In the world of New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, there is no issue too large or small that forming a committee will not make it better. The cherry on top is town hall meetings where everyone who wishes to attend can shout at the waves while Noam ticks off boxes on his already pre-sorted list until someone has suggested an idea that is already part of his plan. Once every box on the list is checked, Noam can safely claim that his latest scheme is a "grassroots" plan, grown locally, based on community input.
Even better is if you can come up with a catchy title that incorporates the letters "NR". In this most recent example, called EnvisioNR, Noam Bramson has posited his conclusion as his premise and hoped no one will notice. I have.
The "urgent" need for his latest plan is that because New Rochelle's population will grow by about 5,000 people over the next 20 years the City must build housing that will accommodate them.
Who are these people? Refugees? Are the coming no matter what? Does the Mayor foresee 5,000 otherwise homeless people roaming around downtown New Rochelle by 2032? This is most absurdist nonsense yet from a Mayor who has made a career of absurdism.
New Rochelle is not expanding horizontally. There are no known plans to acquire Larchmont or Pelham or build out into Long Island Sound. So expansion, be definition, means vertical expansion. Specifically, high-rise apartments in the area around the train station. In other words putting more people into the same geographic area or continuing the dramatic increase in density that has been occurring for the last 10 years.
Now, the community may want to do that but we are not required to do that because ships are sailing towards our shores from points unknown, threatening to disgorge 5,000 people at the New Rochelle Marina at any moment. Not only is there no urgency there is no reason at all to be concerned about 5,000 people who do not live here and cannot live here if the Mayor does not turn over downtown New Rochelle to deep-pocketed developers selling the latest development fad in spite of and not because of the City's Comprehensive Plan.
To borrow a phrase, isn't it the case that if we don't build it they won't come?
If that's the case then don't we have a say now in whether there will be 5,000 more people living in New Rochelle. And shouldn't that be the first order of business -- to determine if the residents of New Rochelle want the 5,000 people the Mayor proposes to dump in our downtown over the next decades. The only way we will have 5,000 new residents in New Rochelle if there is residential housing built to accommodate them.
We already had an increase of 5,000 people in New Rochelle from 2000 to 2010. Where did they go after they arrived on our shores? Are they all living up on Forest and Pinebrook? Or are they living primarily in the high-rise apartment buildings in downtown and packed like sardines into illegal housing in the West End?
We had another choice in 2000 -- to not build high-rise residential buildings and to strictly enforce our housing, building and fire codes. Instead we built towers and left illegal housing run riot in New Rochelle and we got 5,000 more people to drain our municipal and school resources while putting close to nothing back into the City. . We were told that the road to economic prosperity depended on building the Avalons and Trump and others. And did we get it? Not so much. The City is broke and taxes are through the roof.
Now the Mayor wants another 5,000 people -- 6 more Avalons -- with the assurance that this will lead to economic prosperity.
If the Mayor's fairy tale interests you then you will want to know that the City of New Rochelle has announced a series of "Community Outreach Meetings" for the first week of June. The press release declares that “EnvisioNR” will be an update for the City of New Rochelle Comprehensive Plan (don't ask what happened to the last one because no one seems to know).
Meetings are scheduled as follows:
Fridays, June 1 & 8 (10 AM - 2 PM) @ New Rochelle City Hall in the Youth Bureau Conference Room
Monday, June 4 (5:30 PM -7:30 PM) @ Ward Elementary School
Tuesday, June 5 (5:30 PM-7:30PM) @ New Rochelle High School
Wednesday, June 6 (5:30 PM-7:30 PM) @ Mascaro Boys & Girls Club
Thursday, June 7 (5:30 PM-7:30 PM) @ New Rochelle YMCA
These meetings purpose to initiate the process: "The planning process for the update of the City of New Rochelle’s Comprehensive Plan will begin with a series of public meetings in June."
It would seem the process has already begun. After all, who planned these meetings? Who decided that 5 meetings was a good idea? Who picked the locations? Who will chair these meetings? What is the format? Who will record the results? Who will filter and edit them?
The idea that the planning process for the Comprehensive Plan is beginning in June is, by definition, false. Just the first of many clues that this "process" is just another Noam Bramson production where the outcomes is already determined.
There are many more reasons to be skeptical.
1. There has been a Comprehensive Plan in New Rochelle for decades. It has been universally ignored. It has never formed the basis of any development in New Rochelle. Why will this plan be different?
2. We are told the "process will give opportunity to the public to weigh in on important issues, including land use, economic development and housing." Really? Then what is GreeNR? That is a so-called Sustainability Plan that addresses "land use, economic development and housing". GreeNR was stocked with Noam's environmental cronies from throughout Westchester County (few on the advisory board were from New Rochelle but most of them were from Nita Lowey's Congressional District -- go figure!). Which will take precedence? If GreeNR controls then what's left to discuss -- all the major decisions have already been made by Noam and Friends.
2. We are also told "The resulting plan will provide a framework to guide future development and preservation that reflects current and anticipated environmental, economic and social conditions." Again, how is this different from GreeNR which purports to address these various things. The City Council has already voted on a hundreds of permutations of 43 initiatives contained in GreeNR which address precisely these points. How can this be the first step in public engagement when Noam has already decided every major issue under the guise of GreeNR.
3. We are asked, rhetorically "Why Plan?". The press release shouts "Growth is coming!" We are told confidently by the Mayor that "New Rochelle’s population is expected to grow in the next 20 years."
Really? Based on what?
We are told "Based on metropolitan growth projections." Huh? Metropolitan growth projections? That sounds a lot like there are some long-term projections for the entire New York Metropolitan area not New Rochelle. If North Jersey or Queens or Rockland County are forecast to have an increased population in 2032 why does that mean that New Rochelle will or even has to have an increased population in 2032. The fact is that New York State has been losing population not gaining.
