Over 1,000 people jammed the Marriott ballroom last night to attend the Lighthouse Development Group's 180th community outreach meeting. It was billed as a public information session, and those who may not have been as informed on the project could have come away learning quite a bit. For me, it was bits of information surrounded by....a pep rally.
Nearly every speaker was positive about the Lighthouse Project. Some local residents of Uniondale expressed concerns about things like resident displacement (which will not happen) and jobs for local community members (union leaders assured those residents that there are provisions in the Project Labor Agreement assuring jobs and apprenticeship programs for local residents).
The meeting was also well-attended by politicians, many of whom decided to give
Other bloggers such as 7th Woman and Doug at Isles Official's Outlook (the only good referee who isn't a dead referee) have great write-ups about the Lighthouse (Eden Laikin from Newsday also has a recap), so I'm taking a different tactic. I'll share with you some of my key take-aways from last night:
Many people, both here and elsewhere, have criticized Charles Wang as a greedy businessman who cares more about the real estate than the team. Unless he is a fantastic actor, this is simply not true. His love of and passion for Long Island are very clear when he speaks about this place and the contributions he hopes to make. However, just like all of us, his patience and his money are not infinite.
Long Island's Needs
I have been saying this consistently: the world is changing, and it will not wait for us to catch up. Long Island needs to take swift and bold action to address some very serious needs.
Young people, like myself, are fleeing Long Island in droves. There is only one proper term for this: diaspora (that's for you, 505). Younger people are taking this wonderful education, funded by our tax dollars, and going in search of better opportunity or, in some cases, simply the kind of housing they need (Brooklyn is not cheaper than Long Island, but it contains the sort of housing younger people seek). As Tom Suozzi pointed out, many people are now waiting until their 30's before they get married. Single people in their 20's do not want to purchase a single-family home in a quiet neighborhood; they want rental properties in vibrant districts with entertainment options.
A regular poster on this site who spoke yesterday also pointed to population figures. Nassau County is 1 of only 2 counties adjacent to major cities in the United States to lose population each of the last 4 years. The other? Oakland County, Michigan, which has been devastated by the problems in the automobile industry. You cannot expect to lose population, especially younger, educated people, and sustain any kind of economic growth.
The same goes for office space. Those who complain that Long Island doesn't need more office space are missing the point; it matters that we have the right kind of office space, not that we have office space. Scott Rechler pointed out that companies looking to locate offices in the NY metro area aren't even considering Long Island; they're going to White Plains, Connecticut, or Northern New Jersey. I've seen this first-hand myself, having ridden both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North outbound from Manhattan during the morning rush hour. The Metro-North train was packed with people who lived in Manhattan and commuted to work in Westchester and Connecticut. I could have had a 6-seat bank on the Long Island Rail Road all to myself, and nobody on the train looked to be dressed for work.
The Lighthouse can and will provide the sort of office space companies look for, and this could combine with more housing options to persuade younger people to stay on Long Island.
"Sixth Borough" Syndrome
Long Island gave birth to the modern concept of the ideal American life - single-family homes surrounded by white picket fences on quiet cul-de-sacs. Ever since then, Long Island residents have been concerned (some would say paranoid) about Nassau County urbanizing to the point that it could be considered New York City's "Sixth Borough." Tom Suozzi made a profound statement last night that should allay some of these fears:
I believe 80-90% of Nassau County should stay exactly as it is, and the remaining 10-20% should be developed in an intelligent way that addresses the problems we face. - Tom Suozzi (rough quote)Nassau County has four large problems, as articulated by Mr. Suozzi: high property taxes, traffic, young people moving away, and pockets of poverty. There are ample opportunities for bold action and smart development that improve these problems and enhance the community without encroaching upon or destroying the suburban dreams of Nassau County residents.
The overwhelming majority of people at the event supported the Lighthouse Project, to the point that I and the other bloggers with whom I was sitting began openly worrying that it was devolving into a lovefest. However, should this begin to tell us something? Anybody could go to these meetings, and yet every meeting is packed with supporters and only a few dissenting voices.
