Continued Concerns with RDDC’s Push to Privatize the City of Rochester, NY
Rochester, NY | July 31, 2023
The BID Education Committee is issuing this statement to express our deep concerns regarding the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation’s (RDDC) pursuit of their so-called “ambassador program” without public input.
The RDDC has already received substantial funding from COMIDA without sufficient justification, raising serious questions about fairness and equity in the allocation of public funds. They intend to request a “six-figure sum” in funding from the city to help meet the $600,000 price tag for their thinly-veiled marketing surveillance program.
RDDC CEO Galin Brooks consistently evades questions and provides answers that do not address the spirit of public inquiries. This pattern of evasion underscores doubts about the RDDC’s intentions and commitment to open dialogue with the community. Residents have the right to receive straightforward and honest information about initiatives that could significantly impact the city.
At the COMIDA board meeting when a board member specifically inquired about the similarities between the proposed ambassador program and the previous “Red Shirt” program (which involved retired police patrolling in plain clothes with a direct connection to the police) Brooks denied any similarity, stating “absolutely not.” However, later in the meeting, while Brooks stated “they would be trained and know who to call and they would make that call get the proper authorities” immediately after it was revealed by Don Jeffries that the ambassadors would actually have a direct line to the police”we had met with the police chief…there’ll be direct contact”
In light of this, and the additional concerns below, we recommend that the COMIDA panel reconvene and reverse the funding decision for RDDC’s ambassador program. Transparency and open dialogue are essential to ensure that funding decisions align with the true needs of our community, and the RDDC was not advocating in good faith.
Further, City Council should reject any request from the Mayor and the RDDC for funding of this program.
In addition, we have several key concerns with this program, and the contentious BID effort it is lobbying for:
- Misplaced Priorities: Allocating substantial taxpayer funds toward ‘perception issues’ while cutting essential local programs, especially those benefiting at-risk teens, raises serious questions about city and county priorities. We believe that the needs of our residents should take precedence over initiatives catering to outsiders.
- Potential for Harassment: While the ambassador program claims to enhance “the appearance of safety,” there is documentation in other cities, including Los Angeles and NYC, that these programs lead to harassment and discrimination. The direct line to the police raises concerns about the potential misuse of power and the risk of targeting residents who do not fit a specific image preferred by the big developers and multimillion dollar corporations behind the RDDC.
- Duplication of Services: Allocating resources to replicate existing city services, such as reporting potholes and broken signage via 3-11 services, is unnecessary and wasteful. Maintenance services are already provided by City employed Union employees and provide careers for our residents. Concierge services are already provided by private hotels for visitors. We believe that taxpayer funds should be directed towards pressing community needs rather than duplicating services already provided.
- The RDDC is not a social services organization: The Ambassador Program is being marketed to provide information for people in crisis. Many individuals are struggling to meet their basic needs as housing costs soar, affordable housing remains scarce, and social services suffer from chronic understaffing due to lack of appropriate funding by the county. The RDDC seeks to increase property values which will increase the number of people affected by rapidly rising rents.
- Transparency and Funding Sources: The RDDC’s involvement in the creation of a “Business Improvement District” and the substantial funding received from “Roc the Riverway” have raised concerns about transparency and motivations behind the request for additional funding. The community deserves a clear understanding of the initiative’s intentions before committing significant public resources.
- Lack of Supporting Evidence/Metrics: The request for funding lacks measures for success, and based on vague, anecdotal, highly suspect data. RDDC’s director stated that pedestrian numbers downtown are 30% of pre-pandemic levels without citing the source for this information. We also call on RDDC to reveal the source and method of collecting this data and how they would differentiate the impact of this program from the natural growth that is already occurring as we emerge from the height of the pandemic into recovery.
- Spurious Impact Projections / Measures for Success: Under questioning, RDDC offered inadequate measures of success such as: “increased number of visitors downtown” and “increased number of interactions with the ambassadors” to demonstrate the ambassadors were working. As the world emerges from the height of the pandemic, street activity and tourism are already increasing. The recent expansion and international marketing campaign of the Strong National Museum of Play would make tracking any visible impact of 6 individuals walking around downtown comical at best.
- Continued Questions about Transparency, Accountability and Evasiveness: Concerned citizens are still waiting on answers to basic questions about the BID legislation for over a year, and events where the BID effort could be met with public opposition have been summarily canceled. Specifics about “private entities” or “private sector support” are rarely, if ever, shared. The community cannot provide consent to any action of government without their guaranteed access to information.
- Theater of Approval: The Ambassador Program is simply another act towards building a false sense of need and manufacturing consent for a policy that has been documented to cause increased segregation, displacement and replacement.
This latest move by the RDDC underscores the disparity in investment that would be increased if their efforts are not stopped and the BID legislation is passed. The RDDC is steering community funds into services that benefit their members including developers Andy Gallina and Chris Hill, as well as Steve Dubnik, CEO of the Strong Museum downtown, while just two blocks away children are living in generational poverty caused by systemic disinvestment. A BID would allow the RDDC to transform into a larger more powerful entity by taxing downtown and controlling those funds directly. This is 21st Century Redlining.
The BID legislation is fundamentally flawed and cannot be repaired by City Council, therefore it must be stopped by City Council.
Community’s Call to Action:
After a powerful demonstration of community solidarity at the Liberty Pole last wednesday July 28, where over 50 concerned citizens gathered to raise their voices against the proposed BID, speakers shed light on concerns about privatization downtown, including this ambassador program, the conversation was clear. BID is bad for Rochester and must be stopped.
The BID Education Committee urges all residents of the City of Rochester, NY, to learn more about these concerns at nobidroc.com and is inviting residents and small business owners who live in the City of Rochester to speak at the next Council session on August 17th, where your voices can make a difference. To speak at the session, please sign up by calling 428-7538.
The City Council must stand by its constituents and prioritize people above private profit.