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Norwalk political notes: Plastic, Walk Bridge expertise, Duff and Wheels2U

(Photo by Flickr user Horia Varlan)

NORWALK, Conn. – Some Norwalk political notes:

  • Banning plastic straws?
  • From the Walk Bridge project to Harbor Management Commission
  • Kibbe and McCabe appointed
  • Duff takes questions
  • Wheels2U pilot extended through the year
  • Stop & Shop strike called a success
  • Zoning Commission to consider murals

 

 

Norwalk/Stamford look to ban plastic straws

Norwalk’s ban on plastic bags will go into effect on July 1, and Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) is promising that plastic straws are next.

Norwalk and Stamford are working together to address environmental issues, Livingston said last week at an Earth Day event at Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium.  “As two of the largest cities in the state, we want to set an example for the rest of the state, if not New England and the country,” he said.

The first joint act will be identical proposals in front of their respective governmental bodies to ban on plastic straws and stirrers.

“Few people realize that straws are among the top 10 items found during beach cleanups and can do much harm to sea birds, turtles and other marine creatures,” Livingston said. “The average plastic straw is used for up to 20 minutes, yet it takes up to 200 years to degrade. When it does degrade, it breaks down into microplastics that are ingested by marine and land animals, working their way into our food chain.”

Stamford Mayor David Martin and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said the cities are working together.

“We cannot save this planet one person at a time… we must have collective action,” Martin said.

“This is a team effort,” Rilling said. “We cannot do it alone, and we can’t do it ourselves. We need to bring in all of our residents, we need to educate the public, we need to make them understand how we can keep our earth clean.”

“Plastic straw bans have faced opposition not just from business groups but also from disability advocates, who point out that some people need a straw to drink,” NBC News reports.

 

 

Ex-Walk Bridge project engineer joins Harbor Commission

Christopher MacDonnell, an engineer who oversaw the design of the Walk Bridge, has been appointed to the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission.

“I think he will be an asset to the city because of his knowledge,” Livingston said at last week’s Council meeting, where McDonnell was unanimously approved.

“I bring a varied 31 years of experience working for public authorities, contractors and consulting engineers,” MacDonnell states in his resume.

He’s been a senior engineer for STV Inc. since May and was with WSP (formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff) from June 2006 to May, according to his resume. He also oversaw the design for the Danbury dockyard and the “CP243” project, the interlocking switches north of the bridge.

McDonnell worked on the 2006-2008 Bronx Whitestone Bridge Bronx approach replacement and has recently helped address Holland Tunnel flood damage from Superstorm Sandy.

Harbor Management Commission Chairman John Romano called MacDonnell’s appointment a “surprise.”

“Chris’s appointment came thru {Council member} Colin Holston, to the Mayor and the Mayor put Chris forward. I was never told who he was or that there could be a potential conflict,” Romano wrote. “Chris is certainly qualified. By degree and by his background. The fact that he worked on the walkbridge project could be a plus. If a conflict arises my hope would be that he does the right thing. I know some have concerns.

Livingston said he met McDonnell two years ago and was impressed by his knowledge of Walk Bridge design and constraints.

“I happen to know him personally as well and I think he would bring a very positive temperament and background to the Commission,” Hosten (D-At Large) said. “He has worked on harbor management on a smaller scale, in the neighborhood of Village Creek, where we have done dock management, dredging, the works.”

 

 

Other appointments

Alan Kibbe is the kind of boater you would follow back to the harbor in a dense fog, Council member John Kydes (D-District C) said Tuesday.

Kibbe was also appointed unanimously to the Harbor Management Commission.

“Norwalk Harbor has been very important to my family for almost 40 years and I would like to help preserve that resource for others to enjoy for recreation and as a continued source of livelihood for our commercial users,” Kibbe states in his resume.

Barbara McCabe, an advanced practice registered nurse and former member of the NorWALKer task force, was appointed to the Bike/Walk Commission.

 

 

Duff hosts digital town hall

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) fielded questions for about half an hour last week, with occasional interruptions from his dog, in his first Facebook town hall.

Much of the commentary echoed answers at Duff’s recent in-person forums. Duff said he doesn’t have a position yet on the proposal to put tolls on Connecticut’s major highways because there are unanswered questions, and said he isn’t ready to endorse any candidates in upcoming presidential primaries but has met “Mayor Pete,” and he’s a “good guy and thinker.”

