Reasons to Be Skeptical of Noam Bramson's Latest Version of "Community Outreach", the New Rochelle Comprehensive Plan

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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?

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Warren Gross on Mon, 05/28/2012 - 17:46

The report is factual, do get discouraged. The process used in this form of planning is actually an offshoot of the Xerox approach and formed the heart of Quality Management.

I was one of the individuals who employed a radically improved system that is used widely today by GE as well as other large firms. The premise is simple; you cannot sit in small or large groups in a vaccum. You must conduct an Organizational Assessment first which is a laborious, professionally led and open description of key indicators facing New Rochelle both internally and externally. You describe the internal environment and external environment by key normative indicators such as Internal -- budget, financials, staffing, organizational structure, relations between deparments. YOu do this with no preconceived notions, openly, with no "given advanced outcomes." It is descriptive like an Xray or Blood Test Might be. We do not do this.... so do be discouraged. One classic model calls for looking at an organization's -- the City's --- strengths and weaknesses.

Then you move on to the external environment. Here you look at relationships with unions, other communities, YOUR OWN COMMUNITY, the economy, educational system. You have not set a single goal. It is also descriptive. You look at Opportunities and Constraints. Things that support us or make things possible now as opposed to those that are against our interests, capacities or abilities. It is situational here and now), We do not do this so there is cause to be discouraged.

Then and only then, can we venture into problem solving or setting goals for both the short and longer term. We employ a shorthand formula which always works

1. where we are... (current state as per description)

2. where we want to be..... goals, short and longer terms based on our description plus our needs even wants.

3. how we are going to get there..... the actual action steps, milestones.

that is strategic planning at the highest, most effecive level. Put 20-24 community members in a hat, give me a few facilitators like Bob Cox, John D'Alois, etc. and we will outperform any city arrangement because we have set the process up fairly, correctly, while honoring the common sense and willingness of the average man and woman in the community to make a difference.

Tara, worry. bob Cox has identified useful information and his top line assertions or implications are the most important. facts are being created to support power "wanting" prejudices a mistake that companies and towns and cities make when they want to go out of business.

Worry, even more because our mayor really does not have the prescribed power in the City Charter to go this far. But it is up to the City Council to rein him in... failing that an enllighted community especially up North who simply refuse to open their minds and hearts to simple justice.

I must admit Tara and others, I care less about a blind Chinese dissident seeking shelter than I do about someone in Rice's or Trangucci's district seeking a voice. Yuo all should too and if you think this is an overstatement, you are probably deliberating over the lush green lawn in your pristine, safe neighborhood, that those elsewhere in the City have provided for you.

Or else, you all ignorant and unwilling to correct that default. I recently took a long look at the Avalon, rejoiced only at the falcoms in Trump Tower, reflected on the back-up plan of fuller occupancy on the part of the Residence Inn, saw expensive condominiums on Main Street being put up for rent as well as purchase.

Worry Tara especially during a day when we reflect on those who sacrificed to allow us the luxury to worry.

Stop worrying as much Tuesday and perhaps begin with Ralph Di Bart and find out why he cannot or will not deliver a "strength and weakness" on Avalon so we see how much real sense 5,000 plus residents really make. Bob gives you other dynamics and criteria, but Ralph can see me at any time and I will tell him exactly what to look at and look for.

I am a tad more aggressive than normal, given the day, the feelings I have, and who knows, maybe the Mayans are right.

So, if any neighborhood association is interested in a tutorial on how to approach planning without 5 or so essentially misdirected or unimportant venues, give me a call. Any member who "reads" an email on this and ignores this --- shame on you.

You have a lot to be worried about.

Laraine Karl on Mon, 05/28/2012 - 18:24

I have a few questions. Why is not one meeting scheduled for Trinity or IEY? Where is my council person? What a joke 5:30 pm to 7:30pm. I wonder how many people will be able to attend who work in NYC. Smoke and mirrors by city government.

Tara on Mon, 05/28/2012 - 16:50

Bob you have spelled out in great detail the shortfalls of these Comprehensive Planning Meetings.
I am sure the proponents are hoping for an apathetic response from the residents. However, New Rochelle belongs to all of us and all of us should be able to present our views. There should be sufficient number night meetings for people who work during the day. If we give up, they (tragically) win.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Tue, 05/29/2012 - 13:11

and keep asking.

The right question is WHY is it the case that New Rochelle will have 5,000 more residents?

This question that every resident should be asking every government official when the opportunity presents itself.

Listen carefully to the answer. Words will come out of their mouth but they will not be able to say WHY these specific 5,000 people are coming to New Rochelle, how they are coming or anything else. They will simply assert this to be the case and believe that by doing it often enough it will be be accepted as fact.

Well, it is not fact.

The follow up question is to challenge the claim that adding 5,000 people will bring economic prosperity to New Rochelle.

The experience of the last 10 years proves there is no direct correlation between adding 5,000 residents and achieving economic prosperity. The opposite has been the case.

There is a such a thing as capacity utilization in economic and business planning. Our City is currently configured to handle a certain size population -- about 70,000 people with about 10,000 children in our schools with no high-rise buildings.

We now have 77,000 people with 11,500 children and thee high-rise buildings. The Mayor proposes to push us to 82,000 people with 12,500 children and 9 high-risde buildings.

