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Economic Policy Institute

Economic Policy Institute

 

How much does a family need to earn in Rochester for a “secure, yet modest standard of living?” The Economic Policy Institute recently updated its Family Budget Calculator. The results show many families likely fall below the threshold.

EPI found a single person in Rochester needs to earn at least $28,774 a year. That puts us on par with many other communities and is slightly lower than the median non-family household income in Rochester. But when you start to add children to the mix, costs escalate. A household with one parent and one child needs to earn $55,530 in Rochester. Other communities see much lower costs for child care. A two-parent household with two children needs to earn $81,106 in Rochester. That’s 27 percent above the median family income here.

The EPI does this calculator to show the federal poverty threshold is not adequate to describe financial realities for families.

Do you think this calculator reflects the true cost of living here?

 

 

Economic Policy Institute

Economic Policy Institute

 

Links of the Day:

 

– “New York and other states should compete for business by cutting taxes and red tape and improving services, not cutting checks.”

– Start Up NY has yet to deny an application, records show.

– How companies make millions off lead-poisoned, poor blacks.

– Buffalo believes it’s now a primary concert market.

University of RochesterThe University of Rochester wants to create a second photonics institute.

 

Once you’ve stopped laughing, read on to hear why this second institute is probably needed more than the first one.

Word of a second photonics institute called Lightscale Research Institute, was revealed in a widely circulated email sent out by U of R photonics gurus to local people in the industry. No one appears to be authorized to talk about Lightscale on the record, so here is what I’ve been able to piece together in talks with sources.

The first institute – the AIM Photonics Institute that brought Vice President Joe Biden here – will have more than $600 million in funding. But only $130 million of that money is coming to Rochester, sources say. Fifteen million dollars is coming from the Department of Defense, $80 million is going to the U of R and $35 million is going to Rochester Institute of Technology.

AIM Photonics is a national effort, but that effort is too restrictive to exploit Rochester’s true potential in photonics. AIM can only do integrated photonics, which is the use of optical fibers to move data at high rates of speed. In addition to AIM’s narrow focus, it’s a federal effort, which means it doesn’t have a singular focus on creating jobs in Rochester.

(A huge irony is that Rochester’s colleges and industries don’t even specialize in integrated photonics. But it’s not a stretch to make the leap, especially with SUNY Polytechnic as a partner. “We have transferrable skills,” one source said.)

Here’s where Lightscale comes in. This second photonics institute is hoping Rochester wins the $500 million Upstate Hunger Games competition, and it gets a $100 million cut. Unlike AIM, Lightscale would have a broad focus on many different kinds of photonics, including optics, lasers and imaging. It would have a regional focus and would create regional jobs.

Kodak was good at systems. Kodak could make components, such as lenses, but its bread and butter was cameras. AIM is components. Lightscale is systems. Lightscale is the stuff Rochester is really good at doing. Lightscale is the stuff that makes systems closer to consumers – next generation platform, 3D systems, virtual reality, etc. The closer you get to consumers, the more jobs you create. “It’s moving up the value chain,” as one source put it.

Does AIM have the potential to create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs in Rochester, as SUNY Polytechnic head Dr. Alain Kaloyeros suggested?  The odds are way better working with Lightscale, sources say. AIM’s focus is too narrow and it’s mission is national.

That’s the reasoning behind Lightscale, a second photonics institute. That’s why University of Rochester went ballistic when Kaloyeros tried to take over the whole AIM project. U of R has its own photonics vision – and it might be a heck of lot bigger than anyone realized.

 

Below is the email describing Lightscale from U of R’s Paul Ballentine and Mark Bocko.

Dear Friends,

As you probably know by now, on July 27th Vice President Biden came to Rochester to announce our region has been chosen as the home to the national Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI).  This is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  This event was the culmination of over three years of hard work and careful planning to: (a) have the U.S. government identify photonics as a topic for an NNMI Institute AND (b) make sure that institute is headquartered in Rochester.  An early step toward this achievement was taken on December 17, 2012 when over 100 key stakeholders gathered joined CEIS at the UR Alumni Center for a full day of discussions on what an NNMI institute for photonics should look like. At the time, we called the proposed institute POMATech (Photonics and Optics MAnufacturing TECHnology).  The idea was to have an institute that covered a range of optics, photonics, and imaging technologies – one that would leverage the wide range of skills and resources in our community.  As it turned out, the original proposal by the Obama administration to have NIST fund the institutes and allow proposing entities recommend the topics was not funded. Instead, individual agencies have been funding NNMI Institutes for topics of their choosing.  After over two years of lobbying by the Rochester photonics community, our congressional delegation, RRPC, the Optical Society of America, SPIE, the National Photonics Initiative, and many other individuals and organizations, the Department of Defense issued a call for proposals in 2014 for an NNMI Institute for integrated photonics.  This was one of the six areas we discussed in the 12/12 workshop.

The New York proposal for the IP-IMI won out over proposals from Central Florida and Southern California.  The New York institute, called AIM Photonics, will be led by the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Other participating universities include  MIT, the University of Arizona, and UC Santa Barbara. Participating companies include Intel, IBM, and many others.  Over 20 Rochester area optics and photonics companies are also supporting the institute.  The DOD is providing $110M in funding over five years and New York State is providing $250M of matching funds.  The total funding, including matching grants from other states and company contributions is over $600 million.  Of that total, $130M will be spent in the Rochester area. Rochester was chosen as the headquarters for AIM Photonics based on the region¹s strengths in both the technical, educational, and business aspects of photonics.  In addition to the headquarters, Rochester will be the center of the packaging and sensor efforts of AIM Photonics.  Rochester will also play leading roles in education, workforce training, and design automation.

The NNMI award is only part of the progress we have made in getting federal support for the region¹s photonics industry.  Over the past 3 years, Rochester has been awarded grants for all four of President Obama¹s manufacturing jobs initiatives:  The Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (CEIS), the Advanced Manufacturing Technology program (CEIS), the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program (the City of Rochester)) and the NNMI program (AIM Photonics).  All four of these are based on optics, photonics, and imaging.  This is a tremendous achievement for the region, and one in which we should share a sense of community pride.  We are also fortunate that New York State continues to support CEIS as the Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) for optics, photonics, and imaging.  These are important parts of the  effort to re establish Rochester as the leading center for optics, photonics, and imaging in the world.

Our work is not done.  CEIS is currently working with the Rochester photonics community to establish a second major photonics institute in Rochester.  This proposed Institute, called the Lightscale Research Institute, will be part of the region¹s proposal for one of the $500M Upstate New York Revitalization Initiative (URI) grants.  Why two institutes?  LRI will differ from AIM Photonics in two important ways.  First, the focus of LRI will be on a broad range of light-based technologies other than integrated photonics, including advanced optics, lasers, and  imaging/multimedia platforms.  AIM Photonics is restricted to integrated photonics by the DOD.  Second, LRI will be a NY State institute while AIM Photonics is a federal institute.  There will be different fiduciary responsibilities for public funds.  AIM Photonics, while heavily subsidized by New York State, will be a federal institute.  LRI will be more focused on regional economic development, although it will benefit the entire optics industry and have national and international participation by companies that are committed to invest in the Rochester region.

