January 2016 2nd ward news

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”


Nothing like a little Wallace Stevens to kick off your January. We have some new faces on Common Council. On New Year’s Eve we held our “changing of the guard” meeting, where we welcome in new members of Common Council and say goodbye to departing ones.

It was a fun evening, but also a little bittersweet. The Ithaca Journal has some nice coverage. Yes, the Red Solo cup was declared the official drinking vessel of Ithaca in honor of Ellen McCollister, and yes, JR Clairborne did receive no less than 2 shot glasses as parting gifts (totally unplanned by the way, whatever the Ithaca Journal article might imply).

We also swore in the Mayor, as well as returning Alderpersons George McGonigal (1st ward), Steve Smith (4th ward), and Josephine Martell (5th ward). After saying goodbye to outgoing Council members JR Clairborne (2nd ward) and Ellen McCollister (3rd ward) we welcomed new Council members Ducson Nguyen (2nd ward) and Rob Gaerhart (3rd ward).

And we have a new 2nd ward rep! Ducson Nguyen has already hit the ground running. We’re looking forward to working together in 2016.


My departing Council colleague, JR Clairborne, will be honored at an upcoming reception. JR has represented the 2nd ward, including the Northside and Southside neighborhoods, on Common Council for 10 years. Please stop by the GIAC second floor teen lounge on Monday, January 25th between 5 and 7pm to say a collective “thank you” to JR for his many years of service. Light refreshments will be served. Sponsored by the Community Leaders of Color (CLOC).


Our new 2nd ward rep, Ducson Nguyen, hasn’t wasted any time getting to work. We now have a brand new 2nd ward website. Duc and I will be posting things on the website from time to time. If you’re so inclined, you can also follow us on Facebook (Ducson, me) or Twitter (Ducson, me). We post updates there too pretty regularly.


Want to get the latest on the 210 Hancock project? Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is hosting a community meeting to discuss the redevelopment of the former Neighborhood Pride site. They’ll be available to answer questions and discuss the construction schedule. The meeting will be held on Monday, February 1st at 6:30pm in the Quaker Meeting House, 120 Third Street. Hope to see you there!


You know the little avenue that runs between North Aurora and North Cayuga streets along Cascadilla Creek? It’s a popular spot for pedestrians, and it’s in need of an upgrade. Here’s a great overview written by Ducson. The plan is to replace the footbridge and railings, preserve the creek wall, and put in some pedestrian enhancements. There are a few different options for design. Please look over the options and send comments to Addisu Gebre, our city bridge engineer, by January 31st at agebre@cityofithaca.org.


At our Planning committee last Wednesday, we voted to send some changes to our External Property Maintenance Ordinance on to Common Council. You can learn more about that effort here (look, I’m using the website!). And if you haven’t done so yet, please do sign up for the city’s email notification system.


For some time now, we’ve been working on a reform of the city’s tax abatement policy. Ducson has the latest, on the website.


It’s back. The State Street Triangle Project, which caused a lot of controversy when it was introduced last summer, will be heading back to the Planning Board for review. But this time, a shorter, more-scaled back version.


Another project in the 2nd ward up for review: the redevelopment of the Old Library. Next Tuesday, January 26th at 5:30pm in Council Chambers, the Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a joint meeting to discuss the project. (The reason the ILPC is involved is because the project is located in the Dewitt Park Historic District). The Ithaca Journal has the latest. This year, I’m Common Council liaison to the ILPC so I’m sure I’ll have more to report on this in the months ahead!


Just a heads up if you are someone who uses the Hotel Ithaca parking lot as a pedestrian shortcut. This is the parking lot that runs between Hotel Ithaca and McGraw House. Very soon, the parking lot will be closed to the public when Hotel Ithaca begins construction on its planned expansion, for at least a year and most likely longer, like 18 months. So basically for the next 18 months or so, the neighborhood will need to walk around the block and will not be able to cut through to downtown using this walkway.

That’s about it for January folks. Until next month,


January 2016 City Administration committee

The first City Administration committee meeting of 2016 will be held this Wednesday, January 20th at 6pm in Council chambers. (There are two standing committees of Common Council: Planning and Economic Development, which I chair, and City Administration, which is chaired by Alderwoman Deb Mohlenhoff.)

It’s a fairly light agenda. There are some routine personnel matters and an approval of funding for affordable housing, neither of which should prove controversial.

One interesting thing on the agenda, though, is the creation of an “officer next door program” that would allow police officers to reside in specific areas in the city. In this case the identified area is West Village, although the option is there to expand the program to other areas of the city, if so desired. The thinking behind this is that encouraging police officers to live in the neighborhood would help reduce crime and increase community policing. There’s more info on this in the agenda packet. Should be an interesting discussion.

Again, here’s a link to the agenda. You can watch a live stream of the meeting here. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you should contact Chair Deb Mohlenhoff at dmohlenhoff@cityofithaca.org. Thanks!


