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gov. kathy hochul

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By Sabrina Artusa

In January, the Nassau and Suffolk counties police departments, the New York City Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation formed a task force designed to tackle burglaries and thefts across Long Island. The collaboration, “a multijurisdictional burglary and stolen car task force,” as described by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman (R) at the conference announcement in January, is the result of criminals crossing county and state lines. 

In Suffolk, 1,471 vehicles were reported stolen in 2022, up 20.8% from the 1,218 taken in 2021 — the most since nearly 1,600 cars and trucks were swiped in 2010, Newsday reports.

At a recent civic meeting in Port Jefferson Station, Suffolk County Police Department provided a COPE report from Jan. 23 to Feb. 27 for the respective area. Officier Efstathiou provide the report stating, “Out of the four grand larcenies [for this area] two were related to stolen vehicles. A Honda and a Hyundai right out of one’s driveway and one in front of one’s house both with no keys. Both still not recovered.” 

In September 2022, Hochul announced a five-step plan to combat the increasing numbers of car thefts across New York. 

“Too many New Yorkers have experienced the shock of waking up to an empty driveway … that is why we are supporting local law enforcement to prosecute and prevent these thefts,” she said.

Last month Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) reported that the DMV recovered 286 vehicles worth $8.6 million in 2023 under the Comprehensive Auto-Theft Reduction Strategy. A total of 142 were recovered in New York City and 42 on Long Island.

Kias and Hyundais are mainly being targeted, Hochul announced in September. After videos exposing how to steal these cars started circulating on social media, Hyundais and Kias remain most vulnerable. However, both companies have developed upgrades to offset the thefts.

“There was a big spike … a lot of it is associated with the COVID pandemic … crime surged, not only in New York, but all across the nation,” Hochul said. 

While it is true the national rate of motor vehicle theft in 2022 was the highest it has been since 2008, it is undetermined what role the pandemic played in this change. 

Part of Hochul’s five-part plan was to implement harsher punishments, fund more advanced technology for law enforcement, increase intervention or preventative programs for at-risk youth and to strengthen the prosecution of cases dealing with vehicle theft. She also sent a letter with Mark Schroeder, state Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, to Kia and Hyundai owners, informing them of their vehicles’ susceptibility.

“Fortunately, there are some common-sense steps you can take to help prevent your car from being stolen, such as always locking your car doors and parking in well-lit areas,” the letter reads. “In addition, Kia and Hyundai have agreed to provide tools to strengthen your car’s anti-theft protections, including a software update and a window sticker.”

In November, state Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester) proposed the Car Theft Prevention Act to counter the rising rates of car thefts. In Rochester, more than 3,800 motor vehicle thefts were reported in 2023. That number is nearly three times the total in 2022, which itself was a record year. 

This new bill adds the felony offenses of criminal possession of stolen property in the first through fourth degrees as bail-qualified offenses. 

Photo courtesy Ed Flood's Facebook page

By Aramis Khosronejad

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “in 2022 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,341.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, and 5,487.0 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents after accounting for sequestration from the land sector.” In the wake of these statistics, New York State has been searching for a way to help decrease these concerning figures.

As an aid to the process, New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul (D), presented a new mandate this past September. The state mandate will require zero-emission new school bus purchases by 2027 and for school districts to operate zero-emission school buses only by 2035.

Although on the surface the use of electric vehicles seems like an efficient and smart way of reducing our greenhouse gas contribution to the global community, there are some drawbacks and consequences that state Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) as well as other state politicians have pointed out. 

Local state senators, Assembly members, fire safety and school officials gathered Feb. 25 at Levittown bus depot to a “Push the Brakes” rally on the state’s electric school bus mandate.

Flood categorized the conflicts that could arise with this new mandate in two simple categories: economic issues and the alarming lack of reliability. 

According to Flood, we need only look at the numbers to be able to reach the conclusion that the economic setbacks of a mandate such as this would be potentially devastating to the academic capabilities of many school districts within New York state. To successfully and fully implement these zero-emission buses it would take “roughly $20 billion” to do so, he said.