While we greatly appreciate the attention photonics is getting, it is important to work closely with those who have created these opportunities.  The strategies required to turn these developments into real economic growth are complex.  We all need to work together in a coordinated, comprehensive, and consistent way if we want to control our own destiny and turn these public investments into real economic growth,

A lot of people have contributed to these efforts and are continuing to do so. In particular Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has been a strong and steady supporter of the Rochester optics, photonics, and imaging industry for decades and provided the original impetus for this activity.  And Jay Eastman has been involved from the start and has volunteered a considerable amount of his time over the last 3 years.  Jay continues to play a leading role in the effort to rebuild the Rochester photonics industry through his role as co-chair of the Optics and Photonics Work Group of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

AIM Photonics and LRI (if funded) will be pillars upon which a healthy optics, photonics, and imaging industry in Rochester can grow.  The real goal of these efforts is to see substantial private investment leading to the incubation, growth, and attraction of optics, photonics, and imaging companies.  These companies will provide well paying jobs and help address the poverty situation in the Rochester region.

We appreciate your continued support in this effort.  If you have any questions or would like to become more involved, please don¹t hesitate to call or send us at CEIS or send us an email.

Regards,

Mark Bocko, Director

Paul Ballentine, Executive Director

The Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences
University of Rochester

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

It’s easy to characterize the photonics headquarters dispute as local leaders fighting among themselves. But that’s not really accurate.

On Sibley Building side, you have Mayor Lovely Warren, University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, Rochester Institute of Technology President William Destler, Senator Charles Schumer, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Assemblyman Joseph Morelle and Wegman CEO Danny Wegman.

On the Legacy Tower side, you have Rochester Business Alliance CEO Robert Duffy and a bunch of CEOs whom I referred to in an earlier post as New Rump Group. Certainly, their companies have an impact. But since the average Rochesterian couldn’t name a single one, I would hardly call them “local leaders.” Not to mention, none of these guys has anything to do with this project. At all.

Therefore, it’s way more accurate to say local leaders, many of whom directly worked on the photonics plan, are fighting with Duffy.

It’s even more accurate to say the University of Rochester is fighting SUNY Polytechnic.

Here’s how sources are describing what’s going on: SUNY Poly wasn’t too happy when U of R announced support for the Sibley site. SUNY Poly sees itself as being in charge of photonics project. It claims it is the Department of Defense’s designee and put together Rochester’s winning (secret) application. SUNY Poly teamed up with Duffy to promote Legacy Tower. I’m sure Legacy is a very fine place, but did SUNY Poly even visit Sibley? Does anyone think 25,000 square feet of office space is so important to this project? One of the reasons SUNY Poly wanted Legacy is to stick it to U of R.

Meantime, U of R says it has a seat at the table. (Documents related to governance structure need to be made public ASAP.)

This is about power.

My last blog post, I thought this was about a group of presumptuous businessman trying to hook up a developer and wield influence. I was right that it’s a group of presumptuous businessmen. I was wrong in that it was only about real estate. The events of the last week showed this is bigger than office space.

Except for the head of a quasi-lobbying group, Rochester leaders are aligned. And they’re ready to take on Albany.

(Side note about Danny Wegman: He hasn’t explained why his name was on Duffy’s letter supporting Legacy one day and on another letter supporting Sibley the next day. I asked if he knew his name would be on the Duffy letter, and his reps didn’t answer. See Below.)

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Fishkill Prison Inmate Died After Fight With Officers: “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him.”

– Groceries, gas, guns & guitars at North Country store.

 

Sibley 220X165There’s a new RUMP Group in town. This time, the group of rich, older, powerful white men call themselves “Rochester Business Leaders Photonics Working Group.” The group includes Bob Duffy and Danny Wegman, as well as the CEOs of Paychex, Kodak, Home Properties and Pike.

None of them have any experience in photonics. But they do have experience in real estate. That’s why they feel they’re qualified to tell the Department of Defense that the photonics institute headquarters should be located at Legacy Tower, the former Bausch and Lomb building.

They do not think the headquarters should be located at the Sibley Building, despite the wishes of University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and Senator Charles Schumer.

The group believes the Sibley Building will require too many infrastructure upgrades, while Legacy Tower is a turnkey operation. The group thinks the Sibley Building, which houses High Tech Rochester’s offices, is somehow not suited for photonics offices.

There’s no evidence to back up New RUMP Group’s claim. The SUNY people say it will take five months of planning to get the institute off the ground. That means we have no idea when the headquarters will need to open and the kind of space it will need. We have no idea if Legacy OR Sibley will be appropriate. We don’t know the cost of either space, in terms of rent or renovations.

Why would New RUMP Group come out in favor of Legacy Tower when they don’t know anything about the photonics institute’s needs or budget or timeline?

Money, of course.

Buckingham Properties must need the tenants at Legacy. Buckingham’s Ken Glazer was at the photonics announcement featuring Joe Biden. It didn’t take long for Glazer to figure out how to make money off the deal. Sibley is owned by out-of-towners and perhaps they didn’t get an invitation to New Rump Group.

It’s concerning these prominent business leaders would use their names for such naked favoritism. These men have essentially started an unnecessary public feud.

The Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster – a real group of people who actually work in the field – point out this fight doesn’t even matter.

The DoD’s designation and future interest in Rochester is unrelated to local development interests. The DoD wants integrated device development as soon as possible. This work can move forward without an administrative office.  It is unclear if it will stall if local interests refuse to coordinate and compromise.  Either way, because of the excellent working partnership so far, New York is leading the nation in an international competition fueled by billions in research dollars.  We have been designated and are the focus of international attention.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– So many opted out of NYS tests it casts doubt on reliability of scores, expert says.

ISIS and their sexual slaves.

– Warren Harding had love child, DNA confirms.

 

Cuomo - 220X165A lot of people said Andrew Cuomo created the Buffalo Billion because he didn’t win Erie County when he ran for his first term as governor. He wanted to win over the community. The strategy was successful, as he carried Erie County when he ran for his second term.

Is it Rochester’s turn?

Cuomo did not win Monroe County in the 2014 election. You can blame resentment over the Buffalo Billion, Safe Act, Common Core, a perception he’s a bit of a bully and the general feeling he doesn’t care about Rochester. Having a lieutenant governor from Rochester during his first term did absolutely nothing to shore up his popularity.

In 2015, Cuomo seems to have discovered Rochester exists.

Gannett wrote an article called “Rochester clearly in Cuomo’s focus now.” It reads in part:

Anti-poverty initiative. Photonics center. Capital for a day. Medical marijuana facility.

After losing Monroe County in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration are clearly paying more attention to the Rochester area.

(snip)

In January, the Democratic governor appeared in Rochester to announce a $1.5 billion competition for upstate economic development aid. He spoke once here in February about his budget proposal, then twice in the county in March.

(snip)

Cuomo could use the boost, too. His job-performance rating in May fell to 37 percent,the lowest point since he became governor in 2011.

I think it’s too soon to say Cuomo is all about Rochester. (And if he is – where was he before? Why now? Does this make the first four years of not being here go away?)

First, the state’s pledge of $250 million to the photonics institute was a no-brainer. The money, coupled with SUNY Polytechnic’s track record, helped Rochester win the Department of Defense’s award. But this was a pledge of money to a maybe. It was also a pledge of money that will undoubtedly be handed out over many years. In addition, Rochester is already a leader in photonics. The governor did nothing to make that happen. He’s supporting something that already exists.

