A strange thing happened at both the Planning Board and City Council public discussions of the Garage question at the heart of the Sullivan Court House Debate. In both settings, the PRO-Leggett-Mcall speakers were massed together at the front of the long speaker's list ahead of the opponents, forcing the latter (of nearly equal number) to speak after a very long wait. This is very different from how both meetings are usually run, where speakers from both sides are more evenly dispersed. Strategic control of community speaker sign-ups seems to have been a key factor in this. How was this done? At the City Council meeting, citizens were not allowed to use the call-in sign up as usually happens for City Council discussions, but instead were told there would be separate special sign up available from 5:30 on. Alas, there was no sign up available then. And even when the Mayor announced the sheets would be brought out at 6 PM, the sheets were not on the table where they usually are, and indeed, they were no where to be found, despite several inquiries into the Council Office. Instead a group of Leggett-McCall allies had taken the sheets to the other side of the hall filling out the pages with their supporters. It was stated that some supporters were even able to get ahold of an online sign-in means by way of a special URL set up. (The Mayor denied this, but there clearly was manipulation. Few knew even if their attempt to sign up had worked. And, as we signed up, we were asked whether we were PRO or AGAINST the plan, suggesting that this data also may have been used in selecting who could speak when. They Mayor was clearly reading off of multiple lists throughout the night.
Hundreds signed up to speak, but the order in which they were allowed to speak was clearly being manipulated through various means. This resulted in a completely off-balance parade of speakers before the Council on this key issue. Many of those opposed to the Leggett-McCall proposal were forced to wait until late into the night to speak, while those in favor were able to speak at the outset and then head home to their families. This is hardly fair, nor is it what the City should be allowing to happen clearly to the benefit of developers.
Ironically who showed up to speak, or rather, those who were allowed to speak at a reasonable time, is also being used by proponents of this plan. Indeed yesterday, the Communications Director of ABC AF posted a map showing where the speakers came from, arguing that only nearby residents should be taken seriously. Alas, many speakers who opposed this simply did not have the time to wait until close to mid-night to let their voices be heard. Nor did the Council provide us with a copy of all the letters, pro and against, so we could see for ourselves. Below is a map posted on twitter by ABC AF showing where those speaker who were able to stay for this meeting and speak reside.
What does Leggatt-McCall think? Well clearly they see this as a city-wide issue. They have sent the SECOND very expensive full color large postcard to every resident of Cambridge to try to win voters city-wide to their cause.
This IS a Citywide issue - see the message on the flier above! Indeed as this advertisement points out. Why would the city choose to give away public land for more administrative offices - for a teaspoon of additional affordable housing (22 units), removing needed public parking? Clearly this kind of action would not be part of any city-wide plan, had Cambridge allowed Utile to undertake an actual Citywide plan as part of the expensive Envision planning process. There is an easy compromise plan that should be considered now.
$45 million is the estimated cost of tearing down the Courthouse building. Divide this cost between the city, the state and the developer ($15 million each). Then provide this developer with roughly half the land for its use (at a cost reduced by their share of the removal of the building) and use the other half to build affordable housing with ground floor commercial space and other amenities. Parking could be underground for both.
Sometimes members the pro-developer ABC-AF group have sought to undermine community members who speak at Planning Board, CHC, City Council and other meetings by insisting that we do not represent the community as a whole because most people who have to work or take care of children are not able to attend. In this case, however, these same proponents are suggesting that if you do not live near to the Court House you should not have a voice in this matter. To the contrary, speakers at Monday night's meeting began to take notice of some of these issues. One speaker noted that many of those in favor lived in a building owned by the developer; another speaker requested that before any Councillor voted on an issue they must state if they had received developer funding. What we are lacking on this - and many other issues coming before Council - is transparency, planning, and valued input from local neighborhood groups.