Changes to Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance

At last Wednesday’s Planning committee meeting, we voted to send some changes to our External Property Maintenance Ordinance on to Common Council.

The Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance (or “EPMO” in City Hall parlance) requires that city properties comply with certain standards: no overgrown lawns, no discarded trash in the front yard, no snow-impeded sidewalks, no bags of garbage left on porches, etc.

The ordinance has produced an enormous amount of frustration. The exorbitant fines and delayed notification periods have long proven to be a major hassle for city residents and property owners. To address these problems, we’re proposing to reduce the fines and improve our notification system. These changes are long overdue. In fact, four years ago, when I was a reporter at the Ithaca Times, I wrote an article on this very issue.

Under the proposal we sent to Council, fines for garbage-related offenses (like leaving a bag of trash on your front porch) would be lowered from the current rate of $25, $50, $200, $300 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th offenses in a 6-month period) to $25, $50, $100 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd offense in a 6-month period). Sidewalk-related offenses (like blocking failing to clear the snow from your sidewalk) would stay the same – $40, $60, $100 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd offenses in a 12-month period) – so as to reflect the value we place on safe access to city sidewalks. Finally, the notorious “lid off garbage can” fine would be lowered to $10 per offense and would not escalate.

We’re also proposing a 24-hour warning period for violations related to litter, solid waste, and garbage stored outside. Those signed up to the city’s email notification system would get an email warning about an offense, and if the problem is fixed within 24 hours, no ticket will be written. This change does not apply to snowy sidewalks, which must be cleared 24 hours after the snow begins to fall. This rule would stay in effect. If you haven’t yet signed up to the city’s email notification system, you should do so here.

These changes still need to be approved by Common Council. They will be on the agenda for our February Council meeting – Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm in Council Chambers, 108 East Green Street, Ithaca. If you have any comments in the meantime, please feel free to send them to me at jmurtagh@cityofithaca.org.



The Planning and Economic Development Committee has been looking at a set of proposed amendments to the city’s tax abatement program for incentivizing downtown development with the goal of increasing the amount of community benefit delivered by these projects.

Discussions have primarily focused on local labor, environmental and energy standards, diversity, and providing a living wage. The options have expanded to include contributions to public transit, providing scholarships for child care, including affordable units, incentivizing certain types of development (say, owner-occupied housing), and more.

There are so many options that at the January 13th meeting of the committee we decided we will need to continue discussion next month. In the meantime, we have passed on to the full Council an amendment to the basic CIITAP (all abatement levels) to require soliciting bids from local sub-contractors and reporting where workers live. The text is below:

Local Construction Labor – Applicants are encouraged to hire locally wherever possible. For the purposes of this application, local is defined as anyone residing in Tompkins County, or any of the 6 contiguous counties of Cayuga, Seneca, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga, and Cortland Counties. In order to be eligible for a tax abatement an applicant must commit to the City in writing that they will meet the minimum local labor requirements described below, and will submit to the IDA the following information:

  • Proof that the General Contractor has solicited bids from local sub-contractors for all major trades required for the construction project, including electric, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, and HVAC
  • Monthly payroll reporting of all workers on site during construction with a summary of how many employees are “local.” The reporting should include the address, zip-code, and total payroll amount per employee.

Again, this is by no means the end of CIITAP reform. But as we spend months getting it right, this can ensure that we don’t miss out on collecting vital data. It’s an item that arguably should have been included years ago.

Update from “Ithacating”

Items 2 and 4 in the latest post from “Ithacating in Cornell Heights” do a great job of covering a couple of the things we discussed at Wednesday’s Planning and Economic Development meeting. And the rest, as always, is a great and informative read.

When I first moved to the area “Ithacating” quickly became my favorite blog because of Brian Crandall’s deep dive into planning and development issues in the city. And now he contributes to The Ithaca Voice and a wider audience gets to benefit from his diligence.

January 2016 Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting

My first post on the new 2nd ward website! I’ll be chairing the first 2016 meeting of the Council’s Planning and Economic Development committee this Wednesday, January 13th at 6pm in Council Chambers. It’s a whopper of an agenda. Here’s a quick run down of the meeting:

Voting to send on to February Council meeting (Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm in Council Chambers):

