When Rob Astorino spoke at a December 8 breakfast meeting of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit (LMLS) group, a lot was at stake.
By Bill Lawyer
When Rob Astorino spoke at a December 8 breakfast meeting of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit (LMLS) group, a lot was at stake. Negotiations with County legislators over the 2016 budget were going on behind the scenes; while, front and center, some residents boisterously expressed their opposition to a new gas pipeline to be laid across the County.
While, in his opening remarks, Astorino defended his budget proposal, which included some controversial cuts to non-profits as part of his plan not to raise taxes, he acknowledged that the budget process was “fluid.” By the following Monday, a bi-partisan deal was struck with the Democratic Board Chairman Martin Kaplowitz to restore the cuts to the non-profits while keeping the tax levy flat. The budget was approved by a vote of 10-7, with Rye’s County Legislator, Catherine Parker, among the opposition.
The fireworks at the breakfast were provided by the Safe Energy Rights Group (SERG). Speaking for SERG, former Rye resident Susan Van Dolsen challenged Mr. Astorino to justify what she called the County’s involvement in “siting a new 42-inch diameter high-pressure gas pipeline next to the Indian Point nuclear facility.” She also said that the use of County parkland for the pipeline represented an alienation of parkland.
Astorino’s answers — the project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the land (five out of 1,500 acres) had been used for a pipeline since 1952, and, through negotiations Westchester was able to get $2 million to help the County’s parks — were met with shouts from SERG members, at times interrupting the County Executive. SERG members also passed out cards stressing the risk of gas lines, referring to the San Bruno, California, 30-inch pipeline explosion in 2010 that killed eight people and injured 58, as well as causing major property damage.
After these gaseous exchanges, Astorino answered questions on Playland, the Save the Sound lawsuit, and the ongoing dispute with the Federal government’s Housing and Urban Development Department, among other issues.
Regarding Playland, he characterized the historic park in recent years as being “tired” and with no incentives to improve the park and make it more efficient.
While he is opposed to the County operating an amusement park, he noted that as the owner, the “landlord-tenant” arrangement they are currently sorting out with Standard Amusement is necessary to determine who will do what in terms of the infrastructure. He expressed optimism that an agreement will be reached.
On the Save The Sound lawsuit, Mr. Astorino said that his staff has been meeting with the municipalities to work together in addressing the issues raised by Save The Sound. He said that everyone agreed that it’s crucial for the region’s health and environmental well being that the bad sewer pipes be repaired or replaced, and the entire system be upgraded to serve the increasing population.
Regarding the on-going disputes between Westchester County and HUD, Mr. Astorino said “the good news” is that a federal court has agreed with the County that the Chappaqua affordable housing project can be counted toward the mandated 750 units.
Owing to his opposition to HUD’s demand that Westchester towns make zoning changes to facilitate more affordable housing, he said that in the future the County will no longer apply for federal block grants that require such changes.
Mr. Astorino stressed that he and his administration are very much in favor of affordable housing, as it will enable more people to live and work in Westchester. He said that the major hurdle is not discrimination, but the high cost of housing and taxes.
Finally, on the topic of guns, mental health and public safety, Mr. Astorino said that his administration is participating in the Safer Communities initiative, which brings together law enforcement officers, educators, and mental health professionals to find ways to identify and deal with potential mass murder events before they occur.