Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amateur Hour Continues

As many who read this blog know, it has been difficult for me to get back into the swing of things while still basking in the afterglow of BU's incredible victory in the Frozen Four this past Saturday. Thankfully, the Town of Hempstead made things easy for me.

I have mentioned before that I called Kate Murray's helpline during Petition-Gate and very calmly explained my reasons for calling. I added at the end that I, like thousands of other voters in the Town of Hempstead, wanted leadership, not buck-passing nonsense.

As my thank-you for calling, I received the official Town of Hempstead letter on the Lighthouse, which is basically two pages of condescending, buck-passing nonsense.

You can take a look at the full letter here (I have only redacted my name and home address, for obvious reasons):

Page 1:

Page 2:

Otherwise, let's get to it:

Just the Islanders?
Contrary to the belief of many Islanders fans and other Lighthouse supporters, the project involves more than rehabilitating the Nassau Coliseum. - Text from Letter
I will never cease to be amazed by this tactic, mostly because I don't hear people ever say this. I'm sure there are people who only support the Lighthouse out of a desire to keep the New York Islanders on Long Island, but no supporters under-estimate the scale or complexity of this undertaking. It is both disingenuous and condescending to assume that people who write or call the Town of Hempstead about the Lighthouse are ignorant about the process or the size.

The Town of Hempstead needs to immediately stop this line of thinking.

Just the Coliseum AGAIN?

The Town of Hempstead refuses to give up the ghost on this idea that just the Coliseum could be renovated, as you can see:
Town government, which must approve any construction, has made it clear that it would issue permits for the Coliseum [renovation] promptly. But, [the Lighthouse] has said it is uninterested in doing that project unless they can also add the housing, hotel rooms, offices, stores, and other amenities to the already congested hub of Nassau County. - Text from Letter
Are they dense, or are they playing us all for fools? Let's go over this one more time, very, very, slowly:
  • Nassau County owns the land, and Nassau Coliseum is a structure that already exists. Therefore, just a renovation would not be subject to Town approval anyway. The Town is grandstanding on an offer it has no power to make.
  • Nassau County, the landowner, approved the entire Lighthouse Project. Let's repeat this: Nassau County approved the entire Lighthouse Project in a 16-2 vote in the Legislature back in 2006.
  • Nassau County put the whole re-development into a competitive bidding process. If renovating the Coliseum was a money-making idea for private enterprise, why didn't anybody bid on just that project?
  • We have proven through numbers that just a Coliseum renovation cannot make money for the Lighthouse unless taxpayers are forced to cover a majority of the costs.
  • Charles Wang is not stupid enough to spend $400 million with no assurance of getting it back. I don't care what any opponent would want to say on this site or anywhere else; none of you would either.
I'm not old enough to use phrases like "all my life" and "back in the day," but I'll attempt to go this route anyway...I never thought I'd see the day where a government was complaining about a private development idea because it might make the developer money. Isn't that the whole point of a capitalist society? When did the desire to make money with a business venture become grounds for criticism?


The old-time scare tactics are back in play, as the Town of Hempstead brought up the bogeyman of traffic:
...and, the granddaddy of them all, how traffic coming to and from the development would be handled. As anyone who has traveled the Meadowbrook Parkway, Hempstead Turnpike, or Merrick Avenue during rush hour (or before or after a Coliseum event) knows, the roads surrounding the Lighthouse site are already used beyond capacity. - Text from Letter

Traffic is a legitimate concern, and I don't mean to diminish its importance. I do mean to point out two main flaws in this line of thinking.

First of all, traffic has gotten as bad as it has (despite an overall population decline since 1970 in Nassau County) because of unfettered development with no cohesive plan. The Town of Hempstead blindly approved every strip mall and gated community that came before it, and it is now attempting to pin these issues on the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse has gone above and beyond in this process, studying almost 300 intersections around the property as part of the environmental review process.

Second of all, the Lighthouse is a massive project that will certainly attract federal infrastructure investment (which carries a multiplier effect) to improve transportation in the area. This will not happen overnight; it has to be approved first. Many opponents leave this part of the equation out, and I have yet to hear a compelling argument about how traffic will get better if we ignore it. The Lighthouse could actually serve to correct some of the previous mistakes that unchecked suburban sprawl created.

Environmental Review

The letter gives a simplistic overview of the SEQR (state environmental review) process, which we discussed in our three, part, series, on the subject. I hope anybody looking for clarification will consult those posts.

Timeframes and Buck-Passing
So, those seeking to assign blame for delays should look to Mineola and to the developers - not Town Hall, which, considering the size of the proposal, is actually moving at an impressive speed. The public should thank the Town for its careful consideration of a project that, to quote Mr. Suozzi, would "change the face of Long Island for years to come." Supervisor Murray and her Hempstead Town colleagues simply want to assure that any such change is for the better. - Text from Letter
I remember saying this to Alex and Steve on Hockey Night on Long Island, and I can't think of a more apt place to repeat it. The Town of Hempstead has not done anything per se to endanger the Lighthouse process. However, it has caused a lot of heartache and probably more angry calls than it would have otherwise received due to statements like this.

