has not spoken out to [1] Ask for Privacy Safeguards for the City’s Smart City information gathering, and now says he wants to use the data generate revenue, which means No Privacy, as the City sells information gathered about its residents and visitors. (see our post “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework.” [2] Demand that the Mayor return our replica Statue of Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Plaza, as was promised in the Final Plan approved by City Council and the Mayor in 2013. (In fact, he signed an error-filled petition to send Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park; click here for the full Lady Liberty Story.) Nor, [3] Complain when Rivers Casino acknowledged that its lobbyists were seeking to reduce the 45% gaming tax on slots revenue to below 40%, meaning at least a 12% reduction in slots gaming revenue. Any reduction, of course, would mean less money coming into the City’s coffers.

  • Our Council members must actively and vigilantly serve the interests of Schenectady’s residents, and speak out when Mayoral proposals, Department action or inaction, or Corporation Counsel opinions, need to be further investigated and explained.

Professor D-Minus.. Polimeni1

ACTIVE PROPONENT: Far too often, it seems, John Polimeni comes off as “Professor D-Minus, willing to settle for projects and resolutions that are simply not ready for public unveiling; not sufficiently thought-through or detailed; not practical, and sometimes simply not wise. We deserve quality legislative proposals that could garner A’s and B’s if graded.

SIDEWALK ASSESSMENT DISTRICT

The primary proponent of the City’s Sidewalk Assessment District was Professor Polimeni. After years of thought, John came up with a program that was universally thought to be lacking in detail. Rather than pull it back and do a lot more thinking and research, Mr. Polimeni pushed on, ignoring requests from neighborhood leaders for more planning. At the time, it looked like John was in a rush, and called for quick submission of Sidewalk District Petitions by interested residents, because he wanted a least one block in the City to have new sidewalks by the November election.

Well, that has happened, with sidewalk work completed on the block of Ardsley Road at Union Street. The Ardsley Petition got one contractor bid, and the results were a homeowner expense 84% higher than Mr. Polimeni’s estimates. For example:

50′ Sidewalk Frontage:

Polimeni Estimate of Cost: $2222

Actual Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Cost: $4085

See the full Ardsley Road Contractor Bid immediately below. We deserve well-considered and vetted plans, not the premature legislation given us by M. Polimeni.  I will write more on the Sidewalk Program soon at this site.

ArdsleySidewalkBidE

Several mature shade trees were taken down during this project on Ardsley Rd., with the City paying $4500 per tree. Here are images of the street view of 1089 Ardsley Road from 2011 (Google Street image) and early in October 2019.

  ArdsleyRd1089-2011 . . ArdsleyRd1089Oct2019

Bike Share Expenses

bikesharemouIn May 2019, CTDA asked the City of Schenectady to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, requiring the City to pay $25,000 each year for three additional years to remain in the program. Neither CDTA nor City Engineer Chris Wallin on their behalf supplied important information needed to make a responsible decision. That was after Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield requested such information. On May 13, 2019, Wallin did not even show for the City Council meeting and never supplied the requested information.

We did not know, and still do not know, how many people in Schenectady actually used the Program in the prior years (the trips taken from Schenectady stations only amounted to 6% of the trips in the entire Bike Share program), nor how they used the Bicycle (i.e., how long was the average bike trip, three blocks or three miles). Nonetheless, in supporting the measure, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU.

  • For a fuller discussion of the Bike Share plan, including how few people in Schenectady are using Bike Share (only 6% of total system rides originate in Schenectady) and the large subsidy being paid by the City for each Bike stationed in Schenectady, see our posting, “Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal” (May 10, 2019).

PLASTIC STRAW BAN John Polimeni introduced a resolution that would have banned to commercial use of plastic straws in Schenectady, rather than working with the County and State for a coordinated and more enforceable solution to this problem. Prof. Polimeni seems to believe that “doing something now” is better than doing nothing. To the contrary, rushed ideas, even if trendy, often create unforeseeable problems and stymie passage of better legislation. This was, at best, a D-minus project.

See “Schenectady plastic straw ban proposal fails” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Aug. 19 2910).

POLICE CHIEF SICK LEAVE BONUS 

John Polimeni led the fight to get a payout of over $8000 for unused Sick Leave accumulated by Eric Clifford prior to his promotion to Chief of Police. Polimeni simply ignored the words in the Union Contract that such payout is for hours “in excess of 120 days”. Clifford was 25 days short of that threshold prior to taking the Chief’s position, which is no longer covered by the union contract.

Despite advice by Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico that the City has no obligation to pay the $8000, Polimeni told the Gazette that “the intent of the agreement was clear and should be honored”.  Vince Riggi pressed hard on this issue, and when it became clear that the payout would not have a Council majority support if voted on at the Council Meeting, Polimeni had the resolution tabled rather than suffer the defeat. See Gazette article. The Polimeni Resolution could please only the Chief and, in an election year, the Police Union.

SELLING SMART CITY DATA to MERCHANDIZERS

 Councilman Polimeni has never responded to my calls for Privacy Protections that assure that people caught by the City’s audio and video sensors will not find their data being sold or bartered to the Mayor’s “Tech-Partners” or other outside sellers. He made it clear recently why: Mr. Polimeni wants to use Smart City data to generate revenue for the City — by collecting and offering to merchants data that can be used (or resold)  for targeted merchandizing activity. As reported by the Gazette on October 20, 2019:

Councilman John Polimeni said the city should do more to explore ways technology can be used to generate revenue — including using data to create marketing strategies for businesses in the city.

“We can also use this technology to create new businesses and applications that we can use to create employment opportunities,” Polimeni said. 

According to the Gazette, John is also willing to put an additional $2 million dollars in the City’s Capital Budget for Smart Cities, before the Mayor or Council seeks public input on the scope and use of the mountain of data that is being collected, and that can be used — without consent –to target individuals, whose activities and habits in the City are recorded and archived. [This topic of Smart City planning, transparency, and privacy protection was addressed in our posting “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework“.]

  • POLIMENI SUMMARY: John Polimeni has failed to speak out or act against the Mayor’s unwise policies and antics, and has proposed too many ideas that are contrary to good government and the public interest. He does not deserve re=election.
  • Share this posting with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/NoPolimeni

Thank you to the Gazette opinion staff for publishing my Election Letter to the Editor, which appeared October 24, 2019, on the Opinion page (C5) of the Schenectady Gazette:

 Update (Nov. 2, 2019): On Halloween, October 31, 2019, the Gazette published an editorial endorsing 4 of the 7 candidates seeking a Schenectady City Council seat at the Nov. 5th election. See “ENDORSEMENT: Four will make Schenectady Council stronger”.  In addition to endorsing Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Carmel Patrick, the Gazette endorsed John Polimeni, saying:

HalloweenTrick “John Polimeni, a city native and college professor in Albany with a PhD from RPI, brings intellect, economic development background and research skills to the council, where he serves as chair of the Finance Committee. We’d like to see him get more aggressive on coming up with ways to cut spending and raise revenue, especially in his committee role, during his next term.”

Here is a slightly edited Comment that I left at the online version of the endorsement, disagreeing with their disagreeable Halloween Trick on the people of Schenectady:

Comment of David Giacalone:
 
Today is Halloween, not April Fools Day. How could you write those words about John Polimeni? He wanted to waste resources on a Straw Ban and purposely misread the union contract to want to give the Police Chief unearned Sick Leave compensation. His great research on sidewalk programs resulted in a C- explanation of the Schenectady Sidewalk Assessment District Program that left far too many unanswered questions, resulting in only one contractor bidding on the first block, Ardsley Rd., where homeowner costs were 84% higher than his estimate earlier this year.

Polimeni also failed to wait for Bike Share information about Schenectady’s use before supporting the payment of $75,000 to CDTA. And, publicly would only 
say “it won’t be 16%” when confronted with the Mayor’s bold request for a raise.

Also, Polimeni’s idea for added revenue: selling Smart City data (about the habits of Schenectady residents) to marketers.

It’s a record of irresponsible silences, frivolous ideas, and poor judgment. We all need to skip Polimeni when voting for City Council. The Council will be stronger the day the Mayor no longer has a sure four votes. See https://tinyurl.com/NoPolimeni
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greeting Omar McGill at Mangino’s

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 This afternoon (Sunday, October 13), there was a Meet and Greet for Omar McGill at Mangino’s Gourmet Market and Restaurant (754 1/2 Eastern Avenue). Omar is running against veteran Democrat Peggy Smith for the open District 1 seat on the Schenectady County Legislature. He is on the Working Family Party’s line on the November 5 ballot. In addition to Rick Mangino and Bonnie Goodwin at Mangino’s, the event was co-sponsored by Mary Moore Wallinger, a landscape architect and Chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission, and Hon. Dorcey Applyrs, member of the City of Albany Common Council. 

Omar-PeggyKingAs I’ve written elsewhere (for example, click on thumbnail to the left from Omar’s Facebook platform page), although a lifelong Democrat, I believe Omar McGill is the clear choice for our County Legislature. We need a representative who listens to the people and not just Democratic party leaders — and who demands explanations, facts, open consideration of alternatives, and more if necessary before deciding to support or oppose a legislative resolution. (Although Omar and Marion Porterfield, the Democratic City Council member who is his campaign manager, insist on having a positive campaign, I personally do not believe that stating the record of the opponent and explaining what Omar would do differently is a negative campaign.)

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. . above: [L to R]: Noble and Dorcey Applyrs, Mary Moore Wallinger, Omar McGill; below: Our Community’s Future:

IMG_2726 . . IMG_2732

You will find an 11-minute video with remarks by Mary, Dorcey and Omar McGill’s at the Meet & Greet posted at his Facebook page.  In the columns below are random photos that I took of the thoughtful and amiable folks who came to meet Omar today at Mangino’s. Click on an image for a full, larger version.

 

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Several varieties of pizza and soft ice cream were consumed with gusto. The beautiful Mangino’s has much more on its menu. Thanks to the sponsors!

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  • My Facebook coverage of this event is here.

we need better regulation of digital signs

CrosstownBillboard . . EMB-NEFJnight

. . above: [R] digital sign at Union St. and Baker Ave.; [L] digital billboard along Rt. 7 between Albany St. and Watt St. 

GazDAG-DigialSigns7Oct2019C6

Thank you, Schenectady Daily Gazette, for publishing the Guest Column “City needs smarter digital sign regulation” (October 7, 2019, C6), by David Giacalone [editor of this website]. We have been discussing this topic for several years, in posts containing commentary, images, and excerpts from expert sources, such as:

. . share this posting with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/EMBregs

ProctorsMarquee06Mar2015

it is not growing on us

No, Mr. Mayor, the spot you chose for our Statue of Liberty Replica is not growing on us. It seems just as outlandish and disrespectful as when you plopped her there at the end of August.

Below is the view of Lady Liberty heading north on Erie Boulevard approaching Union Street.

DSCF5019

Meanwhile, a perfectly appropriate and quite popular spot is still available just a few blocks away at Liberty-Gateway Plaza, where in 2013 you, Mary Wallinger, and our City Council promised She would be returned. Once again, we ask you to Put Her Back, as promised, as planned, as preferred by the public.

PutTheLadyHere

PutHerBackPetnE

bad reviews for “Our Lady of the Scary Underpass”

LL-NewLocationPollResultsGIMG_2109-001 It is no surprise to anyone with eyes, good taste, and a working brain. And, it probably isn’t news to Gary McCarthy, who might be relishing the anguish he is causing residents of Schenectady by demonstrating his arrogance and power.

Since Friday, August 28, 2019, the City has been abuzz with negative reactions to the new location given to our Statue of Liberty replica statue by Mayor McCarthy, near the railroad underpass on the southeast corner of Erie Boulevard at Union Street. People have been reaching out with email and phone calls, and crossing the street to voice an opinion:

The New Location is an outlandish choice, an insult to the Lady and to Schenectady. (see our prior posting with more photos and discussion of the Mayor’s Choice, and this link to pdf file of heavily-redacted email, which is the City’s “response” to my FOIL request for documents relating to the choice of location for Lady Liberty ). On the right above is a colorized screenshot of the final results of a Daily Gazette poll placed online from Saturday through Tuesday. Gary McCarthy’s choice could only attract 61 votes, despite all his political suasion, and the favorable poll position and wording. The choice of the Original Location received 130 votes in the poll, 45% of the total.

IMG_2108-001On August 30th, the Gazette Editorial Board published “Editorial: Lady Liberty’s New Home – try again: Historic statue needs a more appropriate location than busy street corner”. After noting the disappointment of one viewer who gasped, “Oh God, you can hardly see it”, the editorial stated:

Instead, the final placement seems almost like a dismissive afterthought, that in order to shut up the people who were demanding its return, they just stuck it anywhere, hoping that those who cared about its placement would finally drop it and move on.

