Monday, June 20, 2016

Week ahead: Events for the week of June 20

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:12 AM

The Town of Brighton will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday regarding the Daniele family’s proposed Whole Foods Plaza. The hearing will take place at Town Hall, 2300 Elmwood Avenue.

The hearing is specifically about the developer’s draft environmental statement for the project, as well as its incentive zoning application. The Danieles want to build a 94,000-square-foot retail plaza along the most heavily traveled stretch of Monroe Avenue: a one-third of a mile corridor that runs from Clover Street to I-590. The development would include a 55,000-square-foot Whole Foods market.

Residents, town officials, and state transportation officials have all said they’re worried about how the development could affect traffic in an already congested corridor. The developer has put together a plan to limit access points on both side of Monroe Avenue – an approach that generally brings some order to commercial strips – and to add a traffic light at one of the plaza’s entrances.

But the developer’s own traffic analysis says the light may lengthen delays during peak driving hours.
Town officials say the project may have to be scaled back. Some residents say that while they don’t oppose developing the site, the Danieles should either scale the project back or find a use other than a Whole Foods, which will almost certainly draw a lot of shoppers. BY JEREMY MOULE

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Friday, June 17, 2016

RCSD's new code downplays suspensions

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 4:16 PM

Van White, president of the Rochester school board - FILE PHOTO
  • Van White, president of the Rochester school board
After more than a year of public debate, the Rochester school board unanimously approved a new code of conduct policy last night. Board members Malik Evans and Cynthia Elliott were not present and did not vote.

The new policy steers student discipline away from a more punitive approach to instead focus on restorative justice-style practices, such as having students talk about the impact that their behavior has on their peers and on the school environment.

The policy limits suspensions to only the most serious offenses.

The policy change discussion has been closely watched by the Rochester school community, drawing the attention of students, family members, and community activists.

Critics of the district’s high suspension rates cite national studies as well as district data showing that black students receive harsher punishment than their white peers for the same offenses.

Some teachers and administrators say that they support the new policy in principle, but that many students also need social-emotional support and alternative programs, but they aren’t getting that help.

School board President Van White said that approving the new policy is just the first step in improving school climate and that implementation is the real challenge.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Assembly, Senate pass LDC law

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 at 12:18 PM

It looks like Monroe County will be able to move forward with plans to dissolve three local development corporations.

The State Assembly and Senate passed legislation yesterday that allows the county to borrow money to pay off its contracts with the LDC's, which it formed over the years. Legally, the county can borrow money to pay for things such as construction work or new equipment, but it can't borrow money to pay for a service contract. The state legislation provides a one-time exemption to the prohibition. Once the county buys out the contracts, the LDC's can pay off their own obligations, and then they can dissolve.

The three county-linked LDC's that'll be dissolved are Monroe Security and Safety Systems LDC, which the county formed to upgrade and operate the countywide emergency communications system; Upstate Telecommunications Corporation, which it formed to periodically upgrade county office technology; and Monroe Newpower, which it formed to re-power and operate a power plant that provides electricity and steam to Monroe Community College and Monroe Community Hospital.

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo wants to bring those tasks and assets back under county control. The state legislation still needs to be signed by the governor. 

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

COMMENTARY: Too much firepower, not enough reason

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 5:16 PM

In practically every discussion of gun violence, some Second Amendment  type inevitably invokes the old, cringe-worthy cliche: Guns don't kill people, people do.

So let's re-frame what happened last weekend in Orlando. A person — one who pledged allegiance to ISIS — murdered 49 people and injured more than 50 others in an atrocious act of hate violence.  His tools of choice: a semi-automatic assault rifle and a semi-automatic pistol, both of which have high-capacity magazines as standard equipment. 

Guns don't kill people, but they make it pretty simple for someone with the worst of intentions to kill or wound a lot of people in a matter of moments. That's what happened in Orlando, just as it happened in Newtown and San Bernardino and Aurora and oh my God, the list just goes on and on.

Sadly,  that list will grow.

So it's time to abandon the abhorrent "guns don't kill people, people do" mindset. It's dismissive, reckless, negligent, and it ignores reality.  And that reality is this: repeatedly, the wrong people have been able to get their hands on guns that fire off tens of rounds in seconds, with tragic results. To these people, the guns are easily accessible, powerful, efficient instruments of death.

Look, I'm reluctant to wade into public debates about guns; they become vicious and divisive so fast, and they are generally unproductive. But this country really needs to have an honest conversation about guns, and I'm tired of holding my tongue.

