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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fact-Checking the CCA: their new campaign letter, Part Two

Using the old hip-waders to maneuver through the marsh of misstatements
By Will Collette

In Part One, I dissected the first half of the CCA’s most recent campaign letter, in which they make so many false statements that the Progressive Charlestown Truth-O-Meter blew up. In Part One, we covered the CCA’s claim that they are so open, transparent, honest, civil, nonpartisan, professional and responsible that they have just been put in for canonization.

I also tore apart their off-the-charts misrepresentations on taxes and showed how the CCA’s elected officials’ actions show that their real constituents are not the average middle-class voters of Charlestown, but our part-time shoreline residents from Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts and parts far and wide.

In this segment, we’ll pick up where I left off by looking at the CCA’s exaggerated claims that they, and they alone, are the defenders of Charlestown’s lands. In fact, you’ll read how most of the threats the CCA is supposedly defending us against are either grossly overblown or imaginary.



THE CLAIM:


THE FACTS: For the past two years, the RI Builders got bills introduced to change state zoning laws to allow more development. These were bad bills, and among others, Rep. Donna Walsh was on alert to make sure they never got passed. 

The CCA used these bills as boogeymen to fire up some panic and agitation within their political base. The fact is that these bad bills suffered a quiet death in committee, largely because there were massed battalions of environmental lobbyists ready to jump all over them had they ever seemed remotely poised to emerge from committee. They never got a committee vote. They went nowhere. Think Monty Python’s Dead Parrot.

Sure, these were bad bills, but the CCA used its classic fear tactic to get its followers worked up to a fever pitch over what is, in reality, a very minor threat. The CCA is still a young political group and has not yet learned that if you repeatedly cry wolf, your supporters may not respond so well when there is a real and imminent threat.

NEXT CLAIM:


THE FACTS: The first half of the statement is true, a rarity for the CCA, because the CCA has been monomaniacally devoted to expanding the town’s open space at all costs (again, think Y-Gate and the Battle of Ninigret Park). I love our town’s open spaces and natural wonders, too, but there are other ways to protect them besides the CCA prescription, which largely involves cordoning off much of Charlestown and essentially slipcovering it like your grandmother’s furniture.

The second half of the statement – the part about protecting the tourism based economy – is categorically false. The CCA Planning Commission shows utter scorn and disregard for the town’s business community, never consults them, ignores their concerns and gives the impression that they would actually like all business activity in town to disappear. 

Think Ordinance 349 that gave extraordinary power to the Planning Commission to micromanage your life. Think about the lighting ordinance that could have been passed in far more effective form had Ruth Platner’s Planning Commission done any outreach to town businesses.

The CCA Town Council majority is, in some respects, even worse. Watch the Clerkbase video of the ordeals CCA Town Council boss Tom Gentz put the owners of the Breachway Grill and Ocean House Marina through in open Council sessions.

NEXT CLAIM:


THE FACTS: These two bullet points are so closely related they can be discussed as one. The CCA is dedicated to overturning the state’s Affordable Housing Act. They think that the General Assembly can be persuaded – all evidence to the contrary – that Charlestown is so special that the state should either repeal the law entirely or exempt Charlestown from compliance.

Council boss Gentz wants Charlestown exempted
from state law
This “developer-imposed high density housing” is another boogeyman that CCA nurtures because having it out there helps justify their appeal for votes. In reality there are suggestions for changes to the Comp Plan and ordinances that could almost totally prevent commercial builders from proposing such projects. 

These changes, proposed by the Affordable Housing Commission and the Town Planner, were ignored by CCA Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and CCA Town Council boss Tom Gentz because they would inconveniently deny the CCA one of its favorite boogeymen.

Instead, Gentz and Platner continue to pursue the delusion that they can win over the rest of the state to their opinion. Charlestown has no allies in this pursuit. No one but former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero stood with CCA Town Council boss Gentz to testify before the General Assembly for this proposal. Ironically, only a month or so later, Gentz and Councilor Dan Slattery launched the “Kill Bill” campaign to oust DiLibero.

