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.

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!


Making maps from Tompkins County GIS data

I did not, thankfully, have to create the map on the ward page manually. Tompkins County Geographic Information Services provides publicly accessible data you can load into Google Maps to provide views tailored to your needs.

What were our needs? The city website provides a serviceable ward map, but as a PDF it’s not interactive and provides limited granularity (i.e., you can’t zoom into streets and properties). It also doesn’t clearly mark the city’s wards, and I wanted something that made that more explicit. Our ward map takes advantage of Google Map’s flexibility and familiarity to (hopefully) provide an easy-to-read and easy-to-use visualization of the city’s election districts.

You can do something similar with the other data that the Tompkins County GIS page provides. Here I’ll walk you through how to take shapefile data from public sources and import it into Google Maps to display it.

Getting the Data

You of course start with the information you’re trying to map. For this example, I went to the GIS Data page and clicked on Tompkins County GIS Datasets at CUGIR to get to the Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository. That particular link takes you to popular datasets, including what I’m interested in: Election Districts, Tompkins County, 2013. Whatever you happen to be interested in, download the associated zip file.

Converting the Data

The shapefile format is used by GIS software that most of us don’t have access to, the skills to use, or a reason to care about. All I really know is that Google Earth and Google Maps take KML files and that I need a way to turn those shapefiles into KML.

There are various standalone programs and plugins to professional software that do this, but the easiest way I found was to use this online converter by Mapsdata.

converter screenshot
From the converter at

Drag the zip file you just downloaded into the box on the website or click the button to bring up a file browser to find the zip file. Either way, you’re given a KML file to download.

Importing into Google Maps

Go to Google My Maps to create a new custom map.

Google My Maps screenshot
My Maps splash screen

Click Import to upload the KML file you just downloaded.

Click Import to upload your KML file
The Import link will bring up a dialog to upload your KML file

Wait a little while and see your map appear!

Import complete: basic outlines displayed
Import complete: basic outlines displayed

By default Google Maps just outlines the geometric boundaries of whatever regions are contained in the data. But also in that KML file is metadata associated with each region. In this case, information about each election district. You can use that metadata to color the map in a more useful way.

Click on the paint roller or the “Individual styles” text next to it. In the pop-up menu that appears, click on the box below “Group places by” to display visualization options. Here I want to group by ward.

Options under "Group places by"
Options under “Group places by”

When you’ve chosen a field to group by, Google Maps will assign a color to each. You can easily change these to meet your needs.

Much easier to look at
Much easier to look at

Pretty easy, right? There are other options for coloring the map and displaying labels. Play with it until you’re satisfied with the way your map looks. Then hit that Share button to embed your map in a website or distribute a link.

I hope this helps! Together we can better visualize the available city and county data to keep residents informed.