Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Donn Esmonde: Mayoral debate reminds us of Brown’s failings

Donn Esmonde: Mayoral debate reminds us of Brown’s failings

on August 24, 2013 - 5:27 PM
, updated August 24, 2013 at 5:47 PM

It was about time these guys teed off on Silent Byron.
His challengers blasted the mayor in Thursday’s debate for, among other things, staying on the sidelines as the battle raged over putting ECC’s new science building in the suburbs or downtown.
His mime act on ECC was typical. Brown’s failure to engage and a propensity to duck and cover is, to my mind, the enduring trademark of his administration. Passivity R Us.
The broadsides from Bernie Tolbert and Sergio Rodriguez won’t, judging by a recent poll, slow Brown’s march to a third term. But their call-out revives the burning question of Brown’s uninspiring tenure: What if?
What if he was a leader instead of a placeholder? What if he was a battler instead of a bystander? Proactive instead of passive? Passionate, instead of a passenger?
Brown looks like he stepped out of a Brooks Brothers ad, but he might as well wear an invisibility cloak, given his blue-moon infrequency for weighing in. The ECC fight is typical. The science building is suited for the City Campus, given its central location and proximity to the blossoming medical corridor. Despite that, county officials seem determined to build it on the North Campus.
The figure leading the charge for downtown is not the mayor, but ex-County Executive Joel Giambra. A checkered past makes Giambra a flawed flag-carrier, but at least he stood up and spoke out – unlike the man in the tailored suit.
Brown potentially has plenty of muscle, but – to the frustration of many – lacks the will, interest, vision or desire to flex it. As the African-American mayor of one of the nation’s poorest cities, he has the power to persuade and embarrass. Particularly with a Democratic governor who passed Brown over for the job as his right-hand man (in favor of another upstate mayor), who has presidential ambitions and who’s sensitive about his racial sensitivity.
Brown could do more good for Buffalo if he was as passionate about policy as he is about politics. The sad thing is, he gets away with it.
His consistent failure to take a stand or to lead a cause has conditioned people not to expect anything. Whether by circumstance or design, he has undeservedly been handed a No Accountability pass. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Ask Byron. Silence may be golden for a CIA operative, but not when you run a poverty-battered, jobs-desperate city. Judging by a recent poll, Brown will coast to re-election.
Yet time and again, he is conspicuous by his absence.
Suburban school district superintendents recently swatted away talk of taking in city students from underperforming schools. It begged for at least a symbolic response from the city’s black mayor. Instead, silence.
State legislators last summer passed a historic tax credit bill. It would have made it easier to resurrect downtown buildings, notably the decades-empty AM&A’s. Andrew Cuomo befuddled many by not signing it into law. Brown was in a perfect position to turn up the heat. He never even ventured into the kitchen.
The historic tax credit issue has not gone away. A handful of mammoth older Buffalo buildings are empty, nearly empty or about to empty: AM&A’s, Statler Towers, Trico, Millard Fillmore – Gates Circle and Women & Children’s Hospital. Those are huge holes to fill. Where’s Waldo, er, Byron?
His bigger-picture myopia goes beyond a stunning failure to craft an anti-poverty plan. Then-legislator Maria Whyte pushed in vain a few years ago for a long-overdue regional planning board, to funnel business into the city. The issue begged for Brown to climb on board. He never saddled up.
I understand Brown’s broad appeal. He projects civility and concern. He crafted public policy out of community activists’ push for a long-overdue, streetscape-enhancing “green code.” He has hired bright, young planners and given them relatively free rein. The streets are plowed and the garbage is collected. Developers tell me it has gotten easier to do business with the city.
But his tenure is marked more by an absence on issues than a presence – and ECC is sadly typical. Brown could have championed the City Campus for the new science building, while blasting the ridiculous law that pits community colleges – which all are part of the same state system – against each other for students. Instead, he admittedly let ECC President Jack Quinn knock him off the scent. If can-do Congressman Brian Higgins had the same “hakuna matata” attitude about the waterfront, we’d still be wandering through weeds.
Judging by the polls, most voters believe that Brown is good enough. I think Buffalo deserves better. With Silent Byron, I can’t help but see the chasm between what is and what could be.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mayoral candidates square off on ECC - August 22, 2013

Mayoral candidates square off on ECC

Brown finds himself on the defensive as his challengers vow to be more vocal on the issue of locating the college’s new science building downtownBuffalo’s mayoral candidates – from left, Mayor Byron Brown, Sergio Rodriguez and Bernard Tolbert – participate in forum sponsored by Parkside Community Association at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.
Buffalo’s mayoral candidates – from left, Mayor Byron Brown, Sergio Rodriguez and Bernard Tolbert – participate in forum sponsored by Parkside Community Association at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

on August 22, 2013 - 11:51 PM

    • Buffalo’s mayoral candidates – from left, Mayor Byron Brown, Sergio Rodriguez and Bernard Tolbert – participate in forum sponsored by Parkside Community Association at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.


