Bidwell Advisors
April 13, 2018
To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

This spring has brought a flurry of activity as your Ward 2 City Councilor. Please read on to learn more about these topics:
I always look forward to your questions, concerns and and suggestions. 

Sincerely,

Dennis Bidwell
Adult use marijuana - should there be a cap on the number of retail establishments in Northampton?pot
Retail sale of marijuana to persons 21 and older, along with cultivation, will be lawful in Massachusetts as of this July 1. The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has issued its final set of regulations, which provides for extensive control of the industry at the state level, and also provides some areas where local control is possible. As of April 1, the CCC has begun receiving applications for licenses.

The Northampton City Council has now passed four zoning ordinances governing the allowed locations for retail marijuana establishments (where retail business is already permitted), establishing a buffer zone of 200 feet from public or private schools, addressing security fencing around outdoor cultivation operations, and clarifying definitions of various marijuana facilities. In addition, the Council has approved an order establishing that Northampton will impose a 3% local sales tax (the maximum allowed) on retail marijuana sales. (This is in addition to a 17% state tax, and other additional local revenues that can be negotiated as part of host agreements with individual establishments.)

The Mayor considered, but did not propose, an ordinance that would place a cap on the number of retail marijuana establishments permitted. After considering input from the Board of Public Health, Northampton Prevention Coalition, the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth Coalition, and the Police Chief, Councilor Jim Nash and I have introduced an ordinance that would establish a cap of 10 such establishments in Northampton.

This ordinance will be reviewed by the Committee on Legislative Matters May 14 at 5:00 pm in Council Chambers, and will likely come to the full Council for debate and vote at its May 17 meeting.

The rationale for a cap is this: There are legitimate real public health and law enforcement concerns about the impacts of a large number of retail marijuana establishments, based on the early experience of communities in Colorado and Oregon where retail marijuana has been legal for some time. The impacts on youth, and the impacts of impaired driving, are among the chief public health and law enforcement concerns. We need to protect ourselves from the possibility that downtown Northampton might be overwhelmed with a large number of marijuana establishments. Proponents of a cap argue that once permitted establishments open, we can never roll back the number permitted, but if we set an initial cap, we can always raise it based on the experience we gather as we go along.

On the other hand, strong arguments are made against any sort of cap: The large number of hurdles that a would-be marijuana retailer would have to overcome - securing financing, securing a lease on suitable space, arranging a contract with a certified grower, negotiating a local host agreement, and navigating the arduous permitting process laid out by the Cannabis Control Commission - will eliminate many would-be retailers. And the market itself will limit the number of establishments that are financially viable. (Some believe that this winnowing process, and market forces, will likely produce no more than 6 to 8 establishments.) Furthermore, some argue that there is abundant evidence about the deaths caused by alcohol, so why should we impose a stricter cap on marijuana than we do on alcohol? (There are 17 package store licenses in Northampton, plus there are other stores where beer and wine can be purchased.)

Considering all of this, I am drawn to the argument that legal retail marijuana is brand new to the state and the City, and that we should err on the side of caution. Though I agree that it is not likely that more than 7 or 8 establishments will likely set up shop in Northampton, what if our projections aren't accurate? I'm calling this a "What If We're Wrong?" ordinance. My colleague Jim Nash considers it a surge protector - to protect against the possible but unlikely surge of retail marijuana establishments that could overwhelm our downtown if they all open up at approximately the same time.

Most of the input we received from those supporting a cap suggested a cap of four establishments, the minimum permissible cap, which is based on  20% of the municipal retail liquor licenses, which is 17. I believe that cap is too small.

I think that 10 is an appropriate number, because it sends the message that we welcome this important industry, but that we want to avoid being overwhelmed in the first year. Also, on a per capita basis (10 establishments for a population of 28,500), this is consistent with the cap put into place in Easthampton (6 establishments for a population of 16,000) and is less restrictive than Amherst's cap (6 establishments for a population of 38,000.)

Please share your thoughts on this matter with me, and please bring your thoughts to the May 14 Legislative Matters Committee meeting and the May 17 City Council meeting.
Northampton Connects - facilitated community conversationsnohoconnect
On the evening of April 3, at the JFK Middle School, Northampton Connects held its first public forum, built around a question asked of panelists and the approximately 80 community members attending: "Please share a story that illustrates what you love about downtown Northampton, and about what more needs to be done to ensure that it's welcoming to all."

Panelists and others shared heartfelt stories about their experiences and caring for our city and all of its residents. Many people have said that they think of downtown and the many people who make up its complex fabric in different ways since the forum.