Flood and other elected officials have also been vocal regarding the proposed state-aid school budget cuts listed in the governor’s budget proposal earlier this year. School districts will have to cut programs, camps and other academic activities and opportunities for districts whose budgets would be affected by these cuts. 

Additionally, Flood has a concern for an increase in taxes if the bus mandate were to be carried through — he said that taxes in New York are already extreme without the addition of this new bus expenditure. Also, there has to be consideration for the cost of the establishment of charging stations for the buses, compounded by the stations’ running costs. 

Another heavy consequence of the implementation of these new fleets of buses, and what Flood argues is significantly more important, is the question of their reliability. The most important question for Flood is “What steps are we taking to ensure the safety of our children and these bus drivers?” 

It has already been observed in cities where e-buses are already in place such as San Francisco and Chicago that their batteries have problems with severe temperature fluctuations. Flood points out how the EV batteries can die quickly and may not prove efficient. In addition, EV batteries are prone to catch fire and are notoriously difficult to put out. If this were to happen while one of the buses was in use, Flood claimed that we’d be “looking at the loss of lives.” 

Flood provided a potential solution to these doubts over bus batteries by bringing up the idea that “having a backup system in place could address this issue” even if this backup uses carbon. “We need a more powerful EV source than the one we have,” he said.

The main belief that Flood carried was “not saying we shouldn’t be aiming for these goals but we’re trying so hard to be the global leaders in EV that we’re looking over the health and safety concerns that it’s going to cause to all these communities.” 

According to Flood, if there were a delay to this mandate, there would be sufficient time for all these concerns to be addressed and handled properly. Then, zero-emission buses would be safe to push into New York school districts, and we could do our part in making sure our planet suffers a little less. 

On hand for the March 24 press conference were Bob Vecchio, Nassau Suffolk School Boards Association executive director; Jim Polansky, superintendent of Huntington school district; Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island; state Assemblyman Doug Smith (back); and state Senators Monica Martinez and Kevin Thomas. Photo by Angela Porwick/Health and Welfare Council of Long Island

Long Island advocates received support from elected officials and school administrators last week to call on New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to include a program that will save all families money regarding school meals in the 2024 state budget.

Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, addresses attendees at the March 24 press conference. Photo by Angela Porwick/Health and Welfare Council of Long Island

Proponents gathered at Jefferson Primary School in Huntington Friday, March 24, to make their plea to the governor at a press conference. The call comes after federal waivers that provided free breakfast and lunch for all students during the COVID-19 pandemic ended last June.

Speakers asked for the governor to provide fully funded school meals for all students in the 2024 state budget. The move could potentially help nearly a quarter million students on Long Island alone.

The Healthy School Meals for All New York Kids program has received bipartisan support in both the state Senate and Assembly. Senators and Assembly members have allocated $280 million in funding in their budget proposals. Supporters say such a program that would provide free lunch and breakfast to students can have a broader effect, taking pressure off food banks and positively impacting the community as a whole. Speakers at the press conference said that many families whose children are eligible for free meals at school are too embarrassed to apply, while others, who are not eligible due to strict income thresholds to qualify, still experience financial stress. 

Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, said while universally free meals at school was something families could count on during the pandemic, once the federal program ended, 243,000 children in Suffolk and Nassau counties lost their access to free school meals. She added HWCLI is part of a broader statewide coalition of more than 250 organizations asking the governor to include the Healthy School Meals for All program in the budget.

“We know that throughout history we get these moments in time where our actions can really magnificently transform future generations to come,” Sanin said at the press conference. “Today is one of those moments.”

She added that many on Long Island suffer from hunger, poverty, and economic and family stresses that prevent them from receiving proper nourishment.

“When every child in New York can access meals at school, we will be actively reducing hunger,” Sanin said. “We will be actively reducing underachievement. We will be actively reducing poor health outcomes. We will be actively reducing behavioral challenges.”

Jim Polansky, superintendent of Huntington school district and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said the economic crisis that has followed the pandemic has made the “universal free meal programs more important than ever.”

“Many people in our community, throughout the region and across the state are struggling to put food on the table, and it may take years for those struggling to recover financially,” he said. “Food insecurity has unfortunately become commonplace.”

