Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Potential New Beginning for Long Island


Yesterday was a watershed day in the history of Long Island, a time when over a thousand residents showed up to prove that Long Island cannot continue to cling to failed policies of the past. It felt good to be part of such a moment, and while the Lighthouse took a baby step forward, we must not forget there is a lot left to do.

Many other blogs - especially Dee over at the 7th Woman Blog (and Hockeybuzz) - have excellent pieces running down the nuts and the bolts of the meeting yesterday, including specific quotes. Rather than re-doing their excellent work, I'm going back to my usual strategy of mentioning some key take-aways from yesterday's meeting, and what this means moving forward.

Support

Many times, when we spoke to representatives of the Town of Hempstead about the "support" for the Lighthouse, there was a constant refrain: "Wait until the public hearing."

The hidden meaning here is that many people believed organized opposition would make itself known, and that the hearing would be much more evenly split between supporters and opponents.

We had an amazing rally, with well over 1000 people showing up in the Coliseum parking lot:


Then we all lined up for a peaceful and orderly march to Hofstra. Best part about the County Executive participating: County Police made sure we had a clear shot in, even though people were late for work (Sorry, Katie!).


We knew there would be a lot of support, but we were still unsure how much opposition would show up at the hearing. Well, I shot this video on my phone about 10 seconds after Charles Wang was first introduced. You tell me the reception:

video

In an email exchange with a reader, I mentioned that I would be thrilled if we had a 70-30 split between Lighthouse supporters and opponents. Judging from this reaction, and a later incident in which union boss James Castellane asked supporters to raise their hands, the split was at least 90-10.

Opposition

We spoke about the public hearing as "the last chance" for organized opposition to make itself known. While there may be other chances, the opposition is still not significant or organized. Many of the opponents yesterday were from my favorite village, Garden City (though I must acknowledge the 2 Garden City residents who spoke in favor of the Lighthouse), and they continued to use non-sensical arguments without a coherent narrative. An example of their arguments:
  • Traffic (I repeat my stance: traffic will not get better if we ignore it. A project like the Lighthouse includes $50 million in private investment to improve traffic flow, and federal earmarks have been requested in the new transportation bill to provide better transportation in the area. A project like the Lighthouse, which forces us to look at the area holistically, gives us a much better chance to solve the problem than if we ignore it)
  • Slippery Slope (This argument makes the least sense to me: "Long Island will become like the city if we approve the Lighthouse." Someone please tell me how approving one project that contains tall buildings will suddenly lead to them being built everywhere. Just like anything, each project needs to be considered on its own merits)
  • "Cannibalizing Local Commerse" (What a short-sighted, ill-informed argument. A major economic engine - like the tech industry in Silicon Valley - drives money through the local economy and supports small businesses. A project like the Lighthouse, that could hopefully attract new industries and create a new economic engine, will do just that. In fact, one speaker yesterday reminded us of the millions in revenue local businesses would reap just in supporting construction workers at the site)
  • The Recession (Come on. The economy is bad, so we're going to turn away private investment to a neglected area? Give me a break..the Lighthouse will perfectly position Long Island to capitalize on the inevitable upswing. Imagine if this kind of thinking had killed the Empire State Building)
There is no coherent narrative, no compelling reason to stop the project, and still no organized opposition, and opponents have made it harder on themselves due to the Boy Who Cried Wolf theory. Many of these residents, especially the winners in Garden City, are blindly against every project because they want no new development on Long Island. If a resident is opposed to everything as a knee-jerk reaction, it becomes harder to listen to each individual complaint.

There was one other opposition talking point, masked as concern: the need for more studies. Anybody with knowledge of Congress knows that commissions are what you create in order to make a problem go away, and the same tactics are in play here. When someone says "more studies are required," that person really means "I'm going to keep asking for new studies and harassing the developer until he gets fed up and leaves." Thankfully these people are a significant minority.

I'm going to remain on my guard, but I've now been to over 10 public meetings about the Lighthouse, and there has still been no organized and formidable opposition. At what point do you have to start asking yourself if these people exist?