In my lifetime, I've watched people use firearms to cause so much death, injury, and fear. I remember watching breaking news reports from Columbine in a friend's dorm room and feeling so confused. When a Virginia Tech student killed 32 people on the school's campus, and then himself, I struggled — and failed — to make sense of the tragedy.  When a gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, I was horrified.

The Orlando shooting has been painful. It was an attack on the LGBTQ community, and specifically on LGBTQ people of color. Friends, acquaintances, and colleagues are grieving the loss of life and because, once again, someone singled out people just like them as targets. But this time it wasn't some seriously misguided bathroom bill, or someone spewing garbage about building a border fence. This time it was mass violence.

And now I'm watching the gun debate unfold again; the same one we've had every single time the wrong person gets his hands on a powerful weapon and opens fire. In his eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama has delivered 14 speeches after mass shootings. On Monday, the Daily Show pointed out that he's hosted only 12 state dinners over that same time.

I am so pissed off. This county has been talking about the problems posed by semi-automatic weapons coupled with high-capacity magazines since I was a child. The US had a national ban on those sorts of weapons and magazines at one point, but gunmakers found easy loopholes and the ban expired years ago. Some states have their own laws, too. In New York we're fortunate to have the SAFE Act, which does something very important: it limits the size of magazines that can be sold in the state.  The magazine limit builds on a 1994 state law restricting magazines to 10 rounds.

I don't hate guns, and I don't think they should all be banned. Semi-auto rifles and handguns do have valid civilian uses; hunters don't always bring down their targets in one shot, for example.  And while I don't really buy into the idea of guns as a means of personal protection, I suppose that if you're going to go down that path, a handgun that can fire a few shots quickly is important.  (But I'm also going to point out that a gun in the home is more likely to injure or kill a member of the household than some bushy haired stranger.)

But some of the systems on the market have no business in civilian hands, and the Orlando shooter's gear falls into this category. He bought the firearms legally; he passed a background check even though he had been interviewed by the FBI twice and was on the agency's terrorism watchlist. US law doesn't prohibit people on the watchlist or the no-fly list from buying guns.

So that's how the shooter was able to get a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, a matte-black machine with styling so aggressive that it looks like it was plucked right out of a SWAT officer's hands. Gun enthusiasts have made a big show of criticizing the media for referring to the gun as an AR-15, the most common assault rifle. They're right, it's not an AR-15: it's worse. SigSauer built it to be lighter, shorter, and quieter. Its standard magazine holds 30 rounds; no civilian needs that.

The rifle and its stock magazine appear to fall under New York's assault weapon and high-capacity magazine bans.

The Orlando shooter also carried a Glock 17, which the company's website says is "the most widely used law enforcement pistol worldwide." The handgun's standard magazine holds 17 rounds, but doesn't qualify as an assault weapon in New York. A 10-round magazine is available, and would be legal in New York as long as the gun's owner doesn't load it with more than seven cartridges outside of a shooting range.

Folks, the magazines are a major problem here, and this is what state governments and Congress could address immediately. Semi-automatic rifles and handguns fire the rounds as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. A gun that holds five rounds (a magazine size that's more in line with hunting rifles) can fire fewer shots in succession compared to a gun carrying a 30-round magazine. 

Congress clearly doesn't want to ban guns; at least its GOP members don't. But what about addressing the magazines? Why not set a maximum size of 10 rounds? Or five rounds? The restriction won't put an end to gun violence and  probably won't stop a determined shooter, but the change would at least minimize carnage down the road.

This is where we're at, and that's the saddest part. Too many lawmakers are unconcerned with finding common-sense ways to regulate and restrict something that routinely causes tremendous public harm. It's partly the fault of their constituents, who see any attempt to make guns less destructive as some great intrusion on their liberties, and who raise a fuss accordingly. It's also partly the fault of the gun industry, which has figured out it how to market the hell out of these products and sell them for a hefty price.

So do I think that any positive changes to gun laws will come out of the Orlando tragedy? No. But I so desperately want to be wrong.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

COMMENTARY: After Orlando, I'm still not ready to give up hope

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 at 1:50 PM

I am tired. I am so tired and yet I can’t sleep. I’m tired of the hate and rancor toward members of the LGBT community. I’m tired of people who use their religious beliefs to justify horrific actions against others. I’m tired of those who exploit our differences instead of celebrating our common humanity. I’m tired of seeing loved ones grieve over the lives of those lost to the senseless and preventable gun violence in this country.

