Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Raising Rent And Roof

(C) 2015 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - March 21, 2015

An enthusiastic crowd helped The ROTA Studio And Gallery to keep its doors open at 39 Bridge Street.

After a co-tenant moved out the push has been on for ROTA to meet the full rent each month.  The co-op promotes local art and music as an arts gallery and live performance venue.

Saturday evening wood rock band Lucid took to the stage for an acoustic concert.  The band's playlist included old favorites and new songs.  It wasn't long before people moved to the front and started dancing, including the kids who attended the all ages show.

For more details on upcoming ROTA events: https://www.facebook.com/rotagallery .

Eyes: Windows: Soul

Jingle Om

Saturday, March 14, 2015

$idewalks: Whose Responsibility?

Despite appearances December 1991 wasn’t the turning point
for the sidewalk snow clearing controversy.  What happened?

© 2015 Luke T. Bush
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY – Tues., 03/10/15

Way back in 1991 the issue seemed to be settled.  The New York State Attorney General issued his opinion: Plattsburgh City couldn’t force a homeowner to clear snow from sidewalks adjacent to his property.  The city had to shoulder the responsibility. 

In a Press-Republican article dated 12/26/91, “City can’t enforce sidewalk law,” the city mayor at the time, Clyde Rabideau, remarked: ““We must now focus our attention on how the city can do it and not on how the property owners could do it.”  He talked about buying the needed equipment and the cost.

At that time one incident motivated the city to take action.  The article mentioned that an elderly woman slipped and fell on a sidewalk, laying there for over half-an-hour in the cold before someone came to her aid.

Here we are in 2015.  The same ordinance is in effect.  Plattsburgh City only clears 7.5 miles of sidewalk while the rest – 55 miles – is on homeowners as before.   Sidewalk stretches remain unshoveled, a trap for another elderly woman.

So why no change?

I spoke with advocate Debra Buell, coordinator of the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum held at Plattsburgh State, during the mid-forum break.  She explained that a legal opinion by itself doesn’t mean action will be taken.

"When a state or national Attorney General issues opinions,” she said, “they're really important pieces of the jurisprudence process because they allow some guidance basically for courts, judges, lawyers, and researchers in the pursuit of a liability suit."

"What has to happen,” she continued, “for the opinion to expand into a real life enactment with enforcement is that you have to have strong court case precedence. There has to be a pretty significant amount of it or one incredible case."

Advocate Debra Buell shares her thoughts at the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum.

An example of an incredible case occurred in San Francisco: an independent living center joining with a group of activists who didn't like the condition of their streets.  Not enough sidewalks, not enough crossing guards, not a walkable city.
The center and the activists brought a case to the city involving the right of way.  The legal action was one of the biggest cases involving sidewalks, Debra said.  The multi-million dollar lawsuit settlement spurred California to really work on Complete Streets, the concept of equal access for all citizens.  The California Attorney General had issued an opinion similar to the one made by the NYS AG back in 1991, an opinion that probably factored into the case.

While not a lawyer – Debra is a researcher/advocate – she says another problem with the legal system is what she calls “word games,” or what a legal student would call “word specificity.”  Arguments over legal definitions.

(An example that pops into my mind: President Bill Clinton and his famous response before a grand jury, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.")

Beyond the problem with legal semantics citizens also have to be proactive, pushing for change.  Since the city’s snow removal system is complaint driven people have to report any problems to the Building Inspector’s Office.

"If you had 50, 60, 70 complaints in a particular area,” Debra said, “…that's going to get a lot more weight than something that happens for the first time."

Unless there’s a legal decision that establishes complete responsibility to the city the ordinance will remain in effect.

Keep those shovels handy.

Streets For Everyone

Town of Plattsburgh Planning Department Head Phil VanBargen speaks about the Complete Streets concept at the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum. 

© 2015 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY – Tues., 03/10/15

The concept is simple. Design and build streets that provide equal access for all citizens: motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.

The concept is complex.  Details like making needed changes while strapped for funds.

Town of Plattsburgh Planning Department Head Phil VanBargen discussed the Complete Streets concept at the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum held at Plattsburgh State.

"The concept of Complete Streets,” he explained,” is to make our streets usable and safe for all users, regardless of their age, their ability, their mobility, or mode of their mobility."

Phiop upl shared his viewpoint on the concept, his reasons for promoting all access roadways.

