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Metro Ink 10.19.05

Stone by stone

MCC students Shannon Stewart and Samuel Bradley have two buckets, 1.1 million stones, and $300. | But they want $550,000. | Stewart is president and Bradley is treasurer of the Holocaust Genocide Studies Project. | They take their buckets of stones (one stone to represent each person killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide) to campus activities and sell them for 50 cents each. When it's sold, a stone is moved from one bucket to another. Eventually, the money will be sent to a well-drilling organization called Water for Sudan. | "We don't even have enough money yet to say, 'how would you like it?'" Bradley says. | Stewart and Bradley talk passionately about the obligation to help Water for Sudan --- "we're sitting on the largest source of fresh water in the entire world," Bradley says --- and the need to stop genocide, but they don't really feel like talking about politics or whose government failed whose. | "If we can do this directly," Stewart says, "it's nice to not have to deal with the bureaucracy. We like to look at it more personally, what we can do." | "This goes beyond that," Bradley says. "It has nothing to do with 'We need money to pay a publicist to tell this government to stop doing this.' It's just giving people water." | They encounter a lot of students who don't know what happened in Rwanda, or what is happening in Darfur, or why people in Sudan need water. But this year's high-profile Kristallnacht Commemoration may help. | Retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1994 and a loud critic of the world's failure to stop the genocide, is coming to MCC to speak. Bradley and Stewart will meet him and introduce his talks. They heard he is impressed with what they're doing. | "If we have the ability to help and we know these things are happening," Stewart says, "I think we really have a responsibility to do something." | Romeo Dallaire will speak at the 15th Annual Kristallnacht Commemoration on Wednesday, November 9, in the MCC Theater, Building 4, 1000 East Henrietta Road, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5. 292-2534. Sign interpretation will be provided.

--- Erica Curtis

The lead dilemma

Minutes before last week's City Council meeting, members of the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning were staging a rally outside of City Hall. Holding a stream of nearly 3,000 postcards that stretched halfway around the building, they were urging Council to pass an aggressive clean-up law.

Leon Berkowitz, a rental property owner and member of the New York State Coalition of Property Owners and Businesses, watched the rally and empathized with Council. He was headed in to speak to City Council --- to tell them, he said: "I really feel sorry for you guys; you're in a very tough position."

"Whatever decision they come to," said Berkowitz, "the way this thing is going, it's gonna be tough for them to please everybody."

Berkowitz and the Coalition represent the two sides of a fierce debate over how the city should solve its lead poisoning problem.

Lead was a common ingredient in oil-based paint until 1978, when the EPA outlawed it. Children, especially those 6 and under, are vulnerable to its toxic effects, which experts say include brain damage, memory loss, and an inability to control impulses.

According to the US census, Rochester had 99,820 housing units in 2000, more than half of them rental units. With 95 percent of the city's housing built before 1980, some of Rochester's older homes have been literally been poisoning children and limiting their developmental skills.

City Council is considering three proposals to deal with the hazard. The most sweeping, proposed by Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tim Mains, requires all non-owner-occupied rental housing built before 1978 and all owner-occupied rental housing built before 1960 to be cleaned up. Mayor Bill Johnson wants to require lead inspections and cleanup on rental units every time landlords apply for a Certificate of Occupancy. Both Mains and Johnson would require landlords to bear the full cost of clean-up.

The Coalition of Property Owners have their own proposal: to have lead inspections included in the Certificate of Occupancy inspection, but give landlords grants to offset clean-up costs.

At last week's standing-room-only meeting, Council members listened to 13 speakers, divided between supporters of Mains' proposal and supporters of the landlords'. All agreed about the seriousness of lead-paint poisoning. The debate is over who will pay for the cleanup. And the issue is complicated by the fact that the children most at risk are poor, living in rental properties in the inner-city area sometimes called "the crescent."

Inner-city property values are among the lowest in the county. And City Council has received a report suggesting that fixing many of the problem properties could cost 20 percent more than their current value.

"It's a question of impact on children verses impact on property owners," Councilmember Wade Norwood said in a work session he led at City Hall the night after the Council meeting. "That's the balancing act."

Both Norwood and Mains said lead abatement should be treated as just another cost of doing business for landlords. But Councilmember Bill Pritchard voiced concerns.

"I look at this as a much more substantial problem," he said. "How do we do this without pushing some landlords over the edge?"

Tax foreclosures in the city increased by 300 percent between 1995 and 2004. About 10,000 housing units are vacant, further illustrating Rochester's soft housing market. If landlords walk away from bad inner-city investments, the city and county could end up providing housing --- and, by default, the lead cleanup.

"I just want us to acknowledge here tonight that this is exactly the issue that has frozen people from taking action on this issue for years," Mains said.

"The reality is, we're not going to have solid answers to some of this," Norwood added.

Solid answers or no, the debate over how to solve the lead-paint problem won't go on much longer. Norwood's Council committee will meet again on October 27, and City Council will vote on new legislation sometime before December 30 of this year.

Record Archive requiem

After 28 years as a Rochester institution, The Record Archive is closing its Mt.Hope location. For years, the big yellow house was the place to get any type of music, with a staff that knew and loved what they were doing. And the place served as a genuine record archive, with thousands and thousands of records in its back room.

The slide began with the closing of Mt. Hope Wegman's, says Archive president Dick Storms. "The lights went out across the street, and that area of Mt.Hope ceased to be a shopping destination," says Storms. "There's still fast food, but that's about it."

"We're going to combine everything into the East Avenue location," says Storms, "including about 200,000 records." And the Mt.Hope crew will go to East Avenue, too.

Billion-dollar baby

Government budgets are part science, part guessing game --- and part politics. And Ink assumes that at least a bit of politics was at play when County Exec Maggie Brooks released her election-year budget last week. Nobody would expect the 2006 actuals to be exactly what Brooks predicts, but the total in her proposed budget --- $998.9 million --- was just a bit too neat. Ink's hunch: that the final figure will be at least a shade up from Brooks' projections, and that the budget will hit the number she must have tried hard to avoid: a nice fat billion.