Mayor Yepsen Parrots Saratoga National Golf Course Talking Points; Safford Channels Saratoga National Golf Course

In an article in the October 29 addition of the Gazette Newspaper Joanne Yepsen repeated the talking points propagated by Saratoga National Golf Course.  She told the Gazette Newspaper that the current zoning would allow the 400 acre golf course to be subdivided into two acre lots were the golf course to fail.  “I’m an open space person,” she told the newspaper.  “It’s very important to me not to have any kind of sprawl at Exit 14.”

Mayor Yepsen has been to enough meetings to know that this is not only an inaccurate characterization of the zoning requirements out there, but that it represents the scare tactics that SNGC has promoted continually.  The zoning for that area is highly restrictive.  It would preclude simply dividing the land currently used by the golf course into two acre lots.  All wetlands, steeply sloped land, and other types of sensitive land not only cannot be built on but must be excluded when calculating how many units can be built.  Following the exclusion of all that land, only fifty percent of the land that remains can be built on and the units must be clustered.   The process of determining all of this is called a conservation assessment.  No assessment has been done yet.  Bear in mind that the golf course includes water, wetlands, and some significant slopes.  These types of land would be excluded from the calculations even before reducing what is left by fifty percent.

Mayor Yepsen has also successfully avoided addressing other aspects of SNGC’s plans.  There is the issue of the intensive commercial activities that the “resort” will bring with its large hotel and proposed retail.  In addition there is the history of the players in this who have ruthlessly pushed the bounds of everything they do as noted in previous blogs. In the Gazette article Yepsen cynically exploits the fear of sprawl to divert the discussion from the damages that the proposed resort would inflict on the conservation district. Who would have thought that a Democrat elected as Mayor of our city would play the role of fixer to violate our greenbelt.

The problem we as voters face is that John Safford views the idea of the conservation district as an actual barrier to growth rather than a cherished asset to protect.  Based on his statements there is little if anything in the way of development that Saratoga National might seek that he would oppose.

Saratoga PAC Goes Into Attack Mode In Mailings Against Chris Mathiesen…The Uglier Side Of Politics In America

As many of you may have already seen, the PAC has gone into gear and their most aggressive mailings so far have been in support of Rick Wirth in his campaign to defeat Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen.

The mailings focus on three issues.

The Collamer Building

This involves the sale of the Collamer Building and the purchase of a plot of land on Route 9P.  Earlier this year I published a long piece in which I presented both Commissioner Mathiesen’s version of events along with Tom and Bill McTygue’s version.  I would direct readers back to that piece.  It was posted on August 16.

There are a number of ironies about the mailer.  First, the decision to purchase and sell the properties was supported by all five of sitting Council members.   This was done after a very long process which was fully vetted by all the members of the Council.  The fact that the PAC endorsed Michele Madigan and John Franck who supported the decision speaks to the ethical standards of the PAC as a whole.

It is also worth noting that Larry Novick, who is an executive with Bonacio Construction, acted as a facilitator in the negotiations between the city and Joel Aronson who owned the land the city wanted for the EMS station and who wanted to develop the Collamer Building.  At the time, Aronson was planning to have Bonacio Construction convert the Collamer Building to condos if the project went forward.  Novick, who had been involved with the purchase of the “Lillian’s Lot” from the city used his experience to help develop the plan for the land deals.   Subsequently, Joel Aronson and Sonny Bonacio had some sort of falling out.

Sonny Bonacio played a central role in establishing Saratoga PAC and is one of its most significant contributors.  Again it is rather cynical for him to have aggressively pursued the land transactions and now help fund an attack on Commissioner Mathiesen for the very same project.

The Crime Wave

Saratoga PAC paid for a mailing on behalf of Rick Wirth with a screaming headline “Surrendering Saratoga’s Safety.  To read this material one would think that the Crips and the Bloods had invaded Saratoga’s neighborhoods.  The crime rate has gone up.  When the  numbers are very low, it does not take much to create a spike.  In fact, according to Police Cheif Greg Veitch, a gang of criminals operating in 2013 caused the numbers to jump before they were apprehended. 