"My daughter was born with cerebral palsy,” he said.  "She's mobile but challenged in her mobility.  I [bring] to the job the idea of encouraging the Town if Plattsburgh to work with the Complete Streets concept."

He explained why many New York State localities faced a classic dilemma.  Under state legislation passed a few years ago any street project in the state has to consider Complete Streets.  Unfortunately this legislative piece had no money earmarked for it. 

With this limitation Phil and other planners look for ways to include Complete Streets aspects in new projects, working with what funds are available.  He spoke about communities working together with the careful planning.

As an example he spoke about a section of Rugar Street that wasn’t pedestrian friendly, a stretch that crossed from Plattsburgh City into Plattsburgh Town.  People walking to the Stewarts Store had worn a pathway in the grass.

City and Town worked on improvements.  The City extended the sidewalk on its part and from the boundary line the Town widened the shoulders when repaving, giving more room for pedestrians.

Phil also pointed to a private housing development on a street off Rugar, Ampersand Drive.  The builders were including a sidewalk that led to Rugar, an example of a private/public solution.

Through such small solutions, he said, Complete Streets would be implemented.

(Edited for clarity  - 10:35 AM.)

Friday, March 13, 2015


Plattsburgh City Councilor Rachelle Armstrong talks about the problems involved with snow removal at the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum held at Plattsburgh State

© 2015 Luke T. Bush

The public good and money.  You can’t get away from it.

Held at Plattsburgh State the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum addressed the problem of impassable winter sidewalks, people being forced to travel in the street, a potentially dangerous option.

The system works this way:

1. Plattsburgh City property owners are responsible for clearing snow from sidewalks adjacent to their property.  Snow must be removed by 24 hours after a storm.

2.  The first step is for a citizen – not a city employee – to file a complaint with the Building Inspector’s Office.

3. The BIO will investigate and verify the complaint.  If there’s a problem it contacts the property owner and requests the sidewalk be cleared.

4. With scofflaws the city will send out Public Works employees to shovel the sidewalk.  Then the city bills the property owner for the work.

So how much money has been raised from violators being billed?   How many bills have been sent out over the years?

During a break in the forum I spoke with City Councilor Rachelle Armstrong, trying to find answers to my questions.  She is on the Snow Removal Advisory Committee that was recently formed to seek solutions to the winter sidewalk problem.

"All I know from looking at the reports from the last year and three months,” she explained, “that there has been an increase in the number of complaints.  I couldn't tell you the percentage of increase but I could say a noticeable increase."

So what kind of numbers are we talking about when it comes to billing?

She didn’t know.

Was she going to get that information?

"Yes,” she replied.  “A matter of fact I put in a request to the Building Inspector's Office in order to check with the mayor to see if we to get a hold of that data." 

The data should be interesting because it will reveal how much money the city has received through its sidewalk snow removal program.  Also the total number of notices and bills sent out should reflect on how strict enforcement has been.

During her presentation at the forum Rachelle mentioned that like many other cities Plattsburgh has budget problems.  Funding for new programs was limited.  

One wonders how much money is being funneled into the city’s coffers by billed scofflaws who paid their bills, funds that should help balance the municipal budget.

Will I have to FOIL to get the answer?

$idewalks & Fear

Even with warmer weather rough stretches remain with city sidewalks.  It appears that someone hasn’t been doing their part with snow removal.

© 2015 Luke T. Bush


When it comes to snow removal why is it that Plattsburgh City is only responsible for 7.5 miles of sidewalks while the rest – 55 miles – is the responsibility of property owners?   Couldn’t the city take on more of the burden?

Answer: No.  Why?  Money.

Official statement: It would cost around one million dollars to clear all sidewalks in the city.  

One million dollars?  I asked the Sidewalks Safety Community Forum coordinator, Debra Buell, for her reaction.

Debra:  “I disagree with that totally.”

Burlington, Vermont, she pointed out, clears snow from 122 miles of sidewalk.  Cost: 1.2 million dollars.

Based on those numbers Debra doesn’t believe the estimate by the Plattsburgh City Department of Public Works is accurate.  It shouldn’t cost one million dollars to clear 55 miles of sidewalks when compared to Burlington’s operation.

“I believe this estimate,” she said, “was given as part of a campaign to keep things the same as they have always been and to build fear of raised taxes for property owners.”

