Driver at Fault in 2015 Valhalla Crossing Accident: National Transportation Safety Board


​ WPCNR TRANSPORTATION REPORT. From the National Transportation Safety Board. July 25, 2017:

An SUV driver’s actions are the probable cause of a deadly 2015 collision between the SUV and a Metro-North commuter train at a grade crossing in Valhalla, New York, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday.

The SUV driver died, along with five passengers on the train, in the Feb. 3, 2015, accident. The rail passengers were killed when 343 feet of the third rail, which powers the train, penetrated the floor of the first train car and struck passengers.

The NTSB’s investigation found the driver of the SUV moved her vehicle into the path of Metro-North commuter train 659.

Investigators found traffic at the Commerce Street grade crossing was congested when the driver entered the boundary of the grade crossing and stopped.

The grade crossing warning system activated properly and a gate came down, striking the rear of her Mercedes-Benz ML350. Witnesses said the driver exited the vehicle and examined where the gate hit her SUV. She then got back into the driver’s seat and moved onto the railroad tracks and into the path of the oncoming train.

The train hit the vehicle at 51 m.p.h., pushing the SUV 665 feet down the track, while detaching the third rail. The introduction of sparks, flaming debris and fuel into the lead railcar started a fire.

As a result of the investigation the NTSB recommended local officials assess the safety of at-grade crossings, such as the Commerce Street crossing. The NTSB also recommended commuter railroads, like Metro North, that use third-rail power systems, at or near grade crossings, should assess their safety.

“Sadly, all of the NTSB’s work in railroad and highway safety to date did not prevent this tragic accident,’’ said Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “But the recommendations we issued today could help to avoid future tragedies.  When people see railroad tracks, even at grade crossings, they need to think train, and maintain – or improve – their situational awareness. We recommended risk assessments by companies and agencies, and corrective actions as warranted by the assessment results,’’ Sumwalt said. “Any railroad passenger has the right to expect that everything possible is being done to assure their safety.”

The investigation found that Metro-North’s third rail system was not constructed to fail in a controlled manner or break away when subjected to overloaded conditions such as those involved in this accident.

Also, the use of Metro-North’s current third rail system may increase the severity of railcar damage and serious injuries at grade crossing accidents.

The investigation ruled out the use of personal electronic devices or drugs and alcohol by both the SUV driver and the train engineer.

Traffic signals, the performance of the train engineer and weather and track conditions were also ruled out as issues in this crash.

There was no evidence to suggest the SUV driver unintentionally drove the vehicle forward due to the unconventional design of the SUVs transmission interface.

A link to the findings, probable cause and recommendations are available online at .  The final report will be posted in several days.  The docket for this investigation is available at

Posted in Uncategorized


WPCNR QUILL & EYESHADE. From the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. July 25, 2017:

The final sales figures for the White Plains fiscal year just ended.

The city total provided by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance was $49,310,346 was down 1% from fiscal year 2015-16 when it was $49,791,542. It was the third straight year the city economy has declined, after reaching an all time high of $51,856,287 in 2013-14.

The Westchester County Sales Tax handle for the first six months of its current fiscal year was up 2% from 2016 through June, $253,263,253 to $248,378,273. The county at the halfway mark is headed for an all-time high this year.



Posted in Uncategorized

Senate with Vice President Pence Casting Tie-Breaker Vote, 51-50, Will Take Up the Health Care Bill. Senator Gillebrand “hard-pressed to remember a vote in the U.S. Senate that has treated the American people with less respect.”

WPCNR WASHINGTON WIRE. From the Associated Press. July 25, 2017:

The U.S. Senate will take up the Republican drafted bill to replace the Affordable Health Care Act as a result of today’s Senate vote.

The Senate deadlocked 50-50 on whether to move forward with the health care debate, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote and send the bill to the Senate floor.