He added some districts in the state are able to continue providing free meals through the Community Eligibility Provision program, yet there are also districts that do not meet the CEP criteria. CEP provides a federal non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas.

“No child should go hungry, and no child or family should be stigmatized because they qualify for benefits resulting from family income status,” Polansky said. “Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that children who arrive to school hungry can develop significant mental health issues, including depression and anxiety as well as physical health issues, which lead to difficulties in focusing on academics and other school activities.”

The New York State 2024 budget is due April 1.

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Local elected officials held a press conference Friday, Jan. 20, to make it clear that they don’t agree with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) New York Housing Compact proposal.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Republican state senators and assemblymembers, county legislators and town supervisors from Suffolk County gathered at the Perry B. Duryea State Office Building in Hauppauge with a message for Hochul. The elected members speaking at the press conference said zoning, land use and development matters are best left to local elected officials.

In her State of the State message earlier this month, Hochul proposed a housing strategy calling for 800,000 new homes to be built in the state over the course of a decade to address the lack of affordable housing. Among the plan’s requirements would be municipalities with Metropolitan Transportation Authority railroad stations to rezone to make way for higher-density residential development. All downstate cities, towns and villages served by the MTA would have a new home creation target over three years of 3%, compared to upstate counties that would need to build 1% more new homes over the same period.

But speakers on Jan. 20 called her proposed initiative “government overreach” and “misguided,” and they said municipalities should create zoning laws, grant building permits and urban plans based on the individual needs of their communities. Many added that a blanket state housing proposal wouldn’t work on Long Island due to lack of sewer systems, also infrastructure and environmental concerns.

The press conference was led by state Sen. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

“We all agree that we have an affordable housing problem,” he said. “What we don’t agree on is how to fix it.”

He added, “The governor apparently believes that one size fits all is the way to go, that heavy-handed mandates are the way to go.”

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Murray said the Village of Patchogue is the model of revitalizing villages and downtowns across the state. He added local issues must be considered, such as environmental concerns, traffic issues and parking options. He said Patchogue officials worked to rebuild the village’s infrastructure, invested in and expanded sewer plants, repaved 85% of its streets, invested into pools, parks and the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts. Murray added 700 new residential homes were built since 2003, 575 of them are within walking distance from the train station and village.

Town supervisors speak up 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said they were all concerned about what Long Island will look like in the future. He added there is a need for sewer systems in most towns, and local infrastructure needs improvement. He said the three rail lines that cross the town depend on diesel fuel, and he added overgrowth has also contaminated the waters.

“Governor, before you start talking about more housing, how about the infrastructure to support it?” Romaine said. “How about electrifying the rail? How about making sure the roads work? How about making sure that there are sewers?”

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said the town is manufacturing affordable housing “to the extent it’s possible” based on its infrastructure.

In the last five years, he said the town has approved the construction of 450 rental units, 10% of which are classified as affordable per state law.

Town of Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“The only elected officials that know how to do that on Long Island are your local elected officials with the help of our county, state and federal officials as well,” Wehrheim said. “So, we are doing what the governor wants, but we’re doing it the right way.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) said New York politics “is not Republican vs. Democrat. It’s New York City versus New York state.” He said the governor is affected by New York City extremists. 

“I implore the governor to form a working coalition of centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans in the state Legislature to govern from the center as the vast majority of New Yorkers expect of you,” Smyth said.

Additional perspectives

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said when he hears the governor talk about local control, he feels she is aligning with the progressive left. He added “everything they touch they destroy,” listing the economy, energy independence and the southern border.

“They want to destroy our local zoning, and they will destroy what makes Long Island and New York state the wonderful place to live that it is,” Fitzpatrick said. “Local control works, and we seek a cooperative relationship, a carrot approach rather than the stick approach that she is putting before us.”

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, also spoke at the press conference. He acknowledged there is a housing problem on the Island and said the town supervisors have provided hope with past projects.

“They have been behind getting affordable housing in their communities,” Alexander said, adding 20,000 units of multihousing have been approved on Long Island over the past 17 years.

