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Letter to the Editor

Published: Monday, June 4, 2012

On June 12, the Santa Rosa City Council will consider asking voters if they want to change from an at-large election system to a system in which each of seven districts would elect its own council member. The council member would be required to live in the district.

Currently, only 54 percent of eligible voters vote in city elections. The existing system isn't fostering democracy. One area, the prosperous Northeast, has dominated the council for years.

When council members appoint people to boards and commissions, they typically appoint people they know — good citizens from the Northeast quadrant. These are not bad appointments, but they are not representative of the entire city. Is it possible that people don't vote because they feel no one understands their particular needs?

District elections would make the time and expense of running for office less daunting. Candidates would be able to spend more time getting to know the district. Surely this would encourage people to run for office who cannot possibly fund a campaign today.

We already elect our county supervisors and Santa Rosa Junior College trustees in district elections. Santa Rosa would benefit when its elected officials reflect the ethnic and economic diversity of its residents.


Santa Rosa

This letter originally appeared in the Press Democrat on June 4, 2012 and is available here:


GUEST OPINION: Give district elections a chance

Published: Monday, June 11, 2012

Members of the Santa Rosa City Council are elected in citywide elections, and since the winners of these elections have come predominantly from one quadrant of the city, the more affluent Northeast, the council has not been truly representative of the entire city.

In spite of the surge in population in recent decades and the increasing ethnic and economic diversity within Santa Rosa, the City Council has not reflected those changes and has become less representative of a rapidly changing community.

The city charter provides for a review of the charter every 10 years, and the Charter Review Committee has been working diligently since last year. After careful review and public hearings, that committee has recommended that voters have the opportunity to decide whether to elect members to the City Council by district or continue the at-large system.

In view of recent global, national and local movements to create more representative and open political systems, the North Bay Organizing Project believes that this review process offers an opportunity to create a more representative City Council by putting district elections on the ballot.

If approved by a majority of voters, the charter would be amended to provide for district elections.

Since our nation's independence began as a protest against the lack of representation in Parliament, there is abundant historical precedent for seeking more direct representation. Recent protest movements have also reflected this tradition.

Our national government is based on representation by state and congressional district, our state government replicates that structure, Sonoma County is divided into five supervisorial districts and the trustees of Santa Rosa Junior College are chosen by district.

Recognizing the growing complexity of their communities and trying to reach out to underrepresented sectors of their cities, 16 of the 20 largest cities in California have some form of election by district and four combine district and at-large formats.

By dividing Santa Rosa into seven districts, in which the residents elect a resident of their district to represent them on the City Council, the council would become more representative of the whole community, the elected representatives would be known by their constituents and they would be familiar with the needs and concerns of their districts.

In turn, we think that residents would feel that they have more of a stake in city government, since they would be able to contact their district representative directly and be assured that their concerns would be taken seriously. When needed, community pressure could be applied on issues important to the community, and the district representative could be held accountable.

At a time when faith in government and its elected officials is faltering and voter turnout is disappointing, the adoption of City Council elections by district, in which candidates come from the community, are known to voters and are not dependent upon large donors, should increase civic participation and create a more vigorous city government.

Since the cost of running a campaign, even on the local level, has become excessive, many potential candidates are dissuaded from seeking office. District elections, however, would drastically reduce the size of the electorate and, therefore, the cost of campaigns for the City Council. More residents could seriously consider representing their community, without being beholden to large contributors.

In view of the above, we strongly recommend that the Santa Rosa City Council offer the people of Santa Rosa the opportunity to vote on whether to amend the charter to provide for district elections to the City Council. Fairness, civic harmony and democracy deserve nothing less.

Omar Gallardo of Santa Rosa is president of the North Bay Organizing Project. Tony White is a retired history professor and member of the NBOP task force on district elections.

This article originally appeared in the Press Democrat on June 11, 2012 and is available here:


LOCKPORT, N.Y. — After a public hearing hosted by the Reinstate Bus Route 201 Coalition in Lockport Mondaym it looks like the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority route isn't going anywhere – for now.

"They told me that they were not hard and fast on the May 13th date where they were going to terminate service here in Lockport," State Senator George Maziarz said.

NFTA officials said they are taking a step back from their original plan to cut the route that averages about 39 riders per day. They’re currently looking at several options from expanding Route 44 to collaborating with local transit providers.

Maziarz said a county-run service with stops similar to the 201 could be an option.

"Maybe we can mesh these two routes together. We can, you know, we can provide this service with just one entity to provide it, either the NFTA or the county," Maziarz said.

Welcome news for coalition member Michael Boron, who’s spent more than a month working to save the route.

"If we come up, jointly, collectively, with a reasonable alternative for the long-term, that's the key thing," Boron said.

Maziarz said a meeting about combining the bus routes is likely to take place within the next several weeks and will include a representative from the coalition.

In the meantime, coalition members Charlie Jones said he’ll continue to circulate petitions before sending them off to Albany next month, hoping to be a voice for their city.

"We have to take on the fight that the normal person can't take on," Jones said.

Original Article:

LOCKPORT — The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will reconsider the fate of Lockport bus Route 201, a spokesman confirmed Monday.

The city-town “circulator” bus service will not be discontinued May 13 as was previously announced, C. Douglas Hartmayer, NFTA director of public affairs, said.

Instead, the transportation authority will analyze the route again and explore whether the Route 44 bus, between Lockport, Amherst and Buffalo, can be expanded to accommodate Route 201 riders.

The authority also will explore a working arrangement with Rural Niagara Transportation, a Niagara County-managed bus service that has some stops in common with Route 201.

“We’re going to take a step back ... and give (Lockport circulator service) another complete look,” Hartmayer said. “We’re going to look at all options, including working with other transit providers.”

Route 201, which loops around greater Lockport nine time a day on weekdays, will continue unaltered while NFTA studies the options, he said. There is no time frame for completing the study, he added.

News of a temporary reprieve for the 201 came the same day a coalition of local human service providers held a meeting at the Dale Association to solicit people’s views on the importance of the route.

The coalition, forged by agencies including the Dale, St. John’s Outreach Center, Brothers Keeper Outreach, First AME Church, Lockport CARES, Lockport Housing Authority, Urban Park Towers, Buffalo First! and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, is protesting discontinuation of Route 201 on the basis NFTA didn’t get ample input from riders before deciding to cut it. NFTA’s public hearings were held in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

At the coalition meeting, 10 riders offered testimonials to the importance of Route 201 in their daily lives.

Anecdotally, it seems, 201 riders are low-income residents who have no other affordable means of getting to medical appointments, shopping centers and/or work.

Taxi service from an apartment complex downtown, or in the city’s north end, to a doctor’s office on Davison Road, or a grocery or department store on South Transit Road, might cost anywhere from $7 to $13, according to the riders.

Michael Boron, director of St. John’s Outreach Center and food pantry, spoke of the city being a “food desert,” a place where, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is a high concentration of very-low income households, many without vehicles or easy access to a supermarket. Without affordable transit, many households end up doing their “grocery” shopping at convenience and drug stores, where choices are fewer and prices are higher.

The Save Route 201 coalition’s purpose is to “try to find workable solutions for people who are affected” by a lack of affordable transit options, Boron said.

Route 201 travels roughly between Locust and Main streets in the city and Transit and Robinson roads in the town, where the Woodlands mobile home park is located. It loops around the northwest and southeast quadrants of the city, hitting areas from Corinthia and Michigan streets to Lincoln Avenue/Davison Road/East Avenue. Stops along the route include the Dale Association, Tops/Walmart plaza, Professional Parkway and Eastern Niagara Hospital.

NFTA, which operates metro bus service in Erie and Niagara counties, targeted dozens of less-frequented routes for closure late last year while trying to close up a roughly $7 million operating deficit. All bus routes in greater Lockport were on the tentative cut list. After public hearings, and the transfer of about $5.2 million in state aid to NFTA, most targeted routes were “rescued” including the Lockport 44 and 64, which head to/from Amherst and Buffalo respectively.

Route 201 stayed on the closure list because of low ridership/high operating cost, according to Hartmayer. “Sampling” of ridership during the first three months of 2012 showed an average of 39 passengers per day, or fewer than five passengers per trip around Lockport, he said. Operating the bus costs $872 — or $22.35 per passenger — per day, he said.

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, got the privilege of announcing NFTA’s new look at the 201 to residents who attended the coalition meeting. The authority “let” him make the announcement, he said.

City and town leaders also attended the meeting and expressed their support for efforts to either save 201 or identify an alternative to it.