The vote was enabled to be successful by Republican Senator John McCain, who had previously voiced major opposition to the Republican bill, returning from his hospitalization to attend the senate for the vote, and voting to take up debate on the bill. Pence broke the tie. Forty-seven other Republicans also voted to take up debate on the replacement bill, with just two, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were the two Republican Senators to oppose the bill, though at least 4 others, including McCain,had lead many to believe a positive vote to take up repeal would not be successful.

N.Y. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today released the following statement on the Senate vote to open debate on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act:

“I am hard-pressed to remember a vote in the U.S. Senate that has treated the American people with less respect. This is not a game. My Republican colleagues would be well-served to remember this is about the health and wellbeing of millions of families in every corner of this country. When lawmakers are this secretive, you can be sure that it’s because the only losers will be regular Americans already struggling to pay for health care, and the winners will be millionaire health care CEOs, lobbyists, campaign donors, and the lawmakers themselves. This bill will harm millions of Americans and I will use every tool I have as a Senator to fight it. I encourage all New Yorkers to join me and to speak out and demand better than a back-room deal that harms those who work so hard to provide for their families. Democracy only works when regular people stand up and demand action. We cannot give up in this fight.”


Posted in Uncategorized

Lecuona Confirms Her Petition Signatures to Run in Democratic Primary Are Challenged by Democratic Party in White Plains. Kraver, Council candidate Reports His Petitions Have been Challenged, too.

WPCNR CAMPAIGN 2017. July 25, 2017:


Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona at a News Conference last week.

White Plains Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona confirmed today to WPCNR, as she said on Radio WVOX this morning, the Democratic Party Leadership has challenged many of her 2,700 signatures she acquired on her petitions. In a statement, Ms. Lecuona wrote WPCNR:

“My democratic petitions have been challenged. Not the Republican petitions.”

The Democratic challenge comes despite the fact Lecuona said last week she remained true to her Democrat principles and would not change parties to run on the Republican Ticket.

Lecuona also told WPCNR this morning she would support the Democrat nominee for County Executive whoever wins the September 12 Democratic Primary between State Senator George Latimer and County Legislator Kenneth Jenkins.

On WVOX this morning  on the Bob Marrone Good Morning Westchester program, Lecuona said she is being challenged because “The Mayor is afraid he might not win this election.”

She said the Republican and Conservative Parties (that have endorsed her as their candidate in the November election nominated her based on positions she has taken and were impressed with how she makes decisions “based on the homework you do and not along party lines. They (the Republican party and Conservative Parties) are very aware what this (election) is about: best policies, real policies ”

Marrone asked why should people vote for her for Mayor, Lecuona said “I care about the neighborhoods, I have the expertise, and people trust me. I will represent all the people when I am Mayor.”

Lecuona also gave a nod to the quality of  Michael Kraver, Alan Goldman and Saad Siddiqui, she is running with who are seeking the Democrat nominations for Common Council, challenging incumbents John Martin, John Kirpatrick and a first-time council candidate Justin Brasch. Remarking that “rubberstamping is unprecedented” in her years on the council, she said Kraver, Goldman and Siddiqui bring “a new energy to the city council,” saying they were younger, and represented the future of the city.


Michael Kraver, left, Alan Goldman, and Saad Siddiqui, candidates for Common Council. Their nominating petitions have been challenged by City Democratic Committee.

Kraver, writing on Facebook today, expressed these comments about the Democratic City Committee challenging his politicians:

“This weekend, I learned that the local Democratic Party establishment is challenging the signatures that I and the rest of my slate submitted. They want to keep us off the primary ballot, to ensure that their preferred candidates have the Democratic line in November.
To qualify for a primary, my slate was obligated to submit slightly more than 900 signatures, and we submitted more than 2,000. Nonetheless, the local Democratic Party establishment spent hours upon hours of time, and submitted hundreds of pieces of paper to the Board of Elections, to disqualify us.
They are trying to silence the local Democrats who signed on for a change to the status quo, and they are disrespecting the local Democrats who walked under the summer sun getting signatures on our behalf.
Taxpayer resources will now be used on employees at the Board of Elections spending days resolving disputes and inspecting thousands of signatures.
The Democratic Party is supposed to be better than this.
We pride ourselves on being the party that fights to expand the number of people who participate in the political process. My slate’s petitioning effort was supported by Democrats in White Plains who have never carried petitions before, and the slate includes three candidates who have never held office before.
Yet, instead of welcoming the primary election that should result from this effort, the local Democratic Party establishment is trying to rig the outcome without a vote. I and the rest of my slate are extremely disappointed, and we will fight for a spot on the primary ballot.
On a more personal note, I must say that while I knew to be prepared for political tricks when I decided to run, this is beyond the scope of what I expected.
I graduated from White Plains High School, and after obtaining two degrees from an Ivy League university I moved back to White Plains. I chose this community to raise my children in because I want them to enjoy the benefits of being educated in our high-quality diverse school district.
I have been a District Leader for the White Plains Democrats for 7 years, and served two terms on its Executive Committee. The notion that I now have to fight the people in charge of my own party just to get on the primary ballot saddens me deeply. It’s no wonder we have so much trouble attracting good people to run for public office.
Unfortunately for the folks who comprise our local political establishment, I’m a White Plains kid and I don’t scare easily. So, I’ll scratch and claw and fight, and do what I can do to get on the ballot and give the voters of White Plains the choice they deserve.




Posted in Uncategorized

Westchester Leaders Panel a Community Forum on Hunger Wednesday at Stop & Shop, White Plains


 WPCNR COMMUNITY FORUM. From The Food Bank for Westchester and Stop & Shop, White Plains. July 24, 2017:

The Food Bank for Westchester and Stop & Shop will hold a public policy forum to address the issues of food insecurity and “Hidden Hunger” in Westchester at 11am on Thursday, July 26th at the Stop & Shop located at 154 Westchester Avenue in White Plains. 

The Policy Forum will be co- chaired by Leslie Gordon, the President and CEO of the Food Bank for Westchester and Bob Yager, the Senior Vice President and Division Lead of Stop & Shop’s New York Metro Division. Participating will be:

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino

                        White Plains Mayor Tom Roach

Assembly Member David Buchwald

New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins

John Ravitz, Executive Vice President/COO, Business Council of Westchester

Dr. Mona Kennedy, New York-Presbyterian Medical Group/Westchester

Carrie Mobley-Johnson, Westchester County’s Faith-Based Partnership Initiative

Approximately 200,000 Westchester residents are at risk of hunger or facing food insecurity. Twenty-nine percent of those are children; there are 25,000 Westchester grade school children who receive free or reduced lunch. These children need food over the weekends and on vacations.

22% of Westchester residents who are at risk of hunger or facing food insecurity are senior citizens, and as our population gets older, we will see the numbers of hard to reach “seniors in need” increase.

The Food Bank for Westchester serves 300 frontline programs and supplies 95% of all food distributed annually across the region’s food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and daycare and residential programs – delivering over 8.4 million pounds of food and 7 million meals to people.

Westchester is New York State’s wealthiest suburban county, but according to New York State data, more than 90,000 residents live in poverty.

  • Westchester County is, in many ways, a microcosm of New York State economics where wealth is deeply concentrated and poverty is higher than both the national average and the average of any other Northern state.
  • Income inequality in Westchester is pronounced: the top fifth earns 20 times what the bottom fifth earns. This is one of the widest income gaps in the nation.
  • Westchester’s reputation has promoted a false perception of affluence, and as a consequence, economic insecurity is underreported and often dismissed.
  • Poverty remains invisible to some of the county’s very own residents.
  • 9.6% of Westchester residents live under the poverty level.
  • 12.3% of Westchester children live under the poverty level.
  • 7.9% of senior citizens live under the poverty level.

The experts will examine avenues to deliver more fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy products to food insecure residents since malnutrition and diabetes usually accompany food insecurity.