When opponents of Erie Community College’s plan to locate a new science-oriented instructional building in Amherst went to the Buffalo Common Council in July for a show of support, they got it.
At the time, Mayor Byron W. Brown did not speak publicly about the issue. But on Thursday, he said he does favor the expanded campus downtown.
Brown’s opponents, Democrat Bernard A. Tolbert and Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez, said that if elected, they would be more vocal advocates for locating the building in the city, where 47 percent of ECC students live.
Rodriguez criticized Brown for “feeling that way and not doing anything about it.”
“We need an involved administration,” Rodriguez said during a mayoral debate Thursday organized by the Parkside Community Association and held in St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.
Bus routes don’t adequately serve city students who want to attend classes on ECC’s North Campus, resulting in “second-class” students, Tolbert said.
“I am not in favor of ECC expanding in the North Campus,” Brown said Thursday. The new building should be built downtown, he added, noting the jobs that will be created on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which would require skills taught at ECC.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world for ECC to build … in Buffalo,” Brown said.
When asked last week in an interview with The Buffalo News about whether he had advocated for the building to be located in the city, Brown said he spoke with ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr. “a number of times” about plans for the building and that the message he received was that the college must compete with Niagara County Community College. Brown said he thought ECC could compete with its northern neighbor without locating in the suburbs.
The college is planning to open a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math School at Main Street and Youngs Road in Amherst in 2017, a decision that has been endorsed by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. City officials do not have authority over the college’s decision.
The question about ECC was just one in an hourlong debate in which organizers prohibited applause after answers, making audience reaction to each candidate’s answers difficult to gauge.
Both challengers had sharp words for Brown, which he returned.
In his closing statement, Tolbert accused Brown of “systematically decimating our city and our people.”
Rodriguez accused Brown’s administration of “exaggerating about everything.”
Brown said his opponents have “no plan, no vision for the future. All they have is the desire to tear down Buffalo.”
Some of the answers the candidates gave were vague, or didn’t answer the question, while others reiterated campaign themes.
On a question about the future of the Scajaquada Expressway, a major issue in Parkside, Rodriguez acknowledged that he didn’t know much about it.
On a question about crime, Tolbert said government’s No. 1 responsibility is public safety and said his endorsement from police officers means they think he will make meaningful changes, but he did not elaborate.
Asked about what the candidates would do to address poverty, Brown said that with the economic-development activity in the city, he expects 5,000 to 11,000 jobs will be created.
Tolbert said that neighborhoods must be fixed and that the residents he speaks with aren’t seeing the benefit from the economic activity. To address the problem of hunger, he suggested opening up more vacant land for urban farming, while Brown talked up new efforts for job training, through the state’s regional economic-development council.
A question about the candidates’ plans for strengthening commercial corridors that aren’t doing well prompted Rodriguez to note the city’s population loss during Brown’s tenure and Tolbert to bring up problems with the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., which led to its demise.
Brown responded, noting that his administration has cut the commercial tax rate by almost 28 percent and has offered small-business loans, and named Francesca’s restaurant in South Buffalo as an example. He noted that population loss has been going on since 1950, and that he is slowing the tide.
Brown and Tolbert face each other in a Sept. 10 primary.
Rodriguez will compete in the general election Nov. 5.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Media! Media! Media! Lots of Support For Expanding ECC City Campus Instead of Amherst!

We have had a TON of pretty great press this week about the ECC expansion. We are very thankful for everyone's support on this issue - we had over 40 people attend the meeting on Tuesday and several news outlets. Your attendance on Tuesday was so important - without it, we would not have seen so many media hits on this issue. The only ones that did not attend the City Council meeting were the decision makers - Mark Poloncarz and The ECC Staff. 

We have reached out to Mark Poloncarz several times for a meeting but he continues to not respond. We will keep you all updated if and when a meeting is scheduled. 

If you want to reach out to personally let Mark Poloncarz know where you stand on  this issue - do it.  We are encouraging everyone to write emails, letters and make phone calls in support of expanding the ECC City Campus. Email: countyexecutive@erie.gov

Check out the media hits here:






Some of our favorite quotes:

  • Councilmember Darius Pridgen says instead of serving the community,  ECC is acting like an Ivy League institution.  " - WBFO News
  • "College should be a no-brainer. It should not be an uphill battle for them to go and get a two-year degree.” - Bernice Radle - Buffalo Rising
  • “There will be a lawsuit,” said Joel Giambra. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Letter From An ECC Student: Make Downtown Stronger & More Accessible!

