Monday, March 23, 2009

Occam's Lighthouse


Wow - I take a day off to watch my beloved BU Terriers win the Hockey East title, and it's like they started the political campaign without me. Here are a few things we need to run down:

Update: Quickly about Queens

Here comes the Greek Chorus again...someone from Queens talks about making an offer and hundreds of people jump on the bandwagon. My position on Queens has never changed: they're well within their rights to express interest in the Islanders, it's great to have options, but the Lighthouse should remain Priority 1. This is about more than hockey, and it's ridiculous to try to throw away all we've worked for for the sake of hockey. Let Queens make an offer if the worst happens.

Pep Rally?

I think I awarded the Most Confusing Kate Murray Quote prematurely on Friday, because the newest set of quotes brought the bickering and rancor to a whole new level. As I mentioned in Friday's post, Ms. Murray was testy in responding to Tom Suozzi's interview with Boomer Esiason on WFAN. In a Newsday article published yesterday, the Supervisor kicked it up a notch. She re-iterated that she would not attend Thursday's Public Information Session, saying:
"The town will hold public hearings for all taxpayers. I won't attend a developer's pep rally supporting his agenda." - Kate Murray
Pardon me for being colloquial, but SAY WHAT?! I was disappointed that, yet again, the media did not press the Supervisor or remind her that this is not an excuse for refusing to show up to meetings sponsored by her own government.

Joe Ra, the Hempstead Town Attorney, also turned up the heat in a recent letter that just surfaced. He told the Lighthouse that the Town could not guarantee approval by next hockey season, and in light of this the developers should consider whether continuing the application process was worth it. He also reminded them that the environmental review is state law, and he suggested the Lighthouse take it up with the Governor if they had a problem with that.

This cuts right to the heart of the true problem. Those who are informed about the process understand the environmental review is a state-mandated process that must be followed to the letter. However, the sloppy and clumsy way the Town of Hempstead has gone about the Lighthouse process creates uncertainty among the informed and engenders outright hostility among lower-information voters (and let's not kid ourselves, there are always plenty of those). These voters only see the cryptic statements and buck-passing rationalizations for the Town of Hempstead's decisionmaking, and it's made them rightfully angry. Many read the statements from the Town and have become opponents, inferring that the Lighthouse has actually caused these problems.

I realize this is posturing, but these actions are adding unnecessary fuel to the fire. If you read the Newsday piece, you notice a hidden gem. Kate Murray began her ill-advised "pep rally" statement by saying she was deeply committed to moving the process forward. Imagine the difference if the statement had read:
I am deeply committed to moving this process forward, but that must include strict adherence to the state environmental review process. I believe speaking publicly on this issue while reviewing it is a breach of my public responsibility, and I hope you understand that. Please know I am committed to working with Nassau County and the Lighthouse Development Group to develop a mutually-agreeable solution. - What I Wish Kate Murray Had Said
Supervisor, you need to understand that your Lighthouse problems are your own making. I have tried to say this repeatedly: this is not my neighbor's new swimming pool or the new 7-11 on Sunrise Highway, this is the biggest building project since Levittown, and the rules are different. Your actions have not impeded the process, but your words are causing unneeded anxiety and, in some cases, hatred. Please understand that, as an elected leader, you have a duty to the public, and that includes communicating with voters.

Suozzi's Role

Are Tom Suozzi's hands completely clean in this? I don't think so.

The tenor of the conversation has become far more nasty since Tom Suozzi, the Lighthouse, and other parties (see Bettman, Gary) began pushing a sense of urgency and calling on the Town of Hempstead to take swift action. After these calls began, the battle lines were drawn. It is possible that this Lighthouse flap is self-created by Nassau County, even though the Town of Hempstead has not done anything to impede the process through actions. Tom Suozzi has made the Lighthouse a centerpiece of his vision for suburbia, so naturally he would stand to gain greatly from such a large victory in an election year. However, on the other hand, it could be a calculation to keep pressure on the Town of Hempstead. The Town has a reputation for taking a long time to complete larger projects (see: Courtesy Hotel, Bellmore Army Base), and this could be a pre-emptive strike to ensure things continue to move forward.

To be fair, Tom Suozzi was right to invite Kate Murray to all of his meetings on this project for the sake of transparency. Other than pushing for a sense of urgency, he has not taken personal attacks against the Supervisor. He has merely pointed out her reluctance to interact with voters and attend key meeitngs related to the Lighthouse.

One thing's for sure. If this sense of urgency was a manufactured political calculation, Kate Murray has played right into Tom Suozzi's hand. Either way, it is a plus in my judgment that Tom Suozzi's commitment to this project cannot be questioned.