Second, the Capital for a Day thing was a dog and pony show. Does he think Rochester felt special? It was actually kind of insulting to see a bunch of high-level state officials learning about our community over the course of a single day. They should already know Rochester. It shouldn’t take a highly-orchestrated public relations stunt and the sprinkling of pork to get these officials to come to town.

Third, the anti-poverty initiative is a giant unknown. The plan is there is no plan. The governor gave us $6 million and no one has any idea what it will be used for. So far, there have been some nice brainstorming sessions.

Fourth, the medical marijuana facility and its 195 promised jobs is very nice. But Rochester wasn’t the only place chosen for such a facility. Sure, politics could have played a role in the selection, but Columbia Care – as well as Eastman Business Park – may have won on their merits.

Fifth, Gannett thought it was a great thing for Rochester that Cuomo came here to announce another economic development competition. This “Hunger Games” announcement was panned by many.

Finally, trying to shore up Rochester’s economy will not be as tough as other places. We don’t have the same population loss or unemployment as say…the Southern Tier. Things are not great, but they’re worse in other parts of the state. Rochester also has the colleges, workforce and infrastructure for a great success story.

Cuomo could use Rochester to boost his struggling favorability and job performance ratings. The question to start thinking about is this: If Rochester’s economy improves, how much will be due to Cuomo?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– COMIDA: “Nearly a quarter of the projects projected no new jobs and 30 percent estimated creating one new job each.”

– Great history lesson: Why does Jeb Bush admire James Polk?

– The Millennial Commune: An expensive dorm for adults.

– Sweet story: A Syracuse man depended on his bike. When it was stolen, friends and coworkers stepped up.

– Try something new: At 64, Utica man launched second career — as a nude model.

 

Meet Pixie!

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz Featured Image

 

 

To date, the biggest mystery surrounding the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival has been the promoters’ profit.

Now, we can add another one.

The festival refuses to release attendance estimates. Every year, the festival’s wrap-up press release contains an attendance estimate. This year, the festival made no mention of attendance.

I sent this email to the festival spokeswoman:

I haven’t seen any attendance estimates, as in years past.

I’d like to know if the festival has an estimated attendance figure, and if so, what is it? If you’re not releasing it, why not? If you don’t know it, do you plan to find out and release it?

This is the email I received in response:

In our wrap up release John (Nugent, promoter) stated tens of thousands of people enjoyed the festival. There will be no further announcement on numbers, a decision made well before the festival. The festival was another highly successful event all around. We did have 8 out of nine days w/o rain, so that was wonderful considering this soggy summer but since the majority of our venues are indoors, those were not at all impacted by rain; they were consistently filled.

Keeping attendance estimates secret – or not doing them at all – is problematic for a number of reasons:

1. The Jazz Festival attendance figures were already suspect. The day after the festival ended last year, a press release went out declaring the event had 196,000 attendees, an increase of 1,000 from the year before, or .5 percent. Conveniently, the festival could claim record attendance. But these figures, which had no methodology attached, defy credibility. How on earth could the festival know that many people attended less than 24 hours later, to that level of precision? Remember, a majority of attendees don’t buy tickets and watch the free shows.

2. Previous contracts with the city required the Jazz Festival to reveal attendance numbers to the city as part of a post-festival report. (I don’t have this year’s contract, but have no reason to believe it’s substantially different.) I obtained last year’s post-festival report through an open records request. It was prepared by the Jazz Festival itself. It contained no methodology of attendance or economic impact. There’s no way to double-check these numbers for accuracy.

3. The Jazz Festival gets our tax money. The festival gets $175,000 from the city in straight cash and $68,000 of in-kind services. It also gets $75,000 from Monroe County. These governments do not require the festival promoters to open their books to justify the need for tax dollars. The elected officials justify giving the money (for which they get perks in return) to pay for the free concerts. In a text to a radio host, one of the promoters threatened to pull the concerts if they lose taxpayer support. (The Jazz Festival is now taking a page from the NFL.)

Attendance is not the only measurement of an event’s success, but it’s a big one. It’s a crucial metric when evaluating an event – and when deciding to fork over cash in support.

At first, I thought the festival didn’t release attendance figures because the final night was a washout. (That’s no excuse, as all outdoor festivals have risk.) But after years of boasting huge attendance numbers – and reaping the resulting publicity and sponsorships – the festival is now staying quiet. The festival has given no reason for this decision.

Perhaps attendance is down. It’s also a possibility the promoters don’t want anyone to know how well they’re doing. Maybe, they just don’t feel like telling us. If history is any guide, no one will make them.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The incredible story of two sets of twins, mixed up at birth and raised as two sets of fraternal twins. They met each other as adults by chance.

– “I don’t talk about race with White people because I have so often seen it go nowhere.” This is a great read on racism.

– Stop lingering in the coffee shop. The owner wants you to leave.

– Boy, could you go for a Genny now? Check out this website.

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

for rent

 

There are growing signs the rent is too damn high in Rochester.

A previous post reported that more than half of Rochester’s renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That’s considered burdened. Nearly a third of renters are paying more than half their incomes on housing. That’s considered severely burdened.

There are several recent reports showing affordable rental housing is an issue here.

Rents On Way Up

The Buffalo News reported rents in Rochester have risen 7.2 percent in the last three years, to an average rent of $1,154.57. That’s about twice the rate of inflation. This is troubling because many renters have not seen wages grow that much in the last few years. Meantime, the median home price is up only 3.3 percent since 2012.

The Buffalo News speculates rising rents, which are happening across Upstate, are the result of a stabilizing population and new jobs. Many Millennials and empty-nesters do not want to own homes, preferring the flexibility of renting. Many younger people cannot afford to own a home, especially amid tighter lending restrictions.

The Poor Hard Hit

The Urban Institute came out with a study showing there are not enough housing units for extremely low-income households. These are households of four earning no more than $20,000.

The UI found there are only 22 “affordable, adequate and available” apartments for every 100 extremely low-income household. There are more than 35,000 such households in Monroe County. This data includes federal housing subsidies.

Fewer Owning Homes

The census released a fact sheet on Rochester housing in 2013. It shows 64 percent of units were owner-occupied. That’s way down from 74 percent in 2007.

The fact sheet also shows a vacancy rate of 8.2 percent for all units. It’s interesting rents are on the way up with so many vacancies. The question is where are these vacant units. They are not in places in demand, apparently.

Another interesting thing about the fact sheet: The largest category of renters are people 35 to 44 years old.

In conclusion, there seems to be a shift in the local housing market, with more people renting. There also appears to be a shortage of desirable apartments.

Graphic of Day:

 

Rochester Metro, U.S. Census, 2013

Rochester Metro, U.S. Census, 2013

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The owners of Victoire and Murphy’s Law plan to convert Irondequoit library into a restaurant.

– What a life: William B. Konar, Holocaust survivor, successful and generous, dies at 85.

– Why South Carolina’s Confederate flag isn’t at half-mast after church shooting (and why they have one at all).

 

Brookings Institution

Brookings Institution

 

We know Rochester has a high poverty rate. But how much money do the rest of the city’s residents earn?

The Brookings Institution ranks Rochester 475th among U.S. cities on equal distribution. Nearly two-thirds of Rochester households have incomes of $41,109 or less. That compares to 40 percent in the United States.

