Thursday, July 18, 2024

This Tuesday, the appointed Community Preservation Act committee will vote on the allocation of funds in three areas of preservation: historic, open space and affordable housing.

These are public funds, and they should be allocated wisely and with respect for carefully examined and delineated lines between public subsidies for worthy projects and giveaways to private entities who should more likely be paying for repairs or renovations themselves, especially when they may well have caused the damage to be addressed.

At the last CPA meeting and public hearing, Charlie Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, requested a “placeholder” for public funding for restoring a small section of a historic “retaining wall” behind Winthrop Street in Harvard Square. In a memo of his made available later, there was an acknowledgement that there had been major work being conducted on the retaining wall nearby by Raj Dhanda and that a section of the wall had been removed there when the section in question collapsed. The collapse of the nearby section was likely precipitated by the work just feet away (as is considered a possibility in Sullivan’s memo). Has this likelihood been properly investigated? Were city (or other) engineers ever asked to examine what happened and to offer an evaluation of who may have been responsible?

Sullivan is now apparently presenting a “request for funds” on behalf of Dhanda and his business neighbor, Paul Overgaag. (Dhanda sued Overgaag – evidently successfully – to block his attempt to open a pot shop. Dhanda has now arranged to lease space in his own building next door for, yep, a pot shop. Are these two really now “partners in this “request for CPA funds,” apparently “brokered” by Sullivan? Hard to imagine.) Before the CPA approves a request for $200,000 for repairs to a section of this retaining wall that may have been caused by construction work undertaken by Dhanda, a thorough evaluation of the cause of the collapse should be completed. Why should we be allocating precious public preservation funds to a private landlord with deep (and swelling) pockets when he may well have been responsible for the damage? The logic of such proposed public largesse escapes me.

James Williamson, Jackson place