This was sent to us days ago by a concerned ECC student. We need you to come out and support us TOMORROW at 1pm. (see LINK for details!) 

To Whom It Concerns,

I come to you as a current student at ECC-City Campus. I am also a resident in the city of Buffalo. It truly sickens me to learn of the recent proposal to build a Health Sciences building at Amherst-North Campus, and to focus Buffalo-City Campus on Work Force Development and remedial learning for inner-city youth. Over 50% of ECC students are residents in the City of Buffalo and have to commute to North Campus if they wish to partake in degree programs that can transfer to four year schools. We have the benefit of a campus downtown that is walking distance from the surrounding medical facilities and also surrounded by the Buffalo Transit System, serving a number of students that are without transportation.

I find it extremely discriminatory to take away from the students in the city that are eager to learn and build a future for themselves just because of limited means or simple geography. Why should students downtown have to travel over an hour by bus to Amherst-North Campus when we have a huge facility at arm’s length right here? I myself was delighted to learn that ECC had a campus right downtown that I could access just minutes away from my residence. I decided to go back to school in 2012 and if it wasn’t for the close proximity of Buffalo-City Campus and their evening classes I wouldn’t have been able to do it. How is Buffalo ever going to be the thriving metropolis that it was in years past if we keep removing educational opportunities and placing them in upper-class suburban neighborhoods, out of reach to those in more densely populated parts of the city? We should be promoting the expansion of City-Campus so that more residents do not have to settle for minimum wage jobs that barely support one person, let alone a family.

So many are eager to go to school but find themselves up against a wall. Let’s knock down that wall. Let’s give the residents of Buffalo a fighting chance to live the life they have imagined. We have the power to change lives and to make a difference. The root of success starts with education. Don’t slam the door in our faces; open it and let us through.

Thank you,
Erin Vaccarello
ECC-City Campus Student
Buffalo Resident

Sunday, July 14, 2013


On Tuesday, July 16th at 1pm - WE NEED YOU.

There is a VERY important community input meeting where we need supporters to stand up and speak in favor of supporting a stronger downtown campus. We need all hands on deck for this. 

If you cannot attend - we are urging you to write a letter and send it to your common council members, Governor Cuomo and ECC. Any questions - Email us at youngcitizensforecc@gmail.com 
Buffalo Contact Info: http://preservationready.org/Resources/BuffaloCommonCouncil

Quick ECC Talking Points:

  1. With 47% of ECC Students coming from Buffalo, the City Campus should be the only place where a new building gets built. 
  2. Currently the City Campus only serves 25% of the entire campus, which is not enough! 
  3. Space isn't an issue - the County purchased several vacant lots downtown for the expansion of ECC City back in the 2000's. 
  4. The proposed $30 Million dollar STEM building has 8 or 10 programs that are NOT STEM related. This is a disquise for ECC to get the building they want put in Amherst. 
  5. Our smart growth legislation sign in 2011 says that continued support for Sprawl is not allow. THIS IS SPRAWL.
  6. This is segregation by design. The City Campus will now have "workforce development and GED" programs while North Campus in Amherst has the degrees that will move towards a 4 year degree. 
  7. A trip to North Campus from Buffalo's West Side requires 2 buses and takes one hour each way. With over 30% of the City of Buffalo without an automobile, ECC should be expanding downtown - where we have over 30 bus lines that feed into downtown!

Here is the common council agenda http://www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/files/1_2_1/CommitteeMeetings/Meetings2013/CD2013-0716.pdf

You can read the study report that EASILY justifies the need for downtown development over Amherst here: http://www2.erie.gov/environment/sites/www2.erie.gov.environment/files/uploads/24%20May%202013%20ECC%20Program%20Needs%20Analysis%20and%20Space%20Utilization%20Assessment.pdf

Here are some older articles for you: 
Bernice, Greg and Jim meet with Council Member Pridgen and Former County Ex. Joel Giambra about ECC. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Buffalo Common Council Passes Resolution on 7/9/2013 !!! Urges ECC To Explore City Locations!

Call for Construction of ECC Health Sciences Facility at City Campus – 
The Council approved a resolution calling for the construction of Erie Community College’s proposed health sciences facility at the City Campus and calling on Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and ECC’s Board of Trustees to give strong consideration to locating the facility at 100 N. Division Street. Doing so will both maximize returns on investment to county taxpayers who paid for the site and take advantage of the most obvious expansion opportunity adjacent to the City Campus.

