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Taxpayers are pouring gobs of money into the University of Rochester’s College Town project, which will consist of a huge number of parking spaces and no transit center.

The Democrat and Chronicle reports taxpayers will shell out $30.7 million of the $100 million project featuring apartments, a hotel and retail. That includes a $20 million federal loan that will be paid back primarily with the development’s property taxes. It also includes infrastructure improvements and a $4 million state grant the project suddenly “needs.”

I’ve long questioned why taxpayers are paying one-third of the cost of College Town. While I believe this will be an incredible addition to the corridor, this is not an economically distressed area. It’s going on prime real estate in a nice neighborhood right next to a rich college. Fifty-percent of the retail space is already leased, meaning there’s already demand for this site. This is not the kind of development that needed such an extensive push from government.

Now that the city is so deep into this project, it should have demanded a transit facility. Plans call for a 1,525-space parking garage. Meanwhile, an $8.3 million transit center with 10 to 12 bus bays was scuttled because it didn’t “fit the developers’ needs,” according to RGRTA’s CEO.

This is a travesty. The U of R is the area’s largest employer and taxpayers are footing the bill to bring ever more cars to the area without any kind of plan to encourage public transit.   We’re paying to install a new exit on Route 390, expand Mt. Hope Ave. and subsidize parking for students and staff at College Town. None of these measures will make traffic flow more smoothly. They’ll just bring more and more cars. The least the city and the college could have done was install some bus bays.

U of R President Joel Seligman called the approval of the $20 million federal loan for the College Town project a “red letter day” for the city because of its economic development potential. The D&C reports:

The economic benefits of College Town, according to its developers, include 985 construction jobs and 582 permanent jobs. College Town is projected to have an annual payroll of $26.4 million, with 275 of those jobs being in retail businesses and 250 being office jobs, some with UR. Annual sales would be an estimated $30.2 million.

The U of R jobs likely would have been created anyway. If you divide the 275 retail jobs by $30.7 million, that’s $111,636 tax dollars per job. It will take a retail worker four years to make up the money. Subsidizing retail jobs is simply bad for taxpayers.

If we’re going to essentially pay developers to build in our city, we should focus on projects that generate immediate property tax revenue, create well-paying jobs and encourage public transit. This one fails on all counts.

Links of the Day:

– The Wall Street Journal reports Antonio Perez clung to inkjet printers in the early days of the company’s bankruptcy.

– Crime-ridden Camden, N.J. is dissolving its police forcein a bid to fight crime.

– Broadcasting car chases live on TV is nothing but “mayhem porn” and has no news value.

Ever drive along on Mt. Read Blvd. and wonder why it exists?

Mt. Read, at least in its current form, has always felt overbuilt and unnecessary. It’s also fairly unattractive. Interstate 390 was built after Mt. Read, which makes the road feel rather redundant.

“It’s more like an expressway. Does it need to be that?” said Eric Frisch, transportation specialist for the City of Rochester.

The city is now studying the future of Mt. Read. City Council will vote on an $85,000 contract with Bergmann to come up with a vision plan for a 4-mile stretch of the corridor, running from Stone Rd. to Buffalo Rd. The project is in partnership with the state, which owns the road.

About 18,000 cars use Mt. Read a day. The boulevard is not only showing its age, it’s got functional issues. There are a number of factories along the boulevard, including Eastman Business Park. Trucks use service roads along Mt. Read. There are issues with signals and safety and there’s congestion at Lyell Ave. It’s a brutal area for bicycles and pedestrians. There are also some brownfields, which the city has been cleaning up.

Let’s not forget Mt. Read cuts through residential neighborhoods, too. There are 15,000 people who live in streets off the road.

I’m eager to see the vision plan.

Mt. Read Blvd., sometimes between 1903-1936. Mother of Sorrows steeple in background.


Intersection of Mt. Read Blvd. and W. Ridge Road around 1950


Links of the Day:

– If you build more highways and keep adding lanes, you make more traffic. Louisville is struggling with what to do about its downtown expressways. Think about Rochester when you read this.

– Rochester used to have a Main Streetwith people.

– The gutting of Kodak continues with the announcement the company will stop making consumer ink jet printers.

– The Supreme Court may limit the use of race in college admissions.

– A scathing state report about the Aqueduct race track blames horse deaths on track officials.

It appears Wegmans is ramping up its strategy of opening liquor stores next to its supermarkets.

Wegmans plans to build 15,000 square foot retail spaces adjacent to its Mt. Read and Amherst stores. Wegmans claims it hasn’t decided who will lease the stores.

The Democrat and Chronicle reports on the Mt. Read location:

(Spokeswoman Jo) Natale said no decisions about a retailer had yet been made.

“And there’s no timeline on what we might build there,” she said. “It is our intention, though, to certainly do the roadwork there sometime next year, but we don’t have any firm plans for what the retail space would be used for.”

The Buffalo News reported on the Amherst location:

“We can’t specify what type of retail store it would be, but there are about 20 possible uses for it,” Martin Herrmann, of Wegmans Site Development Group, told those gathered in Assumption Church Hall.

