Scheduling at the John Zon Center

Below is an exchange I had with the mayor, regarding scheduling at the John Zon Center. For background, for months now we’ve been receiving clear messaging from the executive branch that schedulign community events at the center would be impossible. Yesterday, I woke up to the news that a leader from an SPLC-identified hate group would be appearing on Thursday, 10/24.

For the record, I personally find this speaker to be morally objectionable, and I plan to attend the protest on Thursday night. But ultimately this is a question of public administration and mismanagement: if anyone has access to the community center, then everyone needs to have access to it.


My initial email, 9:02am 10/21

Hi Mayor Martin and Directors Smith and Macary,

There have been rumors flying around of late that groups calling themselves ‘Greenfield Citizens Association’ and ‘Citizens for Transparency in Greenfield’ have booked several events at the JZ Center in the next week. These events include a mayoral debate (which has apparently been canceled and rescheduled) and an event featuring a speaker. I’d appreciate answers to the following questions:

  • Are both of these events, in fact, taking place?
  • If so, there must have been a process by which the groups in questions arranged to use the space. What was that process? I’d like to share it with other community groups that would like to use the JZ Center.
  • The speaker that GCA organized is speaking against the safe city ballot question. What is the justification for using a taxpayer-funded space for a partisan political event?

Thank you,


Tim Dolan
Greenfield Town Council
Precinct 5


The mayor’s response, 11:44am 10/22:

Hi Councilor,

Thank you for your questions. Yes, to the best of our knowledge, both events are taking place.
It has always been our intention to provide policies and procedures for the public use of the JZCC, starting with the conclusion of the task force I appointed in 2018. There continues to be two main issues – liability and resources (human and monetary) to carry this out. To that extent, we have failed. Time and staff has hindered our ability to roll out a policy for non-governmental use. The most recent requests came on October 15 and are itemized below. We will be submitting a request to the Council for November for a part-time position under the COA to schedule, monitor, and implement the policy.

I have heard from the Council that they wanted more community use of the John Zon Community Center. On October 15, I received the following three requests to book the John Zon Community Center (note that two came in late the previous night).

  • On October 14 at 8:16 pm – Emma Morgan – “Not in Our Town” for their October Meeting on October 30 from 7-8:45
  • On October 14 at 9:24 pm – Lew Metaxas – “The Greenfield Citizens Association” for a mayoral debate on a date/time to be coordinated (now organized by Greenfield Citizens for Transparency, Dawn Morin)
  • On October 15 at 9:35 am – Sandy Kosterman – “The Greenfield Citizens Association” for an educational event on the legal process of becoming a citizen on October 24 from 6:30-9

With the current issues at the Library, I am aware that public meeting space is at a premium and that while the policy for use at the JZCC is almost finalized, I am trying to accommodate groups where possible. When we get a request, we must examine time, space, and staff. The dates in question were open. We were able to find a volunteer building monitor to cover one of these events and I and my office will accommodate the other events.

The City must remain content neutral in the approval of events. There is no ordinance that prohibits the use of City facilities by private groups or for specific legal activities. Private use of a public space is not an endorsement of the content any more than it would be if people were protesting on the Town Common. This means that the applicant is not obligated to agree with the Ctiy’s positions regardless of the topic.

The draft policy includes this section: “John Zon Community Center rooms are available for public use regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use. Permission to meet at the John Zon Community Center does not constitute or imply endorsement of the users’ policies or beliefs, or the subject matter of the program.”

Per the Office of Campaign Finance, the City must allow “equal access” for public buildings and cannot deny based on content. As defined by OCPF, ““Equal Access” – means that a group supporting or opposing a ballot question, such as a registered ballot question committee, may be allowed to use a room or other space in a public building for a meeting, as long as a group on the opposing side is given the opportunity, on request, to have a similar meeting, on the same terms and conditions.” The only activities not allowed in public facilities is fundraising. If you are aware of a violation of Campaign Finance laws, these violations should be reported to OCPF.

If you have need for further clarification or suggestions, please get back to us.

Best,

William Martin

William F. Martin, Mayor
City of Greenfield
City Hall, 14 Court Square
Greenfield, MA 01301
(413) 772.1560


My follow-up:

Mr. Mayor,

I appreciate your thoughtful response. Unfortunately, it seems that I have to reiterate once more the question I’ve been asking for months: What is the process that outside groups should use to reserve time at the John Zon Center? Should they email you directly? What details does that email need to include?