Whereas: County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has endorsed a $30 million proposal to expand Erie Community College (ECC)’s North Campus in Amherst;

Whereas: In spite of the fact that 47% of ECC students live in the City of Buffalo, the City Campus is still the smallest of ECC’s three-campus system and, due to its limited programs, serves only 25% of ECC's students;

Whereas: ECC’s expansion is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift ECC’s health sciences programs to the City Campus, steps away from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus;

Whereas: Such a shift which would allow Erie Community College to leverage SUNY’s investments in a new Medical School, boost the region’s fastest growing job sector, and better advance the college’s mission of “providing access to all”;

Whereas: The American Association of Community Colleges reports that more than 50% of health sciences workers in the United States are trained at community colleges, yet ECC is not yet playing any direct role in the development of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus;
Sarah and Bernice Talk To Allentown Residents About ECC.

Whereas: The majority of programs slated for ECC’s proposed expansion are in health-related fields that belong near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where access to jobs, internships, and public transit are abundant, not eight miles away on Youngs Rd.;

Whereas: The ECC Program Needs Analysis and Space Utilization Assessment (2013), recently released by the Poloncarz administration, incorrectly states that land acquisition would be necessary for expansion of the City Campus;

Whereas: 100 N. Division St., a 1.3-acre, 178-space surface parking lot, was purchased in 2002 by Erie County for $3.1 million to facilitate City Campus expansion, and is perfectly suited for ECC’s proposed health sciences facility;

Whereas: A crisis in Buffalo’s public school student achievement, as well as the disproportionate poverty and unemployment of youth in Buffalo compared to the region as a whole, highlight more than ever the need for the State of New York, Erie County, and the State University of New York’s community college system to focus resources and attention where the need is greatest;

Therefore, Be It Resolved: That the Common Council calls for the construction of ECC’s proposed health sciences facility at the City Campus.

Be It Further Resolved: That the Common Council calls on County Executive Poloncarz and ECC’s Board of Trustees to give strong consideration to locating such a facility at 100 N. Division St., to both maximize returns on investment to County taxpayers who paid for the site, and to take advantage of the most obvious expansion opportunity adjacent to the City Campus.

A 30 Minute Public Transit Ride Can Get You This Far.
Be It Further Resolved: That the Common Council invites the ECC Board of Trustees to consider other downtown sites, such as the City-owned parcel at 201 Ellicott St., for the kind of expansion that will ensure the City Campus becomes the flagship, rather than the smallest, of ECC’s three campuses.

Be It Further Resolved: That the Common Council calls upon Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the Western New York delegation of the New York State Senate and Assembly to shift the State’s $15 million share for ECC’s expansion to the City Campus, where both the need and the return on investment are greatest.

Be It Further Resolved: That the Common Council requests this resolution be forwarded to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, every member of the New York State Senate and Assembly, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, every member of the Erie County Legislature, ECC President Jack Quinn, and the ECC Board of Trustees.

ECC chooses Sprawl: Buffalorising Article By David Steele

ECC chooses Sprawl!!