One of the operators of Gates Circle Wine & Liquors, a few blocks away at 1430 Delaware Ave., wasn’t stumped.

“It’s going to be a liquor store,” Shannon Carscallen predicted, “and we’re going to do what we can to fight it.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out these will likely be liquor stores. Companies don’t go through the trouble of knocking down houses and getting town approvals to build things for the heck of it.

Wegmans has long rented space in its plazas to liquor stores. Controversy ensues when the stores are owned by Wegman family members. Most recently, the sister of Danny Wegman moved her store, Whitehouse Liquor, from Monroe Avenue to space next to the Marketplace Wegmans.

Critics say the Wegman family is violating the spirit of state laws prohibiting liquor store chains and barring supermarkets from selling wine and liquor. Competitors also allege the Wegman family uses the same liquor reps and could be violating rules prohibiting individual liquor stores from making group buys. Wegmans insist the family members own their stores independently.

Whatever you think of state liquor laws, the little guys want Wegmans to follow the same rules. Wegmans has lost the wine-in-grocery store fight (for now), so the next frontier could be getting the state to allow multiple liquor licenses. In other words – chains.

Links of the Day:

– Wegmans is pushing into the Washington, D.C. market. One store has a very “crab-like” focus.

– Wealth is being redistributedupward.

– Are we putting too much faith into college rankings?

– Don Alhart is in a Louise Slaughter ad. He had no choice.

– Wanna renew your vows? Rochester is holding a mass ceremony at High Falls.

Despite the scarcity of electric vehicles on the road, the City of Rochester is moving forward with a plan to install charging stations around town. The city issued a Request for Proposals seeking a consultant for the project. There will be seven locations that can charge multiple vehicles at once.

Earlier this year, the state announced grants for these charging stations and proposals were due over the summer. The goal is to reduce emissions and build infrastructure many believe will be needed one day.

One charging station can charge two vehicles at once. Here are the locations and justifications, according to the city’s request for state grant money:

  • City Hall (1) – The city says at least one employee has an electric vehicle and the location is highly visible and the charging stations can be used by visitors.
  • Port of Rochester (2) – The area is undergoing redevelopment that will have sustainability components.
  • Public Market (1) – The city says this is a super-visible site and has one million visitors a year.
  • Washington Square Garage (4) – The city garages have a high volume of cars and are more likely to attract owners of electric cars.
  • Court Street Garage (2)
  • Sister Cities Garage (2)
  • East End Garage (4)

The Democrat and Chronicle has previously reported Rochester only has a few dozen electric vehicles on the road. The city is hoping more vehicles come online in the future. In the meantime, the city says local colleges and governments that own electric vehicles could make use of the charging stations.

The city isn’t sure if or what it will charge for use of the stations. It hopes to have the charging stations installed by October 2013. The total cost of the project is about $500,000, with most of the money coming from state and federal grants.

Links of the Day:

– A Rochester police officer is accused of lying on the witness stand and a judge agreed.

– The think tank that recommended tearing down Midtown Plaza is now taking a look at Niagara Falls’ Rainbow Centre.

Are charter schools causing Catholic schools to close?

The Panama Canal expansion could benefit Central New York.

The number of renters is creeping up in Monroe County.

Census figures show a decline in the rate of home ownership:

  • 2008: 68 percent
  • 2009: 67 percent
  • 2010: 66 percent
  • 2011: 64 percent

In 2011, the largest category of mortgages, encompassing 37 percent of households, cost between $1,000 and $1,499 a month. One out of five homeowners has a mortgage that costs more than 35 percent of their income.

One-third of renters pay between $750 and $999 a month. The rate of renters paying more than 35% of their income for rent has gone up:

  • 2009: 43 percent
  • 2010: 47 percent
  • 2011: 51 percent

That indicates many renters are struggling to pay the bills.

Links of the Day:

– Wegmans is acquiring two houses adjacent to its Mt. Read store. Many think it will be a liquor store.

– MCC is going to be hard-pressed to leave a renovated Sibley Building with a brand new bus station built out back.

– An ongoing panhandler fight over a Syracuse corner may have led to the killing of a homeless Syracuse woman.

– The Thruway hot dog wars have begun. Hofmann’s out of Syracuse is seeking to go national, but Buffalo insists it will remain loyal to Sahlen’s. Not mentioned: Zweigle’s.

Census data out this week shows the poverty rate in the Town of Greece jumped 75 percent from 2010 to 2011. The poverty rate went from 7.6 percent in 2010 to 13.3 percent in 2011.

What happened?

The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, as seen in Monroe County as a whole. Twenty percent of Greece households earned less than $25,000 a year in 2010, up a full percentage point from 2010. There were fewer households in the middle incomes, with a 4 percent drop in households earning between $35,000 and $75,000. There were more households earning above $100,000, up 4 percent to 21 percent. That could explain why the median income in Greece jumped in one year from $51,934 in 2010 to $57,541 in 2011.

