A resolution calling for a commission “to study racialized harms perpetrated against Black residents, workers, and students in Northampton, historically and currently” received strong support from every city councilor when it was introduced Feb. 2. The resolution is sponsored by Garrick Perry (Ward 4) and at-large councilors Jamila Gore and Marissa Elkins.

Although a vote was not taken Feb. 2 by the City Council, every city councilor spoke favorably about addressing the slavery practiced in Northampton from its founding in 1654 through 1783 – with many prominent families, including Jonathan Edwards, holding slaves; policies such as “racial property covenants and racist and segregationist zoning which had the effect of discouraging Black people from living in the city”; the lack of Black people in elected or appointed municipal offices; and the current lack of diversity in Northampton where 2.1 percent of the population is Black.

In supporting the resolution, I said forming a commission to examine past injustices against Black people and how to redress them is a critical next step following work done by the Northampton Reparations Committee leading to the resolution, as well as the three-year research project by Historic Northampton examining some 12,000 documents and identifying dozens of people enslaved in the city.

A vote is expected at the City Council’s next virtual meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, on the resolution that would establish a commission, with Black people making up at least 50 percent of its members, to “consider what initiatives should be funded and implemented by the city to support redress and fair treatment for Black people who live, work and learn in the community” and “examine ways to restore and grow and nourish Black community and culture in Northampton for future generations.”

It also calls for an apology by the City Council for “its past actions and legislation (that) entrenched segregation, discrimination and systematically racist outcomes in areas such as zoning, housing, licensing and business development.”

The full resolution is available here: https://northamptonma.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/20745?fileID=177262

The Northampton Reparations Committee website is at: https://northamptonreparations.com/

Information about the Historic Northampton “Slavery in Northampton” project is available here: https://www.historicnorthampton.org/slavery-research-project.html#:~:text=From%20the%20founding%20of%20the,scant%20evidence%20of%20these%20individuals.

Climate action department

A new Climate Action and Project Administration Department would be established under an order submitted Feb. 2 to the City Council by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra. A public hearing on adding the new department to the city’s administrative code will be held at the next virtual meeting of the City Council at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16.

The department would guide the city’s efforts to meet goals in the Northampton Climate Resilience & Regeneration Plan calling for carbon neutrality for municipal operations by 2030 and for net-zero carbon emissions citywide by 2050. It would be led by a department-head level director reporting to the mayor. Two other staff would be transferred from other departments: the energy and sustainability officer from Central Services and the chief procurement officer from the auditor’s office.

In her message to the City Council supporting the proposed department, Sciarra said, “I am confident that adding project management practices informed by environmental goals to every city project will improve municipal efficiency and climate outcomes.”

The proposal follows advocacy for a climate chief during the past year by residents involved with the Northampton Climate Emergency Coalition.

If the City Council approves the new department, it would draw on resources provided by the Climate Change Stabilization Fund which was established with $3 million approved by the City Council in January.

Tax break withdrawn for hotel proposed on Conz Street

Proposed Tax Increment Financing for a 109-room hotel planned at 115 Conz St. was referred by the City Council Feb. 2 for further deliberation at a joint virtual meeting of the Committee on Finance, of which I am a member, and Committee on Community Resources on Feb. 8.

However, the proposed tax break was withdrawn Feb. 7 at the request of Mansour Ghalibaf.

Ghalibaf, operating as Rankin Holdings, plans to build the hotel and two two retail buildings (2,500 and 5,000 square feet) on the 3.6-acre site formerly owned by the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Ghalibaf owns the Fairfield Inn & Suites next to that property, and the Hotel Northampton at 36 King St.

The Tax Increment Financing was proposed by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra as an incentive to build the hotel and retail space, which the mayor estimated would result in an additional $450,000 in annual tax revenue from property taxes, hotel taxes and meals taxes.

The tax break over eight years would have cost the city $99,643 in taxes not collected, which is less than 3 percent of the estimated $3,561,120 that Ghalibaf otherwise would pay in property taxes on the improved property during the eight-year period.

In addition to construction jobs, the project is expected to result in 50 new permanent positions.

Artists of color at Forbes Library

Forbes Library at 20 West St. celebrated its 10 new works by Black, Indigenous and People of Color artists from western Massachusetts with a reception Feb. 4.

The works were acquired during the last two years with a $10,000 anonymous donation matched by the Trustees of Forbes Library to broaden the diversity and inclusivity in its permanent collection.

More information is available here: https://forbeslibrary.org/blog/2023/01/18/celebrate-new-art-works-in-forbes-librarys-collection-february-4/