PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, DEC. 27, 2011) — The initial reports for the fundraiser held last night at Chameleon’s for Peter White‘s mom speak of an evening of support, highly successful in raising money and spirits. THE PLANET was honored to have contributed in a small way, and we acknowledge everyone who joined to reach out to help those in need. We couldn’t begin to list all those who helped, and we won’t try. We do, though, want to offer special thanks to:

* Andy Poncherello, who saw the need, got on his horse, and drove this event to fruition. Andy is a special man who has brought to Pittsfield not just a much-needed injection of entrepreneurial energy but also a large dose of empathetic service.

* Chameleon’s, the night club that had to run through hoops to please the city’s licensing cranks to come into existence. They said “yes” without hesitation and have shown themselves to be great community citizens.


Boring Broadsheet Continues Serving Up the Dregs

Anyone else notice how, even by its shamefully low news “standards,” the Boring Broadsheet continues to surprise with how deep it rakes the bottom of the barrel? First, over the weekend, we get the story of how fantastically the local ski operators are doing in this winter of no snow. THE PLANET has talked with many skiers and boarders, and they tell of Deadsville on area slopes.

The BB, though, by GOB orders, cannot report this. No, they have to do a fluff piece straight out of the pages of the Chamber of Commerce Digest, telling you of how great thou art, business. It’s not just any business. This is the “economic engine” of R&R — recreation and resort, where the Vested Interests hear, see, speak, and publish no truth that runs counter to their fiction.

Next, do you notice how they stay away from large stories that affect every single person in its circulation area? THE PLANET has covered countless of these, including, just recently, the GE Consent Agreement and lingering industrial poisons, the financial and performance dysfunction of the Pittsfield School Department, the Not-for-Profit tax ripp-off that has removed hundreds of millions of dollars from the tax coffers, and, most recently, the serious issues raised by the unilateral suspension of the restrictions negotiated for the PEDA site.

Circulation at the BB has dropped below 18,000, with many leaving each day. The paper perpetuates this cycle by its timid and tame news hole. This county has only three legitimate news operations: THE PLANET, the Berkshire Record, and the Pittsfield Gazette. Each of the latter two — the former a weekly in Great Barrington and that latter a Pittsfield weekly — have leaders who make the difference. The first is David Scribner, ex-of the BB. The second is Jonathan Levine. No one knows better than this address what it takes to fearlessly cover the news locally. We applaud both.


Getting Underneath the Propaganda to Solve Great Mystery: What’s Going on at PEDA? What’s Up with the ‘Prohibited Use’ Shopping Center?

It’s amazing how quickly the BB reported as Gospel everything the GOBs fed it regarding the proposed shopping center for the PEDA site. They went with “EVA 1,000 New Jobs” type coverage, and in its editorial (unsigned, as always) wove tapestries of praise on the project, as if it were a done deal about to begin tomorrow.

THE PLANET has been the only media source exploring the implications of this move, particularly the apparent suspension of due process when it comes to governing law in this case, which is, of course, the Consent Agreement and all of the PEDA enabling documents, including its Master Plan. When the miracle announcement came of the intended use of a shopping center, the PEDA Master Plan suddenly couldn’t be accessed on the web. An astounding coincidence, no doubt. This did not prevent us, though, from digging out Appendix D, which lists acceptable and prohibited uses. We ask: Why is it that THE PLANET is the only media outlet that can find such documents? Is it simply because we choose to look and won’t give up at the first roadblock?

Maybe now Tom Hickey‘s reign at PEDA can get the credit it deserves. Hickey faced numerous battles to bring the site to construction phase, and only he can provide the play-by-play. And only Hickey can speak of keeping GOB horses at bay when they wanted to stampede proposed uses for PEDA that weren’t appropriate. We would invite him to tell us what he know, in his own way, and in his own due time.

The proposed shopping center by Waterstone Development, a Needham, Mass., developer, would build a project on the PEDA that is strictly prohibited by the law as written. PEDA enabling documents prohibit any form of retail (mall, shopping center, etc.). The announcement of the shopping center means one of two things:

(a) Either the PEDA board is breaking its own laws or

(b) They have changed the rules. We see no third possibility.

If  PEDA is doing (b), when did this amendment occur? Would this not have to be a public process? Unless we have missed it, THE PLANET is not aware of an exception being sought, debate having occurred, or a vote having been taken. PEDA director Corydon Thurston and board chairman Gary Grunin, correct us if we are wrong. Also, please tell us how, when, where, why, and  for what reason you made this change in the game.

Rush to Judgment, but Why?