The town’s demographics didn’t changed much over the one-year period. The population increased by fewer than 200 people to 96,239. The proportion of people over 65 years old in 2011 was relatively flat – down .4 percent to 16.5 percent of the population. The racial makeup is the same. The unemployment rate is the same at 6 percent.

The only big changes were a 3 percent jump in 25 to 34 year-olds, to 13.8 percent and a 2.8 percent increase in single mother-headed households to 8.1 percent.

The data shows a big increase of families in poverty. The rate of families in poverty went from 5.3 percent in 2010 to 9.2 percent in 2011. There was a giant increase in the rate of single mothers in poverty, jumping from 18.4 percent in 2010 to 47.2 percent in 2011.

Data was not available for Monroe County’s other suburbs. The census showed poverty increased to 16.7 percent, with one in four children living in poverty. Clearly, the suburbs are included in this problem.

Update: Sean Lahman, data specialist at the Democrat and Chronicle, posted on my Facebook page: 

You have to use caution when comparing ACS data from one year to another. The margin of error on the 2011 numbers is +/- 7.0, which means the poverty rate in Greece might have actually dropped. The fact that the MOE is so high makes me dubious about whether the number rose at all. The Census Bureau folks themselves say “comparing the 2011 ACS 1-year with the 2010 ACS 1-year estimates is not an exact comparison of the economic conditions in 2011 with those in 2010.” As a hard core number cruncher, I’d say this is more about noise in their survey than a sudden dramatic shift.

Links of the Day:

 – Monroe County’s infant mortality rate would rank near the bottom of industrialized nations, and some neighborhoods rival the infant mortality rates of Lebanon and Syria.

– Lt. Governor Bob Duffy is very involved in talks over a new Bills stadium lease. The big question is the penalty a new owner would pay if the team is moved out of town.

– In Albany, local owners are moving into spaces formerly occupied by chain restaurants.

The Genesee Transportation Council did a survey of local travel, including modes of transportation, number of miles, number of trips and attitudes about public transit.

The late-2011 Internet and phone survey of 3,671 households in Monroe, Livingston, Ontario and Wayne counties is rather fascinating.

Nine percent of respondents said they walked, biked or rode the bus regularly. Of those who did not, 40 percent said they would seek alternatives to cars if gas prices hit $4.00 a gallon. That would be 114,000 commuters.

Twenty percent of people said gas would have to get up to $8.50 for them to consider another means of transportation. That’s a lot of people willing to shell out huge bucks to keep driving!

Not surprisingly, the more money people make, the higher gas prices would have to go for them to ditch their cars.

The majority of people said their “car is king.” White people earning more than $200,000 were most likely to agree with the statement.


The survey also found women are the errand-runners:

Women account for most trips, and the disparity with men is greatest at shorter distances. The necessity of juggling trips, here and nationally, falls mainly to women. Women are far more likely than men to make multiple stops — called trip chaining — on their way to or from home. This is significant because we have been witnessing a feminization of poverty” in America over the past two decades, as more elderly women and single women with children of all races and ethnicities fall into poverty and the time and costs required by transportation become a significant burden.

 Links of the Day:

– None of the local political ads we’re seeing on television are up to snuff, according to this excellent fact-check.

– Only one thing is standing in Andrew Cuomo’s wayHillary Clinton.

– Buffalo college students keep getting beat up and robbed in late-night attacks.

– California is now allowing the sale of some homemade food.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

In Monroe County, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.

The census compares household income by dividing the total number of households by five. The bottom fifth earns the least amount of money and the top fifth earns the most. According to data released this week, in Monroe County:

– The bottom fifth of households earned an average of $10,379, down $319 (3 percent) from 2010 and down $988 (9 percent) from 2008.

– The top fifth had an average household income of $165,573 in 2011, up $2,471 (1.5 percent) from 2010 and up $5,266 (3 percent) from 2008.

– The top 5 percent of earners made an average of $283,603, up $2,622 (1 percent) from 2010 and up $15,260 (6 percent) from 2008.

– The middle fifth earned an average of $50,084 in 2011, up $621 (1 percent) from 2010, but down $1,733 (3 percent) from 2008.

– The top fifth of earners took in 49 percent of all household income. The top 5 percent took in 21 percent of all household income. The poorest fifth of households took in 3 percent of all household income.

– The top fifth of earners made 16 times more money than the bottom fifth in 2011, up from 15 times in 2010 and 14 times in 2008.

There’s no denying income inequality is real in Monroe County.  Rochester has the 7th highest child poverty rate in the nation at 54 percent.

There have always been two Rochesters. The haves and the have-nots. Former Mayor Bob Duffy laid out his vision for “One City” in his 2006 inaugural address:

Let us look at what tends to divide us – politics – race -religion – geography. We need to commit to work to break down those barriers. Our future depends upon our sense of unity of purpose. We must look at our community as family. And when times are tough, families pull together and draw upon each other’s strengths. We are a family and now is the time to show it.

Today I ask you to look in the mirror – to ask yourself each day what did I do today to improve Rochester – and what can I do tomorrow to have a positive influence for a child – for your neighborhood and for our community.