To be clear, the content of this event is not the root of my objection. The process is the problem. We’ve heard repeatedly and as recently as last week that it was impossible for community groups to use the community center after hours–that it couldn’t be accomplished with our current resources. As a librarian, I well understand the first amendment requirements for use of public space, but I also know that every library, including our own, has a set of clear policies about when and how community groups can book space, and that these policies have to be applied consistently. In contrast, the process by which these three groups gained access to the community center is as opaque as it is capricious. I’ll also note that the draft policy you reference is, by definition, not a policy–it’s only a draft. A policy is something that’s consistent, official, applied uniformly, and findable by the public.

I ask you: how was a group supportive of the safe city ordinance supposed to request equal access, when the official position you presented at the previous council meeting suggested that access was impossible for any group? This is an example of mismanagement, plain and simple. I demand that the events currently scheduled be cancelled immediately on the grounds that access to the community center has not been extended to all community groups on an equitable basis. The basic policies and procedures–which I have been requesting of you for several months–need to be in place before any events are scheduled.

Best,

Tim Dolan
Greenfield City Council
Precinct 5

An exchange with Al Norman

After going back and forth a number of times, I decided to post the following exchange with Al Norman and another constituent for two reasons: 1) I don’t have anything to hide, and 2) I actually think it points to interesting questions. What does it mean to be progressive in Greenfield in 2019? And how might that vision differ from previous iterations of a progressive agenda? Debates about these issues are legitimate, and I want to be transparent about where I stand.

For the record, I’m against big box development and I applaud Al for his work keeping Wal-Mart out of town, back when that was a serious threat. At the last council meeting, I made a motion to put the French King zoning on the ballot (though it was defeated),  because I’m genuinely curious what the residents think–I don’t have a clear read on that. I have a proposal on the table to completely rethink the zoning on the French King, and another to streamline the process for building ADUs.

The first emails below are from a constituent, following up on a brief exchange we had just had in the street, and who I presume forwarded my email to Al. I’m only including them because what follows wouldn’t make sense without them. All the emails are public records, so nobody, including me, had any illusion of privacy when writing.

TL;DR my main point is in the last email, at the bottom.


From a constituent, 9/15 11:53am:

Councilor Dolan:

By “French King” I meant, “Put French King rezoning on the ballot so I might vote ‘no. ‘” The answer, ” it’s in the works,” smacks of prevarication. It’s a ‘yes or no’ question. Don’t let 25 years of local progressive politics be undone in one legislative session, particularly one overseen by people who label themselves ‘progressive.’  Peace,
[Name omitted]

From me, 9/15 12:19pm:

[Name omitted],

As far I know, Sheila is leading the individual petition, and I’ll vote to put it on the ballot if it makes it that far. I disagree that this up-or-down vote will actually solve anything, though–the old status quo of the French King Overlay was and will be far from ideal, and I’ve proposed a comprehensive rethink of the zoning in that area by way of community charrettes and consultation with all stakeholders.

It seems we also may have different ideas about what it means to be progressive. I view Al Norman and his crew as the pinnacle of reactionary NIMBYism, and there’s nothing progressive about that kind of politics in a town desperately in need of infrastructure, transit, dense development, affordable housing, and space for industry and business. 

Tim


From a constituent, 9/15 12:44pm:

I guess I’m part of his crew. Al Norman spent his professional life fighting for the elderly and his personal life fighting corporations, including the worst retailer in the world. I suggest you get a track record and accomplishments before you bad mouth him. No need to reply.

From Al Norman, 9/16 2:22pm:

Tim,

Are you willing to say publicly that this is your opinion (see below) of my advocacy over the past 26 years in Greenfield?

If so, let me know and I will share your comments with the Recorder.

I have been called a NIMBY before—but only by wealthy out of state developers. And you are the first to label me”reactionary.”

Are you now voting for candidates who welcome Walmart Boxes and get backing from progress-Ives? Is that what progressives are doing in Greenfield?

I am also the one who fought Penny and Isaac in 2004 when they pushed to convert the French King land from industrial to commercial. So I saw the value of industrial development—and the people who helped me fight off Walmart in 1993 were industrial and retail owners.

I happen to agree that Greenfield has major infrastructure, transit, and affordable housing needs. Not sure why these issues are on your list.

As for dense development  needs, I disagreed with the ADU argument that accessory units would be used to help seniors “age in place.” Of the  few landowners who have tried ADUs in Greenfield, one prominent case resulted in an older homeowner having to take a second mortgage out on his house so his son’s family could build a very large ADU in his backyard. ADUs are being used as a subdivision tool to divide land. He now is saddled with a large debt on a house he once had paid off. Is that progressive?