Well, the only thing that should move on is the statue itself.

Like other observers, the Gazette editors noticed right away the many problems:

. . . Mayor Gary McCarthy — without input from the public or the collective City Council — appears to have unilaterally decided to dump it on one of the city’s most cluttered street corners — uncleaned and unimproved — where it’s difficult to see clearly from either side of the five-lane road, against a thick, ugly metal power pole and utility boxes, and in the shadow of an unsightly train bridge at the end of a parking lot.

In summary, the Gazette opined:

Anything’s got to be better than the manner in which this location was selected and where the statue ended up.

Lady Liberty deserves better.

Of course, here at Snowmen At the Gates, we insist She Deserves the Best: Her Original and Only appropriate Home, Liberty-Gateway Park.

what can you still do? Contact the Mayor and City Council directly:

  • McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNightMayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov – who has not offered any justification for changing (ignoring) an important element of a very important and approved Plan.
    • Photo to the right, L to R: J. Mootooveren, J. Polimeni, K. Zalewski-Wildzunas, G. McCarthy, E. Kosiur
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park, despite its gross factual errors, and has declared without explanation that “only the Mayor has the delegation” to make this decision.
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan, but has been most silent on the topic
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park. (Update [Sept. 3, 2019]: According to the Aug. 28 Gazette, Ms. Z-W “liked the location, citing its proximity to the Schenectady Train Station and the Stockade, and thinks most residents will find it to be an acceptable location.)
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov, who suggested in March 2018 we might poll the affected neighborhoods, but has been silent since.
  • Vincent Riggi – v_riggi@verizon.net, the only Council member to consistently demand implementing the Implementation Plan and suitably honoring Lady Liberty and her Schenectady history.

And, Mary Moore Wallinger, mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com, who changed her mind after designing Gateway Plaza and writing the Implementation Plan and now says Lady Liberty “does not fit in” with Wallinger Plaza’s contemporary theme.

McCarthy disses Lady Liberty (and all of us) again

IMG_2117-002  . . IMG_2109

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Our “Smart City” Mayor, Gary R. McCarthy, has made another very unwise decision. Six years after the City Council and Mayor approved the official Implementation Plan to return Lady Liberty to Her Original Home; two years after our Lady Liberty replica statue was removed for safe-keeping during the reconstruction of Her Liberty Park; and 17 months after the Mayor was first publicly asked to explain the failure to return the Statue, Mayor McCarthy announced today that the Lady had been placed at her new permanent location: the southeast corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street, with a railroad overpass and retaining wall as Her backdrop. See Pete DeMola’s Gazette article this afternoon, here [screenshot image]; and a TU article [screenshot image] by Paul Nelson (both online August 28, 2019).

IMG_2106-002

 The Mayor’s statement today again gave no reason for not following the approved Implementation Plan for Gateway Plaza, and failed to identify his so-called “design team”, which understandably wants to remain anonymous. As reported in the Times Union:

“Upon completion of the newly redesigned Gateway Plaza and after careful consideration and discussion with our design team, it became clear that we would need to seek a new location for the statue,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday. “This is an extremely high-visibility intersection with approximately 30,000 daily travelers on Erie Boulevard.”

  • GPTour-MMWallingerNote: Only one person, Mary Moore Wallinger (image at right), has tried to explain the exile of Lady Liberty from Her Park. See our posting “Wallinger’s Excuses“, which discusses the reasons given by Ms. Wallinger since March 2018 for her conclusion that Lady Liberty “no longer fits” with the Plaza. Mary Wallinger was the original designer of Gateway Plaza, and is also the Chair of the Schenectady Planning Commission. Mayor McCarthy has bent over backwards to make her wish come true of keeping Lady Liberty away from Liberty-Gateway Plaza. Since her role has become public, Ms Wallinger has been quick to point out that it is “the Mayor’s decision”, not hers, whether to return the Statue to its home.
  • (August 29, 2019) My Freedom of Information Request to the City, dated June 11, 2019, asked for documents relating to the decision to return Lady Liberty or place Her elsewhere. This morning, I finally received a pdf file of heavily-redacted email from Corporation Counsel’s FOIL office, with the explanation that:
Records have been redacted pursuant to FOIL Public Officers Law Article 6 §87(2)(g)(iii) “Agency records”.  States, an agency may deny access to records or portions thereof that are inter-agency or intra-agency materials which are not final agency policy or determinations. If you would like to appeal your request, you may do so in writing Mayor Gary McCarthy, City Hall 105 Jay Street, Schenectady, NY  12305.  Your written appeal will need to be within 30 days.
Of course, nothing requires the redacting of this information. The Mayor has never told us why Lady Liberty needs to be exiled from Liberty Park, and his FOIL office (Corporation Counsel) has decided to hide whatever those reasons and reasoning might be. Somehow, an appeal to the Mayor sounds futile.
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* At the foot of this posting, I have a few comments and screenshots from the pdf FOIL packet. You will note that none of the “careful consideration and discussion with our design team” mentioned by the Mayor made it into any document (e.g., email, memorandum, phone call memo, etc.).
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IMG_2117-002

peek-a-boo statue

Indeed, this is such a “high visibility” intersection, that several people have already told me they passed right by without seeing Lady Liberty today. I was one of those who did not notice The Lady, as I drove west on Union late this morning heading to the Stockade. Drivers coming west on Union and going straight or turning right will almost certainly fail to see the Statue without an effort to do so. That fat pole itself blocks the view, but so will vehicles turning left and waiting with you for the light to change.

The idea of the beloved green Statue distracting the already driven-to-distraction motorists and pedestrians at that intersection is downright scary. Whether taking the time to look for Lady Liberty, or being surprised by Her in the middle of a turn, or texting a friend that you just saw the Statue, the City’s creation of such a remarkable distraction is exactly what we do not need at Erie Blvd. and Union Street.

LL-longcrosswalk

It is most certainly not a pedestrian-friendly intersection, as drivers are immediately allowed to start turning when pedestrians get the Walk signal at that long crosswalk. Just yesterday (Aug. 27), two left-turning vehicles came speeding in front of me, as I tried to cross with the Walk Signal in that very crosswalk. I jumped back and signaled the third driver, in a large black SUV, to stop. She did, but angrily (and ignorantly), yelled at me: “I have a green light!” I hope Lady Liberty is not too squeamish as she gazes out the intersection.

IMG_2110

. . quite a view for, and of, Lady Liberty . .

. . by the way: the straw is very slippery; better stay off it. . 

I’ve been trying to keep this posting relatively light, to stifle my great disappointment over the crassness, arrogance, and pettiness of the process that ignored the approved Plan and the public’s preferences, only to result in this disagreeable location for our Statue of the Lady who brings Enlightenment.

Her Real Home. In case you need a reminder, this is where Lady Liberty reigned and inspired for 67 years, before she was moved “for her protection” during reconstruction of Liberty Park; photos taken September 2016:

libertypark1

Beyond the Mayor, the irresponsible and/or cowardly posture of City Council members other than Vince Riggi on this issue makes very little sense politically, but should be a big concern in a City that is about to “celebrate” four more years of Mayor Gary McCarthy. I hope the electorate will have some serious questions for those seeking reelection this year (Kosiur, Polemeni, Perazzo), about their independence from the Mayor, and their commitment to transparency and integrity.

gpladyPlanCollageTHE SORRY TALE of the EXILED LADY.  If you look down the Right Margin on our Homepage, you will see many postings concerned with Lady Liberty, Liberty Park and Gateway Plaza, that are part of this too-long story. A good place to find important images and documents and coverage of the tale, including links to additional webposts, is the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless.” To the immediate right is a thumbnail of an Advocacy Poster I presented in March of 2018 that helps explain why we felt betrayed.

  • In the posting “Letters for the Lady“, we’ve compiled Letters and commentary in the press supporting return of Lady Liberty to Her Liberty Park home since March 2018. A new section has been added at the foot of that posting that will present similar pieces since the revelation of the New Location.

 

IMG_2121-001

. . Above and Below: a very wide intersection for a small statue and Big Symbol . . 

IMG_2113

BTW: Here’s my view of Lady Liberty from the front of the line, waiting in my car for the light to change, heading west on Union Street; I had to roll up a foot or two to see Her at all (taken Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019):

LL-Waiting4Light

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*Click here for the FOIL packet re the Location of Lady Liberty. Here’s what I learned from the FOIL Packet:

Continue reading

Proctors Marquee Billboard (with updates)

MarqueeLia14Aug2019

MarqueeBonadio

MarqueeCDPHP14Aug2018Advertising space on the Proctors State Street marquee must be especially coveted this month, with Hamilton: The Musical, opening for a 13-day run on August 14, and crowds of theater-goers and media reps  expected. (see Gazette coverage). Of course, we shouldn’t expect Proctors to take advantage of that demand and display signs for other enterprises, because “Off-premises signs” — signs for businesses not offering services or products on the lot where the sign is located — are specifically prohibited under Schenectady’s zoning ordinance for signage. [§264-62(G)]

When Proctors was granted its Special Use Permit to install 5 digital signs in September 2013, it was specifically reminded that it could not display paid advertising for off-premises businesses. Here’s an excerpt from the Planning Commission Minutes of September 18, 2013, when the SUP was approved:

PCMinutes-ProctorsSUP18Sep2013Public Comments: A member of the public asked if there would be paid advertising on the sign. The applicant responded that while the sign might mention event sponsors, there would be no paid advertising. City staff noted that paid advertising would constitute an off-premise sign, which is not allowed under the city sign ordinance.

  • Off-PremiseSignBanThe screenshot to the right shows the relevant sections of Schenectady’s Signage Code, Prohibited Signs and Definitions. By the way, no new billboards are allowed in Schenectady, unless the requested permit fits a restrictive definition as being “a relocation of two billboards existing prior to the effective date of this chapter.”
  • Note:  You do not have to pay directly for a sign for it to be considered a prohibited off-premise sign. Under our Code the definition of a sign is broad, and means “display of an advertisement, announcement, notice, directional matter or name”, and includes “any announcement, declaration, demonstration, display, illustration or insignia used to advertise or promote the interests of any person or business when the same is placed in view of the general public.” I’m sure the Bonadio Group of CPAs and consultants could explain the relevant issues to Proctors, including treatment of benefits received by a donor to a non-profit and vice-versa.

I was at State and Jay the morning after Hamilton opened for other purposes, but when looking at the Proctors Marquee I could not help but notice that it often had what can only be called ads for off-premise businesses. And, those ads tended to stay on the LCD screen the full 8 seconds required under the City Code for electronic message boards. The collage shows at least seven such off-premise signs that I saw in the brief time I was on the block (click on it for a larger version).

ProctorsOffPremisesAds

In typical Applicant-fashion, Proctors representative told the Planning Commission it would not have such ads, while signaling its likely argument if caught doing so – saying that “the sign might mention event sponsors.” I do recall in other years seeing companies such as the Times Union and MVP mentioned as sponsors. But, the signs now showing at Proctors are not that subtle.

Readers of this space know: (1) I get irked when important local persons and institutions act like scofflaws and the City’s rule-enforcers turn a blind eye to their favorite persons and entities. And, (2) I have long been concerned about the way Proctors went about getting its Special Use Permit for its marquee signs. [See, e.g.,our discussion here] I hope the appropriate people will quickly take action to correct this situation.

When City Hall chose to subject the public to the hazards of digital signs at the busiest block in the City, to please a local favorite institution, I do not think it did so to help the other companies now taking up space on Proctors marquee. If, however, that little bit of “business friendly” governance was intentional, there is still time to correct the situation. Proctors and Philip Morris are local cultural icons, but that should not give them immunity from playing within the rules.

follow-up (Sept. 1, 2019):  A pleasant stroll on the Proctors block yesterday (Saturday, Aug. 31) was interrupted when I saw a Heineken bottle displayed across the Proctors marquee. I took out my little Fuji camera and snapped shots of off-premise ads until the Heineken ad returned. There were 19 such ads over about 15 minutes. Here is a compilation. I have just left a complaint at the City’s Citizen’s Request Tracker, noting the violation of Zoning Code §264-62(G) and providing this collage.