According to Alexander, 10,000 more units are coming down the pike, and 50 communities have had buildings built near transit stations.

State Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport), who has been a zoning attorney for more than 20 years, in an interview after the press conference said incentives and funding are needed.

He said Brookhaven’s Commercial Redevelopment Districts are excellent zoning examples of redevelopment and multifamily houses where there are incentives such as being near transportation and connecting to sewers.

State Assemblyman Jonathan Kornreich, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Those are the incentives that we should be talking about, not creating super zoning boards, and more bureaucracy,” Brown said.

In a statement to TBR News Media, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who was a former president of the Three Village Civic Association, said, “We have to be wise enough to recognize that the land under which our aquifers sit can only bear so much development.”

He gave the example of a parcel of land in Port Jefferson Station on Route 112 and near the train station. The large, vegetated parcel has restrictive covenants to limit the type of development on the site.

“This place is a vital area of green space, where trees can grow, where oxygen is produced and where rainwater is filtered before it goes down to the aquifers we drink from,” he said. “The governor’s proposal would throw all that planning out the window and turn this into a potential development site for hundreds of new units.”

Former state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who was chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee between 2015 and 2022, attended the press conference and in a phone interview said, “This is a proposal that attempts to meet one need, but has a likely outcome, if advanced, of completely overriding environmental concerns. Our first limiting factor for sustainable communities is the environment, in particular water — drinking water.”

He added the proposal to increase the density of housing not only overrides local planning but threatens communities’ quality of life.

He added, for example, a village such as Poquott wouldn’t be able to build more housing as it’s “essentially a completely built-out community.” Or, a hamlet such as St. James wouldn’t be able to add more housing near the train station.

“If you impose from above a mandate to change the land use, you’re basically impacting the environment immediately and, for the long term, the quality of life of a community,” he said.

Englebright and current elected officials are concerned that the housing legislation would be included in the state budget similar to bail reform.

Hochul’s administration has said more information on the housing proposal will be released in the near future.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, pictured above, during her State of the University address on Oct. 12. In a statement, she said the state’s support ‘will help to propel Stony Brook to even greater heights.’ Photo from Stony Brook University

As a part of her State of the State address last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) proposed providing additional financial support to Stony Brook University’s research effort.

The governor proposed adding $200 million in capital funding for research labs at SBU and the University of Buffalo to invest in new and renovated research buildings, labs, and state-of-the art instrumentation.

In the proposal, the state would also match up to $500 million in state funds for SBU and three other university centers.

In the technical arena, the state would also provide $200 million in digital transformation and IT infrastructure across the State University of New York system, including SBU.

In a statement, Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis said “Governor Hochul’s announcement providing support for an endowment match, research labs, and innovative programs will help to propel Stony Brook to even greater heights.”

The SBU president added that the match would inspire “our philanthropic supporters to secure our long-term future while supporting current research and student scholarships. We are grateful to Governor Hochul for her visionary leadership and for providing the flexibility and mission-specific resources needed to advance our transformational goals of doubling research expenditures and moving into the top 25-ranked public research universities nationally.”

SBU officials added that the additional research funding will allow the university to grow its technology-transfer and business-incubation programs, which foster New York’s entrepreneurs.

“More robust research and entrepreneurship infrastructure will allow us to accelerate the commercialization of medical, engineering and other technologies generated from our faculty to start and grow companies across the state,” SBU officials explained in an email.

The university appreciates the governor’s support and officials look forward to seeing the final executive budget proposal with related details and working with the legislature to enact these proposals.

Previous recognition

The proposed funds come a year after the governor designated SBU and The University of Buffalo as New York State’s flagship universities as part of her plan for “A New Era for New York.”

The governor proposed additional funding for several efforts. The funds would help construct a multidisciplinary engineering building on campus. She also supported a partnership between SBU and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for NeuroAI, an initiative that combines neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

She suggested expanding the Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology research to include wastewater treatment technology and creation of the Suffolk County Wastewater Management District, both with the goal of protecting Long Island’s aquifer system.