The event gave David Mapley, the “Norwalk Taxes Too High” guy, a chance to push Duff on the charge that Norwalk only gets nine cents back for every dollar it sends Hartford.

“I don’t know where those talking points come from, that’s not the case,” Duff said.  “That number is false.”

He said Norwalk gets state funding for infrastructure, for the Maritime Aquarium, for the Lockwood Matthews Mansion and other things.

Duff engaged in a bit of back and forth with Paul Passarelli on the $15 minimum wage issue; Duff announced support for the idea and Passarelli typed that it would increase unemployment.

“That hasn’t been the case,” Duff said.  He added that the minimum wage since President Franklin D. Roosevelt has helped build a solid middle class.

Questions continued, but Duff ended the event after 35 minutes following commentary about net neutrality.

“We need to get back to a standard of discourse that is not personal and not attacking,” Duff said. “… A lot of people will make a statement behind a screen that they would never say in person, which I guess it’s better that they don’t say it in person but we want to make sure that we keep a good level of discourse.”

Passarelli replied: “I waited for the live session to end to write: ‘It’s difficult to be civil in discourse with the person who has his hand buried deeply in my wallet!”

The event has been viewed by about 1,200 people, according to Facebook.

NancyOnNorwalk asked Rilling if he’d hold a Facebook town hall.

“Certainly worth a try,” Rilling replied.

 

 

Wheels2U

Duff was asked about a free shuttle between Waypointe and The SoNo Collection.

“I think there will be,” he said.

A circulator was part of the discussion when the mall was first proposed, but that idea evolved into Wheels2U, an on-demand microtransit option which debuted in September, offering free rides as part of a six-month pilot program.

Riders use an app to call a van, which shuttles the rider and other passengers directly to their destinations within a defined service area.  The service has been described as “Uber for public transit.”

The service area was expanded on March 21 to serve Glover Avenue apartments and Main Avenue hotels.  Click the link below to see the service area:

expanded Wheels2U zone

The program has been extended through 2019, Norwalk Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert wrote last week. “The team is working with the SoNo {Collection} to include Wheels2U.   West Ave is already included in the service area.”

“The program so far has been embraced by the public and continues to increase awareness and ridership.  Our very preliminary information shows that people have downloaded the app and who use the service are very pleased,” Hebert wrote.  She hopes to continue expanding the service’s coverage area.

The Micro Transit service is operated and maintained by the Transit District.

 

 

Chestnut Street sidewalk repairs projected for 2020-21

“{A}ny news on fixing the sidewalk on Chestnut street or Henry street to the South Norwalk train station,” one person asked Duff.

Duff said he’d forward that question to customer service.

“As part of renovations at at Side By Side Charter School, sidewalks were done on Henry Street heading east toward South Main Street. The Redevelopment Agency supplied additional funding to enhance the sidewalks and curbing in that area,” Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk.

The City repairs and replaces sidewalks in conjunction with its paving projects.

“Chestnut Street is on the forecast for 2020 or 2021, but ultimately depends on the proposed development in the area,” Morgan wrote.

 

 

 

ICYMI: Stop and Shop is no longer stopped

Stop & Shop workers returned to work last week and restocked shelves after an 11-day strike.

“We’re proud of what we did to stand up for ourselves in New England, and also proud of how we held the line for other grocery workers across the country. One good job should be enough,” Support Stop & Shop Workers wrote on its Facebook page.

“This is a very positive development that we could not have achieved without your unyielding support,” the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union wrote.

UFCW local 371 voted unanimously Thursday to ratify the agreement helped along by a federal mediator.   Stop & Shop called the deal “fair,” according to The Sun Chronicle.

Stop & Shop said the deal includes:

  •  Increased pay for all associates;
  •  Continued excellent health coverage for eligible associates
  •  Ongoing defined benefit pension benefits for all eligible associates

 

Ahold Delhaize, owner of Stop & Shop, estimated the cost of the strike as $90-110 million and predicted, on its website, a slightly lower operating margin for 2019.

Labor supporters have cried victory.

“In hindsight, the 11-day strike, the largest retail strike in the U.S. since 2003, could turn out to be one of the most important work stoppages of the past few decades,” John Logan wrote on The Hill. “…if Stop & Shop management had succeeded in gutting the health care and pension benefits of its unionized workforce in New England, it would likely have adopted these tactics actions in other states, and could have encouraged other unionized grocery chains to pursue similar ‘morally wrong’ bargaining tactics.