Northampton Connects is a new organization dedicated to providing forums to encourage community conversations, listening, mutual understanding and exploration of common ground among Northampton residents with varied experiences and points of view.

Prodded by many Ward 2 constituents, my friend Stan Schapiro and I developed this organization in response to the highly polarized nature of recent debates about additional downtown surveillance cameras and other contentious topics. We have consulted with Paula Green, founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding and organizer of the Hands Across the Hills project, which has brought together progressives from Leverett with primarily Trump voters from coal country Kentucky.

We have also relied on the input from a local advisory committee, many of whom agreed to be panelists at our April 3 event: Peter Ives, former pastor of First Churches in Northampton; Booker Bush, MD, member of Northampton's Human Rights Commission; Pastor Steph Smith of Cathedral in the Night; Nancy Cowen, owner of Happy Valley Gifts; Jonathan Goldman, a Brandeis Student, Hamp High grad, the youngest Democratic State Committee member and co-founder of The Right to immigration Institute; Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B'nai Israel; and Judy Herrell, owner of Herrell's Ice Cream.

Based on feedback from last week's forum we will be proposing to our advisory group in the next few weeks possible follow-up programs aimed at engaging a greater diversity of people and views in similar facilitated discussions at different locations around town.

Here is a Gazette guest column Stan and I wrote as background on Northampton Connects. 
Paving and potholesholes
I've had many people tell me they've never seen the City's streets in worse condition than what they're seeing this spring.

For several years I have been urging the DPW to provide clearer information on their process for undertaking repaving and street repair projects. Our excellent DPW Director, Donna LaScaleia, has responded with very detailed information on the DPW pavement website.

Here is my quick summary of the information provided by DPW: The City contracts with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) to update annually its assessment of the condition of every mile of the City's approximately 133 miles of paved roadways. Taking into account surface-related damage and more base level/structural problems, every street segment is given a rating on a 0 to 100 scale and assigned one of five categories: Do Nothing, Routine Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Structural Improvement, or Base Rehabilitation.

Citywide, only 24% of our street miles are in excellent condition, requiring no attention at this time.  About 14% fall into the Routine Maintenance category, 16% require preventive maintenance, and a full 46% of our road miles are in such poor condition that they require either structural improvements or a full base rehabilitation.

Looking at the pavement conditions map, we realize that a very high percentage of the streets in Ward 2 are either in need of structural improvements (typically requiring overlay of new pavement, with or without the milling/grinding away of existing pavement), or are in need of full base rehabilitation (requiring full reclamation or full depth reconstruction.) Looking further at this map we realize that the same can be said of every portion of the City.

Given limited resources, the City is being quite aggressive in tackling paving needs, but the City is paying the price for many years of too little attention to street repairs. This year, in addition to approximately $1 million in state funds devoted to paving, the City is borrowing (bonding) an additional $1.5 million for road projects. (Many municipalities never spend local money on paving, relying entirely on scarce State funds.)

To put this $2.5 million of paving spending into perspective, the reclamation and repaving of Burts Pit Road alone will cost in excess of $1 million.

The City has repaved about 30 miles of the City's 133 miles of paved roads in the last ten years, but has a long way to go in catching up.

Regarding pothole repair, please use this form to report potholes in particular need of repair:
Parking and traffic issuestraffic
Parking issues remain of concern to many. To make a request for a no-parking sign, or a limited-time zone (e.g. 15 minute parking space), or a handicapped space, or other matters involving parking zones, use this form.

And if you'd like to report a missing or damaged traffic sign (no parking, speed limit, street name, one way, etc.) please use this form.
Missing Peter Kocotpeter


It's been over six weeks since the passing of State Representative Peter Kocot, and I'm still in a state of disbelief that this larger-than-life figure is no longer with us. I consider Peter Kocot to have been the finest public servant I've ever known.

I first became acquainted with Peter's decency, humility, brilliance and commitment to the needs of the people in his district when I was pushing for state funding for a boathouse for Northampton High Crew. The fact that the City now has an 11-acre Connecticut River Greenway Riverfront Park, hosting a new boathouse for Northampton Community Rowing, is a testament to Peter's hard work and the very high regard in which he was held by his colleagues in the House and Senate. It seemed like at least half the legislature was at Peter's funeral service, in addition to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

Peter was always accessible for questions about matters working their way through the legislature, for background information on any topic one would ever want to raise with him, for the toughest assignments from House leadership, for advice on pushing a local funding measure, and, not insignificantly, for restaurant recommendations.

I join with so many others in dearly missing Peter Kocot.
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
  413-584-2732 | dbidwell@northamptonma.gov
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060