To get a perspective on the crime figures presented by the PAC consider these numbers provided by Veitch:

The absolute numbers can be found at the FBI and DCJS websites.

Crime Rates: per/100,000
All violent crime:
USA- 443.7
NYS- 381.8
SS- 222.3

USA 135.0
NYS 121.8
SS 58.3

Agg Assault:
USA 265.9
NYS 229.4
SS 142.2

The arrest rates are even more important:
USA 29.6%
SS  50%

Agg Assault:
USA 56.3%
SS 92%

The largest increase in total numbers of violent crimes was for robbery and aggravated assault in 2014.  We not only have fewer crimes per/100,000 than the national or state averages but we make arrests at a much higher rate when those crimes are reported to us.

We arrested 92% of all reported felony assaults in the second degree in 2014.  Only 5 felony assaults were reported in the downtown area and 4 were closed by arrest. 

Homelessness and Vagrancies

Another PAC mailer displays in bold letters the following quote from Chris Mathiesen regarding the homeless problem in Saratoga Springs: “There’s not a lot the police can do.”  Having run an anti-poverty agency for sixteen years, I can attest to the challenge of working with the homeless.  There are usually significant mental health issues involved.  The fact is that there are important civil rights issues as well that severely limit what can be done to address this issue.  Mr. Wirth was the Commissioner of Public Safety himself for a term and knows this.  This is the kind of political posturing that adds to the cynicism of the public and does not speak well for Mr. Wirth.  It is easy to talk about involving social service agencies in dealing with the homeless and it is entirely another thing to solve the problem.

Lacking EMS Services

Probably the most cynical ploy is the attack on Mathiesen for “Lacking EMS Services” on the east ridge and then attacking him for the cost of defending the city for the purchase of the land that the new EMS station would be located on.  This of course is just an extension of the attack on the Collamer Building

The Saratoga PAC chair Rob Manz has been very clear that the number one priority of the PAC is to change our Comp Plan and zoning ordinances to allow for more development. More specifically their goal is to elect a City Council that will allow Saratoga National Golf Course to expand into even more of a resort than they already are by adding a hotel, retail, and more. Their real problem with Chris Mathiesen is that he has been a consistent and persistent voice on the Council in defense of the greenbelt and in opposition to SNGC’s plans. This means Mathiesen must be replaced by  a more compliant Council member, namely Rick Wirth. Will the PAC succeed in their expensive campaign targeting Chris Mathiesen and create a Council more to their liking?  We will know on Tuesday. Polls are open from 6AM till 9PM.

Yepsen Reveals Her Position On Saratoga National Golf Course: Conservation District? What Conservation DIstrict?

Yepsen Joins Madigan and Franck In Threat To City’s Greenbelt

In December of 2014 the Saratoga Springs Council voted unanimously for a resolution offered by Chris Mathiesen to ban Planned Unit Developments in the city’s conservation district.  Each member of the council waxed eloquently about the importance of the city’s greenbelt.  They all fell over themselves expressing their support to maintain the rural character of the outside district.

It is clear that it was this event that precipitated the establishment of Saratoga PAC.  Some have claimed that the City Center Garage is also a key element of their agenda.  This is refuted by the simple fact that Commissioners Mathiesen and Scirocco supported the resolution to move the proposed garage forward but in spite of this were not endorsed by the PAC.

The failure of the construction/real estate/finance sectors to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow PUDs in the greenbelt was a wake-up call to them.  In spite of their heavy representation on the Comprehensive Plan committee they could not muscle PUDs into the greenbelt.

It is also important to understand that the network behind Saratoga PAC realized that they needed to do more than organize a way to influence elections, they needed to mobilize to effectively lobby the City Council to change the nature of the debate.

It is important to understand the basic principles here.  The Comprehensive Plan’s goal was to insure that the conservation district was not only green in general but just as important, that it rigorously restricted any activities that would serve to undermine the rural character of the greenbelt.  All intensive retail and hotels were to be directed to the downtown.  It was understood that businesses have as their goal, to expand in order to make their operations more profitable and successful.  Once  these operations are allowed in the rural area it creates the social forces to undermine the bucolic ambiences which was the goal of the Comp Plan.

