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News Briefs 1.22.03 

Peacefully resolved

It seems Washington will thrust the country, and maybe a large part of the Middle East, into a dirty little war soon --- or a big one.

            But not everybody is sitting still for this. For example, during the run-up to a large anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC, on January 18, local peace groups sent a message to the White House from the home front.

            The message first took human form in the county building on West Main Street. Around 400 people thronged the atrium at 39 West Main as county legislator Bill Benet spoke in favor of a peace "memorialization" that he and colleague Stephanie Aldersley submitted. (The document, which calls on the president "to reject a military attack at this time" and "pursue a peaceful resolution," is now awaiting individual legislators' signatures.)

            Meanwhile, there was equally as much action around the corner at City Hall. As the city council convened, speaker after speaker took the podium in a packed chamber to call for peace.

            This effort had paid off in advance. On January 14, councilmembers unanimously signed a letter (not technically a resolution) that urges George W. Bush to "support a genuinely multilateral approach to the Iraq situation, sanctioned and directed the United Nations." The letter cites reasons for caution and cooperation: Even CIA director George Tenet, it says, believes "Iraq does not pose a threat of attack against the US." But a US attack on Iraq, it says, could cause Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to "retaliate with terrorist acts."

            Governments around the world, the letter says, "oppose US unilateral action" and "support the full pursuit of diplomatic resolutions and weapons inspection before any further military action is taken..." It says, too, that a war with Iraq "would threaten to destabilize the Middle East further, possibly leading to a regional war, as well as increased support for al-Qaeda and other groups dedicated to terrorism."

            Then there's a larger point that some anti-war declarations miss: "There is an urgent need for genuine multilateral action to eliminate weapons of mass destruction worldwide."

            The letter reinforces this point about alternative ways of framing the issues: First, it says, military force should be used "only as an absolute last resort, such as when there is an imminent threat against the United States and its citizens." Then it looks at priorities. It says to Bush: "As you are, we are dedicated to improving the quality of life for our citizens. To accomplish this worthy goal, we urge you and the US Congress to focus on job creation, the precarious state of the environment, the availability of affordable health care, and the internal domestic security of our nation."

Motor Lodge mayhem

 "Well, quite frankly, I'm pissed."

            Flower City Management partner John Billone Jr. is sharing his thoughts on a recent front-page article in the Rochester Business Journal. The piece, published January 10, details Flower City's plan to transform the old Downtown Motor Lodge, and potentially some adjacent properties, into a mixed-use development of market-rate residential units, retail shops, and, possibly, commercial space.

            That was the first half of the article. The second details what appears to be a major rift between Billone and the folks at St. Joseph's House of Hospitality.

            Located just down South Avenue from the Motor Lodge, St. Joseph's was, at one point, approached by Billone, who was interested in acquiring the homeless shelter's parking lot. The RBJ article includes heated quotes from St. Joseph's workers, like this one from 10-year staffer and board member Michael Child: "Go ahead and bring it on, Mr. Billone. Catholic Workers are always up for a fight."

            "I didn't appreciate that the article tried to make it seem like St. Joe's and I are at each other's throats," Billone says. "That's the farthest thing from the truth. I've been on good terms with St. Joe's from the initial purchase. I was portrayed as some big-time developer coming into the neighborhood to take over. Give me a break. I've never done that."

            Billone and the workers at St. Joseph's met shortly after the article published, and seemed to begin working through their differences. "I apologized for anything I said that was misconstrued," Billone says.

            And Child, who admits he's "not quite as diplomatic" as his fellow workers, has clarified his exceptions to the project. "It's upsetting, because there's nothing in this project that's designed to house the poor. Let's think about what you're going to do: You've got a homeless shelter right behind you. Why wouldn't you look for more low-income housing? Why not generate something for the poor?"

            The earliest Billone will submit a blueprint to the city will be this spring. Still, he's certain he won't be building low-income housing. "I have no interest in doing low-income. This project won't be high-end, but we don't accept public assistance at our properties. We had in the past, and have had some bad experiences. Market-rate is our target."

            So is Billone really the big, bad developer he thinks the RBJ article makes him out to be? Mary Wells, director of the South East Area Coalition, certainly doesn't think so. She's familiar with some of Flower City's other recent projects, like the market-rate Chapel Hill Apartments on Prince Street, and says "they're all phenomenal."

            "The general opinion around here is that [the Motor Lodge project] is a wonderful thing," Wells says. "We've been waiting a long time for something to happen with that property. And Billone seems to be sensitive to neighborhood input."

County 1, City 0, elephants 0

A state Supreme Court justice has eliminated one hurdle in the plan to expand the Seneca Park Zoo, but Monroe County's tight financial situation presents an enormous gulf between the plan's approval and its actual completion. And another lawsuit, in which park advocates are suing the county over the expansion's environmental effects, is also gumming up the project.

            The county sued the city last summer, seeking to nullify the landmark designation the city granted to the 297-acre park, which was designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s. The designation normally makes it more difficult to, say, pave over a significant portion of landmarked land, as the expansion plan would do, creating 300 new parking spaces and providing more room for the zoo's captive elephants to pace.

            The judge allowed the park to remain a landmark, but ruled that the city could not use that fact to interfere with the county's expansion plans. Though the city owns the park, the county owns the zoo inside it and manages the park under a 1975 city-county agreement that won't expire until 2060.