Posted in Uncategorized




2016318wpw 004
















White Plains Week for 7-21 has been posted.  the YouTube link is
the link to is

20161110WPW 005

Posted in Uncategorized




















Posted in Uncategorized


This column originally appeared on WPCNR on February 1, 2003, and celebrates the Dreamers, the Achievers, the High and the Mighty:

The Space Blazers:

 The Apollo 11 Crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins,  Buzz Aldrin, Jr. Mr. Armstrong set foot on the moon 48 years ago on July 20.(NASA Photo)

One of the papers I receive at WPCNR White Plains News Headquarters, White Plains, New York, USA did not tell me this was the 48th  anniversary of the day when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

The exact hour  was  20:11 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). That was the culmination of the last great American achievement  – the personal computer and the internet were to come as the next great American achievement conquering space — when Apollo 11 with Armstrong in command, with astronauts Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. blasted off to the stars  for real becoming the Flash Gordons, Buck Rogerses, Tom Corbetts and Captain Videos for all-time.

Their mission was a success.

But there have been the tragedies associated with striving for the stars and being the best, achieving the best, working for the good. Those are the persons who keep the dreams alive by their deaths and personal sacrifice. I wrote the following after the explosion of the Columbia Space Shuttle upon reentry after 19 days in space in January 2003.

Saturday’s fatal Columbia Space Shuttle accident killing all 7 astronauts aboard when the historic spacecraft broke up over East Texas at daybreak Saturday morning begins a period of national mourning. 
The expected media speculations have started, guessing at the cause of the reentry that went bizarrely, awfully wrong.
The truth is the civilized world takes absolute scientific miracles for granted. We do not appreciate the courage and skills of the men and women creating the future.
Those of us with cell phones, internet connections, high-speed trains, satellite communications and entertainment (all products made possible by the space program), do not realize the magnitude of daring achievements that you and I have come to accept to be executed like clockwork.
I first learned of Columbia’s fate late Saturday afternoon when my wife mentioned that instead of sports programming being videotaped on our television, there was coverage of a live NASA event on ABC.
(Incredibly, the radio station I had been listening to on the way from a sports clinic had not reported any hint of the accident. That station was Z-100, the most listened-to station in the New York metropolitan area. America Online also on their first up page did not mention the missing craft as of midday. That kind of communications misjudgment is sad.)
As I watched the close of Mr. Jennings’ coverage at about 3 PM, he signed off with no recap, no names of astronauts, and some parting words about what he thought was the cause of the disaster.
I’ll say what he should have said.
Columbia’s seven astronauts who died — we know their names: they were


Columbus, Magellan, Cook, Lewis, Clark, the Wrights, Lindbergh, De Laroche, Earhart, Markham, Gruber, Chaffee, Grissom, White, Gargarin, Komarov, the Challenger Crew, the crew of Soyuz 11. They are a handful of the hundreds of brave men and women who went into the unknown.


Appollo 11′s Crew turned the dreams of the 1950s visualized in television shows like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (above, Astro, Roger and Tom) and Captain Video, “The Master of Science” below  into reality.

America’s Spacemen and the explorers before them are the people who trust in their ability and their vessel to expand the world’s horizons, to know the unknown, whose legacies build a better world. Whose deeds inspire and achievements are the catalysts for achievement to come.

From Captain Cook’s fragile vessel which sailed the Pacific, to the marvel that was the Columbia, the captains courageous who sailed the Roaring 40s, blazed the Oregon Trail, discovered how to fly, and flew the oceans, journeyed to the stars, knew the risks they were taking. 

The media  trivializes their courage, their skills, and the difficulty of what they did and wanted to do, to concentrate on the causes of their failure, as if knowing the cause will make their loss acceptable.

The Magnificent Seven

I do not know Columbia’s Magnificent Seven. I just see their smiling faces in their photograph, and I regret the loss of every one. They had achievement on their faces, pride in their demeanor. Their eyes shown with the glow of being alive and striving to do the great things they set out to do.

Civilization has been created because of people like the crew of the Columbia’s Magnificent Seven, not the incompetence we see demonstrated daily today where technology is concerned.