Then, look out the window – and find that opportunity. Every child in our city is an opportunity. Every street in our city is an opportunity. And every job you can offer to someone offers opportunity.

We are a community of great wealth and great poverty. Our future success depends on our ability to connect our great assets with our greatest needs. We are two cities today. In the future, we have to work and commit to be one. One city.

Links of the Day:

– A new study knocks Rochester for having the lowest graduation rate of black males in the country.

– The Susan B. Anthony House would like more Rochesterians to visit.

– Cuomo’s press office made reporters sign waivers before going on a tour of the Adirondacks.

– Xerox is on a hiring spree in Colorado, where an economic development official says $10-an-hour jobs are better than nothing.


Census numbers out today show poverty is growing in Monroe County. The poverty rate jumped more than a full percentage point between 2010 and 2011.

Take a look at the poverty rate in Monroe County:

  • 2008: 13.1%
  • 2010: 15.4%
  • 2011: 16.7%

The City of Rochester is worse off:

  • 2008: 29.3%
  • 2010: 33.8%
  • 2011: 35.5%

There are more children in poverty in our community. From 2010 to 2011, the rate  of children under 18 who lived in poverty in Monroe County jumped from 22.2 percent to 24.8 percent. In the City of Rochester, the rate went from 51.1 percent to 53.9 percent. That means one out of four children in Monroe County and fully half the children in the city live in impoverished households.

Household income in Monroe County has dropped over the last few years, but is making tiny gains:

  • 2008: $51,762
  • 2010: $49,532
  • 2011: $50,204

Brookings ranked Rochester 76th out of 100 metros in economic recovery for the third quarter of 2012.

These numbers are terribly troubling.

Links of the Day:

– Our nation’s school system is incredibly segregated by race and income.

– Trader Joe’s is very secretive about where it gets its products.

– Albany guys out for pizza found themselves interrogated by police about missile launchers.

– There’s a Roc City restaurant in Florida serving garbage plates.

Old Can of Worms


Let’s talk about the Can of Worms.

It’s a classic example of Rochester’s propensity for building big things, only to undo them later. Rochester converted a historic aqueduct to accommodate a subway it later abandoned. Midtown Plaza was torn down within 50 years of opening. The city bought a ferry to Toronto and then pulled the plug. After destroying wide swaths of downtown for its construction, the Inner Loop may be filled in.

But the Can of Worms ranks right up there in civic disasters. The highway was built in 1964 to connect Routes 490 and 590 and provide a link to the Thruway and Seabreeze. There’s a reference to the Can of Worms nickname in a 1965 paper on Rochester street names that suggests the more elegant name of “Brighton Bow Tie.”

Forever known as “The Can,” the complicated interchange featured confusing, short weaving distances. The Can was soon overwhelmed with cars. (Wikipedia and Empirestateroads.com have good explanations on The Can design.)

Rochester History Journal

The Can of Worms was rebuilt from 1987 to 1991 at a cost of more than $100 million. That’s more than $200 million in today’s dollars, a staggering amount of money to fix a boo-boo. There were other costs associated with Rochester’s fast-growing highway system of the 1960s. The neighborhood immediately surrounding The Can, is very disjointed.  East and University are all kinds of messed up where they were realigned. The expressways facilitated suburban growth from which the city still hasn’t recovered.

Now the state plans to fix the “Western Can of Worms” at 390 and 490 at a cost of $140 million. The state also plans to build an interchange and make surrounding improvements at 390 and Kendrick at a cost of $100 million. The first project is likely a necessary fix. As for the second project, I question the University of Rochester’s dire need for an exit ramp.

Let’s hope those projects don’t end up on the civic disaster list. We can ill afford to untangle another Can of Worms.


What makes the desire to belong so powerful you subject yourself to abuse that could result in death?

The New York Times published a horrific account of hazing at Binghamton University:

Another student said he was hazed night after night, until right before morning classes. He wrote in an anonymous e-mail to the university, “I was hosed, waterboarded, force-fed disgusting mixtures of food, went through physical exercises until I passed out, and crawled around outside in my boxers to the point where my stomach, elbows, thighs and knees are filled with cuts, scrapes and bruises.”


Sunni Solomon, the university’s assistant director of Greek life from 2010 until July, said in an e-mail, “My entire tenure from start to finish, I was scared to death that someone was going to die.”


Forced drinking, a staple of college hazing, comes up in a few reports. There also were reports of students’ getting frostbite from walking barefoot in the snow. One said pledges, blindfolded, driven miles from campus and relieved of their phones, were expected to find their own way home. Another said a fraternity branded pledges on the leg, back or buttocks.

Binghamton police and the university have had a hard time prosecuting anyone because students are uncooperative.

That’s in stark contrast to the smackdown given to the Geneseo volleyball team after a student got alcohol poisoning. Eleven players now face charges and their season has been suspended. Does it take someone going to the hospital for police and college officials to take action?

Students must obtain the skills to discern right from wrong and speak up when things go too far. Group think has a powerful hold on these students. Gaining friends should not hurt.

Links of the Day:

– The gambling industry has poured a staggering $50 million into Albany lobbying and campaign coffers since 2005.

– Remember when the geniuses in charge wanted to tear down Rochester City Hall?

– Some cities and states are lowering the bar for poor and minority students.

– Buffalo is being used as a stand-in for New York City in a werewolf movie.

Did Jesus have a wife?

Lyell Ave. Wegmans


When a Wegmans opened in Columbia, Maryland, there were the usual concerns over how the superstore would impact mom and pops. But there was another concern. With Wegmans less than two miles from a village, residents were interested in walking over. They found it wasn’t easy, Patch reports:

But, at least in Owen Brown–a village center that has two pizza places, a bar, a McDonald’s, and three places to get a haircut–some are talking about how to embrace the new super-retailer, and find a way for residents to walk there.

“There’s not a safe way to walk to Wegmans,” said Howard County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, who represents Owen Brown, along with King’s Contrivance, North Laurel and Savage. “I heard from a lot of residents who are walking distance from Wegmans who would like to walk over there.”


Wendy Webster, manager of the Wegmans in Columbia, said she has not heard any concerns from residents about a lack of access, but said they have modified the curb to be more handicapped-friendly and added bicycle racks.

“We’re working hard to make sure that we’re accessible,” Webster said. “If there’s someone from the community who wants to partner with us, if we need to do more, I’d be open to listen.”

But Webster said there are currently no specific plans to change pedestrian access to the store.

Besides East Ave., is there a walkable Wegmans in Monroe County? I would occasionally walk to my job at Driving Park and I would always ride the bus with my grandmother to get her groceries at Midtown. But those stores are history.

Building stores away from villages and cities means you have to get there by car. That’s long been an accepted part of big box shopping. That’s why I thought it was interesting Wegmans’ newest home asked, “Why can’t we walk to Wegmans?”

Links of the Day:

– Like Rochester, Buffalo is cracking down on convenience stores. Buffalo’s efforts have focused on stolen goods, but there are also quality of life concerns.

– Thinking of switching to an ESCO? National Grid data shows customers end up paying more.

– …”when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.

Welcome back to Rochester, John Lithgow.

Have you always wanted to open your own business, but found rents to be sky-high?

A company that owns 459 retail properties has so much vacant space, it’s offering storefronts for free! Cleveland-based DDR Corp. has a business incubator program called “Set Up Shop.” Participants get the first six months rent free, but the businesses have to sign a two-and-a-half year lease.

DDR, which already runs the program in Georgia and Florida, is bringing Set Up Shop to Western New York. The Buffalo News reports:

The units vary in exact size but are small spaces designed to house retail shops that are just starting up. The program features free rent for the first six months, a cap on other expenses, but the business has to sign a lease for 30 months.

“We’re looking for entrepreneurs. We’re looking for startups,” said David J. Perry, senior director of marketing services for DDR. “it has to fit in with the merchandise mix of the center and be retail. That’s what we’re looking for.”


The offer is an effort by DDR to deal with an excess of vacant space in its plazas. The retail market nationally is still struggling in the lackluster economic recovery, with consumers holding back on their spending. The company posted a leased rate of 94 percent in the second quarter, but still has a lot of small spaces available in these centers.

DDR, which bought a number of Benderson properties, owns 4 million square feet of retail space in the Buffalo and Rochester markets.

Panorama Plaza in Penfield, Tops Plaza in LeRoy and Batavia Commons in Batavia have space available for Set Up Shop.

This reminds me a little of the Pop-Up shop idea in Pittsburgh. It’s nice to see creative reuses of empty retail space.

Victor, Ontario County


The Democrat and Chronicle published a gushing piece about the growth of Ontario County without mentioning the serious costs of this kind of sprawl.

The population of Ontario County has increased 8 percent over the last decade. The Town of Victor’s population has gone up 40 percent. The area led the region in the rate of home building permits.

One of things that facilitated the area’s growth is new roads. The D&C reports:

Access to major transportation routes is key to the county’s success. Victor is especially attractive because it offers quick access to both the New York State Thruway and Interstate 490.

“That’s one of the most powerful locations in upstate New York,” said Ontario County economic developer Michael J. Manikowski.

In addition to Victor’s Exit 45, Ontario County has three more Thruway exits, something unusual for a county its size.

Here’s what’s wrong with this picture. If the region’s population center, Monroe County, was booming, spillover would be easier to understand and accept. What’s happening in Ontario County, however, is just classic sprawl without growth.

It comes at a cost. Sprawl eats up open land. Sprawl forces state taxpayers to pay for infrastructure. Sprawl puts more cars on the road for more miles. Sprawl leaves depressed home values and vacant homes elsewhere in the community. Sprawl means abandoned downtowns. Sprawl means a wealth shift out of one community into another. Sprawl means more residential and school segregation by income.

Onondaga County is now tackling the costly issue of sprawl without growth. Even if Monroe County wanted to have a serious discussion about sprawl, it looks like it would need Ontario County to partner. That doesn’t seem likely. The D&C reports:

“This has been a long-term success of over 30 years of trying to get this right,” said Ontario County Administrator John Garvey.

While the county’s attractive landscape, especially around Canandaigua Lake, makes it attractive to potential residents and businesses, it’s not enough to produce the current prosperity, Garvey said.

The “current prosperity” is due to sprawl. As Ontario County touts its success, it’s important to remember the cost to its neighbor.

Links of the Day:

– To slow down traffic, Tompkins County painted road shoulders green. It looks like a permanent St. Patrick’s Day parade route.

– Ah, New York State bureaucracy. The Albany Times Union has the epic tale of a woman trying to get her massage therapist license.

– A Central New York couple really, really loves pumpkins.

– The “flack to hack” ratio is going up and the power of PR people over journalists is out of control.

– A critical piece on a former WPS owner also knocks Abby Wambach. Observers said she didn’t do enough to protect younger, underpaid players from the bully owner.

The cheating scandal at Harvard has prompted prestigious schools around the country to review their plagiarism policies and “honor codes.” More than 100 students are accused of plagiarizing or collaborating on a take-home test.

University of Rochester student newspaper Campus Times reported more students are being reported for cheating. Sixty-two students were referred for hearings last school year, up from 20 the year before. This could be the result of more vigilance or more students cutting corners:

But the reasons for this remain unclear. (Professor Beth) Jorgensen does not believe that cheating at UR is more of an issue than it is at other institutions.

“We’re not outliers,” she explained. “I wouldn’t guess that UR sees more cheating than less competitive schools.”


Jorgensen is looking to address what she sees as the problem with the physical conditions for exams. Large settings create the erroneous belief that more cheating is going on than really is and the feeling that students must cheat to “measure up” to fellow students, Jorgensen said.


Economics Professor Michael Rizzo, who has been teaching at UR for five years, said that he thinks that there is “not a culture here that respects not cheating” and that he “didn’t realize cheating was as bad as it was.”


Last fall, one student was expelled and two were suspended during the spring 2012 term for cheating on one of his introductory economics exams.

Plagiarism, the act of copying another’s work without attribution, is clearly a huge no-no. Plagiarism has been around since the beginning of time, but there’s a feeling the Internet is encouraging it. (Plagiarists should really discover hyperlinking.) The New York Times reports:

The Internet has changed attitudes, as a world of instant downloading, searching, cutting and pasting has loosened some ideas of ownership and authorship. An increased emphasis on having students work in teams may also have played a role.


Numerous projects and research studies have shown that frequently reinforcing standards, to both students and teachers, can lessen cheating. But experts say most schools fail to do so.


Experts say that along with students, schools and technology, parents are also to blame…

“We have a culture now where we have real trouble accepting that our kids make mistakes and fail, and when they do, we tend to blame someone else,” said Tricia Bertram Gallant, author of “Creating the Ethical Academy,” and director of the academic integrity office at the University of California at San Diego. “Thirty, 40 years ago, the parent would come in and grab the kid by the ear, yell at him and drag him home.”

As for collaborating with peers on a take-home test, some are not convinced that’s cheating. A Slate columnist writes:

What’s the point of prohibiting students from working together? If the students in “Introduction to Congress” act as these test rules demand when they move into the workforce, they’ll be fired. Outside of academia, teamwork is the rule….In this case, it’s the test’s design, rather than the students’ conduct, that we should criticize.

Are today’s college students really less ethical than previous generations? Technology makes it easier for them to plagiarize and collaborate, but it also makes it more likely they’ll get caught.

Links of the Day:

– Chicago teachers union delegates rejected a tentative contract deal and will not be back to work on Monday.

– Teachers no longer want to mentor student teachers because of the new evaluations. I know a teacher who is so stressed about implementing the new core curriculum, she “has nothing for the student teacher to do yet.”

– How much do local teachers earn? Check out this map of teacher pay across the U.S.

– I like this column criticizing Rochester for issuing camera-generated rolling-stop-right-on-red tickets.

– Get ready for more Toronto “home games” for the Buffalo Bills.

– An interesting team of investors – many with sports ties – is trying to take Syracuse’s hometown hot dog national.

The Center for Governmental Research, based in Rochester, caused a stir when it published a study ranking per pupil spending in the nation’s school districts.

Buffalo ($26,903) and Rochester ($20,984) were ranked in the top 10 highest-spending districts.

Critics were quick to say, “Look, they spend the most, but have the worst results!”

It turns out, the districts spending the most per pupil have high poverty rates. That’s because CGR divided a district’s entire budget by enrollment. The Buffalo News reported:

The study calculated spending per student by dividing total district expenditures by total district enrollment, two figures that were pulled from federal Census of Governments data that was recently released, (CGR’s Kent) Gardner said.

He noted that the data was very “top-level.”

“We did a really rough-and-ready ranking,” he said.

The district per pupil spending figures included money spent on subsidized lunches, special education and support services. CGR even included the amount of money the districts siphon off to charter schools, even though it didn’t include charter school enrollment.

Forty million dollars of the Rochester City School District budget goes to charter schools, universal pre-kindergarten, food service, and incarcerated youth. Those are just some of the expenses lower-needs districts don’t incur.

I have no doubt there’s fat in the RCSD budget. But it would be interesting to see how much money each district spends on things that directly impact students. Measurements such as class size, course-offerings, extracurricular activities, field trips and support services would be interesting. I think you’d see very different results.

Links of the Day:

– A New York Times op-ed asks if great teachers can overcome poverty.

– A rebuttal to so-called liberal pundits attacking teachers.

– Were the latest round of Kodak layoffs one short?

– Four Bills games are at risk of being blacked out.

Living downtown is awesome.

A study from Trulia shows it is cheaper to buy than rent in the 100 largest metropolitan areas of the United States:

With a 20% down payment, a 30-year fixed mortgage rate at 3.5% and at the 25% federal tax bracket, homeownership is cheaper than renting in all of the 100 largest metros by a wide margin. There is no market where the financial decision is even close, so long as you plan to stay in the home for at least seven years, get 3.5% mortgage, and itemize your tax deductions. However, how much cheaper it is to buy a home than to rent really depends a LOT on where you live.

In Rochester, the study found the monthly cost of home ownership is $790, while the monthly cost to rent is $1,358. Trulia based monthly costs on the average across all properties, for sale and for rent. Home ownership costs include mortgage, maintenance, insurance, property taxes, closing costs and other costs. Renting costs included rent, security deposit and insurance.

I think those rental figures are high. The 2010 census shows only 27.9 percent of housing units with a mortgage had monthly housing costs below $1,000. Only 18.1 percent of rental units cost more than $1,000 a month.

Buying a home has tax advantages and builds equity, but it’s far more economical for me to rent, according to numerous calculators. Try this one.

Links of the Day:

– Chicago teachers and the school district have reached an agreement in principal and teachers could be back to work on Monday.

– Kodak may abandon its patent sale, meaning the scramble for cash is on.

– Fuji is getting out of the motion picture film business, which is a boost for Kodak.

– In Rochester and elsewhere, doctors are “firing” parents of patients who refuse to get vaccines.

Nick Kristof’s column in the New York Times  about Chicago teachers zeroed in on teacher evaluations, the issue at the center of the strike. Kristof says teacher quality must be addressed to improve the test scores of poor, urban children.

I thought the column was problematic for several reasons.

First, do we know teacher quality is a primary reason poor children are failing? Are suburban teachers so much better? If urban teachers need qualities superior to their suburban peers, will they be paid more?

Second, even if you accept that teacher quality can and should be improved, the use of students’ standardized test scores to grade teachers is suspect. Kristof admits this:

How does one figure out who is a weak teacher? Yes, that’s a challenge. But researchers are improving systems to measure “value added” from beginning to end of the year, and, with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.

Value-added metrics are riddled with problems. For example, teachers rated highly one year can be rated poorly the next year. New York City insisted on making its  teacher ratings public, leading to debate among news organizations about whether to publish them because they were so flawed.

Consider the fact New York State won’t allow districts to exempt truant students from a teacher’s evaluation. Then say with a straight face the evaluations are reliable tools.

Third, Kirstof has no problem with Chicago teachers being laid off when their schools are closed. In Rochester, there wouldn’t be many teachers left if the district was able to fire  teachers when it closed schools. Franklin, Edison, Madison and Freddie Thomas have all been reinvented more than once. The current education reform movement shuffles students and employees and creates considerable chaos.

Fourth, Kristof supports allowing principals to choose the teachers they want to hire from the list of those who are laid off. If you think giving principals the right to hire and fire teachers creates a pure, merit-based system, you’re living in fairyland. Anyone who has observed school-level politics knows that’s unlikely to happen. There will be cases where inexperienced teachers are called back because they are cheaper and experienced teachers are left on the sidelines because of clashes with administration.

Unions exist as a check on management. In Chicago, the teachers union is checking management’s desire to control teachers’ fates based on the whims of principals and faulty metrics.

Bad teachers should go. But how many good teachers – and students – will be penalized under this new paradigm? Kristof wrote:

This isn’t a battle between garment workers and greedy corporate barons. The central figures in the Chicago schools strike are neither strikers nor managers but 350,000 children. Protecting elements of a broken and unaccountable school system — the union demand — sacrifices those students, in effect turning a blind eye to a “separate but equal” education system.

The corporate barons exist in education. (See The Broad Academy.) The new wave of superintendents and principals wants the same thing as the garment factory owners – ultimate power. This begs the question of whether this debate is about teacher quality or simply breaking unions.

And while we obsess over teachers, are we ignoring the more important reasons urban schools are failing?

Links of the Day:

– People who live and work in the East High School neighborhood are fed up with students loitering and smoking weed.

– A massive housing development planned in Brighton has finally started construction. It’s ritzy. It’s suburban. It’s expensive.

– This is such a cool project. The University of Rochester is building an online archive of the Post Family letters. The Posts were involved in the women’s rights, abolitionist and Spiritualist movements in the mid-1800s.

Class matters in America

City of Rochester Communications Bureau


The Rochester Business Alliance came out with its annual survey asking local companies if they plan to give raises next year. The Rochester Business Journal reports:

Some 88 percent of respondents to the RBA’s survey of pay trends said they are planning increases for some or all employees in 2013, up from 85 percent in 2012. Nine percent said they were projecting a wage freeze or pay reduction for some or all employees in the coming year.


Area employers surveyed say they are budgeting for a projected pay increase of 3 percent in 2013, down slightly from the projected 3.1 percent for 2012.


Some 156 firms, representing 82,400 employees, participated in at least one of the surveys, RBA officials said.

I think this survey has limited usefulness. Past predictions of raises from this survey haven’t come to pass, as the Democrat and Chronicle points out:

Those pay raises expected by RBA-surveyed companies are rosier than what reality has been for wages in the Rochester region. According to state Labor Department data, the average 2011 wage in the Finger Lakes region was $42,545, up 2 percent over the 2010 average, which was itself up 2.2 percent over 2009’s average.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data paints an even worse picture in Rochester for wages, as I reported on Labor Day for 13WHAM:

Wages have fallen about 7 percent since 2008, with the average worker bringing home $53 less a week. Weekly wages might be creeping up, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics report they went up .7 percent between July 2011 and July 2012.

This survey came out on the same day the Census reported the middle class has shrunk to an all-time low, with the median income having declined in the U.S. in 2011. The 2000’s were the lost decade for the middle income worker and some predict this one is on its way.

It would be truly great if Rochester area workers get 3 percent raises in 2013. That’s a big “if,” given the trend over the past few years. And those raises won’t make up for what has been lost.

Links of the Day:

– Check out this email sent to striking Chicago teachers (many of whom are locked out of email) by Jean-Claude Brizard saying, “I have been in urban education for more than 26 years and I would never abandon my post.” Um…….

– The Chicago strike has put the spotlight on teacher evaluations. As this New York Times article makes clear, the research on evaluations is new and contradictory.

– It appears the state is holding up a new lease for the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium and key deadlines for funding are not being met.

– Rochester’s only Jewish senior living community is about to serve nonkosher food.

– Walking downtown last night, look what I passed by:


If you get caught driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, you’ve got a big problem. Under the law, you’re drunk. If you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer, your license is automatically suspended and you’ll be charged. You might be able to beat a DWI at trial, but you will pay a pretty penny.

If you smoke weed, the law is much murkier. It’s illegal to drive while your ability is impaired by drugs. But how do you know someone is “high?” You can do a blood test for THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, but how much is too much?

The issue of marijuana impairment was front and center at a the vehicular manslaughter trial of John Ariano, accused of running a stop sign and killing Jack Blair. From my report on 13WHAM News:

Judge Frank Geraci, who presided over Ariano’s bench trial, found him not guilty of all charges. Geraci said there was not enough evidence the drugs in Ariano’s system caused him to be impaired and led to the crash. None of the deputies and other witnesses noted he was impaired. Ariano had been driving well under the speed limit and a driver who followed him for 7 miles didn’t notice any erratic driving.

“There was no impairment,” said Christopher Schiano, Ariano’s attorney. “It was not a popular verdict, but it was the right one.”

Schiano said his entire case was built around the fact New York State doesn’t have a threshold for how much marijuana a driver can have in his system. He said this was a rare vehicular manslaughter case because it didn’t involve any alcohol use.

Prosecutors alleged Ariano had 5.4 nanograms of THC in his blood. Colorado lawmakers recently defeated a bill that would have made 5 nanograms the driving threshold. The Denver Post reported:

At the earlier committee hearing, medical-marijuana activists argue that the proposed limit — 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood — is too low and would result in near-certain convictions for sober drivers.

The bill’s opponents argued that medical-marijuana patients have no way of determining what 5 nanograms means. How much can they consume? How long do they have to wait afterward?

Supporters of the bill counter that the vast majority of people would be impaired at 5 nanograms and would need to wait only about two to three hours after using to fall below the limit. They argue that, even though some people could be sober at 5 nanograms, it is important to send a strong message.

Michigan prohibits any amount of marijuana in a driver’s blood.

While it’s widely accepted that alcohol impedes one’s ability to drive, the jury is out when it comes to marijuana. A Bloomberg columnist who is opposed to a marijuana threshold reports:

…when drivers are under the influence of THC; they tend to have heightened awareness — rather than diminished sensitivity as they do after drinking — to their surroundings. As a result, they tend to compensate by driving more cautiously.

A 2007 control study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health reviewed 10 years of U.S. auto-fatality data. Investigators found that U.S. drivers with blood-alcohol levels of 0.05 percent — a level below the national 0.08 percent legal limit — were three times as likely to have been driving unsafely before a fatal crash, compared with individuals who tested positive for marijuana.

We will likely see more drugged driving cases. Rochester defense attorney Ed Fiandach said police are stepping up enforcement and getting more training. Much of the focus has been on drivers high on prescription drugs, but the Ariano trial shows marijuana users can also get nabbed.

It’s clear more research is needed on the impact of marijuana and other drugs on driving.