And most of all, I’m tired of politicians who make empty statements about prayers and condolences for the families of victims. Their words incense me, and then I start to feel myself become hateful.
Orlando vigil
Orlando vigil Orlando vigil Orlando vigil Orlando vigil Orlando vigil Orlando vigil Orlando vigil Orlando vigil

Orlando vigil

Photos from last night's vigil for the victims of the massacre in Orlando. The vigil was held at Bachelor Forum on University Avenue.

Click to View 16 slides

Like so many Americans, I thought the events of September 11 would lead to a re-evaluation of our policies concerning the Middle East. I thought the election of our first black president would change our attitudes about race. And I thought after the mass shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School we would surely address senseless gun violence in this country.

But the changes I anticipated didn't occur. 

America is at a crossroads much like it was in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s. Almost every institution we hold dear is under intense public scrutiny. Our values, freedoms, and lifestyle are being tested both abroad and at home. We often don’t trust those who don’t look or speak or love like us over there and next door. It’s as if our national psyche is undergoing some kind of transition, and we don’t know where we’re headed or what we really want. It’s a bit scary.

While watching the news coverage about the mass shooting Saturday night at the gay nightclub in Orlando, my thoughts focused on the raw fear and horror those men and women in the club must have felt. I could imagine them begging for their lives. For several hours I watched the blinking red and blue lights and images of people embraced in sadness outside of the club. I watched the alleged shooter’s father speak about his son’s actions, his ex-wife recall his propensity for violence, and the crawl across the bottom of the screen saying that Donald Trump thinks that President Obama should step down.

I thought of my husband, Daryl, and the life we’ve had together, and all the changes we’ve seen in our lifetime: the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. And then I thought of Walt Whitman and the first lines to his epic poem “Leaves of Grass.”

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Whitman was an enigma to me. He experienced such deep rejection and he witnessed the unimaginable horrors of the Civil War. He sat with soldiers dying of disease and injuries and wrote letters home to their loved ones for them. Still, I always hear optimism and hope in Whitman’s words. He believed in the human spirit and he had hope for America.

As tired as I find myself today, I have hope. As I told my editor, Chris Fien, I believe we’ll someday find cures for cancer and AIDS. One day we’ll even figure out how to live on the moon and deep in the ocean.

And I still hope we can find a way to love each other and live peacefully, without prejudice or hate. If we lose hope, we lose everything. 

Week Ahead: Events for the week of Monday, June 13

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 at 10:02 AM

The Bachelor Forum and the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley will host a community vigil at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 13, at the Forum, 670 University Avenue, to remember the lives lost in the Orlando mass shooting over the weekend. 

A public meeting
on the pending police body camera program will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, at the Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 500 Norton Street. Rochester police are supposed to start wearing body cameras next month. Implementation will take place by section, with the Clinton Section going first.

At noon on Monday, June 13, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will speak during the groundbreaking for the Sibley Building renovations. The ceremony will take place in the main atrium of the Sibley Building, 260 East Main Street. Hochul will also help other state and city leaders cut the ribbon to marking the opening of the Port of Rochester marina. That’s at 10 a.m. today (Monday, June 13), at the corner of River Street and Portside Drive.

The Rochester school board is expected to vote on a new code of conduct for the school district on Thursday, June 16. The vote will happen at the board’s monthly business meeting at 6 p.m. at central office, 131 West Broad Street.

There’s a push to move the district away from a punitive approach to discipline and more toward restorative justice practices. But Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, says that proper supports, such as alternatives to suspension, do not exist and he therefore does not support the new policy. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

Living in Harmony and several other environmental advocacy groups will hold a vegan potluck at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14.

Inspired by the documentary films “Cowspiracy” and “Plant Pure Nation,” which describe the serious impact of the animal agriculture industry on the environment, LIH hopes to introduce more people to vegan eating.

The dish to pass should not include any meat, dairy, eggs, or honey. The event will be held at Henrietta United Church of Christ, 1400 Lehigh Station Road.  BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO 

The State Senate and Assembly will likely end their sessions on Thursday, though the chambers still have plenty of issues they could – and, arguably, should – take up.

Top of the list for Rochester is a bill that would release funding for the second phase of the city school district’s school modernization program. Democratic Assembly member David Gantt is blocking the bill; he says nobody talked to him about the second phase of the construction project.

The Assembly and Senate are also considering legislation that would ultimately allow three county-linked local development corporations to dissolve. The legislation would allow Monroe County to borrow money so it can buy out its contracts with the three quasi-government organizations. Two of the LDC’s were at the center of a recently concluded bid rigging case.

The chambers could also pass legislation that would allow ridesharing services like Uber to operate Upstate, could take up bills to legalize fantasy sports gambling, and could pass ethics reforms (though this action seems increasingly unlikely). The Legislature could also pass measures to help address New York’s growing opioid abuse crisis; the legislation could mirror recommendations from a state task force. BY JEREMY MOULE

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Project aims to expand solar access

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 10:57 AM

A 72 kilowatt solar array on Long Acre Farm in Macedon powers the business' ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • A 72 kilowatt solar array on Long Acre Farm in Macedon powers the business' ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes.
Residential solar power has grown rapidly in recent years, fueled largely by improved panel efficiency, decreased equipment and installation costs, and aggressive state and federal tax incentives.

But some groups have limited ability to tap into solar. Renters and condo owners usually can't install arrays on their buildings, for example. And not all homeowners have the financial means to buy and install panels; some houses simply do not have roofs or yards with adequate exposure to the sun.

Renewables advocates have long viewed community solar programs as a solution to these problems, but the approach wasn't an option in New York until last year, when the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation to enable it. Now, most Monroe County households have access to one such program.

Sustainable Energy Development announced a community solar program for customers in Rochester Gas and Electric's service area yesterday. The company, which is headquartered in the Town of Ontario, is partnering with Vermont-based Sun Common for the initiative. In simple terms, they're building large arrays and selling the power to consumers at shares ranging from $30 to $300, says Kevin Schulte, SED's chief executive officer. Generally, consumers should expect to pay about 10 percent less than they would on their RG&E bills, he says. 

"I think community solar is the next step in the evolution of clean energy," Schulte said during a press conference. The companies announced the community solar program at Long Acre Farm in Macedon, where SED built a 72 kilowatt array that powers the farm's ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes.

SED and Sun Common  are trying to sign up 300 customers before they begin construction on a new array. This array will have a 1 megawatt capacity, and will be capable of powering around 350 households, says George McConochie, chief operations officer for SED.  

More information on the SED project, including sign-up details, is available at

SED expects to bring a separate, 300 kilowatt array online in August, say company officials. It will be able to power about 30 households, and shares in it are already spoken for.

Rocspot, a nonprofit focused on boosting solar installations in City of Rochester neighborhoods, is also working on a community solar effort . Its goal is to have 6 megawatts of solar installed in the city and open to low- and moderate-income households by mid-2017, says Susan Spencer, the organization's president and found. Rocspot's partner in that effort is the Rocky Mountain Institute, a renewable energy think-tank and advocacy group.

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RCSD reportedly makes its choice

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 9:27 AM

Several sources say that Luvelle Brown has been picked to be the next superintendent of the Rochester City School District. He replaces Bolgen Vargas, who left in December 2015. Brown is currently superintendent of the Ithaca City School District. The Rochester school district would not confirm Brown's selection this morning, and because no contract has been signed yet, the deal could still fall apart. 

Linda Cimusz is Rochester's interim superintendent.

Brown earned his doctorate in education at the University of Virginia, and his career includes classroom teaching as well as administrative and supervisory experience.

He was included in the National School Boards Association’s “20-to-Watch” in 2014 and that same year, he was invited to the White House to participate in an education summit.

The search process for superintendent has been closed, despite early comments from board president Van White that it would be transparent and would include opportunities for public input.

White and other board members say that they were swayed to keep the process closed by the professional search firm they hired; many high-caliber candidates wouldn’t apply for the position unless their application was kept confidential.

The Ithaca school board renewed Brown’s contract last year for five more years. While he did not receive a pay raise from his starting salary of $185,711 in 2011, it did include “$61,872 in benefits, and $14,370 in other compensation,” according to an article in the Ithaca Journal.

In the same article, Ithaca’s school board credited Brown with improving the graduation rate, increasing grade-level reading skills, and narrowing the achievement gap for minority and special education students.
The New York State Education Department’s Report Card for Ithaca showed that in 2014, 44 percent scored proficient on ELA scores for grades 3-8, and 47 percent in math. Scores climbed in 2015 with 46 percent proficient in ELA and 54 percent proficient in math.

