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“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
ON QUESTION #2: Vote YES for NEP. There’s a strong vibration of anti-reason and anti-science in American politics. Holyoke is certainly no exception. So, I’d like to discuss the needle exchange first, because that is the most utterly confusing thing on this ballot (well, except for maybe Dan Bresnahan and Brenna McGee as candidates). I am not a doctor, though I did have aspirations to be one and was at one point seeking enrollment in a PA program on reenlistment into the US ARMY some years ago – which never happened due to a mountaineering accident. At that time I was a Microbiology and Chemistry student and in that combination of disciplines was focusing on the biochemistry of immunology – I did go on to work in healthcare both in a laboratory and in a NICU but that was a long time ago. Now, I am no expert, and I will be the first to admit that… However, from what I do know; the best way to slow down the spread of a disease is to disrupt the vector of a pathogen. It really is pretty fundamental: Spread by aerosol? Wear a mask. Spread by drinking water? Treat / filter the water. Spread by direct contact? Wash hands / use condoms. etc, etc. Dirty needles spread disease and removing dirty needles from the equation greatly limits the spread of related communicable diseases. I also believe in leaving some things up to the experts and leaving some other things up to the democratic process. The needle exchange is not something that should be “decided upon”. It simply makes sense and should be established so leave it up to health experts and not some democratic process… What does boggle my mind is folks like Linda Vacon, a registered nurse that supposedly knows and cares about healthcare, and others who claim to “be good with numbers” oppose this program or say the ills of the program outweigh any benefits. The benefit is that is saves lives. The possibility to save one life makes the program invaluable. Opposition can only come from absolute ignorance or, more likely, a desire to have “those people” die because they are less than human. It also reminds us of those tin-foil hat wearing Alex Jones fans that think that vaccines are a some sort of government conspiracy eugenics program or, equally so, that climate change is a leftist conspiracy. It is all part of the general dumbing down of America where people are more likely to be motivated by fear than they are by the truth. For those that might want to read more on the realities of NEP please see this document from Drug Policy Alliance or this link from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Also, this well done video staring my girls has a great message (while strongly appeal to emotion it is the truth) that comes from A Clean Holyoke / Tapestry Health:
ON QUESTION #1: Vote NO Casino in Holyoke. I am opposed to the Holyoke casino idea – for a number of reasons – probably #1 was the site plan right along the Metacomet and Manadnock trail and pristine Mt Tom Reservation. I am not not a fan of casinos but I am not opposed to gambling or casinos in general; however I think they are not the right fit for Western Mass and see the over-saturation of gambling in New England making this whole plan a failure. Keep the ones we have and build no more. Let Vegas be the destination that it is. …and vote out of office every legislator that made this bill into law. Then repeal the legislation before groundbreaking happens. This non-binding question seems like a waste of time by everyone involved, mostly because the timeline is moving, Springfield and Palmer are potential sites – Springfield passed the referendum with Palmer deciding on Nov 5th. For Holyoke to be a possibility the entire Gaming Commission timeline would need to be set back to zero if for some reason that Palmer failed the vote and Springfield was denied by the commission. Also, seeing that there is so much already invested I see the plan going full steam ahead in Springfield if Palmer fails because, they want that casino and with a new governor incoming and an actual bill in the works to stop the casino plan they want groundbreaking before any traction is made in repealing the law.
The question, the casino timeline and the politics here in Holyoke makes interesting the publishing of a mailer that lists an anti-casino candidate voting slate with a number of glaring omissions of would-be casino opponents. An anonymous group called Citizens For a Better Holyoke which claims to be a “factually oriented group that works together with community members from all over Holyoke” that is “dedicated to providing the public with information”. Well, I disagree. Repeated attempts to find out who meets and decides on what is communicated was met with silence. A few folks admit to being part of the group but on the literature, nothing… and the Facebook page there is no “About Us” that defines who was behind the mailer. Not responding to queries is NOT working with the community and not providing a complete list of anti-casino candidates fails to educate and only exposes either the political bias of the organization or its failure to be able to live up to its mission statement. HUSH was contacted by a few candidates that felt like the mailer misrepresented them.
Rick Purcell, previous Green Party Candidate for Lt Governor with Jill Stein and Ward 3 Holyoke candidate now running at large has maintained a solid anti-casino stance since well before CFBH formed and before legislation was passed. His omission from the list is indeed strange because his position is very well known. Rick claims he was not contacted for this mailer and that John Epstein, one of CFBH members, was hostile towards him 2 years ago. I don’t know what to say here except that I am not sure why not each and every candidate was contacted about Q1 and inclusion on the mailer. Yes, CFBH did revise a pdf to include Purcell but this is after the mailer was sent. It may actually help Purcell to be excluded because of the scrutiny over the mailer.