There are many things that have to happen before the proposed shopping center gets the green light. The BB, city hall, and everyone else who’s reported on the story has ignored this aspect. Why? One theory is that this Waterstone project is mostly political, being done with no chance of success to embarrass Mayor-elect Dan Bianchi. This would explain the odd timing of the announcement of the Waterstone project: With a couple weeks left in a lame duck administration.

The project faces enormous hurdles, and Bianchi will have two choices: He will have to deal with them (its his mess now) and if he fails, he takes the hit or he will fight the project as a legal tar pit. Either way, he will be set up nicely to fail.

Let us, as best we can, share what lies ahead for the project itself.

Remember, the PEDA site exists, we all thought, to serve as a manufacturing and high-tech campus that would be what Dan Fox didn’t become. Apparently, that’s all changed. Now that a prohibited use has been offered, what happens next?

The first step, according to sources familiar with the process and with PEDA from a planning standpoint, “is the consent agreement with GE. Does it accept the revised proposal, or could it be amended [so GE could] accept it”? The GE component has been noticeably absent from the discussion. They would have to agree on a prohibited use. Did they? When? Where is the proof? Thurston, Grunin, and the PEDA board owe We The People an explanation.

Other question follow and must be answered:

* Who owns the property?

* Does PEDA accept the wording of the Consent Agreement? Does PEDA, that is, the executive board, accept the wording of its own Master Plan regarding prohibited use? Was there a formal vote taken to change the plan, or did they just ignore it, remove it from their website, and count on the BB not looking into this?

* Does the mayor accept it? Will Mayor Jimmy Ruberto‘s actions be incumbent upon Mayor-elect Dan Bianchi?

* Does any of this need City Council approval?

The question of ownership of the land is vital. Source: “A tenant isn’t going to sign a land lease if the chain of ownership is unclear. Maybe the shopping center developer has their ducks in a row. I can’t really say, although I was unimpressed with their portfolio. It was pretty sketchy, actually.”

Why doesn’t this surprise intelligent onlookers, that Corydon et. al., on behalf of PEDA and in the name of We The People, would accept the proposal from a developer that has left planners, lawyers, and others in the loop underwhelmed? Why?

Sources familiar with the developer call Waterstone “a small owner with marginal to poor properties elsewhere.” The developer’s track record, according to a source, shows that the company “cannot leverage co-tenentcy,” defined as “retailers desiring to be close to or avoid other certain retailers, across properties — a pivotal component for financing a development.”

Environmental Review Would be Necessary

No mention, either, in any of the BB’s coverage or anywhere else, of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The initial environmental notification for the PEDA property was given on SEpt. 24, 2005. A Inside Source: “At that time, it was for Phase 1, and under the old law, an Environmental Impact Review (EIR, which is a more-in-depth examination) was not warranted. That all changes with altered developments.”

In other words, plowing ahead with a non-approved or, to be more accurate, a restricted use would appear to make obsolete the MEPA notice for the property. Now, it appears, an EIR would have to occur — if, that is, the parties are following their own laws.

This story is only getting “curiouser and curiouser,” as Adam Cartwright oft noted to Hop Sing. Tomorrow, we continue with more. Stay tuned. We invite your comments below. THE PLANET, again, asks that all correspondents take the high road, be adult, contribute to the discussion, and leave vitriol in the sewers. Contribute. Don’t stumble. Get involved. Be forceful but don’t get ignorant. Thanks.







  1. Richard
    December 28, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    RUBERTO is on the PEDA board why isn’t he coming forward with what he knows,and letting the public know what is going on. Is the PEDA board just settling for a shopping center because they know with the way the economy is it will be a long time before they could get a manufacturing company to come here. And are they tired of hearing the public complaining about nothing getting done on that site. In any case I don’t trust that board . Nothing is made public until everything is final and then the taxpayer can do nothing except to accept it.What else has RUBERTO done before he leaves that we don’t know about?

  2. Unchy
    December 28, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Sounds to me like another hush hush, send it in, by the mayor.

  3. joetaxpayer
    December 28, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I trump your Adam Cartwright,with a Rickey Ricardo “Luuceey, you have splaining to do!”

    • danvalenti
      December 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      How ’bout Sgt. Schultz: “I know nothing. NO-THING!”

      • joetaxpayer
        December 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

        I’ve been trumped.

        • Molly
          December 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

          hahahahaha 🙂

  4. Jim Gleason
    December 28, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    How much in kickbacks are ‘connected people’ getting from LOWE’S and the other corporations coming here? We all know it’s not free to do business in THE PITTS. Others who have tried to come here with business proposals have said as much on this website. Why does it continue to go on? What a great going away present for ruberto. lee, and eva braun.

  5. Dead to Rights
    December 28, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Great job of investigative sleeuthing, DV

    • danvalenti
      December 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      Thank you. Just doing our job, which is to ask the right questions.