            The County Legislature approved a two-phase expansion plan last year, the first phase of which would create the additional parking spots and expand the elephants' space. That phase is expected to cost $39 million, but the county, facing a tough budget year, did not include funding for the expansion when it approved the plan.

            County legislators and administrators say there's no chance the county will pony up the dough this year, and can't say when the county's financial picture will brighten to the point when such an expenditure would be prudent.

            Republican Majority Leader Bill Smith says it's a "certainty" that the project won't get county money this year, and adds, "the same answer is highly likely for the year after, and very possibly even the year after that, as far as I can tell."

            Bob Nolan, a spokesman for County Executive Jack Doyle, says the administration has no plans to ask the lej to approve borrowing the money necessary to make the expansion a reality, until the county's financial situation makes such borrowing "appropriate."

            Democratic Minority Leader Stephanie Aldersley agreed the project won't get county money any time in the foreseeable future. She says she hopes this situation will convince legislators to revisit alternative expansion plans that won't alter Olmsted's legacy so drastically.

            "I imagine the zoo society would try to get money from other sources," Smith says. "Frankly, that was part of the reason that we approved the plan for future funding, so that they would have a basis in the plan, at the time, to be able to raise more in private funding than otherwise would have been the case."

            Zoo spokeswoman Shaunta Collier-Santos says the Seneca Park Zoo Society is waiting for the park advocates' lawsuit against the county to be settled before proceeding with private fundraising activities to pay for the latest expansion. Collier-Santos says the zoo has some funds donated for an earlier expansion plan --- the Asian Forest Campaign --- but that project, originally planned to be completed in 2000, is also on hold pending the advocates' suit.

            The logic: There's no sense opening a new exhibit without the infrastructure (parking, etc.) to accommodate the throngs of visitors it will draw. Asked whether the lej-approved expansion can happen without county money, Collier-Santos would only say "our hope is that we would be able to get a huge amount of community support to help make this plan move forward."

Red Emma gagged again

She's been dead since 1940, but one-time Rochester resident and laborer Emma Goldman still is making waves and headlines in the national press.

            On January 14, for example, the New York Times carried a story about the University of California at Berkeley's Emma Goldman Papers Project, which collects documents related to Goldman's long career as labor advocate, anarchist, radical feminist, and anti-warrior. It seems project directors wrote a fundraising letter that irked higher-ups, who excised some offending Goldman quotes from it. (The project head, Candace Falk, reportedly prepared a re-revised mailing at her own expense.)

            What were the irksome quotes? One of them, dated 1915, spoke against the conflict of conflicts of that era, World War I: As quoted in the Times, Goldman prevailed on those "not yet overcome by war madness to raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them." The other offending quote was from 1902: In it, said the Times, Goldman "warned that free-speech advocates 'shall soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or in darkened rooms with closed doors...'"

            One irony is big as an 800-pound foreign policy. UC Berkeley is famed for its Free Speech Movement of a few decades back; indeed, the campus now has a Free Speech Café and a free speech archive, one UC official told the Times.

            But there's an irony that the big city paper missed --- one that Rochesterians especially can enjoy. Goldman strongly expressed her views against World War I to her nephew, David Hochstein, a Rochester violin wunderkind for whom our flagship community music school is named. Young Hochstein didn't take his aunt's advice to reject the war; he later died in combat.

Way below radar

1 800 MY GRITS

For decades, America's premier skin magazine ran a series of ads called "What Kind of Man Reads Playboy?" It was shameless self-congratulation. The guys featured in these ads were rich, good-looking, and had lots of expensive toys, exactly the kind of men who didn't need to "read" a girlie rag.

            We hereby begin our own self-promotional campaign: What Kind of Person Reads Way Below Radar?

            There's no big graphics budget, folks, so you'll just have to imagine a brilliant, rich, sleek sybarite snarfing down a big plate of grits.

            That's right, grits. Hominy grits. White flint corn with the germ and hull removed, cooked and ground and reconstituted with plenty of hot animal fat.

            Plumbing the depths of hominy lore, we were overjoyed to discover that the Quaker Oats company provides a grits hotline for its inquiring customers. When we spoke with the grits maven (she also covers the Rice-a-Roni and Aunt Jemima hotlines), we learned just enough to keep the mystery alive.

            Yes, there's a bored-sounding lady, sitting somewhere with headphones, ready to take your grits questions. But no, she will not tell you how many calls she gets a day. Nor will she divulge which product generates the most calls. And if you suggest that her previous job was working the phone-sex lines, she will pretend not to understand.

            Phone 1-800-MY-GRITS during off hours, and you'll be given another number "in the event of a medical emergency." What kind of grits-related medical emergencies has the Quaker telephone staff faced? They're a little cagey about talking on that subject. The Way Below Radar staff actually spent some time trying to hurt ourselves with grits, but besides a nasty brush-burn induced by scrubbing the uncooked cereal on the tender spots of our bodies, we walked away unscathed.

            Now here's where the sneering stops. Seriously, this is our recommendation for a top-notch nosh. When you cook grits, make extra. Put them in the fridge (they get a delightfully clammy, pasty texture). Next day, fry up some bacon (the best to be had in Rotch? Heiden Valley Organic or freshly sliced from Swann's Market). The meat part is great, but the grease --- that's the gold.

            Fry up leftover grits like pancakes, in bacon grease, and you will experience the food of the gods.

            Now, what kind of gods are we talking about? Gods who don't take themselves too seriously. Gods who say "Hog and hominy? Let me at it." The kind of gods who read this column.

--- Th. Metzger

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