Bottom Line

I do not buy into the conspiracy theories put forward by many people in regard to the Lighthouse. Occam's Razor, a principle first put forward by an English Franciscan monk in the 14th Century, states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible to avoid complications. In other words, the simplest explanation is most often the correct one. So, what is the simplest explanation? There are two candidates:
  • Partisan politicking in an election year - As I alluded to in previous posts, the Lighthouse is a central part of Tom Suozzi's vision for Suburbia. The Republican Party - regardless of whether Kate Murray runs for County Executive - has an ample opportunity to make that vision and, by extension, the Lighthouse, a wedge issue in the upcoming elections. Making a philosophical cornerstone a wedge issue is usually done in the hope that it will evolve into a philosophical argument, in this case progress vs. status quo, single-family homes with white picket fences vs. "New Suburbia," instead of the merits of this specific project. On Long Island, the outcome of such an argument is never clear.
  • The Town of Hempstead's Experience - This is the highest-profile issue with which most Town of Hempstead officials have ever dealt. It's possible that their inexperience is leading to the mixed signals and confusing statements that are coming out of the Town of Hempstead.
As for the "drawn-out" nature of the approval so far, the simplest explanation is clear and correct. The SEQR process, which is state law, mandates things proceed at a deliberate pace. The Town of Hempstead has not done anything to impede the process to this point, but Town officials must understand the anxiety they are causing through these cryptic statements and mixed messages. I believe all parties will follow protocol and things will eventually get done, but the partisan rancor is making it less likely the approvals will be in place before Election Day.

I am also very disappointed with our elected officials on all sides for politicizing this. Tom Suozzi and Kate Murray should be working together for the sake of our Island's future, not bickering over trivialities. This is just a diversion from the very real issues Long Island faces, issues the Lighthouse intends to address. Such partisan rancor does nothing to elevate the debate, it just relegates voters to the sidelines, when in a government like ours, the people are the focus and the ultimate authority.

This Thursday, we have a golden opportunity to make our voices heard and make clear to our politicians that we will not stand on the sidelines while they play tug-of-war with our future. Let's seize that opportunity. Speaking of which:

GO TO MEETING

This is just a friendly reminder to attend the Not Pep Rally sponsored by the Lighthouse this Thursday, March 26, at 7PM in the Long Island Marriott. Come and make your voice heard.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Feedback.

14 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis, as usual. I hope your non-hysterical reading is the correct one. I fear it is not. Kate's analogy to the need for judicial neutrality makes no sense and thus there's no obvious reason why she wouldn't meet with Suozzi. So one looks for hidden reasons...

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  2. Funny how this idea is repeated every now and then on this site, and it's always from "Anonymous." First of all, I said in the post that the Lighthouse and outside people like Gary Bettman were also responsible for the sense of urgency that has made the TOH feel cornered and lash out with incredibly strange comments.

    There are about 6 posts on the site here going through, with numbers, why simply building a new arena is not economically viable unless taxpayers foot the bill. It doesn't make a lot of sense for you to accuse me of a lack of objectivity because of your OPINION that this is all about hockey and that would suddenly solve the economic problems.

    I'd point you to "The Coliseum as Loss Leader," "Financial Returns and Credit Markets," "Hidden Public Costs" Parts I and II, and a few other things. This is not a hostage play, please read up on it and let us know what you think.

    The Lighthouse Project is about more than hockey. I can completely understand that, as a hockey fan, you just want a winning team and can't see the connection here. Please just take a look at those posts and consult some outside sources to learn more about the project.

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  3. Excellent analysis. But I think we are splitting hairs in reference to Kate Murray's comments. Sometimes, and we all know this is very true, what we read as a quote from someone is in essence accurate. What really happens is that the quote's intended message can be skewed in other directions when the writer omits (cleverly at times) part of a statement or the entire circumstances behind the statement. I agree, what we see quoted and what we wish to see can be two entirely different things. I think actions speak louder than words. Her actions, such not attending these public meetings do not speak very well of her commitment. Continually saying that the NVMC can be a stand alone project has absolutely no bearing on the matter at hand, the Lighthouse Project.. Thanks for hearing me.

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  4. The second comment was from Islebether4u.

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  5. Thanks - I sometimes think I'm crazy with that stuff...Did those posts make sense?

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  6. Re-posting comment 2 since I clicked the wrong button and accidentally deleted it:

    I think Islander fans are the ones being hysterical, to date Kate Murray has not done anything to hold up the process, what we have done is given a platform to Kate Murray, a few months ago no one knew who she was, now even my Dad know who she is, I think you are correct when you say Suozzi is using this politically, but why haven't you been objective with Charles Wang, I haven't seen one word that perhaps Charles Wang is using this as positioning to be able to point the finger at someone else, when he knows all along that he doesn't really care about the Islanders, and just cares about development, my take...perhaps Charles should sell the team to someone who cares about hockey, stop using the Islanders as a puck to get your development done, even if he sells the Islanders he can still continues to push for the lighthouse, perhaps Islander fans are being held hostage by Wang, and not Murray....

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  7. Nick, what is your angle....I am for this project because......

    It's hard to believe you keep this blog, and seem to have access and almost inside information based on the detail you have, I assume you are an insider for what reason I do not know....I think you should come clean as this would help people understand your objectivity.

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  8. Hey great blog. Delurking again. Not sure why I've taken an interest in this issue, being a fan of a division rival, but like you often say this is bigger than hockey.

    About the politics - I don't live on Long Island, so I don't claim to be doing anything more than speculating here. And I recognize that Northeastern Republicans are a bit less ideological than conservatives elsewhere in the country, and local politics are less ideological than national politics.

    But the issues of sprawl, smart growth, high density development, and what not are very much political/ideological issues nowadays. There are many issues out there that don't seem at first glance like they ought to be political (global warming, for instance) but are. In general, the American conservative movement is now at a point where it opposes anything that is at all premised on the concept that government should work for the greater good. That is an offensive concept to people who, like Ronald Reagan, are committed to the proposition that "Government is the problem".

    This article ran in a liberal magazine, but the event that it discusses is a real thing. The Heritage Foundation isn't an obscure organization, it's probably the most influential think tank among DC Republicans today. So while I understand your desire to keep partisan politics out of this, I suspect that it might be impossible. There are large elements of the Republican Party that are fundamentally opposed to the high density development etc. not because they have practical concerns but because they believe those goals to be wrong as a matter of principle.

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  9. Anonymous - I don't want to put words in Nick's mouth, but I've been following his writing for months (back before he started this blog). It's clear that he is not an "insider." He's "just: a 20-something LI'er, who wants to see the kind of growth and prosperity that will allow him to stay, instead of having to move away to greener pastures as many of his friends (and thousands of other young people) have had to do.

    Take the time to read his posts and you will see exactly what his angle is.

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  10. Anonymous, his objectivity comes from the fact that he's intelligent, he's studied the issues (extensively) and he knows that Long Island can not continue down its current path.

    Now...what's your deal? What interest do you have in (presumably) not seeing this go forward?

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  11. My interest....I am an Islander fan, I don't think I really care about the Lighthouse project in it's entirety, all I really care about is the Islanders staying on Long Island and fielding a competitive team, so on one hand given that the Islanders are owned by Charles Wang, I support whatever he wants, so I really don't care about traffic, housing, etc. I just see how Charles Wang cares more about development that the Islanders, I question whether or not if the Islanders had a hockey owner, the owner would work with the town in getting a new coliseum, even if it did include tax payer money, plenty of stadiums get built with tax payer money, and as far as keeping young people on Long Island, you are in a pipe dream if you think the lighthouse project makes LI affordable. First, no young families are going to move into the lighthouse if you have to send your kids to Uniondale school district, and two, what makes you think young people are going to be able to afford new condo's, do you think these are going to be around 300-350 thousand, I doubt it....long island is for young people who CAN afford to work on long island and that's the way the majority of the people want to keep it, I don't see large pockets of empty houses in affluent neighborhoods, and that's the way the residents want to keep it, young people can afford to live on Long Island, they are called doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers, etc. That's why it costs $600k, for a three bedroom house. That is not going to change with or without the lighthouse.

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  12. The Lighthouse came into existence precisely because the County was both unable and unwilling to provide taxpayer money for a new arena. That will not change regardless of the owner, and any argument based upon this assumption is fundamentally flawed.

    Nobody said the Lighthouse would be a silver bullet, but it could hopefully lead to a new way of thinking and begin Long Island's renaissance.

    Please consult the posts that I referenced earlier in the comments section, which explain in plain English with facts and numbers what we're dealing with.

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  13. Wow ... I have so much to respond on this thread ... Just don't know where to start...

    Nick .. I support the Light House as an outsider because ... 1) It helps the Islanders 2) Because if there was more to do in Uniondale, I'd do an overnighter there and maybe catch games on back to back days. 3) Because as someone who once desired a move to LI, I see TLHP has a pushing off point to re-energize Long Island's economy. (Hey Gotta Start Somewhere) 4) I also attend concerts at NVMC ... it would be so cool to have another outdoor venue and the other unique businesses that will call The Light House home.