The Columbia itself had flown 26 missions since launching in 1981. It was guided and outfitted with the best 2003 communications and equipment had to offer.

Not like Captain James Cook’s bark, Endeavour, a 100-foot ship powered by sail that conquered the “space” of his time, the Pacific Ocean. It was the Columbia’s Magnificent Seven’s Endeavour. They were tracked, they were backed up, but they perhaps more than anyone here on the ground knew the high dangers of the shuttle mission.

Liftoff, as their predecessors, The Challenger crew fell victim to, is fraught with risk. Reentry, which needs to be negotiated at precisely the right angle of attack, is equally risky. Soyuz 11’s spacecrew of Dobrovolskiy, Volkov, and Patsayev died in 1971 on reentry, when the Russian cosmonauts took too long to descend.

No guarantees in real life. Machines sometimes run out of miracles.

The magnificence of the explorers’ sacrifice and dedication, is that they accept the risk of “the endeavor.”

They accept the challenge, bear it alone, seizing challenge with an indomitable spirit and confidence, facing death when it comes with the satisfaction that they made the effort, and I suspect analyzing, coping, trying to fix it until the end, the very end.

They never give up.

Columbia’s Magnificent Seven, after 16 days in space, are gone now. My sorrow is with their families who will miss these Magnificent Seven, and who know in their hearts that they died trying to reach the pinnacle of their aspirations.

They are only human.

They tried their best, achieved their best, and experienced what they longed to experience. They dared to live the great adventure.

Not all of us have the courage to follow our longed-for adventures and make them real. You can watch movies that attempt to give that experience by transference. That’s why, I believe, you and I take it so personally when we lose heroic personalities of our time. We wonder what they are like. We glorify them, rightly so.

Follow Me! They Say.

I wonder how those Magnificent Seven felt, how satisfying it must have been, to be at your best, doing what you love, coping with the risks.I envy them that.

The Columbia Crew is the Miracle.

In reality it is not machines that conquer, it is the intrepid personalities, each unique, each contributing, who perform the miracles with God’s help. That they fall short is an example to us, not to take ourselves, our fates, or our existences for granted.

This is true of the everyday people we take for granted: the firefighter, the policeman, the train engineer, the airline pilot, the construction worker. All are highly trained disciplined workers, executing precise tasks for which the non-expert has no feel or understanding . What makes for the desire to achieve? What is out there or up there that leads them on?

The Feel of the Unknown

I took Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s biographical adventure diary, Listen! The Wind down from the bookshelf.

She was the young bride of the aviator-pioneer, Charles Lindbergh. She navigated for him in his aircraft, and ran his radio communications on his many exploratory flights around the world.

In a passage she describes a night flight over the ocean, in which she was operating the radio for her husband Charles, who was at the controls. Mrs. Lindbergh is describing the feelings she has as she tries to tune in the South American coast at sea in the dark of night in 1933, 84 years ago.

The feeling, the courage of the adventurer, the explorer has not changed. This is great:

“Night was the hardest. It would be all right once it was day. I kept saying…We began to hit clouds. I could tell without looking up, for the plane bumped slightly from time to time, first one wing down and then the other. And the moon blackened out for short periods.

Then for longer periods. I could not see to write my messages. I stiffened, dimly sensing fear – the old fear of bad weather – and looked out. We were flying under clouds. I could still find a kind of horizon, a difference in shading where the water met the clouds. That was all. But it seemed to be getting darker.

Storms? Were those clouds or was it the sky? We had lost the water. We were flying blind. I turned off the light quickly (to give my husband a little more vision), and sat waiting, tense, peering through the night. Now we were out again. There were holes through which one could see the dark sky. It was all right, I felt, as long as there were holes.

More blind flying. This is it, I thought is what people forget. This is what it means to fly across the ocean, blind and at night. But day is coming. It ought to be day before long… Daybreak! What a miracle. I didn’t see any sign of day and yet it must be lighter. The clouds were distinguishing themselves more and more from water and sea.
Daybreak—thank God—as if we had been living in eternal night—as if this were the first sun that ever rose out of the sea.