The Town Council was presented with compliance data by Town Planner Ashley Hahn-Morris that showed that Charlestown lags way behind nearly all other rural towns in Rhode Island in compliance with state law. That’s one of the reasons why other rural towns don’t support Charlestown’s quixotic quest.

"If we just keep telling them the same story over and over, they're bound
to believe it"
The CCA wants to ignore state law and instead count those homes whose prices have dropped as “affordable” and leave it at that. No need for me to give you a link – it’s right there in their latest campaign letter. Do those 3000 homeowners benefit from that designation? NO. Do those homeowners want that designation? NO – they want their home equity back and want their home values to climb out of the cellar that the Recession put them in. Do Charlestown senior citizens and families who need affordable housing benefit? NO.

And are there really 3000 households (that’s two-thirds of all full-time Charlestown dwellings) ripe to be “counted?” NO. The CCA is also grossly exaggerating the number of homes in Charlestown that fall into that “affordable” bracket and, again, why would a homeowner living in a home devalued by the recession want to have the property tagged as “affordable,” especially given the stigma the CCA itself has attached to the term.

The CCA would have you believe that the existing law says that only new construction qualifies as affordable housing. That’s not true. Affordable housing can also reuse and rehab existing structures. It can involve turning single-family homes into several rental units. It can involve creating accessory dwelling units.

And sure, it can involve some new construction, such as the kind that Habitat for Humanity builds. What the CCA truly fears – and hates – is that affordable housing will attract families, especially families with children. Indeed, the CCA hates children so much that it has published a whole page on its website on that subject, including a mathematical formula that “proves” that school-age children are parasites. If you think I’m making this up, click here.

George Tremblay passes off bogus research report.
Upset that  anyone would challenge him
The CCA hates not only families with children but also the elderly. Read about CCA Town Council candidate George Tremblay’s tirade against imaginary hordes of millionaire elderly people just waiting for Charlestown to build affordable housing for senior citizens so they can rip off the town.

The CCA wants you to believe that they are the only ones worried about megadevelopments coming into Charlestown with 100+ densely packed homes and only the bare legal minimum of affordable units mixed in to give the developer cover under the law. Town Dems don’t like that idea either.

But resisting the law is a losing strategy – it also violates the CCA mantra of “ethical, moral and legal responsibilities” (conspicuously missing, by the way, from the CCA’s campaign literature). I guess it’s hard to claim the “ethical, moral and legal” high ground when you’re advocating defying a legal duty. Or lying your ass off.

A more sensible strategy is to stop attacking affordable housing and to instead look at sensible ways to comply with the law in a way that works in Charlestown, such as nonprofit projects like Shannock Village and ChurchWoods.

I know the CCA is going to claim credit for allowing Shannock Village and ChurchWoods to go forward, but that’s only because these projects are so good that the CCA can’t really oppose them publicly, though they have done their best to slow them down behind the scenes.

Plus, if voters allow the CCA to maintain control of Charlestown government after November 6, the odds of a ribbon-cutting at either facility drop like a rock.

THEIR FINAL CLAIM:


THE TRUTH: It wouldn’t be a CCA campaign piece without them waving the bloody shirt of the much-feared Charlestown casino. They have made it the “third rail” of Charlestown politics. So, for the record, I oppose a Charlestown casino, or any Charlestown gaming establishment, either by the Tribe or any other entity[1]

This is NOT going to happen in Charlestown and the CCA needs
to STOP stirring up fear of the Narragansetts
The Charlestown Democrats have also made their opposition to a Charlestown casino clear and have for decades, long before the CCA was even a twinkle in Ruth Platner and Cliff Vanover’s eyes. But I don’t lose any sleep over this issue. The casino boogeyman is more like Monty Python’s dead parrot (again) than a monster under the bed. 

There was a time, in the early 1990s, when the Tribe seriously proposed a Charlestown casino, mostly out of envy over what was then the new Foxwoods casino. But it’s also a fact that it was the Democratic-controlled Town Council that killed that proposal twenty years ago – a convenient fact the CCA doesn’t want you to know.

