Strong Communities Organize and Advocate: Let’s Be Strong!

We are better together.   Squeaky wheels get oiled. These are the cliches of advocacy.
On Tuesday night (October 10, 2017) I proposed to the Sea Cliff Board of Trustees the creation of a Research and Advocacy group for Sea Cliff. The basic proposal is to create a Committee of the Board of Trustees, that takes direction from and reports to the Board of Trustees and has no authority to act on its own, but is charged with following the direction of the Board.

This Committee would focus on researching issues external to the Village of Sea Cliff that are affecting or have the potential to affect the quality of life in Sea Cliff. Further, the Committee would advocate for the interests of the Village to outside agencies, governments, media and corporations.

Research would include a deep understanding of all factors of an issue, the people, agencies, organizations, institutions and others involved, analysis of points of leverage for effecting change and defining strategies for gaining such leverage in the service of protecting and furthering the interests of Sea Cliff.
We have a strong internal structure of support, engagement and management: we have many committees, boards and other organizations which focus on activities and issues within our one square mile. We do an outstanding job. Our village is charming, clean, safe and just lovely. However,

external pressures are increasing and we need a plan to engage and manage these forces to protect this lovely way of life.

New York American Water, RXR, high-density development in Glen Cove and Roslyn, mandates for consolidation, continuously decreasing state aid to villages, environmental issues, traffic and safety issues are some external pressures that come to mind. Further, the New York State Conference of Mayor and Municipal Officials (NYCOM), the primary organization for villages, has their own legislative agenda and advocacy group which we could connect with more closely to our benefit. NYCOM’s legislative agenda includes increasing state aid to villages, modifications to the tax cap, funding for local infrastructure, especially roads, water and sewer projects, fighting unfunded mandates from the state and federal levels of government.
A research and advocacy committee in our village would be dedicated to deeply understanding these issues and advising the Board of Trustees.

This research and insight would be a valuable tool in planning and managing our village.

This idea is not new or mine: I got it from serving on a similar committee (the Legislative Action Committee or LAC) in our school district. Through that work I’ve learned about many other such committees, usually in high-performing school districts. If you take a look at well-managed, high-functioning organizations, many of them have research and advocacy teams. Information and knowledge are not only power, but necessary for good planning and management.
Involving more people in our government by making this committee an official committee of the Board both makes our village government and community stronger and creates responsibility and accountability on the committee. A committee of the Board can also organize our citizens to advocate for our shared values and interests. Making this an official Committee of the Board is the first step and definition of organization.

Organized communities are able to plan and manage better, better able to advocate for their interests with decision makers and are more effective at achieving their goals.

North Shore School’s LAC has built a coalition with other school district’s who also have LACs. Together we met with the Commissioner of Education over the Teacher Evaluation issue. In that meeting, one of the first questions we asked the Commissioner, who decides on the policies that impact our schools, how often she considers schools like ours – high-performing and well-managed — in creating policies like the current teacher evaluation system. She took a breath and admitted that up until that point she had not considered us. She said there were so many failing schools, and failing badly that she was focused there and it was clear that what those schools need is very different from schools like ours need. In fact, the policies put in place to help failing schools, were inadvertently hurting high-performing schools. There is currently a moratorium on the teacher evaluation system as it relates to testing.

I don’t think we single-handedly accomplished that, but I do think we were influential in creating that change. I do know that change was created by people organizing and advocating for their interests. Advocacy works.

I first proposed this idea to the Board at our October 2 Conference Meeting. At that time there was primarily objections to the proposal. Here are the objections: there are already many people involved in NYAW; any person can do research and present it to the Board at ay time; the school’s LAC is not really effective; and people in our community will not be interested in this and won’t volunteer for this. At the October 10 meeting I said much of what I’ve written here and asked my fellow Board members to try to detach this proposal for me and think about what is good for Sea Cliff and our future. I did not ask for a vote at that time, allowing the other Board members time for thoughtful deliberation.
I believe in organization. I believe that we should seek knowledge and information. I believe in advocacy. I believe that I am surrounded by smart, creative, talented people who greatly value the quality of life that we’ve created together in Sea Cliff. I see the construction sites, witness the speeding cars, see the water bills, smell the dirty water, see the sadness and bewilderment at another untimely death, and watch our state taxes go up to Albany and very little of that money come back down to Sea Cliff. I know that being frustrated and angry and posting those feelings on Facebook doesn’t change anything.

Deep knowledge, strategic thinking, organization and advocacy are time-tested and proven approaches that work. I believe it is time that Sea Cliff takes this affirmative step in helping to secure a future for this village that is as lovely as it is now.