In 2010, when GreeNR was officially launched, WYNC reported:
The housing bust may have been at the center of the Great Recession, but the fact that New York state has suffered less on the housing front has, ironically, meant it leads the nation in out-migration. This according to Forbes:
At No.1 on our list, New York is expected to wave goodbye to 49,000 more people than it gains this year. The state has seen a steady loss of residents over the past five years, losing an average of 100,000 people per year. [Economist Nathaniel] Karp explains that, because New York is a large state, it may report greater movement than others, but notes that population size is not the only reason residents are fleeing.
"In order to move, you need to be able to sell your home," says Karp. "The housing market [in New York] has not gone through the meltdown that other states have gone through."
When the 2010 Census data came out, New York had 19,378,102 people, joining Ohio has one of just two states that lost two Congressional seats. Population growth from 2000 to 2010 was 2.1%.
Just think for a moment. Noam declares that growth is coming so we must plan to accommodate the larger population? This is typical Noam nonsense mindlessly repeated by people like Barry Fertel and Deborah Newborn.
Does this mean that if we do not build six 50-story apartment buildings that that 5,000 people they project will be living in them will be living on the street instead?
Are we going to enforce housing and fire codes so that landlords do not have pack 20-30 people into one single family house?
Is Scarsdale or Rye or Bronxville also planning for similar growth?
Or is this a desire to have growth by a few vested interests and justifying it by citing studies from self-reinforcing organizations?
4. And why do we need to do all this? Noam says it is too maximize economic opportunity! This coming from a guy who has never created a job in his life, whose last job in the private sector was a high-school age sales clerk at an electronics store on Anderson Street. A politician whose track record on economic development has made New Rochelle a laughingstock.
5. Noam notes that the "Comprehensive Plan" is the tool for how and where to accommodate the residential growth that is guaranteed to come before adding that the need to update the plan is because the last Comprehensive Plan was in 1995. Noam should know all about that since he is the only member of the City Council who was on the Council at that time. He should also know that the 1995 plan has been gathering dust on a shelf for 17 years.
6. Noam offers the meetings as a place to get an "overview of the Comprehensive Plan process" and then an "interactive sessions of facilitated dialogue with the audience". Take note that he is not offering to let anyone come and say their piece -- there will be "facilitated dialogue".
So, what is that? Is that just Noam using fancy words to say something simple or does that term actually mean something. Google offers several variants but they all involve a "facilitator", dialogue structure and rules, the "audience" is divided into small groups, with each group also having an experienced facilitator and sometimes a note-taker. Group size is usually 4-5. And then what?
When small group dialogue is completed the following occur:
1. Dialogue groups report back to the larger group.
2. Participants take time to reflect on the reports.
3. Participants consider "Next Steps," which may include
- Planning for continued dialogue
- Developing individual or group ideas or plans for action that address the issues
4. Each participant is given the opportunity to communicate their "Next Steps."
5. A meeting to plan/conduct follow-up organizing may be scheduled.
"Facilitated Dialogue" is a specific program. It is based on a technique developed by the Rand Corporation during the Cold War to do war game planning, a form of structured brainstorming. It is also known as the Delphi Method or Delphi Technique and is widely used. To pick a random example from Google, it is used by the Canadian Health Ministry:
3.2 Delphi Technique
This is a well-used methodology for the systematic elicitation and synthesis of opinions and judgements on a topic, issue or theme through a flow of sequential questionnaires, information summaries, and feedback (Delbecq et al 1975). While typically used to integrate the judgements and feedback of a small expert group, the Delphi Technique can be used in advance of a deliberative dialogue to better understand issues and to begin the preliminary synthesis of ideas, concerns and priorities (McDonald, Bammer and Deane 2009). As with Concept Mapping, it is often done anonymously – potentially a critical factor in its success.
Wikpedia: "The Delphi Method [or Delphi Technique] is a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts. The experts answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides an anonymous summary of the experts' forecasts from the previous round as well as the reasons they provided for their judgments. Thus, experts are encouraged to revise their earlier answers in light of the replies of other members of their panel. It is believed that during this process the range of the answers will decrease and the group will converge towards the "correct" answer. Finally, the process is stopped after a pre-defined stop criterion (e.g. number of rounds, achievement of consensus, stability of results) and the mean or median scores of the final rounds determine the results."
The Delphi Technique typically involves three groups:
organizers who design the overarching questions and approach, summarizing responses and preparing subsequent questions;
experts or respondents who offer judgements and answers to the organizers' questions; and
decision-makers who may act upon receiving a consensus statement or recommendations produced by the technique.
In and of itself, the Delphi Method is a respected, widely-used method for decision-making in large groups and as a forecasting tool. It can, however, be abused. Because the only person in the process who is seeing all of the feedback and using the feedback to generate summaries which then become the basis for further feedback, it is possible for the facilitator to manipulate the conclusions, create the false impression that popular ideas are not widely embraced, and isolate participants who do not support pre-determined conclusions.
Based on Noam's track record of stacking the deck on his committees, defining ground rules to eliminate options before discussion has even begun and single out and attack critics, there is no reason to believe that Noam would not seek to manipulate outcomes to create the illusion of consensus on issues where he has strong views and preferred outcomes.
This is the same guy who keeps trying to tell people there is no connection between his GreeNR plan and the United Nations's Agenda 21 program. Who are you going to believe? Noam or your lying eyes?
As is typical Noam, he has already decided that New Rochelle wants 5,000 more people. Now, thanks to his worship, you get to come to a meeting and say what color high-rise building he will put them in.
Welcome to democracy in New Rochelle, ain't it grand?