I read a short story in college regarding time travel. I can’t remember (or find) the name or who wrote it, but the premise made a strong impression upon me. It featured a time traveler who stood before a great mountain. He then jumped forward many eons into the future and stood before a vast desert. Once again he jumped, and he stood before a mighty city. And then he made a final jump and stood before a spacious ocean. But despite the millions of years that had passed and the dramatic changes to his surroundings, he had stayed in the same place.
The point of the story is that change is constant, even when we don’t perceive it. The world's mightiest peak may turn to a desert. In fact, Buffalo-Niagara itself was once covered by seas. Yes, change is the one constant in our lives. We can see it the seasons. We can see it in our faces. We can see it in the great river that circles our Island, and in the celestial cataract that sits not far from our shores.
Not all change is good. But many changes are unavoidable. How we deal with all this change is what matters. We can pretend that it does not exist and resist it. Or we can take advantage of it and seek to benefit from it. Societies that resist change and close themselves off from the world to control and limit thought--like North Korea, Cuba, and others--ossify, wither, and die. Countries that free their people and open themselves to all the best the world has to offer (like the mighty USA!) create Jazz, Rock N Roll, Hip Hop, Baseball, Basketball, airplanes, IPads and just about everything else that represents modern life.
I represent change, which I understand is scary to some
As a newly minted politician I have heard the same advice from the sage wise men of party politics over and over again. “Play it safe.” “Don’t advocate too strongly for any one position.” “Never take a stand.” “Never go against “US” (meaning the party elite).” And I continue to come to the same conclusion “Why on earth would I want to be in office if all I was supposed to do is keep my head down and shuffle myself around ingratiating myself to people I don’t agree with?
I want GI to take advantage of the great changes all around us, in both Buffalo and across our nation. We can close our eyes, and hope the world stops turning. But when you open them, the landscape before us will have changed, and we will be lost.
The terrible news of last week indicates quite clearly that this is a challenging time. But despite all this, I still believe we are living in the greatest nation at the greatest time in history. At times, my zest and energy (including my attempts to discuss matters of public policy openly) can come off as refreshing to some but as arrogant to others. I’ll work on that. But please understand that my intent is never to be disrespectful. I’m trying to lead Grand Island towards a future that is more economically vibrant, more inclusive, and more open to the new ideas that continue to make America the mighty city on a hill in a world of desperation, fear, and weariness.
Let’s redefine what it means to be an “Islander”
I have heard the phrase “True Islander” thrown around quite a bit. And frankly, the narrow definition of that phrase troubles me. Because, by its parameters, only about five people have a right to be here. In particular, I’ve been told that a true Islander is not only one who was born here, but one that goes back at least three generations.
Balderdash I say! America is unlike other nations. It is meant to be a place where a man (or a woman) is judged by the content of their character, not their pedigree. We do not believe in royal bloodlines or adherence to the castes of some dark age. America is meant to be a meritocracy. In other words, we care less about who was first, and more about who is best.
With all this in mind, I hope to set a new standard. To me, you are an Islander if you have an EZ-Pass. I jest, but my point is that you are an Islander if you live here and you want to make this community better. Remember, this Island elected me, a newcomer, chosen by the majority to be your chief executive. Times have changed.
This bike path will change Grand Island for the better
Allow me to shift into this week’s most pertinent public colloquy. I am going to fight for the creation of a bike (jogging, snowshoeing, etc.) path along West River Road. In particular, I will continue to advocate for the plan to close the Parkway, or as I now refer to it, the plan to turn the Parkway into a true park (West River Park), i.e., #droptheway. And here’s why—in blizzard gust of reasoning.
Either we close the Parkway, or there is no full path
It’s that simple. The old plan (adding a third ribbon of asphalt) cannot happen. Too much time has passed and there’s not enough money. Plus, this new plan (closing the Parkway) is meant to alleviate some of the complaints brought to the attention of the State after previous town hearings on this issue. Under the closed Parkway plan, there will be no guard rails, and the shoreline, including duck blinds and trees and docks, will not be touched.
If not dead, the Parkway is redundant
I got some flak for saying the Parkway is dead, but I’ve seen the objective stats (collected by the DOT), and it's a very, very quiet road. We all know that space is underused, whether you would like to admit it or not. In the winter, almost no one is on it because it’s not plowed. And in the summer it’s a drag race scene. Are the car wrecks, the lack of maintenance, the noise, and the use by what really comes down to a teaspoon of commuters really worth keeping that old road opened, especially when there is another road right there and it could be put to a better use? In my opinion, no way. East River commutes at 35 mph. I believe West River can too. In fact, residents have told me they have timed their routes via the Parkway and also via an alternate route. The difference is mere minutes.
Bikes equal cash
For those against bike paths, look across the way at the endless trails at Niagara on the Lake. Or Google the positive economic impact of bicycle access in Sidney, San Francisco, Portland or the many, many small towns all across the U.S. Heck, go to Clarence or Hamburg! Think of the many European cities we travel to when some of us take part in cycle tours. We can’t complain about zombie buildings on the Boulevard and then put our head in the sand when anything without even the slightest hint of risk—like a multi-million dollar path—comes our way. Grand Island will always be isolated. It’s cold half the year, and it’s an Island. If we isolate it all the time, we are doomed to continued economic stagnation—and growing taxes. So many towns would die for this project. As Supervisor, I need to champion it.
The negative impact of not building will be painful
I need to say this. If we say “NO” to this as a town, the impact will be grave. How can I, in good faith, go to any other state agency and propose another path or ask for funds? They will undoubtedly say, "Nah, they say no to everything on Grand Island. They hate change.” And again, if you think a dead roadway is your continued key to protection, think again. You can yell scare tactic all you want, but that is state land, and if this project continues to be mired in controversy, the State will eventually be forced do something else with West River. That space is just too valuable to continue in its current form. So let’s take advantage of this opportunity. And remember your feedback has shaped this plan. That’s why I’m pushing it.
Let’s not give into fear
This #droptheway plan will mean more grass maintenance by the state, more community access to the waterfront, a partially resurfaced and enhanced parkway, more access for hunters, and many, many other benefits, including completing a vital link between the waterfront development in Buffalo and the State Parks project in Niagara Falls. If none of that persuades you and you remain worried about strangers, please ponder this. How many gangs of bike riding criminals are out there? With this path, that space will literally bloom.
Come help me facilitate positive change—stick your head up!
In Japan—a society once based on conformity—there is a proverb: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In some ways, I feel like that nail. Thankfully, I have some friends. The support for closing the Parkway has been overwhelming. It’s like the wind of a hurricane blowing against a house fan.
But on July 20th, you can rest assured that those who are against change will be out in force. Some, no matter what they say, don’t want any change because things are pretty good for them as it is. I totally understand that. I might feel the same way if I lived there. I must add that the opposition is not all of the West River residents, mind you. Don’t blame them. Many West River residents contacted me to share their support. My thanks go to these good-hearted souls, for being open to change, even when it may change what they have come to love.
But it all comes down to this. We ALL pay taxes and have just as much right to that State owned land as anyone else. Everyone with an address here has a right to be recognized and have their opinion counted. So come to the High School Auditorium at 6:00 pm on July 20th and stick your head up. No one will get ‘hammered down’. Even those who oppose the closing of the Parkway will have their chance to speak. I, (and the entire room), will listen to you with respect and openness. I’m hoping that Grand Island produces another well-reasoned and thoughtful debate.
With many thanks, your ever faithful and humble Supervisor,
P.S. Update on short term rentals
We have pulled back the law I drafted, (which limited tourist homes to existing properties and implemented a strict monitoring and permitting process), for further consideration and discussion. We are trying to see if we can improve the law based on feedback from the public hearing. I remain convinced that a strict moratorium on this type of business will settle nothing. When you try to ban something the market wants, it only leads to twisted results. And I’m fearful that if we just roll the dice and are sued again, we lose control over this issue completely. Remember, some of the voices advocating for a ban now were the ones who assured you before that the last law suit was a slam dunk in the Town’s favor. The Town lost.
Again, we can ignore change no more than a rotary phone manufacturer could ignore the advent of smart phones. As such, Bev Kinney will lead the way with the help of Mike Madigan on improving the draft version of the law I first came up with. I suggested beefing up the registration of ownership—with a complaint registry and owner contact information online. Bev wants a community panel to review operations and make suggestions. I will not force my will on the people of GI, but I don't have a magic wand to make this go away either. Thus, I remain hopeful that we can work this out and not just close our eyes, ban it, and hope it all goes away. We all know that doesn’t work.