So here’s what you said. Let me know if you want me to share this with the Recorder and your constituents who elected you in Precinct 5 (including me):

Tim Dolan on Al Norman:

“I view Al Norman and his crew as the pinnacle of reactionary NIMBYism, and there’s nothing progressive about that kind of politics in a town desperately in need of infrastructure, transit, dense development, affordable housing, and space for industry and business.”

Yours,

Al


From me, 9/19 9:23pm:

Al,

In short, yes. You’ve been very public with your criticism of myself and the council, and I fail to see why I should be any less public. I hope for all our sakes that the Recorder isn’t in the business of printing thirdhand, out-of-context quotes from the emails of minor elected officials, but you never know; you’re welcome to give it a shot. As a courtesy, I’ll post this whole exchange on my blog, and you’re welcome to share the link.

I’ll explain my comments to [constituent] briefly:

  • Reactionary. I haven’t been here for 26 years, but at the moment I hear a lot about what you’re against, but very little about the positive change that you want to see. I hear you invoke downtown when it’s convenient for your cause, but I don’t see you doing any actual work to build a strong and economically diverse downtown–work that many people are doing. That’s why I say reactionary. If you’d like to be more proactive, I can recommend a number of important town boards and commissions with empty seats that could use your expertise, and where you could make a difference in the future of downtown.
  • NIMBY. Using a single tragic anecdote to stand in the way of a policy that the data shows to be effective (and, in the case of the ADU, happens to be one of the only tools we have to build walkable, affordable, dense neighborhoods) is a classic NIMBY tactic. In the world of logical fallacies, we call that an ‘appeal to fear’. You and I both know that zoning doesn’t bring anything about, it just determines what is allowed and what is forbidden; people are still responsible for their own financial and family decisions. If you claim you care about affordable housing and you’re not a NIMBY, then what is your idea for solving our generational affordable housing problem? What changes should we make? What are you doing to bring those changes about?

One thing I bring to the council is a lack of baggage. When I look at the French King, I don’t see it through the lens of a quarter century of conflict. I don’t see a victory vs. a defeat, Wal-Mart vs. no Wal-Mart, Al Norman vs. Isaac Mass. What I do see is a big ugly hole in the ground, a truly Byzantine zoning arrangement that prevents the area from being useful to anyone, and a bitter, calcified conflict that is no longer very relevant with big box development on the decline.

I’m not impressed with empty threats to out me to the media. I’m not impressed by single issue, win-at-all-costs politics. I’m not impressed with brinksmanship, litigiousness, obstructionism, or overwrought rhetoric. But more than that, I’m a volunteer and I just don’t have time for conversations like this, which don’t lead to positive outcomes. I’m happy to engage whenever you’re ready to come to the table with a plan you can say yes to and a willingness to compromise, because that’s how things get done. Until that day, I’m unlikely to be very responsive.

Best,

Tim

Text of the Abortion Resolution

The resolution below failed 3-1 at the Community Relations and Education Committee meeting on August 28th. It’ll be before the full council on September 18th.


A RESOLUTION AFFIRMING SUPPORT FOR ACCESS TO SAFE AND
LEGAL ABORTION IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS AND ACROSS THE UNITED STATES

  • WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, of 1973 ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental right to privacy that protects a woman’s liberty to choose when or whether to have children, including a woman’s qualified right to terminate her pregnancy; and
  • WHEREAS, many states including Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana and Missouri have, in direct conflict with Supreme Court precedent, recently passed laws that attempt to ban or restrict access to legal and safe abortions; and
  • WHEREAS reproductive health, including abortion, is a vital component of overall health, and health care is recognized as a fundamental human right; and
  • WHEREAS, an individual’s freedom to make reproductive decisions is vital to their safety, well-being, economic opportunity, and ability to participate equally in society; and
  • WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering the “ROE Act,”
    (S.1209/H.3320), a bill to remove obstacles and expand access to women’s
    reproductive health, co-sponsored by State Senator Joanne N. Comerford and
    State Representative Paul Mark;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Greenfield City Council hereby states its commitment to the protection of abortion rights, reproductive health care rights, and individuals’ rights to make reproductive decisions about their own bodies.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Greenfield City Council does hereby support the immediate passage of Massachusetts Senate Bill S.1209, “An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access,” and House Bill H.3320, “An Act Removing Obstacles and Expanding Access to Women’s Reproductive Health.”

