Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Greens try direct approach for campaigns

Posted By on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 10:56 AM

With the exception of Rochester mayoral candidate Alex White, the Green Party of Monroe County's candidates haven't kept a high profile this election season. Though much of the public and media attention has been focused on the Democratic mayoral primary, which is coming up on September 10.

That's not to say that the Greens aren't trying to get their message out. They've been bypassing traditional media and  using other channels, such as social media, to try to reach voters directly. Last night, I had the chance to tune in to a Livestream with the party's county sheriff candidate, Emily Good, and City Council candidate Drew Langdon.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

COMIDA approves tax breaks for Midtown tower

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 2:46 PM

A vision of the redeveloped Midtown tower. - PROVIDED IMAGE
  • A vision of the redeveloped Midtown tower.
The County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency unanimously approved tax breaks this afternoon for developers of Midtown tower and other projects.

The Midtown arrangement has attracted criticism from people who say it’s another example of the government giving away the store to deep-pocketed developers. Midtown tower is being redeveloped for office, retail, and residential by a partnership between Buckingham Properties and Morgan Management.

The rebuttal to the critics’ argument, officials say, is that these projects wouldn’t happen without incentives. And a representative of Buckingham-Morgan said as much at today’s meeting. A COMIDA board member asked if the partnership would still do the $54 million tower project without incentives, and the representative said it wouldn’t.

COMIDA approved a 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal for the tower. In total, the project is getting approximately $19 million in incentives, including exemptions in mortgage and sales taxes.

The project will generate about $10 million in property taxes over 20 years, the board said. Without the incentives, it would generate about $39 million.

One resident spoke out against the incentives at the beginning of the meeting. She pointed out that the Midtown tower developer is also getting a $4 million loan from the City of Rochester. The city is a needy community, she said, and shouldn’t be giving money to developers who can afford to finance their own projects.

COMIDA also awarded incentives for the Culver Road armory, the Costco project in CityGate, and the redevelopment of the former Ted Cohen Office Furniture building on Rutgers Street in the city. The building will be converted to townhomes and lofts.

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Enviro group says cap and trade program is paying off

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 1:29 PM

This week, New York officials are holding public hearings on new rules that would lower the state's cap on power plant carbon emissions. (One of those hearings is at 2 p.m. this afternoon at Department of Environmental Conservation Region 8 Headquarters, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon.)

Simultaneously, Environmental Advocates of New York has released a report citing the environmental and economic benefits of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the carbon emissions cap and trade program for several Northeast states. The report argues in favor of the new cap, which was proposed by the Cuomo administration. Under the proposal, the amount of carbon emissions allowed in New York would decrease by 2.5 percent a year from 2014 through 2020.

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More black ministers say the school district needs their help

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 1:13 PM

The state of education in Rochester has been elevated from urgent care to critical, said Pastor Shirley Billups-Bell of United Church Ministry at a press conference earlier today. Billups-Bell was joined by several of the city’s African-American
Pastor Shirley Billups-Bell (center) with her supporters at a press conference this morning. - PHOTO BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
  • Pastor Shirley Billups-Bell (center) with her supporters at a press conference this morning.
religious leaders who say that the faith community is going to become more involved in the Rochester City School District’s efforts to improve student achievement.

It was the second such announcement by a group of African-American clergy in a week.

“The system to educate our children is broken,” Billups-Bell said. She referred to the low student performance in the city’s schools as educational genocide.

Billups-Bell said the religious community has to empower parents.

“Parents are the stakeholders and we are here to help them,” she said. “We’re not here to blame anyone, not the teachers or the district. But we have to go to parents and let them know that none of these jobs would be here if it weren't for their kids.”

But drawing from her own experience working with the district, Billups-Bell said that the district needs greater oversight on issues like chronic truancy. Going out into neighborhoods and dragging truant students to school doesn’t work, she said.

“Why isn’t the child coming to school? That’s what we need to know first,” Billups-Bell said. School and neighborhood safety, nutritious meals, and better parenting are areas where the clergy can help, she said.

Pastor Cynthia Anderson with the Faith Bible Tabernacle Center said that Rochester parents must become more actively involved in their children’s education, if the district is ever going to be successful. Even though many city parents work long hours and money is scarce, there are plenty of ways parents can instill the importance of education, Anderson said.  

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Cuomo pushes community schools

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 10:41 AM

Community schools are not a new idea in education, but they’re getting renewed attention as a way to improve student performance in low-income, high-needs urban districts. Governor Andrew Cuomo is launching “NYS Community Schools,” a $15 million grant program to help develop the concept.

Community schools are like neighborhood schools on steroids. The buildings are designed to place the school at the center of health and social services programs. By creating a wraparound environment, promoters of the concept see a way to align education with services and activities that support the whole family.