The state could also support the modernization and repair of scientific labs and could fund “Grand Challenges” that will encourage cross-disciplinary research.

With additional funds, these universities would also have the ability to continue to hire top-rated faculty and researchers.

SBU and Buffalo are members of the Association of American Universities.

Annual research expenditures at the two universities are also a combined $663 million, including affiliated institutions.

Pixabay photo

Over the course of the last month, local elected officials were speaking out against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) plan to allow, potentially, accessory apartments to every home throughout the state. 

Members of Congress across Long Island bashed the idea, state senators and assembly members did, too. It even got to the hyper local level when Brookhaven and Huntington towns both held press conferences asking Hochul to reconsider the plan, saying that it would not fit into the landscape of Long Island. The Town of Smithtown strongly objected, too.

It was bipartisan. Members from both parties said that it would impact the way we live here, parking would be terrible, property values could decrease and the already concerning sewage issues we have on Long Island would worsen. It simply wouldn’t work. 

And just this week, it looks like all that kicking and screaming had an impact. Hochul decided to pull the plan from the state budget. 

So, what does this mean? 

The events that led up to her decision were important. All of those press conferences hosted by our elected officials were worth the time and effort. The stories that the media reported on got other people talking, thinking and writing. 

This shows how important it is to reach out to our local representatives. Tell them what you want and ask them to help make a change. That’s their job. 

Reach out to us, your local media and write letters to the editor. Voice your concerns and demand action. 

Some things cannot be changed or might take longer than desired. But there are other opportunities that can be fixed before they take flight. 

If it wasn’t for our local elected officials looking over the state budget and noticing the line about the apartments, some of us might not have known about the issue until it was too far along to be stopped. 

That’s when people begin to complain, but sometimes not much can be done. 

Stay vigilant and be proactive instead of reactive. Use what resources are available to us now to make continuous changes that will benefit us and our families.

We’re all in this together and the more we communicate, the better. But we should remember to say “thank you” to those who made it possible when you finally get your way. 

U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi at a press conference on Feb. 10. Photo by Julianne Mosher

When Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) talked about increasing affordable housing options across New York during her recent State of the State address, it was something that most residents could agree with. Then the State of the State book came out with more details.

Local legislators paused when they saw that a proposed plan would allow residents to build an accessory dwelling unit without seeking approval from their local zoning board, essentially eliminating single-family zoning laws. While most Long Island elected officials believe that our area needs more affordable housing, the majority are not on board with Hochul’s proposed plan.

It seems as if she has good intentions. Such a plan would enable a homeowner to create an apartment. One hope is that grown children can live at home longer and have more time to save for their own house. Or, it could provide a space for aging parents who can’t afford the cost of living in New York or keep up with all the things that a household needs. Being able to transform a basement, attic or garage into an apartment sounds better than families flying back and forth to another state to see their parents or children.

As it becomes more and more challenging to buy a home, living with one’s parents longer sometimes is the more affordable option. And while there was a time that people lived at home longer simply by sleeping in their childhood bedrooms, now with more teenagers going away to college, when they come back home, they crave their own space and don’t want to explain to mom and dad why they are just leaving the house at 10 p.m. to meet up with friends. They would like to have company over and not worry about their parents coming into the living room and joining the conversation or embarrassing them.

And older parents crave their freedom, too. Gone are the days when grandma and grandpa would come to live with the family and sleep in the guest room. As houses have become larger in the last few decades, people have become accustomed to having a good amount of personal space.

It should also be noted that in Brookhaven and Huntington, the towns allow accessory apartments on premises with specific regulations, including that the owner of the lot upon which the accessory apartment is located must reside within the dwelling that contains the ADU, and only one accessory apartment is permitted on the premises. Smithtown has limited exceptions.

Of course, we understand why many elected officials are dubious. This proposed Hochul plan has to be thought out thoroughly. Many areas of Long Island are overpopulated or are becoming so. While keeping our parents and children close to us is nice, it can be aggravating when cars are parked all over our streets and roadways are congested. We know not everyone will build an apartment for family members to have more affordable living conditions, but many will. And some will add them to their homes, not to help out family members but to collect rent from strangers.