ProctorsBillboardCollage

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ProctorsBillboard2019-09-22follow-up (September 24, 2019): On September 18, 2019, Christine Primiano, the City’s Chief Planning officer, wrote me to say:

It’s our understanding that Proctor’s is in compliance now.”
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Unfortunately, when I drove up State Street a couple hours later, I could see the bold “Bonadio Group” ad playing on the Proctors marquee before I even got to Broadway, and more such ads thereafter. When I let Chris Primiano know they were still showing off-premise ads at Proctors, she seemed genuinely frustrated by the miscommunication with Proctors. On Sunday, September 22, 2019, I strolled downtown and captured 12 off-premise ads, ten different ones and two repeaters, in just under ten minutes snapping photos of the Proctors marquee. [See collage above to the right]
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Because Schenectady City Council member Leesa Perazzo is a longtime employee of Proctors, I had written to her to ask her to intervene, and she passed on my concerns to Philip Morris, the CEO or Proctors, and to their Marketing Director Michael Eck. I wrote Leesa again this week, telling her of the confusion in the Planning Office. Today, Sept. 24, she wrote back that:
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Proctors is working on redesigning these currently. Thank  you.
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My initial and continuing reaction to Ms. Perazzo’s note is that it sounds like Proctors is trying to find/create a loophole in the clear Zoning-Signage Code ban on off-premise signs. This is my email reply to Leesa:
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From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>
Subject: Re: Proctors Marquee is still a billboard
Date: September 24, 2019 at 4:12:44 PM EDT
To: Leesa Perazzo <LPerazzo@schenectadyny.gov>
Cc: Mary Moore Wallinger <mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com>, Christine Primiano <cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov>

Thanks, Leesa,

I am concerned that we will end up with what is really an off-premise ad —still prominently mentioning a seller of goods or services — that happens to mention the arts or Proctors. That is very different from an image meant to promote a Proctors show with a tiny “sponsored by” acknowledgement in the corner.

I hope that the Planning Office will insist that the intent and spirit of the No Off-Premise Ad Ban must be honored, even by Proctors.

Thanks for following-up on this.

David
questionmarkkeyRedWHY SHOULD WE CARE? Many of my fellow Schenectady residents will surely react to my complaint about the Proctors Billboard by thinking something like: “Proctors is so wonderful, let them do what they want to do. And, leave them alone, David!”
But, there are good reasons for banning off-premise signs, which would sprout up everywhere if allowed. Moreover, I hope we are a City of Laws not Favorites. More than that, I hope folks in the Planning Office and City Hall in general will ponder how, if Proctors can use this ploy, the City could refuse any other not-for-profit entity or governmental authority (i.e., schools, firehouses) that would like to use the “sponsor” ruse to garner “donations” by means of a big digital sign in front of their premises.
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follow-up (October 1, 2019):
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Marquee-Oct1
Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger asked me in an email to let her know if Proctors continued to have off-premise ads on October 1st. In 28 minutes taking photos today from across the street, I captured a dozen ads that I deem to be off-premise ads. [See collage above.]
  • There were 8 signs that were purely off-premise ads for the seller of goods or services. 
  • Four proclaimed “Proud Sponsors of Proctors”, but were clearly signs to advertise sponsors not signs advertising a Proctors show or program, which a modest thank-you credit to a sponsor.
One ad, for CATS! seems to me to be an appropriate sign for the Proctors Marquee — promoting an upcoming show, with a small footnote of a credit to American National insurance as a sponsor.
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Cats-AmNat
.. above: sponsor credit done right. . 
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The Mazzone Hospitality ad that I call off-premise flips that relationship, with a tiny nod to Key Hall at Proctors in a corner, and a big spread for the actual subject of the ad. 
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below: large sponsor credit as excuse for an off-premise sign. . 
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MazzoneMarqueeAd

betting on sports betting?

RiversSportsbookOpen 

We’ve been quiet here at Snowmen At The Gates about sports betting since our post in May 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for all states to authorize sports betting. A couple weeks ago, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor became the first facility in the State of New York to offer legalized sports betting at its Rivers Sportsbook lounge. [see Times Union coverage, and the Gazette article, July 16, 2019]

upstatenymap2019Having succeeded in keeping all but full-fledged casinos out of the sports betting game in Upstate New York for now, Rivers Casino is secure in the knowledge that its nearest competitors will be Resorts World International Catskills (123 miles away); del Lago Casino (156 miles away); and Tribal casino Turning Stone, in Verona, which is 97 miles away (see: “Turning Stone sports betting opens” (Syracuse.com, August 1, 2019, by Ben Coin).  

  • As a racino, Saratoga is not permitted to offer sports betting under the current NYS law.
  • What about Tribal Casinos, such as Turning Stone? Tribal Casinos are not included in the new sports wagering rules, but “tribal casinos in New York have legal reciprocity to offer any gambling games allowed at the state’s commercial casinos”. See LegalSportsReport] Earlier this year, the Oneida Nation announced that it is working on receiving the needed approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission for a partnership with Caesars Entertainment to offer sports betting at its three NYS casinos. And, Follow-up: Sports Betting opened at Turning Stone Casino on August 1, 2019. See NYCentral, July 31, 2019..

OpeningDayTUpic

Being slow learners, or good actors, our local pols have been brimming with optimism about all the new business and revenue, and tourism, sports betting will bring for Schenectady (City and County) and the State. [photo detail to the left by Paul Buckowski, Albany Times UnionNaturally, beyond the usual hyperbole and uncertainty of any wagering projection, no one has mentioned what will happen if existing Rivers customers substitute Sports Wagering (taxed at 10%) for their Slots betting (taxed at 45%), the only form of casino betting at Rivers that has been growing since its first year of operation; or, if they simply spend time at the Sports Lounge that would have been spent at the Tables.

Rivers Casino has apparently spent a million dollars preparing its 5000 square foot Sports Wagering Lounge. We now have figures for the first two weeks of Sports Wagering at Rivers Casino, as shown in this screen shot compilation, from the Rivers Casino weekly reports to the NYS Gaming Commission [click on the image for a larger version]:

Rivers-Sports-2wks

I have no idea whether the total of Sports Wagering for the first two weeks, $260,334, should be considered large or small; I do not think Rivers/Rush Street gave any public projections. But I will note that the two weeks included two very successful Saturday evening Harbor Jam concerts at Rivers Casino and the Mohawk Harbor Marina, creating the potential for thousands of the curious to check out the Sports Wagering Lounge.

Just looking at the numbers, I do see that:

  • plungegraphsmSports Betting Week 1: $168,743.
  • SB Week 2: $91,591
  • Week 2’s Sports Wagering total was down $77,152, which is 45.7% lower than Week 1
  • Slots Revenue during SBWeek 2 was down $4,918 from the week ending 7/14/2019, the week prior to the launch of Sports Wagering at Rivers.
  • Table Game revenue during SBWeek 2 was down $401,697 — that is down 45% — from the week ending 7/14/2019, the week prior to the launch of Sports Wagering at Rivers. Table Game revenue had also gone down the first week of Sports Wagering at Rivers Casino.
  • $2,898,960, Total Gaming Revenue at Rivers Casino for SBWeek 2 (the week ending July 18, 2019) was the second worse figure in over five months at Rivers Casino.

lifepreserverOf course, two weeks may not tell us much. But, Rivers Casino certainly got a lot of publicity for the opening of Sports Wagering in New York State. Fans of legal sports betting might have been expected to rush over to Mohawk Harbor. So far, totals at Rivers Casino suggest less overall revenue and therefore lower tax receipts than prior to the New Age of Sports Betting. If your tummy is easily upset, I’d suggest some dramamine to deal with the Spin Tsunami that may be coming. On the other hand, when it comes to less-than-rosy news about Rivers Casino, we mostly get deafening Silence from Rush Street Gaming, Rush Street Schenectady, and their handmaidens at City Hall, Metroplex, and the County and State Legislatures. Their unwitting public relations departments at our local media tend to run out of words (and follow-up questions), too, when casino news is not good.

plungegraphsmYupdate (Aug. 9, 2019): According to the Rivers Casino revenue report for the week ending 08/04/19, Sports Wagering GGR for the 3rd week at Rivers Sportsbook was $25,386. That’s two-thirds less than its dismal 2nd Week, and a mere 15% of the Week 1 sports wagering take. Total GGR at Rivers Schenectady was up 13% last week over the prior week, with Table Game revenue up 43% and Slots revenue up about 7%.

  • For another perspective, see “Rovell: Sports Betting Launched in New York and No One Cared” (Darren, Rovell, TheActionNetwork, Jul 19, 2019). “Put all the shine you want on it. Have comfortable plush chairs and good lines, without mobile, and with hard to get to retail sportsbooks, it won’t make an impact.”

Our elected leaders at Schenectady City Hall, who love to call the Casino their Partner, were all too thrilled to support Sports Betting on the Mohawk. Not one word was said by the Democratic majority or the Mayor’s Office about the not insignificant chance that overall tax receipts could decline, even if Rivers Casino got more profitable. I, for one, have no interest in throwing the ones seeking re-election at this time a life preserver. The least they could do is demand that the projection numbers be crunched to see how the net receipts are likely to work out for the City and County. And, start thinking of the people of Schenectady as their partners, not the Mohawk Harbor Gang.

  • Also, to bring up a pet peeve of mine, Mr. Kosiur or Mayor McCarthy should insist that Rivers Casino tell us their overall Visitor numbers for 2018, which they have not yet done, despite being halfway through 2019. Around Schenectady, No News is never good news. It is more likely to be a cover-up of bad news.

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RiversDesPlainesPylon follow-up FYI (August 4, 2019): Capital Region media never mentioned it, but in March 2019, Rush Street Gaming sold 61% of its ownership of the Des Plaines (Ill.) Rivers Casino, the largest casino in Illinois, to Churchill Downs. That surely got Rush Street a powerful influx of cash, despite all its crybaby antics at the NYS Legislature seeking tax breaks. The folk at Rivers Casino Des Plaines have announced a very large plan to get into sports betting big time. See “Rivers Casino owner is betting big with plans to expand Des Plaines casino, add sports wagering and go after a new casino license” (Chicago Tribune, August 2, 2019, by Robert Channick)

is anyone enforcing our digital sign rules?

 If you have followed this website over the past several years, you know that the Editor believes Schenectady has been far too lenient in allowing frequently-changing digital signs along its roadways. [see, e.g., this 2015 posting] The digital/LCD signs are called Electronic Message Boards [EMB] in the City Zoning Code, and Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs [CEVMS] by New York State.

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In addition to the Planning Commission’s nearly-automatic granting of Special Use Permits for EMBs, I’ve recently realized that the City’s Zoning and Code Enforcement Offices have been allowing highly visible violations of the relevant Zoning provisions for such Electronic Message Boards. Specifically, there appear to be ongoing violations of Schenectady Zoning Code, § 264-61(I), which states: “[3] In no case shall the message change at a rate greater than once every eight seconds.” This posting demonstrates and explores the lack of enforcement. [For another form of digital sign non-compliance, see our posting “Proctors Marquee Billboard“.]

. .  .

. . Query: What’s the advantage for the business shown above in installing the digital sign on the right, over its attractive and effective predecessor on the left, in Schenectady upscale retail district? . . Also, with the bright digital sign placed at the sidewalk and very close to a busy roadway (with heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic), and located near a complicated set of intersections and parking alternatives and restrictions, in addition to residences, what does the public gain that warrants added traffic hazards, questionable aesthetics, and setting a regulatory precedent that will certainly be exploited by nearby businesses? [see the Google Map depiction of the relevant stretch of Union Street]