Valid Environmental Issues

Some valid environmental issues were discussed, among them renewable energy, water, and sewage. These issues are all important to the long-term viability of the Lighthouse, and if the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) does not address them properly, both sides should negotiate a new solution that provides a net benefit to the community.

One resident summed it up perfectly, saying that certain issues, if they threatened the final success, should be dealt with instead of simply trying to use them as an excuse to kill the project.

I can tell you this, in my opinion and the opinion of environmental experts with whom I've spoken: none of the environmental issues brought up are enough to kill the Lighthouse. I was thrilled to see more of a Can-Do spirit among many Long Islanders who have finally understood that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.


What Exactly Happened Yesterday?

Yesterday was a State-Mandated hearing in which citizens were invited to share their comments on the DGEIS as currently constructed and to suggest changes. Many people - and I'll include myself - took this as an opportunity to share their feelings on the project in addition to environmental issues, but this explains why representatives from environmental groups had such a strong showing at the hearing.

There was no final green-light to the Lighthouse Project yesterday, just another checkpoint to gauge citizens' response to the proposal as it currently stands. After the public comment period ends on August 17, both sides will examine the comments and decide how best to move forward.


Next Steps

We are really getting into the meat of the SEQR process now. As I've said earlier, Public Review and Comment ends on August 17, and the comments from both citizens and state agencies will be reviewed to determine what new actions or studies must be conducted before the DGEIS can be declared a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

Once Public Review and Comment is over, we move into Final Scoping. This is where the rubber will hit the road, as the Town and the Lighthouse will negotiate the exact details of the Lighthouse (height of buildings, how many square feet of retail/commercial, number of residential units, location of buildings, etc). This could be a very painful part of the process if both sides are far apart on their vision for the site. Don Clavin, Receiver of Taxes in the Town of Hempstead, likes to say that this is the time when both sides will "meet in the middle," but we still do not know each side's definition of "the middle."

I will say this: If the Town of Hempstead is serious about moving this forward, they will work out a situation that works for both them and the Lighthouse. In the same vein, the Lighthouse should make reciprocal gestures to match the Town's recent good-faith efforts to move the Lighthouse process forward.

Once the final scope is settled, the contents of the project will be thrown into the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which details the expected environmental impact of the precise project.

We could hopefully see a lot of momentum on the Lighthouse after final scoping, since the Town of Hempstead would presumably negotiate a scope it would approve when the re-zoning hearings come about.

I realize it's dangerous to make time predictions with a process like this, but I hope the scoping negotiations will take 6-12 weeks. Once that's over, we're on to the County Planning Commission for approval of sub-divisions (aka, the exact location of each building and structure in the Lighthouse) and the big show: the Re-Zoning Hearing.

Prognosis

Things are looking good, but the next step of the process could be the most painful, depending on how far apart the Lighthouse and the Town of Hempstead are on a final scope.

At this point, with support clear (keep those letters coming!) and the political will existing across the spectrum, it would be a good idea for both sides to stay within themselves and work out a mutually-beneficial agreeement.

The threat of a lawsuit is all too real - one person I spoke to at the hearing discussed listening to two Garden City residents who claimed they would "do everything to kill the Lighthouse." The main reason Garden City is worrying is because most of the residents are wealthy enough to afford good lawyers that can do nothing but poke holes in the DGEIS all day and night. Most, if not all, of the cases would be dismissed in court because it's clear these residents would be suing out of opposition, not because they think someone is breaking the law (a ruling can't be based on this fact, but it can inform a judge's decision). The Town and the Lighthouse must continue to work quickly and correctly to address any valid issues while deflecting any residents who want to study or complain it to death.

Don't Forget: Public Comments Still On

Let's not forget that the public comment period continues through August 17, which is a week from Monday. Everyone who showed up yesterday, and those that couldn't, should still do everything in their power to send a message of support to the Town of Hempstead using the contact information above. Currently, messages of support are well over 50% of the comments the Town of Hempstead has received, but we must keep it going. The vocal minority trying to kill this project will be motivated to write, and our motivation must be even greater.

Don't forget to check the guide for some tips on writing a public comment.