Kevin Jourdain cried a river over not being included in a long press release published on his FB page and Masslive / Republican Newspaper. He writes: “I actively opposed the casino at the 1995 and 2002 ballot questions. A casino proposal has only once come before the Council in my tenure and that was during the 2010-2011 term. As Chair of the Redevelopment Committee at the time, I led the charge to oppose the Wyckoff casino and stopped the two proposals on the project both for a land transfer they needed of 5 acres of city property, as well as, for the city to forgo its right of first refusal on other areas inside Wyckoff. Not talk but votes on the issue. When others were looking to rush things through, who did casino opponents turn to? Kevin Jourdain.” He is correct. I saw some of this in City Council meetings. In an email to me Kevin Jourdain said: “I got dumped because I voted on allowing the non binding question on ballot not because I am pro casino. It is not fair. I always allow those questions on fill in the blank topic. That has nothing to do with casinos.” I am somewhatin agreement here. Similarly, I almost always will sign papers for someone running for office. I may not actually vote, but everyone deserves a chance. Well, I do believe that I might take exception at some point. I might not sign papers for a total bat-shit loon Tea Party member like Linda Vacon. Similarly I might see a question like this one as a waste of time and resources. Indeed, Kevin has been anti casino and his support of the ballot question is not indicative of a pro-casino stance.
Yassir Menwer forwarded me his email from John Epstein, which is interesting because it is very elusive. Looks like a private citizen from Ward 7 contacting a Ward 5 candidate with a simple question and not representing an organization:
Hi Yasser,Dozens of people who are strongly opposed to a Holyoke casino have been coming up and asking me “who should I vote for” in the upcoming election? And naturally I want to know, myself.For the record, would you please tell me if you are in favor of, or opposed to, a casino in Holyoke.Thanks,John
Whoa. That’s good stuff.
Yassir provides a detailed response where he states that he believes that the casino is a bad idea, but if it were to happen that he would work to make it the best possible plan for the city.
In a reply:
Hello Yasser,Thanks for your thoughtful reply.Before I finalize what I’m doing, I wanted to make sure I was representing your position properly. So rather than me trying to project my own interpretation upon your response to me, I’ve decided it would be best to provide you with a choice of several categories from which you can describe how you feel.Which of the following would you say most accurately describes your position on a casino in Holyoke:Pro-casinoLeaning pro-casino (appears promising)NeutralLeaning anti-casino (serious reservations)Anti-casinoThanks for your patience!Best,John
Yassir responds “Leaning anti casino”. Granted, I like my candidates to say exactly what they believe, but like Rick claims he experienced similar here two years ago… who / what / why? I think some might have reservations being subject to such a cold calling. Instead, if there was full disclosure “we are Citizens For A Better Holyoke, an anti-casino group and we want to know your position on such and such” you might get full disclosure and less CYA.
Anyhow. CFBH needs a new ringmaster.
Mayors Race: Alex Morse. As many know, I have butted heads with Alex on a number of occasions on some key issues. He’s also landed in the right place each time. I have also had the opportunity to work with Alex on the cable advisory board, where I see a great opportunity unfolding for Holyoke with a new media center in the works and the possibility of utilization of a neglected downtown property funded by Comcast. Before the field of candidates unfolded I actually was not sure if I would have a horse in this race and when Jeff Stanek appeared I thought there might be some serious competition when Stanek started attending the anti-Walmart meetings. But as more was revealed it began to appear that Stanek was not only not my candidate but quite possible the absolute worst case scenario with his history of corruption, bad business dealings and some very interesting campaign financial support. Not to mention failure to attend two debates and absolutely horrible presentation in those where they did face off. As well, some very illuminating discussions that are borderline racial profiling like NYC’s Stop and Frisk policies… Stanek wants police checkpoints? What, is he from North Korea? The choice is very clear. Alex is moving Holyoke forward and Stanek represents quite the opposite.
The rest of the races have some interesting fresh faces and motivated people stepping up to lead the city. Mark Riffenburg, Mimi Panitch, Jim Chevalier (in a write-in sticker campaign), Rosalee Tensley Williams, Jossie Valentin and Christine Alger are new to political scene and offer a lot to our great city.
I’d like to go on at great length about all these choices and may return to edit more. But for now, here is the HUSH endorsements… and remember, anyone BUT Dan Bresnahan if you see the need to fill out more bubbles on the at-large section:
Louise K. Bisson
City Council At Large:
Ward 1 City Council:
Ward 2 City Council:
Ward 3 City Council:
Ward 4 City Council:
Jossie M. Valentin
Ward 5 City Council:
Ward 6 City Council:
Ward 7 City Council:
Gordon P. Alexander
School Committee at large:
Devin M. Sheehan
School Committee Ward 1:
Mildred I. Lefebvre
School Committee Ward 2:
Rosalee Tensley Williams
School Committee Ward 3:
Dennis W. Birks
School Committee Ward 4:
School Committee Ward 5:
Kellie M. Pond
School Committee Ward 6:
School Committee Ward 7:
Erin B. Brunelle
Question 1 “Should the city of Holyoke have a resort style gaming casino?”:
Question 2 “Should the city of Holyoke have a needle exchange program?”:
This video is not mine. Rest assured, if it were it would have had a flaccid penis instead of the down market arrow.
Anyhow, kudos… very nice work and +1 for the music!
Also, Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight has this illuminating piece published today.
Hopefully we will see a lot more of this. Folks need to learn about this crook carpetbagger that wants to be our mayor.
