Report: Myth-Busting the 2019 Port Chester Board of Trustees Race

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April 1, 2019

During the run-up to the recent election of Port Chester’s new Board of Trustees, some candidates made false or misleading statements about community benefits, union labor, and affordable housing. Many of these claims sounded quite similar to talking points from the real estate industry. To help residents and policymakers separate fact from fiction, Sustainable Port Chester Alliance has published a new report and summary debunking these myths.

Read our full report, “Myth-Busting the Port Chester BOT Election,” for a full analysis with details and citations.  Or, check out the summary here and below:

Myth: Community Benefits Agreements Are Too Expensive for Developers in Port Chester

Trustee Ferrara: “I have never been supportive of [a community benefits agreement] because it would basically stop development in its tracks.”

RealityDevelopers, like other corporations, sometimes make empty threats.

Some developers may be telling Ferrara they’ll stop developing in Port Chester if the Village requires community benefits. But developers, like other corporations, have a long history of making empty threats to prevent any measures that will limit their profits. It is more likely that real estate developers would adjust to community benefits policies in Port Chester, just as they have adjusted in Newark, NJ, which has strong labor standards and affordable housing requirements and is currently experiencing a building boom.

Reality: Cheaper land costs in Westchester leave more money for community benefits.

Trustee Ferrara is also ignoring one of the most critical factors in development: land prices. The cost of land in Port Chester is dramatically cheaper than in NYC, leaving developers in a much better position to afford union labor and affordable housing in Port Chester and still generate large profits.

Myth: Union labor wildly drives up construction project costs

Trustee Ferrara: “The Port Chester IDA did an entire labor study… And we found out that labor mandates on a project increase the cost of that project – not the cost of labor but the cost of the project – by 20 to 30 percent.

Reality: Trustee Ferrara is using flawed studies of labor costs

Trustee Ferrara’s claim that union labor drives up construction costs by 20-30 percent has been put forth in a series of debunked studies, some of which he sent to the IDA board in October 2016.  One respected economist called this claim “a logical leap.” Other labor economists wrote that the methodology used to reach this type of conclusion “violates the laws of economics.”

Reputable studies have found that union wages and benefits increase labor costs by 10 to 20 percent, but that is solely labor costs, not all of the construction costs for a project. Part of the reason union labor is more expensive is that there is widespread wage theft and corner-cutting on safety in the nonunion industry. But some of the difference in costs is made up by the greater productivity of union labor.

Myth: The Village can’t require that new affordable housing be reserved for Port Chester residents

Trustee Didden: “We need more affordable housing for our own people. That flies against the ideas of fair housing. Everybody should have every opportunity. You can’t say Port Chester first. It doesn’t work that way.”

Trustee Ferrara: “[Port Chester] can’t build affordable housing for [its] own. You can’t have a residency requirement.”

Reality: Trustee Ferrara and Didden’s assertions are simply false, and these trustees have been corrected on this issue repeatedly.

In 2016, Mark Chertok, special counsel to the village on the United Hospital redevelopment, went out of his way to explain that requiring that newly constructed affordable housing in the village be reserved for Port Chester residents is perfectly legal as long as there isn’t a requirement for residents to show they have lived in the village for a certain period of time. The Alliance has repeatedly reminded the trustees of Chertok’s opinion, but Trustees Ferrara and Didden, neither of them lawyers, are doubling down on their own legal analysis.

Myth: Rent regulation is a bad idea in Port Chester because it will discourage building

Trustee Ferrara: “I’m sure the concept of rent control would come up. To me, it’s never a good idea. New York City’s had rent control since 1947, and they have nothing but an ongoing affordability crisis. Rent control tends to discourage building without massive, massive subsidies.”

Reality: Port Chester already has rent regulation, and no, it doesn’t discourage development.

Trustee Ferrara seems to have used “rent control” as a shorthand for rent regulation, which is primarily through rent-stabilization in the U.S.  Port Chester already has rent-stabilization, which is also the primary form of rent regulation in New York City. The overwhelming majority of rent-regulated apartments in New York City are what is called rent-stabilized, meaning the City’s rent guidelines board determines how much landlords are allowed to raise rent each year. (Very few apartments in NYC, only about 2%, are “rent controlled.”)

Thought it affects a smaller proportion of all homes in the village, Port Chester‘s rent-stabilization program looks a lot like New York City’s. With some exceptions, in Port Chester, apartments in buildings with 12 or more units that were built before 1974 are rent-stabilized under the state Emergency Tenant Protection Act and rents for these apartments can only be increased by amounts set each year by Westchester County’s rent guidelines board.  These are very similar policies!

