NewsTrust: looking for how the recession is affecting New Yorkers

Illustration by Jonathan Keegan (website, email) from "Helicopter Parents Make Boomerang Kids" by an anonymous blogger with the nom de internet of "makeitadouble", an upstate NY "Dad, Writer, Poet, Sarcastic Malcontent" who also blogs here.
At the bottom of this post you'll find one of my reviews for today about how the recession is contributing to the phenonenom of boomerang kids. Thanks, in part to funding from the Omydar Network, NewsTrust will be spending the last two weeks in March rating local news coverage on how the recession is affecting New Yorkers. Some of you remember I served as community developer for NewsTrust back in 2008 and I've been hired to help w. this project. If you'd like to join us or have suggestions for sources or will be publishing on the topic, drop me a line.

During the New Hunt, we will review news and opinions on local economic issues ranging from unemployment to government cutbacks in New York City. Newstrust will be collaborating with the Huffington Post’s NYC portal and its Eyes and Ears team, as well as City Limits. Based on our collective ratings, we will feature the best (and worst) local news coverage and post them on the NewsTrust and HuffPo blogs on Wed. April 7th, 2010.

Starting this week, I'll be finding coverage and next week I'll be coordinating the coverage on goverment cutbacks. My assigned sources are:
Heading up the effort is NewsTrust associate editor Kaizar Campwala.

The other members of the team are freelance writer and editor Kristin Gorski (blog, email, bio--assigned to real estate and to Manhattan. ) and writer and musician Jon Mitchell (blog, email, twitter, bio--assigned to jobs and to Brooklyn, Staten Island).

And of course, NewsTrust founder and Executive Director Fabrice Florin willl be handling the business end of things, as well as adding his reviews.


So here's a piece I reviewed today from Sam Roberts (article archive)
"Facing a Financial Pinch, and Moving In With Mom and Dad" by Sam Roberts, NYT.

Roberts, who has written other pieces on the recession's effects in NYC, cites examples of several young people living at home, a census analysis by the NYT (no link) and links to a survey from last fall by Pew and the census's current population survey. He quotes Andrew Beverage of CUNY. In all, a thorough piece which also provides the reader with resources to dig deeper.

BTW in 1985, Roberts was the the second recipient of the Fund for the City of New York's annual Peter Kihss Award for excellence in reporting about New York City government (now seemingly defunct--Kihss has won the first award in 1994, shortly before his death at the age of 72 Nicholas Pileggi (IMDB listing), contributing editor of New York magazine got the award in 1986. Pileggi, Nora Ephon's husband, is the author of Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, which he adapted into the film Goodfellas. ):


Hollins Literary Festival

Photo of Molly Peacock by Marc Royce (email, bio)

Photo of David Payne (uncredited)

Photo of Valerie Martin by Murdo Macleod (website) in September 20, 2009 Guardian interview.

Novelist David Payne and 2010 Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Writer-in-Residence (Back to Wando Passo), poet/memoirist Molly Peacock (The Second Blush) and novelist Valerie Martin (Property) will be the featured writers at tomorrow's Hollins literary festival with readings and a panel in the auditorium of the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center (next to the Dana Science Building and across from Moody Center.)

10:30 a.m.--David Payne (bio, email)
11:30 a.m--Molly Peacock (bio, email)
2:00 p.m--Valerie Martin (bio, email)
3:15 p.m.--Poetry panel discussing student-submitted work

There will also be a 12:45 p.m. luncheon in the Moody Dining Hall (pay at the door) and a reception in the lobby of the arts center at 4:15 p.m.

Here's a poem by Molly Peacock from her 2002 collection Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems (W.W. Norton)

Don't Think Governments End The World

Don't think governments end the world. The blast
the burnings, and the final famine will
be brought on by mistake. "I'm sorry," the last
anxious man at the control panel will
try to say, his face streaked with panic, red
hives rising on his neck. He'll have been a jerk
all his life, who couldn't get through his head
that his mother couldn't love him. Work
at the panel would give him the control
that she had denied him again and again.

Thus the world will burn through the central hole
of his being. He won't really be sure-again,
having never been assured of her- of what
he is supposed to do. That is, he'll be sure
at every exercise until the shut
blank door of the final moment injures
his gerrybuilt control and BANG, BANG, BANG.

