Why Is This Important?

Blog Entries

Following are some entries made in various blogs:

Somerville Voices, 4/25/10, in response to 2010-2011 HUD Action Plan Public Hearing

By the way, folks: what’s happening with this post, with meeting announcement, meeting report, and comments leading to action, is exactly what I envisioned happening with the Beat Reporter blog. The more, the merrier.

Huffington Post, 4/18/10, in response to "Restore the Constitution Rally: Open-Carry Gun Advocates to Protest Obama, Health Care, Gun Rights."

I think we've been spoiled in this country. We've had over two hundred years without despotism, and we have no idea what it acts like. A despot kidnaps people, tortures them, kills them, and buries them in mass graves. In this country, the so-called totalitarian socialist government gives people who are arguably engaged in sedition a demonstration permit.

Joe Stalin would have laughed his guts out.

Somerville Voices, 4/17/10, appended to "April 15 Planning Board Meeting"

Attended meeting 4/15/10. About 12 citizens attending. Printed agenda marked “Modified”.
IKEA Permit. Brief hearing on voiding original IKEA permit for a waterside store. City legal staff had asked IKEA to make request because there were two IKEA permits, one for the waterside store and one for the inland store after the land swap. No opposition. (Afterwards, Monica Lamboy chided me for not cheering, because voiding the permit means that the waterside IKEA project is dead, dead, dead. [The inland store is still alive.])
MaxPac plan changes. Hearing advertised in Somerville News 3/31 and 4/7. Major change in residential development to add a storage basement instead of raising the ground level with fill. Citizens generally spoke in favor, but one concern was people converting the basement to a basement bedroom. Condition added to allow no bedrooms in basement space, to be included in condo agreements and in zoning permit. Another condition, in response to a concern, was that construction must start after 9 AM. Applicant cited time constraint on financing, so P.B. moved forward immediately with no written comment period.
1 Benton Road. Summer street near Central Street. Controversial. Lot now holds 3 new condos in originally historical building, $520K to $740K price range. Developer says lot is 2nd or 3rd largest in city, is surrounded by smaller lots, wants to split lot and do 2nd 3 condo development as of right.

P.B. members spoke in opposition, none in favor. Cumulative points included: (1) 6 condo single development would require 1 be affordable. Two 3 condo developments wouldn’t. (2) Somerville is already crowded, additional developments won’t help. (3) Extra city services required nullify additional tax base. (4) Increased traffic near crowded intersection. (5) Documentation only has lawyers’ name (DiGirolamo) on them. (6) Other problems: taxes, city services, drainage.

Aldermen (Connolly, White, Taylor, Gewirtz) spoke in opposition. Ald. Connolly stated development was out of character; just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Ald. White amplified P.B. points. Taylor stated the site should have been designated historical and there is already overdevelopment in RA and RB neighborhoods. Taylor said he had heard from developer over a dozen times around Christmas about a curb cut and supported it, not realizing a second development was involved. (Developer Lombardi later alleged he had told Taylor about the second development. Taylor spoke sharply in rebuttal, shut down by Chair Elizabeth Moroney.)

Other points: if subdivided, P.B. loses control of development. 77% of Somerville is already hard top.

1 citizen, a real-estate professional involved with the project, spoke in favor of it on the basis of high residential tax bills and increased tax base. Many citizens spoke against it, citing historical status of neighborhoods, excess density, traffic. I spoke against it specifically about tax base, on the grounds that Somerville has too much residential development already and more is a drag on city services. We need commercial development instead.

A formal opinion will be sought on P.B. power to regulate subdivisions. Extensive discussion required.

Written comment period open until Friday April 30.
119 College Avenue. Ald. Gewirtz advocating for tenants in opposition to additional antennas on building. Earlier, antennas had had to be redirected because originally pointed into apartment. Issues: microwave radiation, noise of equipment A/C, unsightly rooftops (many false chimneys). P.B. pointed out that FCC regulations override local ordinances. I suggested to Ald. Gewirtz that P.B. require RF power measurements in actual apartment; she said P.B. wouldn’t do it. Telecom company offered an affidavit of safety. Ald. Gewirtz asked for city review.