(Jim Santiago Memorial Water Park is pictured in the foreground)
The politicos that plague the City of Holyoke have been very good in the past at creating their own comedy but this Jeff Stanek guy really takes the cake. Much like Danny Boyle and his serial campaigns promising a “business professional” with his sordid leadership past; Stanek promises similar but with a much more impressive résumé of scandal and failures. These are companies that he won’t even name in any of his interviews or post on his campaign website – only providing vague references like “call center”, “direct marketing” and “yacht sales”. Yacht sales? Is that supposed to impress us? It is like when my kids see a limousine and then ooh and ah about how they want to ride in one and all I remember is the time I rode in one on the Vegas strip and found a syringe wrapped up in a dirty pair of underwear stuffed between the upholstery. You gotta be one totally smarmy soulless motherfucker to be a yacht salesman. …and what kind of real-world business experience can you achieve working with the out of touch customer base of the yacht market? Say it three times: Yacht sales, yacht sales, yacht sales… there, if you thought it was to begin with, it’s not interesting anymore.
So, what of the other jobs? Well…
Talk America filed bankruptcy while he was the controller (Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Case No. 99-20765), Vital Basics (aka Talk America) had FTC charges resulting in a $1,000,000.00 fine (FTC Docket C-4107) for activities occurring while he was controller due to the sales of boner pills which were unlabeled prescription drugs claiming to be an herbal and safe alternative but which were actually counterfeit Viagra – very dangerous since they were marketed as “a safe alternative to other ED medications for those who take nitrates for chest pain.” – luckily nobody died as a result – and there were a number of other snake-oil type products (Avacor – an all-natural hair replacement, Vinarol – an herbal formula to increase sexual desire and performance, Thermal Carb – an all-natural fat burner and carbohydrate blocker and Glutotrin – a drug that supposedly cures, mitigates or treats diabetes). And then to top it off a company he was working for, MyFreeMedicine.com, was hit with a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) again by the FTC (FTC DOCKET CV5-1607). The FTC claiming “Since at least September 2003, defendants have deceptively marketed a program purporting to provide free prescription medications to eligible low-income consumers. Defendants target a particularly vulnerable group of people: those with low income and no insurance coverage for prescription medications who spend more than $100 a month for the medications they need for their health and well-being.” It was a case that made national news – ABC and NBC. …and yes, it was a case which was later dismissed in US District Court of Maine (Docket CV-00362). However, MyFreeMedicine.com was ordered to cease its operations. Stanek said in a Masslive / Republican interview that the case was dismissed and: “No, I wouldn’t say it shaped me. It’s just, I think it’s just business. Anyone under the sun can file a lawsuit at anytime.” He’s right, it was dismissed. He’s also right that anyone under the sun can file a lawsuit anytime. This is certainly true for personal injury, but let us just compare apples to apples here: The FTC does not normally pursue unless they believe in a solid case and this case was hot on the heels of ANOTHER FTC suit where his company was fined $1,000,000.00. Have you worked for one legit operation ever? Or, better question… with the exception of “yacht sales” did you only work for one operation that would change its name every time there was a lawsuit or a scandal as it does appear with those mentioned above? Alternatively, were you actually completely naive and oblivious to these wrongdoings? In that case you are a first class idiot.
At first glance I thought that this guy would be real competition for Morse… but illegal boner pills; taking advantage of low income people; bankruptcies; – cough – yacht sales; and FTC lawsuits are his business pedigree? I would not trust this guy to run a laundromat let alone a municipality.
Stop Walmart in Holyoke
The coalition, Stop Walmart in Holyoke, was joined by Mayor Alex Morse today to speak out against the proposed Walmart Supercenter plan for Whiting Farms Road. A capacity crowd was there at Donahue School. The majority being labor union folks and abutters to the site plan… but concerned citizens from all wards, business owners and a number of political leaders were in attendance. See Masslive, WWLP, CBS3 (will update with other sources as they report on this)
The speakers were:
Mayor Alex Morse
Terri Laramee of Holyoke First, the organization of the site’s neighbors
Jason Garand, Business Manager of Carpenters Local 108
James Bickford, Spokesperson for Stop Walmart in Holyoke
Sister Kathleen Popko, President of Sisters of Providence
Here is what I delivered:
I’d like to thank Mayor Alex Morse for joining us here today. (gesture)
I hope you all don’t mind, but I am going to imagine you all naked while I do this. (laughter, hopefully)
I speak for the coalition, Stop Walmart in Holyoke, a group of Holyoke area residents, business owners and organizational leaders with support from Holyoke First; Nueva Esperanza; Fluxmass; Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council; Sisters of St. Joseph; Sprawl-Busters; Holyoke Chapter of the ISO; United Brotherhood of Carpenters; and Western Mass. Jobs with Justice.
Proponents of the Walmart Supercenter will claim that new jobs and tax revenue for Holyoke as the primary selling points for the establishing of a store here. This is ultimately deceiving. While it is true that the municipal will have tax revenue added to the coffers with a Walmart; what they don’t want you to know is that there will be an incredible demand on individual tax payers. Walmart’s success in the marketplace is mostly dependent on keeping the cost of labor lower than other large retailers. They have the least number of employees per square foot of retail, pay low wages and maintain a large number of part time employees to avoid paying benefits. These are jobs that keep people in poverty. We only need to look at a recent congressional report on Walmart to see the impact down stream. Since most Walmart employees are under-employed everyone else foots the bill for their EBT, medical and retirement. It has been shown that the average Walmart employee costs taxpayers $6,000.00 per year… this comes out to $900k to $1.2 million per store per year. Again, Walmart’s success is dependent on social services taking care of their employees. Walmart creates and perpetuates poverty.
