by Tom Ellis
ALBANY, NY: Retired University at Albany economics professor and McKownville Improvement Association president Don Reeb was the speaker at the November 18 SPB dinner. Don spoke about SUNY Poly — formerly College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE): The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Don is 82 years old. He said the neighborhood contain 900 houses and the neighborhood association has a $300 annual budget.
He said only forty percent of registered voters in county legislature districts 3 and 4 voted in November. He makes strenuous efforts to get out the vote. “If you don’t vote,” he said, it doesn’t amount to too much.” He said many people do not know the difference between a primary and general election and there is very little civics education today in the United States.
Alexander Hamilton. he said, started the first industrial park in the US in 1791 using water coming over a falls in New Jersey to attract business. SUNY Poly is an industrial park, he said. Former Governor Mario Cuomo brought in Alain Kaloyeros in 1988 to manage the CNSE on the corner of Washington Avenue and Fuller Road. Prior to that, the site had been a car lot, dump, and the proposed Times Union Center.
He said $43 billion has been invested in the SUNY Poly campuses statewide. One machine that etches mirrors cost $100 million. He said years ago, when IBM could no longer finance the work, CNSE became the center of shared research by multiple corporations. He said IBM has moved much of its downstate work into SUNY Poly and Tokyo Electric has invested $1.75 billion.
Don said that no matter what one thinks of SUNY Polytechnic CEO Alain Kaloyeros, he has done brilliant work. SUNY Poly, he said, has 300 students; it is basically a research center but the students do not work in it., Don said none of the SUNY Ploy success is creeping over to the low wage sector of the economy.
Mr. Reeb graduated from high school in 1951. He said since then the United States has lost the ability to provide supplemental services for young people. World War Two, he said, changed everything. In 1950, the US had one-third of the world’s gross domestic product but only 16.1 percent now. He said international trade has captured all of the low wage jobs in the United States and today we have many more people sleeping on the streets than in 1951.
He said Albany County Legislature Majority Leader Frank Commisso, Sr., asked him to investigate what is occurring on Loughlin Street (off Fuller Road) where SUNY Poly desires to construct dorms. SUNY Poly could care less, he said, that it is destroying a fine neighborhood. He said in 1951, ten of the eleven Loughlin Street homes were sold to black middle class families who could not live in any other Albany middle class neighborhood.
The developer for SUNY Poly (Columbia Development) bought these homes for between 2 and 2.5 times what they were worth and SUNY Poly ran its pipes in the wrong direction because it was cheaper. A recently appropriated $2.75 million water project is designed at least in part to fix this problem. Don said Kaloyeros promised him to undertake environmental projects but then reneged and General Electric no more cares about PCBs in the Hudson River than Kaloyeros does about flooding on Western Avenue.
He said the three great economists of the world — Adam Smith, Karl Marx (you must pay people reasonable wages or they will revolt), and John Maynard Keynes (business cycles must be dealt with) — all have had their ideas warped today.
Don said he wrote about the purpose of local government in a 1953 journal article, and the environment is much more than a butterfly; it includes aid to the people. Don said in the US, the focus is not on developing better citizens but on jobs that pay $100K or $150K a year. “The upper middle class and wealthier are what matters.” He said there is remarkably little concern in the US for the poorest of the poor — a return to the old idea of the deserving and undeserving poor. Public policy, he said, is a failure with its focus on “let’s do more for those who can almost take of themselves and forget those who are poorer.” He said we must begin providing services that we are now unwilling to provide.
Students today, he said, are less capable than in 1950. “We used to have two parent families and family meals together . . . We lost a sense of how a community functions.”
SUNY Poly, he said, is the vehicle two Cuomos and Pataki are using to bring high tech jobs to upstate large cities (Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo) even though Syracuse has huge numbers of abandoned houses. Decades ago federal taxes on corporations brought in almost as much revenue as personal income taxes; today a tiny fraction. He said profits have soared while jobs moved off shore and jobs were lost in the US. Federal deficits are taxes that should have been collected.
He said if we lose our modest neighborhoods, we lose a lot. Houses in McKownville sell for about $180K. He said he moved to the capital region in 1965. He learned it is easy to lose modest neighborhoods. He said turning out the vote was the only way to save McKownville. The Rosseleville neighborhood in Colonie “was stripped,” he said.
He concluded his presentation answering a question he posed; Where are we headed? He replied, “good jobs for the few, bad jobs for the many, no jobs for the many.”
A Q&A followed. Don said oil storage tanks on Loughlin Street were being removed earlier this year from the ground at homes without permits. The removals ceased when Reeb visited and questioned the workers. When he called, Albany city officials knew nothing about the removals then occurring.
Don asked why are for-profit businesses are not paying property taxes on their work at SUNY Poly, or the property owners.
Don said the homes on Loughlin Street are no longer occupied. He said “there is so much going on and we are such poor stewards of the public interest.’ He said four dormitories are either under construction or being discussed.
He said “Columbia Development has an unenviable reputation for being involved in political messes in New York State” and SUNY Poly is reissuing a request for proposal (RFP) for Albany work because it only got one bid, as occurred in Buffalo with another company.
Lou Ismay asked about the public health impacts of SUNY Poly nanoparticles. Don responded saying nanoparticles can penetrate the brain barrier but we have no way to know if they are harming us. The manufacturing process may be very dangerous but we do not know. He said nanoscale particles can also become airborne.
He said the Loughlin Street homes will likely soon be knocked down now that they are empty. Don said Kaloyeros joked in 2009 that he hoped to expand the campus all the way to Stuyvesant Plaza. He said Governor Andrew Cuomo can limit the expansion, and both Frank Commisso Sr. and Jr. of the Albany County Legislature and Albany Common Council, respectively, desire to limit the expansion but they have no strategy yet.
Tim Truscott said he believes Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan will be of no help in containing SUNY. Don said that if the Loughlin Street homes are demolished, he is not sure what is the best use of the land but he does not want a multi-floor dormitory there. Lynne Jackson and Sylvia Barnard responded saying they have no problem with a new dorm. Don said that adjacent to Loughlin Street are 17 acres with two high pressure gas lines — land that can likely not be built on — that the state owns.
Don said CDTA is planning a new bus route connecting Western Avenue, Brevator Street, across Route 85 to the Harriman Campus, SUNY Poly, the Crossings, and Crossgates.
Tim and Lynne said it makes sense to restore the Pine Bush on Loughlin Street. Lynne said SPB has not sued the nanotech campus because it is exempt from numerous environmental laws. Don concluded the evening saying a 2014 state law removed from the state comptroller the review of state contracts with universities.
Published in January/February 2016
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