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New briefs 12.03.03 

RGRTA, the Terminalator

Rochester Central Station's proponents must think there are no speed bumps ahead for the downtown bus terminal plan. But even as the December 15 deadline for public comment approaches, the opposition is coming together.

            Opponents of the plan have been studying the project's draft environmental impact statement. (It's viewable at the Rochester Central Library, 115 South Avenue; City Hall, 30 Church Street; and the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority offices, 1372 East Main Street.) And they're not finding much to like.

            That was made clear November 25 at a public comment meeting at the Riverside Convention Center. Though we didn't take a scientific headcount (thus putting ourselves in the same league as the RGRTA, we guess), it seemed that 80 percent of the speakers were anti's.

            Most of the pro's were representatives of building trades unions that understandably want jobs for their members. Most of the anti's were urban dwellers and downtown advocates. People were coming and going, but more than 100 people were seated in the meeting room at any one time. The speakers' roster ran to 50 names.

            Heads of local organizations were politely at odds. "We stand very strongly and firmly in support of this project," said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation. Zimmer-Meyer emphasized the station's link to economic development: The station, she said, will "strengthen the fabric" of downtown.

            But Evan Lowenstein, director of the Common Good Planning Center, said the project "begs a lot more consideration of alternatives." He charged that Central Station planners ignored a "plan to use the existing Sibley's Building" for bus-passenger amenities. He also wondered about the planners' attitude toward some neglected 19th-century buildings at the northeast corner of Main and Clinton --- buildings that would be demolished and could be replaced by a fancied office tower. With attitudes like those underpinning the proposed station, he said, "the Liberty Bell might have been tossed away because it had a crack in it."

            The opposition included several members of the Rochester Raging Grannies, part of a US-Canada network that uses music and pointed humor to promote social justice and peace. Member Vicki Ryder took the podium, leading the Grannies in song: "Follow the money!... The poor people take the hit," etc. The Grannies concluded that Central Station will be "a diesel-spewing hoop-de-doo."

            Bus patron Clay Harris, the only African-American to speak during the first two hours of the meeting, made perhaps the most trenchant remarks. "I believe there should be at least two more of these hearings," he said. He acknowledged a need to "promote and expand the economic base." But the project, he said, would bring only "a short-term infusion of construction jobs." "Everything that glitters is not gold," he said.

            "The terminal will not have a positive impact," Harris said. "It will not deal with the core issues of why downtown is dying... What's needed is more people on downtown streets in the days and evenings." Harris reminded planners that the skyway system --- which drained life from the streets below --- had also been sold as a way to revitalize downtown.

            Peter Siegrist, director of preservation services for the Landmark Society of Western New York, testified at the meeting, as well. The Society, he told us later, wishes to see the historic architectural continuity of Main Street preserved. Some components of the plan worry the group, too: For example, there's the corner office tower, which may or may not become a reality. If that tower never is built, said Siegrist, "you'd get a windowless slab" facing toward the Sibley's Building. Siegrist concedes that the old corner buildings are run down and not on any official register. But that doesn't mean they're disposable: "They still maintain that historic street wall," he says.

            What happens now? Without guessing at the timeframe, people close to the process say it will take a while for government agencies to address issues raised by the DEIS and public comments. And many objections on file are too substantial to ignore. Indeed, they include concerns about air quality, bus-traffic flow, architectural integrity, downtown preservation, and Transportation Planning 101. So it ain't over.

Health of the mountains

The Adirondack Council has released its State of the Park 2003 report, which summarizes recent good and bad news about the Adirondack Park's six million acres of public and private land.

            Examples from the good side: The report tells how Governor George Pataki moved to protect 10,000 wilderness acres in the High Peaks region, in line with the Council's conservation agenda. And the village of Lake George enacted "a village-wide ban on the use of personal watercraft, a.k.a. jet skis." (Jet skis, says the report, make up just 15 percent of watercraft on gorgeous Lake George but account for 50 percent of accidents there.)

            From the bad side: According to recent studies, the Park's sugar maples could be "acid rain's next big victim." Acid deposition has already "contributed to the decline of red spruce trees throughout the eastern US and sugar maples in central and western Pennsylvania," the report says. And speaking of damage: The report notes that a bill aimed at controlling all-terrain vehicles on public lands has been idling in the state legislature.

            The report is available from the Adirondack Council, PO Box D-2, Elizabethtown, New York, 12932; it's also in portable document format at www.adirondackcouncil.org.

Play time

A vignette from the Monroe County budget talks:

            After a mandatory two-hour meeting last Wednesday, several Republican county legislators --- including Tracy Logel, George Wiedemer, and Dennis Pelletier --- piled into the fourth-floor elevator headed down to the lobby of the county office building.

            The lone Democrat in the elevator was minority leader Stephanie Aldersley.

            The Republicans quickly circled Aldersley, jokingly trying to strong-arm her into going along with their budget plans.

            Aldersley played along. "No sales tax! No sales tax!" she screamed.

            When the elevator doors opened, Pelletier said it was too bad Democrat and Chronicle reporter Jim Goodman wasn't waiting there. Still kidding, Pelletier said the group could have fooled Goodman into thinking an agreement had been reached on the way down. Given the speed of the elevators in the county office building, that ain't impossible.

Cops in schools

Some heated comments from Republican county legislator Mike Hanna over a proposal to put an armed sheriff's deputy in the Rush-Henrietta school district:

            "I think the legislature made a huge mistake in approving the funding," he says. "I just don't agree in principle with having armed police officers in public schools."

            Funding for the deputy is coming mainly from a federal grant. The legislature last month approved the grant 22 to 6. All six opposed were Republicans: Mike and Sean Hanna, Bill Smith, Peter McCann, Douglas Dobson, and Pieter Smeenk.

            "People think this is an isolated thing, and my view is that it's the beginning of something that is going in the wrong direction," Mike Hanna says. "There will come a day when they'll be back and they'll want another police officer. And they'll come a day when another school district will come and want an armed police officer."

            The request for the deputy, Hanna says, is an admission of failure by the school district.

            "It's obvious that the administration of the school doesn't feel as though they have the ability to solve the problems that face them, so they are going to outside law authority," he says. "And that's a shame."

            The move is proactive, says M. Rick Page, an assistant superintendent in the school district. It is not, he says, a response to any problems the district might be having. School resource officers, nationally, have been an effective form of community policing, he says.

            Half the officer's duties will be to serve as a role model, Page says. Forty percent of his or her duties will be as adjunct professor and teacher. The deputy will teach in driver's education, health, and other classes.

            Research has shown, Page says, that if the first relationship kids have with a police officer is positive, then kids tend to have a positive view of law enforcement "the rest of their lives."

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