Last night I looked at the footage of the April 13th City Council meeting hoping to understand more about the issues surrounding parking in downtown. I was looking for some coherency, some sense of relationship between the larger issue of revitalizing (I hate sustainability for there is nothing of note to sustain at this time) and the parking “issue” which has engage so many people, but unfortunately, not so much the people who are directly impacted or involved as best I can make it out at this point.
I have heard the critics, the supporters, and yes, the “blowing in the wind” crown. The council rhetoric was, frankly, not helpful for the most part, but that could be due to the nature of coming in during a specific point in time and not hearing or seeing context, purpose or for that matter, a sense of plan. And, I came aware with the view that the sense of plan is really what I am most concerned about – it is difficult to understand how this issue fits into a larger structure and as the paraphrase of the classic Alice in Wonderland story goes, “you cannot get there unless you know where you are going.”
It is not all bleak, but the questions abound regarding roles, relationships and responsibilities. I have issues about the BID process and representative who, it appears, has not structured a clear and coherent response to the problem — any casual citizen dropping into the telecast would walk away with the thought that we are facing yet another example of “loose ends.” I think someone actually properly used the economic “supply and demand” technology, but it went adrift, unfocused, and the most memorable quote I could discern was from the City Manager who offered the viewpoint that the City could always remove metered parking slots if the demand for permit parking increased. Again, it begs the elemental question, what is the forecast, who are the users, what is the growth potential, and how does all of this factor into the inescapable fact that each household likely has one or likely several vehicles and all are potential parkers. Having no viable alternatives to auto traffic after the early evening, they come or they go elsewhere. Then we learned of at least four new places of businesses opening up this year each with the potential of requiring parking for customers. We heard from a councilman who has 6 or so permits indicating that he didn’t know that these were actually 24 hour permits, another who thought poor folks (whoever they are) ought to have discounted permit prices, and so much more. Frankly it is a classic case of a lack of critical thinking emanating from a poorly chosen or non-existing problem identification and solution approach.
It seemed that the end users of parking where inadequately identified much less consulted. When pressed, little concrete evidence was supplied by the BID representative. A rather remarkable conversation took place around who should be consulted in a focus group or question and answer inquiry. The answer is clear — not just residents, commercial users, but as important, business owners who depend on the presence of a client or customer base, a base that is not unduly inconvenienced, to support a taxpayer business base to keep our diminished commercial capacity well nourished and our property tax base more balanced.
I am left with the thought that the New Rochelle decision-making body is one that “has a solution in search of a problem.” Frankly with the exception of Trangucci and St Paul, I have issues making a case for any of the others. In fact one or two are, frankly, unsuited for the position. On the other hand, like him or not, Noam Bramson has the ability to summarize, concretize and my hope is that he uses the ability to set issues such as parking and policing in a broader context of civil revitalization and hold the feet of the council and city management and staff to the fire to achieve outcomes that are not simply short term jury rigging, but longer term answers to growth and development. This does not exist at this point.
It begins in my mind with two fundamental questions: (1) what is the role of the Mayor and the City Manager – without doubt, this mayor is a full-time mayor and is control of the agenda. We need to revisit the “strong mayor” concept or continue to suffer the consequences of inertia which is highlighted further by (2) what is the role, relationship, and responsibilities of the Council and the City Manager. It is misleading and confusion – on occasion, the City Manager chides a councilman and minutes later, he expresses the view that he will abide by a council decision.
But, the larger, more prevalent issue is around organizational arrangements. The BID is misfocused, poorly led, and as constituted, unnecessary as far as I am concerned. I agree with the critics and a few councilmen who have argued for a broader urban representation. A major concern is I see little evidence of a revitalization plan for downtown New Rochelle. Again, we are inundated by so-called storefront churches who pay no taxes, yet one or two are sound enough to try to turn that advantage into commercial or residential growth which will be, of course at the expense of the taxpayer. There is no evidence of any critical thinking about the current landlord to tenant situation downtown which makes lease renewal practically a non-option for small businesses and when you couple this with the traffic agents who deter customer flow often without rhyme or reason, you acerbate the serious issue of staying in business. You have a city that refuses to invest any of its own infrastructure downtown and it strikes me as both poor strategic planning, but worse, a further concession to a lack of coherent urban development.
I heard the announcement of installing cameras in strategic places to address the issue of crime. Good idea to be sure, but poor prevention. It typifies the short-term thinking mentality or “tomorrow I will solve the transaction mentality we seen on the meter versus permit response mentioned earlier. If you want to make people downtown more secure, you put a blue uniform on site, walking the neighborhood, and ending his shift by going to a downtown police precinct or facility which gives people confidence and which is a DETERRENT. A video camera deters little; yes it may assist in “after the fact” identification, but the horse has left the barn by that point.
In sum, New Rochelle still has not provided a sound revitalization strategic plan, built around critical thinking and measurable by outcomes known to the community. It remains largely “business unfriendly”, too politically correct, and not willing to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Until that is fixed, we will ponder about the new CVS and its needs, any new restaurants requiring services and so much more.
Finally what I like about Richard St. Paul is that he seems to understand context and how things should fit in; of course he is a politician and hedges his bets. If he would insist on succinctly framing what he knows – a problem solving approach is simply responding to the mantra (1) where are we now, (2) where do we want to go, and (3) how are we going to get there – in the broad context of a coherent and consist planning process, he wouldn’t have to put his head in his hands when others speak of “do you mean covers on top of meters” or “special permit prices for the poor.” And, it would help if he would approach the roundtable less as a lawyer and more like a problem solver. But, that said, he shares the top rung with Louis Trangucci, who, perhaps lacks the finesse of St Paul, but brings a blazing honesty to the proceedings. Louis Trangucci is fearless in asking for clarity and exposing simple rhetoric.
Quite an education for this writer and glad I had the chance to see it.