Each year, the American Lung Association ranks the air quality of the country's largest metro areas. And this year's State of the Air report has good news for Monroe County.
The Lung Association gave the county high marks on its air quality. The county received an A grade for ground level ozone, and a B for short-term particle pollution. The report, which is based on averages from 2009 to 2011, says the county had no days with high ozone levels and a less than one day when short-term particle pollution was a problem.
The numbers in this year's report are a far cry from just four years ago, when Monroe County received an F on ozone pollution and a C on short-term particle pollution. Both of the pollutants are the result of burning fossil fuels, particularly coal and diesel gasoline. And they can pose risks to people with respiratory or cardiovascular problems.
The Lung Association says that, nationally, particle pollution is down because of cleaner diesel formulas and advances in engine technology. It's likely that local residents also benefit from Rochester Gas and Electric's decision to shut down the coal-fired Russell Station power plant in 2008.
Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and communications for the Lung Association's Northeast office, says the same factors would contribute to a decrease in ozone. He says actions that decrease one air pollutant often decrease others, too.
But the association says that the federal government still needs to enact tougher ozone pollution standards, particularly limiting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
Ozone is generated when certain emissions react with each other, which generally happens on hot days. And since 2012 was very hot, I don't think the low average will hold.
A table published by the state Department of Environmental Conservation says that Rochester exceeded federal ozone standards twice this past summer, though it came close on several other days. When it did exceed the standards, however, it never exceeded what the Lung Association considers "unhealthy for sensitive populations." Sensitive populations include children, the elderly, people with asthma, and people with cardiovascular disease.
Seilback says that if climate change results in longer or hotter summers, elevated ozone levels could be present during more days per year.
Parents, residents, and members of several southwest city neighborhoods are waiting to hear schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s latest recommendation to the school board regarding Schools 10 and 1. They held a rally last night at School 10, also known as Dr. Walter Cooper Academy, to protest Vargas’s proposal to close the school.
Vargas proposed combining Schools 10 and 1 at the School 1 location in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood when he unveiled his plan for the next phase of the multimillion-dollar schools modernization plan.
School 10 is a citywide school, but it has a high draw from the southwest. It is located, according to residents, in one of the school district’s densest student populations. Residents say that it makes no sense to bus the children from Congress Avenue all the way over to Cobbs Hill in the southeast section of the city, particularly when the district spends about $55 million on busing annually.
School 10 is also the only school in the southwest that offers Expeditionary Learning, a specialized teaching model that is extremely popular with city parents. Vargas said earlier this year that the program would be moved with the students from School 10 to School 1. But parents want the program to remain in their neighborhood.
And they’ve received some support from school board members. At a recent meeting, board President Malik Evans said School 10 is ideally located near the University of Rochester. Not only do many parents work there, but city students can also actually see college as a goal.
The southwest residents also received support from most members of City Council. In January, they sent a letter to Evans and Vargas expressing their concerns about closing elementary schools in the southwest and the “further erosion of neighborhood-based home schools.”
The letter, which was signed by all Council members except Elaine Spaull, also cited studies that showed School 1 near Cobbs Hill as more suitable for redevelopment than School 10. When school buildings are retired, they are returned to the city, and figuring out what to do with them becomes the city’s problem.
UPDATE#2, Wednesday, April 24, 9:30 a.m.: Monroe County Democratic Committee chair Joe Morelle sent out a press release last night, responding to the statement from Warren's camp. His statement follows Warren's at the end of this blog.
UPDATE, Tuesday, April 23, 4:15 p.m.:
Lovely Warren's campaign has responded to the MCDC's endorsement of Tom Richards. The statement appears at the end of this blog.
Tom Richards has won the endorsement of the Monroe County Democratic Party in his quest to serve a second term as Rochester mayor. The county’s Democratic Committee sent out a press release this afternoon, making the announcement.
Richards was challenged for the endorsement by City Council President Lovely Warren, who will now have to petition to force a primary in September.
Richards clinched the endorsement last night by winning the support of the 28th and 7th city legislative district committees. The committees represent the ground level of Democratic politics in the City of Rochester and have been meeting over the last several weeks to make their endorsements.
Richards has won 72 percent of committee members’ votes so far, says the press release. Three committees have yet to meet.
Richards’ designation will be made official at the Monroe County Democratic convention next month.
Warren’s loss in the committee process probably isn’t much of a problem. Rochester’s last two mayors before Tom Richards: Bob Duffy and Bill Johnson, weren’t the party’s “chosen” candidates and both forced — and won — primaries to become the Democratic candidate in the November general election.
The loss might even work to Warren’s advantage by reinforcing her “outsider” status: the candidate of the people versus the candidate of the city’s business interests.
STATEMENT FROM WARREN'S CAMP:
“I am astonished by this statement released today by [Democratic leader] Joe Morelle, and frankly surprised that Mayor Richards would sign on to it. What the release does not reveal is that the three committees left to cast their designating votes are the 22nd, 25th and 27th LDs. These committees represent the city’s largest and predominantly African American neighborhoods, and in fact, the 27th LD represents the largest Democratic voting population in the City. In effect, what Joe Morelle and Tom Richards are essentially saying is that the votes and voices of the people in these neighborhoods don’t matter in this process. The diversity of our great party that Mayor Richards referred to is not even close to being reflected in the vote taken thus far.
African-American voters are very aware and very sensitive to that fact that in many places throughout this nation — historically and right up to today — there are those who have worked to discourage black voters from participating in the democratic process; and in many places, people have worked to affirmatively suppress the vote. This lack of understanding, this disconnect, is permeating our city and clearly, our party. Many of the people in our neighborhoods have reported this to be so, as evidenced by the Democrat and Chronicle’s UNITE poll and the ACT Rochester Report. This disconnect, this lack of understanding — this tone-deafness — is among the reasons why many members of the Democratic Committee whose votes have not yet been cast, as well as people in the city of Rochester have embraced Lovely Warren’s campaign."
MORELLE RESPONSE TO WARREN STATEMENT:
"We made our statement to announce Mayor Tom Richards had attained the requisite total amount of weighted committee votes to clinch the designation. He has so far received 72 percent of the total votes and has ensured no matter what the result of the remaining committee designation meetings he will end up with at least 52 percent of the total weighted vote. It was a simple statistical fact.
"The committees set their own schedule for when these designation votes occur. The three committees in question chose to go last, leaving the door open to the possibility that the designation would be clinched before they had the opportunity to vote. I would hope Ms. Warren will understand this was procedural and resist the urge to be divisive."
I can’t help feeling sorry for boy scouts: they’re caught in the middle of something they probably don't understand. No matter how many badges they earn or how many ways they learn to survive in the wilderness, it’s humankind they will have to learn to live with daily. And Boy Scouts of America’s leadership is losing sight of this.
In the BSA’s ongoing saga concerning the sexual orientation of its members and leaders, the organization says it's considering changing its policy. Young gays would be allowed to join the Scouts, but gay adults would not.
The policy revision is based at least in part on a survey of its members: older members want to keep the organization’s ban against gays, while younger members think the ban should be abolished.
If the policy is approved by members at its national council meeting next month, the Scouts will enact a hybrid of the US military’s failed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Scouts would learn from the BSA that gay adults should be avoided, even feared. The 1950’s stereotype that depicts gay men as weak, untrustworthy, secretive, and predatory could be kept alive.
Scouts would learn a one-dimensional definition of masculinity and manhood. They may never learn how to accept friends and co-workers whose sexual orientation is different from theirs. Worse, they may not learn how to respect and care for the adult gay man who turns out to be a cousin, a brother, an uncle, a friend.
Those young gay scouts who are accepted into the BSA fold would learn that there is something wrong with growing into healthy gay men. They may have to be careful not to behave in ways that some might consider too feminine or too gay because that might arouse anxieties in other scouts.
And just as many LGBT organizations are trying to convey to young school-age gays that they can survive bullying and they don’t have to resort to harming themselves because “life gets better,” an iconic American organization would contradict that message.
