The Town of Oyster Bay is coming up with an innovative way to handle the issue of day laborers compromising the quality of life of Locust Valley residents. It is a long-range plan to improve the area and possibly add Golden Age or Affordable Housing to the location. At the March 31 Town Board meeting, about a dozen Locust Valley residents came to ask for the town's help with a long-standing issue in the numbered streets along Forest Avenue. Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said he was willing to put a band-aid of putting up no-loitering signs, as a quick fix that he was not sure would work.
In a telephone interview Mr. Venditto referred to a solution he used when Luz Torres of the Hispanic Cultural Center asked for signs in Spanish for Theodore Roosevelt Park so they could understand them, he said, "No." What he offered and did was to create free classes in English as a Second Language for them. He said, "I received a letter from Luz Torres thanking me for the classes. She said, 'now we are taking advantage of them and are better able to communicate with people working around us as well as the school teachers.' Since the federal government has abrogated its responsibility in that area, at least in our corner of the world, I would like to do the right thing and not use a band-aid solution."
Mr. Venditto said the immigrant, the undocumented alien, is the ultimate victim because they never get the opportunity to assimilate into the society. "They are victimized by overreaching employers, and low wages, and with no health benefits," he said.
"We can do temporary things to work with police and create immediate help with anti-loitering ordinances as band-aids, but we don't think they will be helpful. We have to go to the root cause and address some of the decay in that area of the community and try to redevelop the area to make it make it attractive for people who live there and less attractive to transients."
He said the housing proposals they are considering might benefit a wide array of residents including seniors, and young people: with market rates and some lower priced units, "We could really have a lot of flexibility in that area to make it viable."
Another idea Mr. Venditto intends to explore is actually bridging the gap between the undocumented aliens and the federal government to see if they can help them in the naturalization process. He said listening to the reports of the recent violence that happened on Friday, April 3, in Binghamton, New York that ended in the death of 13 people, nearly all of them immigrants - who were gunned down in a classroom at the American Civic Association, an immigration services center that assists immigrants and refugees, he saw a possibility for the town. That group was trying to help people take part in the path toward the American Dream.
Mr. Venditto said although it is a bit premature, that there may be a more substantial way to help the local immigrant population. "We have a department of Intergovernmental Affairs and one thought is that there might be a way for the town to become friendly to some of the undocumented day laborers. We can't naturalize them but maybe we can coordinate it with other levels of government."
He said they have already worked with local veterans creating a place for them to receive help from a seasoned veteran who works them through the process. "If that works, another silver lining can come out of that cloud. So that those people will stop wandering. A lot of them will say they don't want to go to government but we can try to have an above board approach. In trying to help them become naturalized, we can say we'll direct you to the right place.'
"One of the things that came out of that tragedy in Binghamton was when I learned what they were doing there: helping people in the process of naturalization and citizenship," he said.
The benefit is that they will learn that if you want to live here there are rules to follow - and not become a blight on the community, he said, adding that the other solutions, even a shape-up building, is really aiding and abetting them and not getting them to assimilate into society.
Mr. Venditto said the solution Luz Torres was thanking him for was that it gave the immigrants the opportunity to learn the language and it is working and they are getting involved in the society. He said the stopgap measures don't work, they do nothing but deepen the problems.
At the March 31 meeting, Locust Valley resident Brian Plumb said, "This is an invasion that happens 365 days a year for five hours a day with 40 to 80 men standing on the street from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. waiting to be picked up for work. During that time, they use the public streets as a lavatory." He said when they call the police and ask for them to be arrested, the police respond that they didn't see the offense happen.
Mr. Plumb said it is unfair to all the residents of Locust Valley. "It needs immediate action. We need the town to help us and we are willing to work with you." It is a residential neighborhood and he said women are in fear for their safety in walking through areas where the men huddle looking for work. "If a car turns down the road and they don't recognize it, they swarm the vehicle [looking for work]. No one wants to visit our home. We call the police and 911 all the time. The police say their hands are tied. I'd like to talk to someone with their hands untied," said Mr. Plumb.
He said he's looked around other areas and it is only happening there - only in Locust Valley. He said, "Most of us have two jobs. I did a $200,000 renovation to my house and added a second story and got taxed $10,000 more a year. We all take pride in our homes. We don't want to live intimidated and threatened. Let's not move backwards but forwards. You stated that kids are a priority and you build great ball fields. Our kids can't even go to a bus stop without being invaded by day laborers. Something has to be done. When is the cavalry coming?"
He asked that a "no loitering" sign be put up.
Supervisor John Venditto related the immigrant experience of his family. He said in October of 1929 his father came here at age 14/15 and was treated roughly and was told, "If you want to partake in the American Dream you have to learn the language, obey the laws, and go into the Army if told to, and to get in line and behave. About 10 years later, he found himself in uniform fighting against the country he came from.
"The system worked well for a while but in the 1970s the political parties in the federal government turned their back on us. They let people in without rules. People were left to wander the streets. Every time we try to do something it is a cat and mouse game." He said they have been looking at the problem and the root cause is the decay in the 8th Street to 14th Street area. He said they have tried to help and have shut down buildings.
Mr. Venditto said the town, in 90 days, can pass a no loitering ordinance, but similar ones have been found unconstitutional. "But we'll do it," he said, "But it is no solution."_
Mr. Venditto said the town has been working on a solution but he was not prepared to discuss the plans fully that would remove the circumstances that encourage the problem which he said, is to redevelop those blocks. [The north side of Forest Avenue in that area is built up but much of the south side is taken up by the Nassau Country Club fields that are lightly fenced in. The result is that it appears to be an undeveloped area.]
The supervisor said, "It is a more doable solution to the problem. With the private sector providing the intent - with the town spending money - with developers coming in - then together, they can work better to solve the problem rather than band-aid fixes."
He added a caveat, that getting rid of the problem in that location might mean it will pop up somewhere else.
Michael Lahey said, "We'll take the band-aid."
Michael Vissechelli said, "No loitering signs are no solution. We've been under the gun for a longtime. Move them to a commercial area and out of the residential area. There is a vacant building near the LIRR station that could be used for them."
Mr. Venditto said the problem has been here for 10 to 12 years. He gave an example of what the town did in another case. "The adult entertainment industry tried to set up camp in the Town of Oyster Bay on the south shore. They wanted us to create a zone for it. If someone doesn't belong in my home, I don't want them there. It took many efforts for them to try to open night spots, book clubs, video stores and all were forced out of town. When you say 'it's okay to be here,' you'll regret it."
Councilman Chris Coschignano said the workers are everywhere: they are in the car washes. They are working people trying to make a living. They are trying to get a job to help their families, he said.
Mr. Venditto said when you establish their rights to be there by creating a location for a shape-up, they then have the right to be there.
Another issue was the bus stops which the speakers said the Locust Valley School District said they couldn't move because the streets are too narrow for bus turnarounds in that area. "I take my kids to my mother's house on North Street to that bus stop," said a man. (Later in the evening Carol Meskow, a Plainview activist said her school district solved a similar problem by moving school bus stops.)
Attorney Edward Neves said he moved here six years ago and has seen the degradation of the neighborhood. "They are defecating and urinating on your property. The children see that. They (the children) don't have the freedom to travel. We're going to meet with Suozzi but we have to address it. We feel we're the ones who don't belong. What can you do to help us?"
Mr. Venditto said, "We are not the level of government to do this job. We can put in the ordinance, and the signage and we will take Mr. Vissichelli's suggestion under advisement - but we want to clean up the area. Redeveloping the area is thinking out of the box. We have a plan that has been evolving for some time."
Mr. Neves suggested, "Move the police booth from the station plaza where it is now and bring it to this area."
Toby Maglio said he has been aware of the town's plans and is working with them. He said the best solution was to close the wound as opposed to putting on a band-aid. "We are looking at senior and affordable housing there. It would allow Locust Valley to have senior housing and being across from the golf course it would have a nice view." He said they were trying to get elected officials such as NC Executive Tom Suozzi, Presiding Officer Diane Yatauro and Congressman Peter King to meet with them to tell them how they feel. "We voted them into office, we can take them out," said Mr. Maglio.
"We will craft a solution," said Mr. Venditto, but added, "It would be better if the federal government came out of its comatose state."
There will be a hearing in May for the loitering ordinance, he said.