Erie Community College unveiled  its long-awaited facilities evaluation report called the space needs analysis and space utilization assessment. It was touted as a tool for determining how and where to spend  substantial new capital development money (i.e. where to expand with a new building).  College officials hailed the report as proof that their plan to add a new $30,000,000 building to the ECC Amherst Campus was right after all.  In good “spread the limited resources around to make everyone happy” style the Report recommends  investment and revision of the educational mission for all three college campuses but reserves the biggest investment for the north campus in Amherst.  The Report recommends that Amherst remain the biggest and most important campus with the most comprehensive selection of course offerings designed for students planning further academic  advancement beyond the 2 year program.  The city campus curriculum would be redesigned for those seeking blue-collar style career paths. I guess the assumption is that the dumb old people in the city don’t need no real college or something.  I could not find anything in the  Report that gave explanations for  how this split in course offerings was determined.
The North Campus has long been the campus with the highest enrollment  with the city campus bringing up the rear as the smallest.  ECC officials continually point to this as a major reason they need to expand the north campus.  What they fail to mention is that the North Campus has a higher student population most probably because that is where college administrators have decided to offer the most classes.  In my opinion the Report is designed to confirm what officials wanted it to confirm.  In my reading I find no objective reasoning which points to the North Campus as the best place for expansion and no where did I read a thorough study of the reasoning for continuing a three campus system.  In fact with minimal effort you can list several objective reasons why the North Campus is a horrible place for this campus. For example:
  1. Almost half of all ECC students live in the City of Buffalo. This alone is reason to concentrate classes in Buffalo.
  2. 52% of North Campus students come from Buffalo. That is 2,994 buffalo residents to 668 Amherst residents.
  3. Land costs, which is cheaper? The Report says one big reason for using the North for expansion is that the  college already owns the land.  This means, they say,  that no money need be spent on purchasing new property.  This is true, sort of.  The college owns huge tracts of mostly empty space at both the north and south campuses.  But this empty land is not free. Any simple cost benefit analysis would include a tally of lost real estate tax on that land.  It would also include in the ledger a sum for what the land could be sold for.  The only way you can compare the true cost of land for a new building on any of the campuses it to compare all of these costs.  It is highly likely with a true comparison of all costs of land and facilities the determination would be that expansion in the city is cheaper.  This is very basic math, the kind they teach in 100 level business school classes.  If this comparison is in the Report I could not find it.
  4. Transportation? The city campus is the obvious choice if ease of transportation is a criteria for locating facilities. In this case it seems transportation was not an important factor in determining where investment should be concentrated.  The City Campus is served by 4 major highway spurs radiating out into the metro.  It is also served by 35 bus lines and by Metro Rail. There are 32,000 parking spaces near the campus.  Additionally there are nearby dense and attractive neighborhoods within walking distance which cater to all economic levels. It is by far the most accessible campus to the most people in the metro area.  The 3 campuses are served by an NFTA run campus bus shuttle but service is sporadic and the round trip between campuses is over 2 hours.  A quick use of the NFTA’s online trip planner makes no mention of this shuttle but does guide you to several options from downtown which include multiple transfers and a 1 hour trip minimum each way.  Don’t miss that last bus or you are in trouble. You can drive to Amherst of course but then you have to own a car. 30% of buffalo residents do not own a car. Are we saying that low-income Community College students need to own a car to have  reasonable access to an education?  I did not find any discussion of this in the report.  The report did list complaints about the shuttle system often being late.
  5. Access to jobs: Even after 60 years of decline Downtown Buffalo is still the dominant  job hub in the region, with the densest concentration of jobs.  In recent years the downtown work force has expanded and will take a huge leap forward as UB adds its medical school and Children’s Hospital moves to the Medical Campus.  ECC north and South campuses have minimal to no connection to local job centers.  Students already burdened with a  1 hour or more bus ride will be hard pressed to make connections with local employers from the remote and desolate suburban campuses.
College officials originally floated the idea for the new $30,000,000 building at the North Campus to concentrate and expand their offerings of medical services and technician training courses.  Many pointed out that these MEDICAL type educational services would be a great complement to the growing concentration of MEDICAL facilities in the  the Buffalo Niagara MEDICAL campus in downtown Buffalo and wouldn’t downtown be a more logical place for this new ECC facility for both staff and students?  College administrators quickly changed the name of the building eliminating any mention of medicine.  The Report uses a new trendy acronym for labeling the proposed building’s use, STEM.  This stands for Science, Technology,Engineering, and Math.  The Report provides a long list of careers related to these core subjects including chemical technician, aerospace,  web developer, physicist, etc. most of which will not be located in the new building.  The Report goes on to recommend that the new building to be designed to meet the needs of 10 educational offerings.  8 of these 10 subjects are for MEDICAL related fields!  So, the so-called  ”STEM” building is going to be primarily for MEDICAL training after all!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

ECC Continues to Ignore the City of Buffalo.

ECC tells all 6,600 inner city students who attend ECC that they are only worthy of workforce development training and entry level jobs...
"Quinn said the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative calls for ECC to train potential workers at a yet-to-be-identified workforce training center, while programs at the Amherst campus will focus on placing students into four-year colleges and white-collar industries.
Inner-city students could start at the City Campus, get employed and, if they so choose, advance to programs at the Amherst location, he said.
He added that the mission of the City Campus is in line with Say Yes to Education’s public school tuition incentive program.
“Buffalo Public Schools is our feeder,” Quinn said. “If we don’t take care of these kids, who will? The graduation rate is embarrassing. It’s almost criminal.”"

What is criminal is that ECC continues to make it harder for the inner city students to succeed. These students are the ones who need the energy, time and resources the most. 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Buffalo News Article: ECC Study SUPPORTS City Campus Growth, not Amherst Expansion.