Some criticize Walmart opposition as anti-business. No, in fact, Walmart opposition is pro-business and pro-labor. A new Walmart does not create new consumers. Like I said previously, Walmart keeps labor costs extremely low. As a result it has a competition advantage and will certainly draw customers from existing business large and small. Their loss will force them to reduce payroll and possibly end in closure. It will also limit new small business development in the retail sector. Studies have shown that over time each Walmart employee ends up being a net loss of 1.4 employees in area retail labor.
Globally, Walmart is responsible for an incredible amount of sweat shop labor where human beings are considered expendable commodities like we have seen recently with its garment and textile supplier in Bangladesh.
On a national level Walmart’s negative impact is incredible. Walmart’s expansion between 2001 and 2006 accounted for 11% of the growth of the total US trade deficit with China. In 2000, Walmart was sued 4,851 times — about once every 2 hours. Walmart also battled 1.6 million employees in the largest class action sex discrimination law suit ever — the potential cost at the time of $11 billion. The Supreme Court ruling is considered controversial here as it was shot down not on the merits of the case but rather the scale, leading to individual suits instead of the class action. The statistics do not lie… women were grossly underrepresented among managers, holding just 14% of manager roles compared with the more than 80% of lower-ranking hourly supervisor jobs. Walmart retaliates against employees that organized for better working conditions. The egregious business and labor practices of Walmart are alarming especially since it is the largest overall employer in the entire USA, and the biggest employer in 25 states.
One would think that such a large corporation with such amassed wealth and annual profits could do so much better for its employees. We say that we can do better for Holyoke.
Critics of the Walmart opposition will state that lacking an alternative to Walmart is reason for Walmart to proceed. HGE has stated that the sale is in the best interest of the rate payers – will we see a decrease in rates as a result? In pennies? Here’s a potential alternative: With the rising energy costs, the scheduled closure of Mt Tom power plant and the recent alarming reports of Pilgrim nuclear plant – which supplies 15% of the states electricity – shutting down periodically due to rising ocean temperatures. Why not invite local solar experts Stiebel Eltron or Citizens Energy to survey the land for a potential solar farm? This would be something that will benefit ratepayers for decades, much more than the one time sale of the property.
False promises and lack of an immediate alternative are not valid reasons for Holyoke to sell its soul for tax revenue burdened on the shoulders of poverty wage slave jobs. We ask that city government – the Mayor’s Office, City Council, Fire Department, Planning Board, Redevelopment Committee and the Building Commissioner – oppose this plan and that HGE seek alternate uses for this parcel of land they have put up for sale.
Keeping Our Community:
An Update from Mayor Morse on the Lyman Terrace debate
Throughout my first months as mayor, a major priority of my administration has been the redevelopment and revitalization of Holyoke’s downtown. One issue in this effort has galvanized public attention and stirred emotions like no other: the redevelopment of Lyman Terrace. Most everyone concedes that the current state of the Lyman Terrace buildings is unacceptable; its structural flaws and health risks are many and varied. Given the common ground and goals we share, the debate over how we improve these conditions has become polarized beyond what it should be.
In a previous letter, I articulated my vision for a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous downtown, with quality housing for all who seek it. Such are the principles that guide my decision-making. I understand that those principles could have been made clearer from the outset, and for that, I take full responsibility. I would like to take this opportunity to change that, and to update Holyokers on the steps my administration is taking to move forward.
It is important to note that the Holyoke Housing Authority (HHA) owns the property at Lyman Terrace; the City of Holyoke does not. And several months ago, in an effort to expedite the improvements to Lyman Terrace, the HHA informed me that they would be seeking improvement proposals from private developers. Furthermore, they informed me that they were seeking permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish all or part of the housing complex were such a need to arise. As part of an administrative process that would enable the HHA to access federal funds for demolition, I signed their request for an environmental assessment.
Per the request of the HHA, I have since evaluated the proposals for the property’s improvement by a few developers. As yet, I have not been satisfied by those received. The ones I have reviewed would reduce the population of the neighborhood, take significant time to even begin the improvements, and have been generally misaligned with my guiding principles for the downtown. Upon further exploration, I also became dissatisfied with the HHA’s tenant relocation plan; Lyman’s tenants need to have better protections at the local level if we wish to keep as many residents as possible in Holyoke.
The shortcomings of this process have awoken genuine concern, fear, and resentment among many in the community. Considering the longstanding neglect of Lyman Terrace at the local level, such reactions are perfectly understandable. Furthermore, equating urban renewal with urban removal has been a widely practiced strategy across our country; and, as such, skepticism of our own project is warranted. We are now tasked with avoiding these only too common pitfalls, and how we do so collectively will say a great deal about who we are as a community.
As mayor, my responsibility is first and foremost to the people of Holyoke – and I cannot allow this process to be executed carelessly. I am thus announcing the following steps to realign the renovation of Lyman Terrace with the principles I have outlined above.
As of today, I have asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend the HHA’s request for a demolition review. I cannot in good conscience support any demolition of Lyman Terrace – total or partial – until our citizens have ample opportunity to have their voices heard regarding the community needs there. I will not seek approval for any action until a comprehensive plan, crafted with community input, is in place. This policy will affect lives in tangible ways, and people should have every right to reclaim the stake they have in our city’s future.
