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Long Story Short: Progress paddles forward

1/21/19



Picton Castle Under Full Sail (courtesy of Basil Port of Call)

 

Cannabis industry coming

Now that Governor Cuomo has made legalizing cannabis a priority for 2019, the skunk-like scent of weed is in the air, politically speaking. And guess who’s onto the scent? Mayor Byron Brown.

 

The details:

In a thirty-five-minute “executive session” closed to the public, the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, with the support of Mayor Brown, voted unanimously to sell twenty-seven acres of Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park land to a California company Zephyr Partners of San Diego. The company, which is led by Brad Termini, son of Buffalo developer Rocco Termini, plans to develop a high-tech “cannabis campus” for growing recreational and medicinal cannabis, east of Route 5. It will run under the name, Flora California Prime Inc. (Flora), which is a San Diego health and wellness industry, with businesses throughout California and offices in Buffalo.

 

"With Flora's investment at Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park, Buffalo stands at the forefront of the legal cannabis industry that is growing statewide and internationally," says Brown, adding, "The sale of this land positions the city of Buffalo to be on the leading edge of the potential passage of recreational marijuana in New York State."

 

If it happens:

Termini has estimated that the facility could cost $200 million to build and employ as many as 800 people locally.

 

If it doesn’t:

If cannabis is not legalized as expected, or Flora doesn’t obtain all the necessary state approvals by the end of the year, the BUDC can take the land back.

 

What exactly is planned?

The complex would include 1.25 million square feet of land for cultivation, production, and research.

 

 “Dude, sign me up for the research,” say local stoners.

 

 

Good one, Chris!

Congressman Chris Collins, from Clarence, has asked that his pay be withheld during the government shutdown. This is funny, because Collins (who is currently under indictment for insider trading) is a multimillionaire, who can easily do without the money. But even better, the Constitution’s 27th Amendment reads: “No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

 

In other words, it’s constitutionally mandated that Congress get paid. To be fair, quite a few other Congressmembers and Senators made the same hollow gesture. In fact, seventeen lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, pledged to donate their pay to charity during the shutdown. How about it, Collins? Why not donate your pay to Transparency International, the global movement to remove corruption from government, business, society, and the daily lives of people. It’s tax deductible!

 

 

Working stiffs get a break

How rare: a loss for privilege and a win for the little guy. You might notice that your car insurance went down this year, or maybe it went up. That’s because last year the New York State Department of Financial Services implemented policy changes that eliminated using a driver’s level of education and type of job as a basis for setting premiums.

 

They were doing that?

Yeah. The idea was that the more education and the better the occupation, the less likely you are to put in a claim. In fact, the New York Insurance Association opposed the change, because they say there is mathematical evidence that education and occupation is correlated with risk. Maybe so, but verifying education and occupation is difficult, and there’s something fundamentally unfair about prejudging someone by their schooling and career.

 

What is the best way to keep your rates as low as possible? Two things: avoid accidents and don’t get tickets. Both are best achieved by driving safely. 

 

 

Deliver us from taxes

Forty-one years ago, my wife and I bought a house in what our realtor described as an “iffy neighborhood.” We took care of that house, doing considerable home improvement and maintenance over the years. We put in a driveway and replaced our sidewalks even before the city passed that responsibility on to homeowners.

 

Many years later, we find ourselves living in one of Buffalo’s most desirable neighborhoods. People often comment on what a great investment we made, as if we won the real estate lottery.

 

I always answer the same; it only pays if we sell the house; until then, it just means we pay higher taxes.

 

Gentrification

There is a lot of talk (including in this blog) about the impact of gentrification on rent prices in Buffalo. Common Council president Darius Pridgen recently posted a video discussing gentrification and rising rents. In it he tells of a new resolution titled Affordable Rent and Housing (ARH), which is a committee that will advise the Common Council on rent control. Possible ideas that have been bandied about include inclusionary zoning and developer land deals, both potential tools in the battle to protect financially disadvantaged citizens on fixed incomes.

 

What about home owners?

In March, the city of Buffalo will have completed a reassessment of 95,000 properties, and it’s likely that many homeowners will find their assessments—and taxes—have gone up, sometimes dramatically. What is not being discussed—by Pridgen and others—is the impact gentrification has on homeowners. Within a stone’s throw from my house are financially struggling longtime owners who will be adversely impacted by the new assessments and accompanying higher taxes.   

 

The STAR program is great, but qualifying owners most likely already receive it. If your property assessment doubles, your taxes will go up, even with STAR. The message from the city is: thanks for taking care of your house; it looks real nice. Now that you’ve helped your neighborhood become trendy, we’re going to charge you more to live there.

