The Environment

There really is no more pressing matter than climate change.   It has already started affecting every Rochestarian whether they realize it or not.  The City does have a Climate Action Plan, but it’s not enough.  I’m not going to spend time picking the plan apart, instead I am making specific recommendations of what we should be doing and speed is important.  We cannot wait for “market forces” to save our planet as the market is interested in one thing only: profit.

At the State level, there are competing ideas to reduce climate change.  The one that is the most promising is the call to be Dave with a pitchfork turning soilcompletely renewable by 2030.  Whether this is the plan that gets put into action or not, there will be funding to make changes at the local level.  Therefore we should leverage this funding to make systemic changes in how we do things in Rochester.

Probably the number one thing in Rochester that is negatively affecting climate change is the way we move from one place to another.   We have to change the way we get around.  That means we have to greatly reduce the number of cars on the road.  Understand, this means that we have to change our lifestyle.  The problem is our infrastructure is designed to make that difficult, therefore we have to focus on changing our roads and public transportation system.

In an informal poll on the campaign Facebook page, people cited convenience as the number one reason they don’t take the bus in Rochester.  They just don’t come often enough and do not conveniently go to the places people need to go.  Another stumbling block is that while most of the riders of RTS are from the City of Rochester, the bus company is not specifically controlled by a City entity.  This is actually a huge problem. 

Building energy use has a major effect on climate change.  Both large buildings and individual houses use non-renewable energy and emit climate-changing pollution.  But changing both of these factors is not a burden, but an economic opportunity that has not been taken advantage of yet. 

Many have called the empty lots in our city and eye sore.  I look at them as more opportunities that we’re not taking advantage of.  We could be using these spaces in ways that reduces climate change and enhances neighborhoods at the same time in ways that are not obvious.

Keeping in mind the thoughts above, I propose the following that I will sponsor legislation and/or vote for: 

*A radical rewriting of our zoning codes that insists that all new development be as close to 100% renewable as possible.  Developers should have to jump through as many hoops as possible to be allowed to continue to build projects that rely on fossil fuels.  These changes in the zoning codes should also include the allowance of wind turbines in the city limits – both smaller, household sized as well as larger commercial ones. There should also be provisions in the codes for an increase in cooperatively-owned, commercial urban agriculture.  (A platform plank on urban agriculture is coming.)

*We have barely begun to use open city spaces for solar farms.  We must invest in more of these, to be tied into an eventual public utility that I propose in another section of my platform.  Wind turbines should be put into city-controlled areas of Durand Eastman Park as well as Lake Ontario.  We must start investing in geothermal energy as well. 

*Not only should we focus on the environmental effect of new projects, but we must work to retrofit our existing buildings.  Funding should be made available for rooftop gardens, more trees, and to paint roofs white

*We should start planting zone-appropriate fruit and nut trees on public land in the City.  I would even be so bold as to suggest Parcel 5 as a place for some of these trees.  Neighborhood groups, schools, and even certain businesses can be incentivized to be the stewards of trees planted in their areas. 

*We must thoughtfully begin the use of mycoremediation for soil remediation, particularly in the poorer parts of town where people live on or near former industrial sites. 

*We must begin the process of creating a municipal composting system in Rochester.

*We should ban the sale of anything with single-use plastics in Rochester.  It can be incremental, but it must start now and the pace must be relatively swift.  (More on this coming soon)

*I’ve saved the most difficult for last.  We must collectively take action – citizens and councilmembers to get more control of RGRTA.  As they continue to contract their service, eliminating more and more suburban routes, their service is more city-concentrated than ever.  But we do not have control over how the entity operates or makes decisions.  This would entail changes in state law.  It will be a difficult process, but one that must be taken if we want public transportation to truly have a positive effect on Rochester’s environment.

Every single idea I have expressed above is not only an environmental-saving opportunity, but a chance to reduce poverty and improve our overall fiscal health.

Expanding public support of cooperative businesses could foster all of the initiatives I’ve described here.  The investment of public money in these efforts would produce countless green jobs that we need in our struggling city. 

 


How Can We Pay For Everything?