I have reached out to housing experts outside of the city for their support in assisting the HHA. As a result, I can proudly announce a partnership between the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. To the HHA’s credit, they have demonstrated good faith in following my lead moving forward; they have agreed to work closely with these organizations. Through rigorous community involvement – especially of Lyman Terrace’s residents – these organizations will assist our city and the HHA to develop a comprehensive plan for the area bordered by the first level canal, Lyman Street, Dwight Street, and High Street.
And finally, I am calling on the HHA to be more responsive to the immediate needs of Lyman Terrace’s tenants. Planning for Lyman’s future does not mean ignoring its present, and there is no reason that the basic upkeep of the property should be neglected.
It is important that we get this right. And in order to so, we must take advantage of these new partners and the resources they will provide. Coming up with a plan for this part of Center City will be a community effort. We will use our new resources to guarantee our citizens a seat at the planning table – by holding public hearings, providing interpreters, and whatever else is necessary to ensure their voices are heard.
I do not know what a renovated Lyman Terrace will look like when this process is completed; that will depend greatly on the input of residents, businesses, and property owners. What I do know is that the plan must be consistent with a long-term vision for our downtown as a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous place. The rehabilitated complex should properly connect to its surrounding amenities. Furthermore, it should include key components that the current property lacks: more green spaces, sufficient parking, and a community center.
The revitalization of our downtown depends on the energy of the people who live there and love our city, not merely the buildings that line the streets. Holyoke was built to accommodate 60,000 people. Growing our population must entail keeping people in Holyoke, not forcing them out. It is true that some tenant relocation is inevitable as we improve Lyman Terrace; but in the event of such relocation, the HHA needs to have a plan that gives as many residents as possible the option to relocate in our city. And when the improvements are completed, those residents that wish to return to the redeveloped Lyman Terrace should have priority placement to do so. These folks are the ones who have worked for years to maintain and beautify their homes, and they deserve a fair chance to reclaim the improved neighborhood.
I know our city is up to this task. We understand the stakes. Indeed, our resolution of this issue will say a great deal about who we are as a community. Working together, we can ensure not only an improved downtown, but also a more just and decent community for us all to share, and to which we all may contribute.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 01-Aug-2012
Lyman Terrace Tenants File Suit Against City of Holyoke and Holyoke Housing Authority.
Holyoke, MA, 01-August-2012: Attorney Peter Vickery on behalf of a group of Lyman Terrace residents filed a lawsuit today at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against the City of Holyoke and the Holyoke Housing Authority which manages the 167 unit public housing project where the tenants reside, located in Ward 1 Holyoke near High, Lyman and Front Streets. The expectation is that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will file an injunction in Superior Court to stop the planned demolition of Lyman Terrace. A total of five legal claims are presented in the complaint: Violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act 42 USC § 3604; Federal Environmental Protection Regulation 40 CFR Part 7, Subpart B; Article 1 of The Massachusetts Constitution; and Massachusetts General Law 151B § 4 & 121B § 32.
Introduction to the Complaint is as follows: The City of Holyoke and its Housing Authority have decided to seek permission to demolish Lyman Terrace, a public housing project in the downtown area. Because most of the Lyman Terrace residents are Hispanic, the destruction of their homes – and the residents’ relocation away from Holyoke – would have a disparate impact on a protected class and would, therefore, constitute unlawful discrimination. Complainants are asking the Commonwealth to seek and injunction from the Superior Court to stop the demolition.
Attorney Vickery comments: ”We are asking for an injunction to stop the demolition of Lyman Terrace. This is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that the commonwealth considers an environmental Justice Community, meaning that government has to meaningfully involve the community in land-use decisions to ensure equality and equity. Our legal basis is the anti-discrimination law, which prohibits land-use decisions that have a disparate impact on certain protected classes. We are saying that demolishing Lyman Terrace would be unlawful because it would have a disparate impact on Hispanic people. We are absolutely not accusing the mayor or anyone in city government of racism or bigotry.”
For more information please contact:
Full text of the complaint:
For more info about Lyman Terrace see HERE.
Link to the Lyman Terrace Facebook page see HERE.
On May 2, the Holyoke Historical Commission voted unanimously to impose demolition delay for 123 Newton Street. The property is privately owned but abandoned, and the City planned to use HUD CDBG monies to tear it down. This was not an emergency demolition for public safety but a routine demolition application which therefore rightly came before the HHC for review. In the discussion leading up to their vote, Commissioners said they were glad they had a new tool to recommend for preservation efforts – quicker acquisition and auction of abandoned properties by the City.
On May 16, the City Solicitor issued a legal opinion on Holyoke’s demolition delay ordinance, an opinion which contradicts both the text of the ordinance itself (and even explicitly acknowledges that it does so!) and twelve years of precedents. It claims that because the HHC had known of the possibility of demolition longer than six months ago, it could no longer impose a delay, even though the very trigger for a delay – notice of a demolition application provided via the Building Department – hadn’t come before the HHC until just before their May meeting. This new interpretation totally subverts the purpose and power of a delay ordinance and sets a terrible precedent for other historic buildings in the city. Guess which other properties have been mentioned to the HHC as possible candidates for demolition longer than six months ago, but for which the HHC hasn’t yet seen a demo application? That would include Mater Dolorosa’s steeple, Lyman Terrace in its entirety, 399 Appleton (a brick Victorian which the YMCA hopes to raze to make a parking lot), and others. If the HHC tries to impose a delay on any of those properties now or at any time in the future, their owners now have new grounds (grounds which didn’t exist at all before) to sue the city to lift the delay or to recover any losses experienced because of a delay. Any owner of a Holyoke property greater than fifty years old would be smart to send the HHC a letter indicating the mere possibility of a partial or full demolition some day; as long as any work would commence at least six months from the date of the letter, the HHC would be powerless to do anything about it. In the City Council’s lengthy questioning which led to the solicitor’s confirmation, I don’t remember anyone asking about basic reading comprehension or understanding the significance of precedent, but unfortunately those councilors who expressed reservations about confirming an attorney who believed and behaved as though she didn’t have to play by the rules and could put loyalty above doing the right thing (hiring a friend for a city job without ever posting the position) are now vindicated: apparently the attitude and behavior weren’t a one-off after all. Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross, shame on you.
Armed with this ridiculous opinion — which was obtained at Mayor Morse’s request and presumably his direction — the mayor ordered demolition of the building without delay, and so it began. In taking his oath of office, Morse swore to uphold the ordinances of the City of Holyoke; in this case, he has not done so. On that inauguration day and since, the mayor has called for unity, but he should be reminded that it is not sycophants, friends or allies who keep a politician honest. It would have been better to have asked for integrity over unity. If demolishing that building were truly so important to him, the mayor could have attended (or sent a representative to attend) the HHC’s meeting to make the argument for demolition over preservation in a public meeting in accordance with Open Meeting law. (For the record, no one outside the HHC showed up to support or oppose demolition or delay for the two properties addressed May 2.) I understand the mayor is young and inexperienced, and there’s a learning curve to be expected, but it’s certainly feeling like it isn’t too soon for this Morse voter to hope he’s a one-off. Alex Morse, shame on you.
On June 28, the City Council Ordinance Committee took up a proposal from Councilor and Committee Chair Rebecca Lisi to update the demolition delay ordinance “to bring it in line with current city practices.” How about instead insisting the City’s practices get and stay in line with its ordinances?! There is room to improve the ordinance, but before getting to that, allow a moment’s digression to explain why the Committee took up the matter between 10 and 11 pm, by which time all councilors not on the Committee, all media representatives, and almost all members of the public had left.
Mayor Morse had called an emergency meeting of the full City Council during the previously scheduled time for the Ordinance Committee meeting in order to secure funding for the new arts position. I think the arts position is a good idea, and it’s exceedingly rare that I agree with Linda Vacon about anything (we’re about as far apart on the political spectrum as we can get and still both be Americans who value democracy), but she is sometimes the only voice of common sense in the room, and that night offered one of those moments: “Mr. Mayor, this is not an emergency.”
Back to the issue of demolition delay….the Ordinance Committee used the opportunity of ordinance review to assign blame in all the wrong places and to fail to ask for accountability where it was due. Councilor Vega demanded in a most hostile tone to know why the HHC had voted for a delay on 123 Newton Street’s demolition when other historically valuable properties had previously been allowed to progress to demolition without delay. If he’s arguing that the building had no value warranting preservation, he could have attended the HHC’s May meeting to argue that case. And if his intent wasn’t to blame the HHC for doing their job correctly (as they did with 123 Newton Street) but instead to ask why they hadn’t been more aggressive in the past, he’s had two and a half years on Council to address that issue. But he might remember that the City’s streamlined acquisition and auction process is only newly available as an alternative to demolition. So instead of directing hostility towards the party that is in compliance, why not demand to know why the interpretation of the ordinance has been changed and why city planners aren’t helping the HHC explore preservation alternatives? Of course, asking those questions would require confronting the mayor, who recently endorsed Vega’s campaign for state representative. So I guess that’s never going to happen. Shame on you, Aaron Vega.
Continuing the theme of misdirected blame, Councilor Alexander faulted the HHC for not working on a preservation plan sooner. But the language of the ordinance is very clear: the preservation planning period begins with the imposition of a demolition delay, which can only be triggered after receipt of notice from the Building Commissioner that a demolition permit has been applied for. Rather than blaming the HHC for complying with the ordinance, blame the ordinance’s authors (ahem…that would be the City Council), and blame city planners for working always and only towards demolition plans (where the HHC could only be stepping in as a hostile party under the terms of the ordinance) but never towards preservation plans (where the HHC’s input could have been sought sooner in the process). In regards to 399 Appleton, Alexander charged the HHC with an obligation to assist the YMCA with finding alternative solutions for its parking needs. Nonsense! Besides being an entirely specious issue (there’s always plenty of on-street parking available nearby), finding solutions to businesses’ parking needs is the task of the planning department, with its multiple, full-time, paid professionals and interns, not the part-time volunteers of the HHC. Again, addressing the issues correctly would require confronting paid, full-time professionals and everybody’s BFF’s: the YMCA management, the new head of Planning, and the mayor. But apparently it’s easier just to beat up on volunteers and ask them to work both harder and outside their purview. Shame on you, Gordon Alexander.
I will give credit, however, to Alexander for two things: first, for describing the City Solicitor’s legal opinion on the demolition delay ordinance as “not worth the paper it’s printed on,” and second, for defending the timeline for imposing a delay (when demolition is sought is exactly when a delay would be needed!) even while suggesting the preservation planning process should begin sooner. The ordinance should be improved with mechanisms for an earlier preservation planning period and clearer timelines for steps. Also, the language for exemption for properties identified by a now-defunct committee should simply be eliminated — already, emergency demolitions for public safety are exempt, and that is the only exemption truly needed. Council should use this review as an opportunity to strengthen the ordinance and the autonomy of the HHC, not to water it down to make destroying the city’s architectural heritage and built capital easier for Holyoke’s paid officials.
Earlier in the evening, the Committee took up the structure and by-laws of the HHC and its relationship to Wistariahurst Museum. Alicia Zoeller (of the Office of Community Development) made a worthy suggestion for getting the HHC professional assistance for their work. Unfortunately, no councilors and no one else present had the integrity or temerity to mention the elephant in the room, to ask the question whose answer is critical for determining any changes to the HHC structure and for assuring future compliance with the letter and spirit of a demolition delay ordinance and historical preservation efforts: can seven part-time volunteers, who all serve at the appointment of a mayor, be an effective check against the power of that mayor and the mayor’s administration? Particularly when the culture of government in this city has been and remains strongly tilted towards demolition and against preservation?
I’ve used up my four “shames” (though I’m sure it would be easy enough to find four more), but there’s also still the matter of a councilor (I believe it was either Vega or Alexander, but I honestly don’t remember which) grilling the HHC about structural integrity, a concern that is entirely the responsibility of the full-time, paid, professional Building Commissioner, who can seek an assessment from the City Engineer (also a full-time paid professional), and not the responsibility whatsoever of the volunteers who comprise the HHC, whose duties are solely related to historic assessment and preservation planning. Was it simply too uncomfortable to direct that question to the BC (who was sitting silently in the same room before the Committee), given that the BC is husband to the Committee’s Chair and an appointee of the current mayor? Just so I’m clear, I believe the BC did his job correctly — he provided notice of the demolition application to the HHC and did not order an emergency demolition for a structure where it wasn’t warranted — but if councilors believe otherwise or have questions about those decisions, they should be asking them of the BC, not the HHC.
Mayor Morse has been very effective at developing a cult of personality, and that can have some benefits (it’s yielded Holyoke some positive media attention, for example), but it also carries significant risks. If knee-jerk opposition (opposition without considering the merits of an issue) is wrong, and I believe it is, knee-jerk support is at least as wrong and probably more dangerous. Unfortunately, the councilors elected in the interests of progress and change continue to demonstrate they value political loyalty and unity over accountability, patronage and Leichtigkeit-des-Cocktails-trinken-zusammen over the checks and balances essential to democracy. They and Rodriguez-Ross wreck their own reputations by behaving indefensibly as they try to provide cover to the mayor for this mess. In place of another shame, I’ll say a pox on all your houses – may a wrecking ball soon visit, may you receive a certificate to relocate out of Holyoke, and may your wealthier new neighbors exert a positive moral influence on you (as if!), a moral influence that’s obviously sorely needed (unfortunately, too true).
Meet the New Holyoke, same as the Old Holyoke. And in some cases, worse.
Green Rainbow Party is rallying against racism and gentrification in Holyoke.
7:00pm until 8:30pm
Media Education Foundation Frances
Crowe Community Room,
60 Masonic Street, Northampto
In response to Mayor Morse’s statement on Lyman Terrace, I’d like to address a few false ideas and assumptions on his part, present a better vision, and suggest some ideas towards developing a better plan to realize that vision. One characterization Morse gets right is that the issues are complex. Unfortunately, his analyses and proposed solutions do not reflect that complexity. I can’t hope to cover it all here, but I’ll try to avoid replicating the problem of glossing over important considerations, and therefore my response will not be brief. To avoid cluttering the home page, I’m putting my response to the mayor in as a first comment to this entry.
The Razing of Lyman Terrace
Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. — Milton Friedman (Nobel Laureate Economist and minion of Satan)
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein coined the term “disaster capitalism” – a concept that had existed for quite some time yet to be named. The idea being that a population can be unwittingly subdued via trauma – real or perceived – and as a result enslaved, robbed or otherwise manipulated to the profit of some external entity that is the architect of said doctrine. We’ve seen it in Southeast Asia when residents of a fishing village are relocated by the government after a tsunami and upon returning to homes that their families had lived for generations instead find a Western-owned resort hotel, their land appropriated and new “opportunities” working in laundry rooms servicing the new tourist trade. Also in 1970′s Chile where our CIA financed a police state which finally bent the will of the people to accept our brand of corporate capitalism (Obama is now doing similar in Honduras under auspices of the War on Drugs). Or in New Orleans post-Katrina when what was once public housing – undamaged by the storm – privatized and sold to the highest bidder. We can also see it in our Global-Imperial Neoliberal campaigns of “liberation” where we prop up and finance despotic regimes like the Taliban or Saddam for a couple decades then wage war on the people in order to give hand outs to the military industrial and then the contractors to rebuild what we destroyed – highest bidder in these cases are decided by campaign contributions to whichever party is in power at that time . It is mostly effective… and quite pervasive in the Post-9-11 world. The “War on Terror” being the trump suit on a myriad of distasteful policies that have robbed us of civil rights.