Mark Poloncarz announces the
ECC study results in May 2013.
Featured in the Buffalo News on June 28, 2013. You can read it here. 
By Bernice Radle and Greg Conley
Prior to the release of a study concluding Erie Community College should expand its North Campus in Amherst, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz happily presented its results.
But, did he read the study?
Consider the following fact from the study: Forty-seven percent of ECC students live in the City of Buffalo.
The study points out that the City Campus is still the smallest of ECC’s three-campus system and, due to its limited programs, serves only 25 percent of ECC’s students.
If this inequity between city and suburban campuses is not a subtle, but very real, form of racial and economic discrimination, what is?
Poloncarz would have taxpayers believe that the North Campus expansion is for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, but the study reveals this is spin. Seven of 10 programs at the proposed $30 million facility would be in health-related fields, not STEM: anatomy and physiology, biology, biomanufacturing, medical lab technology, medical assisting, nursing and respiratory care.
These health sciences programs belong near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where access to internships, job opportunities and public transit are abundant, not eight miles away on Youngs Road.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, more than 50 percent of health sciences workers in the United States are trained at community colleges, so why is Erie Community College playing no direct role in the development of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus?
The Medical Campus will not be able to compete globally without stronger links to the community college system. ECC’s expansion is an opportunity to shift its health sciences programs to the City Campus, where the college can leverage investments in the University at Buffalo’s new Medical School, bolster the region’s fastest-growing job sector, and better advance its stated mission of “providing access to all.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gets it. His administration’s investment in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is helping reforge Buffalo’s economy, with more than 2,000 jobs created since 2011 and another 5,000 jobs on the way by 2017. Poloncarz does not need to hide behind a flawed study; common sense alone says that this success should be supported.
Buffalo can no longer afford to squander once-in-a-generation opportunities. Any growth in ECC facilities should be centered where both the need and the return on investment is greatest – the City Campus.
Bernice Radle and Greg Conley are co-chairmen of Young Citizens for ECC.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Send a Letter To The Legislature: Here Is A Template For You To Use!

A letter from one of our YC4ECC supporters to Betty Jean Grant. Feel free to use this as a template, if you want to contact the her yourself. 

I am very much opposed to the plans that have been announced this week by Jack Quinn and the county executive.  It seemed very clear a year ago, when they began the study (which had no public involvement) that their aim was to justify building the newest, most advanced ECC facility on North Campus -- rather than in the city (where it would be accessible to those who most need help getting a leg up in life).

     But what's being proposed here goes far beyond that mistaken recommendation.  Based on the coverage to date, including in Buffalo Business First, what they are recommending is a drastic reduction in status for the Buffalo campus.  In fact, they want to establish "Centers of Excellence" on both suburban campuses, while the Buffalo campus is downgraded to certificate programs, workforce training, and culinary.  So suburban kids, whose families have cars and can drive to whichever campus they need to, will be getting the programs intended for those ultimately seeking 4-year degrees and professional opportunities, and will be getting the most advanced facilities.  And the city kids will be left with a campus intended for those with lower aspirations.

     I would like to strongly encourage both of you, as the legislature representatives of most of the city, to take your time to consider the ECC plan before making any pledges of support.  I'd also like to encourage you to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for your constituents to dialog and express their views on this matter before it's taken up by the legislature.

Poloncarz, ECC Abandon Buffalo

This was featured in Artvoice Today: http://artvoice.com/issues/v12n22/news_analysis

Poloncarz, ECC abandon Buffalo

Coming in the fall of 2013, Erie Community College will offer no—zero—courses in advanced manufacturing, electrical engineering, clinical laboratory technology, health information technology, or bio-manufacturing at its City Campus. The downtown campus is 1.4 miles away from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where the State of New York is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a project whose backers offer the hope of putting trainees in those disciplines to work, and hundreds of millions of dollars a year in operating subsidies and tax breaks for Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Kaleida Health, the Catholic Health System, and other entities that are in the health-sciences research or health-service field.
Instead, Erie Community College will segregate all its training for what many hope will be the new regional economy not in its transportation hub, nor in its population center, but rather will do so exclusively at a place 12.4 miles away that is served, intermittently during the day and not at all after 8:20pm, by buses that take an hour to get from downtown and as much as two hours to get to or from the Galleria Mall.
The leader of Erie County government, Mark Poloncarz, was on hand twice in May to endorse ECC’s decision to locate its core workforce-training and “new economy” programs in geography that is impossible to get to for those without either a car or lots of time. The county executive plans to ask Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for matching funds to build a $30 million structure for training aspiring workers in science, technology, and math—the so-called “STEM” disciplines—as if the accessibility of the campus, the demographic trend of the region, the state’s new law on smart growth, and the inexorable, unavoidable consequences of further suburban sprawl just don’t matter in Buffalo like they matter every other place under the sun.
Poloncarz, the Erie Community College board of trustees, and the silent or supine elected officials of Western New York are once again endorsing suburbia, sprawl, and segregation. The question is: Will Albany go along?