The City of Rochester’s annual budget is approximately $540 million a year.  It’s a lot of money, but we use some of it on important, life saving things such as infrastructure, garbage collection, the fire department and more.  But we also waste a lot of money that could be used to keep libraries open more, reduce crime in humanistic ways, make sure people have appropriate places to live, fight climate change, and all of the other things I would like to work on when elected to City Council.  Below are just some of the changes I would advocate for that would save money.  Many of them are based on the research of Alex White.

City Employees

Over the last 10 years, the City of Rochester has increased the amount of paid employees by over 200 people.  And this is with an actual decrease in employees in our libraries, recreation centers and Fire Department.  Most of this overall increase has been at the managerial level.  This does not cost us in just salaries, but benefits as well.  In the Communications Department alone, more than 1 in 3 people are in management.  This is a huge waste of money and management levels should be recalculated in every department and appropriate reductions should be made.

Rochester Police Department

Rochester has one of the largest percentages of sworn police officers in comparison to population in the state.  There are a number of tasks that used to be done by civilians that are now done by higher-paid officers.  We should go back to the use of civilians in such roles (e.g. monitoring blue light cameras, Citizen Engagement, etc.).  The officers currently doing such tasks should be back on the street as we eliminate some officer positions via attrition to get the number back to a more appropriate level.  This would save us approximately $4 million.

[What about public safety?  As you can see by my platform planks on police accountability, restorative justice, worker-owned businesses, and more, dealing with many of our society’s issues with law enforcement is inappropriate, ineffective, and inefficient.  The money we save here would be spent on better ways of dealing with our City’s problems.]

City Business

As I have said in a different part of my platform, we must stop using corporate welfare as an economic development policy.  InDave Sutliff-Atias reading \ 2017 & 2018 we spent $41 million in cash giveaways to developers who do not actually live in the City of Rochester.  On some of the projects, these developers have said that their projects would get done even without the City’s handout.  We put tax dollars straight into their pockets (and out of the City of Rochester).  This must stop.  Money given to developers could instead be used to support dozens of smaller, worker-owned businesses in the most depressed areas of Rochester.  Trickle-UP economics.

We should eliminate the Municipal Violations Bureau and allow these issues to be handled by the state-funded Rochester City Court.  This would save $1 million.

We must tighten rules that force the City to bid out contracts for services that we pay for (e.g. parking garages run by private companies, etc.).  City Hall is very lax with the procedure for contracts.

We should reduce the size of the City’s fleet of vehicles.  The large number of vehicles that the City operates includes cars for the Human Resources, Emergency Communications, Finance, and Communications departments.  The costs of purchasing and maintaining these vehicles are expenses that we do not need.  This money should be used for more important issues than department heads and managers having a “company car”, particularly as we’re the company.

Purchasing

This is so big that it gets its own section.  The City of Rochester spends $80 million a year buying stuff it needs to function.  Sure, we are talking about office supplies and the like, but also grass seed, replacement light bulbs, lubricants, and so forth.  The problem is with the procedure in which we do this buying.  Currently, the City uses a State list to tell us what we should spend on items.  What we should be doing instead is using a concept called Strategic Sourcing, which is a detailed procedure that would save us almost $10 million a year.

Consolidation

We need to start combining functions that the City, County, and City School District all do in order to save money.  For example, aspects of Information Technology (IT) and Human Resources could be consolidated to save millions.  There may be some contraction of employee positions, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be so.  The big money will be in the purchasing power of equipment and software licensing.  Maintenance of various infrastructures could be done within different jurisdictions, saving money.  We could even include surrounding towns that want to get in on this action.

This is a complicated concept, but only because we have created such a labyrinth of government that sharing resources is difficult. These turf boundaries have been created over the years by government and can certainly be undone by government.  We will probably have to start small and work our way to bigger things, but this can be done with elected officials who have the political will to make it happen.

I do not have a specific amount of dollars we would save by doing everything I have spelled out here.  The total amount would vary from year to year based on a number of unforeseeable circumstances.  But it is obvious that we can do better with our money; how we collect it, how we spend it, and how we don’t spend it. 