We are here to help you.
Well, today I witnessed it firsthand right here in Holyoke. Here’s how it works: Some years ago the Holyoke Housing Authority decides that an entire neighborhood of public housing is a “problem”. As a result of that decision the plan is to demolish the existing project of 167 occupied units to build new ones – convincing the tenants that they have funds to do this and that while the reconstruction happens tenants will be relocated temporarily. Time goes by… Since the plan is to demolish the buildings there is no reason for upkeep. Neglect becomes routine and situations worsen – the DPW is even avoiding trash pickup. Housing Authority people come by and take some ugly pictures of what they created to send to HUD with no real structural evaluation, analysis or comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of renovation/rehabilitation in comparission to demolition. On top of that they claim that there is “No Significant Impact on the Human Environment”. The solution – raze all existing structures, sell the acreage to the highest bidder and give the tenants Section 8 vouchers with “you are free to go now, good luck and goodbye”. Is it possible to add that many people to the rental market all at once? Is there not human impact to destroying a neighborhood? What about elderly and disabled that have established routines downtown with where they shop, visit their doctor and public transportation at Veteran’s park? What if these elderly and disabled people are forced into isolated areas? In the end it all reeks of racism, gentrification and another example of privatization that which was public. They are poor and dark skinned – there is no significant human impact if you don’t treat the people like humans to begin with.
I was there today collecting signatures for a petition. I talked to near one hundred people. There was a handful of folks that claimed that they did not care, that they thought that the place should be demolished… but overwhelmingly the opinion was that they liked living there and had community with others in this neighborhood. Many stated that they wanted to stay even though things were not kept up – taking it upon themselves to renovate spaces. I entered a number of units and saw homes with families… well cared for and functioning households that were maintained by the tenants. Regardless of the opinion on the Housing Authority decision, the overwhelming feeling from these people was that they were being left out of the process. As far as the claim that these spaces were “obsolete as to their physical condition”, this is a complete smoke and mirrors. Go and see for yourself and talk to some of the tenants.
A number of tenants said that they were coming to the city council chambers tomorrow night, 7pm. Be there.
Self portrait with decay.
Links to the HHA Letter of Intent:
Ward 1 City Councilor: Gladys Lebron-Martinez, 224 Elm St. 413-535-8507
City of Holyoke Office for Community Development, City Hall Annex Room 400, Holyoke, MA 01040 by first class mail, by fax to 413-322-5611 or email to email@example.com
Mayor Alex Morse: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-322-5510
Please also submit a copy of your comments to the Holyoke Historic Commission and to HUD:
Some history of this practice in Holyoke:
Draft City Council Resolution:
Holyoke City Council
February 21, 2012 Meeting
“Supporting Responsible Downtown Economic and Community Development at Lyman Terrace”
WHEREAS, The Holyoke Housing Authority seeks demolition and disposition of Lyman Terrace, one of the earliest public housing projects in the country; and
WHEREAS, Lyman Terrace, built in 1938-1939, comprises 167 units in eighteen buildings with exteriors of brick and copper on tree-lined streets in the heart of downtown. It also features a community center, a community garden, and a Boys and Girls Club; and
WHEREAS, Holyoke’s overall population remained stable over the last decade, Ward 1 (where Lyman Terrace is located) has continued to experience significant losses; the city should now be working towards population retention and growth, not further loss; and
WHEREAS, the demolition of Lyman Terrace would be a destruction of downtown Holyoke’s architectural heritage, visual sense of place, working class history and affordable housing at a time when Holyoke’s revitalization depends on preserving, rehabilitating, and capitalizing on our historic architecture and infrastructure; and
WHEREAS, the demolition of any city buildings should be premised on a structural evaluation, review and forensic analysis for commercial, industrial and residential structures as well as a full and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of renovation/rehabilitation in comparission to demolition; and
WHEREAS, the City Council has not seen or been made aware of any such analyses for the Lyman Terrace project; and
WHEREAS, the reported presence of social problems such as crime, drugs, violence, or prostitution in the area of Lyman Terrace are artifacts of concentrated poverty that is completely independent of the buildings’ architectural design and condition and do not merit reasons for demolition; and
WHEREAS, if improving the living conditions of the current residents of Lyman Terrace is the purpose for requesting Urban Renewal funds from the United States Office for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then a comprehensive relocation plan that is based on a thorough understanding of the current residents’ needs and demands should be included in the funding request; and
WHEREAS, such a relocation plan is blatantly absent from the current environmental review (study) that purports to have looked at the project’s “effects on people and community and determined that the project will have no significant impact.”
NOW, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council formally go on record in opposition to the demolition of Lyman Terrace; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council submit a written letter to the Office for Community Development in opposition to the claim that the project will have “no significant impact on the human environment;” and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in an effort to increase transparency,the City Council invite the Mayor, Holyoke Housing Authority, Office of Community Development, Holyoke Historic Commission, and Holyoke Redevelopment Authority to discuss the matter further with the council.