    Nick ... Queens ... I'm not going to even jump on the Queens bandwagon ... at this time there is no need to panic ... and abandon Uniondale ... but I think it's a valuable option for Wang to consider ... ONLY if as time goes on it seems like there is NO WAY he can make the Light House happen in a reasonable time frame.

    Also ... IF ... Wang decides to go to Queens ... there will be lots of things he's going to have to negotiate in order to make a Queens plan a profitable option ... it's not going to be an open and closed deal. I find it ironic however that The City of NY has already approved for the rezoning of the area in order to expedite the development process ... kinda working opposite the TOH ... maybe the TOH can rezone "pending" SEQRA approval.
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    Fly Guy ~ I think you read a bit to much into the political process at hand ... I too don't claim to be an expert at LI politics ... but one thing is for sure ... with PRIVATE funds being the catalyst to fund the project ... you'd think that according to the "Republican" montra of encouraging private enterprise and less government interference that the Republican controlled TOH would green flag it ... but that isn't the case ... NICK has explained it several times the SEQRA process takes a deliberate long time ... and Kate Murray as much as she's bungled the PR part of this issue doesn't feel she's at liberty to endorse or give the thumbs down at this time.

    Also Flyguy ~ I don't consider myself a liberal or a conservative ... I actually see a little agreement of both sides of that arguement regarding social and economic issues ... but when you say ... and I quote "In general, the American conservative movement is now at a point where it opposes anything that is at all premised on the concept that government should work for the greater good." ... Where in our constitution is our government supposed to "Work" for the greater good? ... Our government is supposed to stay out of our way ... FREEDOM!! Which includes freedom to fail ... Your statement sounds almost Marxist ... Government interference (NJ Gov't) actually killed a new business I started with some co-workers part-time ... All of a sudden August 2006 ...with the help of lobbiests ... the Burglar Alarm industry and Electricians were the only licensed industries that could do the kind of low voltage electronic work we were doing ... infact we just made our first quartly profit after 8 quarters of investing time and money ... the NJS Public Safety division said .. that requirement is "For the Greater Good" ... which is BS ... we were more competent than most electricians and alarm installers at OUR jobs.... Oh ... why couldn't we just get a license ... WELL ... it takes 5 years in each industry to Qualify for a license and you have to work under someone who has a license ... the funny thing is... we actually sub-contracted electricians to do work ... and our business heled their industry .. go figure ... sorry to rant ... but when I hear that greater good comment ... I just think of government control ... and government bungling.

    Nick ~ I spoke to someone last night that works for an engineering company in NYC that does environmental and technical feasability studies ... he's very very familiar with NYS' SEQRA process ... he knows about the LHP ... but isn't familiar with all the details ... or Kate Murray ... Basically ... he said ... The study is very very daunting ... he doubts a "small" municipality like the TOH has the every day experience to deal with something like that. He said it takes soooo long to get things done in NYS now because of this process ... he said in unpresedented projects it could easily take 24 months to dot the "I's" and cross the "T's" ... He hates them with a passion because after the process is done ... and design and engineering can continue ... you have to stay within the parameters of these cryptic environmental standards .... very little wiggle room ... He said to look towards the World Trade Center project which is past 6 years in development ... on an existing site that has delays up the wahzoo as an example.
    **********
    Oh ... and to those that think Nick is an insider .... I remember when Nick and I were regular blog posters on Greg Logan's blog on Newsday ... around 18 months ago (tell me if I'm wrong) Nick became an empassioned individual that made it his business as a voter, Islander fan and resident of the TOH to become informed about TLHP ... and in doing so he's accumulated lots of contacts on both sides that keep him apprised of the situation. For Nick I think this journey has taken on a life of its own ... and as a fellow fan I salute him for his efforts.

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  14. Thanks for the good read, my friend.

    I'm with you on Queens, as I said in the post. If the worst happens and Queens is serious about working something out, then great.

    On SEQRA - I've been very consistent that the Town of Hempstead has caused problems with its confusing statements but has done nothing to impede the process so far. I've been sitting for a long time on a SEQRA primer, and I think it's time to stop sitting on it.

    On my Being an "Insider" - It's funny that in a post about Occam's Razor and the danger of conspiracy theories someone posted a conspiracy theory. In this case, the simplest explanation applies - I have information about the project because I ask people who know and do the necessary research. I became interested in the project as a hockey fan, and I became an advocate for the Lighthouse because I truly believe it's the best thing for Long Island's future.

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