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You can find a spot, but can you afford to keep it? The Central Avenue parking scene.

photo:Chris Shields

Counting Your Curbs

Parking on Albany’s Central Avenue is costly for some, impossible for others

Albany’s Central Avenue has seen its share of interesting parking strategies over the years. From the one-wheel-on-the-curb, one-wheel-in-the-air strategy to the all-too-familiar double- or triple-parking (with or without blinkers), parking tactics have evolved along with the street.

In October 2003, Central Avenue saw the introduction of parking meters with two-hour maximums, thanks to a plan enacted by the Common Council that had been recommended by the Central Business Improvement District. The meters plan was designed to increase turnaround in parking spaces so that more customers would have access to the street’s businesses. Residents of Central Avenue who didn’t work 9 to 5 and wondered what to do with their cars during the day were directed to park on side streets or in the city lots that dot the street. But within a year, limits were placed on the lots as well: 90 minutes. A new parking strategy was born.

You can see them poking their heads stealthily out of doors, darting between oncoming cars, quickly jumping into their vehicles, pulling out and then immediately pulling into a spot five spaces down. They are Central Avenue’s most evolved parkers—employees, business owners, students, people with several shopping errands. This 90-minute shuffle has been adopted by nearly everyone who has to spend any extended period on Central Avenue.

Unlike in downtown Albany (where meters also have been installed in recent years, but where there are all-day lots and garages), there are currently few places along Central Avenue, aside from the often- crowded side streets, to park for longer than two hours—even for those willing to pay for it. Will (who refused to give his last name), the owner of a Central Avenue cell-phone store, points out that even the parking lots across from the unemployment office and Hudson Valley Community College buildings have a 90-minute limit.

“It’s horrible! Now, along with overhead for my business, I’m paying X amount per month [in tickets] down at City Hall,” said Lynn Cohan, owner of Impression Hair Designs at 173 Central Ave. It’s not just Cohan who is paying; it’s her customers as well. Her weaves and perms take more than 90 minutes. “You have a $30 haircut and a $50 ticket. That becomes an $80 haircut. You might want to go to the mall next time,” she said, clearly frustrated.

“I’ve learned to adjust,” said Will, “but if I lived here I’d have something to say about it.”

According to Anthony Capece, executive director of the Central Business Improvement District, residents did have something to say before the meters went up. “Some didn’t want to walk from the side streets,” he remembered. But still, he said, “There hasn’t been a big increase in crime like some of the doomsayers predicted. The last thing we wanted to do was push problems from the business district into the residential sector.”

As of now, however, residents who won’t be moving their cars by 9 AM can’t park on Central Avenue overnight, and some who used to walk to work in nearby neighborhoods have taken to driving to work in order to have a legal place to put their cars during the day.

Capece notes that the meters and limits have led to less double parking and an increased rate of parking turnover, two of the major reasons for putting them in in the first place. But the BID also considers the meters an experiment, not something set in stone. “We let it ride for a while with the idea that we would tweak it,” says Capece. The BID has collected 25 recommendations from businesses—some want longer times allowed, while some want even shorter times to encourage turnover and available spots. “The check-cashing place wants us to lower the time down to 15 minutes and a salon right next to it wants multiple hours,” said Capece.

The recommendations are being sent to the Albany Parking Authority, and some sort of changes are expected in the signs by summer. Exactly what changes will be made made have not yet been announced, though the Parking Authority expects to make a statement as soon as the end of this week.

As for residents of Central Avenue, it seems they are all still expected to park on Bradford and Sherman streets, which run parallel to Central, or possibly Washington Avenue. For some residents that may mean a long walk. “I think people should get a sticker or something if they live on Central,” said Will. “If they live here, where are they supposed to park?”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Everybody’s Beachfront Fighting

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has ensured his state won’t want for Wild West-style shootouts and street violence by signing into law the “force with force” bill. The bill states that people who are under attack in a public place are legally allowed to respond with force rather than being obligated to retreat, even if retreat is possible. Florida, get ready for a hockey-dad renaissance.

Who’s Your Daddy?

When the New York Ambulette Coalition saw its funding cut by $4.4 million in this year’s state budget, it did what any agency looking to curry favor in Albany does: It hired somebody with connections. Just a few days after hiring lobbyist Kenneth Bruno, the son of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, funding was restored to the trade association. Government watchdog groups and media around the state have questioned whether the sudden reversal was really a change of heart for the Legislature or a taxpayer-funded favor from father to son.