Meanwhile, she observed, impassable sidewalks force pedestrians – especially school children – to take their chances walking in the street.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Josh Fox: Don’t Believe Smear Campaigners

Filmmaker/activist Josh Fox takes a break from banjo playing,
watching other members of his Grassroots Solutions Tour
address the audience at Plattsburgh State.

© 2015 Luke T. Bush


During Josh Fox’s Grassroots Solutions event at Plattsburgh State I had a question on my mind.  I had the chance after the event wrapped up to pose it to the filmmaker/activist.

A skeptical friend referred me to a reddit comment that claimed one key scene in in the documentary Gasland was deceptive: a homeowner opens his kitchen sink tap and lights up the contaminated water with a cigarette lighter, producing a burst of flame.

This startling effect  was evidence that nearby fracking had polluted the ground water with methane, making it both unhealthy and inflammable.  But critics claimed that it didn’t mean that fracking was the culprit: methane occurs naturally, leaking into water sources.

Josh told me to check out his short film, The Sky is Pink, [ https://vimeo.com/44367635 ] which addresses the subject.

"The oil and gas industry are trying to create doubt,” he said.  “The film [Gasland] has been scientifically proven and validated over and over again."  The fact is hydraulic fracking can cause the migration of methane into the water supply. 

Josh added: “Duke University proved scientifically that it is seventeen times more likely to have influx of methane in your groundwater if you're within a thousand feet of a [gas drilling site]."

The Sky Is Pink explains the concept of He said/She said journalism.  To be "objective" a reporter has to present both sides of an issue, even though the opposing side is completely wrong, spreading disinformation.  This pseudo-debate can serve a smear campaign, putting doubt in the public’s mind.

The 18-minute video also mentions the American Natural Gas Association had hired the public relations firm Hills & Knowlton, the same firm behind the deceptive campaigns in the 1950s that claimed cigarette smoking was safe, it was good for you.

Hallelujah! Praise Gaia!

Filmmaker/activist Josh Fox takes center stage
to promote 100% independence from fossil fuels.

© 2015 Luke T. Bush


Fervor was in the air on this Sunday afternoon.

The packed Plattsburgh State University lecture hall provided Josh Fox and His Solutions Grassroots Tour the perfect setting to stir up activism for renewable energy resources.

Josh, a filmmaker known for his anti-fracking Gasland documentaries, coordinated the event.  He and renewable energy maven Tim Woodcock took turns to promote zero use from planet-damaging fossil fuels.  Music by Bethany Yarrow (songstress) and Rufus (cellist) interspersed the event, songs about social justice and equality.

While he voiced his convictions to enthusiastic audience members Josh didn’t come across sartorially as a mainstream preacher.  His clothing combo: worn brown boots, scruffy blue jeans, a loose gray sport jacket over a black t-shirt, all topped off with a gray cap.   Also his countenance: unshaven.  (Well, skipping electric-razoring every day does save on power usage.)

Josh Fox.

He pointed out how frackivists – activists against fracking – helped to tamp proliferation of the eco-unfriendly practice.  He mentioned that Governor Andy Cuomo had banned fracking from New York State.  (I could argue that the Guv was trying to atone for the sin of killing the Moreland Commission before it became more than a dog and pony show.)

The main goal of the Josh’s tour was organizing congregations in local communities to share the faith in zero net energy.

The push was on to eschew all traditional energy sources polluting the world, triggering global warming/climate change.  Josh asked for volunteers to stand up and come forward, people willing to work locally for 100 % renewable.  Josh was building a grassroots movement, community by community, to create positive outcomes like fractivism had accomplished.

He talked about the Sun, how solar panel farms could wean citizens from oil and gas dependence.  In the long run renewable energy could save money as well as the planet.

Rufus [L] and Bethany Yarrow.

With a digital slide show Tim Woodcock explained various ways that a home owner could fund the addition of solar panels such as a low interest home improvement loan.  The financial aspect was doable.

News item: It’s said that Florida officials have banned the terms “global warming” and “climate change” from all state government reports, emails and other documents.
A future stop for Josh and his friends: the Sunshine State?  Grassroots Solutions Tour members might have to pack waders if they wait too long.  Climate change activists have stated that rising sea levels will invade Florida.  Maybe we’ll see an inundation of biblical proportions.

Glug, glug.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

ROTA Dance Party

(C) 2015 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Friday, 3/6/15

The featured band at ROTA this evening, The Fox and the Feather, provided via its hand-clappin' foot-stompin' music ample motivation for audience members to get up on their dogs and cut the rug.