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The Council of Albany
Neighborhood Associations
(CANA)

A Brief History

1976-1996

by

Harold Rubin, Chair
1976-1996


June 5, 1996
Note

    This brief "history" of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations ("CANA") is designed to provide an overview of the organization's efforts during its first 20 years of existence. This history is not designed to be comprehensive since many CANA activities were not included and the personal efforts of scores of CANA delegates and neighborhood activities are not mentioned by name (with the exception of listing those who attended the founding meeting in 1976). Such a more comprehensive study would seem appropriate for a graduate student's case study of neighborhood involvement in local government.
CANA: The First Twenty Years, 1976-1996

    On May 2, 1976 twenty-one representatives from eight neighborhood associations in the City of Albany met at the Neighborhood Resource Center (340 First Street, Albany) and agreed to form a city-wide federation as a means of dealing with issues that overlapped neighborhood boundaries. The formation of this federation, later to adopt the name of Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations ("CANA"), was the direct outgrowth of six neighborhood associations working with other community groups to obtain needed code enforcement in Albany, under the group name of "Coalition for Effective Code Enforcement."
    These neighborhood associations wanted to band together to deal with problems other than code enforcement and to meet on a regular basis to deal with other quality of life issues.
    From the very beginning the federation agreed to adopt positions and take actions based on a consensus of opinion. The formal by-laws, adopted in 1981, codified consensus to mean a two-thirds vote of CANA delegates to take a stand on any matter before the Council.
    While all active neighborhood associations in the City of Albany are eligible for membership in CANA, other interested groups which support CANA's objectives — as spelled in the "Statement of Goals" adopted in 1977 — may join CANA as nonvoting members. (In 1996 there are three such members.)
    In order to focus attention on the issues of concern to neighborhood associations, and to provide a mechanism to educate the community on how to deal with these issues, the federation (now with nine members) held an all day "Love Thy Neighborhood" Convention on December 4, 1976 (at Westminster Presbyterian Church), which attracted several hundred attendees on a snowy day, and featured workshops on:
abandonment, disinvestment and reinvestment;
rehab assistance;
code enforcement;
crime and vandalism; and
parks and recreation
    The theme of the convention was "that local problems can be solved and the quality of life can be improved through the organized actions of neighbors."
    CANA subsequently sponsored eight other "Love Thy Neighborhood" Conventions (the last in 1990), at a variety of locations in Albany, all designed to help neighbors find ways to solve problems affecting their community.
    CANA (grown to 23 neighborhood associations) adopted the theme of "government and neighborhood working together" for its March 1981 convention because of frustrations in obtaining municipal support for some basic civic requests:
to permit members of the community to address the Common Council before its regular meetings on issues of concern to them;
to have official notice of public hearings made available on a timely basis and to be sufficiently informative so that the public would have actual knowledge of the issues to be addressed;
to have the City adopt a "security" ordinance to provide protection for tenants (e.g., specify the need for dead bolt locks, etc.);
to have the Common Council actually review the Mayor's budget and consider the comments made at the required public hearing (and not to pass the budget on the very same night as the public hearing, effectively ignoring citizen input.)
    All 16 members of the Common Council were invited to attend the 1978 convention; only two did.
    While none of the four initiatives were implemented in 1981, all were subsequently adopted as CANA and others continued their advocacy for them.
    CANA is a non-partisan organization which participates fully in matters that affect the quality of life of its constituents. CANA does not endorse individual candidates for public office, or support any political party. CANA has, however, conducted "meet the public" forums for candidates running for city-wide office.
    The following illustrates some of the many concerns addressed by CANA in its first 20 years of existence.
1. The afternoon session of the 1977 "Love Thy Neighborhood" Convention was devoted to a critique of Albany's participation in the Federal community development (CD) program. From the views expressed, CANA adopted a 17-point housing program for use of CD funds, directed to those with very low and moderate incomes. Subsequently, more than half of all the speakers at the City's January 1978 "CD" hearings supported CANA's recommendations. The initial draft budget of $675,000 for housing rehabilitation was increased by 56 percent by the time of the third hearing to $1,045,000 as a result of CANA's efforts supported by spokespersons from many individual neighborhood associations.
2. CANA was a most active supporter of the "open container" law, which was adopted in June 1981.
3. CANA successfully organized the opposition to a proposed 1981 zoning change to authorize converting one and two family units to multiple residences because its enactment would have destroyed stable neighborhoods and encouraged the absentee ownership of owner-occupied housing.
Several hundred residents of Albany turned out at the April 6th public hearing on the proposed zoning change. According to the City Record of April 4, 1971 there were 38 speakers in opposition, and another 88 stayed long enough to indicate their opposition without formally speaking. (The one person listed as in support claimed that she was speaking on the proposal, not for it.)
4. CANA opposed legislation to permit the storage of up to 12,000 gallons of propane in residential neighborhoods (1983).
5. CANA proposed annual funding to provide curbing of roadways in Washington Park as a means of preventing erosion of park lands by the parking of motor vehicles. This program was adopted by the City and by 1996 a major share of the park roadway was curbed.
6. At its convention workshops property owners were advised on how to appeal their property assessments which were notorious for their inequities. Commencing in 1985, CANA supported full reassessment of real property, a program which is being initiated (but not to be completed) in 1996.
7. For most of its existence CANA has analyzed and made recommendations on Albany's proposed budgets at the City's meetings and hearings on the budget, dealing with both substance and style. Many of CANA's recommendations on the format of the budget document were implemented, making it more meaningful to the public.
8. CANA's recommendation that hearings of the Zoning Board of Appeals be held in the evening, rather then during the daytime, so that more working people could attend, was subsequently adopted.
9. In 1992 CANA worked with the then Department of Public Works to establish the objectives of and the ground rules for the annual neighborhood "Block of the Year" program, proposed by Mayor Thomas Whalen at CANA's January 1992 meeting.
10. In 1995 CANA provided significant input to the Albany County Convention and Visitor's Bureau's successful application for Albany to host the 1997 Neighborhoods USA National Convention.
11. CANA's 1985 recommendation that Albany's two historic preservation commissions with advisory powers be replaced by one historic preservation commission with binding powers was implemented in 1988.
12. CANA's 1996 recommendation that Albany establish a Community Police Council, as an ongoing mechanism to provide for an exchange of information between the police and the community, is being implemented.
    The existence and activities of CANA have encouraged residents to form associations to deal with problems in their neighborhoods. Currently there are some 25 neighborhood associations in Albany, 19 affiliated with CANA. The efforts of CANA and individual neighborhood associations have stimulated the City to improve its public notice process, thereby increasing the numbers participating at public hearings. City officials are most willing to explain their programs at CANA and neighborhood association meetings. The majority of CANA meetings over the past decade have been addresses by City officials. Since 1984 the January meeting of CANA has featured a State of the City address by Albany's mayor. CANA often is requested to attend public events and to provide representation on City sponsored committees. Albany has come to recognize the value of neighborhood associations and CANA in contributing to the City's quality of life.

Harold Rubin (Center Square Association) chaired CANA from its formation in May 1976 through May 1, 1996. Vice-Chair Marggie Skinner (Pine Hills Neighborhood Association) is CANA's new chair, effective May 2, 1996.