City generally supports antennas, solicits them on city property for the income, including on senior buildings.

Recommending approval with conditions: (1) Telecom to measure RF power within 2 months, then yearly. (2) Get affidavit of safety (power not radiated directly into room), city to review. (2) Ensure compliance with city noise ordinance. (3) Unused antannas to be designated abandoned and removed.
Permit Streamlining. Currently staff recommendations for permits have to go to Planning Board before going on to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Want to send staff recommendations directly to ZBA. Why require two meetings? Increased planning staff efficiency, frees up time for new zoming. Requires new ordinance, with public hearing.

Elizabeth Moroney remarked on my sticking to the end of the meeting, after everyone else had left. (Another had remarked, “What’s this stuck at the end of the agenda?”) I said, “I’m just hanging out here.”

I will post a link to the minutes when they are available.

Somerville Voices, 4/14/10, in response to "Sarah Palin’s tea party in Boston, April 14"

This whole thread reminds me of a course I took once in public speaking, including some really good tips for dealing with hecklers. The idea was to restate what the heckler was saying, and the emotion behind it, until the heckler nodded (indicating you got his meaning). Then you composed your answer and addressed it TO THE REST OF THE AUDIENCE.

The bottom line being, never argue with a heckler. Doing so achieves his purpose, which is to distract you from getting your own message out.

Somerville Voices, 4/12/10, appended to "April 15 Planning Board Meeting"

Agenda (4/12/10) available at http://www.somervillema.gov/CoS_Content/documents/agenda/4-15-10.pdf

Two items of interest: (1) Revision to the MaxPak Planned Unit Development. (2) Voiding the Special Permit for the original waterfront IKEA, on the grounds that the IKEA has been redesigned and relocated to an inland parcel.


Somerville Voices, 4/11/10, in response to "Sarah Palin’s tea party in Boston, April 14"

One thing we should all watch for in the run-up to Sarah Palin’s arrival (which, like that of Stavrogin in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, is long anticipated), is the use of the following rhetorical trick: Accusing progressives of doing something that conservatives do routinely. For instance, conservatives label people routinely, but when someone like Rachel Maddow labels someone like Timothy McVeigh a terrorist, it’s just terrible, a sovereign citizen like him.

The problem progressives have is that they internalize notions of social justice. Conservatives, however, internalize the mind set of the warrior. To a warrior, mercy and fairness are signs of weakness. It follows that accusing progressives of being unfair works for conservatives because it causes progressives to pause and do soul-searching. The fact that it’s hypocritical doesn’t matter as long as it works. “All’s fair in love and war”.

Somerville Voices, 4/11/10, in response to “2010-2011 HUD Action Plan Public Hearing”

Attended meeting. Was the only person present who was not a city employee. By mistake, the cameraman was upstairs at the Lions Club party. Remarked on the difficulty in finding the place. Presenter said it was difficult to find venues.

Presentations on use of funds for: (1) Park renovations. (2) Affordable and senior housing. (3) Economic preplanning, including land acquisition in Union Square, and Boynton Yards, Inner Belt, Assembly Square T-Stop planning. (4) Transportation and infrastructure.

Brownfields cleanup at Kiley Barrel in Union Square.

Mentioned Demolition by Neglect Ordinance, which allows city to intervene when the owner of a historic property neglects it.


Public comment period 4/8/10 to 5/10/10.
Presentation for BOA approval 4/22/10.
Draft to HUD 5/10/10.

Full copy of 1 year action plan available on city web site. Comments by e-mail to BOBrien@somervillema.gov.

Somerville Voices, 2/21/10, in response to “Public Hearing for 2010-2011 HUD Action Plan”

Attended 2/18/10 public hearing. Schedule for plans, hearings, and RFP proposals set as follows:

* (2/24/10) Draft Consolidated Plan and 1 Year Action Plan Due for Public Review.
* (2/25/10) Requests for Proposals available 8:30 AM at Purchasing Dept. CDBG Program: Bid #10-50 CD, Emergency Shelter: Bid #10-51 CD.
* (3/24/10) Proposals due 11:00 AM.
* (4/1/10) Public Hearing on Action Plan scheduled.
* (4/6/10) Submission to BOA.
* ( 5/14/10) Submission to HUD.