Note: This column originally appeared February 1, 2003 on WPCNR.

Posted in Uncategorized



WPCNR HEALTH DEVELOPMENTS. From the Westchester Institute for Human Development. July 19, 2017:

The Westchester Institute for Human Development, one of 67 university-affiliated centers in the nation dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities through education, service, and research, announced today it was awarded a $376,826 grant from the Statewide Health Care Facility Transformation Program to replace a van which brings dental services directly to people with developmental disabilities.

“The Westchester Institute for Human Development is thrilled to have received this grant to replace our nearly-obsolete mobile dental clinic which serves individuals with severe disabilities who have significant barriers to proper and regular access to dental care.

By replacing our aged mobile dental clinic, we hope to be able to serve up to 30 more individuals per week, provide more consistent and reliable scheduling of visits, and better meet the complex dental care needs of this population,” said Dr. Susan Fox, President and CEO of WIHD.

WIHD’s Dental Van regularly visits community services agencies throughout the Hudson Valley Region and provides appointments on-site which decreases not only patient transportation costs but also costs associated with avoidable poorer health outcomes.

In addition to the Dental Van, WIHD’s Dental Center on the Valhalla campus offers a complete range of specialized dental services and ongoing care for people with disabilities. Services are delivered in a state-of-the-art dental suite at WIHD.

With four operatories, the WIHD Dental Department is able to accommodate the growing needs of individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).

Westchester Medical Center is also available to meet the needs of WIHD patients that require general anesthesia. Few hospitals in the state provide this much-needed service.

This is the second major grant received by WIHD in the past few weeks. Earlier this month, WIHD received a federal grant of $547,000 for medical research, training and education of human services professionals, and innovative program development.

 Westchester Institute for Human Development

The Westchester Institute for Human Development is one of 67 university-affiliated centers dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities through education, service, and research. The Institute works to advance policies and practices that ensure the health and self-determination among people of all ages with developmental disabilities, and the safety and well-being of vulnerable children. For over 40 years, WIHD has been a key regional resource supporting children and adults with disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, neurological and cognitive disabilities, hearing and vision problems, and speech/language delays. WIHD’s services, which often follow a person throughout his or her lifespan, include comprehensive dental and adult medical care programs, service coordination and planning, education and support services. For more information, go to

Posted in Uncategorized



County Executive Robert P. Astorino stands with leaders in some of the affected communities in the 7 year dispute with HUD. Astorino announced today the HUD suit was at last resolved Friday when HUD accepted the county zoning analysis in dispute. Leaders from left, Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg, Eastchester Town Supervisor Anthony Colavita, North Salem Town Supervisor Warren Lucas and Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Nancy Seligson.

WPCNR COUNTY-CLARION-LEDGER. From the Westchester County Department of Communications. (Edited) July 18, 2017.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development last Friday accepted Westchester’s analysis that did not find any exclusionary zoning in the county  after seven years of litigation, and 10 rejections of Westchester’s findings.

According to the news release: “Resolution of the zoning issue protects home rule with respect to local land use decisions and overcomes the county’s last major hurdle under the settlement, which was signed by former County Executive Andrew Spano and approved by the Board of Legislators in 2009.”

“This is vindication for Westchester County and our local municipalities and a victory won on facts and principles,” said Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino. “From the beginning, my administration has been committed to meeting the county’s obligations under the settlement. But we also said that we were not going to be bullied by HUD into doing things that were not in the settlement. HUD had no reason to intrude into legitimate local zoning, and we stood firm on that. In the end, we were able to successfully defend the constitutional principle of home rule and meet the requirements of the settlement. It wasn’t easy, but everyone in Westchester can be very proud of the outcome.”

In December, the county met the settlement’s primary benchmark of having financing and building permits in place for 750 units of affordable housing in 31 mostly white communities. In fact, the county exceeded the goal with 799 units and has another 100 units in the pipeline.

