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Mayor Fuller is clearly feeling the heat for the opaque process used to choose a site for the Newton Center for Active Living, or NewCAL, (styled by her as “the community center focused on seniors.”) So in this week’s email to us all, she announces a schedule for ten meetings at which citizens can ask question of the project team and/or watch the project team in action. She notes, “These meetings will provide detailed information on the site ranking process and early ideas on site layout scenarios at Albemarle.”

Well, we’re back to the proverbial cart before the horse. As I noted back in July, the process used to decide upon the program for NewCAL was flawed. Here’s an excerpt from that post on Village 14:

The scoping problem is simply this: There was no directive to those involved to consider the extent to which the needs of Newton’s seniors are currently being met—or might be met—elsewhere in the city by cooperative programs with the numerous other institutions in town, by linkage with private developers, or otherwise.  Instead, we had a process that was additive: Good idea? Include it in NewCAL! For example, of the 106 requests for specific facilities/programs collected by SBA from listening sessions, office hours, and questionnaires, only 3 or 12 (it’s unclear) were received for a gymnasium. Yet over a third of the proposed building is devoted to this feature.

It is not even clear from the papers produced by the working group whether a full analysis was done as to the possible use of the existing site.  What is feasible there if a new building is constructed?

Further, there has been no indication of the manner in which this process will meld with the city’s budgetary priorities, whether in the capital budget or in the ongoing operating budget.

So, the Mayor’s focus on the siting controversy is off point. The idea that any newly built structure is the “solution” has not yet been demonstrated.

In saying this, I don’t mean to diminish at all people’s concerns about a siting process that has been hidden to date (no open meetings, followed by delays in publishing the working group’s minutes). I do mean to suggest that the Mayor’s propensity for creating a new vacuous public process represents a high degree of cynicism about the citizenry’s right to know how this whole venture fits into the range of priorities facing the city. Beyond the citizenry, having now consulted with a number of City Councilors, I’ve learned that they, too, have been kept in the dark. To date, they’ve deferred to the mayor on this issue. Let’s hope that the legislative branch of the city government does its job and holds the administration accountable.