  6. dusty
    December 28, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Do you suppose there are any city lawyers involved giving Ruberto advice or is he relying on GE talking pieces? If he is listening to any city lawyers does anyone have a clue who they might be??

  7. Unchy
    December 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    How appropriate… Lowes.

  8. Ray Ovac
    December 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    In response to your question yesterday, here’s the link to the enabling legislation that created PEDA. This connects to the Web site of the General Court of the Comm. of Mass.. Skip down to the paragraph that begins with, “SECTION 2. Chapter 295 of the acts of 1996 is hereby amended ……” It’s all there.

  9. Ray Ovac
    December 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    DV, it almost sounds as though the PEDA board was absolutely desperate to have something positive-sounding happen at the Wm. Stanley Business Park before the close of Mayor Ruberto’s 8-year tenure. So PEDA’s new executive director was tasked with doing whatever was necessary to conjure up prospects. If Waterstone Development is the B or C-List’er you allege, it could mean that all the A-listers already said “Thanks, but no thanks”, and that the only firms left willing to listen were B and C-listers, so PEDA went with a lower-tier firm that was at least in Massachusetts. This also could indicate just how big “a dog” this former GE site truly is, especially when compared to the plethora of other investment properties presently available throughout the USA. Let’s be honest, what employer in his right mind wants to locate someplace where his/her employees have a greater likelihood of ending up dead from brain, bladder, kidney, or spleen cancer than surviving til age 90? Would you want that on your conscience? Even assuming the exec can write-off the added medical costs and liabilities, the CEO still has to live with the decision that by intentionally locating on and beside some of the most incredibly toxic real estate in the country, that he’s likely dooming a percentage of his personnel and/or offspring to horrific health problems/birth defects. Why suffer the moral and ethical ramifications when there are plenty of toxin-free investment properties nationwide that do not carry this kind of baggage? Bottom line: GE not only screwed Pittsfield in the moment by leaving it with a toxic waste mess, but on what appears to be a far more permanent basis. Proof of this is even before the business cycle turned in 2008, PEDA wasn’t able to land a single manufacturing tenant.

  10. Ray Ovac
    December 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    That should read: “…..that he’s likely dooming a percentage of his personnel and/or THEIR offspring to horrific health problems/birth defects.”

    • dusty
      December 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

      Apparently Financial One has no problem with it. They want to move people in in the spring I believe. Will they make their employees sign a waiver stating that if they get some weird cancer they cannot come back on them? What would make them go where so many others have not felt it safe to do so?

      You would think that an outfit that sells insurance would be extra careful unless they have themselves covered every which a way.

      • Ray Ovac
        December 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

        Maybe, or maybe the execs at Financial One really don’t give a damn and/or figure they themselves won’t be at risk if they maintain their own offices in North Adams. Who can say? It would not be the first instance of people who should know better making some pretty dumb long-range business decisions. Look how many business and non-business people thought it was a great idea to tear down the old marble Pittsfield railroad station – probably the second dumbest move by public officials in Pittsfield history, the first being signing-off on the GE Consent Decree for a lousy $10 million and no guarantee of total remediation. It’s highly likely for example that PEDA is totally underplaying the threat posed by Silver Lake’s toxic emissions (about which GE’s proposed ‘cap’ won’t do jack). Office space overlooking a lake is quite a selling point, if one chooses to disregard the realities of what lay beneath the surface and what molecules are attached to the vapors coming off the lake.
        If you got any friends even thinking of working anywhere near Silver Lake, especially women of child-bearing age, have them Google ‘Volatile Organic Compounds’ (aka VOCs); also ‘Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds’ (aka SVOCs); also ‘Hexavalent Chromium’; and, of course, PCBs.
        The fact that the Eagle would even publish a letter proposing the set-up of a food co-op at Wm Stanley Business Park, let alone the fact that some Gen X’er or Millenial was clueless enough to suggest the idea in the first place indicates that there are people in Pittsfield who really have no understanding of that which lies just below the surface.

        • Molly
          December 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

          I’ve been thinking the same thing, Ray. What company would want to put themselves at such risk as to build there? But also, why would GE consent to change the Master Plan to allow shopping/malls/retail to be built there and open to the public? Wouldn’t that be putting themselves at even more risk of more lawsuits should something horrific happen to many (more) people, with (seemingly) absolutely no benefit to them to do so? And why wouldn’t the EPA need to also approve this, since they were part of the approval of the Master Plan and other documents that specify “no retail”, etc.? And lastly, what kind of risk is Pittsfield taking on, liability wise?