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NEFJsignpmNORTHEASTERN FINE JEWELRY. If you drive on upper Union Street, it is quite difficult to miss the digital sign [shown on the right] of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, at 1607 Union Street, on the corner of Baker Ave. The Jewelry shop’s application for a Special Use Permit to install the electronic message board was heard at the September 19, 2018 Planning Commission Meeting. As seen on pp. 3-6 of of the Commission Minutes for that meeting:
  • The Applicant originally asked that the new EMB be allowed to change every 6 seconds, but stated during the Meeting that it would be limited to every 8 seconds, the minimum interval permitted by the NYS DOT and the Schenectady’s Zoning Code. The 8-second interval was explicitly made a restriction on the SUP, and the 6-second request explicitly rejected. [see page 6 of the Minutes]
  • Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”
  • NEFJ-GoogleMapThe sign would be very close to residences (and, in fact, was within the 100-foot ban approved by the Commission in a pending proposal to amend the zoning Code). Commissioner Ferro was very reluctant to approve an EMB so close to residences. Nonetheless, rather than rejecting the Application for the same reasons that they have proposed the specific 100-foot ban near residences, the Commissioners added the mild restriction to the SUP that “The sign will remain static between the hours of 9 P.M. and 7 A.M.” The static sign overnight requirement is also a specific requirement in the proposed amendments. [see Minutes, bottom of page 6]
    • Note: A static sign, one that has the same image without changing, is nonetheless a very bright LCD screen. Moreover, in some months, people are in their residence and it is dark out, long before 9 P.M. Keying the Static Time to sunset or full dark would probably be more appropriate.
  • EMB-NEFJ-BIDEnablers. In deciding to approve the Application, certain individual members offered what seem to me to be very weak rationales. For example, Commissioner Bailey, according to the Minutes (see image to the right), “stated that he believes that the applicants are doing their best to incorporate the EMB in the most tasteful, unobtrusive way possible.” Bailey also agreed with Commissioner Beach that approval of the application by the Business Improvement District members is a plus. (Commissioner Ferro noted that BID members could very well want similar signs for their own businesses.) Meanwhile, Commissioner Wilson opined that the particular sign “is the highest quality”, and insisted that “people who live in a mixed use district should expect some commercial activity.”
    • Ed. Note: I’d say that people who live in a mixed use district should expect to be protected by their Planning Commission from inappropriate commercial activity, and businesses should respect the needs of the very residents that help make the district good for businesses.
    • Also, no one suggested that the sign was already quite large and perhaps the LCD screen should be smaller than the current sign area, given its proximity to intersections, the street and sidewalk, and residences.
  • Wallinger-Silhouette-001Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger, prior to agreeing to approve the application, made several remarks that would seem to support its denial, give the burden on the Applicant to show the lack of negative impact. For instance, according to the Minutes: (1)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that she also shares the same concerns [over impact on residences and the neighborhood], which is why she is supporting changes to the Code to address this issue. She added that neighborhoods have different characters, and she does not feel like the Upper Union Street area would be the right fit for a large number of these signs.” (2) “Commissioner Wallinger stated that in general the function of a sign should be to identify the business rather than offer information advertising special offers or products. She noted that the Upper Union Street district has a lot of pedestrian traffic as well, which most likely will not be the ideal audience for a sign of this type and size. ”  (3)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that while she agrees that in this case the sign would be as tasteful as possible, she is concerned about neighboring businesses whose proposed EMB signs might not be appropriate.”
As seen in this video clip, taken on July 24, 2019, the digital sign at Northeastern Fine Jewelry changes every 6 seconds and has animation.
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  • The Complaint that I filed with the City’s online Citizen Request Tracker on July 9 about the 6-second intervals and use of  movement has not received any substantive reply as of July 28, 2019. update (July 31, 2019): Early Monday morning, July 29, Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein responded to an email sent by me on July 26 asking him to look into this matter, and said: “We’ll inspect to make sure it meets the required specifications.” Also, on July 30, I received an email from the Complaint Office concerning my complaint saying: “Request reassigned from Codes to Development. Reason: This is a Planning/Zoning concern. Thank you.” I will follow-up here if/as I hear more.

Moreover, on July 25, 2019, I discovered that Northeastern Fine Jewelry’s digital sign is not in compliance with the explicit condition in its Special Use permit to “remain static” after 9 PM for the sake of nearby residences. (I was there at 9:40 pm.) The content of the display is unchanged from the daytime display. Here are two images of the bright and changing NEFJ sign taken when it should have been “static”.

NEFJ-EMBafter9PM

update (Aug. 18, 2019): On August 14, the NEFJ digital sign was still changing at 6 second intervals (or less), and was still fully operational after 9 PM. on August 15 (images below).

IMG_2073 . . IMG_2017

  • checkedboxsupdate (August 21, 2019): Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein let me know this morning that (emphasis added): “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance as per the city requirements and special use permit. The City is still conducting inspections on many other properties that have electronic message boards, however the images and videos you submit are not admissible as part of our records, as an officer from the City needs to witness the violation in order to issue a citation.”
  • IMG_2100-NEFJ25AugJPG update (August 26, 2019): As of Sunday night, August 25, the NEFJ sign is still not in compliance, with change intervals still at 6 seconds, and the sign is not being held static after 9 PM.
  • follow-up (September 18, 2019): Four weeks after Zoning Office Avi Singer informed me that “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance,” their digital sign is still changing at least every 6 seconds, but there is so much movement on the screen that it is difficult to say just how many changes are actually being made. Recall, as stated above, that Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”

IMG_2104-001

UUHarvestFestMast October 12, 2019: Upper Union Harvest Fest 2019 — An otherwise enjoyable photo-stroll by me (documented here) at this year’s Harvest Fest was soured by the realization that Northeastern Fine Jewelry has apparently decided not be a fine neighbor or citizen. Its digital sign remains non-compliant with the City Zoning Code and NEFJ’s Special Use Permit for the sign. This 44-second clip has at least 10 changes, along with sparkles and animation. I have not been near the location after 9 PM to see whether the sign is put into Static Mode for the night out of respect to nearby residences.

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The Blue Ribbon Diner

BlueRibbonEMBThe Blue Ribbon Diner was granted Special Use Permits for signs at the Diner and next-door Bakery, at the Planning Commission’s Meeting of September 20, 2017. On my way home on the evening of July 25, 2019, I happened to pass by the Blue Ribbon complex at 1835 State Street, and marveled that the images on the EMBs seemed to change so rapidly. I parked and took a quick video to document the operation of the Blue Dinner EMBs.

The 28-second clip was taken at about 10:30 PM, and the lighting is not great. Nonetheless, you can see that some of the images change after only 3 seconds, not the 8-second requirement in our zoning code.

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In addition, the changes are blended, and have swipes and dissolves, which add to the distraction,. Such gimmicks are discouraged by best practices guidelines. Notice, also that the Blue Ribbon bakery sign can be seen making its changes in the background. The NYS DOT guidelines on digital signage state that, if signs are visible at the same time to a driver, they must be at least 300 feet apart.

Is the City’s lack of enforcement in the face of highly visible violations malfeasance or “merely” nonfeasance?

follow-up: On the morning of August 14, 2019 (five weeks after my first Complaint to the City), the digital signs at Blue Ribbon Dinner and Blue Ribbon Bakery, had not been adjusted to be in compliance, with dwell time averaging less than 5 seconds. The digital sign at Hair Design by Ralf and the one at Wedekind Auto (photo below), also in Woodlawn along State Street, were also changing significantly more frequently than the 8-second minimal interval required by the Schenectady Zoning Code.

IMG_2031  . .

EMBs granted special use permits in Schenectady, 2017-2019

1903 Maxon Road. – Pat Popolizio – Lighthouse – Feb. 15, 2017

2330 Watt St. – Crosstown Commons – May 17, 2017

Erie Blvd at Harbor Way – Mohawk Harbor – Aug. 16, 2017

1753 State St.  – Ralf Torkel – Jan. 17, 2018 – [hair salon]

416 State Street – Berkshire Hathaway – May 16, 2018

1607 Union St. – Northeastern Fine Jewelry – Sept. 19, 2018

[Ed. Note: For fuller discussion of potential safety hazards from digital signs along our streets, see our March 11, 2015 posting on “Safety Issues raised by electronic message boards“, which starts with a discussion of Proctors’ marquee signs and includes an appendix with general information and relevant links. ]

GazDAG-DigialSigns7Oct2019C6 FYI, see the Schenectady Gazette Guest Column, “City needs smarter digital sign regulation” (October 7, 2019, C6, by the proprietor of this website).

  • An appendix of relevant Zoning provisions, along with [in the near future] Best Practices or Model Rule recommendations, can be found at the foot of this posting.

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Inspired Immigrants honor Lady Liberty in Amsterdam NY

 

AmsterdamLadyStatue2-001

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Mary M. Wallinger, the designer of Gateway-Liberty Plaza, have created an unnecessary and prolonged controversy over Schenectady’s beloved Statue of Liberty Replica, which sits in storage rather than being returned (as promised) to Liberty Park, more than a year after the completion of the Park’s reconstruction project. In contrast, a group of immigrants in Amsterdam NY have used resilience and perseverance to show their “admiration and support” for a damaged Lady Liberty statue and all she represents. Despite a sometimes rocky relationship with the City of Amsterdam, the Chinese Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization commissioned and installed a beautiful replacement for the damaged Liberty statue, in a lot located across from two of their key properties, on the 200 block of East Main Street in Amsterdam.  The unveiling ceremony for the new Statue of Liberty was held on May 22, 2018, with the general public invited to the festivities.

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I only recently learned about Amsterdam’s new Lady Liberty, and I finally got to visit Her and have a photo shoot a few days ago (Thursday, July 25, 2019).

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AmsterdamLady-flag2 The Amsterdam Lady Liberty Statue is located in “Health, Peace and Friendship Square”, between Swan and Kline Streets, across from 262 E. Main Street and the former St. Casimir’s Church, now known as Five World Buddhas Temple. It is 16 miles up Rt. 5 from the 67-year home of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty, at Liberty/Gateway Park. Mayor Gary McCarthy and Chairman Wallinger exiled our Lady from Her park with the “explanation” that our Timeless Lady is not contemporary enough to fit in the revamped version of Liberty Park.

. . here’s an annotated version of the block from Google Maps . .

AmsterdamLady-Map

The following slideshow contains my favorite shots from this week’s Amsterdam photoshoot.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/AmsterdamLiberty
  • P.S. I found a nice explanation at Merriam-Webster for those who are not sure of the difference between an immigrant and an emigrant or emigré.  It should be no surprise whose imagine accompanied the article.  MW-Emigrant-Immigrant

 

Gazette Poll shows support for Lady Liberty at Her Park

LL-GazPollResults13Jul2019Y

Gazette Poll

 Many thanks to the Schenectady Gazette for running a poll this past week that allowed the public to answer the question “Where should Schenectady’s ‘Lady Liberty’ statue be located“. The runaway “winner”, as you can see on the right (July 13, 2019, E1; sample), was Liberty Park, with 49% (148 votes). And, see “Schenectady’s Lady Liberty saga drags on, some say unnecessarily: Deadline comes and goes for relocation plans” (July 12, 2019, A1, by Pete DeMola).

 

  • LadyLibertyParkCollageF Get the full story at “Lady Liberty is Timeless“. [click on the collage thumbnail to see Lady Liberty in her Park] Below is Her Silhouette standing at the prior location, in a sculpture base at the new Liberty/Gateway Park that is available and would be a most appropriate location.

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  • In 17 months of asking, we have not been given even one good reason, much less a sufficient one, for ignoring the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan written and promoted by Mary Wallinger in 2012, and approved by the City Council and Mayor Gary McCarthy in 2013. The only thing that changed was Mary Wallinger’s public position on returning Lady Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Park once its construction was completed in 2018.

not again, Mr. Steck!

AssPhilSteck The Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor is at it again. Phil Steck (ostensibly, D-Colonie) is trying to sneak in a last-minute, end of Session treat for his No. 1 Constituent, Rivers Casino. The Editorial board at the Schenectady Gazette rightly wants to know:

[W]hy — as state lawmakers scramble to pass bills during the final days of the 2019 legislative session — is anyone in Albany focused on providing tax breaks and cost savings for casinos?

[See “Editorial: Put taxpayers, horse industry above casinos: Rivers casino is making plenty of money. It doesn’t need more breaks” (Daily Gazette, June 19, 2019); also, see “Steck proposes casino funding adjustment” (by Pete DeMola, Gazette, June 18, 2019); Sara Foss’ Gazette column, “Casino proposal a bad idea” (June 20, 2019).]

As the Editorial explains:

Steck-McCarthyAtRiversOne bill (A8400/S6562) sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Steck would allow full-service casinos like Rivers in Schenectady to pay half what they currently pay to support the state’s horse-racing industry.

Racinos like Saratoga Casino Hotel, which offer both video gaming and harness racing, would pay the other half

Furthermore, the Gazette points out:

That 100 percent payment was put into the agreement because the new casinos were expected to draw significant business away from the existing racinos, and by extension take money out of the horse-racing industry. And they have.

To further punish the racino by forcing it to absorb half the horse-racing obligations, in addition to the revenue losses to the casino, adds insult to injury.

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Mr. Steck – Eyes Shut [TU photo]

 This tax-break ploy at the expense of racinos such as the one in Saratoga is especially cynical at a time when Rivers Casino has consistently increasing slots revenue and is about to be the only casino in the state offering both sports betting and live horse racing (at track odds, too). update (June 21, 2019): By the way, Mr. Steck made this proposal to help poor little Rivers Casino at a time when the Schenectady Casino was having its second-best week for Gross Gaming Revenue since its rush of opening hoopla in March of 2017. Its GGR for the week ending 06/16/2019 was $3,535,273.