Rochester comes close to the national rate of households earning between $41,110 and $65,952. The middle income bracket makes up 20 percent in the country and 18.6 percent in Rochester.

Rochester comes up way short on households earning more than $65,952 or more. Nationally, they make up 40 percent of households. In Rochester, they make up 19 percent of households.

What does this tell us? The City of Rochester doesn’t have a large middle class. It also doesn’t have many wealthy people. It’s got a sizable chunk of households – 25 percent –  that earn between $21,433 and $41,109. Many of these households likely have lower-wage workers.

Income distribution has implications for housing, schools, shopping, transportation and more.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A new contract makes Buffalo cops live in city for 7 years.

– Goodbye, Urban Indoor Mall. Hello, Downtown Outlet Center!

– Once seniors are too old to drive, our transportation system totally fails them.

– The aspirational RSVP: Saying you’ll attend when you don’t plan on it.

 

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

An alarming report shows Rochester has a huge number of “disconnected youth.” These are young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. The report is by Measure of America.

In America, 13.8 percent – one in seven – people in this age group are disconnected. That’s 5.5 million people, equal to the population of Minnesota. Nationwide, 21.6 percent of black and 16.3 percent of Latino youth are disconnected.

In the Rochester metropolitan area, 13.4 percent of youth are disconnected. That’s on par with the national rate. It’s a large number: 21,701 young people. That’s slightly more people than live in the Town of Ogden.

Rochester’s black youth face a very high rate of disconnectedness: 30.8 percent, the third highest rate in the country. That means nearly one of three black young adults are not working and not going to school. The Latino rate is 23 percent. By any measure, this is a crisis.

But Rochester’s white youth are doing much better. Just under 10 percent of white youth are disconnected, compared to  the national rate of 11.3 percent.

Disconnected youth are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of high school, have a disability and have children at a young age.

Here’s why we should care, the authors of the report say:

The costs of disconnection are high, both for individuals and for society. Disconnected youth are cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would otherwise help them develop the knowledge, skills, maturity, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults. And the negative effects of youth disconnection ricochet across the economy, the social sector, the criminal justice system, and the political landscape, affecting all of us. Our analysis of a very small subset of the direct costs of youth disconnection reveals an astonishingly high cost to taxpayers: $26.8 billion in 2013 alone, or nearly the entire amount the federal government spends on science.

This is a problem affecting all of us.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– This makes me sad. Sunday hours are going away at the Central Library. No Rochester branch will be open on Sundays.

– Did state budget cuts contribute to the inmate escape?

– Police often blame suspects’ deaths on “excited delirium.” Is that a diagnosis or a cover-up?

– A Florida city finds red light cameras don’t make people safer.

– Technology to prevent drivers from starting their cars when they’ve been drinking could become standard in the future.

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

Recess

 

 

This memo came to me from an elementary school teacher fed up with a perceived lack of discipline. Disruptive students and violent students can be removed from class, but they’re quickly returned. The bad behavior continues. This teacher has been assaulted by some of her young students, but there are no consequences, at least not any that change behavior.

Discipline is often cited as the number one complaint among Rochester City School District teachers. This letter from a retiring teacher describes a desperate situation.

The teacher who sent me this memo believes yet another enforcement tool has been taken away. Teachers can no longer deny recess to misbehaving students.

The memo cites a new policy manual on student discipline. You can read it here. The manual does not list denying recess as an appropriate punishment.

The manual is very detailed. It lists punishments that include verbal reprimands, denial of extra-curricular activities, in-school-suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. (You have to be 17 or or older to be expelled.)

Schools are given a maximum punishment for each offense. If an out-of-school suspension is allowed for an offense, the principal can “sentence” the student to in-school-suspension.

The maximum punishments don’t appear to be out of whack with the offenses. That’s not what I think could end up being a thorny issue with this policy.

It’s very clear this policy strongly discourages out-of-school suspensions. Kids can’t learn if they’re not in class, so it’s logical to reduce the time away from school. Studies have shown minority and special education students get suspended far more than white students for similar offenses. High rates of suspensions are seen by many as a civil rights issue. The RCSD suspends thousands of children every year.

As a result of growing concern about suspensions, this policy makes it a giant pain in the you-know-what to suspend a child.

Here’s what has to happen for an in-school-suspension. As you can see, this is a very labor-intensive process.

 

iss1

 

What’s more, many elementary schools don’t have ISS rooms. This requires more work on the part of school staff:

iss2

 

Any elementary student who is suspended must get one hour of instruction a day. High school students get two hours. This applies whether they are suspended in school our out of school. They are supposed to be given “equivalent instruction.”

Suspending students with disabilities requires another layer of paperwork.

It’s very important to protect students’ right to an education, as well as due process. It’s also very important to ensure a culture of discipline and respect in schools. With this in mind, the policy raises a number of questions. Are principals feeling pressure from Central Office to not suspend students and are inappropriate disciplinary decisions being made as a result? Are principals following this manual and doing all of these steps every time a kid is suspended? Are principals not suspending kids because it’s too much work? Are schools without ISS rooms suspending students at a lower rate, and is this affecting the school environment negatively? Are students being given in-school suspensions over out-of-school suspensions for serious offenses? Are students getting equivalent instruction when they’re suspended?

I’m not sure what an effective discipline policy looks like. Judging from the initial complaints, this may not be it.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Take a look back at Greece Towne Mall. It’s expansion contributed to the death of Irondequoit Mall.

– The City of Rochester destroyed a community garden, saying the grass was too high.

– Here’s why the property tax cap could be 0 percent next year.

– Saratoga Springs police chief wants officer fired after he pepper-sprayed man who flipped him off.

– Don’t say “wrong place, wrong time” when talking about killings.

– Why is U.S. women’s soccer still fighting to exist?

Mr. Ms. and Mx.

For the second time in a week, The Democrat and Chronicle has published a flawed real estate article. This one is titled, “Walkable neighborhoods are in demand.”

The first red flag is that the piece features a picture of a street with no sidewalks.

 

Screenshot, Democrat and Chronicle website, 5/16/15

Screenshot, Democrat and Chronicle website, 5/16/15

Two of the neighborhoods featured in the article are decidedly not walkable.

The Estates at Beaver Creek in Farmington backs up to a trail. That’s apparently enough for real estate agents to sell this as a walkable neighborhood.  But WalkScore, a website rating a place’s walkability, gives this neighborhood a 6 out of 100 points, an indication this area is about as car-dependent as it gets. This tiny, semi-rural development is surrounded by high-speed roads with no sidewalks. There are virtually no amenities, such as restaurants, stores, libraries and schools, within walking distance. It’s also not accessible to public transit.

Another featured neighborhood is the Black Watch subdivision in Perinton. WalkScore gives this neighborhood 23 out of 100 points, saying almost all errands require a car. While many houses are within one to two miles of businesses, these streets do not have sidewalks or streetlights. The winding roads in the street grid mean people have to walk longer distances to get from Point A to Point B. The businesses sit on high-speed, five-lane roads. This neighborhood is also not well-served by public transportation.

The other neighborhoods featured are more walkable. Roselawn in Brighton has a WalkScore of 60, meaning it’s somewhat walkable, and it’s also somewhat well-served by transit. But Spencerport and Scottsville villages, while wonderful, get scores in the 30s, probably because they’re surrounded by more semi-rural areas.