It won't be his fault, his childish mother's fault,
or the fault of what produced her or what
produced what produced her back through the vault
of savage centuries. If he'd just known what,
he'd have done it to please. He might have known himself
through what he'd felt, and thus might be clear.
She might have said, "That's nice, dear,"
and we wouldn't be dead.

Aren't you scared of your life in his hands?
But of all the men whose hands you'd hope to be in,
Name the one you're sure of. The history of nations
is cold; the world burns by generations.


Coal Ash is "Out of Control

Cover image from Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites, from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice February 24, 2010

Coal ash, a by-product of coal combustion of coal at power plants, gained national attention in December 22, 2008 when when TVA spilled 2.66 million pounds of 10 toxic pollutants into the nearby Emory and Clinch rivers -- more than all the surface-water discharges from all U.S. power plants in 2007, according to a December 2009 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, issued in time for a congressional hearing December 9, The One Year Anniversary of the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Ash Slide: Evaluating Current Cleanup Progress and Assessing Future Environmental Goals.

The EPA had committed to issuing new requirements for coal combustion waste by the end of 2009--something that had been in the works since at least May 2000, partly as a result of inconsistencies in state requirements. In a press release issued December 17, however, EPA announced it would miss the 2009 deadline because
the agency is still actively clarifying and refining parts of the proposal.
Evidently, the rule is stalled at the Office of Management and Budget and a slew of lobbyists would like it to stay stalled. For instance, November 2, 2009, the Associated General Contractors of America asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to slow down regarding regulation or at the least, to designate coal ash as non-hazardous because
even a conditional designation of coal combustion waste as hazardous would strongly discourage the construction industry from making the [sic] any beneficial use of such material in the future. At a minimum it would stigmatize all such material. It could also trigger a host of other regulatory requirements for the transportation of such material, and both requirements for the storage and handling of even small quantities. It could also frighten the surety and insurance industries, making bonds or insurance coverage for any beneficial use of such material either difficult or impossible to purchase. It could even trigger a wave of frivolous but still expensive litigation.
Interesting that the group writes about "small quantities" in the same letter that it boasts that the industry uses over 20 million metric tons of fly ash annually. Of course,
U.S. coal-fired power plants generate nearly 140 million tons of fly ash, scrubber sludge, and other combustion wastes every year.

One of WV's patron saints of coal, Governor Joe Manchin has chimed in to say the combustion waste should go unregulated:
Coal ash recycling is a multibillion dollar industry that provides thousands of truly green jobs across our country...Hastily raising its status to "hazardous" could actually cause more environmental harm and place undue financial burden on countless thousands of Americans.
And, while industry and its friends sees fly ash as "non-hazardous, " EPA indicated that coal ash dumps significantly increase risks to both people and wildlife: the EPA's 2007 risk assessment estimated that up to one in 50 residents living near certain wet ash ponds could get cancer due to arsenic contamination of drinking water. And a 2009 survey found "high hazard potential" at least 49 impoundments.

Now, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earth justice have released a February 24 report revealing that arsenic and other toxic pollutants have been found in water at coal ash 31 additional coal-ash contamination sites in 14 states (DE, FL, IL, IN, MD, MI, MT, NC, NM, NV, PA, SC, TN and WV) in addition to the 70 sites named in the EPA's justification for the pending rule. And the levels are up to 145 x the federal limits.

Earth Justice is urging folks to write, call (202-456-1414) or fax (202-456-2461) the White House. The link includes sample letters and scripts.

And my source for Congressional Research Service reports, Steven Aftergood of FAS, has promised me he will obtain and post a digital copy of a report on coal ash, probably in about a week. I'll post the link when it's available. Meanwhile, if you want a paper copy, you can write your Senator or Congressperson:

Luther, Linda, Managing Coal Combustion Waste (CCW): Issues with Disposal and Use (January 12, 2010), , Report number R40544.


Virginia General Assembly's Gift to Stealth Development

Illustration from application for rezoning submitted in a sucessful request for passage of Blacksburg's Ordinance 1412.