It’s also a fact that, since then, the Narragansett Tribe has tried to get approval for a casino – but in West Warwick and later in Lincoln by acquiring Twin River. In both instances, CCA leaders, either through the RI Statewide Coalition or through the quarter-million dollars Charlestown has paid the town's official Indian fighter Joe Larisa, worked to thwart the Tribe’s efforts even though it would have put an end to any possibility of a Charlestown casino.

There are lots of reasons why I don’t lose sleep worrying about a Charlestown Narragansett casino. One big reason is economics. Gaming economics have changed drastically since the 1990s. Rhode Island voters are about to approve full casino gambling at the existing Twin River and Newport Grand venues. Massachusetts is about to see the construction of three resort casinos, the closest in Taunton.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun complete Charlestown’s casino encirclement. Those well-established casinos are destinations of choice for gamblers, although their revenues are way down, expansion plans have been cancelled due to the economy, and they’ve laid off hundreds of casino workers.

With the likelihood of seven full-service casinos within a 100-mile radius of Charlestown, the odds of getting roughly $500 million in financing for an eighth casino here in Charlestown are slim to none, even when the economy rebounds.

The “Supreme Court ruling” the CCA message references is Carcieri v. Salazar. This Supreme Court decision originated in Charlestown’s lawsuit to block the Narragansett Tribe from putting into federal trust the small parcel of land it owns just off Route One where they had planned to build low-income senior citizen housing. The Tribe was frustrated with obstacles the town had erected that impeded that project. 

The town wanted to make sure the Tribe stayed subservient to the town but dressed this up as an anticasino move – if the Tribe could build senior citizen housing without a town permit, why that’s a steppingstone to a casino.

The Carcieri decision was a surprise to all in that its effects were far more sweeping and far-reaching than anyone would have imagined. Penned by Justice Antonin Scalia and delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Carcieri decision held that no tribe that received federal recognition after 1934 was entitled to benefit from the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 because Congress was unclear when it wrote the law about including post-1934 tribes even though the federal government has routinely recognized tribes ever since.

In layperson’s terms, more than 500 Indian nations recognized since 1934 lost basic sovereignty rights over Charlestown’s dispute with the Narragansetts’ 30-acre proposed affordable housing site, which has been portrayed as a casino threat. The decision essentially created two different classes of Indian tribes.

If the Carcieri v. Salazar decision were “fixed” by an act of Congress to “clarify” the intent of the 1934 law, would that mean a groundbreaking for a Narragansett casino in Charlestown? NO.

It would mean that the Narragansetts could petition to place some or all of their lands into federal trust, although the actual use of that land would then be subject to Interior Department approval.

Let’s say the Narragansetts overcome all the other obstacles – the economy, geography and the lack of water, sewage and infrastructure. There’s still our local federal overseer, Charlie Vandemoer. Charlie Vandemoer has been a central figure in Charlestown politics over the past year, most notably during the Battle for Ninigret Park. Charlie has, on many occasions, intervened in town political matters with only tangential bearing on the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, which he manages.

Clearly a Foxwoods-style casino in Charlestown would have a devastating effect on the environment, not to mention on the great East Coast migratory bird flyway that runs smack-dab over Charlestown. Protecting that flyway and the birds that use it is Charlie’s business. He and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have considerable power to protect the flyway, not to mention influence with its sister Interior Department agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

My point: a casino in Charlestown ain’t gonna happen, Carcieri decision or no Carcieri decision.

I think the CCA needs to stop the fear-mongering over this issue with all its undertones that the Narragansetts themselves have called racist. The Narragansetts are our neighbors and we have to start treating them that way.

But this is the CCA’s top Fear Factor issue, year after year after year.

So there you have it, folks. The CCA debunked. Their candidates have no clothes. They fail to meet their own standards. They flunk their own acid test.




[1] My mantra: “Ommmmmm….nooooooo Charlestown casinoooooooo……ommmmmmmmm