Just because you enjoy going out for a stroll, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood. Just because you have a trail in your backyard, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood. Just because you can and do walk around your neighborhood, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood. Just because there are parks and amenities nearby, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood.

Walkable neighborhoods value pedestrians. They have sidewalks, crosswalks, lower speed limits, narrower roads and streetlights. They have destinations. They are denser. They are not designed solely around cars. They have life and activity. Pedestrians feel safe. They have places to go. They enjoy the experience of walking. These neighborhoods have almost everything one needs.

The East End scores a 91, Park Ave. scores a 75, South Wedge scores a 78, Village of Pittsford scores a 74 and Village of Fairport scores a 70. Jeff Speck wrote a whole book about what it means to be a walkable place and why these places are so valuable. It’s an awesome read and could change the way you think about how we’ve designed spaces around cars.

The D&C article was right. Walkable neighborhoods are hot. But the paper and the real estate agents seriously misrepresented what it means to be walkable. It’s not a small error, as walkability means so much to people who are passionate about making our communities more accessible and vibrant.

Note: Earlier this week, I fiercely defended the D&C for standing up for access to information. Later in the week, I took the paper to task for two bungled articles. I love the paper. If I didn’t value the institution, I wouldn’t bother writing about its work. Accountability is important for all journalists, myself included.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– You don’t often see $1.6 million homes in the Rochester area.

– The Village of Pittsford’s politics are truly insane. Twenty-five percent of its budget is for legal fees?

– If you grow up in Monroe County, you’re less likely to be married by age 26.

– Binge drinking has increased in many places, including Monroe County.

– Syracuse police have a pattern of withholding information.

– Is there science backing up Chipotle and Whole Foods on GMOs?

Here are the highest-paid CEOs of 2014.

HouseThe Democrat and Chronicle published a story titled, “Single women buying homes with more regularity.”

The piece made it seem women are suddenly realizing they can handle home ownership:

…a trend that real estate brokers said has been on the rise — single female homebuyers as a growing part of the market. Year ago, brokers said, women tended to wait until they married before buying a home. That’s not the case anymore…

“Twenty years ago, a single girl was not supposed to buy a house, because who’s going to fix something if it breaks,” (Catherine Wyble) said. “So many people had it in their heads that you don’t buy a house until you’re married. You would have to have a husband to have a house. Now, it’s not a big deal.”

You don’t say!

…Wyble, who herself is single and owns a home, said she has an agreement with a guy friend to help him with his laundry in exchange for his mowing her lawn…

Single guys want to see the garage and the basement, Wyble said, while single women are drawn to the kitchen, the bathrooms and “having the big stuff done.” Single women tend to avoid ranch houses out of fear of being more vulnerable sleeping on the ground level, she added.

After I stopped gagging, I wondered if it’s really true that more “single girls” are buying homes in the Rochester area. I decided to look up some statistics on the U.S. Census website, since this piece lacked any data to back up these anecdotes.

It turns out, women own more homes in the Monroe County. Even us single gals!

In 2010, there were 30,707 women heads of households in owner occupied units in Monroe County who were not in non-family households, meaning they didn’t live with relatives. The vast majority live alone. About 40 percent are senior citizens. This compares to only 23,091 men who are heads of households in nonfamily situations.

Single women who own houses made up 16 percent of homeowners in Monroe County in 2010, up from 14 percent in 2000. But the share of single men homeowners also went up 2 percent during this time, from 10 to 12 percent. That’s probably because the rate of married homeowners fell five percentage points.

If there was a headline defining this era, it wouldn’t be that more women are jumping into home ownership. It would be that more single people are buying houses.

Monroe County is not alone in more women owning homes. Nationwide data shows that since 1990, more single women than single men have owned homes. The rate of single women owning homes has been steady in recent years.

If more women than men have owned homes for decades, why is it still news when single women buy houses? Why has this been a “trend” for two decades?

Let’s foreclose on this bogus trend once and for all.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– I agree with Gary Craig. Thomas Johnson’s defense team did its job and took pains to say Daryl Pierson was not to blame for his death.

– Start-Up New York has only created 76 jobs and has not “supercharged” the state economy as the governor promised. What’s more, “Of the businesses currently running, however, just four came from out of state. In some cases, the companies have not even crossed county lines.”

– Dinner for two? NY bill would let dogs into outdoor dining areas.

VanpoolMore Rochesterians carpool to work than you might think. According to the U.S. Census, 8 percent of workers in the region carpooled in 2013. That’s about 42,000 people. That’s more than take the bus to work.

That’s probably why Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority is studying the idea of a “vanpool.” RGRTA would contract with an operator who has a fleet of SUVs or vans. A designated passenger would have possession of the van and pick up people on the way to work. There are typically 5 to 12 people in a vanpool.

In Dallas, passengers split the charge of $335 a month. The service picks up insurance and vehicle costs. There are also tax incentives for commuters.

The census shows long commutes are not an issue for Rochester carpoolers; it doesn’t take them much longer to get to work. But Rochester’s carpoolers are poor, as two-thirds earn less than $35,000. Only 8 percent of carpoolers don’t have a vehicle available, suggesting a family member may need the car or they want to save on gas and car maintenance. Many carpoolers work in education, health care, social services and the service industry, according to the census.

The census didn’t ask if carpoolers how much they have to pay for parking at work. That’s an issue for workers at downtown garages and the University of Rochester.

RGRTA wants to know what you think of the vanpooling concept in this survey.

In a statement CEO Bill Carpenter said, “Transit agencies in the U.S. are finding that vanpool services can complement existing bus routes and expand transit services by offering a substitute method of travel to common destinations. The purpose of this study is to determine the feasibility of a vanpool program capable of linking commuters from similar origins to similar destinations throughout the Rochester area.”

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Assemblyman David Gantt’s bill would allow self-driving cars.

– This is what the new state senate boss is saying when he’s not saying anything.

What’s really ailing America’s cities?

– A Rochester charter school is under scrutiny for being too white and too middle class.

Buffalo only gives its schools $70 million. (Meanwhile, Rochester, a smaller city, is required by law to give its schools $119 million.)

– Rochester is slated to get a “pedal tour” this summer. It’s a bike party bus thing.

– Syracuse is getting a dinner-movie theater. (I wonder if this would work at Midtown.)

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

If you’re a poor kid in Monroe County, you’re kind of screwed.

That’s according to a study from two Harvard researchers that shows where you grow up matters enormously when it comes to your income later in life.

The New York Times puts it this way:

Consider Monroe County, N.Y….

It’s among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 241st out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 10 percent of counties. It is relatively worse for poor boys than it is for poor girls.

So, what can we do about this?

Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households.

“The broader lesson of our analysis,” Mr. Chetty and Mr. Hendren write, “is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level.”

The governor created an anti-poverty panel made up of the usual suspects, a roster of who’s who in Rochester. This panel should take a good, hard look at this research. Not only will be it be tough to come up with actionable solutions, it will be tough to get community buy-in, particularly if it calls for more integrated housing and schools.

 

 

New York Times

New York Times

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Some law enforcement experts are rethinking the use of force. This comes after fatal shootings of both police officers and suspects, and a call to reexamine zero-tolerance policies. Is there another way these incidents could have been handled?

– There are so many New York lawmakers in trouble, there’s now a searchable database.

– Some state lawmakers, including Assemblyman Joe Morelle, have taxpayer-funded vehicles.