“Not everything can be put into dollars and cents,” Town Supervisor Marc Smith said. “This is a quality of life issue.”

Maziarz said he facilitate a meeting of NFTA and Rural Niagara Transportation executives to examine how one or the other agency can offer a viable Lockport circulator service.

RNT, a federally funded public transportation service managed by the Niagara County Department of Social Services, has two bus routes that run through parts of Lockport four times a day: The Lockport/Middleport bus between Niagara County Community College and the village of Middleport; and the Wilson/Olcott/Lockport bus between NCCC and Dysinger Road.

RNT service is open to the public at large, according to transportation coordinator Barbara Hill; for a schedule and more information, call 285-9357.

According to Save 201 coalition organizer Karen Carroll, of NOAH, NFTA has already pledged to keep paratransit service intact for at least one year after fixed bus routes are discontinued. Paratransit routes, for handicapped riders, mirror fixed routes.

Separate of the coalition meeting, state Senate candidate Amy Witryol, D-Lewiston, called on Maziarz and the rest of the Senate to approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of a new NFTA chairman, Howard Zemsky. The authority presently isn’t managing transportation assets and programs too well, she said, pointing to its running of Niagara Falls International Airport in the red over a period of years.

“We can’t assume (threatened cessation of Route 201) is an isolated problem ... when NFTA is running big structural deficits,” Witryol said. “Volunteers in Lockport are trying to solve a problem while the Senate fights a change in NFTA leadership.”

Original Article:

LOCKPORT — Metro Bus Route 201 in Lockport will not be discontinued May 13, a spokesman confirmed Monday, after State Sen. George D. Maziarz announced at a public meeting that the matter is being reviewed.

“They are not hard and fast on that May 13 date. They are going to take a look at it,” Maziarz, R-Newfane, told an audience of about 50 in the Dale Association, at a meeting called by a faith-based coalition seeking to save Bus 201.

“This route has more complications than some other routes,” C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said by telephone after the meeting.

Maziarz said one of the possibilities was altering Niagara County’s Rural Transportation Service to improve service within the City and Town of Lockport.

Barbara Hill, who heads the bus service for the county Social Services Department, said the county buses already stop at many of the same locations as Bus 201, as part of longer routes that connect Lockport to the Niagara County Community College campus in Sanborn and several outlying towns and villages.

Hartmayer said another possibility is altering the route of Metro Bus 44, which connects Lockport with downtown Buffalo, to make more stops within Lockport.

“We will not be eliminating the 201 on May 13. We don’t know what’s coming after that until we do the analysis,” Hartmayer said.

Bus 201 runs a circuit within the City and Town of Lockport nine times a day, stopping at major stores and housing complexes.

It was put on the chopping block as part of the NFTA’s effort to close a budget deficit.

“Not everything can be put in dollars and cents. This is a quality-of-life issue for this community,” Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith said.

Low ridership made Bus 201 vulnerable. Hartmayer said last week that the average number of passengers between January and March was 39 per day, based on a sample of 402 circuits during that period.

Several speakers said elderly and disabled people depend on Bus 201 to shop and make medical appointments.

Ruth Standberry, who lives in the Spires on Ontario Street, said walking is an option for her, but not for many others.

“Lockport’s not as small as people think it is. It’s pretty big if you have to walk around it,” she said.

Katrina Riccobono, a service coordinator for Urban Park Towers on Main Street, said the subsidized rental tower’s location on a bus route is “a big selling point.”

“There is no parking available to our residents, and only about 10 of them have cars,” she said.

Michael Boron, director of St. John’s Outreach Center, said access to shopping is needed since much of the City of Lockport meets the U.S. Agriculture Department’s definition of a “food desert”: low income, few cars and no supermarkets.

Amy H. Witryol, Maziarz’s Democratic opponent in this year’s election, said the NFTA has structural financial issues.

“They’re missing their forecasts rather substantially,” she said.

Original Article:

LOCKPORT — Although many of the Metro Bus routes that were threatened by cutbacks have been saved, a route within Lockport is slated to be dropped as of May 13.

A collection of faith-based activists is planning a last-ditch effort to save Bus 201, a Metro- Link route that runs on weekdays, serving many of the less affluent areas in the city and town of Lockport.

Bus 201 makes nine circuits a day and takes 45 minutes to complete its route.

Karen Carroll, one of the organizers of the “Reinstate Bus Route 201” coalition, said a meeting for those interested in saving the service is set for 2 p.m. Monday in the Dale Association, 33 Ontario St.

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he plans to attend the meeting. He also said he met with Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Executive Director Kimberley

A. Minkel and NFTA Chairman

Henry M. Sloma after the April 5 announcement of funding for runway repaving at Niagara Falls International Airport, and he urged them to take another look at Bus 201.

“I hate to see any bus service being cut,” Maziarz said.

NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said NFTA staffers sampled 402 circuits by Bus 201 from January through March, and found the average number of passengers was 39 per day, or a little over four per trip.

“It wasn’t a decision that we made lightly. It wasn’t a decision we made whimsically,” Hartmayer said.

The NFTA says it costs a bit more than $872 per day to operate Bus 201. With 254 service days in a year, the tab is $221,714, Hartmayer said. Divided by the average of 39 passengers, the cost per passenger is $22.38.

“The reason we’re fighting for 201 is because it’s a loop route that goes through the city and town of Lockport, past a number of apartment buildings,” Carroll said.

It connects residents of Urban Park Towers, the Spires, Lockport Housing Authority properties and the Woodlands mobile home park to shopping opportunities on South Transit Road, including Tops and Walmart.

The route also runs down Main Street and East Avenue in the city, passing downtown stores, the Lockport post office and Eastern Niagara Hospital.

Without access to the big stores on South Transit, Carroll said, “They’ll have to do their grocery shopping in a drugstore or a convenience store setting, which of course is much more expensive.”

Besides shopping, the cancellation of Bus 201 limits access to jobs at those stores.

“Medicaid or Social Services demands that people find work,” Carroll said, and retailers are a main source of jobs for low-skill applicants.

The Metro Bus fare is $1.75, which will rise to $2 as of May 1. Carroll said that’s still far cheaper than taxis.

Carroll said of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, “They never came to Lockport to hold any kind of public hearing. We’re having the public meeting they never had.”

There were two public hearings in Niagara County on the bus cuts, but both were held in Niagara Falls.

Sloma said several hearings were held and people from Lockport spoke at those hearings.

“Reinstate Bus Route 201” is a collection of churches and human service agencies, including the Dale Association, the Lockport Housing Authority, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and its Outreach Center, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Brother’s Keepers Food Pantry and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH.

Sloma said he’s not coming to Monday’s meeting because of NOAH’s involvement. He said he met with the group previously and didn’t care for the tone.

“All they were concerned about was when I was going to be replaced. I thought, ‘Why am I here?’ ” Sloma said.

Sloma’s successor, Howard

A. Zemsky, has been appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo but not yet confirmed by the State Senate.

Sloma said the NFTA already cuts Niagara County slack on bus service. The authority seeks to have 25 percent of the costs of its Erie County routes covered by fares, but in Niagara County, the target is 10 percent.

“If we held Niagara County to the Erie County standard, there would be no routes in Niagara County, maybe one,” Sloma said. “I don’t know if people understand we give Niagara County a greater amount of consideration.”

Carroll said the Bus 201 effort started when one of the group’s members had a conversation about the topic with a worker at St. John’s Outreach. After that, a coalition member rode Bus 201 and discovered that the regulars didn’t know it was going to be canceled, despite media coverage of the NFTA’s bus shutdown threats.

Sloma said, “What’s odd is, we run this equipment and three or four people get on it, and then we hold a public hearing and 100 people show up. I wish 100 people would get on the bus.”

“We definitely have the impression the NFTA has made up its mind, but we’re not going to let this die without making an effort,” Carroll said.

Maziarz said he and Sloma have given some thought to the notion that the county’s federally subsidized Rural Transportation System, which runs buses connecting outlying communities with Lockport, Niagara Falls and Niagara County Community College, might be able to pick up the slack.

The big impact of the loss of Bus 201 might be the corresponding loss of paratransit, a service offered to disabled people who live within three-quarters of a mile of a bus route. No bus route means no paratransit, Sloma said.

Sloma said Medicaid would require the county to provide transportation services for its clients who lose paratransit access. He estimated that might cost the county $4 million.

“That’s the hidden impact in all this,” Sloma said.

Original Article: