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Diana Kisiel Kastenbaum

October 29, 2013 - 5:20pm
posted by Bonnie Marrocco in city council, Democrat, Diana Kisiel Kastenbaum.

There's a lot of concern from city residents about activities on Jackson and State Street. Do you consider those streets problem areas and if so, what should be done about them?

Every citizen in this community should be able to feel safe and walk down any street, anytime of the day or night. I live across Centennial Park and have noticed police responding to calls on State Street, so I am one of those city residents who feel that it is a problem area. I am thankful that we have a police force just blocks from there that can respond quickly to the calls. If the situation continues to deteriorate on some of our city streets, then I think whatever our status quo in dealing with it has to change. Could it be we do not have enough law enforcement officers on any given shift? Should we hire more? Would that help? Are these drug-related crimes? Does our police force have an open communication with drug enforcement officers and do they share information and get them involved when necessary? Not to put the onus solely on the police, because I believe it takes a community united against crime to fight crime. Would it be helpful to form active Neighborhood Watch groups in the community? A community can be very powerful when its citizens stand up and have a "no tolerance" policy towards drug trafficking. It means that if you see something suspicious, you say something and not look the other way.

I was born and raised in Batavia and my family has lived here for generations. I have also lived in both New York City and Los Angeles. When my husband and I were first married we lived in East Hollywood in LA, which had some very dangerous neighborhoods especially with drugs and gangs. I was part of our Neighborhood Watch. There was one gang that held a reign of terror over a block near mine. Walking in that neighborhood was not safe; however, we did have neighborhood watch patrols and walked the streets in large groups. Our presence was met with actual threats of our death if we continued. Between the police and the neighborhood we could not gain control of the block where one building was housing gang members who were trafficking. Thinking out-of-the-box, the neighborhood decided to enlist the help of a huge law firm in LA to do pro bono work to help them clean up this one building. What the neighbors did was sue in Small Claims Court, the landlord of the building for failing to keep gang members from overrunning the building. An LA Superior Court judge ordered the landlord to pay the neighbors $2,000 each in damages because he refused to ward off gang members who gathered at his apartment building. It was California’s first nuisance and negligence complaint filed against a landlord to rid his property of such problems.

I’m not suggesting we follow suit or that Batavia is anywhere near that level of crime, but if the problems on those streets are becoming the norm and not getting resolved, then we need to take a serious look at what is the cause and maybe a different remedy or approach to how we tackle the issues on those streets. I would also like to reiterate that I don’t believe it is necessarily up to the police, or Council to find a remedy, but as residents in our community we should all be concerned.

What level of code enforcement do you favor to deal with seemingly problem properties?

Clearly, if there are codes on the books regarding problem properties they should be enforced. Maybe the housing code in the city needs a fresh look? Have the zoning codes been enforced? Are there multi-dwelling units in neighborhoods that are zoned for only single family dwellings? Are landlords, particularly those who get HUD subsidies, have a good relationship with their tenants and are responsive to them when problems occur?

I was amazed to learn that over 50% of our residences are rentals. When a city reaches and goes beyond that 50% mark, it does not bode well for a community. I am all for free enterprise and I certainly don’t necessarily believe in obstructing it in any way, but there does come a tipping point. I don’t know when it will be, but we have to ask ourselves some serious questions before it happens: (1) do we want Batavia to become a more transient city?; and (2) as our population ages, more of the beautiful old homes our parents and grandparents have lived in are sold and often times chopped up and made into rentals; so therefore, what can we do to help people stay in their homes and how do we encourage home ownership for others?

At our "Farm to Table" dinner in September, the Democrats hosted New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He talked about Land Banks which would offer funding for "foreclosure relief and housing program" and "community blight remediation". So often people think this type of funding from the State comes from our high taxes. Well not this time. The monies will come from a portion of the funds awarded to New York under the National Mortgage Settlement. The funds come from the $25 billion settlement the banks had to pay out last year to help struggling homeowners as a result of their contribution to the collapse of the housing market. Eight Land Banks will be set up and a community needs to submit an application to be awarded one. There are two rounds of funding that will happen. The first deadline has already passed for communities wishing to establish Land Banks in their community for funding. The next deadline is for the second and final round of funding which will be announced in July 2014. If Batavia has not submitted an application in the first round, I certainly think we should submit one in the second.

How should garbage collection be handled in Batavia?

Unfortunately, City Council has decided to get out of the garbage collection business and turn it over to private enterprise. I’m not sure that was a wise decision as currently there are garbage bags seven days a week at any given time, on any given street, waiting to be collected. That being said, I don’t know how you turn that ship around once it has sailed without some legal ramifications. I think we have to work with the existing situation. There is at least one company I know of, that started a new business to serve the community and have invested their hard work and money into making it happen. I certainly would not want that company, or any other small business, to lose their market because we did a reversal on this issue. Therefore, I believe we must play the hand we were dealt.

Garbage should be collected, like it is in most cities, Monday through Friday. No garbage collection should be on the weekend and no garbage should be allowed out on the weekend. Since Council initiated this, they should get the companies together and devise a plan which streets get their garbage collected on which day. For example, streets in Ward 1 might have their collection day on Monday, Ward 2 could be Tuesday, Wards 3 and 4 on Wednesday, Ward 5 Thursday, Ward 6 Friday. Of course, there will be several companies collecting garbage in the same area on the same day, but it is better than the alternative now which is a street having garbage continuously out depending on when the company decides what day it gets picked up on. At some point, it has to be about our quality of life (and that means aesthetically too). Batavia is a lovely city and our streets should not be looking like one continuous trash receptacle.

What should be the city's role in economic and job development be in Batavia?

I think the city should more aggressively try and utilize the resource we have in our area of the GCEDC (Genesee County Economic and Development Center). Batavia is not only a town, but a city as well. The GCEDC has done a wonderful job of getting businesses to come into the town. However, it is time for some of that energy to flow to the city of Batavia. I find it very exciting to see the city has focused in on a strategic site plan for various corridors of the city that have underutilized and vacant buildings. The plan is that by identifying and building out these areas, new businesses will come into the city. I hope the GCEDC is working closely with the City to see that this plan is realized.

I do think the city should get involved with the one area which was not in those four sites though. It really is the elephant in the room. We have an entire block or two of our Main Street with very little retail businesses existing and yet the physical buildings on the street already exist – no need to rebuild. And yet no one discusses it. Is this not our Main Street? Did we sell it off only to lay vacant and be the empty hole that is preventing our Main Street from being a thriving downtown? Why did we do that? I give kudos to BID for doing what they can to bring feet downtown, but with vacant buildings on a major part of our Main Street it is an uphill battle for them. Yes, I do think the city needs to step in and not only take a role in bringing businesses to downtown, but I believe they have a responsibility as representatives of the people of Batavia to serve the community – especially when it comes to our Main Street!

If the choice came down to either A) raising taxes and maintaining the city's own police department and/or fire department; or, B) consolidating police protection with the city or going to some form of volunteer fire department, which option would you choose?

I am absolutely against a volunteer fire department in the city of Batavia. Maybe there are cities of this size that have volunteer fire departments, but I think our population certainly warrants a paid fire department. If left with the two choices of consolidation or raising taxes to maintain our own police and fire department, then I would have to say I would be against consolidation. I want the police and fire departments to have a visible presence by their location within the city limits and central to the city. While walking Ward 1, I spoke with a resident who told me a few years ago they had a home invasion. The response time by the police was immediate. He told me that it would not have been the case had the police been located outside the city limits. He also said he would gladly pay for that immediacy to make sure his family was protected and secure. I think if the residents of the city were asked, the majority would tell you they do not want any consolidation and they would support a police and fire department within the city.

Are you satisfied with how the city is run? Are there changes you would like to make? If you were going to change one thing about how the city operates, what would it be?

Listen, I know full well that serving in public office can be a thankless task sometimes. There are always detractors and naysayers, but I do believe that it is not fair to sit in judgment of people unless you too have walked in their shoes. Therefore, I will not comment on how satisfied I am with how the city is run because I haven’t been in Council’s position. No matter what Council is in office, there will always be a need to improve - it’s human nature to strive for perfection and yet we know we will never achieve it. But that’s what keeps the journey fresh and interesting – that striving to do what is good and right for the community.

It all comes back to one thing – are we serving the community and its citizens? To know that, we have to ask ourselves "what kind of a community are we?". If I were to change one thing, it would be to get back to asking this question to the community. I see in Vibrant Batavia, Council trying to do that, so we are on some parallel thought here.

But let me be more specific. I would like to have every Ward leader, along with the three Council-at-Large leaders go to each Ward in the form of a Town Hall and ask that question to the community. It’s time for Council to get back into the community instead of asking the community to come to them. It’s time we have a dialogue with our friends and neighbors about who we are and how we want to be perceived, about our goals and aspirations for ourselves and our children we raise in this community. It can’t be all about approving and spending on the next consultant study, or determining what sidewalks to pave, or what snow blower to purchase. It has to be about the tough questions, the deeper questions, the more meaningful questions that we face as citizens and residents of our City of Batavia. I know it sounds like a very esoteric discussion, but it is a necessary one. It has to start somewhere and so many people have so much they want to say, but feel that once they cast their vote their job is done as the contact is rare after that.

Why have you decided to run for City Council and why should people vote for you?

I bought a home here in 2004 with the intention of someday moving back to my hometown. Last year I finally returned and moved my husband, my daughter, and our dog and cat. After being away for so long, it was good to "come home". I vowed that when I returned I would be active in the community and get involved in service. I immediately got on two boards: Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council (GOART!) and the Landmark Society of Genesee County. I also wanted to get involved in local politics and serve in some capacity, hence my running for Council-at-Large.

I know many people don’t know me or are getting reacquainted with me since I lived here many years ago. However, I never really went too far. You see, every vacation my family had, we never went on exotic trips to Europe or visits to the Grand Canyon (never saw it), or other venues. We came home to Batavia. We came home to Creek Road to stay with my parents for several weeks in the summer and holidays during the year. I came home every year for 40 years. So what does that say about Batavia? It must be pretty special.

What is my reason for running for City Council? It is purely selfish – I want to serve.

Why should people vote for me? You should only vote for me if you believe in me and that I have a vision for our community, and together, with your help, we can make it a reality.

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