Individually Wrapped Justice

During a recent live broadcast by Clear Channel affiliate WXXA-TV (Channel 23), a “cheese ninja” made a surprise appearance in the background of one of the Fox station’s news segments, slinging processed cheese slices at the camera and crew. A spokesman for Newsbreakers, a self-described “media watchdog group” that claimed responsibility for the interruption, said their stealthy associate was simply returning the “packaged and processed cheese” that “has become a main tool of TV news.”

Sign of Things to Come

Pope Benedict XVI may have initially prayed not to be shouldered with the pressure and responsibilities that come with being the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but he didn’t hesitate in offering up a controversial response to one of the first challenges before him. The new pope said Roman Catholic officials in Spain should prepare to lose their jobs rather than comply with the country’s new law allowing same-sex marriages and adoptions.



We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Scientists

Cloning prohibition in stem-cell bill could drive research and jobs out of New York

Eager to keep New York competitive in the stem-cell research race with California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and other states, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill on March 1 that would create an institute to fund biotechnological research, including stem-cell work, with $100 million of taxpayer money for its first year. The same day, State Sen. Nicholas A. Spano (R-Yonkers) announced his intention to field a similar measure in the Senate. Another stem-cell research bill was already proposed in mid-January by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan). Gov. George E. Pataki, while wondering where the funding for the initiative would come from, called the proposals “attractive.”

>>From all this, it may sound like the Empire State is poised to take a leading role in stem-cell research and the new treatments and possible cures for afflictions from Alzheimer’s disease to spinal cord injuries that it promises.

Guess again. Differences between the Democratic and Republican versions of the bills on the controversial issue of cloning embryonic stem cells for therapeutic rather than reproductive purposes could keep New York off the national biotech stage. If that happens, say researchers, the state will suffer a much-feared brain drain as its top researchers get recruited away to states that have already approved therapeutic cloning. Thousands of expected jobs may also fail to materialize.

Silver’s and Krueger’s bills (A6300 and S433A respectively) support therapeutic cloning and ban reproductive cloning. Scientists are particularly interested in therapeutic cloning, also known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” because they believe it holds the greatest promise for unlocking the secrets of several major diseases. “SCNT has tremendous potential value as a research tool,” Dr. Ross A. Frommer, associate dean for government affairs at Columbia University Medical Center, said in a telephone interview. “If we could study something like Alzheimer’s disease in the petri dish we could develop a much greater understanding of it.”

A poll commissioned last month by the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research showed that 60 percent of the public supports embryonic-stem-cell and therapeutic-cloning research. Religious conservatives, however, consider this type of research a “culture of life” issue along with abortion and human euthanasia and oppose it. In a recent New York Times column, Maureen Dowd reported that Pope Benedict XVI thinks stem-cell research should be limited and has called cloning “more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction.”

Traditionally, one of the most common sources for embryonic stem cells for research has been extra embryos (at the very early blastocyst stage) created by in-vitro fertilization for infertile couples. Therapeutic cloning, however, allows embryonic stem cells to be grown from an egg cell and the nucleus of an adult donor cell. It does not require a fertilized human embryo.

Whether Spano, who is Catholic, shares the views of religious conservatives on this issue is uncertain. But his March 1 press release says his forthcoming bill would “strictly prohibit cloning of any type,” and an April 5 news roundup on the Web site of the influential New York State Catholic Conference also reports that Spano “does not support cloning of any kind.”

Buttonholed at a popular Albany restaurant a few weeks ago, Spano confirmed that his bill would not allow therapeutic cloning and would instead fund research only on adult stem cells. “That’s what’s right for right now,” he said. Repeated calls to his office requesting further comment were not returned.

In addition to hurting New York’s prospects in the biotech race, such a prohibition, if passed into law, could also have the effect of shutting down, or even criminalizing, privately funded research already in progress at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Cornell University and other institutions in the state. Reacting to this possibility, Frommer said Columbia opposes any effort to ban somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Assemblyman Pete Grannis (D-Manhattan) shares this view. ”We obviously want to have as open and welcoming an environment as possible to make sure that we are not out of sync with the initiatives that are underway in other states,” he said.

But that has already started. Last month, Albany’s Business Review reported that the state of New Jersey has started headhunting scientists working in New York institutions. The Business Review noted that ads have run in The New York Times and other publications “touting New Jersey’s $150 million investment in stem cell research,” and that “New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research said New York is at risk of losing some of its scientific brain power because California, New Jersey and other states have made commitments to stem cell research.”