It’s not unusual to see full service health clinics, libraries, day care centers, and adult education or job training housed in community schools.

Under the governor’s plan, about 30 schools will be selected to receive the first round of grants. The grants are not available to charter schools.

Rochester’s best example of a community school is the Ryan Community Center and School 33. A library and recreation center compliments the school. The $37 million project opened just a few years ago, but was many years in planning.

Community schools are also touted as a way to improve deteriorated city neighborhoods by making the school an anchor of stability.

But the concept works best under the right conditions, starting with high academic standards. In an era of school choice and increasing reliance on charter schools, tax dollars spent on creating neighborhood community schools sounds great, but may not be fruitful. 

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Week Ahead: Public safety money up for grabs, filling the inner loop, COMIDA projects, lake levels

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards will hold the first of four Voice of the Citizen — Budgeting for Public Safety forums from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, August 26, at the Edgerton Community Center Stardust Ballroom, 41 Backus Street. 

The city has set aside $200,000 in its current budget for residents to use for projects or investments to improve public safety in their neighborhoods.

Meetings will be held in each quadrant of the city through September. The four-step process concludes in June 2014 with the city carrying out chosen projects or selecting organizations to do so.

The City of Rochester will hold a public meeting to discuss the inner loop east reconstruction project at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 28, in City Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. 

The proposed project will eliminate the segment of the inner loop between Monroe Avenue and Charlotte Street and replace it with a street. The project's goal, according to city officials, is to increase traffic safety, reconnect neighborhoods with downtown, and make available parcels of land for mixed-use redevelopment.

The purpose of this meeting is to review the project, discuss preliminary design alternatives, and solicit suggestions from the public. The project's design consultants will give a detailed presentation and citizens can interact with city staff following the presentation.

Preliminary engineering and design is anticipated to be completed later this year. Final design will be completed by summer 2014 and, depending on funding, construction may begin as soon as fall 2014.

Contact City of Rochester Transportation Specialist Erik Frisch at with comments and concerns prior to September 15.

COMIDA, Monroe County’s Industrial Development Agency, will consider awarding incentives to local projects of particular interest. The meeting is at noon on Tuesday, August 27, at the Watts Conference Center, 47 South Fitzhugh Street. 

Button Lofts LLC is asking for a tax abatement to redevelopment the former Ted Cohen Office Furniture building at 340 Rutgers Street. The $6 million project includes three townhomes and 36 lofts. It is expect to create 1.5 new full-time-equivalent positions over the next three years.

Whitney Baird Associates LLC is seeking assistance for the second phase of the redevelopment of the Culver Road armory, which will include office space and retail. The $10 million project is expected to create 12 full-time-equivalent jobs over the next three years.

Midtown Tower LLC, the partnership formed to redevelop Midtown tower into office, retail, and residential, is asking for a tax abatement for the $54.5 million project, which is expected to create 29 FTE position over the next three years. The City of Rochester is also providing $3.7 million in loans to the project.

Costco Wholesale Corporation is asking COMIDA for a property tax abatement for its planned new store in the CityGate project at the intersection of East Henrietta and Westfall roads. The $30.2 million project is expected to create 225 FTE jobs over the next three years.

The meeting begins at noon, but individual public hearings on each project are held before. The schedule of public hearings on the above projects is available here

More details on the projects and the proposed incentives can be found here. Christine Carrie Fien

Friday is the last day for the public to submit comments on a proposed plan to regulate Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River water levels.

The International Joint Commission, which handles issues involving water bodies with shared US-Canadian borders, proposed Plan 2014 in June. The water levels are manipulated via the Moses-Saunders hydropower dam on the St. Lawrence River. (Comments can be submitted, and some can be viewed, here.)

Plan 2014 is the latest in a series of proposals to alter how the IJC approaches water levels. It’s based heavily on the last proposal, known as Bv7. But it incorporates trigger points for extreme high and low water levels. When the levels hit the trigger points, more water could be let into or out of Lake Ontario.

Environmental groups like Plan 2014 because it would allow water levels to vary in a way that’s closer to how they would naturally. That’ll allow coastal ecosystems, particularly wetlands, to recover from decades of damage under the existing plan. Some industries like it, too, because it could benefit hydropower operations, which means more cheap electricity.

But the proposal, just like the ones before it, has met resistance from landowners and local governments on the southern shore. They say that the plan will result in more erosion and property damage and that the IJC underestimates the costs of those damages. For an example of property owners’ concerns, see this letter posted on the Lake Ontario Riparian Alliance’s website.

The IJC is also holding a Plan 2014 teleconference at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Participants will be able to comment on the proposal. 