BIKE FEASIBILITY

 

 

Rochester is ready for a bike share program. That’s according to a study led by the Genesee Transportation Council.

You can read the report here.

A bike share allows users to rent bicycles by the day or through subscription services. A user could “check out” a bicycle at one station and return it to another station.

The study found a bike share would be feasible in the city and some inner ring suburbs. The villages of Brockport, Pittsford, Fairport and East Rochester could support a bike share, as well as some parts of Greece, Brighton and Canandaigua.

The planners envision a four-phase implementation in the city, with 25 stations with a total of 250 bikes per phase. In a full build-out, there would be 1,000 bikes in the system. It would cost $8 a day or $85 a year.

Here’s the bad news. Over five years, it would cost $2.5 to $5 million to get a bike share up and running, and another $3.3 million in operating costs. However, the study notes, “This amount is less than two transit buses or one quarter of the cost of constructing a mile of new four lane urban highway.”

Funding could come from government, philanthropic and sponsorship sources. Revenue from riders doesn’t even cover half of the cost.

BIKE FEASIBILITY2

Here are some things that could make a bike share successful in Rochester, per the study

  • High population density in the city
  • Lots of young people in the city
  • Areas of the city that could use improved access to jobs and services.
  • Potential sponsorship opportunities.
  • Lots of college students and supportive administrations.
  • Downtown revitalization
  • Bus stops throughout the city

Here are some things that could sink a bike share in Rochester, per the study:

  • Few destinations for visitors downtown
  • Lack of a complete network of bicycle infrastructure
  • Small, but growing, bicycle culture.
  • Some streets are not bicycle-friendly.

Here’s why Rochester should jump on board a bike share, per the study:

  • Introduce new riders to the benefits of bicycling.
  • Improve physical and mental health and reduce health care costs.
  • Promote the city to potential employers, residents, and visitors.
  • Retain and attract workers and companies.
  • Give visitors a new way to experience city.
  • Bike riders spend money at nearby businesses.
  • Expand and enhance existing transit services.
  • Reduce dependence on automobile transportation.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reduce household transportation expenditure.

The bike share study said safety is generally not a valid concern, because the more bike riders that are on the road, the more drivers adapt to them. “Although the safety risks are real and should be considered and mitigated for a system in Rochester, none of these fears have proven to be a large factor once a system is up and running in a city. Bike shares have strong safety record in the communities after introduction.”

At first, I had sticker shock when I saw the price tag. But after reading through the study, the cost becomes a little more reasonable, especially when you consider what we spend on other modes of transportation. (No, your driver user fees and gas taxes do not cover the cost of roads. Also, bike riders are taxpayers, too.) I still think this could be a tough sell.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Senator Schumer uses his morning workouts to schmooze Republicans. (Why are there no women in this story?)

– States are raising their speed limits when they should do the opposite.

– Kraft bowed to pressure from a food blogger with no scientific background who makes bogus claims.

 

Tweets of the Day:

 

 

lombardoAn email from a retiring Rochester City School District teacher sent to the superintendent and other top officials received a lot of attention.

Alice Lombardo sent me her email a few days before her April 10 retirement. The longtime educator wanted people to know why she was leaving. The email described a chaotic, stressful and dangerous work environment. The tone was desperate and frustrated.

I found her story credible, as I’ve heard similar stories from other teachers. I had also recently done a story on the district’s infamous rubber room. (That story also featured a retired teacher; they are free to speak out.)

Finding the truth of what goes on in schools can be very difficult without micro-managed access and staff worried about retaliation. I shared Lombardo’s message on social media, because that was probably the only way her story would get out. We don’t always need to do stories wrapped in a bow for the web or broadcast. There’s more than one way to tell a story and find the truth.

When I shared the email on my Facebook page, I expected a lot of people to be critical of her letter. I expected some people to question her credibility or bring up skeletons in her closets. I expected some people to say she shouldn’t be teaching, with an email that didn’t have anything charitable to say about her school. I expected someone to defend the school.

But none of that happened. With the exception of some comments questioning my own decision to share the letter, every comment supported Lombardo. Many teachers from other schools shared similar stories. The comments from people who knew her, especially colleagues and parents, were especially valuable.

After nine years in 6th grade, I have seen and been victim to some of the exact situations that teacher mentioned. It is REAL and it is abuse. Our district must change for the sake of the children and the teachers! – Andrea Phillips Fricano

My story is much like Alice Lombardo’s. I too worked for the RCSD (#9 and #17). Mine also is a long story which resulted in such stress that I had a stroke in 2013. – Gladys Velazquez

This is totally the reality of where I teach though. Do you know how many times this week alone students cursed at me or around me and refused to follow my directions? The fifth and sixth graders are totally out of control. My class is wonderful and does great but the older kids are awful. I was pushed today twice. – Third Grade Teacher, RCSD

Unfortunately I know all too well what she’s talking about and I also thought she was a great teacher very saddened by her experience. – Sha’Ronda Lynette Jackson

I’m so saddened by this. It does not surprise me that it has gotten this bad, but still sad nonetheless. You were MY sixth grade teacher in a city school full of disrespectful kids even back then in the 90s…Back when we ASKED to eat lunch in your classroom during your own break so that WE weren’t harassed daily. Back when we had to have our parents pick us up from school after the bus kids were dismissed so that we didn’t get beat up. So THANK YOU for always standing up for your students who need it and deserve it! – Meredith Tedesco

It hurts to read this and how degraded the system has become. I think back fondly on my time spent with you Mrs Lombardo and the amazing teachers at Frederick Douglas school and think to all of the fun we had learning in your class. You taught us to think for ourselves and out of the box. You instilled the confidence that led us to become the people we are today…There aren’t enough words to thank you. I am so very sorry this is the way you end your career as a teacher. Please know that you truly made a difference in our world! – Liberty Lally

Alice Lombardo, this breaks my heart. I never would’ve made it through middle school without you. You gave up your own time so we could all eat lunch with you in your classroom, where we all felt safe. You helped mold me into the respectful woman I am today. The world needs more teachers like you. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this. I love you dearly and you will ALWAYS be my favorite teacher. Much love to you. – Michelle Travers

Thank you for speaking out. I, too am retiring this June after 33 years.
The disrespect and lack of consequences for unsafe and disruptive behaviors is the main reason. There are many great kids who are respectful but their learning environment has b
ecome a toxic arena of disrespectful peers. They are suffering as well as the teachers on a daily basis. I use to LOVE teaching but now I dread going to work. It is abusive everyday. – Robin Rudy

Wow! My heart goes out to this woman. Just this week I visited that same school and within 30 minutes knew that I would not be anle to accept a position offered to me. I simply did not feel safe and after hearing staff talk about incidents like race riots as the norm, I was in utter shock and disgust for what the children and adults have to endure. – JoVanna Jenkins

I resigned last year from the RCSD in May of 2014, after 14 years in the district, after being basically being told it was my fault for being assaulted in the classroom by a 4th grader. The district’s position on violence against teachers according to their response to my worker’s comp case was that it “is nothing more than work in the ordinary course of the claimant’s job as a teacher in an inner city school environment. – Chelsea Rowe