So the press was on.  The same people behind Saratoga PAC began mobilizing their network to email, call, and meet with the members of the City Council.  They turned out in force at City Council meetings.  Suddenly, Commissioner Madigan began advocating for Saratoga National Golf Course by attempting to change the definition of a club house to include a hotel with a hundred rooms.  John Franck thought it was a terrific idea.  A coalition of Madigan, Franck, and Yepsen referred the idea to the Planning Board over the objections of Mathiesen and Scirocco.

Suddenly the Saratoga PAC people and their followers started showing up at meetings and they found that in Yepsen, Madigan, and Franck they had a newly receptive audience.

Mayor Yepsen who has done her best to avoid any substantive statements on the issue has now come out in an interview with Saratoga Today supporting Saratoga National Golf Course on the basis of the promised easement of land. Here is a link to the full article

There are now three narratives regarding Saratoga National Golf Course.

One, put forward by Yepsen, Madigan, and Franck touts all the land that will be protected from development.  They rely on an incredibly tortured argument originally crafted by an attorney hired by the city, that somehow the Comp Plan allows for hotel and retail in the greenbelt.

The other, put forward by Mathiesen and Scirocco, points out the obvious.  Creating a resort that includes a large hotel and major retail fundamentally violates the Comp Plan.

There is a third narrative.  This narrative is that the easement promises are a cynical fig leaf put forward by Yepsen, Madigan, and Franck to divert the discussion from the central issue of not only the dubious violation of the city’s Comprehensive Plan but to avoid addressing the issue of why retail and hotel operations are damaging to the rural character of the greenbelt.

If you watch any of the Council discussions or review the comments from the candidates that have appeared on this blog you will note that the proponents simply refuse to discuss the question of the appropriateness of the hotels and retail shops in the greenbelt.  They simply change the subject to how they are supposedly going to protect green space or how what they want to do is somehow legal.

The central thing to remember is that the players in this know full well that in the end the courts decide what is legal.  If the majority of the City Council approve a hotel and retail, then the only option to block the action would be in the courts.  Litigation of this kind would be extremely expensive and Franck, Madigan, and Yepsen would have the city’s taxpayers money to defend the decision.  They know that trying to sue this city would be prohibitively expensive.

The grim reality is that we voters who care about this issue have very little choice.  John Safford openly advocates an extreme version of property rights that would go even further.  He has made it quite clear that he considers the conservation district an obstacle to development.  Ken Ivins supports SNGC’s plans to become a resort.

There are really only two candidates who have made clear that they both understand what a conservation district is and why the proposal by Saratoga National Golf Course is a profound threat to the future of our greenbelt.  They are Chris Mathiesen and Skip Scirocco.

John Safford Responds To Question On Global Warming In A Very Unusual Way

I have to admit that I have been rather busy lately John but I don’t remember seeing your question on Global Warming before this post. My problem with being questioned about Global Warming is when asked that question I get a sort of deer in the headlight look that is similar to when I am asked if I believe in Hell. The reason is that, like the belief in Hell is based on the philosophy of the Bible (and some pagan religions) the philosophy of Global Warming is based on the Tragedy of the Commons, which is an article written by Garrett Hardin, an ecologist, in 1968. The question for me is not whether the earth is getting warmer by why. According to the followers of Hardin human greed is the cause. The question then becomes what to do about it and this is where the Bible and the Doctrine of Global Warming separate. The Bible advocates for self-discipline and calls on the better angels of our nature to solve it , while the Doctrine of the Commons advocates for Government regulation of the “sinners” (basically those greedy bastards who take more than their fair share). The problem is that the Doctrine of the Commons has not proved out scientifically because unmitigated greed seems not to be the overriding nature of humankind but is mysteriously mitigated by strange unscientific observations of such things as the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

Here is an interesting obituary from the New York TImes of Mr. Hardin Obituary From New York TImes

John Safford Snubs Question On Climate Change; Campaign Based on Transparency Clouds Over

I recently went through the Sustainable Saratoga candidate questionnaire and I was struck by John Sanford’s responses.  Here is an example:

Question #2: What, if anything, would you propose to do locally to confront climate change?