  • Steck and Rivers Casino made the same lame arguments just three months ago, trying to reduce the gaming tax Rivers would have to pay on slots revenue. For our complete reply, see: “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid” (March 29, 2019). Their excuses include the whiny refrain that MGM Springfield is unfair competition, because of its lower slots tax rate. They keep forgetting that:
    • MGMSpringfield-render(1)  MGM Springfield pays the City of Springfield $25 million a year over its State gaming tax obligations under a Host City Agreement, whereas our Mayor never asked for such an agreement and we get nothing extra;
    • (2) Rivers Casino has had over a 10% increase in gaming revenue since MGM Springfield opened last year; and
    • (3) MGM Springfield actually looks and feels like a destination casino, which surely gives it a competitive edge with customers willing to travel. Thanks to our Mayor and Planning Commission (and Metroplex) refusing-fearing to demand better, Rush Street Gaming and Galeshi Group have given us a homely, mediocre regional casino, which will not attract the tourists we had hoped for.

Letters for the Lady (with updates)

. . . Letters and Opinion Pieces on Returning Lady Liberty . . Click on image for larger version

. . for background, see tinyurl.com/TimelessLady

. . It all started in March 2018 . . 

Jessie Malecki (Gazette, March 14, 2018):

Gazette-Malecki-Liberty. . . . still speaking out at 95!

GazLTE-Moorehouse-Lady . . Shirley Moorehouse (Gazette, March 15, 2018); and see the letter from her husband Dick Curtis below);

Gaz-DICRISTOFARO-Lady . . R. Dicristofaro (Gazette, March 17, 2018). .

TUletterLiberty23Mar2018  (March 23, 2018): Click the thumbnail to the left to see a Letter published in the Albany Times Union by David Giacalone (click for online version).

Gaz-LTE-LJackson . . Lance R. Jackson (onlineGazette, March 27, 2018). .

. . Jim Wilson

GazLTE-JamesAWilson . . James A. Wilson (Gazette, April 8, 2018, online)

LibertyPark-THodgkins-Gaz . . Tom Hodgkins, Sunday Gazette Guest Column (April 28, 2018)

GazLTE-JWilson27Jun2018 Gazette Letter (June 27) by much-honored Veteran Jim Wilson, calling for Liberty’s return on July 4th.

GazLTE-JWilson10Sept And, James Wilson’s September 10th Letter in the Gazette: “Restore Lady Liberty Statue by October 28“, the anniversary of the dedication of the original Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor,

GazLTE-Riggi-Lady . . . . Councilman Vincent Riggi, Sept. 20, 2018 .

  • GazEd-DontMoveLadyLiberty The Daily Gazette Editorial Board’s editorial “Don’t Move Lady Liberty“ (April 5, 2018), saying “City officials deciding the fate of the city’s 8-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty should end the tug of war over the statue and return it to where it was always intended to be, in its place of honor at the gateway to the city of Schenectady in Liberty Park.” (Click on thumbnail to the left to see the entire editorial from Friday’s Gazette.)

Who knew we’d still need letters  15 months after the first ones?

LTE-JWilson20May2019 . . May 20, 2019: James A. Wilson continued his series of Letters asking for the return of Lady Liberty, including this one, appearing in the Gazette on May 20, 2019.  Mr. Wilson expresses “hope”, a virtue that only makes sense to me when dealing with those acting in good faith.

 . . LLlte-GPlante

 

 

. . above: Gerald Plante’s first LTE about the Lady, May 29, 2019, in the Gazette., and his appearance at a Rally for Lady Liberty’s return in May . . 

LLlte-STrumpler

what can you still do?

Contact the Mayor and City Council directly:

  • Mayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov – who has not offered any justification for changing (ignoring) an important element of a very important and approved Plan.
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park, despite its gross factual errors, and has declared without explanation that “only the Mayor has the delegation” to make this decision.
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan, but has been most silent on the topic
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park. (Update [Sept. 3, 2019]: According to the Aug. 28 Gazette, Ms. Z-W “liked the location, citing its proximity to the Schenectady Train Station and the Stockade, and thinks most residents will find it to be an acceptable location.)
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov, who suggested in March 2018 we might poll the affected neighborhoods, but has been silent since.
  • Vincent Riggi – v_riggi@verizon.net, the only Council member to consistently demand implementing the Implementation Plan and suitably honoring Lady Liberty and her Schenectady history.

And, Mary Moore Wallinger, mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com, who changed her mind after designing Gateway Plaza and writing the Implementation Plan and now says Lady Liberty “does not fit in” with Wallinger Plaza’s contemporary theme.

IMG_2117-002 AFTER Installation at the NEW LOCATION on August 28, 2019 [story and images here]

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on June 4 come to GROOVIN’4LIBERTY (updated)

JUNE 4, 2019, 5:30 PM at Liberty/Gateway Park Rain Location, Key Hall at Proctors, during DSIC’s Art Week, family event, Groovin’@Gateway

update: 11:30 Tuesday: MOVING to RAIN LOCATION: Groovin’4Liberty will be following Groovin’@Gateway INDOORS to KEY HALL in PROCTORS. Hope to see you there! 

. . If you cannot join us, please see EMAIL ALTERNATIVE below to send your Ballot.

GroovinRally4 . .  Meet, starting at 5:30 pm, at Key Hall in Proctors. at the “Central Sculpture fixture” if the Event is Outdoors, approximately where Lady Liberty stood from 1950 to 2017. We’ll be there throughout the DSIC Event (5:30 PM to 8 PM).

WHY COME TO GROOVIN’4LIBERTY?
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  • Show your support for Lady Liberty’s Return, preserving Schenectady History, the integrity of the planning process, and for common sense
  • Have your photo taken with Silhouette Lady
  •  VOTE FOR HER RETURN: You will be able to cast a Vote for Lady Liberty’s Return We will have copies of the PUT HER BACK REQUEST to Mayor McCarthy and Mary Wallinger (seen on the R) at Groovin’4Liberty on June 2. You will be able to use it as a Ballot for us to give to McCarthy & Wallinger.
  • PutHerBackPetnEEMAIL ALTERNATIVE: PLEASE if you cannot be at the Rally, attach this Request to an email and send it to Mr. McCarthy, Ms. Wallinger, and City Council President Ed Kosiur (addresses below), and other Council Members of your choice. Thank you.
  • To the Mayor: gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov
    To Chairman Wallinger: mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com
    To Mr. Kosiur: ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov

  • Pick up a memento photo of Lady Liberty to show what we are fighting for (click on images below for larger version):

LadyInParkC4x6pfa . . . LadyInParkB6x4pea

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This collage is a 2019 version of the “poster” for our September 28, 2018 Rally for Lady Liberty. The issues are the same, and City Hall continues to thumb its nose at the Lady, the Public, and Good Government:

Groovin2019Collage

. . LONG STORY SHORT: Lady Liberty stood for 67 years in Liberty Park. She was removed only to protect Her from the extensive reconstruction of the Park. There was never any public thought or discussion that Lady Liberty would not be returned, and the Final, approved Implementation Plan included Her return once construction was complete, as the natural, popular choice. Nevertheless, Mayor Gary R. McCarthy, under the recommendation of designer Mary Wallinger (who has decided the Statue just doesn’t “fit” in a contemporary plaza), has chosen not to return the replica Liberty Statue. We want Her back home in Her Park.

BACKGROUND facts/photos/links and more: For background, see . . “Lady Liberty is Timeless“ & “Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty”. And, the Gazette‘s Memorial Day article, “Schenectady mayor teases Lady Liberty announcement” (by Pete DeMola, May 27, 2019)

.  . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/Groovin4Liberty

update (June 2, 2019): We’re sending out a warm welcome to Liberty-Gateway Park for the Schenectady Rainbow Pride Art installation.  Read about it and see photos taken today, at our sister website, “suns along the Mohawk.” We think the Pride installation, celebrating progress in LGBT right in the 50 years since Stonewall, is an excellent component of a Liberty-oriented Park. Silhouette Lady visited the Installation several hours before its official dedication.

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Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty

 . .

. . above: Lady Liberty and Mary Wallinger in silhouette during Plaza Tour . .

Mary Moore Wallinger

 This past Thursday, May 16, 2019, the group LocalXDesign sponsored a  Public Tour of Gateway Plaza in Schenectady, led by Mary Moore Wallinger, the chief designer and construction administrator for the Plaza, and the Chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission. The public was invited to “Come and learn how the design evolved from concept to reality!”

Although very curious about the devolution of several important aspects of the Park/Plaza from the approved Implementation Plan (see our pre-Tour “plans evolve” post), the author of this posting decided to have a low-key display of protest, rather than shadowing Ms. Wallinger to pepper her with questions during the Tour.  We therefore headed to the “central sculpture and seating display” at the upper, urban plaza portion of the Park, the approximate original location of Lady Liberty from 1950 to 2017.

. . .  

. . above: images during the Tour at the “central sculpture display”; its base is still empty and could readily become the re-location/return spot for Lady Liberty, pleasing many residents and visitors, and saving the expense of purchasing a new sculpture . . 

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/WallingerExcuses

Nonetheless, I did hear two relevant comments by Ms. Wallinger, one prior to and one after moving to the upper portion of the Plaza. Here are the two telling remarks by Ms. Wallinger:

  1. The Beer-Drinker Anecdote. Mary, early in her Tour presentation, told her audience just how dreadfully designed, over-vegetated and unsafe Liberty Park had been prior to its reconstruction [click on image to the right for photos taken September 2016, before the reconstruction started]. It seems that in 2015, Mary was at the old Park, taking photographs, when an apparently inebriated beer-drinker rose up from the vegetation to ask what she was doing. She told him she was the designer of the new Plaza, and he said he liked the privacy of all the bushes and trees. The beer-drinker then asked if he could make some recommendations. Mary’s reply was: No, we already have an approved Plan, so we can’t make changes. [paraphrased] Ms. Wallinger did not seem to see the irony of that statement, at least from the perspective of those protesting her significant changes to the approved Plan. ……………………………………………………….
  2. The REPLICA EXCUSE: When the Tour group was approaching the upper plaza, someone must have asked Ms. Wallinger about the protestors or the missing Lady Liberty, or she simply felt the need to comment. I heard Mary speak dismissively of the significance of any dissent to her change in the Plan. Then, to justify the absence of the Statue, Mary added what was to me a new excuse for the exile of Lady Liberty. To paraphrase her explanation:

This Plaza is meant to welcome people to Schenectady and to symbolize its future. As a replica, the Statue of Lady Liberty is not an appropriate sculpture, given the location and purpose. The piece should be something original.

 

. . see #6 in Plan Legend, “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”. . 

 Of course, I am not a certified urban planner, nor a (landscape)architect. But, I do wonder whether this No Replica Principle is widely accepted within the professional planning and design community, much less that it has been embraced by the American public. Our Lady Liberty Replica was known to be a replica, and called a replica, at the time Ms. Wallinger and her colleagues placed her in sketches, legends and renderings of the proposed Gateway Plaza. (for example, see image above this paragraph, and detail at left). This is surely not a situation where someone might confuse Schenectady’s 110″-high replica with the original Statue of Liberty. Like an adolescent who keeps adding (weak) explanations and excuses to justify a misdeed, Ms. Wallinger becomes less and less credible and trustworthy with each excuse.

By The Way, as for authenticity:

  • A rendering of the proposed Pedestrian Walkway used in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (and in prior drafts) shows what I assume is a replica of Venus de Milo, and not the original, in Gateway Plaza. (See detail to Left.)
  • More apt, Mary Wallinger is the designer who waxed poetic about the symbolism and “story” to be told by a proposed Wind Turbine sculpture to be used at the Central Focal Point of Gateway Plaza – a reference to our historic technological innovations, future accomplishments, and ecological aspirations. Instead, with no chance for public input, she gave us as “modern urban sculpture”, three Cor-ten, fast-rusting, off-the-shelf pillars/girders, which do not seem to tell a story, but (intentionally or not) many folks in Schenectady believe may have been part of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. (see our post “pillaried at the Plaza“)

  

. . above: Tour group at the Plaza’s  “urban sculpture” focal point . . 

CRITERIA for CHANGING APPROVED PLAN? Of course, the biggest absence to date in the “explanations” from Mary Moore Wallinger, as both a prolific designer and Chair of the City Planning Commission, is any acknowledgement that there is a difference between plans changing from earliest concepts through drafts, steering committee sessions, and public workshops, and changes after official resolution and approval of a Final Plan by the City Council and Mayor.

By The Way, Resolution No. 2013-206, approved by City Council on Aug. 12, 2013 (and by the Mayor Aug. 14, 2013), stated (emphases added):

WHEREAS, three public meetings of this plan and a public presentation to the City Council have been held, and changes to the plan were made based on comments received:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT

RESOLVED, that the City of Schenectady adopts, as an official document, the “Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan”.

 Moreover, there is no indication from Mary Wallinger as designer or as Planning Chair, as to what the standard should be for changing a significant aspect of a “Final Plan” adopted after the formal planning process is completed. We also wonder what role renderings are meant to play that are submitted during the planning process and as part of a final draft. From years of observation, such changes are “justified” by citing engineering reports that claim serious safety or financial difficulties, necessitating varying from an approved plan; changes in a designer’s stylistic preferences do not warrant such changes.