She was awesome. She had my son for many yrs and all my kids passed through 17 schools doors while she was there and all of them have graduated high school and on to higher learning now. It was Mrs . Alice who got my son the services he needed to be the young recently graduated working young man he is now and the rest of the staff there. It’s clear that she is tired of fighting with no army as times have changed. – Shareen Tanna

I am so glad I no longer work for the RCSD! What she wrote is so true and I wish I had the same courage to write it all in my resignation letter. I taught there for 9 years in different schools. By the time I resigned I was also under medical care and on antidepressants and antianxiety medications. – Kristen Bonn

I worked at School 17 with Alice during the 2012-2014 school years. We both taught 6th grade. She is one of the most courageous women I know. I am so proud of her. – Kellene Paul

I worked in Alice’s classroom a few years back. She is not one for exaggeration or outlandish overstatements. It does nor surprise me that the administration tried to make light of the situation. To admit she was right would be to admit that are negligent in their job (which they clearly are). But to be fair, teachers and administrators can only do so much. Parents are shirking their responsibility in raising polite, respectful children. They are allowed to act this way at home without any consequences, so when they get to school and are expected to behave appropriately, they rebel. It all begins and ends with parents. – Karen Nasella Melville

Lombardo is getting some rest and she’s on vacation. She emailed me that she is thinking about my request for a television interview.

“I shared my letter because I want things to change, especially for the students and the conditions under which they are schooled,” she said. “I want the RCSD to address issues instead of sweeping them under the rug.”

 

Links of the Day:

 

– An award-winning, outspoken New York City principal is retiring early to take on the test and punish system.

– An article in the Buffalo News quotes a Cuomo official saying the state is in talks with several mayors about mayoral control of schools. Since there are only five eligible cities and New York City already has mayoral control, one can surmise Rochester is in these talks.

– Look up the obesity rates in your school district with this interactive map.

– Emails reveal Hollywood effort to give Cuomo donations because he helped with film tax credits.

– “They think, ‘Oh my God, there are kids outside. We have to call the police.'”

– Black families have traditional used black funeral homes. In Buffalo, that’s changing.

Go ahead, swim in Onondaga Lake.

The numbers are in. Thousands of parents – a third or more of them in some districts – are opting their children out of state tests next week.

The Buffalo News and Democrat and Chronicle editorial boards would like you to believe these parents were manipulated by unions and a fear little Johnny will get stressed out.

The Buffalo News writes:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Improvement means change and New York State United Teachers are not much into that.

The Democrat and Chronicle writes:

The only child-centric argument most opt-out supporters have is, “Tests stress kids out.”

(snip)

Teachers have been whipped into a frenzy by union leaders who have lost their decades-long chokehold on state government, its citizens and the educational system.

These editorials completely missed the point of the opt-out movement and showed tremendous disrespect for the intelligence of their readers.

There are many reasons besides unions and children’s stress levels that people are opting out of the tests.

First, these tests will be used to measure teacher performance. There’s zero evidence supporting the use of test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. There’s quite a bit of evidence showing this evaluation method is deeply flawed.

Lleyn_sheepThe tests are also problematic in measuring student performance. State test data would have you believe only a third of students are proficient in math and English. The success of our suburban high schools, which make up the majority of student population, show differently. The state also sets the passing rate by deciding what score is needed to be deemed proficient – after the tests are taken. Not to mention, critics say these tests are not developmentally appropriate and poorly written.

There is also great concern about how the tests will be used to measure entire school buildings, which could face closure. The state is pushing state takeovers of schools deemed failing. The state is also pushing more charter schools. Many test critics have a problem with lucrative contracts for testing firms and the use of student data to help these firms profit.

Furthermore, these editorials miss a giant fact: Unions didn’t start the opt-out movement. Parents did. This is a grassroots movement. Unions didn’t get on board until this year. When they did so, editorial boards got tunnel vision and failed to see the big picture of this movement.

Now, there’s a movement to opt out of the Democrat and Chronicle. It’s okay to have unpopular editorials. Reasonable people can debate the merits of this movement. But at least make sure editorials are based in fact and well-reasoned. These editorials failed on both counts.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Does standardized testing look out for kids’ civil rights?

A state lawmaker wants to force schools to close on Election Day. bWhy? SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN. But nothing’s ever happened to a child during voting at a school. Bad things could happen anywhere (and 99.99999 percent of the time, don’t).

– This school’s dress code, fun as it is, has done nothing to get kids to pass Regents. The school is yet another failed experiment, per state test data.

– The Rochester teacher who brought a gun to the Statue of Liberty on a school field trip is back in a classroom.

– You know what will create jobs in Rochester? Innovation! The people who invent things and come up with new ways to do things will create the next Kodak. Carlson Cowork in Rochester is the type of hub that could lead to big things. Meanwhile, the state is throwing money at Start-Up New York, with few results.

– Senator Churck Schumer is squeezed on the Iran deal.

– The downtown Rochester Red Shirt program is in jeopardy.

– Some Upstate cities are marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s funeral train passage. Is Rochester doing anything?

IMG_0952

 

Over the past month, I served on a Monroe County grand jury. I ended my term believing there’s room for reform.

Getting Picked

If you get a grand jury summons, you will likely have to serve. It’s not like a trial jury, where lawyers interview you to ferret out potential biases. There are almost no excuses to get out of serving and jurors are selected through a lottery. On the day I showed up for jury selection, there was a pool of 27 people for a grand jury of 23. Those are not great odds.

Orientation

While some terms are for 30 days, my term was for 12 days spread over four weeks. (The people on the 30-day term get pretty resentful of the group that only comes a few days a week.)

All of the jurors got a state-produced grand jury handbook. A prosecutor gave us a two-hour presentation on what to expect.

Grand jurors can be paid $40 a day if their jobs are not covering their wages. Jurors do not get free coffee or parking. The grand jury rooms in the Hall of Justice were clean, comfortable and provided amenities such as a refrigerator and microwave.

Our Role

The role of a grand jury is to decide if there is enough evidence for a person to be formally charged with a crime. Grand juries do not decide guilt or innocence. They decide if there’s reasonable cause to believe someone committed a felony. Grand juries are supposed to be an important check on prosecutors.

During a grand jury presentation, the prosecutor acts as the prosecutor, judge and defense attorney. They are the referees. Defendants are allowed to testify, but their attorneys cannot take part.

It takes 12 of the 23 grand jurors to indict someone. Grand jurors vote to “bill,” which means to indict someone, or “no bill,” which means to not indict someone.

Grand jurors can ask questions of witnesses. Grand jurors can discuss the case before they vote.

Grand jury proceedings take place in secret. All testimony is secret. It’s a felony to reveal testimony.

Take Lots of Notes

It quickly became apparent why we were advised to take notes. Prosecutors often presented half of their cases on one day and the other half on another day. They were engaged in a constant juggling act of scheduling witnesses and obtaining necessary documents. One prosecutor had to cut off her presentation to drive out to another court to get additional evidence. I asked, “Don’t you have interns to do that?” Apparently not.

Notes proved crucial to refresh our memories of certain cases we may not have seen in a week. We turned in our notes at the at end of the day. We got them back the next day. We were told our notes would be burned after we finished our term.

DWIs and AUOs

Our grand jury heard a total of 51 cases. Twenty-two of them involved driving while intoxicated and/or aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle charges. To be charged with felony DWI, you have to have a prior conviction. To be charged with felony driving without a license, you have to have a lot of suspensions.