Our infrastructure is not able to attract or keep people on the Island even though we want our children and parents to stay here.

Our planning and zoning boards work together to decide on what’s best for our areas and allow residents to speak up and express their concerns. To increase affordable housing units along the North Shore, elected officials will need to come together to brainstorm and identify the best areas to create less expensive housing options, such as being near train stations and major roadways. Options like these can keep additional cars off our local streets, so a quick run to the grocery store doesn’t turn into an hour-long ordeal.

Change can be good, but putting the responsibility of increasing affordable housing in the hands of residents who may not be experts on density and infrastructure is not a wise decision. 

As of Feb. 10, New Yorkers are no longer mandated to wear masks in most public places, even though some business owners may still require customers to wear one. Photo from METRO

By Amanda Olsen

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) administration has allowed the mask-or-vaccinate mandate for public spaces to lapse as of Feb. 10, effectively leaving masking decisions to local officials and business owners. Masks are still required in health care facilities, on public transportation, in correctional facilities and in shelters. Masks are also still required in schools for the time being, with a reevaluation planned some time in early March, after the winter break.

Leaders in health care, business and labor fields were generally supportive of Hochul’s decision. Gary LaBarbera, president of Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said in a statement. “The mask mandate has helped keep New York’s working men and women safe and healthy during the most uncertain and volatile moments of the public health crisis. The easing of indoor mask mandates for businesses is a positive sign in New York’s recovery, as it’s a direct result of COVID-19 cases dropping across the state and, hopefully, the pandemic itself receding.” 

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a statement. “In light of the announcement today, we thank the governor for ensuring employers still have responsibilities under state statute, including the Public Employee Safety and Health Act and the New York HERO Act, which remain in effect. These laws establish safety protocols to protect workers and the public. Moving forward, in the absence of the mask mandate, employers must continue to work with their employees to make sure appropriate protections are in place.”

On the local level, some people are comfortable leaving masking up to the individual, including Anthony Bongiovanni, of Rocky Point Jewelers.

“If you feel for your personal safety, you should wear one, by all means,” he said.

However, not every business is ready to leave masks behind. Richard Smith, from Buttercup’s Dairy Store in Port Jefferson Station, is keeping some masking rules in place. “We’re still requiring employees to wear masks. We don’t require customers [to do so].”

Others are continuing to follow federal guidelines, regardless of what is happening at the state level. Paul Vigliante, of Branch Funeral Homes in Miller Place and Smithtown, said that he intends to follow “whatever the CDC guidelines are” at the time.

Some business owners expressed mixed feelings about leaving masking up to the individual, since policing customer behavior has been challenging even with the mandate in place. Smith said that they have “had to call the police a couple of times” but overall “95% of people have been respectful.” 

Not all businesses had difficulty. Bongiovanni said, “There was never a problem.” Vigliante also had no issues: “Everyone was very respectful … we were very fortunate throughout.”

Each new phase of the COVID pandemic brings its own set of challenges for both business owners and individuals. Everyone is feeling some degree of pandemic weariness.

“Everybody’s sick of it,” Smith said. “Just a lot of frustration.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks during the Feb. 3 press conference at Town Hall. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Elected officials from local, state and the federal government recently voiced their anger and concern over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) plans to eliminate certain single-family zoning laws across New York state. 

The comprehensive five-year housing plan would potentially invest $25 billion to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes and tackle inequities in the housing market.

Last month, the governor announced the plan to make housing more affordable as part of the 2022 State of the State.

“In the wake of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all,” Hochul said. “These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply.”

But on Feb. 3, local representatives in the Town of Brookhaven held a press conference blasting a major component of the proposal — changing zoning laws to allow more accessory apartments on premises, effectively eliminating single-family zoning.

Officials argued that under this plan, “the state would take zoning control away from local governments, eliminating local residents’ ability to voice objections to these apartments in their neighborhoods.”

They added that the bill would prohibit imposing parking requirements for these new apartments, which they said would result in cars clogging residential streets.

“Under Governor Hochul’s plan, every town, village and county overnight would lose the important zoning protections that keep them from looking like the crowded neighborhoods of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn,” said town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “That’s not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want. This wrongheaded plan will not solve our affordable housing plan, but it will devalue the homes and quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

According to Hochul, legislation will be proposed to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit, known as an ADU, on owner-occupied residentially zoned lots. This legislation will allow for municipalities to set size requirements and safety standards for these dwellings. 

Currently the town allows accessory apartments on premises with specific regulations, including the owner of the lot upon which the accessory apartment is located must reside within the dwelling that contains the accessory apartment, and only one accessory apartment is permitted on the premises. 

According to the town, the minimum habitable area for an accessory apartment shall be 300 square feet and a maximum of 650 square feet, and in no case should it exceed 40% of the habitable area of the dwelling building in which it is located. The law states that in no event may there be more than one bedroom per accessory apartment.

Brookhaven officials — in bipartisan agreement — said that the plan and change to the law would force apartments into every home, utilizing basements, garages, rear yard sheds and buildings.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said that this proposal can have a significant impact on all of Long Island — not just the town.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner discusses how Hochul’s plan could impact her district of Rocky Point. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Yes, we do need affordable housing choices, but we don’t need a broad stroke across the state to change the very character of the communities that we live in,” she said. “We need to maintain local control, and this takes away that control. If the governor really wants to help Long Islanders, she should do something about the ridiculously high property taxes.”

Bruce Sander, president of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, said that he and his neighbors bought their homes in single-family neighborhoods “so we could raise our children and grow out in our family community.”

“The ability for unscrupulous landlords to not be accountable to the local officials is just plain outrageous and dangerous,” he added. “We have seen basement apartments with illegal occupants catch fire and create unsafe environments throughout the community. If we lose control, we lose our communities. What is being proposed could lead to the destruction of the suburbs.”

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said that while he “appreciates” that the governor is trying to address the question of affordability, taking away the power of local zoning can lead to “chaotic development that may in the end undermine the very fabric of our communities and property values we’re trying to protect.”

“Zoning helps maintain the character of neighborhoods,” he added. “Zoning also provides tools to address these questions of affordability, however, and I don’t want that power to be taken away.”

In attendance with the Town Board was state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) who said this change in legislation could result in “greater density for communities and place tremendous strains on every conceivable local service from the water we drink, to traffic and emergency services.”

“This one size fits all approach is not the answer to Long Island nor the state’s affordable housing crisis,” he added. 

While not in attendance during Thursday’s press event, local U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) both opposed Hochul’s plan.

“This blatant attack on suburban communities will end single-family housing as we know it, strip local control away from the New Yorkers who live there, tank the value of their homes, overcrowd their previously quiet streets, and on top of it all not do anything to solve our affordable housing problem,” said Zeldin, who is running on the Republican ticket for the governor’s seat. 

Suozzi, who is also campaigning for governor, said, “Governor Hochul’s radical housing proposal would ‘require’ all municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units on all residential properties and would end single-family housing as we know it.”

Hochul outlined more of her plan during her State of the State address last month, with another reason being to help municipalities rezone to foster multifamily housing near commuter rail stations in the New York City suburbs, including Long Island. 

Robert Milone, above left, with Peter Killian and Thomas Fellows at the new Oath ceremony for students entering the undergraduate nursing program that Stony Brook started this year. Photo by Jessica Galiczewski

In the wake of an expected nursing shortage and amid an uncertain battle against a pandemic that is well into its second year, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced a scholarship program to support future nurses last week.

The program, called Nurses for Our Future Scholarship, will cover tuition for 1,000 health care workers to get their Resident Nursing degrees at State University of New York and the City University of New York colleges.

The governor announced that the scholarships were designed to address the shortage in health care and a lack of workers in hospitals across the state.

In a statement, Gov. Hochul called the scholarships an “important step to train more nurses and bring them into our health care system.” She added that the pandemic has “shown us that we cannot afford a labor shortage in the health care industry.”

Nursing officers at area hospitals applauded the announcement and suggested it was an important first step in confronting some of the challenges the nursing community faces.