  • Procedure for Alterations? Another important question, of course, is what the procedure should be for making any such changes after an implementation plan has final City approval. For example, what is the role of the “construction administrator”, Planning Department, Mayor, and/or City Council? What process is appropriate when there are no deadline pressures?

One More (Major) Irony: Before I list the excuses given by Mary Wallinger for her refusal to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, there is one major ironic coincidence to mention about last week’s Tour of Gateway Plaza:  The Grand Opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum took place earlier that very day on Liberty Island. That’s right, despite claims to the contrary, Lady Liberty is so relevant to present-day America and its future, that $100 million was spent to create this museum that explores and celebrates the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. See “What does Lady Liberty stand for? A look at changing attitudes” (Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2019, by Harry Bruinius)

  • “Liberty Enlightening the World”. By the way, our Mayor and Planning Chair are quite enamored with the notion of a Renaissance in Schenectady. They could do worse than remembering that, beyond craft beer, revolving restaurants, and the casino of their “renaissance”, our City could use more stress on culture and Enlightenment. The Liberty Statue in New York Harbor was named “Liberty Enlightening the World” by its creator. One commentator had this to say in contrasting Renaissance and Enlightenment political philosophy:

The political philosophy of the Enlightenment is the unambiguous antecedent of modern Western liberalism: secular, pluralistic, rule-of-law-based, with an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Note that none of this was really present in the Renaissance, when it was still widely assumed that kings were essentially ordained by God, that monarchy was the natural order of things and that monarchs were not subject to the laws of ordinary men, and that the ruled were not citizens but subjects.

.  . . It was the Enlightenment, and thinkers who embodied its ideas, like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, who were the intellectual force behind the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and who really inspired the ideas behind the great political documents of the age like the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

In this context, Lady Liberty seems, to most of us, an excellent symbol and reminder of our past, and bridge from our present to our future.

WHY EXILE LADY LIBERTY from HER PARK?

Below are the reasons that Mary Moore Wallinger has given for her feigned change of heart in refusing to return the Replica of Lady Liberty to the expanded Liberty Park, a/k/a Gateway Plaza. Many of us believe that none of these excuses would have been accepted — and most would have been ridiculed, or at least soundly defeated on the merits — during the actual planning process for Gateway Plaza. That might be why Ms. Wallinger never raised them at the time.

 . . too small? of course not.

  • The STATUE IS TOO SMALL, so that the Statue would be overwhelmed in the big Plaza.  This was the reason that Mary told me in an email, when I first asked why Lady Liberty was not returning to Her Park.  [Response: She’s not too small in the scale rendering done for the Implementation Plan (see detail at right). In addition, Lawrence the Indian is almost three feet shorter and commands his Circle, as is Thomas Edison down at Erie Blvd. and S. Ferry. An experienced landscaper should be able to create a niche for the Lady somewhere at this large Plaza, honoring Her, without creating a space that is too-enclosed for safety.]
  • PLANS CHANGE“: In defending her wish to keep Lady Liberty out of the new Plaza and to send Her to Steinmetz Park instead, Mary told the City Council Meeting of March 26, 2018 that “Plans change,” giving the example that the design team had originally planned to have a road going through the Park. As discussed above, this justification for failing to return Lady Liberty ignores the distinction between the many stages of the planning process and the decision to change, without public input or return to City Council, a major aspect of a Final Plan that has been through public workshops and approval by the City Council. Neither Mary nor the Mayor claimed any safety or engineering issues for not returning Lady Liberty. (The presentations “from the floor” to the March 26, 2018 City Council Meeting are discussed more fully in the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless“.)
  • NOT SIGNIFICANT PART of the PLAZA PLAN
    • Mary told this to the City Council the evening she appeared to support sending Lady Liberty to the Veterans Memorial planned for Steinmetz Park. [Response: Mary is confusing square footage with significance, and overlooking the clearly stated preference of the public for the Lady’s return. Returning Lady Liberty was fully supported by all commenters in the Public Workshop. As the Gazette reporter who attended the Public Workshops wrote on June 13, 2013: “Residents . . expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty. The Lady Liberty replica has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”]
    • Wallinger also told City Council that only a few members of the public took part in the Public Workshops, which she noted were held because the State requires them when funding is requested. [Response: This is, for many obvious reasons, a scary argument for the Chair of our Planning Commission to make.]
  • GPPlanCover

    Cover of Final Plan

     NOT IN THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Ms. Wallinger noted in passing to City Council that Lady Liberty was not mentioned in the Executive Summary of the Final Implementation Plan. Given placement of Lady Liberty in renderings submitted with the Final Plan, and on the Cover of the Final Plan (see annotated image at left), and explicit discussion of the Return in the public workshop, leaving Her out of the Executive Summary looks like an intentional action, perhaps meant to foreshadow the future exile of Lady Liberty.

  • Goose Hill Petition

    NEGLECTED FOR FIVE YEARS in STORAGE. Mary Wallinger did not make this argument directly, but she let her friends and allies on Goose Hill make the argument in March 2018, and put it in their petition to City Council and the Mayor, seeking to have Lady Liberty sent to Steinmetz Park for a Veterans Memorial. Wallinger never corrected this misinformation, and did not advise City Council of the erroneous claim. As administrator of the construction plan at Gateway Plaza, Ms. Wallinger was well aware that Lady Liberty was not removed from Liberty Park until August 2017, and only to protect the statue during construction.

  • NOT CONTEMPORARY ENOUGH to fit in with the intended style of the new Plaza, which she insists is meant to “celebrate the future” of Schenectady. [Response: (1) That formulation truncates the original goal written by Wallinger in the Implementation Plan: the Plaza will “celebrate the past, present, and future” of Schenectady. And, (2) One is hard-pressed to find a “style” of design at the Plaza, and the well-known and loved appearance of Lady Liberty might take the edge off the mood set by rusty girders and light-sabers. In general, urban design that tries to seem contemporary often seems merely “temporary” and quickly dated.]
  • “SHE’D LOOK LIKE SHE’s CATCHING a BUS”. [Response: This flippant remark to a reporter is from the designer/planner who chose the relocation spot for Lady Liberty next to the bus stop, and (see image to right) insisted the Statue would seem grander there and have more exposure. At this website, we worried that CDTA buses would line up blocking out the view of Lady Liberty from State Street much of the day — another reason to return Her to her original location in the Park, now called the Central Sculpture Area].
  • The STATUE is VERY DAMAGED, VERY EXPENSIVE to REPAIR. [Response: This damage and expense were not mentioned until months after the decision to send the Lady elsewhere was made (she looked pretty good next to Director of Planning Diotte, in photo to left). Also, there has been no description of the damage, or apparent action to get an estimate, much less get it repaired and back in public view.  Some of the expense should have been part of the original Plaza budget, since the statue and base would have been slated for a least refurbishing, if Ms. Wallinger ever planned to return the Lady to Liberty Park. Also, the money saved by not buying a new sculpture for the Main Sculpture location should go toward any needed repair, followed by placing Lady Liberty at the main sculpture spot, approximating her original location.
  • IT’s THE MAYOR’s DECISION, Not MINE: [Response: Of course, the Mayor (or a City Council with backbone, or a court) can try to settle this, but there is no doubt that it was Mary Moore Wallinger who has spearheaded the notion of not returning the Lady. Mary’s failure to take responsibility suggests how weak the many arguments are underpinning her subjective desire to exile the Lady for Wallinger Plaza, and echoes her complaint to me that I was making her look like the “bad guy”. On the other hand, there is little doubt that Mary Wallinger, as the Mayor’s “Design Team” and his partner moving projects through the Planning Commission, could successfully lobby the Mayor to follow the approved Implementation Plan and return the Lady to Her Home, Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza.]
  • IT’S A REPLICA: [scroll back up this posting for commentary on this sad excuse for an excuse.]

A Final Thought: The UTICA EXAMPLE:

    . .  

. . above: [L] Schenectady’s Liberty Replica in warehouse storage room since August 2017; [R] Utica’s Liberty Replica in a workshop where She was fully restored, June 2017  

Our neighboring upstate City, Utica, New York, also received a replica of Lady Liberty in 1950, thanks to their local Boy Scouts. It is apparently two feet shorter than Schenectady’s and had deteriorated badly. Nonetheless, thoughtful people of Utica decided to pay for a complete restoration of their Liberty Replica (with donations to cover the $10,000 expense), to reestablish its grand presence on their Monument Parkway. See the May 17, 2017 Newsletter of the Central New York Conservancy.

 . .

. . above: Utica’s Lady Liberty at Monument Park [L] before and [R] after the restoration by Michael H. Mancini, MHM, Inc., of St. Johnsville . . 

  • Thank you for the heads-up from Gerald Plante, who featured Utica’s Lady Liberty replica at his Facebook Page, where he advocates for the return of Schenectady’s Lady.

ll-locationcompare . . mistreated

slots still the only bright spot for Rivers Casino gambling

 Slots play continues to be the only form of casino gambling that is increasing at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino since its first year of operation. Table game and Poker Table play are down. According to the Rivers Casino Monthly Reports submitted to the NYS Gaming Commission,

for the first four months of 2019:

  • Total Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] was $53,686,129, up $2,925,831 from the first four months of 2018
  • SLOTS/ETG play was $37,627,968, up $3,686,342 from first four months of 2018
 As with the 2nd Full Year of Rivers Casino revenue, the increase in Slots gambling from January through April 2019 was greater than the total increase in GGR at the Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Members of the community who worry about Problem Gambling and its effects on the gambler, and his or her family, friends, job, and on the community, are concerned, because Slots is the most addictive form of casino gambling.
.
AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover
Is this “slotsification on the Mohawk”, simultaneous with a reduction at the same location of table game and poker play, evidence of growing slots addiction in the mostly-local customer base of Rivers Casino? Perhaps the survey that the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services plans to start in January 2020, may give some answers.  See “Does New York have a gambling problem? Survey hopes to find out” (The Buffalo News, by Tom Precious, May 16, 2019) According to the Buffalo News:
.
Bids for the gambling survey are due back to the agency on June 5. The group or firm selected will conduct surveys, in English and Spanish, of 5,000 adults broken down into specific regions of the state. Interviews will be conducted over five months beginning in January and a draft report on the findings is due in August 2020.
.
As we have argued here often, proximity to casinos increases the prevalence of problem gambling, and we need to focus far more resources at preventing problem gambling, not merely treating it once its damage is apparent. See our post, “Slots and problem gambling prevention” (March 27, 2019) for discussion and suggestions.
.
  • PeopleCounter Meanwhile, it appears that Rivers Casino has not yet publicly reported the number of its Visitors in 2018. Last year, they reported the prior year’s Visitation numbers in the first week of February. Rush Street is always happy to broadcast good news. If there were fewer Visitors at Rivers Casino in 2018, slots players with problem gambling issues may indeed be gambling more.

at Gateway-Liberty Plaza “plans evolve”

. . above: Liberty/Gateway Plaza on May 15, 2019; Lady Liberty still in exile

Plan rendering detail with Lady Liberty back

 This evening (May 16, 2019, at 6 PM), landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission and primary author of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, is leading a Public Tour of Gateway Plaza. We are invited to “Come And Learn How The Design Evolved From Concept To Reality!” Naturally, I am quite curious to learn how the Implementation Plan has “evolved” since its approval by the Schenectady City Council in 2013. That approved Plan had Lady Liberty returning after construction; with a central focal point sculpture of a Wind Turbine; and attractive lamp-posts on the new pedestrian way. The current, “final” form of the new Plaza is rather different.

 

img_8575

Please stop by the former site of Lady Liberty this evening (Thursday, May 16, 2019), just before 6 PM, to join a friendly “rally for Lady Liberty“, similar to one we had last September. [see photo at right]

The Plaza has also, somehow, been renamed without the public having a chance to comment on losing the name Liberty Park. [see our posting “The name is Liberty Park”]

 In addition, the Plaza is about to have a new installation celebrating the LGBT movement, sponsored by Schenectady PRIDE, and located approximately where the Original Implementation Plan called for Lady Liberty’s re-location. See Schenectady’s Gateway design celebrates diversity but missing Lady Liberty” (by Paul Nelson, May 15, 2019); and  “Gateway Plaza installation in Schenectady taking shape: Construction likely to begin this week” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, May 16, 2019). The PRIDE cause deserves a place at the New Plaza; however, as the editor of this site said last November: “In my opinion, Schenectady PRIDE and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising deserve a much better design,” and, a process more in tune with good government. 

