Editorial: Local control in Nassau County, but not NYC

Editorial: Local control in Nassau County, but not NYC

Nassau County’s three town supervisors, all Republicans, came together in January 2023 to oppose Gov. Kathy Hochul’s second plan to address New York State’s severe housing shortage, which was estimated at 800,000 units.

Hochul’s plan called for every town, village and city in the state to set a target number of new homes to be built over a three-year period to combat a shortage that had driven up rent and housing prices to the point of driving people out of the state.

The supervisors bitterly complained that the governor was taking control from local officials who are in a better position to address housing issues – notwithstanding their failure to meet those needs in the past 50 years.

“We’re here to express our outrage at Gov. Hochul’s attempt to take the suburban dream and turn it into an urban nightmare,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said.

Many Democrats, including all four on the North Hempstead Town Board, joined the three Republican supervisors in opposing the Democratic governor’s proposals.

A little more than a year later, in April 2014, the three supervisors again came together against a proposed bill in the state Legislature that would allow faith-based organizations to override local zoning to build affordable housing.

“We’re here to say to Albany: Stop overriding our local government. Stop overriding our local zoning,” North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said at the rally.

The only problem with the supervisors’ protests, which were joined by other Republican officials and school officials, was that the housing legislation was not part of the ongoing budget negotiations, so it could not be approved. And Hochul said it did not have her support.

This did not deter the local officials, however, from demanding that control of local housing be left in their hands.

So we are left mystified why none of these officials has expressed outrage after Hochul put an “indefinite” hold last week on a congestion pricing plan developed by New York City and the MTA to alleviate gridlock, improve air quality and fund mass transit projects

In reversing her long-held support just weeks before congestion pricing was implemented, Hochul said she was concerned the plan could hurt Manhattan’s economic recovery despite recent press releases saying the state had achieved “full economic” recovery.

The congestion pricing plan would have charged a base toll of $15 a day to any cars entering Midtown and Lower Manhattan,

The MTA expected to raise $1 billion in revenue from the toll annually and use the money bond to finance large-scale capital projects to improve the city’s subways and other mass transit systems.

Another benefit not frequently mentioned was the reduction in often gridlocked suburban roadways, such as the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway.

Why no opposition from Nassau County officials to the governor upsetting plans set in motion by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Why no rally or press conference on behalf of local control of zoning decisions?

Shouldn’t local officials stick together to support the principle that local decisions should be left to local officials, even if they represent New York City?

With one exception, support for Hochul’s decision in Nassau County came from Democrats who broke with their city counterparts.

“I fully support Gov. Hochul’s decision to indefinitely delay the implementation of Manhattan’s congestion pricing plan,” said Nassau County Democratic Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton. “In these unprecedented times, as we navigate the complexities of a post-pandemic economic recovery, it is imperative that our policies adapt to the evolving commercial landscape and the real challenges faced by everyday New Yorkers.”

There is no “we” in making housing decisions in Nassau County that impact the region’s housing and rental costs.

But DeRiggi-Whitton now suggests that Democratic Nassau County legislators, who don’t even have much say in Nassau County’s affairs, should play a role in deciding changes in New York City’s economy and how it handles congestion.

Nassau County Legislature Deputy Minority Leader Arnold W. Drucker (D–Plainview) echoed DeRigg-Whitton.

“While it is important to consider every option at our disposal for bolstering mass transit and protecting our environment, congestion pricing would have resulted in an unacceptably disparate impact upon Nassau County residents if implemented in its current form,” Drucker said.

State Assemblymember Charles Lavine (D-North Shore) agreed, citing the Long Island region’s economy and praising Hochul “for putting the needs of middle-class New Yorkers who are struggling ahead of any political considerations.”

State Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti added, “We certainly need to get more cars off the road and encourage residents to take mass transit, but this wasn’t it. This proposal should have been about benefiting the environment by supporting mass transit, not making money off the backs of our residents.”

The problem with these statements is that they are not true.

The congestion pricing plan was proposed after decades of study found that there was no better alternative.

The plan was expected to reduce the number of vehicles driving into the Manhattan core by 100,000 vehicles a day, with only 1.5% of commuters paying the toll.

The system has proved successful in cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore.

In London, the system reduced congestion by 30 percent and increased bus ridership by 33%, according to one report. In Stockholm, rates of childhood asthma fell by nearly 50%.

As far as “making money off the backs of our residents,” this is only true of commuters who choose to drive their cars into the city.  It does not apply to people who take mass transit – something the MTA has spent billions on in recent years to make easier for suburban commuters.

This includes East Side Access and the 3rd track.