I manage a lot of properties in Saratoga and the last few years have been more than normally cold and snowy. When you ask this question I am inclined to answer that I confront whatever I am personally challenged with.

I thought this was a rather odd response and I heard from a source that has been reliable in the past that Mr. Safford does not believe that global warming is an issue.

As people who follow this blog may have noted, Mr. Safford has not been shy about posting here.  He also has run his campaign almost entirely on the theme of transparency.  There is a certain irony because that was pretty much what Joanne Yepsen ran on two years ago.  So I emailed him asking his position on global warming.  When I did not hear from him, I emailed him again and as of today, he has still not responded.

It appears that I may have found a rather opaque spot in his campaign.  From where I am sitting I cannot make out what his position is.

Ivins Joins The Pack Fleeing The PAC

Following my posting of the statements by Democratic candidates regarding Saratoga PAC, I received this release from Ken Ivins who is running against Michele Madigan for Commissioner of Finance.

My position on the Saratoga PAC endorsing Michele Madigan

First off I did not seek or interview for the endorsement of the Saratoga PAC and would have refused it if they had offered.

I heard that the Saratoga PAC has endorsed my opponent Michele Madigan. Considering my opponent has received many donations from the PAC’s members, it didn’t surprise me at all that they chose to endorse her. She has been, after all, in lock step with the City Center’s agenda of pushing through their single-use parking garage to be built of (sic) the public’s property. And, not to mention, she has also been working with the Saratoga National Golf Course’s attorney, as well as, authorizing our city attorney to work on their behalf, to help create an application the city could adopt. The Saratoga PAC supports both of these projects so in turn it makes sense that they support Michele Madigan.

My vote is not for sale and I prefer the voters’ endorsement on Nov. 3rd.

In her press release Commissioner Madigan stated:

.While I appreciate that the Saratoga PAC’s, … recent endorsement of me as a candidate for Finance Commissioner indicates that this group believes I have the leadership and management qualities worthy of the public’s trust,(my emphasis added) I want to confirm that I have not sought the group’s endorsement nor will I request the IECs financial support.”

It is very clear that Saratoga PAC’s endorsements are based on land use issues such as Saratoga National Golf Course’s resort proposal and the City Center’s garage.  In that context Ms. Madigan’s suggestion that she was endorsed because of her management skills rather than her support for these two development issues seems a bit disingenuous.

Having said that, Ken Ivins made clear to me that he supports Saratoga National Golf Course’s campaign to build a resort (I would argue it is already a resort but they want to make it much bigger).  So for him to criticize her on that issue seems a bit hypocritical.

Eddy Miller, Chairman of the Saratoga County Independence Party, Speaks Out On Candidates

To The Editor,

Glance into the mirror! Have you ever missed the opportunity to stand up to a bully? A bully that’s pushing around a friend that has shielded, fought and protected you?

Right now, Commissioner Mathiesen is receiving a brow beating trying to maintain our status and integrity as one of the prime destination stops in the world. Fast food chains,strip mall’s,tire shops… etc, positioned along our Greenbelt at Exit 14 will not enhance “Our City in the Country”.  Development at the Gateway to our City will only diminish our values and detract from the entire county. It gets worse: this will effect the precious originally of our great Saratoga Racetrack. Millions of visitors may not except ordinary!

Wealthy developers have tried all types of games to confuse and trick our City Council members and fool the Citizens of Saratoga Springs. They recently formed a PAC slinging mud and propaganda at three of our strongest Council members. Commissioner’s Madigan, Scirocco and Mathiesen are at odds with these selfish special interests groups.

I just gazed into the mirror and realized that I have nothing to prove to anyone except to myself, my family and my neighbors in Saratoga Springs.
Vote for Chris Mathiesen, Michele Madigan and Skip Scirocco on November 3rd, I am!

Eddy Miller
Saratoga County Chairman, Independence Party
Saratoga Springs