Segregation by design

There will be 93 sections of courses in biology offered at the North Campus of ECC, compared to 56 sections at the City Campus and 80 at the South Campus. Offerings in business administration are similarly fractured in ECC’s uniquely expensive and isolating three-campus system: There are 60 sections offered at the North Campus, 38 at City, 49 at South.
It’s that fracturing of programs, in aging buildings that a decade ago were found to be in need either of extensive repair or outright replacement, that led to a three-year planning effort to come up with an alternative, which is to consolidate the three campuses into one downtown campus. Acting on that recommendation, Erie County in 2004 and 2005 acquired two city blocks and worked with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority on acquiring the current NFTA bus depot at Church and Oak Streets so that a new, consolidated campus could connect the Central Library, the 2002 Public Safety Campus, the Flickinger Aquatic Center, and the award-winning adaptive re-use of the old post office that currently houses the City Campus of ECC.
Capital cost of the project in 2005: $160 million. Capital cost of maintaining the three-campus system: the same. Economic consequence of keeping the old rather than investing in the new: more of the same decline, waste, urban abandonment, energy inefficiency, and regional depopulation.
The consolidation plan enjoys a consensus economic analysis. The theory, endorsed by neoclassical economists like Harvard’s Ed Glaeser and by Keynesians alike, is that concentrating higher-education and worker-training inputs in the urban core strengthens not only the urban economy but also the regional economy. The phenomenon known as “labor-market pooling,” which helps both workers and the economy overall by enhancing options and bargaining power right at the city’s core, is seen by urbanists of every ideological persuasion as a measurable benefit. The agglomeration effect—where adjacency of training facilities, workplaces, play-places, and services—is especially enhanced where transportation is quicker and easier.
In Buffalo’s case, a key driver for the plan was the existence of a 40,000-strong downtown workforce, plus the promise of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus bringing Kaleida’s widely dispersed workforce into a centralized location alongside Roswell Park and the proposed new home of the State University of New York at Buffalo’s medical school, both connected by a network of roads and public transportation options—including walkable streets—to bridge the 1.4 miles from downtown to High Street.
The reason there is a city at all, and now a medical corridor, is because this theory tests out in reality. The ECC consolidation plan made sense, and still does, because the economic fundamentals of this sprawled-out, depopulating region remain the same: too much expensive suburban infrastructure serving too few users; 1960s and 1970s buildings that can be replaced more cost-effectively with structures, either existing or new, that will have lower lifetime operation, energy, and maintenance costs; plus the positive impact of taking advantage of the geography of the urban core at a time when it is simply too expensive—a drag on the regional economy—to remain dispersed.
Instead, the politics of racism and suburban parochialism stepped in to doom implementation of the plan. Governor George Pataki’s Republican appointees to the Erie Community College board fight to this day for sprawl, racial segregation, and isolation of the poor and displaced workers of the urban core and the first-ring suburbs. The Democratic appointees go along in an unbreakable culture of cluelessness. Then, of course, there is Buffalo’s special brand of cluelessness—in which no candidate for mayor ever fights for a critical input, opting instead to beg Albany for more of Albany’s endless handouts for entertainment-oriented projects rather than for infrastructure that could enhance the workforce, disrupt concentrated poverty, or amplify the impact of other public inputs.

Time and travel

If a worker with a part-time job as a retail clerk at the Walden Galleria Mall wants to take any of the evening courses that are offered only at ECC North, and that worker is unlucky enough not to have access to a car, the contrast between the North Campus and the City Campus—which is at the crossroads of the region—becomes very stark.
The North Campus of ECC is 12.4 miles from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Google Maps indicates that public transportation up Main Street from the medical campus to ECC North takes 57 minutes—when it is available. Public transportation from the medical campus to the downtown campus of ECC takes 14 minutes, or, because it is only 1.4 miles away, 27 minutes by foot.
Based on federal and state data on workforce characteristics, an ECC student who might want to improve his or her job prospects in medical technology, advanced manufacturing, or in any of the fields that may hire at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus probably works today (if s/he works at all) in the largest single sector of the Western New York economy: in retail.
Retail happens to be the lowest-paying sector. Many retail workers do not own cars or homes. Growth sectors that pay more include the many positions in the healthcare field that the State of New York is investing in creating as it puts public wealth not only into the medical corridor, but into healthcare-training programs at ECMC and at the City Campus of the University. A stated goal of New York’s economic-development efforts is to help elevate household incomes by equipping displaced and under-employed workers—many of whom are now in the retail sector—with health-sciences skills.
Getting yourself from the Galleria to ECC North for your 6pm class in a science, technology, or math class means taking one of two buses at 4:51pm. You will have to transfer along the way: You’ll have to wait from 5:06 pm until 5:24 pm at the bus stop at Union Road and North Park Avenue, but you’ll get to ECC North by 5:34 pm. It’s a 43-minute trip. If you miss that fast bus and have to take the other one, bad luck: The trip will take two transfers and get you there by 5:55 pm, a 64-minute trip. If you miss the 4:51 buses, you just won’t make your 6pm class.
But getting back is another story altogether. If your 6pm class gets out at 7:30pm, the good news is that you’ll only have to wait until 8:20pm to get public transportation back to the Galleria. The bad news is that it will take either one hour and 35 minutes or one hour and 56 minutes.
But if you take the class in Advanced Manufacturing at the North Campus, which runs from 7pm to 9pm, you will have to spend the night in Amherst, because the last bus leaves at 8:20pm.
This Galleria scenario is reality, as the single largest concentration of ECC students comes from the Town of Cheektowaga. Were the car-free Cheektowaga students headed downtown to the City Campus for their classes—and then on to the medical corridor for the job opportunities that the State of New York hopes will grow there—the scenario is quite different. From the Galleria, travel time is 38 minutes. From Harlem and Walden, travel time to downtown is 30 minutes at 8pm, and 40 minutes if you left downtown at 10:30 pm, because even if you stayed late after class, or went to a movie (or a job) downtown, you could still get to the Galleria by 11:10pm.