Whether these losses can be stanched depends on the fates of the stem-cell bills in the Legislature. Silver’s bill is a shoo-in in the Assembly. But Krueger, reached for comment by phone, doubted that Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno (R-Brunswick) would even allow her bill to come up for a vote in the Senate. “In a world of rational politics, my Republican colleagues who support stem-cell research would ask to cosponsor my legislation or ask to take it and use it under their own names, and I would let them do so,” she said.

Spano, a Republican, has a much better chance of getting a vote on his bill. But if, as seems likely, his legislation passes containing a prohibition on therapeutic cloning, it would then have to be reconciled with the Assembly’s version before being sent to the governor for signing. It appears doubtful, however, that either Spano or Silver would give any ground on this hot-button provision, leaving prospects for stem-cell research in New York looking dim.

—Glenn Weiser


Overheard

Overheard:

“Man, I bet nothing could stop one of them.”

“No way, man. A mouse can kill an elephant. Mice and elephants are, like, natural enemies in the wild.”

—two people watching elephants from the Ringling Bros. Circus parade around the Pepsi Arena Tuesday (April 26).



Singing against the bomb: Solidarity Singers at the Moon and River Café.

No Nukes, Revisited

Activists bring the Capital Region into the new wave of opposition to nuclear weapons

After the warming of U.S.- Soviet relations in the late 1980s, and the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s, worries about nuclear weapons—which had been at the forefront of American public consciousness throughout much of the ’80s—began to wane. Since then, other hot-button issues—the threat of terrorism, the war in Iraq, social security, the economy—have pushed nuclear arms to the back burner. But, as a series of events over the last two weeks throughout the Capital Region showed, the nuclear-arms race is far from over. And leaders from within the peace movement, both local and national, believe that the country is on the brink of a fourth major wave of anti-nuke sentiment.

During the month of May, the United Nations will review the terms of the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. On May 1, the day before these talks begin, a demonstration will be held in Manhattan’s Central Park. The recent nuclear- abolition events of the Capital Region were designed to heighten local awareness and interest in the movement prior to the New York City protest. They included several radio discussions by UAlbany professor Dr. Lawrence Wittner, a live performance of peace and protest songs by the Solidarity Singers at the Moon & River Café, the showing of a Mayors for Peace documentary at the College of Saint Rose, and a lecture by Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign founder Dr. Randall Forsberg.

Following the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, there was a significant nuclear-weapons backlash throughout the world. As that fervor waned, scientists developed hydrogen-bomb technology, which increased the previous atom bomb’s destructive power by 1,000 times. Once again, the American public responded with strong opposition. The Vietnam War turned attention away from nuclear technologies, but the late 1970s and early 1980s—and particularly the early years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency when he openly spoke of nuclear war—brought the public’s attention back. Cold War tensions and rapid nuclear-weapons proliferation helped bring on the most impressive period the anti-nuke movement had yet experienced. A protest in New York City in 1982 drew almost one million people, making it the largest demonstration in United States history. The public outcry forced the Reagan administration to do a heel-turn on its hawkish nuclear-weapons attitude.

In the years that followed, treaties were signed, arms were reduced, and the world was well on its way to minimizing nuclear technology. The last decade has seen a shift in that momentum, however. Under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, all nations in possession of nuclear weapons were to slowly reduce their supplies, and all nations without the technology agreed not to develop it. Since it was signed, four new countries (India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea) have acquired nuclear weapons, and the United States is once again developing new bombs. The public reaction has not yet come, though.

Those within the anti-nuke movement are well aware of the public complacency towards nuclear weapons. “It’s not a hot agenda right now; there’s no news coverage,” said Forsberg. “Of course, that’s like a chicken-and-egg connection. If it’s hot, the media will write about it. If the media writes about it, it’s hot. We have to find a way to get the facts to the public.”

Of course, that is easier said than done. The major reason for the renewed opposition to nuclear weapons is also the biggest obstacle: the Bush administration. “They are very slick,” said Forsberg. “Most Americans worry about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, no matter how remote a possibility that is. They don’t seem concerned with their own government’s infatuation with the weapons, and that is directly due to the Bush administration’s own clever tactics. . . . They convinced everyone that they were invading Iraq because they had weapons of mass destruction, and yet Bush won’t sign the treaty to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. How can you care enough to wage war, but not to sign a treaty?”

