This is the first in a series that outlines detailed policy positions as a candidate for Westchester County Executive. Let me share some of my thoughts, in this document, on the environmental issues of the day in Westchester County.
Throughout my public career and personal life, I have always placed environmental issues high on my list of priorities. In recent years, others have positioned those issues in lower stature, focusing primarily on fiscal matters; through good days and bad, I have been a strong environmental supporter, sponsor, co-sponsor and advocate for legislation and funding at every level of government I have served in: on the Rye City Council; as County Legislator for 13 years, 4 of those years a Chairman of the Board; as both a State Assemblyman and State Senator. I am currently the prime sponsor of two significant pieces of legislation, S.5557 on Climate Change and S.1749 on Wetland Protection. My support is strong for dozens of bills that touch on Brownfields reclamation, solar energy, drinking water protection, alternate fuels, parklands, LI Sound and Hudson River protection, etc. I have worked in a bi-partisan manner at every level of government, seeking the support needed to pass legislation that impacts our society. I hold well stated public positions on a wide array of issues, such as opposing the anchorage of barges on the Hudson River, and opposing the US pullout of the Paris Climate Accord. I believe climate change is a real threat, and we need to address it, as a society.
In my past elections, I am proud to have had the support of NYLCV, Sierra Club and other major environmental groups, as well top marks from Environmental Advocates of New York on my Assembly and Senate voting record..
2) SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Long before the phrase became popular, "sustainability" was the benchmark of my involvement in environmental action. Over 25 years ago on the Rye City Council, we advanced master planning and zoning efforts to ensure that development would be rationale and impacts mitigated, in my home community, which these many years later, continues as an example of intelligent land use policy. During my earlier County years, the strength and professionalism of the County Planning Department and the Soil and Water Conservation Board, played a crucial role on behalf of all municipalities that sought assistance in dealing with the pressures of development. At the State level, I have fought for proper funding for such initiatives, through the EPF and Water Infrastructure Fund that would provide the financial assist necessary to make sustainability workable for small as well as large communities. Support for mass transit is a major part of this area of public policy, both transit into Manhattan, and transit around Westchester, to reduce excess automotive traffic. The key policy is to promote downtown revitalization in our core cities and village centers, incentivizing development built along existing infrastructure corridors of water sewer, and mobility rather than encouraging the relatively few remaining open spaces to be over-developed.
3) INVASIVE SPECIES
The County government has traditionally led the way in public education, and assisting local governments, in identifying and effectively dealing with invasive species, particularly in our waterways. During both County and State legislative years, I supported funding to address these issues, knowing that public education is never a one-shot expenditure, but rather an on-going commitment that best protects our land and water assets. Representing the Sound Shore communities for over two decades, I've been directly involved in effort by the Town of Mamaroneck, the Village of Larchmont, the City of Rye and other localities, to regulate and eradicate invasive aquatic plant life and to reach the homeowner who, for example, introduces bamboo plants in his yard that take over a neighborhood. Here we rely as well on our Public Health professionals, who also play a role alongside our planners and scientists; invasive species remain a regional concern, and only the regional County government can best marshal the resources needed to fight the problem on a widespread basis.
4) CLEANER AIR
The key is to ensure alternate fuels that burn cleaner become the norm and not the boutique exception. The cleaner fuels on County buses and in the county auto fleet is under our direct control; advancing more readily accessible electric vehicle charging stations allows us to reach outside the County-owned universe to assist the growing audience for electric vehicles. Working through established organizations such as the BRI and member organizations that own and manage major apartment complexes, we will seek to gain a higher penetration of cleaner heating fuels in multi-family buildings. Legislation is only a first step; it is implementation and enforcement that will matter most, and enforcement that seeks to gain compliance not to punish for punishment's sake. we are already in a zone of compromised air quality, which becomes worse on warm, stagnant days. we must work with State government to help improve of overall standing.
5) EXPANDING ELECTRIC VEHICLE INFRASTRUCTURE
The market for such vehicles is growing, and the County must be an agent to accelerate that growth. Working with businesses, major institutions, real estate entities, the next County Executive should join with the Board of Legislators to set a goal of units and to work diligently to achieve that goal, keeping in mind the need to expand the infrastructure in all corners of the county. Only when that EV charging capacity is easily available everywhere, will we see the mass-market of auto makers and drivers grow the use of that product. This is an excellent opportunity to work alongside Town Supervisors, Village and City Managers and Mayors to identify how best to grow that infrastructure.
6) SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC ACCESS MANAGEMENT
The County government should take the lead on reducing its own energy footprint, beginning with an across-the-board energy/environmental audit of all facilities and services. Our procurement policies from the light bulbs we use for lighting, to the equipment we purchase, should be Star-rated for efficiency, and to the maximum extent possible, obtained from renewable energy sources. Public education, cooperative purchasing programs with local governments, and reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides are all elements for the cooperative program for which the County can lead the way.
7) TRANSPORTATION Many of the goals already referenced - bus and auto-fleet conversion, electric vehicle charging stations, support of mass transit - combine into the best possible management practices in the transportation category. We should take a new look at re-aligning bus service to better meet the needs of Manhattan bound Metro North commuters, to see if we can reduce the car trips from home to the RR station; to work more closely with local governments to improve bike options and pedestrian scale trails. A particular partner are our local Chambers of Commerce, with whom I have worked closely in my district, since pedestrian traffic in our community downtowns is essential for economic health as well as physical health.
Further, I do not support expansion of the Westchester County Airport. To do so will negatively impact our water, land and air quality as well as impacting the quality of life for the thousands who live nearby.
8) TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT
We have seen the market drive development around our commuter rail stations in numerous cities and villages, as Manhattan and Brooklyn residences become scare and incredibly expensive, the commute from nearby New Rochelle, White Plains, and other Metro North stops become more attractive. Our strategies in policy areas I have supported in Albany - Complete Streets legislation, Brownfields clean-up - are examples of how we can work to make TOD more likely. Historic preservation is particularly important, since it reflect the unique aesthetic attraction of many of our small villages that drive decisions to move to Westchester.
9) OPEN SPACE PRESERVATION
During my prior tenure in County government (1992-2004) I supported many initiatives to protect open space and avoid development that would further congest our county. I was personally involved in the battle over the Jay Estate and stopping the development on Davids island in the early 1990s; that commitment continued throughout my prior tenure in White Plains, and will be a signature feature of my tenure if I return to White Plains. Whatever the short-term financial lure, we must think long term about protecting open space. Our predecessors, many of whom are long gone, had the foresight to protect and thereby provide for our use, a beautiful ring of parks across the County. We must not squander that gift to satisfy the needs of the moment.
10) NATURAL RESOURCE PROTECTION
There is a long list of strategies we can use to make Westchester greener; embrace the use of reusable shopping bags as a number of our villages have done; protect parkland from alienation; advance programs to recycle, compost and reuse products; capture storm water on site and re-use; upgrade sewer treatment plants to reduce effluent pollution (and satisfy federal and state mandates). All of these, and more, are workable in a County where the environment is prioritized.
Energy efficiency - as noted earlier in an across-the-board audit of County facilities - must be a prime goal. Using solar, biofuel and other renewable alternatives, we reduce reliance on traditional energy generation from fossil fuels. And the County must be at the table in discussing the energy needs in the post-Indian Point era that will be upon us during this next four year term. The outgrowth of the audit will evidence a long to-do list to reduce energy consumption and to seek cleaner sources for the energy we do use.
12) FARMS and LOCAL FOOD
I have supported legislation in both the Assembly and the Senate to support our farmlands and their products; to support farmers' marketing their locally-grown products locally; incentivize land from being turned from farming into tract housing. The County can take a leadership role in bringing together the major groups in this area, and developing a countywide strategy, working with the state, to maintain an agricultural presence in this most suburban of counties.
I have received support, in the past, from many environmental groups based on a rock-solid record of environmental advocacy and leadership. It is not divisive to say that we can use a new approach, after almost a decade, to meet these challenges head-on in Westchester County government, a new Administration that will be proud to trumpet environmental policies and success at the head of the list of achievements because, in fact, those achievements have the longest, most durable impacts on our lives and our children's lives, long after any one budget year or any one Administration, has passed from the scene.
Sign up to hear from us.