On the Campaign Trail
By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott
In a far-ranging discussion with Josh Nathan and Jana Seitz, good friends who are vying to fill the vacant City Council seat with two years remaining in the term, we were struck by their passion and purposefulness. They grasp the connectivity of the challenges — particularly flooding, the loss of trees, the increase in development — and emphasize the importance not only of educating the public but including them in the problem-solving.
Flooding and the need for a mitigation action plan were the first issue we addressed. In the three weeks since Hurricane Ida caused devastating damage and heartbreaking loss, both candidates have been out talking to residents and business owners and helping them clean up debris in their yards, neighborhood streets, and areas adjacent to Blind Brook, and in the Brook itself.
Nathan, a Democrat, has spent time helping people navigate FEMA and SBA loans and grants. “No homeowner needs to be homeless in Rye after a storm. We just need to start implementing all the storm recovery projects that were outlined in the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.” Nathan was a member of the team that developed a project list specific to Rye. The City was awarded a $3 million grant and hasn’t yet allocated much of that money.
Seitz, a Republican, says those projects need to be prioritized in the City’s planning. “It is unacceptable that those projects have not yet been done. Even the sluice gate, a simple improvement, is still not operational.” She added, “We need more citizen awareness, to be prepared for more 100-year storms, and we need to be better prepared. Homeowners and business owners need to recognize that living in a flood plain means they can’t store valuables in their basements or garages.”
Since 2007, Rye has been impacted by three 100-year storms, noted Nathan. “We also need to work with neighboring communities and officials and focus on regional flooding solutions.”
Seitz said, “We need to find the money to make those improvements. I’m sick of cost/benefit analysis being the basis for decisions, particularly when it comes to crucial decisions.”
Curbing residential development, that negatively impacts the character of neighborhoods, adds to water runoff, and involves the unnecessary removal of mature trees, is another priority for Seitz and Nathan.
“We need to change the way we have development conversations,” offered Nathan. “Currently, it’s all siloed. Homeowners need to be able to improve their homes, but development also has to be thoughtful.” He believes we need to review the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) formula, which is decades old. “If everyone hit their FAR, Rye would be a city not a suburb.”
Seitz said there is “a disconnect between city officials and residents” on development. An updated master plan would help.” She added, “We also need to promote the idea that trees matter. I’ve learned that firsthand, as a board member of Edith Read Sanctuary and because I’ve worked with a County arborist.”
Nathan said he met a Rye resident who recently removed over a dozen trees on his property and was surprised when his home flooded for the first time. Nathan has a unique perspective; he’s successfully litigated a tree destruction suit.
Once Covid restrictions loosen further, Seitz encourages residents and officials to walk in The Osborn Arboretum and see the benefits of trees.
While controlling the deer population and protecting residents from coyotes, whose numbers are also rising, are not new subjects, they need to be better managed, stated Seitz, who served on the Deer Management Committee in the previous Council administration. She reported that Committee members met with officials from Mamaroneck and Harrison and even followed deer starting in the pre-dawn hours to learn their habits and routes to feeding areas. “There was an under-the-radar project to cull the herd.”
Rather than bump along on the issue, Nathan said Rye needs clear, updated data. “We also need what -works data and to give serious thought to what our relationship with wildlife is here.” He recommends involving the County and its park staff and pressing the County Executive as well as our County Legislator and State Assemblyman — who all live in Rye.
While the coyote population has risen because of the plentiful deer, both candidates asserted that it might make more sense to look at what to do about coyotes separately, since they are getting more fearless while instilling fear.
The last time Milton Harbor was dredged was in 2013, the year after Superstorm Sandy. Since then, our 250-year-old harbor has silted up and removal of the silt has become a n even costlier process now that regulations require it to be taken and disposed of upland.
Nathan and Seitz want to see this tremendous community asset maintained and preserved. Both are seasoned boaters. Seitz is a member of the new Boat Club at the Marina and kayaks everywhere in the Sound and in Blind Brook.
Nathan has gotten stuck in the channel because of the silt; Seitz understands the enormity of the problem having just helped clean up Blind Brook. She recommends widening the Brook while Rye determines how it is going to pay for the dredging.
Public safety will always be a top priority for elected officials and City staff, and many are concerned, including the candidates for the special election seat, that there is insufficient traffic enforcement and increasing and flagrant disregard for traffic laws.
“We need data, and we need for it to be publicly available,” said Nathan. “We’re a smart community that respects data. It needs to be tied to a narrative and pushing of enforcement.” He said that a review of current signage and traffic signals may also be needed as part of a campaign to slow down traffic.
Seitz suggested instituting a crossing guard brigade at major crosswalks.
Larger questions about how the City is run and how it could run more efficiently are on the minds of both candidates.
“We need to look at what can be done by the city manager and what can only be fixed through legislation,” posited Seitz.
Nathan said that when he was on the Rye City School Board, they decided to revamp their planning process. “We agreed that a maintenance plan needed to be in place, then we moved to our top priorities, next our secondary ones, and finally to the ones we knew we could accomplish easily.”