Trustee Ferrara’s claim that rent regulation discourages development is also a myth. Most moderate rent-stabilization in the United States applies only to housing already built at the time of its passage, not to new units built after rent-stabilization was instituted, so there is little effect on new development.

Myth: Supply and demand are the most important factors in determining housing affordability

Trustee  Ferrara: “The fact is that there hasn’t been a lot of building  throughout Westchester County and especially in Port Chester over the last 25 years. If the number of people that want to live here increases…and you’re not expanding supply, the price has only one way to go [up].  This is the reason why we have so much makeshift, unsafe housing. That has become, very sadly, Port Chester’s affordable housing.”

Trustee Didden: “I fail to see how we can section off Port Chester from the market forces. It is supply and demand.”

Reality:  Rents don’t follow simple free market models.  But they do get driven up by speculation from real estate investors.

A number of economists and housing analysts have been challenging the idea behind Trustees Ferrara and Didden’s remarks — that housing prices and conditions are merely a result of the interaction of supply and demand. These scholars have been pointing out that there is little evidence that increases in housing costs result from a limited supply of housing units.

What certainly does drive prices up is speculation by real estate investors.  When a real estate market gets hot in a community, as it could in Port Chester following the village-wide rezoning, investors get into a race to see who can make bigger profits by redeveloping “underdeveloped” real estate – meaning not just empty properties, but also existing housing and stores that don’t already generate high rents.  As a result, of course, rents rise. Tenants who live in a community experiencing this phenomenon need protections – like the kinds we propose in our Blueprint for a Fair Rezoning –  or they may find themselves no longer able to afford to live in their homes.

Blueprint Supporters Want to Stay and Thrive in Port Chester

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By Jananne Abel

February 21, 2019

Sustainable Port Chester Alliance supporters gather carrying signs like “Stay and Thrive,” “Gentrification in Process” and “Protect Small Businesses” in front of the Port Chester courtroom at 350 N. Main St. Tuesday night, February 19th.

Desiring to send a message to the Port Chester Board of Trustees, Sustainable Port Chester Alliance staged a press conference in front of the village courtroom at 350 North Main St. an hour before the board’s scheduled meeting Tuesday night. They passed out “Stay and Thrive: A Blueprint for Fair Rezoning and Development in Port Chester,” and speakers highlighted its fine points on the bitter cold night.

“We have sent a copy of our report and statement to the mayor and trustees and all the candidates,” said Zeltzyn Sanchez. “We want all the trustees and mayor to sign on to this. We want the ability to stay in Port Chester and to live in a good apartment without paying $3,000 a month. We want green spaces and cultural spaces. We want housing that is affordable to Port Chester residents. We are kind of upset the meeting is cancelled. There was no notice.”

Tuesday night’s meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to the lack of a quorum. One trustee was out of the country and two out of state. One of those out of state was scheduled to participate in the meeting via Skype but did not make it to the spot he had designated for Skyping and which had been noticed in time for the meeting. The three remaining board members did not comprise a quorum.

In the background, about 20 supporters, mostly young adults, chanted: “Stay, thrive, stay and thrive.”

“The rezoning will affect us really bad or really good,” continued Sanchez. “I want to move out of my mother’s house.”

Of the new zoning code, she said “they are not taking it seriously, are not explaining it and it is not in Spanish.”

Martin Martinez, a member of Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he was there on behalf of other members of the union and other building trade members and their families living in Port Chester.

“This rezoning is going to bring more construction to Port Chester than this village has ever seen,” he said. ‘All of this is likely to be subsidized in some form by Port Chester taxpayers. This construction will give the village an outstanding opportunity to make sure taxpayers get a real return on their investment in the form of life-changing careers in the building trades for local residents.”

The blueprint, he said, lays out a set of policies that would ensure this happens. These policies would require developers and contractors to hire local residents and partner with unions to make sure these residents get the training they need to thrive in the building trades for long, well-paid careers.

Joan Grangenois Thomas, an independent candidate for Port Chester trustee and volunteer executive director of the Sustainable Port Chester Alliance, speaks to those gathered.

Joan Grangenois Thomas, an independent candidate for trustee in the Mar. 19 village election on the Port Chester Action Party line and volunteer executive director of Sustainable Port Chester Alliance, then took the floor. “I am a 30-year resident and am also one of the candidates,” she said. “I am supporting this policy.” She spoke about the proposed form-based zoning’s impacts on residents and small businesses. “I’m signing the pledge as a candidate. It is the least we can do for Port Chester and residents who can’t afford the rents. Most make less than $51,000 per year. Listen to the young people and folks who have revitalized Port Chester.”