SUNY Chancellor Makes Money Off Of Puerto Rico

As a Green and alumnus of the State University of New York at Brockport, I am deeply disappointed to discover that SUNY Kristina JohnsonChancellor, Kristina M. Johnson is connected to Applied Energy Systems (AES), a corporation that specializes in nonrenewable energy and is currently devastating Puerto Rico with its coal powered energy plants.  It has been reported that AES has been dumping toxic coal ash on the southern part of Puerto Rico, creating an environmental disaster. 

Recently, Chancellor Johnson resigned from AES under pressure from Puerto Rican activists on the island as well as in Rochester – particularly the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP).  Unfortunately she still owns over 150 thousand shares of stock in AES, worth over $2.5 million.

Between Brockport, Monroe Community College, and Empire State University, the SUNY system has been the educational home to thousands of Puerto Rican Rochestarians and for the head of SUNY to be involved in the systematic polluting of their homeland is unacceptable. 

When elected to City Council in November, I will ask my fellow City Council members to cosign a letter calling for Chancellor Johnson to not only divest her stock from AES, but to use her standing with AES to call for the closing of their coal energy plants and pay reparations to Puerto Rico in order to ameliorate the damage they have done. 

I stand in solidarity with Rochester PIP in calling for the immediate and equitable decolonialization of Puerto Rico.

 


Public Energy Company

Rochester Gas and Electric has got to go.  It’s really that simple.  When it was a local company, it served the community relatively well, but now that it is owned by a Spanish conglomerate, it no longer serves our needs as it should.Campaign logo with Dave Sutliff-Atias for City Council on it

We need to set up a publicly-owned energy company in the City of Rochester.  There are over 2000 municipalities that have already done this and we should join that list.  This is not going to happen overnight.  It is going to take a lot of organizing and advocating to get this done, but if done right it will be a win-win-win situation.

Win #1: Our bills will be lower. Municipal energy companies do not have making the most profit as their primary focus.  Fairport Electric has rates much lower than RG&E’s.  This will also help businesses in the City as well.  This would be a boon to businesses already in Rochester as well as those to start here in the future.  It would also be an incentive for businesses to move here, replacing economy-stifling tax breaks.  (See how our local economy is helped by stopping corporate welfare here.)

Win #2: It will help the City’s fiscal health.  The money that people pay for their electric bills will go to the City of Rochester, not to a corporation in Spain.  Money will stay in the local economy and help eliminate City budget gaps – within reason. 

Win #3: A public energy company will give us more power in the fight against climate change and overall environmental safety.  Natural gas is not clean, particularly in how it is extracted.  Nuclear power is not safe, neither during the creation of electricity, nor in the storing of its waste.  We need to focus more on solar, wind, and thermal energy.  A public energy company can invest in City-owned renewable energy resources (see the upcoming environmental platform plank once posted).  Yes, initially, the public utility will have to buy power from Ginna and the State Hydro-electro plant.  But we can transition to renewables as we add to our portfolio of solar farms, wind turbines, and more.

We can even set up this municipal corporation to be run as a cooperative, like those in the Mondragon Cooperatives and from the beginning make sure there is a level of democracy and transparency as to how it conducts its business. 

I will help lead the charge toward the people owning our means of energy production.


We Should Be Supporting Cooperatives

Around 2015, the City of Rochester awarded a grant to Hart’s Grocery for $75,000.  That is a lot of money and it could have helped multiple other local businesses.  Fast forward to March 2019.  Hart’s Grocery announces that it is closing.  This announcement is posted by dozens on social media.  Many people comment that it is a shame, but there are also comments about how the business was run (poorly), how expensive things were in the store (very), and how poorly workers there were treated (very poorly). 

Just out of curiosity, I took a quick look to see if the main driver behind Hart’s Grocery, Glenn Kellogg, had made any political contributions over the last few years.  He had, but it was a relatively nominal amount to three candidates, one of them was on City Council in 2013, but the other two were candidates who ended up losing their elections.  But if you look down just a few lines on the picture below, his wife, Jennifer, made a $1000 contribution to Mayor Warren in 2014.  Hello!

