East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, speaking at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton on Monday, said the town has made great strides in protecting the environment and has taken proactive steps to prepare for an uncertain future caused by climate change and global warming. But, he added, there were still pressing issues facing it, from caring for its growing senior population to providing economic opportunities and housing for its for residents.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman echoed some of Mr. Van Scoyoc’s conclusions, adding that his town is making strides in providing more affordable housing and is preparing to launch its first comprehensive plan update in two decades next year.
The supervisors were brought together for an informal conversation sponsored by the League of Women Voters to discuss their accomplishments and the challenges facing their towns.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said the East End’s scenic beauty, while leading to high property values, is a double-edged sword that makes the community too expensive for many long-time residents to remain here.
“Clearly being able to keep our communities intact and to have the social fabric, the history and the continuity of people in town is challenged by that,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said one of the highlights of being supervisor is “you really get the chance to build community.”
“Community is like a gem, and a gem is multifaceted,” he added. Sometimes it is easy to build consensus, he continued, especially for things like preserving open space and protecting drinking water. “Other issues, like creating affordable housing opportunities for our workforce, are tougher,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said one of the biggest challenges facing Southampton today is the problem of opioid addiction. To combat the crisis, the town has established a task force, which has brought together law enforcement officials, school representatives, health care professionals and a host of others to brainstorm solutions. Mr. Schneiderman said he was cautiously optimistic. From January 1 to mid-March last year, five Southampton residents died of overdoses, while no one has died during that same period this year, he said.
Asked about the issue of environmentally friendly economic development, Mr. Van Scoyoc said he thought one of the biggest problems facing East Hampton was a lack of affordable work space, but both supervisors agreed there were a number of new businesses springing up, from food services to health care, as the East End’s economy continues to change.
Members of the audience of about 20 people asked questions ranging from what the town leaders planned to do to improve cell phone service to why federal regulators do not set aside more generous quotas for New York’s commercial fishermen. But a question about immigration dominated the discussion.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he thought it was fundamentally unfair for the federal government to delegate its role in overseeing immigration policy to state and local governments.
“I think we have failed miserably. For decades now, we have allowed people to come here and we have encouraged them by not developing a coherent immigration policy,” he said.
But now that so many immigrants are here, they play a vital role in the community, and the country should provide them with a path to citizenship, he continued.
“I don’t think we should give up and just simply comply with the idea that we need to round up a bunch of people who are not documented and send them abroad,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said Southampton’s approach to undocumented aliens was safety first. “We cannot have a situation where people are afraid to communicate with the police,” he said. “We are not going around asking people for their papers, but if somebody commits a crime we are certainly going to ask for ID.”
If Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents have a warrant for an individual, the town will honor it, he said. But the town does not “enforce immigration policy, that’s not our job.”
The Trump administration hard line toward undocumented immigrants has had consequences, he said, recounting the story of how a group of white men beat a Latino man last year in Hampton Bays. “When you create an environment that is so racially charged, it’s dangerous,” he said.