I often have moments where I wonder whether I've run out of material for this blog. At these moments, like manna from heaven, there is either a bombshell unleashed in Newsday or a new questionable tactic by the Town of Hempstead. Yesterday, the latter occurred.
In yesterday's mail, I found a questionnaire from the Town of Hempstead through my councilman, Gary Hudes. Below, you can see the entire (taxpayer-funded) mailer; click on the pictures to enlarge (Blogger's Note: Apologies for the poor quality. My scanner is on the fritz so I had to take pictures of the mailer, and anybody who's tried to do that knows it's hit or miss even with a very good digital camera):
Call me crazy, but a question asking "What is your position on the Lighthouse?", with the three options: I am in favor; I am not in favor; and I do not have a position, would have produced the most viable, non-biased information. As it currently stands, the questionnaire is clearly framing the debate in a negative light. It asks people to share their concerns about the project and attempts to scare people about the height of the buildings (Oh No! Sixth Borough!), but makes absolutely no mention of the benefits for the community or the investment it will bring to the area. This is shameful.
However, I don't mean to sit in the balcony next to Statler and Waldorf (Baumbach and Rieber? See Below - and this is all in good fun; they're both good people and Jim follows me on Twitter) and throw tomatoes, so I will list my answers to the questionnaire:
Increased Traffic: Not Concerned. Traffic will continue to grow if we do nothing, and I would rather implement a comprehensive project that opens the door to federal infrastructure money and forces planners to look at traffic flow in a cohesive way. Without a plan, the region will eventually become choked off by blind building like a boiling frog.
Sewage Disposal: Not Concerned. Experts from the Town of Hempstead have said the sewage system is nearing capacity without the Lighthouse, and the two groups at least should be working together through SEQR to reach an agreement.
Adequate Water Supply: Moderately Concerned. The Town of Hempstead has already negotiated with the Lighthouse about drilling a well into the aquifer on the Nassau Community College campus, and the two sides have worked together to refine water usage estimates. I realize the aquifers are not infinite supplies of water, but the sides should be working on this under SEQR as well. I have not seen any cause for alarm on this.
Air Pollution/Air Quality: Not Concerned. If mass transit use increases, and more trees are planted, we should not see a significant change.
Impact on Residential Character of Area: Not Concerned. What Residential Character?
As for the thoughts in Question 6, I believe the project should proceed as approved by Nassau County. I will explore this in a later opinion piece, but the whole point of mixed-use is that the community has residential, retail, and commercial components. I am not naive enough to believe the final project will look exactly like the renderings, but I believe the basic ideas should remain the same.
(This is Photoshop Wizard BD Gallof's handiwork - funny thing is that a comment I left on Newsday's The Final Score blog set the wheels in motion and led to this picture)
What Actually Concerns Me
In the spirit of the questionnaire, I'd like to share some of the things that actually concern me in relation to the Lighthouse, the Town of Hempstead, and Long Island as a whole.
Councilman Hudes, mark me down as Very Concerned that younger people like myself are forced to flee Long Island due to the absence of the right kind of housing. Residents pay choking school taxes for their children to take that education and move, and frankly I'm tired of Long Island being the nation's farm system, in the same way the Kansas City A's were the farm system for the great Yankees teams in the 50's and early 60's. In this questionnaire, you and the Town pat yourselves on the back for the development of condo-style housing for senior citizens (which is very important), but your attitude toward younger people is typically barely-veiled disdain mixed in with lip service. Some have alleged that the Town wants to keep older residents at the expense of younger ones because older voters are more reliably Republican; please take some action other than empty words to prove these people wrong.
I am also Very Concerned about the new job numbers. Unemployment now stands at 8.9 percent, the highest national number since 1983. The financial collapse is causing shockwaves to ripple through the suburbs around New York, including Long Island, and the most optimistic view says it will take at least 6 months before we see tangible signs of recovery.
I am Very Concerned that Long Island is not keeping up economically with the rest of the region. I have previously discussed riding packed Metro-North trains full of reverse commuters to Westchester and Connecticut, when comparable Long Island Rail Road trains are pathetically empty. Our friend Tigmet has pointed out previously that Nassau County is one of only two counties adjacent to a growing metropolitan area to lose population each of the last four years. The other? Oakland County, Michigan, which has been devastated by the collapse of the American automotive industry. This should tell us that Long Island needs to take steps into the future - and the Lighthouse can serve as both a local economic stimulus and a springboard to this necessary adaptation.
You could say I'm Very Concerned that many local politicians seem to be more concerned with covering their own asses and furthering their own careers than doing what's best for those who elected them.
Maybe moreso than anything, I am Very Concerned that this area, Long Island in particular, has forgotten how to be great. When did we lose the "We Can Do It!" spirit of Rosie the Riveter and replace it with the reactionary defeatism of "Not In MY Back Yard!"? I am shocked beyond belief when people explain their opposition to the Lighthouse by claiming Charles Wang, Scott Rechler, and the Lighthouse Group just dreamed too big for Long Island. I refuse to accept that. Charles Lindbergh took all our hearts into the sky and across the Atlantic with him. Grumman left a little piece of Long Island on the moon. We gave birth to the entire idea of the suburbs, since no such concept ever existed in human history! You can't tell me there is a dream that's too big for us, or a bridge that's too far. We, the inventors of the suburban concept, should be in the forefront of moving it forward.
Finally, I am Very Concerned that the Town of Hempstead is trying to scare and mislead voters with mailings like this. You have a questionnaire with little information about the project, no method of obtaining more information (a link to this blog, perhaps?), and you only ask two basic questions: What concerns you?, and How important are these areas to the development of the project? (Translation: What can we remove from this project without receiving political blowback?)
Once again, like most Town of Hempstead mailers, I (and you reading) do not constitute the target audience. The main targets are low-information voters who can get the wrong impression of the Lighthouse because of the way these questions are framed.
Some have argued that this could end up being a net positive if they see a flood of positive press coming back for the Lighthouse Project. This could happen, but there is also no guarantee that overwhelming public support would result in any tangible action. It's happened before, but given the nature and very narrow scope of this mailing I'm not holding my breath.
Low-information voters cannot be ignored because they are still voters. We have already discussed the media's unwillingness to dig into the truth unless prodded to do so, and we have also discussed ad nauseam the Town of Hempstead's attempts to mislead these voters into thinking it's everyone else's fault. This is a perfect opportunity for us to stand up...
We must take up the war of information ourselves. In the coming weeks, I hope that all of you reading this can take steps to inform people who might not follow the project so closely or be as politically active. Ask your neighbors if they have a position and if they're registered to vote in the fall (this is crucial). Tell them to read this site, direct them to the Lighthouse official site, tell them to check out Katrina's Official Lighthouse Blog, and get the word out. Also check others who infrequently discuss the Lighthouse, like the 7th Woman, BD Gallof at Islanders Independent, and Doug from Isles Official's Outlook.
The best cure for the shadowy darkness in which ignorance thrives is the light of truth. We must be the ones who help get the truth out there and hopefully recruit others to join the good fight for the future of this special Island.
It is not enough to simply point out inconsistencies. We must take solid and demonstrable action.
Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.