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No such thing as a free ride

People For A Better Bus System and the RGRTA have different definitions of "citizen input."

"I think their idea of citizen input is like, 'OK, we'll help you pick out the flower boxes when this thing's all done,'" says PFABBS member Luke Lorenzo.

PFABBS started in November 2003, when a group of concerned citizens met at RGRTA's first and only meeting for public input on a $58-million downtown underground bus station plan. RGRTA ended the public commentary 20 days later, and PFABBS started to meet on its own. The goal: to keep raising questions and concerns over the bus station and to win more opportunities for public debate.

PFABBS members are worried about a lot of the bus stations' details, everything from the logistics of threading all buses through downtown at rush hour to pollution to cost.

"And the one question they've never answered is: operating," says Miriam Shapiro, PFABBS member and former transit commissioner. "This is the big one. It's the operating [cost] that's going to get you in the long run."

PFABBS wants to be clear: the group isn't trying to stand in RGRTA's way. It just wants to revitalize downtown the right way. "We have no personal or political agendas," says member Sarah Brinklow. "We only want a better transit system, we only want a better Rochester."

"It feels like there is a group of leaders who got hold of a bad idea --- it's a good idea to revitalize downtown --- but bad specifics," says Elizabeth Hallmark. "Nobody is calling them to task about examining this plan. There are no checks and balances without a group like this."

The initial proposal for the bus station is now part of Renaissance Square, and RGRTA promised more public meetings this summer. But so far none have materialized. In fact, despite hard-won meeting time with Bill Johnson, Maggie Brooks, various legislators, and RGRTA CEO Mark Aesch; despite publishing an inch-thick book of letters from community members opposing the bus station; and despite the research they've put on their website, all PFABBS has is a form letter from RGRTA saying public input is suspended until further notice. It is unclear whether RGRTA has any legal obligation to ask for the public's opinion. But PFABBS wants to know why they won't entertain alternatives.

"Why is the underground nonnegotiable, why is the location nonnegotiable?" Lorenzo says. "When are the nonnegotiables going to end, and when are the negotiables going to open up? They're saying there is going to be citizen input, but at what stage?"

For information:

--- Erica Curtis

Up in lights

Kerry Gleason just wants to spread some holiday cheer. The president of AdWorks says he's been working for months to convince the Monroe County Parks Department that he should stage a holiday light show --- "an international festival of light on a par with attractions like the Rose Bowl Parade," he says --- in Seneca Park.

But county administration has turned something of a deaf ear towards his proposal. Instead, it's leaving it up to county legislators who represent people living near the park. If Seneca Park neighbors want a light show, it's up to their legislators to introduce a referral recommending the plan.

By simply letting the democratic process play out, county administration is shrewdly avoiding this issue, which has proven to be a political hot potato in the past, with privately run light shows in Northampton Park ultimately being shut down amid neighborhood complaints. The notion of a private company earning profits in a public park also doesn't sit well. (Gleason's plan calls for some revenue to be given directly to county parks.)

Democratic Legislator Mitch Rowe represents a district that practically surrounds the park. He's seen Gleason's proposal, but only recently. And he doesn't see how the show can be pulled off this year. He says he's heard from some of his constituents, all of whom oppose the proposal.

But Gleason has been filling his own petition, and he says the reception to his idea has been overwhelmingly positive. "I've only had maybe two people tell me they couldn't sign their support," he says.

Gleason's hoping to drum up enough community support to convince county legislators to issue a referral on his plan at their next full session on September 14. So he's arranged for a community meeting on Wednesday, September 1, in the Longhouse Pavilion at Seneca Park starting at 7 p.m.

If he can't get the county lej to recommend his proposal on September 14, Gleason wont be able to pull off the light show this year. And he may not try again next year. "This whole thing has just been way too political," he says.

Big brother bus?

Ever wonder who's watching you? A group of anonymous Rochester residents wants to tell you.

The group launched to alert fellow Regional Transit Service travelers to video surveillance cameras on some of the buses. The site even includes some handy, amusing, and illegal tips for disabling surveillance cameras.

But "the website is not the story" the group insists in an email response to City Newspaper's questions; "RTS treating passengers as suspects is the story. Putting everyone into cages, turning the whole world into a cell, watching everyone's every move, all the time. That's the story. RTS is our local offender."

The group is launching a boycott of Empire Vision, who it says is the sole advertiser on the camera-equipped buses. "We can't boycott RTS," the group explained. "We NEED the buses to get to work. We can't expect other victims to boycott RTS for the same reason. So we are calling for a boycott of the advertisers."

The group says its campaign is still in its infancy, and its founders are avoiding the limelight so far. "We are currently looking for a martyr (someone willing to sacrifice their own privacy to protect the privacy of others)," they write. "Since no one here fits that description, all I can tell ya is, we are city residents who ride the bus to and from work every day."

Beside the boycott, the group describes its mission as "general privacy activism." So it's ironic that the only feedback they've gotten so far is a handful of complaints about spam for emailing to promote the boycott. "Of course we're conflicted," they say. "We respond by scolding the sender: 'Never respond to spammers --- not even us.'"

Wonged again

Dissing Rochester in the media is becoming a trend. It started with Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong's not-so-pleasant recounting of one not-so-pleasant visit. And now it continues in the Buffalo News. In her August 24 commentary (see, Buffalo News writer Mary Kunz describes Rochester as a rain-soaked city with rude citizens who dress poorly and homeless people who have the nerve to make themselves visible on the street.

We wrote Kunz to engage her in further conversation, and to request clarification on her implication that the Buffalo alternative newsweekly Artvoice once published here (it never did). Kunz, unfortunately, never responded.

But there is some good to be taken out of this sort of ham-fisted parochial swiping. Kunz says Rochester's economy is "dying an uglier death than ours." That, of course, is up for debate. But Buffalo's open discussions of metropolitan government are worth noting, since they're a big reason why people in Buffalo feel they're on the road to economic recovery. Rochester voted the metro concept down in the last election for County Executive.

Bob's back

The prodigal son returns: radio personality Bob Lonsberry, whose neo-conservative ramblings on WHAM 1180-AM have earned him legions of fans and detractors. Lonsberry, who lives in Mount Morris, was dumped last year by WHAM for making derogatory racial remarks directed at Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson. Upon Lonsberry's return, Johnson issued a statement expressing his faith that Lonsberry regrets his remarks and that he'll make "good use of this opportunity."

Also issuing a statement was the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley. "WHAM Radio and its parent corporation, Clear Channel, have decided that profits come first even if they are at the expense of promoting hate, racism, and divisiveness," says Gay Alliance Executive Director Chuck Bowen.

Lonsberry's show can be heard most weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Info:

Campbell cred

We knew he was a treasure and now it's official. Charles Campbell of The Campbell Brothers was one of 10 artists awarded The National Endowment for the Arts 2004 National Heritage Fellowship --- the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. The fellowship includes a one-time award of $20,000.

Campbell will join past recipients like B.B. King and Bill Monroe when he accepts his award October 1 in Washington, DC.