There were presentations on affordable housing and shelter for formerly homeless, as well as on the use of HUD funds for transit-oriented community development. For more, see http://www.whyisthisimportant.net/comingevents/planningandregulatoryactivities.html#HUDActionPlan.

Somerville Voices, 2/13/10, in response to Jonathan Rich, "Residents' group aims for zoning changes"

There are a couple of reasons why I find unappealing the proposal to make the BOA the special permit granting authority.

One is that the Aldermen simply don’t have the time or expertise to make fact-based decisions. They work part time and don’t have staff of their own, so they will have to lean entirely on the planning staff. How is that an improvement on the current situation?

Another is that making the BOA the special permit granting authority legitimizes the politicization of zoning decisions. Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals decisions are supposed to be fact based and professional. If in fact developers can bypass the process by going to politicians and getting them to pull strings, we aren’t fixing that by changing which politicians developers have to go to.

If we don’t think that zoning decisions are being made competently, we should propose better candidates to the Mayor and the BOA Committee on Confirmation of Appointments and push hard for them. After all, the Mayor has to run for election just as much as the Aldermen do.

Huffington Post, 2/10/10, following on Albert Brooks, "Barack Obama is Being Punk'd"

Blaming Republicans is like blaming tapeworms for being parasites. They do what they do. The real problem is working class conservatives and their childlike faith in the free market. Free market policies, after all, are what moves their jobs overseas, jacks up their insurance premiums, and denies them health coverage when they're sick. There's no reason working class people should sacrifice their economic self interest for that of people who only let them in their homes to fix the toilet. Their sacrifice is touching, but not very sensible.

Here's a little song to sing to make us all feel better in the unemployment line: http://www.whyisthisimportant.net/humor/090809_FreeMarketLovesMe.html

Somerville Voices, 11/29/09, following on "Presentation on Somerville Health, Dec. 1"

The writeup did not mention whether Somerville's incidence of N1H1 influenza, childhood asthma, and excess deaths from heart and lung disease would be dealt with in this presentation. I hope they are.

Somerville Voices, 11/29/09, following on "Somerville Pols Split Over Senate Race Endorsements"

In an e-mail yesterday morning (11/28/09), Mike Dukakis announced he is endorsing Capuano. I’m supporting Capuano as well. While he doesn’t have a huge amount of experience and clout in Washington, he has some, and Coakley has none.

Otaku2.com, 11/20/09, following on "'The Sky Crawlers' is pure painful atmosphere"

I found this a chilling movie, more in its implications than in its plot. I wasn't sorry to hear some explanation of what was going on. Subtle point: the title, "The Sky Crawlers", is written in katakana, meaning it references a foreign word. "Sky Crawler" invokes "Night Crawler" to an English speaker. Why is this relevant? Night crawlers can regenerate when cut in half.

Somerville Voices, 8/11/09. following up on "Attend Town Hall Meetings and Get Active!"

First, no bureaucracy — including a corporate bureaucracy — can be truly efficient, because a bureaucracy requires group process. Only individuals can be efficient.

I’ve worked in the private sector for over 30 years. By my personal observation, the private sector isn’t especially efficient. It’s good at cutting costs, but it does that mainly by laying people off and overworking the survivors. And personally, I don’t want my doctor to be looking at my cancer X-ray at the end of a double shift she had to take because her assistant got “downsized” for “cost cutting”.

Second, the U.S. Government already runs, reasonably efficiently, the U.S. Military, said to have the finest front-line health care in the world. Oh, and by the way, Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, all reasonably well run. On the other hand, under the present private insurance system, the U.S. has the highest health care costs in the world and is nowhere near the top in measures like length of life and infant mortality. The countries at the top tend to be places like Sweden that spread the risks and costs over the largest possible risk pool, the entire nation.

Third, nobody elects the insurance companies to public office. They are not responsible to you and me the way a program hired by an elected government would be. According to the corporate ethos, the insurance companies are responsible to their shareholders, period. Therefore, absent effective government regulation, the chief incentives of the insurance companies are to raise premiums and reduce care.