A list of political contributions taken from the NYS BOE's website

Rochester is not unique in the way it encourages economic development.  We, like other municipalities, continue to focus on big businesses to “save” us – an economic concept that has not worked in decades.  Even when the business is locally-owned, we throw huge amounts of cash at a few endeavors and then when they fail, and Hart’s Grocery was doomed to fail, we lose our tax dollars as well as services we need.  And all of this for political contributions.

Along with my call to ban political contributors from doing business with the City, we must shift more of our public economic development resources to the creation of worker-owned businesses, the kind that are run democratically by the workers. 

In 2013, I was among a number of Greens who ran for local office.  Our biggest issue was the transformation to a more democratic, local economy.  While none of the Green candidates won that year, our focus on co-operative economics spurred the City’s creation of Own Rochester, a local non-profit whose mission is to foster the growth of worker-owned businesses.  Own Rochester is too small.  It needs more resources to help train more groups of people to start businesses and convert already established companies into democratically-run ones. 

Co-ops are more successful.  They weather bad economic times better.  Worker-owners are happier than in traditional jobs. 

I will advocate for more money in the City’s budget to spur the development of dozens co-operative businesses – particularly in the most desperate parts of the city.

Such businesses that should be encouraged would be ones that focus on the daily needs of our community:  food, clothing, shelter, health care, day care, etc.


Reduce Gun Violence

I was asked a great question on a social media post on the campaign Facebook page.  Why can anyone get a gun in poor neighborhoods, but it’s more difficult in white suburban neighborhoods?   Guns are obviously not being manufactured in our poor neighborhoods so they’re being brought in illegally.  How can we stop this? 

We need a two pronged attack that goes after supply and demand.  There are limited things we can do to reduce the supply. There will need to be State and Federal laws that focus on the manufacturing and selling of guns and ammunition.  But there are some things City Council can do legislatively to help.

  • Pass a law that mandates guns have locks and they be secured.  The town of Brighton just did this.
  • Require that owners tell police when guns are lost or stolen.  If we give immunity to those who report illegal guns, it would help.  (There may be Federal implications in this.  We’ll have to check.)
  • If they aren’t already, we should ban assault weapons in the city limits.  But to be honest, most shootings in the City are with handguns.
  • Pass a law that requires anyone who has a domestic violence charge or order of protection must immediately surrender their guns and ammo until both are resolved.
  • Most importantly, we need to set up a permanent gun buy-back program.Campaign Logo

 

As I’ve said before, more police will not stop gun violence (or crime in general).  It’ll will at best postpone violence or just move it to another neighborhood.  What we must do is focus on resolving the economic inequity that has existed in Rochester since we’ve been a city. 

It’s difficult for people to value human life if they have no hope; if they see no future for themselves.  Slogans and one-time events will not have an effect.  What will have an effect is:

  • The creation of hundreds of local, worker-owned businesses in residential neighborhoods with an emphasis on urban agriculture and grocery stores.  (platform plank coming)
  • A more systemic inclusion of Restorative Justice in law enforcement and in our schools.
  • City Council using their influence to have single payer health care passed in New York.
  • Making sure everyone has access to safe, affordable housing.

 

I will support and propose legislation to implement all of these ideas. 


Increase Rec Center Hours

I will advocate for a budget that increases hours our recreation centers are open.

This is not a frivolous idea.  Increased recreation for our children is an investment that helps keep our kids out of trouble.  A team picture of a high school football team with red uniformsIncreasing the allotted amount for recreation in the City will reduce crime more than increasing our police budget.

See Recreational Activities in Crime Prevention and Reduction

The Influence of Sport and Recreation upon Crime Reduction: A Literature Review  (pdf)

Effects of After-School Programs with At-Risk Youth on Attendance and Externalizing Behaviors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis


Education

As an educator myself, I would like to see our district adopt a more child-centered and democratic way of educating our children, but that is not for City Council to implement. Dave Sutliff-Atias sitting at a libary table reading the book \

Other than contributing to their budget, neither City Council nor City Hall has a direct effect on how the Rochester City School District operates.  This is actually a good thing.  Leave education to the educators.  But the number one thing that the Mayor and City Council can do to positively affect our schools is to alleviate the abject poverty we have in Rochester. 