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Clerk of the City of Greenfield shall cause a
copy of this resolution to be sent to Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker; lead sponsor of S.1209, State Senator Harriet L. Chandler; lead sponsors of H.3320, State
Representatives Patricia A. Haddad and Jay D. Livingstone; State Senator Joanne N.
Comerford; and State Representative Paul Mark.

Part 2: More economic development ideas

Below is a list I just sent to Councilor Stempel, the chair of the Economic Development Committee, outlining a few economic development ideas that emerged (mostly) from a recent deep dive into Greenfield’s zoning ordinance. These are heavier lifts than the previous list, but get at some more fundamental issues related to housing, commercial space, and the business development cycle.

I’m a proud YIMBY. Yes, I want change–affordable housing, sustainable businesses, density, diversity, new neighbors–and yes I want all of it in my backyard.

I welcome everyone’s feedback, and particularly those on the planning board and our mayoral and council candidates.


 

First a note on zoning in general: I have always advocated and will continue to advocate for a comprehensive overhaul of the zoning ordinance, preferably replacing it entirely with a form-based code organized along the urban-rural transect that defines Greenfield, rather than a use-based code. This type of zoning is allows for more flexible mixed-use development, allows us to talk, as a community, about what we actually want the the city to look and feel like, rather than just focusing on what’s prohibited in which spaces.

My understanding of the history of our 1950s style use-based zoning is that it’s rooted in two goals: enforcing segregation by race and income (which was an explicit policy throughout most of the 20th century) and keeping dirty, noisy, dangerous industries away from places where (certain) people lived. The former was never a good idea and constitutes a great American tragedy and injustice, and it’s incumbent upon us as town officials to proactively remove anything in our code that still has this effect. With regards to the latter, it was a noble goal but things have changed: the kinds of industry that we have in Franklin County now are mostly clean and safe, with toxic emissions heavily regulated, and our zoning should adapt to accommodate these on-the-ground changes. I’m not a planner or an urban historian and I’m sure there are nuances that I’m missing. I’m open to being corrected, but those are the assumptions I bring to conversations about zoning.

Here’s the list:
  • Tax abatements for improvement of residential properties. I’d have to do more research to remember what the mechanism is, but it’s possible to grant temporary abatements for the value of improvements to a property–in other words, people can invest in properties without fear that their taxes will go up. I advocate for this in both owner-occupied and rental properties.
    • Rationale: Greenfield’s housing stock, and particularly its low-cost rentals, are in bad shape. A measure like this will help encourage private investment.
  • Overhead lighting on Main Street. A lot of work has already gone into this idea, and I’m hopeful that we can make it a priority for the new mayor.
    • Rationale: Anything we can do to give Greenfield a distinctive feeling as an urban space is a positive, and this idea is popular and relatively inexpensive. See Santa Monica’s Colorado Esplanade or Burlington’s Church Street for successful examples.
  • Comprehensive review of town boards and commissions. This is an expansion of my previous idea, related to the Common Victualer’s License. For every decision that a board or commission makes that relates to businesses, I would like to see: 1) the language (MGL, ordinance, or town regulation) empowering that particular board to make that particular decision; 2) a rigorous set of criteria by which the decision is made; and 3) evidence that those criteria are being applied fairly and with at least a degree of impartiality. If a board or commission can’t provide these three basic pieces of information, then they shouldn’t be making the decision–it’s as simple as that.
    • Rationale: I’ve heard a number of complaints about town boards and commissions from local business owners: that meetings are unnecessary, that the process needlessly slows down business development, that decisions are made capriciously, that procedures aren’t clear, etc. These boards need a basic level of oversight and accountability, which I don’t think they’re getting.
    • Examples: obviously not every board deals with economic development issues. Here are some examples of those I’d like to review: Board of License Commissioners, Cultural District Committee, G-M Transportation Area, Historical Commission, Cultural Council, Parking and Traffic, Planning Board, Public Safety Commission, Recreation Commission, Redevelopment Authority, SGIC, Youth Commission, and ZBA.
  • Three-family and attached ADU by right in all zones. See Minneapolis as an example of a city that has implemented this kind of multi-family zoning by right–the sky in Minnesota has still, to the best of my knowledge, not fallen. I initially thought of proposing multi-family and detached ADU by right in many zones, but eventually decided that an additional level of oversight for 4+ family units is appropriate given Greenfield’s small-town character.
    • Rationale: Density is a basic tenet of new urbanism, with sociocultural, environmental, and economic benefits. As noted in the preamble, while I’m very pleased that Greenfield doesn’t practice single-family zoning, which is a racist zoning policy devised to keep Black and low-income people from moving to particular neighborhoods, that discriminatory legacy is still apparent in our zoning code. We can be even more inclusive and encourage dense neighborhoods by making these changes.
  • Revise minimum lot sizes. These are currently set at 50,000 square feet for lots with town sewer (pg. 53 of the zoning ordinance). My lot on Hope St., in contrast, is 3500 square feet, and it’s a perfectly reasonable place to live–even desirable for a younger generation looking for small, affordable, low-maintenance housing. 
    • Similar to above, minimum lot sizes are a discriminatory zoning practice designed to keep certain people out. This is an example of how our current zoning keeps housing unaffordable by design, and not by accident.
  • Reduce off-street parking minimums. This will require a comprehensive review and a lot of thought, but the numbers in the table on page 62 of the zoning ordinance are greatly inflated. I believe they could all be cut in half, at least, without significant negative effects.
    • Rationale: Again, creating parking is expensive, and requiring more parking spaces than are actually necessary is a factor that makes new construction cost-prohibitive, and keeps housing unaffordable. Donald Shoup, in his class book The True Cost of Free Parking, documents both the process by which parking minimums are inflated, and the consequences of this phenomenon.
  • Review the standards for home occupations as laid out in 200-6.3. I’d ultimately like to see an expansion of the uses that don’t require a special permit, and I’d also like to review the special permits that the ZBA has granted and denied in the past, and what specific criteria they use to evaluate applications. In particular, the standard in the ordinance of ‘visual unsightliness’ seems subjective, and I’m curious how it’s been applied.
    • Rationale: This is a direct response to concerns raised at the August meeting. Small scale, home-based businesses help create a local economy that’s resilient to changes in particular sectors, and are also an onramp to the kind of mixed use that I would like to see. We should, as a city, be encouraging residents to run small businesses and do small-scale production in their homes to the greatest extent possible.
  • Rethink and rezone the French King. I’d like to see a series of community conversations or charrettes to talk about how we, as a community, should balance the needs of industry, commercial space, open space, and historical preservation in this politically fraught area. These conversations should be structured carefully to focus on a conclusion and a course of action, and avoid the kind of deadlock that frequently occurs. Not everyone is going to be happy with any solution, but that doesn’t mean that the status quo is a good answer.
    • Rationale: A lot of ink has been spilled about what the community doesn’t want along the French King Highway, but we’ve talked very little about what we’d like to see. I personally believe that the land in that stretch is too valuable to waste with more sprawl development.
  • Review the Planned Development Overlay.  I propose eliminating it, and replacing it with a larger, more comprehensive Deerfield St. redevelopment zone or overlay. Rather than looking for one large developer, this zone would encourage flexible, form-based, mixed use development to tie Deerfield St into downtown. The results of the UMass charrettes and design study could be used to create design principles. Lowell’s Hamilton Canal District Form Based Code might be a close analog.
    • Rationale: I’m not sure what the history with this overlay is, but it doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much at the moment.
  • Take a more aggressive stance with relation to problem landlords. This is ultimately a mayoral responsibility, but I think the committee has a role to play. In addition to the vacancy tax, at the least, I’d like to see: 1) more health and building enforcement for landlords keeping substandard properties; 2) a more active and less lenient tax title procedure for rental properties, to make sure that landlords lose their properties when they don’t pay their taxes; and 3) a streamlined means of transferring properties that the town comes to own to a community land trust with the capacity to repurpose those properties as long-term affordable housing.
    • Rationale: We need to stop pretending that everyone who owns property is a pillar of the community, and start holding landlords accountable to the regulations that are already on the books. Let’s recognize that Greenfield has a landlord problem, and that said landlord problem constitutes an economic development problem.

Small steps to improve our downtown

Recently there has been a lot of talk about how the council is too involved in national issues, and somehow not doing the business of the town. Personally, I see the effects of national issues like anti-choice legislation, mass shootings, mass incarceration, and mass deportation in our community every day and I believe it’s the municipality’s responsibility to take clear, principled stands on these issues. But just in case anyone is concerned that I’m not focused on the micro level, here’s a slate of changes that I’ve proposed for discussion in the Economic Development Committee to make life easier for small businesses and improve the experience of Greenfield’s downtown. More to come soon.


 

  • Common victualler’s licenses. Currently $100/year, and requires attending a BLC meeting. I propose $50/year, issued directly by the town clerk or the licensing coordinator. We may also be able to do this several other licenses.
    • Rationale: The need to attend a meeting slows down business development, and I don’t believe the board ever turns anyone down.
  • Outdoor seating. Similar to above, I propose that the outdoor seating license be available without attending a meeting, and without the extensive documentation currently required. Applicants would get a set of rules for outdoor seating when they apply for the license (mostly related to ADA accessibility), and a fine would be imposed for violations of the rules.
    • Rationale: Outdoor seating brings life to urban spaces–it’s something we should encourage.
  • Rules for buskers and other street performers. These activities are currently governed by the assembly ordinance (c. 217), but this ordinance provides no clarity. I propose a free busking license with a clear set of rules. This could be done by ordinance, or more simply through DPW regulations.
    • Rationale: busking is part of street life in most vibrant urban centers.
  • Fines for jaywalking. Local businesses, I believe at the request of the police department, currently display copies of the jaywalking ordinance in their windows. This practice is intimidating, and penalizes a behavior–waking–that we should be encouraging. I propose that we eliminate the fines, and remove these notices from windows.
    • Rationale: Main Street should be, first and foremost, a pedestrian space. Jaywalking (which, incidentally, was a term invented by the auto industry) is an indication that our existing infrastructure is not serving pedestrians. Rather than fining (or threatening to fine) residents, the city should work towards better pedestrian infrastructure.
  • Pop-up ordinance. I propose that we establish clear rules and a clear process for pop-up shops and food trucks (though the latter may be a separate legislative issue). This will likely be complicated, and require an examination of licensing, building codes, and the zoning ordinance, as well as health and building codes at the state level. We can do
    • Rationale: Pop-ups and food trucks are excellent ways to pilot test new businesses and, again, we should be encouraging this sort of activity. Clarifying the process would go a long way in this regard.
  • Vacancy tax. I know we have differing opinions on this, but the fact is that a number of storefronts in Greenfield have been vacant for as long as I’ve lived here. We clearly have problem landlords, who might need a bit of motivation to rent their spaces at reasonable prices. Landlords would be able to use pop-ups and art installations to avoid the tax, and so the pop-up ordinance would likely be a prerequisite for this.
  • Fund regular Greenfield/Northampton bus service. The city has, in the past, worked with FRTA to directly fund bus routes, and we could do so again. Well-functioning arterial service has the potential to bring visitors from the urban parts of the valley (where many people live without a car), in addition to opening job opportunities to the south for Greenfield residents.
  • Crosswalk in front of Green Fields Market. People cross here anyway, and likely will always do so. Frankly I don’t know why we haven’t already done this. Not entirely sure how we would go about making the change.

 

 

Thoughts on the future of transit in Franklin County

Last week, to conclude our economic development committee roundtable, we went around in a circle and everyone proposed an idea that would benefit the town. I proposed expanding bus service to Northampton. I ended up getting some pushback on this point, specifically emphasizing the need for local evening and weekend service, which gave me the opportunity to work out my thoughts more specifically in writing.

I’m sharing this with the hope that I’ll get some constructive feedback, and encourage everybody to be in touch with thoughts at councilor.dolan@greenfield-ma.gov. I’m not a transit planner and I may be way off base with some of these ideas–I come at this from the perspective of a lifetime transit rider.


  • First off, I think it’s a cruelty that we don’t have local evening and Saturday service, and I agree that it’s a priority. But I don’t think that’s sufficient, and generally I have a different perspective on how transit should work and what the future might hold.
  • Some context: it’s only in the last three or four years that I’ve had a stable job for the first time, and I’ve spent the majority of my life on the poverty knife edge. During that time, public transit has generally been my only way to get around and I’ve spent thousands of hours on buses and trains, in big cities and in small towns. I’ve had to give up jobs because the transit just didn’t work, and I’ve been the dude who wasn’t able to go anywhere on the weekends because there were no buses. In addition, at GCC I work with students who take the bus every day, and I hear all about how long it takes them to get places, the restrictions that the bus places on their schedules and their academic progress, and the larger impacts of transportation on their lives. With all of that in mind, it’s clear that our current FRTA system is lacking.
  • Part of the reason that FRTA doesn’t work is structural: if you look at the map, the FRTA district basically consists of all of the small towns that are impossible to serve, while PVTA got all of the urban centers where service is easier. For instance: why are Westhampton and Southampton (the latter of which is almost in Connecticut!) part of FRTA, while Northampton and Easthampton are part of PVTA? The pie was sliced inequitably to begin with.
  • So right from the beginning, we’re in a situation with FRTA where we’re trying to use our extremely limited funding to serve an enormous geographic area, and in addition to that our American development patterns have not been transit oriented for the last 100 years. (Who builds public housing complexes and community colleges in fields, miles outside of town? With no plan for buses, and no sidewalks? I’ll never understand that one.) All of this leads to major last-mile issues, which is a good explanation for why the service is so poor.
  • What do I mean by poor service? In addition to not having weekend or evening service, and running far too few buses during the day, FRTA routes (almost all of which I’ve ridden) are devilishly circuitous: they’re trying to solve those last-mile issues by having the same bus go by everyone’s house and everyone’s place of employment. This is why it takes almost two hours to get to Amherst. This is why the Northampton bus drives around South Deerfield for a half hour. This is why I can often walk to GCC faster than I can take the bus, and why many of my students from Greenfield do end up walking to class if they’re able.
  • Despite the fact that the drivers are great and everyone is trying their best, the limited service and the circuitous routes make riding FRTA an impractical proposal for people with real, complicated lives. The result is: the bus becomes the transit option of last resort; only folks who have no other choice end up riding it. I think FRTA’s low ridership statistics (1/100th of PVTA, which actually shares many of the same problems) bear this out. Anecdotes aren’t data, but the one time I took it to Amherst, I was alone on the bus for an entire hour. We have a vicious cycle on our hands: transit is hard so few people choose to ride it; few people ride it so it’s not funded; it’s not funded, so it doesn’t improves. My overarching goal is to break out of that cycle.
  • So, coming around to my main point: I see fast, efficient, frequent rides on the most heavily trafficked routes–urban center to urban center–as the backbone of a transit system. Those are the kinds of routes that make public transit viable, and even desirable. By designing a transit system that only the poorest and most vulnerable ride, we set ourselves up to continue to receive paltry funding; I propose that if we want transit that works for the most vulnerable, we get it by making transit that works for everyone. We get good transit by building routes that work well (fast, efficient, frequent), instead of routes that provide only the most barebones, last-mile service.
  • The Greenfield-Northampton route is currently the most heavily utilized route in the FRTA system, yet it only runs seven times a day. I spoke with the folks at FRTA recently, and they said the reason they don’t expand the service is because they think PVTA should pay for part of it, but PVTA is unwilling to do so. That kind of interagency bickering and politics gets us exactly nowhere: this funding squabble tis keeping folks in Greenfield from having access to jobs in relatively wealthy Hampshire County, and is keeping folks from Northampton from enjoying Greenfield’s downtown.
  • Call me an idealist, but my vision for transit is ambitious: I want to see a valley that’s connected and transit oriented, rather than car oriented, where people take the bus because it’s a practical option and not just because they have no other choice. 
  • People talk a lot about the new trains, and their potential to transform the region. But trains are, unfortunately, a luxury form of transportation: round trip to Northampton on Amtrak costs $26 last I checked. A bus could be just as transformative for less money, and in a way that’s accessible for everyone.
  • As a coda, I’ll point out that our closest social security office is now in Holyoke, which is another cruelty for anyone in Franklin County who is on SSDI. It breaks my heart to think about folks (some of whom are my students) trying to get to that office on our substandard public transit, when their lives actually depend on it. I think it’s possible, but I’m sure it takes an entire day. I suspect that there are a number of other services in that genre, which folks from around here absolutely need to go to Hampshire or Hampden counties to access. It’s essential for folks to be able to get into downtown, but it’s also essential for them to connect to the rest of the valley. Last-mile service is an important component of any transit plan, but currently last-mile service is all that we do and that’s a recipe for low ridership and bare-minimum service.
  • So, in conclusion, perhaps I’m willing to broaden my request. I don’t really care if it’s the Northampton route, but I’d like to see one FRTA line that runs great: fast, efficient, and frequent. For instance, it’s also incredibly difficult to get back and forth to Turners Falls on the bus, considering that it’s really the same urban area as Greenfield. That would seem to be a sensible backbone route as well.
  • I hope these notes clarify my perspective, and I hope that some folks try to change my mind. In the meantime, I’ll be first in line to beat down the door at the statehouse to demand evening and Saturday service on existing routes, but I also think that our way of thinking about transit in this area is flawed, and I want to see some new ideas on the table.