  • Changes to Commons Ordinance – we’re making some non-substantive tweaks to the Commons rules that we passed last year. See agenda for more info. Shouldn’t be controversial.
  • Changes to Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance – The Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance (or “EPMO” in City Hall parlance) requires that city properties meet certain standards: no overgrown lawns, no discarded trash in the front yard, no snow-impeded sidewalks, no bags of garbage left on porches, etc. The ordinance has produced a lot of frustration. The exorbitant fines and delayed notification periods have proven to be a major hassle for city residents and property owners. We’re proposing to reduce the fines and improve the notification system. These changes are long overdue. In fact, four years ago, when I was a reporter at the Ithaca Times, I wrote an article on this very issue. Among other things, it’s an interesting case of a future Council member quoting a future Mayor!
  • Discontinuation of Lake Ave and Adams Street – we’re discontinuing a public street. INHS is going to maintain it as a public thoroughfare as part of their 210 Hancock project. Requires Council action.
  • Changes to Taxicab Ordinance – another one that’s been in the works for a while. Our current rate structure for taxicab fares is complicated and confusing. This legislation would establish a standard fare within city limits and also provide set fares for destinations outside city limits, like the hospital and the airport. See the agenda for more info.
  • Changes to Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program (CIITAP) – our ongoing attempt to reform the city’s tax abatement policy. Here’s a good overview.

Voting to “circulate” (basically this means that we send a proposal out to the public for feedback; the proposal will come back to the committee next month for further consideration):

  • Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development for the Waterfront – kind of a mouthful. Basically this would create a special “planned unit development” zone that would give Common Council more oversight on any potential development that happens on the Waterfront. The Waterfront is a critical area, and we want to make sure that future development fits with our comprehensive plan. See the agenda for more info.
  • Proposal to Reduce Cell Tower Fall Zone – the city has received a request to reduce our cell tower fall zone to make room for a development on South Hill. Currently, the fall zone is twice the height of the tower. It appears this might be higher than is standard practice in other cities. The question is whether we want to reduce it. See the agenda for more info.

Again, here’s a link to the agenda. You can watch a live stream of the meeting here. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact me at jmurtagh@cityofithaca.org. Thanks!
– Seph


Common Council January 2016 tl;dr Overview

I had my first council meeting on Wednesday and the relatively light agenda was a nice introduction to the duties of this governing body. Highlights of the meeting include (agenda here):

  • Many council members (including myself) expressed support for the basic premise of encouraging or requiring ground-level active use on the Commons, but were concerned about some of the language. A revised proposal will be sent back to the Planning & Economic Development Committee
  • We renewed an agreement between the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Ithaca Police Department to jointly staff and cooperate on the SWAT team
  • We approved $4.6 million of bonds for capital improvements (street construction/repair, more parking pay stations, Cass Park Ice Rink, and many other items; see the agenda)
  • I will be serving on the TCAT board

The main event, though, was the mayor’s State of the City address. The Ithaca Voice has already done a great job of summarizing his speech.

– Duc

P.S. Why do I keep signing my name on posts when WordPress clearly shows a byline? Seph and I share this page and for his sake I want to make it abundantly clear at the beginning and end when it’s me posting. Just in case I write something dumb.


A few days ago I was sworn in to office as your new 2nd ward alderperson (i.e., representative on Common Council). I’m taking the seat that J.R. Clairborne occupied for 10 years.

Duc and JR

His devotion to serving the most vulnerable segments of our community is something I admire greatly, and while I can’t hope to fill his shoes, I aim to honor his service by continuing his fight for affordable housing and community benefit in all city affairs.

A huge part of that mission is improving communication between city government and residents. There are many approaches we can take on this and I want to try as many of them as possible, online and off. But to start I’ll be active on social media, where many discussions about the direction of the city are already taking place. I’ve also created this website, where I hope to make issues easier to digest and track. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone interested in an issue to find out when the next opportunity to speak publicly is, or to get up to speed on the process that lead up to a decision.

This is a work in progress. As I write this only CIITAP is listed in the Issues section. I’ve found that digging into the past of these topics is more time-consuming than I anticipated. More will be added as issues come before Council and as constituents ask me for more information on a subject. I will need your help to identify information that’s incomplete or out of date.

I’ve indulged in extracting data about the ward from the Tompkins County Board of Elections and US Census Bureau. I find it fun and interesting, but more importantly I think it’s vital to understand exactly who it is we’re representing. This is also time-consuming, however, and I’ll be adding new statistics at a trickle.

Finally, at the lowest priority is improving the aesthetic of the website. I’m a programmer, but not a web guy at all. Maybe someone who is skilled in such things can help out.

I’m looking forward to Seph Murtagh contributing to the site. As evidenced by his monthly newsletter (which we will now cross-post here) he’s a better writer than I am. He’s also an exemplary public servant and I hope to learn much from him in the coming years.


January 2016 Common Council Meeting

Common Council’s January meeting will be on the 6th at 6pm in Common Council Chambers on City Hall’s 3rd floor. On the agenda are:

  • Zoning change to require active use (retail, restaurants, etc.) at ground level on the Commons
  • Issuing $4.6 million of bonds for capital improvements (street construction/repair, more parking pay stations, Cass Park Ice Rink, and many other items)
  • Mayor Svante Myrick’s State of the City address

The full agenda can be found here. You can view a live video stream of the meeting here.

This will be my first Council meeting. Get informed, come make a public comment, or just say hello!