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Long Story Short: Lights off—and on


illustration by JP Thimot


Smoking ban proposed

Ever drive behind someone who’s smoking? Considering the fumes that make their way into your car, imagine what it must be like inside the car you’re following! Maybe you’re that person smoking in the car. Maybe you have passengers in there with you. Maybe one or more of your passenger is a child. Under a law proposed by County Legislator Patrick B. Burke, now before the Erie County Legislature, smoking with a child in the car will soon mean a $50 to $150 penalty.


The details:

The proposed law would ban smoking—including e-cigarettes—in a vehicle with any passenger under age sixteen. The fine would be $50 for the first offense, and $150 for additional offenses. Some see this as a slippery slope, since it would be the first local law to ban smoking on or in private property. Opponents of such laws consider it an invasion of privacy, and an infringement on their rights. Conservatives have been the primary opponents of such laws. To them it’s another affront to personal liberties, with the government sticking its legislative nose yet again into the personal lives of Americans. Of course, these are the same folks who regularly stick their noses into a woman’s right to determine her own reproductive choices. But I digress.  


Others see the proposed law as another safety regulation to protect passengers, like the law requiring the use of seatbelts. Similar laws already exist around the country. Seven states, Puerto Rico, and numerous communities have enacted laws to prevent smoking in cars when children are present.


Just how bad is smoking in a car for children? Developing lungs are at greater risk from secondhand smoke than adult lungs (though it’s plenty bad for them, too). Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more prone to middle-ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, and respiratory tract infections. Half a cigarette raises the toxic levels in a car to over ten times what the United States Environmental Protection Agency considers hazardous. Non-smoking car passengers have elevated levels of butadiene, acrylonitrile, benzene, methylating agents, and ethylene oxide. Even with the windows open, the toxin levels are unsafe in a car.


The takeaway:

The devil, of course, is in the enforcement. Laws to prevent cell phone use in moving vehicles are routinely ignored. How will police determine the age of a child in a car with a smoker? Will this be yet another law on the books that’s regularly flouted by the public? There is no data yet on the effectiveness of regulations like this. In the end, it may turn out that education is the better method for changing behavior.



The Partnership and the workers

This week the leading Western New York business group released its advocacy agenda for the coming year. As with previous years, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP) Advocacy Agenda reads like a typical playbook for business growth. Some of it makes sense.


The details:

 They want upgrades to the state’s power grid, more funding for transportation, tourism, and telecommunications. They also want funding to finish the Cars Sharing Main Street project, and for north and south extensions to Metro Rail. They want a partial-depth reconstruction of part of Lower Mountain Road in Lewiston and the completion of the Niagara Scenic Parkway, which replaces the Robert Moses expressway. They want increased investment in education, including state colleges, universities, and the Tuition Assistance Program. They also want lower taxes for businesses.


What they don’t want are pesky regulations and employer mandates designed to protect the public and provide decent work and living conditions. For instance, they are unhappy with New York’s paid family leave mandate, which they say is the most expensive in the country. If so, we ought to be plugging this asset on worker recruitment websites, because attracting a skilled workforce is another Partnership priority, and paid family leave is quite a lure.


They don’t like new State Labor Department regulations to prevent employers from scheduling or canceling workers’ shifts just hours before (or even after) they begin work, a practice that causes all kinds of havoc and added expenses for workers. They don’t want the government’s “prevailing wage” mandate to be extended to private projects, because underpaying workers and not providing benefits makes businesses more profitable. Prevailing wage and “On-Call Scheduling” regulations are two more items for the worker recruitment adverts.


The BNP wants to strengthen the Erie County Industrial Development Agency's adaptive-reuse policy that provides tax incentives for rehabilitating unused buildings, but they’re against inclusionary zoning because creating economic growth for the rich, while displacing the poor and working class, is good business. Let the gentrification of Western New York continue unabated. So what if people have to leave the homes and neighborhoods they’ve occupied for decades?


Meanwhile, in another part of town

The Partnership for Public Good (PPG), along with its 276 community group partners, unveiled their own Agenda for the coming year. Not surprisingly, they see things a little differently. They advocate for paid family leave and non-discriminatory affordable housing, including “an inclusionary zoning ordinance that applies to all new developments with ten or more rental units.” They too want improvements in public transit, though they emphasize more effective service to low-income neighborhoods and people of color. They want KeyBank and Northwest Bank to implement their commitments to provide over one billion dollars to benefit moderate and low-income people and businesses. And, of course, they have other priorities worth learning about.


The takeaway:

Henry Ford didn’t raise wages in his factory because he was a nice guy. And he didn’t do it so his employees could buy his own products, as often claimed, though that was a welcome byproduct. He did it to create a stable workforce, which he needed to operate his business. It’s more complicated today, but building a strong middle class through competitive wages and benefits, while including and accommodating those who have not yet benefited from Buffalo’s “renaissance,” might just be smart business. 



You light up my plant life

More than once, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens has been threatened with demolition. Built in 1900, it was only twenty-nine years old when the city first considered razing it. It survived that threat, and others, and today it’s seen as one of the region's prime attractions.


The details:

The Botanical Gardens nearly didn’t make it through the Great Depression, suffered a slump in public interest in the 1940s, and was nearly done in by the Blizzard of ’77. The nonprofit Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens Society was formed, and, to further stabilize the organization, Erie County bought the building and over eleven acres of land surrounding it. In 1982, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the New York State Register of Historic Places.


Things took a turn for the better in the nineties, with a heating upgrade and grounds improvements, and, in 2000, a complete restoration of the buildings began. Improvements have continued up to the present time. The work has paid off in public interest and support. The Buffalo News reports that admissions have jumped thirty-one percent in the past year. In the coming weeks, the Botanical Gardens mounts their most popular annual event—and it sounds kind of fishy.


An aquatic glow

This year, the Garden’s annual winter light show, Lumagination, centers around the illusion of being under the sea, a concept that extends throughout the building. The desert room, for instance, is saturated with glow-in-the-dark “plankton.” Sea creatures will be projected onto the central Palm Dome, as guests are enveloped by choreographed sound and light. Plants lit up at night take on otherworldly qualities. There are also sculptures, music, and various activities.


A launch party kicks off the event on January 26, from 6-9 p.m., when the Gardens “flips the switch” on the exhibits. The party includes cocktails, appetizers, and bragging rights for seeing it first. Tickets are $35 for Botanical Gardens’ Members, $40 for the general public and $45 after January 19.  Tickets are available online here.


Lumagination is open on select evenings through February. Kids will be captivated. For prices, dates, and times, visit the website.


The takeaway:

We should reflect on the fact that this regional asset was almost torn down several times. Is there a lesson to be learned as developers vie to demolish historic structures and replace them with cookie cutter buildings?



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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