East Side Access is now saving commuters headed to the East Side valuable time by taking them to Grand Central Station on the East Side rather than Penn Station on the West Side.

The 3rd Track, the 9.8-mile expansion of rail service from Floral Park to Hicksville, has improved service on a stretch that carries 40% of the LIRR’s traffic on Long Island.

The only Republican to comment is 4th District Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, who will face former Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen in the fall.

D’Esposito, a long-time critic of congestion pricing, suggested that Hochul is seeking to delay the decision until after the 2024 elections for “solely political purposes.”

Lavine and D’Esposito cited political motives behind Hochul’s decision for entirely different reasons.

A Siena poll from April found that 72% of those living in New York’s suburbs opposed congestion pricing.

The reason seems simple: People don’t want to pay $15 for something that has cost them nothing before, especially when it comes to using their cars. Along with their homes, cars are one of the main symbols of suburban living.

Nicholas Klein, an assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University, told the New York Times that other cities’ experiences show public support at its lowest point before congestion pricing is implemented.

Also, for a simple reason: Suburban residents don’t see the benefit of safer, less congested streets and highways, cleaner air, and congestion pricing before it is implemented.

This was seen as a big problem for Democrats seeking to recapture New York House seats won by President Joe Biden in 2020, including two in Nassau County. Hochul apparently got the message.

This could explain Hochul’s last-minute reversal and her failure to have a plan to make up a projected $1 billion a year to the MTA’s capital plan.

Hochul’s first suggestion – a New York City-only payroll tax – was a genuinely awful idea that drew howls from New York City elected officials.

This would have meant putting the entire burden of needed capital projects used by everyone across the metropolitan area on the backs of city businesses that Hochul had just said were still hurting from COVID.

There is still time to save congestion pricing. The plan can’t be stopped without a formal vote of the MTA board.

Though most of its members are appointed by the governor or her suburban allies, the MTA represents an independent agency and its members have a fiduciary responsibility to that agency.

Or MTA board members could agree with Nassau County officials who say decisions that impact congestion should be left to local officials who know their communities best.

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  1. I write as a member of the steering & legal committees of New Yorkers Against Congestion Pricing Tax which is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit including residents of all five boroughs and Long Island, small business inside and outside the “zone,” and bipartisan group of elected officials.
    No one disputes the need to build and maintain an effective public transit system serving 22.2 million residents in the largest and most economically significant metropolitan region in the United States with more than 10.7 million jobs. The focus must be (1) identifying equitable, fair and sustainable resources and (2) impacts of any resource plan.
    By every measure this regressive, inequitable, unfair and unsustainable congestion toll-tax scheme fails on every level.
    Despite its name it achieves nothing of any consequence with relieving congestion.
    It even falls short of its claims concerning the environment; instead it negatively impacts public health: just look at the MTA’s own Environmental Assessment.
    Moreover, its implementation will increase everyday costs of goods and services for small businesses and all New Yorkers whether they take public transit, ride a bike, walk, rely on for hire vehicles or drive a car — no matter where you live!
    It remains the most inefficient and uncertain source of revenue.
    The best path remains canning this toll-tax scheme — as the Governor so smartly did last week — and identifying other resources not reliant on any net revenue scheme.
    We released this “5-point Plan to Save Public Transit” the day before the Governor put the indefinite pause on this toll-tax:
    1) Full EIS & Full Economic Study per SAPA;
    2)Impose Fiscal Responsibility and Controls on MTA operations and Capital Program;
    3) End State and City General Tax Levy Defunding of the MTA;
    4) Fund MTA Capital Program the same way NYC and NYS fund their regular capital programs; and
    5) Secure steady stream of capital funding from the Federal government. View more at KeepNYCFree.com/media.

    • “Impose Fiscal Responsibility and Controls on MTA operations and Capital Program;”

      The only person you’re kidding is you. At $1 billion per mile of subway track, the state has murdered itself just as the County has: the civil service bankrupts everything.

      Until you get some adults to speak the truth about the matter, and start the systematic elimination of civil service unions, the state and the County are structured to fail.

      Life is very simple: either you do it, or you don’t.

  2. Amazing. You read this editorial – as most editorials and you realize:
    Steve Blank calls this the “point of view.” For a fact – this publication no more matches the views of local residents (the old liberal Democratic majority has faded for MANY reasons) than does The NY Times represent Staten Island. What a disgraceful and treasonous set of views for a paper purporting to be the voice of local residents. As nutty as Karen Rubin herself.

    • I have enough respect for our readers to believe they can be persuaded by a good argument backed by the facts. I also welcome points of view other than mine. I’d welcome a letter from you that differs from what I wrote.


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