 

Tax control for homeowners?

When people buy new homes, it’s appropriate that they pay taxes on the full assessed value of the property. Fresh assessments should come with each sale. But after that, doesn’t it seem reasonable to tie tax increases to no more than the cost of living, rather than the fortune (or misfortune) of having bought into a neighborhood that gentrified?

 

Increases in taxes are inevitable. But how about limiting those increases for owners who have maintained or improved their properties and helped make their neighborhoods more desirable? Affordable Rent and Housing should add this to their list of items to consider.   

 

 

Voting changes coming

It’s shocking when you think about it. New York State has the fourth lowest voter turnout record in the country. Don’t New Yorkers care about the democratic process? Democratic leaders say that’s not it.

 

What’s the problem?

The cause of our low turnout is our antiquated election laws, which Republicans have refused to amend in ways other states implemented years ago. But that’s going to change now the Democrats have control of the Senate and Assembly. Democrats plan to pass multiple bills that will:

-Allow early voting.
-Allow preregistration of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds, who can vote in the next election.
-Require opening some polling sites ten days before elections, including weekends.
-End having separate dates for federal and state primaries (we’re the only state that does).
-Allow residents to register right up to election day.
-End the practice of making absentee voters attest in writing as to why they can’t be there on voting day.
-Eliminate the loophole that allows LLC entities to exceed the $5000 per-year donation limit.

 

Who wouldn’t like these changes? Guess.

Conservative Party Chairman, Mike Long, believes the measures are designed to boost Democratic turnout in a Democratic-led state. Yeah, he actually said that. Duh. Republicans have resisted voter law changes because the current system REPRESSES Democratic turnout in a Democratic majority state. If Democrats win because voting is made easier, that’s as it should be, because registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in New York by more than two to one. Unless you gerrymander the hell out of voting districts (which Republicans have done), one would expect there to be considerably more Democrats elected.

 

Long is promoting “voter identification cards,” and other things to make voting more “secure” (i.e. further repress Democratic voters). He continues to make the widely discredited argument that voter fraud is a problem, and these voter law changes will make fraudulent easier.

 

 

Wooden ships on the water

They’re coming back, this time in greater numbers. They’ll be docking in the Port of Buffalo Independence Day weekend. The last time this many were in our waters was well over a century ago.

 

What are they?

Tall ships. Those square-rigged sailing vessels that travel the high seas in pirate movies. You know: brigantines, brigs, barques, and such. Ahoy mateys, and that sort of thing.

 

A fleet of twelve of these majestic ships from a bygone era will parade across the Outer Harbor on the Fourth of July.

 

How did this come about?

It’s called the Basil Port of Call: Buffalo, a free, four-day festival with related performances and activities. And for a price, you can board some of the ships, and even sail on three of them. The ships will come from around the world and berth at Canalside, the Erie Street docks, and near the marina’s observation tower. Tickets to board the ships will be $20 daily, $10 for children. You can explore as many you can squeeze in during a day but expect long lines. There will also be a four-day pass for $125, which includes VIP parking and entrance to a hospitality area. The event is projected to draw 125,000 people to the waterfront and provide a huge shot to the local economy.

 

 

Last but not least: Snowman avenger

Former Buffalo resident, Cody Lutz understands the joys of snow. That’s why, when a recent snowfall blanketed his new town of Petersburg, Kentucky, he and his fiancé, who was visiting from Mississippi, made the most of the occasion. They went sledding, had snowball wars, and of course they made a snowman—a ten-foot-tall chap with a cardboard top hat and a big smile.  They named him Frosty.

 

Frosty was an impressive sight. Neighbors loved him. But the snowman had a secret. He was quietly waiting for the opportunity to avenge snowpeople who had been victimized in the past by vandals. Snowpeople are pretty defenseless normally. They just stand there and take whatever abuse comes their way. Not Frosty. 

 

The details:

The world has plenty of nasty jerks who look for opportunities to be destructive and hurtful. One night last week, someone in a 4x4 vehicle decided to run Frosty down. The vandal drove up onto Lutz’ lawn and slammed right into the towering snowman. The tracks in the snow were still plainly visible the next day, evidence of the dastardly deed. But Frosty was still standing, with the smile still on his face. He had reason to smile.  Turns out he was built over a huge tree stump.

 

Frosty’s bottom took some damage. There was a large bumper mark, and part of the trunk was exposed. But otherwise he was unharmed. We’re betting the vehicle got the worst of it.

 

That’s one for snowpeople everywhere. You can see a new clip about the incident here.

 

 

Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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