“I was thrilled” with the announcement, said Susan Knoepffler, chief nursing officer at Huntington Hospital. “I’m absolutely grateful for this incentive to go into the field.”

Knoepffler said hospitals throughout the area and the country had a nursing shortage even before the pandemic.

Knoepffler said Huntington Hospital is also hoping to spark an interest in nursing and health care at area high schools, including Commack High School. Huntington Hospital is providing a few students with the opportunity to learn about nursing and is looking to expand that program.

Nurses are “critical to the health of health care,” Knoepffler added. “If we don’t have enough nurses, we’re not going to be able to provide optimal health care.”

Indeed, a study in 2018 in the American Journal of Medicine calculated that patients in intensive care units were accompanied by nurses for over 86% of their time, compared with 13% with physicians and 8% with critical support staff. The figure exceeds 100% because some of these health care workers were in the room at the same time.

These scholarships will help students who might otherwise struggle financially to enter a profession that will be in increasing demand, particularly as current nurses retire.

“Having scholarships to help students stay in or enter the profession is great,” said Annette Wysocki, dean of the School of Nursing at Stony Brook University. “We have a lot of first-generation students.”

Nursing student Jaclyn Jahn. Photo by Rad Reyes

These scholarships can also help ensure that students from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds enter a challenging but rewarding field, providing underserved populations and communities with a link to the health care community.

Those students who graduate from nursing programs are likely to find a variety of professional opportunities, giving them greater chances to work in geographic areas and in medical specialties that appeal to them.

The American Nursing Association anticipates that more registered nurse jobs will be available through 2022 than any other profession in the country, according to Stony Brook University.

Robert Milone, who is working to earn a bachelor’s in nursing at Stony Brook in 2022, said he has received considerable encouragement about future prospects.

“There’s a lot of buzz around employment afterwards,” Milone said. He anticipates finding more “opportunities for our graduating class than there were.”

Some nurses have advised Milone, who is a native of Seaford and already earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Stony Brook in Health Science, to pursue his “dream job” after graduating.

While nurses applauded Hochul’s decision to create these scholarships, they described numerous nursing challenges.

The scholarships are a “fabulous idea,” said Nicolette Fiore-Lopez, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Hospital. While the scholarships will help in the future, “we need some help right now.”

Fiore-Lopez said a number of nurses have left the profession, both in New York and nationally.

Additionally, the pandemic may cause an increase in residents who need medical attention in the later parts of the fall and winter, when more people are indoors and when families come together from all over the country.

“By all predictors, we believe we will see another surge,” said Fiore-Lopez. “Hopefully, it will remain somewhat blunted, with vaccines being what it is. Not having enough staff [could] become an issue.”

Fiore-Lopez urges states to think creatively about staffing solutions. 

In addition to spending more on nursing students, New York and, indeed, the country, should consider investing more in the education system, which is already straining for resources.

For the past three years, the Stony Brook School of Nursing has admitted 160 students into the pre-licensure undergraduate program, which is about 14.2% to 15.9% of the qualified applicants they receive each year.

“We fervently wish we could accept more students but cannot because we do not have a sufficient number of faculty and resources,” Wyoski explained in an email.

Stony Brook’s nursing school, which has no endowed faculty positions, endowed professorships or endowed lecturers is “already stretched beyond our limits,” Wysocki added.

Fiore-Lopez suggested that the nursing system needs short-term and long-term fixes.

“I see the governor’s proposal as a long-term fix,” she said. In the shorter term, the nursing system needs other assistance, including some financial relief to provide extra staffing.

In the meantime, current students continue to hope to put their training and ambition to use in a field in high demand, particularly during the pandemic.

Jaclyn Jahn, another student in Stony Brook’s undergraduate nursing program, is following in the footsteps of her mother Lynda Jahn and her grandmother Joann Monahan, who have both been nurses.

Her mother and grandmother are “two of the most upstanding, independent, confident women I’ve ever met,” Jahn said. “They are everything I hope to one day live up to.”

Jahn, who sees her role as a patient advocate, looks forward to explaining medicine to patients and to helping patients “feel comfortable and heal.”