First of all, as we discussed, the Town does not have a stated timeframe to review the Environmental Impact Statement under the SEQR process. It simply needs to take all time necessary to ensure it is complete and correct. Since I have heard (and posted) that the Town nitpicked the Draft EIS for spelling mistakes, and only 19 of the almost 200 requests for change were deemed valid by Lighthouse consultants, one cannot help but wonder if the Town wants to stall here.

I'll say it one more time: I don't want to watch the Town or the County pat itself on the back. I want them to fulfill their duty to the public and get this done.

Where is Kate?

As we see, the Town Attorney, Joseph Ra (an Islanders season ticket holder, by the way), wrote this letter, not Kate Murray. She continues to hide and avoid the appearance of any responsibility for this project...Supervisor, you cannot hide forever, and you owe the public your thoughts on this key project. If you believe talking to the public compromises your responsibilities under the review process, then you should work with the County and the Lighthouse to come up with a mutually-agreeable solution rather than starting phony petition drives or playing in the mud with dwarf goats.

Bottom Line

I have tiptoed around this issue for a while, and barely alluded to it in a previous post, but there is no way around it now: The Town of Hempstead is in over its head. They clearly believe their usual cloak-and-dagger proceedings will serve them well in a highly visible and highly public issue such as the Lighthouse. Despite the unprecedented access to information, and citizen journalists who rise up and report the truth (this includes all of you), the Town of Hempstead is still clinging to the belief that it can continue to lie to all people all the time. This is not a partisan issue; political machines just want to retain power, not advance an ideology. However, it is just as dangerous.

There is a danger in sending blind form letters to every person who calls about a certain issue. I received this condescending, buck-passing letter despite calling the Town to avoid condescension, buck-passing, and yelling. Sending this letter engendered far more ill will than they would have if they had done nothing.

That having been said, we're entering the real danger zone here. I am not the target audience of this letter, and most of you who read this site are not either. The real targets are low-information voters who do not understand the process and may turn on Charles Wang and the Lighthouse Project because "they are holding the team hostage when they could have the Coliseum right now." This is not true, but to a low-information voter it could make sense.

The Town of Hempstead needs to stop this, because it is angering people on both sides and causing the rhetoric to increase in temperature. I sincerely hope the Town of Hempstead will not look at the anger it has created and use it as a bludgeon to prove that Lighthouse supporters are simply militant. We are not; we want respect, and we want leadership.

We are officially entering the silly season as the political campaigns begin to come alive. It seems that the media has more interest in a juicy story than the truth, so I find it difficult at times to believe they will help to get the truth out there.

So, what does this mean?

We must be the truth.

If the Town is willing to spread half-truths and outright lies, and the media is not willing to proclaim the truth, it just means we need to raise our voices a little louder.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me.


  1. WHY does it HAVE to be scaled down? How much small-town/time thinking do we have to suffer with this Town?!? RIDICULOUS! TOH, YOU SUCK!

  2. Anon - I share the sentiment, mostly, but for me the main issue is that they haven't said a word about what they'd accept. They've sent ridiculous letters like this one and engaged in phony petition drives through the media rather than actually sitting down and trying to work something out. I never thought it would look exactly like the renderings, but how close it comes is up to the negotiations that at very least should be going on right now.

    (For clarification: I've heard from many sources, and Mr. Wang himself confirmed on WFAN this morning, that negotiations are happening...I do sense some frustration, though)

  3. This letter reads a great deal like the ToH's statement in Newsday. It reflects the same attitude, too ... that "we know better than you, so please hush."

  4. " It seems that the media has more interest in a juicy story than the truth, "

    This is only problem I have with what you wrote.
    All along I've contended there is a serious "juicy story" behind Ms. Murray, her cohorts and LH issue. It's there, and once presented, could only help the LH cause. The problem is that so far no reporter or anyone in the media has been assertive or interested ENOUGH to really go after it.
    Other than than, good job. Again.

  5. Day1 - point well taken.

    Can I amend/clarify and say what I meant to say? It bothers me that the media is going for lazy sensationalism rather than the truth. The veterans "issue" was a great example of this. I also liked the News12 report from the rally last Saturday when the reporter made sure to say 27% of people in a News12/Hofstra poll (I'm working on getting a detailed methodology on this so stay tuned) were against the mention that 52% in the same poll supported it.

    You're dead on that this is laziness and faux controversy instead of the actual reporting that needs to go on. I and some other bloggers are working on some interesting angles on this, so I hope you'll stay tuned (and forgive me for the sporadic updates; after I got back from the Frozen Four I shipped up to Boston for a business conference).