Michael Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick '09 discuss The Ithaca Plan at the University Assembly meeting Tuesday.

November 16, 2016

U.A. Debates Legality of Ithaca Plan, Admins Pitch Expansion to Residential Housing

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Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 faced pushback from University Assembly members while promoting the Ithaca Plan at Cornell Tuesday. University officials also spoke at the meeting to address the dearth of housing available on campus.

Myrick originally presented his Ithaca Plan to combat heroin usage last winter; since then, there have been few public developments. The controversial plan involves a supervised heroin injection facility, a provision which would need to be approved by the New York State legislature.

“A couple years ago, we had three heroin overdoses in the course of about a week and a half, and it was all too familiar,” Myrick said, stressing Ithaca’s need for a new drug policy. “For the past five or six years, we’ve been averaging … one fatal overdose per month in a county of 100,000 people.”

The plan includes a four pronged approach, organized around law enforcement, treatment, prevention and harm reduction. While most of the plan received a positive response from the assembly, some expressed doubts about the “harm reduction” pillar of the plan, the component which includes supervised injections.

Anticipating debate on the topic, Myrick cited the injection facility’s success in Vancouver, one of the first cities in the world to experiment with the policy, saying the city had success with the facilities.

“What Vancouver found over 13 years was that people who used supervised injections facilities were 35 percent more likely to stop using heroin,” he said.

Myrick also insisted that there is no risk of increasing heroin usage by facilitating supervised injections. He added that no one has ever used heroin for the first time at one of these facilities, and said heroin users have never felt pressure to use the drug simply because these facilities exist.

Student Assembly representative Mitchell McBride ’17 said that, although he is generally in favor of the plan, he questioned whether the University should support the measure while supervised injections are still illegal in New York state.

“As Chair of the Codes and Judicial Committee of the University Assembly, I don’t think that it’s appropriate for us to be encouraging unlawful conduct,” McBride said. “I don’t think we need to set that precedent of going against state law.”

Myrick responded, saying that the state legislature needs to change the law in order to allow the plan to progress.

The assembly also addressed student residential housing, led by Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, and Provost Michael Kotlikoff. The two first addressed the staggering amount of deferred maintenance work on North campus housing units, such as Balch, Dickson, Risley, and the Gothics on West Campus.

Along with addressing its residential maintenance problems, the administrators said the University aims to improve living situations for freshmen and sophomores. Possible actions include moving freshmen out of the townhouses, increasing the number of sophomores living on campus, and building new residence halls on North Campus.

Lombardi said he believes these moves will reduce demand for off campus housing and thereby increase the standard of living in Collegetown.

“Because we have so little capacity, those property owners off campus have certainly benefited from that, because the prices for rent have gone up very significantly,” Lombardi said. “In some cases the quality isn’t where it should be.”

Kotlikoff expanded on the issue of residential housing, outlining a general plan that includes increasing freshman intake by about 200 to 275 students. Although this increase may have some negative effects, such as a lowering Cornell’s ranking in the U.S. News and World Report, Kotlikoff insisted that the pros of the plan outweigh the cons.

He added that increasing the size of the student body will help pay for residential improvements, and cited the need for more students in biomedical engineering and the entire College of Arts and Sciences, where the faculty to student ratio has increased over the past 20 years.

“This growth in student body will generate the funds that allow us to put a known revenue stream against the borrowing that we would do,” he said, adding that student growth in new academic programs will also generate revenue.

The assembly, constrained by time, decided to wait to vote on the University’s housing plan until their next meeting on November 29.