Some interest groups that were thought to be on the fence have now come out publicly in favor of the Lighthouse, including veterans' groups, which had expressed reservations that the project would change the Coliseum's name and remove the "Veterans Memorial" part.
I was speaking to one of the SEQRA consultants after the event, and she told me that in her career she has never seen an event with this much support. That could mean something.
Another interesting tidbit - another union leader asked everyone who supported the project to stand up, and while he was not sitting near me, numerous spectators report that Hempstead Councilman Anthony Santino was seen standing up. Expect more on this. (Blogger's Note: Others have emailed me that he did not stand up. This is exactly why I qualified my statement. If anybody knows for sure either way - firstname.lastname@example.org)
One person spoke out in opposition, after a union leader asked what is holding it up. She said "I'm holding it up! I don't want [the Lighthouse] in my backyard!" The woman was shouted down over the objections of Messrs. Wang and Suozzi, and then she was invited to speak, which she did not.
This is why I get frustrated with Lighthouse opponents. I have yet to hear a cogent, reasoned argument against the Lighthouse, only blind generalizations and yelling. If there is a reason you oppose the project, please speak in a loud, clear, civil voice, so we can have a dialogue. Simply screaming you don't want something in your backyard is not constructive, and in a democratic society the opposition of 1 voter is not enough to hold the project back.
We have still yet to see organized opposition to the Lighthouse Project emerge. As the process winds down, expect this to become a bigger story.
Labor leaders, such as James Castellane, President of the Nassau/Suffolk Building Trades Commission, spoke forcefully at yesterday's meeting. Organized labor has been strangely silent in public about the Lighthouse, but this group may be preparing to take a more vocal role in negotiations and political maneuvering. Stay tuned.
Town of Hempstead
The mixed signals from the Town of Hempstead continue. As mentioned, Joe Ra and Anthony Santino from the Town of Hempstead attended yesterday's meeting and were recognized. They should be commended and thanked for taking the time to make an appearance.
Today, the Town fired another shot across Nassau County's bow in the Lighthouse War through the pages of Newsday. David Levy, a counsel to the Town of Hempstead Supervisor, wrote an editorial in which he sought to blame Nassau County for the delays in approval and said repeatedly that "Islanders fans and other Lighthouse supporters" do not understand the complexity of the process.
This does not help anyone. The editorial could have stayed positive and emphasized the Town of Hempstead needs to get the process right. You who read this blog understand how laborious the SEQR process is, so we understand this will not happen overnight. In addition, I have two other main issues with this. Kate Murray continues to hide and send people under her to make the statements she should be making. In addition, taking a position that insults voters is never a smart strategy, especially in an election year. Supervisor, after the goodwill engendered yesterday by the appearance of Messrs. Ra and Santino, why did the Town of Hempstead decide to shoot itself in the foot, again?
To answer a question that was posed in the SEQR explanation: The Final Environmental Impact Statement does not imply approval of the Lighthouse Project. The Town of Hempstead, as Lead Agency, can adopt a Final EIS, but this ends the SEQR process, and the project will still be subject to an up-or-down vote on the re-zoning application based on any criteria the Town of Hempstead sees fit. The Town of Hempstead's main role is to approve or deny the Lighthouse re-zoning application, and this is where the moment of truth will come. I've been harping on SEQR because I think it's important to understand this process that will take up so much time.
The SEQR consultants also expressed reservations that all can be done before the pronounced deadline of October, unless the Town of Hempstead hires more consultants. I just hope things can be straightened out in time to break ground at the end of next hockey season.
One thing was clear, as speaker after speaker came up and discussed the very real problems Long Island faces - choking tax burdens, younger people leaving, the need to adapt - this is a pivotal moment in Long Island's history. We stand at a crossroads, and the decisions we and our officials make today may very well set the course of Long Island's history for the next 30 years. We cannot take that responsibility lightly or abdicate our duties to those who will come after us.
Due to the long line of politicians, yours truly (and others) didn't get the chance to speak last night. As punishment to all of you, I'll be sharing what I would have said in tomorrow's blog post. Expect the 3rd and final installment of our SEQR series, discussing the "So What?" of the environmental review, Sunday or Monday.
Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me.