When asked what has kept her motivated through more than two decades of fighting for nuclear abolition, Forsberg replied that she hasn’t always maintained the same level of involvement. “I took a period off and focused my energies on military spending. But honestly, we had done so many good things with the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, weapons were on a sharp decline. The issue did not need as much attention. Today, though, it does again.”

Wittner, a professor at the University of Albany and the author of the anti-nuke trilogy The Struggle Against the Bomb, made an analogy. “Think about the early years of the labor movement. Compared to the way things were, today’s working conditions seem pretty good. But how do people think things got like that? The labor movement did such a good job in bringing about change, people got comfortable. The movement was such a success that today it has a hard time getting people to even join unions. It’s the same thing with the nukes. People don’t care because they don’t think they have a reason to care.”

There is confidence among anti-nuke movement leaders that the American public will respond with opposition once again. However, that will require education. “I don’t think this is an issue Americans are apathetic toward,” said Forsberg. “Apathy is when you know the facts and simply don’t care. I think if Americans were more aware of what’s going on with the current administration’s nuclear policy, they would respond.”

“This is an issue that we spend half our taxes on,” she added. “I don’t believe you should be able to graduate from a liberal-arts college without some education on the subject.”

Much of the blame for the re-escalation of nuclear weapons has been directly attributed to the Bush administration. However, according to Forsberg, “It’s not a partisan issue: It’s this particular group. This current administration is more conservative, or more regressive, than any previous Republican Party.”

Wittner added, “This movement transcends political ties. Just like with Reagan, it has the ability to turn the current administration’s nuclear stance around. Or else.”

Support for the recent nuclear-abolition events in the Capital Region came largely from three groups: two obvious ones—college campuses and community peace groups—and one that is often associated with support for Bush, churches. “We were pleasantly surprised to get the support of the local church groups,” said Wittner, one of the chief organizers for the events.

When asked what one fact she would educate the American people with to make them see how bad the problem really is, Forsberg brought up anti-nuclear missiles that are currently being worked on. According to her, the government has found that the missiles are ineffective and that no nation possesses the technology to wage nuclear war on the United States from its homeland. “Essentially, we are spending $7 billion a year to fund missiles that don’t work to protect against weapons that don’t exist. I hope that by clarifying how shockingly backwards American policy is, we won’t have to endure things like that.”

“When the public is awakened to the reality of things,” Dr. Wittner said, “then they will say, ‘Wait a minute—how did it get like this?’”

—Nolan Konkoski


Loose Ends

New York state resoundingly rejected the St. Lawrence Cement Plant proposal [“Some Cranberry Sauce With Your Cement Plant?” Newsfront, Dec. 2, 2002] for the city of Hudson on Tuesday, saying it would have a negative effect on the shoreline and stymie economic recovery along the Hudson River. The Hudson City Council also voted 7-3 to reject the proposal on Tuesday. St. Lawrence could appeal, but it appears to face an uphill battle if it does so. . . . The oddly named Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 [“Reforming Bankruptcy, One Screwed Family at a Time,” Looking Up, April 7] passed the House of Representatives last Thursday (April 14) by a 302-126 margin. The measure, which will drastically limit who qualifies for bankruptcy relief, had already passed the Senate, and President George W. Bush has indicated he will sign it into law. Not willing to let the defeat pass quietly, MoveOn PAC has collected $572,000 worth of pledges for radio ads targeting key representatives who voted for the bill. . . . On April 13, Y & S Homes was denied a zoning variance to turn the Tyler Arms veterans’ home on Madison Avenue in Albany into graduate student housing [“Movin’ On,” Newsfront, April 14], leaving the status of the home (which is losing money monthly) and its remaining tenants in limbo. . . . Trying to balance out the $11 million of state and federal funds devoted to “abstinence-only” education in New York state [“Abstaining From the Truth,” Newsfront, Dec. 9, 2004], members of Concerned Clergy for Choice met with New York legislators on April 12 to advocate for the Healthy Teens Act (A. 6619). The act would create a grant program to support comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sex-education programs. . . . Besicorp-Empire Development Co. [“Rensselaer Surrenders,” Newsfront, May 27, 2004] has received all of its state permits to open a newsprint-recycling and cogeneration facility and a natural-gas-fueled power station on the waterfront in the city of Rensselaer. Construction is expected to start this summer, and operations in 2007.



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