Bottom Line

We saw a tremendous showing of support for a project that will serve as a catalyst for a new way forward here on Long Island. I was very heartened to see such a display from people who are simply not willing to continue following the bankrupt ideology that got us into this mess in the first place.

There are valid environmental issues, but, as I said, these are not significant enough to short-circuit the Lighthouse or to delay it in any significant way. As I said during my speech yesterday, the cost of doing this is not insignificant, but the cost of doing nothing is more than we could ever bear.

We must still be vigilant about the opposition due to the construction of SEQRA. It is easy for even one citizen, through a lawsuit, to stop the whole process dead in its tracks. We have to keep our eyes open and be ready with facts and figures to back up our position if it is ever necessary.

Overall, yesterday was a wonderful day for the Lighthouse and for Long Island, but it is naive to think our work is over. We will soon move into final scoping and an eventual re-zoning hearing, and we cannot afford to waste the passion and positive energy we've built so far. I'll be right there with you every step of the way.

Special Thanks

To Dee, Doug, Mike, Roger, Art, Chris Botta, Dom, TheMetalChick, Marc, Joe Conte (the rabble-rouser), Matt C., Kenny, Matt B., Andrew, Bob Z., Patrick and McKenzie (the Sign Guy and his daughter - who are becoming fixtures at these hearings), Fr. Philip from Kellenberg, dani3boyz, PredsOnTheGlass, ctull13, and the rest of the crew who stuck with it on Twitter all day, and anybody else I managed to speak to that I forgot.

Thanks to the Town of Hempstead for having this meeting during a time when most officials are on a summer recess, and for re-scheduling when Charles Wang had a conflict for the original day. I have to remain wary due to past experiences, but I fervently hope that we can work with the Town to do something wonderful for Long Island.

Also, a major shout-out to my iPhone, whose battery lived through the entire hearing even though I spent most of the time hammering out my thoughts on Twitter or taking pictures with it. I was concerned toward the end, but we pulled it out.

Blog Going Dark Through Sunday

I'm leaving on a much-needed vacation to an Upstate resort later today, and I won't be back until Sunday. Unless a major piece of news comes up, expect the blog to go dark until then.

Bonus: My Speech

(Thanks to Roger Farina at Islanders Esoteric) I found this YouTube video of what I said yesterday....for your viewing pleasure:





Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.

11 comments:

  1. Did NCMC lead to buildings being built all over the place?

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  2. Nick Giglia with the rouser!!
    Well done sir....I couldn't tell from the video, but did you do a Cronkite-like
    "casually remove eyeglasses for effect" at the beginning of your rant?
    If so.....BRAVO.
    If not...why not?

    And nice Francessa-like dismissive hand wave to the timekeeper.

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  3. Nick, I speak for MANY when I say that your efforts are truly appreciated. Please enjoy your vacation and I will talk to you soon! :)

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  4. islandersfan4everAugust 5, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    thank you for videos, and all the effort for fans like me who are out of state, but Islanders anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nick,

    I too was there yesterday and at the rally. When did you speak? How long after Botta did you get called? Anyway, great speech. Even though that wretched timekeeper was ringing that infernal bell like Macho Man on Steamboat, you marched on defiantly. Were the board actually paying attention or were they doing what they did to most and talking or playing with their Blackberrys?


    Great job representing!

    -Big Van Vader

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  6. Nick,

    It sounds like things went well which is great news. While no organized opposition has emerged, we know it only takes one person and one lawyer to bring things to a hault. Being Pro-Lighthouse I have to acknowledge, as you have as well, that their are some valid environmental concerns like traffic and water. While it sounds like the DGEIS addressed some of this and I believe there is $50 million available for traffic flow, it doesn't sound like they really have a solution. You have said repeatedly that traffic is a problem anyway on LI so that doesn't really work as a defense against the Project, but it also is not a solution to the added traffic that will manifest itself. Again, I want this project done, but I think the unorganized opposition has some valid points that the Lighthouse needs to address instead of saying things like, "Well we already had this problem before the Project."