As for Lady Liberty, today’s Gazette article explains:

ll-locationcompareThe new installation comes as some residents are pining for the return of another piece of public art, a Statue of Liberty replica statue erected in 1950, but removed in 2017 as part of park improvements.

Since then, residents have jockeyed over where “Lady Liberty” should be relocated once retrieved from storage.

“Ultimately, the decision is not mine,” Wallinger said. “It’s up to the mayor to decide where it will go.

“It needs some work. It needs money and it needs some restoration.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy didn’t return a request for comment.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/PlansEvolve 

AND, see our follow-upWallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty” (May 20, 2019),with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/WallingerExcuses

a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

. . but, first, a Mother’s Day Bouquet for Mama G. :

2 of 180

 A Conversation We Might Have Over-Heard at Mohawk Harbor on Mother’s Day:

Q: “What are all those big yellow things called, Son?”  A: “Bollards, Mom.”

Q: “Why are there so many and why are they so tall?” A: “Only God, Ray Gillen, and maybe Mayor McCarthy, know”.

Q: “Weren’t they supposed to make Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a classy, attractive destination?” A: “That’s what they promised.”

Q: “Then, how the heck did all those yellow bollards get here?”

“They” — the Developer Galesi Group, Casino Owner Rush Street Gaming, the Planning Commission, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Hall in general, Ray Gillen and Metroplex, and County government — could have and should have made this crucial project more attractive, to help bring in tourists and repeat business, and for the sake of residents who deserve a beautiful harbor district. Instead, there are, by my recent count, at least 180 bright yellow bollards (that is,15 dozen) surrounding Rivers Casino and detracting from its attractiveness.

The bollards are, in addition, taller than the average bollard (which is 3.5 ft., and not 4′, 5′ and 6′, as at Mohawk Harbor), increasing their visual impact.[see photo above] In the opinion of many folks in Schenectady, parking areas and pedestrian walkways should not be this pedestrian.

  • The Sentries assigned to protect Schenectady from harmful outsiders on the day of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre instead went off to a Mill Lane pub for some brew, leaving behind snowmen and open stockade gates to greet French and Indian marauders from Canada. Sadly, it seems, weaponless and voiceless Snowmen have been appointed or hired to oversee design and implementation of Schenectady’s most important development of this Century. They’ve permitted a bumper crop of bright yellow bollards to sprout along Mohawk Harbor. For my taste, if they had spawned at least a few snowman-shaped bollards, we would have been better off.

You can see the results of the City’s planning and oversight omissions for yourself with a quick look at the next two collages; one shows bollards at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on the west side of the facility [L], and the other shows bollards along the east end and rear of the Casino complex [R].

 

 

 

 

. . click on either collage, or any image in this posting, for a larger version . 

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

 A bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship, wharf or dock used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to provide security and prevent ramming attacks, as well as provide a theme or sense of place. [see Wikipedia; Reliance Foundry; TrafficGuard.]

Bollards are available in many different sizes and styles, including removable or fixed versions, designed to evoke virtually any era or taste. The type chosen depends on the purpose of the bollard, and the location. For example, Reliance Foundry displays illustrations, specs, and prices for 143 bollard models at its website, including bollard covers in many styles and choice of materials. And, see: its Pinterest Creative Bollards display. Bollards can be serious or stately, artsy or whimsical. The style or mood can even be mixed on the same site or project.

 Bollards are not, therefore, merely practical, and definitely do not have to detract from a landscape or streetscape. Reliance Foundry notes that “Bollards enhance the visual quality of buildings and landscapes while providing visual and physical barriers for safer, more controlled environments.” And, relevant to our discussion of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino:

 When used to complement new or existing architecture, bollards can create or reinforce thematic visual cues and enhance a sense of place within a neighborhood or community—and for approaching visitors. [click the collage at the head of this blurb to see samples of Reliance Foundry bollards] 

Despite the hundreds of bollard styles to choose from, and their coincidental nautical history, tall bollards with bright yellow covers are so ubiquitous on the lawns, parking areas, and walkways of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, that they are the most prominent architectural feature defining the otherwise uninspiring, and unnamable external design of the Casino complex.

Thus, whether you are . . .

. . entering the Rivers Casino parking lot from the west on Front Street:

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

. . driving over the Mohawk from Glenville on Freeman’s Bridge:

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

. . entering the ALCO Trail on foot from the west:

. . or, even checking out the ALCO Trail signage from your bike:

your first and subsequent views of the site at Rivers Casino are highly likely to be populated by an inert army of tall, bright yellow bollards.

WE DESERVE(D) BETTER

In the posting “Why does Rush Street give Schenectady its scraps” (June 19, 2015), we pointed to the image created by the Applicants before the Location Board, when they sought a gaming license from New York State, and noted our disappointment in the eventual design of Rivers Casino:

A flashy digital brochure submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, “The Companies of Neil Bluhm,” touts his having “developed and acquired over $50 billion in world class destinations,” his “Establishing international beacons to successfully attract the tourism market,” and “placing an emphasis on superior design” for his casinos. Unfortunately, instead of an “international beacon” like Fallsview Casino in Ontario, Canada, we get a design that reminds us Neil Bluhm “pioneered . . . the creation of urban shopping centers.”

Why did we get such a disappointing, second-rate design? I got no reply when I emailed the Schenectady Planning Office and City Engineer, on April 15, 2019 and asked, regarding the yellow bollards:

  1. Did the Applicant designate the color, style and size for its bollards for its Site Plan review? 
  2. Did the Commission either approve or direct such bright yellow bollards?
  3. Did Staff review this choice and okay it?

That leaves me to speculate on my own. In our June 15, 2017 “scraps” posting, we stated:

Our first guess as to why Rush Street does not try very hard for Schenectady is that it has had our “leaders” fawning over it ever since the first rumor of a casino was in the air early last year.  This morning’s Schenectady Gazette suggests another reason: As with the earlier zoning amendments, the normal Planning Commission process has been aborted (hijacked?), with the skids greased by the Mayor to make sure Galesi and Rush Street never have to wait very long to get their wish list fulfilled, and with public input stifled whenever possible.

In their Casino License Application, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group were required to submit detailed renderings and sketches of the proposed Casino project. For example, the July 2014 Application included an overview sketch with the detail at the right of their west parking lot, the largest ground-level parking area.  [full sketch] There are well over 100 trees in the west parking lot in the submitted sketch. That presentation shows that the Applicants/Developer/Owners knew what a parking lot meant to attract and keep tourists and other customers should look like. If nothing else, the image should also have reminded the Planning Commission and planning staff what their goal should be regarding the landscaping and appearance of this prime location. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps also the Planning Commission never again saw such detailed proposals for the casino compound.

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

    The limited 2nd design images submitted for public review of the Casino compound did not include the full parking lot, but still seemed to have quite a few trees. [See the image to the left.] The third design submitted to the public only revealed a tiny part of the front and back of the Casino, giving no parking lot views. Of course, nothing prevented, and their duty demanded, that the Planning Commission require more detail and allow more public comment; more important, their duty demanded the construction of far more attractive parking lots, especially given how much of the total footprint of the Casino Compound and Mohawk Harbor they would consume.

The the next four images below show the actual west parking lot, with its mere handful of trees along the rows. Click on a photo for a larger version.

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

. . photos taken, Nov. 4, 2018 [above] and May 4, 2019 [below] . . 

. .

You have to wonder: “What happened to all those trees?” Indeed, the Minutes of the July 22, 2015 Commission Meeting, which included the Casino Site Plan Review, have Commission Member (now Chair) Mary Moore Wallinger noting (at 5):

[T]hat she very much appreciates the detailed planting plan and that she feels that the applicants listened to the feedback from the Commission regarding the landscaping and pedestrian walkways and took it into account when revising the design.

What could Ms. Wallinger, a leading Schenectady landscape architect and designer of major municipal projects in the City and County, have meant, if the result is a swarm of yellow bollards that would seem to be the antithesis of good landscaping and site planning at an “international tourist destination” and unique, new, upscale neighborhood? The beauty and shade added by robust and numerous trees in a parking lot are, of course, much appreciated by urban designers, and by passersby, drivers, and passengers coming from near and far.

  • BTW: I recall being in the Commission hearing room when, at one point in the process, Ms. Wallinger spent a lot of time worrying with the applicant over the size of the parking lot tree beds. Did she have any follow-up with the Planning Office staff on this issue?

Throughout the Casino design and site plan approval process, this website and local media complained that the public and the Planning Commission were receiving far fewer and far less specific details about how the casino site would look as proposed by the developers than we would expect in even the most insignificant project. We were shown only incomplete “peeks” at segments of the proposed plans, often with sketches and not complete renderings, and the Commission never demanded more, despite the importance of this project and its clear authority to require more. Instead, phony deadline pressure arguments from the Applicants were accepted without complaint, and last-minute incomplete submissions were accepted. For example, see the limited-view renderings submitted for the rear (river-side) of the Casino and its Hotel on the Right for the 2nd Rivers Casino Design, and immediately below for the 3rd design.

 . . .  

By the way, despite their prominence on the actual constructed site, there are no yellow bollards in sight in either version of the rear of the Casino complex.

How could this happen at a project hailed so often as Schenectady’s premiere new, upscale location, and hope for its future? The City’s Planning Commission purportedly gave the Casino and Mohawk Harbor a full Site Plan Review (see our disappointed coverage). Site Plan review is not merely meant to make sure that all zoning laws have been followed. As we explained during the Site Plan process for the Casino complex in July 2015:

“[T]he commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.” [Gazette article citing Corporation Council Carl Falotico, Feb. 3, 2015.]

Also, see the section “What a site plan accomplishes” in the “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW”, by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, at 19.

    • By the way, at the end of the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, chair Sharron Coppola announced it would be her last meeting as chair, and that she would be resigning her position as Planning Commissioner. I certainly wish Ms. Coppola had written a Memoir of her time at the Commission, including the entire Harbor District zoning and Casino site planning experience.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

Some of the most imaginative people I know have not been able to figure out or conjure up a justification for the excessive and near-exclusive use of bright yellow bollards at Rivers Casino Schenectady. In addition, in none of my readings have I found any indication that bollards need to be bright yellow in order to effectively serve their functions. My inquiry to City Engineer Chris Wallin about requirements that bollards be yellow in certain situations never got a reply. (Of course, in a location where one might not expect to find the protected item, a bright color to signal its existence does make sense, but that issue does not seem to warrant the ubiquitous choice of bright yellow at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.)

A Schenectady Tradition? No, it isn’t, despite their use to protect utility cabinets at recent projects downtown. City Hall, County, civic and business leaders are surely aware that there are other kinds of affordable and more attractive bollards, or similar security measures or screens available. A short outing around Downtown Schenectady should suffice to prove that proposition; here’s the result of my recent bollard tour:

at S. Church & State St. . .

Also, the first tenant at Mohawk Harbor, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, did a nice job looking like a tasteful place to stay, without using even one yellow bollard to protect the building and utility units. Here are a couple of sample views of the Hotel; for more, click on the Collage Thumbnail to the head of this paragraph.

 . .

Unfortunately, Marriott’s example did not rub off across its driveway at Galesi’s Harborway Drive office-retail buildings.

A Rush Street Gaming Branding Tool or Trademark? And, No, bright yellow bollards are not a design theme uniting all Rush Street Gaming properties. The collage below (on L) has images compiled from an extensive on-line Google Street Map tour of the exterior of Rivers Casino at DesPlaines, Illinois, which has a design similar in many ways to Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, but without yellow bollards. Similarly, the collage on the Right shows exterior scenes from Rush Street’s Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where yellow bollards are also absent and do not appear to be a design element for exterior spaces. Similarly, Google Images we located of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh contain no yellow bollards.

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming and their development partner Galesi Group used not-yellow bollards and non-bollard alternative devices in strategic spots at and near Rivers Casino. Click on this Collage:

. .

A few years ago, we documented at this website how much better Rush Street Gaming has treated the cities that host its other casinos or potential sites than how it treats Schenectady [see, e.g., Rush Street Giveaways, and Money on the Table]. So, it is not surprising that we have not been able to find similar aggregations of bright yellow (or even similarly unsubtle or unsightly) bollards at other Rush Street casinos.

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

Finally, Is Bright Yellow a Galesi Group Trademark or Branding Tool? Despite a minor outbreak of similar bollards at the Galesi-built and owned Price Chopper/Golub headquarters (example), there does not seem to be any internal imperative for yellow bollards within the Galesi Group.  Indeed, we see a far more tasteful/tolerable (and less conspicuous) set of bollards at the eastern end of Mohawk Harbor, performing protection service for utility cabinets and similar objects at Galesi’s high-end Waterfront Condominiums [asking price, $500,000 to $700,000]. There’s not a yellow bollard in sight on site.