At that point, we will be about 12,000 people over capacity, our schools will be 1,500 students over capacity, we will have far more high rise buildings than your city services and infrastructure can support.

In order to accommodate all of this, there will need to be massive spending on new school buildings, new sewer systems, and additional manpower at every level. Nowhere in any city planning that I have seen does the Mayor seek to properly account for the COSTS of his deals with developers in which the City gets little or nothing in tax revenue but incurs large and perpetual expenses.

The Echo Bay plan is a case in point -- as proposed, this is a plan that would increase the number of students going to Trinity which is already beyond capacity. The Development Commissioner is on record saying that the break-even for the City on Echo Bay is about 30 years down the road. We do not make dime-one on that deal until 2042. And the City does not factor in the cost in our schools which is 4 times larger than the city. Hardly a minor consideration.

There is another idea to consider -- REDUCING the size of the population, bringing the city more in line with its current capacity. White Plains has about 54,000 people and about three times the sales tax revenue which keeps property taxes down.

Deborah Newborn recently said that for a city "you are either growing or you are dying"?

The Mayor says "growth is coming!".

Aphorisms aside, can any of these proponents back up any of these sorts of claims with information specific to New Rochelle?

I can show that for a fact increasing the population of New Rochelle by 5,000 in 10 years does NOT translate into economic prosperity. Anyone with eyes can see that.

The burden of proof is on the Mayor. Time to show your cards.

Bob McCaffrey on Tue, 05/29/2012 - 22:03

We are full of committee’s but follow none.

As Bob said, we have had a comprehensive plan for the last ten years. Every time I speak I say that we need a plan forgetting that we had one. Not one person on The City Council has contacted me to say we currently have a plan in place and are currently following that plan. I don’t think they realize there is a plan. They don’t realize there is a City Charter so why would a City Plan be any different?

We have so many different committees that cross over functions, share similar members and change name and focus in mid-stream. If they don’t fade away, they are driven to a point of making them ineffective and merely window dressing for City Hall. These committees are the scape goats to say that they tried but look what it got us. We need substance, cooperation and collaboration. The correct people aren’t asked to be involved because then there is accountability and someone with a view that differs from the Mayors. You have to see to have vision. If you just keep following the lead horse then you keep going down the same path to the same places time and time again. Take the blinders off and be known for creativity and team work, not back room deals and dreams of fancy. It is never too late to change. Americans are very forgiving, but not forgetful.

New Rochelle's population will grow by about 5,000 people over the next 20 years. The City must take a closer look at the schools and not housing. Hasn’t anyone noticed all the for sale signs on the front lawns that have replace the political endorsement banners of the mayor and crew. Don’t forget the vacancies in Avalon, Trump and so many other buildings in New Rochelle. I am sorry, this is only perception. We need an improved Downtown and have more responsible decision making that would revive the City Of New Rochelle before they bring out the paddles and it is too late to be revived.

People have been beaten down and become so disenfranchised that they have given up or moved out of New Rochelle because they can’t afford to live here anymore. There is a lack of empathy on the council but for a select few. People are not responded to and follow up is not done from Citizens to be Heard. Look at the people on Glencar Ave that still have to fight to get back parking spaces taken away without notice a few months back. They were told it would be addressed. It wasn’t. So they begged once again at the last Citizens to be Heard. Now it finally hit the agenda. Let’s see how many studies they need to do before the correction is made.

Echo Bay is not prime water front like being on the Hudson River in Yonkers or at Seaside Johnnies up in Rye. It is a tidal estuary and intertidal mudflat at low tide. It could be a location ideal for conservation walks and nature trails but not boating, swimming or even water side restaurants like Dudley’s. You need to move further up the shores to Hudson Park and Davenport to see true water. Let’s look more clearly and get it right the first time, there won’t be a second chance. Open up the lines of true communication for productive input. We need to start putting some butts in the seats!

City Council Committee of the Whole plus Public Hearing & Citizens To Be Heard

Date: Tuesday, June 12
Time:3:45 PM - 9:00 PM
Time Details: City Council Meeting begins at 3:45 PM with any Public Hearing starting at 7:30 PM and Citizens To Be Heard immediately (See the City Web Site for details www.newrochelleny.com)

Wake up New Rochelle Speak your peace. Let your opinion be known. Don’t look back several years from now when things haven't changed and say I wish I had said something back when.

“Common Sense for the Common Good”

Fifth Ave Guy on Tue, 05/29/2012 - 16:49

Of course, if the city doesn't hand out any tax breaks over the next 10 years the developers won't build anything.

A sad state of affairs, but still true, New Rochelle can't attract development without giving away huge tax breaks.

Why? Because our taxes are so sky high to start that developers don't want to get involved unless New Rochelle gives their development an unfair competive advantage through lower property taxes. Who would move or buy into the Trump Building if they had to pay real taxes of $15,000 to $20,000 per year based on market value/purchase price?

Shame on our city's leaders and shame on every idiot who voted them into office.

What advantage does New Rochelle stand to gain by adding 5,000 residents? More overcrowding at the schools? Higher property taxes for the others?

You mention the 3 high rise buildings and the thought of having 9 high rise buildings, but what about the dozen to 2 dozen housing projects that New Rochelle supports & pays for? There must be thousands of tenants in these buildings. I bet they're the real drain on the city's resources and they're definately not paying their fair share for either garbage, police/fire or schools services.

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