Barely a year has past since Virginia Supreme Court ruled on February 27, 2010 in Hale v. Board of Zoning Appeals in favor of the Town of Blacksburg and Blacksburg United for Responsible Growth (BURG) and against Fairmount Properties. Critics of Fairmount said it had used a bait and switch to secure rezoning of a rugby field next to the elementary school. The promise: upscale mixed use development including apartments. The plan submitted following rezoning: a shopping center "anchored" by a big-box Wal-Mart.

Richmond attorney Philip Strother (email), whose firm represented BURG in the case summed up the switch in the article he wrote for the University of Richmond Law Review. Peter Vieth also wrote about the decision March 16, 2009 for Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

Today, the Virginia State Senate with a Dem majority (of 22 - 18) unanimously passed the Republican-held House of Delegates' gift to developers, HB 1250, which lowers the threshold for vested rights to include cases in which
the zoning administrator or other administrative officer has issued a written order, requirement, decision or determination regarding the permissibility of a specific use or density of the landowner's property that is no longer subject to appeal and no longer subject to change, modification or reversal under subsection C of § 15.2-2311.
Writing about HB 1250 in "A letter isn't enough Lawmakers would make it easier for developers to sneak projects past public scrutiny," the Roanoke Times contended today that
It is the sort of rule only developers could love -- developers who prefer to sneak projects past elected officials without genuine public oversight.


The Roanoke Times also opined that
if this law had been in place a couple of years ago, Blacksburg almost certainly would have never been able to block a big-box store in town.
I'm not sure. After all, the Blacksburg case involved the failure of the developer to adequately specify use. Justice Lawrence L. Koontz Jr. ruled,
There is simply no language in the proffers and nothing in the attendant materials that were submitted with the rezoning application that would ‘specify use’ so that it could be found the developers clearly intended to reserve … a vested right for an unrestricted retail sales use of the property.
I checked w. Daniel Breslau of BURG and asked what exactly HB 1250 gives the developers and whether the provision would have applied to Fairmount. Daniel replied,
It's not clear if it would have changed the outcome in our case. But it could have. There were a series of letters between the developers and the Blacksburg zoning administrator in early 2007. The letters did not exactly give an order that a big box was permissible. But there was a big box in the plans and the zoning administrator did not list the big box among the things that were not OK in the plans. They tried to claim this was vesting under the existing law, but the courts did not buy it (although the BZA [Board of Zoning Appeals], which accepted every one of the developers' arguments and even invented some of their own, did). The issue is not as clear cut with the change. If the new bill becomes law, zoning administrators in Virginia will have to include a disclaimer in all of their correspondence with developers, saying that their letters are a courtesy and do not represent an "order, requirement, decision or determination," etc., unless their intention is to confer vested rights.
He added,
In some ways the law may backfire on developers. The more they try to ease the conditions for getting vested rights, the less any jurisdiction will want to approve a project without a very detailed and binding plan.
I agree.


But, here's what I really don't get about the paper editorial--its warning that
Virginians who care about their communities should take notice before it is too late.
WTF? Why wait to warn us when it is within hours of being "too late." Where was a heads up when the measure was submitted by recently elected Virginia Beach hog farmer Barry Night on January 18 or when it passed the House on February 12? Daniel and otherswrote their Senators today and for what? We all would have appreciated at least the appearance of the ability to affect public policy if indeed the measure only benefits developers.

Oh, and by the way, the bill patron's website says he had a "strong dedication" "protecting citizens' rights." Here's my question for the good delegate:

Since when are developers, whom you count among your financial backers, the only citizens with rights, Mr. Night?


Update: former Goochland Andrew McRoberts , who served as Goochland's County Attorney through May 19, 2009, and now is part of the County and is now part of the Local Government practice at the law firm of Sands Anderson Marks & Miller, P.C. in Richmond (email, bio) posted on HB 1250 on March 2 at his informative blog, Virginia Local Government Law (and linked to me. Thanks!) His post looks at vested rights and the ramifications of the new bill and concludes:
whether HB 1250 benefits many or just a few, this step is a big change by its very nature. It is a step toward government in the dark to the detriment of the public will as expressed by its elected officials. A major shift, indeed.