In the last seven years, something like 10,000,000 more Americans lost their health insurance (the total is somewhere between 36 and 46 million uninsured), while at the same time health insurance company profits went up by a factor of four. Where do you think all those profits came from?

Private sector competition makes a good sound bite, but if the insurance companies are all jacking up premiums and cutting benefits, where is an ordinary person going to find real competition?

If we had a public option, we’d have an alternative to price gouging. Now that would be real competition.

Somerville Voices, 7/12/09, following up on Dennis Fischman comment on Economic Development Trends in Somerville event.

I attended 7/7/09. There were about 16 citizens present. A good part of the presentation was review of the past economy. From my notes: Peak economy was around 1890. Ford plant very good from 1926 to 1950’s. In 2007 there were about 74,000 people living in Somerville, about 45,000 in labor force, 44,000 employed. In 2000 only 17% of workers worked in Somerville. There are only about 21,000 jobs in Somerville, of which only 33% are done by Somervillians. Health Care is the biggest employer of Somerville residents. Although about 25 years ago only about 15% of Somervillians had college degrees, now 40% do, but the job mix in Somerville does not reflect this. At some point they may post the slides on the website of the Somerville Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development.

Huffington Post, 7/9/09, in response to "Americans 'Keep Marrying Other Species'"

Hasn't this fellow ever heard of hybrid vigor? Inbred gene pools concentrate genes, including the ones for bad traits. That's why inbred dogs and cats, though they may have interesting looking coats, are often unhealthy and neurotic. Give me a healthy mutt any day.

There are a lot of reasons why the United States has been successful, and two important ones have nothing to do with "ethnic purity". The first is that, as a nation of immigrants that still allows immigration, we continually select for gumption. The other is that, as a nation of immigrants that allows interbreeding, we are becoming a nation of healthy mutts.

Huffington Post, 7/4/09, in response to "Here's What We Know About Sarah Palin's Decision"

Probably a combination of #2 [personal reasons] and #3 [upcoming scandal]. She has little chance of actually getting elected President, although she could do well in a primary in a party dominated by the far right. And if this were Argentina, she could get in via a military coup.

You know the ticket I would like to see? Bragojevitch/Palin, or Palin/Bragojevitch. Those two are a pair.

Huffington Post, 6/2/09, in response to "Stop Repeating and Retelling What Rush Says!"

I agree with both sides on this. Yes, we have to respond vigorously to political attacks. No, we should NOT be obsessed with repelling said political attacks as such. If we do that, we are letting our opponents control the discourse. Have you noticed that experienced politicians never even mention the names of their opponents during the campaign? Of course not. Why give them free advertising?

What we should be doing is working out what OUR positions are on these issues and vigorously promoting them. On the way we can refute their talking points all we want, but we should very carefully avoid mentioning the names of our attackers or their media outlets. After all, chances are the talking points were composed in some backroom by a paid hack. Why give paid hacks free advertising?

HuffingtonPost.com, 1/15/09, in response to "Bobby Jindal Response Panned By Pundits, Republicans And Democrats Alike"

Several things about Jindal's response bothered me. There are the obvious things, like referring to the botched response to Katrina by a Republican administration as an example of why government can't work , or referring to the stimulus package as an instance of corruption, as if the Republican administration followed up aggressively on Madoff's Ponzi scheme. His attitude seemed to be, "Republican principles ran the country into the ground, so they must be the right thing to do."

However, the thing that most bothered me was the way he talked down. He used words and intonation that someone would use talking to an eight year old. That, and his blind repetition of disastrous policies, put me in mind of that old Sunday School camp song, "Jesus Loves Me."

Free Market loves me, this I know
Ronald Reagan told me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong
Free Market loves me
Free Market loves me
Free Market loves me
'Cause Reagan told me so.

HuffingtonPost.com, 1/15/09, in response to "HuffPost Premiere: 'Solid As Barack'"

All this is fun, but let's not take it too seriously, folks. Barack Obama is but a man. He can't do it all by himself.

