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November 22, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

November 22, 2006

Neighborhoods Work, Part One

In this first report, the blogger rants about the useless and uninformative part of the conference. In the second report, he glows admiringly about the useful and informative part.

Last Saturday morning the hall at the First Lutheran Church on Western Avenue was packed with regular folks, neighborhood activists, politicians and corporate media, including TV cameras. The occasion was the Seventh Neighborhoods Work conference, put on by the Neighborhood Resources Council (NRC) and the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA.)

Later in the morning, the conference became worthwhile. But at the beginning we all had to sit through the baloney and doggie droppings.

Rabito and Three Dingdongs
Rabito and Three Dingdongs

First up were representatives of Albany Mayor Jerry Jenning’s Re-Capitalize Albany Committee. You may recall that these characters are the collection of suburban interlopers that are investigating ways to carve out the City of Albany’s guts and serve the steaming entrails to corporate and suburbanite looters.

We sat and politely listened to City Commissioner of Planning and Development Joe Rabito and three dingdongs from the Committee offer up a pile of worthless generalities and important blather, all very short on specific solutions to problems. As The Wife said afterwards, “I couldn’t understand why they didn’t make any sense. I thought it was me.” “No,” I reassured her, “it wasn’t you. They were full of crap.”

But we were able to pick out, purely by implication, three goals that the Re-Capitalize Committee is pursuing: 1) attracting corporations 2) gentrifying low income neighborhoods, and 3) making “charter” schools plentiful and permanent.

As soon as they were through dissembling, I shot up my hand for the first question. (I paraphrase here.) “More than half of the people in the South End, and presumably the rest of the downtown neighborhoods, do not own or have access to a car. Since it is unlikely that we are going to see any high tech industries locate in the South End, it is clear that the key to economic revival of my neighborhood is mass transportation. What is the committee doing to address this vital economic issue?”

Joe Rabito, from his high perch on the stage, stared at me flatly and in a flat voice said, “Our committee has a more narrow focus. That will be addressed by the master plan.” And that was it.

Several other participants tried to get these clowns to do or say something useful. Roger Markovics tried to get them interested in listening to housing advocates from the Housing Trust Fund, which looks for ways to finance run down or abandoned housing stock in the City. No, he was told, we already got a bunch of pamphlets from somebody else.

Joyce Hartwell asked why they weren’t building on the work of other committees, particularly that of John Poorman and the Capital District Planning Committee. We welcome input from everybody, was the reply.

Former mayoral candidate Archie Goodbee asked the Committee to consider the idea of land value taxation, the idea of taxing land instead of buildings, offering Harrisburg Pennsylvania as a model for successful implementation. “The results have been spectacular,” said Archie. Well, spectacular or not, the committee had no interest in investigating this intriguing idea, or any other for that matter.

But suddenly Joe Rabito came alive. Someone suggested that the City should provide housing downtown for the elderly, particularly for the growing number of retiring baby boomers. Rabito was all for that. “What I like about them from an economic perspective,” he said, meaning the aging baby boomers, “ is that they have lots of money.”

How mother fricking revealing of motives can you get. Yes, we want to exploit the people of low income neighborhoods like the South End with privatized “charter” schools. No, we can’t even consider bringing desperately needed income into poor neighborhoods by providing mass transportation.

But you’d better believe that the City of Albany is all for displacing the low income people of the South End with rich retiring baby boomers. Gentrification is very much on the table.

Okay, that was the baloney part of Neighborhood Works. But guess what? According to the liars who run the local corporate media, the Re-Capitalize Panel was the ONLY part of the Neighborhoods Work Conference.

Note, for example, this wretched report from the corporate-minded suburbanites at Capital 9 TV News. Of course it’s one of those typical “Isn’t Albany an awful place to live” stories. But read it carefully. Notice anything missing?

Not one word about how this Conference is put on by the neighborhood associations. In fact, it gives the distinct impression that the Conference was put on by Re-Capitalize Albany!

That this TV station would eliminate the existence of the Albany neighborhood movement from its reports is not to be wondered at. Capital 9 News is a local outlet for one of the biggest and most ravenous corporations on this planet, Time Warner. As such, the locals have to express the political dictates of their corporation.

Time Warner Corporation, which is run in the exact same manner as North Korea, cannot tolerate initiatives from below. All planning must originate from the top of the organization, from Dear Leader and the Politburo. Or the CEO and the Board of Directors, if you prefer. That's the corporate world-view.

The neighborhood associations are transforming Albany. They are an increasingly effective mechanism through which we the taxpaying citizens are taking charge of our City and making the politicians work for us instead of the other way around. This is the real story that Capital 9 News desperately wants to suppress.

And then there’s the nasty picture of 4th Ward Common Council member Barbara Smith that News 9 put on their website. Ms. Smith is a very dignified lady. You know that the baboons at News 9 did a stop action search through the videotapes until they found a weird expression while she was speaking. “There, use that one,” said the head baboon.

Barbara Smith
Dignified Barbara Smith

Then there was the pathetic article in the Sunday Hearst Times Union by content provider Paul Grondahl. It was so bad, I saw no point in reproducing it.

Next we got to hear about the City’s efforts to put together a comprehensive plan. This panel consisted entirely of Comprehensive Plan Director Mike Yevoli, and a repeat performance by Joe Rabito.

A comprehensive plan is a blueprint for the community’s growth and maintenance. It is not so much a document as a process, a consensual set of directives for planners and developers. According to Mr. Yevoli, it should be “a living document, regularly updated and implemented.”

Basically, it is the community at large telling the government what kind of development it wants, instead of the other way around. This is exactly why the City has dragged its feet on creating a comprehensive plan for decades. The City officials have been reluctant to give up their power to feed pieces of the City to suburban hit and run “developers” and collect lucrative kickbacks.

The comprehensive planning process is only beginning. It is supposed to bring input from all sectors of the community, take two years and cost half a million dollars. Since a plan is required by the State (and long overdue) there are numerous grants available to defray costs.

You will recall that this initiative started at the beginning of this year after CANA called for a citywide plan. Mayor Jennings scrambled to pre-empt CANA’s plans by organizing a planning process himself.

Mr. Yevoli appears to be committed to the success of the project. He told us that the participation of the neighborhood associations is critical, music to our ears. He cited the South End Action Committee (SEAC) as a model that he hopes to follow, an excellent choice. Even Rabito seemed to want it to work. “If it’s done well, he said, “ it will take the politics out of zoning.”

I will say this about Joe Rabito. He worked hard to be as personable as possible to the public, and still faithfully represent the interests of his boss, the notably absent Mayor Jennings. He stayed all the way to the end of the conference, listening to the last comments. I hope he gives an accurate report to The Boss.

Part Two of this report will be the next post. Soon.

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