 

 

Sign regulation review on tap

The Norwalk Zoning Commission on Thursday is set to consider amendment to Norwalk sign regulations to “clarify that wall murals are not signs,” the meeting’s agenda states.

In November, Jason Milligan’s murals in the Wall Street area stirred a controversy which ended when the Norwalk Arts Commission stepped up to work with Planning and Zoning on revising regulations for wall art.

The agenda also states that amendments include reducing the number of off-premise signs.

12 comments

Bryan Meek April 29, 2019 at 10:57 am

17 years into running this state into the financial abyss, fleecing Norwalk to pay for things like busways and minor league stadiums in Hartford (when there was a busway that was built to transport people between Hartford and New Britain that loses $20 million a year when the minor league team was already in New Britain) and Bob still doesn’t have a basic grasp on the financial situation facing his city. Incredible.

Don’t take my word for it. The data is buried from basic public view, but if you dig deep enough the facts are incontrovertible.

First, lets start with the basic financial statements from the city. We need to examine FY16 as the data is incomplete for subsequent years, but this should be enough to lay it out.

There are three numbers of signifnicance in the city’s annual reports, starting with pdf page 38 of https://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/11484

$59 million in grants. $21 million of that is for Teachers Retirement system, of which 20% comes from teacher contributions, so of that $21 million about $16 million is from state taxes, so we got about $55 million from the state.

Bob is correct about one thing, the state does pay for his goodies to the Mansion, Aquarium, some of our schoo costs, etc…. These are capitalized over a number of years. You’d need an electron microscope to find any useful data from the state on this stuff, so let’s be conservative and guess that all of these projects total $200 million (it’s not even half of that, but let’s be fair). Using GAAP of 40 years for government buildings gives us another $5 million a year.

So thats a total of $60 million a year from the state.

Now to the revenue side of the equation. The data is woefully buried on https://portal.ct.gov/DRS/_resources/Agency-Landing-Page/Research-Library-Reports
No wonder Bob has no basic grasp of the fact, but after much bleeding you can find that Norwalk paid $190 million in state income taxes for the last reportable year.

$200 million in sales taxes, which are completely buried in terms of finding easily. You have to cobble this data yourself out of a 50k record database.

Those taxes represent the bulk of the tax payments,

So that’s only $390 million, where does the rest come from.

Well, the state collects another $4 billion or so in the 100s of other taxes we use to punish industry and people. Our per capita share (conservative since our cost of living is higher than most other areas of the state) is roughly $100 million.

Still only $490 million.

Here’s the rest

Federal grants to the tune of $6.3 billion. (Connecticut paid $27.6 billion in federal taxes).

https://portal.ct.gov/DRS/_resources/Agency-Landing-Page/Research-Library-Reports

Norwalk’s share of money paid into that 6.3 billion from federal taxes is $162 million (22.8% return from Fed to state level).

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/16zp07ct.xls. See columns 93 for our 6 zip codes.

So that’s a total of $650 million we generate for Hartford.

And we get back $60 million for a cool 9% return.

So we are paying $500 plus million a year for God knows what.

And Bob thinks everything is rosy. There are 10 highways crisscrossing Hartford County. HOV lanes, dedicated bus lanes, trains to get people to their jobs in Springfield Mass.

And down here we have the Merrit and 95 and a 45 minute daily commute to Stamford.

Bob can keep repeating his lies over and over again, but the facts don’t lie.

Jo Bennett April 29, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for the analysis, Bryan. I wish I could say that I was able to follow all of it, but I get the big picture. How does Norwalk’s ROI compare to other Connecticut cities and towns? I’m assuming there’s no baseline across the U.S., but if so, it would be great to share.

Lisa Brinton April 29, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Thank you Bryan for your quick analysis of the revenues. Allow me to shed more ‘physical light’ on just how Norwalk residents continue to take one for the team:

– Our median income of ~$80k (half the leafy suburbs) after it gets sent to Hartford, is redistributed to the school districts of Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury, despite NPS now having a 57% free and reduced lunch (up from 23% in 2004/05 when my children started in NPS.)

