(Blogger's Note: 10 days, still no apology from Joe Mondello)
I do my best to engage people on the Lighthouse, and you could debate how successful I am with that. More than anything, however, I have always been concerned that this site was an echo chamber, a place where there was not enough disagreement with the Lighthouse issue. Today was a fascinating look outside the echo chamber, as I (and a few others who read this site) attended a meeting in Garden City featuring Supervisor Kate Murray.
This will largely be darker than most things I write, but I owe it to you to give you the true story of what happened.
Also, Kristen McElroy was not in attendance, and it is quite possible this Homeowner's Association does not represent the part of Garden City in which she lives.
Two quick things first:
Tomorrow's meeting, which is open for public comments, is very important for the Lighthouse. Please make every effort to attend and discuss the Lighthouse and how vital it is to the region's future. Kate Murray is confirmed in attendance, and Charles Wang will likely be there as well. This would mark the first time in a very long time that the two were in the same room at the same time.
As a reminder, the meeting will be held at the Nassau Legislative Chamber, 1550 Franklin Avenue (at the corner of Old Country Road), in Mineola. The Lighthouse discussion starts at 11 AM.
Nolan vs. Murray
David Reich-Hale, who has really been on top of the Lighthouse issue, has another feature on the LI Business News Polit Bureau blog. He compares the feigned "impartiality" of Kate Murray with the active engagement Phil Nolan, Islip Town Supervisor, has shown with those proposing the massive Heartland development in Brentwood.
Mr. Nolan has a good point - he has expertise in certain areas, and he can't just sit in an igloo until it's time to come out and vote, so what's the harm in engaging?
Kate Murray gave a speech and Q-and-A session for the Garden City group today, discussing the Lighthouse, a planned expansion to the Covanta energy plant, and anything else that might be on citizens' minds.
This was an incredible window into the minds of certain Long Island residents, and I think it would be best to share some of my key impressions and take-aways from tonight:
Kate Murray largely played it straight and should be commended for sticking to her (recent) dictum of looking at the Lighthouse like an impartial judge. She echoed most of the talking points we have come to know through this process, talking about the size, other projects in the region, and the speed at which the Town is moving (compared to...?).
(UPDATE: I am removing the encounter with Joe Ra, the Hempstead Attorney. It was a misunderstanding with no malicious intent)
SEQR Process Update
At this meeting, Kate Murray announced that Frederick P. Clark, the Town's environmental consultants, delivered a final memo on May 29 to the Lighthouse group. This document details the areas that must be improved before the issue can be brought for Public Comments.
At Least One October Will Pass
This space has openly questioned whether Frederick P. Clark, the Town of Hempstead's environmental consultants, had motivation to move the Lighthouse process forward and stop the steady stream of income. You can now add the Supervisor to a list of people who are in no hurry to move SEQR forward.
Let's remember, neither I nor anyone else want to skirt the law or do a slipshod job. We want things to move forward as quickly as they can. The Supervisor made sure to mention the years it has taken to review other big projects on Long Island (Heartland, Calverton, etc.) in an attempt to both congratulate herself on "speed" and, seemingly, to plant seeds of doubt in the Garden City electorate.
It is now clear - when we look at a prism of months, the Supervisor may be thinking years. It is the most clear illustration that SEQR is a law, and it can be bent to one's own will.
Charles Wang's October deadline will pass without any substantive action from the Town of Hempstead; the Supervisor would not even commit to Public Comments over the summer (though she allowed that it is possible).
Kate Murray admitted that she did not know the basics of many of the issues surrounding the Lighthouse, including water usage and sewage (which, if my understanding is correct, will end up being a major issue, and it is something the Lighthouse needs to address quickly). The Supervisor's admitted lack of knowledge makes me wonder how engaged she is in the overall process, and whether she has any motivation to do so with the Lighthouse or any other major development. Believe me, memorizing SEQR law is not fun or joyous in any way, but I managed to do it in my spare time, and it's not my job to do so.
