Friday, July 19, 2024

Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Brian Arrigo at a Jan. 30 meeting at the Cambridge Community Center in the Riverside neighborhood. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Government documents revealed in July 2023 by a public records request showed the state Department of Conservation and Recreation had relied on inaccuracies in its decision to return to a Sunday-only schedule for Riverbend Park.

Now a cache of newly released records, this time requested by co-founder of Somerville Bike Safety George Schneeloch, show internal thinking of DCR staff, again regarding the potential Saturday openings of Riverbend Park – and a resistance to scheduling a promised meeting that has gone unexplained to officials and residents.

Schneeloch said he filed the request for six months of emails after the department decided again not to open Riverbend Park on Saturdays. “I wanted to see any internal discussion at DCR for them to make this new decision,” he said.

The most inflammatory remarks revealed by the newly released records come from Zachary Crowley, deputy commissioner for policy and public affairs. After a resident sent an email praising Riverbend Park, Crowley forwarded the message to DCR ombudsperson Aaron Tourigny and called the park “stuffwhitepeoplelike.”

Crowley has since resigned from his position. A department spokesperson said Crowley’s comments are not reflective of its values.

Harvard student and Riverbend Park advocate Clyve Lawrence, who is Black, said he doesn’t appreciate the characterization of Riverbend Park as something only white people would enjoy.

“I see people of all sorts, of all backgrounds, especially in Riverside and Cambridgeport, come out to enjoy it,” Lawrence said.

Schneeloch called the comments “highly unprofessional and disrespectful.”

Meeting in January

The newly released records also show the preparation and aftermath related to a contentious Jan. 30 meeting held with opponents of Riverbend Park Saturdays. The meeting centered residents from the Riverside neighborhood who feel that the Memorial Drive closings unfairly affect local residents through increased traffic delays. At the time, residents argued that the road closings disproportionately affect the residents of color that live in the Riverside neighborhood.

Though the Jan. 30 meeting took many by surprise, the emails show that DCR leadership and Cambridge city councillors began planning the outreach session months in advance, as early as late October 2023. Still, many community members heard about the meeting only through the announcements at the end of the prior night’s council meeting, less than 24 hours in advance.

Lawrence said it’s frustrating to see that DCR was trying to meet with Riverbend Park opposition months in advance, at the same time that he and other advocates were trying to schedule their own meeting with the department.

“They chose to rebuff those meeting requests and focus on a small subset of residents from Riverside – who have genuine concerns, but they don’t seem to be interested in compromise,” Lawrence said.

Silence after a promise

At the Jan. 30 meeting, state officials committed to scheduling additional community outreach meetings. No such meetings have materialized.

In a letter sent to DCR leadership on Feb. 29, Mayor E. Denise Simmons requested that the agency schedule and announce the promised follow-up meetings. Again, on March 22, Simmons asked why a follow-up meeting has not been scheduled.

“A number of residents have reached out to me asking why this meeting hasn’t been scheduled, and whether it will be held in the near future. Please let me know if there is any message that I can relay to them,” Simmons wrote.

In the same email, Simmons says she is interpreting DCR’s silence as an indication that there will be no change in policy regarding Saturday closings: “This is certainly appreciated by the members of my community,” Simmons said.

Lawrence J. Adkins, the resident who led the Jan. 30 meeting in opposition to Saturday closings, also sent emails to DCR asking for additional public meetings.

Farther up, a planned “road diet”

To date, another community meeting has not been scheduled or shared publicly.

“Regardless of what side you’re on, there’s a lack of communication,” Lawrence said. “That just bothers me as a resident.”

A spokesperson for DCR said the department is working to schedule additional public meetings about phase III of the Memorial Drive Greenway improvements, which will include a road diet for the popular throughway that’s meant to shrink car traffic so the space is shared.

In the internal emails revealed by the public records request, DCR staff repeatedly discussed, in February and March, a community outreach plan related to Saturday closings of Memorial Drive, though a link to the plan itself has been redacted.