– Stamford and Danbury get shortchanged as much as we do, but seem to be run better. Do folks realize Norwalk is more densely populated than Stamford -yet that hasn’t stopped the agenda of cramming more soulless apartments in town? At what stage did quality of life for existing residents cease to matter?

– Sales tax revenue from the mall (for as long as it is a mall) will go to Hartford. Full property tax revenues won’t be realized for another decade – by that time – the structure will unlikely be a mall, but a refurbished whatever, with more tax credits offered up by local politicians, as traffic remains at a standstill at the 95/7 intersection.

– Then, there is the Wall Street area and POKO, where hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent on a lawsuit trying to bankrupt the one developer not looking for a tax break, while giving millions to one who is. Maybe it won’t matter because there will be such gridlock on MLK/West Avenue that nobody will be able to get there anyway.

– The Walk Bridge may need replacing, but it has been over engineered – most likely for inside contractors, tied to the state or city, making money off a lift bridge suitable for a cruise ship.

When will Norwalk residents and homeowners- regardless of political affiliation pay attention to the trend of sustainability, rising taxes and declining equity in their homes – unless they are planning on leaving shortly or renting their homes out in the near future?

It has become pretty obvious to me, that lacking any real plan about how to bring businesses back to Connecticut, the plan that our city fathers seem most comfortable with is cramming as many, transient, commuters into the Norwalk area as possible to work in Stamford or NYC – so that the income tax dollars can go to Hartford for redistribution around a broken state, while local Norwalk homeowners pick up the costs for increased city government and infrastructure. Crazy.

Marie April 29, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Re: Lisa Brinton “– The Walk Bridge may need replacing, but it has been over engineered – most likely for inside contractors, tied to the state or city, making money off a lift bridge suitable for a cruise ship.”

Source of this “over engineered” and “insider contractors” assertion?

Mike Mushak April 29, 2019 at 7:10 pm

@Marie, Lisa Brinton does not care about facts. That she has made clear on many occasions.

If it sounds good to make something up, she just says it. Pretty much Bryan Meek as well. They are peas in a pod, along with a few other folks on this site who spout nonsense on cue.

If nothing else, its entertaining!

steve April 29, 2019 at 8:28 pm

Norwalk gets a bad return from the Federal government that’s exacerbated by the Republican party nixing SALT after over 100 years (w/nary a hearing, and a finagled method to get to the threshold debt over 10 years), Norwalk Republican party responds look at Bob Duff— This years federal budget—approx. 1 Trillion Dollars in Debt despite a strong economy…and this is the party that claims fiscal responsibility…GEEZ—If one could attribute this whopper to DT it’d be lie #10,001…How do you spell no moral compass—Norwalk Republicans (Party of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort)—where’s Richard Luger when you need him..Lisa Brinton you had credibility as an independent- you squander it when you pander to the new trumpublicans

Otto Delupe April 29, 2019 at 10:14 pm

Kinda funny how Mr Mushaks ignores Mr Meeks analysis of what’s really going on here.

Chime the Ron Morris rebuttal about how, let me guess, the Lisa this and Lisa that stuff..

Bryan Meek April 29, 2019 at 10:36 pm

Interesting that Mushake can’t dispute facts with facts? Doesn’t have any?

Here are the facts. We’re over taxed, under-represented, and being sold out to other interests.

We spend too much money on DOT projects that return little value for the investment.

The Walk Bridge square foot construction estimate is over $100,000 per square foot ($1bn for 250 ft long x 40 wide). For comparisons, the new Tappan Zee bridge came in at about 2,000 psf ($4bn at 3 miles long x 150 feet wide). Economies of scale at play here? Perhaps. The TZ is also 140 feet above the river and allows passage to millions of tons of transported goods throughout the Hudson River valley going on 1000s of square miles as opposed to our 1 mile of river. Our 50x price multiple only gets us a clearance for a few sail boats.

If this were a DOT that had a good track record, I’d be less pessimistic. This is the same DOT that paid $600 million for 9 miles of busway that loses $20 million a year. This is the same DOT that bought 30 year old replacement train cars from Virginia DOT that couldn’t fit under our bridges. This is the same DOT that built a drainage project on I84 that forgot to include the drain pipe. This is the same DOT that still hasn’t figured out how to connect 7 to 15 in 30 years. This is the same DOT that spent $70 million on a guard rail and some shoulder improvements over a 5 mile stretch from Westport to Fairfield except no one can see the benefits, except Jim Himes and Bob Duff.