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  7. "There was one other opposition talking point, masked as concern: the need for more studies ... knows that commissions are what you create in order to make a problem go away, and ....lawsuits ...harassing the developer until he gets fed up and leaves."

    a move to threaten the project would likely come in the form of a law suit(s) challenging the validity of the studies. i'm not a lawyer but in my neighborhood i have seen the tactic used effectively to delay ratner's atlantic yards project. the similarities bewtween AY and LH are obvious, and it's kind of remarkable to watch 2 such similar deals unfolding at once. what makes it even more ironic is that at stake are the future of the (cousin) islanders and nets. but the differences are clear and fundamental. to put it bluntly and consisely, the AY deal and process was rife with basic sleaziness and comes off as simply an old time land-grab. also there are stark differences in terms the sites themselves and DIRECT impact on the immediate NEIGHBORHOODS. at any rate, the litigation pursued by the AY opponents stalled the thing long enough until the economic crash took over, which may still be the final nail in that deal's coffin.
    'stalled' is the key word, and the opposition in brooklyn has been well-planned and executed by very sharp and extremely resolute people. in the case of the LH, the opposition is not nearly as well organized or grounded, in large part i think because it is based on weak arguments and thus lacks the popular support the AY opposition has. the one threat to watch for though is that the courts come down with some strange, even goofy rulings on occasion, which could still be a problem. aside from that, i think things look really good right now and i am psyched that i might be able to get on a LIRR train at flatbush avenue for a short shuttle bus ride from mineola to the LH, and be able to actually go to islander games again.

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  8. Nick, thanks very much for your report. As usual, thorough, thoughtful, and well written.

    I share your optimism, and as I think you already know, I also share your caution. We cannot relax until the first shovel is in the ground. But after yesterday it sure seems more likely!

    Have a well deserved break.

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  9. Hey everyone, great conversation here.

    Greetings from the mountains of Upstate NY!

    The wifi here is atrocious but I'm committed to making some time to answer the important questions and points in this thread.

    Have a great night.

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  10. FINALLY, some good wi-fi. Here we go:

    505: I thought the Cronkite Effect would lose its power since I wasn't sitting at a desk when doing it. I promise you that I will bring glasses to all future hearings just in case.

    Big Van Vader: I spoke around 2:30, shortly after TheMetalChick and long after most people had left. I got a nice ovation, but my bad knee prevented me from doing a Bottaesque victory jog down to the microphone.

    Brett: Excellent points, and I hope I haven't been misrepresenting the traffic argument with what I've been saying. Let's keep this right out in the open: the Lighthouse will fail if they don't mitigate traffic issues as much as they possibly can. There are many transportation options for the site - and I plan to do a series about this in the coming weeks - but the Lighthouse people say they chose not to do something specific because a) it hinges on funding from other layers of government, and b) it would create the illusion that the Lighthouse couldn't survive without that specific solution. The easements for light rail, for example, are in the site, and my understanding is that there will be shuttle buses to carry people around the site. However, after approval, the focus shifts solely toward a transportation solution that makes sense for the site. Most of our local reps in Congress asked for earmarks for the Lighthouse area in the new transportation bill, and when I get back from vacation I will get more details on that. Remember, the feds control the rails, and most of the roads around the Lighthouse are run by the state. I hope that made sense - the Lighthouse needs a solution, and nobody can deny that. I dispute opponents who think that the project should die because it might increase traffic, since ignoring traffic now isn't making the problem go away.

    Day1 - Excellent points. Lawsuits could be a nuisance to the Lighthouse, but there is nothing currently there to give grounds to kill the project. Garden City hired lawyers to review the DGEIS, and it's telling that you're not hearing them harp on specifics other than water quality (which should be resolved before this can go forward). Atlantic Yards has organized opposition - hell, there's an anti-Nick who keeps a blog against the project - and there are many other issues in play there, like the capacity of the neighborhood and a potentially illegal use of eminent domain. The opposition here is not organized or cogent, and it definitely speaks to the strength of the proposal. Could something happen? Absolutely. Is it going to kill the project? I doubt it sincerely.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Also (sorry for the triple post):

    I'm sure you're wondering why there was very little about the Town of Hempstead in this post. I think that requires its own blog entry, and I want to reach out to a few Hempstead officials before writing it. Expect that piece next week.

    ReplyDelete

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