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Safety Second

Legislation to require window guards for apartments inhabited by small children meets resistance in the Albany Common Council

It was a fairly common-sense issue for Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1): Children in Albany have been falling out of apartment windows, and something should be done to prevent that from happening. The councilman was surprised, however, when his proposed legislation, which would require property owners to install window guards in second-story apartments and higher where children 10 or younger reside, was met with opposition from Albany Fire Chief Robert Forezzi and fellow Common Council members during a meeting of the council’s Law Committee last week.

Forezzi, and other opponents of Calsolaro’s bill, brought up concerns about fire safety, concerns about enforcing the law, liability issues for the city, and costs that would be incurred by landlords required to install the guards.

Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) said he felt the arguments against Calsolaro’s proposed law lacked substance. “The reasons for people not supporting it were not valid,” said Ellis. “Some who opposed it brought up the issue of firefighter safety. So, I asked the chief for the number of firefighters he knows who have been injured by not being able to get out of a building because of window guards. They are designed so kids can’t open them, not adults. And he didn’t have an answer. They need to give me a reason we can’t do it, especially because Boston and New York City are able to do it. So why can’t we do it here?”

Calsolaro modeled his legislation after a law that exists in New York City and a volunteer program in Boston called “Kid’s Can’t Fly,” which promotes the use of window guards. New York City implemented their program in 1976. New York City’s Health Department Web site describes the program as a resounding success: “In 1976 there were 217 window falls reported. Only three years later, after the program was created, there were only 80 reported falls. During calendar year 2002 there were three preventable falls reported to the Window Falls Prevention Program.”

Councilman Michael O’Brien (Ward 12) said he admires Calsolaro’s motives, but describes his ordinance as “overkill.” “We already have an ordinance, which is an anti-burglary ordinance, that can be adapted for Dominick’s purposes. It states that every rental unit on the first floor should have window pegs so the window won’t open more than 6 inches. We could modify the existing ordinance so that in rental units all floors will have window pegs installed.” O’Brien notes the peg solution would be a cheaper alternative to guards, but would put more responsibility on the tenant.

Calsolaro said he is aware that there are issues with his bill, but that no piece of legislation is ever perfect, and he feels it is important to get the legislation on the books. The councilman added that he may try to go forward with an alternative ordinance requiring window pins.

Calsolaro acknowledged that the issue of enforcement is complicated and would likely work simply on an honor system; after being accepted as tenants, renters would inform landlords that they have a child age 10 or under and would like window guards installed.

However, Calsolaro found a number of arguments against the bill to be absurd. “The fire chief’s arguments were kind of foolish,” said Calsolaro, “He brought up liability issues: ‘What if we check a window guard and found it OK, and then someone got hurt and we later found out the guard is damaged? Now the city is liable.’

That is nonsense, insisted Calsolaro. “It is the same with anything they inspect; the city is not sued if a smoke detector they inspect does not work five months after they inspect it.”

O’Brien said that Forezzi is looking into window-guard programs in Boston and New York. He also said that a new piece of equipment, purchased by the fire department to allow firemen to rappel out of high-story windows when trapped in a burning building, might be disrupted by window guards.

According to Calsolaro, the chief argued that adding window guards to their inspection list would take up more valuable time during inspections. However, Calsolero said he doubts that checking on window guards would add significant extra time once an inspection is underway.

Calsolaro said he found the argument about the cost of window guards being prohibitive to landlords to be a weak one—especially, he said, because of a proposal brought up later in the meeting to fine property owners $100 for each day that graffiti remains on their property.

That graffiti-tax proposal was supported by some of the same council members who attacked Calsolaro’s window guard ordinance.

“It’s a criminal act that they didn’t do,” said Calsolaro of graffiti. The city actually has a full-time graffiti removal team, and the graffiti ordinance is designed to address graffiti in a position that is too difficult or costly for the city graffiti removal team to reach.

“I know it looks awful, but it is not the property owner’s fault, and $100 per day is a lot of money,” said Calsolaro. “In fact, $100 would pay for two window guards.” Forrezzi did not return calls for comment.

—David King

What a Week

The Government in Your G-String?