If we're going to throw expectations on him like this, we'd better be ready to carry our own share of the burden. We've got to keep track of what's going on in our home towns as well as at the state and national level. We've got to find out who our city, state, and federal representatives are and write to them about the issues we care about. When there are public hearings on issues about the environment and other things care about, we've got to show up and speak.

We know for sure the lobbyists will. Money talks; we've got to talk louder.

HuffingtonPost.com, 12/22/08, in response to "Why Gay Marriage is the Wrong Issue"

If I were being inaugurated President, I wouldn't bring someone like Rev. Warren into my inauguration in such a prominent manner. However, it's Obama's inauguration, not mine.

The gay community might gain a few things from having someone like Rev. Warren involved with Obama's work. Warren is, after all, working very hard on AIDS, certainly relevant to the gay community. He's active on other important issues as well, such as poverty and the environment. If Rev. Warren's influence can help get universal health care through Congress, or help end the wars in the Middle East, or help fix the economy, I'm glad for the help.

Obama is making it very clear that he's his own man. He's also showing that he's a centrist, and he is experiencing what every centrist always experiences: vilification from the extremes.

Personally, I've had it with the extremes. They're useless. If Obama wants to start a New Centrist party, I'll sign up.

HuffingtonPost.com, 11/29/08, in response to "Lousy Marketing -- Not Lousy Cars -- Killed Detroit"

I've owned a Saturn SL1 for almost ten years. It's been reasonably reliable, and the service was proactive. (At least initially; now, not so much. They used to change the oil without my asking; now they don't.) A couple of years ago I asked them when they were coming out with a hybrid, which I said was a natural for the Saturn market. The salesman responded by touting their new SUV (nonhybrid). Now at least they have a hybrid SUV and a hybrid sedan.

HuffingtonPost.com, 11/29/08, in response to "Battle Royale: Center-Right Versus Center-Left In the Democratic Party:"

I've been watching, and sometimes participating, in politics for over thirty years. My general feeling is that ideologues are more concerned with issues of doctrinal purity than in results. Ideologues on the right accuse each other of not being conservative enough; ideologues on the left accuse each other of not being liberal enough. We might as well be debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I'd like to propose a new label: Radical Centrist. A Radical Centrist is someone who takes the best ideas of the left and right and puts them into action to do the greatest good for the greatest number. No one can claim status as a Radical Centrist without achieving a practical result, however small. That's what I hope Obama will be doing, and that's an ideology I can support.

FiveThirtyEight.com, 11/22/08, in response to "The Ghosts of 1993".

The most important issues the new President has to face are the tanking economy, the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inadequate American health care system. Obama cannot do everything, and it is wrong to expect him to. Please work on the other issues yourselves and allow him to focus on the three most important ones.

HuffingtonPost.com, 11/21/08, in further response to "Sarah Palin Turkey Incident: Does TV Interview While Turkeys Are Slaughtered In The Background (VIDEO)."

I still think this was a gag, a straightfaced sendup addressed to the lower 48, similar in spirit to St. Urho's Day in Minnesota (though nastier). Back in the 1950's the local Finnish community started a drive to make St. Urho's Day a state holiday in Minnesota. St. Urho was supposed to be a Finnish saint who drove the grasshoppers (or toads, or poisonous frogs) out of Finland long ago. A complete fabrication, but I believe St. Urho's Day was even proclaimed a state holiday by the Governor of Minnesota.

politico.com, 11/21/08, in response to Ryan Grim & Glenn Thrush, "Honeymoon: Left cuts Obama slack for now"

The most important issues we are facing as a country are the crashing economy, the wars in the Middle East, and health care. To address these issues, the Obama administration needs intelligent, experienced people who not only know how to work in government, but who value government. One of the reasons the GOP has done such a poor job of governing is that they don't value government. Personally, I'm glad that Obama has so far avoided hiring ideologues, and I hope he continues to do so. The problem with ideologues is suggested by something Boehner said recently, that the GOP intended to provide solutions consistent with GOP principles. Very resolute, except that Boehner did NOT say that the solutions would be consistent with reality on the ground. To me, an ideologue is like a decerebrated frog. Poke a foot, it kicks. Brush an eyeball, it blinks. No thought involved. Unfortunately, this is the 21st century, and thought is necessary. The world is far too complex and the problems we face are far too difficult for reflexive responses. If, as I expect, Obama governs from the center, he will be criticized by both the left and the right wing. I'm sure he expects this, and I doubt it bothers him very much. In my view, the only reason for him to care about criticism is if prevents him from addressing the economy, the wars, and health care.