CVS: Franklin County’s Largest Purveyor of Legal Opioid Drugs

According to a recently released DEA database, the CVS location on Federal Street dispensed more than 5 million opioid pills into our small community between 2006 and 2012. This horrified me, and the resolution below is my response.

Every component of the opioid supply chain is complicit in the current crisis. I’m not content to see taxpayer money fund recovery efforts when irresponsible corporations like CVS and Purdue Pharma made billions of dollars off of these drugs by means of deceptive marketing and shoddy patents. We have to hold them accountable.


A resolution requesting compensation from CVS Health Corporation for said corporation’s role in the opioid addiction crisis in the City of Greenfield

7/4/2019

Whereas: the City of Greenfield, Franklin County, and many other areas of the nation currently suffer from a crisis of opioid addiction, a crisis which developed from an overabundance of legal opioid drugs prescribed and dispensed for over a decade beginning in the late 1990s(1), and;

Whereas: While the roots of this crisis are complex, aggressive marketing efforts by drug companies focused on the most irresponsible, high-volume prescribers and pharmacies played a major role in moving massive quantities of legal narcotics onto our streets (2), and;

Whereas: this addiction crisis has led to at least 110 deaths in Franklin County since 2010 (3), has created immeasurable grief for families in the area, has made our community less safe, and has cost local taxpayers significant sums for the provision of additional law enforcement, EMS, social services, and recovery options (4), and;

Whereas: a single CVS Pharmacy location, at 137 Federal St. in the city of Greenfield, MA, dispensed 5,299,930 doses of these dangerous and addictive narcotics between 2006 and 2012, a number amounting to more than 42 doses per year for every individual in the City of Greenfield and exceeding by a factor of four the number sold by the local pharmacy with the next-highest sales (5), and;

Whereas: MGL c. 94C  §19(a) emphasizes the responsibility of pharmacies in the dispensing of controlled substances, stating that “[t]he responsibility for the proper prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances shall be upon the prescribing practitioner, but a corresponding responsibility shall rest with the pharmacist who fills the prescription,” and;

Whereas: allowing such quantities of dangerous drugs into our community represents a flagrant breach of corporate responsibility and a disregard for public safety, and;

Whereas: profits made from the sale of addictive substances to vulnerable populations are an affront to morality.

Be it resolved that the Greenfield City Council hereby requests that the CVS Health Corporation promptly make a voluntary payment in the amount of $0.50 for each opioid pill dispensed from 2006 to 2012, for a total of $2,664,965, with half of that sum payable to the City of Greenfield and half payable to the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region. These funds, which shall be used for drug treatment, harm reduction, recovery services, research, healthcare expenses, transitional housing, and other much-needed social services, represent only a symbolic contribution on behalf of CVS Health to ameliorate the incalculable human damage that the opioid drugs that they sold have wrought in our communities. 

Be it further resolved that that Greenfield City Council encourages all employees and shareholders of the CVS Health Corporation to levy pressure on the corporation’s executive team and board of directors to take responsibility for the corporation’s role in the nationwide opioid crisis and commit to a comprehensive plan by which CVS Health can play a long-term role in said crisis. 

Be it further resolved that the town clerk of the City of Greenfield shall upon passage cause a copy of this resolution to be sent to: the CEO of the CVS Health Corporation; the general manager at the CVS Pharmacy location at 137 Federal St. in Greenfield; U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren; U.S. Senator Ed Markey; U.S. Representative James McGovern; Massachusetts State Senator Jo Comerford, Massachusetts State Representative Paul Mark, and to local media outlets including but not limited to the Greenfield Recorder, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Boston Globe, the Valley Advocate, MassLive, and 22News.

1:  “What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html
2: Ameet Sarpatwari, Michael S. Sinha, & Aaron S. Kesselheim, “ The Opioid Epidemic: Fixing a Broken Pharmaceutical Market,” Harvard Law & Policy Review 11, (2017): 465-467. 
3:
 “Number of Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths, All Intents by County, MA Residents: 2010-2018,” Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 2019, https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/05/15/Opioid-related-Overdose-Deaths-by-County-May-2019.pdf
4: Elizabeth Weeks, “Financial Impact of the Opioid Crisis on Local Government: Quantifying Costs for Litigation and Policymaking,” Kansas Law Review 67, 2019: 2016-1132.
5:  “Drilling into the DEA’s pain pill database,” The Washington Post, July 21, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/dea-pain-pill-database/?utm_term=.862ad4615e87