With the AI approved and the benchmark on units met, the only outstanding item – one which the court has labeled “peripheral” – is for the county to complete its outreach campaign on the benefits of diversity and affordable housing.

Called “One Community,” the campaign, which is underway and scheduled to run throughout the year, includes print, radio, cable television and social media advertisements. To date, the county has spent more than $1 million on marketing and outreach, well above the settlement’s $400,000 requirement.

When HUD rejected the 10th AI submission last spring, the county asked the HUD-approved consulting firm, VHB ,that had prepared the 10th AI submission to comment.  VHB found:

“Westchester County has been very clear and consistent in stating that there are concentrations of Black/African-American populations as well as concentrations of Hispanic populations, and, in fact, there are concentrations of White populations. Based on VHB’s detailed analysis of countywide demographics and zoning, VHB finds and concludes that zoning is not the cause of such demographic concentrations. This very issue seems to be the singular outstanding issue on which HUD and Westchester disagree. It is, however, the preparer of the AI that must make reasonable conclusions based on a hard analysis of all available data. This is exactly what VHB did in its zoning analysis. It is not reasonable for HUD to insist on its own universal conclusions regardless of all the data and analysis conducted by numerous third party zoning and land use consultants and educational institutions.”

HUD’s position softened after VHB’s comment, resulting in an AI on July 13th that was essentially the same as VHB’s previous version and acceptable to all parties.

The 7-year dispute was resolved thusly: On Friday HUD withdrew its previous demands and in a one paragraph letter, Jay Golden, the agency’s regional administrator of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said the county’s AI has “been deemed acceptable.”

It is extremely important to note two additional points. The methodology followed by the county and VHB for conducting the AI was approved by HUD. And as Congress reviews its national policies for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, it should look carefully at the experience in Westchester.

Astorino thanked VHB, the county’s staff, particularly the Law and Planning Departments, and the 31 settlement communities for all their efforts and cooperation in meeting the goals of the settlement.

“Our success has resulted from two key factors,” Astorino said. “First, proof that our zoning isn’t exclusionary is the indisputable fact that the units are being built under current local zoning. Second, we worked closely with our communities. One lawsuit could have derailed everything, so our focus was always on cooperation, not litigation.”

Astorino said the next goal was to wrap up the settlement and that included bringing the expense of paying for the federal monitor assigned to the case to an end. The current monitor, Stephen C. Robinson, is a former federal judge and partner in the New York City law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. He bills at a rate of $675 an hour, but unlike the previous monitor his fees are not capped at $175,000 a year.

“Given our success and where we are now, there is just no need for the monitor anymore, nor justification for the expense,” said Astorino.

The county has spent about $30 million more than the $51.6 million required under the terms of the settlement. In addition, the county has leveraged more than $172 million in other public funding, putting total subsidies at $233 million and the average taxpayer subsidy per settlement unit at approximately $290,000.

As a comparison, the 2016 median sale price in Westchester is $640,000 for a single family home, $357,750 for a condominium and $153,000 for a co-op, according to the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.

Astorino said the cost of the units was not surprising since they were built in some of the most expensive places in Westchester, as required by the settlement. In fact, some sites were turned down because they were simply too expensive. “Affordable housing is not immune to high taxes and real estate prices,” Astorino said.

About 425 of the settlement units are already occupied, with roughly one third as homeownership and two-thirds as rentals. Data from the applications show 35 percent of the households applying for the county’s units identified as white, 35 percent as African-American, 3 percent as Asian, 8 percent as multi-racial and 29 percent as Hispanic.

The 31 settlement communities were selected on the basis of the 2000 Census as having lower African-American and Hispanic populations than the county average. Notably, between 2000 and 2010, prior to the implementation of the settlement, the African-American and Hispanic populations of those 31 communities increased 56 percent as a result of natural market forces.

In contrast, the settlement’s 750 units, assuming three people per unit, would at most increase Hispanic and African-American representation in the 31 communities by 5 percent.



Posted in Uncategorized