“We want Port Chester to move forward,” said Gregg Hamilton. “We want to make sure everyone derives benefits. Small businesses play a vital role.”

“The zoning code calls for 10 percent of units to be affordable,” Hamilton added. “We would like to see 20 to 30 percent, and for developers to sponsor apprenticeships for new hires. Instead of tax breaks, make contributions toward the schools and set-asides.”

“Joan has pledged to support these conditions,” he concluded. “Will others pledge their support as well?”

“Stay, thrive, stay and thrive,” chanted the throng.

Mayor Richard “Fritz” Falanka arrived along with Trustees Frank Ferrara and Greg Adams at the appointed 7 p.m. hour for the meeting to greet anyone who didn’t get the word about its cancellation.

Falanka said he and the other board members would have to study the pledge and consider it before signing.


Alliances Launches “Stay and Thrive: A Blueprint for Fair Rezoning and Development in Port Chester”

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Resumen ahora disponible en español

February 19th, 2019

Today, Sustainable Port Chester Alliance released our policy statement on the planned rezoning of Port Chester.   The document, “Stay and Thrive: A Blueprint for Fair Rezoning and Development in Port Chester,” outlines the policies we believe need to be implemented to ensure that the rezoning truly benefits our community.

The Village’s plan to dramatically change its zoning code and pave the way for major new real estate development could create a number of opportunities for Port Chester residents.  But without vital community benefits and protections, the development resulting from the rezoning could drive many of us out of our homes and stores, crowd our schools, and bring more low-wage work to Port Chester.

Our document, like our campaign, is called “Stay and Thrive” because we’re fighting for residents and small businesses to be able to stay in Port Chester and not be displaced by development or resulting rising rents, and, at the same time, to thrive with quality education, successful local businesses and family-sustaining jobs created by the rezoning.

The blueprint explains how Port Chester can do just that. In it, we put forward a set of policies that will help keep families in their homes, prevent small businesses from shutting down, create new affordable housing, ensure fair funding for Port Chester’s schools, and create a path to life-changing careers in the building trades for Port Chester residents.

Click here to read the full document and here to read the pledge we’re calling on candidates for Mayor and Trustee to sign in support of the policies in the document.

VIDEO: FIOS1: Portchester Residents Rally to Oppose Rezoning Plan
ARTICLE: Blueprint supporters want to stay and thrive in Port Chester

Alliance Demands Village Study Rezoning Impacts

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On October 15th, Sustainable Port Chester Alliance members and supporters turned out for the Port Chester Board of Trustees’ public scoping hearing for the form-based rezoning of Port Chester.   Alliance members demanded that the Mayor and Trustees study the way the rezoning will impact housing, jobs, schools and small businesses in our community.

The rezoning, which could pave the way for massive new development in Port Chester, is currently under environmental review by the Board of Trustees.  The October 15th hearing was held to get public input on that review’s scope – i.e. the range of ecological, socioeconomic and infrastructure issues that must be analyzed to determine how the rezoning will affect our community.

The Alliance is campaigning for a community benefits agreement (CBA) for the rezoning that would make sure all of Port Chester reaps the rewards of the rezoning, not just wealthy developers. The CBA should:

  • Require that developers benefiting from the rezoning set aside at least 30% of their units for affordable housing at rents that working Port Chester families can afford;
  • Ensure that construction creates safe, family-sustaining jobs and a pipeline to careers for local residents;
  • Provide protections from displacement for tenants and small businesses;
  • Guarantee that development from the rezoning will generate adequate school funding and will not lead to additional school overcrowding.

Read the full testimony from Alliance members at the links below:

Zeltzyn Sanchez Testimony

Perla Zuniga Arellano Testimony

Louis Sanchez Testimony

Joan Grangenois-Thomas Testimony

Vote Port Chester Map-Esp – Old

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Vote Port Chester!

La Alianza está lanzando Vote Port Chester!, una campaña de base comunitaria a favor de la adopción de un sistema de votación justo y democrático para el distrito, para las elecciones de la aldea de Port Chester.

Ya que el gobierno de la aldea tiene impacto en todo, desde cuál hoyo se rellena en cuál calle hasta la disponibilidad de vivienda asequible y buenos empleos, es importante que colaboremos para poder conseguir el mejor sistema para elegir a los concejales de la aldea.