But Ithaca is not only a much smaller district than Rochester’s with just over 5,000 students, the enrollment is almost the reverse of Rochester’s in demographic terms. Only 9 percent of Ithaca’s students are African American, 5 percent are Hispanic, and 66 percent are white. Less than 40 percent are economically disadvantaged and just 5 percent are English language learners.

Brown, in most respects, would be making an upward career move. The Rochester school district, the third largest in the state, is one of Monroe County’s largest employers, with an annual budget that is closing in on $1 billion.

But the district also faces some of the most serious and deeply entrenched academic and managerial challenges in the country. It has: the lowest four-year graduation rate of New York’s big five school districts; one of the lowest graduation rates for black males in the country; a culture of instability and racial inequities; and a sizable list of schools tagged by the state as low performing.

In Rochester, Brown would need to grapple with a student population that is largely black and Latino, and a teaching staff that is largely white. And Rochester’s childhood poverty rate puts it on par with cities such as Detroit and New Orleans.

Brown would report to a school board that is decidedly hands-on in its supervision: an issue that proved untenable for former superintendent Vargas. He’ll need to negotiate with a notoriously strong teachers union leader, and he’ll have to collaborate with Mayor Lovely Warren, who isn’t always keen on collaboration with the city school district.

Last April, for instance, Warren proposed putting the most troubled schools into a separate district that would be managed by a company or organization that she helped choose. The New York State Education Department told Warren that her plan isn’t permitted by state law. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Barnhart files to run against Bronson

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 4:18 PM

Rachel Barnhart - PROVIDED PHOTO
  • Rachel Barnhart
Rachel Barnhart is in.

This afternoon, she confirmed that she's filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to run for the 138th Assembly District, which means she's pursuing a Democratic primary against the incumbent, Harry Bronson. 

Barnhart left her job as anchor at WROC channel 8 last month, fueling speculation that she planned to run against Bronson. But the rumor mill had been buzzing well before then. 

To get on the ballot, Barnhart will need to gather enough signatures from registered Democrats in the district, which includes part of Rochester, Henrietta, and Chili.  Candidates can start passing petitions today, and must turn them in between July 11 and 14.

Republicans have endorsed former county legislator and former Monroe County Youth Bureau head Bob Zinck. He may face a primary from Peter Vazquez, who has said that he plans to make a third try for the seat.

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[UPDATE] Weird connections, checkered histories mark Midtown proposals

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 1:31 PM

UPDATE 10 a.m., June 8 —- It's now being reported that the Senecas didn't submit a proposal. The city apparently put the information together based on its discussions with the Seneca Nation. 


OK, so we’ll call them the casino proposal and the “anti” casino proposal.

The City of Rochester received two project pitches for the chunk of land known as parcel 5 at Midtown downtown. One, as expected, is a combined casino-performing arts center submitted by the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The other, which seems less like a proposal than a thesis statement, is an offer to create 400 jobs and a promise to assemble state and local cognoscenti to finally make a downtown performing arts center happen.
The latter was submitted on behalf of Thomas Wilmot, chair of Wilmorite Management Group.

Frankly, though, I don’t know why the city would take a chance on Wilmorite after what happened with the Sibley Building. (A Wilmorite company that technically owned the building defaulted on promised payments and essentially skated on millions in debt. And the situation kept Sibley, a major downtown anchor, in stasis for years.)

The Senecas say that they’ll build a casino, but they’re restricted to only video game terminals and video slots. Their proposal also promises a 3,000-seat performing arts center and job preferences for residents of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods.

The presumption is that RBTL would program the PAC. But the Seneca Nation would undoubtedly seek to make the Midtown parcel sovereign land and if that sovereignty applies to the PAC, too, I’m not sure how RBTL fits in. Maybe RBTL and the nation work out a side agreement?

In its proposal, Wilmorite says that it will get Rochester residents jobs at Lago, Finger Lakes Raceway, and Batavia OTB and bus them there for free. The company will go into greater detail on its entire pitch, it says, if and when the city shows interest.

At least part of Wilmorite’s proposal is undoubtedly motivated by self-interest. The company certainly wants to protect its Lago casino, which is being built in Seneca County.

An interesting point in all this is that Delaware North is named by Wilmorite as one of the companies that has committed to providing some of the 400 jobs for Rochester residents. But Delaware, which owns Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, tried unsuccessfully to block Wilmorite’s Lago casino in court. 

And the D&C reported last week that Delaware offered donations to local ministers in exchange for speaking out against a Rochester casino. 
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