HuffingtonPost.com, 11/21/08, in response to "Sarah Palin Turkey Incident: Does TV Interview While Turkeys Are Slaughtered In The Background (VIDEO)."

Notice that the interview was framed by the cameraman with Sarah Palin on the left and the slaughtering station on the right. This could well be a Dirty Jobs-type prank pointed at city folk who think that meat grows on supermarket shelves. Rural folk don't know a lot of things that city folk know, but rural folk know clearly that if they are to eat meat, an animal has to be killed. Would that everyone had similar clarity. That said, the sight of Palin generating cheerful platitudes in front of a slaughtering station was pretty chilling. Didn't it occur to anyone that sensitive children might be watching? My grandfather kept pigs on a farm in Northern Michigan. When the time came to slaughter one, he was grim for days before, and he would never let his children watch the killing. He would, however, allow them to help dress the meat afterwards.

Somerville Voices, 11/17/08, in response to Barry Rafkind, "Somerville Cracks Down on Sidewalk Cyclists"

As a Somerville bicyclist, I’m fully in favor of enforcing vehicular laws on bicycle riders. I have seen far too many riders who make me ashamed to be a bicyclist. I’ve seen people ride wrong way on one-way streets, run red lights and stop signs, turn left onto a rotary, ride on dark streets without lights, and generally behave like fools. I make a point of stopping at stop signs, using hand signals, and staying off sidewalks where marked, because I believe that the only way bicyclists are going to get respect from car drivers is to earn it.

politico.com, 11/15/08, in response to Lisa Lerer, "Will men dominate Obama's Cabinet?"

In my opinion, the things Obama should focus on are (1) the economy, (2) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and (3) health care. If he gets a grip on one of these, he'll be a successful President. If he gets a grip on them all, he'll be the greatest President since FDR. These are tough issues. To solve them, Obama needs more than competence, he needs brilliance. He should definitely be hiring the absolute best, of whatever race, gender, sexual preference, national origin, or religion. It's the job of advocates to advocate; that's what they're for. However, some methods of advocacy are more helpful than others. May I make a suggestion? I suggest that women's groups take on the explicit role of headhunters for the Obama administration. They should search out top-qualified candidates for specific jobs and supply them to the Obama team, with resumes and indications of interest. They should then step back and let the Obama team do its job of hiring the best.

HuffingtonPost.com, 11/15/08 in response to Johann Hari, "Are There Just too Many People in the World?"

This is a nasty one and displays what happens when our technology gets ahead of our instincts. I got into an argument one night at a friend's house. A rather conservative man started talking about how he, who was raising a child, had done his duty by the human species and how the rest of us, who had none, had not. I pointed out snarkily that there were already 6 billion people in the world, half of whom were close to starvation at any particular time, and that the world might actually be able to support 1 billion. The discussion went downhill from there.

Instinctively we want to have as many children as possible. This instinct was adaptive before modern medicine, when the vast majority of children died young of disease. It's still adaptive in some parts of the world, but in the developed world it's not adaptive at all. Not only does overpopulation stress ecosystems and swallow resources, it stresses living things psychologically.

There was a study of rats in which one cage was held to 2 pups per rat pair and the others were allowed to breed without limit. In the cage with birth control, the rats went about their business with no particular problems. In the crowded cage, irritability and violence became widespread. In that cage there was also an increase in homosexuality, suggesting that the notion of the "sinful city" may have some biological basis, that homosexuality may be an adaptive response to population density.

The only solution I see is worldwide education of men and women. The news there is harsh, but not entirely bleak. The United Nations 2005 demographic report, Population Challenges and Development Goals (U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs) predicted that if development continued as at present, world population would top out at about 9 billion people. Most of the 3 billion new people would be from the third world because, absent immigration, developed countries now tend toward negative population growth.

The reason the UN predicts that the population will top off isn't that people will be dying of starvation or disease, although that is certainly only too likely. The reason is that they assume the rest of the world will become developed, or partially developed, and that women will gain control over their own reproduction. History (in the developed world, at least) has shown that when women have control over their own reproduction, they don't tend to bear more children than they can support.

It follows that we really need to get the world political system and the world religions aligned with female reproductive rights, otherwise the ecosystem will solve our population problem the hard way.

Somerville News, 3/4/06, in Response to "Use of Key Assembly Sq. Parcel Debated", Somerville News, 3/2/06

We all need to be clear on which parcels are which and which belong to whom. Correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it, IKEA owns the parcel on the Mystic riverfront next to the Winter Hill Yacht Club. Federal Realty (FRIT) owns the other riverfront parcel, the Assembly Square Mall site, which it has now developed as a big-box strip mall. FRIT also owns the Good Time Emporium.

Now it gets complicated. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

The Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA; appointed by the Mayor) owns Yard 21, a strip of land inland from Draw 7 Park that contains the most feasible place in Assembly Square for an Orange Line T-Stop. FRIT owns an OPTION worth about $4M on Yard 21 that it is not required to completely pay off until 2009. The Somerville Redevelopment Authority declined an offer of about $8M for Yard 21 extended by Cathartes and Habitat for Learning that would have resulted in an immediate sale and development. Instead, the SRA sold the $4M option to Sturtevant Partnership (SP; a corporation established by the owners of Assembly Square Limited Partnership, which at that time owned the Assembly Square Mall) for about 1% down plus intermediate payments to an escrow account. This means that the City of Somerville doesn't have access to the payment money yet and, since the SRA still owns the property, collects no taxes on it either. (So far, it’s a great deal for Somerville, right?) SP then sold this option to FRIT along with the Assembly Square Mall and the Good Time Emporium for about $64M, for a net profit of at least $30M. I have heard rumors that SP also acquired (and presumably sold to FRIT) options on other nearby properties, but I don't have personal knowledge of any such agreements.

Got that? Read it again. (This is why real-estate lawyers get the big bucks.)

As I understand it, the proposed land swap (which the City of Somerville has not been privy to) exchanges the current IKEA site for Yard 21 and possibly the Good Time Emporium. True, the Mystic River frontage would no longer be wasted on the IKEA store, and this is a plus. The bottom line is, however, that the land swap could hand over to IKEA the most feasible site for an Orange Line T-Stop. If IKEA built its store on that site, there would be no Orange Line T-Stop in Assembly Square, there would be no high-density, transit-oriented, high-tax-revenue development in Assembly Square, and Assembly Square would not likely ever be anything but a big-box traffic generator and a net drain on the city's finances due to excessive traffic and the associated police and street maintenance requirements (not to mention the human costs of the lung and heart disease caused by the associated air pollution). If you want to know what life along McGrath Highway in East Somerville would be like after the IKEA came into Assembly Square, go down to Stoughton some Saturday and visit the IKEA store there. Would you want to put your corporate headquarters there? Would you want to live or work there?

All this may be fine business for IKEA and FRIT, but it is not true that what is good for IKEA and FRIT is good for Somerville. If you believe that, I can direct you to a web site where you can buy some Lunar real estate, real cheap.

Somerville News, 3/4/06, in further Response to "Use of Key Assembly Sq. Parcel Debated", Somerville News, 3/2/06

As I understand it, Sturtevant Partnership put money down on an "option" to buy Yard 21, like you or I might put money down to buy a house. This means Somerville agreed to sell Yard 21 to SP by 2009 for about $4M. The property doesn't actually change hands until the sale closes, and if SP doesn't close the sale by 2009 the option expires and Somerville can sell Yard 21 to somebody else. Options like this are property (the same way corporate stock is property) and can be sold. In this case, SP sold this option to FRIT, so now FRIT has the right to buy Yard 21 by 2009 for about $4M.

Like I said, doing this kind of thing is what real-estate lawyers get the big bucks for.

Updated 18-Apr-2010