Our DOT, to their credit, sometimes gets things right. The Q Bridge in New Haven is sparkling, even though it took 20 years to complete. The CT river bridge in Old Saybrook was the model of efficiency coming in under budget and under time. Of course, the contractor was given incentives there that were killed for all future projects for some reason. Too bad we can’t get back to that model of efficiency and progress. I guess it’s more important to guarantee longevity for the few over the needs of the many and carry political water for people who you think have your best interests in mind.

Drewt April 30, 2019 at 11:07 am

@bryan Do you really think angry Mike M would use the truth and factual information and expose what is really happening in this City?? We all know the answer to that question. You and our NEXT MAYOR are 100% on point with truthful and factual information. I hope the voters this time around truthfully educate themselves and choose Lisa as our Next Mayor of Norwalk.

Jeff Hall April 30, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Bryan,

Your math is a little off. Norwalk getting $60,000,000 back from $650,000,000 it sends Hartford is a return of -91%, not 9%. If we got a 9% return, people would be standing in line for a chance to pay State taxes.

Bryan Meek May 1, 2019 at 7:16 am

Jeff, You are correct. Hartford returns ~ 9%. We do not get a 9% return on our money as I previously typed quickly, but I think you got the point.

Did you see Bob Duff’s new budget that is going to raise taxes on Norwalk by tens of millions of dollars?

When Bob Duff first went to Hartford, Norwalk was getting back 20%. In a few more terms Bob will have us at 0% at his current pace of destruction.

But hey, he has a nice shiny title we can all be proud of.

EnoPride May 1, 2019 at 9:57 am

What a peculiar video of Mr. Livingston and Mayor Rilling pretending to be environmentalists. We hear a pitch about taking small steps to ban plastic straws and stirrers to save the Sound and its creatures coming from a council member and a mayor who greenlighted, amongst a myriad of high density, impervious substance apartment development, the Sono Collection Mall, a mammoth structure consuming an obscenely massive footprint which will be pounding out a copious amount of fluorocarbons into Norwalk’s air and windows of nearby apartments, generating a large volume of waste (plastic bags, anyone?) and car traffic and all the pollution and carbon monoxide that comes with it, effective immediately after the proposed October 2019 ribbon cutting, where Duffrilling will smile proudly about their accomplishment.

Mr. Livingston and Mayor Rilling, who have increased Norwalk’s carbon footprint significantly alongside RDA’s Tim Sheehan by regularly voting “Yay” to large scale development in droves (how many massive apartment complexes are we up to now?), resulting in less trees, more density and more pollution, are talking about banning straws to fight global warming. THEY are lecturing US on how to protect the land and sea? While it is wonderful and much appreciated that these gentlemen are concerned for our waterways and the creatures which reside there, are they at all concerned about the health of their inland creatures, aka their constituents? How about they address why they are selling out, at fever pitch, Norwalk land which could have been green parks or some tree canopy coverage, to out of town developers of high density, massive footprint structures? How about they address the toxins generated by our tens of dozens of ILLEGAL contractor yards which they have allowed to operate for far too long? Environmentalists these gentlemen are not. Remember this at the polls in November.

As a result of our leaders selling out and giving up green space opportunities for concrete, pavement, wider roads and more car pollution, their residents are some of the sickest, with a higher rate of asthma and certain cancers, illnesses which can be attributed to less green and more impervious surface coverage in high density, high traffic/carbon monoxide particulate areas. This article in The Hour is a real eye opener about the impact of Norwalk’s disappearing green coverage:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thehour.com/news/amp/Study-says-Norwalk-is-losing-its-tree-canopy-13800953.php

The sad news is that Norwalk came in last of all studied western CT municipalities for least amount of green and dead last in the ENTIRE STATE for most amount of impervious substance coverage! Stamford has more public green space and parks than we do! How is it that we have been awarded again as a Tree City if this data tells a very different story?

This current City Hall is clearly not all in for the fight against global warming. Their poor decision making on land use and disregard for the environment pushed us farther into this sad situation which negatively impacts our health and quality of life. Please vote for change this November before this group wreaks more environmental damage upon Norwalk and sells out and obliterates more of what could be green public space. Norwalk should be proactively growing green public parks, not concrete and pavement. Enough.

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