These cases are tedious. They involve rote officer testimony and driving records. The grand jury has little reason to question officers’ narratives or official documents.

I realize state law requires a grand jury to hear all felonies. But I have to wonder if there is a more efficient way to process these cases.

Walk-In, No-Bill

Of the 51 cases we heard, five were “walk-in, no-bills.”

That’s when a prosecutor comes in and says, “I am presenting the case of The People v. (Insert Name). I am presenting no evidence in this case and I ask you to no-bill.”

Sometimes the feds took these cases. Sometimes witnesses didn’t cooperate. And sometimes, they were just bad cases.

Whatever the reason, there should be some mechanism to allow prosecutors to ask judges – not grand juries – to drop these cases. That mechanism apparently doesn’t exist under state law.

Indict a Ham Sandwich?

It’s true, prosecutors can indict a ham sandwich. The prosecutor’s ability to present a particular narrative is very powerful. It limits many of the questions grand jurors would even think to ask.

But I also learned, prosecutors can NOT indict a ham sandwich.

On one of our cases, the prosecutor gave an extremely thoughtful and thorough presentation on a serious crime. It seemed obvious this prosecutor would have no problem if we tossed the charge and it would be in the interest of justice to do so. That’s what we did.

Of the 51 cases, there was only one case in which the prosecutor was surprised at our decision.

I really enjoyed the dialogue after the cases were done. The prosecutors were generous with their time and answers. I felt they really cared about their cases and obtaining justice, even if justice meant a no-bill.

The Secrecy

The vast majority of the cases we heard involved defendants who had already been arrested. That means they had already appeared in open court. The fact a grand jury was meeting to decide whether they should be indicted was not a secret. It seemed to me these evidence hearings could easily be done in public without compromising cases.

One defense attorney told me he doesn’t like the secrecy, because he can’t be involved on behalf of his client and he can’t immediately read witness testimony.

Another aspect of the secrecy bothered me. Even before this experience, I questioned why there’s no public record of no-bills. When grand juries no-bill cases, the public never knows. The public also never knows why the grand jury made its decision. The entire record disappears. This even applies to people charged with serious crimes, who have been portrayed on the news. That makes it very difficult to go back and report what happened to the case.

A former prosecutor who is now a defense attorney said grand jury secrecy is important for one main reason: Prosecutors have the freedom to lose. In the public eye, they may face more pressure to get an indictment. Out of the public eye, they can do the right thing. In this way, the system protects the defendant. My grand jury saw this play out several times.

There are other reasons for secrecy, such as protecting witnesses and investigations. Once someone has been arrested, I think those reasons start to fall apart. Criminal complaints often have witness statements. Witnesses have to appear in open court eventually, and defense attorneys will learn their names beforehand.

I think there’s merit in considering opening up the grand jury process in some way.

Rubber Stamp?

I went into this thinking I would be very skeptical of cases and ask lots of questions. Those opportunities didn’t come up often. I didn’t feel my voice as a grand juror was very important.

One juror asked a prosecutor if she liked our group. She said she did because, “Some people think this is like TV. They’re defense attorneys and they’re not as hospitable…they badger witnesses.”

The prosecutor had a point. We’re only there to determine if there’s enough evidence to charge a person with a crime. Only 12 votes of 23 are needed to indict. The standard is pretty low to get an indictment.

But what’s the alternative? Having a lone judge decide if there’s enough evidence to go to a trial? I don’t think I would object to that system for the traffic offenses. We should definitely not have a system where prosecutors decide on their own what charges someone would face.

I don’t know the answers. I do know I walked away with mixed feelings about an imperfect system.

neighbor

Credit: City of Rochester

 

Rochesterians appear to like and trust their neighbors – to a point.

The U.S. Census recently came out with 2013 results of the American Community survey for the Rochester metro. There are 414,400 households in the region.

Here are some responses to questions:

Have you talked to your neighbors in the last month?

  • Yes: 82%

How many friends do you have in the neighborhood?

  • 1 to 2: 21%
  • 3 to 5: 24%
  • 6 to 9: 14%
  • 10 or more: 22%
  • None: 15%

Is your neighborhood close-knit?

  • Strongly Agree: 31%
  • Somewhat Agree: 40%

Do neighbors get along?

  • Strongly Agree: 49%
  • Somewhat Agree: 40%

Do you share the same values as your neighbors?

  • Strongly Agree: 34%
  • Somewhat Agree: 43%

Can your neighbors be trusted?

  • Strongly Agree: 34%
  • Somewhat Agree: 39%

Are your neighbors willing to help each other?

  • Strongly Agree: 48%
  • Somewhat Agree: 38%

Would your neighbors scold a disrespectful child?

  • Very Likely: 16%
  • Likely: 34%

Would your neighbors intervene if they witnessed a fight?

  • Very Likely: 48%
  • Likely: 32%

Would your neighbors intervene if a child wasn’t in school?

  • Very Likely: 21%
  • Likely: 34%

It appears most people feel pretty good about their neighbors. But the survey also makes it clear there are thousands of people in our community who do not.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– People who hate the East Ave. Wegmans parking lot have been heard, it appears.

“It would raise too many awkward questions if AT&T & Comcast only upgraded to gigabit speeds in Google Fiber cities.”

 

– California has to reassess lifestyles in the wake of a historic drought.

– Workers in high poverty neighborhoods in Buffalo start their work days earlier than most.

– An ugly Lucille Ball statue is the subject of debate in her Western New York hometown.

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

 

A new report from the U.S. Census has some insight into why we don’t walk more. According to Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable Cities,” in order to encourage walking, the trip has to be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

The Census data is based on 2013 samples. The area has 414,400 households.

Fewer than half of households – 47 percent – reported walking or biking. Most people didn’t give a reason why they don’t walk or bike. But top responses from those who answered were health reasons, traffic issues, lack of adequate sidewalks, not owning a bike and no place close enough to walk to.

As for adequate sidewalks, two of five households reported not having adequate sidewalks present. That’s 179,100 homes in neighborhoods without sidewalks. That’s 179,100 homes where people have to walk in the road to enjoy a leisurely stroll.

Only 11 percent of households reported having bike lanes in their neighborhoods.

Many householders were correct in saying walking and biking won’t get them to their destinations. Of the people who walk or bike, two-thirds said a grocery store was accessible. Fewer than half said retail shopping was within walking or biking distance. Little more than a third said they could get to health care services. Only one-third said they could bike or walk to school or work. (Check out Brookings’ study on distances between jobs and homes.)

Twelve percent of households reported using public transportation at least occasionally.

For advocates of walking and biking, this data is hugely discouraging. Our community is set up for cars. This has consequences for poor people, the environment, crash rates, land use and more. It also has consequences on our wallets. The study found households spend an average of $726 dollars a month on their cars, including gas, insurance, car payments, maintenance and parking.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The demand for homes is high, but inventory is low in the Rochester region.

– “New York State legislature celebrated the Eve of April Fools by making a bad teacher evaluation system even worse.”

– Five of twelve charter schools that have opened in Albany have failed.

– “Is comedy supposed to offend people sometimes? Absolutely. Safe comedy is both more boring and less insightful.”

– I hesitate sharing this dumb, clickbait column from the D&C. This writer thinks we take out-of-town guests to Wegmans at the expense of other attractions. She sets up a false choice and comes off as very patronizing.

 

Check it Out: