metal: Make the Hummer your family wagon, and you may
run afoul of the law.
photo: John Whipple
of the Capital Region’s SUVs are frequently breaking the law,
just by driving down the street
SUV owners: Those same laws that keep tractor-trailers from
taking a short-cut through your neighborhood might also make
the family wagon a trespasser, too.
It’s no secret that city and town officials are often faced
with tough decisions when it comes to balancing the needs
of the residential and commercial districts. Like chaperones
at a high school dance, those charged with enforcing this
separation often rely upon rules as flimsy as the old “keep
enough space between you for a Bible” in order to prevent
overmingling. (This, of course, would raise such questions
as, “The pocket Bible or the massive, Gutenberg edition?”)
for instance, a situation that developed last November in
Guilderland that received little attention outside of the
town’s local newspaper, The Altamont Enterprise, but
may be indicative of things to come around the Capital Region.
The controversy first made headlines when a feud between neighbors
resulted in Guilderland resident Wesley Staroba receiving
a ticket for parking his Chevrolet Silverado truck in his
home’s driveway. As Staroba—and even a few town officials—soon
discovered, local zoning laws define a commercial vehicle
as any vehicle “having a registered carrying or hauling capacity
of one ton or more.” According to the manufacturer’s specifications,
Staroba’s heavy-duty pickup is rated to carry that much and
more, and in Guilderland, like in many other municipalities
around the region, commercial vehicles are prohibited from
parking on residential streets or driveways overnight. Despite
Staroba’s insistence that, just as with many families today,
the large truck was used primarily as personal transportation
for him and his family, the violation was dismissed only after
Staroba agreed to treat the truck as the commercial vehicle
it is—according to town code, at least—and keep it garaged
But it did raise the issue of what’s in those zoning codes.
At a time when monstrous SUVs and four-door pickup trucks
have become common methods of transporting the kids to soccer
practice or yourself to work, similar regulations regarding
vehicle weight and carrying capacity can be found in the zoning
laws of many cities and towns around the Capital Region. Yet,
just as town officials in Guilderland discovered, the question
is not only whether the laws should be changed to accommodate
the growing size of family vehicles, but also why such regulations
exist and whether their enforcement should become more commonplace.
commercial vehicles, tractors and tractor-trailer combinations
in excess of the weights indicated are hereby excluded from
the following streets,” states section 119-35 of the town
of Bethlehem’s traffic code, “except for the pickup and delivery
This portion of the town code goes on to list 14 streets,
including Ellsworth Avenue, Elm Avenue East (between Jericho
Road and Elm Avenue) and Kenwood Avenue (between the Delmar
Bypass and Delaware Avenue), all with a vehicle-weight restriction
of three tons. Although three tons may initially seem like
a hefty—and therefore, logical—cutoff point between commercial
and passenger vehicles, manufacturers’ specifications place
many of the most popular SUVs in violation of local zoning
laws whenever their rubber meets certain roads.
the Cadillac Escalade, with a gross-vehicle-weight rating
of 6,800 pounds in its lightest form, to the Chevrolet Suburban,
weighing in at 7,000 to 8,600 pounds (and, of course, the
8,600-pound Hummer H2), there’s a strong case to be made that
many of the vehicles common on local streets and avenues are,
in fact, there illegally.
While there are various reasons for the infrequent enforcement
of such laws, the reason for their existence is a bit more
a residential road is a little less structurally sound than
a commercial road,” explained Bill Neeley, supervisor of public
works for the town of Colonie. “The asphalt’s thickness tends
to be greater on the roads where dump trucks and heavy vehicles
are more common.”
According to Neeley, weight restrictions on local roads serve
a dual purpose: protecting both the structural integrity and
the aesthetic quality of neighborhoods. The town of Colonie
has set a higher cutoff point than Bethlehem for its weight
restriction (4 tons on the 80-or-so residential routes listed),
and similar regulations exist for many of the other towns
around the region, including Niskayuna, Scotia and Rotterdam,
as well as the village of Colonie.
Neeley was cautious, however, about lumping SUVs and oversized
pickup trucks into the same pool of potential street- wreckers
as garbage trucks and tractors.
occasional heavy SUV isn’t going to tear up the street like
a dump truck,” he reasoned. “But with constant use over time—yeah,
they certainly might cause some problems.”
And with large amounts of taxpayer dollars directed toward
street repair each year—not to mention the personal expense
that goes with pothole-induced wheel alignments and tire repair—the
question of whether these restrictions should be enforced
upon vehicles like Dodge Ram pickup trucks (6,350 pounds for
the 1500 model and 9,000 pounds or more for the 2500 model)
or the Chevrolet Avalanche (6,800 to 8,600 pounds) may gain
importance as the average weight of passenger vehicles outpaces
the capability of local roadways.
For now, though, the question of enforcement tends to depend
on whom you ask.
aren’t any vehicles that weigh that much,” said a spokesman
for the town of Niskayuna’s police department when asked whether
any tickets have ever been issued for violations of the town’s
4-ton weight-restriction on the eight roads where a limit
has been assigned. The town’s weight restriction, he later
stated, referred to vehicles’ weights when empty. (There is
no mention of empty or full vehicles in the code.) And while
the same representative later implied that the local weight
restrictions were intended only for commercial vehicles (the
actual code only uses the word “vehicles,” and makes no distinction
between personal or commercial use), this uncertainty highlights
one of the more frustrating aspects of the weight-restriction
issue: the problem of differing standards.
The most frequent weight-related classification applied to
vehicles is the gross-vehicle-weight rating, which includes
the weight of the vehicle, driver, passengers, optional equipment
and cargo. However, most vehicle specifications also list
the weight of the vehicle when empty, known as the curb weight.
The two measures can differ by a ton or more in some cases,
leading many to question exactly which “weight” to go by when
enforcing regulations. (The weights listed for vehicles in
this story are the GVWR weights.)
In addition to the significant lack of empty vehicles cruising
around local roadways, a number of other arguments have been
made for the use of GVWR as a representative measure of weight.
The New York State Department of Transportation uses vehicles’
GVWR in order to make a distinction between different classes
of vehicles throughout much of the state code, while the Internal
Revenue Service also uses GVWR to determine applicability
to certain taxes and tax breaks. The controversial federal
tax break that once allowed business owners to deduct up to
$100,000 for nominally “work-related” (no proof required)
vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds also relied upon
the GVWR measure, and though this loophole has since been
altered to allow such a deduction only for vehicles with a
GVWR of 14,000 pounds or more, “work-related” vehicles with
a 6,000-pound GVWR can still qualify for up to $25,000 in
Some local municipalities have removed much of the confusion
by specifying the standard of vehicle weight to which their
restrictions apply. The town of Colonie’s restrictions apply
to “every vehicle having a gross vehicle weight, whether unloaded
or loaded,” of more than 4 tons while the town of Rotterdam’s
restrictions simply apply to vehicles with a current, total
weight greater than the designated tonnage.
According to Lt. William Manikas of the Rotterdam Police Department,
the primary obstacle to enforcement of such restrictions is
simply a matter of resources. With more than 70 streets where
vehicle weights are restricted and a police force of less
than 50 officers, checking the weight of every SUV or extended-cab
pickup truck would simply be a waste of manpower, reasoned
Manikas, who added that he has yet to receive any complaints
about SUVs violating local vehicle-weight laws. And complaints,
said Manikas, tend to be the only way the police are alerted
to weight-restriction violations.
never really received any complaints about SUVs’ weights,”
said Manikas, “but certainly, if it’s something we started
seeing, we would do our best to take care of it.”
don’t care if they give me a Price Chopper receipt.
I just want to get going.”
bus driver on an over-full Central Avenue bus
that had just missed a green light because so
many people were boarding.
doesn’t snow in China, does it? It’s too warm.”
at the back of a bus in Saturday’s snowstorm,
to a group of Asian students who had just boarded
the bus. They didn’t reply.
Ideas Are More Equal than Others
At the instigation of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, the
wrath of the right has decended upon Ward Churchill,
a professor of ethnic studies at the University
of Colorado, Boulder, who was to speak at Hamilton
College in Utica this month. After 9/11, Churchill
wrote what many see as an inflammatory essay saying
the attacks were a legitimate continuation of
a war America started. Even those who disagree
with the essay have raised concerns about the
furor raised in response—Hamilton College canceled
the speech after its president began to get death
threats, while Churchill has been forced to resign
as department chair and is at risk of losing his
End Justifies Means?
Initial reports of 70 percent turnout in the recent
Iraqi elections turned out to be untrue (it was
more like 57 percent, 40 in Sunni areas), 45 people
were killed in terrorist attacks, and Sunni boycotting
could still sabotage the constitutional process.
On the other hand, voter turnout was higher than
in many recent U.S. elections, and even the most
cynical commentators found hope in the bravery
of people lining up to vote and waving their ink-stained
fingers in peace signs at the cameras afterwards.
Now let’s make it worth their while.
Like a Phoenix
Dr. Howard Dean’s political career may not have
been ruined after all. Heading into next week’s
Democratic National Committee election, Dean appears
to have the majority of his party’s support. Despite
his nosedive as a presidential candidate, Dean
is once again poised to take one of the top adversarial
spots to President Bush. This means one of two
things: Either the former Vermont governor has
managed to shed the caricature image attached
to him after his infamous screaming fit, or the
Democratic Party really is screwed.
One Fewer Unemployed
Former President Bill Clinton has been chosen
to spearhead the reconstruction of tsunami-damaged
areas in Southeast Asia and Africa. While his
new job will not officially begin until March,
Clinton already has plans to not only rebuild
the ravaged area, but to quell some of the bitter
political conflicts that have existed in nations
like Sri Lanka and Indonesia for decades. U.N.
spokesman Fred Eckhard stated, “No one could possibly
be better qualified for this task.” And with the
amount of damage control Clinton has had to do
over the last decade, that might be true.
Sorry, All Agents Are Busy Organizing
Albany Housing Authority is in the process of demolishing
its building at 159 Church St. The building has not
been occupied since the 1970s, when the construction
of I-787 made the noise levels in the building unbearable.
Until a recent move to the new AHA building at 200 S.
Pearl St., however, the AHA’s maintenance offices were
still housed at 159 Church St. AHA plans to use the
site for its garage and fleet.
photo: John Whipple
employees say their wage and workplace rules are not entertaining
Weber was in the hospital recently, she had to call in to
her employer—Ticketmaster/Reserve America in Ballston Spa—every
day from her hospital bed, or risk accumulating “points” for
Dianne Shadick had car trouble, she was told she needed to
produce a receipt from the towing company. “I don’t have the
money for a tow truck,” she said. “I had a family member pull
me out.” That earned her her 19th point.
Shreve lost his voice for two weeks, and accumulated 12 points
because he didn’t offer enough doctors’ notes. “They knew
I couldn’t talk,” he said. “I can’t afford insurance, I can’t
can also be accumulated for arriving or returning from break
late (1/4 point), or leaving early because you aren’t feeling
well (1/2 point). Sometimes if the phone system takes a while
to log you in, you can get penalized even if you’re at your
station on time, employees say. Technically, you can be fired
for having more than 16 points, though several employees say
people are still working there who have exceeded 30, and “practically
everybody that works there has a final warning,” according
to Shadick. This means an atmosphere of “any day I could be
fired, anybody working there any day could be fired,” said
Shadick. Some team leaders stick strictly to the rules, while
others play favorites in awarding points or initiating termination,
said several employees. That’s only one of many reasons they’ve
turned to Local 408, IUE-CWA, to help them organize into a
at the call center take Ticketmaster orders as well as campground
reservations for several state park systems. They start at
$7.50 an hour, and add $.25 for every new contract that they
learn to handle calls for—that is until they reach $8.50 an
hour. There the raises stop, even though there are more contracts
to be learned. Other call centers in the area are advertising
positions at $9.13 an hour. Shreve would be interested in
some of those positions—but they require a car to get to,
and at $8.50 an hour he can’t afford one.
has Asperger’s [Syndrome],” said Don Deveneau, who started
at Ticketmaster in October and is still at the $7.50 rate.
“If it wasn’t for him getting SSI there’s no way in hell I
would be able to afford the roof over my head. I’m having
trouble paying the utilities.”
don’t allow an annual increase in pay, there’s no way you
can keep up with inflation,” says Shreve. “I’ve peaked out.
. . . Whenever inflation goes up, I lose.”
on wages are major hardship for many of Ticketmaster’s employees,
but it’s the work rules and environment that really get under
their skin. Along with the point system and doctors’ note
requirements, they have to clock in and out for their 10-minute
breaks and for bathroom breaks. If they take a day off for
a loss in the family, according to Deveneau, they are required
to provide not only a copy of the obituary, but a letter on
the funeral-home letterhead attesting that they were present
at the funeral. “Boot camp wasn’t this bad,”said Deveneau.
treat you like a 5-year-old over there, that’s all there is
to it,” added another employee who wished to remain anonymous.
workers say support from supervisors for difficult calls is
also spotty. “We’re not allowed to hang up at all,” said the
anonymous employee. “I’ve hit the emergency button and no
one has come to aid me. . . . One of my friends got a bad
call, a guy was masturbating on the phone, and there was no
supervisor around to take the call. He hit the emergency button
over and over.”
the supervisors are around, said Deveneau. “You look up there
on the stage, especially on a Saturday, and the agent support
people are just laughing and joking and teeheeing. . . . and
you get this message, ‘All agent support people are busy.’
has been holding focus groups to ask for suggestions, but
Shadick, for one, doesn’t believe anything will change. “I’ve
made quite a few suggestions about different things,” she
said. “They have little meetings and ask agents ‘How can we
improve?’ but nothing ever gets done.”
Chris Debiec, the vice president of local 408, reached out
to the Ticketmaster Ballston Spa employees after hearing some
of these accounts. He was pointed to Shadick as someone whom
other people went to to talk about their problems. On Jan.
20, he met with her during her break, off company property,
to give her some materials to hand out to colleagues on her
own time. Two hours later, she was pulled out of a refresher
training course and told she was being fired for excessive
absenteeism. “Why would they be spending the money to have
me in a class if they were making plans to let me go?” she
said. Shadick and Debiec both believe she was fired for her
union activity. That would make her firing an unfair labor
practice, according to the National Labor Relations Act. Employees
also have told Debiec that the company has been interrogating
them about what they know about the union—another prohibited
(Feb. 1), Debiec and members of his internal organizing committee
went public with their organizing campaign, and served notice
of two unfair labor practice charges—for Shadick’s firing
and the interrogations—on the management of Ticketmaster.
said he was told to leave the property, and that management
“banned all union materials on their property.” According
to the National Labor Relations Act, employers may not interfere
with organizing activity. This means that employees may hand
out organizing materials in non-work space on the property
(break room, parking lot) when both they and the co-worker
receiving the materials are not on work time.
employees tried to leaflet in the parking lot after their
shift on Tuesday, however, management called the police on
them, another unfair labor practice, according to Debiec,
who got in a shouting match with a manager over the call.
The police told the employees to stay on the sidewalk for
now, said committee member John Weber Jr., who said the police
were “just making sure that everything is straight before
they let us do what we were trying to earlier.” They were
able to finish their leafleting.
all these violations of the National Labor Relations Act,
I don’t expect they have yet contacted an anti-union firm,”
said Debiec. “They obviously haven’t done their homework.
. . . I expect that within a few days they will.”
company consults an anti-union firm, they will likely shift
tactics to one-on-one meetings and letters home promising
all sorts of changes, said Debiec.
McDonald of Ticketmaster/Reserve America Ballston Spa said
he couldn’t yet comment. Calls to Ticketmaster’s corporate
headquarters were not returned.
is famous for its hefty “convenience charges” and “order processing
fees,” which can increase ticket prices for consumers by upwards
of 15 percent. Will the public support a union-organizing
drive if they are afraid it will raise ticket prices higher?
responded to this question by rattling off a list of the salaries,
bonuses, and stock options of the top officials of Interactive
Corp., which owns 26 businesses, including Ticketmaster, Home
Shopping Network, Expedia, and Citysearch. Barry Diller, the
CEO, for example, paid himself a $3.25 million bonus in 2003
on top of his $500,000 salary and nearly $1 million worth
of personal use of the company jet. “Maybe they can cut back
on the bonus and share the wealth,” said Debiec. “Of course
probably, they will end up upping the ticket prices, which
bid farewell to Tom Nattell, lifelong poet, activist and one
of our own
Monday, Capital Region poet-activist and Metroland
columnist Tom Nattell lost his two-year battle against throat
cancer. He was 52. We are all deeply saddened by this turn
of events, and although we knew Tom was dying, we all hoped
through a miracle, some sort of cosmic reordering and righting
of a terrible wrong, that he’d somehow pull through. We wanted
this not only because it’s difficult to imagine our broader
community without him, or because we’ll miss his upbeat personality
or the extra dessert at staff parties (Tom didn’t do refined
sugar), but because he was a genuinely good guy.
We extend our most heart-felt sympathies to Tom’s longtime
partner, Mary Anne Winslow, to his kids, Noah and Leah, and
to his close friends. We’d also like to thank them for sharing
Tom with us, because, no doubt, the time he spent working
on various projects and causes over the years took time away
from his family and loved ones.
At Metroland, we first got to know Tom as an activist
and a poet. He’d stop by the office on a fairly regular basis
with press releases, often printed on bright neon- colored
paper to make them stand out from the rest, promoting everything
from protests to poetry readings. More times than not, the
events he organized were a little bit of both: Rock Against
Reaganomics concerts; the 24-hour performance bash, Readings
Against the End of the World, which ran for a decade in the
’80s and ’90s; the Poets Open Mic at QE2; the annual Poets
Action Against AIDS; the Poets in the Park series held every
summer at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park; and,
of course, his infamous performance-poetry troupe, 3 Guys
From Albany, which has toured the country performing in—where
else?—17 other cities named Albany.
We knew that Tom had the stuff a lot of us wish we were made
of: His commitments to social justice, the environment, home-grown
art and activism were tireless. He was dedicated to building
the kind of community he wanted to live in—one that is vibrant,
thoughtful, sustainable. He was one of those exceedingly rare
individuals who didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the
walk. In a world that often seems filled with people looking
out only for themselves—and their financial well-being—Tom
took only what he needed and gave back so much more. You know
the saying: Think globally, act locally. That was Tom. Because
he was the real deal, we wanted his voice in our paper and
that’s how he came to write his column The Simple Life, which
appeared in these pages every other week since 1997.
Through his writing Tom opened a window into his world and
shared his approach to life with those who were not fortunate
enough to know him personally. He taught us how we, too, could
make a difference in this life through conscious personal
actions, however great or small.
Tom we learned about things like the efficiency of the bicycle
as a mode of transportation. Tom was an avid cyclist. Most
days he left the car at home and rode his bike to his day
job as a research scientist for the State Health Department.
Or he walked—not as efficient as the bike, but gentle on the
And who could forget his instructions for how to set up a
deluxe home recycling center, complete with a box of dirt
in the basement filled with supercomposting worms? He claimed
they even recycled his cotton undershorts—everything but the
Because of Tom we all know that something as simple as planting
a seed—an organic, sustainably produced seed, mind you—can
make a world of difference.
Near the end of his life, Tom was waxing philosophical about
the meaning of it all. He told Paul Grondahl from the Times
Union: “A human life is just an eye-blink in the universe,
man, if even that.”
Maybe there’s some truth to that—especially if said life is
lived in a vaccuum. But Tom certainly didn’t live that way.
He lived a life in the world and touched countless people
through his actions. Because of this, we know the ripple effect
of his existence will continue to be felt in our own lives,
throughout our greater community and, in turn, in the wider
To ensure that this happens and to honor Tom’s life and memory
there are certain things we can all do. First—this is the
easy one—make a donation to the Tom Nattell Peace Poetry Prize,
which will be awarded annually to an Albany High School student
for a poem that fosters a sense of social responsibility (checks
may be made out to the Community Foundation for the Capital
Region; write Tom Nattell Peace Poetry Prize on the memo line,
and mailed to the Community Foundation for the Capital Region,
Six Tower Place, Albany, NY 12203; visit www.cfcr.org for
On a personal level, we can all choose to live a little bit
more like Tom. We can all try to live simpler lives, as it
were. Take your pick: There are any number of ways to start
or add to the conscious decisions we make about how we spend
our time on this planet and our world’s precious resources.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Walk, bike, take the bus. Get rid
of your lawn and plant an organic garden instead. (If you
can’t part with the grass, at least stop using petrochemicals
to fertilize it and don’t waste water to keep it green at
the height of summer.) Write to your elected officials and
let them know what you think about policies affecting the
environment, poverty, AIDS . . . .
You get the picture.
Tom led by example. It’s our turn to take up his mantle and
U.S. Justice Department has some integrity left,
it seems, as Solicitor General Paul Clement refused
to defend a law prohibiting drug reform advertisements
in public transit systems. The law was ruled unconstitutional
by a federal district court last fall [“Say Anything
You Want About Drugs—as Long as You’re Against
Them,” FYI, Feb. 5, 2004; Loose Ends, Sept. 16,
2004]. . . . Criticism of the potential Albany
Convention Center got a big boost with the
recent release of a report from the Brookings
Institution, which cast significant doubts upon
the expensive project’s probability of success.
The Brookings report further supported the findings
of previous studies [“Betting on the Big Project,”
Newsfront, June 10, 2004], indicating that the
business of building convention centers may be
booming, but the actual number of conventions
held each year is plummeting. . . . A recent study
conducted by Texas A & M University found
that teenagers who receive abstinence-only
sexual education in Texas schools are significantly
less likely to abstain from sexual activity.
As previously reported [“Abstaining From the Truth,”
Newsfront, Dec. 9, 2004], abstinence-only sexual
education has received a major boost in funding
under George W. Bush.