Monroe County's Charter Review Commission will take public input during a 10:30 a.m. session on Thursday. The meeting will be held at the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street.

The committee is reviewing the county charter and the administrative code, two sections of local law that lay out how the county government is organized and how it functions. It governs issues including the size of the County Legislature, term limits, and the budget process. The Legislature would have to approve any changes before they can become law.

The committee members have been broken up into groups and assigned a certain section of the charter to review. The members are supposed to make recommendations to the group.

Members of the public can register to speak by e-mailing or calling the Legislature clerk’s office at (585) 753-1950. Jeremy Moule 

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Friday, August 23, 2013

State legislators propose massive environmental financing legislation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 1:37 PM

This is a corrected version.

In 1996, New York voters gave the state government permission to borrow $1.75 billion to finance a multitude of environmental and infrastructure projects.

That money did a lot of good. It funded open space preservation efforts, seeded a revolving loan fund for water infrastructure projects, and funded water and air pollution reduction efforts. Funding was also set aside for important brownfield cleanup projects; the City of Rochester's cleanup efforts at what is now the Newcroft Park neighborhood was one of them.

Now, two State Legislature committee chairs are proposing a new environmental bond act, this time for $5 million billion. Republican Senator Mark Grisanti, who chairs his chamber's Environmental Conservation Committee, has already introduced his bill. Grisanti told the Buffalo News that Assembly member Robert Sweeney, the Democrat that chairs his chamber's Environmental Conservation Committee, will introduce matching legislation.

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Black ministers say parents and students need to make school highest priority

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Rev. Willie Harvey and Bishop Jerry McCullough discuss Rochester schools and students. - PHOTO BY: MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Photo by: Mark Chamberlin
  • Rev. Willie Harvey and Bishop Jerry McCullough discuss Rochester schools and students.
At roughly the same time yesterday that President Obama was swinging through Upstate New York to talk about education, a group of Rochester's African-American ministers were having their own press event about problems within the city school district. 

Nearly a dozen ministers from the Baptist Ministers' Alliance and the Rochester Ministers' at Large aired their concerns about schools' Superintendent Bolgen Vargas's plan to have 20 schools open in the fall with longer days. Many parents in their congregations say that they were never notified about their children's scheduling changes until about two weeks ago, the ministers said. And in many cases, the changes create hardships for parents.
The Rev. Willie Harvey said the district has a long history of making decisions without involving parents. (The district confirmed that parents of students in some schools weren't given much advance notice.)

But then the ministers shifted sharply to an impromptu round-table discussion about a topic that is almost never talked about with frankness and candor: the responsibility that parents and their children have in education and college readiness.

While Harvey said that the district has a 30-year history of not educating its students or preparing them for college or a career, Bishop Jerry McCullough and several other ministers were not as quick to blame the city school district for low student performance.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

POTUS POP IN: Rochester gets a glimpse of Obama

Posted By on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 at 4:05 PM

President Barack Obama stopped at Magnolia's Deli and Cafe on Park Avenue. That's the tip top of his head in the middle of the photograph. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • President Barack Obama stopped at Magnolia's Deli and Cafe on Park Avenue. That's the tip top of his head in the middle of the photograph.
After a day or so of speculation and preemptive sour grapes, Rochester did, in fact, get a quick, casual visit from President Barack Obama today. (It had been thought that Obama would skip Rochester on his upstate swing.)

The media and the general public learned about the POTUS pop in at the last minute — the moment the presidential motorcade pulled off I-490. Shortly after, people started tweeting that the motorcade was at Magnolia's Deli and Cafe on Park Avenue.
President Barack Obama heads out of Magnolia's Deli and Cafe. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • President Barack Obama heads out of Magnolia's Deli and Cafe.

The president started his day in Buffalo, where he talked about his plan to control rising college costs (the Buffalo News has a video of his speech here and the White House has a transcript here). And later today he'll deliver a similar speech in Syracuse. He made his Rochester stop as he traveled between the two other cities.

We sent our photographer, Mark Chamberlin, down to Magnolia's to see if he could get a shot of Obama. Access was locked down tight and a Secret Service car cut Mark off. But he still managed to capture a little bit of the scene. 

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DEVELOPING: D&C layoffs hitting newsroom

Posted By on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 at 12:03 PM

[UPDATE 4:55 P.M.] An article posted on the Democrat and Chronicle's website says that the company laid of six full-time workers and one part-time worker today. The article doesn't specify where those cuts occurred.

Original post: Layoffs are hitting the Democrat and Chronicle newsroom this morning, according to unconfirmed reports.

The extent of the layoffs isn't clear, but a source confirms that they are happening. And the paper's political reporter Jessica Alaimo just tweeted that she'd been laid off from the paper, effective immediately.

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