This begs the question - who is controlling the response to the DGEIS? Is the Town of Hempstead letting Frederick P. Clark take its sweet old time without any critical eye, or are they more deeply involved? This must be answered.
Many Garden City residents seem to oppose the Lighthouse for one reason: the proposed light rail system will run on an abandoned freight spur (that is nowhere near residential areas) amd, in the words of one resident at the meeting, "destroy [Garden City]." Only one problem: THERE IS NO LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM PROPOSED. It is a passing thing Tom Suozzi mentioned once as a possibility, and it was the center of many people's opposition. This really underscores the need to get informed, since a whole room of people were convinced of something that is not currently on the table.
Kate Murray did mention that it was not "part of the Lighthouse proposal," but she then suggested those concerned should contact Tom Suozzi. First of all, I heard many murmurs through the crowd suggesting Charles Wang, Scott Rechler, and Tom Suozzi were in cahoots to ram this down "our" (read: Garden City's) throat. Second of all, as far as she went, I think Ms. Murray should have gone further and reminded these residents that no such plan exists. Third of all - I really don't get the problems here. As I said before, I've lived next to a light rail system, something most of those people cannot say, and it never had a negative impact on my quality of life.
Garden City has a reputation as a NIMBY community that does not want any development, anywhere, at any time. A running joke among some people is that they believe they are the Gold Coast, except there's no gold and no coast. Sadly, most of the people there displayed their Can't-Do Mentality and looked for ways to find problems with theLighthouse (and other projects in the area). At the end, few were willing to share ideas, with more than one resident declining a request to talk to me because they "did not want their names all over the internet." Funny thing, they spoke to Newsday, which publishes its stories online.
More ominous, the association president introduces the Supervisor by describing her as a friend and a buffer to the craziness going on all around them. This is a clear indication that this group is not happy with and plans to fight all proposed developments (though they seem to be OK with sprawl).
I think one thing typified the evening, more than anything else. A woman stood up and asked the Supervisor about her statements that environmental reviews take time. The woman asked a simple question that sadly got a lot of applause: "How long does it take to say no?"
Sadly, residents like these are not interested in the common good. Issues about the slow, painful death of Long Island will not register with them, and we cannot persuade them with normal means. Why? They only care about themselves. I hate saying that and generalizing a group of people, but if tonight's experience was any indication, we are dealing with people who only care about themselves and who will make countless people suffer to further their own interests.
It seems a basic fact escaped the crowd, which was overwhelmingly older people - there will be no homeowners like them in 30 years if they drive all the young people away.
I was glad to have a window into the minds of voters who are opposed to the Lighthouse, and it left me both concerned and indignant. Frankly, when sitting in that meeting I felt like I was in a foreign country. It amazes me to see that those who support the Lighthouse talk about doing something great to lift up the entire community, and those who oppose it seem to dwell solely on how it will impact them. It is clear that Garden City will make good on threats to sue if the environmental review is not done according to their definition of speed, but it is not clear what exactly their definition is.
As for the Town of Hempstead, they are currently sending mixed signals. On one hand, they are attempting to reach out to Lighthouse supporters and open lines of communication. On the other hand, the siege mentality still reigns among many parts of the Town. You can look no further to a tense exchange that resulted from what might be the nicest thing I've said about Kate Murray all year.
More than anything, I am very glad our movement is starting, since it proves that we must fight for the Lighthouse if we want it. Voters in places like Garden City think their voices are the only ones that matter, and that is simply not true. They are willing to look for every reason to kill the Lighthouse and other major developments; we must be willing to meet them on the field of battle.
Kate Murray said it best herself:
"If they receive enough phone calls about one issue, any smart politician would listen." - Kate MurrayWe have a pretty good idea of what Garden City residents and other Lighthouse opponents will do. I think it's also pretty clear what we need to do.
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