The BSA is not just trying to preserve its organization with this new policy proposal; good people are trying to protect the safety of children entrusted in their care.
But scouts need to know that some gay men break the law just like some straight men, and society doesn’t make sweeping assumptions about a whole group of people based on the actions of a few.
It’s a blessing and a curse that scouts are growing up in a world of changing attitudes. But if we’re going to help all scouts mature into healthy, happy, and prosperous adults in the 21st century, we have to prepare them for a world that barely resembles the one their predecessors encountered.
Consider it an Earth Day gift: yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency submitted its comments on the State Department's Keystone XL environmental review. In short, EPA officials say the review doesn't contain enough information on some critical areas, including greenhouse gas emissions, pipeline safety, and alternative routes.
The State Department oversees the approval process for the pipeline because the pipeline crosses the US-Canada border. And yesterday was the last day the department accepted comments on the draft environmental statement. In the current review, and a previous one, the State Department said that the pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact.
Keystone XL is a pipeline expansion, proposed by TransCanada, that would carry heavy crude from the Alberta tar sands to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. And the project's critics say it would have a significant environmental impact. They say that it would encourage continued exploitation of the tar sands, which are water and energy intensive and have a higher carbon footprint than other oil sources and types.
The pipeline, as proposed, would also pass through the Ogallala aquifer, a massive and important water source for some Great Plains and Western states. Critics say a spill from the pipeline could be catastrophic for the aquifer.
In an article published yesterday, the Los Angeles Times says that the EPA's comments could cause problems for the project. The article also says that the EPA's criticisms "could also end up as supporting evidence in litigation against the pipeline if it is approved."
Today is Earth Day: a day meant to focus the collective consciousness on the environment, locally and globally. And on Thursday and Friday, the Rochester chapter of the Sierra Club will hold its annual environmental forum.
This year’s event features keynote speaker Maude Barlow, a Canadian activist who’s well-known for advancing the concept of water as a human right. City’s interview with Barlow is available here.
The forum, titled “Protecting Our Great Lakes Forever,” will span two days. Thursday’s session is the usual environmental fair and forum, and will be held at Monroe Community College’s theater in Building 4. The fair starts at 5:15 p.m. and ends at 6:45 p.m. Barlow’s keynote address starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion with Barlow; the Sierra Club’s state Conservation Director Roger Downs; and David Klein, who leads Lake Ontario conservation efforts for the Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York.
Last year’s keynote speaker, Jim Olson, a Michigan attorney known for his legal work to protect Great Lakes water, will also participate on the panel.
Friday’s session, which will be held on the RIT campus and requires registration, includes several workshops geared toward water protection, preservation, and conservation.
You can register for the forum or get more information by going to http://newyork.sierraclub.org/rochester/
Four Democratic committees in the City of Rochester met earlier this week to endorse candidates for Rochester school board. The terms of incumbents Van White, Jose Cruz, and Cynthia Elliott are up, and all three are running again.
The top vote-getters overall were Jose Cruz, newcomer Candice Lucas, and Van White.
Here’s how it breaks down:
In the 21st committee the winners were: Joe Cruz, Van White, Candice Lucas.
23rd: Jose Cruz, Candice Lucas, Van White.
24th: Jose Cruz, Candice Lucas, Van White.
29th: Jose Cruz, Cynthia Elliott, and newcomer Ernest Flagler.
More committee news: The 7th, 26th, and 28th Legislative District Committees will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 22, to make their endorsements for Rochester mayor and the city school board.
This week, the International Joint Commission, which handles issues involving water bodies located in both the United States and Canada, has been holding meetings in Washington, D.C. Previously, environmental groups had publicly urged the commission to move its proposed water levels plan, Bv7, forward by setting public hearings.
While not all of the meetings are finished, that request probably won't be met.
"While discussion of Plan Bv7 is ongoing, I don’t believe that the IJC will schedule public hearings this week," Frank Bevacqua, a spokesperson for the IJC, said in a e-mail.