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has estimated that his state will face a $20 million budget shortfall this year, and Assemblyman Charles Calderon has a proposal to make the state some quick tax revenue: Tax porn. His legislation would introduce a 25-percent tax on strip clubs, adult videos, Internet sales, public movie showings, and production of adult films. Calderon said the tax also would decrease the other societal ills he claims are caused by porn—like STDs, drug abuse and crime. Matt Gray, a lobbyist for the porn industry, told Reuters that the tax on the porn industry could cost the state’s economy up to $3.5 billion. “It’s actually cheaper to fly everyone to Budapest to do their shoots there and to fly them back,” said Gray.

Iran So Far Away

The Bush administration denied a report by the Jerusalem Post, which quoted anonymous sources as saying that the Bush administration plans to conduct military action against Iran before the end of Bush’s term. The article said a “senior member” of Bush’s entourage mentioned the plans in a meeting last week. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino responded, “As the president has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard.”

Crude Measures

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow the Justice Department to sue OPEC oil-producing members for controlling oil production and manipulating prices. The bill passed by an overwhelming 324-84 vote—a margin large enough to override a presidential veto. (President Bush has made it clear he will veto the bill.) The bill, however symbolically, attempts to place oil producers like Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia under the same antitrust laws that govern American businesses. The bill also creates a task force under the Justice Department to investigate gasoline pricing and energy-market manipulation. Reuters quoted a White House official as saying the bill “would likely spur retaliatory action against American interests in those countries and lead to a reduction in oil available to U.S. refiners.”

Expand and Borrow

The Albany Common Council approves bond issue to fund proposed landfill expansion

“I will bet you $1,000 this is the last expansion there,” said Albany Common Councilman Michael O’Brien (Ward 12), regarding the recently approved $7 million bond issue approved by the Common Council this week to expand the city’s Rapp Road landfill for the fifth time. “There is no more place to go,” continued O’Brien, “and we and the state have enough time to come up with an economically viable alternative.”

Three other council members, Barbara Smith (Ward 4), Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) and Corey Ellis (Ward 3), were not willing to take that chance, and voted against the bond issue.

As Ellis pointed out, the last time an expansion of the landfill was before the council, the city had promised the fourth expansion would be the last.

Opposition to the bill by the three council members led to debate on the floor of the council. Calsolaro insisted that the city has already seen its debt payments nearly double in the last three years from $9 million to $16 million, and that the city has not taken his recommendation and put together an honest estimate of what it costs to run the landfill.

Calsolaro said that while city officials cite the landfill as generating $13 million in revenue for the city each year, he thinks that the cost to operate the landfill, the legal fees surrounding it, and the cost of purchasing an alternative landfill site in Coeymans may significantly eat into what the city truly earns. Calsolaro referred to the bond issue as “a sad state for Albany taxpayers.”

O’Brien said he respected the three council members’ opposition to the bond issue, but thought it to be mostly symbolic. “Their opposition forces us all to think, and justify why we are taking what you might even call a desperate step that is not the best long-term solution, but right now a necessary solution.”

O’Brien insisted that the state and federal government need to catch up with policies that reflect environmental priorities. O’Brien said that, under the administration of former Gov. George Pataki, the DEC Web site emphasized landfills as a solution to regional waste problems, but that things changed under the Spitzer administration. “The Web site now preaches recycling,” he said, “but that ain’t gonna happen until the government starts assisting localities to mandate a lot of policy changes, and to enable regional solid-waste processing. That’s going to be the answer. We aren’t there yet and, by sheer force of necessity, we are forced to go with the second best solution, a fifth landfill expansion.”

The council unanimously approved a $1.7 million plan to restore part of the Pine Bush Preserve. But as O’Brien pointed out, “It ain’t gonna happen unless there is an expansion.”

—David King

Tonko Trucking

Photo: Joe Putrock

On Monday evening, former New York State Assemblyman Paul Tonko finally announced that he is indeed a candidate in the race to fill the 21st district congressional seat that will be vacated by Congressman Michael McNulty at the end of the year. Tonko has long been viewed as a favorite by pundits, but his late official entry into the race has given other Democratic candidates, like Phil Steck and Tracey Brooks, the chance to gain a foothold with endorsements and fund-raising.







Loose Ends

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