So if Assemblyman Gantt and Mayor Warren are so concerned with our schools, they should work with City Council to:

 

The City of Rochester also needs to start funding the City School District at the level they are legally required.  I am actually surprised that the District has not sued the City yet as we have kept funding the same for years even though our property taxes have gone up.  Legally, a percentage of that increased revenue is supposed to go to RCSD.  You can learn more about that here.

Mayoral control of school districts has been tried in other places and it has NEVER worked.  Our elected representatives should focus on their own responsibilities before they start messing with other parts of government.

Want to REALLY fix our schools?  Here's how you do it.

 

 


Increase Library Hours

I will advocate for a budget that increases library hours.A white man sitting at a table in a libary.  He should be elected to City Council.

Our goal should be to have libraries open 7 days a week.  While libraries do enhance our quality of life, they are also enormous economic drivers.  There are the obvious educational benefits to libraries, but they are also enormous resources for those looking for jobs and job training.  Many libraries in Rochester also serve as meeting places for community groups. 

Having libraries open longer gives our teenagers more to do in the short-term and increase their real-world skills in the long-term.  This has an effect on crime in our city.   The money saved from ending corporate welfare as well as improvements to the City’s budget is where the money will come from to increase hours. 


Housing

Housing is a human right.  There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in our community to be without a clean, safe, affordable place to live.  With that, I will propose and/or vote for the following legislation:

*For every dollar the City of Rochester uses to promote the creation or rehabilitation to rental housing, the same amount must beA woman standing in front of a boarded up house with a sign that says \ used to promote single home ownership (not expensive condos).  This includes but is not limited to grants, loans, and tax breaks.

*All new housing built in the City of Rochester must use Universal Design principles.

*Designate 30% of Community Development Block Grant money into a fund to retrofit houses for accessibility.

*A property and school tax cap for elderly and impoverished homeowners.

*Create an environment so that the Rochester Housing Authority can focus more on home ownership than rentals.

*Expel banks from the City of Rochester who participate in redlining.

*Expand the use of eminent domain to take over slumlords’ property and abandoned houses and give these houses to those who will live in them.

*Change our housing inspection system to one that is complaint-based. 

*Where safety issues are concerned, the City will fix all housing that the owner refuses to and then bill said owner.

*Development without displacement.  This includes the freezing of tax rates in areas that experience new housing projects that drive up property values. 

*Not allow the Rochester Police Department to participate in foreclosure evictions.  It's not their job to do the bidding of banks.

The reason for the increase in focus on home-ownership is two-fold.  One, the owning of a house is the acquisition of generational wealth, a key to breaking the cycle of poverty and helping balance the economic inequality we have in Rochester.  Two, as you can see in current and future platform posts, I propose that we take over through eminent domain, abandoned houses in the City.  By rehabbing them (through various non-profits as well as by the City itself), we will create home-owning opportunities, thus improving neighborhoods. 

But it is understood that it is not appropriate for everyone to be a home-owner.  Therefore, in keeping with the concept that housing is a human right, we must strengthen protections for tenants while not severely punishing landlords. 

*Universal rent control in the City of Rochester.

*Just Cause Eviction legislation that does not allow landlords to evict people without an appropriate reason.

*A housing court that allows tenants to bring landlords to court for substandard housing and landlords bringing tenants to court for lease violations.  (See an example here.)

*Adopt Inclusionary Zoning in Rochester.

While there was a recent improvement on how the City uses the concept of Area Median Income (AMI) to get developers to build affordable housing, the truth is, it still has not changed the fact that what is deemed "affordable" for many of our citizens isn't.  Currently, we use the AMI of Monroe County to define the "area".  That makes the median income much larger than it should be for those in the City. 

*I will propose and support legislation that uses the AMI of the City of Rochester instead of Monroe County in the development of all affordable housing.

See platform plank on Land Use.  (TBA)

See platform plank on homelessness.  (TBA)