  

Like the westside of Mohawk Harbor, the eastside (between Harborside Drive and Erie Boulevard), sits on the banks of the Mohawk River, has a bike-pedestrian path running through it, and features ALCO Heritage signage sponsored by Schenectady County.  Both ends of Mohawk Harbor sit within the City of Schenectady, with site plans reviewed by its Planning Commission. And, both ends were proudly godfathered/mid-wived by Ray Gillen of Metroplex. Why such a visually-different result?

. . Mohawk Harbor riverbank bollards protecting utility boxes: [above] at Rivers Casino; [below] at Waterfront Condominiums . .

  • Discount Bollards? Did a literal bargeful of yellow bollards or bollard covers show up at Mohawk Harbor or another Schenectady County location with great price breaks for buying them in bulk? What amount of savings could compensate for their lack of aesthetic virtue?
  • Peoples’ Choice? I know that taste can be very subjective, and that some “leaders” want to force constituents out of their confined preferences, but I believe that the great majority of Schenectady area residents, if asked the question directly with photos, would strongly prefer non-yellow bollards.

As with the failure of our Mayor to demand financial, employment, purchasing benefits, etc., in a host community agreement, it appears that our City Hall and its appointed Civil Snowmen neither demanded attractive landscaping and protective installations around the Casino, nor required that the developers fulfill any specific promise they may have made in the site plan process.

  • The collage to the Right gives a stark example of Galesi Group promises in a site plan meeting that were apparently later ignored by the developer and by any enforcement officials reviewing the execution of a Mohawk Harbor project. According to June 17, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Minutes, during review of the Site Plan for what would become the 220 Harborside Drive office and retail building, project engineer Dan Hershberg:
    .
    [E]xplained that because there is underground parking beneath the parking lot, landscaping option are more limited in this space.He stated that large planters are proposed for the islands in the parking lot, and that they will be cast in concrete on site and will be quite substantial in size. He added that they are proposing to add trees to the site wherever possible, but there are some spots where easements are located which will be planted with more seasonal, less permanent options. [emphasis added]
    .

    There are, as you can see in the collage above, no islands, no planters, and no trees. Who in our City government is responsible to follow-up on such matters?

Why is this Bargeful of Bollards Story Important? It is a prime, very visible example of The Snowman Effect: The inadequate protection of the public interest in Schenectady, due to the appointment and retention at City Hall by Mayor Gary McCarthy of subservient, ineffectual or disinterested public servants (with dismissal of those who do not cooperate), resulting in both rushed, superficial review of submissions from favored applicants, and lax follow-up and enforcement of City Code provisions and applicant promises. [as symbolically depicted here] It has meant, in the Casino Design and Yellow Bollards context, suffering a less attractive and less successful Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and in other contexts, such as the ALCO Bike-Pedestrian pathway, a less safe Mohawk Harbor for those who visit and use the facilities (see this and that).

For more on the Snowman Effect, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on the Planning Commission“. For an explanation of the Snowmen Metaphor, see our posting “have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?”; for examples, some of which are more subtle than others, check our postings in the Snowmen Effect Category.

The unspoken attitude of our Mayor and the Metroplex Chair seems to be that Schenectady is the old Mohawk term for “Second-Rate-City“. Consequently, they have failed to demand, or at the least strenuously bargain for, the best for our City from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. The result is a tremendous lost opportunity for Schenectady to truly shine and succeed at our only remaining riverbank land suitable for commercial development and public recreation.  The bollard crop along the Mohawk also suggests that Schenectady’s Snowmen/women are not merely on the Boards that review projects, but also in the offices that are supposed to see that reviewed plans are implemented as approved or as promised by an applicant. The situation with readily visible aspects of Mohawk Harbor also makes us wonder what is going on with items that are not readily seen by the public (such as the “shoddy work” recently alleged at a Harborside Drive building).

Having beget a “bummer” crop of bright, yellow, too-tall* bollards, the same municipal officials now stand as mute as snowmen when Rivers Casino complains that it is losing business because of an unfair tax structure compared to its competitors, and seeks tax breaks that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue. See “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”] Leaders and residents should instead point out that one very big reason Rivers Casino finds it hard to compete is that they have built a homely, mediocre, regional gambling facility, with the acquiescence and cooperation of City Hall and Metroplex, despite the promise to create an international tourist attraction for Schenectady.

  • Financial Realities. Rush Street does not have to meet its bloated projections for Rivers Casino in Schenectady to prosper on the Mohawk. Failing to attract visitors beyond a small geographic radius, Rivers Casino seems content to focus on: Seeking tax breaks; Slots (the most addictive form of casino gambling) as the focus of its gaming growth; Sports gambling (which might siphon off gambling dollars that are taxed at a much higher rate); and attracting Non-gambling spending at the Casino, which helps the bottomline of Rush Street and its associated enterprises, but reduces gaming tax revenue to the State, County and City, and hurts other local businesses. And, City Hall and The County Building seem content with this situation, continuing to call the Casino their Partner.
  • New Attitude Needed. Schenectady’s government leaders disarmed themselves when dealing with the Casino applicants, giving away leverage that could have assured many additional benefits for the City and County and its residents, like The Giveaways Rush Street has made or promised other prospective casino towns.  They will have few if any comparable opportunities, now that the project design and the zoning changes demanded by the Applicants have been approved. Nevertheless, a new attitude that, at the very least, asserts the position of Senior Partner for local government can hopefully salvage a few benefits, avoid some disadvantages, and help restore some civic pride.

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell

Continue reading

Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal

. .

update (May 14, 2019): Yesterday evening, May 13, 2019, the Schenectady City Council voted 6-1, with only Vince Riggi (Ind.) in opposition, to accept the Memorandum of Understanding with CDTA discussed below, to enter into a three-year contract with the CYCLE! Bike Share system, with a yearly payment of $25,000. City Engineer Chris Wallin was not in attendance and had not provided them with any of the information he had promised about Schenectady’s CYCLE! data, and none of the questions posed below were answered. Nonetheless, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU. Other members admitted ridership needs to increase and hoped it would. Marion Porterfield said that some people in her neighborhood cannot afford to have bikes, so they need the program. (She did not suggest how they could instead afford $5 per hour or a season pass to CYCLE!) Riggi pointed out that there simply was not enough information for him to agree to the MOU.

BikeShareRiversidePkThe only member of the public to speak on the Resolution was David Giacalone, the editor of this website. He said he was often disappointed by how little information this Council demanded before making a decision, and there was not enough now to justify three more years in CYCLE! The information available made it clear the public is not enthusiastic in Schenectady for Bike Share, and that is probably why CDTA was not supplying more data. Giacalone suggested that the Council could better meet the goals of better health and less vehicle congestion by using the $25,000 to purchase 250 bicycles each year that would be distributed by various groups to those most likely to use them. He also said voters should take note of who thinks there have enough information to make a thoughtful decision.

WAMCLogo 

update (May 16, 2019): See Dave Lucas’ piece on WAMC’s Midday Magazine, “Schenectady Bike Share Use Lags Behind Other Capital Region Arms” (May 16, 2019).

 

 

ORIGINAL POSTING

A Gazette article appearing online this evening, Friday May 10, 2019, delves a little deeper than previous reports on the CDTA CYCLE! bike share program and Schenectady’s role. See “Schenectady asked to chip in $75K for bike-sharing program: City has lowest ridership of four cities” (by Pete DeMola, May 10, 2019).  CDTA is asking for $25,000 per year for three years. The Gazette points out that:

Schenectady, home to 13 hubs with nearly 50 bikes, ranks at the bottom of the four-city pack when it comes to total rides over the program’s tenure.

By the close of the second season last year, the city notched 1,370 rides, according to CDTA, or 6 percent of total ridership.

That is 1370 rides for the 8-month season in 2018, which amounts to 171 rides per month starting at a Schenectady “hub” or station (averaging 13 rides per station a month), and 3.5 rides per bike located in Schenectady. Reporter DeMola also notes that “The three-year funding motion passed out of City Development & Planning Committee and heads to the City Council for a full vote on Monday.” That approval came despite a lack of important information, including:

  1. how many people in Schenectady have actually used the program; number of rides only can suggest the maximum users
  2. how many miles were clocked by Schenectady riders
  3. type of usage: are Schenectady riders predominantly commuters (as in Albany) or recreational (as in Saratoga)
  4. what were the figures for each of the 13 stations

This past week, I sent the annotated image of a bike-share bicycle at the top of this posting to several people on the Council and to City Engineer Chris Wallin. My info-image gives stats using a per-year $25,000 payment by the City. The payments would equal over $500 per month for each bike in Schenectady. Using the 1370 riders in 2018, that also means the City is paying over $18 for every ride taken in Schenectady, with riders paying at most $5 per hour. [Note, that CDTA talks of having increased riders in Schenectady in 2019, based on free rides for Union College students and City Hall employees.]

  • the average Schenectady “hub” had one ride every-other day during the 8-month 2018 season.

complaintbillNot only did CDTA not send a representative to present data or answer questions at Monday’s City Council Committees meeting, they apparently did not equip City Engineer Wallin with the necessary information. Wallin, when questioned by Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, said he would let them know how much the three other cities would be paying and the actual ridership in Schenectady. I do not know if he has done that yet. He has not responded to my email asking for such information.

 However, without being asked, Engineer Wallin made the false statement that “Proportionate to our population, we are doing well.” I know City Hall bends over backwards to present favored programs and projects in a positive light, but Schenectady has well over 25% of the population of the four participating cities, and less than 6% of total ridership is not “doing well.” In addition, Chris started by saying there are benefits to the City from this agreement, but then listed only “City workers will ride for free.”

As it has always done, using its huckster persona and touting meeting its own goals, the  CDTA “CYCLE!” bike-share program gave a litany of the benefits from the Bike Share program for the City and its residents. However, pluses such as health benefits and the reduction in vehicle congestion are rather fanciful, if there are very few people in Schenectady using the program.

  • Now that I have seen the released portion of the Schenectady data, I understand just why CDTA has not bothered to respond at all to either of my requests, left on their website form, for the Schenectady figures.
They may feel that it is “only $25,000 per year,” but I believe City Council members and the Mayor should at least negotiate for a better deal. There were only 550 Schenectady rides in the first Season of Bike Share, and two-thirds of them were at one hub. Nonetheless, CDTA went from 7 to 13 “hubs” in Schenectady and increased to “nearly 50” bikes. If Schenectady residents and visitors are not very interested in the Bike Share program, why have 13 stations, especially since some of them apparently have almost no ridership.

sample of WalMart bikes

Few Stations, Lower Fee? For instance, why not go back to 7 stations and fewer bikes, with the City paying perhaps $13,000 to help subsidize the system? Image how many bikes the City could buy outright at retail or wholesale with the $12,000 a year saved, and then use various programs to distribute the bikes to people who would really use them? E.g., have nonprofits, schools or community groups suggest contests or incentives with criteria for giving away some of those bike. Or, expand bike clinics around town.

Have Our Own Bike Share Plan? Moreover, a close cost-benefit analysis, with a realistic projection of types of users and uses, might suggest that Schenectady can do better on its own.

Riverside Park hub

We do and should have a commitment to a more bike-friendly City. In fact, our Master Plan, Bike Schenectady, has a discussion of a bike-share program limited to Schenectady itself. See Appendix C of the Appendix document (at pp. 108-113). The discussion there seems to suggest a far better understanding of our local situation, than the cookie-cutter, constant-expansion approach of CYCLE!. For example, CYCLE! put a station at Union College (Union Street at Nott Terrace), that got virtually no usage in 2017 and was removed in 2018, because Union already had its own free bike program.

Also, they placed a station on the most expensive land and masonry at Riverside Park, its Overlook [see photo at left], without taking into account that the location was meant for quiet and solitude, and that Schenectady’s Zoning Ordinance still bans the use of bikes on any park pedestrian paths, if you are over 10 or not disabled. Bike Schenectady, on the other hand, did not propose a bike share station in Riverside Park for either the initial or expanded version of the program. Click on the following Map of proposed bike share stations in the Bike Schenectady Master Plan:

bikeschdy-bikesharesystemmap

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There is no rush in deciding on the CDTA MOU proposal. CDTA will not run out of CYCLE! money. Why not, especially in an election year, gather needed information and actually discuss the issues? Thoughtful, informative reflection. Nice campaign motto and leadership goal, don’t you thing.
  •  In considering the extent of Schenectady’s participation in Bike Share, another factor to take into account should be the opinion of many residents that the stations are not the least bit attractive and seem to be cluttering or hijacking important locations along our streets.
  • See my posting in July 2017, asking “Is bike-share our newest sacred cow?” discussing these and other issues, with photos of bike share locations in Schenectady.
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