  11. joetaxpayer
    December 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    My take on all the restrictions @ Wm. Stanley Business Park.Its all about them covering there asses. They put as many restrictions as they could,that is what lawyers do.With a wave of a pen, stipulations will be waived.Sad thing is there is just as much contamination at unsuspecting locations through out the county.

    • Molly
      December 28, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

      To me, it’s different if lots of people get very sick and THEN they find out there are toxic pollutants surrounding the building vs. knowingly building on, as Ray said, “some of the most toxic real estate in the country”. And again, what could possibly be GE’s motivation to waive this stipulation?

      • joetaxpayer
        December 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

        @Molly,Great question,all I know is they already did it for Slater College project.So you would think that the PEDA board have already secured another waiver for this retail project.I find it hard to believe that they would have a press conference without knowing that the project that they are sighing off on is not feasible.As far as GE goes nothing is for free,who knows whats in it for them.

  12. Richard
    December 28, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    I have a great idea lets build a mall on hill 78.

    • Ray Ovac
      December 29, 2011 at 2:00 am #

      Richard, don’t forget the canoe and paddle-boat concession on Silver Lake!

  13. Molly
    December 28, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    Off-Topic (Prior topic): I noticed in the Real Estate Assessments that The CIty Of Pittsfield owns property on “Joseph Drive – rear” (and valued at $95,800). Eric Drive runs between Joseph Drive and Anita Drive, so this is property that is behind Eric Drive. Just thought this was an interesting tidbit to share… And it makes me wonder WHY Pittsfield owns this property?

    • Ray Ovac
      December 29, 2011 at 1:47 am #

      Molly, Excellent point about ‘Joseph Drive — rear’, a deed search might indicate when the City obtained title and if the boundaries of the property abut or give easement or some sort of right-of-way involving access to the ‘bridge to nowhere’.

      On another matter Molly, you raised another excellent point the other day about technical aspects of PEDA’s Web site the ramifications of which have not been considered here. Try an experiment: On most of PEDA’s web pages, try highlighting any few lines of text, then attempt to right-click to copy that text in order to then paste it onto, for instance, PlanetValenti’s comments section. Note that on most PEDA Web pages, it cannot be done. This technical finessing of the information on PEDA’s Web pages to prevent easy reproduction of the text was no doubt intentional.
      For example try to highlight, copy, then paste anything from the infamous ‘Terms of Use’ page to which first you brought everyone’s attention:
      There’s a way around the barrier the web designer set up, by left-clicking on ‘File’ at the top of your browser, then left-cliking on the ‘Save Page As’ command. But this is not the same as highlighting and being able to copy specific passages of text.

      • Molly
        December 29, 2011 at 10:19 am #

        Oh believe me, I know you can’t copy and paste anything – that was my initial irritation on my first post about PEDA. I re-typed portions when I needed to! However, I didn’t find the “Executive Summary” on the “About” page until you just pointed it out!!! VERY SNEAKY indeed!!!! Why isn’t “The Executive Summary” listed on the drop-down menu? That’s why I missed it!! Nice find.

  14. Ray Ovac
    December 29, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Molly, try to highlight and copy specific passages from the “Executive Summary” posted to PEDA’s ‘About’ Web page:
    Pretty sneaky of PEDA’s web page designer, eh?

  15. Ray Ovac
    December 29, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    Abtakoma, yesterday you wrote, “Pretty sure there is no big conspiracy here.”
    Molly, me, and a few others here are still waiting for you to explain PEDA’s action terminating the link to its Master Plan?
    Why the lack of transparency?

    • acheshirecat
      December 29, 2011 at 7:02 am #

      Maybe not a big conspiracy but rather a change in the person in charge. The original master plan wasn’t working out and with new leadership, the plan was changed. Plans change all the time. As for transparancy, they should make the agenda and meeting minutes public, either online or in print. It is a quasi-public agency and the public deserves to know whats going on.

  16. Hoppity
    December 29, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    a cheshire cat
    Plans change, yes, but when they are a master plan, they don’t change as easily as you change your socks in the morning. Masterplans are comprehensive documents. Takes a long time to produce one. Lots of hearings. Public input. Etc. etc. It would be illegal, in my reading of all this, for the PEDA board simply to “change” plans, simply to chuck the old one. Looks like a lot of freelancing going on there. Wonder if that’s why they got Cory Thurston for the job. He won’t say peep to the Big Boys, and as long as he stooges up, he gets his salary and benefits.

    • acheshirecat
      December 29, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      I agree Hoppity, but we are talking Pittsfield and nothing would surprise me. Getting to be more like Bizzaro World than Metropolis.

  17. Still wondering
    December 29, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    I’ve known Cory for over 40 years and I still wonder why he took this job. He didn’t need the money and it can’t be just because he’s bored.