The IJC has used the same lake levels management plan since 1963, according to its website. But the plan doesn't take environmental factors into account, and doesn't account for climate change's influence on water levels. Environmental groups back the Bv7 proposal because it'd restore some natural variability to Lake Ontario water levels, which would benefit coastal habitats, particularly wetlands, they say.
The plan is controversial, as were previous attempts to revise it. Lakeshore property owners have been the most vocal opponents, though many elected officials have also expressed concerns about or opposition to the plan. Opponents say the plan could lead to conditions that would ultimately cause a loss of property. But the IJC and plan proponents dispute those claims.
Rochester mayoral candidate Lovely Warren has staked out education as the centerpiece of her campaign. At a press conference earlier today, Warren said Rochester is facing many challenges, but "none of them is more important than the failure of our schools."
After citing some well-known statistics concerning the city’s grim educational outcomes, Warren put the situation in stark terms. The city will not survive if the crisis in education is not addressed, she said. And she introduced what she called her “seven-point education plan": initiatives that include expanding pre K, recruiting teachers trained to work with urban children, creating a scholarship bank to help students with college costs, and realigning city programs around the city’s educational needs.
But the thrust of Warren’s approach to improving education is offering parents more choice, largely by actively recruiting successful charter school management organizations.
Warren said she supports Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s efforts to increase reading proficiency and to clamp down on truancy. And she said her support for charter schools will supplement Vargas's work, not compete or conflict with it.
But she also said that parents in Rochester should not have to wait another 20 years for the city’s schools to improve.
Referring to a recent statement made by Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, Warren said that the next mayor’s biggest challenge will be attracting middle-income families back to the city. But that task will be impossible if those families aren’t confident in the quality of city schools, she said.
Warren went so far as to say that she supported a close friend’s decision to sell her house and move to the suburbs rather than put her children’s education at risk in city schools.
Warren reiterated that she will not pursue mayoral control, a contentious issue that divided the city under Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy’s tenure as mayor. And she said she would not lobby to change the city’s annual contribution of $119.1 million to the district.
But the city could support charter schools, she said, by assisting charters with one of their biggest expenses: making city-owned building space available.
Some of Warren’s points smack of political campaign glee, but her focus on education is an astute decision. As a parent, Warren can make a passionate appeal to other city parents who share her concerns about education. She may be able to better connect with their fears and aspirations than her opponent, Mayor Tom Richards.
Warren said she doesn't dismiss city schools, but she defended without apology the right of city parents to choose the best education option for their children. And when asked whether she would send her child, now 2, to a city school, Warren firmly aligned herself with those mothers and fathers she wants to reach.
The public will have to wait and see, she said.
You can throw around all the statistics you want about crime rates being at historic lows, but if you live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, to you, the city is a violent place. I’ve heard Rochester officials say that more than once, and I experienced it myself last night at a campaign event for City Council candidate, the Rev. Marlowe Washington.
The focus of Washington’s forum was public safety, and it was held at New Bethel church in the Marketview Heights neighborhood in Rochester’s troubled Northeast quadrant. The crowd seemed to be made up mostly of longtime Marketview residents who said they’ve watched the neighborhood’s slide with dismay.
They also spoke about a disconnect between the police and the neighborhood. One lifelong Marketview resident said the police used to play basketball with children at a neighborhood rec center. But the police don’t interact like that anymore, he said, and the rec center closed.
“It felt like a family,” a resident said. “The police would come out and be involved. We lost it someplace. I don’t know where and I don’t even know when.”
Washington pushed for a return to the old precinct system and “community policing.” But community policing is a philosophy, and does not have anything to do with the number of police precincts operating in the city. Police Chief James Sheppard and many others in power will tell you that the RPD is practicing what can be considered community policing.
There was also talk about the possibility of forming a neighborhood council that would include Marketview residents and police, working together.
Harry Murray, a local activist and sociology professor at Nazareth College, spoke at the forum. He pointed out an obvious but salient point: if people are afraid, he said, it’s very difficult to build and keep a neighborhood.
“If you reduce people’s fear of crime, you change how they interact with one another,” Murray said.
Washington said he planned to hold more forums on different issues during the campaign.
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