The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution calling for a commission “to study racialized harms perpetrated against Black residents, workers, and students in Northampton, historically and currently.” The resolution is sponsored by Garrick Perry (Ward 4) and at-large councilors Jamila Gore and Marissa Elkins.
The resolution states “that the Northampton City Council … acknowledges that by its past actions and legislation, it entrenched segregation, discrimination and systemically racist outcomes in areas such as zoning, housing, licensing, and business development. By enacting and perpetuating these laws and policies, the Council harmed Black people who lived and worked in the city of Northampton and impoverished the city by preventing the establishment of Black community and culture.”
Approval of the resolution follows work done by the volunteer Northampton Reparations Committee, and Historic Northampton’s three-year research project examining some 12,000 documents and identifying dozens of people enslaved in the city. Slavery was practiced in Northampton from its founding in 1654 through 1783 – with many prominent families, including Jonathan Edwards, holding slaves.
The resolution establishes a commission, with at least 50 percent Black community 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, grow and nourish Black community and culture in Northampton for future generations.”
The resolution’s sponsors and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra will present to the City Council no later than March 30 a plan specifying the charge and composition of the commission, and an approximate timeline for its work.
The full resolution is available here: https://northamptonma.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/20871?fileID=177683
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
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a new Climate Action and Project Administration Department proposed by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra. In her message to the City Council, 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.”
Sciarra credited advocacy by the Northampton Climate Emergency Coalition with helping shape the department, which will 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.
In addition to ensuring that municipal projects meet those goals, the new department will be a resource for everyone in the community, including residents, businesses and institutions. It also will coordinate efforts to secure state and federal grants to help meet the city’s goals.
The next step is to seek a department-head level director reporting to the mayor. Two other staff will be transferred from other departments: the energy and sustainability officer from Central Services and the chief procurement officer from the auditor’s office. The new department will draw on resources provided by the Climate Change Stabilization Fund which was established with $3 million approved by the City Council in January,
New all-alcohol licenses
The City Council on Thursday voted 8-1 (with Alex Jarrett of Ward 5 opposed) to seek special legislation allowing the city to issue seven additional all-alcohol licenses for restaurants. The state Legislature will next consider the request proposed by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, who said the additional licenses would “strengthen and enhance the existing economic vitality of our community and … welcome new establishments” to downtown Northampton and Florence. .
Approval by the City Council followed a positive recommendation by its Community Resources Committee, which Feb. 8 sponsored discussion about the additional licenses. Both Police Chief Jody Kasper and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Merridith O’Leary said they did not oppose adding the licenses.
If approved by the Legislature, the seven all-alcohol licenses would be available for existing or new restaurants in the city. Some would likely be issued to restaurants that want to convert their current wine and malt licenses, which limit alcohol sales to beer and wine.
Because the seven new licenses would be over the quota established for Northampton by state regulations, they could not be sold by the owner of a restaurant to which they are issued. Instead, if the restaurant no longer wanted to use the license, it would be returned to the city.
There are currently 32 all-alcohol and 13 wine and malt licenses issued to Northampton restaurants.
ARPA community recovery grants
Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra during Thursday’s City Council meeting announced that 61 projects received grants totaling $4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act money designated by the city for community recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. These projects will support recovery, build resilience and reconnect the community.
I was one of two city councilors, along with Vice President Karen Foster of Ward 2, who served on the 12-member ARPA Advisory Committee that determined the application process and criteria for awarding the grants. We held eight community listening sessions to help develop the requests for proposals. The city received a total of 98 project submissions that totaled about $20 million.
Councilor Foster and I also served on the committee that reviewed the applications and made recommendations to the mayor about awarding the grants. We were guided by the priorities determined by the 2021 community survey assessing the impacts of the pandemic, as well as information gathered during the listening sessions.
About 27 percent of the grants will pay for housing and shelter services, 25 percent will address food insecurity, 12 percent will assist nonprofit organizations, 10 percent will support small businesses, 10 percent will help finance arts programs, 8 percent will go to early education and child care, and the remainder is for health care and other projects that help reconnect the community.
A list of recipients is available here: https://www.northamptonma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/21499/ARPA-Awards
The community recovery grants represent 18.4 percent of the total $21.7 million that Northampton received in ARPA funds. The money must be spent by June 30, 2026.
Hybrid meetings in March
After three years of meeting remotely, the City Council will use a hybrid format for its meetings at 7 p.m. March 2 and 16.
The guidelines call for at least five councilors to be present in the City Council chambers, 210 Main St. Up to four councilors may attend remotely.
The mayor, city staff and the public may participate either in-person or remotely. Public comment will be taken from people in the council chambers and on Zoom.
The council March 16 will review the hybrid meetings and discuss whether to continue with that format. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the state has allowed public meetings to be held remotely. These emergency provisions are scheduled to end March 31.
Art on the Trail volunteers
The Friends of Northampton Trails seeks residents interested in volunteering for its Art on the Trail Committee. It is working with city departments and arts organizations and identifying potential locations in neighborhoods along the bike trails for public art.
People with an appreciation for the arts who want to get involved may contact Freeman Stein, chair of the Art on the Trail Committee, at [email protected] or 413-695-5579.
Friends of Northampton Trails enhances the trail network and sponsors activities for users.
More information is available at: http://fntrails.org/