Littleworth Lane

As requested by the Board, following our last public comment meeting in October, I have looked into the situation regarding the block of Littleworth Lane between the school and the school playground, between Hansen Place and Carpenter Ave. I have urgent findings.

Just last week I witnessed multiple near-miss accidents on that block of Littleworth, while it was open to traffic, and heard about several others. It is absolutely clear to me that this is a very dangerous situation.

Pursuant to the NYS Court of Appeals Case Turturro v. City of New York from December 2016, municipalities have tort liability for motor vehicle accidents on their roads where they have been notified by the public of inherent dangers on those roads, such as is the case with Littleworth Lane by the school.

The ruling in the Turturro Case, in which a 12 year old boy riding his bike was struck and seriously injured by a speeding car on a street which city officials knew was dangerous because public comments has been made stating such, makes clear the municipalities’ legal responsibility to — at the very least — conduct a reasonable study with an eye toward alleviating the danger. This is a quote from Judge Fahey writing for the majority:

“We do not suggest that a municipality has a proprietary duty to keep its roadways free from all unlawful or reckless driving behavior. Under the particular circumstances of this case, however, plaintiffs demonstrated that the City was made aware through repeated complaints of ongoing speeding along Gerritsen Avenue, that the City could have implemented roadway design changes in the form of traffic calming measures to deter speeding, and that the City failed to conduct a study of whether traffic calming measures were appropriate and therefore failed to implement any such measures…

We therefore conclude that the specific acts or omissions that plaintiffs claim caused the injury arose from the City’s failure to keep Gerritsen Avenue in a reasonably safe condition. Specifically, the City failed to conduct an adequate study of whether to implement roadway design changes that would have controlled speeding. As such, the City was acting in a proprietary capacity. Plaintiffs had no obligation to prove special duty, and the City cannot rely on the governmental function immunity defense.”

The village has tacitly conceded that this section of Littleworth is indeed dangerous by approving the road closure during school hours for so many years. In many past Board meetings, many residents have stood up and recounted near-miss accidents, described the dangers on that block and pleaded with the trustees and mayor to close the street. The street is dangerous not only during school hours but all the time, especially weekends and school holidays, when children use the playgrounds.

Additionally, NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law Article 39 1640 allows for a village to close a road temporarily or permanently for safety reasons. The Law (VTL 1640) says:

 “The legislative body of any city or village, with respect to highways in such city or village may by local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation:

8. Designate safety zones and

  1. Adopt such additional reasonable local laws, ordinances, orders, rules and regulations with respect to traffic as local conditions may require subject to the limitations contained in the various laws of this state.”

This section of NYS VTL provides for the legality of a local ordinance to close Littleworth Lane. Section 1604 of NYS VTL states that local ordinances are prohibited except as otherwise provided. Here, in section 1640 #s 8 and 16, is the provision for the legality of local ordinances, specifically for safety.

In light of these findings, I am requesting that our Board please take two actions tonight. We as a village are at risk every moment that road is open. We need to take precautions to limit our liability right now. The first action is to close that block of Littleworth Lane 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until a plan for the block is agreed on and enacted. The second is to begin the process of creating a plan by conducting a SEQRA* review of the permanent closure of this block.

At this time I think that it would be respectful and proper to alter the agenda and open the meeting to public comment, as I believe that there are many citizens here who came to comment on this topic. If the mayor does not wish to allow public comments at this time, then I would like to make two motions. Mr. Mayor, will you open the meeting to public comment at this time?

I make the motion that the Board closes Littleworth Lane between Hansen Place and Carpenter Avenue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week beginning immediately and until such time as a safe plan for that block is approved and implemented.

I make a motion that the Board approves a SEQRA review for the permanent closure of Littleworth Lane between Hansen Place and Carpenter Avenue to begin immediately.

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The text below provides supporting information on NYS Court of Appeals, SEQRA, and the Turturro Case:

What is NYS Court of Appeals and do their rulings affect Sea Cliff? (below is from the NYS Court of Appeals website):

“The Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, is composed of a Chief Judge and six Associate Judges, each appointed to a 14-year term. New York’s highest appellate court was established to articulate statewide principles of law in the context of deciding particular lawsuits. The Court thus generally focuses on broad issues of law as distinguished from individual factual disputes. There is no jurisdictional limitation based upon the amount of money at stake in a case or the status or rank of the parties.”

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*SEQRA stands for State Environmental Quality Review Act and is required by most projects proposed by local governments. The SEQRA decision-making process encourages communication among government agencies, project sponsors and the general public. The process examines ways to reduce or avoid adverse environmental impacts related to the proposed action and includes an analysis of all reasonable alternatives.

Press Coverage of the Turturro Ruling and video of NYS Court of Appeals: