Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods Coalition

Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods (SaHN)

Questions for candidates 

With the enactment of the Business Certificate of Use (CoU), neighbors have been hopeful that those corner/neighborhood stores that are a blight to residents (known to be hotspots for crime and violence, and where drugs and alcohol are sold) would be forced to either change or be closed. Even with the CoU in place, many stores remain open and either refuse to comply with the CoU or ignore it. What would you do to give this ordinance some real power?

I would employ more code inspectors so the Business Certificate of Use can be enforced through regular inspections and prioritize prosecutions by the Law Department in housing court for persistent violators.

We need more code inspectors for housing inspections as well. I support expanding the coverage to include inspections every three years for one- and two-family properties, as well as multi-family properties. Common Council rejected this proposal last year because there are not enough code inspectors to do multi-family property inspections every three years with the current staffing of the Code Enforcement Department.

More inspectors and legal actions will take money. The city faces insolvency within a couple years without more revenues and cost savings. That makes progressive tax reform, such as a city income tax and restoration of state revenue sharing to previous levels, essential to have the resources to effectively enforce codes and provide the other services our city should provide.

Using the city’s data portal, how will you make data of the CoU infractions and status publically available and digestible to the community? 

Data on CoU infractions, and much other city data, should be available on DataCuse.

DataCuse needs improvements to make it the public aware of it and to make it more user friendly. For example, DataCuse is not under any of the tabs on the city’s home page. One has to know what one is looking for to get to it. 

Once there, it’s a bit technical for the average user. There needs to be landing pages for each topic with more easily absorbed summary data. An example to emulate is the New York City Comptroller’s website, which provides city fiscal data in easy to grasp charts, tables, and lists. 

I know the Innovation Team is working on improvements like these. The Innovation Team should be funded out of the city operations budget when the Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Team grant runs out next year.

Would you support a Nuisance-and-Unruly-Events-type ordinance that would help curtail out-of-control parties that disrupt neighborhoods; especially in the university and college areas? 


The proposed zoning laws include many new “mixed use” zoning districts. As mayor, how would you work to create a balance between homeowners and businesses – small and large – that better serves the neighborhoods?

I would create Neighborhood Assemblies that, like New England Town Meetings, are legislative bodies for their neighborhoods open to all residents. They would be responsible for neighborhood planning, with every resident having an equal voice and vote on neighborhood issues, including balancing the interests of homeowners, businesses, and tenants in areas zoned for mixed use.

The city would allocate each neighborhood a budget for neighborhood improvement projects and services. The Neighborhood Assembly would elect an executive council to carry out the budget and policies of the Neighborhood Assembly.

The Neighborhood Assemblies would greatly strengthen the neighborhood planning function of Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today. The number of “sectors” would increase from 8 to about 20 in order to reflect the real neighborhoods that our residents identify. The city’s 32 “Planning Neighborhoods” could be consolidated into about 20 neighborhoods for this purpose. 

Syracuse, in its most recent Comprehensive Plan, showed it is clearly committed to development that uses Complete Streets principles (i.e. considers access and safety for all modes of transportation, including transit riders, motorists, pedestrians, people with mobility impairments, cyclists, etc.). As mayor, how would you work to ensure that we implement these Complete Streets principles?

The most immediate and impactful step toward Complete Streets I want to do is to municipalize responsibility for sidewalk maintenance and snow removal, just as the city is responsible for city road maintenance and snow removal. 

It is time for the Department of Public Works to be given responsibility for maintenance and snow removal on city sidewalks as it is for city streets.

It is inexcusable that people have to walk in the streets when it snows – children walking to school, parents with strollers, seniors, mail carriers, and disabled people with wheelchairs. On many blocks, the sidewalks are impassible even without snow for many of these people because they are in such disrepair.

The old way of fining property owners for failure to maintain and remove snow from sidewalks has been a failure for decades. The city doesn't even do a good job of clearing sidewalks in front of its own properties. 

City responsibility for sidewalk snow removal is assumed in Rochester NY, Burlington VT, Fairbanks AK, and many other cities and towns. One estimate for sidewalk snow removal in Syracuse puts the cost at $7 to $10 per premise per year.

The Comprehensive Plan has many ambitious and worthy goals, but I don’t agree with this statement in it: “The City of Syracuse shall accommodate all users equally, with equal right to access and use of the transportation network.” There are inevitable conflicts between cars, pedestrians, bikes, and public transit in both the use of public rights of way and the allocation of limited public resources for transportation. In those conflicts, cars should have the lowest priority. Cars take more public money and land to accommodate than any other transportation mode. The point is to move people, not cars.

We should plan our transportation system to prioritize walkable neighborhoods, bikes, and public transit. We should plan our transportation system for the day – perhaps a decade away – when self-driving or autonomous cars are the primary vehicles on the road. Most people will use autonomous cars on demand from a private company or public utility when they need them, rather than owning a personal vehicle. It will be a personal rapid transit system with far fewer vehicles overall because they will operate 24/7. It will radically reduce the number of vehicles needed to move people and the land needed for parking. We should plan our Complete Streets now with this development in mind.

Zoning laws, building codes, and regulations of the public rights-of-way (streets, sidewalks) are inter-related and essential parts of community planning. What will you do to make sure that these important policies are considered together (as done in Buffalo) so that they can better impact the health, safety and sustainability, of our neighborhoods?

The Planning Department should coordinate the consideration of zoning, codes, and public rights-of-way in its updating and implementation of the city plan. The Planing Department should provide information and technical assistance to the Neighborhood Assemblies I propose neighborhood planning. 

Public rights-of-way also includes public transit. Community planning should be transit-oriented development designed for creating mixed-use (housing, retail businesses, parks, and other amenties) and mixed-income walkable neighborhoods within a half-mile of convenient public transportation.

What will you do to promote access to healthy and nutritious foods through neighborhood grocery stores, community gardens, and farmer’s markets?

The city should support community gardens and neighborhood farmers markets in addition to the regional and downtown markets. But realistically, in order to get healthy, affordable food to the neighborhoods that the commercial for-profit chains have abandoned we have to find other ways to get grocery stores to these neighborhoods.

The city should support the development of community-owned cooperative grocery stores and/or municipally-owned grocery stores.

I have been involved since 2006 in the development of the Eat To Live Food Cooperative at the 2323 S. Salina St. between Colvin and Brighton streets. The co-op has now been in operation in our USDA-certified food dessert for 17 months. I am the treasurer for the co-op. If we can sustain this business, it can demonstrate a model of community ownership that will sustain stores in low-income neighborhoods that the for-profit chains have abandoned.

Another model to consider is municipally-owned stores, which the Socialist mayor of Milwaukee tried to institute during World War I food rationing and its high-inflation aftermath. For-profit stores were price gouging, making adequate food unaffordable in Milwaukee’s working class neighborhoods. When the mayor couldn’t get the city council to approve his proposal, he secured a $100,000 philanthropic donation to open the stores privately. When the inflation subsided and prosperity returned in the mid-1920s, the charitable operation closed with a $10,000 surplus. The mayor wanted the council to accept that money as downpayment toward a permanent municipal grocery store. The council again refused. The money eventually went to charity, but it shows a model that we should explore to get healthy, affordable food to neighborhoods the commercial grocery chains have abandoned.

Given the challenges of climate change and the threat to our environment, what policies would you support to ensure Syracuse is increasingly sustainable and eco-friendly?

I would have the Planning Department update the Sustainability Plan component of the Comprehensive Plan, which with respect to energy has very modest goals of greenhouse gas emissions of 40% by 2020 for cit operations and 7% for the community as a whole. I would ask for a plan to reach zero emissions as soon as possible. Global emissions should be reduced to zero by 2030 to limit the temperature rise over the pre-industrial average to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the goal in the Paris Agreements and seen as limiting the damages of global warming short of catastrophic consequences. The city should aim to do its part.

The plan should include retrofitting public buildings for zero greenhouse gas emissions, electrifying the city vehicle fleet, building electric vehicle recharging infrastructure, revising building codes for renewables and energy efficiency, mandatory clean energy and efficiency retrofits of existing buildings when that are sold or refinanced, helping residents take advantage of the state’s Green Jobs Green Homes program that finances clean energy retrofits over time through their utility bill, maximizing non-car transportation infrastructure, and supporting regional food system that is sustainable and lower-energy than dependence on long supply chains for food that can be produced locally.

The key to strong climate action by Syracuse is municipalization of the city’s power and gas utility so the city has the power to 

plan a rapid transition to 100% clean renewable energy, with the system's distributed solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources and energy storage linked to users by an interactive smart grid.

Publicly-owned utilities (POUs) consistently outperform private investor-owned utilities (IOUs) energy costs, reliability, customer service, energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, local accountability, and revenues contributed to local government. POUs answer to their customer-owners, not absentee shareholders. POUs are exempt from specific taxes, pay lower salaries to executives, supply cheaper energy, can supply more environmentally-friendly energy, have the ability to use more of their funds to upgrade their infrastructure, and provide more reliable, consistent service, particularly after storms and equipment failures.

The electric rates under public power systems in Onondaga County in the Villages of Solvay and Skaneatales are one-quarter to one-third of what we pay in Syracuse to National Grid. In Syracuse, the typical residential customer pays about 16 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) for electric service and delivery charges, with the service charge usually tripling the charge of actually delivering the supply of electricity. In Solvay, residential customers pay monthly service charge of $1.75 plus 5.1 cents per kwh. In Skanateles, customers pay a monthly service charge of $3.25 plus 3.4 cents per kwh. These prices are from April 2017.

Commercial and industrial rates are also substantially lower in public power systems. It's why Solvay is still full of manufacturing plants, unlike the rest of the county.

Unlike the deregulated energy market in New York State for IOUs like National Grid, which require the utilities to deliver energy by buying it from other suppliers, POUs can both produce and deliver energy. A public power system in Syracuse would thus enable the city to build its own clean, renewable energy sources for electricity, heating, and cooling and the smart grid infrastructure needed to accommodate distributed nature of renewable energy sources.

Ratepayers in the city call National Grid “National Greed” for good reason. For example, Solvay, Yonkers, Los Angeles and other cities, which own their own street lights, are replacing their street light fixtures with energy-efficient LED technology. The change saves Yonkers $1 million a year. Syracuse’s annual electric bill for its street lights is $4.5 million. But National Grid, which owns most of Syracuse’s 19,000 streetlights, has told the city officials it won’t install LED fixtures and won’t sell its lights to the city. Of course National Greed won’t do those things to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs. As an IOU, it has every incentive to minimize efficiency and maximize electricity in order to maximize its profits.

With publicly-owned streetlights, Syracuse could also retrofit street lampposts with electric car chargers, as London and other municipalities in England are doing.

The public power system could finance the construction of many forms of community energy projects. Rooftop solar and/or small-scale wind shared by a group of households with different solar and wind exposures could be built with the public power system financing the upfront costs and the households paying them off over time out of savings from lower cost renewables. Community solar groups would also share in any net metering income from electric production in excess of their usage. The public power system would also encompass community-owned solar and wind farms as well as purchasing renewable energy from third party-owned sources on the grid.

For heating and cooling food, water, and space, moving to renewable energy means moving to efficient electric heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) and water heating systems. Renewable electricity can do this by powering the heating and cooling food, water, and building spaces by geothermal and cold climate (air-to-air) heat pumps. Again, the upfront costs for a household or business can be financed by the public power system and be paid for by the consumers over time, a good portion of it out of the savings from gas and electricity costs these renewable systems will provide.

The public power system can also finance energy audits and weatherization of buildings so that customers make more efficient use of the energy they purchase.

Finally, by maintaining a locally-based and permanent workforce for operation, maintenance, and repairs to the energy system, public power systems have a for better record than IOUs in returning to power after outages due to storms and equipment failures.

How would you support the on-going training of all city employees in cultural sensitivity and awareness in order to decrease tensions within the city? 

Cultural sensitivity and awareness training for all city employees should be routine, part of the professional development budgets of all city departments, so that all city residents are treated with respect and better understanding in their interactions with city employees.

But that is not enough to reduce the racial, ethnic, and class “tensions” in the city that are rooted in race and class inequality of access to opportunities and resources.

We also need to enforce strong anti-discrimination and desegregation policies in order to end the institutionalized racism and class-bias that has made Greater Syracuse one of the most segregated cities in the nation.

I would increase the staff of the Minority Affairs office so it has more capacity to monitor and enforce equal employment and business contracting policies.

I would update to reflect current demographics the 1973 ordinance establishing the Equal Employment Opportunity Program. I would expand it to include employment with city departments as well as contractors. I would strengthen it with timetables to reach numerical goals that reflect the current demographics of the city workforce (one-third black, one-half people of color). I would also increase the resident employment goals for city contractors from 20% to 50%, the standard Newark NJ recently enacted.

When the Human Rights Commission was publishing in its annual reports the data on minority employment with city contractors between 2004 and 2008 pursuant to the Equal Employment Opportunity Program, minorities were getting only about a quarter of their proportionate share of those jobs. Although contractors still file forms reporting their minority hiring under this program, it is largely unmonitored and the sanctions for violators never enforced. This underemployment of minorities has to change and should be monitored on a DataCuse dash board.

School and housing segregation must be addressed. Greater Syracuse has the most concentrated poverty for black and Latinos, and 5th most concentrated for whites, of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan regions.

School desegregation should begin with ending tracking within the city school district, which is increasing not only with tracking within schools but also between schools, including the Latin School for advanced children, the Public Service Academy at Fowler for low-income students, and the physical and social separation of the International Baccalaureate program from the general program at Corcoran. School attendance zones should be reviewed for opportunities to reduce racial and socioeconomic segregation.

With the ongoing discussion of metropolitan government, the next mayor should make the case to the whole metropolitan region for school district consolidation and desegregation. Experience across the country and the decades since Brown v. Board of Education has shown that desegregated schools radically reduce the race and class achievement gaps. None of the other toured “reforms” – teaching to the standardized tests, “value-added” teacher accountability based on the tests, school closures based on the tests, subsidizing privately-managed charter schools, even equitable and adequate school funding – comes close to the positive impact of integration on educational outcomes. Middle class students also do better, not only on standardized achievement tests, but also on important other measures, including creative thinking, intellectual self-confidence, teamwork and collaboration, and empathy and tolerance. In short, the next mayor should make the case to the metropolitan region that desegregated schools should be embraced by suburban middle-class communities as well as city poor and working-class communities because they are better schools with better results for students across the socioeconomic spectrum.

In order to reduce the residential segregation that is a major factor in school segregation, the city should adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires all new housing projects to include low-income, moderate-income, and upscale units. The city has been increasing housing segregation in recent years with its subsides for upscale downtown condo projects and its approval of the all-upscale inner harbor project. Meanwhile, what affordable housing has been built has been channeled to the low-income neighborhoods, reinforcing class segregation, which largely corresponds with racial segregation.

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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
Hawkins for Mayor