Ignoring the new law

Albany’s practice in Buffalo is to toss money this way, but not to attend to the policy fundamentals.
Thus we have a Niagara Greenway Commission that was set up to take $8 million a year of Niagara Power Project relicensing money for the specific purpose of creating a linear park along the banks of the Niagara River. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the past eight years, but we have no linear park.
Likewise, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has spent well over $150 million of that fund, and has subsidized new office space at a time when almost two million square feet of excess office space will be on the market by 2014, with no results so far except the relocation of existing firms, concerts, and hot-dog vendors, and far less than zero of any private investment. Albany spends the money, but Albany has so far shown zero concern with results beyond the immediate payout to vendors.
That’s what Erie Community College is now doing—despite new laws that are supposed to prevent this kind of waste.
The most important new law, which was co-sponsored in 2010 by former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (now the governor’s point man for upstate economic development), is known as the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act. The idea of the law is pretty straightforward: Public funds should stop subsidizing expensive sprawl that exacerbates economic decline in previously settled areas, like central cities (e.g., Buffalo).
Any new plan to spend New York State money on public buildings is supposed to pass a test, a sort of extra level of scrutiny under the existing state Environmental Quality Review Act, called the Smart Growth Impact Assessment. The form an applicant has to fill out asks questions like this: Is the project in a city or a village, or in an “area of concentrated and mixed land use that serves as a center for various activities?”
Item 7 on the questionnaire is especially pointed: “Does the project foster mixed land uses and compact development, downtown revitalization, brownfield redevelopment, the enhancement of beauty in public spaces, the diversity and affordability of housing in proximity to places of employment, recreation and commercial development and/or the integration of all income and age groups?”
And then there is Item 12 on the Smart Growth Impact Statement form: “Does the project promote sustainability by strengthening existing and creating new communities which reduce greenhouse gas emissions and do not compromise the needs of future generations?”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a Democrat, has just endorsed a project that commands students to drive cars, which produces more greenhouse-gas emissions per capita than does taking public transportation; that undermines urban redevelopment, segregates by race and by income; and that is located far from any housing or mixed-use development.

Costs and benefits?

Not far from us, there is a different scenario being played out.
A new penny of sales tax, plus fees on developers and a higher gasoline tax, are among the recommendations of a brand-new report on how to fund the next 20 years’ worth of light rail, inter-city commuter rail, streetcars, and highways in a community that is not very far from Buffalo, New York. The total hit on a typical family in this near-away land will be $477 a year, or about $40 a month. Predictably, the editorial pages, the chambers of commerce, the city and regional politicians, and the policy wonks, too, are all weighing in, saying, mostly, that it’s all gotta get done—because what they’re also saying is that the proposed pricetag of $40 a month is a good deal compared to the $1,600 a year ($133 a month) cost of enduring ever-longer commute times and ever-greater congestion.
In the Toronto area, that nearby community where arithmetic seems to matter, the cost of doing the wrong thing gets counted up and added into the analysis. But here in New York State, it remains to be seen whether the new law will be followed. Indeed, there is also now a federally funded regional transportation planning effort and a very inclusive economic-development effort, too, that endeavors to address the long-term economic consequences of keeping the current Poloncarz-endorsed paradigm of sprawl, urban abandonment, and segregation by race and income.
Opposition to the Poloncarz-ECC suburban plan may yet be voiced. At press time, voices in the board membership of Buffalo Place, the downtown business-improvement district, were rising in opposition. Private conversations with state and regional legislators were occurring. Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra has already threatened a lawsuit on “environmental justice” grounds. But getting a new policy mindset here will require more than a lawsuit about a single new building. It’ll take something like a paradigm change, here and in Albany, wherein the consequences of public investment will be weighed before the money gets spent. Money isn’t the obstacle: Mindset is.
Bruce Fisher is a former deputy executive for Erie County and director of the the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College. His recent book, Borderland: Essays from the US-Canada Divide, is available at bookstores or at www.sunypress.edu.