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Seven Days (trust us, we are taking this seriously)

That's a half-million dollar debt collection job right there.

Jobs we can't afford to create

We were kind of nonplussed by a business page story in Friday’s Buffalo News. At first, we thought we’d misread it. Under seasoned reporter David Robinson’s byline, the story summarized the record in 2010 of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. The agency, Robinson reported, “provided more than $230 million in incentives to 67 projects that are expected to create nearly 460 local jobs over the next two years.”

It took a moment for this lede to sink in—our uptake being a little slow even on a good day—but finally we were like, “Whoa! That works out to $500,000 per job!” Quantitative analysis not being one of our strong points, we didn’t trust our calculation, but when we ran the figures by some friends and a couple of acquaintances who can handle arithmetic, they got the same result. This didn’t seem right.

As it happens, it wasn’t. Around 11am Friday, the News “updated” the story in an abbreviated version online. The lede now had the ECIDA providing financial assistance for 67 private projects “that are expected to create more than 1,000 local jobs…” That’s a discrepancy of over 100 percent, of course.

But this isn’t a stick-it-to-the-News item. When we called him, the usually very reliable Robinson was noncombative and gracious, even going to the trouble of sending us a handwritten copy of his mistaken calculation. We can believe that the ECIDA’s press release last week was a little confusing. (Artvoice didn’t get a copy.) Robinson’s job computations were a little too complex for us to follow, so we called the agency, but although its representative John Cappellino was polite and seemed patient, he couldn’t clear up what was the signal aspect of all this for us: Even the News’ revised figures—and they seemed to roughly coincide with Cappellino’s—appear to work out to $230,000 per created job. Doesn’t that still seem kind of steep? (Cappellino said he couldn’t provide his own estimate of the per-job investment of public monies at this time.)

What with Republican County Executive Chris Collins bragging of the 400 county jobs he’ll have eliminated by year’s end, the thousands of state employees the Democratic governor is vowing to get rid of, and the shocked and/or anguished response of school boards like the one in the Ken-Ton district reported on last week by the News as it contemplated the probable fiscal assault on its educational programs, there seems to be something disproportional at work here: $230,000 per private sector job?

Maybe Lord Keynes, the illustrious patron saint of pump-priming during economic downturns, could explain all this. Or maybe not. Richard Nixon famously said 40 years ago that “We’re all Keynesians today,” but this turned out to be an even less reliable utterance than his “I an not a crook!” assertion.

Now, even Democrats in Albany and Washington are avidly pursuing deficit reduction and government reduction, and providing money for private-sector jobs like the ECIDA’s $230 million.

Are the times out of joint, or what? (gs)

Green men

Last Friday, City of Buffalo officials received an open letter from the Western New York Environmental Alliance, an umbrella group that represents over 65 local groups concerned with environmental issues, putting forth a list of expectations for the city’s zoning rewrite and land use plan, known as Buffalo Green Code.

The letter, which runs seven pages, explains the many measures that the city and its consultants will need to include in the code for it to be successful in the eyes of the Western New York Environmental Alliance.

The group’s expectations include the use of clean energy, the repurposing of the city’s abundant vacant land for public spaces such as parks and community gardens, and continued and enhanced methods of community outreach, particularly in distressed areas of the city.

Brendan Mehaffy, the executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, appreciates the input, he said.

“It’s helpful to us, especially so early in this process, to make sure that we are meeting the expectations of groups like the Environmental Alliance,” Mehaffy said.

The letter gives the city something to work towards, but Mehaffy is unsure of what environmental measures will make it into the code due to the breadth of the issues being raised, both in this letter and by other community groups.

“If we can’t meet any of those expectations I’ll have good reasons,” Mehaffy said. “But it gives us something to shoot for, that we address those issues.”

The city and its consultants on Buffalo Green Code have been putting in a great deal of work in preparation for the upcoming community meetings that will take place between February 28 and March 5, Mehaffy said.

The city has called over 800 designees from every block club in the city. They are appearing at community meetings around the city on an almost nightly basis to plug the Green Code. They’ve sent out a press release, bought radio advertising, and sent fliers and posters out in several languages around the city, Mehaffy said.

The city will even conduct a rehearsal meeting in preperation for the upcoming round of community meetings where a group of citizens selected by the Community Advisory Committees. Those citizens will give the city and their consultants feedback.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” Mehaffy said, “and only time will tell. But, we are certainly doing a tremendous amount of work as far as outreach is concerned.”

The Western New York Environmental Alliance sent the letter as a response to the city’s request for input, said Robert Knoer, the chair of the alliance’s standing committee.

“This green code cuts across many of our groups,” Knoer said. “Water issues, urban regeneration issues, energy issues, transportation issues. So we felt it appropriate to submit a letter from the alliance, from the environmental perspective, issues that should be taken forward in the code.”

Knoer and the alliance are glad to see the city addressing the many issues that the city’s outdated zoning codes cause. Not every city is spending their resources to be forward-thinking about these problems, he said.

As a lawyer dealing with development over the years Knoer has dealt with the outdated code, a patchwork of regulation that some downtowners refer to as a Frankenstein.

Speaking independent of the alliance, Knoer said that one flaw he sees in Buffalo Green Code is that it includes no plans for the Peace Bridge.

“The green code completely ignores and pretends like the Peace Bridge doesn’t exist,” Knoer said, “as if it has no impact.”

The alliance is excited to be participating in a process that could change the future of Buffalo, Knoer said.

“The fact that they’re even spending resources and trying to be forward-thinking,” Knoer said, “should be applauded.” (js)

george sax, justin sondel

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