Historia: Por qué Port Chester debe elegir un nuevo sistema de votación

Durante casi toda su historia, Port Chester ha sido gobernado por una Junta de Concejales (Board of Trustees) que era elegida por medio de un sistema de votación “at-large” (o sin distritios), de modo que todos los votantes de toda la aldea pueden votar por cada puesto de concejal. Las elecciones de la junta se hacían por partes (staggered), de modo que no todos los concejales se elegían al mismo tiempo.

En 2006, una demanda legal del Depto. de Justicia de Estados Unidos halló que el sistema de votar sin distritos y por partes era una violación de la Ley de los Derechos del Voto de EE. UU. y ordenó que fuese eliminado. El Tribunal dictó que este sistema negaba a la población Latina la igualdad de oportunidad para participar en el proceso político, diluyendo los votos Latinos e incluyendo llamados racistas a los votantes blancos para derrotar a los candidatos respaldados por Latinos.

El Tribunal y Port Chester acordaron implementar un nuevo sistema de votación, una variante del sistema sin distritos llamada votación cumulativa, durante un periodo de diez años, para remediar esta violación legal. El periodo de diez años de este acuerdo cubrió tres elecciones de la Junta de Concejales y expiró en 2016. Debe adoptarse un nuevo método de votación para el 2019.

Por qué creemos que los Distritos son la solución más justa

Creemos que un sistema ante los residentes, porque cada uno de ellos debe responder directamente a los votantes de su distrito. de votación basado en distritos funcionará mejor en Port Chester que el sistema sin distritos. El uso de distritos es el sistema más común en este estado y en el país, y es un método comprobado para corregir una violación de la Ley de Derechos del Voto, que es lo que nuestra aldea debe hacer.

Con un sistema de distritos, se divide la geografía de la aldea en distritos con poblaciones aproximadamente iguales de personas que pueden votar. Los votantes de cada distrito eligen a un individuo que los represente en la Junta de Concejales. Creemos que un sistema de votación por distritos es más justo y permitirá:

  • Empoderar a residentes y aumentar participación electoral, especialmente entre la comunidad Latina y otras minorías, cuyos intereses no han recibido mucha atención en las elecciones previas; y también entre mujeres y jóvenes que no han tenido representación adecuada en el pasado.
  • Hacer a los concejales más responsables
  • Requerir que los concejales respondan mejor a las necesidades de la aldea entera. La mayoría de los concejales actuales vive en un vecindario adinerado en el extremo norte de Port Chester. Aunque tengan buenas intenciones, es fácil que los miembros de la Junta puedan estar fuera de contacto con problemas que sean particulares de su barrio: recogida de basuras, hoyos, parqueo, etc.

La misión de la campaña Vote Port Chester! es empoderar a la población de Port Chester para que hagan escuchar sus voces sobre este asunto tan importante. Nuestra meta es crear las bases para luego elegir a una mayoría de representantes en la Junta de Concejales que trabaje por los intereses de TODAS las personas que viven aquí.

ESP_PORT CHESTER VOTES -January 2018 presentation

Vote Port Chester Map – Old

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Para Espanol haga click aqui

Vote Port Chester!

The Alliance is launching Vote Port Chester!,a grassroots campaign for the adoption of a fair and democratic, district voting system for Port Chester village elections.

Since village government impacts everything from which pothole gets filled to the availability of affordable housing and good jobs, it’s important that we work together to win the best system for electing village Trustees.

History: Why Port Chester Must Choose a New Voting System

For most of its history, Port Chester was governed by a Board of Trustees that was elected by an at-large voting system, meaning that all voters throughout the village could cast a vote for each Trustee position.  The elections were staggered meaning that not all of the Trustees were elected at the same time.

A 2006 U.S. Dept. of Justice lawsuit found that the at-large, staggered voting system was a violation of US law under the Voting Rights Act and ordered it to be eliminated. The Court ruled that the system denied the Latino population equal opportunity to participate in the political process by watering-down Latino votes and involving racist calls for white voters to defeat the candidates backed by Latinos.

The Court and Port Chester agreed to implement a new voting system, a variation of the at-large system known as cumulative voting, for a ten-year period to fix this legal violation. The ten-year period for this agreement included three elections for the Board of Trustees and expired in 2016. A new voting method must be adopted by 2019.

Why We Believe Districts are the Most Fair Solution

We believe a district-based voting system will work better in Port Chester than an at-large system. Districts are the most common system across the state and country and a tried-and-true way to fix a violation of the Voting Rights Act, which is what our village must do.

In a district system, the village is geographically divided into districts with roughly equal populations of voting age citizens.  Voters in each district elect an individual to represent them on the Board of Trustees. We believe a district voting system is fairer and will:

  • Empower residents and increase voter participation especially among Latinos and other minorities, who have not seen their issues made the focus of previous elections, as well as women and young people who have not been properly represented over the years.
  • Make trustees more fully accountable to the residents because each of them will have to answer directly to voters in his or her district.
  • Require the trustees to be more responsive to the needs of the entire village. Most of the current trustees live in one affluent neighborhood in the northernmost part of the village. Even if the trustees mean well, they can easily overlook concerns that are particular to your neighborhood like trash pickup, potholes, parking, etc.

The Vote Port Chester! campaign seeks to empower Port Chester residents to make their voices heard on this important issue. Our goal is to lay the groundwork for electing a representative majority on the Board of Trustees that will work for ALL residents.

Check out our Community Presentation for more Information:

PORT CHESTER VOTES – Community Presentation

SPCA Weekly Report

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Alliance Statement on Village Selection of Controversial Election Law Firm

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Sustainable Port Chester Alliance is deeply concerned about the Village’s recent hiring of the Virginia-based law firm Holztman Vogel, Josefiak, and Torchinsky (HVJT) to consult on the election reform process in Port Chester.

Associated with Republican and conservative causes and legal cases, HVJT has been implicated by a North Carolina watch dog organization in the filing of false claims of voter fraud following that state’s 2016 gubernatorial election in which the Republican incumbent was narrowly defeated.

While we commend the Village for retaining an election law expert to provide much needed advice, we are at a loss as to why Village leadership – whether due to lack of thorough review or by intent – would retain a partisan law firm that has been alleged to have engaged in election irregularities, which may have violated state and federal laws against harassment and intimidating voters.

As the Resident Voting Advisory Committee completes its work and we near an historic decision on choosing a new voting system for Port Chester, Village leaders must guarantee transparency and trust in this very important process.

We call on Mayor Fritz Falanka, members of the Board of Trustees, and Village Attorney Tony Cerreto to immediately rescind the hiring of HVJT and retain counsel that Port Chester residents can be sure will provide expert, non-partisan legal advice.


Alliance Wins Citizen Advisory Commission

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The Port Chester Board of Trustees (BOT) passed a resolution at the February 5th meeting creating a Resident Advisory Commission to advise the BOT on the selection of a new electoral system for village elections.  First proposed by the Alliance, the commission will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the various voting methods available and will report back to the board.  Details of how the commission will work are still being finessed.  This is a win for the Alliance and all our members and supporters who turned out to BOT meetings or wrote to the Board to make sure it happened.  With our perseverance, the issue of voting method has risen to the top of the agenda for the board and we have made sure the voices of community members are central in the debate.

Letter: Transparent, Inclusive Process Needed For Choosing a New Election System

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Letter: Transparent, Inclusive Process Needed For Choosing a New Election System

January 03, 2018

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Perhaps you’ve also heard of this one, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”- Abraham Lincoln

To hear it from Port Chester Trustee Gene Ceccarelli, one would think that citizens have no place or voice in the democratic process. Or even worse, that elected officials should not have to hear their words or allow them access.

Unfortunately, it also seems that many of the trustees did not hear the voices of the young people who also spoke at the Dec. 18 meeting. Public speaking ranks high on the list of things many people fear the most. At this meeting, two young men, born and raised in Port Chester, both 22 years old, sucked in their fear and spoke before the board. Not one member of this board was able to see past their own hurt feelings to acknowledge and recognize the presence of these two young people – who represent the future of our village – and country. Not one member of this board stopped to think and say, “Well done, young man. You are the reason we sit here, you are a model for your peers to tear themselves away from their screens and devices if for only a short while to take part in what is your civic right and duty. We applaud your being here.”

Not one.

Rather the model that was demonstrated was, “How dare you accuse us of not being transparent.” In no one’s comments that evening was the phrase, ‘you aren’t being transparent’ uttered. Watch the video.

But let’s not allow this to be a distraction from the issue we brought to the attention of the Board two weeks ago: We want an inclusive and transparent process for choosing a new election system. We need a system that will encourage, not discourage participation, one that enfranchises, not disenfranchises, one that empowers all communities in the village, not just the privileged few.

We applaud the village for hiring Dr. Lisa Handley. We only want everyday residents of Port Chester to have a chance to work with her so that the selection of a new electoral system benefits from both her expertise and the voices of the people who will be doing the voting.

So, as we approach the commemoration of the birth of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., how do we reconcile all that Dr. King stood for with Trustee Ceccarelli’s outburst against popular democracy and civic participation?

Joan Grangenois-Thomas, Port Chester
Joan Grangenois-Thomas is Executive Director of the Sustainable Port Chester Alliance.